Holistic Coach and Consultant
Copyright © 2019
What you are about to read is a chapter from the upcoming book, Re-creation: Laughing Buddha With A Fiddle.
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.
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