A Holy Instinct – with Audio

Dark, yet hopeful, this piece explores a personal experience during this crisis as I navigate the new reality and try to understand the modern human condition. A departure from my usual focus on Nature’s beauty, this piece recognizes and investigates the shadow as a path to integration and healing. Click the play button to read along with me:

A Holy Instinct

In my studio apartment, I’m a hoarder purchasing yet another screen to chatter alongside the others in dissonant syncopation. They drown the sound of birds singing and dancing outside with news, privileged complaining, propaganda, memes, conspiracies, and — sometimes — photos of Nature or pets or kids. I scroll and scroll and scroll and place them on top of the microwave that runs without stopping its buzzing waves, on top of the other boxes full of half-read articles. Another hairdryer, another blender, another set of lights wrapped in plastic. Photos of mass-graves and refrigerator truck morgues and the unprotected people living in Mumbai slums and. Stack it with the others. Wires and cables dangle, arranging themselves into unkempt braids covering the hardwood floor, connecting and connecting, rows of nobs and buttons and circuit boards and. Push them against the walls, pile them on the furniture. Block the windows, block the trees, block the sun. Stack and stack from floor to ceiling until there are only slim pathways through boxes and bags and bins. 

Just one more thing  — just a petty thing — I crammed it into my studio apartment. And without warning, I turn the nobs on the stove, and let it seep. Racing through drawers, flinging rubber bands, nails, twist ties, plastic baggies, my fingers find the slim cardboard box and open it with joy at the sight of sticks with red heads. In one spark, fury burns the space too small for all it holds.

I would have burned myself with it, but somehow I escape. A holy instinct.

I gasp for breath, inhaling the putrid stench of my own burned hair.

Three weeks since I last turned on my car, and it greets me by saying it can’t go on without a fix. Armed with a disinfectant wipe and bank card, afraid of other hands, I encase my index finger to enter my pin. I swear I’m not a germ-freak. Or, at least, I wasn’t a month ago. But now I have people to protect. Even though I can barely breathe. I drape the wipe around the handle, lifting the nozzle into my car to fill it with dark, processed blood sucked from the Earth. As much as I love my Mother, I’m forced to tap Her veins. 

My car speeds north onto the concrete slabs divided by a wildlife-catcher. When they get there, in a panic, they try to run back. And maybe they make it, but we see their bodies destroyed — disfigured, ripped apart by humans wielding rubber and steel. Their flesh and blood won’t continue as life in another. It sits on top of the concrete to decay, unless it’s picked up like trash because it’s large enough to be a hazard.

Off the freeway, I drive past rows of vines still naked. The ground beneath them covered in grass.

As the road curves between oaks, under their wild branches, I unroll my window just an inch. Fresh air brushes the top of my head the way my mom used to stroke my hair. Turning west, my airways unclog. I take a deep breath, filling my lungs with green stretching, cascading peaks. Jet black heifers lazily dot the hills. Oak forests in the north, gorges carved below undulations. To the south, a golden crescent — miles long — met with white foam waves and the deep blue mystery. The east in my rearview mirror. And to the west, the winding road.

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Photo by JPZ Image

The Lucky Ones

[First published in 2017 as “The Cows of Black Rock City,” this edition will appear along with many unpublished stories in a collection of shorts for Varanasi Sage — Due out in July!]

Twinkling lights strung around its frame, chain clicking in a dry loop, my bike created tracks on tracks in the dust, crossing tracks without pattern or reason.

In the dark of night, the high desert mirrors the sky; although the stars on the ground are colored, moving and spinning, dancing chaotically. In the dark expanse, we put on our lights and become technicolor shooting stars.

By week’s end, the thin layer of dust on my bike will gather to look as though it had been left forgotten in the recesses of a workman’s garage. Dust on my clothes, my skin and my hair, in my nose, ears and lungs. By week’s end, I, too, caked with dust, will look old and forgotten.

A herd of cows appears. Dim lights twinkle from their insides, differentiating them from the dust and darkness. Stationary, unafraid, wooden skeletons wrapped in translucent nylon. 

In the darkness of the playa, amongst dust and art, these are the lucky ones. Peaceful bovines, sacred cows, abundant goddesses of nourishment.  Their twinkling lights, the same as my own; viewing passing delights. Busses dressed like sheep and lighthouses, cars like genie lamps, golf cart abstract art, and bodies radically expressing themselves.

Our shared reality outside this city — the distortion of divine nature, the degradation of life by human command. Here they are not an exploitable object; a living, feeling being trapped in a pit of manure, in line for a violent death, never having eaten a blade of grass or stepped hoof in a meadow. I am a lucky one, in the darkness of the playa, amongst dust and art; not trapped in a war torn city, used as a human shield.

The sadness of contrast, a melancholy inspection, thoughts and emotions rising from the depths of another’s creation. Here in the dust — in the middle of nowhere — surrounded by darkness and lights.

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Phuture Pasture by David Suckling for Burning Man 2017

I Come Back to Myself

Thoughts pour in; they swirl, forming a current, pulling more thoughts into the depths, growing tumultuous. They darken and become dangerous. I am caught, swept in by the undertow. 

It’s loud and I can’t escape. I try to distract myself with other people’s stories, but more words and information makes it worse. I resent the people on the other side of the screen.

I say to myself, “wherever you go, there you are,” but I start my car anyway.

Outside city limits, traffic thins until I am alone on the road. I slow my pace, enjoying the view: farmhouses, oak trees, cattails growing from wet earth. I crest over a bend to see a wide open sky and rolling hills. A lake rests between peaks. 

I arrive at the Buttermilk Bend trailhead. Signs announce Wildflower Tours at 11:00 am. It’s evening now, but I know I’m in the right place. I step onto the trail; the noise inside my head fades, replaced by the sound of the blue green river. 

The Yuba rushes below me, through a valley she’s carved between foothills. I look into her. I see myself in her water; I am made of her, but she is greater than I. She is a force of life — mother to creation. She brings me back to myself, calling to her essence within my veins. I am not the dark and stormy waters of my mind; I am the observer of a free flowing river.

The trail follows the river’s path. We turn together. Curiosity ebbs and flows with the bends. Wildflowers line the path in blues, yellows, whites, purples, reds. They are compact, expansive, delicate, broad, intricate, simple, in boxes and in circles, fragrant and without scent. 

My plugged-in lifestyle, the one that makes my head loud, is like eating plastic information out of plastic bags; I scroll through photos that have been altered; I read inane comments; I watch videos of people pretending; I question every news article, every statement; the part of my life that is lived through squares plugged into outlets makes me forget my true nature. 

Wildflowers are a simple joy. When I see them, I feel a softening in my heart, a growing tenderness, an up-swelling of pleasant emotion.

The river sounds like the river primordial. It speaks the language of my soul. It washes my mind of the chaos and clutter I’ve accepted into it.  

Nothing to plug in, no buttons to push, nothing to sell or buy.

Amongst the wildflowers, next the river, I come back to myself — the pure, unaltered state of breathing and living.