What you fear
will not go away: it will take you into
yourself and bless you and keep you.
That’s the world, and we all live there.

–-- William Stafford, from "For My Young Friends Who Are Afraid"

Reflections at Palm Canyon

At the bottom of a rocky canyon grow the native California Fan Palms, in clusters along an unexpected watercourse. It is a winding oasis under the brilliant, raw sun, an ancient home of the Cahuilla people. I have to be careful of the rattlesnakes here, for the water attracts them, but in theory, assuming I look where I step, I’ll be okay. As I enter the grove of towering, long-skirted palms I realize this is truly a sanctuary, quiet and shady and full of bird songs rising above the background trickle of the creek.

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I am out of my ken, far from home. The canyon seems to be a metaphor for spaces that cannot be determined to be clearly exterior or interior. Is this reality or a dream? The distinction quickly slithers away into the underbrush.

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In my other life I go from conversation to conversation, trying to make sense of the known and the unknown, the reasoned and unreasoned parts of mind we all carry within us. But here the order, if dreamlike, is clear: just follow this path along this stream. At each new corner observe how another grove emerges. They are arranged by some implicit mathematic.

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Here are some blackened survivors of past fires; here are rows of tall, showy dancers. Here is an old mother or father sitting on a sidehill with skirts flowing all the way to the ground.

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The canyon is an inhospitable, stony world, with life green and chaotic at its core. A small cloud crosses above me. As I listen to my own breathing, the sound merges with a nearby buzzing — spirit bees with a hive among the rocks.

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Perhaps, I think, it is the nature of all paradises to attract their snakes. To be fair they are living creatures and are thirsty, too. I give them too much power.

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Somehow, despite my useless fears, I must learn to make room. I must learn to share the canyon.

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