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Brain on Vacation Swaying palm trees, warm sun, and a mosaic compass drift through peaceful consciousness near the Sea of Cortez. | By Margaretta K. Mitchell

The morning vista: silhouettes of palm trees, bougainvillea vines and every manner of tropical plant shading me from the hot, white light of the early morning sun. Eyes, half-lidded, sleepy from a good night's rest and drifting easy days, look out on the flat blue of the Sea of Cortez. The scene is simple: beach, water, rocks beyond the vegetation. Someone in white raking the path beyond the porch where I am lying against pillows facing the dawn.

As I lie there, half awake, thoughts invade the picture. The brain is such a mystery, I think, Where is it anyway? Although I imagine it to be the seat of intelligence and reside in the head, I know that the brain is many things, mostly circuitry, like the computer hardware, as it is often said. Is the heart the source of emotion or just a leathery pump? Maybe the breath is really heart and brain or the place in between. Without breath there is no electrochemical circuitry functioning in the neural network labeled brain. I catch myself in this stream of thought and stop. I am on vacation. Stop this thinking!

Later in the day, eyes closed, body horizontal, tingling with the warmth of sun on wet skin, shining from a swim. Eyes closed, body supine, face-up to the last rays of afternoon sunlight. Without opening my eye colors sweep across the acqueous horizon, first red, then yellow, now black or blue. A flicker catches the sun's orb for just a fraction of a second. From the left a spot like a daub of paint appears in the swatch of red, like a smoldering fire, the blue orb glows. Above the palm fronds undulate rhythmically and indolently as if they are moving the air, creating a stab of deep blue in my sun-red viscous landscape, changing the inner eye horizon line. My brain picks up each subtle flicker of light and dark with the swatch of paint moving from light on dark to dark on light. Is it a message from the brain that I even notice this watercolor in the folds of my eyelids? Or is it an image of the unconscious, the gift of a painting a wash of color with a dash of pigment: souvenir from the tropical sun.

Finally, after some days in this Mexican hacienda, my brain, asleep, or awake, has become as fluid as the waveless swimming pool water before me. Water, deep, dark blue, reflecting the color of the blue tile. There at the center bottom of the pool lies a mosaic compass to remind me of the world beyond this place at the tip of Baja California. The points of the star indicate north, south, east, and west. Here at the center in my brain is the moment like the compass that points to all directions and finds nothing to do. There is only the moment: the body in the light, in the water, in the bed.

In a tropical Eden, eyes close. Sleep awakens the mind to another dimension where each strand of air touches the limbs in separate strokes. The clear air encircles me, feeling light, soft, sensual. The body lies in the air as in a hammock.

This is a place of endless beaches. I must have walked; I feel sand between my toes. This is a place for fish, for hot, fiery flavors. I must have eaten. I am satisfied. This is a time for rest. Sleep is profound. Nothing to dream. The body asleep drops like a stone in a pond. All the time the dream is awake. Blue sky. Rolling ocean waves, deep water. Nothing more than the next moment.

Eyes close. I hear sounds of people talking in English, en español, birds chirping, motor boats buzzing and the occasional blast of Mexican music as the wind blows down the beach from the café. "Ay, ay, ay, Paloma . . ."

When my eyes open, I see a darkening sky at the horizon and above, straight up, circling high above the palms in the lightest part of the sky, a family of vultures, their wide wings spread to float on the funnel of air, round and round. Is it they who have plucked out my brain as I lay asleep in the sun? Or did I hide my brain in my body, spreading its cells down to my toes, out to my fingers? The vultures could have taken those others lying on their towels, bodies painted with the red of the sun's rays. The men have those bellies that tell their stories better than words. Next to them recline the mounds of their oiled and bikinied partners. Surely they are better marinated than I, more ready to be plucked. They have the enticement of fresh, young meat, just roasted: carne asada. Perfect for the vulture's beak. What targets they must make from the bird's point of view!

I have now retreated under my blue-and-white striped towel, safe from sacrifice, quietly reveling in the drowsy-eyed painting caught in the curve of my eyelid, a gift of the Gods. I will not be eaten. Gracias à Dios.

Margaretta K. Mitchell is a nationally known artist and professional photographer, author, and educator based in the East Bay.



Photo Collage by SpiralA.