Sunday, February 3, 2013


February 2

It is our last day at the Old Mermaids Sanctuary. For the last nine winters, I have written a last essay, often on the last day. I attempted to put into words what this place and this time has meant to me. This is most likely our last visit here, although I’ve said that before. But this time it looks more and more like the place will be sold. This year I’m not certain what to say about this last visit. 

Eight plus years ago, we found this place after I asked friends and acquaintances if they knew of an environmentally safe place in the Southwest where Mario and I could come for a few weeks a year. The Pacific Northwest winters were taking a toll on me, and I wanted some warmth and sunshine. Terri Windling answered my email, telling me she knew of a place that might just work. Nine winters ago, Mario and I arrived here, sight unseen, and discovered a place of extraordinary beauty and mystery—and we fell immediately in love.

That first year, I planned on resting while Mario worked. I ended up writing 60,000 words of nonfiction. I sat under an old mesquite tree many evenings, telling stories to the tree and other visibles and invisibles as the sun went down. I am sitting under that same mesquite tree right now. It is ancient and beautiful and has roots that go all the way to China, or close to it. 

The second winter we were here, the Old Mermaids came up out of the wash and told me their stories. Since then, we have called this place the Old Mermaids Sanctuary, or the Sanctuary. And that’s what it has been for me these eight years. I look forward to coming here all year long. I believe I’ve written nine novels while I’ve been on the Sanctuary. 

Away from the Sanctuary, these haven’t been easy years. I struggled with illness and had two surgeries, both my careers faltered, my father had major heart surgery, a close relative battled drug addiction, one of my brothers-in-law had a severe stroke, Mario dealt with some health issues, my best friend died, two other close friends died suddenly and unexpectedly, and my mother died. One could argue that these are just the days of our lives, but because of my nearly constant anxiety, the normal travails of life often felt more unbearable than they needed to be. 

As the years have gone by, life had continued to get more difficult instead of easier for me, despite my nearly constant attempts to change, to fix what ails me. I have tried just about every healing modality known to humankind (and then some) and still, I wasn’t improving. I studied shamanism and many different kinds of folk healing. Despite some improvements now and again, I was still sick and anxious. I started feeling resentful and morose. I used to think I was put here on this earth to love, but I didn’t love much of anything or anyone any more, at least not with the joy and passion I had once had. 

I didn’t believe this was the life I was intended to live. (Intended by whom? Well, me for one.) When I was younger, I wanted to help people, I wanted to change the world. Now, I just wanted to get well, be well. Whenever I would start seeing some kind of new practitioner, they were always optimistic and certain we could get to the heart of the problem to get me well. (Except Western medicine practitioners: They thought what was going on with me was chronic and I had to learn to live with it.) And then after a year or two into the process (whatever it was: therapy, naturopathy, etc.), the healer would say something like, “Perhaps this is just who you are.” Or maybe I had a block or a miasm or some such.

I never accepted this. And I always thought if I was incurable, then I would accept it. Every person I know with a medical diagnosis for an illness they have has come to terms with their illness. Except me. I didn’t believe it. Despite my own body’s evidence to the contrary, I didn’t believe I was chronically ill. Chronic means forever, right?

What mattered to me was good health. What mattered to me was a cure. When I’d read a book on healing or wellness, the authors would often say there was a difference between healing and being cured. And I’d think, “Bullshit. Obviously you have never been ill.” I didn’t want some pie in the sky healing where I thought everything was peachy-keen even though I was still sick.  

Every time I returned to the Old Mermaids Sanctuary, I believed I would be healed. Every time I wrote a book, I believed I would be cured. And when I wasn’t, I wasn’t so much disappointed as I was perplexed. Because I believed with my whole body and soul that healing is much simpler than we realize. The best shamans, the best healers, the best doctors can heal with a nod, a gesture, a reminder: or by doing nothing at all.

Yes. So where was my nod?

When Mario and I first got to the Sanctuary this year, I had quite a few travails. The details don’t matter, but I felt like I was being pummeled at every level of my being: physical, emotional, spiritual. After a week or more of wondering if we should just go home, I started reading book after book about healing modalities I hadn’t heard of before. I tried every one of them. Sometimes the symptoms I was experiencing actually got worse. Sometimes they got marginally better. 

I watched for signs. If a word or a phrase or a name caught my attention, I followed it through. I researched like crazy. I worked like crazy trying to find a formula to fix me.

I did a tarot reading with three cards. They turned out to be three major arcana cards. The World was me. The Tower was what was happening to me. The Star was how I could deal with the process. The Star is all about healing, completeness, hope, and intuition. In other words, I had done the work. Now let it beeee. I had been trying for so long, working so hard for so long: I needed to learn to let go. To do nothing.

Easier said than done.

I watched a video of Louise Hay called You Can Heal Your Life. Even though I hadn’t found affirmations effective for me in the past, I’ve always felt affection for Louise Hay. She seems so loving (and she’s an indie writer and publisher). She said after years of working with various affirmations and causes of illnesses with people, she discovered that when people learned to love and accept themselves, their lives turned around.

I had heard something like this before, of course, over the years. But I didn’t believe it. I thought, I don’t love and accept myself THIS way. Maybe if I was different THEN I could love and accept myself. But on this day as I watched the video, I realized I didn’t not love other people because they were sick, so why wouldn’t I love myself? I started talking to myself in the third person. “I’m so sorry you’ve had to go through this. That must have felt really bad. You’ve been very brave.” 

My spirits began lifting almost immediately. 

I also started to think about who I am and what my life is. All of my life I have talked to the trees, rocks, the sky, plants, animals. I have also talked to that which is not there. But it’s not something I advertised to other people. I wasn’t embarrassed or ashamed of it, but I knew—especially when I was a child—that it wasn’t something we talked about. (I was a child with a very vivid imagination, as I heard over and over.) 

As an adult, I didn’t talk about it because I never wanted to be considered flaky. I believed I was practical, tough, logical, and absolutely not one of those "airy fairy flakes." Yet I was one of those people who had “gut” feelings that often turned out to be accurate. I knew things that other people didn’t seem to know. I did long distance healing on people—when I didn’t believe in it—and people got better. And I often sensed things that I could never prove one way or another. For instance, I carried on long conversations with plants and with the spirits of the land or a place. I didn’t know if these conversations were “real.” Could I ever know? 

As I struggled this time on the Sanctuary with so many physical problems, I decided to really try and let go and see what happened. (No, not try, just do.) Obviously I couldn’t control everything and the harder I tried the worse it seemed to get. So I closed my eyes and asked “what the hell is going on?” As I was asking this, an old plant friend of mine came and told me he wanted to show me something. I followed him down the wash to the fence the neighbors had put up across the dry riverbed a few years ago. He told me the fence was causing an energy blockage on the land. This time, instead of interrogating him on the truth or reality of what he was saying, I looked up and down the wash and I could “see” lines of light flowing up and down the wash in a kind of “x” pattern, only one “leg” of the pattern was slamming right into the metal pole of the fence. 

I asked him what I could do. He told me to get some rocks and put them around the metal post in a kind of snaky line. I went around the wash asking rocks who wanted to be part of this venture and I picked up the ones who seemed to want to come. When I was finished, I ducked down under the fence and continued walking in the wash. It felt completely different. For the first time since they’d put up the fence, the wash felt like a free flowing river. I closed my eyes and felt the Old Sea roll over me. It was glorious.

Within hours, many of my physical symptoms began to abate. Later in the day, Mario and I went to walk in the wash. We saw a rabbit on the way and I said, “It would be really nice to see your cousin the jackrabbit.” We hadn’t seen any jackrabbits this time. (We had never seen any on the Sanctuary.) Ten minutes later, two jackrabbits ran across the wash in front of us. On the way out of the wash, we said, “Wouldn’t it be nice to see the owl before we leave?” We hadn’t seen the owls here in a couple of years. A few hours later, an owl showed up on the Sanctuary, and we got to watch her for some time. (She showed up again the next day.)

Apparently on this day, wishes came true in the wash, so Mario and I returned and made other wishes.

Soon after I put the rocks around the fence, I returned to work on the novel I had started and stopped some days earlier (The Monster’s Daughter). I had gotten the idea for the novel just a few weeks earlier when we were driving down Highway 5 near Mount Shasta. Most of the novel takes place in California, near Mount Shasta.

Every year when we travel to Arizona, I make offerings to the land we pass through. I sing and say prayers. We stop at one lookout where I can whisper sweet somethings to Mount Shasta, and I usually leave a shell or a stone. Maybe this year the place decided they wanted the monster’s daughter’s story told and I was the one to tell it. I don’t know, but I wrote 101,000 words and finished the novel in a three weeks. 

As the end of my time on the sanctuary neared, I finally (again) decided that it doesn’t matter if the world perceives me as flaky or airy fairy or whatever words they want to describe someone like me. Healing is in the invisible realms, right alongside magic, love, and joy—right beside the wild.

In Western culture, we want to name things. We want to codify and explain. We want rules for life. Do this and you’ll succeed. Do that and you’ll heal. But the mystery will not be codified or explained. I can’t really explain where my novel came from or why placing stones in the wash coincided with the abatement of many of my symptoms.  Does it matter?

I hear, feel, sense the call of the wild. That is what I do; that is who I am. Instead of running from that call, it is my life’s work—my life’s journey—to listen to that call and to sometimes interpret it. Sometimes I’ll know what it means. Sometimes I won’t. This means I must live on the edge of what is known and unknown, the edge of what can be explained and what is unexplainable. It also means I will live as part of the soul of the world. That is the only way I can fully survive, fully inhabit this body of mine. 

I heard someone on the radio recently say that when we ask for healing, we need to be open to that which comes. We need to open our hearts. A few weeks ago, I bought a heart with a mirror at the center of it. Sometimes I look at it now and tell myself, “I love you.” When I first started doing this, I’d see my face and wonder, “When did I get so old?” Now I just see myself grinning and think, “Years from now I’ll thank myself for all the hard work I’ve been doing during these six weeks.” Or maybe I’ll thank myself for opening my heart and seeing the true beauty in myself.

I started writing this essay under the old mesquite tree. I had to leave and change my clothes because I had gotten thorns all over me. The first year I was here, I was constantly getting pricked by cacti. This experience inspired my story The SeƱorita and the Cactus Thorn. This year I keep thinking of Briar Rose. She was pricked awake. I feel like that this year. I’ve been pricked awake. Again. And again. Like, “Come on, Kim. GET IT. NOW.” 

I’m getting it. I’m getting it. 

Life is more than stories. It is more than suffering. It is more. It is more. 

One of the books I read this time said we needed to be more aware of our bodies to facilitate our healing. I said to Mario, “I am aware of every bit of suffering I feel. If I’m more aware of my body, it’ll be worse.”

He said, “More aware of the good things you feel in your body.”

“Oh.” That would be a new experience.

One day I was doing yoga and I suddenly felt the rug beneath my feet. I could feel the texture of it on my soles. It felt nice. I walked off the rug onto the cool stone floor. Mmmm. That felt nice, too. I padded around the casita for a few minutes, loving the feel of the stones and the rugs against my feet. It felt good.

It doesn’t sound like much, but it was a beautiful moment for me. 

I intend to string beautiful moment after beautiful moment together until there are more of them than non-beautiful moments. A string of beauty around my life.

I don’t think I can sum up my nine winters here. Being here has changed my life. It has saved my life. And I am grateful for that.

And this year: What about this year? I feel transformed, transfigured, healed, and so much more. What I’m bound to heart and soul and body is still the wild land and everything that lives on it. (And this includes human beings, of course.) These bonds are not binding but liberating. The land makes us; we don’t make the land. I am realizing that in my bones, finally. Maybe again.

This year I kept feeling the pull of the Catalina Mountains. It felt like a kind of yearning, so I followed this yearning. We drove into the mountains and stopped at a high plateau overlooking the desert floor. As we stepped out onto the blond rock, a tiny snake slithered past us. A snake at 7,000 plus feet in the middle of the winter. We took this as an auspicious sign. 

Through the binoculars, we could see the Sanctuary far below us. Gorgeous manzanita trees twisted up from the rocks. I bowed down to them. Stunted evergreen trees likewise rose up from the rocks. They were older than the hills—or close to it. Amidst the beauty was garbage. Normally this reality would have thrown me into melancholy. Instead I whispered an apology and left a song as a gift. (And next time, I’ll bring gloves and a garbage bag.)

At one point, two young men ran all around us, oblivious to the church-like silence most people were maintaining. They huffed and puffed and scrambled onto and off of this rock and that rock, speaking in a language I didn’t recognize. Every time they leaped dangerously from rock to rock, I prayed for their safety. And I smiled at their exuberance. For them, this sacred place must have inspired their bodies to run, jump, and huff and puff. Yes. What a place requires or wants can be different depending upon the person.

Of course.

Instead of being angry or annoyed with them I loved these loud boys. Ahhh. Finally. My heart was opening again. 

What does this all mean?

Perhaps I am finally awakening to the truth of my life. To the truth of the world? 

At the end of The Monster’s Daughter, my main character Emily says, “But Papa, I am so awake.”

Perhaps that sums it up for me, too. That is how I leave this place this year: I am awakening. It’s as if I’ve been on a long space voyage. I slept and dreamed through the entire thing. Now I’ve landed. And I am awake.


Druid Lady said...

Welcome, Kim. It's so nice to have you here, completely here, in this world. Full grounded standing on this magical plane we call Earth. <3

Beth said...

When you are so accustomed to seeing and feeling and hearing the negative, it takes time to awaken to the positive, which is a much better place even when difficulties are present. My energy teacher has me tap my heart chakra, gaze into a mirror focusing on my left eye, and say, "I love you, Beth." Multiple times. It brought me to tears the first time I did this. Love to you as you continue your journey!

Kim Antieau said...


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