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Friday
Oct212011

032. TREASURE HUNTING

Today is about treasure. I’m spending the afternoon in my beloved little apartment, going through what is left of the possessions I kept or accumulated after getting rid of my house and 95% of everything I owned just over two years ago. Piles are growing: what to leave stocked in my apartment for the renters who will be staying in my absence; what to take with me in my trailer; what things of sentiment I’ll move to my family’s Homeplace for safe keeping; what to discard, give away, or sell. I cannot properly convey how healing it’s been to live more simply with less these two years. The things I have, I know I have and why. I’m reevaluating some of them, but the process is proving an enjoyable and illuminating one that will span a day or two of pleasant and leisurely foraging rather than weeks of emotionally exhausting excavation.

Sifting through remnants of past creative endeavors, journals, books, art supplies, astrological readings, notes from friends, and photographs, my mind detours to past moments that take on new meaning with the understandings that temporal distance between them an d now imparts.

I found an angry expunging letter I wrote seven years ago to my ex-husband who I’d divorced nine years prior to that. As I reread it, I realized I have not a trace of anger or animosity left toward him.

 I found a Quotable Magnet I bought with my father in mind that says, “Don’t let yesterday use up too much of today.  –Chinese Proverb” It’s on top of the pile of things going into the trailer.

I uncovered a little watercolor painting one of my renters left me as a gift with a quote that says, “To awaken  quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.  –Freya Stark”

I came across a journal entry written during the week more than two years ago after I’d moved out of my home in which I wrote:

“I just have to keep reminding myself of these beautiful words: 

‘Do not let your spark go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach. Check your road and the nature of your battle. The world you desired can be won. It exists, it is real, it is possible, it is yours.’  –Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

‘I travel light; as light, that is, as a man can travel who will still carry his body around because of its sentimental value.’  –Thomas Mendip as the Vagabond Soldier in Christopher Fry’s play The Lady’s Not For Burning  

“The more I know and experience, the more I realize I don’t know. I sense a vastness and connectedness beyond my comprehension. The notion of staying in one place, in the same way of thinking and being seems an impossible choice and an abomination. I must go further, to take the next step despite being unable to see where it leads. I cannot possibly allow myself to sit, stagnant and unmoving. I quit. I refuse to accept complacency and mediocrity. I will not trade my life for a credit score or false security. I refuse to trade this raging passion and energy  within me for comfort, mine and others’. Death can come at anytime, and I will not meet it idly, in the ‘hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all.’ I will live my life as a burning spark.”

 My sentiment in this regard has changed little since then. I have fanned that flame, and more vigorously so in the wake of my brother’s premature passing. I did, however, sit idle according to the world’s idea of it. I took a year or more to move less often outside myself and to move inside, deeper and deeper, until I came to a wall that was built leagues beneath my worldly surface and constructed of fear, pain, anger, resentment, past ugliness, all the ways I had hardened to protect what is rightfully mine: my soft, giv ing, light-filled self. I destroyed that wall, and I’m laughing and creating and giving a lot more now. What the world calls “doing nothing” and chides us for, is unquestiona bly the most important thing we can do when our beings demand it.

In my boundless desire to rediscover the meaning of my life, I turned for a period to Vedic Astrology among other things. My astrologer, Alexander Tolken, believes strongly in the work of Joseph Campbell and overlays Campbell’s stages of the Hero’s Journey onto his clients’ astrological charts. I came across one of these, and on approximately November 2 of this year, I will apparently enter into what Campbell calls “The Treasure,” which is described like this:

“Finally you take  responsibility for yourself as a creative person! Whatever you found or reclaimed previously must now be guarded and developed or it will get buried again. You need discipline to craft your inspiration into a recognizable and substantial form. It is a risk. But if what you’ve found is not nourished it will remain forever unconscious—resulting in a dull feeling of incompleteness. This is about the heart and its metaphors—love, investing feelings, creativity, children—and all the risks that go with it.”  

 So, it seems, I’m going on a treasure hunt in my Shasta trailer! The “things” I often considered to be treasure in my life, these various items I’ve accumulated and spend today sifting through, are merely part of the map leading me to the real treasure. I mean, as kids who didn’t love to play pirate, or conquesting knight, or world explorer, creating maps and clues and ships and obstacle courses and dragons from imagination, sticks, dirt and treehouses? Why do we feel compelled to grow up and out of these treasure hunts? Doing so makes life so dull and hardly worth living! Perhaps I need a pirate hat, and maybe I’ll fashion a plank for the Shasta and make anyone walk it who dashes hopes and dreams and push them off into a vat of chocolate pudding where they must remain until they remember how to laugh and imagine their way out of their predicament.

One thing at a time. I have more sifting. But I do rather like the plank idea.

View more photos in the Treasure Hunting gallery

Saturday
Sep242011

031. RUMINATIONS ON 'NOW' AND SHASTAJI

IN 'NOW' I TRUST

"Crosswalk", image by Carl FuermannThe distance to ‘someday’ is infinite. Elusive. The word itself seems benign. This is our great fallacy. In our shallow minds ‘someday’ is a fixed destination ‘around the corner’—just a bigger paycheck or 10lbs lost or a prettier girl away. It embodies our attachments, our fears, our shadow selves, our successes. We cast them off with our accountability, across the ever-widening chasm between them and now. And we do this because they exist in the unknown, where each step is taken blindly, with little if any information about the lurking things beyond. And beyond is where we meet ourselves. 

We cast them off to ‘someday’ land, the destination we never reach because it doesn't exist, and we rarely move in the direction of it anyway. ‘Someday’ is a future phantom we cannot access ‘Now’, because the future cannot exist in the present moment. We cast them off, as voyeurs of life afraid to walk through the image projected on the screen in front of us, content to sit and watch and criticize and languish unfulfilled. We cast them off to ‘someday’…until we reach the edge of that chasm, no way to turn back without dying in our skin. At that edge, we’re met with the truth, unable  this time to close our eyes to it, our present moment truth, our mortality, our nature as ephemeral phenomena. We let go of the notion of ‘someday’, realizing ‘someday’ never existed. In other words, life is short. Live it…’Now’.

Well?! What are we waiting for?! Ah, yes. We're waiting to get to 'someday'.

There is nothing like a good jerking of the existential rug from beneath a person to make them realize ‘someday’ is too risky to bet on. That’s when ‘Now’ becomes the only place and time. Mostly. I mean, we are human after all. Fallable. Delusional. Perfect in our limitations.


NAMASTE, SHASTAJI

Posing with Mark, previous owner of the Shasta. His wife Tracey is not pictured. Stellar people.This is a fairly grandiose way for me to introduce a 1966 Shasta travel trailer. It seems like such a little thing, and rough around the edges at that. But this little box on wheels embodies for me much of what I’ve just written. It does not exist in ‘someday’ land. It’s ‘Now’. You see—and I understand if there are those who think I harp on this too much, but I do not apologize for it—when I was faced with the death of my brother a year ago, I faced my own. I always said most of the crying done at funerals had more to do with people’s sorrow for their own fleeting and seemingly futile existence. I think I was right. We’re crying for the loss of that person, indeed, but also for the reminder of our unknowable impending death. We cry for the loss of qualities that person reflected back to us that we think are gone forever into eternity with them. But, if we’re paying attention, we own those qualities in ourselves for the short time we have here, and we’re left with nothing but rejoicing, gratitude, and more life than we had before. And we live in ‘Now’ more often. This is hard to do, but essential if we are to thrive in the midst of unimaginable grief and human suffering.

So, the Shasta. She ain’t much, but she’s my new home. For the past 2 or 3 years ‘my Airstream’, my life filled with written and spoken words and art and earth and nature and the people who commune and create with them, my happiness, existed in ‘someday’. The Airstream is now a Shasta, my life in ‘Now’ is filled with written and spoken words and art and earth and nature and the people who commune and create with them, and despite or because of my unimaginable grief, I am happy as a daisy after a July thundershower.

Speaking of daisies, the Shasta daisy is just one kind. They’ve been known in various cultures to symbolize simplicity, innocence of youth, purity, loyal love, hope, patience, beauty, and sacred secrecy between two people. Some believe it prevents lightning. Mount Shasta in Northern California means “White Mountain”. Poet Joaquin Miller said of it, “Lonely as God, and white as a winter moon, Mount Shasta starts up sudden and solitary from the heart of the great black forests.” Believers in the spiritual significance of the Harmonic Convergence describe Mount Shasta as one of the global ‘power centers’. In Sanskrit, Shasta is a generic term for a teacher.

I like words and their meanings. They are my playthings. Shasta is the vessel I’m journeying with my innumerable playthings out of ‘someday’ and into ‘Now’. I can scarcely tell you what day it is half the time. Heck, last week it took me a full minute or more to remember the month! I’m more at home in ‘Now’ than I recall since before kindergarten began imposing mechanically divided units of time and robotic functions. In ‘Now’ I never want for anything, and everything is exactly as it is. The Shasta is a symbol of this simplicity, return to innocence, patience, beauty, hope, loyal love, and sacred secrecy between The All and me. A teacher and power center? Perhaps. My humble home? For ‘Now’. 

P.S. I got a traaailer!! I got a traailer!! Doo-do-doo-doo-do…! And it’s a Shaaasta!!!   [booty-shakin’, 2” hitch ball-spikin’ touchdown dance here, with vigor]

View more photos in the Ruminations on 'Now' and Shastaji gallery

Sunday
Jul032011

030. LETTER TO GRIEVING PARENTS

One of the most difficult things about my brother's physical death has been watching the pain of loss manifest in my parents. It's excruciating to think of Olivia growing up without her daddy to hold her hand, pick her up, give her advice, teach her and have lots of fun with. However, seeing the pain of losing their son in my parents' faces is worse. Olivia isn't aware yet of the loss she's suffered. For Frank and Laura Lee, it's all too real and palpable.

I recently watched "Ram Dass: Fierce Grace", a documentary about one man who committed his life to God; suffered a stroke, or "was stroked" as he calls it; and learns for the first time to truly be in the present moment and walk the razor's edge between this world bound by polarities, time, and space--and the infinite grace beyond which most of us can comprehend. 

In the movie, there is a scene with a couple, Steve and Anita, whose young daughter Rachel was murdered. With two other younger children left to raise and full lives left to live, they said they couldn't see a future. The pain they felt after losing their beloved firstborn was almost unbearable. But then they received a letter from Ram Dass, and what he said in it offered an insight into an expanded view of what physical human death can mean for those of us left behind.

I did an online search for the letter, and I found it on www.KotaPress.com, an "organization that provides grief support to bereaved parents and those who care for them after the death of a child." I thought I would share it here for everyone who has lost someone dear to them, and I dedicate it to my parents in the hope that it offers even a tiny spark that gives way to a brilliant light as radiant and life-giving as our Sun...and their son.

Dear Steve and Anita,

Rachel finished her work on earth, and left the stage in a manner that leaves those of us left behind with a cry of agony in our hearts, as the fragile thread of our faith is dealt with so violently. Is anyone strong enough to stay conscious through such teaching as you are receiving? Probably very few. And even they would only have a whisper of equanimity and peace amidst the screaming trumpets of their rage, grief, horror and desolation.

I can't assuage your pain with any words, nor should I. For your pain is Rachel's legacy to you. Not that she or I would inflict such pain by choice, but there it is. And it must burn its purifying way to completion. For something in you dies when you bear the unbearable, and it is only in that dark night of the soul that you are prepared to see as God sees, and to love as God loves.

No
w is the time to let your grief find expression. No false strength. Now is the time to sit quietly and speak to Rachel, and thank her for being with you these few years, and encourage her to go on with whatever her work is, knowing that you will grow in compassion and wisdom from this experience.

In my heart, I know that you and she will meet again and again, and recognize the many ways in which you have known each other. And when you meet you will know, in a flash, what now it is not given to you to know: Why this had to be the way it was.

Our rational minds can never understand what has happened, but our hearts – if we can keep them open to God – will find their own intuitive way. Rachel came through you to do her work on earth, which includes her manner of death. Now her soul is free, and the love that you can share with her is invulnerable to the winds of changing time and space. In that deep love, include me.

In love,
Ram Dass


Our childhood home on the farmIn the words of a kind stranger, "Your brother did what he came to do, and people noticed." And with John in mind, with what he came here to do and most certainly accomplished with such zeal and authenticity, now is our time to let our grief find expression. Now is our time to speak to him and thank him for being with us these 33 years, and encourage him to go on with whatever his work is, integrating what he imparted into our lives, and knowing that we will grow in compassion and wisdom from this experience. His body may not be here with us, but the love and respect we have for each other will never perish.

Mama and Daddy, I love you and I hope your grief can find its tranformation into love and a future filled with all your greatest blessings, including your son in his new and infinite form. And to all the rest of us, friends and family alike who miss Johnny like crazy, I hope the same for us.

Friday
May272011

029. ROADTRIP: RETURN TO SEATTLE

During our week in Seattle in 1997, John and I enjoyed some perfectly simple days. We talked and stared for hours at the view across Lake Washington out our windows at Liz's Mount Baker home. My friend Patrick hosted us for dinner on the waterfront deck at Palisade Restaurant. We rode the elevator to the observation deck of the Space Needle on a clear evening for sunset views in all directions. We stopped under the Aurora Bridge to climb on the Fremont Troll and pick his nose. We visited Gas Works Parka public park created from land and structures of a former coal gasification plantwhere John showed his usual fearlessness, climbing to heights I was then terrified of. Lizzy took us to Pike Place Market to watch the famed fish-throwers and witness some of the most creative street performers in existence. We visited Waterfront Park, Pioneer Square, Green Lake Park, Capitol Hill, and floors 23 through 26 of the US Bank Centre building downtown that are to this day Callison Architecture where I interned. In Fremont we wiled away an afternoon together, scoured funky old thrift stores, and at the Fremont Hemp Company (which no longer exists) John bought a cap made of hemp that I still have. And as I wrote in my previous journal entry, we took the ferry across Puget Sound and spent an unforgettable day on Bainbridge Island. These are just the things I remember. I know there were more.

In the course of my days in Seattle 2011, I returned to most of those places. I stopped to look around and took time recalling all I could about what it was like exploring the world with my brother John. I revisited with the same spirit as if he were there with me in person. I recreated photos we took. I do know there’s no going back—not really. There’s no way to recreate what’s done or to relive the past. And why would I want to? These places are just places. There are new experiences to be had there and everywhere, in every moment. I’m a different person visiting places that are different than when my brother and I were there, and he’s in a different form. But this “ritual of return” was important for me. As the great Ferris Bueller said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” It was a way of stopping to look around at my brother’s life, at my life, and at whatever was happening wherever I was at the moment. It was a way of taking time to purposefully contemplate, honor, and integrate all the qualities of my brother; the qualities of our story together; the qualities we grew into as we explored and learned about the world together in our different ways; and the ways we sent ourselves rippling back out into the lives and the world around us.

The moment I decided I would return to Seattle for my own private ceremony with a handful of John’s ashes came on an October afternoon in a Brighton, Colorado funeral home as my family and I, grief-stricken, discussed how to handle his remains. In the midst of that horrendous experience, John whispered in my ear, “Golden Gardens Park”. It took me by surprise because we’d spent only a couple of hours of our lives there. It was so simple…and so perfect. I didn’t know when it would happen, but in that instant I knew the place where I’d honor the story that was ours and ours alone.

Golden Gardens Park is somewhat secluded, situated on Puget Sound at the north end of Seaview Avenue, on the edge of the Ballard and Crown Hill neighborhoods. It looks west and north across the Sound. It’s where, on our last night in Seattle—one of those rare and magical Pacific Northwest evenings when it’s clear and warm—John and I watched the sun set over Puget Sound, drank beer, and talked. I vividly remember lounging on the beach pondering life, what we’d seen that week, not knowing what’s next and how that’s the best part about it. I remember him saying something like, “If this one city has all these things we’ve never seen before, think how much there is in the rest of the world we may never know. But how cool is it to know that? To know that no matter where we go there’s something to discover.” We watched the sailboats glide along without a sound and talked about how awesome it would be to go sailing. I might have been the design intern that summer, but he was the one who pointed out the way iridescent light reflected off the sand as the water receded, and how the oranges and pinks showed up in the edges of the waves as they rolled back in. He tried capturing it but wasn’t successful with that cheap old film camera we had. Nevermind. The image of those dancing colored lights made of atmosphere, sun, water, sand and the observations of my brother is burned in my mind forever. It’s a memory I’ve recalled hundreds of times in the years since, and it’s a moment that represents the best parts of my personal story of John.

I didn’t have deep-rooted expectations of what I’d experience when I returned to Golden Gardens Park. I had planned a somewhat elaborate ceremony, but the closer I got the less necessary that felt. When I arrived, it was as I had remembered it…but different. We’d been there close to high tide just before the sky exploded with color. This time there would be no chance of a colorful sunset not to mention that time of evening in April would be too cold and windy. I arrived in the afternoon just after low tide. The wind died down and sun came out as I walked along the beach. I watched a sailboat glide along without a sound and thought back to how awesome it was to sail San Francisco Bay just a few weeks prior as John looked on. I searched the sand as the water receded, but there was no iridescence, and no oranges or pinks warmed the edges of the waves. I didn’t bring beer. I had John’s ashes, a handmade card, a few artifacts I’d collected, and I planted myself near where John and I had been. I created a little altar from a piece of driftwood I’d found on the beach, and with my note to John and a few of his ashes I held my ceremony. I shed tears for the closing of a long and wonderful chapter. I let fall some of the ashes from my hand into the water with a barely audible “plink-plink” sound. It was simple and quiet. What had once seemed as though it would be the momentous culmination of a long journey, proved to be perfectly, beautifully anticlimactic. A woman with her two children and a gleeful black lab played nearby. The dog ran out of the water and chose a spot next to me to shake off. Ducks bobbled atop the waves at the edge of the water searching for food just as I had searched for pink and orange. Sailboats glided. Life carried on all around me. So shall I.

About the time I felt the urge to move on, I noticed the horizon growing darker…the wind picked up…light rain began to fall. I backed slowly up the beach, absorbing that wondrous place with the altar in its midst, until finally reaching the path I turned to leave it behind. I made my way to my car…past ducks, seagulls, flowering trees, and benches with memorial plaques. And just as I was safely inside, the skies unleashed with booming thunder and torrential frozen rain, covering every surface with an inch or more of the white stuff—somewhat atypical of Seattle as I understand it. I laughed through tears as I pictured John revving his pipes on that eternal open road as if to say, “Give ‘em hell, leetle seester. No matter where we go there’s something to discover…and I’m still at it.”

Over the last couple of months I snaked along one of the most beautiful coasts in the world. I drove and hiked through redwood forests with trees older than countries and bigger than your imagination can grow. I played with gooseneck barnacles. I went sailing. I met amazing people; everyday, ordinary people, each with a unique story made up of their histories, fears, dreams, losses, successes, lessons learned and lessons taught. I came on a journey to heal and let go of my brother as I’d known him, and I began discovering life with him in his new form. John had a passion for life. He lived his personal story with more integrity and less fear than the majority of people I’ve known. He stopped to look around. He knew when I needed help even if I didn’t, and he knew how to give it. He called me out when I was floundering and he was concerned. He took care of business and had fun at the same time. These are just some of the qualities John exuded. He imparted them to each of us in different ways, and I’m not sure if all of us realized it as it was happening. We each have a different version of John, and we can each take the qualities we saw in him and send them rippling back out into the lives and the world around us.

Like ol’ Nick at the Drift Inn in Yachats, Oregon, said, “He did what he came to do, and people noticed.” Indeed.

View more photos in the Roadtrip: Return to Seattle gallery

Tuesday
May172011

028. ROADTRIP: UNION TO SEATTLE

Though bittersweet, the day finally arrived for me to leave Linda, Greg, and Pebble Beach Place. To get from there to Seattle I needed to take Hwy 106 east, which follows the south shore of Hood Canal to its termination; then north through Bremerton to Poulsbo; snake around to head southeast across a bridge over Port Orchard Bay to the north side of Bainbridge Island; drive three quarters of the length of the island to the ferry terminal; drive my car onto the ferry and enjoy a 35 minute ride across Puget Sound to downtown Seattle. All said it’s 2 to 2-1/2 hours to travel roughly 45 miles as the crow flies. Daunting, I suppose, if you’re the sort who’s in a hurry. But I wasn’t. I would take my time. I had stops to make. The day John and I visited Bainbridge Island in August of 1997 was one of our favorite days during one of our favorite weeks spent together in our lives. I intended to linger and savor the memory of it.

People have asked me what my inspiration was for a road trip and for this particular route. Several things were, but the primary ones are what I’ll focus on in this entry. In the summer of 1997, I spent two months as an intern at a large Seattle architecture firm called Callison. I was 23, and until the previous summer when I roamed about Europe under the guise (tongue-in-cheek, mom and dad!) of studying architecture, I’d not been beyond a small world consisting of portions of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Colorado. Living in a city and surrounded by large bodies of water were alien to me—both were things that came with life in Seattle. My new Seattle friends were mostly single professionals in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s who enjoyed cycling, sailing, world travel, outdoor sports, art, architecture, independent films, hobbies and passions, and I was often shocked to discover they were five, ten, even fifteen years older than they looked. They were young at heart and full of life! Where I came from, people in that age bracket were waist deep in mostly torpid jobs, marriages, divorces, and seemingly predictable lives with kids and even grandkids. Some were perfectly happy with their bucolic lives. Many were not and most of those didn’t realize they had a choice. That’s where I thought life was leading me, and to be honest, I’d never given it much thought otherwise. This new world opened my eyes to more of the options life has to offer.

John was 20 and had seen less than I. Until I left for the summer, we’d been living together in Lubbock, Texas. During my time away we spoke often. In those phone conversations, I shared with him the amazing places and people I was experiencing; that I wished he could fly up to spend a few days with me in Seattle and drive back to Texas together. So…he did. It was our first trip together as adults, without family, exploring a new place, discovering we could do it and that we loved it.

I remember the drive from Sea-Tac Airport after picking John up and my excitement to have him there. We would explore Seattle for a week together before our drive home. For that drive our original intention had been to follow the coast down into southern Oregon or Northern California before turning east. But the beginning of Fall semester came faster than we anticipated, and we ended up driving a more direct interior route. In the years since then, we often talked of wanting to go back and make that coastal drive someday. In the days after John’s death as I asked myself what would be the best way for me to celebrate the relationship that was Cara and John, the answer came quickly and clearly: RETURN TO SEATTLE. So…I did. And rather than fly, I drove that route we never drove but wanted to; to a destination we explored together; both of which opened our eyes and made our worlds bigger.

I lived part of that summer with Liz Follis, a fellow intern at Callison who quickly became a dear friend and soul sister. She also met John the week he stayed with me at her family’s home in the Mount Baker neighborhood overlooking Lake Washington. Boy and wow!...we awoke each morning to the most amazing view out our east facing windows; a view we shared fondly as one of our most memorable. For my return trip, Liz and her mother, Lorna, were generous hosts once again and invited me to stay with them in their new condo. That was my destination this evening after wending my way across canals and sounds and islands and bridges and ferries and downtown Seattle—to reconnect with Lizzy.

Crossing Port Orchard Bay to Bainbridge Island came with a flood of emotion. It was the first place to which I’d return where John and I shared one of our favorite days together. I drove along Hwy 305 that’s carved into dense forest and bifurcates the upper part of the island diagonally north to south. I saw the “Welcome to Bainbridge Island” sign through tears. I made my way to the ferry terminal that was our original port of entry and retraced our steps along the boardwalk. I drove our route back up the east side of the island to Fay Bainbridge State Park. I parked in the lot where John and I parked and scampered over a minefield of logs to the same beach we explored. I watched sailboats bobble in Puget Sound just as we had 14 years prior. I noted what felt familiar and what of my memories time had had its way with. I cried. I smiled. I felt John and his playful amusement…loving every moment of being back in this spot where, if I remember correctly, was the first place he ever set foot in ocean salt water. I simply remembered and was steeped in gratitude for those moments we had together.

Afterward, I went to the home of Ann and Dave who I’d met in Union, and joined their small band of neighbors and family for dinner. Dave was the environmental attorney who’d successfully represented the citizens of Mason County in their battle against the industrial incinerator threatening their community. They live in a beautiful home on the west shore of the island, and when they heard I’d be on Bainbridge, they extended an invitation. When you’re an inspired vagabond and make yourself available, good company and generosity are never far away. By the time I boarded the ferry to Seattle, it was too dark and cold to enjoy the full views from the deck or take proper pictures. Instead, I sat inside next to a spontaneous string quartet for the duration of the 35-minute ride. John approved.

I drove from the ferry straight to Liz’s house. I could hardly contain my excitement for seeing her again. We talked for hours. We had only stayed in sporadic contact since 1997, so there were years to catch up on. Conversations reconfirmed that even with the distance of time and miles we are indeed kindred spirits. The next day I joined her family’s Easter egg decorating ritual and felt as comfortable as a long lost cousin reunited. During the rest of my stay, Liz and Lorna gave me the gift of a quiet nest to return to after days of revisiting fond memories of my brother. In the years since our initial visit, anytime John and I would reminisce about Seattle, he always asked if I knew how Lizzy was doing. He totally dug her. It was great to be back.

WATCH THE VIDEO tribute of my day returning to Seattle via Bainbridge Island.

View more photos in the Roadtrip: Union to Seattle gallery

Friday
Apr152011

027. ROADTRIP: ASTORIA TO UNION

After leaving Giles and Zeiss behind, I paid a quick visit to downtown and knocked back my last Oregon latte at Astoria Coffeehouse and Bisto. People in the upper left corner just seem to inherently understand that a proper coffee shop needs cracks and crevices, old plaster walls, decaying tile or concrete floors, some old soft seating with a personality of its own, and appropriately faded paint. Most of the ones I’ve visited contain more character in their front doors than the majority of coffee shops have throughout. And after my espresso fix in this more than proper coffee shop, I was on my way. 

To leave Astoria and head into Washington, I crossed the mouth of the Columbia River on the Astoria-Megler Bridge, which at just over 4 miles long is the longest truss bridge in North America. It was the heaviest rain and fog of my entire trip, so sightseeing was out of the question. I went directly to my next couchsurfing hosts in Raymond—Chuck, Chanda, and their 13-year-old son Elijah. When I walked across the hardwood floors of their old home; passed Eero Saarinen chairs, a Lucite table, an extensive library of books on spirituality and travel, and Oriental artifacts from their world explorations, I knew they would have a hard time getting rid of me. When they started talking about selling everything to go on the road in an RV, I was ready to help them price things and go with them. Chuck made a wonderful dinner, and along with their friend Molly, we talked…and talked.

As they told me of their plans to embark on an RV life, I told them about the friends I'd reconnected with via Facebook just the day before who are doing exactly that. Lisa, Mat, and their toddler Simon are living one of my dreams: traveling, living, working and playing full-time in their Airstream. They take good pictures, write good stories, and are livin’ a good life. Read about them on their website shinycamper.com, and prepare to be jealous.

Chuck and Chanda regaled me with stories of their family of three’s recent seven-month journey through Asia, Europe, and Northern Africa. Their primary impetus was a desire to give Elijah an education out in the world. They wanted him to experience it for himself rather than only in books and classrooms, to see how other people and cultures really are, to taste local foods and understand firsthand both the surface differences and common humanity that are inherent across all continents. I asked Elijah how he liked the experience. He got a lot out of it he said, but much of what he learned didn’t make itself apparent until he returned to “normal life” back in Raymond. His favorite place was Cambodia, where they lived with a family and were able to get a sense of daily life there. One of the tools they used to make their trip more affordable was www.couchsurfing.org, which is how I came to stay with them. Another site they introduced me to was www.helpx.net, a “worldwide online listing of host organic farms, non-organic farms, farmstays, homestays, ranches, lodges, B&Bs, backpackers hostels and even sailing boats who invite volunteer helpers to stay with them short-term in exchange for food and accommodation.” It’s similar to “wwooffing” on www.wwooff.org, which is a listing of workstays only on organic farms. In today’s world with resources like these, there are fewer barriers than ever to experiencing the world safely and like a local. I could write an entire article about this alone, if not a book!

The cliff’s notes of other interesting things about my new friends: Chuck works as a wild-land firefighter, plays guitar, remodeled their home, enjoys video editing, and loves working with kids. He has taught guitar lessons and video editing/storytelling to kids in their town and once applied for a grant to create a community program to continue doing so. But apparently a new popcorn machine at the local theater was more important to the grant apportioning committee. I look forward to hearing he’s found a benefactor who wants to support his traveling guitar/video/storytelling RV school. Chanda works as a realtor and teaches yoga. She has an eBay business, knows good stuff when she sees it, and it shows. But most interesting to me is their philosophy. Rather than fighting paradigms they don’t align with, they graciously bow out of them and live their own. Their personal brand of activism is “Live the life you want to have rather than fight against the one you don’t.” It kind of reminds me of that quote by Ghandi, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” A simple “Just do it” works, too. Like me, they’ve experienced enough of the world to know that staying lifelessly plugged into the matrix that is rapidly imploding on itself is not possible for them. Our systems are failing. Our governments are failing. Our illusions of security are failing. Our human perception that “all I can see/hear/taste/smell/touch is all there is” is proving to be false.

There is a Hopi elder by the name of Chief Dan Evehema who ten years ago said this, “Be good to each other, and do not look outside yourself for the leader. This could be a good time! There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart and will suffer greatly. Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water. And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate! At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves. For the moment we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt. Gather yourselves! Banish the word struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

As I was leaving the next morning, Chuck and Chanda were beginning the tedious and emotional task of going through their belongings, deciding what to sell and for how much. They’re going to sell their things again to set out into the world, to let go of the shore and push off into the middle of the river, or road as the case may be. They do not pretend to have any answers. They aren’t sure of what they’re doing, but they feel the current tugging at them and something tells them to go with it. I applaud them. They’re doing what thousands are feeling the call to do, but are holding too tightly to the shore that will eventually rip them apart. That grasping is fear. And it’s not real. Neither is the shore.

Chuck, Chanda and Elijah did finally get rid of me. I continued in the direction of Union located on the south bend of Hood Canal, where Linda and Greg live. They’re friends of my friend Bob. And what about Bob? Bob is a special person, a breed unto himself. He was one of the people who inspired me to start letting go of my own eroding shore and go with the current. He lives in Seattle…sort of. That’s his home base, and he’s a modern day vagabond who is much more advanced than I in the lifestyle. The irony is that he had a trip planned back to the East Coast where he’s originally from during the time I plan to be in Seattle. But he did not leave without making sure I would have plenty of exceptional company and information for my stay in and around the Emerald City. We vagabonds have to look out for one another.

Greg works weeks, six hours away in Pullman, WA where he is director of the Center for NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance) Spectroscopy in the Department of Chemistry at Washington State University. “What, pray tell, is NMR Spectroscopy?” you ask. Basically, it’s a research technique employing large machines that determine detailed information about physical and chemical properties of whatever is being analyzed. I’d love to tell you more about what he does since it’s fascinating to hear him speak about it, but I’m afraid I’d sound as ignorant as I am! In any case, this meant Linda was solo in Union and welcomed my company. Bob had told me we could be sisters, but it wasn’t until I met her that I believed him. In her presence I felt I’d been a part of her home and family for years. As they affectionately refer to it, Pebble Beach Place is their beautiful two-story home and guesthouse nestled into a hill covered in one of the only swaths of mature pine forest left in the area. Views are to the north shore of Hood Canal, which you, too, can enjoy if you’d like to stay in their guesthouse. I walked down to their shared dock across the road where they harvest muscles, clams and oysters. I went for a run on Hwy 106 that hugs the canal. I enjoyed the upper Zen garden that Bob built for them. Linda and I talked for hours about life, death, losing what we thought mattered most, meditation, expanding consciousness, shifting perceptions of reality, self-empowered health and healing, and we discovered we share the common outlook that everything in life, no matter how challenging, is an opportunity for direct expanded understanding of universal truth. I was in heaven.

I’d planned to stay only one night and move on, but with Linda’s urging (it didn’t take much), one night stretched into three. This meant I joined her in hosting her friend Dana for dinner, I was able to meet Greg, and I joined them in celebrations held in town and at their home for the victory that citizens of Mason County won against an incinerator slated for construction in their community. More opportunities…to make new friends, to be inspired, to learn something about myself, about the world I live in, about life. There are no accidents. Everything is perfect. Meeting Linda felt like a divine gift, an omen on my journey to let me know I’m still heading in the right direction and to give me nourishment to keep going. Priceless.

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Wednesday
Apr062011

026. ROADTRIP: HECETA BEACH TO ASTORIA

When the romance of waking up to my overnight beachfront property wore off, I realized how tired and hungry I was. Torrential sheets of rain and strong winds taunted my car most of the night, and I must have awakened a dozen or more times from the howling and rocking they caused. I stopped at the Drift Inn in Yachats for some breakfast and sat next to a frail older man at the counter. Nick told me he’s a retired mail carrier who has diabetes and suffers from depression. He used to be an avid skier and outdoorsman, but his failing health has rendered him unable to enjoy the activities he once did and wondering what he’ll fill the rest of his days doing. He said he’s asking again, even this late in life, what he’s going to be when he grows up. And I’m beginning to wonder if that question ever really leaves any of us. Nick appeared to be a kind, quiet, observant man, and showed deep interest in my journey in memory of my brother. He oozed with compassion for my loss of John, and understood the significance of celebrating him with my roadtrip. He beamed when I shared stories of John and his effect on people who benefited from the way he did ordinary things in extraordinary ways. At one point in the conversation, there was a dramatic pause as he looked squarely at me with great resolve and said, “There are many people whose lives are better because of him. He did what he came to do. And people noticed.” It was as if he were giving me a message directly from some unseen source. I smiled. “Thank you,” was the only response I felt was called for.

Just after crossing the Yaquina Bay Bridge, one of the many beautiful bridges along Oregon’s coast (learn more about these amazing structures), I pulled over at Yaquina Bay Lighthouse park on the south end of the town of Newport. I parked in front of a small open-air chapel that, upon exploration, I discovered was dedicated to the memory of local fishermen lost at sea since 1900. It was a touching find, and I spent time studying the living, evolving shrine inside the chapel (WATCH VIDEO). Men. All of them men. Each one once a father, brother, husband, lover, son, friend now represented by pieces of paper, images, letters, poems and keepsakes from loved ones. Do men live life more fully alive, with less fear while they’re here among us? Do they take bigger risks? Are they more willing to take on life at all costs, at the greatest cost? Are they more alive because of it? I wondered.

There were two guys roughly my age there in the chapel who are fishermen. They had worked with just about every one of the men whose pictures adorned the altar. When they asked if I was there for one of them, I told them about my brother. I answered that he’d not been a fisherman but was a biker with a similar adventurous spirit who died doing something he loved. One of them introduced himself as Jared, and he and I ended up talking for a while. He said he doesn’t love fishing, but he loves having done it. “It’s usually bitter cold and you’re stuck out on a boat with grubby men who often aren’t kind and an ocean that never is.” He referred to it as “an impersonal existence”. He said when you do that sort of work, you realize how fleeting and easily exterminable a human life is, including your own, and you can become humbled to the point of seeing no purpose to the whole thing. The ocean is a great equalizer, a churning and howling spiritual teacher. No one is special. No one is immortal. He seemed to have such a direct understanding of the universal law of impermanence I could not possibly doubt what he said. But he also had a twinkle in his blue eyes that told me he has moved through the eddy of meaninglessness. He confirmed my suspicion when he began talking about music. He loves music; listening to it, of course, but especially playing it. He plays the guitar, trumpet, and other instruments I don’t recall. He loves jazz and lit up when I told him my favorite album is Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. Music is his passion. It’s the story he wants to live and share. The fishing is just something he does to make money, and it’s taught him some things about the true nature of life. But the music makes him come alive. If I hadn’t been so tired and a little sad this day, I would have stuck around to hear him when he went to play with friends in a local café that evening. Unfortunately, I was spent. I finished paying my respects and said farewell.

I took enough time to go through the old lighthouse and then checked out the Nye Beach neighborhood of Newport. There were several blocks of funky, brightly painted cafes, restaurants and shops. I spent a few minutes in Café Mondo to organize photos and post to my blog while it rained sheets outside. Once the weather broke, I continued on my way. Newport is a town I could definitely have hung out in longer. And I still wonder about Jared. He had plenty more stories to share. Something tells me I’ll run in to him again someday, though. Hopefully that time I’ll be ready to hear some music and listen to a little more seafaring wisdom.

Sadness and hints of despair were creeping in, and I was tired. I hadn’t slept well in my car (hello, McFly!) despite having thoroughly enjoyed awakening to the ocean outside my window. I knew I needed a good night of sleep—and a comfortable, private place to cry a few tears for missing John’s physical presence. I’ve done a lot of smiling and laughing on this trip with funny messages and happenstances making it apparent John is never far away, but certainly tears come now and then…some of them mixed with the laughter and gratitude of many fond memories…some of them pierced with the slowly diminishing anger at the sick joke life seems to be playing on all of us who knew and loved him. The tears this day were of the second sort. Jared’s message of universal and indiscriminate temporality wasn’t putting me at ease.

I stopped in Lincoln City at the Ester Lee Motel for a cheap room with a killer view that rendered their 1980’s décor absolutely inconsequential. Their tagline, "AHH... What you can see from the Ester Lee!!!" ain’t kiddin’. I relaxed by the little gas fireplace with the meal I cooked, listening to the wind and waves coalescing on the beach below my window. I meditated. I cried. I let the reality of “life as it is” sink in a little deeper. And finally, I slept.

The next morning I awoke rested and refreshed. I got on the road. I drove. I stopped. I walked around. I took in the scenery and the salt air. I marveled. I drove some more. I listened to John’s music playlist. I head-banged, and I laughed at myself. I looked forward to revisiting the tiny village of Netarts, in the middle of which is a veritable diamond in the rough. The little shop, Lex’s Cool Stuff, is a small shack bursting with treasures, the most valuable and inimitable of which is Lex herself. I’d been there before, more than two years ago when I visited Portland and made a quick dash out to see my first short stretch of the Oregon coast before I headed back to Colorado. Lex struck me then with her charm, depth, wisdom, uncommon zest for life, and unforgettable smile. Oh, and her amazing homemade brownies! In this small town, she has manifested a burgeoning business, taking people’s discarded whatnots and converting them to treasure for others of us. In the process, she shares her beautiful energy. I dare you to leave there without a bigger smile than you went in with! She’s the epitome of doing common things in uncommon ways and spreading big waves of positivity as she does them. Her “cool stuff” is a great reason to stop by, but she’s the reason I returned for a second visit. We had a penetrating conversation on the meaning and relevance of life and death. I came away with a repurposed necklace, a couple of brownies for the road, and an ample helping of happy juju. Besides, I knew she and John would hit if off in a big way. And I think they did.

After a couple more stops in such tourist towns as Cannon Beach (tucked in, quaint and inviting) and Seaside (think discount family-style buffets and large hotel chains), I arrived in Astoria.  Astoria sits on the south side of the mouth of the Columbia River as it meets the Pacific Ocean and Youngs Bay. This is a town I’d heard described by various people as enchanting, bohemian, and the latest up-and-coming place to move. However, when I arrived I was met with a slight sense of gloom and foreboding. It could simply have been the especially dreary weather, or perhaps the vacant buildings and empty storefronts downtown had something to do with it. Still, I did find it to be somewhat mysterious with great coffee shops, an impressive art gallery, and I wouldn’t turn down a chance to explore it further someday.

I was set to stay with my couchsurfing host Giles and his adorable Irish Terrier puppy, Zeiss, in the guest room of their huge old home. Soon after I arrived, Giles and I went to the Fort George Brewery and Public House for a bite to eat, beer, and conversation. I immediately found him to be a kind and intelligent person. He told me he recently transplanted from Ohio and has an online camera business (www.illumiquestcamera.com) that allows him to work from anywhere. He’s feeling things out in Astoria, but like me and others I’ve met on this trip, he’s not really sure where he wants to settle down or even exactly what he wants to do “when he grows up”. He loves the freedom and the travel to new places his business affords him, but he’s hoping to find a way not to be tied to the phone and Internet quite so much.

Giles’ background is fascinating. He grew up in a large family and a religious commune, a Christian cult, which he left when he was a teenager. I was enthralled! He described the structured, sheltered life he experienced there and said it was a great place to be a kid. However, as he evolved into his teenage years (and we all know what comes with that), it became very difficult, and he was compelled to leave his family and the only life he’d known behind. I’m inspired by his bravery and self-reliance. He seems to have made the transition nicely, though he described a learning curve that’s perhaps steeper than some. He’s highly intelligent and great to talk to. I enjoy conversation with people who ask as many questions as they do offer information, and he asked great questions. He’s driven, seems hard working but balanced with a good sense of adventure and inquiry. I found him to be a generous host and someone I’d like to keep as a friend to cross paths with someday. As for Zeiss, he almost fit into my duffle bag while Giles wasn’t looking, but I figured I wouldn’t get far. 

View more photos in the Roadtrip: Heceta Beach to Astoria gallery