Along the Strait
by Janine Canan
Justine’s foot pressed on the brake, and the car crunched to a halt on the gravel. She opened the door, stepped out and stretched her limbs. The tide was way out, the sky a wide clear blue. A cool breeze blew against her face, flapping her cotton collar. She pushed the front seat forward. “Come on, Sweetie. Come on, my big Bunny.” A fluffy white teddy-bearish dog stepped down, wagging her plumy tail. Together they walked toward the sand.
There was no one on the beach. Only a large tree, probably fir, washed high up on the shore. Justine flopped down on the sand and leaned against the massive trunk. “How do you like our beach?” she cooed as she ,stroked the Samoyed’s thick fluffy fur. The dog lay down beside her and gazed out to the rippling greenish water. The white ruff blew back from her face, and her wide dark eyes turned golden.
Justine glanced out toward the islands. To the left lay Vancouver Island, to the right the last snowy peak in the Cascade mountain chain, named after some egotist who thought because he had climbed it, it was his. Down the dark strait paraded several huge freighters, bringing automobiles, televisions and computers from the other side of the world.
A gentle breeze caressed her face as she rose and angled toward the water. Little waves patted the sand, and her sandals were soon wet. Striding along the pebbly shore, she strained to watch two bald eagles swoop down from the cliff and gliding down the shore, disappear into the distant forest.
The dog lingered among the grasses higher on the beach, while Justine stooped and lost herself among the shingle, her hand instinctively reaching for the sparkling pure white quartzes scattered among the dimmer stones. She picked up several smooth ovals, polished by glaciers grinding the North American coast for thousands of years, and stuffed the lovely jewels deep into her pockets, where she secretly continued to stroke their silky skins.
In the water a solitary gray heron stood motionless, staring out to sea. “Honored heron on your rock, can you tell me what o’clock? Is it time to hurry home, or may I stop and watch...” her mind jingled as she walked on. Crows in black robes jumped madly over straggly piles of seaweed. Attentive gulls squealed and mewed. The sky was becoming a bright white light. She walked over footprints in the alternatingly wet and dry sand, while the dog raced over rocky tide pools, chasing crows and gulls and dainty sandpipers.
Alongside her arose walls of golden sandstone, parched and deeply carved by many seasons of rain. Atop them grew a dense tangle of shaggy grasses, and behind the rough bramble a fir forest mingled with mature red madronas sprouting yellow blooms. Streaks and swathes of clouds painted the sky; white banks slowly spread into vast fans, and behind them troops of ash darkened to chilling charcoal. At the foot of the cliff her beloved dog lingered among bushes of delicate coral quince. On a mossy rock surrounded by centrifuging eddies, a gray and white gull lifted its thin pink feet and flew away with a cry.
Justine felt a soft drizzle on her hair, and all at once a mass of large white hailstones came crashing down. She lowered her head and quickened her pace. But by the time she had reached the steep gray wall of the cliff, the hail had already ceased and the sky was empty of clouds.
Once again there was only light—and hundreds of white-bellied brants coasting on the water’s smooth crests, their impassive black heads pointing. Sitting down, she pulled the rocks from her heavy sagging pockets and dropped them onto the warm sand. One by one she picked them up, rubbing her fingers over their sensuous contours and gazing deep into their core. The smooth luminous quartzes she arranged in a circle, stacking them into a round female form. Then she pulled her legs into a lotus, straightened her spine as if it dangled from an endless thread of light, dropped her chin and closed her eyes. For a moment she recalled sitting inside a huge fragrant red cedar in the Olympic rainforest, breathing the rich moist air, and her mind grew still.
Her mind’s eye slowly traced her body, releasing the tension from toes, ankles, calves, thighs, buttocks, belly, chest, shoulders, arms, wrist and fingers, neck, head, face and jaw. She regarded the space between her eyebrows, where golden points stippled the dark and flowered into a white circle. Her mouth fell open, and inhaling as deeply as she could, she slowly released the sound Om. Again she inhaled and let the syllable ‘Om’ unfold from deep within her, her whole being resonating like a musical instrument as she let out her breath. A third time she chanted the ancient syllable that echoed the original sound of the universe emerging from its Source. Then she was silent.
Breathing in, breathing out, following her own breath and watching the play of light within her own mind, she sat motionless as Creation coursed timelessly through her body, which now fell away like a dry shell. Sometimes thoughts passed through. She saw snow falling on the Minneapolis airport, slabs of beef being eaten in the restaurant amidst loud talk of money. She continued her breathing and returned her attention to the light. She saw herself stepping with trepidation out of the airplane onto the landing field of the San Francisco Airport and felt the fierce wind. Joanne, waiting for her among the crowd, smiled briefly/quickly and looked away as she took one of Justine’s bags.
“It’s heavy,” Justine teased, wounded by Joanne’s unexpected distance. “It holds a really good bottle of French Gigondas, for us to celebrate my fiftieth birthday and my return home.”
Again Justine brought her attention back to her breathing, and the painful thoughts momentarily scattered. But now they returned with a vengeance: “What is the point of all this?” she was asking herself as she gazed out over the Bay Area, feeling revolted by all the meaningless activity. She had retrieved her car, the white Lincoln her father gave her before his death, and had driven north on I-5 into the dazzling white grandeur of Mount Shasta. Hundreds of miles later she arrived at the quiet port on the Olympic Peninsula. An old poet friend welcomed her, chuckling, “You’ve finally made it to the end of the road.”
Justine sat up and opened her eyes. She gazed straight out to the horizon, which was glistening. And there she imagined the Divine Mother dressed in white silk, seated upon a huge open pink lotus, her raven-black hair drawn back, her eyes closed, a diamond-studded crescent moon on one nostril. It was very peaceful to gaze so, upon Her. She dropped her eyelids again. Now pink and silver and a hundred kinds of blue filled the sky of her mind. She looked straight into the burning eyes of the Divine Mother. Ma, she inhaled deeply all the powerful love of the Mother.
Om, she exhaled her own radiant light. After some time Justine picked up her mala, the prayer beads sent her by a friend who had dipped them in the holy Ganges. She began to say her mantra over and over, with each saying moving one of the one hundred and eight sacred sandal beads. As she pushed the last bead, she bowed her head into the sand.
“What am I to do with my life?” she asked. Slowly she stood up. Should she return to France, or to India—and abandon everything. Should she seek a partner at this late date, or join an ashram and become a nun, or return to the Golden State, where spiritual masters converged from every corner of the world, and continue her writing and teaching.
Could spirituality ever be conveyed by modern Western art, so estranged from life in comparison to the tribal art of the ancients, she mused as she headed back in the direction of the car under a glowing warm peach sky. The searching eyes of one of her pupils appeared before her. She stopped, turned around and looked back at the sun boiling on the horizon. For a moment she saw Carol, her dear friend since third grade, dressed in sunny yellow, handing her the key to her house among the redwoods, still waiting for her to “come home”.
Turning round again, she continued along the shore, already darkening in shadow. She pictured her cedar house on the strait, the garden full of ruffled fragrant pink roses—Sweet Inspiration, Breathless, Peace, rhododendrons in every shade of red and rose, big bushy lilacs, purple clematis clamoring up the front steps, wild roses hedging the yard with their open pink blooms, the whole house shuddering in wintry gales for months on end, herself seated inside at her computer writing, writing, writing.
Where was home? Walking, Justine brushed sand off her cold damp pants. The clouds were pink on gray, and more pink on gray. The rosy sunset was in the process of transforming itself into gold. The long island on the other side of the strait looked now like a Greek temple, now like the Navajos’ Canyon de Chelly. Two black birds flew side by side its entire length. At her feet the water was bright pink; on the sand it was silver and blue. Even the windows of the houses she passed reflected the golden pink of the Mother. The Mother was here. She was everywhere. The strait was rippling, rosy teal. Chorus upon chorus sang from its waves. But to hear all those words would take her lifetimes. Nevertheless, a new era had arrived on Earth. The Mother had returned. What an agony all this waiting had been, so far from Her. Now she sobbed like a little girl bereft, so bereft. She stopped to look over her shoulder at the healing hot-peach twilight she adored. An older couple, strolling by, asked her if she knew the name of the mountain. Justine looked up at it, covered in massive robes of majesty. “Yes. Mount Mira. Mira means miracle,” she answered, smiling to herself as she liberated the great mountain from its oppressive patriarchal appellation. “Oh, thank you,” the couple responded in unison and happily passed on by. In the vivid golden red sky, Justine could see nothing but Her. She felt the whole Earth nurturing her from Her vast outpouring breast.
Janine Canan is the author of 13 books of poetry, most recently In the Palace of Creation: Selected Works 1969-1999. Her collections, Changing Woman and Star in My forehead: Selected Poems by Else Lasker-Schüler (translations) have received commendation from Book Sense, City Lights Books and Small Press Review. Her writing appears in Awakened Woman, Exquisite Corpse, Judith’s Table, Kalliope, Wemoon Calendar; and in dozens of anthologies, including Birnbaum's She Is Everywhere, Codrescu's American Poets Say Goodbye to the 20thCentury, Cotner's Comfort Prayers & Get Well Wishes, Harvey's The Divine Feminine, Muten's Her Words, Laughlin's New Directions, Ford-Gabrovsky's Womanprayers, and Macmillan's Women Poets of the World .
Canan edited Messages from Amma: In the Language of the Heart; The Rhyme of the Ag-ed Mariness: Last Poems of Lynn Lonidier; and the award-winning anthology, She Rises like the Sun: Invocations of the Goddess by Contemporary American Women Poets. Her stories, Journeys with Justine, illustrated by Cristina Biaggi, will be out soon.
Janine has taught poetry, and has given many poetry readings in milieu such as City University of New York, National Poetry Week of San Francisco, Powell Books, Rutgers University, Shakespeare & Co. in Paris, the Smithsonian Institute, Stanford University, and UC Berkeley Art Museum, as well as on radio and television.
Born in Los Angeles in 1942, she is a Stanford graduate with distinction, received an MD from NYU School of Medicine in 1976, and is today a practicing psychiatrist in Sonoma, California. You may visit her at JanineCanan.com.