Drought Damage

I live at 2,500 feet on my aunt and uncle’s property and more often than not, snow in the forecast only brings disappointment; yet, one night a cold front descended, and at dawn, I awoke with the sun, and seeing a brilliant dusting on pine needles outside my window, I leapt from my bed and put on warm clothes. I luxuriated that morning, taking pictures of all the familiar sights that sparkled as if new.   
Through our greatest luck, my mom planned a visit that day. I called her and told her to come immediately: “The snow won’t stick for long,” I said.
Sure enough, by noon, the snow had melted from the trees and only amoeba-shaped patches remained on north-facing hills. 
“It’s too bad the snow’s gone,” I said to my mom after giving her a hug when she arrived.
“That’s ok, there was some on the drive up.”
“But you should have seen it,” I said. “Everything was at least 100 times more beautiful.”
“It’s beautiful enough,” she said, with her standard measured smile.
“Have you visited the snow this season?”
“No, you know I haven’t.”
“We should find some. I went on a hike through Rock Creek recently. There’s probably snow there. What do you think? Want to go?”
“Sure, but I don’t have snow shoes.”
“I have an extra pair.”
“OK. Do we need chains?”
“Probably, let’s buy some.”
“Have you ever put them on?”
“No, but it can’t be too hard.”
“Ok…” she looked at me skeptically.
We purchased chains and drove up the mountain. By the time we got to Nevada City, we saw snow on the ground. Highway 20 began a steep incline and my mom looked out the window at the snow, which thoroughly covered the ground and trees. 
“I know it’s cliche,” she said. “But this is a winter wonderland.”
We pulled off the highway and wrapped down narrow roads to the trailhead.
“The car is sliding!” my mom exclaimed as we drove down a steep stretch.
“Not that bad,” I said, completely unfazed.
“I hope we don’t get stuck on the way up,” she said.
“We won’t get stuck,” I wasn’t worried, having never driven in the snow. “We’re on an adventure, mom! A glamsient adventure.”
“Whatever that means,” she said.
“You would know if you read my blog,” I joked.
We pulled into the empty parking lot — the best kind at a trailhead.
“Look mom, yours are the only footsteps,” I called when she walked in front of me.
“Yes!” she made S-curves to revel in the novelty.
It amazed me to see her frolic. She is often serious and reserved, but in the snow she hopped and scampered. Effervescence infused her spirit. She patted snow together in her bare palms.
“Don’t throw it at me!” I said.
She threw it at a tree trunk and flashed a smile that I hadn’t seen since before my grandma got pneumonia and died.
“Can you tell there’s a lot of damage here?” I asked.
“Yes, but it’s all beautiful under the snow.”
We came to a blockade — a large, fallen tree that stretched across the entire path.
“Should we turn back?” my mom wondered.
“I climbed over it the other day.”
When we got to the other side, she asked me, “is there snow on my head?”
“A little.” 
She went under a branch and shook it. “How about now?” she laughed.
I laughed along with her. She threw more snowballs at trees. We laughed when she missed her targets.
“Last time we were here, Kitten said the falling trees and branches are because of the drought.”
“Oh, yes. The forest service estimates that 1 in 3 trees in Californian forests have died from the drought.”
“Really?”
“I think it’s an underestimate,” she said. “We will see more damage. It takes years for the forests to return to good health.”
We walked along the creek, a new scenery with the snow, completely different than it had been in the rain. I even lost the trail in one section, although I didn’t tell my mom.
“The aquifers are mostly depleted in California,” my mom continued. “Since the 1930s, big agriculture since has run them dry.”
“That’s sad, mom.”
“Fresno has sunk some 20 or 30 feet because the aquifers below the city are empty.”
“I didn’t know that. Now I guess those aquifers are ruined.”
“It’s almost unimaginable how much humans have changed the earth.”
“Greed and ignorance,” I said.
At the end of our walk, we put chains on my car’s tires. It only took a dozen tries, and constant reference of the instructions, but we did it!
We climbed the hill at a low speed until we arrived at the steepest slope. My Mom gripped her seat while I stepped onto the gas and the car wobbled through slush. 
“Come on, little car!” My confidence bottomed out when I felt the car lose traction. I had no idea what I was doing and it was time to admit that to my mom.
But then — by some strange magic — the tires gripped and took us out of the churned up road. The car felt steady again, slowly progressing.
“We made it, Mom!” I said.
“Yeah,” she sighed, somewhat sarcastically as relief washed over her face.
The next morning, she wanted to leave early to avoid the San Francisco Bay Area traffic.
“You know how it gets,” she said.
“I just wish you could stay longer.”
“I noticed you have a few dead trees on the property,” she said.
“The pine trees?”
“Yes, the tops are brown. A sign of drought damage.”
“Do you remember the giant oak in the middle of the meadow last time you were here.”
She looked as if she were trying to recall her last visit.
“Doesn’t matter,” I said. “It fell last summer. Did I tell you that story?”
“I don’t think so.”
“One night, I was reading in my room and I heard Shadow making strange noises outside. I called his name a couple times out the window, but he kept going. So I went downstairs and opened the door to see what was going on and there’s Shadow on the fence, looking towards the meadow. I called his name and tried to get him to come in, but he just kept staring towards the meadow and making weird noises. I got kind of creeped out thinking maybe there was something or someone out there. 
“I went inside and when I was halfway up the stairs, I heard this loud, cracking sound and then an enormous thud, which shook the whole house! For a second, I couldn’t move. My heart was beating so fast. I had to check outside, but I couldn’t see that anything changed. It was so dark out and I didn’t want to go past the porch. 
“The next morning I went outside and, sure enough, the giant oak had split at it’s lowest branch — right down the middle. The top half of the tree was on the ground and the rest of the trunk remained standing like a jagged obelisk. Aunt Marika and Uncle Rick were shocked when I told them.”
“Another drought death.”
“I don’t know. It looked like there was a hole and some rotting where the tree split. It looked like insects had gotten in and then water went in the hole.”
“That’s the drought, for you. The tree becomes distressed when it’s not getting enough water, and bugs can burrow into it.”
“It’s natural defenses are down.”
“Exactly.” 
We finished our breakfast and I walked my mom to her car. We hugged and said goodbye, thank you for visiting, thank you for having me, come again soon. We waved as she pulled away.
I turned to the meadow and walked to the remaining chunks of the giant oak. Looking at the thick, moss-covered cylinders, I remembered the oak’s grand stature, a living connection to the past. Surely it had been alive before the United States became a country. Seeing it now, in only a few chunks and pieces, the majority hacked up and hauled away by neighbors for firewood, I remembered my young cousin’s reaction when she saw the tree had fallen. She grew up on the property and knew the oak — felt it’s presence — by the time she could walk.
I recalled her devastation. While my Aunt and Uncle surveyed the damage, my cousin climbed into the tree from the top where it rested on the ground, and walked through its branches towards its base; her face spoke of when her father set up a swing on its thickest branch, and the times she climbed it and found refuge in its branches like a secret hideaway. When she was ready, she found a place to sit, her back to me. She leaned against a branch, now vertical, pointing to the sky. She wrapped her arms around it; I approached her, and heard as the memories spilled softly from her eyes. 

 

A Voice Cries out in the Wilderness

A few days ago, I wanted to hike somewhere I had never been before. I chose the Loch Leven Trail in the Tahoe National Forest because of the picturesque lakes, waterfalls, and railroad crossing I saw online. On the drive up I eagerly anticipated the new adventure.

As soon as I arrived, however, the unfamiliar terrain made me uneasy. Eventually, I found the trail marker — an old, weather-worn, small, wooden sign nailed to a tree. It was so inconspicuous, I was surprised I saw it.

Stepping onto the trail, it took me several minutes to orient myself. I walked along boulders, often intuitively choosing the direction; many times the trail split into deer paths. I felt a growing nervousness. It would be better to do this hike with a friend. I thought of going back. But no! My glamsient life is not about limitations! It’s about freedom and adventure! Instead of turning around, I built cairns to mark my route.

As I hiked, loneliness settled deeply into my heart. With a friend, building cairns would be fun, we would laugh when they fell and see who could build a better tower; we wouldn’t be scared because we would have each other. By myself, it was a response to real fear — getting lost in the wilderness, alone.

The loneliness grew: it wasn’t just this hike, it was a continuation of loneliness I experienced since I began my glamsient journey a year ago, as if it picked up where the previous lonely day had left off, compounded by the ones before that.

Keeping to my mindfulness practice, I stopped and encountered the loneliness. The pain diminished under the light of awareness, and once it did, I meditated on feelings of love — the eternal wellspring of love.

Despite my efforts, however, the loneliness kept returning. I knew following sadness into despair was not the way; it is a pattern in my past, and I am leaving that behind. But when would the loneliness stop, so I could just enjoy myself?

I may have been climbing a mountain, but I was climbing on the inside as well. I was fighting between who I have been and who I want to be. And every internal step began to feel more and more tired.

I kept going; trying to remain present; building cairns; listening to trickling streams caress the trail, sliding down rock faces that once housed glaciers; watching tiny waterfalls cascade over tree branches; hearing the small sound of a grey frog bellyflopping into a puddle when I startled him.

Turning a corner, I came upon a snow patch! I was elated to see snow this close to summer, but then I was overcome with loneliness because I didn’t have a friend with me to share my joy. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I be happy just to see it by myself?

In all this pain and conflict, I had to sit on a rock to center myself. When I did, tears came to my eyes, and I let myself cry. I stayed present with my sadness; it was joined by doubt. In my glamsient life, wasn’t I walking a new and unfamiliar path? I had chosen to become a glamsient to fulfill a deep need to self-actualize artistically, and it had since grown into a journey of deeper consciousness and spirituality. But if I was so lonely on this new life path that I couldn’t enjoy the trail under my feet and the unfolding adventure, what was the point?

Suddenly, the path I had chosen a year ago didn’t make sense. Suddenly, even though it had seemed right at the time, I felt like I should have never left my easy, comfortable, former life. I had a nice home and a large group of good friends. I hadn’t been deeply satisfied, it lacked substance and felt restrictive, but at least I never felt like this! Why would I ever leave that easy life behind?

Certainly, the past year of glamsient living gave me moments of unparalleled joy and, although I have a lot of work to do, I have grown as an artist — producing more and better work than before. Taking the time to dive into my spirituality has created greater meaning and presence in my life. Moving towards greater consciousness has helped me become aware of and break habitual attachments and patterns. But couldn’t I have done all this, couldn’t I have made the same artistic and spiritual gains, and still kept my familiar home and nearby friends? Wasn’t this new path counterproductive if I felt so miserable and conflicted in this present moment?

I looked out past the trees to see billowing clouds above the snow-capped mountains articulated by jagged points and crags.

“Help me,” I said through my tears, a voice crying out in the wilderness. “Let me see the Truth.”

For no reason in particular, I turned to look behind me. There I saw a small pine tree with a curved trunk growing out of a rock! I laughed through my tears. I have long identified with trees growing out of rocks; my spirit seems to me like it springs from a hard and lifeless place and it is only through the sheer power and persistence of the Creator that my soul survives and thrives. I even have a tattoo on my leg of a tree with a bend in its trunk — just like the tree I saw before me.

As if I were given an immediate answer to my cry, the Creator spoke to me through the small, bent tree: “You are never alone. I am here, watching, listening. Feel me. Feel my Love. You belong on this path — this unfamiliar, new path. The struggle you feel is your spirit breaking the chains of illusion. Your suffering is an illusion created by your mind from false ideas and parameters of happiness. Have faith in this path; I illuminated it in Truth a year ago. I led you here. Trust your creativity; it is my gift to you; it will heal you. Trust your dreams; I gave them to you and I want them to manifest. Trust that as you follow your dreams, you step closer to Me and your own divinity.”

Hearing this message with the ears of my heart, I felt a sense of comfort and strength wash over me. Without leaving my former life, I would not have gotten to this very moment on this rock to encounter the Spirit that tore through my sadness with Truth. Without leaving my former life, I could not embark upon this new journey that is filled with inspiration, expansion, meaning, and authenticity. With renewed support, I closed my eyes and allowed the air to dry my tears. I saw myself scoop the dark and painful emotions from my heart and surrender them to the Divine. In the open space a love, whole and gentle, spread outward with a vibration so complete that it softened the edges of my being.
I stood up, and with faith in myself and my journey, continued hiking the unfamiliar path.

On my way down the mountain, I passed several cairns I had made. One even helped me when I couldn’t find the trail. When I saw the parking lot, it seemed I completed an incredible journey, not just a couple miles.

Getting into my car, a half-grown pup ran over to me, smiling and wagging it’s tail.

“Hey, buddy,” I said.

His owner, wearing all khaki including a floppy hat with the chin strap pulled tight, approached us. “Finishing up?” He asked.

“Yep.”

“How was the trail?”

“Beautiful. I love hiking. I would have preferred to hike with another person, but the time alone was –.”

“Enriching?”

“Eventually. I was pretty uneasy at first.”

“Understandable. You know, there’s a lot of hiking groups in this area. They go around and hike all the peaks together. You should check it out.”

“Thanks! That’s a great idea.”

“Have a good day,” he said.

“I will,” I replied, sure of my words, “you, too.”

A Bridge on the Loch Leven Trail; Tahoe National Forest