Forest Song

[This story will appear in a collection of shorts for Varanasi Sage, due out July 1, 2019.]

I opened the door, welcomed by early morning light peeking around clouds, caressing the world. Unseen doves proclaimed the day’s arrival in trilling coos. Oaks stretched in wild formations. Brown grasses stood defiantly against their drought deaths. The distant scent of a wood-burning stove — a reminder of recent wildfires that stopped at the next ridge. Deer tracks in the dust said I was not the only one who walked the trail.

They carried a flash, a remembering from my youth, making eye contact with a doe. She led me past trees, through ferns and ivy to her fawn, chestnut with white spots, nestled in the grass. Vulnerable. The doe watched as I knelt beside her baby, as I touched its tiny head, unaware of the danger to its fragile life. 

Through oak trees, lichen drooped long from their branches, the filtered sun created irregular, glowing shapes on the forest floor. Branches and leaves formed a tapestry of life, thick with energy, magnifying their essence and intensity. I was just one small organism in the network of life.  An enormous oak whose wide-spread branches twisted and turned, defied all patterns and rules. I approached the grand dame in awe of her divine, ancient presence, and when I moved under her furthest reach, the forest suddenly went silent.

A covey of quail (dressed in fancy spots, stripes and bobbling headpieces) whistled as they ran on speeding legs. A crinkling — Towhee kicking up leaves, flying in unison on purring wings when I approached. Acorn Woodpeckers squawked, perched on tree trunks — wearing tuxedos and red caps — drilling holes, stuffing them. Their gleeful chucking like happiness on the wind. I passed a giant oak, split at it’s lowest, thickest branch — down the middle. The top half on the ground, the trunk standing a jagged obelisk, rotted at the split.

Around a bend, a rhythmic cascade, almost like dropping water. I stopped to listen, but couldn’t make out the sound.

Slowly and quietly I walked, listening without seeing the source. At the crest, down the shaded hill, 5 or 6 deer chased each other, leaping between trees. They moved in s-curves, criss-crossing, creating figure eights with narrow hooves, playing like children in the forest. Nearer and nearer, they were so absorbed in their chase they didn’t notice me. Closer and closer, astonished by the sight, as close as I could get on the trail.

Overzealous, I stepped off the path and my human feet crunched leaves. Without showing signs of seeing me, they bounded away in perfect time through the meadow. At the edge of the forest, an antlered male turned back to look at me — knowing me, beckoning me on. 

On the other side of the meadow, the deer had left no trace.

A thick oak with a large horizontal branch, an arm reaching, pulled me off the trail. I hoisted myself up, stretched my legs and reclined back. Cradled in her arm, I gazed past the canopy to the sky. Rustling, fluttering, croaking, squeaking, laughing, whistling, chattering, calling. Each voice joined in one abundant song.

I could have lounged for hours, held by the tree and listening; yet, the forest did not sing for me. Symphonies without need for an audience. A true artist: creating for herself. 

“Show me the way,” I whispered. “How can I create like you?”

Close your eyes.

Moments passed, my ears opened to subtle layers of the song. Singers unashamed of their sound they received at birth. Each day a new score created without doubt or self-consciousness. Each voice accepted exactly as it was — knowing it had a welcomed part.

A Day in Los Osos

Nostalgia washed over me as I drove into Los Osos at sunset. I pulled into my friend Nikki’s driveway; it was my first visit to her new home.
“I can’t believe I haven’t seen you since the Burn,” she said, giving me a hug.
“It’s been too long!” I agreed.
She hopped with excitement. “Come see my new place,” she walked me down a stone path. Succulents, feathers, and skulls decorated her entryway.
“This is my room,” she said as she walked through the door.
I looked around, first at a three-paneled stained glass window and then at the plants and ornaments on her windowsill beneath it. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a stained glass this large in someone’s room. It makes your space feel holy.”
“I love sleeping here. It’s peaceful.”
Nikki showed me the rest of her house — pointing out the craft-style ceilings — and then walked to the large backyard with a view of the Pacific.
“I’m so glad you landed here,” I said. “This is exactly what you wanted to manifest months ago: privacy and a backyard.”
She smiled at me, “it’s perfect. I’m blown away by what I called into my life. And at an affordable price!”
We made tea and walked back into her room.
“I love this quirky town,” I said. 
“It’s got it’s own thing going from the rest of the Central Coast. A lot of artists live here. You get things like this stained glass that you might not find elsewhere.”
“When I lived here I felt like I was in a vortex. I wouldn’t want to leave for days on end. I don’t know if it’s all the natural beauty or the dead-end streets or what –”
“Los Osos definitely has me in its vortex. I love it here,” Nikki said, making herself comfortable on a cushion. “I can’t picture myself living anywhere else right now.”
“That’s a wonderful feeling,” I said. “It shows you’re exactly where you’re meant to be.”
She sipped her tea. “Have you heard of the I Ching?”
“Yes, but I don’t know much about it.” 
“I’ve been getting into it lately,” she said. “It started in ancient China and can be used as an oracle. I’ve been listening to a weekly interpretation by Bobby Klein and I’m finding his wisdom helpful for my daily life.”
“What is the latest?”
“He said we might be feeling unmotivated, lazy, and unproductive –”
I sighed. “I can relate! I want to write, I have ideas, but I can’t seem to sit and get them out. And when I do sit, I can’t seem to get them out in a way that pleases me.”
“See? It’s uncanny. I feel that way in a lot of areas in my life.”
“What’s the wisdom?”
“According to the reading, we can use ritual and ceremony to move past these kinds of blocks. And the energy we spend in that endeavor will translate into a bountiful harvest.”
“Have you tried it?” I asked.
“I have. In one way, for ritual, I’ve been waking up early and moving my body to put me in a positive, active mindset. And this window and the windowsill helps me create ceremony; I’m using it like an altar.”
I looked again at the colorful stained glass, reminiscent of religious art. “Is it working?”
“I think so. I’m definitely more positive and motivated, but I’ll know for sure when it’s time to harvest.”

Sweet Springs Nature Preserve
We woke up early the next morning to a sunny and warm fall day. After Nikki and I practiced yoga in her backyard, she went to school and I headed straight to Sweet Springs Nature Preserve, a 24 acre parcel of land neighboring the Morro Bay estuary. 
Wind rustled through Eucalyptus leaves, producing an airy music and a pungent, menthol scent. Dirt paths and wooden bridges guided my feet to views of Morro Rock, the enormous volcanic plug considered sacred by the Chumash tribespeople. Crossing one bridge, I came upon a flock of mallard ducks quacking and bathing. Several benches dotted the one mile trail, but I sat on a fallen tree at the edge of the marshlands.   
Listening to the Eucalyptus leaves and singing birds, I wondered how I could bring ceremony and ritual into my life to move past my creative blocks. 
I saw a Blue Heron gliding on the air. A few moments later, a Snowy Egret came into view, stepping carefully through the estuary, catching its breakfast with quick stabs of its long beak.
To the west, a large, waning moon hung over the ocean. I walked towards it along a boardwalk. Soft waves coming in from the harbor joined the trees and birds in Nature’s song. A sandpiper walked along the water’s edge, poking its beak in the sand; in the distance, a Blue Heron stood in tall grasses and a Snowy Egret perched on a docking post.

Los Osos Oaks State Natural Reserve 
As the day grew warmer, I drove east on Los Osos Valley Road to an 85 acre reserve, which is home to Chumash middens, ancient sand dunes, and three varieties of Oaks up to 800 years old. At the trailhead, I found a map and I planned my route — a loop that would encompass all three sections of the gentle trail. 
At the first trail marker I became confused. It pointed in three directions (right, left and straight), but it was placed much further than the left-hand trail. I walked to the left, but questioned if I had chosen the trail I wanted. 
Hesitation faded while I examined Beard lichen drooping from oak branches, but this section of the trail moved directly next to the road and the traffic distracted me from immersing in the forest; the noise was jarring compared to the otherworldly beauty of the oaks. 
The path began splitting into what I assumed were local trails and deer paths. Which one was the “right” trail?
Turning a corner, I saw an enormous oak with wide-spread branches, twisting and turning, defying all patterns and rules. I approached the grand oak in awe of its divine, ancient presence, and when I moved under the furthest reach of her branches, the road suddenly went silent. For just a moment, it was only me and the oak.
As trails took me further from the road, noise faded into the peace of nature. Oak branches created natural benches for me to sit on and listen to the crows call and birds sing. Gazing into the forest, it seemed the branches formed a wild tapestry, building intensity by intertwining and crossing each other. 
If only I could harness the vitality of the oaks in my writing. What could I possibly do to draw that force into my craft?
I continued on my way, guessing which path to take each time it splintered. Trails twisted and turned like the oak branches above them; I had to surrender to the randomness and chaos. I guessed my direction more than I was certain — I thought I was on a new trail until I came across a landmark and then I thought I was on a familiar trail until I saw something unusual. I felt like Alice in Wonderland, not knowing if I was here or there or lost or found, popping in and out of the forest onto the dunes. 
Stepping onto the shrub-covered sand dunes, I had an areal view of the oak canopy. Butterflies fluttered before me in graceful arcs. I came across middens, which spoke of the site’s Chumash heritage, the indigenous people who lived in the area for millennia — from Prehistoric times until the 1700s when the Spanish settled.
By the end of the hike I felt grateful for the road because the sound gave me a sense of direction. Walking out of the reserve, I felt like the Los Osos vortex had sucked me in and swirled me beneath its oaks in a meandering dance.     

Elfin Forest
Finishing my strange wanderings in the Oaks Reserve, Nikki and I met again for a walk in the El Moro Elfin Forest Natural Area. One of the most protected areas of Los Osos, the path is a complete, unified boardwalk and there are strict guidelines to keep visitors off the vegetation. This nature walk is great for strollers and people with disabilities — one entrance even has wheelchair access from the road. 
Consisting of 90 acres with views of Morro Rock, the Elfin Forest is aptly named for the pygmy oaks, which are a variety of California Live Oak dwarfed by soft soil, mineral depletion, salt spray and constant wind. Despite their small stature, these pygmy oaks are 200-400 years old. 
“I love being surrounded by oaks,” Nikki said. “I love feeling them and seeing them. They’re like dinosaurs.”
“There’s something majestic about oak trees,” I agreed. “It’s hard for me to say. It’s not just the moss or lichen or the wild branches. There’s an essence –”
“They’re the most energetically dense wood. That’s why people burn it. I imagine when they’re alive, there’s a strong field around them like they pulse with life.”
“We might not be able to see it, but we can feel it. Maybe that’s the Osos vortex. All the oaks together in clusters.”
“I love having oak forests a quick walk from my house.”
“That was my favorite part of living here, too. I miss it.”
We came to small clearing. Nikki set her bag down and began twirling her hoop.
“Hooping is another way I create ceremony and ritual in my life,” she said as the hoop orbed around her.
“I’ve been thinking about how to add ritual and ceremony into my life all day, actually.”
“When I’m hooping, I let myself drop into the flow of life. I focus on letting go of my thinking brain and it’s like I’m connecting with a divine energy. It’s hard to explain, but I think that’s how I’m able to manifest my desires. Letting go and creating a moving meditation.”
“I’ve heard meditation helps with manifestation because it’s a great way to be more positive and receptive to the divine. It puts us into our original, or natural state of being.”
“It allows us to just be with the divine. Something opens, something releases. And the divine rushes in. It’s nothing short of a miracle.”
While Nikki spun her hoop, I invited my mind to empty and become present. 
We had to complete our walk because Nikki needed to do homework. I, on the other hand, got to finish my day with the crown jewel of Los Osos.

Montana de Oro State Park
Named after the glory of springtime wildflowers, Montana de Oro (Mountain of Gold) is at the end of the last road in Los Osos and is gorgeous every time of year. Stretching 8,000 acres, most of the land is completely wild. 
I got out of my car at Spooner’s Cove to eat a picnic dinner with the sunset. Instead of watching it from the beach, I took a quick hike on the north bluff of the cove. 
As I ate, gulls flew towards Morro Bay and waves crashed on the tide pools and rock formations below me. 
I thought about my artistic vow and the bouts of resistance I encounter towards it. I want to be more productive, I want to write with more inspiration. So why am I standing in my own way? And what ceremony and ritual could I use to destroy these blocks?
I thought back to what Nikki said about getting into the flow with meditation. 
I looked out at the ocean — powerful, deep, vast, mysterious. I timed my breath with her waves and set my focus there, clearing my mind. We moved together and suddenly I knew.
I touched the turquoise necklace I was wearing and had bought because turquoise is a symbol of clear mindedness, creativity, communication, and releasing blocks around self-expression.
When the sun dipped behind the fog bank at the horizon, I walked back to Spooner’s Cove. I approached the ocean with my hands on my heart. Everyone was leaving the beach since the sun had set, but I walked to the water with sincere reverence and intention. Pebbles crunched beneath my feet.
I walked to the water and she approached me as well, reflecting the colors of the sunset. Wispy clouds turned pink in the distance, but the sky above me was clear. Little bugs with large wings flew through the air like tiny angels.
I walked to the far right of the beach, which was entirely secluded. To the right, seaweed grew down the cliff and to the left, rock formations created a wall. Behind me, Islay Creek came from the depths of the Montana de Oro wilderness to meet the ocean. It was the perfect place for my ceremony.
“Dear Ocean — powerful and deep, beautiful, mysterious, a force unlike any other — people come from every corner of the earth to see You, to know You. You’re ever present, ever moving; You’re expansive, You stretch further than I could ever see; You inspire; You bring us peace; Your power creates awe in the most cynical and hardened hearts. You, Ocean, were my constant companion when I was a child, I grew up playing in Your waves; You are my home; now, even though I don’t live near Your shores, You still feel like home, close to my heart. 
“Dear Ocean, bless my communication, bless this turquoise rock that I will dip into your waters; open my voice with Your power, Your strength, Your mystery, Your expanse, Your inspiration. You, dear Ocean, are considered a symbol of consciousness, the soul, and truth — imbue my voice with Your ineffable qualities that must be felt, heard, and experienced; fortify my voice with Your quality that sets deep into the soul and speaks to our ancient roots, as one of the first creations of life, the first creator of life. When I dip this turquoise into your water, bless my voice with Your power, Your strength, Your thundering waves, Your calm, Your peace, Your everlasting Spirit. Bless my voice, Ocean, deep, powerful Ocean, bless my voice.”
I took off my necklace and bowed to the water. I dipped the stone in her waves as they approached and put my hand in, too. I placed my hand on my throat and felt my pulse as the water dripped down to my chest and belly. I changed hands, prayed again, dipped the stone, touched my hand to the water and again to my throat. I clasped the pendant and felt it throb with power and vitality. 
The little bugs flew around me and gulls passed silently in the distance.
I put my necklace back on and bowed to the ocean, waiting for her to come to me. She returned, so sweetly. With my hands in prayer, I placed them both in the water and put them back on my throat feeling the wave drip down my arms and chest. 
“Amen,” I said, moving my hands to my heart. 
The sky had turned to violet. I struggled to pull myself away from the ocean even though night descended upon us.

Mallard ducks in Sweet Springs
The fallen tree I used as a seat
Snowy Egret in the Estuary, Morro Rock in the distance
Los Osos Oaks Natural Reserve



A common sight in Los Osos
Spooner’s Cove

Evidence of a Chumash Midden
The beach at Spooner’s Cove
The perfect place for my ceremony

The Forest’s Song

I step outside. The sun peeks around clouds to caress the world and welcome me. Unseen doves proclaim the beauty around us. 
Dew rests on the earth; oaks stretch in wild formations. Brown leaves blanket the ground and young grasses grow amongst those that had died in summer. Moisture adorns foliage with drops that sparkle and glitter in the sun. Deer tracks tell me I am not the only one who walks this trail. 
I take a deep breath; crisp, clean air fills my lungs. The distant scent of Linney’s wood-burning stove reminds me that only a few months ago a wildfire raged in these mountains.
I come to a clearing and see a flock of quail, each dressed with its own fancy spots, stripes and bobbling headpiece. They whistle as they run away on speedy legs.
I hear a crinkling sound and see California Towhee kicking up leaves to forage beneath them. As soon as I’m close, they fly away in perfect unison, their wings purring through the air.
Acorn Woodpeckers squawk and chuckle while they perch on tree trunks, wearing tuxedos and red caps, drilling holes and stuffing them with acorns. Their happy, gleeful chucking brings a smile to my face. They must be telling jokes to make work more fun. 
Off the trail, a thick oak branch grows horizontally from its trunk. Seeing that it’s dry and free of insects, I hoist myself onto it, stretch out my legs and recline back. The tree holds me like I am lying in its arm. 
Gazing into the canopy and up to the sky, I hear birds all around me. They rustle in leaves, they fly with fluttering wings. They sing, chirp, laugh, and coo. Each voice joins in one abundant song: the song of the forest.
I could lounge for hours on the tree branch listening, yet I know the forest does not sing for me. The forest needs no outside audience for its symphonies. It is a true and great artist: creating for creation’s sake, creating for itself. 
If the forest is the ultimate artist, how do I compare? What happens when I am the only one who reads my writing? 
I know the answer; I have felt it often. When I am my only audience, I get discouraged. I blame my voice — I call it awkward and uninteresting. My dream appears hopeless. My feelings keep me from putting words on the page.
The oak holds me like a mother. 
“Show me the way,” I whisper. “How can I create like you?”
“Close your eyes,” she says.
I obey. 
Minutes pass and I begin noticing subtle layers of the song. A hawk calls from high. A frog croaks in the distance. A crow caws. 
The forest tells me there’s room for every voice and contributors are never ashamed of their sound — it is the one they received at birth. They need not be melodic, gentle or harmonic to join the orchestra; they need only to be themselves. The song’s beauty is in its rich and vibrant variety. Each day it creates a new score without one thought of who will listen. The forest creates by design — without doubt or self-consciousness. 
Opening my eyes, I look into the tree with new understanding and say, “I will add my voice to the forest’s song.”

On the right, the tree who held me like a mother





Empty holes drilled by Acorn Woodpeckers

Gratitude: An Ode to the Rain

A severe drought — the worst in recorded history — has plagued California for years. Wildfires ravage the state, lakes receded to shocking levels, creeks and rivers ran dry. But this year, the rainstorms started early. One real storm blessed us in August, a few graced us in September, and this months we’ve had several large storms. I remember in 2013 we were ecstatic to have our first rain on Halloween — but that’s also when the rainy season ended.
At home, I am thankful even though the rain sends ants scurrying inside through every unsealed crack. The sweet, musty smell of wet earth makes up for it with each breath I take. I love turning to see my cat sit on our bench under our awning to watch the showers. Turning off the drip irrigation brought a smile to my face as do the seedlings propagated from flowers I planted in summer. Now I have an entire garden filled with baby plants. The world around me looks clean and vibrantly fresh.
Driving southwest, I am thankful for the rain even though I hate driving in the rain. At times, the downpour is heavy and my fastest wiper setting can’t clear the windshield; yet, I am grateful to slow down. As I pass vineyards and orchards, I praise grass between the rows, amazed to see green just south of Sacramento. I listen to drops beat a percussion on my windshield — I love them all, from the daintiest mist to the wildest splotches. The grey sky brightens my vision; clouds part and sunlight shines onto the earth in heavenly beams.
Just west of the San Luis Resevoir, I am grateful to see a soft dusting of green on brown hills — miraculous grass in a region that, lately, has been brown all year.
Stopping at a CVS in Carmel, I meet a transient man playing didgeridoo. We speak about his recent travels and experiences at Rainbow Gathering where he felt deep connections with strangers and realized the best of humanity is found when a society existed with a gifting economy and emphasized creation. Kneeling at his feet, I know I had so much more to be grateful for than I could ever count. I bring him food and shake his hand. I wish I could give him more, but I know he appreciated my gift by the way he smiles and waves goodbye.
As I drive into the hills of Carmel Valley to visit Linney at her mountain retreat, my heart grows at the site of last year’s Tassajara fire. Only a few months ago it looked post-apocalyptic, but now I see new life. This year, the Sobranas fire, which came within a mile of Linney’s retreat, burned for three months and decimated over 100,000 acres of the Los Padres National Forest. I am grateful for the rain, knowing it will act as a salve on the parched earth to bring healing and restore life to the land.

My thoughts turn to prayers of safety, which I send to those at Standing Rock protecting our healer, our medicine, our mother. As they honor our sacred earth, I pray our communities will gather in unity to defeat corporate greed that aims to destroy our precious home; I pray that understanding rain into the hearts and minds of the violent oppressors; I pray the water within all life glows with truth and righteousness to respect and defend that which gives us life. 

 

Cows and the green-dusted hills
A sign in Carmel Valley Village

New life in the burned area

The dirt road to Linney’s retreat looking vibrantly fresh

Pinnacles National Park: California’s Well-Kept Secret

Keeping my vow, the day I left work, I headed straight to Pinnacles National Park. Luckily for me, a glamsient friend had the day off and agreed to join me. We started at the visitor center on the east entrance where I saw a sign announcing the arrival of a California Condor.”A new baby! How exciting,” I said to the ranger behind the counter.
“Yes, a girl. We are thrilled,” she said. “It’s from the only nest in the park!”
“Do you have any camping available for tonight?” I asked. Knowing that many California parks fill up months in advance during summer, I braced myself for her answer.
“Oh yes, there’s plenty.” She handed me a map of the campground. “Pick out an empty space, come back and let us know which one you want.”
We drove towards the back of the campground — it was virtually empty! With so much availability, we found exactly what we wanted: a site surrounded by trees and bushes to give us privacy and shade.
High Peaks Trail via Bear Gulch Cave
For our first hike, we chose the High Peaks Trail by way of Bear Gulch Cave. My glamsient friend informed me this is the most popular trail in the park.
The first section guided us to Bear Gulch Cave, a rare talus cave thought to be formed in the ice age. The canopy of trees made this hike gentle and pleasant even in the middle of the afternoon. Created by large boulders that had fallen and wedged into narrow canyons, the cave was easy to navigate — sunlight made its way into the cave through open spaces to illuminate the path. We walked over bridges and up stairs created in the 1930s; part of the way, we had to crouch to pass underneath boulders.
“Wouldn’t want to be here during an earthquake,” my friend remarked. “The San Andreas fault is pretty close.”
For a popular destination at the park, the cave was by no means crowded; we saw only a few groups of people.
Leaving the cave, the trail led us to a small reservoir; that’s where the strenuous climb began to the High Peaks. Without the tree cover, under the blazing sun, every step moved me further uphill and every step told me that I am out of shape! I quickly realized this section of the trail would be much more enjoyable in cooler weather — either early morning in summer or a cooler time of year altogether!
(That being said, we saw many groups with children. They seemed fine. Hot, but fine.)
Ultimately, our effort paid off — the trail took us to an incredible peak revealing far reaching vistas of valleys, rock formations and mountain ranges to the east and west. The High Peaks trail showcases prehistoric rock formations; volcanic activity created these rocks 23 million years ago and erosion formed them into what we see today. It surprised me to learn seismic activity moved the solid, massive boulders over 195 miles northwest from the time of their creation.
At the crux, we walked up and over boulders that created a long ridge — in many places, the trail was carved by dynamite into footholds and steps. We stopped to catch our breath, but lost it when a Condor flew overhead! One of only 36 wild in the park, we knew we were in the right place at the right time.
Shortly after we made our descent, we saw a couple on the trail.
“Is the peak much farther?” The young man asked. He sat in shade created by chaparral, his face was red and dripping with sweat. “We are thinking of going back.”
“You’re so close,” I told him. “Keep going.”
“It’s worth it,” my friend said. “The views and everything — you don’t want to turn back.”
“And there’s a cave on the other side,” I said.
Halfway down, we found a spot to rest and wait for the full moon. Despite my aching feet and jelly knees, seeing the moon — large and pink — rise over the mountains at sunset was a glory to behold.
It was dark when we returned to camp for dinner. Eating that night, I noticed a sense of vitality within me. My blood pumped through my veins, fresh air emboldened my lungs and my muscles felt active and alive!
Balconies Trail
The next morning, my fellow glamsient left early for work. Part of me wanted to head home, but I quickly recognized that desire as my old habit of rushing to the destination. The Balconies Cave enticed me and, remembering to slow down and savor the journey, I chose to stay in the park.
Driving to the trailhead I saw quail, turkeys, and a doe with her fawn. The parking lot was empty apart from my car, and only the sound of birds accompanied me onto the path.
Meandering through trees, the Balconies trail is mostly flat — a perfect companion to yesterday’s strenuous hike. Yellow swallowtail butterflies greeted me as if to say I had made the right choice. I breathed deeply, enjoying the time to myself.
When I came to the entrance of the talus cave, I saw a large, metal gate. “Flashlights Required,” a sign read. Having seen a similar warning at the trailhead I had my headlamp — and thank goodness for that! The cave was pitch black; only little white painted arrows marked the trail.
Cool and dark, the deep quietude of the cave penetrated my being. I was completely alone, and instead of steadily moving through to the other side, I sat and turned off my headlamp. Surrounded by rock, my small, vulnerable body felt soft and humble, but I was not afraid. I felt held and supported. I seemed to dissolve, as if I were part of the rock, the air, the empty space. In perfect stillness, I tuned to the deepest part of me — connected and endless.
When I was ready, I moved forward through the cave. As soon as the first rays of sun beckoned me out I wanted to go back into the dark, cool, quiet chamber. It had given me a thrill unlike any other.
Hiking the next section of the trail — a moderate stretch with views of rock formations jutting out of the earth like balconies — my mind returned to my experience in the cave. Wholly grounding, yet also uplifting, I longed to return to the cave and the feeling of oneness.

Rock Formations
Small and humble
A shady, gentle, empty stretch of trail
Footholds in the trail
Rocky trail
Rock formations over the trail
Entering the cave
Exiting the cave
Taking in the view from the high peaks

 

The Road to Happiness

Recently, I woke up feeling a strong aversion towards going to work; not because I hate my job, but because it is nearly 300 miles away from my new home and I didn’t want to make that drive.

When I’m scheduled, I usually leave as early in the morning as possible just to get there and be done with the drive. This particular morning, however, I decided to do things differently: I gave myself the glamsient luxury of time.

Instead of rushing out of bed, I snuggled with my cat much longer than anyone would consider appropriate, and before I got to packing, I went on the lake with my younger cousin. Dragonflies waltzed in the air, wildflowers crept close to the water’s edge, and fish made an appearance when we looked for them. We explored the lake on paddle boards, stopping in every eddy until we found a blackberry bush and savored its plump, dark fruit.

As morning drifted into early afternoon, I set out on my five hour drive. Invigorated and inspired by my new attitude, I decided to make my drive an adventure — instead of going the quickest, most direct route, I chose a new road. A stretch of California Highway 25, The Old Arline Highway, seemed appealing although I knew nothing about it.

Without any expectations, I felt a sense of curiosity towards my journey — much better than the dread I felt that morning.

South of Hollister, Highway 25 becomes a gently winding road and the scenery opens into long swaths of rolling hills, spotted with oak trees. East of Big Sur, valleys of agricultural and ranch land create a stark contrast to jagged mountains behind them. Highway 25 teemed with life: I saw hawks, vultures, quail, blackbirds, doves, goldfinches, turkeys, ground squirrels, rabbits and deer.

The highway was nearly devoid of other cars — a welcome reprieve from the hectic highways and freeways I often navigate.

And then, I saw the signs to Pinnacles National Park. When I came to the entrance, I debated momentarily before consulting my new attitude and driving in to eat my dinner. I found a perfect spot under a large oak tree at the visitor center. Children laughed in the swimming pool behind me and a yellow swallowtail butterfly floated through the trees. A breeze rustled the leaves. I wanted to explore the park, but with only a couple hours of sunlight remaining, I knew I had to get back on the road. As I got into my car, I promised myself I would return on my way home.

Arriving at work just as the sun set, I felt refreshed and happy. Turning the drive into an adventure was the best thing I could do for myself that day. Instead of feeling grumpy and annoyed the whole way, I felt elated and light.

My small, impromptu adventure reminded me to slow down and take full advantage of every moment. I remembered that life isn’t about the destination, it’s about doing what it takes to enjoy the journey. Finding ways to create happiness and curiosity that day gave me the wisdom to shift my approach to everyday life.

Oak Tree on the side of the Highway
Farm Land on Highway 25

Dinner under an Oak in Pinnacles National Park

Veuve in a Plastic Cup

I learned about Second-Sunday when I first started living as a glamsient and spending time with other glamsients. An unplanned extension of the weekend and luxurious expression of freedom, Second-Sundays are spent with friends enjoying leisurely, Sunday-esque vibes.

Earlier this month, after attending the Big Surreal boutique festival, I headed to Carmel-by-the-Sea for a Second-Sunday, which turned into a Third-Sunday to celebrate Linney’s birthday.

The day began with brunch and bottomless mimosas at Carmel’s Bistro Giovanni followed by afternoon cocktails and appetizers at Grasings — our favorite place to splurge. We laughed at our opulence as appetizers led to dinner; just days before, we were covered in dirt and eating on the ground at the Big Surreal. Satiated and in high spirits, we imagined the most glamsient way to end Linney’s birthday celebration. Of course Linney knew what to do: grab a bottle of Veuve Clicquot and drink it out of plastic cups!

The clerk at Nielsen Brother’s Market didn’t give us a funny look when we asked for plastic cups as we bought the Veuve; she even put the bottle into a paper bag!

Lounging in the evening light, telling stories and listening to the waves at Carmel Beach, we watched the sunset and opened the bottle of Veuve with gratitude. We drank out of the plastic cups, and we drank to our thankfulness — for the ocean, the sunset, and that we live our dreams and follow our fancies. Most of all, we were thankful for each other, because without friends, Second- and Third-Sunday is just free time.

Sunset at Carmel Beach