Veil, Poems of Transformation
by author Christie Close
Available now on Amazon.com
An excerpt from a memoir in progress... Rattlesnake Milk, a Zen Story
A Snowy Playground
At three thousand feet in the Sierras, snow gets about five feet deep nearly every winter. When this happens limbs and whole trees, laden with the weight, fall and the power goes out. When too much fresh snow falls on the roads, driving becomes impossible, and all is quiet for many hours, until the roads are plowed. This quiet is like no other, the softness of snow makes a cushion over everything. When a branch falls in the forest, we hear the cracking, whoosh and soft thud of its landing for a distance.
The best thing is... when lot's of snow falls the night before a school day. The bus can’t move so school is cancelled. When a heavy snow falls while we’re in school, we can be stranded there until the plow comes. When the power goes out, we have cold sandwiches for lunch, unless the cook has already made our hot lunch. We’re all much too excited about the snow to concentrate on school work, so school is officially over for the day.
Our teacher has clever ways to entertain us until we are rescued. With a small tractor, purchased for just such occasions, he plows the snow on the playground into two big piles. These quickly become forts, just right for a boys and girls snowball war. This is enough to keep us busy, until we get too wet and cold to stay outside.
Back in the classroom, we crowd around cast iron heaters that stand beneath many tall steamy windows. With our nearly numb fingers, we write and draw on every inch of foggy glass, as high as we can reach while standing on a chair. Drawing animals, stick figures and hearts with who loves who initials keep us busy until the bell rings. This means the roads are clear and the bus is waiting to take us home. Of course we all “boo” and whine.
My two younger brothers and I are freezing, and soaking wet when we get home. Peeling off outer layers on the porch, we rush to get dry clothes and sit by the fire, reminding each other about frostbite. Dad has warned us that when fingers and toes get cold enough to feel numb, they can get frostbitten if warmed too fast. He says this can be painful but I never tried doing it. We know better than to let the fire go out, so we throw on a log before going back out to play. Some of those big logs take two of us to lift, so we always hope there’s a small one in the stack.
On our second story, there’s a long veranda across the front, with a wood railing about fifteen feet above the ground. When powdery snow is piled up around the house, like a big fluffy mattress, we race to see who can get the most jumps into it, before the snow gets packed down from our landings. That's when the game is over.
Our second favorite thing is getting tossed from a sapling into the fluff. We search for young pine trees that are out in the open and small enough to bend. First we get buried under them, by pulling on their lower limbs, shaking off the heavy snow from the branches above. Then we dig ourselves out and climb up the tree until our combined weight makes it bend way down. Then, we all jump off on the count of three, except the top person. They get flung off into the deep powder, or if they don’t let go we “boo” them for wasting their turn. Mom doesn’t like us to play this game, because we get pitch on our jackets and mittens, and it’s hard to get out.
Sometimes we end up at an old cabin where a hermit horse wrangler lives. It’s just over the ridge from our place where the fire road makes a long toboggan run. It's so steep it scares us to ride down. We do it anyway, until someone gets hurt, and we get cold and quit. This old codger’s cabin is a warm place to rest, before dragging our toboggan back home. We always find the same thing, him sitting in front of his wood stove, in those dirty once white long johns. I think he must just sit there staring and talking to himself all winter. There’s a box of apples on his porch and he always gives us a few, lets us stay awhile. We know when to leave, before the daylight starts to go.
This old guy had horses we tried to ride, but we shouldn’t have. We would coax them with little piles of grass until they walked right up next to the fence. Then one of us would jump on. The horse would take off bucking, run down the steep trail through the creek bed and back up the other side. When we fell off we had to get away fast, before they bit or kicked us, letting us know they did not intend to be ridden, but this just kept us excited.
We’d be telling the story at school the next day about how bad one of us got bucked off the day before. We’d bet and dare each other, egg each other on to ride the meanest one. His name was Torpedo, a small paint horse, scary looking with one blue albino eye with bare pink skin around it. He was our favorite.
We learned to smoke Bull Durham tobacco from a pouch we found in the saddle shed. There was a loose board in back, so we didn’t actually break in. We’d hide in the willows and watch while this old cowboy hammered shoes on those raggedy horses. Once we saw him slug one hard in the stomach to make it stop trying to bite his shoulder. The horse wheezed and wobbled awhile, then stood perfectly still. We watched him roll smokes in paper from that pouch, using only one hand and his spit, while holding a horse’s hoof in the other. He was a real cowboy.
We always thought nobody knew we were riding his horses, sneaking, only riding inside the corral, but one day our mom said, “you know it’s a wonder you kids didn’t get killed by one of those bucking horses. The owner told me they were not broke saddle horses, but retired rodeo stock he bought at auction to use as pack animals."
New Poems, from a Zen journey
2011 to 2018
Tassajara Zen Sesshin
Settled robed bodies
Chair, table, cushion
Stillness moving, walking
Alpen-glow in still trees
Reaches through small windows
A Tiny Zen Story
"Zen has had a big influence on my adult life. Each day I find myself saying silently, I am so fortunate, how fortunate."
In the 80s, at Green Gulch Zen Center, I met a wandering monk, an old priest from Japan, a fine healer. He did Shiatzu on my injured leg as gently as a caring grandmother, made tea for me with simple ceremony and few words.
He would not accept a cent of offering, instead he allowed me the honor of driving him to the bus station. I stayed by his side until he stepped on the bus. This old man, short, square bodied, clean and tidy, was traveling the world with a small bag, a hat and a pouch full of teas and herbs. When he pulled a rubber-banded roll of cash out of his pants pocket, I became worried for him. My thought was that he might be too innocent and get mugged.
Taking a moment to question this idea, I saw him so deeply, solidly relaxed in his ongoing meditation that even death could not harm this being at all.
He was moving through this world silently, embodying the mystery.
Winter in Hampton
Taste of mulberry
Not found in stores
Poem for Zen Teacher
Daizan in England
Feeding on the nectar
Of the flower in the hara heart
Living with humans or not
Why look for anything?
Above the River Gorge
From the moment we start climbing over the Sawtooth Mountains of Northern Idaho, this is the most exciting flight of my life. Sheets of ice fly through the sky making a field of shredded shimmering rainbows. Below us are lakes, tiny puddles of turquoise, in fields of snow.
This plane is a little Cessna, with an ace pilot who delivers supplies once a week to my dad, on sandbar alongside the notorious Salmon River, "The River of No Return." As soon as the narrow river canyon comes into view, he holds out a paper bag saying “hold on to your stomach”. I'm pushing it back his way as we spiral down in a funnel shaped descent.
The canyon walls appear steeper, more narrow as our spiral flight becomes a tight corkscrew. The river below us roars and rushes, widening from a winding ribbon of water to a rushing green surface, white foam and rocks. All looming just outside the windshield. We make a low pass over a dry field where a dozen or so horses and mules attempt to keep grazing, while a yellow Lab dog chases them off.
Our landing is not as bumpy as I brace myself for. We settle down on a spot half the length of a small airport, unload boxes of groceries, mail and bags of nails. The pilot barely says “how you doin?” to my dad, then jumps back in, revving the engine, taking off. Dad yells, “my dog is trained to do his job when he hears a plane circling. The horses won’t stay out of the way long. so he’s gotta go right now.” We wave him off and watch together as the mailplane loops to the top of the canyon.
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Prayers for the Earth, a series of fine art works, in mediums gathered from the earth and recycled materials such as paper packaging and kitchen foil, includes pit-fired ceramic sculpture as well as works on canvas and board. For more information click on the Prayers for the Earth link above.