urban turkey trot

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May 312014

My mornings and evenings have been punctuated by some all-American sound and action for the last couple of weeks. My house seems to be home-central for a flock of wild turkeys.

The action starts right around 6am, with a parade. This morning the parade started just up the street from me, and proceeded apace right past my house. First came two hens, casually wandering down the center of the road, occasionally foraging off on the side for whatever turkey hens find interesting (acorn earrings? dragon fly hats? the mind can only speculate…) Then came the clowns and marching band. Two young males strutted, posed, fanned and pursued, like teen-age body-builders in full tanning and flexing form.


The show continued for a good ten minutes, as though my bedroom were the grandstand. The posing, pirouetting and casual female browsing proceeded with utter dedication, ignoring a passing cyclist and the guffaws from the neighborhood crows. The second clown arrived to make the show truly competitive, while the hens pointedly ignored all. Finally the girls seemed to tire of the browsing, and dove off into the department store that is Fairfax Creek, leaving the marching band in confusion. The sounds died down, and after milling about for a few minutes, the band members wandered into the department store in silence. Appreciative crows landed in the roadway, inspecting the parade route for anything interesting that might have been dropped along the way. Later, I could see the parade resume in the distance, proceeding across the field on the other side of the creek with all the same masculine enthusiasm and feminine disinterest.


The morning parade has repeated every day this week, but is only part of the entertainment that this flock brings. There seem to be about six, three hens and three toms (aack! why are turkeys called that?) There is a larger daily pattern that is bemusing to watch. Every evening just past sunset, they move up the hill behind my house, perhaps do another little parade, then one by one fly over the house into the trees across the street, where they settle for the night. Once I happened to be in the living room just as a tom got up onto the roof with a spooky loud scratching sound, then ran down the slope, clack-clack-clack! to launch airborne and glide into the trees. The noise tipped me off that something big was on the roof, but nothing could prepare me for the surprise of an eight-foot-wide feathered 747 gliding directly over the front of the house, scarcely six feet away from my nose.

These ungainly and laughable birds are surprisingly graceful in flight, with all the majesty and stability of the biggest aircraft. I’ve seen them glide through openings in trees scarcely a foot wider than their wingspan. Earlier this week, the three hens flew with huge synchronized flaps across the street and up the hill just as I was arriving home from work. I imagine these birds are brainless, perhaps because of the silly noise they make and repetitive morning parade, perhaps because we call a stupid thing a ‘turkey’. But they honestly seem well-equipped to their environment, using the hillside for effortless take-offs, and landing gracefully in the tops of tall trees with a single flap.

The best part is living in the middle of all this natural rhythm and entertainment. l am delighted to feel their presence, like the occasional owl and the red-tailed hawk nesting across the valley, the deer trotting down the street in the evening, and rarely, a raccoon peering into the upper windows, watching us fix dinner. I’m on the edge of town, with an unfenced yard that connects directly to open space. Choosing to build a house and live here nine years ago, I had no idea what the reality would feel like, and I am fortunate indeed to be here. Every silly move the turkeys make reminds me to smile, as well as laugh.

May 082014

I had a whole epiphany the other day, sitting with a glass of wine, and I can finally put it to words. Fear is not present.

Funny expression, you can read it a couple of ways, especially from inside the buddhist practice of learning to be present. I actually heard the phrase a year ago, in a teaching by Lama Drupgyu Tenzin. I mean in it all those ways, and perhaps if I share a little inner journey, the realization may land in you as well.

I’ve mentioned fear a couple of times here since Nancy’s passing. During the first year after her death, I became very aware that my own fear of dying is almost gone, that I’m more willing to take risks and take action than I ever have before in my life. That’s a huge change, and if you truly believe in reincarnation or heaven, then you may know that place in your heart where there is nothing to be afraid of. About a year ago, I wrote about it again, when Roger Ebert passed away. Now I realize that coming to grips with death is but the first layer of my fear.

I deeply love the sensory pleasure of my life, the food and cooking, wine and conversation, affection and attachment to my partner. I cannot imagine giving them up. I think about coming to the end of my life, and having to release Pinot Noir, kisses, great meals, hot tubs…all those pleasures I adore. I greedily fill my life with as much of that as I can, as though running from the realization that all this pleasure will end one day.

Ah, but peeling back a layer, I notice fear there. It’s a more subtle version of the same thing. The quality of this fear is different, it is all caused by my imagination of something that has not yet happened, based on my memory of loss that has happened in the past. When I sit here, with my glass of wine, and just open to the moment I have with this beautiful thing, there is no loss and no fear, there just is the wonder of the wine. In fact, the more I release my thoughts and imaginations, the more I experience the wonder, the incredible sensory explosion as I sip. As I move slightly off the moment, and notice a thought and follow it, a soft anxiety arises. And that feeling is fear.

This experience is inside-out for me. I’m so used to identifying myself, my awareness, as my thoughts and feelings. My teachers have repeatedly told me how thoughts and feelings are like ripples on a pond, with no substance or permanence, and they are right. It’s easy to understand the concept. But becoming the pond, and finding that stillness inside where thoughts are not I, is quite different. I realize this is the fruit of my practice, what I practice, and that stillness is fearless. There is no future to worry about, no past memory to cling to. There is only the wine, and the moment of exquisite delight as my sense consciousnesses lights up like a Christmas tree. I do not need to hold on to it, or fear it’s loss. The wine is now. And so am I, at least until the next thought carries me away to places where fear exists.

May 032014

I have adored two restaurants in the last forty years. One is the Pacific Cafe in San Francisco, a haven of west-coast seafood since I was a young teenager. The other is Las Camelias in San Rafael, a Mexican restaurant on Lincoln Blvd. that has been a part of my consciousness since I wandered in with co-workers for lunch in 1979, a few months after they opened. After 35 years, Carole and Gabriel are considering a change, perhaps selling the restaurant. I will be somewhat devastated when that happens, proving yet again the buddhist axiom that attachment creates pain 🙂

When I first came to the restaurant, a slender college drop-out with long hair and a perverse enjoyment of lederhosen, I was a young programmer at Fireman’s Fund in Lucas Valley on the north side of San Rafael. Las Camelias had an open patio in front, enclosed by a low wall, with a tree in the middle and six or eight outdoor tables. My co-workers and I would come for lunch on Fridays, drink a beer or two, and talk about everything. Gabe’s mother worked at the restaurant, and they rapidly developed some of the most delicious and unique signature dishes that anchor their menu. They started to win Pacific Sun awards, and have anchored their block on Lincoln Avenue as a dozen other businesses have come and gone around them. If you go there, check out the Zincronizadas, which are absolutely stunning.

Their story is quite touching and delightful. Carole and her mother survived the Treblinka internment camp in the Ukraine during World War II, and emigrated to Mexico after the war. Apparently she met Gabe on a bus, and they fell in love though neither spoke the other’s language. There is a photo of Gabe as a young man on the wall of the restaurant, and he is indeed a handsome fellow. Carole is quite unchanged over the years, ever slender, graceful and elegant – she is the woman in dark clothing on the right side of the photo, pointing new arrivals to their table. Gabe and I, meanwhile, are both forty pounds heavier, and I’ve gone from a pony tail to no hair at all in the intervening years. Carole is an accomplished sculptor, and teaches clay work on the side. Her earthy clay artwork decorates the restaurant, and many pieces have great stories.

Carole has been a charming friend through all that has transpired, marriage, loss, job changes, and moves. I’ve helped them with their web site, and they recommended the (awesome) stove that I installed in my house. I have several of Carole’s sculptures in my space. We’ve had fine, long discussions about archetypes, spirituality, food and climate change, artwork and molé ingredients. I still don’t know exactly what Gabe puts into his most excellent salsa, dammit.

It’s odd how a restaurant can become a touchstone, a measuring stick for our life. Coming in for dinner last night, I was delighted to see every table full. The Carne Asada was excellent, as always. And I remembered some of the hundreds of prior visits, with co-workers long gone, with Nancy my first wife and Nancy my second wife. With Pathways workshop participants, fellow Mystery School students, women I dated. I came there when living in San Francisco, Mill Valley, San Rafael, Novato, and while working in Silicon Valley, Oakland, Berkeley. I’m sure I’ve brought every single one of my close friends, some multiple times.

If and when they leave, it will feel as though an epoch of my life is coming to an end. Perhaps someone will keep in going, keeping some of the great dishes, and I will still be able to have Zincronizadas for lunch. And perhaps Gabe will finally share his salsa recipe with me.