I’m relaxing in front of my Big Red propane campfire, steaming cup of Mt. Whitney French roast organic coffee at my side, Winnie the Pooh slippers warming my normally never-cold feet on this gorgeous last full day of my October Solo Camping Adventure. The sun is drying the ocean dew that dampens the fading prayer flags and glistens the thorny berry vines surrounding Site 64; Monet has been fed, walked and is taking her morning nap, snoring, I believe.
Yesterday, my favorite campsite became available, so I moved here and I’m so glad I did; it’s the best spot in the entire campground as it has depth, a variety of trees and bushes surrounding me, creating a sense of privacy and wonder.
I know it may sound selfish, and maybe even a bit ungrateful to those of you with busy careers and children, but I never want to leave here. I’ve been camping for 21 days, yet I’m already feeling sad at the thought that today is my last full day. I don’t want to move from this great site, yet I want to visit my favorite places in the area—Monet’s running beach, my writing cliff, restaurants in town, the wineries. I don’t know what it is about this trip or this phase of my life, but I crave quietude and time to reflect. Getting in the van, driving, is an invasion, an interruption of reading, writing and art time. I don’t know, but it feels like I’m on the cusp of figuring something out, something deep and important, and then I pull away, distract myself with scenery, with conversation or some other kind of horsing-around activity.
Keeping busy. Keeping active. Keep moving has been my life’s theme.
But now, I feel different.
I was talking to my lifelong buddy, Julie, yesterday. We were sitting on her deck, under a beautiful gazebo, relaxing on her new patio furniture, feeling grateful for our more than 50-year friendship. Just hanging out. Two girls with their chilled margaritas enjoying time together, catching up, sharing secrets, laughing about our intriguing, new reality as official Senior Citizens; aches and a few pains and an honesty about life’s unpredictability, things we wish we’d known then, and this truly blessed, unconditional love we have for each another.
Julie has always been sensible and wise, grounded in God’s abiding love. Me, I was the excitable, flighty one with a heart that’s more stupid than smart. I always looked up to Julie, still do. Her life has turned out just the way she wanted it to. Not a lot of people can say that. Hanging out with Julie, even if it’s just for a couple of hours every couple of months, makes me feel like all is well in the world: my forever-and-a-day buddy. A person I can always be myself with. She knows all of my flaws. And still loves me. And vice versa, except in my eyes she has no flaws. She’s perfect. My perfect friend.
Time passes. But our friendship is still giggly and girlish. We’re the same people we’ve always been, only with a lot more Girl Scout badges on our sashes.
Girl Scouts is how we got to know each other. We lived in different blocks of Paulina Avenue, went to the same school, Beryl Heights Elementary. I don’t know about Julie, but Girl Scouts was a way for me to learn about how to survive in the wilderness, go camping, learn to tie knots, and that kind of thing. Unfortunately, our experience was nothing of the sort. Yes, we got our working-class parents to buy those aluminum, highly burnable, mess kits, we worked on the Girl Scout manual trying to earn badges, but Troop 91 was lame. We camped in our Troop leader’s tiny living room a couple of blocks away from Paulina. I think Julie and I mutually understood, without sharing our disappointment, that our Troop lacked leadership. Perhaps the experience planted the seeds of our future involvement in Student Council and various high school clubs. For me, Girl Scouts was so unfulfilling, but it whet my appetite about Nature and camping, which I wasn’t able to pursue until my junior year of college when I ended up getting married on a Big Sur camping trip.
I feel a eureka moment coming on …
Perhaps, she says in her Freudian, rub the goatee—unfortunately—voice, this phase of your life is about dipping your toes into the icy, but tolerable creek you have yet to fully submerge yourself into?
Drench yourself, my dear, sit in the caldron as long as you need to, until you get (even more) wrinkly. Then, you can say, you’re done.
Jolting up on the fainting couch, she (me) responds: That is why I love soaking in a bathtub with candles and bubbles and spa music and a glass of wine and flowers and plants on the window sill! Saturation. Stillness. To know, what I know. To be best friends for a half a century. To realize what I need to realize so I can wrap myself in a warm Turkish towel and feel connected to the trees and the birds and the stars and all of the doors and windows that have ever been opened or shut to me until I can land and be wherever I need to be for as long as destiny permits.
At long last, the pieces of the puzzle are slowly coming together.
Living my dream. Really. Truly. Like I have died and gone to heaven. In heaven. Me. Camping at a beautiful, gorgeous winery in San Miguel, CA, Four Sisters Winery, https://www.foursistersranch.com/owned by Serena and Michael, former doctors from Southern California who decided to switch it up. They have two-and-a-half acres of grapes behind their home and the winery they rent out for special events, including weddings, which is occurring tomorrow. They are partners with Harvest Hosts, https://harvesthosts.com/a truly ingenious collaboration between small farmers and wineries and other unique businesses across the Nation. This amazing resource connects like-minded campers, like me, with small business owners who are passionate about their respective projects and are looking for unique ways to market their products and services.
My dream has always been to stay at a winery. Today, tonight, I am living the dream as I solo camp, with my pup, of course, in the winery, just about 12 feet from the vines. I get to feel the air, smell the dirt and crisping-up-just-after-harvest leaves, talk to the owners, enjoy delicious wines, and feel the peace of living this life I have wondered about.
It is twilight right now and the hum of the cooling system, or something wine-related, is doing its work. The birds are catching tiny flies, and the sunset is haloing the gentle mountains strutting the sea. The vineyard is empty, but soon, Michael shared, I might see wild boar and coyotes hunting for rodents and rabbit. “Keep your eye on your dog,” he cautioned.
It is vast and now that the winery mechanism is turned off, quiet, like the solitude of a silent movie theater in which you are the only theater-goer. The viewing arena is large and dark and colorful and about to flash with coming attractions. The sunset is brushed with streaks of amber. A few minutes ago, it was pale peach. The frogs or birds or something is high-pitch tweeting. Behind me, someone just lifted a door to bring something out of the winery. There’s a light on. It’s harvest season and there’s still work to do at this small and stunning winery.
Now the sunset is streaked raspberry sherbet and I am here in the almost-dark, drinking the rest of my glass of chardonnay, which doesn’t seem right because now it’s chilly enough for me to wear a coat on top of my tie-dyed pajamas and I rightly should be drinking a hot toddy. I’m in my PJ’s outside in the vineyard, in my slippers, about to take a snooze in my cozy VW camper van. It is a dream, something I’d see in a movie and say, “I wish that was me,” but it is me and I’m alone trying to explain what it’s like to step into a dream.
It is cinematic. Wide angle lenses aren’t wide enough to capture this 3-D experience. Cool ankles. Warm knitted cap head. Cheesecake core wrapped in my puffy blue Patagonia coat. Glowing. It’s actually glowing this radiating sunset that just keeps getting more extraordinary. Like my life. At age 66.
And then, breaking the absolute enjoying-in-the-moment glory, I am reminded of yesterday’s “The Phone Call”:
A person, who will remain nameless, phoned, out of the blue, while I was enjoying Life with a capital L. Just having my second cup of coffee, about to plan my day, savor my last 24 hours in the Eastern Sierras, and this unnamed person smeared a lot of animal feces on me (metaphorically). It was unexpected. It was unkind. It felt like I was hit in the back of the head with a 2 x 4. Honestly, despite my newly acquired enlightenment, it kind’a ruined my day. I couldn’t sleep all that night. Tossing and turning. It really royally annoyed me off that The Phone Call person decided to regurgitate on me while I was in the midst of my healing sojourn.
I lost a day and a night, thanks to The Phone Call person.
Still, sitting here in the Big Top Circus Sky of amazingness, The Phone Call is still occupying my thoughts.
Unwanted, yet The Phone Call pushed me to figure things out I didn’t think I still needed to figure out: I need to stop giving up my time/life trying to change/fix/heal/transform/etc/other people. I can’t change the past. I can’t erase what people think of me, whether they like me or not, what I did or didn’t do. But I can put my foot down and stop allowing certain individuals to blame me for their lives. We all did/do our best. We all screw up. We all do a great job every now and then. I wish I could have a do-over, wish I could take back, wish I had the perspective I have now. But that’s not the way it works. Hopefully, we grow, we get better, we are self-reflective, apologetic when need be, and transform our imperfections into better versions of ourselves.
As I sit here beneath the stars, listening to the songs of a coyote in the distance, and the unexpected jolt of a winery worker doing his job, I realize how important it is for me to drop the sandbag weights that have burdened me throughout my life, the would ofs, should ofs, could ofs.
While it may not mean anything to The Phone Call person, I can say that God knows I have done my absolute best to navigate life’s complications. Just like everyone I know. Most of us mean no malice. But, we are flawed, we are imperfect.
Like the folks I’ve been meeting on my travels, like the two winemakers I spent several hours chatting with; they both have completely different life experiences than me, different political philosophies. One admitted he only watches TV news that agrees with his point of view. Another said he was too busy working me to spend with his daughters. Both gents were being honest, self-reflective.
Breathe Janet, breathe.
Here, beneath the pinprick sky, it feels good to release all the negativity and focus on evolution, growth and love.
This place, the place of my dreams. Nothing, not even The Phone Call person holding so much venom toward me, can rid me of the love and joy I feel. Forgive them for they know not what they do. These profound, last words expressed by Jesus inspire and console me. If He could, so can I.
Turns out the Great American October Solo Road Trip isn’t just about cool landscapes and scenic campgrounds. This precious time gives me space to think, ponder, embrace and shed. Alone. With God. On this Friday night, writing to the crackling grape leaves, the hooting owl, and the crescent moon cresting above the jagged horizon.
Like opening the fridge door. Like popping a balloon full of amber confetti. Like being immersed in a painting by Claude Monet. Like being in a movie about a woman whose heart is finally open to a life she once only dreamed of.
I will do my very best to try to explain where I am, why I’m here and what is happening to me. It starts a long, long time ago, when I was a little girl playing in the backyard at Spreckles Lane. She was an imaginative little girl who could turn a magnolia tree leaf into Robinson Crusoe’s ship, a piece of abandoned tissue paper and string into a makeshift dress for her pen-freckled, frizzy-haired peewee doll. Croaking toads were characters in her make-believe world, as was her Calico cat, Penny, and lighthouse fountain her father made out of PV stone. She was bronze and pigtailed, high foreheaded, chubby-bellied, and longed to be everyone’s amigo. She was fun and danceable, liked to draw, read and tell stories until she got to an age where she could write her own. Her adoring father was her sidekick and enchanted his little girl with bedtime stories threaded with bits and pieces of her imagination. He was always like that, incorporating his daughter’s story into his, giving her validation and a golden key that she would cherish for the rest of her days.
That brings me to this moment, more than six decades later, more than a dozen years after her beloved dad died, sitting on a leaf-carpeted porch next to a leaping creek, doing what she’s always done–write. Only this time, it’s different.
This time, the little girl has a car and can drive and cook food and go out to eat, if she feels like it, and stay up really late binging on movies (when she has reception) and read an entire book in day, or drink a wee glass of wine in the afternoon or take a nap (which she has yet to do) or camp 10 days straight in the beautiful Sierras or leave when a Fall storm threatens rain and snow on the weekend or reserve not one, but THREE nights at the cutest little cabin resort off the 395 outside of Bridgeport, CA. Here, at the Virginia Creek Settlement https://virginiacreeksettlement.net/, she has a porch and a hot shower and a comfy bed and internet reception and her own food to cook–a big pot of veggie chili for the chilly nights–and can order from an on-site diner the best damn cheese pizza in the Sierras and hang out near the firepit and eat so’mores, just she and her devoted pal, Monet, the spotted blue healer. Here, she can imagine The Next Chapter without judgment or interference from well-indended folk. Here, she can see herself doing everything she loves—reading, writing, creating art, listening to music, absorbing the stillness and variety of Nature. Here, there are no expectations other than to let Nature do her job.
This grownup woman/girl is so happy, so content, so in-the-moment, so grateful in a way she hasn’t felt for years. Giddy to feel the translucent leaves shower her in unexpected wind spurts as if she is Ginger Rogers in “Singing in the Rain”. Giddy to imagine Paiute warriors standing above the painted granite cliff surveying the land and strangers like me, wondering, “Are you here to appreciate or raid?”
I am here, honorable people, to absorb, reflect and to remember the changing of the seasons, the contentment in Miguel’s face as we share a moment of gratitude along the creekside, on this fine transitional day, before he bids adieu, getting back to his handyman work, and I get back to noticing.
Yesterday, it was emotional leaving the Twin Lakes Campground, saying goodbye to Terrie the camp host, and my beautiful campsite. To land here, however, is an equal blessing. An indoor respite where I can hang my hat—literally—for a few days, settling in, before it’s time to move on. I simply don’t have enough words to express how perfect this retreat is for me, how many thoughtful accommodations Jimmy and Brinn, the proprietors of Virginia Creek Settlement, have thought of for us guests. Rustic, clean and comfortable.
If the only prayer you say at the end of the day is thank you, that is enough. Thank you means you listened, you noticed all of the tiny miracles that make up a day—your day. The Gift.
If you’ve been following my blog for a bit, you’ve probably observed that I get tied-up in knots; I go round and around, jump as if someone’s pushing me, and when I finally land, the proverbial parachute cords have lassoed my legs paralyzing my ability, and desire, to move forward.
I don’t know if I’m alone in this quagmire called change. I definitely didn’t follow the Hollywood film version of a dramatic rainbow-at-dawn awakening. I don’t have The Answer. Clearly, I’m never going to be Swami Janet, maybe Swimming in the Questions Janet, but any leaning towards Enlightened One status skipped this girl’s DNA.
Slow, but steady, wins the race. Isn’t that what the old fable suggests?
Thanks to Nature, aka God, bit by bit, however, I’m piecing together The Puzzle.
This Place wants nothing from me. She even forgives me if I do rotten things like leave trash, which I would NEVER do, or hang a hammock from tree trunks (guilty as charged). This Place provides unconditional love not just to me, but to everyone who graces her forest home.
Like Terrie, the camp host:
Two years older than me, she has cared for the Twin Lakes Campground for nine seasons. She has a reputation for keeping the campground immaculate. Every day, she and her crew scrub the flushing pit toilets and blow-out the firepits and surrounding asphalt. “I like to keep it the way I’d want it to be if I was camping here,” she explains. Terrie, a tanned, white-haired fireball of light and energy, decorates her 24-foot trailer to remind campers of the season; these days she scoots around in her golf cart handing out Halloween candy. She calls it “her” campground and means it; she and her senior citizen dog reside in the same spot from April to mid-October or when the weather changes and the campground closes. As she ritualistically strips the faded American flags from the campsite post she patriotically places at every campsite at the start of the season, Terrie tells me that she comes back every year, despite her adult children’s objections, because it renews her spirit and brings her back to her truth. “I am a different person here than I am when I’m at home,” she said, referring to the 117-degree Palm Springs condo she shares with her second husband.
Sunday at noon when she leaves, Terrie will cross the Sierras and drive along the Oregon and Washington coast hoteling it all the way. “This job doesn’t pay a lot, but it pays for my vacations which I NEED to do before transitioning back home,” she says, rolling her eyes and explaining that her sticks and bricks address is a “Place of Responsibility and Duty.”
Terrie confesses that her family doesn’t “get” her and why she has to “regenerate” and leave the family each year. “That’s OK,” she says, because she knows her decisions won’t always please the people she loves. “I have to do this to restore my soul.”
Tilting her head in the afternoon sun, she sighs, taking-in her last day and a half in the Sierra Fall, and says, “They have to accept me, just as I accept them.”
Terrie has had a turbulent past; an abusive, controlling first husband, and a daughter who was a drug addict from the time she graduated high school until just a couple of years ago when she made the difficult decision to press charges against her for robbery: “One of the hardest things I have ever had to do.” Her grown kids alienated her for calling police but, she said, wiping away tears, her daughter stole all her possessions and, worst yet, abandoned her senile elderly mother for 48 hours while Terrie was out of town for the weekend.
“It was the last straw,” Terrie said, and one in which her daughter just recently credited her with as the decision that finally turned her life around. “If it weren’t for that decision,” her daughter acknowledged, “I wouldn’t be here, I’d be dead.”
At 44, having attended a Meth program and living clean and sober with other recovering addicts for the last two years, Terrie’s daughter is once again the daughter she once knew. She has a job, goes to meetings and has renewed her relationship with her teenage daughters. “Can you ever forgive me?” Terrie’s daughter asked, just last week. “Yes, my dear girl.”
“But what’s more important,” she said, “is have you forgiven yourself?”
Terrie has three other grown children and 10 grandchildren whom she dearly loves, “more than I can put into words.” But just like the advice she gave to her daughter, she says, she has learned to take care of, herself: “If I don’t do that first, I’m no good to anyone else.”
This Unexpected Place. This Unlikely Teacher.
As I enjoy my last 24 hours in this Chapel of Peace, I am filled with love and gratitude to the Teachers I’ve met, the blue skies and crisp weather I’ve experienced, and the luxury of Time.
Had it not been for a MapQuest error, I wouldn’t have been where I was supposed to be. As I used to tell my 8th grade English Language Arts students, “It’s not a mistake, it’s an opportunity.”
Writing by the lake. In my dreams I’ve sat here on a cold rock bathing in the silence of air.
No talking. Just the tap, tap, tapping of my fingers against the keyboard, which, in this environment, is amplified, sounding vulgar and intrusive.
It takes a week for me into settle into place. It takes a week not being busy, not traveling or sight-seeing to really nuzzle into peaceful slumber, into me.
Last night, four eves into my Fall Leaves 2022 Sojourn, I was restless. All the second-guessing surfaced. I cried. Finally. Over my decision to sell my home, which I loved. I sobbed, like a requited lover, will I ever have a home, a place, that I loved as much as Angel Cove Cottage By the Sea? Was I hasty? Was I caught up in Real Estate Fever-Sell High/Buy Low-Frenzy? It was kinda pathetic, but cathartic too. When you are alone and have no one to bounce ideas off with, your brain becomes its own ping pong table. Yes no, yes, no, wrong, right.
Now, sitting along the lake, in the early morning light, I can see those midnight doubts for what they are: Fear. Which is natural, expected, and part of this rocket to the moon called growth.
I suppose it’s like leaving a relationship that you have fought for, worked at, but realize that at the end of the day, you just don’t have the enthusiasm to keep up the battle; your partner isn’t going to change, doesn’t want to change, and those same problems that ticked you off—for years—have jailed you in a hamster wheel waste of life. Your life, the life I am living along this lovely creek besides The Best Campsite I Have Ever Stayed at In My Life. Clean, quiet, my God, the campground host blows out the firepit and level—LEVEL—asphalt pad every time a camper checks out! Temps here are perfect—72 degrees during the day, a refreshing 32 degrees at night.
It’s not that I couldn’t have found this place if I still had my home, still had my marriage. But it would be different. I would have had definitions, guidelines, that didn’t look or feel at all like the picture in my head: falling, flame red and mustard yellow birch leaves, goose bump breezes and the mardis gras mountain creek. Yes, it’s all a party, every day, every moment. Fall is Nature’s season of peace.
The stillness, the openness, I feel being here with my dear Monet would not have happened if I didn’t lose the book ends of my life, if I didn’t leave, say goodbye, shut the door of my old life, my over-planning-worries, I wouldn’t have experienced this heaven on Earth. Not like this.
I realize that my doubts are another expression of fear. It’s a weight that keeps me from moving forward. It’s natural. Just as natural as back-tracking, returning to old habits—forgiving, again, looking at the good while ignoring the bad, eating sugar, spending too much, drinking too much, craving acceptance and all my other go-tos.
But here I am with my laptop writing at the base of the Eastern Sierras. I haven’t had breakfast—my traditionally boring, but healthy, kefir and Fuji apple—my two cups of very strong coffee are all I need to keep me warm and alert this fine, 30-degree morning. My senses are acute and alive.
To be alone in the wilderness. Well, not exactly alone, alone. There are stores and gas stations and restaurants and hotels and portapotties and hikes and places to go grocery shopping and camp neighbors. And I love it. And I love it.
Sitting on this shimmering granite stone, grateful for the intense sun on my back, knowing that today’s agenda includes taking a glorious $4 shower, finishing “Love in the Time of Cholera”, and dabbling at my painting, maybe even taking a nap, I know that being here is more than enough. Time to put up the hammock.
So many times I wanted to write to you—to me—in my sweet-like-a-child attempt to capture the moment, the day, the weeks. But, alas, the day-to-day responsibilities of couch-surfing, of determiming where I am needed, where I need to go for a night or several, stole my desire to sit down and write.
In case you need an update, here’s a numerical (it’s tres neat) summary of my life off the road:
See, not all that exciting? However, learning to be a vagabond, living out of a suitcase, realizing I really need very little to be happy, that I still worry even though I don’t need to worry, are helping me step forward into a completely different life. As a lifelong planner/preparer/anticipater/Plan B-er this new, let’s see how it works out lifestyle is taking a minute or to to adjust to.
Nothing is magic, yet everything is magical and soft and vibrant and possible. I say this as I sit along a creek outside Twin Lakes near Bridgeport, CA, the campsite I thought I had reserved, but turns out, there are A LOT of Twin Lakes in the U.S. and even California. My five nights were reserved for the Twin Lakes near Mammoth not near Bodie. I decided to stay here the night because it is perfect. I have cool, quiet neighbors, Jim and Kathy, the stream, asphalt for Luna, and 72 degree temps and the Fall colors and a much-welcome brief rainstorm. In fact, the place is so picture-perfect that I’ve reserved another night just in case I don’t like the Twin Lakes campground down south. This sweet spot is going to be hard to beat. There’s nothing like the baptismal, healing qualities of a babbling mountain creek and a cup of, now cold, coffee. My soul already feels quieter.
On the weekend, my son and my two grandsons were in Barstow camping in 90+ degree temperatures at a ghost town founded by the guy who established Knotts Berry Farm–Callico. We love it there! Lots of old mining stories and trinkets to lure tourists. And icy cold beer and bottles of sassperilla. The boys love taking their pick axes and shovels, mining headlamps and hammers and chipping away at the hillside looking for silver and other treasures.
Their great Uncle Randy introduced Callico to my kids when they were in elementary school. It’s a kid-friendly day trip, but in our case, we spent the night so the cousins could have fun the next day. As Bronson said, “Grandma, I never want to leave here.” While the heat was repressive, an EasyUp provided the shade we needed to survive. Turns out in Southern California, October really isn’t Fall, it’s the peak of summer. Next time, we’ll probably camp toward the beginning of November when it’s cooler and less crowded.
From Barstow, I took off for my Monet-and-her-Mama camping trip along the Eastern Sierras. I have been fantasizing about this trip for a year. While I’m always a bit nervous camping by myself, after the first night all the familiar feelings re-surface and I realize that when I’m in Nature I’m home. It feels safe and secure and meant-to-be.
In the city, back home in the South Bay, I was overwhelmingly nostalgic. I felt sad and melancholy. I doubted my decision to sell my home. I second-guessed everything, was on the Internet far too much, watched TV “news”, caught up on “Handmaid’s Tale”, and felt worried and lost. “Where would I spend the night?” “How could I help Bruce?” “What could I do with Monet since she couldn’t stay with me?” and on and on and on.
As I told my sister, I think I need more separation from my old life in order to feel the contentment of my new one.
And so, for the next bunch of weeks I will be gone. Limited cell reception. High gas prices. My cozy and cramped VW. Vegetables, fruit and a mostly healthy menu, some great wines, strong coffee, my paints, my writing, my ukulele, new hiking boots, my writing and, of course, my senior citizen traveling companion, Monet.
California forest service campgrounds are all about to shut down for the season. Soon, I will be boondocking on BLM land. This, too, is a new experience. I have a couple of nights booked at a cool little hotel my son likes, but other than that, it’s $14 a night camping, until it’s free. I’m excited about having the time to work on my book and being totally embraced with a sense of peace only Nature can provide. This fresh, fresh air. The quietude. The positivity of clouds and trees and birds and trout and bright orange leaves and a passing rain that pushes you to adapt, jacket-up, and say thank you for realizing there is more to life than the nonsense of politics and anger and the need to always be “right”, unless it’s right now, this moment, enjoying the pause button called Real Life.
This is the third time I’ve been to the Cambria Public Library on my trip to nowhere, my pause, before the next step. I am surrounded by masters. I am in a sanctuary of accomplished and one-hit (maybe) wonders and writers who got their words noticed by a publisher and now they wait to be consumed. Thumbs up? Thumbs down? What makes one book worthy and another book destined for the recycling bin?
As a former English Language Arts teacher and journalist, I know good stories are about structure, about the peaks and valleys, about relatable characters and settings, a writer’s style, and for many of us readers, the lesson so we can possibly apply the protagonist’s wisdom to our own lives.
As I’ve mentioned, I’m writing a book called “Fourteen Summers”. It is loosely based on my life. Right now, I’m harvesting experiences and ideas, paying attention to things I brisked past without a second thought. I am noticing things like the humming air conditioner and the young homeless guy in the corner, the same man I saw yesterday outside the library, lounging in the sun, tapping into the free WiFi because the building was closed. I have conversations with older people, and younger folk. I am aware of my weary, camping bones and the fact that a siren just sliced the quiet and yet a month ago I was numb to those commonplace shrieks.
All these fictional and non-fiction characters aisled next to me, bidding me to join their ranks. Imposing. But welcoming.
I picked up a few more $2 novels books for my weeks ahead, books that have been on the best seller list, that I finally have time to learn from. I am currently reading a Pulitzer Prize winning book, “Never Let Go”, that I have been patient with. I’m not loving it, but at some point soon I hope to better understand what other readers appreciated.
Which brings me to the topic of letting go.
I let go of material items. Now, it is time to let go of a human. My ex. We’ve been divorced for 15 years. I have loved. I have cared. And I still will. But he has given me permission to move on. He wants to figure out his life. Without me.
You might think, “Wow, what a gift!” And it is. And I know. But it is strange. Because I think he needs me. But he has made it very clear, he doesn’t.
I am not needed.
By any other human.
Everyone is independent, self-reliant. The only soul who needs me is my Monet, whom I’ve learned to channel my 24/7 love. Just me and my girl, travelling along the road of life.
I’ve read about people like me. I’ve admired them. So independent.
I’m a modern-day pioneer woman, on the road in my covered VW Eurovan Camper wagon. As a little girl, I always related to “Little House on the Prairie” books. Laura was me. Well, it’s a lot different from those days, but I am forging a path across the prairie of a new America, one that has goodness, one that has dangers, one that has hope.
I love it how books started my life, I let go of them for a bit, and now they have returned. This quote by my favorite authors, Haruki Murakami, sums it up: “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”
What books are you reading? I’d love to add them to my list.
Safe travels everyone!
The campground is still. Everyone cleared out early this beautiful, drizzly, grey morning because of last night’s downpour. I can’t blame them. I did the same thing, breaking camp at record speed from the primitive campground I was able to secure at the last minute. When I arrived, it was dusty and dirty but after Saturday’s monsoon rains, I woke up to ponds of mud. Dogs and mud and camping, I don’t think so, so Monet and I and headed into town for a cup of Lily’s latte and a veggie breakfast burrito.
Right now, and I suspect for the rest of the week while I’m here, it will remain quiet. Labor Day is a full week behind us and now us retirees come out of the woodwork and pantomime part-aay—whoot, whoot—like it’s 1976.
Right now, I can hear the rush-rush-rush of The-Weekend’s-Over-traffic, but it is muffled, almost like the breaking waves. This stillness, this calmness, sitting under my black umbrella as the rain drizzles around me, feels like my mother’s powder puff on my ruddy cheeks. When Katie was born, 31 years ago, everyone in the household was holy, reverentially, silent. We tiptoed. We spoke in whispers. We were in awe and transfixed by this tiny fawn of a human child. Being silent in Nature is like that. And even though “civilization” is just a mile away, I am uplifted, swaddled by an imaginary stork.
The rain is so welcomed to drought-weary California. Even though it can mess up plans—camping, outdoor birthday parties, hikes—it is an exciting reminder of change, how, as much as we try to be organized, we’re actually not in control of the big stuff, like the weather, or accidents, or terminal diseases.
Living-in-the-moment is my new discipline. Clearly, I need a lot more practice!
Having time helps, as does not worrying about unpaid bills. I had no idea that this State of Being was even possible. To sit, like I am, drinking a very strong cup of Kona coffee at my favorite campsite on a Sunday afternoon, not stressing about rushing home, what I’m going to teach tomorrow, watching the little yellow bird jump from bush to bush, enjoying my own company, is astounding, is an experience I wish everyone could also enjoy.
I am grateful that I was able jump when I was ready, that nothing pushed me off the edge; an illness, a financial calamity, a negative attitude about my home, my family, my city. I left with tears in my eyes, and love.
I suppose I’ll be processing the why I left and its implications for some time to come. What I know is I craved silence. I craved the white space of a clean canvas. I craved staring at the ocean for as long as I want. I craved saturating myself in being open to conversations with strangers, paying attention to interactions and relationships, being the observer and, when it feels right, the participant.
So yesterday, after a night at a dog-friendly hotel and enjoying an engaging dinner with my dear friends, Julie and her best-guy-ever husband, Ken, I decided to save money on a second night at the hotel, and reserved a primitive campground just a mile east of the one I booked for the upcoming week. I’m in wine country and driving past some of my favorite wineries without stopping was weird and very much unlike me; I figured, I’m by myself, I have my dog, it’s hot, and solo wine tasting isn’t fun if you don’t have a buddy with you.
But the vibrational pull of Vineyard Drive off the 46 and my favorite wineries was just too much for me.
You know, I had no choice. So, I turned right at the turnabout and took my Aloha Time down the oak-tree canopied winding road.
The folks at Rangeland Wines on the westernmost edge of Paso Robles are like family to me, so I figured I wouldn’t feel so pathetic wine-tasting alone. I love the owners, Laird and Lisa Foshay, their writer son, Jackson, and their sweet black and white herder pup. We always talk about the books we’re reading, the complexities of Climate Change, of course wine, and sometimes poetry.
Saturday, the tasting room was packed, more patrons than I’d ever seen before, but somehow Rangeland’s accommodating staff found room for me and seated Monet and I next to four senior citizen regulars; we immediately begin chatting about dogs, how my cattle dog isn’t especially friendly, and how much we loved Rangeland.
One of the men, a particularly upbeat, chatty guy, shared that he was celebrating because he sold his house—full asking price on the first day—and would be moving to Utah to a senior citizen complex that provides assisted living. “Weren’t you sad?” I asked. “Hell no! I’m sick of all the work,” he said. His friend, a woman who appeared to be in her mid70s, said they would be joining him in a couple of years because they can’t stand the Governor and the direction California appears to be heading. “It’s not so bad here, but in Los Angeles and San Francisco it’s just awful,” she complained, assuming I was on the same political page as her.
I didn’t get into it with her, but I love California, just like my immigrant parents did. Sure, there are parts that are annoying. The traffic. The congestion. The home prices. The homeless problem. But that’s true of all cities, I suspect. But look at our beaches. Look at our mountains, our National Parks, our economic opportunities, our diversity. Look at Kirk, one of the servers at Eberle Winery, another winery I stopped at (couldn’t help myself—it was close to the hotel!); he’s a long-retired principal (his son is also a principal) and he’s in love with his second career, pouring wine and talking about the challenges teachers and children face, and wondering about solutions.
“My son is in the class teaching because there aren’t enough teachers to fill the vacancies,” he said.
My friend, Julie, whose daughter is also a principal, told me the same thing. Hopeful educators are burning out, yearning to leave the profession. Educators are being blamed for problems they didn’t cause and can’t solve.
Man, oh man, we knew this was coming. It was predicted 20 years ago when I went back to college, at age 44, to earn my teaching credential and Master’s degree. We actually do know how to fix it: Teachers need to be respected monetarily. Teachers also need time to reflect and restore. Finland figured this out at the end of World War II when they systematically re-evaluated, and addressed, their national values and priorities; they made societal changes accordingly. I remember meeting a young Finnish mother on a paid-for, year-long maternity leave as we were waiting to get our passports renewed; she said that in her nation teachers are placed on a pedestal,”They more important than doctors.”
See, as I’ve been sitting here relaxing, thinking about birds and trees and the walk I’m going to go on in a few minutes now that the rain has stopped, I’m not checking out. I’m restoring. Getting better. Maybe edging to a place, in the future—not now—of boredom. At some point, I’m going to get tired of reading and relaxing. And no, as my sister asked today, “Do ever get lonely?” Not yet. I talk to people. Listen. I have days and weeks to think, which is what everyone needs.
Did I tell you, I’m on my second book, “The Namesake”, a paperback I picked up for a dollar at the library? Did I tell you that I once again crave writing? Did I tell you I’ve painted my second watercolor? Did I tell you that for the first time in years I languished in the hammock, fell asleep, and had a dream? Did I tell you today feels like Fall? Did I tell you a woman who was walking behind me noticed these magical, crispy yellow leaves dropping on me like a bride on her way to her honeymoon, and said, “Make a wish. It’s supposed to be good luck”?
I stopped on the muddy pathway, arched by poplar trees and a ribbon of campfire smoke, and closed my eyes.
There I was, 66 but feeling like 6, believing in Santa Claus, the magic of Walt Disney, and all the songs of my youth that said dreams really do come true.
So, what did I dream? You know I can’t tell. But I’ll let you know when it happens.
I don’t know why I’ve been avoiding this. Writing. Figuring things out. The Scary Silence. The deadline-less lifestyle. The lack of traffic and noise. The simple, simple life I lead. Surely, in this floatation passage of Week Three Without a Home I have figured out some Epic Truth About Life?
I haven’t heard the St. Winifred’s Grappenhall Church bells yet. No rainbows. No shooting stars.
Fleeting moments of wisdom sail across the sea, bringing tears to my eyes. And then, just as suddenly, I forget what moved me and lounge chair-rest into The Moment, you know, the state of just being, a wave pattern of bliss; nothing else matters but the here and now.
I sleep late. I’m resting better than I have in years. Yes, I get up, toss and turn—courtesy of my aching bones. But I am sleeping soundly beneath the stars, to the sound machine of the beckoning ocean waves. Sometimes, I think about the “shoe” dropping, a problem that is expensive or I can’t solve; problems with the house, the sale of the house, my bank robbed, or the engine of my 21-year-old van blowing up (even though I just spent a ton of $$$ fixing it). Worries are still there, but they are pale blue instead of Las Vegas neon.
I am enjoying my wine.
Over the last three days, I have consumed 1½ bottles of wine. By myself. Me. Alone. Solo. Starting with dinner—olive bread, tomatoes, basil, mozzarella cheese, green peas, a handful of walnuts—my first night. Adding a Chardonnay from Castle Rock today at lunch and finishing last night’s J. Dusi red wine blend (all-women run company) as I consume the last chapter of a book I’ve been reading for months, Sue Monk Kidd’s “A Book of Longings”. The book, if you haven’t read it, is about the imagined wife of Jesus, Ana. She longs for, thus the title of the book, respect and a chance to pursue a career beyond her marriage to her very cool, very hip and adorable life partner. While the premise may offend some, I appreciate Kidd’s, “I wonder what would happen if….?” curiosity and her exhaustive research. 10/10 for originality, writing style and escapism.
So, what is so pressing that I felt the need to pull out my laptop and document my status quo as I sit beneath the blooming stars and almost-full moon at a not-perfect camp spot near Cambria, my most favorite place on the planet?
1. This is my home.
2. I need to wander.
3. I need to be here.
I’ve known this for more than 30 years. I’ve camped along the Central Coast for decades, usually about six times a year. The air. The wind. The skies. The crisp fog. The rain. The stillness.
I am alone on this camping trip. But I am not. Everything is familiar. Everything is comfortable. I am at ease. I am where I am supposed to be. My landing place. My raft in the stormy seas.
Literally, every single time I Ieave Cambria, I feel like crying. And I do.
Upon leaving, I try to talk myself out of chest-crushing sadness and give myself a pep talk, “You’ll be back soon enough.” I do my best to avoid L.A. Freeway Hell. But it never fails, the traffic, the people, the foul, heat and smoggy weather, always greets me like a Haunted Mansion Ghoul. I just don’t like Southern California any more.
It has been my home for 66 years. And I think, no, I’m pretty sure, I want a divorce.
* * *
post Labor Day,
post most kids back to school,
in a campground I’ve been to dozens and dozens of times before;
there is something so familiar and reassuring and meant-to-be;
it is hard to fathom why it’s hard to write,
hard to think,
hard to commit to The Next Step,
The Next Chapter,
the Next Place.
I’ve known it for as long as I’ve known myself.
Soon. I’d say within the next year, I will find the perfect place. Within my budget. With a view of the sea. Charming. Vintage. Feels like home. Because it will be.
This will be my place. No regrets. A fresh start.
While I long to wander, I also know I need a nest.
I met a woman at the local grocery store today. She was in her 80s. I told her I’ve been dreaming of living here for 30+ years. She said, “You should do it,” and smiled before shifting lanes and chatting with a cashier friend. She could be me in 30 years. A little old lady content with life.
We met up again, outside the grocery store, and I offered to help her onto the Cambria Community bus. “One day, I hope to be your neighbor,” I said. “But not just yet. I am on a traveling adventure.”
“Good for you,” she said, smiling again. “Do it while you can.”
That’s what people tell me. Travel while you can.
Things happen. The Great Next. But for now, I’m cruising in my VW camper van, staying open, learning lessons, trying to listen, and enjoying the feeling of floating on a flaming pink floaty to destinations unknown.