We drive to Naivasha, speed along the steep escarpment of the Great Rift Valley, swerve around donkeys and cyclists. One man has a huge silver cylinder strapped to the back of his bike, is swerving as he pedals centimeters from roaring lorries. I realize as we pass that he is also texting on his phone. The girls listen to Narnia books on CD, complain when Phil doesn’t give his usual commentary on the valley, Mt. Longonot. I grip the door handle every time Phil passes a matatu, avert my eyes from the rail-less drops along the shoulder.

The kids splash in the brown river that cuts through the ravine. The walls of the ravine are lined with layers of rock, every shade of green, vervet monkeys. We listen for the snort of hippos. The older girls find a log and start a ferrying business, charging the younger kids ten rocks for a ride down the river on their boat. We skip stones, discuss theology, remind the swimmers to not let the water in their mouths. The rocks are smooth and warm under our feet, our backs. The girls collect them in their pockets and empty chip containers.

At night the moon is so bright we don’t use flashlights, The world is blue, blurry and glowing. We pass chocolate and wine bottles around the fire, tell the stories that hadn’t been told in daylight, coaxed out by that unusual dark light.

A dragon fly lands on my computer, its spider web wings twitch, its rounded jaws in constant motion, its striped body pulsing with its lungless breath. It flies away and then lands in a new position, over and over, always perching on the edge of my laptop screen. I wonder what it wants to tell me, or if it is just showing off its miraculous body.

A firefinch lands on the clay bowl, pecks at sunflower seeds soggy from the rain. I haven’t seen one in so long, have forgotten its unexpected redness, the colour of blood, of pomegranates.

P and I brew a pot of dark Kenyan tea to house our new Kombucha culture, gifted from a neighbour. We name him Bucho, call him our new pet, exclaim over his large lips grinning through the glass vase. Later M runs from the kitchen screaming when she hears he is alive. “I thought you wanted a pet!” I call after her. “Not one that actually lives and eats!” P smiles and touches the glass with affection.

There is a gathering of birds beside the porch, in one instant I see a streaky seed eater, a robin chat, two firefinches and three bronze mannekins. I feel privileged to move alongside this grand society.

P rollerblades through the house, plays loudly on the plastic recorder hanging around her neck, stops only to slide down the stairs on her bottom.

I walk to the forest after the girls are in bed, stumble over bumps on the dark gravelly path. Security lights glow yellow behind the leaves, send long shadows over the ground. I am most surprised by the noise, the bellowing frogs, the screeching chorus of crickets. These days the headlines describe black holes, different dimensions, while I am astounded at the unknown universe that exists in the valley below my house, these night creatures, this noisy civilization.

The trees smell different in the night, the boundaries between their smells more distinct. My vocabulary of smells is so limited in the face of all this diversity, the scent of each tree’s breath: some are sharp, clinical, others are rounder, warmer. I hold their breath in my lungs. When I touch the smooth trunk of a small tree I am startled at its warmth, wonder if it is the afterglow of the Kenyan sun or the heat of its own growing.

Lenten Homily (an excerpt)

The awful, obvious truth of the matter is that any one of us could die on the way through Ruaka this afternoon, and yet we tend to forget how fragile life is, to pretend we’re in control and mostly invincible. We manage to convince ourselves that Youtube is better than walking under trees and that scolding our kids is more important than hugging them and that arguing about what we believe is more valuable than washing each others’ feet. There are plenty of things that snap us out of this folly eventually, and unfortunately most of them involve doctor’s reports and middle of the night phone calls and more grief than we think we can bear. There are wildernesses coming, you can be sure, and some of you are in the thick of them right now.
But for those of us mostly bumbling along in ordinary time, maybe we can choose to enter a mini-wilderness this Lent, clear away enough of the distractions and obsessions to see and feel the life we’re actually living, check in with the fragile soul hiding behind our ribs and our public faces, notice how lonely or sad or scared or disconnected we are.
Or maybe, just as importantly, see with a little more clarity how lonely or sad or scared or disconnected our kids are or our friends or our students or the teller at the bank. Maybe choosing to enter a wilderness of our own accord will reveal to us how many people are already wandering there without choosing. My guess is that if we’re brave enough to ask God this Lent to show us who is alone and starving in the wilderness, we’d find a steady stream of thirsty souls crossing our paths, and God-willing, maybe we’ll be fasting from the right things so that we actually are able to see them, hear them, bring them a drink of water.
And although I myself don’t yet know or understand what exactly it means, all the saints and mystics through the ages promise us that if we spend enough time there in the wilderness, eventually we may even meet Christ himself.

Bone Dust

My grandfather cleared
the brush off a square of
prairie, woke in the black of
winter to build barns, plow
long fields of canola, wheat.

My father grew with those
fields, learned the curve
of the machinery with eager
calloused hands, gave
his strongest years to
the soil, straw, animals
of that place.

I sleep late, carry my
coffee and poetry to a
a grove of banana trees,
stain my bare feet with the
soil of a place my grandfather
never knew, a land that
holds someone else’s
bones, the blood of their striving.

What pearl of great price
have I traded for these
lazy days under the equator,
which square of land will
welcome the dust of my bones,
knowing I withheld from it
my strongest years?

This morning the rain falls in individual drops, a slow syncopation on the banana trees, the roof of the plastic car in the lawn. The birds call to each other across the valley, staying dry beneath the tree leaves, waiting for the flying termites to emerge from the wet earth.

The girls’ dolls are spread across the house, long rows of small shoes along the edges of the coffee table, a picnic blanket spread under the potted plant. I don’t know if it’s more important that they learn to clean up or that their imaginary world remains intact. I regret how often I’ve intruded in their private universe.

Phil promises a piece of licorice to any girl who can make it half way across the slackline stretched over the yard. They practice over and over, argue about whose turn it is, fall and scrape ankles and knees, small wobbly acrobats.

A robin is collecting small twigs from my flower bed, its orange beak bobbing wildly as it tries to grab just one more stick. It lifts its wings, flaps into the low branches of the avocado tree, carries its treasure to a secret home.

When the delivery of our Indian food takes too many hours, we wait in the dark on the front steps, sing songs about the moon, the stars, the mongoose. We dance on the cool pavement, the girls in their pajamas, spin in circles and laugh at our improvised lyrics.


If my grandmother’s soul

could fly with the soft

grey feathers

of a young hawk

or the fierce

curved beak

of a great eagle

(who knows if

the winds that

blew away

the powder

of her bones

have left her

more fierce

or more gentle),

would she find me

here on the far

side of the earth,

tucked under

these strange trees,

watching the constellations

point the wrong direction?

Could she forgive

my betrayal

of the homestead

that cradles the dust

of her wrinkled skin,

and land on the bougainvillea

outside my window

to bless me with

her eagle eyes?