Make a Wish

It was June of 1997. My favorite place on the riverbank. “C’mon, smile for me,” my boyfriend said. I lifted the sides of my mouth. Some of the tension ebbed away. It was hard to be upset when I was here. I had moved into my own place by then, but he wouldn’t let me go. Relationships are work, he’d say. Over and over. His fingers digging into my shoulder.

The following year. Same place, same season. That boyfriend now banished from my life. Banished, but now obsessed. His grip on reality had completely shredded. I saved the incoherent threats that he left on my answering machine. Just in case they were needed as evidence. I would soon be leaving for Arizona. A safer place. The turmoil in my heart. The river’s voice telling me, Go. You will be back one day. I will be here. Always.

The sound of footsteps and voices behind me. I turned to look. A couple stood there. The woman had her arms wrapped around herself. Her eyes were wide and terrified as she looked all around her. She gasped when she saw me. “Aren’t you scared to be out here all alone?”

I smiled and shook my head. “No.”

A spasm seized her face. Fear mingled with contempt. They moved on without another word.

I smiled again, to myself. And whispered, “No.”

Spring’s awakening softens into summer’s daydream. I melt into the warm soil. Summer is lushness, indolence. I used to believe that people who preferred summer over all other seasons lacked personality. It’s the easiest season to love. But this year, I allow myself that guilty pleasure. Luxuriate in every precious day. All too soon it will be finished.

Why is it that we so often make things more difficult than they need to be? Who made up the rule that only that which comes from struggle is valuable?

I now live in my little cabin. I walk softly within these walls. Sweep my gaze and run my hands over the work I’ve done. Cosmetic work, but still arduous. The dark-stained ceiling and the whitewashed shiplap walls. Yes, I really did all of that. Yes, this paradise is really mine. My mother unearths a couple of storage tubs from her garage. The things I’d saved before I moved away all those years ago. I find the black and white photo of me by the river. My mother had it framed. I hold it in my hands for a long while. If I hadn’t been driven away, I wouldn’t have had the incredible life I’ve had. The nineteen years with Monsieur Riso. The travels. The most important thing that I’ve learned: if life is putting up roadblocks, stop trying to tear them down. Take the detours. Go.

Summer. That feeling of passing through the gateway to Heaven on Earth.

A night, I lie awake and watch the forest lights outside my window. Sharp flickers of lightning, like knife slashes. The languid blinking of fireflies. Eerie, drifting beacons inviting me into the night’s mystery.

In late June, a robin builds a nest in my bedroom window. At first, she fails. The material she gathers falls to the ground. I try to help, first opening the window a little more, then closing it. Finally she succeeds. The eggs hatch. If I stand on tiptoes, I can see the little beaks poking out of the nest. Tiny, shrill voices emanate from within. The male robin stands guard in the trees. If I get too close to the window, he flies towards me, his neck feathers raised in outrage.

One afternoon, the parents are absent. I walk to the window, startling one of the babies. It flies out of the nest and lands on the ground. It does not move. My heart withers. I go outside and stand over it. It stares upwards. If I come too close, it opens its beak as if to bite me. I lift my eyes to the trees. Where are you, parents? I look down again. Leave it alone. You’re not helping it by helping it. It has to learn how to survive. Let it go.

In the other world, people gather, high on reclaimed freedom. I retreat to the trails. My heart once again battered. My mind a maelstrom. The same lesson comes back to haunt us. Different incarnations of the same phantom. We only ever harm ourselves by the choices we make. Others cannot hurt us without our decision to let them in.

Feel how you damn well feel like feeling. Feel it all. The deluge. The ebb. The exhaustion. Walk it off, is what coaches often tell you when you injure yourself. Mud-splattered legs, soggy shoes. We never truly get over anything. Do we?

I look at the ground. My heart stops. A raven feather lies by the side of the trail. I bend over to pick it up. A single croak is released from the treetops. I look up and whisper, “Thank you.”

I move along, twirling the feather. We process, assimilate, shift. Alter our behavior. For better or worse. We teach ourselves how to survive.

Every hike is a story. The twists and turns and ups and downs of the trail. The chance encounters with animals I’ve only seen dead in the middle of the road. I stop and observe. The porcupine. The baby skunk. They scuttle along, indifferent to my presence.

I pass by lotus-filled lakes and tannin-stained streams. Through forests of pine and hardwood. Until I get to the end. Even though the view is different on the way back, it somehow always seems shorter.

I gather serenity from the wilderness and build a sanctuary of my presence. Stand guard. Until I can discern who is worthy, no one is getting in. In the deepest, darkest corner of my labyrinth, I corner the oldest of phantoms. It looms over me. No matter how many lost souls you try to heal with your love, it won’t make up for not having saved your father. I shake my head and sigh. It’s not my job, anymore. It never has been. The time has come for you to go.

August. I write by the light of a sun tinted by the smoke of distant wildfires. A coppery light that further dilutes the boundaries of memory.

It was last summer, around this time, that I crossed paths with some little girls on the trail that runs behind my property. They came out of the woods next to the meadow, flowers in their hair and sticks in their grasp. I recognized that look in their eyes. All feral mischief. Were they pretending to be fairies or witches or squaws as I used to do when I was their age? What spells had they just finished casting to the sky? What incantations had they composed and sung to the trees? They walked up to me and introduced themselves and said they were part of another family that had owned a cottage here since the time of my grandpa.

“I used to play out here, too, when I was your age.”

“We know,” the older one said.

They headed towards their cottage and I headed up the path. I had reached the middle of the meadow when I saw the hearts. They were etched in the trail every few steps.

Deep breath. Close your eyes. Open your heart. Make a wish and let it go. The dreamy drift of a bloom’s dissolution. Such beauty now in pieces. Transported on a breath – a breath not taken away, but unleashed without reservation. A passionate dissemination of new possibilities. Now: surrender to the mystery. Wishes are always granted, but not always in the form you expect. A gentle tumble into fertile soil. Earth’s soft embrace. And it all begins again.

And so I wish to stop wishing.

And so it comes to pass.

And so I discover that I already have everything I’ve ever wanted.

Season 3 Episode 30: Julie Riso on Awakening to Nature

“Each day brings a new surprise – another songbird’s voice, new buds emerge, and, finally, wildflowers. Marsh marigolds first, then violets. The …

Season 3 Episode 30: Julie Riso on Awakening to Nature

Rebecca Budd, some of you know her as “Clanmother”, was one of the first bloggers I met on WP. This is going on ten years now, back when I had my Budapest photo blog and this here blog didn’t yet exist. Rebecca is one of the most prolific bloggers that I know, both as a creator and a reader/commenter. I’ve had readers tell me how much they appreciate her insights.

Rebecca also does a weekly podcast- Tea, Toast, & Trivia – with an eclectic blend of guests and topics. She’s the only one who has managed to coax me into a recorded conversation. This is far out of my comfort zone. I’m a writer, not a talker. The podcast, entitled “Awakening to Nature”, is around 15 minutes. Please feel free to mosey on over to her place via the link. Comments are closed here but you are very welcome to share your thoughts over there.

The Journey

Beijing, China - April 2016

A massive red wall rises before me. Mao's image hangs on high, watching over all. A soldier stands motionless, eyes squeezed shut against the sun. An endless stream of bodies shuffle forward, phones held high in reverence. One does not visit Beijing without visiting The Forbidden City. The tourists file into the belly of the beast. Hundreds and hundreds of individuals. I turn away and walk against the flow. Not today, thanks.

Those tremors of excitement are contagious. Vibrations that emanate from one body to the other. But: is it because of the history, or because it's famous?

I felt them, too, long ago. It made up for the unsettling numbness inside. Why didn't I feel what I was supposed to feel? What was I doing wrong? There were few famous sites that truly interested me. I went because I was told that this is what one does when one visits ___(insert city here)___.

Paris 1988. The Louvre. The line to see the Mona Lisa stretched down the long corridors. We shuffled forward, a listless procession. And then, there she was, hanging on a wall behind a wall, way behind a glass window. Each person had just enough time for a glimpse before we were ordered to move along. Do I feel like my life is richer for that glimpse? Nope.

And yet, it was not time wasted. Sometimes you have to experience what you don't want to realize what it is that you do want.

I want. To inhabit a place with all my spirit. With every step, every glance, every breath, every sensation.

Paris 1999. Drifting through the streets. Cafes and street art. The little rituals of daily life. The philosophical grafitti scrawled on the metro. The soft pride I felt when I realized that I could understand it. The language that was blossoming into my second.

After the obedience came the period of defiance. Disdain. The deliberate avoidance of the Must See lists. But that didn't last long. Let people be as they wish. There is no perfect way to travel. It's all good.

And so I drift. Until Beijing feels like home. It never takes long, anymore.

Off the main drag and through a vibrant portal. They call these little alleys hutongs. This is where life happens. Tiny teahouses and cafes: battered metal tables and plastic chairs on the sidewalk. The tangy aroma of seafood enveloped in a cloud of cigarette smoke and grease. The rasp of brooms sweeping pavement. The language, so birdlike. Emphatic chirps that pierce the air. Weave in and out of bicycles and carts and cats and dogs. Watch where you step.

This impossible shade of red, everywhere. Like blood, like love.


Shop owners lean in doorways or sit on steps. Their heads turn to watch me pass. One waves and calls out, “Where are you from?"

I halt, perplexed. Where am I from, anymore? America, my birth country? France, my adopted nationality? Czech Republic, my current place of residence? Outer Space? Inner Space? The same point of origin from which each human comes into being? Everywhere and nowhere?

“France,” is what flies out of my mouth in reply. I'm traveling on my French passport. It's as good of a response as any.

“Bonjour!” He flashes a tea-stained grin.

I smile and bow my head. “Nĭ hăo”. And mosey along.

On the right, a crimson gateway beckons. The Confucius Temple. I'd hoped I'd find my way here.

The noise from the hutong soon recedes. Once again, I've found the quiet place in the chaos. The solitude in the hive. I peer into the face of this holy man. Set in stone for eternity.

What would you like to say to me, Confucius? Would you say that we are all one? All the same? That's what we're told we're supposed to feel in order to be considered spiritually evolved. But I don't. I know almost nothing about you, or your words, but somehow I feel you'd understand this.
I venture deep into the complex. Through the multi-colored temples. I pause and peer into a koi pond. The fish float motionless. They glow like coins in a wishing well.

We all draw from the same reservoir of thought. Some stand on the edge, completely dry. Some wade in. Others submerge themselves. Luxuriate in the depths. And, in so doing, find treasure.

Shrill music emanates from the back of the complex. I drift back there and peek around a corner. A group of young girls are practicing traditional dance. The teacher, a young man, sashays back and forth, hands on his slim hips. He disappears out of my line of sight. The traditional music comes to an abrupt halt. Chinese pop music takes its place. The teacher pirouettes, and claps his hands, pumping his long arms up and out. The girls imitate his steps, giggling. And then, one by one, they find their unique groove.

I watch, unseen. This hidden little corner is worth more than any famous monument. I turn away and head back through the complex. I pause, once again before a pearly white statue. A face, so inscrutable. A jolt seizes me. It softens into a gentle glimmer of pride. I bow one more time.

All those years ago, I set out to discover myself. That journey will never end, and I don't want it to. And yet, I believe I have succeeded.

Roads were made for journeys, not destinations – Confucius