Celestial downpour, and breakfast.

rain

I have never been accosted by the rain as much as I have on this trip. I once loved rain. From the safety and comfort of familiar shelter I could curl up with a hot beverage and appreciate the percussive qualities of every falling orb. But now I am soaked through, a sour, half-drowned cat floating grumpily down the rushing river that is our path, on a tiny piece of overpriced camping equipment known as a tent.  But the cost of doing anything else is too high for us. We are simple drudgery-minions of a capitalist society, with no jobs and a long trek ahead of us. People like us would be wise to budget themselves $10 a day at the most. The dent in our respective budgets was compounded when we sprung a leak in our last tent and had to stay in motels until it was replaced, but, honestly, we are also greedy and lazy, and we like hot, delicious non-instant coffee. That adds up, my friend.

No matter which way I cut it I am having a hard time wrapping my head around how I agreed, all those months ago, to leave the comfort of home and go camping across the United States, STARTING with the Pacific Northwest in early spring. Some people might call that stupid.

I suppose I just wanted to see something beautiful.

Florence bridge

We decided to leave the mountains of southwestern Oregon for the coast. At this point, I had lost my debit card and some of my sanity, and had still not gotten the hang of staying warm at night.  I was wearing five layers, including the famous and extremely outdoorsy “base layer” of outrageously expensive wool leggings, and socks whose thickness make even boots a bit snug. But it was all a part of the uniform that I would wear for days at a time. Boots, leggings, socks, sports bra, t-shirt, long sleeved shirt, sweater (or two), leather bomber jacket (plain cold weather) or raincoat (icy rain weather). Every damned day. I was desperate for sunshine, in a way I had never been desperate for sunshine in my life. I had once prided myself on loving the fog and wind and damp of the Sonoma Coast, that I could walk around it in a t-shirt and jeans, with no shoes, like a boss.  Too much sun– too much clear sky– made me feel suffocated and closed-in upon. Give me storm clouds! I might shout. But that was then. After losing my phone yesterday and sleeping in a torrential downpour that woke me with dreams of drowning all night, I was momentarily maddened by the discovery of no hot water at the campsite showers. Cry? Scream? Cry? Scream?

In all the brochures for tourists, Oregon’s coast looks like something the gods would set up in order to sell planetary property. “And over here,” they would say, parting celestial curtains to some prospective buyer/goddess, “We have the Oregon Coast of the Northern Hemisphere.” Gasps, all around. Western Oregon, especially, is a jewel that makes so many other U.S. terrains hang their dry, unsightly, barren heads in shame. Every stop on the coastline is a vista. Even the tidal mud holds an effortless beauty many muds could only dream of. At one point I was drawn to several viewpoints along a trail at once; like a dog who was on its first visit to the sea, I stood staring idiotically at the center point, ripped in two by my own limited visual capability. And I have to admit, even in the rain, this coast leaves me at a loss for words.

Harris beach flowers

Harris beach sunset

Every place we’ve camped, mountain or coast, there have been flora and fauna in abundance, including carpets of nodding daisies and clouds of excitable sparrows darting through the sunset for their dinner. There are so many strange and wonderful places. A kind and enthusiastic hunting and fishing couple hailing from Alaska recommended Beckie’s Cafe in Prospect. After much deliberation, we decided to take the recommendation and we entered what we later discovered was described as a Twin Peaks experience. Everything was made out of logs. There were 13 kinds of pie. (And yes, the food was great.) When we left the mountains we decided to follow the lighthouses up the coast, each one a startling and beautiful beacon in the midst of so much dangerous beauty, and each with a story to tell. We came upon a place that billed itself as Oregon’s Prehistoric Garden, a bizarre and wonderful tourist attraction that sits in a rain soaked nook in Humbug Mountain. Life-sized replicas of dinosaurs painted in garish colors are set amongst the ancient strains of fern and tree that cover Oregon’s coast, flora whose foliage holds more memories than the entire human population put together. There appears to be a unique affinity for exotic wildlife, and stores intended to help with the upkeep of snakes and large cats pop up in every town we’ve been in.

And yet there is a uniformity and undeniable emptiness that I first noticed on the coast of Northern California, that echoing feeling of things being not quite right. The amount of homes and properties and businesses for sale is overwhelming. I don’t know if this has to do with a depleted fishing industry, or mounting environmental threats. There will be strings of oceanfront properties like a fire sale edging the roads. In one town, a paved street leads you out toward a lagoon, splitting into ten perfectly laid driveways with no houses at the ends. A ghost town with no town.

But there is more to see. And more to eat. I must mention a thing about breakfast food, my most favorite of all of the foods. I have dubbed Oregon the Breakfast State. I love breakfast food in all of it’s unhealthy glory, the pinnacle of which is squishy, thick french toast with an over-medium egg and two pieces of bacon, all drizzled in syrup. Nothing fancy or organic or GMO free or healthy. The roadsides of Oregon from the mountains to the sea have perfected this meal and I have taken great comfort in those times when I felt I could afford such a luxury (which, at around $6.95 is not too bad, really). It sure as heck beat the bejeesus out of this breakfast:

breakfast

The road goes on tomorrow. I am thankful for all of the people we’ve met along the way who smiled when we told them of our journey. Not one person has said, “Are you NUTS?” as I thought they might. No one has said one discouraging thing at all; everyone, in fact, has said they wish they were going. They wish they could leave their warmth and safety and familiarity, and head out into the rain to go, go, go. “Anywhere,” is what they say. I guess I will quit my complaining (for today) and head back to that beautiful, rain-slicked road, one foot in front of the other.

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The glass is half full of snow.

Perhaps there is nothing worse than an REI on a weekend. Every cliche of outdoor lifestyle is out in force. Discarded latte cups and lounging human North Face ads littered the aisles of the REI of Medford, OR. It was the closest REI to the campsite where our tent sprung a leak, back 150 miles to the southwest. To make things worse, this particular joint seemed to hire people who were not at all outdoorsy, just to make our trip especially drawn out and painful. But really the entire shopping excursion was just confirming my belief that something terrible was waiting for me out there in the unknown and the universe was trying to get me to go home. A leaky tent? Try to replace said tent and get classically incompetent employees instead (“Uh, campgrounds? In Oregon? I mean, there’s a KOA. Like, is that what you mean?” <— That really happened.)? Everything of interest is closed, including half of the mountain passes? And how about this fucking weather??? All signs point to home. Well. Maybe not.

I am a superstitious person and this trip has jolted my brain just a bit too much thus far. Getting sick on the eve of our departure was only the beginning of my handwringing, but it did not end there. As we left the safety and comfort of the last familiar home of the last familiar person I would see for weeks- my grandma- and headed for the freeway, a giant, glistening, white-bellied snake dropped seemingly from the sky and landed in a writhing pile in the middle of the suburban road. My brain, unable to compute, momentarily lapsed into a mythical setting in which we were driving along in some kind of chariot and where things like snakes could, indeed, just drop out of the sky. No way could this happen in Davis, California, home of bike lanes and the square tomato. But it did. And there it was. As we shot past the unlucky reptile, a cloud of ravens descended upon its helplessly tangled body. I am still thinking up all of the possible horrific meanings behind this strange event. Naturally I am avoiding the worst possible meaning: that I will end up a stranger in strange lands, dropped there by unknown forces, hunted by the unfamiliar. I pretend I am Dory the fish. I just keep swimming.

Last Sunday evening we arrived in Stewart State Park in Rogue Valley, Oregon. It was raining, that kind of rain that isn’t hard but is more subtly irritating. Constant, cold rain with a constant, cold wind that barreled down the snow-topped mountains across the expansive reservoir known as Lost Creek Lake. We set up our tent, which turned out to be blessedly dry but considerably smaller, the getting in and out of resembling some kind of vaguely violent expulsion; never the less: dry. We then bought some firewood from the obliging camp host, a tall, bearish man with a camp banter that rivals your stereotypical woodsman ideal. He even wore a plaid cap, if I am recalling correctly, though that may have been travel fatigue.

In the morning I was the first to wake, to the sound of rain on the lake and the eerie, mournful keening of Roosevelt elk calling back and forth across the glassy expanse. We spent the morning acting like we knew how to build a fire in the rain (we don’t), and then hiked the lakeside path. Paved a long time ago but mostly forgotten, the path was brown and overrun with beautiful bright green moss, which permeated the fallen trees, stumps, and rocks alongside it. We followed this Wonderland pathway around a bend and came upon this postcard scene:

large path

I immediately decided it had to be a good omen. The rain had let up, and there were no human sounds to be heard. No cars, though we weren’t far from Highway 62. A Canada goose landed at the mouth of the jade-hued stream with such precision and effortlessness that the water seemed to part around him in silent welcome.  After all of the rain and cold and creepy imagery I constantly had in my head, to come upon a portion of nature so utterly peaceful and pristine, it made everything else seem foolish. I was foolish. The camp host was foolish. The old couples in RVs staring into the sunsets and using a generator for absolutely everything were wonderfully foolish.

When we got back to camp we hauled out the enormous AAA Atlas already curling at the edges and opened it to the rippled box that is Oregon. We decided we could make it to Crater Lake National Park the next day if we wanted to stay at our campsite and brave the overnight freeze warning. Everyone, from the waitresses to the rangers, had been warning us that at best there would be nothing to see due to low cloud cover, and at worst we would get stuck in some vague snow-shaped hell creation and die from freezer burn. We thumbed our noses at them, bundled ourselves in 17 layers of cold-proof camp clothing for the night, and left bright and early the next morning.

Nothing prepares you for the sight of that which is bigger than you. By that I mean, we cannot fathom how much beauty this planet holds because most of the time it is too huge and beyond us to fathom. Our brains are stuck in a cycle of micromanagement. “Big” becomes a trip to the city or an excursion to a nearby park. “Adventure” ends up being a brief respite from the everyday; nothing wrong with that, of course. But how often do we escape our brains? How often does something appear to us so marvelous we are rendered speechless? As we drove up, up, up the highway and deeper into the snowy territory of Crater Lake’s outer regions, the sky opened wider than we’d seen it for the entire trip thus far. It had never been clearer or brighter or bluer. What low cloud cover? What roaring winter menace? The snow sparkled alongside us, smooth, creamy hillsides dotted with firs whose branches hung heavy with powder. When we reached the summit, I was dazzled by the this new, mirrored reality.

crater

Words kept trying to form in my mind, and dying miserable deaths. How could I describe such a place? I tried and tried. The only thing that seemed to arise with perfect clarity was the phrase “bowl of whipped cream”. Over and over again, the only way I could register what I was looking at was by considering how much I’d like to eat that entire National Park with a spoon.

73191_131611337028055_126671481_n

This marvelous lake was once a mountain, the tallest peak in the region. Due to greedy lava beds and the pushy, mean Pacific sea that mountain sank into the abyss, and left a bowl waiting to be filled. It did, with snow melt. The lake is truly a mirror of the sky. At times I would look down into it and see a lake; at other times a blue bowl filled with clouds, and I’d wonder if I was upside down. I have no idea what it is like to live in the snow, nor to be a person who works at the kiosks and cafes at the tourist attractions in winter. But I have to thank all of them for giving me one afternoon of an utterly empty, worry-free head.

Astoundingly, upon our return we got out of the car and entered a brand new world. The air, which had been at freezing temperatures the night before, was suddenly soft and warm, tinged with a golden sunset hue and alive with the hum of winged things. It wrapped around my entire body like a lover. My dreams, restless for so long, were calm that night.

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Buckets of rain

“Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby.” -
Langston Hughes

“Camping: Nature’s way of promoting the motel industry.” -Dave Barry

Our stay in Eureka stretched to four days. Four warm and cozy days, in the studio apartment of Miles’ old college friend, filled with lively plants and the scents of lavender and sun-warmed cotton. The windows of his second floor abode framed a fan of tree branches, which I awoke to each morning. (It should be noted that at that point we still hadn’t spent any time camping. Our vision of ourselves as smoke-soaked spartan explorers of the west was gloriously tarnished by a downright dude ranch lifestyle, as we basked in the company of friends, walls, roofs, and beds.) Miles’ friend was generous and kindhearted. As we walked around the late night Eureka streets I listened to them banter about philosophy and their shared history, drunk with booze and happiness. On Tuesday it was time to leave. Slowly we untangled ourselves, and departed.

We began our hunt for camping grounds. The clouds that had been following us began to fatten themselves on evaporated sea and lagoon waters, and storm fronts skittering down the coast line. I eyed them warily as the bottoms of them began to shred and scatter to make way for rain. The landscape was a quilt of contrasts: the steely gray of the Pacific and deep blue of the mountains, threaded through with soft white fog that rose up into the batting like spent ghosts. The afternoon began to seep into evening when we finally found The Emerald Forest Cabins and Camping, tucked into a shallow ravine between 101 and the ocean.

emfor2

Our first fire. Only took fourteen attempts.

Our first night was the kind they call the first pancake: the fire took an hour to start; our dinner was a can of soup and some chopped green onions; I shivered in inadequate warmth until I ended up throwing my jacket over my legs and ignoring the ice seeping into my brand new REI sleeping bag of misery. However, daylight changes everything. In the morning, feeling successful after having not died in our sleep of bear mauling or rain-drowning or starvation or burning, we packed up and began the next stretch of journey with light hearts, eventually making our home in Big Lagoon.

Big Lagoon is a part of the Redwood National Forest. One in a string of lagoons that hangs like a bejeweled necklace along the throat of upper California’s restless coast, it is a meeting place for waters of every kind. Here there is rain, fog, mist, fresh and salt waters, and the damp spirits of drowned sailors and foolish, trusting gold seekers. Their eyes, dazzled by the layered landscape, could not tell sea from sky from land. It is all blue. As far as the eye can see.

Big Lagoon, the Land of Waters: Fresh water; sea water; fog; mist; rain.

Big Lagoon, the Land of Waters: Fresh water; sea water; fog; mist; rain.

And here was where nature, and the weakness of man, would test our mettle. We built a fire with more swiftness and success, and cooked a real meal (beans, rice, broccoli and onions) all within the confines of our lagoon-side campsite framed by moss covered redwoods. A spongy, dryish forest floor promised a comfier sleep, and by twilight, that deep cobalt hour that only the sea can provide, we were ready for sleep. At 2 a.m., the patter of rain began, increasing steadily- but I was not concerned. The tent walls were dry, and I was much warmer than I’d been in the Emerald Forest. Back to sleep I went. When I awoke, my feet were in a puddle.

REI, that beacon of mankind’s penchant for preparedness and reliability, had sold us a doozy.

And so, on we went. Without a tent we were left contemplating our funds and thus the everchanging map of our path. We decided there was nothing for it but to head straight for the nearest REI to replace our leaky home. That meant chopping off a leg of our planned trip, missing out on many places and people we wanted to visit. Soaked in rain and annoyance, I didn’t care too much except that I wanted to go to the Hoopa Reservation and visit my grandpa, buried in the low lying cemetery near the bank of the Trinity river. So we went. Into the mountains and away from my beloved Pacific. Up, up into the redwoods and then descending into the Hoopa valley, lush now with grasses and blossoming dogwood, plum, and redbud. The river running at first a brilliant turquoise and then a wild, heavy mud brown with leftover winter wash-outs, flanked by smooth gray river stones. If you ever get the chance to see it you will be awed by this valley. In the winter and spring the staggered, blue-hued mountains roll grandly into the mist like sleeping giants, pattered against the sky like the weave of a willow basket. The earth feels wide open and unending here. History and luck have allowed this valley to remain nearly as it was before miners and missionaries traversed the sacred Trinity in that unending hunger for resources and power. Today you will see poverty and peace like any other place, but it is different. Every reservation is.

We will leave tomorrow but something of this place is going to travel with me. A restlessness resides in my heart surrounding my place in this world, here where the reservation and the “outside” meet. I’m a tribal member now, assigned a number and everything. But I am not a part of the reservation, not its culture nor its politics; therefor, at its heart, I am not a member of the tribe. I am as much of a stranger to them as they would be to you. However, a familiarity walks alongside that restless displacement within me. Those mountains are as dear to my heart, I think, as the crashing, unconquerable Pacific sea.

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Eureka!, they declared.

Fun facts:

  1. Eureka’s tallest building is its jail.
  2. There is a bar called the Speakeasy whose ceiling glitters with an artificial Milky Way and whose windows glow with the embers of red parlor lights.
  3. Their drinks are overpriced and their martinis taste like dried fog residue.
  4. In one day you can feel the kiss of the sun and the patter of spring rain and the vibration of thunder and the ghostly waft of woodsmoke.
  5. But usually you just feel the damp.
  6. An economic apocalypse, which once was kept well hidden by the powers that be, is casting a long shadow on these glinting streets in the form of the homeless mentally ill and chemically dependent.  The establishments once promising to help them are now too crippled to open their doors, leaving their inhabitants to stand on vacant corners and talk into the wind. They are numerous, and they hold an invisible grief in slumped or violently prostrate stances. They frighten the lucky few who are still able to contain their assorted psychoses in neat little brain spaces.
  7. A dock on the marina is not blocked by rope or gate day or night, unlike the marinas at home. This means I can walk down their tinny planks and stand nearly upon the glassy surface of the night sky at the stroke of midnight.
  8. An emerald dragon breathes chili red flames in a dark alley.
  9. There is a secondhand clothing store that features a do-it-yourself record player and a selection of country and old rock and roll. Everything is beautiful; everything is cheap. In it there is a magical dress, a little black satin number, that makes me feel very very pretty for a little bitty while.
  10. There is a mansion, culled with pride from the labor of lesser folks and built to intimidate, whose grotesquely ornate roof lines stab at the skyline like the hilt of a singularly flamboyant madman’s epee.
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Future times.

The trip began on a Monday. We had to categorically un-build a life we had carefully constructed together and rebuild it within the confines of a Honda Accord. Everything had to go. Our bed, our clothes, our food, our creature comforts of all kinds scattered to the winds of Goodwill, yard sales, and friends. Yet somehow our little carriage of destiny still managed to look like a Disney-fied caricature of gypsy life: filled to bursting and probably harboring small, cheeky animals. One thing would be placed inside the car and another would fall out. A twelve inch dent in the pile served as a rear view. My poor worried grandmother would later claim to have nightmares from the dangers our packing alone might wrought upon us.

The day was hot. I hate hot days. Everything difficult is magnified to an uncomfortable hugeness, including goodbyes. We said goodbye to parents and friends, and I tried as usual not to cry, because the one thing worse than a hot day is a hot day with a snot-filled nose.  Then it was time to go. We hopped into the dust and disarray of the car, and headed east for Grandma Barbara’s house. An evening of Thai food and laughter did not portend the night ahead, which was wracked with visions of failure. When I woke the next morning at dawn, I was a twisted, frazzled ball of anxiety, nipped at the ankles by terror. The weight had arrived.

The weight is everything you ignore that suddenly drops upon you unawares. A vulture whose feathers cloak you in fear before it begins pecking at your psyche. I lay under the weight and stared at the ceiling of my grandma’s guest room, a room that had brought me so much comfort for my whole life. A delicate watercolor of an iris that she painted years before I was born, a photo of her and her sister as little girls with hands clutched together, sporting matching buckle shoes. But as with most items of familiarity and comfort, I knew I was leaving it behind. In the space that bit of familiarity occupied in my mind a void was left growing in my heart. Many, many small voids had begun. What do you fill those empty spaces with? Me, I fill them with anxiety and dread, which is by far the most nail-biting, edge-of-the-seat way to pass the time. It works wonders for the stomach and the heart rate, too. Throw in some insomnia and you’ve got yourself a regular adventure quasher. There was nothing for me to do but sit and wait for the weight to lift.

We drove and drove. We cut around the teetering curves of Highway 20, which was lined with vivid redbud in bloom, and oaks whose lives in wind and drought had twisted them into wild, dancing old spirits. The sky suddenly opened and we were approaching Highway 1, that cruel, crumbling serpentine ribbon that runs along the Pacific Northwest coastline. Cruising through FortBragg we watched the sky try its best to mimic the sea.

Kelvin-Holstrom wave clouds.

Kelvin-Holstrom wave clouds.

It wasn’t until we reached our next destination, a tiny, forgotten port town in the mist and fog of the Northern California coast called Westport, that I could shut off my brain for a while. If you are familiar with punk shows and the effects of stepping outside of one for a minute and realizing how pleasant it can be to find yourself half-deaf, that muffled moment is equivalent to how I felt when I arrived on the doorstep of our hotel. Everything was soft. The din was at my back.

photo (4)

Red wing blackbird songs; sun through clouds.

Now we are in Fort Bragg, staying at the house of my boyfriend’s family friends. They live among redwood trees and towering rhododendrons. Behind them is a dropoff laced in ferns, below which we can see the hunting of glossy-feathered birds of prey, the same ones that soar over our heads in the backyard, their wings sounding like fragile heartbeats. I won’t think of tomorrow right now. I’ll just listen for a while.

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Wish You Were Here

In preparation for this trip I have to turn my attention to the monumental amounts of what-was-once-important-and-is-now-inconsequential crap, and decide what will stay and what will go. It’s a surprisingly agonizing process. To keep or not keep every knick-knack given to me by a well meaning relative? To keep or not to keep every insipid, but rather entertaining, journal I could never before stomach throwing away? Piles of meditations on love and pain, O! the agony of being fourteen. I found poems and letters to former flames, all of them beseeching and sad or lost and angry. All of the good ones, filled with boisterous humor and detailed illustrations, were handed over to said flames years ago.

I have photo albums full of friendships and relationships whose marks I’d thought would last. Most didn’t, of course, because what is life without a couple of metaphorical fiery crashes and a few brittle, wispy declines (for subtlety)?  Character-building heartbreak is not for the weak. I don’t know what the point is of keeping these reminders, but I think I feel something when I hold them in my hands. A vibration of the most mental sort: sense memories, sharper than reality, shooting through my fingers and up my arms and into my brain. Flashes of barefoot walks along moss-covered trails beneath the rough canopy of redwood trees; excursions into the pavement jungles of San Francisco and Berkeley with the scent of exotic foods and incense directing the path. Loud concerts in dark spaces with sweaty dancers and drunken punks lining the walls. Best of all, the shared happiness of a moment unscarred by human error and heartache. I can’t let them go, these sensory trips trapped on Kodak paper. I only chuck them in the “keep” pile and hope they don’t sprout mold in storage.

On I dig.

I have to consider what I may or may not be like in 3 months or 3 years. This seems impossible but I must take this medicine if I am ever going to make it through these piles of stuff. Because we have no set dates for this trip, eventually I am going to need a job again and I can’t re-purchase every material good when I come back. We quit our jobs. We’re selling what we can. I’m only just now appreciating the realness of this reality, and it is one that requires Spartan-like configurations and a deeper appreciation of that stupid “Live Simply” bumper sticker. Picturing the kind of job I might need and the kind of abode I will want upon my return is pivotal in my stuff-saving decision making and not a little depressing. So, to help pare down my earthly possessions without getting rid of anything that might be useful, I have to “envision the future.” In other words, what the hell kind of grown up do I plan to be?

I think long and hard about what I have to offer the world. I am a singer, an artist, and a writer, all auto-didactically achieved. Thus, I haven’t done much in my life to qualify working somewhere other than retail. These days, if you aren’t 19 with the face of a 12 year-old and the brains of a 7 year-old prodigy, then that option’s a bit shaky, anyhow. My latest job, the one I enjoyed for six and a half years, came to me by pure luck through a former art teacher who I think had less faith in my art than in my ability to answer phones (and thank goodness, because I’d be penniless if he thought I had talent). It was a wonderful job, life changing in many ways and always inspiring. But not one that could be repeated, due to its rarity and the fact that it will be taken by another once I return. I have to assess my situation from a realistic stand point: I never finished college, and I homeschooled through junior high and high school. The former is an issue all on its own but the latter doesn’t rack me up any popularity points, non-denominationally speaking. I am not religious, nor do I have plans to break away from the confines of government via holing up in some woods with some shotguns. The concept of homeschooling for homeschooling’s sake is absolutely alien to the rest of the world. When I mention that I homeschooled, everyone looks at me like I am about to spout fundamentalist hellfire or whip out some pamphlets on the joys of living in an armed citadel in Idaho. But I digress.

I have parted with many beloved things already, including the first-ever furniture I bought for myself: a bookshelf and a bed. In a Two Buck Chuck-fueled moment I nearly gave all of my clothing worth any actual money away to a girl I barely knew. It’s down to the stupid shit, the towels and the cups and all that paperwork the government tells you to hang on to for 3,000 years. I think of the sheer amount of space on this planet, space that is reserved for the sole purpose of “putting things” and I shudder at the thought of adding to it.

But I also really, really like my Martha Stewart 70%-off fire sale flannel sheets. So.

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Where to begin – my feet won’t tell me

My mother says that when I was very small, after arriving home from long trips, I would walk all around the house and lovingly pat all of the furniture. I suppose it was a form of comfort, silently taking stock of my old friends as they reliably held their posts. I recall believing that everything had a “soul,” or at least was thinking about me the way I was thinking about it. To three-year-old me, all objects and beings that dwelt together in our small seaside cottage were transcendental totems of consciousness and feeling. This explains why I could not part with a stuffed animal; indeed, by the time my teen years rolled around I dreaded receiving such harbingers of love because I could not bear to get rid of them, even if I hated them, their little plastic eyes filling with sadness when taken anywhere near a trash can. (I had an “Exercise Bear” appropriately given to me in 1989, who sported a leotard and very quickly lost an arm; a panda whose paws used to velcro together but were too dirty to velcro anymore; a blanket- “Blankie” – that was just shreds of cotton calico and batting; a huge brown bear whose stuffing was mildewed; a host of plastic animals whose paint had worn off; a LightBright that didn’t light; an Etch-A-Sketch that actually leaked, and more. Much, much more.) The small garden; the turntable; the huge cypress in our sandy front yard whose roots held the bones of our dog Lila May; even the smells: ocean brine mingled with nasturtium, the dusty residue of sand that layered cypress and car and person alike– everything was difficult to part with because it was full of life and thought. It was like parting with a piece of me.

Now, perhaps a little later than I had intended, I am leaving, and it is a mark of my entanglement with the material world that I feel as though I am having to peel out of it, tentacle by tentacle, as from the hull of a sinking ship. This isn’t a destination trip ending with something chipper like college life or a new internship. I’m about ten years past that possibility if we are judging by tradition. This is simply a take leave. Lots of things are ending at the beginning: my job, my my ability to keep worried tabs on my family members and friends, my home. Some things are continuing: my relationship with my boyfriend (whose rash decision to drop everything and leave to god-knows-where for god-knows-how-long was both a near-breaker and a definite maker of this relationship), and my ability to carry unceasing worry within my head and heart. It is a pathetic, deeply disliked martyr dressed head to toe in weights, wailing behind me at the most inconvenient times. “BUT THE LIFE I KNOW! IT IS PRECIOUS! WHAT IF SOMETHING BAD HAPPENS, SUCH AS [fill in the blank]?!” demands the martyr. I hate her. Maybe on this trip she will get a grip. Either way, I am leaving.

With my boyfriend I am going to explore the coasts and mountains and hills and plains and towering cities of this great and terrible country, by car. Though perhaps we are more “companions”– as his great-aunt once referred to me as– than boyfriend/girlfriend, traveling along on two separate trips side by side. We have different goals and we have no idea how this is going to work. Perhaps the disagreements and mistakes will simply iron themselves out, or get squashed flat into unflattering pleats, or rip apart and leave us shaking our fists at one another. Either way it is an adventure.

I can hear the stone doors of this chapter in my life grinding shut as the month of March approaches. In like a lion, out like a…?

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