Disease is an equalizer—it does not discriminate. Now Mother Earth has a captive audience, the world over. WOW!
Disperse across the earth and feel her pulse.
Now we may finally choose Mother Earth over the economy… not just for three weeks, but entirely and for the good of humanity!
Now we may open ourselves to the actual possibility of EARTH REGENERATION. Now we may all SHIFT—all of the earth’s children, today and forever.
This global pause is an opportunity to reflect, repent, and ask forgiveness from our one true creator: Mother Earth! The form from which all life springs. Her ecosystem is so delicately dependent on a multitude of species, on clean, non-toxic reservoirs and waters, and on the trees that give all life breath! Make no mistake, Mother Earth is asking for our attention with this pandemic.
Now we may take the right type of non-action, a permission slip which has never before been granted. We have less air and ground traffic. We have disease everywhere but the Arctic. We have the collapse of distant goods. We are called to sit, face to face, with our loved ones in our homes. We are called to sit, face to face, with our habitat: a living breathing thing. Make no mistake.
How compelling that the safe place to be now is in the open-air, mountains, or sea! Make no mistake.
Now we may open ourselves fully to the concept of habitat over habit. We may REGENERATE, my people. We may SHIFT now, in this moment, today and forever.
Now we may think of the children. Now we may listen to them. Now we may protect them from things they do not even know are coming, by acting intelligently, responsibly, and humanely. By cutting our ties with non-renewable resources and maddening consumption. (See: toilet paper!)
Now is the time for scientists, not politicians, for empaths, not conquerors, for mothers, not tyrants, for native wisdom, not industry.
This is a window of opportunity that Mother Earth giving us. Brilliant, really, as if Mother Earth has a mind all her own…an intelligence beyond our knowing.
Now we may reset this maddening pace of life and habit of consumption.
What is more important than our elders, our earth, and our children? What?
Everything is connected, we can see that now. So let us connect with our micro-tribes: our neighbors, roommates, and families, and figure this thing out. Let us back up our lifestyle-changes with policy-changes, locally, state and nation-wide, and globally.
“You are but a drop of rain
clinging to the edge of the sumac leaf
by the grace of that same surface tension
that tethers you to your work and gives you traction.”
– Nina Gaby
Make no mistake, she’s warning us: lighten, lighten, lighten the impact.
We can’t buy our way out of this one, so let’s stop trying.
Where energy goes, attention flows: shut down Costco and support local economy. It won’t collapse in times like this!
Support local farmers, if you are fortunate enough to have them in your region.
Support your local soap-maker.
Wipe your ass with cloth. It’s really very simple.
Think about things like light pollution, and how it impacts species. Think about the interconnectedness of all things. Research what type of non-action or change-of-action would be beneficial in your unique ecosystem, whether you’re an urbanite or a ruralite. There’s hope for everyone, everywhere.
Let us choose Mother Earth over Father Economy.
This is the global SHIFT we’ve long been needing to restore our habitat. It can be done. Environmentalists and scientists know the action and that must be taken. If the Coronavirus response can be coordinated between nations, couldn’t saving the earth be, too?
Shut. It. Down.
Rebuild with wisdom from our native and aboriginal elders, who understood interdependence and acted accordingly. Rebuild with our leaders in environmental science.
Let us choose habitat over our habits, today and for good. Now we may act wisely for the greater good of humanity, in the name of Mother Earth.
I did a double take when I heard
you were just two months old
(heard from myself no doubt)
it feels like we’ve been together
I seek your forgiveness
for the sand on my nipple
worry of your ingesting rocks
the size of glitter
on my skin
But more than that it pains me
to watch you cry so I bring you
to my breast
You’ve turned me into a fountain no doubt
“chocolate milk next time if you’re lucky” I joke
in my sugary, sing-songy voice
Papa points out that I’m using
‘too much baby voice’ but I
no longer mind what he says,
which is new, welcomed
They don’t say
‘Mama knows best’
This morning you
were content nursing
for over one hour
because of the holiday
I had the luxury of shutting the door
on the dishes, the chores and
the unmopped floor and
as you suckled I marveled
Also I read
“We Need to Talk”
“What to Look for in a Horse”
“The Only One She Told”
which made me feel
swooney and romantic
and inspired to write
and when I broke your half-hearted suckle
you endearingly suckled on my elbow
as I gently stroked this poem
You have changed me,
only time will
reveal the many ways
I pray for the wisdom to shape
that change in ways that will
benefit us both
you, a budding baby, a honey comb,
to which all things stick
me, not just resigned to motherhood
but still blossoming with potential myself
the burning desire for more more more
never intended for the likes of me
almost withheld from me
(but that’s a story for another time)
I pray for the wisdom to shape
this change in ways that will
benefit us both
We will learn together
We will thrive together
We will not merely survive together
Not you and I Baby Bird,
I bring you to my chest again
You seem to need me more today
I accept that
I resign the afternoon to you,
the Sun Magazine,
and a single
drop of water
in my mug
A glistening symbol
as if to say:
there’s something here
it isn’t much
but it is something
a single drop
of the truth
is all that is
October 12th, 2018
Riverbend Hospital, Springfield, Oregon
For the next few hours, I am still a girl. A daughter. A grand daughter. A girlfriend. A fiancé. A young woman.
At some point after, I hear, an incredible amount of intensity or pain (whichever school of thought you prefer), I will become a mother. A guardian. A protector. A womb-an. You, child, will make sure of this. And for that, I thank you.
For the next few hours I will continue to wonder Who Are You? Are you like your father? Outwardly wild and rambunctious, inwardly steady and responsible? With big blue eyes, an easy smile? With confidence unparalleled. A thinker. A do-er. A boy. A male?
Or are you like me? A Tiny T, as your father says. A girl. Are you a female?
You are too comfortable inside of me and don’t want to come out. That’s why we’re here at the hospital for an induction instead of laboring naturally at the birth center. The midwife inserted a cervical softener about two hours ago. I feel fabulous—no change. The nurse joked she’d have me “frowning by morning.” I feel so good I was tempted to do cartwheels on our walk around the labor and delivery unit. I am only a girl for a few more hours, after all.
Your due date was ten days ago—ten days! By current standards, that’s too long. I would’ve been happy letting you gestate longer but there are these scary reports—online and in print—about the risk of still born and meconium (that’s poop) inhalation and all these things I don’t want to read about or think about but have to.
So all this brings us to the Riverbend Hospital, in one of 325 other labor and delivery rooms. Would you believe we ended up with a room with a view? It’s not the best view available (those rooms have a view of the mountains) but it is the second best view: a clock tower. Three bells hang within its open brick walls.
Like I mentioned before, you were supposed to be delivered in a freestanding birth center. In a four post bed. Once we went a week past your due date, however, it was required that we transfer to the hospital.
What I like about the hospital:
It’s fancy and modern
I still receive the care of the birth center midwives, including during delivery
the ice machine
the bathtub (with jets!)
when we arrived there was a live pianist in the lobby playing “The Circle of Life”—I hadn’t cried much in pregnancy but I did when I heard that song, given the circumstances
Things I don’t like about the hospital:
Hospital gowns with a cute pattern but an awful cut
We had dinner (fish for me, spaghetti for Papa). We received another dose of misoprostol to soften the cervix. Other than the miso, we’ve had no other method of induction. We took a thirty minute walk through the labor and delivery unit. As we walked, we talked and joked. It’s what we do best.
We are mainly excited because the miso is working. After our walk, I began my “bloody show.” I won’t bore you with the details of all that but we are hopeful that you will be born tomorrow.
Believe it or not, little one, things got so intense after my last entry that I wasn’t able to keep up with the journaling. I expected this, of course, I’d just wanted to get the story (your story!) started.
Luckily your papa took notes. Well, that is until he got so swept up in the labor that he couldn’t take notes anymore either.
The last entry I made was at 8:22 p.m. on Friday night. Papa and I were so excited the contractions were starting. That’s probably the last time I would describe being excited about contractions. (Remember, other than being artificially induced I was laboring naturally with no pain medication.)
We’re not sure, but the miso seemed to make the contractions come on strong and frequently. Your papa asked the nurse quietly while I was in the bathtub if they were supposed to be this frequent. “She’s hardly getting a break between them,” I overheard him say. This didn’t make me feel worse, it made me feel better. Your papa cared, and I’d rarely seen him with the opportunity to share his sensitive side. (Side note: now that you’re here, I’ve seen it a lot more.)
From a clinical standpoint, I was two and a half centimeters dilated. Your heart rate was steady, excellent even, and your head was down, doing its work of opening my cervix.
October 13th, 2018
The hospital bed bothered me. Too much light, noise, and movement, so I curled up on the bed reserved for guests. It was a flat, large, vinyl double bed tucked into a dark corner. The nurses didn’t really want me on that bed but thankfully they didn’t push it. As the contractions grew stronger and stronger, I felt best lying on that cool surface, covered in blankets, with soft music (Yoga Sanctuary on Pandora) playing in the background. I developed a song, a hum, a howl to accompany every contraction. It was all I could do to stay centered and sane through the pain I was experiencing. My songs went something like, “ho, ho, ho, ha, ha, ha,” or “ho-o-oooooo! ha-ah-ahhhhh!”
This went on for hours. At one a.m., my water broke. I cannot tell you the relief and excitement of this happening. It was what I’d been wishing and hoping would happen since October 2nd, your due date.
Earlier in the night the nurse said they would wipe the smile off my face and replace it with a frown. We’d laughed about it then. See, that was the goal. Well, now we were winning.
The midwife, Kanya, responded when my water broke. She confirmed that it was brown with meconium, common in post-date babies. There was a fear that you’d have inhaled this meconium and would need immediate attention from the NICU. I had also read that babies exposed to meconium could come out green-tinged. Your hair. Your skin. And that it would take a while to go away. Compounding these nagging thoughts were the ever frequent and incredibly painful contractions. There, I said it: painful. You see, I’d read every book by Ina May Gaskin, and within it’s pages were testimonies by women describing childbirth as intense but not painful, their contractions as waves or rushes, and the whole experience as psychedelic.
Look, I’m all for positive imagery. I’d come to your birth armed with a Himalayan salt lamp, a handmade sculpture of a mother and child, a book on childbirth by Deepak Chopra, and at least six essential oils. I had lavender, the calming herb, on speed dial.
Your papa and I submitted our birth plan, prepared weeks in advance, heeding the advice of the nation’s most beloved midwife, Ina May. Hell, I even had a vision board, “I am doing a fantastic job!” it read on onside, and, “I accept this pain to bring my baby into the world” on the other. Your father had my favorite soothing music dubbed on his cell phone, only by this time I didn’t want to hear it. I didn’t want to hear a thing. I even asked the nurses to turn down your heartbeat on the monitor, it was reassuring, yes, but it was static-y and loud. I had them turn the monitors away, facing the wall (too bright).
By this stage I requested that your father not touch me (I would recoil), he could not talk to me (what did he know about birthing babies, anyway?) but he needed to be there. It was just he and I, with the occasional visits from Kanya and the PeaceHealth nurses (who only wanted to adjust your heartbeat monitor). I was vomiting profusely. I was still wrapped in blankets, lying on my side on the guest bed. I continued my chant of “ho-o-ooooo! ha-ah-ahhhh!” and every time I wanted to moan “noooooo!” I moaned “yeeaaaa!” instead.
Kanya was scheduled to leave at six a.m. When it became apparent that she would not be delivering you that Saturday morning, I brought up pain management. That’s what they call schedule I drugs in a clinical setting.
Kanya had wanted me to sleep through the night but the only rest I’d gotten were strange little blips between contractions. One to two minute naps as my womb rocked and rolled in anticipation for your arrival. I experienced the lightning bolts and thunder of labor. In retrospect, I’d needed a little guidance. I never felt better during labor than when a midwife was talking me through a contraction, but that only happened once or twice.
“Somethings gotta change,” I explained to Kanya between contractions. Her response was Fentanyl, which I understood was synthetic heroine. Was there no in-between? No extra-strength Tylenol? “It won’t take the pain away. And it will make you feel funny,” she told me.
I declined the Fentanyl.
I retreated, naked, back to my dark corner on the guest bed. My limbs were shaking like leaves. Kanya checked my dilation, which was stalled at 5 centimeters. Though the contractions were regular, I’d somehow stopped progressing. I continued my chanting and moaning. When it felt right, I squatted, walked, and used the yoga ball. Your head, dear child, was not dilating my cervix like it should. The positioning needs to be just right to be effective. Despite my walking and forward positioning over the past night, days and weeks…the midwives kept saying that progress was stalled.
The sun rose and I barely acknowledged it. I was writhing in pain in my dark corner. The concept of an orgasmic birth (see the documentary titled Orgasmic Birth) was laughable now.
“I would not recommend this to ANYONE,” I told your father. I even had the fleeting thought that he should, effective immediately, hit the streets and start warning women, “No, really, DON’T DO IT! Child birth. Don’t do it!”
Six a.m. to 10:30 a.m. went by incredibly fast. In fact I don’t remember much except the hoo-ing and haa-ing. The new midwife Pauline, an elder, came in to check my dilation. No progress. I was in such intense pain I could hardly navigate the room or a conversation. Pauline wanted to try a different position and asked me to get on my hands and knees on the hospital bed. But once I did, your heart rate dropped below 60—a dangerous low.
“Get her back up, get her back up!” Pauline pleaded, and your papa and a nurse helped turn me back over. “Whatever you do, stay on your back or side. Absolutely do not get on all fours,” she told me.
Pauline also indicated that my pelvic bone was uniquely shaped, a particularly narrow V. She thought this oddity might be preventing your head from descending properly. She said something about a c-section, almost under her breath, maybe it was to a nurse.
I touched Pauline’s arm, demanding her attention and croaked out, “If this is going to end in a c-section anyway, I request that we do it now.”
Then I told her what I’d told Kanya, “Something’s gotta change. This is too intense,” I told her, keeping with the Gaskin language but not the Gaskin morals.
The sun was gaining on noon, I could tell from the picture window behind Pauline. It had been twenty some hours since we came in for the induction. I was a woman who popped an Ibuprofin at the onset of a headache (then again I was prone to migraines) and here I was in the throes of a medication free labor. Pauline swiftly responded, “I’d like to try all the tools in my belt before opting for a cesarean. I’d recommend an epidural for pain relief followed by Pitocin to get things really rolling again.”
She was the midwife, an experienced one, and I trusted her.
“Okay,” I managed to say. “Let’s do it.”
What happened next was not at all what I expected. What happened next was neither an orgasmic, natural birth like I had hoped for nor was it a series of invasive interventions from a menacing male doctor, like so many of my natural-leaning mama friends had warned. What happened next is that Pauline got the anesthesiologist in the room in a snap (in less than five minutes). He was a kind, pleasant man whom I felt reassured being in the care of. What happened next is that through the cries and moans I could hear the anesthesiologist telling me I would soon experience complete relief from the pain.
Your papa gave me reassuring nod as I felt no more than a pin prick at the center of my low back. Ten minutes later, as promised, I felt pain-free, like new, and I was downright chipper. I could sense a collective sigh in the room. The nurses gained a pep in their step as if to say, “Thank god we don’t have to deal with that whole natural childbirth thing anymore!”
Your papa sunk into the guest recliner pulled close to my hospital bed and we both, per the midwife’s recommendation, fell into a deep, much needed sleep. When we woke it was more than two hours later.
Pauline and I shared a knowing smile as I roused to wake from my epidural-induced slumber. Unlike Fentanyl, the epidural only affected my lower body—most importantly it didn’t affect my headspace at all. I felt clear as the bell outside the window.
The only struggle was the weight of my legs. It took all the nurses and your papa to lift them into the stirrups so Pauline could check my dilation. “Time to start pushing,” Pauline said. I was fully dilated at ten centimeters!
Your papa and I looked at one another with amazement. I was thinking, “All that walking up and down the gravel lane, all that walking the corridors of the hospital, all that Evening Primrose Oil and spicy food, all that time on the yoga ball and all that active imagery—the lotus flower opening up—only to konk out for two hours, completely not conscious, and it’s then that my body works its magic…or was it the Pitocin?
Nonetheless, Pauline said it was time to push.
I held your fathers hand, a nurse rolled a full length mirror to the foot of the bed, and the midwife called for the NICU team should we need backup in the event of, well, any number of things. As it turned out, the NICU didn’t come in time.
I looked into the full length mirror. The sun was shining bright behind Pauline’s head as you began crowning. A sliver the size of a mango pit revealed my child, you, cocooned between my legs.
Every time I pushed through a contraction your papa yelled “Yeah babe! Go babe! You’re getting so close!” I’d rarely seen him so enthralled and excited. Well, once, river rafting. And who could blame him?
In my mind I was only warming up. In the births I’d witnessed (two), the “pushing phase” lasted for one and a half hours, maybe two. Later your papa said my face was so red and puffy it looked as if I would explode.
After just a handful of contractions, Pauline pushed the mirror aside and replaced it with a tray of stainless steel instruments, scissors and who knows what else. Then she said something to the effect of “this baby’s coming now.”
We all did a double take, though I couldn’t see anything now that the mirror was gone.
“Push,” she instructed when I sensed the next contraction. And when I did she said, “Here come the ears!”
I felt the warmth of your skin coming through my labia. I felt the weight of your body, a helpless, delicate thing but full of life and spirit. I scanned your face for reassurance that you were breathing and well.
“Well, what’s the gender?” Pauline nudged at your papa, who was just as amazed as I was that you were here.
“It’s…it’s a girl!” He stuttered.
I held your liquid warm, just-birthed body to my chest and kissed your head. There was no reason to whisk you away to the NICU. You were not green-tinged or chord-wrapped. You were, and still are, a perfect baby girl; earthside.
You were born at 3:44 p.m. on October 13th, your great great grandmother’s birthday.
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
Mother wasn’t there
when I bled in the JR high bathroom
I looked at the gray stall wall for reassurance
I found none
Mother wasn’t there
Mother wasn’t there
when I needed feeding
in the beginning, in the middle, nor in the end
Mother wasn’t there
Mother wasn’t there
when I was felt up under my red primary school dress
Mother wasn’t there so it happened again
and again and again
As it will happen, inevitably,
when a Mother isn’t there
Mother wasn’t there
when I cut my own hair
Mother wasn’t there so
“cut it like Dads” I told the barber,
uncertain of my role in the world,
girl of boy or boy of boy
cause Mother wasn’t there
Mother wasn’t there
but when she was there she covered me
in slobbery, 9-years-over-due kisses
They smelt like smoker’s saliva and
how I hated them and how she always
showed up just under one decade
At 30, that makes it three times mother showed up,
only the third time it didn’t happen
Mother wasn’t there
Mother isn’t there
I regret that someone I so despise personally
can leave a love wound this big within me
like a boy who never, ever deserved it
only not, because this is like the Grand Canyon,
(if I am being honest)
and the boys just leave a rivet in the sand
some laughable could-have-been
I regret the biological yearn for mother, father, whole
I regret, I regret, when Mother wasn’t there
I capitalize her name, the sick parts the sad parts,
she imparted to me insatiable love and passion
and now I can’t get no satisfaction
I am free child, free woman, wild baby, always have been
I built a shelter in my heart, for refuge from the wind
I learned to withstand life’s letdowns on a whim
I laugh in the face of pain, but I still fear it so
Mother wasn’t there when learning
all there is to know
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.