The bus is a very different place with the students gone, though not so empty as it was when my co-pilot, Bruce, and I drove it from Vermont to Seattle more than three months ago. It had been years, when we collected it from the parking lot at Marlboro College in southern Vermont, since the aisles were smeared with mud and fir needles and the overhead bins overspilling with wet socks and ripe t-shirts. Continue reading
The first time I came to the city of Arcata in Humboldt County, CA was in 2002 as a graduate student on the very bus I’ve been wrangling up and down the Pacific Coast all semester. Almost fifteen years on, not much has visibly changed. The Emerald City Laundromat is a bit nicer and the some of the more dilapidated neighborhoods have that spiffy, gentrified look, but the North Coast Co-op is still massive and full of delicacies, dreadlocks abound, and the general vibe is still trés “it’s all good”. I’ve been back since 2002 of course, for a year and a half of study and work at an alternative healing school up in the King Range. I call it my “hippy healing school”. Continue reading
We hiked, it rained, we got wet. We have been wet for weeks and even our mold is growing mold. This is not news. This is the Pacific Northwest in November, and it is exactly what we signed up for. The wet is now just background noise, like the “plock” of leaf drip on a tarp or the drone of leafblowers brandished by park attendants as they shift embankments of sodden cellulose from mossy walkways. Things are shutting down in Parkland, USA, and most often we are the only pack roaming among the bolted-down trash cans and smeary bear warning signage. Who else would be pitching tents on a raw weekday and firing up the campstove for another round of lentils and squash, when the rest of the world already got the memo that it’s hot bath and cozy slipper season?
We’re not completely impervious to the call to hunker down for winter. With only two weeks left of our trip, it’s as much the knowledge that baths and slippers await as each others’ moldy company that keeps us smiling. The lentils take on the extra season of sentimentality, and the damp sock smell of the bus grows stronger in fact, but less insulting in perception. Such is the wonder of presumptive nostalgia.
As per usual, the students spend many of our group meals discussing the finer points of pop culture, quoting TV shows that leave my co-faculty and I staring blankly across the circle, wondering if iCarly is some new gadget from Apple.
The talk runs to favorite foods, denied to us by the budget, ethics, and food intolerances of the bus community. The students sound like prison inmates rhapsodizing about life “on the outside” while surreptitiously fashioning plastic spoons into shivs. We, as their leaders, take no offense. We have our own lists of longed-for luxuries, and as I sit on the concrete floor of yet another dingy campground bathroom for a few stolen moments of dry solitude, the list grows longer still: The feeling of clothing that isn’t quick-dry or fleece, but something silky and impractical against my skin. The firm embrace of a good mattress. The heady rush of an inappropriate joke. Meat. On a plate. At a table.
I’d forgotten what I learned all those years ago as a grad student, living outside for a year and a half. When it’s falling directly on your head, rain can make one day feel like ten, and when the sun shines strongly enough to dry out your socks, it’s easy to see why some cultures consider it a god. So while technically only two weeks remain between us and the realization of our inmate fantasies, it really depends (as all things do here) on the rain.
It won’t blind us to the grandeur of the redwoods or deafen us to the inspiring words of the authors, activists, and academics we’ve yet to meet. But it will cause us to drop into troughs of timelessness during deluge-filled nights, and mornings spent wringing out our polypro. The end is near either way, and we’ll get there somehow. Until then, these empty campgrounds (with their haunted pavilions and unpeopled interpretive trails), belong to us.
I prayed “Help Her rise. Help Her win.” Not her with a little “h”. Capital “H” Her, as in the She Of Whom I Am A Part, because I am a woman, and because I live on Earth. She who has been oppressed, suppressed, abused, and maligned in this country from the moment it was stolen from its original keepers.
I informed Spirit, in case Spirit somehow missed the last eighteen months in one slow cosmic blink, that many humans and non-humans would suffer and even die if Mr. Impossible’s campaign promises became President Impossible’s legacy.
Fight for yourself, I prayed. Save yourself. Marshall your forces and help her, capital “H” Hillary, rise and be worthy of what she claims to represent. I prayed for the spirits of the dead to turn the energy towards victory on behalf of those who would join them in short order otherwise.
Now it is the aftermath and the last person standing is not a capital “H” anything. Maybe if it were four years or even four months hence I would have some satisfactory explanation for how we let this happen. But I’m writing this today, from the Land of Impossible, and all I have to offer you is this:
I believe that the heart and spirit of every prayer is answered, and I believe that answer sometimes, maybe most times, doesn’t look at all the way we think it should.
Maybe by the time you read this, no explanation will be necessary. Maybe you will have already discovered the mysterious blessings, the unequivocal answer to the great glaring “WHY?” Maybe you will already be rejoicing in the knowledge that capital “H” Her, capital “S” She, did in fact heroically save not only herself, but all of us as well.
Maybe you will be the ones to shout back through time and reassure us that this was Her plan all along, and that the emergence and emergency of Mr. Impossible was the very thing that made all the rest of it possible.
The motions were as familiar as sitting and standing, thanks to my years leading trips in India. Panicky, wild-eyed student approaches with tears in her eyes. Student has not slept due to body aches /pounding head/ sore throat/ nausea. This is the absolute worst she has ever felt and here she is camped out in some derelict orchard in Oregon with naught but a tent between her and the elements. I began making calculations. Continue reading
Day One of the home stretch, and I’m soaking in the last golden moments of autonomy before we pick up the students for the final five weeks of the semester. Five weeks is nothing– it’s not even enough time to grow out a bad haircut or fully break a bad habit. We’ve packed the days to come as we migrate southward to our final destination in San Francisco with service projects, thought-provoking encounters, and some time for figuring out what it all means. I’ve already got anticipatory whiplash from how quickly it will all go by, because I know how much can happen in far less than five weeks. Five days. Five minutes. Continue reading
It began in Neah Bay, Washington, in the campground by that beach– the one with logs stuck in the sand to look like totem poles and rearing elk, and driftwood like whales rolling one-eyed towards the sun in currents of sand. Rain. Rain all day. Rain dead set on showing off its repertoire, from drips to sloshing bucketfuls tipped over by the wind. Continue reading
When we rolled into our campsite outside of Forks, Washington last night, the temperate rainforest weather was doing what it does best– dumping rain like a sonofabitch. Continue reading
“I can’t stand the hustle and bustle,” Wes said, the westerly ocean wind ruffling the wisps of white hair spilling from under his battered baseball cap and over the broken collar of his plaid shirt. I’d watched him start a roaring fire in a constant downpour in that shirt, tending to the splayed and cedar-skewered Coho salmon like a helicopter dad. The plaid shirt (and the Makah t-shirt underneath, depicting a proud, stylized thunderbird with a the gift of a whale in its talons) were still miraculously dry. If it could be said that a dark cloud hangs over those with a sour disposition, then Wes (though salty as the Pacific), seemed to exist under the perpetual shelter of an old growth cedar. In our layers of fleece and rain gear, my students and I looked like the wastefully over-packaged pieces of fruit one finds in Hong Kong grocery stores, and the cold wet still seeped in. Continue reading
Dear young lovers,
or perhaps not so young.
The nylon shroud of your tent was only sound-permeable, so I do not know
if the flesh that joined with such high verve and volume
was crinkled crepe, or wet whale sleek in youthful perfection.
What I do know is that your cries ricocheted from fir to spruce
and your unquiet murmurings pinkened the tips of my twitching ears.
The owls ran commentary on your display,
offering soft round vowels in bursts of breath and clenching their curved talons tighter to
the branch, lest the quake and thud of your flailing bodies
shake them loose.
I know that night-hungry coyotes threaded their high whines through yours,
and that one descended to the earthen trough where I lay.
Her musk was so forceful I was sure it would break your spell,
but even the crunch of toothpick rabbit bones and plaintive death squeals
were mere harmonies for your ragged tune.
Inside the womb of my tent, I gripped a cured sinew of burdock root in one hand,
and a cool cylinder of selenite in the other, a balance of heaven and earth
to anchor the meditation I couldn’t bear to begin-not with your mewling cries plucking at
the very thoughts I sought to braid into calm.
But even rabbits need sleep, the better to evade capture and breed another day,
and so at last you fell still.
My sleep, when you allowed it, was as wild as the waking.
I was up and hunting for bloodied tufts of rabbit fur before the dawn,
and stole a glance at your shaken tent, slumped and silent as a tombstone.
It’s midday now, and despite the sleep you stole, my wakened wild refuses rest.
Yes, even rabbits need sleep, but today, my weary darlings,
I am a coyote.