> jumping into life.


Today I went off the trail, followed the dry creekbed instead. As I walked along, little sludgy puddles appeared, and later bigger sludgy puddles, choked with algae. I sat on a rock for a long, long time, listening to raindrops pattering nearly six months' worth of dry leaves. The smell of dry grass wetting, the shudder of sludgy puddles recieving new water.

I know that he doesn't speak to me because he doesn't understand. I couldn't really explain it to him; I don't entirely understand myself. Before I left, we were looking at apartments, choosing furniture, and discussing baby names (Castilleja for a girl). No warning. I came back and my mind had changed. There was no explanation, not really, not in any way I could articulate. I didn't know why I needed to end our relationship, I just knew it was true.

It is stunning how thoroughly that doesn't make it easy. Today I left the trail because the trail holds too many memories: in this park we walked through every major fight and most of the minor ones. Here we decided to become monogomous, to wait to move in together, to move across the country together. Here we came for nearly every milestone our relationship held. I have little doubt that this park would have witnessed a proposal if it hadn't seen an ending instead.

On the rocks beside me, lichen opened their apothecia to the rain, birds muttered softly to each other. I could hear the bulldozers working on the development down the road. Wind blew the drops in waves, scattering them on sand that grew slowly dark. I don't know what the metaphor means, but I know it is true.


Morning slides open grey and slow; I smile to the sky, but I am not without reservation. I've had my dry heart broken too many times these past few weeks by clouds that hover and later clear. As I walk to class, it smells like rain coming, but I close my senses against the hope. Ah, but miracles come from above: I leave class to a soft sprinkle, which becomes a drizzle as I walk to the library. It slows to nothing as I write this, but the wind is rising and I have promises from the coast.

The geraniums on the library windowsill are straining to the pale light, improbably bright splashes of green and pink against a world reduced to winter grey and muted gold. And life goes on.


Too much milk in my coffee always makes me want to speak Spanish.


My parents tell me of rain, storms that build offshore and spill onto land, blurring the boundary between liquid and solid, sea and stone. A front that blankets the coast.

Last winter, the coastal storms bullied their way over the mountains most every time; my mother would call to say that Ocean View Boulevard was closed again, trees were down again, the basement was flooded again, and like clockwork I would wake the next morning to boiling clouds. Rain at first, and later snow. I would wake to a land made new.

In October I dreamt that no rains came this year. I dreamt fire and death, and woke myself, shivering.

There is still water in Butte Creek, but not much. My skin feels fragile and thin in this air: Phoenix is pushing 150 days without measurable precipitation, and here in the mountains we've had only that one snow to break the same streak. My lips crack and bleed, my knuckles scale and flake away. In the morning, my eyes refuse to gum open. My heart hurts. I hold tight to the knowledge that we are but small and shortsighted. Even if my oaks die, life goes on: this used to be fir forest, and in the Great Basin cheetahs gave the pronghorn reason for their speed. Pines stretched all the way to Tucson. Perhaps the conifers are preparing for a comeback; perhaps the rains will come. The sea has been restless, and the sky today was grey. My mother tells me of rain.

As the frenzy of the past week wears off, I find my heart weary. He has not spoken to me in some twenty days, except when decency demands it. It is a drought not quenched with patience, nor lessened by the knowledge that my decision was the right one. It is the past now that feels uncertain; it seems so unlikely that only a month ago I had plans that stretched far into the future with this man. They resemble my life of this moment no more than the Mojave of today looks like it did when giant sloths ambled around its lakes. Oh, the topography is broadly familiar, but the all the relevant details have changed: climate and community and desire. So we evolve, shed our leaves or whittle them to sleek efficiency, learn to hold what we need inside. Crack and bleed. Joshua trees have been here a long time. Life goes on.


A small crowd of girls asked my actresses for autographs after the show last night. I think that makes it a success.

Today will be devoted primarily to laying in bed and nursing my cast-parties-always-seem-to-get-out-of-hand-hangover. I'll bake some bread later, maybe go for a walk. Then back to bed. It is emphatically Sunday.


Morning comes early. I wake disoriented, as usual, my dreams crashing and curdling, leaving me feeling like my waking life is only the afterimage of some bright light. I slap the alarm silent, try to gather myself. A mental recitation: there is the sunlight, here is my pillow, this is what's real. Stumble to the bathroom, stumble to the coffee. But today bursts into being before I am prepared: the phone rings, the programs need to be finished and to the printer, the tshirts need to be delivered to the cafe for selling, the lights need to be set, the panels hung, a paper written for class today.

I find myself instead on my porch in a cold breeze, watching the grey cat give herself a bath. Oh for a morning like hers.


...and then one of our actresses doesn't show up to dress rehearsal, again, and it turns out that I'm adding acting to my list of directorial duties. So horray for that.


The truth is, I'm exhausted.

I woke this morning to sirens, lots of sirens. I woke this morning at ten - a scant five hours after my codirector and I ironed the last of the 200 tshirts that we finished silkcreening Sunday. We spent fourteen hours together yesterday working on our play, which is running just a little high of average; we reckon we've spent something over fifty on it in the past four days. The tshirts alone took two mindless movies, then all three Lord of the Rings movies, then the extended editions of all three Lord of the Rings movies. And quite a bit of tequila.

The downside of low-budget community theatre is that, in addition to being producers and directors, we are fundraisers, set designers, set builders, publicity agents, light and sound designers, light and sound tech, and stage managers - and, oh yes, fulltime students.

The truth is, I'm thrilled to be a part of this production - to be in charge of this production, no less. The upside of low-budget community theatre is some pretty great community. But I am having less and less patience for cast members who show up late or who, three days before we open, can't quite get that one line.

I have three phone calls to make, 1500 programs to fold, and a livingroom to clean. But then I'm going back to bed, and the burning house down the block can just burn.


"I am more and more sure by experience that the reason for the observance
of the Sabbath lies deep in the everlasting necessities of human nature, and
that as long as man is man the blessedness of keeping it, not as a day of rest
only, but as a day of spiritual rest, will never be annulled. I certainly do
feel by experience the eternal obligation, because of the eternal necessity, of
the Sabbath. The soul withers without it. It thrives in proportion to its
observance. The Sabbath was made for man. God made it for men in a certain
spiritual state because they needed it. The need, therefore, is deeply hidden
in human nature. He who can dispense with it must be holy and spiritual indeed.
And he who, still unholy and unspiritual, would yet dispense with it is a man
that would fain be wiser than his Maker." - F. W. Robertson

Though I'm neither Christian nor Jewish, nor religious really at all, I try to keep the Sabbath. I find that the world is often too much for me, with all its buzzing and flash. My heart may be bold but it is not bulletproof, and the buckshot of society - I can't even watch the news anymore - it can hit me hard. So I take my Sundays.

Often it's a hike, or a bike ride, or at least a long walk in the woods. A walk in the woods can unstick my thoughts, sir and settle them, leave me calm like nothing else. After walking, kneading is the best meditation I know, and so every Sunday I bake bread. We used to have tea on Sundays, when there was a we, a handful of friends and a pot of genmaicha; now I will drink my tea myself and knit instead. Perhaps a good book. Poetry and painting. All the things that soothe my soul.

Tonight marks the start of tech week: from 6:30 this evening until the end of the last performance next Saturday, my life will be largely given over to this play. Entonces, then, it is imperative that I keep this day as well as I can: the bread is on its second rise, I am halfway through a sweater made of the hand-spun yarn gifted me in Bolivia, the door is open for the little grey cat, and once the bread is done I'm headed for the woods. Amen.


I felt it the most strongly just after I got back from Costa Rica, when my brain was still saturated in Spanish. Now, two weeks back from Bolivia, and there are still times when I slip between languages without looking. If I had my way, I'd write about yesterday like this:

There was a winter wind blowing ayer, tossing the ponderosas and sending the all the fallen leaves saltando. We spent the day silkscreening Tshirts for the show, and que viento, howling around us, huddled in the living room with our wine and pizza against the clouds. But nada de lluvia, not a drop, and today we are back to pinche sun.


A change of scene.


The photo in this post makes me want to move North and West. (Everything I said earlier about wanting to stick around for the summer? Well, I am large, I contain multitudes.)

In the brief respite between school and school this August, we went to Washington for two weeks. It was something like a dream to be in the midst of all that moisture, to start hiking in the morning with only one liter of water between us without even a hint of worry. We would take our boots off when we hit camp and jump around barefoot just because we could.

If you do not spend much time in the Southwest, you may not understand this. When I lived in Monterey and would visit cousins in Oregon, I was impressed by the growth of ferns and redwoods and all, sure. But two years in the desert, and a forest dripping moss and elk musk and oxalis becomes something bordering on the surreal. You cannot walk barefoot in the desert, not without regrets.

I find now a fissure in my heart. I have come to love this landscape, and deeply. There is hardly a trail in this county that I haven't strolled down at least once; there is hardly a plant in this state that I couldn't identify to genus. There are places that I know well enough to walk on a moonless night. I have learned myself well here, and grown to appreciate the dance of adaptation: the metabolism of the kangaroo rat, the hunting behavior of Harris hawks. CAM photosynthesis, for god's sake. I love the moment just past Sunset Point when you round a road-cut corner and bam! there you are in the desert proper, saguaros reaching for the blank blue sky. I love the scent of creosote and the loose, cool flavor of prickly pear fruit. In some ways, I think I love this place more thoroughly than any other.

And yet. Something in me tugs with guilt: this is not a place to live. Not like we live, at least. There is certainly a long history of human presence in the desert Southwest, though it is a history wrought with its fair amount of tragedy. Phoenix is built over the top of one of the most extensive irrigation canal systems in the world; Chaco Canyon was the center of a network of trade that extended into South America. Some of the stories are still unfolding: the Hopi still plant their miraculous corn, after all. But golf courses and swimming pools are not irrigation canals, and even the irrigation canals are not what they were. Desert cities don't seem to like to behave like they are in the desert. Closer to home, the municipal strip mall next door is proud to call itself the fastest growing community in Arizona. My little town is still a little town, but who am I to begrudge someone their development when I just moved here myself?

But we all have to live somewhere. That being what it is, and given that I can't afford to move back home, perhaps it makes sense to go someplace where at least there's enough water to go around.


The Native Seeds/SEARCH catalogue came yesterday, and this morning I sat with my tea and my scrambled eggs and wished I was staying in one place for the summer. Nine pages of beans, two pages of chiles, three pages of squash, and a tomato named for this town. An actual backyard. Forget for moment that it is winter yet (though warm warm warm during the day) that it hasn't rained in months (though they're predicting it this weekend!) - a backyard! If I planted this year, it would be my first garden not in pots.

However, I have a terrible secret to share: I am not a very good gardener.

I am an enthusiastic gardener, I'll give you that. I've gardened in places that did not lend themselves to gardens: my sun-baked roof in Philadelphia, or the foggy, foggy, foggy deck of my parents' house in California. Last year I had a pair of ragged tomatoes scuttling across the floors of my north-windowed apartment. I try.

But the plants in Philly - started in egg cartons, and planted into soda bottles and milk jugs, mostly - got blown about by the wind, ravaged by neighborhood cats, and eventually fried when I went out of town and my boyfriend forgot to water them. The greens and potatoes in Monterey did alright, but the tomatoes were a sorry thing to see. Last year I put my poor plants out in the sun on my front step and went to class each morning, until a freak hailstorm did them in. Really, I'm not even good at keeping houseplants alive. In short, my attempts at gardening have gone generally kaput.

Nonetheless, here I sit in mid-February, eyeing the soil in my backyard. Backyard! But I'll be leaving likely in May; hardly enough time to get greens up, much less tomatoes. (Why is it that every garden is judged by its tomatoes? The wine barrels on my parents' deck really did produce some great papas and spinach, but I called it a failure because the tomatoes rotted before they were ripe. How's that?)

I could put everything in pots and take them to my parents' foggy deck when I move. (Oh, but the backyard.) Or I could just plant away and hope that the next person to live here likes beans.


Also: happy birthday Laurie! I miss you.


My father was in the Sierra range with his brothers, on the last backpacking trip my grandfather would see. My brother had been born only two months previous, and at the end of his trip, my father hiked out from Washburn in one long day and drove back to San Jose in the dark so as to be with his new son.

He was greeted at the door by the snarl and growl of a German shepard who had not been there when he left.

These days, my father insists that he does not like dogs.

Nonetheless, Jackson turned out to be one of the best parts of our lives. During my father's absence he had arrived on our doorstep, and my mother, for reasons still poorly understood, decided to take him in. By the time my poor dad got home a week later, I loved that dog fiercely enough that all protestations were hopeless. He was mine. He was staying. A four-year-old's will can, apparently, be a formidable thing. (It is possible my mother had some hand in it as well; my memories are a bit fuzzy on that point.)

Within a year or so, he was diagnosed with hip dysplasia, a common ailment in shepards, which are bred for an unnaturally sloping back. They gave him a few months of mobility and another year to live.

It seems like life with a pile of kids should have made it worse: I have very clear memories of a game we played that involved sliding off the couch and landing on his ribs. I also remember stealing food out of his bowl, trying to hitch him up to my wagon, and seeing how far he could pull me on the hardwood floor if I held onto his tail. Through it all, he never faltered, never even growled (except occasionally at my father, especially when he wore his cowboy hat). He lived to see us through the move to Monterey, through my transition into elementary school, then middle school. He slept always in the hallway between my brother's room and the room I shared with my sister, then between my room and the room my sister shared with my brother, except for when he slept in one of our beds. He lived to help my mom become a dog trainer, to console me through my first heartbreak with empathetic whines and an uncertain but still wagging tail.

Towards the end, his hips and his mind both failed; eventually he snapped at my mother as she tried to lift him out of bed. There followed a series of tearful conversations: Were we hanging on out of selfishness? What if he did more than snap? He had been sleeping on my sister's bed, and she did not want to become afraid of him. His pain had clearly escalated, and he could no longer navigate the path from food bowl to backyard. The next week we took him to the beach, where he hadn't been in months: he could never contain himself, always ran himself too hard and we couldn't stand to see his hurt the next day.

And we let him run.

(Happy birthday, Zeke. Thanks for bringing back memories.)


I wake with the realization that I am sleeping through the night again; it has been months and maybe years since I have managed that. I take it as a good sign. By the time I begin my bike to school, my heart is nestled in small pleasures: the taste of homemade bread, budding cottonwoods, a few low clouds.

We pass each other on the final hill, and I am grateful for my bike - he is walking, and it would be so much worse to have to walk past each other. This way at least, I can zip by with only enough time for hello, and be well past before I crumple. I had forgotton he would be back already. (That is a lie.)


The little grey cat appears to have decided to adopt us. When I open the front door of a morning for my first porch-sitting of the day, there she is. She wiggles through the lattice, rubs the front step, and just brushes my leg as she daintily (but, all of a sudden, no longer timidly) enters the house. So now we have a cat: pushing the door open to peer at me in the bathroom, climbing into bins of clean laundry, waking my roommate with a pair of kneading paws to the throat.

Our lease, of course, forbids these domestic pleasures, such as they are. We have decided, therefore, that we are not feeding this cat. We just happen to leave our door open all day, and she just happens to wander in and make herself at home. Nobody could blame us for that, right?


Yesterday, a pair of howling voices in the dawn, not tame enough for dogs.

This morning, a flash of charcoal and honey across the trail, then another: and a jeweled instant of yellow eyes. A heart that shuttered sharp from introspective aching to awe. Good morning, god. Good morning, Coyote. Thank you.


One of the most meaningful parts of backpacking, for me at least, is being put in a place where you have no easy way out. If you choose the right trip, you get to experience this often:

Sycamore Canyon, early spring, a hike that runs essentially from Cottonwood to Flagstaff. Last year's winter, as mentioned above, did a good job of removing the trail, so we spent the vast majority of our time boulderhopping in the creek. You should know at this point, if you don't already, that I am not what would be generally called athletic. I walk pretty well, especially with a pack on, but boulderhopping is not a forté of mine. But two days in and six to go, with a frankly unknown number of miles and the car at the far end - and the promise of a trail, somewhere up ahead - and we go on. After five days, if I remember correctly, we are exhausted: we have been up since before dawn, walking, stumbling, wading up to our armpits. Once wading in then back out when it got too deep, and scrambling up the side of a scree slope, big slabs of rock that shift underfoot. I am sure I will die, but its the only way to get to the other side. Once we climbed part-way out of the canyon to try and find the trail. An hour of scrabbling through locust saplings and hot sun, just to spot it around the next bend, about 200 yards from where we had been, then the climb back down. We followed it for an hour before it disappeared again. Dusk gathering and bear tracks in the sand - and baby bear tracks beside them. No place to camp. I want to give up, desperately. But there is no place to camp, no place to stop, no choice in the matter. So we keep walking. Just as darkness falls, he finds the trail, small miracle, and we vow with relief to stop at the first flat place we find.

However: this is, as we slowly realize, the trail out of the canyon. That means that the first flat place will be at the top of the Mogollon Rim, whereas we are now at the bottom, somewhere between 1 and 2,000 vertical feet below. It is dark. The trail is what my climbing friends would refer to as "sketch" - this means that it is approximately four inches wide and made of gravel, with a pretty sheer drop of between 1 and 2,000 feet, and nothing but agave to catch you on the way down. I very desperately want to stop. But there is, quite clearly, no stopping to be had.

Of course, we eventually reach the top, and the most perfect campsite I've ever laid eyes on appears just when I am certain that I would rather leap off the edge into the arms of the agaves than take another step. The moon has set. The grass is soft. I have never slept so soundly in the whole of my life.

We live in a world where inconvenience is easily transmuted into tragedy, where slow service in a restaraunt is enough to spoil the whole day. If it is too cold, we turn up the heat; if the neighbors are fighting, we turn up the sound. Comfort is paramount, and I am as guilty as anyone else. Knowing what I know, I still drink my coffee in the morning, because I like coffee. But I am certain that there is good to be had in discomfort, as well - it is from this that we grow. If I had been able to stop halfway up that trail, I would have. In fact, if I could have been transported magically from that trail to a soft warm bed with a mug of tea, I wouldn't have hesitated for a moment. But I don't think that would have given me the best night's sleep of my life.

I don't think hard things are good just by virtue of being hard, but I am pretty sure we value more that which we have fought for. Certainly I am glad now that I made it up that trail; I count it among the very few things about which I am proud for having done. The only other that comes to mind is leaving Philadelphia, and to do that I had to also leave the first person I ever believed truly loved me. (The metaphor here? I am only halfway up the trail, but still walking. Still walking.)


Ah, but Chris, the oaks are dying.

It hasn't rained here in a very long time. There was a dusting of snow early January, but records are being broken and people are getting worried. I didn't notice, or let myself notice, until just yesterday, when I decided to walk rather than run the last half of my morning route - decided that my soul needed it more than my body. But once I slowed down, it struck me: too much brown. So much brown. The junipers are still green, and the manzanita with its cherry heart, but the oaks. Quercus gambelii is our only deciduous species (and, I realize, most of what's on Mingus, so thank you), while turbinella, arizonica and emoryi, and the wild hybrid mixes thereof, are, ostensibly, evergreen.

Technically, of course, nothing is truly evergreen: all leaves die and are replaced. The oaks usually replace most of their leaves in late spring, after the winter rains and before the early summer drought, when - usually - they have plenty of resources to spend. But there have been no winter rains, and the newspaper accurately characterized last summer's monsoons as "wimpy."

I am holding in my heart that these are desert trees. "Drought deciduous" describes a common coping mechanism: look to the ocotillo. Ocotillo appears for all the world like a cactus with particularly beefy spines, until the rains come. Then suddenly it is awash in leaves, and sometimes lovely flowers that make a particularly nice tea. When the soil dries, it is back to a stick with thorns. So perhaps the oaks are just hedging their bets; after all, there are some people who aren't predicting moisture until this summer's monsoons, which inevitably calls to mind last year's: wimpy.

But last year's winter! Last year, Snowbowl had some of the best pack in the country. This year they've gotten approximately 2 inches. Last year all the creeks flooded, all the rivers filled, everywhere you stepped, water welled up or mud sucked you down. I discovered quicksand in a usually-dry bank of Lynx lake; the Wolf Creek waterfall was the heart of my solace. Last year broke all the records, too.

I know enough to know there is still moisture in some soils from last year's rain; after all, that's why mesquite digs so deep. But scrub oak is no mesquite, and it usually rains a comparative lot here. Those brown leaves make me afraid.

We speculate that you could drop a match here and burn all the way to Tucson. Truth is, you could probabably burn all the way to Oaxaca, if not more: last year's winter brought up a lot of grass. And a lot of grass that isn't meant to be here.

(But then the heart shoulders in, bleating.

I suppose a broken heart will find metaphor everywhere: I am hoping to be a mesquite, with roots that dig deep into beauty. I am hoping that what dies now is what I can afford to lose. I am hoping that the wildfire winds of change do not destroy me.)


Then there is the second wave: when his sterile email eminates hostility like a curse, when our mutual friends avert their eyes. Every other moment in my home reveals one more thing I need to put in a box and return: the tapestry on my couch, the pannier on my bike, a toothbrush, a promise. I wonder how long I'll be turning up these artifacts, how long each one will shatter everything, everything at all, for a moment.

I take refuge in the world, in the cottontail that I startled in the park today, who bounded a ways away then turned to watch me as I watched him. The bluejay that swept past me on his way to someplace important. The slant of morning light in shower steam. I am trying not to run away, as much as I am trying not to languish. This is a pain that deserves feeling. But for the sake of sanity, it is worth my time to remember that I also love the world.


In the now-empty space that used to be filled with calm companionship and occasional passion, I am rewriting my life. It has not been very long, but I have little interest in, nor energy for, languishing. I have passed my doubts, if not my regrets; it is not moving on, per se. Just moving.

A morning run, now, two miles or so thus far in the park by my house (to replace, I suppose, the shot of endorphins previously supplied by the morning fuck.) Meditation. A lot of sitting on my front porch in the sun (for what good is Arizona if you can't sit on your front porch in the sun (in sandals and shirtsleeves, no less) in February?). Sitting on my front porch with coffee and eggs in the morning, then again with cheese and crackers and El Alquimista at lunchtime, then as I procrastinate on my paper right now. The porch faces south and it gets sun all day. A thorough housecleaning and lots of laundry on the line. Knitting. More art than I've done in months.

There is a grey-and-white cat who I think lives next door, and who likes to come poke her head through my doorway. She will take a few hesitant steps inside before spooking, usually, though sometimes I find her in the kitchen, mewling. I see myself now kind of like that cat. Exploring - a bit timid, perhaps, but exploring nonetheless. In some ways, it feels like a whole new life.


Here are my options of a morning: I have a tea mixed of rose hips, clover and hibiscus from the health food bulk isle, and mint from last summer's farm, and I have coffee. This is the first moral dilemma of the day: I know what goes into coffee. I just spent a month learning it again, this time in Bolivia, where the coffee "collective" we visited did not distribute profits, and the hotel had instant Nescafe from Brasil. Looking at a cup of joe, fullsweetened the way I like it, I know what a coffee plantation looks like, what the workers are (or, more accurately, aren't) paid, the infrastructure, the glut. Then there's sugarcane. It's enough to make a person weep, all before seven AM. My tea? The innocence is almost laughable, and the conscience is soothed. But it just doesn't do the trick.

Oh, the choices we make.


Here is what I cling to: we always end up where we are supposed to be. I am here, now, because of the choices I made. When I arrived in Prescott, I knew it was right, and that made everything before right. This is scary as hell right now, but it will get me where I need to go. I'm doing the best I can.


My heart is a secretive thing, far more so than I would like. It keeps its intentions hidden from everyone, including myself. It likes pain sometimes, just like the rest of me.

What I can't tell is whether I am sabatoging myself or finally being honest. I have wavered on and off for the whole of this past year, sharp vacillations between thoughts of marriage and thoughts of solitude. I am afraid of being alone, I know that much. I do love him, I know that much. We have a lot of fun, and we have a lot to learn. I have been pleading with my heart to open, to talk to me, tell me what it wants. In the end I have to watch my body and hope that it speaks the truth. I asked my dreams last night to tell me, and they may have.

I feel like I just chose to cut my arm off; after all, I just chose to break my own heart.

I think it's time to take a walk.