I woke up early today. Before everyone else, and I felt this need, this urge really to get away from them, the house, the pets, the daily tasks that are never ending. And I felt this pull to ground familiar and kind. I felt out of sorts, lost, adrift, alone which is becoming a more and more comfortable feeling all the time.
So I quickly threw on some clothes, my hair wrecked by the bed all night. I cared not at all. I just needed to go. I grabbed a protein bar, the dog and a jacket and off I went. I turned off my phone, I didn't care to listen to music and I didn't want to talk to anyone. It wouldn't be long before I lost signal anyway, and that was what I wanted most, to lose signal. To be unreachable for a few hours.
I knew exactly where I was going...
There was no one on the trails. I passed two people in three hours. It was wonderful. What follows are the streams of consciousness that came while my feet hit the dirt and my mind cleared with each passing mile. In charge of my life once again, seemingly the only place I find myself lately is all the places that allow me some lost.
I went to the other side of the river today. It has been months of being impassable due to all the rain. I’m not sure why I was surprised at how much the landscape was to change; the water carving away slices of land, everything that was once was, different, completely altered The coming of torrential rains causing the moving of earth, rock, trees and plants clearing its path for its will to be done. What was once a simple dusty trail, now a stream bed.
I traversed many a river bed and was able, for the first time in a very long time, to allow my dog to get a drink from the stream, the place was wholly familiar yes, but completely altered. I came upon a path, the trail that used to be just trail, water had commanded a mighty force and the land slipped away into nothingness. There was a way to get across, but it wasn’t easy.
As I wandered further away from all that I love and care for, I met a cow hazard. Mothers and babies, thankfully no bulls. The mother seemed protective of their young, understandably so, despite the fact that I pose no threat to them on any level, hell I don't even eat them. The ones without horns, were not my concern so much, but there was one with horns, very sharp, pointy horns standing in the middle of my path; I stopped in my tracks to decide what was more important the cow not goring me with her horns because I exuded some perceived threat.
It was a quandary. I hated to double back, I needed to see the vistas before me. I needed to make the loop. I needed to move forward. I needed to pee so I sat down with an audience of cows and one border collie and took care of business perched on a burned tree. This provided me the time needed to reflect. It was forward I must go. I needed my feet to hit the earth where I cryked, processing so much grief on every dusty mile. Doubling back seemed wrong, and somehow a metaphor for my life no matter how much progress I think I can make. I just keep doubling back same relationships, different people, some of the same people, same issues over and over again knowing all the time that my peace at any price mantra doesn’t serve anyone well.
The feeling there’s so much in life that goes on that requires so very much of me that I frequently don’t feel like I have the stamina or staying power to move or to take a different route. So there I stood today, a herd of cows blocking my path with young ones all around. I related to these mothers. Protective and also just trying to the things a cow might need to do for herself, while never relenting on your mothering responsibilities. After a lengthy bovine stare off, quite docile while chewing her cud, I assessed again whether my passing within two feet of them would change these passive domesticated animals into killers. I wondered, whether or not doubling back might not be the smarter choice after the quick respite of peeing on the old log but hey I am not always one for making the smartest decisions, right?
I decided that moving forward was all I could do, doubling back not really a recourse because really all that stood between me and the trail forward was a docile cow with her babies: people on bicycles and horses and on foot with dogs are not new to her. She sees them all the time albeit less so recently given that no one could get over to the other side of the river. I decided if today was the day I’m gored to death by a cow horn on a trail in Ojai, so be it. I was tired of being afraid, afraid of all of the could have, perhaps and the like that my head projects as real that are really only fancied or imagined.
I found my way to the meadow and was unsure whether I wanted to cross the stream there or meander through the meadow. I chose the meadow and then retraced my steps and did it again because it was replete with wildflowers, a vast expanse of lilac and purple and chartreuse, and I remembered how much I love this meadow. Two passes seemed the only right thing to do.
And as I came to the meadows edge, I was graced with the bounding, all four feet mid air of a Whitetail deer, who was disturbed by my meanderings. She bounded off towards a thicket, where she felt safer, and I felt better for the experience. I made my way to the bench where I’m pretty sure is where death waits for us all, next to a beautiful clearing, peacefully abiding the hourglass of our life that only death can see. On sunny days, the is dappled with sunbeams under the protective oak. And regardless of whether or not, death would be so patient or insistent on such a peaceful gathering, it is what I think of every time I pass.
For the first time ever, as I sat on death's bench, viewing the misty meadow, I could hear water running - some thing that in Southern California one almost never hears. The climate has been dramatic with lots of water and has gifted us by providing surprising streams and babbling brooks in places where there was only dust and rock before.
As the water saunters by, I am reminded how tired my interactions with people make me.
Every transaction feels taxing, like too much. I’m blessed to have a lot of amazing people in my life but I long for days where the computer doesn’t chime, the phone doesn’t ring and I have no place to go and no one to talk to. What I long for most is to read and write about dusty trails that are almost muddy by the heavy dew fall. And in so doing, find unexpected treasures of rivers where there were once were none, to watch my dog, happily sniff each blade of grass having a wholly different experience than the one I’m having.
I finally made my way to the magical forest, this bend of oak, knowledgeable, private, encompassing trees, weirdly bent towards each other, in semi circles, domes and archways granting us passage to what I wonder...and then quickly decide that it doesn't matter, I just know that I feel better when I’m here.
I played no music, I received no calls. I was rewarded with the sound of birds, singing, and discussing matters of which I’m sure I’ll never understand, like perhaps what it feels like to fly. What it feels like to make that leap off of a tree branch, so high up that ground is not visible, and to believe and expect that these magical wings will carry me where I want to go. Trusting that I shall soar and not plummet to their death. Maybe they sing of the vistas that they see or what Lupin looks like from the air but at close range, I’ll never know these things but I can still appreciate their song. And besides I think wondering, and not knowing makes it better.
And it’s not just my ears that are dazzled by the effects of this other side of the river, I smell the earth, musty and damp, and as I walk on, I smell the dill, the wild mint that grows, the wildflowers with their heady fragrance, mixed with decay, and the occasional cow pie, still fresh with aroma. All of it decaying into each other, each one benefitting from that which came before but has since passed on. My eyes are lit with the dazzling extravaganza of spring wildflowers well watered, patches of blue and purple and red and yellow and white. Shocking to the senses in the way that only wildflowers can shock, life-affirming at their existence. How did they come here? Have they been here all along just waiting for the conditions to be right for them to grow? How much of my life I spent like that showing up for life day after day, waiting for the conditions to bloom where I’m planted. And so very often feeling frustrated by the whole process. I wonder do they feel like this too?
And as I pause for my dog to get another drink from a stream, that seems to originate from nowhere, while I stand quietly waiting for her to be finished, I looked down, and to my amazement, hundreds of tiny tadpoles, thriving where once it was only dusty ground. Tiny black wiggly specs that will soon be frogs. Water insisting that it is the lifeblood, while also never letting us forget that she always bring with her a certain level of threat and danger. I need only look to the higher ground for the debris water no longer found useful, or needed. Once it was only meadow, a trail, a tree, now Mother Nature's wasteland.
A line from a John Denver song comes to mind "I walk in quiet solitude in the forest, in the streams, seeking grace, with every step I take." I remember that John Denver, though touched and blessed , was never fully able to grasp that which he was given, so much talent wasted on drinks, drugs and women. His life strewn about not unlike the flotsam and jetsam just passed. I can relate. It was really just booze and men for me, it makes me wonder why the secret to happiness in life is so often so hard to find when it’s really all around you all the time; we just miss it in our pursuit of other things
I walk across another stream bed, that’s always been dry until today. When the water ran high, this stream bed couldn't hold the volume, in its wake, exposed tree roots, completely discovered by the river, washing away the dirt and rock to which it clung and I find myself relating.
I feel this way now, in the middle of my life, like I’ve been planted here for so long, and Life just keeps coming by sweeping away all the things I have rooted myself to, leaving my roots and undercarriage displayed, making them far less permanent than I would like. I feel like that tree looks, naked, bare, exposed structures of my life, on display in all their realness and rawness. I walk to the other side of that old oak, it stands seemingly no worse for the wear, the southern exposure a slight embarrassment, nothing more. I wonder if I was suddenly planted out in a magical wood, could I stand so tall, unashamed of all I displayed?
I conclude that it was only be when I was observed that those type of feelings would come, when alone and bare, I would be just fine. I would stand tall and just let it all hang out. This is how humans differ from trees, we tend to be ashamed about our most basic nature, while trees stand tall regardless. I find myself envious of that tree, completely undaunted by the bareness of its root system whether it fall or not, no immediate concern for the tree, it just does the best it can with what it’s been given and what it’s worked so hard to provide for itself, the taproot running as deep as it can, in a drought in affected region. Now, perhaps, being overwhelmed by the complete plethora of water. A blessing and a curse just like pretty much everything in this life. We, the tree and me, we are adaptable, lest we perish. Always having to change ourselves to meet the new conditions, one minute you are desperately trying to find water, and in the next moment you are trying to survive it. I feel exactly like that, all the time, still.
I walk further down the path, I come upon a large old oak, safely ensconced in the middle of a field, far from the waters edge. The tree is has imploded itself, its top weight being too much to bear by its bottom, it giving way at the midpoint, snapped in two. Life ended in both directions now, the top disconnected from its water source, and the bottom divested from its leafy oxygen. And one more time, I see myself in the two halves of what used to be whole. I often feel like the burdens of my head and heart fight a useless battle with the lower aspirations of my body to move, to change, to grow and sometimes it feels like I will a succumb to a similar fate. My top and bottom vanquished to each other, while the birds sing and even perch haughtily on all my shatteredness.
My attention is drawn away from the splintered tree, my mind taken over by the sound of flapping wings, I turn just in time to see a magnificent woodpecker, alighting from the ground, where, before I disturbed in, it searched for things. Food, most likely, but who knows what beautiful birds such as she searched for in magical woods. It moved onward while I did the same, and I suppose that’s really what life is all about...