Meditated Murder

I was meditating on love when battle cries emerged from the bedroom. It’s hard to focus on love when your cat is waging war on a mouse.

I’m easily distracted. While the CD’s soothing music and voiceover played, my mind wandered to the mouse Dulcie had been toying with earlier but which seemed to have escaped. I contemplated:

How can I get rid of the mouse? Is it the same mouse I thought I dispatched a few weeks ago, when Dulcie cornered it but didn’t kill it? I caught it with the Nifty Nabber gripping tool and tried to throw it in the lake, but I couldn’t fling it that far. Now that a path has been mowed to my waterfront, I probably could.

Can mice swim? If they can, would it swim away from shore? Would I just be inflicting it on my neighbors, or would it make its way back to my house?

Is it still murder when the victim is a mouse? I don’t want to kill things. Not really. (Except scorpions. Really.) But I know that humans and mice cannot peaceably coexist. Cats can help; humans figured that out in the Middle Ages.

I refocused on love and asked: What’s the kindest, most loving way to get rid of the mouse?

The most natural solution would be for Dulcie to kill it, but I’m not sure she knows how. Kittens learn the technique from their mothers. Dulcie was 10 or 12 weeks old, living in the woods, when my neighbor rescued her and brought her to me. I know she’d been killing something to eat; I just don’t know that it was mice.

By the time the meditation ended, the situation had temporarily resolved itself. Dulcie was lying calmly on the bed, and the mouse was nowhere in sight.

Final resolution came later, when the mouse reappeared and the chase resumed. This time, I caught it with the Nabber and carried it outside. I didn’t have to decide about throwing it in the lake. It escaped.

Posted in Cats, Love, Meditation, Philosophy | 3 Comments  

The Screech of Divine Love

I meditated on divine love, and God sent me baby screech owls.

Memorial Day, meditating at lunchtime, I focused my attention on divine love. At twilight, I sat on the porch, silently applauding the tree frogs, an arboreal orchestra without a conductor, singing in tune but out of time.

And then something I’ve never witnessed before: A family of screech owls flitted into the cedar elm before me. Two adults, two fledglings. The babies were practicing flying. Practicing crying, too. A screech owl’s cry is one of the most mournful sounds on earth, a sad, descending whinny, a soul expiring. These youngsters didn’t quite have it yet; their cries were more of a whimper.

One of the babies turned its head in my direction. It was too dark to tell, but I know that little owl was looking straight at me.

All this lasted maybe 30 seconds, with the tree frogs chorusing in the background, until the screech-owl family flew away.

I could only sit in awe and shiver. Every time I encounter nature, I consider it a privilege, a gift, a direct connection with the divine.

An act of divine love.

Posted in God, Meditation, Music, Nature, Philosophy | 11 Comments  

Home at Last, Part II

View From Home, April 2012

Last week’s post described a horrid summer in Texas, worry over the gas wells going in behind my house, my escape to Ireland and homesickness.

As ready as I was to return home, a phone call toward the end of my Ireland stay tempered my anticipation. My neighbor, keeping an eye on my place, had found the hot-water heater leaking and the hardwood floors ruined. I’d be returning to buckled boards, insurance adjusters and contractors, and the prospect of moving out while the floors were replaced — just when I wanted to be home.

I was home for six weeks of beautiful fall weather. I cherished that time, despite the mildew and buckled boards. Then I was exiled for six weeks while repairs were made. Though I stayed just a mile away in a lovely vacation rental, again I yearned for home.

At long last, I’m back. The drought has ended around here, things are green, and the lakes are full. There haven’t been wildfires closer than western New Mexico or Colorado.

Neighbors said the hill blocked noise from the gas-well drilling (comforting in case they ever drill the remaining 13 anticipated wells on the same pad site). The well was fracked, but no pipeline has been installed, so they can’t pump. The price of natural gas has dropped, and drilling companies are cutting back their activities in the Barnett Shale. I hope they never start pumping.

Now the temperature’s starting to creep up, and I know it won’t be long before I’m dreaming of an escape to the mountains of northern New Mexico, or the Oregon coast, or someday Ireland again. I’ll always travel, but I have no interest in a lengthy stay or in ever relocating.

I’ve learned that there’s no replacing a lifetime of friends, of memories, of a sense of place. I’m home, for good this time, as long as God will let me.

Read more of my Irish adventures in earlier blog posts here, or see my travel stories and photos at www.360westmagazine.com, “Digital Edition,” “May 2012.” Go to “Contents” and click on “Destinations.”

Posted in Fear, Home, Hope, Ireland, Philosophy, Travel | 8 Comments  

Home at Last, Part I

Smoke From Wildfires, April 2011

I left Texas for Ireland last summer with a great deal of trepidation concerning the future.

All spring, the West had been on fire, and I could see smoke from wildfires burning just an hour west of my home in North Texas. With an eye to gusting west winds, I packed important papers, manuscripts and family photos in the car. I kept my purse and pet carrier by the front door, ready for a speedy evacuation, fortunately unnecessary.

I knew two gas wells were going to be drilled right behind my house, on the other side of the hill. I worried about the noise and the possible pollution and even catastrophic blowouts that could occur.

Then the summer heat and calamitous drought arrived, early and unbearable. “I can’t stay here,” I thought. I didn’t know if I could continue to live in Texas the rest of my life. But where would I live?

Ireland was cool and rainy and green. A whole different world. My hope was restored.

But despite the charms of my temporary hometown, Portumna, its gracious people, and all my adventures in the Emerald Isle, I was homesick. I missed my family, my friends, my cat, my bed, my view. More than I ever anticipated.

Check back here next week for Home at Last, Part II. Meanwhile, you can read more of my Irish adventures in earlier blog posts, or see my travel story and photos at www.360westmagazine.com, “Digital Edition,” “May 2012.” Go to “Contents” and click on “Destinations.”

Posted in Fear, Home, Hope, Ireland, Philosophy, Travel | 6 Comments  

An Exercise in Minimalism

My minimalist apartment

Minimalist wall decor

What can I live without?

Most of my stuff, at least for a while.

I escaped last summer’s excessive heat by renting an apartment in Portumna, a small town in western Ireland.

I packed light, things I could layer: rayon pants, long- and short-sleeved T-shirts. Only what I could squeeze into a 21-inch pilot’s case. I’d be traveling with that, a violin slung over my shoulder, and a tote the size of a large purse.

“I can’t believe that’s all you’re taking,” my sister Coral exclaimed.

“It’s all I can carry.”

“You’re gonna be cold.”

She was right. I wore a lightweight pantsuit on the plane but lost the jacket before I left D/FW. I bought a sweatshirt at O’Hare.

My apartment proved scantly furnished, with comfortable leather sofa and love seat, dining table, beds, a bare minimum of sheets and towels, dishes and flatware, mugs and basic cookware.

I bought ice trays; a bath rug; a frying pan; a roasting pan and potholders; a clothes-drying rack, because the washing machine worked just fine, but I could never operate the dryer.

I refused to buy extraneous stuff I would just have to dispose of at the end of my stay. I debated, could I drink water or wine out of a coffee mug? I bought glasses. Would the bath rug suffice for doing yoga on the hard floors? I needed a throw rug.

I drew the line at decorative containers. I like to keep cosmetics and kitchen things organized, but I made do with the clear plastic baskets that tomatoes came in.

I kept telling myself, I have everything I need.

When Coral came to visit, she bought throw pillows for the living room. She mailed me a wall hanging, but the Irish postal service returned it to her in Austin.

The locals apologized about the weather: “We’re not having a proper summer.” That’s why I’d come, for a rude, improper, cool, rainy summer.

Why didn’t I bring a pair of jeans, my black boots, velour sweatpants, a heavy jacket? Oh, yes, because I couldn’t carry it all.

I have everything I need, but it’s at home.

I bought jeans, knit pants, a heavy jacket, a dressy jacket.

I spent my last day in Portumna donating almost everything I’d acquired to charitable organizations.

The real question is, can I lose my attachment? Specifically, my attachment to comfort?

Apparently not. But maybe I’ve loosened my stranglehold just a bit.

Posted in Decorating, Ireland, Minimalism, Philosophy, Travel | 11 Comments  

The Bus to Ballinasloe

We’re 11 kilometers from Ballinasloe, then 10, then seven, then nine. The Local Bus lives up to its name, going out of its way, door to door, backing up and turning around in people’s driveways, winding down one-lane country roads. The trip from Portumna, in County Galway, Ireland, which otherwise takes about 40 minutes, lasts an hour and a quarter.

As it makes its circuitous way past sparkling green fields and the occasional castle ruins, through little towns not yet awake, the 16-passenger minibus gradually fills up. I calculate: 5 euros round trip, times 16, is about $120. With gas around $9 a gallon, they’re not doing this for the money.

Most of the riders are elderly, most of them women. People greet each other; everybody knows everybody. At some point it dawns on me: This really isn’t about the money. It’s a social service, for rural residents who have no other way to get around.

I signed up in advance for the only public transportation between Portumna and Ballinasloe. I asked Bernie at the tourist information office, “If nobody signed up, would the bus not run?”

“Oh, no, it goes anyway,” she said. But if you sign up and you’re running late, the bus will wait for you.

Kieran, our driver, pulls over to answers his cellphone: “Ah, Mary, we’ll be by for you in about 30 minutes.” He opens the door for his passengers, places a footstool, helps them aboard. When he discharges us in Ballinasloe, he shows me where to catch the bus for the return trip. Everybody else already knows. He still hasn’t collected my fare.

For the homeward journey, passengers gather behind the CostCutter grocery on the square. Most folks are there early, lingering inside the back door out of the intermittent rain.

Kieran loads their shopping bags, and we reverse our route. He carries people’s packages in for them. At one house, when he doesn’t return immediately, somebody murmurs, “He’s gone in for tea.”

“He’s gone in to see the cat.”

“The cat’s gone. It died.” Clearly, these are people who know each other’s business.

Back in Portumna, he finally collects my fare.

Posted in Age, Ireland, Travel | 5 Comments  

A Transitory Story

Shortly before departing for a stay in Ireland, I read online that thin women think differently from overweight women. Thin women don’t consider hunger a permanent condition, so they don’t eat every time they’re hungry. They figure, “If I don’t eat now, I’ll eat later.”

Overweight women, the article said, have a different reaction. When they’re hungry, they eat.

I thought of this often during my stay in County Galway. Not about food. About the weather. Nothing is less permanent than the weather in the west of Ireland.

I might wake up to a gloriously sunny day. Before I finished breakfast, it would pour down rain, clear off and cloud up again — or all these things in reverse order. If it wasn’t raining at midday, I’d gather my cap, water bottle, keys, camera and umbrella to go out for a walk. But before I could change into my sneakers, it would be raining again.

In Texas, we have a saying: “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute; it’ll change.”

In Ireland, it’s “wait a second.”

So I’d wait, then set out, hoping to finish my walk or run my errands before another rain shower blew in from the Atlantic. I’d worry, “What if I get wet? What if I’m cold?”

I’ve been wet before. I’ve been cold. Those situations have never lasted too long. (After all, I live in Texas.)

Sure enough, in Ireland, I’d get wet, but seldom soaked. I’d be cold, but not excessively so. I’d remind myself: “It isn’t a permanent condition.”

Despite many delightful experiences, there were times I was lonely, homesick, tired of being on my own in another country.

I kept telling myself: “It isn’t a permanent condition.”

But then, in this mortal experience, nothing is.

Posted in Ireland, Philosophy, Travel | 5 Comments  

When in Rome, Eat Gelato

I had an assignment: While in Rome, eat gelato at Gelateria della Palma, Gelateria del Teatro and other hand-picked spots. Dark chocolate fondente, to be exact.

This quest for Rome’s deepest, richest ice cream was assigned not by any travel editor but by my twin sister, Coral, whose taste in chocolate closely aligns with my own. She had e-mailed me a list of gelaterie, shown me their locations on the map, given me detailed directions. “Off the piazzetta, up the steps. Just follow the ice cream cones.”

Even with such specifics, I failed.

My first morning in Rome, the plan was to tour Santa Prassede and Santa Maria Maggiore churches. Then I’d amble toward the Colosseum for lunch at Luzzi’s, a restaurant Coral recommended. I’d follow up with gelato, perhaps at Cremeria Monteforte near the Pantheon.

The church part worked out fine: Santa Prassede, aglow with luminous ninth-century mosaics; Santa Maria Maggiore, with its shrine of wood fragments revered as pieces of the manger.

But having had only a pastry and cappuccino for breakfast, I needed protein, pronto. I lunched at Maharajah, a nearby Indian restaurant.

Il Gelatone, a few doors down, was recommended by a guidebook, not by Coral. Never mind. The fondente was everything I could have wanted a smooth, creamy balance of bitter and sweet. Thus fortified, I spent the afternoon strolling through the Forum.

The next day, I’d intended to visit Trastevere after lunch with a friend. Instead I joined his informal tour of Basilica di San Clemente al Laterano, with its layer upon layer of worship and history. Afterward, I set out for Trastevere by way of Gelateria del Teatro. “Go to this one for sure!” Coral’s e-mail insisted. It was out of the way, but, OK, I’d take a circuitous route to the medieval quarter.

Reality intervened. I needed a break. I sat outside at Gran Caffe Roma, near the Forum, and ordered a bottle of water. Perusing my guidebooks, I noticed a listing for a gelateria just steps away. By that time evening was falling, and I knew I wouldn’t get to both Gelateria del Teatro and Trastevere.

The guidebook’s gelateria had moved, so I continued toward Trastevere. When the picturesque Ponte Fabricio led to a stream of ice cream cones originating at Antico Caffe dell’ Isola, I did what was expedient. I threw guidebooks to the wind and bought a cup of fondente based on convenience, not recommendations. It was as dark and rich as any. Sitting on cold stone steps in a little piazza, watching swifts circle through the burnished evening sunlight and enjoying the most ephemeral of treats in the Eternal City, I couldn’t have been more satisfied.

I touched only the edge of Trastevere before deciding I’d had plenty of walking, and gelato, for the day.

It wasn’t exactly what I’d planned, but it was exactly what I needed.

Posted in Food, Italy, Travel | 2 Comments  

Earth Actions

Eliza Gilkyson, one of my favorite musicians, recently posted a link on Facebook to this Newsweek article detailing climate change and U.S. failure to prepare for it:

http://www.newsweek.com/2011/05/29/are-you-ready-for-more.html.

I applaud her for speaking out, musically and otherwise, about such serious matters.

Her question, “Will we rise up?” prompted provocative responses.

I’m all for everything that everybody can do to try to save our beleaguered planet from human-incurred damage. But it seems to me that the primary problems are overpopulation and human nature (greed), and those are the least likely to be solved, at least deliberately. Overpopulation will be resolved when the earth can no longer sustain the multitudes, but that solution will be, and is, grim. As for human nature, we can nurture ourselves, others and the earth instead of pandering to our acquisitive side, and we can perhaps educate, and set an example, and vote and campaign for right-minded candidates in the process, but we can’t make other people do the same.

We’re blessed to have the luxury of discussing this, of rising up and of changing our habits if we choose, whereas in some countries, long-term environmental concerns are sacrificed for the immediate need to address starvation and abject poverty. An article in the April 2011 issue of Discover magazine, on worldwide mercury pollution originating in Asia, suggests (without assigning blame) the vastness of the problem.

I love this beautiful planet, and I try to honor it with my actions. I recognize that whatever I do, it isn’t enough. The earth will nevertheless survive.

It isn’t the next million years I’m worried about; it’s the next hundred.

Posted in Environment, Nature | 5 Comments  

Questions, Questions

Image by Coral Southwell

My book club recently read Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, a novel by Jamie Ford. As a child in World War II Seattle, the main character is forced to wear a button declaring “I’m Chinese,” to differentiate himself from the enemy Japanese.

One of our members asked, “If you had to wear a button, what would it say?” What word or two would define who you are?

We answered around the table. The first person said “Irish,” the second “Dutch.” Things took a more philosophical turn when people answered “optimism” and “I’m here now.”

I pondered how to identify myself: “I’m an American.” “I’m a Texan.” That draws too many borders between me and others. “I’m a human being.” Too limiting. I declared: “I’m a spiritual being.” I changed my answer, though. “My button has a question mark.”

Questions have defined my life. As a curious child, I badgered my parents, asking about everything. As a journalist, I’ve spent my adult life asking questions of strangers, sometimes questions I have no business learning the answers to, personal information that nobody should reveal except to their spouse. You’d be surprised how many people don’t realize they aren’t required to answer.

All along, I’ve had more questions than answers about the nature of existence. Of the journalistic five W’s and the H (who, what, when, where, why and how), I’ve usually thought “why” was the most interesting.

And now, I’m curious. What would your button say?

Posted in Philosophy | 8 Comments