Video Interlude

It has been a while since I’ve posted here, largely because I’ve been incredibly busy writing elsewhere (for income) and partially because of travel and adventure. Of the adventure, I will share much in the coming posts. I promise. In the meantime, however, I thought I’d perhaps entertain you with some of the latest video moments of the Ross household. This one spotlights that wolfy love of my life: Denali. The furry son that could only, truly, be mine…

For more video fun, and particularly spectacular Denali moments, check out and follow my youtube channel.

More to come soon!

Ross

I See You, Supermoon (or, Why I Congratulate Myself on Quitting Early)

As promised, I will now complete the story of my Grand Hiking Adventure, first begun here.

After Mark, Denali, Tenaya and I returned to camp from the hiking trail, we took to unloading firewood from the car. We didn’t have to hunt for it, because Mark had accumulated a large selection for the fire pit in the backyard over the winter and we’d brought plenty of logs that we wanted to clear out. I was still panting from my too-long and too-lost hike through the woods, and I was still yammering about the bear. Eventually I settled down and we began to hear something in the distance that sounded like a vehicle. This was surprising, because we had, as of yet, encountered no sign of humanity in many hours since our arrival–even since many miles back on the turnoff to the mountainous backroads. Eventually, the truck sound grew closer and a large pickup parked in the parking lot near our campsite. Denali started doing his protective and adolescent-voiced “woof,” and Tenaya was taking a protective stance. Eventually, an obviously drunken man meandered from the passenger seat. He looked, as Mark later pointed out, like an old(er) Tom Petty. But he also looked like Old Tom Petty staggering home from a bar in the middle of the night.

As he staggered toward us, I asked Mark to give me Denali’s leash, and I leashed him—thankfully so, as Denali suddenly began “woofing” with some real seriousness. The man asked if either of us happened to smoke, and I said I did, knowing immediately his next question. Handing Mark Denali’s leash, I started toward the campfire and Old Tom Petty. This caused both dogs to get into a state of protectiveness, and Denali was lurching against the leash as I walked over and handed the guy four of my cigarettes. He proclaimed that we were sent from Jesus (a point I must doubt) and thanked me profusely. He then went on to say that he and his brother were visiting the site for the first time in years. They had buried their father somewhere nearby at a cemetery, and were revisiting.

At this point, the brother, a younger man and thankfully not an inebriated one (or so I could tell), got out of the driver’s seat and started to walk up. Old Tom Petty was rattling on, and Younger Brother tried to shut him up somewhat. Meanwhile, Denali was punctuating every breath with “WOOF!” “WOOF!” followed by this menacing, wolfy growl. Though I was trying to placate him somewhat and telling him to “shh,” I was inwardly happy to know that he had the ability to dissuade the persistent conversation of strangers who approach. Especially drunken Old Tom Petty ones (unless it were really Tom Petty, in which case, he could be drunk and chat all night and I’d just tape Denali’s mouth shut). It is a quality to hold in high regard in the city—or just about anywhere that you encounter strangers who want to hold captive audiences. I can think of a million incidents in my life that having a growling, snarling, barking wolfdog by my side would have been advantageous.

The brothers were nice, though, and seemed nonthreatening. Still, I was happy when Younger Brother finally coerced Old Tom Petty to “Come along and leave these folks to their camping.” They drove away, with Old Tom Petty declaring how wonderful we were and thanking me profusely for the cigarettes and yelling that we were lifesavers from the open window. Denali woofed until the truck was out of sight. Then, he lay down and slept soundly, exhausted from his hike in the woods.

After eating dinner and as the fire was dying down, Mark and I began walking across the parking lot and field to try and get a view of the supermoon. This was the whole selling point (or buying factor on my end, as it were) on going—to see this supermoon from a mountain. Incidentally, I have since discovered that I do not really understand the reality of mountains. I grew up in the rolling hills of Arkansas, but there are not “real mountains” or huge jutting cliffs like there are here. In my mind, I think if you want to see the moon better, you go higher up. I didn’t take into account the fact that we’d be on the side of some mountain and the view of the moon would depend on what side—and what other mountains were obscuring it. These are things you learn, I suppose. But not in drama school, apparently.

That’s about when I started to talk about going home. “But the moon is easily visible from our backyard in the valley,” I insisted. I saw it rise last night, just as I see it every night, because my office faces the east. Mark balked at the idea of leaving camp at 8:30 p.m., and he’d already set up his tent. I was planning on sleeping in the car, because—well, of bears. Even if I hadn’t seen the bear shit that day, I’d have slept in the Subaru anyway—because I’m scared of bears. And mountain lions. I kept up my plight, and I could see it working on Mark. Inwardly, I think he realized too that I was right about the moon and how we were stuck in this spot that was not going to give us a good viewing of it (he has a better grasp of elevation and geography). He was still intent on staying and having a bear-sighting, though. Eventually, he caved. I agreed to help pack up and disassemble the tent, and we began our work of closing down shop.

Most would say that I’m a chicken, and I have a past that would verify that fact. On my first ever camping adventure with my ex-husband, I convinced him to pack up camp and drive 200 miles home after I’d stepped on a rattlesnake, been eaten by mosquitoes, and discovered the great number of alligators surrounding our camp. On my many expeditions with Mark, I am renowned for my ability to balk. Perhaps, just like many other choices made in my life, it is letting the fear get the best of me. When life comes down to “fight or flight,” I know my choice is the latter.

But this time, I really wanted to see the moon. Was I afraid of spending the night there? Oh, sure, probably a little. But more than fear, I wanted to see what I came for. I had miscalculated and mis-figured in all of my estimations of the moon, the mountains, and my location. And besides, as I pointed out—“Well, it’s like you went camping. We just get to go home and sleep in a bed… On a mattress…”

So at around 8:45, we started driving the long and curvy single-lane road back down the mountain. I wasn’t anxious now, because I’d been there. This, riding in a car—this was nothing compared with being within seconds of a bear. We drove up and down and around cutbacks on the rickety road and once we crossed from the mountains, there it was: The Supermoon. It was so blinding, Mark had to put his visor down to see well. On the ride, we saw an opossum that scurried along by the moonlight, and we almost hit a skunk. The skunk, thankfully, kept moving and didn’t spray the car. The whole ride back, I was glued to the passenger window looking for bears. I hoped to see one to make up for leaving camp early—but I didn’t. Instead, I got home at 10:15, watched SNL with Mark, and went outside frequently to stare at the moon. It was a beautiful moon. I’m glad I went to there and back to see it.

It is in long-sighted retrospect that I see this trip for what it was: My opportunity to face fear. All of our trips really boil down to that, and I gain a new perspective each time I try something “scary.” I learn from these trips into the wild—more than I have learned anywhere else. Looking back, I see my choices on the varying paths in the wilderness as the choices I’ve made in my life. Sometimes, I have chosen the right path, then doubted myself and stumbled back only to choose the wrong one. Sometimes, I have meandered uphill in the wrong direction for no reason other than the fact that I wanted to get as far from the shit in my past as I could. Sometimes, I have been scared into action by something as meaningless as a tree stump. In all of these greater choices—the places I’ve lived, the careers I’ve chosen or abandoned, the relationships fallen into or left behind—there were learning examples. But with hiking, you get to find out all of your tendencies—the negative and the good—in about ten hours as opposed to ten years.

Will I go hiking again? Well, according to Mark, my payback for making us leave and drive back at night is that on the next trip, I have to really hike. A five-mile hike, backpacking into the wilderness, and camping there. I suppose, in all reality, this is a good choice on his part. He knows that I won’t be willing to hike five miles back to the car to drive home at 8 p.m. with a 30 lb. backpack strapped on. He’s a very smart man…

The Day of Bear Shit, Wobbly Knees, and Getting Lost in the Woods

Hiking is great. I never thought I would say that until Mark pointed out to me that “hiking” is really just “walking.” I remind myself of that in certain situations. “I’m an excellent New York hiker. I can hike from one side of the city to the other!” But it usually doesn’t get me very far in the wilderness.

 

Mark is an avid hiker, camper, fisherman, etc. You’d think he was born of Grizzly Adams right in the middle of Yellowstone–not that he grew up in suburbs of Chicago and Wisconsin. I’m thankful to have him as a guide, except when I’m yammering about the discomfort of mosquitoes, the lack of French press coffee, or the general tendency of getting dirty while outside.

 

We decided to do a short hike and camping expedition on Cinco de Mayo this year in the Marble Mountain Wilderness. While I sat on google, looking at the different elements of scenery and getting excited about going out to see the “supermoon” in the wild, Mark was looking at hiking guides and maps. Looking at the campsites, I found an alarming note from the forestry service on one of them. I didn’t tell Mark about it. I figured I’d marinate it over in my mind, and eventually the answer would come to me. That lasted about 45 minutes, and while we were sitting and watching television, I asked him about it:

 

“Mark, why would a person tie a dead horse to a tree?”

“What?”

“Well, in the notes from the forestry service for that campsite, it said, ‘Do not tie horses to trees, dead or living.’ I can’t figure out why you’d tie a dead horse to a tree… Because of predators dragging them off?”

“They mean the TREE–dead or living TREES.”

“Oh… I guess that makes sense…”

 

I sat, dumbfounded that I could have thought otherwise. That I had been ruminating silently over dead horses tied up to trees for close to an hour before I knew what an idiot I was. I mean, I write for a living–one would think I could have discerned the comma usage. But that was before we even departed, and given my capacity for misunderstanding the world of nature (and sometimes even of commas), I expected (and always expect) some interesting times on our trip. I was not disappointed.

 

Usually, the problems with our excursions start in the car. Having spent the majority of my adult life in somewhat incapacitating fear of being a passenger in a vehicle, I’m not a pleasant person to ride with. I’m a harpy. “Slow dowwnnn, please!” “God, do you have to take EVERY turn so fast??!” I’ve become, over the years, the embodiment of my grandmother, whom I hate to drive down the block with because 5 mph can startle her. But, that’s the way it is, and I accept it more or less. Until we leave the house in the car, at least.

 

After 5 minutes on the road, I’m usually at a peak level of anxiety. If you can last out the first hour, I generally calm down enough to make it through 5-minute-long intervals between outbursts. It’s fun. Ask Mark. Regardless, we drove through the curvy, terror inducing mountain roads for a couple of hours before finding a suitable campsite by the trails. I was surprised there was absolutely no one there on a beautiful spring Saturday, but then I’m often astounded at how sparsely populated northern California is sometimes—making rural Arkansas appear like New Jersey. You can drive for hours in the National Forests or Wildlife areas in the mountains and see no cars at all. It just depends on where you go and when.

 

Our camping area was further down the mountain from the two we had thought of staying at. Those, we soon discovered, were beyond our reach—hemmed in by fallen trees and ice patches still solid from the mild winter. I was somewhat relieved, because I kept imagining Denali sliding on ice and falling off the side of a cliff. Still, we had to back down one of the roads—this one-lane gravel road with an incline you can’t imagine. Thankfully, of course, there were no cars for miles. Going downhill backward on a cliff edge over ice patches is something that even those not faint of heart in cars might balk at.

 

After successfully maneuvering backwards down part of the mountain, we drove back to a camp where we decided to stay. It was a horse camp, but thankfully, there were no dead horses tied up to the trees. We loosed the wild beasts from the backseat and began our hike. The dogs, and especially Denali, were exuberant and enjoying the freedom to run about and sniff everything. I kept saying that I was only going a short way on the hike, and then would likely come back to the car while Mark took the dogs further. But, wimp that I am, I hung on for some time.

 

The hike itself was quite lovely. It wasn’t too hard, and although the uphill parts taxed my aging self, I enjoyed it. We crossed many little mountain streams gushing toward a waterfall. The dogs frolicked. I was holding up the rear and trying to keep up, mostly. After about an hour or so, we stopped to take a break, and I decided to go back to the car. Mark was urging me to keep going another hour, but I was pretty much done. After all, I’d exerted myself at this point more than I do in most months, including the anxiety trip of being a passenger in the car. So we agreed to part ways, with Mark keeping the dogs and me traveling back alone. He gave me the bear spray to carry and asked if I remembered how to get back.

 

“What?”

“You know how to get back to the car, right? At that intersection, go straight across and that’s the path.”

“What intersection?”

“Where we saw the trail sign.”

“The what?”

“Just go straight across. If you get lost, go back to the intersection and wait for me.”

“Ok…”

 

I sincerely could not remember an intersection, but that’s part of the problem of holding up the rear of the group… and being a completely untrained hiker. Were this New York, I could have navigated. I would have remembered intersections. But here, I was just blindly following along, staring more at the trees than the path we were on. But I figured, and because he said it so plainly, that I would know what to do when I got there.

 

It was less than 5 minutes from Mark’s and my parting on the trail that I encountered the bear shit. I knew what it was, because neither of my dogs, big as they are, could possibly create that much excrement. It was a little runny, and it was steaming. STEAMING. We had passed this point on the trail not more than 15 minutes ago, and this shit was not there. And it was STEAMING. If I thought I was scared of hairpin curves in the car, I did not know what fear was. At that point, every hair on my freaking body was standing on end. Every “Man versus Wild” episode played simultaneously through my brain, and my knees almost buckled underneath me. I grabbed the bottle of bear spray and put my finger on the safety cap trigger. There was a GIANT BEAR somewhere within my immediate vicinity. And while my immediate reaction was losing all the color in my face and almost fainting, there was an inner voice that said, “WALK. GET THE FUCK OUT OF THERE. WALK.” My knees, almost unable to comprehend, attempted forward motion. I looked, most likely, like some drunk with jake leg, stumbling from a bar at 3 a.m. My legs would literally not cooperate with my brain. And in this one particular case, my brain knew more than my legs.

 

In the moments that passed, I moved forward, but my head was on a 360-degree trajectory. I was looking behind me, in front of me, up the mountain, down the mountain. Anywhere that this giant bear might be—or any others, because now that I had been within moments of meeting one on the path, I was sure there were hundreds sitting in the bushes. Really, I did—or started doing—what I should have been doing all along: paying attention. Theorizing that being in the wild is similar to walking through a crime-laden Brooklyn ghetto, I understand this concept. But mostly just in the ghettoes, where keeping an eye behind you and an awareness of all goings on in your vicinity keeps you from being mugged by men. Not bears. Or cougars.

 

I thought so many thoughts in the next half-mile I can’t remember them all. I contemplated every different possibility for where the bear had come from and where it had gone. I worried about Mark, who had given me the only can of bear spray that I was now aiming at every snapping tree branch like a trigger-happy paranoid schizophrenic.

“At least he has the dogs,” I’d think. “Tenaya will fight to the death for him. Denali… well, Denali will run like mad and make things even worse. God… I hope they don’t cross that bear.”

 

And then, there it was: the intersection. I did remember being here, because I read the Bear Warning signs when we passed.

“Fuck. Go straight, he says… There are two straights. The straight that goes left and the straight that goes right. Which ‘straight ahead’ did he mean?”

 

So, wheeling around in every direction, arm extended with the bear spray ready to shoot, I decided the “right straight” option. It went ok for a few minutes, until I started to doubt myself. I saw a log off the path that I thought I’d seen from a different angle before. Maybe it really was the left-straight path. So I turned around, went back to the intersection, which incidentally had 5 different paths in each angle, and rethought my situation. I didn’t mind being at the crossroads, because at least I could see in every direction in case a bear or lion were coming for me, so long as I kept turning in a slow circle. But then, that didn’t help my sense of direction much, so I decided to go on the other path and see if that were right.

 

All this while, nature kept being nature. Twigs would snap and I would jump from my skin, aiming wildly in the direction of the sound. Birds, deer, hell—even butterflies were on the verge of being blasted with cayenne pepper (or whatever is in bear spray) at every second. And I had already decided that I would not feel guilty if I shot Bambi with the spray by mistake. At this point, I was Ted Nugent, believing wholeheartedly in a “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality. I’d shoot a forest ranger, but I wouldn’t care. At least I would not be eaten by a bear.

 

On the second path I chose, nothing seemed familiar, but against all judgment whatsoever, I kept going. Really, I just wanted to put as much distance between me and the bear shit as possible. Although it seemed I was going the wrong way, and uphill, it was still further from the bear shit. I left Mark on the path because I was tired. Now I was on an uphill climb that I did not remember, but I couldn’t stop. Finally, near the complete end of exhaustion, I sat down in the middle of the road, took off my jacket because I was covered in sweat, and looked around me. This was decidedly not the path we had been on. But at this point, I was so worn out I felt like the Donner Party and was willing to sacrifice myself to the bear just to stop moving. What finally got me up was a stump in the woods that looked exactly like a wolf stalking me. We don’t even have wolves in California (except maybe one), and I own a part-wolf dog. I love wolves. But at this point, feeling like an injured and easy prey for almost anything, I was not taking chances. Yes, it was a stump, but that stump got me moving again. I thank that stump.

 

At least walking back to the intersection was all downhill, even if it were closer to the bear shit. My mind had cleared somewhat, and I realized that this was the best thing to do. Mark would either be coming back to that point by now, or he would get to the car and realize that I was lost. I also had the keys, though they did me little good. He had the headlamp, and I worried that I’d be lost and it would get dark. Then, I would be easy prey.

 

Fortunately, Mark met me at the intersection just as I had hoped.

“Did you see any bears?” he asked.

“OH MY GOD. I’m so happy to see you! No, but I saw the shit and I’ve been lost and…” I didn’t shut up for hours. We walked back to camp and shared our tales. It was the best hike I’ve ever been on. It was like being in an action movie—or better yet, a well-made drama. Every human emotion was encompassed in a period of 2 hours, and afterward, I felt cathartic. I at least felt like I’d had a near-brush with a big bear, and I realized that I hadn’t felt that much adrenalin in ages. Not even in the car.

 

Our trip was not over, but more on the rest in another post. Hiking: what a fun activity. Bear shit and all.

Thoughts on Whitman

For a period of about a year when I lived in Brooklyn, I had the fortunate spin on life of actually working in my neighborhood. Every day I would wake up and walk about a mile down Washington Avenue through Clinton Hill to a little spa where I bartended. At the time I certainly didn’t feel it was a splendor, but in retrospect, it was the happiest I think I ever was in New York. Largely, because I spent all of my time outside of it—or the main hull of it anyway.
I was quickly promoted to the bar manager at the spa and filled my position usually 5 or 6 days of the week—10 hours a day. I didn’t mind it, though, because I had few customers, I was paid more than minimum wage, and I was surrounded by steamy tranquility 80% of my workday. When I’d get off work I’d often go into the changing room and put on a swimsuit to sit in the Jacuzzi with at glass of wine before walking the mile home. It was peaceful, amidst the chaos of the rest of the city. I was lonely, which plagued me greatly at the time, but I was happy.
Often, on my walks to work, I’d stroll past the house that Walt Whitman once lived in. It was unassuming—a little shantyish really. It had few windows, dingy beige siding, and dangling leftover Christmas lights that made it perpetually look like the Grinch had just taken off with all the toys. Although it was listed on the historical registry, there wasn’t a sign outside or anything to indicate that anyone had ever lived there except for working class minorities or disheveled hipsters.
Whitman’s house was just off Myrtle Avenue and at the end of most everything in Clinton Hill/Fort Greene. It’s the last block before the freeway’s overriding presence consumes you and warehouses are the only buildings standing. I wondered what it was like in Whitman’s time, and imagined that writing Leaves of Grass there would be unnerving with freeway traffic sailing by.
I wondered how it could possibly be that parts of that amazing book of poetry were conceived of in such a place. I know there was no freeway then, of course. But I wondered still if that little pocket of Brooklyn felt like the wilderness from the bustle of New York like it somehow did for me.
Many years before, when I was studying acting in New Jersey, we were required to find a singular poem that spoke to us to recite for our speech and voice finals after our first year of graduate school. It had been a harrowing year—one of the more redefining in my life—and through the discombobulating effects of moving from the south to the north, studying at one of the most intimidating schools I’d ever known, and going through a marriage and a divorce, I found what felt was the one poem that spoke to me.
It still does. And, just like my favorite songs and my favorite moments in life, it has become a part of who I am. Just as much as those tranquil days strolling past Walt Whitman’s house in Brooklyn. And just like those chaotic moments when I’d surely lost my mind.
Now, thousands of miles away and living a life that feels 180 degrees in the opposite direction, I feel more hope, tranquility, and joy in this poem than I ever felt before, because I know that those gossamer threads did, in fact, finally land…

A Noiseless Patient Spider by Walt Whitman
A noiseless patient spider,
I marked where on a little promontory it stood, isolated;
Marked how, to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launched forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you, O my soul, where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be formed, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

Adventures in a New Town

It’s a cloudy, drizzly day in Sacramento today, and if I weren’t thinking about it, the view outside my window takes me back to Queens, New York. There’s a little corner store across from the hotel and the sign reads “Stop-N-Shop: Liquor Wine Beer – We take EBT!” and I laugh at it every time I look out. If it weren’t for the palm trees, I might think this neighborhood were Brooklyn or New Jersey on a day like this, but the people are friendlier. Our hotel, needless to say, is not in the best area of town. Still, it is better than the hotel we stayed in our first three nights here. There, we were sandwiched between what I suspect was a meth lab and a semi-homeless veteran who lived there weekly with his dog.

It’s been two years since I’ve lived in a city, which is kind of strange to me since I spent most of my adult life in them, trying to escape the rural childhood I’d been blessed with. I’ve always liked cities—mostly because I like to watch people going about their daily lives without really having to interact with them. I realize here in the hotel how much I’d missed that since living in New York—how much inward joy I get from looking out the window and seeing strangers just doing whatever—talking, sitting alone, taking cigarette breaks. For the past year, I’ve mostly watched alpacas and birds carry on their business—which is greatly gratifying too, but certainly different.

Sacramento is like nowhere I’ve lived and yet like so many places I’ve lived. I get a creeping vibe that I’m in Baton Rouge again, but then the freeway spreads out to 12 lanes and it feels like a massive game of Frogger and New Vice City rolled into one. The orange trees take me off-guard every time I see one and I repress the inwardly gaping child that wants to run up to some stranger’s yard and start stealing their fruit. Driving into town, we passed acres upon acres of cherry trees blossoming and with the windows down, it smelled like Heaven. Somewhere amongst all of the wonder, though, is the anxiety of finding a place to live. I regret having come here without securing housing first, but like any time I’ve moved to a new town, there’s that catch-22 of wanting to know the place before choosing a place—and how can you do that from far away? Thus, storage space and hotel rooms and anxiety. But still, orange trees…

I’m happy to be at this hotel, though, because I can work. I’m still doing my online lesson plan writing gig, and every moment I’ve been without a computer, internet and desk has just been money I was losing by not working. It surprised me to feel relief and contentment at doing the job that I often complain about for its mundanity—but then I realized that it’s much easier to think about literary themes and plot arcs than it is to deal with looking at rental ads constantly.

And so, on this gray and rainy Sunday, I’m happy to be living in Sacramento. I’ll be happier when I have my own place to call home, but for now, I’m glad to be writing about protagonists and antagonists and scanning the classified ads in the paper and to be in from the rain. Here’s to hoping tomorrow brings some sun and a lead to a new home…

February 14, 2011

I know I haven’t written in awhile, and I’ve been trying to think of different ways to explain that to myself. I finally landed on, “Well, if you woke up one day and the nightmare of a life you’d been living had somehow magically transformed to Heaven, what would you say?” –and the answer is, relatively little.
It’s not that my life isn’t filled with strange and interesting stories anymore—it is, and quite more so—it is simply that I’ve been so lost marveling at it that sitting down to write seems almost useless. I feel more and more that I can’t put into words the things I see and experience. I feel like words have become trite and meaningless in the face of mountains and redwood trees and the majesty of life itself.
Which is why I’m trying. I realize that, although that’s all true, I still have fantastic stories to relate and every day I experience a new level of spirit. And also, 2011, I really want to break the monotony of writing academic bullshit which I do every day for 14 hours or more and which breaks my spirit from actually expressing my own thoughts.
February 14, 2011
Yesterday I was in the front yard lighting charcoal to grill some asparagus. I was dressed in my bright blue Cookie-Monster bathrobe, which I wear all the time, shamelessly, like The Big Lebowski. I’m always wearing clothes under the robe, mind you—but the robe has become my indoor jacket, my shield, my Cancerian shell, my Linus blanket. I get pretty anxious sometimes sitting outside on the front porch wearing it, feeling like a visionary statement of laziness—but I inwardly shout to the people driving by “I work from home! I’m not lazy! I work 14 hours a day most days! I just get to wear my bathrobe doing it!” Then I take a big hit of Bubba Kush and watch the cows across the road awhile and go back to writing lesson plans.
As I was shuffling around with the charcoal bag I heard, “Excuse me?” and looked up to see a young couple at the fence to the farm. I immediately cursed that damn bathrobe I was wearing and the fact that people occasionally do stop by, feeling even more like a hippie-freak-cookie-monster being. “Do you mind if we take a look at your llamas?” she asked. She didn’t seem judgmental of my robe, although I felt strange striding in my snow-boots, pajama pants and robe to talk to them at the gate. “Are they llamas?” “Well, they’re alpacas. They’re related to llamas… You can come in and look in at them there by the fence if you like.” “Oh! Awesome! Those are so cool!”
I let the couple in and they went to ogle the flock as I ran inside to change from my robe to my coat. After I did, I didn’t really feel much better, because then it was only more obvious I had these blue checkered pajamas on underneath. I walked back out, now looking more like a sleep-walking skier.
The couple walked back up and we talked shortly before they drove away. They were from Texas, and I imagine they looked like most of the young couples I see in this part of California—they came from somewhere—Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Missouri, Mexico—to live life the way they’d always wanted to but were never allowed. I love that element of the population here.
I went back inside and put my bathrobe on and then went to check the coals.
We’re moving in two weeks to Sacramento, and I feel ill-prepared, though not more ill-prepared than I’ve ever felt for a move. We’re literally going there with no apartment, putting all our things in storage, and then going to camp or stay in motels as we look to find a place, hopefully in the first week of March. The anxiety I have over all of this is pretty overwhelming. I’ve been homeless in New York before, due to real-estate fallouts and bad choices and I don’t ever want to feel that way again, even if the irony of my Persian cat was amusing. At least we have the Subaru to sleep in if need be—though I’m pretty sure I’m going to be insisting on the cheap motel option more often than camping.
I know very little about Sacramento except what Wikipedia’s tells me and what I’ve seen in passing through it. We’re moving there as a sort of half-way point between here and somewhere amazing. Lake Tahoe is where we’d like to go next, but in the meantime, Sacramento will hopefully give us both job opportunities and money to start building up. I do know I can grow asparagus there, and olives. Which makes me think it’s a pretty decent place to be.
I think if I were to choose any place in California to live that I’ve seen so far, it would be Big Sur. Which is why so many authors live there and title their books after the place and dwell on it endlessly. It is, to me, a place that is above words. Jack Kerouac nailed it in his poem and in his book. I never could.
Today is Valentine’s Day, and I have spent my day loving my life and the love of my life and his dog. I would not trade this day for anything, which means that everything that happened before it is also precious to me. Every sad Valentine’s Day spent alone or angry or resentful… well, I wish I could erase the angry, resentful moments—but nonetheless, they all led me here.
In the past few months of having actually found true happiness and love, I’ve spent some time remembering the loves I’ve had before. And one of the reasons I believe I’m really “there” is that when I look back I see a lot (don’t judge me) of wonderful men that I still respect and have the highest wishes for. I’ve lived with and been in love with some wonderful people. And a couple of assholes. But that’s just statistics.
My real journey wasn’t with those men. It was with myself. And while some may think it a depressing thought that we all die alone, I see it as a full circle and the most beautiful thing in our lives. We are born alone and we die alone—but those who we take into our heart in between are what is important. I learned a new world from every man I loved. And that world bled into my own to create a universe. Thank you for giving me the gift of myself so that I could one day truly give myself to truth, beauty and life.
The man I love now is the only person I’ve ever found to be a perfect counter-weight to my entire being. I love him beyond belief or meaning and every day I fall in love again and again. In a year, I hope I will have kayaked, hiked, camped, and snowmobiled across more of California than I’d have ever dreamed. Here’s to my adventurer…

Almost 33 Years

It took me almost 33 years to determine who I am. And who I am not. That the person who I thought I was did not exist, and the person I have become is someone entirely different–with different desires, different thoughts, different actions, and different beliefs. It took me stepping outside of the boundaries I had set for myself–breaking those established barriers that kept me defined by me and boxed into the hologram of self-image–to realize that we are never limited to what we believe we are. To realize that we are adaptable, evolving creatures and that in any given circumstance, we react within our surroundings differently depending on where we are in our thoughts and lives.
I thought, for the greater portion of my life, that I needed something indefinable, and I sought it on an undeliberate path, believing that it would strike me by recognition once I hit it. I believed that I was on the trail toward my dreams, and that my happiness lay in the glitter of New York. I believed it since I was five.
I hovered through my youth, always looking either forward or looking back. I longed to be in the place I was going, yet I could never get there, being bound by the ghosts of the past. For every forward motion I could take, an invisible force pushed me two steps backward, and I wondered why getting anywhere was so difficult, so painful, so … impossible. I could only go so far forward and then I would stall. I made it as far as the city I’d believed I would live in, and it wasn’t the picture I’d imagined. Or, it was and I wasn’t. I looked around at the world I had built for myself and I saw its hollowness. I felt the shame and disappointment of failure and the realization that the dreams I’d so carefully built were only fictions–that the happiness I’d always longed for wasn’t where I thought it was–and after spending a lifetime toiling toward one ends, how could I ever know where it might be elsewhere?
It took me almost 33 years to determine who I am, and who I am not. It took me facing every fear that held me down into the perception of myself to finally stand and turn and say, “We’re going the wrong direction. This isn’t the way home.” I am less ashamed of the time that it took me to get to that point than I am proud that I ever got there at all. Every time we leap–every time we step out of what we think of as “standard, appropriate behavior” for ourselves–every time we reach out beyond our comfort zones and into the vulnerability that is letting others into our souls–we evolve. And the world we let in may blind us with strange, new light, but it renews our wonder at the world and at ourselves. It reflects back a mirror image that we never saw before, and frees us to become more than our little egos ever imagined.

Pacific Ocean