Category Archives: Memoir

The “Us” in Trust

I am sitting in a black leather recliner, one leg tucked under me, wearing two pairs of black leggings, a pair of heavy wool socks and my cozy maroon Carhartt beanie. There is a foot of snow outside, two off-duty farm dogs snoozing at my feet, and my mind is bursting with creative ideas for the new year. Regularly I get a flash of inspiration, a story idea or an idea for a pictorial essay, less regularly do I actually write them down or bring them to life. I want to change that in 2018 and keep in step with my inspirations.

2017 was one of transition and awakening. It was our second year living in Walton, Oregon and our first year starting our family business, Fog Hollow Farm. In many ways it was a frustrating and uncertain year for me. I left my job at the Post Office and tried to get back into park ranger-ing. My plan was to make that my career again, but I was turned down by Oregon State Parks because of a snafu with my driving privileges. As fate (or whatever) would have it, I was hired by a female-operated chicken farm which taught me a million empowering things that I didn’t even know I was missing in my life.

Many challenges came with that position, chief among them was the shedding of parts of my feminine identity–an experience so powerful I aspire to write more about it–and I know I have a lot to say. I was also challenged to step aside and let a powerful, and beautiful, woman maintain the spotlight. That woman was my boss, and at times I felt uncomfortable in my new role as assistant to a business-running, cow-wrangling, single, blonde ranch-owner. But I kept asking myself, over and over, why I felt threatened and what it would mean to me, and my community, if I could not make peace within myself with the arrangement. I felt, at times, threatened by the many interests that my boyfriend and my boss shared–raising animals, working til you drop, drinking beer. I also felt slightly angered that I had given up so much of myself to cater to the new arrangement–doing what Steve needed me to do for Fog Hollow Farm, working harder than I ever had over at the chicken farm, and bending this way and that way to help others achieve their dreams and pay my bills. What about my dreams? Lord knows I have them! I never asked anyone so much as to hand me a pen!

As time went on, it became clear that I was respected for the work I was doing. “I would give up the business if it meant losing you,” Steve told me. My boss, meanwhile, gave me a seasonal bonus and a hefty raise. Keeping my cool and my emotions in check was paying off. Most importantly, nobody was getting hurt along the way…including me.

Truth be told I liked the work. I don’t mind getting dirty! I can follow through with my obligations. I am likeable and I do have a knack for caring for and working with animals. I was reminded of my own family’s farming roots and my mind began envisioning the many possibilities. Our farm’s success picked up and we even landed an account with a popular local brewery. This was all beyond the scope of my imagination, but I was finding that our hard work could pay off and that relationships could work out, wow!

Seeing my boss dedicate her life to her farm, her home, and her family, even in the midst of her recent divorce, made me open my eyes to the blessings in my life. I was suddenly grateful to the hardworking man who wanted to be by my side and never expressed any doubts about our relationship. I was seeing what it took to create something worthwhile, both professionally and personally. I admired my boss, a lot. 

But I kept presenting opportunities for sabotage, both relationship and career-wise, and I was forced to reexamine my motives. I found, as I already suspected, that my motive was to avoid being hurt or failing. I found that I looked for weak spots and poked at them, attempting to test the foundation. I discovered that what I was used to was things falling  apart. I found through self examination that the foundation of my life is strong,  but that my tampering with it would eventually cause undo wear and tear.

I was reminded that yes, independence is good and it serves it’s place but to undo years of love and compromise is foolhardy. I learned that as much as you spin stories in your head to fuel your achy-breaky heart and past patterns of neglect it still doesn’t make those stories true. I learned, again, that my past would work against me if I let it. I learned that I am growing, evolving woman who does not become less special in the presence of other strong women and who does not, should not, overshadow women or compete. I was reminded that the world we live in does not always support that, but that that is no excuse whatsoever and the world is changing. Rapidly. I learned that I need to maintain stability for myself, sure, but when appropriate I need to share stability–and risk of failure–with others. That’s part of growing up, I guess. That’s part of partnership and family.

images (1)

In October Steve and I went back home for a visit. I dove head first into the Smith River on my birthday, October 26th. Because Dad’s house is a school bus shanty, I’ve taken to camping down the road, two miles from my “house”.  At times I am filled with sorrow when I visit home. These little things happen that just should not happen. These little things that remind me of where I am from and how  far I have come. These little things that remind me of how important education is and that make me want to dive head first into a book and never come up for air–I have so much to learn.

Sitting by a campfire, Dad handed me a pot pipe (we regularly smoke pot together and have since I was thirteen), after I inhaled and blew out the smoke Dad asked me, “Hey, that taste like meth to you?”

Dad asked me this very nonchalantly. I almost choked. “I don’t know, Dad,” I told him, “Luckily I don’t know what meth tastes like.” I didn’t pick up the pipe again. And between you and me, I was angered. What kind of dad would even risk his daughter inhaling a substance so dangerous as meth? (For the record, I do know what meth tastes like. But it’s been a very long time and it was a very hard road.)

“Oh, well you never know around here.” He finished.

Fuck. This was my life. I have always know that I never had to leave the school bus. I could have remained on. I could have become a meth head. A young mother. A prostitute. A Wal-Mart checker. A criminal. Imprisoned.

But I didn’t. I became…..a writer. A poet. A social worker. A farmer. A respected friend and dependable lover.

The scars of my childhood still haunt me though. The twisted ways of being. At the farm, my bosses mom and dad often came around during the season to lend a helping hand. The mom would do her laundry, the dad would clear the brush or pick up supplies from the hardware store. They were both there to listen, and give advice. I observed their interactions a lot, sometimes enviously. Meanwhile I would open one of the freezers to organize the inventory and marvel at the supply of meat. In my mindseye, I ran my fingertips across the pork chops and rib eye steaks, thinking  Man! Look at all this money! Sitting right here! Frozen dollar signs! (That was the old me talking, the one who might’ve up and ran off with $150 dollars of meat, thinking she’d struck it rich.)

Dad called anyone “rich” who owned a nice car or who had a decent job. What Dad didn’t know if that folks worked harder than he could’ve even imagined to get where they were. It would be easy to say that things were handed to folks, ‘cept for the fact that they weren’t! Dad had spent so many years sitting around getting high he became disillusioned. He’d forgotten what work even was. He thought it was work to get to the mailbox, get the disability check, and get to town to get it cashed–just like everyone else he associated with did. That ain’t work. And just because he was my dad, well that didn’t mean I had to look up to him still. I felt it healthy to look and him and see him for what he was–someone who handed me a pot pipe that might be laced with meth. It hurt me. I felt so different. Again. And I suddenly felt so lucky that I could pack up my bags and leave.

Back at the farm(s), I carried with me the knowledge of insight. I knew what was on both sides of the fence. Unlike my dad, or my boss, or my boyfriend, I’d been in both places. I knew the work and the sacrifice that went into owning a family business, to having a successful relationship (I was learning); and I also know what happens when you have no familial support, financially or emotionally. Dad was never given much of a chance. His dad had never even been to his house, the property he bought when I was a kid. And Dad’s mom died in a recliner in her late fifties and nobody even ever asked how or why. She was a drunk and a smoker and that’s what probably killed her, end of story. I mean, my family doesn’t even go to the doctors. How’s that for a hillbilly elegy?

images (1)

And here I am–fighting tooth and nail not only for a life but for one that is uniquely mine. When I was sixteen I was eligible for emancipation but I held on til I graduated high school and moved out of my grandma’s house when I was seventeen. I have sheltered myself since then. I have worked a ton of different jobs and was the first and only to graduate from college in my family. I feel sorrow and regret that I have not perfected my working and financial life to the point that it is stress-free. It is not. At the beginning of the year, when I found myself with a dwindling savings account and the opportunity to work on the farm I felt scared, helpless and foolish. Scared that my boyfriend would see what a “real” woman was–one who owned her own house and her own business–and leave me. Helpless that I had removed my foundation, which was my government job, a job that was really all this poor girl had going for her. Foolish because I had put all my faith in a relationship, again.

Now, on December 27th, as we gear up for a new year, I see that being where I am now, compared with where I have been, makes me successful–homeowner, business-owner, or not. My spirit is intact, I have goals of my own (and I always have!) and every little thing that I accomplish is done independently and despite many obstacles. Steve, bless his heart, wants nothing but me. It has taken me many months to examine and accept this. And as I sit here, curled up and safe at Steve’s folks house, I breathe in a breath of gratitude and exhale a breath of hope. It will all work out after all. You are safe. You are loved. You are sober. You have your whole life ahead of you.

With the new year, I truly feel that a new life is emerging, birthed from a renewed sense of understanding, honesty and trust. Back at the farm, Dad is farmsitting. I called him on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the two days since then. No answer. Tonight, we are all going to see the new Star Wars. On Christmas, Steve’s mother placed my stocking in the middle of Steve and his brother’s handmade ones hanging on the mantle. The next day, we had professional family portraits done. Meals are served morning, noon and night and I always help prepare and clean up. Tears well in my eyes and I feel fortunate knowing they are not tears of worry but tears of hope and joy. I feel like a bird who knows she can fly since she finally has an intact, safe nest to return to. My task is to not let my independence get in the way of true love and family, as I am certain it has done in the past.

Peace, love and light, friends. To a new year, a new us, and a renewed sense of trust.

 

 

 

 

I Survived My First Camp Out with NaNoWriMo

24176969_1166920100109072_4526210650834682932_n.jpg
Bar graph provided by NaNoWriMo. When you click on the line it tells you how many words were written that day. Notice the spike near the end.

Proof of what a procrastinator I am. Or not. Notice how the bar graph spikes once I learn that can rewrite 10,000 words in a day, instead of just 1-2,000. Plus, pressure. Plus, full days off. Plus, momentum and flow. Plus, I didn’t think I’d be saying it, but I did it!

Sure. Writing a book is hard. Writing a book is hard whether it’s over the course of 2 and a half years or the course of one month. Over the course of a lifetime or a weekend. What’s difficult about it isn’t the number of words. I’d bet there could be a compelling masterpiece that was only 50 pages long. What’s truly difficult about it is the emotional terrain one covers.

I suppose I can only speak for memoirists in these regards; only no, I am certain writing horror stories is draining in it’s own way. All the closing of the blinds, the paranoia, the bumps in the night. When you are writing you are in that place–you are in childhood or jail or both.

As you can see I barely reached my goal today. I ended at 50, 817 words but three days ago I was way down at 27,000. I cannot explain it but: magic. And those other things I mentioned above and the fact that, yeah, I’m not a quitter. I am not bragging but when things matter to me, they matter to me. If they matter enough to me they will happen. Years ago, I am unsure if I would have accomplished this. Not out of lack of talent or drive but out of FEAR. This time, FEAR almost stopped me dead in my tracks too. Save the fact that I have learned that FEAR has a bigger bark than bite. Little by little, bit by bit, bird by bird–that’s how I navigated the first 28 days of NaNoWriMo. Then I panicked, was provided the luxury of two days off of work, and busted the shit out.

It may sound difficult but I basically kicked it into high gear seeing that I wasn’t going to make my deadline on time at the rate that I was going.

Wanting to be a WINNER I rolled up my sleeves and dug in deeper. This determination, paired with the grace of my story loosening its grip on my heart (the material was highly emotional in the first part of my memoir, then lessened as I got closer to my 50,000 word goal) gave me the boost I needed to reach my goal today.

Fact: my memoir is a lot longer than 50,000 words, so my work is not over.

Fact: because of NaNoWriMo, I have a kick-ass third draft of my memoir (well, almost).

Thanks, NaNoWriMo.

download.jpg

Current Events

Now that #metoo happened and Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey are going down. And that one comedian is going down too, and even he admits it…I mean, where to start?

9/10 women I know have been assaulted. 1/10 men I know, at least. When I worked in the social field I was required to report whenever an individual brought up a case of sexual abuse, and I did, only to be told on one occasion, “Oh yeah, she always says that but she’s lying.”

Is she? I mean why would she lie about something like that? The girl was so psychologically traumatized by the event she couldn’t escape it. She punched mirrors, and then was reprimanded for it. She spent hours in the bathroom crying. “She’s just trying to get attention,” my superiors told me.

Well for fuck’s sake, let’s give it to her.

What I didn’t say was: I punched mirrors too.

What I didn’t say was: you keep crying. You let it all out. It’s totally, 100% okay to be sad, and angry. It’s normal and healthy to feel that way and I’m glad your dealing with it. Oh yeah, and, FUCCCK HIMMM.

Regardless, the girl was hard to get through to. But I believed her. Why the hell not? What is the goddamn harm? Something’s hurting her, it’s clear. What really angered me was the way  the counselors  shut her down–no matter what did or didn’t happen. You don’t do that. YOU don’t KNOW that.

***

Uma Thurman, just this morning, was quoted on NPR. Angry, she said.

Angry.

She had always been afraid of revealing her anger and rage toward men. Those were her primary emotions.

Uma Thurman, coincidentally, is the actress who stars in Kill Bill and assumes revenge on a team of assassins, wielding a sword.

***
I have three essays on the topic that NPR is keeping, gracefully and rightfully, in the forefront. One essay I submitted two or three months ago, before #metoo, but it was declined. “Too short,” the editor told me. “It felt like it needed more of an ending,” she said.

I have read enough stories about publishing to know by now that I could potentially resubmit the same essay, new ending or not, and it would be more likely to be published. Timing. It’s half, or more, about the timing.

But I was smoking in the essay and I’m not smoking now so if I use that essay I would have to make that clear (take it out) and if I were already doing that, well I might as well change the ending.

But boy was I angry in that story.

***

Another story is called Stench. I wrote it in an attempt to just State The Facts and not skirt around the issue like I do in my poetry and in a good portion of my other writings. Sadly, the essay is far too revealing for my tastes.

I’d only publish it if someone paid me for it. Not much. Candy even.

***

In the final essay I braid one of my experiences with the experience of a girlfriend who was assaulted while travelling abroad and staying in a hostel. I also want to add to the story of another friend of mine who was flat out assaulted when some “friends” of hers drove around the block again and again refusing to drop her off until she performed a sexual act on one of them.

These were stories mentioned to me in passing. Nobody called me up and said “You’re not going to believe what happened to me!” No. Ha. That’s not the kind of world we live in. These stories are commonplace. Not that they should be. They are eventually told over tea and whispered in coffee shops and are rarely mentioned when men are in the house.

And they are just these sad little stories that  took us women farther  and farther from our bodies in a world where these very bodies are used against us in nearly every mainstream advertisement. “He won’t want to abuse you if you don’t look like this,” the world seems to tell us. Not fair. Not fair all around.

And they are not just sad little stories.

No, they are LARGE and ANGERED stories. Sword wielding stories, if we were to act like like barbaric men in the matter. But we only do that while playing dress-up and acting.  Because for the lot of history, we women have been civil.

And they are not just sad little stories just like Weinstein and Trump (!!) are not just dirty old men.

That’s what I was always told growing up: “Oh he’s just a dirty old man.”

I think we can all agree, it’s time to take “just” out of the sentence.

Oh, he’s a dirty old man.

Stay away from him.

Lock him up.

Fire him.

SHAME

him.

***

There is no synonym for pedophile.

 

 

 

NaNoWriMo 17

NaNo-2017-Participant-Facebook-Cover.png

NaNoWriMo.

At first, all the letters just ran together, they didn’t make sense. I fumbled on the pronunciation when speaking with my grandmother on the phone. “Anyway,” I told her. “It’s a good thing. The idea is you write a novel in a month.”

I was at Target, talking on my cellphone while browsing the “school supplies” section. I absentmindedly placed a white wire wastebasket in the cart. It was a good deal. $5. Then I took it out–nobody as broke as me needs to be spending money on something as trashy as a wastebasket. But I could just picture crumpling a piece of writing paper into a ball, tossing it into the cute wire wastebasket. Real “writerly”. But I already had a system for recycling paper–a medium-sized Priority box at the foot of my oak dresser. The paper goes in there, uncrumpled, and becomes firestarter. Quick. Easy. Cheap. Not glamorous but not frivolous either.

NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month. Nah – noh – rye – moh.

I’d never set big writing goals for November, though I had heard of NaNoWriMo. My novel (my memoir) was written first over many, many years of recounting and recording painful and joyous events from childhood–scene by scene. Then in 2016 I spent one full summer preparing the manuscript for submission to a Portland editor (getting it into chapters). I got the manuscript there within the deadline, but it became apparent that the manuscript still needed a LOT of work! Especially the ending.

I took a few days off-the-grid in January 2017 to work on it. It felt like my coffee had barely cooled before I already had to pack up and go. I didn’t get a lot done. I had barely “tapped into the mindset” before I was thrust back into reality: moving, since my partner bought a home, starting a farm and small business, taking care of myself, working and earning money, and um, using Social Media. You know, RL stuff.

I guess NaNoWriMo kind of takes all of those excuses and RL factors and throws them to the wind. Like a 48-hour film contest or something. You get a lot done in a small (ish) amount of time. In essence: you fucking hustle. Boundaries are set. Word counts are recorded and, importantly, we writers are all in this together. Social Media outlets like Instagram unite NaNoWriMo participants unlike any other previous club. Local libraries support the cause by hosting weekly groups for local writers participating in NaNoWriMo.

images.png

At Target I settled on one large Sketch Pad. Sleek with a black cover, wide blank white pages that opened nicely and stayed down on their own. Some journals are made for looks with cheap paper or kitschy covers. Not this one. I put two in the basket, but at $8.99 a pop, I put one back.

I started really thinking about NaNoWriMo: would I start a new novel? I have a fresh idea rolling around in my head. Do you have to be just starting out with your book? In a lot of ways I am. I have “only” been working on my book for a decade. Some people spend twice that. I can’t see the end in sight: I should probably work on this one then. Wouldn’t you say it has the most potential? Hell, if I am about to write a book in a month it better be the one I’ve been writing for the past 10 years.

Step One: Google NaNoWriMo, again. See that local literary group Wordcrafters is hosting a free event at the Springfield Downtown Public Library Saturday’s through November 1-3 p.m. Record in weekly planner. Write with finest print.

Step Two: Email Wordcrafters to confirm event and “network.” Also this helps make the dream more likely to become reality. Establish accountability, in essence.

Step Three: Pace excitedly a bit. Make coffee and decide today I will “prepare my life for NaNoWriMo”. Pick up a few items around the house, because the dog chewed them up and has strewn them about–mostly gnawed on pieces of kindling. Add wood to the fire. Sip coffee. Plot inside mind. Decide I will sweep,  then clean my office. First, I eat a banana.

Step Four: Start a blog post to share rare enthusiastic rush of inspiration. Write because it is what I do and cannot be contained. (Also: then worry that said writing is getting in the way of “real” writing.)

Step Five: Get an email from Wordcrafters: No need to register. See you on Saturday! Decide it is time to sweep the floor.

Step Six: Music. Coffee. Radio. Broom. Paper. Office supplies. Could leap like a leprechaun today “feeling like a writer.” It is my first day alone in over a week and my last day off before going back to work. I am amazed every time I get a rush of fresh energy and doubly amazed at all that can be accomplished, reset, and improved over the span of one “Sunday”.

Step 7: More coffee. I’m taking advantage of this whole cool-weather thing.

Step 8: Dust desk with damp, then dry, cloth. Shuffle things around until they look feng-shui’d, American-girl style.

Step 9: Face, with a deep optimistic breath, the “memoir section” of my office. Note at least 11 unrelated items encroaching on the scene: local newspapers, greeting cards, and “watercolor pens”. Weed out unrelated materials. Dust again. Lightly finger manuscript for good luck. Smile at the fortune of having an office.

Step 10: Register for NaNoWriMo on NaNoWriMo.org. Complete profile, book title & description, and select a writing “region”. Select Eugene/Lane County, Oregon for my Home Region and San Francisco/Bay Area and Portland, Oregon for my other regions. Review this article written by a more experience NaNoWriMo’er to insure that I know what I am doing. Set aside 4 blank notebooks, The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr, a decent ball point pen, a chipped empty vase from Mexico, vessel up; and sit back in my fuzzy slippers, grateful for the permission and support of writers from all over the world who are joining together in their own living rooms and offices to make magic and make words, sentences and waves.

For more information on NaNoWriMo, just Google it. If you want to support my cause, kindly ignore me for the next 31 days. Sending Corn Nuts or Jelly Belly’s is okay too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Out of my Head and Into My Heart: A Journey to Doctor Rock

SONY DSC
Siskiyou Mountains, Northern California.

The sky wasn’t pouring, but it was crying.  I decided they were happy tears.  Happy tears for our happy trails. The sky wasn’t black yet either. No black clouds were present, but it was loud. The storm will pass, I thought to myself as we marched, our eyes squinting at the rain drops, marching beside serpentine outcroppings lined with manzanita shrubs and pine trees.

My dad was telling me about the painter from Eureka who he had found dead on this trail a couple of years back, a woman, he told me. Of course I remembered the event. It had been him, Brandon, and Miran who had found her. Brandon and Miran had taken off when they’d found the body, practically running, to tell law enforcement. But my Dad kept on hiking. Later, Dad was briefly considered a suspect in the case but quickly dropped based on his reputation: harmless.

Now my dad hiked in front of me, in his efficient hiking-boots (one of the only luxuries he allowed himself) and his ancient exterior-framed backpack that he’d written Hare Krishna on with a thick black sharpie. As we hiked he told me the story again–deeper than he had the first time–which had initially been over a telephone conversation when I was in college in Arizona.

“Brandon found her first,” he said, “then we all saw her.  The bugs had gotten to her. Her head was up here in the brush,” my dad pointed, “and her legs were over here, on the trail.”

We were standing looking down at the spot with our hiking boots turned toward where her body would have been.

“She wasn’t very old.  But she wasn’t young either. I guess she hurt her leg and couldn’t make it back out. She might have starved to death,” he said.

We continued down the cream-colored trail, there were dark polka-dots where rain drops had hit. I’d traveled fifty miles today to go on this trip with my Dad to Doctor Rock.

We will reach Doctor Rock, rain or shine, I thought to myself and tried to shake the thought of a poor woman dying here all alone.

Eventually, the clouds lifted. We watched the sky turn blue upon blue. Jerry sang Jack-A-Roe in my mind as we watched the sky turn to blue. My dad was telling me about the rocks now, the same jade-colored serpetine rocks that I had to dodge while we drove up the “go-road” to reach the trailhead. My Chevy Cavalier had scraped the heads of those rocks one too many times. I wouldn’t be surprised if my oil-pan sprung a leak. Still, I wouldn’t change the day for anything. I shook it off, but it wasn’t easy.

We stopped at an overlook. We saw hill after hill after hill and valley after valley. We saw ridge after ridge, the fog hugging them loosely. The fog hung over the streams, providing a clue to a water source that would otherwise be overlooked. I felt like a Yurok Indian. Only because I knew it was a scene that more Yuroks viewed than any white man ever did. The white men liked town. We were white men, but we were different somehow. Dad made sure of that.

I was surprised to find the trail wasn’t as long as I’d expected. It only took us an hour and a half to hike in. Dad had been here plenty of times before, I never had but I’d expected it to be a long hike for some reason. Even though the hike wasn’t all that much of a challenge, I could see the appeal in coming here. Out here, the solitude was so great that Rock Creek, where I was raised, seemed like a bustling social center. We hiked at a fast pace, stopping only to drink water. We watched the shrubs and pine trees as they turned from green to scorched black. Shortly after the woman’s body had been found and the authorities had removed it, a fire ran through. And as we kept hiking, we saw that every tree was scorched. We were walking over ground that crunched.

“It’ll all be back in no time,” my dad said.

I nodded, already there were bushes sprouting up. Hope.

In no time, I thought as I pictured the shrubs growing three feet tall in thirty-seconds flat, sprouting hearty trunks and growing and climbing right before my eyes. I laughed inside—trippy.

Soon, the scorched ground gave way to a few hundred feet of rocky slope.

“Yeah, this up here aint a good spot for the handicap or elderly to be walkin’ on,” my dad said.

I didn’t bother to mention that the elderly most likely wouldn’t be out here hiking at all. I kept it to myself but was slightly irritated inside. I was twenty three years old. A college graduate. I had lived in and been to more cities and places than my dad ever had. In short, I was foolishly overrating myself. I knew nothing. I stretched to keep my mind open.

Then, when I thought about it more I remembered my dad saying that the Native elders liked to come out to Doctor Rock to meditate and practice rituals. I humbled myself. I watched my feet hit the path.

About that time we heard some noise coming from above us, coming from on top of a strait, granite slope. It sounded like a person jumping to their feet. We looked at each other. We’d both heard it. We looked up at the slope but couldn’t quite see to the top.  We waited a few moments, shrugged at one another, then kept on going. I could see greenery up ahead, and a large outcropping of rock. My dad pointed at Doctor Rock. Then he pointed at Chimney Rock. They were rocks like you would see on the ocean, right off of the shore. They were giants, rugged, looking like two heads protruding from the miles and miles of bushy, coniferous forest.

“Tell me more about Doctor Rock,” I asked him.

“It’s sacred. The Yurok’s don’t like no one comin’ here but the Natives. No white man. But I know that the creator doesn’t discriminate against no one based on the color of their skin. It’s what’s in your heart that the creator sees–it’s what’s in your soul. He don’t even differentiate between who’s white and who isn’t. That’s a human concept there, and it aint right. But I know where their comin’ from wanting to keep the white man out. Some white men don’t belong here. I’ve had loggers tell me stories about them getting a bad feeling up here. A feeling like they’ve never had before. They must not be in-tuned, in-touch with the area.”

“Who made this trail?” I asked, ignoring the thought to mention that the woman from Eureka was white.

“They did.”

“They?” I asked.

“They, the Natives.” My dad said.

Soon we were upon patch after patch of morel mushrooms. There was an entire ravine filled with them. We stopped, put down our packs and picked about forty mushrooms, storing them in a plastic Safeway bag.

“Let’s pick more tomorrow Dad,” I whined, “I want to pick a bunch but I want them to be the best that they can be, the most fresh. Let’s pick them on our way out.”

The thunder started roaring in the east.

“We’re not far from the cabin,” my dad replied. His expression said my decision was fine with him.

Soon there was a clearing and the cabin. We stepped inside and ate some snacks. I etched my name on the wall, next to roughly fifty others. Outside the rain poured down, down, down. T. Van Dusen ’09. We ate trail mix and cheddar popcorn, listened to the rain fall, and watched the tin roof of the cabin leak. The rain let up soon enough.

“You wanna go to the Golden Staircase or Doctor Rock?” My dad asked.

I didn’t really know what the Golden Staircase was. He’d never mentioned it until now. My dad continued to tell me.

“Goes all the way down to the mouth of the Klamath.”

“A staircase made of what?” I asked him.

“Gold!” He told me with a toothless grin he couldn’t withhold. I knew he was kidding. I also knew I wasn’t going to walk all the way to the Klamath Glen tonight.  That would mean hitchhiking back to my car which was way far out of anyone’s way.  Either that or hike against the mountains tomorrow, up hill.  Besides, we came for Doctor Rock.

“Doctor Rock,” I said to him.

“Alright,” he said, and we were on our way.

images (1).png

It wasn’t much further and we were there. We hiked through massive fallen, burnt cedars. We hiked through a meadow with pink, white and wine-colored blooms.  It started raining again. We were at the base of the rock, facing its beautiful, moss carpeted body. Rain was running off the top of the rock like a woman going at some serious crying. We started scaling the boulders on the bottom. I immediately lost my footing on a slippery rock and smacked my face strait into the boulder in front of me–solid rock to my cheekbone. It would leave a bruise. We reached a clearing; the rain was coming down harder.

“Dad, we really shouldn’t even stand up at this clearing.”

I was thinking of the lightning, even though we hadn’t seen a bolt all day. He knew what I meant.

“Yeah, I agree,” he said. “See that moss over there?” He pointed to a ledge covered with heavy moss.

I gave him a nod.

“That’s where we climb up.”

“I don’t know Dad, it’s too slippery, don’t you think?”

The ledge was steep and very high. I knew that traditionally that’s where the Native’s would go–to the very top of Doctor Rock–but it really was very high and I wondered if there would be shelter for camping.

“Don’t you think it’s too slippery Dad?” I continued.

Oh yeah,” My dad said, concurring that there was danger.

We made our way out of the clearing. We were at the base of Doctor Rock in a cocoon of rock and shrub-like trees. There wasn’t much wiggle-space, and it had started to rain harder.

“You wanna stay here while I find us a better spot?  We’re not going to the top right now, and you don’t want to get your bag wet.”

He went on and I crouched under a rock overhang. Calmly, I sat down between our two backpacks. To the left of me was a rock crevasse, and a huge crack.  I could see a clearing next to it. I knew if I did a little crawling I might find a grotto, where the crevasse and the clearing meet. I traveled a little ways, cautiously.

“Terah!” My dad’s voice echoed from inside the crevasse, from where I would have found the grotto. “I’ve found a much better spot!”

images (1).png

The spot was an elongated grotto, four to eight feet wide and over two stories high.  Rain trickled down the walls, streaks of it. The streaks were so peculiar looking that I took off my damp mitten, touched the wall and licked my finger just to make sure it was what I thought it was.

The grotto was stocked with a pile of firewood, dead oak. That was nice of whomever, I thought to myself, very nice of them. There was a fire-pit. I built a fire using damp papers from my notebook. It was already late-afternoon, early evening and given the rain, we weren’t going anywhere. Might as well warm up by the fire, I was thinking. The smoke billowed right out the open roof of the crevasse, like a chimney, not once getting into my eyes. I am thankful, I thought to myself. Meanwhile, my dad was moving the firewood pile closer to the fire.

“Dad,” I said, slightly annoyed, “I’m sleeping there, remember?”

“Well, you’re not gonna take up this whole spot are ya?  You’re not that big,” he said, joking as usual.

“No, but I don’t want to sleep right next to it,” I said, sounding like a kid again. I did not love this side of me. This side of me that struggled to connect with my father. This side of me who carried around annoyance and resentment from childhood. The rigid side of my otherwise free-spirit.

But I also didn’t want to attract spiders by spooning with a log.

“We’ll just get up and gather more wood from the pile as we need it,” I finished.

My dad raised his eyebrows and said, “Hey, you don’t wanna be walkin’ all the way to the wood pile when it gets dark in here. Interesting things happen out here. Scary things. Whhooo-oooo!”  He howled.

This is why I like my dad, I remembered, because he knows that I like to be scared. I am his one and only child, and I am thankful. I am his world. Always have been. Always will be. It’s not every kid who can say that.

It took me an hour or two to get dry. Cave fires don’t get very large, pushed up against the wall like they are. I was happy to find something to occupy my time, if an odd source of entertainment. It was something and nothing all at once–getting dry.

Furthermore, I thought about Dad and I, driving out to these mountains, just to walk around. Hoping we don’t see a mountain lion, or rather that a mountain lion doesn’t see us. Building fires and warming our food. Sleeping with only the sound of the water dripping from the trees. Getting closer to God. That’s what I viewed it as–closer to nature is closer to God. Whatever God is. If God was anything like nature, well I could dig it.

My energy had been all wound up. Tight like a braid. I was here to unravel, to grow, to accept, to get closer to my soul. Seems selfish, doesn’t it?  In a grotto, a cave which truly belongs to the Yurok Indians and here I was thinking of me, me, me. I needed to talk to God. I wrote in my journal, and this is what I said:

Dear lord, trust me when I say the journey was the sacrifice, the rain. Now I pray for many things. I am one of them, yes, but so are you. By coming here I have developed a story. It has to do with your gods and your world. I will share it and it will spread like a fire. People will read it, and remembering you, will forget about the material world for a moment, they will join me in your cave. And I will remember you, the land as it was, and the people as they were, before all the chaos and the cities. The essence of what it really is to be human, animal, or something in-between. And I will be thankful. Come to me in my dreams, dear lord, Be With Me Like Light. I will see you for what you are, so long as your gods are pure and good. I am on your side, Doctor.
images (1).png

The sun set at eight but it might as well have been at seven because that’s when the cave got dark. My clothing was dry, my dad and I had exchanged words and dinner but I was heading quickly to bed, if early. I retracted into my sleeping bag. I always like to go to sleep early back in childhood when my dad and I camped “under the stars.” Sleeping outside was my favorite place to sleep. Soon, I was in a dream…

“Dad, dad, I think someone was just in here.” I said to my dad (in my dream).  He was a few feet away in his sleeping bag and I was mummified in mine.  “Dad!” I said again, he was still sleeping. It seemed so real.

“Well, go and find out who it is,” he said back to me, which is exactly what he would’ve said in real life.

It was daylight out. I slowly scrambled out of my sleeping bag and started walking out of the crevasse, toward the paper-white sky. When I reached the outside I was up on top of Doctor Rock. There was a shallow bar of sand amidst the blackened rock. There was a set of child’s footprints in the cream-colored sand and the imprint of a ball. The child had been bouncing a ball. But the child was gone, and the ball was gone.

Suddenly there was a hard tapping on my forehead, on my third-eye. Three or four times it knocked. Bang-bang-bang. I was trying to pull myself out of my sleep. I was trying to pull my head out of my sleeping bag to see who it was–to face the spirit. I expected to find a deer’s hooves, a wooden peg-leg, or a medicine stick—that’s what it felt like was tapping my forehead.

When I finally awoke, when I was actually awake and my head was out of the sleeping bag, the thumping stopped. Once my eyes adjusted all I could see was the wall of the grotto and a single black centipede a few inches from my face.

“Dad. Dad.” I said, just like I had in my dream.

“What.” He said back, not very warmly—more of a statement than a question.

“I…I need you to put some wood on the fire,” I said frantically. The fire was still smoldering, but barely. I was cold, but most of all I was kind of scared. The dream had been so vivid and intense. “Please, just put some wood on the fire and don’t go back to sleep until I go to sleep, okay?”  I asked him, clearly alarmed.

My dad knew that I had gotten scared over something, a dream likely, and he got up and did what I said.

“Not until I’m completely asleep again, okay?” I asked again. I could be such a child. But the ball, and the boy, and now this centipede was in front of my face who I knew had tapped my forehead and who I knew actually wasn’t a centipede at all but an Indian Medicine Man with his medicine stick who was waiting for me on top of Doctor Rock. And the only way I could see him would be to climb up there but I wasn’t about to do that. It was dark and cold and slippery and I’m not a grown woman at all, I’m still a child, I thought in my sleepy oblivion.

The Medicine Man knew I was a coward. He didn’t have to come down here to see me shiver in the presence of him. He could watch me from the translucent ball that sat on top of his medicine stick, the ball that—like a gypsy’s—told him the future or the way things were or the way things had been.

Only his were truer, and more ancient, more meaningful, deeper than the average gypsy’s crystal ball. He watched me through his crystal ball medicine stick and he didn’t see my ugly sleep encrusted eyes or the knots in my hair like an old-man’s beard. He didn’t see my frumpy clothes or my clumsy character. The Medicine Man saw my soul and that’s why he reached out to me as I lay in the cave. My soul was brave when I’d said that prayer earlier and he’s noticed a hint, just a hint of curiosity as I prayed, mentioning his God and his World. I asked for him and then he came, but then I got scared and ran away.

Awaken my third eye. That was the message I got. I can still feel the reverberating tap tap tap on my forehead as I write this. And the boy? I haven’t found out who he is yet, I don’t even know how I know he is a boy—but he is. I guess that’s what spirituality is. You know, but you can’t prove or explain it. For some of us, that is enough. That is something. It makes one thing ours and ours alone. Like our own unique journeys are. Explainable things are overrated sometimes. They hold no mystery or soul. Plus, there are one billion true things in this universe that cannot be seen—yet. My dad has always taught me to get out of my head and into my heart—only without ever saying that.

God Bless the woman who’d died here, I thought to myself as I lay down like a mummy in my sleeping bag, having just been visited by a Yurok spirit, clenching my eyes shut, holding myself tightly, and drifting back to sleep as my Dad generously stoked the fire.

I am not a grown woman at all, I thought, I am still just a child.

 

Foot note: Here is an alternate experience which I find deeply moving, written by the members of the Yurok Tribe near Klamath, California.

 

 

Yin

20065925_664929573697496_6459980642565226496_n(1)

All I know is new beginnings.

That’s what I told him in my latest attempt to avoid the possibility of heartache, like ever. It’s like, if I cut my own arm off it won’t hurt as bad. I will still be in control.

Everything is water and matter, water and matter. Work is matter, rest is water. He is matter, I am water. I am made of matter and water and my brains and my bones depend on its balance.

I run on land. I run away. But I am a water creature, a river rat, and a beach babe so I will make mistakes on land. My horoscope read water upon water upon water so watch out and before I even read part that I cried in the kitchen — more than usual, my tears hot in the soapy vat of dishwater. It was strange and not-common. I knew I was in the wrong because I couldn’t pinpoint, exactly, what was wrong. So I wished – slash – willed it away.

I went to the beach the following day. I thought of what I’d said, “all I know are new beginnings.” I’ll admit, I’ve known a lot of them…but I am water…and I am river…and I am a wave. Water is in a constant state of movement, whether it is flowing, seemingly stagnant, or percolating through the earth, through the matter. I am part of a whole as water. I need not run, because everywhere I go is with him. And everywhere I go is with you. Every new beginning is still part of the whole. Yin. Yang. Beginning. End. I come to understand this.

Half-Truths or The Actual Woman

19622945_768128283361114_4424393266426806272_n.jpg

I didn’t grow up to be who I was supposed to be. I wasn’t supposed to have oily hair or a messy bun. But I’ve settled for it. I wasn’t supposed to have unemployment, compromised driving privileges, trust issues, or a dying cat – that’s some other woman.

I didn’t grow up to be tame-haired and golden. I didn’t grow up to be worshiped by a man, doted on, a traffic-stopper, a perfect-in-every-way kind of girl. I’ve never been that.

Not only have I been to therapy, but I’ve walked away from it (that’s worse, it means I haven’t been helped yet). But this story is full of half-truths. You know, maybe I did grow up to be who I was supposed to be (how could I not? I was in control the entire time) (even that’s a half-truth).

I was supposed to be a role-model, for one. All nice girls wish to be role models, that’s how you know you’re good. But I couldn’t even pull that off (half-truth). You know you’re fucking up when a child asks you, “Are you a kid too!?” Eye.

Things have gotten better since then. I feel in control (half-truth). I accept the messy bun. I let the teenage neighbor kids see my climbing-out-of-the-car-with-two-paper-bags-of-groceries-clumsiness. I wish sometimes the girl could look at me with that want-to-be-like-her-when-I-grow-up-awe. You know the awe. But I don’t think I am that woman. I’ve accidentally watered the flowers in a see-through gown, waving at the neighbors. I’ve fallen in a hole chasing after the dog. I am someone else, slightly off-set of that woman. The alternate. The sister story. The girl with the hair falling in her eyes, needing to be washed. The girl with the floor needing to be swept, scrubbed. The woman in the gray dented station-wagon. The woman with the budding, not blooming, flower garden. The woman with $4.50 in fines at the library. The woman who just signed up for the Adult Reading Program (because she hopes to win a tote-bag). The woman who used to work in retail and now works in manual labor. The woman with a college degree, who makes $11 an hour. The woman who would rather paint and write more than anything. The woman with a few pretty dresses that she never wears. The woman who has many friends over the age of fifty. The woman who is apprehensive of parties, but loves them once she gets there. The woman who thinks she knows herself so well (but has a lot to learn). The woman who writes personal stories on her porch in the sunshine. The woman who wishes for tan legs, but won’t pay for them, or sit still long enough for them. The woman who wishes for the luxury of travel, an open road, snacks, a band to follow, cold beer…a bunch of things that aren’t really her, but maybe…The woman who has a defrosted chicken for the crockpot. The woman whose man will be home soon. The woman with her dog barking and her cat purring. The woman with the messy bun, fresh face, bare feet, tall grass, summer sun. The woman, the actual woman, I was meant to become.