On Thursday night, Mario came home from work and said a snowstorm was on its way to the Columbia River Gorge. He thought we should get out of Dodge as soon as possible.
I had spent all of Thursday cooking and doing laundry, so we were ready, except for all the other things we had to do: pack, put together an on-the-road kitchen, clean the house, get all our paperwork together, go to the bank, go to the post office.
We somehow got everything done. We went to sleep early. I only slept four hours. I woke up from a hideous dream, one of the worst of my dream-filled life.
Fortunately, I can no longer remember it.
We ended up leaving at 4:30 a.m. We drove down the gorge and into Portland. South of Portland we hit fog: dense fog in the dense dark.
We were in it for almost five hours.
When the sun rose, it was easier to see even though we were still in fog. We went by one clearcut hillside where only a few snags remained; they looked bent and weary as the mist rose all around them, like the surviving soldiers on the battlefield.
And many of the hillsides were covered in hoar frost. When we stopped, we found ice on the front of the car and our antenna. We kept seeing cars go by with their antennae swinging wildly from the ice forming on them. We had been driving through freezing fog.
We stopped at the Ashland Co-op, and then we went up the summit and over the pass. No problems.
All along the way, I left gifts for the Weather Spirits, for the Land Spirits. I think it is only polite to bring a gift when you are entering someone's home.
We ended up in Redding, California, just as the rain began and darkness settled in. It was a green hotel. They used recycled material ,and they didn't use pesticides.
They had a people-made pond in the middle of the several buildings that made up the hotel. (They called it a "spa" for some reason.) In the pond, two beautiful white swans drifted. The room itself was spare and somewhat modern looking, but it was nice.
After we got settled, we drove into Redding to the natural foods store. I bought Amy's gluten-free, dairy-free Mac 'n Cheeze. We brought it back to the motel. Mario microwaved it and added our quinoa and veggies to it. It was good.
Since I hadn't slept much the night before, I wasn't very good company. I finally drifted to sleep and had another awful nightmare. It was bloody and murderous.
I wondered if this was a sign of something. My dreams had never been prophetic. Sometimes a series of nightmares presaged a bout of depression. But I didn't feel like that was happening. If I had a third night of nightmares, I was going to worry about it. Yep. That was my decision. But for now, I was going to try to forget them.
We started our day out early with rain. I was tired and wished I wasn't afraid to fly. This seemed a torturous way to begin a retreat.
I was having trouble remembering that every journey was a pilgrimage.
I watched the landscape. We drove through mile after mile of orchards and corn fields. The corn stalks were dirty blonde with autumn. For an instant, the corn seemed to shapeshift into a million golden-haired muses dancing into the north wind.
As we drove further south, the rolling mountain/hills sharpened, became more defined. More eroded? Or were those faults we drove alongside? We saw clefts everywhere, reminding me of the great nature goddesses.
Near Santa Clarita, we got a room in a "green room" at a Marriot. We watched the news as we prepared for bed. Apocalyptic rains were due in the Los Angeles area starting tomorrow. (Just torrential rains until then.) They were expecting flooding and landslides.
We got up early again but waited until light before we left so we wouldn't be driving in the rain and the dark.
The rain was heavy. Fortunately, hardly anyone was on the road. We had only gone a few minutes when I told Mario I wasn't sure I could do this. It seemed too hazardous. The cars and trucks were splashing up water making it almost impossible to see. The roads were slick with water. It was raining so much that the water didn't have time to drain off the roadway.
When we stopped to get gas, we had to drive through a flooded roadway. Twice. The belts on the car whined.
Back on the expressway, we saw the aftermath of nine accidents and two tire blowouts. At one point, all six or seven lines of traffic on the other side of the freeway were stopped by one police car as crews cleaned up a wreck. It looked as though the cars were lined up waiting to start a race.
We endured these driving conditions for about two and a half hours.
And then we found the edge of the storm and hurried away. I thanked every being I could think of, thanked my lucky stars, that we made it out in one piece.
Soon we were in the desert.
I saw flowers at the rest stop. The trees and flowers whisper to me wherever I go.
And soon enough we were in Scottsdale. I got out of the car and went into my dad's condo. He wasn't there. I went next door where my sister lived and knocked. My dad came to the door. He looked great. Saw my sister's mate who had had a stroke in July. He looked much better than I had anticipated and seemed to be in good spirits. Saw my sister who had been struggling to endure the awfulness of what had happened to her mate.
I had decided before coming to Arizona that I was not going to try to fix anyone. Or anything. People have their own lives. It was not my responsibility to put their lives right. For one thing, I couldn't. I couldn't even put my own right half the time.
And yet, all my life, people have believed I could make things better for them. I remembered coming home from backpacking through Europe when I was eighteen, and my mother was at the airport with my father to pick me up. She said, "I knew once you were home things would be better. I knew my depression would get better."
Even now, when I think of this, my stomach tightens. I feel close to tears. I couldn't fix my mother. And I wonder why she thought I could.
She didn't feel better with me home. As far as I could tell.
A few months later--after I had started college and then quit and was still at home--she got so angry with me, she chased me upstairs, threatening me with a huge block of wood. I ran into my bedroom and locked the door. She stood on the other side yelling and pounding on the door with this block of wood. At the time I thought she was going to kill me.
This was all very unlike my mother.
I called a friend to come pick me up. I remember taking out my window and jumping down and onto the lawn. But that seems unlikely. My room was on the second floor. I had snuck out that way before, but not as an eighteen year old "adult."
In any case, I left home that day and didn't come back.
I eventually got an apartment in Ypsilanti and went back to school. And my mother and I began speaking again. I don't know what she was angry about that day. I must have said something disrespectful.
We never talked about it.
I wasn't able to help her, even though she expected it. Maybe that was why she had gotten so angry with me: I had failed her.
But I couldn't do anything about my sister's problems. Or my father's, if he had anything.
I had no magical powers.
I needed to go with the flow during this visit. Let go, let go, let go.
We walked around the neighborhood, my father, my sister, Mario, and me. It was good to be out of the car, good to be outside.
Later my dad, Mario, and I went to a movie: The King's Speech about Britain's King George VI and his stuttering. The huge theater was packed, and we were lucky to find three seats together. The seats leaned back too far so I couldn't see well and my feet didn't touch the floor. I glanced at my father and he seemed perfectly content. I decided I needed to cultivate his kind of contentedness. How ridiculous not to be content? I was here with my two best guys. I was safe. I had eaten.
Why was I complaining about uncomfortable seats--even if it was silently to myself?
It was a good movie. The King didn't stutter when he was angry or when he swore, so he'd often say, "Fuck, fuck, bugger, shit, shit, bugger." When this happened, I glanced over at my father who was smiling. As I looked at him, I was suddenly struck with the idea that he was just a man, trying to be happy and comfortable in his life. I was glad to be in that theater with him, having a good time. How many heroes do we meet every day who are just trying to get by? We were surrounded by every day suffering. And yet people like my father didn't complain. They just kept on going.
My father told me once that he felt like he was being held together by strings and pins. He'd had two major heart surgeries. He had a chronic immune illness. And the love of his life had died suddenly one day three years ago.
How does one carry on under those kinds of conditions?
After the movie, Dad drove us back to the condo. As we were getting out of the car, I mentioned something about my visit with him in February, about a month after his heart surgery.
He said, "You weren't out here in February."
"Yes, I was, Dad. I came and stayed with you for a week." (I wrote about it here.)
"I don't remember that at all."
I said, "Fuck, fuck, bugger, bugger, shit. Are you fucking kidding me, Dad? I went through all this crap to get out here and be with you and you don't remember? I can't fucking believe it." We were all laughing. I don't swear around my father usually. (In fact, in the past few years, my love of swearing has diminished. I think it happened when I overheard a couple of young men--boys, really--talking, and every other word was "fuck." Didn't want to sound like a teenage boy so I let go of some of those swear words. Unless necessary, of course.)
Then I said, "Dad, don't you remember I rented a car and there was a piece of wood sticking out of the front of it?"
"I do remember that," he said. And then he remembered the whole visit.
Funny about memory, isn't it? How one little thing can suddenly bring it all back. Some kind of connection must occur in our brains or in our psyche. I was suddenly restored to my father's life some eleven months earlier.
And now we had a joke for the rest of the visit: fuck, fuck, bugger, bugger, shit.
I barely slept. The next morning, my youngest sister, Camille came over. My other sister was at work, but we hung out at her apartment where her Guy was. They all started giving me ideas for the next Coyote Cowgirl cover, which I loved. I like collaborative creativity. Especially when I have the veto! Then Mario and I showed them Green Snake Publishing and tried to explain ebooks. (Strangely, it's not always an easy concept for people.)
Later Dad, Mario, and I walked over to Old Scottsdale.
I had asked my dad to show me some places with Day of the Dead pieces in them (for Coyote Cowgirl), so off we went. It was fun walking around stores looking for trinkets to photograph for the cover.
We met my sister for lunch, and then it was time to go.
I always hate saying goodbye to my dad. But it was only until Christmas.
Off we headed to Tucson. I was so sleepy I could barely keep my eyes open. (Fortunately I wasn't driving.) The sun was out; the skies were blue; the construction was finished. It was a nice drive.
Two and a half hours later, we drove down the drive to what we call the Old Mermaids Sanctuary. (I've written about it extensively here (under "Arizona" and on Furious Spinner under "Arizona.")
I always feel like I'm coming home when I arrive here, and this year was no different. We got out of the car and hurried into the casita. It looked the same. Only better. It seemed whole again. Last year, it felt like it was coming apart. Neither one of us could explain it at the time: but it didn't feel whole any more. We thought it might be because of the fence the neighbors had put up in the wash. Later we learned the owners were thinking of putting the place up for sale.
But this year, the place glowed. Felt alive.
It felt happy.
Mar and I happily brought in our stuff from the car. I was still so sleepy. It was that kind of sleepy where you feel altered. Slap-happy.
We went looking for our housemates and found them. Hugs all around. It felt like we had never left. So odd.
They warned us they were putting in a new furnace, so we might have some disruption but not much. And they mentioned they had had an exterminator come out to try and figure out if they had termites. All my bells and whistles went off. This was an environmentally safe place. It had been conceived as such. A place where those of us who had been bitch-slapped by some of the poisonous practices in the "real" world could come and find sanctuary. Sanctuary and pesticides did not go together. I knew if pesticides were used here, especially for termites, I could never come back.
(As an aside here, termite pesticides are especially troublesome. They've found chlordane, which was commonly used for termites, in the air in homes for decades after it was first used, causing a multitude of health problems. It was finally banned in the late eighties, I believe, but newer pesticides are no better. They just haven't found out all the problems yet. It takes decades. And no, the EPA does not test these products. Each manufacturer tests their own pesticides and tells the EPA what they discovered. I'm not kidding. This was my life for several years: researching and uncovering the pesticide peril. I couldn't believe the stuff I unearthed. The public hasn't a clue.)
Anyway, it took me a little bit to settle down about this. I understood no pesticides would be used while I was there, certainly. And beyond that, there wasn't anything I could do. Not in this case.
I had to let go.
Mario and I walked the wash. This is one of the rituals we do that grounds us to this place again.
Later Mario and I went to the library and then grocery shopping. That night I stayed up and watched part of the lunar eclipse for a few minutes with our housemates.
Today, Mario and I walked the wash again and went up to the Saguaro park.
We decided this year we were going to try to remain in the sanctuary as much as possible. We would only go into town twice a week, if possible.
In the afternoon I made phone calls and wrote emails to prepare for my research about the jaguar, jaguar conservation, and the perils of life on the borderlands.
Later, we walked to the park again. It felt so liberating to be outside, even though each walk triggered an asthma episode. On the way back, we listened to coyotes yipping as the sun went down.
All in all, it was a great day in the Sonoran Desert. I am grateful to be here. I intend to listen for the siren songs of the Old Mermaids.
Funny, last night I dreamed I was walking in the desert. I saw a rattlesnake right off the path, preparing to strike. I was helping someone navigate the trails and avoid the snake. I think the person may have been my mother.
One of the last times I saw my mother was at this Old Mermaids Sanctuary. She was sitting on a swing with one of my sisters. I had a photo of that moment, but my computer crashed and took the photo with me. I try to see that moment again and again in my mind. She looked beautiful under the conifer, in that swing. Above her in the tree, the Old Owl slept. She was impatient to be going, tired of our incessant conversation, no doubt. My mother was an artist, thwarted by illness. I wanted her to stay in this place, I wanted her to see the beauty and art all around her.
This was how artists and writers lived.
I wish I could have helped her.
Wish I could help myself.
Let go, let go. Let it flow.
I feel the tides of this sea still.
I have always believed this place would heal me. I have always believed the Old Mermaids would heal me. They have in so many ways. This is where I belong, at least for now, for this moment in time, I am under the Tucson sun and moon once again.
Read more here...