Aligned with My First Breath

As the earth moves to the degree that aligns with my first breath, I am whole, having learned to tend to myself as if for the world.

I journey to a reminder of my origins. Crumbling orange bluffs, salty air, and windswept cypress trees. To the mother who knows my deepest truths and cradles them in nonjudgment.

Her winter spirit redecorated with remnants of trees carried down river, turned into benches and sculptures. An unrecognizable shore, aside from the turtle back rocks, gives me permission to see.

I am the sand, shaped and molded. Done and redone, uncovered and recovered. Swept away and built again.

I am the rock who has remained through every gale. Etched and refined into tide pool homes.

I am the wave, it’s lifetime unmarked by revolutions around the sun. Returning to the sea it never left.

Sierra Hot Springs

The edge of a summer storm passed overhead breaking the monotony of blue sky. Patches of clouds cast temporary shade as they moved, releasing a misting drizzle, which fell upon us like a celestial blessing. Birds sang the glory of the day.

Stephanie and I relaxed in the large pool. She rested her head against the cement lip and closed her eyes; I faced away to look beyond the deck and view the Sierraville Valley.

People populated reclining chairs, others floated and bobbed in the pool. Stephanie and I were the only ones wearing bathing suits. 

Stephanie hadn’t spoken much since we left the silent dome and the hot pool it contained, but it didn’t bother me. I remembered my first time in the dome and the reverent silence that settled into my heart and mind as I slipped into a profoundly easy meditation facilitated by the heat of the tub, the arhythmic sound of water dripping into the two cold plunges, and the stained glass window — a woman resembling at once the Virgin Mary and Venus de Milo, pouring light into the waters through her outstretched hands. 

I looked to Stephanie; her face, perfectly serene, took on an ancient quality as if her soul had known this place years ago. 

Her visage made me want to rest my head against the cement lip, too, so I turned around. Just as I did, I saw a woman, floating on foam noodles — one under her shoulders, the other under her knees — as if she were in a chair. The woman’s eyes were closed, and like Stephanie, she hadn’t a care in the world. She could not see that her legs, spread in blissful comfort, moved towards the edge of the pool putting her naked groin on a direct trajectory for Stephanie’s face.

I poked Stephanie. She opened her eyes slowly until she realized a woman’s crotch was heading for her. 

With only a few giggles, Stephanie moved out of the way, and broke her silence: “want to check out the meadow pool you were telling me about?”

“Sure!”

We got our towels and walked onto the path. Pine trees filtered the sunlight into complex patterns on the ground.

“I love it here,” Stephanie said.

“Natural beauty and healing waters. What’s not to love?”

“Well,” she emphasized, “there is only so much hoochie coochie in my face that I can take.”

I laughed and then saw two porcelain tubs, just off the trail, nestled in the grass. They each had their own stream of hot water flowing into them from the ground. “Look at these, Steff! Here’s your solution!”

“We have to get in them,” she exclaimed. “How is this real?”

“Real magic,” I said.

We sat for a while, breathing in the novelty of relaxing in a bathtub on a mountainside, but we wanted to sit together and talk, so we continued our quest for the meadow pool. 

“I’m glad we sat in the secret tubs. The secret-not-secret tubs. They’re just right off the path, but they’re easy to miss,” I said.

“Everyone walks by, but not everyone sees,” Stephanie said. “I prefer that kind privacy, like the dome because nobody talks.”

“I was here one night and people were talking in there. I didn’t like that because it affected the depth of my meditation.”

Our feet crunched the path, adding a layer to the birds’ song.

“The big pool was a little extreme for me. I’ve never really been around that much nudity.”

“Oh, I didn’t know that.” 

“It was too much at once — naked people almost running into me with their parts. It happened twice. Once was a hoochie coochie and the other was titties.”

“Every time you close your eyes they come for ya, huh?” I joked.

“Seemed like it.”

We passed the white, Victorian Lodge built in 1870. Red poppies brightened the hillside.

“That hot pool, though,” Stephanie said. “It’s hard to explain what I felt. It was like pure energy. I felt a pulse — like a vibration.” 

“Because it’s so hot and the bottom is sand, I close my eyes and lose the feeling of having a body. It’s like my body becomes the water. Must be the closest thing to being in the womb.”

“It did feel like that! And that’s exactly how I felt when we were looking at the grass earlier. I had an out-of-body experience — a supreme oneness, like I was the wind.”

“Wow. Transcendental,” I looked to my left over the wide valley and the surrounding Sierra Nevada mountain range. “You’re so zen you don’t even need the dome.”

“A lady was crying in there.”

“I didn’t notice.”

“She was standing in one of the cold tubs with her face to the wall when we went in.”

“Oh, did she have her hand on the wall?”

“Yes. The dome felt like a place to…” 

“Open and release?”

“That’s how I felt. Completely safe. It was powerful. Every detail. The tiles, the wood, the stained glass. So natural and peaceful and somehow familiar.”

“I felt a release, too,” I said. “Before we walked in there I was angry about what was going on with work. I was thinking about it a lot.”

“I could tell you were trying not to, but you really were lost in thought.”

“But after going in the hot water and spending time in the dome, I feel like I released everything. Now I’m just kinda…dancing on the inside. Like I’m free.”

“Freedom is dancing on the inside. That could be your new motto,” she said as she looked at the trees who grew above us like guardians. “I like all the moss that’s growing.”

“I love mossy trees. And all the tall, lush grass,” I paused my step. “You know, earlier, when we were looking at the grass?”

“Yeah.”

“I was definitely lost in thought, thinking about that email. And you pointed to look out at the valley and the grass in the wind and there was a blue jay on a branch. That brought me back to the present moment and helped me let go.”

“That was it. ‘Come back. Come back,’ I was saying. I had that moment of oneness, but I knew how you were feeling, so I was like ‘hey, don’t forget to look around you and be here.’”

I breathed deeply, “next time I’m having a bad day I’m just going to come here.”

“Seriously. It’s so important to walk out. I feel the same in a lot of ways. You’re not alone.”

We approached the meadow pool and to our surprise, found we had the space to ourselves. A small tree grew behind boulders at the edge of the meadow. Purple irises bloomed in stately elegance. Flowers and leaves floated on the surface of the clear, blue water; we stepped in like queens. Our toes pressed into the soft, sandy floor.  

“I think I’m in the most beautiful place in the world,” Stephanie whispered.

“We’re in Faerlyland,” I said. “You know you’ve fully arrived in Faeryland when you come to the meadow pool and there’s mint and flowers floating in its waters.” 

“You described it like heaven when we were driving up here. And it really is.”

A wooden totem pole watched over the glistening water, speaking without words of the wildlife and civilization that lived in the valley before it was named Sierraville.  

“I love this aspen tree right here and the way the leaves flutter in the wind,” I said. “It reminds me of a wind chime my grandma had in her backyard. It was made out of thin, round, pearlescent shells. She had a lot of wind chimes, but I loved that one the most when I was a kid.”

“I know what you’re saying. Your grandma-angel is here. The Great Spirit is here.” 

I caressed the top of the water with my fingertips, creating swirling ripples. Birds sang from the trees in high tweets and whistles, forming the cadences and melodies of an unplanned symphony while clouds continued their slow and easy migration across the sky. 

 

Rock Creek Wisdom

I recently purchased Hank Meal’s, The River, a local’s guide to hiking trails surrounding the Yuba River. On a rainy afternoon, my friend, Kitten, and I got cabin fever; we opened Hank’s book and chose the Rock Creek Nature Trail (located in the Tahoe National Forest) as our tonic. Once the site of a lumber mill, Hank described this one-mile loop as an easy and accessible trail that meanders beneath 11 varieties of trees and alongside Rock Creek.

“Looks like we have the place to ourselves,” I beamed when we pulled into the empty parking lot.

The ground was completely saturated — water pooled around our every footstep. Light rain floated to earth, accompanied by large, sporadic drops falling from tree branches, tapping an intricate percussion on land and water. The creek rushed past us, beckoning us onwards.

“Look at all this debris,” Kitten said. “These recent storms have been brutal!” 

“The other day, I saw a group prayer going around Facebook asking for the storms to be gentle on the forests, and I don’t know how I feel about that.”

“Why?”

“California needs water. I’m not eager to pray the rain stops.”

A stream carved its way down the hillside and onto the path, turning the path into a waterway and making us walk along its edge. Branches, leaves, and pine needles littered the area, and the Rock Creek Trail felt less like a nature walk and more like a rugged adventure, like we were the first explorers. At one point, we had to climb over a large, fallen tree.

“All this damage is from the drought,” Kitten said. “Tree roots retract closer to the trunk and become less dense. And the branches die. So when a big storm hits, it uproots trees and branches fall.”

“Makes sense.”

“Now I bet this will be a tinderbox in summer — this and every other forest in California.”

“Let’s hope not! If we get enough rain, the dead stuff will get mushy and become fertile. With fewer trees and branches blocking out the sun, new life will grow. Regeneration is one of the most incredible aspects of nature, in my opinion. Didn’t the guidebook say this land was harvested for timber not long ago? I wonder what that looked like!”

“I hope we get the rain, too, of course. Shame if it burns. I’d rather see the land heal.”

“Did you know illegal campfires start a lot, if not most, of California’s forest fires? The drought makes everything dry, but it’s singular humans messing up on top of that.”

“Hitting Nature from both sides: the macro and the micro.” 

We passed what Hank described as a relaxing welcome bench, knocked out of the ground and thrown on its back.

“I’m ready for all humans to live in harmony with Nature.”

“Now that’s a good prayer.”

We stopped to inspect a fallen tree. It made a sturdy bridge over the creek and it’s roots were exposed in an unchanged unit, still holding rocks they had grown around.

“This makes me think of my inner work,” I said, ducking beneath a branch.

“What do you mean?” Kitten asked.

“Self-reflection can sometimes hurt. After a long period of unconsciousness or trauma, like a drought, the medicine of awareness can feel destructive — it’s painful to look on all aspects of myself — lessons can be hard, truth can hurt. Guilt, disappointment, shame, and anger surface. And when that happens, it feels like I’m being destroyed. Like my guts are being ripped out or my heart torn apart.”

Water cascaded down the creek bed over rocks and debris, navigating curves, eddies and pools.

“I think the commitment,” I continued, “is to give myself sustained compassion, like rain, so that which has been knocked over can become the fertile grounds for new life — or a bridge to enlightenment. To continually give myself compassionate attention and embrace myself instead of pushing myself away — that is the way.”

“I see. If you have the painful, seemingly-destructive insight and you don’t follow it up with compassion, it’ll catch on fire and consume you when someone starts an illegal fire,” Kitten said.

“Definitely.”

We crossed a wooden bridge before we completed the loop. Birds sang from the moss-covered trees, while a soft and steady drizzle, almost a mist, enveloped the forest. 

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

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

Festival Street Styles of Symbiosis Gathering

Courtney W, creator of Threaded Vibes, invited me to guest write for her blog; as a fan of her work, I eagerly agreed. Check out my guest post covering the Festival Street Styles of Symbiosis Gathering:

Symbiosis Gathering came in at the end of California’s festival season right on the heels of Burning Man. Though it cannot compare with the Burn, Symbiosis Gathering did not disappoint. Perhaps what set Symbiosis apart from most other curated festivals was the venue — located on the Woodward Reservoir, the festival grounds stretched along an amoeba-shaped patch of land surrounded by water. Each stage had its own plot utilizing the natural curvature of the water and land to create separate spaces; some stages required access by bridge. One stage, the Atoll, floated on a barge, and attendees either swam to it or arrived on a box-boat attached to a rope. Hosting world-class art, incredible day parties, and spectacular performers, Symbiosis reached the pinnacle of a curated festival experience.
My favorite aspect of the festival was engaging and interacting with new people. I loved listening to their stories and witnessing them open their hearts — despite the many festivals I attend each year, this never gets old. The outfits many festival-goers wore delighted me. Onesies, sparkles, bright colors and nuevo-tribal ran the show. Seeing people express themselves in weird and wonderful ways gave me an unparalleled joy; it harkened to the radical self-expression at Burning Man that I love so dearly.
I had the pleasure of meeting two young men who had just bought and put on their first pair of manties (men’s booty shorts), which have become wildly popular among festi-men. “Manties give me an incredible sense of freedom,” one of the men told me. The other added, “I don’t know why I didn’t try these earlier in the season.” And isn’t that the best part of festival fashion? It frees us from the confines of ordinary fashion and allows us to try new forms of expression.
Here are some of my favorite fashion statements from the weekend:

Source: Festival Street Styles of Symbiosis Gathering –

Weekday Adventuring 

Two of my favorite glamsients, Linney and JC, surprised me last week with a visit. Linney and I are not skilled planners — we tend to err on the side of spontaneity and leisure — but JC had an entire trip planned.
We started the day with a champagne brunch at my house and arrived at the South Yuba River Crossing around 1 pm. Just outside of Nevada City, I enjoyed this swimming area many times this summer for its easily accessible tranquility.
As we lounged by the river, JC kept an eye on the time: “Ladies, we can hang out by the river all day. We can get some wine and just chill, go back to Chelsea’s and have dinner there. Or we can go to this cute, little town called Downieville that looks like it was founded by Papa Smurf and the Sasquach.”
I said,”Let’s go. I haven’t taken the 49 past this point. And I’ve wanted to visit Downieville for a while.”
“We’ll catch sunset at an amazing lake — it’s perfect — and we can camp there. You’ll love it,” JC said.
“I’m in,” Linney said as she dragged herself off a sunny rock.
Pulling into Downieville, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Founded in 1849 during the California Gold Rush, old buildings with second-story wrap-around balconies and a historic sign pointing to the sheriff’s gallows sparked romantic notions of the Wild West in my mind.
We stopped into the historic St. Charles Place saloon for a drink; I noticed a mannequin in the window dressed as a gold rush-era prostitute with a ruffled, lacy corset dress and matching hat. And then I saw a doll resting on deer antlers — also dressed as a prostitute — and two more dolls in another window.
“Was this a brothel?” I asked the bartender, a large man with a long braided pony-tale.
“Oh yes, all the bars around here were like that back then. Not many women around,” he said.
“What goes on upstairs, stays upstairs” Linney said. “A place like this probably has more than a few crazy stories.”
“The upstairs was this floor. What we’re standing on used to be the second floor. This was a three story building at first. Then there was a flood in 1937 and they raised the whole town one story, so it wouldn’t be as devastating again.”
“If only the walls could talk!” Jenn said.
“I’m not sure I’d want to hear,” I told her discreetly.  The romantic notions I felt had turned into the creeps.
Linney asked about food and the bartender told us it isn’t allowed in the bar and alcohol isn’t allowed in the restaurant next door, but we could take it all to the deck out back. He said we would love the deck. (In the hallway between the restaurant and the saloon, we saw a “trannequin,” as Linney called him, the only male prostitute we found.)
The back deck did not disappoint. With a view of the river, we relaxed and listened to the sound of water rushing over rocks. I loved the abalone shells they used for ashtrays.
When we finished lunch, Linney and I continued to luxuriate with our drinks. We felt no need to rush from the happy place, but JC had different plans: “We need to leave now, so we can get to the lake for sunset. It’s going to be mind blowing, I promise,” he looked at me, “you’ll find your dragon there at sunset.”
“My dragon?”
“Yes, your dragon is waiting, now hurry up.”
Outside of Downieville, Highway 49 carves along the river’s path below mountains, jagged cliffs and pine trees. Located at nearly 6,000 feet in the Tahoe National Forest, we arrived at Sardine Lake just as the sun began to set.
“I call that mountain the Devil’s Heart,” JC said. “It’s this hardness unlike anything around it. Like its rebelling and trying to be something else. See how the rocks on top of the mountain turn pink? This is the moment I’ve wanted this whole trip. To see the pink rocks and the pink clouds above the lake.”
Serene and still, we spoke in hushed voices to keep the lake’s perfect peace.
“When does my dragon come out?”
“Do you see the door to its cave?” JC asked. “It’s that smooth triangle reflecting a different color than the rest of the mountain. A rainbow door.”
I smiled, “oh yes, my dragon would have a rainbow door.”
“I can’t believe we’re here alone,” Linney said.
“Not even bothered by mosquitos,” I added.
“We came at the perfect time,” JC told us. “Come the weekend and this bar behind us turns into a hipster playground. Sunset magazine had this lake on the cover last month.”
“I can only imagine what next summer will be like,” I said.
“But we’re here now!” Linney said, “and fall is happening!”
Down the road we found a campsite at the Sardine Lake campground, which was virtually empty. We found the perfect spot — one that backed up to a meadow.
For dinner, JC made us soup and tamales.
“We have the best trip planner,” I said to LInney.
“He’s my glamsient mentor,” she said.
“And our chaperone.”
“All inclusive!” Linney laughed.
We ate our dinner and walked into the meadow to look at the universe and find constellations. The night sky was filled with stars, since the waning moon had not yet risen, and as luck would have it, Linney and I saw a shooting star.
For no reason that I can remember, I turned my headlamp on and pointed it into the dark meadow. “Look!” I said when I saw them, “eyes!” I kept the light on two glowing eyes about 50 feet away. They remained still, watching us.
“What is it?” Linney asked.
“Something big,” JC said. “Some big animal.”
We all stepped closer together.
“It just blinked!” Linney said.
“The eyes are so far apart,” I whispered.
“It’s either a bear or a Sasquach,” JC said.
“Sasquach retired in Downiville,” Linney said.
“Maybe it’s my dragon.” I turned my headlamp off, realizing I was shining it into the animal’s eyes.
“No, turn it back on,” JC said.
“But I feel bad. Would you like a light shining in your face?”
“We can’t see it if it moves,” JC said.
I turned the light back on and pointed it to where the eyes had been, but they were gone.
“Bears are a symbol of turning within because of their hibernation,” I said. “They encourage you to look within to see what is beneficial and what needs to change.”
Linney said, “seems like the fall equinox is a good time to have one cross your path.”
In the morning we awoke to a light sprinkling of rain. It was cold, but bundling up in a fleece and hat while drinking coffee made me feel cozy.
“There’s nothing quite like drinking coffee while camping,” I said.
Linney agreed: “wilderness coffee tastes better.”
We went to Sardine Lake for another view before I had to leave my friends and get home to prepare for Symbiosis Gathering.
“Thanks for organizing this trip, JC,” I said. “In less than 24, we saw a lot!”
“You’re welcome,” he replied. “I’m sorry to have rushed you, but I had an itinerary.”
“I’m glad you did! This trip has inspired me to take more day trips and maybe even try my hand at planning. There’s a lot to see in this area.”
“Good friends and good adventure,” Linney said. “Let’s do this again soon!”
“Seriously anytime,” I said. “Enjoy the rest of your trip!”

Linney in the Yuba River

Gold Rush Prostitute Manniquin in the St. Charles Place Saloon Window

The Trannequin

The Back Deck

Linney and JC at Sardine Lake for Sunset

The Meadow behind our Campsite

We saw the eyes shining at the nearest pine trees

Sardine Lake in the Morning Sun
 

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