The journey south continues through San Francisco, and more memories return–when I brought my daughter and her friend, David Ray, (who became one of my best Poet-in-the-Schools students) to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park in the early 1980’s for a nostalgic feast of music, dancing, jokes and giggles. I am reminded that David, sadly, passed away at an early age. I feel a deep loss, my own and my daughter’s.
This morning, my driving companion and I search out a San Francisco Trader Joe’s to buy something for our later lunch. The parking lot looks packed, so I hop out to find a bathroom. I go down the escalator. A guard stands watch at the bottom.
People come and go. The San Franciscans move quickly, look self-assured, crisp, with contained, intelligent looks. When I see my friend, she is clothed differently than the others I’ve been watching, and I realize, as we go through the store, that we are both, quite obviously, not big-city residents. We dress more casually. We move more slowly. It takes a while for us to search for what we want; then, we have a leisurely conversation with our check-out person (after I check to see that there is, surprisingly, no one waiting behind us). He looks mildly astonished as he picks up our goods one by one. His smile seems to say, these two are definitely from somewhere else.
We drive on towards Highway 280 which brings back my younger days–where my daughter was born and where I worked as a columnist. I share stories about our home near Stanford University. We discuss the possibility of a side-trip to investigate further but decide not on this trip and find a park where we enjoy a brief lunch break.
Our conversation changes driving through the drier counties. As landscapes appear closer to what is familiar for both of us, our driving discourse becomes more personal; perhaps, because we are aware that very soon we won’t see each other again for at least a month. We make frequent stops, then, dive into conversation once more.
For the rest of the journey, I experience intense currents brewing inside, and I continue to vibrate with an energy that goes beyond the residue of continuous vehicular movement. Perhaps, there is more to investigate, more to understand. At one stop, I watch my friend share a portion of her cooler’s food to someone who was checking a store front’s garbage can. I appreciate her quick and kind response.
Since returning home, I have come to see how fortunate I was to participate in a celebration of something that’s often truncated by our modern digital advancements. We are frequently circumscribed by a world of incomplete sentences, of unique abbreviations and spellings, of emojis. This can be both cute and convenient; however, such modern communication can sometimes become substitutes for comprehensive, nurturing talk that helps to embrace diversity, grow our compassion and add to our knowledge of essential matters. I have come to understand how nourishing it is to give each other the time and space to fully express what we mean.
I have a deeper appreciation for how deeply illuminating our face-to-face human connection can be when it is not delineated by the limitations of our devices. I am deeply thankful for the insight and strength given to me for this recent undertaking.
I drive my rental car towards Chico, California and look to the East. Thin, almost translucent gray clouds also travel, moving along the mountain’s ridge and dissolving inside dawn’s coming light.
Soon, I will head North, then eventually West to new territories, so I may continue to recognize that internal place where I am already. Yet, the challenges of an extended journey, I know, may bring fresh perspective and growth. It has been a complicated trip to plan with many moving parts. However, I am beginning to feel the uplift of an adventure finally underway.
I journey through the Central Valley that is sinking, the sign says, 3 inches every month and eventually pass signs that say “NO WATER=DUSTBOWL.” A sudden impulse tells me, close windows, don’t inhale deeply. I am near the cow holding camp where thousands of cramped and confused creatures tread dirt, awaiting what they do not yet understand. Sadness permeates as if the smell of death has already begun.
After 8 1/2 hours, I arrive at my first destination. Two boys call, “Omi!” I collect my hugs like precious jewels. Screams of 6 year and 4 year old joy catapult the new hot wheel cars Grandma bought. Days go by too quickly. Parting words by my son-in-law, “We love you. Come back any time,” move me into that place where grateful tears secretly collect.
May 27, and….
My daughter and I fly to Seattle, Washington. I am comforted through rough air bumps by the presence of someone I have adored since her birth. We land. Quickly, she finds the exit to meet our shuttle. We greet our fellow travelers and ride to the ferry.
We are on the way to Vashon Island. There is moisture in the air. Water surrounds us. The ferry barely seems to move. Soon we arrive to continue through the island’s small town charm–a step back in time, surrounded by water views, trees, more trees and grass; all of it exudes an easy and rich variety of green.
At the retreat center, my first impression smiles at the confidence with which deer nibble on lawns around buildings in the presence of whoever passes by. A small fountain gurgles near the building where we are staying. Between very tall trees, on the way to the to our dining hall, we glimpse the ocean which surrounds us. Locations for our various activities are spread throughout natural surroundings just far enough to give me the experience of a good walk-about.
My traditional sense of the meaning of retreat is tested in a loving way. There are times of silence and reflection throughout, of course, as well as my retreat habit of waking up early and sitting before a lush view. What’s added here is a renewed appreciation for the art of conversation–respectful conversations that encourage listening, becoming models for words used with sensitivity towards the needs and capacities of others. Old friendships are renewed and new ones made. Interactions all around give off waves of friendly connection.
On a day when the sun appears, sitting outside, fawns with their sporty dots scramble in view with such abandon, all discussion ends, and we are uplifted into surprised delight. And, oh, I see robins! How long has it been?
I experience a quiet expansion, an unfolding, a sense of something experienced many times before, yet a subtle new door also opens. Transitions seem easier, moments of isolation, standing apart, behind, or alone become apparitions from the past and no longer take precedence.
The next part of the journey begins with sad partings from my daughter and others. I am off to Gig Harbor, riding with a long-time meditation and yoga student towards the home he shares with his wife, a recently certified hatha yoga instructor, 6 dogs, 2 cats and a parrot on over 4 acres.
We drive along the shoreline; the idyllic landscape and buildings pass by more quickly, perhaps, because of that verbal exchange which happens when old friends, who have not seen each other for an extended time, reconnect.
The journey towards Ashland, Oregon begins with the kind of goodbye tears that signify a subtle movement towards transformation. The beauty of the heart’s capacity to reach out feels like this morning’s sun shimmering over moist greenery. As we drive by mountain volcanoes at the horizon, covered with snow, Mt. Helena, Rainer, Hood, my Gig Harbor companion asks, are they feminine, or masculine? Being the passenger, I look with greater concentration. Words come without forethought, but who can really convey eons of the slowly, evolving consciousness of rock?
The highway climbs, drops downhill, curves this way and that. We enter a landscape still green inside passes and valleys; but, gradually, I see higher meadows beginning to go dry.
In Ashland, we greet another former student, now a yoga and meditation teacher, at her home next to a creek that also embraces us with soothing hospitality and background music. We are sheltered by trees, and the heat that has been prevalent, does not seem to penetrate.
At a water-side restaurant called the Green Leaf, we meet another friend and yoga teacher, who will be driving the next stage of this road trip. The subtle expansion of energy that has been rising within me is causing my body to shake in a way not visible to the casual eye. I need to sit.
Stories roll out, and the punch line for one is, “Mashed potatoes!” No one is eating mashed potatoes. This is a metaphor in a tale about audacity. We get it. Laughter releases, and the conversation, which includes an Ashland High School student involved in the theatre life of that place, pitches into unhampered ease. More importantly, preconceptions disappear.
Discussions the next day touch areas where shadow meets light. Shifts happen. In an atmosphere of caring hospitality a pause between motion is very welcome. There is that moment of realization that the “The say yes to life card” is the opposite side of the coin to “Don’t believe your thoughts.” Which one comes first? It is up to us.
Heading south, my new driving companion, who lives near me, points out views of Mount Shasta. I remember this mountain from a previous journey, when coming to the foot of the summit trail, I saw a climber return with the glittering eyes of someone who has had an intense experience of transcendence.
In some ways, I compare Mount Shasta to Kailash–a sacred Himalayan Mountain, about which my teacher, Swami Satchidanandaji, wrote in his book, Kailash Journal. There, he nearly lost his life. There, he had powerful experiences of enlightenment. My travel friend and I both agree that Mount Shasta looks as if it has created a perfect unity of male/female formation.
Siva/Shakti comes to mind–the male and female energy forces that eradicate ignorance and raise the latent Kundalini energy. Soon, we arrive at the green, green water of Lake Shasta, pass the signs, Fawndale, Wonderland and turn towards the Northeast Bay.
On the Highway 37 Bridge, we pass over the estuary’s thick green marshland, where I spot egrets, ducks and coots surrounded by grassy islands. We follow sand colored hills and traffic to Healdsburg near the Russian River.
We arrive at a hillside home and see a couple waving at their front door, former students with the open hearts of a long-time connection that has not faded. The love that has been accumulating, slowly and steadily throughout my journey has become a strong current surging through my entire body.
I am delighted by the simplicity and elegance of a newly renovated, spacious great room opening gracefully to broad views. We sit at a round table overlooking sky and foothills curving 180 degrees around us. Again, conversations continue, and that gathering of love, once more, blossoms like a bouquet of fragrant flowers.
Outside, the ground is damp, but the predicted storm has not yet arrived. El Nino? At this moment, our household is still holding a California drought frame of mind.
I sit in view of an open door in what was my mother’s favorite chair; it doesn’t quite fit the decor, but I have been reluctant to let it go. A voice at the back of the house fills the soundscape. I become aware of a shoulder tightening and, slowly, lean back.
I rock gently, look outside and notice a steel grey wet veil suspended in the air, close to a mist. There is momentary silence; then, a woodpecker and dove express themselves, vociferously. I am pulled to go outside.
Wearing prescription sun glasses, which cast a warm amber over the landscape, I step on yellow-brown ash leaves that had fallen in wind pools under foot and head uphill. I drag broken branches out from under oak down one of the deer trails, reminding myself to protect the body and allow earth to carry the weight of wood.
Rescuing a jacket thrown over one of the old horse corral posts, I return to the house. Inside, our weather station tells me it is over 60 per cent humidity, and by the next day we get more than an inch of rain in less than two hours.
Two days later, what is being called a “Gustado” hits. Our power line splits. Water electrifies. Pipes melt. Smoke spills from the attic. Modern systems no longer work. And we are, powerfully, alive!
The week before Christmas, I bought my eldest grandson a present from the tool section of our local hardware mart. It was the kind of manly gift, his mom and I agreed, he would probably enjoy. At the same time, I also bought a new mop wondering about my girlhood idea of fun.
I remember that I enjoyed school, reading, and the few precious friendships I was allowed to have. An only child, my play time with other children was hampered by Old World, strict parental restrictions as well as language and cultural difficulties. Officially, I was a Displaced Person–a stranger in a strange land, which I learned to love and cherish.
Not until college, did I observe that the people I admired tended to believe a Democratic country benefits from healthy criticism. I agreed that complacent self-congratulation is not appealing. An honest examination of ideas, traditions and conventions was a new and exciting modality even as I undertook a grateful citizenship.
Eventually, I discovered that, as an immigrant, I have a unique perspective that benefits from my expanded geographic and cultural experience base. I gleaned appreciation for the tradition of “traveling abroad” which tends to support the value of differences as well as recognizing the underlying sameness of the human condition and aspiration.
In honor of the new year about to arrive, I wish for my grandchildren to grow, not only in physical stature, but with an expanding inner landscape of healthy curiosity, tolerance and kindness, which reminds me of the inside-outside challenge I often present to my students. When the inner and outer landscape merges, there is a kind of beautiful connectedness and synchronicity to life.
As I look outside at the view through our slider, I notice that yesterday’s rain has refreshed and enriched the earth; a lovely, new green carpets the winter meadow. Time to bundle up for a walk.
The forest path is no longer hard and dusty. Underneath, soft ground springs forth gratitude. Broken branches from recent wind and rain, break easily in my hand, a gift for the fireplace. Toe shoes spread and distribute weight, causing me to feel more sure-footed than age would suggest.
Gratitude expands as this morning’s fierce cold dissolves. Clouds dance off to the horizon in graceful patterns, and overhead I see a bluer blue. I have already walked over 7,000 steps today.
Later as I rest in the dining room, late afternoon sun streams a golden light through the quiet space. From behind me, the west window is reflected upon the room’s east wall. The image of the window looks wide open, as if the solid structure of the house has mysteriously dissolved.
My Great-Grandmother Dietrich, who sits at her spinning wheel inside my father’s painting hangs slightly to my left. She looks down at her work as if seeing nothing else. She appears self-contained with a secret strength. The image haunts.
Generations of lessons learned, patterns repeated, or re-arranged, give me an impetus to move towards what is still unknown. I get up. Not yet done, I go outside to greet an orange sunset and practice walking meditation as the last daylight brightens pavers underfoot.