In the Northern California redwoods, walking through carpets of oxalis and ferns, I don’t want to leave. Like when I visited Carlsbad Caverns, one day was not enough—I decide to extend my stay to soak in their wonder.
When growing up in California, I mostly took the redwoods for granted. Absent for forty years, I see them with new eyes; magnificent—and I long to stay in their presence.
Not willing to gamble the twenty dollars for an extra night at the casino parking lot where I’ve stayed for the two free nights, I inch further north.
Heading up to the campground the ranger told me is first-come-first-served and to arrive by two p.m., I was out of luck at 2:05. So many people in California! I would have had to reserve a campsite at least a month or longer ago for this region, and I didn’t know then where I would now be. And the campsites are expensive—out of my price range with a forty-five dollar-a-night fee. Yet I want to stay that much, I’m willing to boondock in more Walmarts to make it up.
Now with nowhere to land, I feel as though I’ve been driven out of the area, spitted out like a watermelon seed. At least I can take an afternoon hike along the way.
On the scenic highway, I pull my Sprinter van, Jane, over beside a trailhead for a three-mile loop through another magnificent grove of the giants.
Before hiking, I heat up soup, read a few chapters of The Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, play the fiddle, then head to the trail.
Stopping at the placard, I read that this grove is named after a botanist who helped save the metasequoia, also known as dawn redwood, an ancient precursor to the coastal redwoods that grow only here in Humboldt County, and the giant sequoias that grow further inland.
Interesting—in the Portland, Oregon arboretum where I used to frequently walk, is a small grove of dawn redwoods that I remember well; they lose their needles in the winter like larch trees do, and seem almost ghost-like. In contrast is this grove of giants.
After completing the hike, I face my lack of accommodation for tonight. Once more searching through the free or cheap-camping apps, I find a county park in Crescent City for ten dollars a night. Only a half hour away, I let go of my passion for rural quiet, and head there.
Being so generally comfortable on the road, it’s afternoons like this that remind me how close I am to not having a place to “be;” without a parking space overnight, what would Jane and I do? That is why I can call even a Walmart parking lot or a safe street “home.”
The county park is in its own grove of redwoods; the toilets work; I find a site I can call my own for two nights. A campsite can and does feel like home. I want to mark the corners like an animal. This spot is mine! Do not step over that line. A bit of an overreaction to not knowing where I was going to end up.
Is this a twinge of missing a physical home, one that I can retreat to? In Vermont, I have acres of peaceful land to be in, yet these days I am not at home there.
The next afternoon, I find the trailhead for the Boy Scout Tree Trail that the ranger recommended—it’s not their fault the campgrounds are so full of people and are expensive, I love rangers.
Lots of cars, but it’s mid-afternoon, and perhaps many of them will be on their way out as I head in. This trailhead is off the main road, and I relish the quiet and anticipation of a good hike.
First, lunch—my routine is to get somewhere, then eat. If I stayed at the county park to eat lunch, I may never have left. I put on water to make coffee, and prepare a plate of liverwurst, cheese, tomatoes, and mustard on rye crisp.
After laying down my plastic woven mat on the clearing between Jane and the upward slope of forest, I unfold the TV tray—that name evokes memories of my brother Gunnar and I sitting next to each other on the couch with our TV trays set in front of us with the frozen Swanson TV dinners heated in the oven now steaming hot, and us watching The Ed Sullivan show or Andy of Mayberry. The taste of the meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and apple chunks with a red-dyed half-maraschino cherry in the middle floods me as I write this.
These small fold-up tables are still called TV trays. I have one that when folded, fits behind the passenger seat; when driving, I drape my padded down jacket over it to avoid rattling. When I boondoggle and have no picnic table, the TV tray serves as a computer table, watercolor table, reading table, eating table.
I place my reading stand—a squishy pillow with a casing that can hold huge books—onto the TV tray. Then I prop my Joan of Arc book that is 81/2 x 11-inch size, awkward to hold, onto the stand. My lunch, propped up book, coffee, and upcoming redwood hike—I have bliss.
Satiated, I fill the Camelbak with water, put on hiking shoes, sun hat and sunscreen, and am almost ready. Placing my wallet, phone, and keys in the zippered pocket after locking Jane, I put on the pack and head up the trail.
Today is summer solstice, and I have hours of light ahead of me. Walking uphill in the heat of mid-afternoon, I slow down, still cautious about physically pushing myself. Today is also my birthday; I turn sixty-four in an hours’ time, born six p.m. Mountain time.
About a quarter-mile up the trail, I note tension in my gut—like I’m nervous, and don’t know why. Is it an anniversary reaction? Last year on my birthday I also hiked, a favorite activity. Last year I was approaching the nadir of my Feds adventure, was already feeling ill a good part of the time, and a year ago, my usual solstice bliss was absent.
Or is it something else?
I have opened the portal to worry; suddenly I wonder if Jane will be robbed, and I will lose the books I’m writing on my computer. I almost panic and turn back to make sure I have locked the van.
How can I break this cycle?
A recent new tool for how to detach gracefully comes to mind; renounce and enjoy, Gandhi’s three-word philosophy of life. I can renounce Jane—if someone breaks in and drives her away, I will survive; I have my credit card and drivers license. I could lose all the objects of affection that I travel with, such as the handknit afghan and favorite copper pot, even the computer—they are replaceable. Jane is replaceable. Heck, I could even “survive” without my wallet.
Why am I suddenly anxious about someone breaking into Jane? I’ve been on the road already for months, have taken many hikes, and this state has not appeared like it does today.
I realize, it’s the books I am writing—halfway through the Feds adventure that I am posting as a blog on my website along with two other memoirs with completed first drafts, I have this blossoming passion for creating books. This flow of words seems essential to my ongoing heart recovery; the possibility of their loss seems irreparable. I could recreate them, I guess, but I would like to avoid that.
Continuing the hike up the beautiful redwood slope, I sort out my renounce-and-enjoy task. Okay, I have now imagined all of Jane being driven away, never to be seen again, including the books; I renounce, and push out the worry and that image to the periphery of my consciousness till they fall away, and replace them with joy. I note my breath flow in and out, and enjoy. I feel my feet moving up the trail with a slow and steady pace, and enjoy. I smell the forest, hear the rustling of squirrels and leaves in the wind, and enjoy. I feel a faint warm breeze on my skin—enjoy.
Probably this worry portal did open more readily with the sharp memory of solstice a year ago. I am forewarned; every day through August will hold these memories until the nadir passes; that’s part of recovery.
What better way to practice renouncement than with this redwood walk?
The trail ends at a waterfall that evokes the possibility of fairies. Rivulets of water dance down a steep rocky and mossy face, sparkling like moving diamonds in the lowering sun. Several small pools filled with clear water create ongoing smaller waterfalls as the flow disappears over the next ledge.
Returning, plenty of light remains to take the side trail to the Boy Scout Tree. Honking big tree. How does one describe the majesty of these trees? Being in their presence is the only way I know to know them.
Almost back to Jane, I come up with confidence that when I next hike, I will lock Jane, walk away, and not worry; I will instantaneously renounce and enjoy. I also realize I can set up a different backup system in addition to my manual backup disk. Deep down, I relax.
Back in my campsite, I set up the woven plastic mat, camping chair, and stove on the picnic table to take advantage of cooking outside in this warm weather.
Before fixing dinner, I pull out Fiona, my fiddle, and wander back in the trees to practice; I know other campers can probably hear me, but at least they cannot see me. I have watched several beginner lessons on YouTube, and squeak through scales, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” and the theme song to the Harry Potter movies. I’m just starting to pick out the theme song to Game of Thrones.
Preparing for bed, I keep the back doors wide open, my mosquito netting in place with magnets around the perimeter. Almost like a tent, I crawl into my real bed with flannel sheets and a one-inch memory foam layer, and welcome the outside elements.
The solstice trigger reappears in the early morning hours with harsh, irregular breathing—how I continuously breathed last year for the whole summer. This body memory is not as intense as last year’s state, but present—a reminder. I review my day backward, and relax back into sleep with relative ease.
Relishing at least one more night, maybe more, of these redwoods until I have somehow become them and will take them with me, I decide on the Mill Creek Horse Trail with its trailhead also close to camp.
The hike is strenuous; I challenge myself with elevation gain and distance. Arriving back at Jane after my five-hour plodding-but-steady effort, I feel elated. Not only did I successfully renounce-and-enjoy as I walked away from Jane and onto the trail, I am depleted in a good way—in a muscle-building way. Drinking water from the jug in Jane before the drive back, I look forward to returning to my familiar camp, and think about what to fix for dinner.
Pulling up to my site, I realize it’s empty—my belongings are gone, like they never existed. My plastic woven mat, chair, large pot, large water container—they even took my sponges and dishtowel. On the drive, I was imagining taking a shower with the plastic mat protecting my feet, heating the water for said shower in the large pot, and my chair! That was my perfect Jane chair. I was robbed; someone stole from me.
Now I know to not leave out anything I value or that is hard to replace. Now I know. I’m glad I didn’t leave out my stove, which I considered doing—or the bucket of clean dishes, my tea pot and tea kettle. I brought those along in case I wanted to cook at the trailhead.
Already I strategize what to leave out next time I want to stake claim to a campsite—mark my territory—wish I had this 20/20 hindsight this morning. Next time an old towel, disposable water bottles, old ketchup, books I have already read—what I already want to give away like that pair of pants I packed and have not yet worn, old t-shirts that I wear only because they’re still “good,” those items I will leave behind.
Here’s the street-smart wisdom lesson; I was naive to “trust” the general public; to assume belongings will be there when I return, well, that assumption is an illusion.
I ask the man in the next campsite, “Did you see anyone here? All my stuff is gone.”
“I didn’t even know anyone was camping there, it was empty when I got here.” He is immediately afraid, packs up, and leaves. Wow.
I also move to a different site, because this one needs to be smudged, or a heavy rain needs to fall to clear the air.
Still needing a shower and not wanting to make do with a sponge bath after my long hike, I pick the site with the most private set-up so I can open the back doors into a screen of forest. I wear my plastic clogs, and the forest floor is relatively compact; using my two small pots to heat the water, I do my best to let go of my large pot—I’ve had it for decades—copper-bottomed Revere Ware and made more substantially than those now available.
I wonder if the thief stole things because he or she needed them, or to sell for a hit of crack. I decide to assume the thief needed my belongings; they have gone to a good home. Otherwise, why would they take my old sponges and dishcloth?
Dusk deepens along with my hunger; I continue regrouping by heating up Thai sweet potato soup with grilled chopped-up kielbasa sausage. Across from me a group has a campfire lit and is playing music—a flute providing melody and the guitar accompanying. I imagine playing the fiddle with them, imagine approaching them with my violin case. Today on the trail I sang “Simple Gifts.” I want to play that tune next; I hope for a fiddle lesson in my future.
As I stir the soup, someone knocks on my side door. I open it, and a man of average height and build, wearing a baseball cap and casual clothes says, “Hi, I’m Jack, I’m staying in the F site, and I heard you were robbed. Can you tell me what happened?”
Word has gotten around the campground. I fill him in on the details, and he replies, “I’m camping here for a few weeks while I work a temporary job, I’m gone all day—now I’m worried about my stuff—I just put it all into my tent when I leave in the morning.”
“I’m sure not leaving anything out from now on.”
Jack says, “Well, you can count on me tonight. If someone is threatening you, just yell out ‘F, F’ and I’ll come to your rescue. I have a gun!”
All right—we are this close to anarchy and chaos.
Deciding to put some distance between me and Crescent City, I pack up early in the morning without my usual bliss of tea and writing. Why would I stay here, to start a crime prevention program? No, I will spend a few more hours in the redwoods to complete this chapter of beauty and theft, before heading north.
Finding a place to park in the day-use section at Jedediah State Park, I decide to put Jane in order before the task of replacing what was lost. Using the small pots to boil water while again missing my large pot, I begin with dishes, then wash down the cab and floor. Good. Clean and organized, I have a sense of comfort.
I brew a cup of coffee, sit on the steps of the open side door with the redwoods close, and play Fiona, giving myself another YouTube lesson. My finger pads are thickening, but after an hour I reach the point of pain that requires me to stop.
Now I’m ready to head to Walmart, about a half hour away.
Renounce and enjoy, I tell myself, as I park Jane and walk toward flickering fluorescent lights. Plowing through my list, I once more mourn my good pot as I purchase the only large one available that more closely resembles a tin can. And my chair—I loved my chair—replaced with a five-dollar chair that I will be annoyed about if it disappears, but five dollars for replacement. . .I find the same mat in the RV section and a large water jug, and move on.
Heading northwest, the redwoods soon diminish and are replaced by Douglas firs and madrones. The smell is so different, even as I drive.
Finding a National Forest campground, I’m pleased; already more affordable, I will sleep here for five dollars—within my budget. My site borders a rushing creek; I will sleep with its sound.
Settling in, I note ongoing vigilance after the theft, and work on building up trust. Playing more fiddle, taking a gentle walk in this new forest, setting up the mosquito netting on the back of Jane, I readily count my blessings. I make dinner, a salad—strawberries, blue cheese, onions, red pepper, avocado, spinach, and red lettuce. Nice.
The night was cold; I pulled up the quilt to sleep under along with the blanket—even this short distance inland, the climate is different. The cold and the rushing creek sounds define my environment as I grow conscious in the morning.
I ponder my response to the theft; I do not want it to also rob me of the beauty I witnessed in that area, nor of my faith in humanity. Yet I left, perhaps a day or more early, to “get away” from the theft and the subsequent discomfort in the county park.
Is this my pattern? Something bad happens, and I run away; I left Vermont after the Feds; I left Crescent City after being robbed. Instead of staying to transform.
Am I aimlessly wandering? Why not go back to Vermont and resume planting potatoes and fruit trees? Why not go back to my homestead life where I could also write books and play music in my tiny house I call Hug House?
I can imagine returning to that life, until I imagine going to a movie and seeing some of my former colleagues who did not return my calls or emails after the Feds, who may look straight through me.
I’m not ready to go back; I’m not ready to find my place or re-create myself in Vermont; I cannot imagine how that will occur. And I like where I am right now, in the madrones and firs.
Self-doubt and recrimination swirl a bit, as I chastise myself about not handling the theft better.
My sense of safety was challenged, and I am regaining my equilibrium, that’s all.
What an interesting experience that was, anyway. The day after I had my encounter with fear about Jane being broken into, someone steals from the campsite; that’s interesting. Did my fear open a portal that played a role in this theft? Fear attracts fear.
And then there’s my conscious new habit of giving something away every day. Those actions do not provide immunity to theft, and that is not my purpose in giving. But is giving related somehow? I did not consciously hand over my belongings to the thief; I go back to my chosen presumption that whoever took my things needed them. I’m not done yet in my fear/theft/giving education; I still have much grist to bring to the mill.
What would be irreparable loss? The taking of a life, betrayal of someone’s trust, smashing another’s spirit? I do regret past critical words that have emerged from my mouth and throat—and once out, they cannot be taken back; they are irreparable.
Embedded in my Feds adventure was irreparable harm; my mistake—incorrect billing—became their instrument of destruction beyond reparation. Their actions held no regard for my professionalism, standing in the community, not even for my ongoing personal survival.
Yet now I have these gifts; I am in this lovely campground; I have bliss. Even irreparable damage can evolve into bliss.
Similar to how I have learned to thank the Feds for showing up, I thank the thief for taking the physical items that do not define who I am. I renounce fears, belongings, regard from others; I freely take my walks and enjoy.
I will also keep my valuables out of sight.
Writing goes so well this morning, I am further reassured in my place on the earth, here with the blue sky and madrone wood the color of red copper. Temperatures rise through the morning; I change into a light top, and explore.
A woman pulling a wagon with cleaning supplies and a small dog in its bed approaches me. She is open to a chat, and I find out she stays here for free in exchange for being a campground host. Telling her I’m living in my van, she exclaims, “I live in my car! It’s a great life, isn’t it? I was living with my sister in Portland, Oregon, but I didn’t want to impose. And I love to travel. My favorite place so far is New Mexico. I have started writing a blog about all the things that happened to me when I was there.”
Small world—I once lived in Portland, Oregon, and spent several of my initial van-life months in New Mexico, also loving that state. I ask, “Have you seen Off the Map? It’s my favorite movie, and takes place in Northern New Mexico.” I give her a brief description; a family lives completely “off the map,” and one day an IRS agent arrives due to their not having filed for a number of years; even if you don’t owe taxes, one is penalized for not filing. As soon as the agent arrives, he has a high fever for several days; when he recovers, he is transformed. And the story goes on.
She asks me to write down the name of the movie, and we also exchange website addresses. We are kindred spirits, sharing our love of writing to maintain sanity, and the simplicity of road life. Having bought some fresh lychee nuts yesterday at Walmart (how do they do that, bring lychee nuts to Northern California?), I offer her some; she is intrigued by this foreign fruit. I used to buy them on the streets when living for a brief time in Taiwan; the flavor is unique.
Giving her more lychees, I wish her well when we part. She happily goes off to clean the next pit toilet, giving her dog a treat out of her pocket as she walks away; her dog patiently sat in the wagon during our whole conversation.
I’m humbled with her story; she also took early social security for health reasons, and lives on even less a month than I do. And, when she described changing her clothes in her Toyota Camry, I felt guilt with the luxury of being able to stand in Jane. Life is so relative.
After getting Jane ready to go, I consult the road atlas; I will enter Oregon soon. I lived there eight years and never went to Crater Lake—of course. Now as a New Englander, I will take this opportunity. I also have fond memories of several family camping trips that were spent at Diamond Lake in the same vicinity; another potential stop. At my pace, those destinations are a few days away. I find a National Forest free campsite on a rural highway, and set my GPS.
Before hitting the road, I play Fiona; I’m that infatuated, I play each time until my fingers are too sore to continue. I remember when I first picked up the guitar, my fingers were just like this; I would have played every waking minute if I could.
Similar to writing when I’m in the sweet spot, when I lose time and write until my brain and hands and heart can no longer “do,” they must “be” for awhile to recoup.
No set campsites, just scattered picnic tables, one pit toilet, no potable water (I’m glad I filled all my water containers), a nearby lava flow jutting into a magnificent lake, and white-capped mountains on the far shore—this place seems magical.
After a walk through a pine forest where the smell of lupines reminds me of the milkweed blooms on my land when the scent wafts in the early evening, I set up the shower in a matter of minutes, then put on cozy clothes. Not much food left, I take out the bag of oyster mushrooms dried last summer, to rehydrate. Adding them to a can of Annie’s cream of tomato soup with a few extra spices, I can still taste its glory while writing this.
Blue-green algae blooms prohibit swimming, otherwise I would be tempted to stay another day.
I’ve got my mojo back.
The end of last May when I found out the state medical board was investigating me—apparently the feds passed the baton to them when they were finished, I said to myself, that’s it—I’m going to buy a fiddle. Determined to bring in more goodness and to shrink residual fears, I did just that. In mid-June, I walked into a music store having never even held a violin (violin equals fiddle—it’s what you play and how you play it). After “playing” several beginner models, I picked one based on its resonance; the clerk showed me how taut to keep the bow and how to apply rosin, and off I went.
Having not told a soul my plan or that I bought one, I kept the fiddle to myself for several weeks, parking my van Jane at parks in order to “play” anonymously. When wi-fi was available, I also watched YouTube videos for fiddle lessons; simply how to hold a bow took several episodes. . .
After over fifty years of playing the piano, I’m no stranger to music; I am a stranger to playing by ear. During the last years of piano playing, I focused on playing with my eyes closed, attempting to re-learn the keyboard. I read music too well; that skill had become a handicap to simply flowing with the music. Now with a fiddle, I have vowed to not read a note, and to finally fulfill this goal of “playing by ear.”
After picking out scales and decreasing squeaks and scratches, the first song I found was “Happy Birthday.” Next, my YouTube lessons led me to “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” then to the Harry Potter theme song.
Living on the road means I often stay in campgrounds or Walmart parking lots. This lifestyle provides anonymity; unabashed, I have stood in the forest squeaking out tunes that soon included the Game of Thrones theme song—another stellar YouTube lesson.
One night at a county park in Crescent City, California, I heard a group playing guitars and flutes around a campfire; I loved hearing someone else playing live music. The next day they introduced themselves and invited me to play with them that evening, as “We heard you playing yesterday afternoon.”
“Oh, no, I’m a real beginner, I’ve only played for a few weeks.” Still, what fun that will be. Not yet.
A few weeks later, I was at a national forest campground in the Bend, Oregon region, playing my song list that by then included “Jet Plane,” “Both Sides Now,” and “Over the Rainbow.” A three-year old girl in a pink dress and sandals walked up with her father. After introducing themselves he said, “Do you mind if Lexie watches you play?”
I smiled at this little girl whose eyes were round with wonder and asked, “Do you know ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star?’ ” She nodded yes, and I played it.
They stood there for what seemed like forever watching me play my limited repertoire, then waved goodby and walked back to their campsite.
In the early evening, the father walked over and told me, “I just want to let you know, Lexie talked about your violin for an hour before she went to bed, she liked it so much.”
Wow. I wondered if she’d ever heard a live instrument—perhaps that was the attraction.
A few weeks later I was parked on a national forest road, in a “dispersed” camping area in the Olympic Peninsula. An RV was parked nearby and in a similar scenario, a little girl walked over, this time with her grandfather, to watch me play. Looking at her bright eyes I asked, “Do you know ‘Wheels on the bus?’ ” She looked at me blankly. “How about ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star?’ ”
She responded, “Do you know any Madonna?”
Laughing, I responded, “No, I don’t.”
“ ‘Material Girl?’ ” she asked.
“Sorry,” and I launched into Twinkle, instead.
Afterward, I mused she may not actually know the songs I suggested, only Madonna tunes. Still, the tone of a live string instrument drew her.
Whenever I “anonymously” pull into a park or campground and pull out Fiona (I like to name my belongings—me, Jane, and Fiona have a fun time together), I’m no longer surprised when approached. One mother with her two sons came up and asked if they could sit and listen to me for awhile. By then I could play some Van Zandt, Kate Wolf, Dylan, and the “Ave Maria” by Vavilov. The mother asked to video me playing, and she recorded me showing one of the boys how to hold the fiddle and draw the bow across the strings.
Adults also approach, wanting to talk about their experiences. One young woman eagerly told me, “I played the violin for six years when I was in school.” As she hungrily eyed mine, I offered it to her so I could watch her play, then was able to encourage her to pick one up again after our encounter.
My new life on the road includes exploring a Laughing Buddha life. I simply love the notion of laughing for no reason whatsoever. The Laughing Buddha story I know is of a buddha who walks from village to village and gives out treats to children and laughs with them. I had been stuck on what kinds of treats to pass out—not exactly a culturally acceptable activity in this day and age; spontaneously, this fiddle playing has become my version of the Laughing Buddha. I play, children approach, and I certainly laugh when playing.
Having listened to violin street musicians play fast and clever and lovely—I cannot imagine myself playing how they play; yet I have this rapport. I realize, I can play well enough now for someone to sing along—to "Simple Gifts,” or “Amazing Grace,” for example.
That’s it! While continuing to expand my repertoire, I’m compiling song sheets; perhaps I’ll laminate them, prop them up in the violin case and when approached, offer—“Would you like to sing along?”
Or I’ll make plain copies so if someone wants to take music away with them, that’s an option.
The goodness pours in beyond my imaginings.
My first “jamming” session occurred during an extended visit with relatives in the Olympic Peninsula; my cousins mentioned I play the violin to a woman they know who works at an outdoor education center in the Hood Canal region. Joanne immediately called and encouraged me to visit and play together in spite of my beginner status. I thought, what the heck?
How did Joanne know the delight awaiting us?
Her school at the tip of the Hood Canal provided a stunning setting. We stood outside, playing with the sounds of birds and wind, and the school’s organic CSA was our backdrop. Inviting me to play anything I knew, she then played with me and would launch into harmonies. Teaching myself to play by ear immediately became an obvious advantage as I was then able to pick up simple folk tunes from her and even could launch into harmonies part of the time.
My abilities instantly waned when she tried to record us, wanting to send my cousins a sample of our session. Knowing someone is “watching” me, I freeze; my ability to undergo scrutiny remains a challenge. . .
A few days after playing with Joanne, I headed east for a family event—honestly, the thought of being able to play with her every week or so was almost enough to keep me in that region. I have no hesitation now—next time someone invites me to play, I will.
Playing with Joanne was my second real-time “lesson.” My first lesson was with a nine-year old named Isadora, the daughter of a friend I was visiting in California several weeks after first picking up Fiona. She taught me to tune the strings, apply enough pressure on the strings to decrease screeches, and advised me, “You could just draw the bow across the strings all day long, that is what you need to do first.” Oh, Isadora is a powerhouse in the making, and she was right.
Four months after walking into the violin store, I still find myself wondering, what is next? I have left medicine that defined my life, and I do not know what my next “task” is, my next purpose in life. With the Laughing Buddha as a role model, I put aside the wonder and questions of the future, and gratefully pull out Fiona, tune her, and set myself up at the county park. After brewing myself an afternoon cup of coffee, I stand facing the fields of Sandusky County, Ohio, a destination postponed on my original road trip a year ago, to visit the landscape of Gene Logsdon whose books I love, and with his recent passing he is now part of my cherished dead mentors group; I will play in tribute to him today. I will follow this thread of goodness, joy, music, laughter, connection—in this moment, and then on to the next village.
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Sometimes it’s the waiting that makes things better.
I have this thought as I stand in front of my Coleman stove, letting the tea steep just the right amount before pouring.
Flashing on a tea ceremony in Taiwan fifteen years ago with the Minister of Tea (Taiwan has a Minister of Tea!), I will never forget his presence as he sat in the midst of a variety of tea pots, urns of tea, and hot water kettles. Different teas are brewed in different kinds of pots, using different temperatures, some teas with a quick rinse at the beginning, all with different brew times, and some with different tastes with each subsequent brew of the same leaves. I recall the minister’s serene smile as he patiently waited just the right amount of time and then effortlessly picked up the pot to begin the pour.
I was in tea heaven in Taiwan. Now I am in my usual morning routine of brewing Keemun—a China tea that is naturally mellow, low caffeine with a red tone that I have been drinking for decades. Introduced to this tea by a high school friend’s mother who spent her childhood in Japan as the daughter of a diplomat, she did not drink green tea; she always drank Keemun. Go figure. I’ve sought out Keemun tea ever since.
Now I wait until I know this tea is at its best, and pour. Waiting has allowed the goodness to emerge.
Recently I’ve met several women with new babies who experienced “managed labors” and suffered as a consequence. Learning how to “run the board,” how to manage labors and get them moving or slow them down if medical staff were short-handed, was one of the components of my medical education I found most distressing. Having been trained as a doula and specialized in healing from traumatic births during my years as a psychologist, I was inflicting those same “traumas” on women, knowing they would need recovery from those births afterward. This medical approach of “managed labor” is the opposite of waiting—the opposite of allowing a natural event to unfold into maximum goodness.
Yes, yes, yes, sometimes medical interventions are necessary; sometimes regardless of the best of circumstances, challenging births occur; then all that “management” rushes forward to bring in its own goodness. Most of the time, though, interventions do not result in goodness. Waiting for the baby and mother to come into that synchronous beautiful movement of birth into the world holds pure goodness; that process is often thwarted in our medical system.
My long-ago book, Rebounding from Childbirth, still has its own life as books do after having been launched out into the world, is still making a difference in some women’s lives who struggle with births gone awry. Not often, but I still hear from women who tell me they sleep with the book by their bedsides, who have imaginary conversations with me as they undergo their healing journeys. Waiting for the goodness includes this life as a writer—knowing that I have fulfilled my goal of making a difference in a few women’s lives. Just a few is enough, holds goodness.
Pouring my just-right tea, I am grateful for this moment of having had the wisdom to wait for the goodness, and for this opportunity to expand my patience and kindness for the day.
While practicing cursive writing with Youtube videos, I surprise myself by thoroughly enjoying these writing exercises created for young children. After a wrist fracture requiring external fixation, I was unable to use my right hand for six weeks and had discovered I was left-handed. After the fracture healed, I continued using my left hand, discovering a sense of “rightness” with its use. These exercises provide even more confirmation that I am left-handed; after just an hour, I am able to write better than I ever had with my right hand.
While writing with ease, I have a flash of recognition of all that lost time! Those decades of missed opportunities for this ease, the creation of art and writing. What would my life have been like?
That’s water long ago passed under the bridge, way down the river. My life unfolded in its own “rightness.” As my coach Shari, who has helped me find my voice, has said in times when I’ve been tempted to regret, “everything always happens at just the right time.”
What does it mean to have had to wait for this left-handedness to emerge in my sixties? If I regret it not arriving sooner, that is not in the category of “waiting so that the goodness will emerge.”
When these gifts come late in life, are they less meaningful because we do not have our developmental years to foster these gifts? True, our abilities unfold through our life stages with certain sweet spots—yes, learning a language as a child is much easier than as an adult; starting a musical instrument early on means greater capabilities at a later age. But does that mean these missed moments of childhood such as my left-handedness, or a friend’s grief that he wanted to play the piano more than anything ever in his life and he did not have the opportunity, or another friend’s challenge that she was raised in a family that did not allow daughters to go to college or take art classes, does that mean we abandon these quests now as adults?
These losses are interesting twists of fate.
“Lost” talents not developed in childhood that might have become “genius,” are still within us, can still be taken up as an “elder” when we discover them. These latent talents are opportunities to seize and run with joy, and relish in their discovery.
“I’m too old, it’s too late.” Is it? Perhaps “It’s never too late” is more apt than I realized. Yes I long for the ease of my left-handedness through my entire life; growing up could have been so different! But that’s not an option. Now I have an unexpected blessing of a left-handed life in my elder state, a new way of being that still holds delight and ease, though long-missed.
Though I cannot relive my life, I can rewrite it with this new left-handedness. I can indulge in a moment of wonder about what my life could have been like as though it’s a story. More important, I recognize more clearly that at any stage in life, to embrace the delights in this state of recognition of who I truly am, of who one truly is, is the treasure—one of the greatest gifts I know of. At any age. At any time.
Waiting with patience for these gifts, knowing they will emerge, I am rich.
My cousin Linda quoted her friend Dennis Mahar—“Perfect is the enemy of good,” as we were in the middle of painting her soon-to-be airbnb apartment in her downstairs. You know how it is—when the trim is a bit wobbly, when the spackling texture doesn’t quite match the rest of the wall, when we both have paint on our faces and the bottoms of our shoes and we track it where it is not wanted.
Immediately I felt better as we gazed at our work—yes, this is good. Not perfect. Good enough. I imagine an airbnb guest arrive and instead of seeing our imperfections, will appreciate the fresh paint job.
This phrase could change my life. Every time I feel inadequate I say to myself, perfect is the enemy of good. I am good. Goodness flows.
I’ve been using that phrase a lot as I navigate publishing Guilty by Degree—I noted two typos after the print book was completed, found by the eBook spellcheck. What? Where were you two days ago as I proofed and then proofed again the print book? I could not go back at that point without starting all over! Could I live with those two typo’s?
Plus, creating an eBook is not nearly as satisfying as a book one can hold in one’s hands. The formatting is nondescript; choosing a font or a page layout is not possible, and the fun graphic timeline titled “Waiting for the Feds” along with the author photo was not allowable without major computer engineering. From an author’s perspective I now I understand the simplistic styles of eBooks—that’s all that is allowed.
Formatting the print version had elements of creativity, satisfaction and cohesion--so gratifying I was surprised with the eBook process—like being cooked in a microwave.
This comparison is similar to analog versus digital sound. Live music is even more “alive” with real time changes in tempo and vibrations. Analog is at least from a “live” recording; digital may not even include a human being playing an instrument.
I have kindle on my iPad. Living on the road I sometimes do not have access to books, and yes it is convenient, light-weight, and takes little space. EBooks have their place, and I am happy to provide my book in that format. But if you find yourself missing the feel of a book, it’s not just the weight of it in one’s hands that is missing—photos, diagrams, carefully chosen fonts and sizes of indents, bold lettering and a particular page color—the craft of a book—may be as well. This crafting experience was an unexpected bonus: satisfaction beyond the manuscript.
Kudos to book binders, art from scratch, words not put together by a machine, sounds from handmade instruments, and home-cooked food.
I write this on my computer, hooked into the web.
If you decide to purchase the eBook, scroll down below for the two missing components--included here for the fun of it.
Love, Warmth, and Blessings,
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Holistic Coach and Consultant
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