Upon Waking

Back from my second road trip in a month; staggered and still, dirty and delighted from my time in Lassen National Forrest in California.

Before leaving, I had a chance to sneak a last minute job in with a new family.  When I arrived, they woke the 20 month old up from his late nap.  Although I understood the necessity of this, those of you with children know how the story goes from here because–NEVER WAKE THE BABY!  He looked at me with the sleep glazed eyes that I know so well from my own pre-caffeine face.  Within ten minutes, his parents were out the door and he melted down hard.  He went face down on the floor, probably because he was still sleepy, and cried so hard that there wasn’t much breath for anything but yelping sounds.  The snot pooled on the side of his face as I rubbed his little back.

I understood.  Maybe I am grown up, but I still feel utterly defeated sometimes when my expectations are not met, and at least once a week I want to stretch out on my living room floor and cry as wholeheartedly as he was.  He had been snatched from sleep, a place that is very far away, and then abandoned by the people that are usually there.  It was confusing and that wasn’t fair.  I made sure to breathe deeply to help him find a way back to calm when he was ready, but told him to go ahead and cry for as long as he wanted.

The next night, three hundred miles away in 30 degree weather, wrapped in a sleeping bag in a tent by the creek, my anxiety kicked in to high gear.  I script it now as dialogue, but these were all actual “problems” that my mind tried to sell me on.

“My chest is heavy, do you think I have altitude sickness?  Four thousand feet is pretty high up.”

“No, I don’t think you have altitude sickness.  Don’t you think that there would be some sort of clearly visible warning posted somewhere if it posed any danger at all to hang out at this altitude?”

“Okay, but it is pretty cold out here, do you think we’re going to freeze to death?”

“Very unlikely.  We can put more clothes on if it gets colder, but right now we’re quite toasty in this sleeping bag.”

“Or we could go home.  If we leave now we could be back by two or three am.  No one would have to know that we chickened out.  And technically it’s not chickening out, I mean, what if the creek rises and washes your tent in while you are sleeping in it?  Then going home is just good foresight.  You don’t know how well you staked this thing down.”

“We are not going home because our chest feels heavy and it is cold outside.  And you realize that the creek would have to rise like six feet in eight hours in order to even touch where we’re at.  There is no rain in the forecast this week.”

“Fine, but what about wild animals or crazy rapists?”

“I get that this is a struggle for you my heart, but no one in their right mind, human or animal, is out to get us in this weather.  But if it makes you feel better, I will go get the scissors from the utensils bag, and you can have something close by to stab at any animals or crazy rapists that may wander by in the night.  Would that make you feel better?”

“Yeah, thanks buddy.”

“You’re welcome, I love you, let’s try this sleep thing again.”

As my cat has been reminding me since my homecoming this afternoon, all this adventuring is a very new norm for me.  My internal parents used to be very boring, stay at home kind of people, but as I wake in these last few years from a very late nap, I find that they have changed and are continuing to change.  Sometimes they seem like strangers and I don’t know if I can trust them to hold me while we’re moving, the same way I trusted them when we were still.  I want to protest.  It’s too hard!!  It’s too confusing!!  So many curveballs to deal with, growth and changes I never expected at this stage in my life.

In this light, my increased anxiety chatter makes sense.  But, just like I talked to the little boy the night before, I could talk to myself.  I could rub my own back, sit with myself till I felt safe again, all the while holding firmly to the fact that I could not bring the old, boring parents back.  I’m who I’m “stuck” with now, and the fact is, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Yesterday, I went hiking in Lassen Volcanic National Park (moderate hike my ass, Hiking Guide).  Anxiety chattered again on the way there–was that sound a bear? what if you get lost?  what if someone has stolen your car when you get back?–with countless things that would likely never happen.  I set a timer for how long the map said it should take and attempted to breathe gently with myself while the ground was still relatively flat.

When I got to King’s Creek Falls, the chatter went silent.

“Wow.  We found it.  This is so good.”

“I know.  Let’s get closer.”

I shambled down the face of the mountain, on what was definitely off the marked trail, until I found a ledge to nestle into, the strength of my back meeting the strength of the rock.  I pictured the generations that must have sat somewhere within my line of sight and watched the water fall.  I even caught glints of sunlight hitting spider webs as they swung across the valley.  I wondered if, as I sat here immersed and serene, spiders were saying ‘fuck it’ and taking the zipline ride of their lives.  I didn’t wonder what could go wrong in this moment, not even a little bit.

I continued to make my way down till I was at the base of the falls and could dip my head under a smaller stream before it plashed into the creek.  It was much colder than the head dip I took in the Cave of the Winds at Niagara Falls last year, but the thought was similar.  “Mother, bless me.  Come with me.  Help me move from fixed to fluid.”

However, the response this time was different.  “You don’t need a blessing.  You are a part of this.  All this strength, all this wisdom, all that I’ve seen in millions of years–you are part of it.  If you need the blessing, it is in you.”

I am a part of this.  The phrase stuck with me as I reluctantly made my way back up and out to the trail.  That would mean that my nervous, underslept two year old is a part of this too, as well as any future versions of myself in the making.  As I panted and my hip flexors helped me claim the trail summit once again, I could finally stop and really take in a view that was blue and green for miles around me.

I am a part of this.  We are part of this.

How surprising to wake and think you’ve been abandoned, only to discover you’ve been held closer than you can imagine, for longer than you’ve existed.



The Road that Holds Us

Dear Beauty,

I write this to you today, not knowing if you are the correct recipient, not knowing if writing to an abstract concept makes any difference in the world, but knowing that I am soft and heart full of unsayable things that must be said this morning.

I have stood slack-jawed and dizzy at your presence for as long as I can remember; the smell of a new book, the sound of running water, a two hundred person choir, a real hug, a singular body flowing over the dance floor.  I have tried, and then tried and tried again, to help people see it and feel it the way I do, with the force of ice cracking at the first Spring thaw.  You are breathtaking, from your smallest speck to your most towering moment.

Mostly, I feel like I fail at sharing this potency in a way that even comes close.  And so, sometimes I sit with my back to you for a while, never willing to leave altogether.  My relationship to you then gets sloppy and fragmented.  I know some people who can hold the constant influx of senses and emotions with more grace than I, and not be washed away by it, not lose their toehold on this planet like a rogue red balloon.  I am not there yet.  I get so very tired staying open to the heartbreak and elation of your gifts.  I feel so very foolish at times in this grand romance, especially when the world around us is flailing in shadows.  And it hurts when I am thought of as a child, quirky and amusing as I look at your world with deep delight.

But I remembered something very important this week while on a road trip through Oregon and California.  I say ‘remembered’ because it woke up from my body, instead of being told to my brain by others who have experienced it.  Like all great truths, it was simple:  I am not alone.  Our relationship is created by the Earth and supported by the people who see us.  With myself, the Earth, and others present, I felt the invitation to step deeper into our love affair, and not pine and sigh on the shallow end.

Driving down Highway 22 in Oregon, there were miles and miles where there were absolutely no other cars on the road.  Just my travelling partner and I.  We had only known each other for a handful of hours before setting out together, but in the last day and a half I had watched his nimble mind play with ideas, invite randomness, and not shy away from the intensity of passion.  When we were offered free apple cider the morning before at the Portland Saturday Farmer’s Market, and it was not a sales gimmick, the force of our collective giddiness almost went supernova in the chilly morning air.  It was easy to see that I was in the presence of a similar spirit who had his own sparkling relationship with you.

The landscape was equally in tune with us; the trees looked like someone had taken a cheese grater to red, yellow, and green crayons, and the air was sharp, cold, and sweet.  Every so often, brilliant patches of snow punctuated moist, red earth, and the waning afternoon light tilted and painted every surface an impossibility.  Even the inside of the car, with our clothes still drying from the hot springs, smelled like animals burrowed in together, ripe and secret.

Once our course of driving was agreed upon, my companion slipped into his daily meditation practice.  Our shoulders almost touched in the car, but he was clearly and sweetly with himself.  A moment or two later, I started to cry out of nowhere.  Softly at first, but stronger as I leaned into the deep safety I felt with my fellow traveller.  Wave after wave of emotion came up from what seemed to be the ground I was driving over.  They were low and sleek, but tremendously swift and full of awe and gratitude.  Once again, I looked you clear in the face, and was humbled as you started showing me new possibilities for our relationship.

I finally had to pull over, running my fingers over my chest to feel for what must be the undulation of my skin.  My new friend, to his powerful credit, stayed with himself until his meditation was through, and then laid a simple hand on my shoulder while he listened to me try to put words to the moment.  The steadiness and generosity of that hand brought my feet firmly back to the pedals and the road.

I continued to cry, on and off, for the four days together.  Even now, a few days later, I feel a thaw that stands out in sharp contrast to the chill of early Fall.  In the presence of love, in the presence of Earth, I took in more of you this week than I have in a while.  The marquee man, telling us his story, so full of joy.  The barefooted electric violin player all in white.  Jody, sharing her story and her backyard with us.  Strangers bonding over arcade games.  A man, who for all his love of logic and fundamentals, gave me fairy glitter mines just to delight my heart.  The laughter that bubbled from my belly like it was trying to water the sky.  The intimacy of storytelling, both lived and co-created.  The surprising elegance of walnut colored feet sticking out from under the covers.  The rush of the river.  The crunch of gravel and scratch of the pen before my tentmate was awake.  John Denver on the radio while we drove straight into a blanket of green trees.  Badly tuned, deeply felt, sing-a-longs.  Eating the world’s most delicious chicken with our fingers in the parking lot of a Safeway.  The cycles of quiet and convergence that lead from strangers to friends.

Maybe I don’t need to tell you all this, dear Beauty.  You were there.  In fact, you are always there when I encounter things I don’t understand, but need as much as I need air and water to stay alive.  You always pull me back in with a wink and a smile before I get too serious about leaving.  I continue to change, but the invitation to fall in love with everything, does not.

I want you to know I was listening.

Your Girl Unendingly,



Building Castles

I have spent a lot of time living in, building, and furnishing castles.

As a gung ho Jesus cheerleader, they were only accessible through miles and miles of winding roads, roads that felt like deja vu instead of progress.  The stones were made of the compressed spines of the faithful, but there were beautiful beds to sleep in while you were there.  The ceilings over these beds took my breath away night after night–all gold and purple and correct.  Few people talked about the locked rooms, and so I didn’t really worry about them myself until I got restless one night and started to wander the halls.  This didn’t last long before someone came to chase me back to my room and tuck me in with a platitude on the cheek.  It is only now, years later, that I hear secondhand what may have been in them.

As a school teacher, the roads to the castle were deceptively straight and the stones were transparent.  I was thrilled.  I knocked out every wall I could find in order to make room for everyone.  I banished the beds…and then seated them in cold, metal chairs that cut into the skin.  Only the sensitive ever named the cutting feeling, the rest just bled to death slowly with their eyes once again fastened on the ceiling.  I tried installing trap doors with paper covers, eight-and-a-half by eleven windows, anything to bring the attention horizontal, but they were too focused on the dragons crisscrossing the sky.  I have to admit, those dragons were hard to ignore.

As a daughter the castle I built was quiet, with a deep dungeon for even more unspeakable things.  As a friend, I bought a fleet of motorized golf carts to see to all my guests as quickly as possible, and I had fireworks going 24/7–not because I particularly cared for fireworks, but I’d heard they drew a crowd.  With every new castle the buildings grew harder to find and inhabit.

And then one day, like all good plot twists, I lost my building permit.  It was just gone.  Without it, none of the contractors would show up to work and none of the real estate agents would sell me land.  I checked my other pants pocket, and then I checked my other other pants pocket, and then I sat on the ground for a while to have a think.  It was a confusing time for a lifetime builder.

Thankfully, I have never been alone.  Furniture designers, carpenters, bricklayers, and all types of people who knew about structures that breathed, started to wander down the road to where I was sitting.  I have mostly listened, sometimes argued, and then started again, slowly, to build small things–a dance, a supply of colored pencils, a crew, a way to listen to my father, a smile, an ability to slow down.  I have heart rocking gratitude for these lessons, these teachers.

Tonight’s teacher was six, and surprise, I once again found myself building a castle.  This castle had sharks in the moat, but they were nice sharks, and all had saddles so people could ride them in to come visit us.  There was a dungeon “for people who annoy us,” but they were only allowed to be held for a week tops, the amount of time it takes for people to stop being annoying.  And, they were held on the other side of the diamond waterfall so that they could have something nice to look at while they were calming the fuck down (my words, not his).  This castle had a litter of newly hatched baby dragons, but no one worried when one of their enormous teeth fell out and pierced holes in the ceiling.  It made it easier to see when it started raining interesting things like lima bean sandwiches.  This castle had a café that served only ice cream and bacon (to which I stopped myself from saying “FUCK YES!!” out loud to).  However, when the chef came in (his Mom) and served us pasta, he explained that it was important to occasionally have veggies as well to ward off the highly contagious dragon flu from our staff, friends, and villagers.  This castle was full of friends for multiple parties, but we didn’t worry whether they liked it at our place or not.  In fact, we left during one party to go down the road to a movie theater run by vampires.  The people were all there when we got back.

This castle had room.

It had room enough for everything.

Nothing was turned away, nothing.

I am not as talented as he is, yet.

But I reject the notion that this talent grows only with children.

I clean off my old tools, I buy and accept new ones, and I start scouting the horizon for spaces.

Spaces for everything.