Monday, August 30, 2010

Where We Walk

On Saturday, Mario and I sat in a park by the Columbia River in Home Valley listening to biologist and ecologist Robert Michael Pyle talk about his experiences investigating Bigfoot. Pyle was given a Guggenheim to conduct this investigation. Afterward, he wrote an amazing book called Where Bigfoot Walks: Crossing the Great Divide which is about the area where I live.

Pyle looked at the stories of encounters, the myths, and the biological possibility that Bigfoot might be a real animal: using environmental science methods. After his investigation, Pyle thought it might be possible for Bigfoot to live in the Dark Divide, a strip of wilderness between Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens. Pyle speculated that Bigfoot might live in the lava fields in the great divide and supplement its diet with pikas.

I've been in the lava beds and they are almost unexplorable by humans. They are so disorienting that it is easy to get lost or injured just feet from the road. No trails go through them. Sometimes depressed people in our county go the lava beds to get lost and die—a rather gruesome local way to commit suicide.

In these lava beds, pikas live, or at least they used to. They're small lagomorphs that look like rodents or squat rabbits without the big ears. They also live in talus fields. Mario and I used to see them when we hiked the Giff, but it had been years since we had seen any. The conventional wisdom was that something had happened, and they had left the area or died out either because of the weather change or some kind of disease. (In 2007, the Center for Biological Diversity asked the federal government to list the pika as endangered. In February 2010, Fish and Wildlife refused.)

Pyle concluded his talk by saying that it almost didn't matter whether Bigfoot existed or not. What was important was that we should preserve any wilderness area we could: There should always be places of such wildness where a creature like Bigfoot could make her home.

Mario and I went and introduced ourselves to Dr. Pyle. I asked him about the hummingbird hawk moth I had seen at the Maryhill Museum the week before. These moths looked so much like hummingbirds that we thought they were: until we noticed the antennae. Pyle said that biologists call it "convergent evolution," when different species develop similar characteristics.

Then Mario mentioned that he had sent Pyle his book Animal Life because it had a poem about Datus, a local who claimed to have encounters with a very...amorous female Bigfoot.

Pyle remembered the book and the poem, and he stood to shake Mario's hand and tell him how much he enjoyed his poetry. I already loved Pyle for his writing and his passion for the wild, but anyone who understands and appreciates Mario's talents is pretty much my friend for life.

We talked for a while longer. (I was thrilled to learn that he has a new book coming out this fall, Mariposa Roads: The First Butterfly Big Year. He went around the country for a year looking for and writing about butterflies.) We agreed to exchange books and keep in touch.

The next morning, Mario and I hiked one of our favorite trails in the Giff. The forest was dry and quiet. We kicked up dust as we walked along the trail above the creek. We stood on the bridge over a dry creek bed and looked for pikas amongst the rocks. We didn't see anything.

The trail curved. We were almost at a talus field we had named Pika Village years before because it was there we often saw the little lagomorphs. In the last seven years, Pika Village had taken on the look of a Detroit city block, without the tagging. In the spring, a small waterfall cascades down one end of the field, and columbine and pearly everlasting grow nearby. Now, in August, only the still gray talus field remained.

And something moved in this field. Something small and furry that could fit in Mario's hand.

A pika!

The pika turned to looked at us. Usually they "alarm" and run off into the rocks. This one stared at us. I whispered a benediction, whispered we meant no harm and we were so glad to see her. We watched one another for a long while, three still beings in the midst of this amazing forest. Just us and the whole world.

Then she twitched and went into the rocks. She came out again and looked at us and then disappeared.

We kept walking toward the falls that would mark the end of this particular trail. Seeing the pika again inspired a kind of great joy to bubble up inside of me. After months of personal (and worldwide) trauma and discouragement, I felt as though I had witnessed a tiny miracle: if the pika could come back, what other wonderful things could happen in this world? I knew seeing one pika didn't mean the pikas were safe from endangerment, but it still felt good. Who knew what else the forest hid?

When I first learned I had to take environmental science as part of my ecological planning and design certificate, I groaned. I already knew all the horrible things that were happening in the world, I thought. If I learned one more bad thing, it would be the proverbial straw and I didn't think I could stand up to it. And it's true that I learned once again about horrible things, and yet, there seemed to be a solution, an answer, to every problem: If only we the people and our governments had the will to follow through.

Listening to Pyle talk to a bunch of rednecks (with a few of us tree-huggers thrown in for good measure), I saw how he was able to weave together the social sciences and the natural sciences to tell a good (environmental science) tale and allow how it might be a good thing to let the wild be wild. Perhaps I, too, could learn to weave the hopeful and the scientific into my writing. My novels are all hopeful tales about how we live on this planet without killing it or ourselves. Now, because of this course, I feel more confident about sprinkling my nonfiction with a bit of hopeful science too.

We'll see. Mostly, though, I learned again what I knew before: I am most at home where the wild things live—and where pikas watch me, and maybe, just maybe, Bigfoot walks where I walk.

Read more here...

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Red Letter Day

Today I had a beautiful day spent mostly inside. I marketed some stories, and then I read Jewelweed Station all day. I felt like I was in my own wonderfully comfortable cave, reading my novel and making changes. No family drama or trauma today, just the drama of my own making in the pages of the novel.

It was such a lovely day. I love writing and this process of novel creation almost more than anything. The photograph is one of my marked up pages. Fortunately, they don't all look like that, and when I have to input the changes on this page, I'm not sure I'll be able to understand my notes, but it'll be all right. I'll figure something out. I feel more myself than I have in months. Maybe years. I am very grateful.

Read more here...

Monday, August 9, 2010

Certified: Inflexible Me: Part Two

(I want to emphasize again and again that I am writing about my visceral feelings at the time of these experiences. My feelings change even hours later, but I want to capture the initial intensity, which we often forget. And none of this account should in any way reflect badly on the school—which I am careful not to name—or any of the students. I think it's a great school, and I think the students are amazing. I so admire them. They are all actively engaged in their communities, trying to make a difference. That is absolutely a hera's journey.)

I read a little before I went to sleep. Joan Didion's book The Year of Magical Thinking was on the shelf. I flipped through it. I knew it was about when her husband died suddenly. My heart was in my throat as I read paragraphs here and there.

How does one handle such tragedies?

I didn't want to think about anything happening to my husband. He was my closest friend. The only one on the planet who loved me truly. I would be absolutely bereft.

My father was married to my mother for fifty-two years and then she got sick. And six hours later she was dead.


Life was so difficult sometimes.

I don't remember what I dreamed.

I had wanted to get up early and return to the Medicinal Herb Garden. I woke up on time, but the thought of trying to find it and a place to park seemed monumental. I called Mario and he told me I'd gotten an email. My youngest sister's mother-in-law had gotten suddenly ill and was in the hospital with pneumonia and septic shock.

That's what had happened to my mother. Six hours later and she was dead.

But this woman was just a few years older than I was. She would be all right.

I'd call my sisters later. I sat on the bed and did some Reiki for my sister's mother-in-law.

Then I got dressed and drove to school.

Once we were all gathered, we did a check in. I complained about the traffic. I was sure this was getting tiresome. I told them about getting lost twice the day before and getting left behind. How I had wanted to quit, but I decided to come here today. I said I was so glad we were not leaving the classroom. The teacher said they'd all wait on me today, bring me whatever I wanted.

Then we talked about how the month had gone. Some people complained about long posts on our online system. About how they felt overwhelmed when they went to a thread and they saw "like 500 words" and they didn't know what to do. Others nodded in agreement.

My jaw fell to the floor. I'm sure of it. I picked it up and closed my mouth.

Five hundred words was too much for them to comprehend?

I was a freaking novelist! And these people couldn't read five hundred words? What did that say about my particular skill, my particular passion?

Had the world of tweets and twits and whatever changed our brains or our habits so that we couldn't read any more than a few sentences without getting bored or losing comprehension?

I could barely breathe thinking about the consequences of this.

But I switched back to student mode. I couldn't think about publishing houses crashing and burning because people couldn't read any more. I couldn't think about all the stories that wouldn't be written because writers couldn't make livings.

A big part of our learning for these courses is our online dialogues. I had not been impressed with the dialogues thus far. We had been admonished not to write too much or two little. Now people were complaining about people writing too much.

I was the only one who wrote more than a paragraph or two.

They were talking about me.

One woman who was in my group went on and on about people writing too much.

We had five people in our group. Three of them hadn't posted anything in a week.

She was talking about me.

So I said, "How can you have a meaningful conversation one line at a time? I don't know how to say anything of import in one or two sentences."

I don't roll that way, peeps.

I felt a wee bit attacked.

I'm not saying I was being attacked. I just felt that way.

And I felt out of step. But I didn't feel like I was wrong either.

I spent twenty years in illness. Twenty years that should have been my juiciest, when I was out in the world making my way, my name, my living.

All gone.

And now I was here trying to do this. Twenty years too late.

They didn't want a novelist. They wanted a twit. ter.

We broke up into our new online groups. I felt myself detaching. I just didn't belong to these people.

And yet I'd paid this money. I'd borrowed money. I owed money. I'd paid my time. The stress on my body. I had to try harder.

I needed to engage.

So I listened to them. Talked with them. They were all young enough to be my children.

They saw me as an old woman.

With nothing to say or contribute.

Bullshit. I didn't know what they thought. They didn't know what I thought.

We had a panel discussion next. The teacher had gathered five community leaders to talk about how they had accomplished change. Everything took time, they said. They had to persevere. They had to navigate through bureaucracies that did not want to change. They had to find allies in these bureaucracies.

I thought about my own environmental and social justice battles (and they all felt like battles). It had always taken so much time. It had been difficult to persevere.

Perhaps we were losing the ability to be resilient, to keep trying even when people kept turning us away.

It took a particular kind of person to do that, and yet, we needed to do it.

They talked about how most people want the same thing: They want to live in communities that are safe and where their families can be happy and healthy. It's important to find the leverage point. (Students at this university talk a lot about leverage. I think it's from their whole systems design course. Leverage, as I understand it, is finding that place or point in a system where you can push for change or for an effect so that it will have the greatest impact.)

I listened with fascination. And I watched the group. The same student kept asking questions so that most people didn't get a chance to ask anything. All of them had created organizations or environmental projects within the city of Seattle. I wondered if it was easier working on environmental change in a city. I wished someone on the panel had done some work in rural areas. But I enjoyed it very much.

When we broke for lunch, I walked to Whole Foods, just a couple blocks away, with someone in the class. She was about my age and lived on a reservation not from Seattle. We walked in the rain. She mentioned that this panel was the best she had seen since she'd come to the university.

I had never been to this Whole Foods. It was huge. While my friend walked around, I went outside to check my phone messages. I had one, from my sister who has been dealing with her husband's brain bleed (stroke) and her own illnesses. My youngest sister's mother in law had died.

She was barely sixty years old. Dead. Out of the blue.

Just like my mother. Only this woman was twenty-years younger than my mother.

I stood in the rain feeling paralyzed. How does shit like this keep happening?

This year has just been one mindless awful thing after another.

Last time I'd been in Seattle my sister's partner had a brain bleed and they thought he was going to die. Now my sister's mother in law dies. I knew there was no correlation. I knew it.

But our family has had a rough year. My father's heart problems, hospitalization, near death on the operating table, and recovery. My sister's illness and three month stay at a recovery facility. My sister's partners brain bleed last month. And now this.

Compared with all the horrible things so many families suffer all around the world I supposed this wasn't such a terrible litany.

I called the sister who'd left the message. Stood in the rain trying to comprehend this awful thing. Stood in the rain shivering. If this happened to her, it could happen to me.

I called my youngest sister. Left a message of condolence.

I started walking back with my friend from the rez and another woman from class. I told them what happened.

I said, "It's so awful for them. And then part of me thinks, this could happen to me."

The other woman said, "Don't draw that to yourself."

I said, "I don't believe in that New Age bullshit."

How to win friends and influence people.

She looked at me and said very firmly, "That's what my people believe."

Oh shit. I'd forgotten she was Oneida.

"The grandfather tells the story of the two wolves," she said. Quickly, almost angrily. (What an ass I am, I thought.) I nodded. I knew this story. "The boy wants to know which wolf will win. The grandfather says, 'whichever one you feed.'"

We cross the street and walk between buildings as the cloud sweat falls on us.

"Yes, yes," I said. "I see that."

"You're so dynamic and charismatic," she said. "You have such presence. But--"

Ah yes. As long as I could remember, people have felt like they could tell me what was wrong with me. Truly. Sometimes strangers. Sometimes friends. "You'd be pretty if only you did this that or the other." "People would get along with you better if you did this that or the other." "You are so this that or the other, but--."

She didn't finish her sentence. Or if she did it was lost in the sound of traffic.

I would be so great...if I wasn't like how I was.

I knew what she meant. I so easily got caught in what was going wrong. Like a fish who kept struggling on the hook and making it just go in deeper.

We got back to school. They went inside. I went around the building and called Mario and told him the news. Then I leaned against the building, facing the turning pink elephant, and I wept.

Then I went back inside.

For the second half of the day, we broke up into our groups again and gave presentations to each other. Someone in our group showed a video about how mushrooms can save the world. It was fascinating, amazing, inspiring. Fungi are the oldest species on the planet, and we're more closely related to fungi, according to Paul Stamets, mycologist extraordinaire. (You can watch the video here.)

Fungi has so many amazing properties. They can be used for bioremediation, as natural pesticides and antibiotics. According to Stamets, they could save the world.

Other people talked about green roofing, energy use, and city tree canopies. I talked about the jaguar and the deleterious effect the problems at the border may be having on its comeback in the Southwestern United States. The jaguar is considered an apex and a keystone predator. It is at the top of its food chain without any real predators. These types of predators activate what conservation biologists call a trophic cascade. Their predation of other predators causes other species to thrive.

Here's an example. When the gray wolf was released into Yellowstone, they killed elk. Less elk along the riverbanks allowed the riparian species to come back. These trees and bushes cooled the water which allowed fish species to return.

Isn't that something?

I enjoyed these presentations very much.

They broke into groups after this but I left early. It had been a great day and an awful day.

I found my way easily onto I-5 in the rain. I started home.

I don't remember what I thought about. I ate another box of Pamela's cookies.

Gotta stop doing that.

I understood completely why people did drugs. Why they drank. I ate. Must learn better ways to cope.

At Olympia, I stopped at the co-op and bought more cookies. I sat in the car and ate quinoa and vegetables. Then I spoiled it all by eating cookies.

I never used to eat sweets.

Got on the road again. Thought about the weekend. Thought about my life. I still didn't understand how and why this was so difficult for me.

Why couldn't I be easy going.

Maybe it was all too late. This was who I was. Celebrate it and move on.

So many people had suffered so many horrific things and they bounced back. They made successes of their lives.

I was ill for a couple of decades of my life. I am still ill. Still struggle. And I am still angry about it. Still don't understand it. Still don't know why I am not completely well.


I kept using that word.

Maybe I need to keep still for a while.

Or build a still.

One of my great grandfather's had been a bootlegger, after all.

By the time I got to the gorge, it was almost dark. The trees on either side of the road that went along the river looked different. Preternatural. As though I had turned into some other world.

Maybe I was altered from the sugar. From the stress. Exhaustion. Grief.

I didn't know. I felt like I was floating. And the trees were there, a part of it all, a part of me. Silver and green as twilight fell.

I kept driving as dark descended. Usually at this time of night, I don't like to drive. I can't see very well. Impending doom waits to fall. I look for deer around every corner.

But something changed.

I felt as though I was in a cocoon.

Nothing was going to happen to me. And even if it did, oh well.

I rested my elbow against the door and window and leaned my head against my hand as I drove.

I knew this wasn't a good idea. I might fall to sleep.

But I knew I wouldn't.

Perhaps the faeries were guiding me home.

Or the Troll.

Maybe my car was possessed.

I can't describe it. It just felt very odd and peaceful.

Nearly transformative.

I followed the curves of my beloved River and Gorge until I reached my human beloved.

He ran out of the house and down the stairs to greet me. He wrapped his arms around me.

Home, home, home.

I need nothing else.

At least not now.

The next day, Mario took the car in for an oil change. They found a bat on our grill. They'd never seen anything like it. I asked Mario, "Was it beautiful? Was it sad? Was it disgusting?"

"It was all of those things."

Kind of like me.

Something about this discovery sent chills through me. As though this was an explanation for something.

I remembered bats symbolized birth, death, and rebirth. Especially a shamanic death. (Of course, the bat was a living being that was now dead. Nothing symbolic about that.)

Had the spirit of that bat carried me safely home?

I went outside and looked at the car. A spot of maroon colored blood stained the grill.

I said a little prayer to the bat. Thanked it for its sacrifice.

Now what?

I'd figure out a way to honor it, and all those souls that have gone before me.

One way or another.

Read more here...

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Certified: Inflexible Me: Part One

(Once again, I had an interesting residency as I attempt to get a graduate certificate in ecological planning and design at a university in Seattle. And once again, I describe how I felt at the time, not necessarily how I feel now. Any difficulties I'm having are my problems and aren't caused by anyone else I encounter during these treks. At least so far.)

I left Thursday morning for my second residency in Seattle. Mario was in Vancouver for Union negotiations, so I didn't get to see him. The day was cool and overcast: perfect driving weather.

When I got closer to Seattle, the drivers got more aggressive. People seemed to be driving too fast. When I signaled and then changed lanes, well ahead of any other car, the drivers invariably honked and flashed their lights, as though I had done something despicable.

Earlier in the year when I was driving in the Los Angeles area and complaining about the drivers, my friend Jenine (who is from California) told me that generally speaking California drivers knew what they were doing. Once I accepted this, I stopped panicking every time someone swerved in front of me or drove too close to me. Driving became much easier after that.

Seattle drivers must have their own logic and way of doing things, too. But I was a stranger and didn't understand it. Every time I asked someone who lived in Seattle about the traffic, they were not reassuring. They invariably agreed that it was crazy. Then they'd start telling me their Seattle-driving horror stories.

I arrived at the little religious house and got the key to my room. This time I was assigned the smaller room with a double bed. I liked it. It felt more like a bedroom or a hotel room. A painting of irises and violets hung on the south wall, and a painting of a fritillaria hung on the west wall. Right next to the bed was a painting of mountains with their reflection in a glacier pond. It was called Wilderness.

I felt quite welcomed in this room. I opened the shade and looked out the window at the alleyway and wondered if my wildlife friends from my previous residency were there.

I didn't see him (the rat) or her (the wren).

I was worn out and stressed out from the drive. I wondered again if I could keep doing this for a whole year. I ate some quinoa and vegetables I'd brought.

Before it got too late, I decided to drive to Lakeview Cemetery. I had heard somewhere that walking in this cemetery was like walking in a forest, only graves were scattered here and there. I looked at my Seattle city map and thought I figured out where it was, and then I drove toward it.

I got lost once or twice. I still had no sense of direction when it came to Seattle.

Eventually I found the cemetery. I turned into the drive.

It looked like every other cemetery in the United State. The forest cemetery I had heard about must have been somewhere else. I didn't even get out of the car.

Next to the cemetery was Volunteer Park. I got out and walked around. On the side near the cemetery, kids played in a fountain with parents watching. I walked away from the cemetery into a kind of rolling lawn with these huge old trees growing here and there. Their bark and coloring reminded me of cedar trees, only these trunks were huge and the branches swooped down to the ground so that from far away it looked like a tall pointed tent (slightly off the ground) but up close and underneath, it was like a tree-made fort or cave. Or like the swooped branches were arms holding up green frockery as they danced, as they danced, as they danced.

Lots of images came to me as I oohed and aahed over them.

I felt almost peaceful, almost grounded, standing next to these very old trees.



Later I drove to Whole Foods and got a frozen dinner and some cookies. Went back to my room, ate, watched DVDs, got a few hours of sleep.

Woke up to gray skies and a bit of cloud sweat. So much nicer than the last residency. Had I become so acclimated to the Pacific Northwest that I preferred cloudy days?


Made it to school easy as pie this time. Parked on the side of the building on Battery, by the car wash. A huge sign of a happy pink elephant spraying itself with neon water slowly turned next to the car wash. I paid too much for parking and went into the building and up to the class.

I didn't feel like I was as much of a stranger this time around. I did feel a little dizzy, though, so I asked if we could turn off the fluorescent lights. That helped. I got a little steadier. We went around the room to "check-in."

When it got to me, I said what I had learned over the month was that I liked to have a "how-to" list when I was learning something new. I had felt a bit at sea trying to learn so much of this stuff on my own and by trial and error.

Later the instructor said it was important to understand that permaculture wasn't about doing something step by step. We had to rely on our intuition and often by trial and error.

At least that was what I think I heard him say.

On the face of it, that was great advice. I would love to learn everything by using my intuition. But we all learn differently. Some by reading, some by hearing, some by doing. For some things I actually want blow-by-blow instructions. I have often gotten frustrated watching various men in my family taking too long (in my mind) getting projects completed because they hadn't read the directions.

I read directions. I methodically figure out how to fix problems. I'm the one in our family who puts together the tangle of satellite, DVD player, VCR, and television wires and cables so that we can watch TV.

When I was a kid, I liked taking clocks apart.

Then I'd put them back together.

I didn't have instructions then. I just did it.

Had I lost the ability to just do things, instinctively, relying on my own know-how?

Or do we sometimes we just need instructions?

After check-in, we talked about our permaculture projects. For this residency, we had to map the property as it was now and then draw it, to scale, on a large piece of paper.

I had never done landscape drawing. I didn't know how to do landscape drawing. When I had been doing it at home a few days earlier, I thought, OK, I'm taking this class to learn stuff but I'm learning this stuff all on my own. Wasn't I paying a lot of money to sit here learning on my own?

I did the drawing, but I was nervous about it. I wasn't an artist. I knew at least one person in the class was an architect. I couldn't compete with that.

Of course, we weren't competing. This school was all about collaborating. We showed each other our individual plans to be inspired by each other, to get ideas from each other, and to offer constructive criticism.

I taped mine to the wall and then walked around and looked at everyone else's.

The plans were interesting, but I didn't learn a lot by looking at them.

I kept wondering if I was missing something. Some piece of it all. Everyone else seemed so engaged, and I still felt separate.

After we looked at our maps, we watched a movie. It was a movie about permaculture that I could get off youtube. Why was I wasting time watching a movie in class? A twenty year old movie at that. I only saw this instructor and these people in real life three times a term. I wanted to have a discussion or brain storm. Something. I did not want to sit in class watching a movie.

This was crazy. I had to get my mind right. I couldn't spend the next year criticizing everything that happened in the classroom.

What was wrong with me?

The instructors were "guides on the side" not "sages on the stage."

Was I so accustomed to the "sages on the stage" way of education that I just couldn't get into the swing of the "guides on the side?"

We broke for lunch. I heard everyone arranging rides to our next destination, the Medicinal Herb Garden at the University of Washington. I didn't pay any attention. I quickly got my plan from the wall and left.

My little boarding house was near UW, so I figured I'd go home and then meet the others at the herb garden. The instructor had told us we could park on the street at the university. I had emailed him earlier in the week that I needed directions so I could make a google map. He told me he'd give us directions once we got to school: he hadn't lost anyone yet.

I still wanted the directions. I listened to his directions in the classroom and didn't understand them one bit. I don't think he understood that I really did not know the city. I was glad I had my map.

In my room I ate a quick lunch. Then I looked at my map again and again, so that I clearly knew where I was going. I headed out.

I got lost almost immediately. The road I was supposed to turn down wasn't there. Or didn't have a sign. Or something. And there was absolutely no street parking. What had the instructor been talking about? I had to stop and ask directions twice. I got a map of the campus. I still couldn't figure out where I was.

Finally I put the car in a parking structure and I walked onto campus. The air was humid and still smoky from fires burning around Washington. My breathing became a little ragged as I walked down the sidewalk, past the chemistry building on one side and greenhouses on the other. I wondered if I should go to the greenhouses to see if my group was there, but then I saw what I supposed was the medicinal herb gardens.

I walked up under the trees and into the herb gardens. I saw raised bed after raised bed of plants. I saw pink petals blown back from the burnt orange center of echinacea plants and the round prickly balls of milk thistle and I figured I was in the right place.

Only no one else was there.

I walked up and down the seven large sections of the gardens, from one end to another, several times. No one else was came.

I heard jets overheard. I looked up. The Blue Angels flew over. I'd heard they were in town. I walked the gardens looking for my classmates. Maybe I was early. Maybe they all gotten trapped in the Blue Angel traffic. Wasn't I special getting there on time?

I stopped a couple walking by and asked if this was the medicinal herb garden.

The man said, "No, it's over there." He pointed.

"By the greenhouses?"


"Are you sure?" the woman asked. "These look like medicinal plants."

I walked over toward the greenhouses. I didn't see anyone. I did see the sign for the Medicinal Herb Garden. That's where I'd been.

I sat on a bench in the gardens. I tried to look around. Tried to relax. So what if I missed the class? I was here in the gardens. I should just enjoy it.

But I couldn't relax. Couldn't enjoy it.

The Blue Angels kept thundering overhead. Exploding overhead. The sound was so loud I had to cover my ears--and I already had cotton in them. Soon every time the jets screamed overhead, I dropped my notebook, covered my ears, and screamed at the top of my lungs.

No one heard me.

For one thing, no one was around.

No classmates.

When I'd been there for about half 'n hour, I walked over to the greenhouses. Just then an unfamiliar man came walking outside, followed by my classmates.

They'd been there all along? I'd been in the wrong place?

I was so angry I could hardly stand it.

I guess I had misheard the instructions.

Or misread them.

Or something.

How stupid could I have been to go to the wrong place?

And the instructor acted as though it was no big thing. Who cared that everyone had been waiting or lost or whatever. Let's just carry on.

I was mortified.

Now I was some batty old lady who kept getting lost.

I tried to listen to the man talk about the garden.

But I just felt myself drifting further and further away.

Why was I doing this? Why was I here? What was I learning looking at this garden?

I floated from here to there.

An hour and a half later we were instructed to go to the next rendezvous spot. We had fifteen minutes to get to a house that was about twenty minutes away.

I trekked to my car, alone, got back on the road and immediately got lost again. I called Mario, but what could he do? I finally said I was going to have to figure it out one way or another. The maps weren't working. The traffic was bad.

I kept telling myself it didn't matter. If I didn't get there on time, it did. not. matter.

None of this was important enough to be so stressed out.

I got to the right street and I saw all my classmates walking down the road. I waved. I was in the right place.

The teacher had instructed us to park far from the house so we wouldn't block the drive or any of the neighbors. I parked the car and walked down to the street.

All of my classmates were gone. I looked up and down the street.

Nothing and no one. Just suburban quiet.

I had the address. I opened my notebook and looked it up. There. On that mailbox. I walked up to house by the mailbox and knocked on the door. I rang the bell. I called out.

No one answered.

It was a dumpy house. I thought it was strange we were going here. Someone was home though. The back of their car was open with groceries in the back. I saw a dog next door. I didn't want to deal with a dog.

Where was everyone?

I called and called.

I walked down the stairs to the large back yard.

No one.

I saw a stream in the back yard. A glimpse of it between the trees. Dark running water.

I wanted to be there.

I started back. I was exhausted. I couldn't believe this had happened again.

I started to cry. Only the tears didn't come.

All dried up.

I was going home.

Fuck. This. Shit.

I pulled myself up the stairs and walked back to the road.

One of my classmates was standing across the street looking up and down the road.

She saw me and said, "I thought you might not know where we were."

Instead of being grateful, I was once again furious.

"I can't believe I have gotten left twice today," I said. And then I swore. Or something. Said I was going home. She said, "But it's really nice in there."

So I went in.

The whole class were crowded around a cistern in the middle of a cluttered yard.

The owners talked enthusiastically about their garden, their water system, their solar panels, their bees. Their bees' knees.

All things I was interested in.

Or had been.

I wasn't any longer.

I just wanted to leave.

I thanked the young woman who had come to get me.

Later one or two people tried to talk to me. But I floated away. I didn't care. I didn't matter to them, so they didn't matter to me.

I wasn't part of their little group.

Of course I wasn't. At this university, they worked in cohorts. They all knew each other from the beginning of the program to the end. I was not part of their cohort. I wasn't part of their own little college clique.

I wondered if this was how people had felt in high school when they weren't part of a particular group.

I hadn't paid any attention to cliques when I was in high school. I was so great and wonderful I just figured everyone would want to know me and be with me. The whole world was my clique.

That's what I say now, but I was anorexic-bulimic the summer before I started high school. I was scared to death of it.

Fast forward a few decades.

Quite a few.

While we were at this house looking at everything the owners had done to try to lessen their carbon footprint, I tried to force myself to engage in the experience. I couldn't seem to do it. I knew this was one of the hallmarks of depression, but I didn't feel depressed. I felt disengaged.

Perhaps my brain had been so damaged by depression and stress that I had become inflexible. I could no longer roll with the punches. Or whatever that expression was.

I felt no affection for anyone. No empathy.

I wanted to leave.

When no one looking, that's what I did.

I got in my car and drove back to my room.

I called Mario. I wanted to curl up into a ball. I wanted to go home. I wanted to quit.

Why was I doing this?

Really. Why?

Because I hadn't sold a novel in a while.

Because I wanted to contribute something to my world.

Because I had to make a living.

Why couldn't my writing be enough?

I had gone on a visual meditation recently (a journey). And my good friends in the meditation said I was too scattered. I needed to figure out what I was good at and do that one thing. If everyone in the world did that, wow! What a world we'd have.

At the time, I argued with them. My one thing was writing. But a girl's gotta make a living.

Was this schooling going to help me make a living? How? Get a job at a nonprofit making shit wages while working my ass off and getting sick from the stress or from some crappy building I was working in. No. I'd done that, been there.

I didn't want to do it again.

So why was I doing this?

I called my friend who lives in Seattle. We'd taken Tom Cowan's Faery Doctoring and his two year Celtic Shamanism together. She's also a writer. She feels like an old friend, and we understand each other's world's. Sometime that is so necessary: To be around people where you don't have to explain or justify yourself.

She said she'd come get me. I didn't have to drive anywhere.

Oh my!

And she did come get me. She took me to the Fremont Troll. We drove up under the Aurora Bridge, on Troll Avenue, and there at the end of the road was a gigantic troll made out of concrete.

We parked the car and walked over to it. Its one eye was shiny (made from a hubcab, apparently). In its left hand, it crushed a volkswagon bug. Three musicians sat about twenty feet in front of him, playing music. Other people clamored up onto the troll.

I said hello to the Troll and thanked it for letting me visit this burg.

We headed out again. It was so relaxing being in the driver's seat. We ended up at a park looking out at Puget Sound.

The sun was beginning to set so the sky was pink. I walked with my friend to the water's edge and looked out across the bay. The water lapped against the shore which was made of stones and seashells.


Yes, I felt the Old Mermaids here.

I breathed in the sound of the Old Sea.

I felt like myself again.

My friend and I talked of many things as the sun went down.

And then it was time to leave.

What a needed respite our few hours together were.

I went back to my room with visions of the Troll in my head.

I decided not to quit.

I could do it one more day.

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All work copyright © Kim Antieau 2008-.