This pandemic has given me something: the ability to identify what truly matters to me. What I need around me and what I don’t. Who matters to me. What brings the most joy. How to uplift myself. What to keep. What to let go.
This morning I signed a document for publishing services for a children’s book that my grandmother illustrated and we both co-wrote. The book “Dreams of a Rocking Pony” will be in print sometime during the spring of 2021!
Several months ago, pre-pandemic, Peggy (Peggy is my grandmother’s name, which I’ve always called her by) and I loosely inquired about getting “Dreams of a Rocking Pony” published. Peggy is a fine artist by trade, who works with acrylic, and she’d sent Autumn a book she wrote and illustrated (pictured above) around the time of her birth. I got to fiddling with the wording some more and the next thing you knew we’d created a children’s book together! We didn’t pursue the book contract at the time, we weren’t sure how much we wanted to pay for our little project. And then the pandemic happened, so it was like whatever.
Fast forward to now. The long, drawn out months of the pandemic have given me more time than usual in my writing den (an office Steve and I share overlooking the sheep in the meadow). I kept coming back to the “Rocking Pony” project. Publishing a book with Peggy, what a neat thing that would be! Peggy, who is 86 now, still lives near Tucson. But we talk just about everyday.
So now, without her knowledge, but with her previous blessing, I reached out to the publishing house in Eugene, again. Only this time I submitted the illustrations, text and contract for the publication of a children’s book!
This surprising turn of events is inspiring me to think outside-the-box more. To try to see what’s already there. To celebrate the accomplishment that sat right in front of us: a playful exchange of art, morphing into a marketable book for children. A thing to reverberate our love out into the world. To prove that we were here, together.
You may not know, but along with my stacks of personal essays and boxes of memoir, I have two children’s books. Those manuscripts were written during a passionate period of writing in my twenties, and I hope to someday find an illustrator to complete them for publication. (But more on those later.) I know Peggy won’t be that illustrator. In the past four years alone I have seen her eyesight and mobility escaping her more and more. The “Dreams of a Rocking Pony” painting series (the illustrations are copies of a larger work) may end up being one of her last.
Between now and the end of our three month publishing deadline, I am sure to be dreaming of the joy I hope will come after revealing this surprise to my grandmother. (Of course I couldn’t get it together in time for Christmas. Doh!)
More about “Dreams of a Rocking Pony” when it’s published! NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) has been good to me this year, I’ve been extra focused on editing and publishing, and have another title in the works. Send a prayer for Peggy, this pandemic has been unkind.
Along the edge of the spilled water, a wavy black line. The length of a hair. It could have been my mothers, mine, my daughters. Indistinguishable, this edge of liquid on the countertop; this long black hair. Was it clean or dirty, the countertop? Should I wipe it or leave it be? Disorder of any kind makes me nervous. A disorder of disorder. That’s me.
Would I make a good mother? Me, who baby talks the dog, hogs all the blankets, possesses a double Scorpio, Aries moon, a combination of eldest-child-and-only-child syndromes, a born and bred rebel, a seeker of balance, the receiver of highs and lows, a giver, a taker, withholder of personal truths, sharer of haphazardly selected anticdotes and flower petals, she who is happy most of the time, plunges into run-and-write-go-panic-go-take-all-my-money-and-hole-up-somewhere-with-chocolate-and-fantasies-in-the-dark-nights, some-beach-that-is-close-enough-to-home-far-enough-to-be-full-of-strangers-days. Me, who waited all this time for for the “right” man to make the “right” baby. Poor guy. Me, with my own apartment at 17, a babys-name list at 22, collecting baby books and sneakers at 23–one-decade ago–me who they told “had a nice stomach” (I never personally loved it til now). Me, afraid of marriage and 2-year contracts of any kind. A sock wearer in summer. A fixer upper. A devotee of solitude, craft, words-on-page, food-on-plate, words-in-brain. A devotee of simplicity.
Do I have it? The patience, the selflessness, the love? If not, where within myself might I find it? The soles of my feet? My stomach? My brain? I’d ask for help if I knew how to receive it. I don’t.
Me. of fierce independence, wild with child.
Me, swollen in summer, begging for rain.
Me, grasping at time for the chunks of it lost, donated to others, these days on the calendar.
Me, the selfish and selfless colliding within me like the earth shifts and tidal waves of impending labor.
Me, melancholy yet smiling in July.
Me, the weight of adult-mother-time anchoring me in bittersweet duty.
Do I have what it takes? Is suddenly irrelevant. The invitation-to-dance has long been RSVP’d within my womb.
My wiser self nudges: do you, with child. Read, write, love. Even if it hurts at first: unearth deep peace. Take baby steps and mine for it. It was yours all along, this peace. It is not in the soles of your feet or the curve of your belly, but down where the spirit meets the bone.
I have the ideal life
please don’t mess with it
the bow is straight
the self centered
after years, decades,
almost a lifetime of
uncertainty and whim,
certainly the train is rolling now,
the one I’ve been engineering for
some time, piece-by-piece, move-by-move,
lesson-by-lesson, man-by-man, through peaks
and valleys I Am Here now
Course I fear car accidents
and fire and, worse than that,
untapped demons and fury
but then again maybe things can be OK,
the one where children
get driven to their bus stops
warm in their mittens
lunches in their bags smiles on their faces (!!)
This love, no longer longing but
This home, no longer empty but
This body, no longer just mine but
part of something bigger,
him or her?
October or September?
Can you love her enough
to not fuck it up?
This ideal life,
I command you to stay
the opposite of
a blessing, a gift
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).
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.
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.
Brave the world. Be in it just enough to observe, earn, and give back. Escape it daily in an attempt to soothe your tired animal mind; spilling at the seams of this complicated human life. Adhere to the hermit way, it comes naturally. You are stick and stone, fire and water, a hot pot of tea, you are a simple flower, a timid bear, a lone wolf. You. You. You do it on your own. Take a few select things into your own palms and generate a life from it. This won’t be the first year you’ve done so.
Pages turn in the wind. You waste $2.99 on a set of “good pens”. They are not. You regret going out and getting your paws wet, wasting money. Your fate is solitude and opportunity, solitude and opportunity. A pattern emerges in the sand mandala of your life. Impermanence is a cackling witch assuring you that even your creativity is not fixed. It will not wait patiently for a boyfriend to come and go or for you to lose enough interest that your art rises to the top again.
So you bold your capital letters at the beginning of every sentence. Although this is a handwritten journal, you think it is what the professionals would do. Bold the capitals. You’ve seen it done.
The downside of your closed writing fist–gripping the new, slick and slippery pen–crushes an amber-colored bug onto the page. You smear it away and it looks like taco sauce on the page. Two distractions: one, children zipping through the park in fall on metal scooters in the wind. Two: professional. What is it? you want to know. Professional, adjective: a person engaged in a specified activity as one’s main occupation, rather than a pastime; noun: a person qualified in a specific profession.
Intentions for a new season of life: avoid generalizations. Never, fucking ever, quit Your Dream. Or all the little dreams in-between. In your diligent, orderly way, plot your escape from novice to master. Stop speaking if you have to. Write what’s in your head. Connect the dots in the world you see. Sketch a constellation. Name it. Gain pages. Lose friends. Win them back again. Fear blank more than sloppy. Rest. Rinse. Repeat.
We woke on a Monday to news of our nation’s
largest mass shooting in recent history
The numbers towering that of Pulse nightclub
and that one kindergarten class.
You know the one.
Blood on children’s books. Teachers diving to
save lives. Sick, twisted, white. He fell between the
cracks and rose up, armed and angry.
It took multiple people
and all of their fingers
and all of their toes
to measure the fatalities.
It took the fluid communication of
dozens of doctors and nurses,
from their sleep
to confirm the heads
of the dead–all innocent people.
All reaching for enlightenment
in the way of music and rhythm
and bright lights in rocking and rolling
Las Vegas, Nevada.
Crimson blood on bouncing curls.
Women’s fancy hair-do’s, upright.
Women’s country-strong bodies, horizontal.
Else running, confused, mind-churning.
Women and children, elders and men,
dancing, swaying, shielding, ducking.
Mouths open in terror
Eyes going in all directions
The realization of the
of those you love.
I love you’s.
I don’t understand’s.
I do cherish you’s.
I’m thankful I was spared’s.
Trauma. Blood. Boots.
A glittering TRUMP emblazoned
in the background.
A name synonymous with
dollar signs. And one million
other things by this point,
depending precisely on who you ask.
In other news: a rock star died.
In my opinion: it matters little compared
with the loss of 59 lives, 500 wounded.
October 1, 17
The day 59 rock stars perished
before they really had the chance
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?” 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.
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.
“Ohyeah,” 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!”
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.
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.
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.