Sometime After Dawn

It happened this morning, I imagine, sometime after dawn. The fuzzy pod split its seam when the pressure mounted, and the vibrant, papery petals spread wide to the lightening sky. The pod lay atop its newborn like a protector, and would stay there until time to truly let go. The moon hung nearly full and white and round somewhere still in view to the west. How fabulously tiny this event was compared to that and to the silence of that morning twilight time, dawn.

I missed all of this, of course, but the opened poppy caught my eye when I passed a window on the way to make a cup of coffee. I stopped, spun, and headed the other way. This was a birth I had to see.

Poppies are magical to me. I call them my totem flower, which means to me they’re something special, mystical, important. They remind me a certain moment many years ago, when I was 14 and had just come out the other side of a hard change that transformed me. It had rained hard the night before, and when it ended, I took a walk in my new neighborhood. I was new here, I didn’t know these streets or these houses and their gardens. And there it was, a bed of poppies in a neighbor’s front yard, fragile, weather-beaten, and somehow still teetering on narrow stems, holding open their papery petals as if to say “we made it.” Resilience. I understood that so well. A reminder, too, that life is good. The moment etched.

Poppies remind me of that moment so long ago. I keep a small painting of one I bought from an Italian artist selling his work by the River Arno in Florence. But the poppies that thrill me the most are the ones that appeared in front of my house the year it was built (in 2010) just months after I created small garden plots out front.

I didn’t plant a single poppy.

And this is what happened.

Plants are called volunteers when they show up without being planted. These volunteers circled the front of my new house, perfectly positioned on either side of the front walk and nowhere in sight anywhere else around my house or in the big meadow that surrounds it. One of those unexplainable little winks from the universe. Right place, right time; exactly where I need to be; home at last.

Winter came, and I pulled the poppies. I shook their seeds out of their dried pods and saved them, planning to scatter them around the meadow this spring and take my chances with the birds feasting on them.

And I never did it. Spring came and the seeds stayed in their envelope. I hoped magic would just happen again, that poppies would raise up out of the soil all around my house again. But March came and April passed by, and there wasn’t a single poppy.

But in early May I saw it: the fringey green leaves of an Oriental poppy had lifted from the soil where none had ever grown before. This time it was at the back step, my true entrance to the house. A few days ago I could see the buds fuller and the stems arcing higher, readying for that burst that could happen any day now. It was kind of exciting, in a weird way, waiting for a flower to bloom. But this wasn’t just any flower. It was my totem flower. And when you get a wink like this from the universe, well, you just want to offer everyone a cigar.


Seeing the first bloom and remembering magic is real.

Refreshing Retinas

The memoir writing conference put on by Story Circle was three days in Austin, Texas, Apr 13 – 15, and I flew in from San Francisco in time to give a coaching session on writing good query letters and selling your book. The next day I presented on handling the truth in memoir, one of my favorite subjects, and after that I sat in on other talks and took notes I’ll read on the flight home.

But interesting as it was, three days indoors in air-conditioning took its toll, and it was time for something to rest my mind and refresh my retinas when the conference ended. I wouldn’t fly out until the next morning, to Florida for a week. So I hooked up with another writer and drove to Austin’s Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

We had 45 minutes to closing. Who cared. The sun was shining, admission was free, and there were more butterflies dancing around those flowers than anywhere I’d ever been in my life.




Visiting life in a wildflower garden.

Can You Believe It?

It started with an earthy, guttural roar, a sound from out of the Mesozoic Era, which began 245 million years ago and lasted for 180 million years. I was on a nature walk in South Florida, where I’ve been visiting for a week. It was Friday, sometime between 11 and 1 o’clock and between sudden hard rains that fell from a moody sky. I was watching birds — who wouldn’t, when they look like this?

Now, blue herons are said to be a sign of good luck, a good omen, and it seemed it was when that loud, strange, prehistoric roar sounded. I turned fast to see tranquil water, a few birds darting from water shrub to tree, nothing more.

Another otherworldly roar.

I moved to the guardrail of the wooden path that crossed the lagoon and waited to see something.

More birds. I snapped another few shots.


(Sorry, that’s the best imitation I can do!)

I stopped looking at birds and studied the scene where the sound seemed to come from.

An Alligator on the Prowl
(it's really there!)

And then I saw it. An alligator sliding swiftly across the smooth waters.

The alligator had left a hiding place in the water shrubs and was on the prowl, its reptilian looking head, body and tail visible as it cut its path. It was soundless, eerie, wickedly dangerous. A predator on the prowl.

I waited for another roar, but there wasn’t a sound.

I hoped for drama, though I didn’t want to see any creature be killed. It was incredibly exciting to know I was safe and to witness this dangerous creature moving like a stealth bomber, a lethal submarine.

Too soon, the retreat came and was done with such skill I didn’t even see the turn, just saw the alligator, barely distinguishable from the color of the water under that darkening sky, fade out of sight. It disappeared somewhere in the waters cradled between plants, returning to another millennium.


Seeing the real deal — an alligator on the prowl in South Florida.

Graffiti of All Kinds

Walking down a street I noticed a cactus growing in front of a fence, and a bright red bud on it caught my eye. The bursts of needle-like spikes sprouting across the plant’s surface struck me as an interesting contrast to the forming flower — not the usual flowerbed — but the long shadows the spikes cast in the afternoon sun interested me more. I was enchanted by the details and pulled out my camera. But it wasn’t until I imported the photo to my computer that I saw what now seems such an obvious detail: a name carved into the tough skin of the plant — graffiti. How did I see the detail and still miss something?

It got me thinking, too, about name carving: leaving your print.

In the American Southwest you can see petroglyphs, ancient symbols carved into rock that reflect complex societies of local tribes and dating back many hundreds of years, in a few different places. Some sites have been made national monuments and are roped off because of graffiti people have felt compelled to write on them. In one location a few years ago I asked a ranger for his insider’s tip on petroglyphs that were off the grid. I’d had it with graffiti and ropes.

Two hours later, after a windy drive through mountains and across cattle guards, over plains and through meadowed valleys, my partner and I spied the two-domed hill the ranger had described. We parked at its base and, breathless with excitement, climbed to the top. At one point on the ascent I paused to take it all in and offer humble thanks to what truly felt like the presence of great spirits. An eerie wind kicked up, lifting my hair and sending chills down my spine. Just then I noticed at my feet pieces of pottery painted with the black lines I recognized from Anasazi pottery I’d seen in local museums. Not far from there I could detect the remains of a possibly thousand-year-old fire circle — small boulders forming a circle that could easily have enclosed a warming fire and place for cooking meat.

Astounded, I continued up, and there, at the top, was greeted by a rock surface almost as flat as a movie screen and on it, three gigantic petroglyphs. (This photo is not of that rock but is here to give you a taste of petroglyphs.) One was immediately recognizable: a woman giving birth. The figure stood with legs like an upside down “V” and with an oblong shape apparently dropping from its apex. We shot rolls of film that strangely never developed once back home, but the even greater surprise to me was this: on one of the smaller nearby rocks with petroglyphs people had carved in their names and the dates of their visits.

What is the nature of the human soul that it needs to announce its presence, express and record even if only by name? I’ve wondered this before and have no answer. If you have one, reply to this blog and let me know.

TREASURE OF THE DAY: Seeing a flower budding on a cactus amidst sharp spikes that made a dazzling pattern.

Now, to anyone following the strange footprints I posted about last week. Notice the shoe imprint just below the paw print. An artful sole?! Now about those two different sizes of paw prints from shoes of an identical size — you got me!

footing.2-sherman blog


Purple Petals

Patterns at my feet are especially stunning this week, and the other day, after a hard rain, I came across fallen magnolia petals creating quite a display.

The uneven surface of stones embedded in the soil surrounding the magnolia tree kept the petals free to wither and change form without being crushed by pedestrians walking up and down the path leading to the post office on Main Street. The magnolia tree doesn’t offer shade, doesn’t attract attention, except when its voluptuous white and purple flowers magnolia-tree-path - Sherman blogbloom every spring. When it’s in bloom, sometimes I stand under the tree for just a few moments, and no one passing by could have any idea why I’m standing there not even looking at the mail I’ve picked up at my box inside. I just like being surrounded by these spectacular, brief visits of beauty.

But it was different on this rainy afternoon. It wasn’t about taking in the blooms above me. The treasure was at my feet.


Magnolia in Rain - Sherman blogMagnolia petals scattered on stones.


I’d love to hear from you! Add your comment, subscribe to this blog and follow my posts on treasures I find in this extraordinary world. If you’d like to hunt for treasures, too, visit my website and sign up for the e-course I’m starting April 30!

Strange Footprints

strange footing - sherman blogSo I’m out there walking on a March afternoon, taking in long views across waves of green rolling hills in western Petaluma, when I glance down at the trail and see it: fresh prints of a three-toed creature. with three long claws. I see one print, and then another, and then a chain of them lining the dirt path I’m following, never veering from it to the grass at either side of the path, and I don’t stray either, but I do avoid marring their perfect strangeness. The earth is soft, and their impression is as clear as a handprint in sand. What in the world was here before me?

I turn and look behind me; a lone man in a T-shirt and jeans is jogging uphill. Ahead, two teenaged boys careen around on mountain bikes, looking for more adventure, and I’m thinking all they have to do for more thrill is look down at the path they’re crossing. The pattern of footprints is steady and clear. But they don’t see the pattern on the trail, they’re too busy looking for the best places to point their bike tires.

I keep walking, until the jogger finally reaches me, and when he does, I ask him what he thinks about the prints. He stops and looks down at the trail where he’s been raising dust. “Whaa?” he cries. He studies the footprints like I did when I first saw them, and we stand together, puzzling it out. We’re not getting anywhere, so after a few moments he shakes his head and takes off to continue his jog.

I shoot pictures, lots of them. I have to look closer at these images when I get home and email a few to a friend who knows animal tracks like most people know models of cars.

I try to imagine the creature whose feet made these prints — a hoary troll with legs like chicken drumsticks and tangled, wiry black hair hanging down its bare back? This isn’t the FOOTPATHS - sherman blogkind of place a hoary troll would typically take a walk on a sunny spring afternoon. The scene here is more than innocent, pastoral, serene.

I track the prints until they disappear near the top of the hill. I text one of the photos to a friend, and I hear back right away. She’s sure she knows what it is.

Do you? Leave a reply!


 A trail of mysterious footprints.


I’d love to hear from you! Add your comment (leave a reply). And if you like, subscribe to this blog and follow my posts on treasures I find in this extraordinary world. If you’d like to be a treasure hunter, too, visit my website and sign up for the e-course I’m offering, starting April 30!

It’s Your Turn!

A friend of mine celebrates New Year’s Day on Spring Equinox. It makes so much sense to start the new year on March 21, doesn’t it? Spring is ideal for beginnings, not the depths of winter. Here’s to tossing off the restrictions of the Gregorian calendar! The New Year has begun.

treasures of the dayAnd with this new year I’ve decided to offer a new online class this blog has inspired: Treasures of the Day: Finding the Extraordinary In the Ordinary.

As part of the online group you post your photos and short writings about the treasures you find. Every Monday for eight weeks I send the week’s topic and six suggestions for the treasure hunt direct to your inbox. You keep your eyes open for that treasure, snap a photo of it when you find it, and post the photo(s) along with a writing it inspires to the members-only site. The writings can be as short as a single line, a title, a poem, or something a little longer. It’s inspiring waking up wondering what the treasure will be today. Join me!

Get a new view. You’ll never see the same way again.

Layers of Triple Cream

There’s a saying, “The only way out of the desert is through it,” and that’s where I’ve been: walking the desert. I’m gritting my teeth, doing rehab exercises for this frozen shoulder and getting into the swing again. Sorry I’ve been away a couple of weeks.

Writing has always been my lifeline, and it was writing that threw me the rope last weekend, with a poetry workshop in Pt. Reyes, on Marin County’s wind-blown and mind-clearing Tomales Bay. Using a pen and notebook, with the workshop leader’s great topics, we quick pushed out nine poems in four hours.

I was back, and I knew three things:

1) I missed my blog and couldn’t wait to get back to it.

2) I can write even if it hurts my shoulder.

3) It’s time to expand beyond online memoir classes and offer a place for people to get involved in treasure hunting, like I am. Check out what I’m offering, starting April 30, on my website.

That afternoon I got back to treasure hunting after a few weeks away, and it felt great. I walked the breezy streets of coastal Pt. Reyes Station, a town with a population that barely tops 800, and stepped inside an artisan cheese shop called Cowgirl Creamery.

Fresh cheeses made from organic milk supplied by a local family creamery filled the refrigerator cases, but it was the newest ones, the rounds not even wrapped, that dazzled me. I was thinking about repeating patterns, my treasures topic for March, and they were here in abundance.


Globes of fragrant, fresh cheese.

Magnets Work Magic

Yesterday I took out the tiny silver hoop earring I’ve worn at the top of my left ear since 1991. Long time, right? But as they say, why fix what’s not broken? There’s never been a reason to change it. Until today.

Today, all metal had to come off — no earrings, no zippers, nothing that could interfere with the magnets at work in the MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) machine I was about slide into for a 20-minute process. An MRI is a special imaging machine that uses magnetic waves to create pictures of the body showing both tendons and bones. After weeks of debating about getting this test, I decided to do it and find out if I have a torn rotator cuff.

The technician had me change into a gown, then handed me a pair of earplugs and told me the MRI would be noisy.  “People usually like these,” she said, with a smile I didn’t understand. I put them in, waved goodbye to her, and climbed onto the table she would push into the bright chamber of the machine. I’d already signed a paper to say I’m not claustrophobic, but I had no idea I would be pushed into something like an oven with the door left open. I decided to close my eyes the moment I lay down, turn on a song in my head, and take off somewhere easier to be.

“You okay?” I heard the technician call out.

I wagged my feet, kept my eyes shut, continued playing the song in my head.

“Lie still!”

I didn’t move a muscle.

She’d warned me the sound was like jackhammers, but she didn’t say it was like lying on the sidewalk right beside a jackhammer. Sharp vibrations shuddered through me with quick, pounding beats. I focused on humming my peaceful song through it, at one point even letting myself hum aloud, until the technician said there was some blur coming through and I needed to be more still. I stopped humming, at least outwardly.

Next, I tried to be entertained by what was going on. The banging beats came from angles that kept changing, pounded over me, under me, to one side and then the other, teased my adrenals on a very primitive level to get the heck out of there. I controlled my “fight or flight” reaction with reassurance that everything was fine, tried to keep my breathing shallow so I wouldn’t blur the image again and have to be here any longer than necessary. It was hard not to laugh remembering the tech saying people “usually” like to wear earplugs. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything that loud that close before.

Now what in the world about this could be called a treasure?

The results those slamming jackhammers turned up. Sure, I may be in pain day and night with this shoulder joint injury, I may not be able to raise my arm more than a few inches to the front and side right now, but the good news is there’s no tear in my rotator cuff. In December I reached into the back seat of my car from the front seat, picked up a full water bottle, and nearly took my shoulder out of the socket. That $5 water bottle sure got expensive.

Today, to celebrate the news that it’s not as bad as it could have been, I’m wearing a tiny amethyst stud in place of that little silver ring I wore in my ear practically since the day I spontaneously got the piercing on Telegraph Avenue back in 1991. It’s on to ice packs and Advil, chiropractor visits and patience. And when I can raise both of my arms overhead again, I’ll really celebrate and treat myself to a tiny diamond stud.


Magnets brought me good news.

Let’s Go!

That’s where it all started, with a restless wind. Today, the wind rushes through redwood branches outside my window like water rushes downstream, dodging rocks, diving into caverns, moving on. Let’s go! it says, and I don’t ask where we’re going, I just jump on, ready for the ride on this magic carpet that announces itself by what it touches.

I grew up in Los Angeles, which is best known for Hollywood and smog, but there really is so much more. In fact, whatever’s there is there in excess: LOTS of cars, LOTS of freeways, LOTS of people, LOTS of houses, LOTS of strip malls, LOTS of supermarkets, LOTS of restaurants — you get the idea.

But no one ever talks about the wind.

The Santa Ana winds start at the same time every year in the desert somewhere between the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains. The air mass spills out of the Great Basin and is pulled by gravity into the surrounding lowlands. It circulates clockwise around the high pressure area, bringing winds from the east and northeast to Southern California.

When the Santa Anas come to LA, you can’t help but notice. The wild wind cavorts across parking lots, skitters down streets, darts between cars, pirouettes through alleyways, surges forward, determined. Plastic balls that have laid idle in backyards bounce as if by magic, smokers dip into doorways to light a cigarette, little girls laugh when their skirts fly up.

The rest of the year, all you hear is city sound: traffic, sirens, the distant drone of airplanes. The air is still, sometimes a little muggy, not usually noticeable at all unless it’s August and there’s a smog alert.

Everything is backwards about the Santa Ana winds. Winds usually blow westerly, across the ocean and east toward the deserts on the other side of LA, too high up to feel at this latitude. But with the Santa Anas, nothing is usual. A prickly shock can spark when two hands meet. A hairbrush might crackle through hair. If you’re lucky you might see specks of fire when you run a hand over a pant leg: even dust seems to ignite. When I was a kid these sparks were our fireflies and this wind, our tornado. It was exciting for a day or two. It was alive. What else in the city ran free? Wildness left this town a long time ago.

Every year until I was eighteen those Santa Anas thrilled me with their eerie warmth, the breath of the deserts on them. It was as if I could hear them sigh, “Look at you, City of Angels, you failed paradise.” I thought the same thing when I packed up to leave and never looked back.

The wind took me north to where I finally live where I want to live — somewhere even the air is alive. I’m 30 minutes from town, an hour from San Francisco, twenty minutes from the ocean, living in the lap of a big meadow surrounded by forest. Here, the skies are truly blue in the day, the stars at night take your breath away, the wind comes often and can be gentle or fierce, like it is this morning.

The thrill of it is real, a reminder of the great presence of the unseen, a whirl of energy that shouts Let’s go. I don’t care if a chair blows over on the deck or my daffodils sniff the earth, don’t mind untangling the thrashed tails of the wind sock made of colorful ribbons in the shape of a hot air balloon that hangs from a hook. I listen to the occasional whining whistle, the creak of wood, the sound of churning waves crashing on a sandy shore. Before I lived here I didn’t even know you could hear something like sweet breath in the trees. And the funny thing is, no matter how wild the wind is where I live, now matter how loud it shouts LET’S GO!, I’m never restless anymore.

forest wind - Sherman


Hearing the wind that takes me home.