Friday, December 13
We began as we always begin: holding hands and whispering to the earth, the sky, to all that is Visible and Invisible, and then we are away, crossing the Bridge of the Gods after a slight delay. A raven stands on the bridge railing—a raven! Rarely seen in these parts. Like a harbinger of what is to come: seeing into this world and that one?
We follow the Big River into Stumptown and beyond, hurtling down the road with the others until—boom!—we all run over a dead hawk, its feathers flipped up like some strange discarded headdress from an awful party. The first time we headed down to the Sanctuary—ten winters ago—just as we were coming up to the T-curves, we saw a car on fire. It was a conflagration, I tell ya. We watched the flames *engulf* the car. The automobile never had a chance. For a few moments, I felt like everything was going in slow motion, like a scene out of a movie. I said to Mario, “If I believed in signs…” Three hours later we were in a car accident, spinning out of control, me mewing like a frightened cat as the car spun around, as my hand went up to the window to hold myself in place, to save myself. I just wanted it to stop, to stop. Stop. To know if we would survive. Finally it stopped. We survived.
We got down to Arizona that year, eventually, sans car.
Now I watch for signs. I wonder what the raven and the dead hawk mean. I stay alert. At a rest stop, three young men throw snowballs at each other. They laugh. I wonder if they’ve ever seen snow before. A homeless man plays a flute and flies the sign near the restrooms. A modern day Kokopelli? I never hear the flute music, though Mario points the man out to me. I see the sign, I see him pull out a pack of cigarettes and sigh. I hurry away from him.
My three day (four?) day headache throbs, and I want to cry. Instead, I tell myself it is only temporary. It too shall pass. But I am tense. Grumpy.
We stop at a gas station near Ashland, just before we start up over the mountains. The sun is out, but it is cold. I look out the window, in a daze after driving for six hours, and I see a man hunched over, sitting on a stool or a milk box just beyond the gas station. He looks so miserable. What is he doing? I get out of the car, inexplicably drawn toward the man. He is older, wearing a black watch cap and a flannel jacket that doesn’t look warm enough over his t-shirt and jeans. An old green pickup with a small camper is parked directly behind him. As I get closer, I see he is surrounded by rocks: mostly crystal quartz. I grin. I put my hands in my pocket so that I don’t touch every single stone. The man looks cold and miserable.
“Are these from Arkansas?” I ask.
He nods. “Mostly.”
Some are big, some smaller. The prices are quite low. The man looks vaguely tortured.
“Did you pick them?” I ask.
“Some of them,” he says. “Others we got from people.”
“I like ‘pick’ better than ‘mine,’” I say. I don’t know why I say this. Maybe because I’m afraid he’ll think I’m ignorant: that I don’t know where crystal quartz comes from. Just one of those inane things we say.
He seems to understand because he nods. After a while, he says, “You do healing work?”
I look at him. Squint. Not something someone usually asks. Not something I usually answer.
“Yes,” I say, surprising myself by the answer. “But mostly I just love rocks. Have since I was a kid.” I pulled out the crystal I have in my coat pocket and holds it up. “I have rocks in the car, too. I just take them with me. Do you do healing work?”
He says, “She does.” He nods toward the truck, and I see a woman sleeping in the passenger seat. I don’t see her right away. I have to look and blink. Ahhh, there she is.
“I do some meditation, things like that,” he says.
Mario comes over then. The man says he can give me a price break if I buy two. His cellphone rings, and he stands up and winces. I see the cane next to his chair now, and when he walks, he limps. He’s in pain. That’s why he looks tortured. I glance at the sleeping woman. Can’t she fix him? He excuses himself and walks away, knocking on the truck first. The woman jerks awake. A moment later, she gets out. I give her money, and I take the two crystals I’ve chosen—or the two crystals who have chosen me—back to the car. I am almost giggly with glee.
And my headache is gone.
I put the rocks in the back of the car, and we start off again, heading toward the mountains. The headache comes back, just a bit. As we head toward the Siskiyou Pass, going up and up, I say, “This is where Emily and Mr. Em came. Only they were on horses.” (From The Monster’s Daughter.) I see it like a memory. Mario smiles at me. We reach the summit quickly, surprising us both, and I say, “And this is where Emily got off her horse and left an offering to the mountains.” Mario pulls over.
I get out of the car, step into the snow, and I sing as trucks roar past us. I thank the Mountains and I leave a shell and a pinch of tobacco in the snow. As I look at the rocks in front of me, I feel as though I am looking at a painting: like when I’m in New Mexico and suddenly I feel like I’m seeing the landscape as Georgia O’Keeffe saw it. I get back in the car and say, “This looks like a Bev Doolittle painting.” Mario nods.
We go up and over the pass.
My headache is gone.
I see Mount Shasta. She rises above the pollution that hangs over everything like a dirty fog. We stop, and I sing to the mountain. I sing to the dragon. I am giddy. I feel like I’ve stepped into The Monster’s Daughter again, just like last year. Emily and Mr. Em are all around me. It’s not surprising since I believe the mountain gave me the story in the first place. And I am so grateful.
Soon enough Mario and I make it to our lodgings. It is called a spa, but we stay here because it’s green: It was built sustainably, using sustainable materials, and they don’t use chemicals or pesticides. It costs the same as other hotels. The young woman at the desk greets us, takes my driver’s license and credit card, and says, “And how was your day today?” as she checks us in. I say, “Fine, and how was yours?” She keeps looking at the computer and doing something, and then she says in the same cheerful robotic voice, “And how was your day today?” I almost start to laugh. Instead I say, “Do you know you just asked me that?” This time she almost looks at me but doesn’t quite. “I’m sorry,” she says. Mario and I get our keycards and hurry away. Once we’re outside, we look at each other and laugh. Welcome to Stepford.
While Mario unpacks, I stand outside and whisper to the directions. It’s just polite to introduce oneself to a place. I leave a shell and tobacco, along with my song. We’ve been here many times, so I’m hoping we’ll be welcomed as friends. Of course last year, we got a flat tire, and I left my favorite coat here. Not exactly friendly.
Mario makes me dinner: a microwaved Amy’s frozen dinner with our veggies and rice. Yum. (While on vacation, we do occasionally use a microwave oven, it’s true.) Then we walk around the place and watch the swans. The first year we were here, Mario was so excited to see them. Then I told him, “They’ve probably clipped their wings so they *have* to stay here.” He looked crushed. “Poor things,” he said then.
So every year we watch the swans and feel a mixture of regret, pity, and awe.
When we get near the pool, I think I see a person by the fence, and then it looks like a mermaid. As I walk toward it, I start laughing. “Hah! I thought it was a mermaid, but it’s a life preserver!” Somehow, given who I am, that seems quite apropos. I snap a photo of my “mermaid” and then we head back.
This year, this journey feels different. And the same. Every year the trip is difficult, and it is wonderful. I am always exceedingly grateful, and I always—at some point—wonder what the hell I am doing. I was wondering that about three hours into the trip today. But still, I do feel different this year. More here. Or something.
To bed soon and then off to the City of Angels in the morning. First The Bridge of the Gods and then to the City of Angels. All on the road to the Old Mermaids Sanctuary.