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Archive for November, 2009

Monsoon Enough

After three days in Dallas (the sunniest of which I ironically spent writing in a windowless office), feeling overdue to go back to my patiently-waiting kitty, I drove off like an idiot into a monsoon.  My stay in Dallas was, despite mostly lousy weather, a sick kid in the house, and my friend Pedro himself fighting off the bug, nonetheless pretty darn warm and fuzzy.  No distress, no confusion, no angst.  I rested, wrote, and spent time with my friends.  I de-garbaged the Blubaru, reorganized my luggage, and bonded further with the Mamacitas, a trio of fantastic women who function as Pedro’s sisters, advisers, and family (and coincidentally, keep his law practice humming).  And although I could have stayed in Dallas through Halloween weekend, waiting out the huge storm that blocked the nation from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes, I felt compelled to push on and begin the 25-hour drive home, especially as I was intending to do it over four days so as to keep writing from the road.

What an idiot.

After a lively and loving sushi-sendoff at Pedro’s office, I headed east into dismal weather, yet felt warmed to the core.  Initially, my spirits were kept aloft by a delightful NPR program I stumbled upon on my way out of Dallas.  It was a local show with a word-geek guest, a self-described “snoot” regarding language, grammar, and usage.  Distracted by the wit of a man who says he can’t read six consecutive words of a legal brief without getting offended, I felt little troubled by the rain, wind, and generally murky environment.  I found my thoughts returning to Sarah the Healer back in Boulder.  Had she really worked magic?  Had I worked magic somehow on this trip?  I suppose there is no single turnkey explanation to any changes wrought on this journey; but again, I observed that I was unruffled by these last days in Dallas, and was even now holding pretty steady despite the awful weather.  I would be curious to see if and how these changes might be sustained under more ordinary circumstances after returning home.  Meantime, I was driving in downpours. Every now and then, I’d look up at the sky, certain that I would soon drive out from under the front.  I did this at least four times, each time thinking, “Hey, the cloud layer is getting higher and thinner just ahead,” only to get clocked again by a torrent of water.  Eventually, in what was clearly a bit of weather-gods trickery, I did hit a few drier spells and a miraculous, teensy bit of sun.  I even stopped to gas up in Texarkana, just to see it fog-free.

What an idiot.  I wasted over 15 dry minutes in Texarkana, which turns out to look just like every other freeway-side swatch of suburban Generica.

Onward I went, back into Arkansas.  I approached Little Rock at “rush hour” in the worst rains I’ve ever seen in my entire life.  I had known I would be driving into a storm, but heck, we’ve all done that, so I hadn’t been daunted.  I knew it would rain most of the way home, so figured there was no point in waiting if it would continue for days anyway.  What I didn’t – and couldn’t – realize until I was well into it was that this appalling monsoon, the likes of which I have never seen in 45 years, would continue at this intensity for two solid days before easing up in the slightest.  It was the kind of rain you sometimes hit for five or ten minutes, usually in the summer, and just wait out, or drive through carefully, knowing it will spend itself out shortly.  Except this slow-moving storm did not.  Visibility reduced to near zero, speed down to 15 mph on the highway around Little Rock, I was hit with literally one wall of water after another crashing against my windshield.  Windshield wipers were a joke, akin to intercepting a cruise missile with a fly-swatter.  And I thought to myself, “I am going to die out here, and FOR WHAT?  I DON’T EVEN HAVE TO BE HERE.”

Have I mentioned what an idiot I am?

As I scanned for NPR west of Little Rock, hoping for a weather forecast that would tell me what I wanted to hear, I caught a snippet of a country music song, twanging as only Country & Western music can, “It’s haaarrrrd to get a daaaate…Much less a reeeallll girlfrieeeennnnd.” I could barely laugh.  My spirits were now unliftable, not because I was sad or depressed, but because I had to focus on somehow getting through these horrendous conditions safely.  I tried listening to Bach’s Goldberg Variations, but they got on my nerves after a while, and I had to switch off the stereo.

I kept on, following tail-lights and the painted line of the shoulder just far enough to make the changes from one highway to another.  By the time I realized the going was too bad to continue, I had little choice but to press on yet a bit longer, as I could not even see if there were any hotels off the exits.  Continuing, even at 15 mph, seemed marginally better than getting stranded off the side of the road.  So long as I didn’t die first.  Finally, I saw a billboard for a Holiday Inn 15 miles ahead on I-40.  I seriously was not sure I’d make it that far; but the rain eased slightly and briefly, and I put a few safer miles behind me.  Then it came back, hitting harder than ever, and I inched my way in such biblical torrents and winds as to drive out any thought unrelated to hanging on tight and concentrating with all I had on survival.

At long last, I reached the Holiday Inn’s exit in a place called Lonoke, Arkansas.  There are not words to express the relief I felt upon turning off the Blubaru’s engine beneath the front awning!  As I arrived at the hotel desk, just as the clerk was about to check me in, sirens went off outside, a call came in with a tornado warning, and the overworked and solitary clerk had to start calling rooms to persuade all the guests to come downstairs to the safety of a windowless room.  Before she completed this task, the sirens mercifully ceased, and the warning was cancelled.  Checked in and unloaded at last, I longed for a drink, only to discover that despite all this water, I was in a dry county.  The closest liquor was a county away, and I was not going back out there tonight for anything!  Settled into my hotel room, with intermittent internet and nonstop Weather Channel, I began to suspect I should’ve stayed in Dallas a few more days after all.  But I had known this storm was large and slow, and to fully wait it out, I would’ve been stuck until the following week.  Based on all prior experience, I really believed I’d drive out from under it.  I tried not to smack myself upside the forehead too often, and hoped that tomorrow’s going would be less brutal.

The next morning, I awoke to intermittent rain, but generally quieter conditions.  Grateful for my safety and the night’s shelter, I nonetheless did not relish the notion of sticking around Lonoke, Arkansas, smack in the middle of Tornado Alley.  In a relative lull, I hauled ass out of there, not even stopping to gas up first, wanting to not waste any rain-free time.  I had forty minutes’ good and peaceful driving before again encountering deluges as I crossed the Mississippi River into Memphis.  I plodded onward.  In the sky ahead of me, I could again see a lighter, higher cloud layer.  If only I could catch up with it!  My friend John from Tennessee called to check on me.  By then I was west of Nashville, was catching up with the eastern end of the storm, and the rains were finally abating.  I wanted to clear Nashville before dark.  John kindly called ahead and booked me a room east of Nashville, and said he’d come down to meet me for dinner.

Exhausted, relieved, and questioning my own good sense, I settled into a room in a largely empty Hampton Inn in Lebanon, Tennessee.  When John showed up to take me for a steak dinner and that long-overdue bourbon, I could have cried, and could barely speak coherently.  Unwinding over a first-rate meal (in Lebanon, TN…who knew?), we had a jovial visit, and I reveled in cementing another friendship.  I returned back to my room with a full belly, a smile on my face, and too tipsy to write, much less pay any mind to signs of incipient illness.

©2009. All rights reserved.
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Condition Responses

Somewhere about 75 miles west of Amarillo, Texas, I accidentally reset my trip odometer, forcing myself to receive yet another cosmic thwack upside the cranium regarding attachment and ego.  I had been keeping track of the mileage driven on this trip out of curiosity and, I’m sure, the desire for some sort of bragging rights once my Walkabout was said and done.  After a fill-up just east of the Texas-New Mexico state line, I reset my primary trip odometer and accidentally hit the button once too often, erasing all 4,400- or 4,800-odd miles I’d accrued on the secondary trip odometer.  After the “Aaaaarrrrgghhh!!!” Heard  ’Round the Panhandle, I had no choice but to laugh at myself, and the random, meaningless importance I had placed on an LCD readout on my dashboard.

On this return third of the trip, I had, in the end, chosen to retrace my tire tracks and return via the exact route I embarked on.  I opted to purchase easier driving, trading off the novelty of more fresh scenery for driving at a less frantic pace, facilitated by stopping with friends again instead of paying for hotels for the entire balance of the journey.  (I simply don’t know anyone who lives in the geographical center of the United States, my alternate-route option.)  I arranged to return a few days later than originally planned, which would allow for another rest-break of several days in Dallas, in turn enabling me to write more than I could manage during days on the road.  I had initially hedged on returning to Dallas, given how rattled I had felt after leaving there on the outbound leg.  But the clarity and groundedness I’d felt since Sarah the Healer worked on me in Boulder remained, and I no longer hesitated to go back the way I came.  The influences that had shaken me up so much before, seemed now (though yet untried and miles away) distinctly outside of me, and no longer so threatening.  It was as though something inside me had finally clicked into place after grinding for heaven knows how long just on the edge of its gear.

So far, that fear I’d wrestled with on the outbound leg remained completely absent as well.  I wasn’t sure if this was because I was back in familiar territory, having driven these roads already, slept in the same town (ah, sublime Shamrock, Texas), and even stopped at the same Starbucks at the Barnes & Noble in the outskirts of Amarillo.  I may never know if the fear was gone because the turf was no longer foreign, or if it might be due to whatever I gained while I was all the way out west.  Only time and further miles will bear that out.

Even within this new stillness, in the two days’ drive between Albuquerque and Dallas, I felt my mood fluctuate distinctly under changeable skies.  My susceptibility to variations in the sky and weather was becoming unmistakable, and this lesson in just how sensitive to light, sun, space, and sky I have become has been surprising.  I did not know this before I left Philadelphia, and it seems crucial information to acknowledge about oneself.  Having grown up in cloudy Cleveland, I remembered sometimes feeling oddly happy on grey days during college, as they made me feel nostalgic.  So now, I felt compelled to question, have I really grown that sensitive to the clouds, or am I just bummed that I’m heading home?  I recalled my cousins touting the fact that Denver boasts, on average, 300 days of sun per year.  Colorado again pulled at me from behind, and I felt a tugging at my heart and fullness around my eyes.

As I approached Dallas toward rush hour, I hit rains once more.  Why did it keep raining on me as I headed into Dallas?  Now it was just pissing me off!  I fought my way through the increasingly monochrome twilight mist to arrive in time for a hurried dinner with Bella.  We had a lot to share, but there was little time before she had to run off to rehearsal.  The rains bathed me in a sense of bewilderment and anticlimax as I made my way across town, back to Pedro’s house, where he and his charge were waiting.

©2009. All rights reserved.
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WalkabOut of the Box

As I was preparing to go on this little expedition, many people I told about it responded with a puzzled, incredulous, “Really??” and reacted as though it were some fearsome undertaking.  Obviously not everyone responded thusly, but some degree of incomprehension and doubt was common.  And I started to buy into that story, of this being something daunting, dangerous, deviant even.  But a funny thing happened on the way to the frontier:  Once I’d gone, everyone, to a person, was cheering me on from all directions and media, hailing “You go girl!” or some rough equivalent.

I think it is worth noting what people perceive as possible, or reasonable, from within the frameworks of their lives, and how they transmit that to others.  At a unique distance from most of the people in my life (but for the friends I was occasionally staying with or visiting along the route), I was gaining a fresh perspective on how we communicate certain things to one another, both subtly and blatantly.  It is dangerously easy to impose the parameters of one’s own container upon another; conversely, it is also far too easy to judge another as, or for, living in a particular box.  In our human fear of the unknown, we are so apt and ready to convey our own discomfort and anxieties regarding the actions of another, even when the conditions of that other’s life do not match or mirror our own.  This may seem obvious, or a truism, but I can only say that I perceived it with a new curiosity and clarity from the distance of the road.

Another unexpected effect of this journey has been one wrought by the seeing of old friends along the way.  I had been lucky enough of late to go six nights in a row without staying in a hotel room, and got to see a number of “long-lost” friends in addition to those whose homes I stayed in.  Besides having seen my old friend Stacy while in Boulder, and a bevy of extended comrades in Dallas, I enjoyed a warm and comfortably boisterous Sunday brunch with Ty’s family before departing Albuquerque for the second time.  I had not seen Ty’s aunts and uncle (his functional parents) in about eight years.  Both Ty and I have been through divorces since then, each of us is now living a completely different life, and I feel like an entirely altered person.  Oh, how I enjoyed that brunch!  I felt so free, joyous, and filled with love for this family of friends!  Afterwards, as I headed eastward on I-40, it hit me just how strong a medicinal effect seeing all these old connections has had on me.  This was not something I had anticipated on this trip (even though I had not known what to expect).  Each renewed contact has felt fully alive, present, vital.  And despite each person or household having its own distinct character, each also somehow managed to feel homey and welcomingly familial as well.  Could it be that I am at last finding it easier to make myself feel at home, period?

Sunday after brunch, I left Albuquerque in high spirits.  That sense of feeling just really good, which I’d observed the day before as I left Colorado, remained with me as I began my return eastward on I-40 through New Mexico.  Beneath yet another wide blue sky with low, pouffy cumulous clouds and all kinds of space and light, I experienced another soundtrack moment.  This time, despite knowing I was on the return leg of this journey but would prefer to be out and about much longer, I was listening to the Cleveland Orchestra play the end of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, and felt its victorious theme to be the musical counterpart to this non-invisible moment of my life.  The jubilant, proclamatory strains were the perfect accompaniment to my mood and awareness:  the feeling that somehow, some way, there’s been a shift, and I felt good.  I felt in my bones (the very ones that Mussorgsky’s brass was rattling) that this trip was so the right thing to do, and that certainty felt triumphant as well.  I had climbed out of my own box, and any others anyone else had wanted to impose on me, and managed to do something entirely of my own making, without caving in to the whispering masses, real or imagined.  And as I had on the evening I arrived at the Grand Canyon, and upon reaching nearly 11,000 feet on my birthday, I again received a glimmered sense of feeling proud of myself.

©2009. All rights reserved.
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Speed/Reading

En route to Albuquerque on I-25 through southern Colorado, listening to The Greatest Hits of Kenny Loggins, I do believe I saw a tumbleweed bounce across the road.  That was definitely a first.  I also believe I passed a farm full of gnus.  But I can’t be sure.  When you’re zipping along at oh, let’s say 85 miles per hour, you don’t have a lot of time to take a second look at anything that crosses your visual field.  Or verify the exact parameters of a vaguely familiar-looking horned animal grazing by the fence alongside the highway.  Trying to make up a little time lost to my earlier perambulations, I was grateful that the road was largely straight and level, and I could often see for many miles in all directions.  There was not much out there, except a plain right out of “Little House on the Prairie” on the left, and my sweet Rockies, ever so gently descending, on the right.  Crossing the border into New Mexico, I felt very sad to be leaving Colorado behind, but took comfort in the continued yet changing beauty around me.  After navigating a series of very New Mexico-esque mountain turns near the state line, a long, straight, stretch of road resumed for several hours.  Now I say I was traveling at around 85 mph.  On average.  Maybe.  Let’s just say it would be way too easy to go 100 mph on I-25 in northern New Mexico.  Theoretically.  Still, I was not going to make Albuquerque before dark.

I rounded the Santa Fe area mountains just in time for sunset.  As I took a brief turn westward in the approaching twilight, the terrain was enchanting – sort of half-desert, half-mountains – in the last of that light for which the area is famous.  The partial clouds above and before me went gold, pink, and crimson, as snow-peaked mountains could still be seen off to the north, and the mountainous Santa Fe National Forest rose up on both sides of the highway.  It was all lovely to behold after a long, and dare I say, boring stretch through the middle of New Mexico.  As I banked to the west, listening to Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin belting out “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves,” I thought, Yes, Indeed.

Hungry, and late, I finally arrived to an ever-patient Ty, holding up his Saturday night awaiting my arrival.  We grabbed a late dinner, then joined a bunch of his friends who were hanging out at a sort of open house for an herb shop one of them owned.  It was at this “herbery” that I encountered Hazel, a 65-year-old woman from Florida, retired there from Boston.  Hazel had been on her own walkabout of sorts, having visited friends in Albuquerque several times over the last year or so; after receiving some sort of prophesy that she would be staying, she learned that her house in Florida had burned down, and everything she owned was now with her in her rental car there in New Mexico.  She was in an extraordinarily good mood.

Hazel claimed to be a healer, and first offered to work on my suddenly sore neck, then later sat down to give me an “Angel Card” reading.  I have had Tarot readings in the past, mostly out of curiosity and for the entertainment value; but I was unfamiliar with Angel Cards.  After I shuffled, Hazel took cards from the deck and held each between her hands, not reading the card per se, but instead tuning in to whatever “message” she was “receiving.”  Now, I am pretty darn open-minded, and hold a very live-and-live attitude regarding most superstitious beliefs so long as they don’t hurt anyone.  But I also don’t fully write off some of this “way out there” stuff, because I find it the height of arrogance for anyone – scientists, doctors, theologians, preachers –  anyone, to think that they or someone else has, at this moment in time, evolution, and history, all the answers to the universe.  So I tend to be pretty open-minded, and am more than willing to have a 65-year-old woman with a Florida tan, Boston accent, and marginal dye job give me a reading on an otherwise quiet Saturday night in Albuquerque.  Even if it did begin with her saying “Stop being such an ass!”

Hazel said that part of her gift was to translate the divine into plain English.  I assured her I was unoffended.  She claimed to not necessarily know what every message meant, but that the divine spoke through her, and that if I did not understand right away, I would, and soon.  Hazel continued with the reading.  Next card, eyes closed, she looked at me and asked, “Why did you stop writing your book?”  Stunned at first, I was about to retort that I never started, when I suddenly remembered five or ten pages at most, written some 18 years ago, and probably lost on an old set of floppy disks.  “I barely started,” I stammered.  “Why did you stop?” she asked again.  I stammered some more, thinking “Fear, it’s got to be fear.”

A few cards later, Hazel opened her eyes again, looked at me with a maternal, beatific smile, and said in the kindliest, most assuring tones possible, “No harm will come to you.”  I nearly fell out of my chair right there in the middle of the herbery.  I had not said anything to Hazel about the fears I’d contended with earlier on this trip, and it had been days since I felt troubled by them.  Nevertheless, her reassurance was startling.  And comforting – if only because I already knew it to be true.  I was able to look Hazel in the eyes, smile back at her, and say “I know.”  Because I did.

Hazel told me a few more things that surprised me, such as, I am a healer (really?); such as, I need to leave writing, specifically a journal, behind me for a daughter, or someone who felt like a daughter; that this “daughter” needed to read it, and that by leaving it behind for her, my life would have fulfilled a purpose (Oh!).  But the biggie, the one that got my attention the most, was Hazel telling me, “Finish up this trip, fine; but go home and get on with it.  There’s going to be an even bigger walkabout.  In about nine months.”  I could only stare, eyes wide.  She continued, “Do the research, gather your information in this phase; then get on with it.”

Whoa.

©2009. All rights reserved.
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Rest and Motion

Bodies need rest as well as motion, and I was lucky enough to realize this before I set forth on this journey. So while my itinerary was loose at best, I had indeed hoped to stay in Colorado for four or five days.  The day after my birthday, alone in my friend Daniel’s house, I wrote, packed, and played with the kittens one last time before making the short drive south to my cousins’ house in the Denver suburbs.  My days in Boulder had felt like falling into a featherbed:  the suspense of my looming birthday was inexorably resolved; my disembodied friendship with Daniel had actually discovered its unlikely form in the three-dimensional world; and I had at last met the salvation of ascending into the upper reaches of nature, stretching past the familiar to feel the paradoxical sense of super-oxygenation found in the vast sphere above 10,000 feet.

As I drove southeast from Boulder to Denver, the plains of eastern Colorado lay before me, Boulder’s Flatirons and the Rocky Mountains behind me.  It was another gorgeous day, and as I looked in my rear-view mirror, I was again awed by what I saw.  There, perfectly framed, were what may well have been the still-snowy peaks where Daniel and I had gone on my birthday.  With no safe place to pull over, stop, and gape, I drove on, my heart beginning to hurt at that exquisite view falling behind me.  The mountains had begun to have a mystical hold on me, and I felt deep sadness driving away from them.

As I drove through the exurbia that links Boulder to Denver, the road bent gently, and to my surprise and delight, there were the mountains again – off in the distance a bit, but there on my right side!  Bathed in relief, joy, and the sudden ability to exhale again, I continued southward smiling once more, reassured by the company of that stony eminence, which I could now see stretching the panoramic length of the westward plain.  Despite the 64-degree sunshine on the road, the ridge of the mountains remained tipped in white, a sight that filled me with cheer and odd comfort.

The drive to Denver’s southern suburbs was surprisingly quick, and I arrived at my cousin Beth’s house easily on Friday afternoon.  This was the first time I’d been to visit Beth and her family.  My closest-aged relative, and yet not technically a blood relation (my uncle is her stepfather), Beth and I have typically seen each other only on state occasions or her annual visits east.  When I lived west, she lived east, and then at some point we switched.  But a few years ago during one of her visits, we had a conversation that I probably could not have had with most of my other relatives.  Since then, while our contact has been sporadic, I have appreciated our ability to cut through the superficial, and share a certain kind of language and viewpoint that is perhaps less than conventional.  I spent a relaxed Friday evening at home with Beth and her family, writing madlibs together over the cupcakes she made for my birthday, and talking more seriously with Beth and her husband Paul after the kids went to bed.  I asked them many questions about life in Colorado, as neither were locals (Beth was raised in New Jersey, Paul in the UK).  We discussed the difficulties of living far from family, and the attractions and attributes of living in the west.  I had felt so different since arriving in the west that I felt I needed a reality check.  But as Beth said with a demonstrative sweep of both arms while we were out for a walk the next morning, “The sky really is bigger out here!”

My comfortable Colorodan rest-period spent, Saturday I was headed back down to Albuquerque.  But first I said yes to taking that walk with Beth and Paul, not a mistake even though it meant hitting the road a little late.  I’d spent a lot of time picking their brains about Colorado, but talk was no substitute for walking one of Denver’s excellent trails on a warm autumn morning.  And it was good to stretch my legs one last time before getting back on the highway.  While this day’s drive would still be through unfamiliar territory, it marked the beginning of my return eastward, something I was less than keen to ponder.

By noon-ish, I was headed down I-25, my destination for the evening back at Ty’s in Albuquerque.  I had been given several wildly differing estimates of how long that would take, but everyone recommended stopping en route in Colorado Springs to see Garden of the Gods. I wasn’t sure what it was, how far away it was, or how easy it would be to find, but thought I’d give it a try.  Not realizing how close Colorado Springs is to Denver, I was surprised to arrive there about half an hour after leaving Beth’s.  Signage was good, and I found my way to this Garden of the Gods easily, and drove the loop road through the grounds.  This place was extraordinary – it was as if someone had taken the rock formations from Arches and plunked them down at the foot of the mountain I’d seen on my birthday!  In reality, Garden of the Gods is in a desert basin at the foot of Pike’s Peak, which itself was the inspiration for the lyrics to “America the Beautiful” (I am one of the more enthusiastic plaque-readers in this world).  The red rock formations jut up out of the high desert at cockeyed angles and in multifarious forms, all while this mammoth, over-14,000-foot behemoth stares down at them for all eternity, as if they were so many servants genuflecting in their own finery at the royal’s feet.  It was a baffling and stunning landscape to behold.

I carried on southward through Colorado on I-25, which is mostly a nice, straight, flat road, with the company of the Rocky Mountains along the western edge all the way down.  There are not enough clichés in the English language for all the lovely views I beheld, some of the best of which were in the rear-view mirror.  Take that on faith, for I could not describe them all and do any of them justice.  I was glad to be back on the road, and just felt good, really quite good.  It had been a long time since I’d felt able say that.  I didn’t feel confused, agitated, angst-ridden, fearful, or depressed, yet was aware that nothing in the conditions of my life had really changed.  Except for the fact that I’d driven 3,737 miles in the last two weeks.  I realized I had left Philly two Saturdays earlier, almost exactly to the hour.  In the middle of seeming nowhere, I suddenly thought “I should check to see if I have a cell signal,” and then I thought “I don’t care!”  It was then that I realized I had stopped being afraid back in Utah, that the fear had stopped at Colorado’s door.  Granted I’d been stationary of late, and staying with friends and family, where I could really relax and feel secure.  But I made a mental note to see if it would stick, that absence of fear.  For the time being, I wondered if Colorado “cured” me.

As I drove through Colorado, loving those mountains, I found myself thinking about where I’d been so far on this trip:  the Grand Canyon, Arches, Monument Valley, mountaintops.  I thought about how I was seeking things, vistas, nature, that by definition would make me feel small.  I craved wide open sky, wanted things to be huge around me (even though this had briefly terrified me in Arizona); whatever impulse I had for this exploration was to seek things that really made me feel smaller than I did at home.  I wondered if back home, I was somehow getting too big for my own existence, even though it seemed that nothing was really happening.  I wondered if perhaps the only way I could think of to get outside of myself, not feel limited, was to go to something HUGE.

Driving through Colorado was also the first time and place on this trip that I’d been really singing out along with the stereo, loud and happy.  I have trouble singing unless I feel good, and knew this to be a sort of barometer.  I questioned what the role of Sarah the Healer might be in some of this “transformation” (if indeed it was that).  I don’t know if I believe in everything she’s into, but she absolutely appeared to catalyze some change that helped ground me and dissolve that feeling of raw vulnerability I’d been carrying around, and quickly at that.  I had left her feeling more serene and undefendedly open to everything I had encountered since.  Who knows how else she may have assisted me?

I also couldn’t help thinking about something my cousin Paul had said the night before.  Paul had spoken about finding the east coast very fear-based (which at the time had made me nearly leap out of my easy chair – except that I was far too at ease).  This had resonated for me, absolutely.  I knew that distinction was one dimension of the difference I felt in myself since arriving in the west.  I didn’t fully understand it, but given all the potential questions and ambiguities I was facing, both before I left Philadelphia, and since I’d gone out on the road, I was surprised that I now felt so good.  I would not have expected it, but feel good I did.

Garden of the Gods

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Body at Rest

On the drive to Boulder, I ended up listening to a few of my all-time favorite albums, most of which unfailingly compel me to sing along.  The splendor of the views, and the sense of openness and welcome that I felt during the day’s drive, made my spirit soar; so joining a suited soundtrack to my heart’s exhilaration seemed only apt.  In addition to Bonnie Raitt’s Nick of Time, k.d. lang’s Ingenue, and George Michael (don’t judge until you’ve given Listen Without Prejudice exactly that), I finished listening to the Eagles’ Hotel California album from the day before, the last track of which, “The Last Resort,” nearly always moves me to tears.  (Click here for lyrics.)  This haunting, beautifully anthemic song about America’s magnificence drawing settlers full across it, only to destroy the beauty that attracted them in the first place, choked me with recognition.  Glutted with emotion, tears still marooned somewhere inside me, I could only open my throat and release my voice full-out along with Don Henley, repeating the track several times as I traversed the mountain passes.  I arrived in Boulder stirred again by all I’d seen and felt in a day, driving into town against the dusk, which came early beneath the jagged mountains at the western edge of town.

Around 6:30 of a Monday evening, I found myself on Daniel’s front porch.  I’d seen movement in a window upstairs, but no one answered when I rang the doorbell.  Already a little discomposed, and still covered with sandstone dust from the morning at Arches (yes, that was only the same morning!), I stood on the doorstep for fully 90 seconds waiting for someone to answer the door.  Having not actually seen Daniel for some 28 or more years, 90 seconds was just enough time for me to get really nervous.  He had gone out on a limb inviting me, and I was going out on a limb accepting the invitation (or more accurately, foisting myself upon his hospitality for several nights and my birthday).  But I wanted to take up his offer to see a mountaintop, and in the months I’d been getting to know Daniel over the ethers, I had come to trust something fundamental about his soul.  It didn’t hurt that I’d grown up knowing his family, and had many a memory that took place in his childhood home.  But kids grow up, become their own unpredictable adult people, and I was well aware that my former connection to his family was a partial illusion, lending only a precarious sense of familiarity.  In truth, this lodging was just a few steps above couchsurfing.

 

At long last a shape appeared in the window alongside the front door, and the door was opened from within.  Daniel stood in the doorway, looking slightly puzzled.  Half-joking, I pled “Sanctuary!”  Daniel greeted me with a perplexed “I thought I saw someone out there…”  (I later learned his doorbell was broken, and he wondered how long I had been lurking outside his door.)  I crossed the threshold, we exchanged a brief embrace, and then stepped back to really take each other in.  “Come in, come in,” he said, and I entered the house to be quickly met by two small kittens, one grey and one black.  There’s nothing like a pair of adorable furrballs to help break the ice!  I was kneeling on the floor in no time, greeting my two new-best-friends, who immediately began stalking me and my belongings.  After unloading the car before it got darker and colder, Daniel and I stood in his kitchen, a little awkwardly at first.  I felt dusty, rattled, ungrounded, and that I might benefit from food, drink, and a shower.  Daniel poured me some bourbon, we ordered Thai delivery, and I ran upstairs to rinse myself free of sandstone.  Less than half an hour later, we sat down at Daniel’s kitchen counter and finally shared our first meal.

Gradually, I began to unwind.  I had planned the trip such that I would actually stop here in Colorado for several days, resting and taking in someplace new and unfamiliar, staying through my birthday, maybe longer.  I was about halfway through my intended itinerary, and it was time to restore and recharge, slow down and perhaps begin processing my experiences.  Forty-five was my father’s last birthday; yet I was only just starting to feel alive.  I wanted to not rush through this time and place.  I had asked Daniel to set up a massage for me while I was in town, and it was arranged for the next morning, with a woman he described as more than a massage therapist, a true healer.  Perfect.  I had two full days of staying still in Boulder, during which Daniel would be working, and I could relax, write, and explore this town I’d heard praised by many people.  Then, on the third day, as Daniel had planned to take my birthday off, we would climb that mountain.

 

I awoke Tuesday morning to a dreary sky and a weather forecast poorly suited to assaying the environs.  I confess I was quite disappointed.  I had hoped to explore Boulder on foot later, but with a cold rain expected by afternoon, walking looked unlikely. But the truth was I had no real agenda but for my massage, and Daniel had warned me that the healer-woman, Sarah, was rather approximate regarding time.  So I did my best to roll with it, and reminded myself that besides the rains I’d hit in Dallas – also the first place I took downtime from driving – I had been blessed with idyllic weather that had rendered my travels not only safe, but easeful and enjoyable.  Shortly before I left for my session with Sarah, Daniel called to arrange meeting up for lunch afterward, as I would be around the corner from his office.

 

Sarah arrived about 40 minutes after the appointed hour, evidently due in part to a pet emergency.  I had texted Daniel to let him know lunch would be late.  He interpreted correctly and advised, “Patience. She’s worth it.”  The man knew of what he spake.  Sarah worked on me for about two hours, which passed as though it were 20 minutes.  She had begun by asking me a few questions, starting with how I knew Daniel, and within minutes we were talking easily.  She offered to do some “energy work” on me, and as this was something I’ve been interested in exploring, I eagerly agreed.  She claimed to have clairvoyant abilities, and to be able to read people’s bodies for ailments of various kinds.  I figured I needed all the help I could get, and gave her permission to work her magic.  Sarah said she could free me of some layers of (negative) energies that were not my own, that had been imposed upon me by others in my life.  She had literally read my mind while she was working on my feet, telling me to clear it of exactly what I had been thinking of at that very moment; and while on Sarah’s table, I finally shed the first of those pent-up tears.  Though only a few, and for no apparent reason, the tap was loosened, which was a deep relief.  Now whether it was the power of suggestion, wishful thinking, or indeed some supernatural talents this woman possessed, I can only tell you that, as she predicted, I would be a different person when I met Daniel for lunch.  I felt calm, grounded, easefully solid in myself.  And strangely, not surprised.

The next day, I was visited by an old friend from the days of my marriage, who was now living in Colorado after finishing graduate school there.  Stacy actually drove an hour each direction in the rain and sleet to come spend the afternoon with me in Boulder.  She kindly understood my need to not drive for a few days, and gladly made the trip.  We had a delightful and heartfelt reconnection over a Mediterranean lunch (oh, the irony: in the sleet, in the Rockies!).  Afterwards, we walked through downtown Boulder briefly, until the miserable weather drove us back indoors, this time to a Japanese tea house.  I felt honored that this old friend, whom I also had not seen in quite a few years, would go so far out of her way to see me.  She was very young when we first met, and used to house-sit for us when my husband and I would go away; she and my cat Sofia were friends of old (and I sorely missed having her to rely on while I was on this trip!).  We had both grown and changed profoundly since the days of our first acquaintance, and it was deeply satisfying to spend time sharing pieces of each other’s journeys, discovering where and who each of us were in the here and the now, while resting in the comfort of having known each other before and seen each other through bumpier times.

 

Thursday was, at last, my 45th birthday, the highlight of which I have already written about (see Rocky Mountain Birthday High).  While up on that mountain, I had thought “Why did I wait so long to do this?” and “Why don’t I do this sort of thing more often?”  Indeed, why?  I thought about my mother’s 45, and my father’s.  Mine could not have been more different.  After we came down from the mountain, I had a relaxing rest of the day, as Daniel had to put in a few hours’ work; so I wrote, and rested, an reveled in the seemingly endless birthday wishes, coming via voicemails, texts, calls, emails, and Facebook.  The day had grown glorious and warm, and at last I got to walk around and explore the town.  The pedestrian mall was lovely on this sunny autumn afternoon, and I ambled amongst the shops, galleries, street musicians, students, artists, Rastafarians, tourists, and dogs.

I contemplated my morning’s activity, and how I had been thinking on that mountainside about asking for what you want.  When Daniel first inquired about this trip, and half-jokingly made his offer, I took it up, having essentially asked for what I wanted.  Coming to Boulder was a good sanctuary for me; it afforded me needed recuperation in a peaceful and beautiful environment.  It gave me a meaningful reconnection with Daniel as well as Stacy, in addition to an extraordinary birthday, and I am grateful to Daniel for giving me these.  I often must remind myself that that’s what happens when you ask for what you want:  you stand at least a fifty-fifty chance of getting it.  And I rested  in the contentment of knowing that I had taken that chance, and got what I sought and more.

©2009. All rights reserved.
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Rocks and Rolling

Shortly after noon on Monday, ten minutes out of Arches (following the first nosebleed of my entire life), I checked the odometer on the Blubaru:  we’d logged over 3,100 miles between Saturday afternoon October 10th and Monday morning the 19th.  Remarkably, I still felt pretty good.  The first few days were hard on me physically, but after a good massage in Dallas and a reassessment of my driving posture, I’d been holding up better than expected.  I think there is something about being my father’s daughter that has rendered me capable of all this driving.  I am definitely Fred Freedman’s child.  He could drive for days on end, happy as can be, just keep him stoked with black coffee and keep that supply of Trident coming.  My dad loved to drive and seemed able to do it endlessly, always chewing gum and humming.  He’d hum constantly, usually rambling tunes that were playing only inside his own head.

Upon entering Arches, I was thinking about seeing all this geology, all these different rocks – which I’d been seeing for days now – and was thinking about how Daddy was a geology minor, a fact that always struck me as odd, and indeed made other people laugh:  after all, who is a piano major and geology minor?  But after all these days of rocks, I was starting to get it.  He’d seen parts of this country, though I don’t think he’d been to the southwest, or to the Grand Canyon or Arches; but I found myself wondering, and actually feeling pretty certain, that had he lived, he would’ve taken us to see these things.  We went on family road trips and vacations often when I was little (probably because we had no money for anything fancier); and I think we would have visited these places as a family before my brother and I reached adulthood.  As I entered this stunning and sacred place, I was a little surprised that my thoughts went there; and pondering that notion under the Utah sky was very much a sweet and sour moment.  I looked up into the endless cerulean and told him he would’ve liked to see this.

Then onward Fred Freedman’s daughter went, north on Highway 191 a little longer in Utah, before turning back onto the interstate, headed east to Boulder, Colorado.  Turning onto I-70 was a moment of disorientation for me:  I had been so implacable in my westward momentum for so many days, that when faced with the signage proving that I was actually pointing back EAST, I was momentarily confused, and even briefly angry!  Part of me was crying out “Nooo!!!  I’m not ready to go back east yet!!!!  West! West! We’re supposed to be staying WEST!” Then the other part of me (my non-reactive self?) observed me and thought, “Hm…isn’t that interesting?”  I reminded myself that I was only going east for a relatively short ways, both through and to unknown territory at that, and that I had many days of new things to explore before placing my focus on thoughts like “going back east.”  And so it was, and so both of me proceeded with willing curiosity intact.

If you’ve ever looked at a map of the American southwest, the borders between the states are very straight, and therefore seem pretty arbitrary.  However, if you’ve ever driven I-70 from Utah to Colorado, you, like me, were probably startled to see the landscape begin to change substantially almost the moment you crossed the state line into Colorado.  The mountains seemed to begin rising out of nowhere, right then and there.  I then wondered which happened first, the drawing of the lines, or the observation of the changing landscape.  Regardless, almost at first sight, I loved Colorado.  I’d been in the state for about 45 minutes when I began thinking I might be falling in love with this place.  I stopped at a rest area around Grand Junction, where there was a tourist office and picnic grounds at the cutest little traffic circle right off the highway (I didn’t know yet that Colorado has a thing for those little traffic circles).  There were picnic tables, so I picnicked.  And looked around me at things I hadn’t seen in a while, like grass, and deciduous trees.  Back on the interstate after lunch, I was shortly lured by the siren sign of Starbucks, which I hadn’t seen since Albuquerque.  Reeled in, I exited again east of Grand Junction, driving a whole mile-and-a-half off the exit for the comfort of the green mermaid.  Inside the cafe, I was further seduced by Colorado.  The signs on the bulletin board, the people having “business meetings” in the big comfy chairs, the friendly staff, and pleasantly-relaxed, casually-dressed patrons, all united to greet me with a vaguely hipster-lilted “Hey there, Welcome to Colorado! We’re really groovy,  relaxed, liberal, and friendly, and hey, glad you could make it!”  I could swear I heard it.  Perhaps, like Odysseus, I should have been lashed to my steering wheel and had wax shoved in my ears.

Colorado’s Interstate 70 is also full of trickery and seduction:  it starts out lulling you into a false sense of ease, with its long, straight, level stretches for dozens of miles, before hooking up with the Colorado Riverbed somewhere around exit 44.  But by then you’re committed, drawn in by ever-more-lovely vistas that keep murmuring “More!  This is just the beginning!  There’s more!” As I drove deeper into the state, the red rocks of the southwest made fewer and fewer appearances, and mountain peaks in the far distance began to dance among the furthest clouds, causing me to blink and look again, uncertain what I had actually seen.  Eventually, the interstate gets right down into bed with the river, and I was white-knuckling it through the Colorado River gorge, forced to drop my speed and hug the canyon walls for dear life, all the while looking up over my steering wheel, hollering “OH…MY…GAWD” (yes, again) over and over in disbelief.  The scenery in that gorge was beyond mind-blowing.  The browns, greys, and reds of the canyon’s rock walls contrasted with the glorious blue of the sky, which reflected brilliantly into the greens of the river, with sunlight pouring into the riverbed and glancing like a million fireflies off the water’s surface.

After passing through ski town after ski town, on a road squoze improbably tightly between mountainsides, and between towns that seemed impossibly small given how famous their names were, I thought perhaps I might loosen my grip on the steering wheel as the elevation increased.  But sweet Colorado had more charms in store for me.  As the lateral twists and turns finally gave way, the vertical rolling really got started.  This time, it was my poor Blubaru who had to do the hard work.  Laden as she’d probably never been laden before, my dear Blubaru trundled valiantly up mountain after mountain, only to have to descend, hold back her momentum, and do it all over again.  We hit Vail Pass at some 10,000-odd feet, me again driving slack-jawed, chin on the steering wheel, wonderstruck at the view.  Victoriously conquering mountain pass after mountain pass, I patted the heroic dashboard gratefully as we entered the Eisenhower Tunnel at 11,158 feet, crossing at last beneath the Continental Divide.  It was the highest elevation my three-year-old car had ever seen, and certainly the highest elevation I could recall seeing anywhere outside the Alps.

As we began to descend from the Divide, I felt that fullness of heart that comes when you love uncertainly.  My eyes, tired from driving and stunned full with beauty, felt the pressure of tears that would not come forth.  I had been feeling this fullness build for days, and didn’t know where the tears could be.  I could only know that all that I saw and was now seeing made me want to weep, and yet I did not.

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