Mountain Living

At the Palms of Surrender


at the palms of surrender

Blue ships disappear there

swallowed by a red sun mouth

closing around them in prayer. 

It’s grit your teeth time on the mountain—the season of no light and perma-snow.  Even though the calendar says the light is returning–as does my good friend Tyler who first counts, then reports, the minutes on Facebook like announcing salvation–the 20ish minutes we’ve gained since the Solstice is not enough for me.

Mornings, I hover near the light box, hoping the blast of lumens will relieve the heaviness of the season and the persistent creeping sense of doom clouding my brain.  It’s a tough time of year for nearly everyone, especially those of us not escaping to Mexico or Arizona or Florida for a dose of sun and warmth. The days can be crushing. My body feels hunched with the cold, fatted with heavy food.  I tire of wearing so many clothes.

I learned a long time ago that when faced with some insurmountable something—let’s say a cabin fire, a lawsuit, a mother’s horrible decline–the best thing to do is surrender.  It’s not giving up, but giving in, and I’ve been tangoing with it all my life.  Daily, I must remind myself to let it be, no matter what it is.

I have a long-lost collection of poems called At the Palms of Surrender, poems I wrote in the early 90s, when I was in my late twenties, and spent a glorious few years studying with Lorna Dee Cervantes, Linda Hogan, and Lucia Berlin at the University of Colorado.  Even then, surrender was on my mind.  A decade later, I would lose the collection along with the rest of my writing when my cabin burned down.  More surrender.

Just this week, I wrote the special collections at the library for a copy. It had never occurred to me to try to get the poems back.  They were evidence of my young, awkward self—mostly self-indulgent and probably overwritten–and I considered the fire a watershed moment.  My life was divided into before the fire and after it: What was gone was gone, forward was the way to go.

My younger self imagined surrender as giving in to the tides of memory and the body. Then, surrender meant revealing terrible secrets and unspoken desire.  But now, after so much practice in facing one disaster after another, I understand surrender as simple acceptance. It’s no longer about doing something—giving in, it’s about being—sitting still.

I’ve been grinding my teeth through these dark winter days, holding my breath. January and February, in my book, are to be endured. I know it’s our resistance that kills us, but here I am doing just that. The only antidote I know is to stop anticipating and start gathering.

Suddenly, I look up from my computer, realizing I have just come through the most sustained writing I’ve done in months.  The rising sun, which when I started cast pink shadows across the trunks of winter-bare aspens outside, is now well above the eastern range of hills, tracing a southern path across my window.  To the west, light scatters over the snow and the faces of lodgepole and ponderosa on the hillside, making patterns that shift from moment to moment.  One tree brightens after another like lights going on and off in the woods.  I watch them for a long time.  Above, the sky opens blue.




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