Betwixt and Between: Passages in a Nomadic Life

A few weeks ago, while my family was here visiting, the small bird’s nest—empty and hanging precariously by a few threads of dry grass—just out of reach in the poinciana tree, fell to the lawn.

nestOutside in my barefoot ritual to greet the morning, discovering it had fallen in the night, I picked up the nest and brought it inside, admiring its handiwork. Handiwork, can we even call it that, woven only with a deft beak and agile bird feet?

In our living room, I temporarily set it on the ornately carved chest of drawers where, atop a wide scarf of faded, dusky silk, a few treasures rest—the ceramic sculpture from Taos, New Mexico of three dancing hares, a tall and elegantly understated Waterford crystal vase from London, a silver-framed photograph of my beloved and I at our countryside wedding in West Sussex, and a small cobalt blue candle holder.

This morning, lifting the nest from the spot where it has perched these past weeks, I carried it down the hall to the room where I write, the hard floors cool beneath my bare feet. Closing the door, I sat in the high-backed chair next to the window, admiring again the intricately woven work of some bird’s creation, appreciating that even with all my dexterity, cleverness, and opposable thumbs, I could not create something so skillful. Then I placed it on the window sill alongside a few other odds and ends I have picked up along my journey.

Just the other day, I wrote about a bird’s nest—different from this newly found one, though I found it in Hawaii years ago—as I penned an Introduction for my next book: “The symbolism of a nest, empty or full, is so richly worn that it is nearly cliché. Yet still it bears a resonance into the heart and soul.”

I’ve been musing quite a bit on nests lately; the way that we build them, along with the manner in which we emerge from and leave them behind. Perhaps part of this musing is that I am currently searching for a new nest myself, a little pied à terre on the central California coast as I move into a new chapter of my working life.

If you read this post somewhat regularly, you probably know that since spring, for roughly half of each month, I have been spending time in Carmel Valley. Initially I stayed with my dear friends at their lovely sanctuary of a home, but subsequently I landed at a funky little rental cottage merely a stone’s throw from their door. Tucked amid the sheltering oaks, watching the quiet mule deer in the shade and the wild turkeys strut noisily through the yard, it has been a working retreat for me—writing, editing, and seeing clients. I’ve also spent long hours walking the dusty trails in Garland Ranch regional park, four-thousand semi wild acres practically at the doorstep. Close to charming Carmel-by-the-Sea and the alluring coastline with its wind-raked cypresses, my retreats to the valley have fed my soul in a deep way; in my time there, however, I realized that I actually want to be on the alluring coast itself, not the valley.

Back in Hawaii for the summer, I have been actively looking (via Craigslist and rental sites) for a decent, affordable studio or apartment in Carmel or Carmel Highlands for the autumn, when I return to the mainland for work; I will be spending considerable time on the West Coast with travels in support of The Bones and Breath when it is released in October. In such a desirable location as Carmel-by-the-Sea, there isn’t much availability to begin with, even less that is affordable and decent; the few good rentals come available and disappear in a day or two, and being far away in Hawaii makes securing a place all the more challenging.

It’s a landscape that speaks to my soul—a soulscape, if you will—that rugged, misty threshold of earth, sky, and sea between Monterey and Big Sur. There is a wildness and profound ‘Eros of Place’ at work there, calling me in a way that Hawaii, despite its lush tropical beauty, does not. I have written elsewhere:

The Eros of Place draws us not simply to a psychophysical location where transformation might occur, but also into relationship with the unique convergence of energy, intelligence, and possibility.”

That foggy realm of the windswept Monterey cypresses and crashing blue-green Pacific reaches out to me as surely as I am longing to return to it, yearning to root down and be in conscious relationship with it—to walk the land in all sorts of weather, to learn its face through changing seasons, to know something intimate of its denizens with whom I share space, to feel my creativity inspired, and to eat close to the source in a conscious, appreciative way. Too, to offer something in return, even if that is only a deep gratitude for being there.

I can only trust that the ‘right’ place will manifest. Probably in an unexpected or unlooked for fashion, and possibly at rather the last minute. My friends’ guest room has only limited availability this month, so I have delayed my return for another two weeks—though my little car is currently crossing the Pacific in the dim hold of a Matson giant cargo vessel, and will be waiting at the Port of Oakland upon my arrival. I will have only a short window of time to stay with them before other, long expected guests arrive and I must move on.

Sitting in the high-back chair, I stared out the open windows for a bit, quietly observing the fluttering green leaves of the trees in the warm morning breeze, listening to the sound of their collective movement like distant rain or far off applause. Thinking about nests and watching the antics of a family cluster of some crested birds, their name unknown to me, in the branches just outside, I recalled a similar sort of situation some years ago when I returned to Taos, New Mexico after departing London.

I was staying at the home of some dear friends, house and dog-sitting while they were away on Kauai, and looking for a modest place to call my own. Very little was available, less that was affordable or appealing. Repeatedly I scoured the local paper (Craigslist hadn’t come to Taos in those days), hoping for some new listing that might meet my requirements.

Briefly, it seemed I had found a decent little place not far from my friends’ house, a little casita that while certainly not perfect was good enough; when it unexpectedly fell through in a bizarre twist of events, I was despondent. Why on earth had this happened? Surely that little casita with the wooden front door carved with animal spirits, the stag antler in the window, and the expansive views from every room was meant for me… but apparently not.

As the days wound down to my friends’ return, I found myself growing more and more anxious and depressed, ever more constricted in body and soul, full of angst that a place had not yet manifested for me. On the morning of the Winter’s Solstice, the final day of a three-day, mini cleansing fast I had undertaken, I sat on the edge of the bed and gazed out at a flaming apricot sunrise over a snowy landscape and frozen Taos Mountain.

“Today is the day,” said a voice.

For what? I wondered.

A few hours later, heading out from the adobe casita in Valdez valley, I carefully navigated up the long, winding, snow covered drive and drove into town, where I picked up the weekly paper. Seated with a cup of coffee at the The Bean (sadly now defunct) on Taos’ north side, scanning the classifieds in my familiar fashion, I crossed off with a pen every potential place—there weren’t many to begin with—that I had seen, looked at, or called upon. There was nothing new.

There was, however, one place that I had repeatedly passed over, located in the southern reach of the valley in an area known as Talpa, near Ranchos de Taos. Though I did not want to live ‘south side’, I had looked at a couple places in Talpa early in my search, found the area mostly unappealing (and the rentals depressing), and had firmly decided against any further possibilities in the area. Quiet artist’s retreat on the river in Talpa, read the ad, with a modest description and a phone number. Having nothing else to lose, and apparently no further options and clock ticking down, I rang the number. To my surprise, I shortly found myself in a delightful chat with the owner, Suzanne, who’s mature, slightly gravelly voice sounded to be somewhere in the last third of life.

I agreed to drive down in about an hour to see the place, grateful that I had a four-wheel drive to navigate the still slushy roads following the night’s light snowfall (or to get anywhere in Taos during snow and mud season).

At the end of our conversation, after she gave me the directions, I told her that my name was River.

“Your name is River?” she asked in a surprised tone.


“Well, I think you are meant to live on the river!” she laughed warmly.

When I arrived, stepping out of my vehicle and greeted by silver-haired Suzanne, I could hardly believe what awaited me—a charming jewel box casita, bright and spacious, built by a ‘green architect’ to incorporate passive and active solar, with a fabulous bathroom and a nice kitchen, radiant heat brick floors, a large fireplace in the living room, a private and sunny courtyard, and a wide covered portal fronting the little river, the Rio Grande del Rancho. I was stunned. Not only was Suzanne the most charming soul, wizened and warm, but the little house was SO much better and nicer than anything I had seen on my search—or even dreamed that I would find—and the same price as the earlier, much less attractive casita that I had hoped would be mine. It is safe to say that we both liked each other immediately, and I accepted the house on the spot, giving her a hundred dollar bill and a happy handshake to seal the deal until I could return with my checkbook. Driving back to my friends’ house in Valdez, I wept; not only for the relief of finding a good—no, fabulous—spot to live, but also for the incredible grace of such a beautiful little jewel box to call home.

Grace, indeed.

The circumstances now are decidedly different, much better than that difficult period years ago in Taos, yet there exists a similar flavor to this current passage where I find myself again looking for a little place to land. A much needed nest. The heat and humidity of summer in Hawaii are difficult for me, it’s too hot to cook (which is always a source of soulful nourishment, literally and metaphorically), and we are currently sharing our house with my partner’s mother, who has moved out from Florida to be near us. Mind you, I fully appreciate the curious beauty of the woven knot—it is only through her presence here, watching the dogs whilst I’m away, and her financial contribution to her lodging that allows me to go off and be in Carmel for half the month.

Still, being deeply attuned to my silence, solitude, and space, I don’t generally do well with sharing space for an extended period. It is time to get back to the soulscape that summons me, to return to my work and writing, to walk the wild earth, and to begin the new chapter that opens this autumn with the book’s release.

I thought that I had found a spot in the Carmel Highlands, a small cottage that was okay, if not great; being let through a real estate agency, it was the only rental I could apply for long distance, and I was going to take it simply so that I had a place to land in August, when I needed to return to the mainland for an event in Oregon. Last week, within a space of two hours, the Ashland Green and Wild Festival, at which I was scheduled as a presenter, was postponed until next spring due to a major glitch with the primary sponsor, and my ‘fall back’ option of a temporary spot (a house available just for a couple of months) also fell through.

Given that this unexpected confluence of factors occurred within two hours on the same day, I took it as a sign that I wasn’t meant to rush into taking the Highlands cottage simply out of desperation for finding a place in time. As a nest, it would have been okay, but only just that. Definitely only a temporary spot. Despite the current lack of available options, I’m trusting that a much better option will soon manifest—just as it did in Taos.

I’m choosing to remain open, to not restrict. I have very good ‘house karma’; the right places always find me. As an artist, my soul work in the world depends on my being in the right space—dwelling and landscape, where I can be open and expansive—and somehow this always shows up for me, though sometimes it requires a leap of faith. (Often it does, in fact.)

My car has shipped. I fly to California at mid-month, though currently nothing is available for me to leap to… but I have faith in unseen currents of deep mystery.

When one firmly commits to his or her soul’s work in the world, grace unfurls. Always. When we move and act from a deeply authentic place, the Universe responds; perhaps not exactly in the way we anticipated or imagined, but always in a supportive manner—often better than what we hoped for. I am reminded of the quote usually attributed to Goethe, but actually from W.H. Murray (The Scottish Himalayan Expedition, 1951):

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and Creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits one’s self, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.

Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”

Soul Artists know that everything in life is relationship. How we relate with the place where we dwell is a key if seldom recognized aspect of Eros in our lives. Soul Artists are lovers of the world who, daily, let themselves be seduced by nature and the clever, colorful agents of Mystery. Recognizing a resonance in their own bodysoul, they answer the summons of the places that call them—knowing that each of us is the Universe embodied, and that something much larger seeks to express through us in a unique gift. We are best able to discover and offer that gift when we are open and expansive, as we are in the places that sing us awake and back home to ourselves… and where we offer poetry, stories, and songs to the trees and stars, in return.

Gentle reader, as I have written before, here’s hoping that you have discovered the places that beckon you, or are willing to let yourself be drawn to explore that allurement. Let the Eros of Place seduce you. Perhaps you will not uproot your life and relocate to dwell there (although one day you might) or build a nest, but at least you will allow yourself the rich opportunity to linger in a landscape that stirs your senses in a unique way and feeds your creative soul.

Dwell in possibility. Act as if it has already occurred, that what you seek has already manifested. When we are in alignment in heart and mind, all the doors open. Walk straight ahead in the direction you have chosen, your breath full and deep, and with your heart and senses cast wide.

What if your arms are really feathered wings for flight?