In between two buildings, in a fenced off area, I notice a rare thing around here: grass gone to seed. The tossing grain heads bring to mind wild horses on the Sierra. I love how their movements are both random and in unison, as if each silken stem conducts its own symphony, but in the same timing. The guards don’t like that sort of chaos and make us chop growth before it gets that far and triggers a startling recollection
of walking through timothy up to your waist. The sticky fingers of grasshoppers fly at your arms held out to the sides over the coarse tips. The sweet smells of life in the humid white air. Buzzing all around of horseflies, green flies and majestic purple dragonflies. Rabbits rustle and copperheads slither silent. Bobwhites ask what’s next, what’s next: a dip in the pond or a run down the sled hill and the feeling of flight. It’s a stark contrast to this
place of slow death behind the wall. It takes an act of will and consistent effort against the weight of the place. Where time layers up like the sides of a canyon: the sediment of bureaucracy and the laws formed from rumor and prejudice; the limestone of the dead before their time; the schist of the averted eye; the shale of fear-selling politicians making their careers with their war on crime. To fight the malaise,
I notice as much as I can: a family of chipping sparrows has been dropping by for the leavings of men feeding pigeons. At first it’s just a few chippies. I watch from August to October as the family grows to twenty hoppers among the huge plodding pigeons. A close look reveals grasshoppers disguised as sand and lethargic as rock. I notice a pair of bronze-headed cowbirds ―long sleek and black with a hint of green in the sun. They sneak elegantly about like little spies. Each of these creatures is a door
to my old world. I can smell the kelp beds as I wait for a wave in freezing Santa Cruz surf and a sea otter glides by on his back knocking a shellfish against a rock on his belly. Yesterday I was in the cell
of an old native, looking at his latest gorgeous oil painting of a horse and rider at dusk on a desolate snowy landscape. He looked at me with a crow’s eyes, pointed to his temple and said, I have a life sentence, but this they can’t lock up.