As I rise up out of sleep and as I fall back into it- this is when I write my best poetry. I make uncapped ballpoint pens my bedmates. They leave blots on the sheets as a testament to our relationship: indigo, midnight, vermillion stains. Occasionally emerald.
The Doppler radar scan of Hurricane Patricia looks just like one of these stains.
It’s Puerto Vallarta in T minus three days when Cedar texts and then calls me- a blur of numbers and obscure jargon follows. 200 MPH. Class 5. Central pressure. The superlatives grow every hour. Largest hurricane on record in modern Mexican history. North American. Western HEMISPHEREAN.
My days become a game of “Should I stay or should I go now?”
A year ago, I vowed to not get on another plane until I knew my feet could still reach the ground from 32,000 feet. Until I had added an olive tree with gnarled roots to the raven and planets soaring across my right bicep. I promised to pack up my passport and focus instead on developing an intimate relationship with my wild home.
Cabo? Cedar asks. No, I say. San Diego? No. We settle for a road trip, to the far off, as yet uncharted by me, state of Oregon.
It’s my maiden voyage on the stretch of 101 south of Quilcene. I stop at a waterfall viewpoint to find a disappointing needle of water emerging from the rock. I suppose we’re lucky to have any flow at all after a year of too much summer and not enough winter.
As I walk back to the car, I’m wading ankle deep in dry leaves. I kick them as a child does, feeling joy for what feels like the first time in a long time. It’s also the first time in my life I’ve welcomed in autumn with hugs and kisses. A time of harvest. Time to let the dead things go, let them fall to the ground, to rot and compost and create a fertile bed for new seeds. As my inner five year old is tossing leaves into the air, making them rain, I reflect that my willingness to let go of the ecstatic, exuberant summer season is a sign of maturity.
I had been in Seattle for the last week and, while reuniting with my community and history in the city has been a wonderful homecoming, being on this trail feels like homecoming, too. I label myself a travel writer though I often think to myself that I’m also a home and garden writer- everywhere I go becomes a place that I live. A place that invokes life in me, makes me come alive, in turn making it possible for me to use the life-making imperative to create.
Beyond Quilcene, I find myself wondering about Mt. St. Helens. I’ve never been. I don’t know if it’s in Washington or Oregon. I could even be persuaded to believe that it’s in Northern California if someone were to make a convincing argument.
When I check Apple maps, I find that I’m ten miles from the exit off of I-5, onto the road that will take us to the explosive legend herself. I take the exit, having a few hours to kill before I’m supposed to meet Becca at a show in Portland.
It’s not right. To drive into the wild heart of a volcano. I know that somewhere, deeply buried, its four chambers are still pumping lava, beating quietly, ticking.
I grow increasingly uneasy as I meet the sign proclaiming ENTERING BLAST ZONE. I find myself chain smoking. Not because of what could happen. Because of what has happened, its memory etched into the land. The missing peaks, their conical tips amputated. Mountains with flat top haircuts. Some places where giant tree trunks, lying prone, are mostly buried in ash.
I reach the end of the road at sunset and drive straight back without lingering.
I meet Becca at a strange bar in St. John’s. Her friend Abigail’s voice is a silky porter poured into a frosted mug. The kind with the sturdy handle, that makes you feel like you could never let go of it. It fits your hand like a boxing glove and you want to press the cold glass to your cheek.
I’m not sure how to describe Florence’s voice. She sounds as good as the studio recording. Maybe better. Her voice is a geyser, spewing amethyst arrows.
She makes a stadium show feel intimate. She runs, barefoot, back and forth across the stage, hair unbrushed, face unmade, shooting down the aisles, embracing fans who dare to climb to her heights while the bouncers wait to exile them back to their numbered and lettered seats.
There are deep smile lines creasing Florence’s face. Cedar says that in Chinese medicine, the wrinkle from the nostril to the corner of the mouth means that one has experience a great deal of disappointment. Cedar asks, How old do you think Florence is? I speculate- 45? Her trademark hip hugging white jumpsuit seems to place her a child of the 70s. Cedar says- 29.
I’m of the generation where the young are old, and the old become young.
Since made the decision to cancel our trip to PV, I’ve woken up each morning with the urgent desire to visit Breitenbush hot springs. I don’t know why. I’ve never been there. Cedar wants to go to the Oregon coast. She doesn’t get to see the ocean often. She wants to visit the art galleries in Cannon Beach. I haven’t been there, either, but it sounds too much like Port Townsend for me to be enthusiastic. (I never thought the seaside would become ordinary and everyday to me.) I crave soaking in hot water right up in the mist of the mountains, rest, a massage, unplugging from internet and cell service- most of all I’m looking forward to someone else preparing three healthy meals a day for me.
Cedar and I part ways amicably.
My lifelong experience of east meeting west is not one that conjures up flying carpets stopped at customs, strip searched and passports stamped. Rather, it is one of constantly traversing the Cascade Mountain Range, tracking the density of evergreens from a scale of raucous house party thickness at a ten to isolated hermits at a one. The wave period of peaks and valleys stretch out into the dignity of the desert.
I’ve driven over Snoqualmie Pass a thousand times and never tire of the portal around mile marker 83 where suddenly west becomes east… yet it happens so gradually, I don’t know when the transition begins or where it ends.
I come from the east, raised on the seasonal cycle of sagebrush to tumbleweed, my need to live on the water quenched on the banks of a radioactive river. I’ve made my home in the west where the Salish sea can cup me in her hands. I return “back home” frequently while trying to maintain a sense of connection to my “front home” as the nomad in me continues roaming.
Oregon’s east-west divide isn’t like Washington’s.The Willamette forest thins in a far more civilized manner- less wild west and more bourgeois playground. The mountains feel closer in, snow capped in a way the Olympics have been deprived of this year and angular, like sculptures made of bleached butter, carved with a table knife. They pin the brown harvested fields down to the earth.
I make my way to Smith Rock, people perched on unhumanly high peaks like vultures and corvids. The rock rises up out of the earth like a pedestal, a climber’s playground. The rocks have character.
After a night of my first solo camping experience at Bagby Hot Springs, the water pooling around my tent while I prayed to the goddess to survive the night, I finally make it to Breitenbush on the evening of the Taurus full moon. The Sabian symbol for this moon is “The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.”
After a pleasant vegetarian dinner where I conversed with strangers who would not become friends, I dressed down and slipped down to the silent pool. I submerged myself in waters that could cook the raw parts of my soul, watching the full moon rise. She was framed by the branches of a nearby tree, a tree that had also stripped for the soak, the branches forming a triangle around her.
There were others in the pool. All silent. All of our faces turned to the Moon, for hours that lasted just a moment, as if in darshan. Darshan, the practice of getting blessings from the ruler (of the night sky.) The timid stars drowned in her light.
It was eery, to sit with human creatures silently for hours, watching an orb inch across the heavens. It was holy. It was heavenly.
The moon was set to reach full fullness at 5:05 am but I returned to my cabin just after midnight. In my sleep, I heard a banging, a knocking, at the cabin door, but it was not sound that I heard. It was light, shining light vibrations sent in waves to rouse me.
It was the moon, pulsing, sending tsunami waves of solar reflections to steal me from my sleep and say hello. In my sleepy haste, I opened the front door to the cabin- and there she was. The moon, in her very pregnant fullness. Directly above and in front of my front door. Smiling. Saying hello. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
I checked my watch. It was 5:05 am.
A chance crossing while thoughts move with feet, kicking dust across a narrow path.
past wooden buildings, bare grass, in between tents, people in costumes singing.
Beyond the rocks the water showed you the sky and the mountains, boats writing silver lines with the afternoon wind.