> jumping into life.


Sego lilies and the smell of warm pines. We bounce for some hours up a dirt road that the map says is maintained but it can't possibly be; there are ruts two feet deep and boulders a foot high, sometimes in the same place. Cows stare at us languidly as we pass, though some of the younger ones start and bound away with big twisting kicks. One runs alongside us for a while before ducking off into the oaks. Buckeyes are flowering, and we pull over to smash our faces in the blossoms.

We make camp just off the road beneath a ghost pine, strategically setting our bags between cow patties. The night is warm and buggy, the moon rising over the ridge a fat, ponderous orange globe. It wakes me more than once in the night, at which times I breathe deep the scent of dry grass and nighttime, snuggle closer, and drift back down.

In the morning we make our way into a canyon: manzanita, ceanothus, purple flores desconocidas, scrub oak, and at the bottom alders, willows, and dogwoods in bloom. On the trail there is a dead rattlesnake. We find a nook along the creek for lunch, and spend an hour eating and swimming. (By "swimming" I mean wading thigh-deep then plunging under, coming up hollering and then getting the hell out.) On the way back, someone has cut the rattle off the snake.

Part of this retreat is an attempt to retreat in earnest, to remove myself from a world that increasingly overwhelms and defeats me. I told him I don't read the news anymore; I don't want to know. Every new thing - the state is selling the land we camped on - every new thing just crushed me. I've been sleeping fetal lately, waking with my jaw clenched. I need a retreat from 24-hour broadcasts and babbling incoherency. I am fragile these days. Brittle.

And part is also to enter more fully the world I love. There is refuge in running water and rustling leaves; I need to learn how to find that refuge within myself. I want to live each moment. I know that if it is to be done it must be done in the madness of the city as much as the stillness of the monastery; I know also that the monastery will have its own madness, its own politics and problems and incoherencies. But I feel that I do not know how to slow myself down, how to bring myself deeper. I want to retreat from the thousand inconsequential decisions of my daily life - what will I wear today, what will I eat for breakfast, what will I do with my hair, what movie to watch, which ketchup to buy - so as to make room for the questions I really care about. What life will I make for myself?

I am not good at the middle path, but I can get swallowed in uncertainty. My intent is that this time will help me to clarify the answers to the real questions so I can face the others with impunity, and so that I can learn to love the inner world as much as I love the outer. Or that I may learn to love the rattlesnakes as much as the dogwood blossoms, and also the man who shot the snake, and his loud pickup and ATV.

This is the last post before I Go In. Keep an eye here and also at CRN in case Chris and I figure out a good way for me to post-by-proxy.

One more story before I go:
We had just bedded down for the night and were murmuring sleepily about the moon and the warm air and the bugs. Headlights came out of nowhere (we were in the middle of nowhere, so there's no place else they could've come from) and loud music, and loud voices. We were startled, and tried to remember whether or not we were trespassing. The truck drove past us, shining a spotlight at us as it went. We sort of huddled into our bags, though of course hiding was impossible - the car was right there anyway. The truck continued on a few dozen yards, then stopped and started to back up. Fear curled in my gut. I was painfully aware that we were in the middle of nowhere, that there were at least three of them and only two of us. "If we had a gun, now would be the time for a shot into the air," he said.

The truck backed up until it was just even with us and the light shone straight in our eyes.
A voice out of the darkness: "Y'all need any help?"

We assured them we were fine, and they continued on. The world is not so bad.


More crows here than ravens. Funny the things you don't notice until you've left a place for a while. Manzanitas along the highway; woodpeckers flashed with red. People bristling with defenses. The distinctive thing about the community in Prescott, I think, was that we were on the whole poorly defended against the world. Or perhaps it was only my little group, but I feel like we worked hard to keep ourselves vulnerable, and it showed. Even with my family I feel like I have to break down barriers all the time, or more often like I ought to be putting them up.

It worries me that I feel lonely right now. I fight the urge to fight it, to reach for the phone or something productive to do. I miss that community, and hard. I miss my little park and oh how I miss the people who walked there with me.

We took a walk there together the day before I left, to have the conversation we almost didn't have and which we couldn't have had anywhere else. "I don't think I can come here without thinking of you," I told him from the bench at the top of the hill. "Which is hard because this is the most comforting place I know." He nodded with the helpless expression we'd been trading the whole conversation, the expression that says I know exactly what you mean, and it breaks my heart, too.

Sense of place is dangerous that way. Among the Western Apache, according to my ethnography professor, one way that cultural norms are enforced is through the telling of certain stories. These stories take place in specific locations and have particular morals: a man who treats his wife poorly falls into the creek near Cottonwoods Stand Here and There, and drowns. Don't treat your wife poorly. If you are at a gathering and an elder tells that story and no one looks at you, it is understood that you have been reprimanded; every time you pass that place, you are reminded of the story and the reprimand. You treat your wife better.

That park was a place that caused me to be a better person, because he caused me to be a better person and he is inseparable from the park in my mind. To walk there, or even to drive by and cast my thoughts in its direction, was to be reminded of our story in all its glory and pain. There are few places that powerful for me. Washburn Lake is a story about family, one rocky beach along Asilomar is a story about balance, Rittenhouse Square is a story about friendship, Sycamore Canyon is a story about strength. Most other places are just places: beautiful places, loved places, special places, but in the end just places. Not stories. Not morals.

I worry about my itching feet, that pull to up and leave whenever things get tough. I think part of it comes from a desire to avoid Teaching Places: it will be much easier for me to forget the pain I've wrought and felt if I do not walk it every day. It will perhaps be therefore easier for me to make the same mistakes again. If I don't stay any one place for too long, if I don't invest myself in it and don't learn it in my body and my heart, perhaps I am safe from it. If I fall in love with people only, I can leave the people or they can leave me. If I fall in love with the land only - you should have seen the ocotillo blooming - I can take its picture with me when I go. But when the boundary blurs between my love for him and my love for the fierce new growth of locusts, when I look at the shadowed depth of a canyon and my yearning is for his lips and hands, when I look into his eyes and see oak leaves and maize...

It is startling, in fact, to discover I have so few Teaching Places here. A friend passing through last week wanted to be shown the places I go when I get home to know I am home, and I found myself blank. I know this place with the casual intimacy of any old friend, but our conversations are stilted these days. I miss you; I miss you, too. I still have not walked on the beach.

And I am leaving again, tomorrow. To the mountains for a few days of new joy, and then I'm Going In. The past two years have taught me a lot about cultivating community in my life, with both people and the land. I have a feeling I might find some new Teaching Places in the next four months. I know I've got plenty to learn.


Even though I'm only home for a few days, it's been nice to get into a routine. I'm waking up fifteen minutes earlier each day, working my way back to 5:30, which is when I'll be getting up at Tassajara. Start the kettle and feed the dogs; it'll be humming by the time I'm done with the one who is, as my mom calls it, working for a living: all his food must be earned. So we spend a few minutes doing sit, down, stay, rollover, etc. until the water is ready. Pour a cup of tea (I'm trying to wean myself off coffee before I get there, too), read the paper and some blogs. Eventually the dogs come crowding around me, which means it's time to wait ten minutes then take them for a walk. The little crazy brown dog first, because he's so much faster than the other two. We zip around the block, and he poops in the same four places each time. Then the other two - an old blind poodle and an old deaf mutt - who totter along to the bottom of the street and back, which takes twice as long as the other dog who goes twice as far. The fog hasn't lifted yet, the mourning doves moan, the elementary school kids are waiting for their bus. Deep breath. By the end of the second walk I am feeling hungry, and so when we get back it is time for breakfast. By then my brother is off to school and my dad just leaving. Breakfast is slow and quiet with the cats trying to get into my cereal bowl and the dogs flopped on the couch. Then a shower, then the day.


One thing that Mother Culture does not teach us women is to cultivate community amongst ourselves. For most of my life, most of my friends have been male; it was not until recently that I recognized that part of the reason is internalized misogyny - women are catty, women are too emotional, women are fickle. Certainly many of my closest friends have been female, but in high school I could count them on one hand, the rest men. At Drexel, same: my best friend there a woman and essentially all the rest male. It was only recently at Prescott that I began to gather a circle of women friends, and after just a few days away I miss them dearly. (Hi Kes!)

I think that if we are catty and fickle, it is because we are told to be so. I see so many women who seem just brittle, all their energy pointed outwards, so many layers of defense. But it is such a relief to be in a group of good women friends, to relax into their warmth and comfort. It is a different sort of intimacy, and in the past few days home I have come to realize it as I spend time with my - male - friends here. Today I'll be seeing some of my oldest and closest women friends, and I'm looking forward to it more than I'd expected to. The boys will always be my boys, and I love them, but it's good to have my ladies around, too.


After eight hours of driving, I look up from the UHaul I'm following - the Most Economical Way to Move! - and suddenly I'm in the brawny hills, sunset light gilding the still-green grass, north slopes knit with live oaks, ravens wheeling, and something in my heart whispers home. I am grateful that my brother is snoring in the seat beside me, for the tears come quick and hard. I can feel the ocean coming like a sob, and last night I fell asleep to the purr of wind in the pines and the yawping of sea lions on the pier.

Life opens like a door, and light pours through and silence, and the pure wash of gratitude, stunning as music. Do you remember the first time you heard Beethoven? I ripple with newness, testing freedom like a new muscle. The air here tastes thick and wet, even in the afternoon after the fog has burned. Already I miss the desert stars and our fancy dinners. Already I want to move on, or to stay here, or to go back - anything but limbo. Already some knot in my soul is untying itself, and the moments beat themselves out like a mantra: home, home, home. Every pine and cypress, every curl of fog.

And death - as per always - stalks the margins, moving in for a better view. My aunt is unlikely to see the end of the week, my mother flying across the country tomorrow. But there is green here, and grey skies, and home. Home.


A big weekend: today is my birthday, tomorrow graduation, and Sunday I'm moving back to California, at least for a while. My parents'll be getting here any minute with my siblings in tow, and I still have to figure out what I'm doing for my Baccalaureate presentation tonight. And I have to find a way to get in one more hike at my favorite park. Somebody take a deep breath for me, will ya?


I ride on my good friend's red scooter;
only one helmet
and she wears it.

The air a perfect sweetness:
wind on my toes,
wind on my hair.

Holding to her with my thighs,
and just touching with my arms
to her jacket.
We sing loud
over the rush of wind.

I am not a risk-taker,

but today I ate
a piece of chocolate, slowly,
and at the red light I think

if death comes, I am ready.


On the drive to Colorado last month, my friend and I had a conversation about depression. I remember saying to her something along the lines of, well, I've learned how to really appreciate the world and I can choose to see beautiful things everywhere and I don't know why I would let myself get depressed again.

And then a week ago I found myself writing this poem:

the old madness
chews at me. i find i am
at how easily it shrugs on my skin.
and suddenly
there are two of us here,
my mind and my madness,

elbowing each other
for room. the mind is fearful.
it is losing. the dark spittle of
the other greasing my skull.
i slip. i slip and darkness tastes
good again. darkness tastes good
again, and the bed seems so much
better than the sky.
and i try to pull focus,
close the apertures,
close the dreamdoor,
look only at this flower, this
doorknob, this square of wood
and sunlight, god save me
but it all rushes in and i dilate
and press my nails
to my palm. hard. the tragedy
of the world becomes
the world, beauty is a weapon

and memory burns. i cry,
i weep, i scream. in public,
no less. the others turn
their eyes away. oh
focus, focus,

listen. there is a drop
of rain
that falls from the eaves
to the cement. watch it.
watch nothing else.

I have learned about the beauty of the world, and another thing I've learned is not to be too attached to the feelings of this moment: they will pass. Still, it worries me to feel my edges curling again, and I find myself intensely relieved at the thought of my coming retreat. I feel like I have been clasping tight around my heart these past few weeks - I don't have time to be broken right now, I have to graduate! But soon, soon, there will be time and time for weeping and for cleansing and for sitting in one place and letting the world just be the world. I am grateful to the point of tears that I can take this time; as it turns out, gratitude is a good antidote to depression, too.


What struck me the most was a day at the Farmers' Market in Marina, which was a few blocks from her house. It was a beautiful day and we were trying to heal our friendship. I think it was a few months before our relationship began to acquire elements of the romantic, but a few months after we'd come to a mostly-friendly cease-fire regarding our mutual boyfriend. That's a story, but this isn't it.

We bought plums and fake beef jerky and were looking at vegetables and probably talking about Matt when the woman on the other side of the produce stand interrupted us.

"What happened to you?"

I was aghast. My friend just smiled gracefully, saying, "Car accident."


"A few years ago."

"Who was driving?"

She paused, and at this point I already desperately wanted the conversation to end. "My boyfriend."

"What happened?"

"He fell asleep and the truck flipped."

The lady looked at us mournfully. "Well, that's hardly fair."

"I wasn't wearing my seat belt," she said. "So it's my fault too."

As we moved along, I asked if that sort of thing happens all the time. She nodded. "Though it's nice when they're a little more polite about it."

Over the next year, I learned how to position a transfer board, how to collapse a wheelchair in about forty-five seconds, and how to reassemble it even faster. I also learned how to be grateful for the privileges so easy to take for granted: I can walk up stairs, for instance, and people hardly ever assume that my pain is subject to their demand. I learned that I am afraid of death, but more afraid of disability.

In the library where I sit, there is a giant replication of a disability parking placard put up behind the stairs leading up to the stacks. We have an elevator, of course, but the doors are heavy and it is out of the way. My favorite restaraunt has two steps in front of its door; my house had two stoop steps as well. The sign on the staircase - part of an art instillation project - I think is meant to remind us that our ease of movement is privilege. Those stairs are privilege. But don't stop there: privacy is privilege. Thinking clearly is privilege. Breathing unassisted is privilege. I think that part of why disabilism can exist as much as it does it because we forget that all the time. If those of us still walking and talking on our own truly thought of ourselves as temporarily-able-bodied - or if we truly recognized that my intermittent depression and my mom's rhumetoid arthritis and my friend's AIDS and her parapalegia are all points on a contiuum - or if we truly recognized none of that those points are what define us - well, that'd be a good start.


I am gut-tired. My desultory attempts at packing over the past week were suddenly forced to resolve themselves yesterday, as yesterday was Moving Day and, as it turns out, it's hard to move if the packing hasn't been finished. The day was therefore spent packing, with the afternoon spent moving, and the evening and most of the night - until 2 am - spent cleaning. The house I'm staying at this week is out in the woods, where there is neither cell reception nor internet, but where there instead is a herd of mule deer on my porch when I wake up to the dawn in my eyes. Friday is my birthday and Saturday graduation, a week from yesterday and I'll be back in California, a week after that and I'll be backpacking in the Sierra Nevada, and two weeks from Wednesday I'll be in a monastery. Honestly, I have no idea where the past three months went. Where the past ten years went, for that matter. One thing I do know is, I need a nap.