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.
[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.
It’s time for Burning Man! The past two years, I’ve shared my intentions for the experience because writing intentions and having a witness strengthens their power. This post makes the third. Thank you for being my witness.
This year, I’m taking a new project — a meditation and lounge space I’ve been dreaming of for several years and fundraising for with many collaborators. May the Lounge be a sacred space of healing and connection; may it bring all who enter deeper into wholeness and unity.
I’m teaching my workshop, “Meditation and Writing,” three times this year: Monday, Wednesday and Friday 3-4 pm at Stellar Dusty Moon 5:30 & H (in the Lounge!). May the workshop serve us in the unique way that we need for our paths; may it provide us with insight, peace, and grounding.
My favorite part of Burning Man is the art — may I meet the artists and have profound experiences with the art.
May the workshops I attend guide me in my journey and connect me with others. May I see the heart of the earth in everyone I meet!
We cross into Reservation land in Northern Arizona. The desert before us, a desolate beauty with colorful streaks, glows beneath the pink hue of the setting sun.
On the outskirts of town the highway curves past hills. Gathered at their base, shanties and shacks form small a small line. Broken boards, torn roofs, tires, cars and trucks appear abandoned and disregarded. But I see there are children’s toys and someone walking into a shack and others sitting on steps and chairs out front.
We pass at 60 miles per hour. The extreme poverty fades into the rear-view mirror.
We stop at a gas station just after dusk. A man walks to the car parked next to me. He is, perhaps, ten years older than me. Our eyes meet on opposite sides of the window. A thought flashes into my mind — were his parents or grandparents among the stolen children, forced into Christian boarding schools in an attempt to decimate their culture?
The lineage of oppressors claim me as their citizen.
Early in the morning, a jewelry maker sits in a long line of artisans in Santa Fe’s town square; they’ve rolled out their wares and tell the tourists passing by, “feel free to handle.” The jewelry maker looks like he is sleeping, with eyes closed and arms folded around the large yellow “G” on his green sweatshirt. His porcupine quill jewelry has caught my eye, and I kneel down to look.
Amongst his jewelry, I find a feather pendant that is perfect for my niece.
“Excuse me,” I say.
His eyes open.
“Sorry to bother you.”
“No bother,” he smiles.
“How much is this one?”
He tells me the price. I say I’d like to purchase it and hand it to him.
An older white man stands above us and jokes that he would never buy from a Packers fan. “At least you’re not for the Cowboy’s,” the older man says as he continues down the block.
“Never a Cowboy’s fan,” the artisan jokes back as he places the necklace on a card, carefully stringing the chain through notches that will hold it in place. “Although my mother is probably smacking me right now for saying that.”
But the older man is too far to hear him.
“Your mother likes the Cowboys?” I ask, still kneeling, admiring the porcupine quills dangling from silver earrings.
“Oh yes,” he said. “All her life. Now she has passed and I’m sure she is angry with me for saying anything bad about them.”
Our eyes meet.
“I’m sorry you’ve lost your mom. I can only imagine what that feels like.”
He sighs. “She died on the fourth of July. It’s what she wanted. She was on dialysis for twelve years. My sisters convinced her to get the treatments when she first got sick. After twelve years she was tired. Every time she came home she was like this —” he rolled his eyes back, put his arms out, and swayed his chest like he was off-balance.
“That’s a long time to endure so much pain.”
“Yes, I understand her choice,” he says. He holds the little package containing the necklace in his right hand.
“Thank you for sharing that with me,” I say, looking up at him.
“I miss her. I think I will miss her for the rest of my life.”
I take in what he has said. “I miss my Gramma more now than I did two years ago when she passed.”
We drove in after dark. Large shadows, looming in the night like masked phantoms, lay in wait.
Half an hour before first light, wind shook the camper van. Rain urged us to stay under covers with tinny percussions. But we had come with one purpose: to witness dawn unmask the monuments.
I put on my warmest clothes with a sense of defeat and doubt. We wouldn’t have much of a sunrise in a storm.
When I stepped outside, as if on cue, the rain eased to a drizzle, merging the space between earth and sky, wrapping us in mist. Lightning flashed in the distance — dancing in bold streaks — thunder clapped to proclaim the illumination.
I sat patiently for the show. At first she was only a fleck below the clouds, but soon, a sliver of pinkish orange light at the horizon split the sky.
Black against the night sky, the monuments began to emerge, to take clearer shape, to reveal their red rock, to show they surround us near and far, to claim their land. Castles, cathedrals, ancient architecture shaped by the Artist’s hand, etched and chiseled into towers, walls, cliffs, and colorful layers.
When dawn captured the sky, we stepped through red sand in the direction of the three closest monuments, the only ones on the early morning trail. The smell of rain rose from the earth, but it was dry and quiet. Passing clouds, their softness, an ever-changing background, emphasized the stoic rocks.
Walking below, standing at their feet, staring up at their grandeur, I felt the knowing of the One far greater than I. Ancient energy, with the power to lift its own monuments and hold them in its hand as if to say, “This — is my Creation.”
Rain continued its pilgrimage to earth as we finished the trail. I looked to the monuments, a rainbow appeared momentarily, as if to say, “So are You.”
We chose not to look at the map and found what we believed was a path. As we walked, the forest seemed to hold us while birds sang its melody. We passed elk tracks preserved in dry mud and saw a tree that had been used as an antler scratching post. I wished I could walk without knowing our destination.
Upon hearing human voices speaking languages from all over the world, we knew we were close — and suddenly — the forest opened.
A magnetic pull from my heart led me to the canyon rim as though I were under enchantment. My body shook with adrenaline. Before me, a chasm ripped the earth and rocky, layered peaks formed colorful monuments, temples, pyramids, and fortresses. Spires and pillars rose from the ground like giants. Greater and larger than Stonehenge, than Chichen Itza, than man could ever be.
Nature’s chisel wielded by the Great Artist etched walls with shadowy crags and adornement. Creation coalescing into wonder from nearly two billion years of both violent and gradual evolution written in the rock. Lava and mud spreading and widening the canyon carved by wind and water, plateaus rising, glaciers melting, the continent crashing into volcanoes and making mountains. Erosion — pushing, pulling, forming megaliths and smiles that become wings of expanded freedom. A testament to my limited, human experience.
The river deepens the canyon as she moves to the sea — her former grandeur evidenced in decorated cliffs — she is now a mere trickle of what she must have been before dams and reservoirs closed her veins like tourniquets.
The Artist exhibits the freedom to transform, to shift — to evolve into beauty, into living inspiration.
Even with their loud voices, the other tourists don’t bother me. The vastness is large enough for us all. So large that I sense I can give all the heaviness of my heart to the canyon. All the pain of memories and attachments can release. And my heart will become expansive; my heart and the canyon will merge into one, magnetized like the continent and crashing into volcanoes. If I let it fall, it will tumble into the river and be swept away to the ocean. I can let it go — I can give it all to the One who is capable of transfiguration.
I hear the wind before I feel her. She comes up from the canyon depths and brushes my face. I feel the coolness of her touch. She is a whispering echo saying, “hush.”
Crows fly with feathers straight and light in the space between earth and sky. Above the canyon, below stars. Small, yet fearless. As we must be.
It’s late and I’m watching the newly-waxing moon set in the west. I’m driving through the mountains, en route to Black Rock City for Burning Man. This will be my third time participating in the art and music festival. Last year, I set intentions that mainly focused on my interactions with other people. And although they were extremely elevated, I saw and felt my intentions manifest in some of my experiences.
I’ve been humbled and challenged this past year — especially recently — and my intentions reflect my need for deep nourishment and reflection.
To share our intentions is to empower them. Please read mine below:
I intend to reestablish my relationship with my creativity; to fully engage with the art installations at the festival and allow myself to be inspired and motivated by them. I need to reset my relationship with my creativity in order to create for creation’s sake without the desire to be seen, popular or make money. This will afford me the freedom I need in my artistic pursuits. I must reconnect with my truth that God’s gift to me is my creativity and my gift back to God is using it.
I intend to be open to receiving the keys I need to enhance my productivity and fulfillment.
I intend to continue the process of letting go of the pain and hurt I hold onto by releasing the people and events from my heart that continue to cause me suffering.
This year, I would like to feel and witness the expansive love that is my true essence, so that I will know who I am.
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.
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.