Thruhiker – Day 7

March 26 (7:00 – 15:45)
Sweetwater Park – Magnolia Promenade (22 mi)
Total C2C miles: 123.5
Weather: Cold, cloudy, partly sunny – rain in the morning and evening

I wake to see the roof of my tent sagging in, and I get up when it’s still a little dark. A puddle becomes an ocean on the top of my tent, and I’m out just in time before it crashes down, water everywhere.

There’s nothing for it, but to pack up and head out.

Sometimes it’s peaceful, and sometimes, it’s not. It would be peaceful if I could get my mind around it, relax, accept the rain, and realize, hey. I’m waterproof.

But when it’s so cold, when breakfast is a handful of raisins and nuts, and my socks are wet, and my heels are getting blisters, I wonder what I’m doing.

What made me think I was up for this?

Why am I leaving, anyway?

Why walk across the country?

And then the rhythm starts in again, step after step, and my body heat rises, and my soggy socks dry somehow, and the sun pokes out.

I find a spot mid-morning, with the sun so bright. I spread out my tent and my wet clothes on a rock. I change into dry things. I rummage through my pack and make a decent snack of a wrap spread with peanut butter and apple slices. It tastes good cold.

This is why I’m doing this. I find a kind of freedom here. I’m not separate from the patterns of weather. Whether it rains or shines has a good deal with what I need to do, with how I feel.

Behind it all, there’s a silence.

I don’t feel this silence when I am bound up with the daily fabric of the world of people around me. Then, there’s always a hum of “what-to-do-next,” “where-to-go,” “what-to-buy,” “who-to-see.”

But now, all I have to do each day is walk and care for myself so that I am in good shape for the walking.

Around mid afternoon, my trail has led me along the river, through the meadows to the bayside town of Magnolia, across the water from the city of Stanton.

I wonder if the trail’s silence will follow me, now that the path wends along the road, and skyscrapers poke the bellies of clouds on the other side of the bay.

The streets are wet, and somehow, it is the puddles that connect me back to rhythms of the trail.

The same rain fell here that fell on the meadows.

On the dock, I spy Stanton Sisters Cupcakes, a franchise famous throughout this region. Stanton Red Velvet Cupcakes have been featured on tv shows and gourmet magazines.

I’m getting one.

I order pasta from the food booth, too, and find a park bench in sliver of sun.

The courtyard is empty, so while I eat, my trail-side silence sits next to me, and I feel like I have a tiny bit of home here with me, in this place I’ve never been.

After my early dinner, I look out over the bay. I could walk on. It’s not even 4:00 p.m. yet.

But I feel peaceful and drowsy. Stanton Sisters sell spiced hibiscus tea, and I sit on the dock waiting for sunset.

I can sleep here. It’s a thruhiker-friendly town. The steamboat docked here is a B’n’B, and they open a few rooms for thruhikers, so we can shower or even sleep inside, if we want, and they let us set up our tents on the dock.

I’ve read on hiking blogs that during the peak season, the dock fills with thruhikers’ tents. I’m the only one tonight.

I can’t sleep. I wonder how I ever slept when we lived in the city, with people all around.

I never felt lonely on the trail, but here, with the voices of people sashaying down from the corner bar, I feel isolated. I listen for silence, and I find it in the sky, behind the clouds. That’s what I hold in my mind as I crawl into my tent and lay in my sleeping bag with my eyes open.

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Eight Pieces: Shine

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Kristal’s grandmother had loved that old church song, “This Little Light of Mine.” She’d sang it to her all through her childhood.

It was effortless to shine as a child, surrounded by Grandma, Poppa, Mom, Dad, and all those doting cousins.

Family lit up when she entered a room, so it was impossible not to reflect that light back.

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When had she stopped shining?

She was still bright when she’d met her ex. He used to put on his sunglasses when he saw her coming. “You’re so bright, I need my shades.”

When had he stopped lighting up when he saw her?

It was after he’d been teaching for about ten years, she realized. That was the time he took on the supervision of the grad students in his division. Maggie Mueller–his T.A. for Intro to Essential Stochastic Finance–he shone when he saw her. That was when he began to dull around Kristal.

She pretended for a long time that nothing had changed, until she became too tired to pretend. She could live without love–of course. Millions did. She could, too.

But the price had been heavy.

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She was beginning to see now that she didn’t have to pay that price. She didn’t have to jump to be with someone else. She could continue on alone. And she could still shine.

She sat on the patio many a night, watching the shine of light above the chapel door. It meant something to her. She didn’t have words for its meaning, but when she felt the press of loneliness, she looked to that glow, and warmth spread through her.

This little light of mine.

Being a human was predictable. We respond in similar ways to certain experiences. Certain symbols transcend culture, individuality, and reach deep within us to move us, inspire us.

Some nights, she sat up through the darkness, glancing now and then to the light above the chapel door, watching the sky and the slow march of stars that betrayed the steady revolution of this planet. As the clouds above the mountains became silver, her pulse quickened, and she inhaled deeply.

The first rays of sunlight didn’t bring heat of the day, but they brought warmth to her eyes.

Let it shine.

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A single kerosene lamp on a table. A light above a chapel door. The streaming morning sun.

Let it shine. 

She was older now. Her grandparents were long gone, her parents, too. She rarely saw the now-distant cousins. There wasn’t a single person she could think of who lit up when seeing her.

But there was this feeling inside–there was something that still responded to light, that took fire and shone. Whether another responded or not, she still shone.

Alive, alone, whether anyone heard her message or not, she shone.

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Eight Pieces: Patterns

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Kristal woke in the gray before dawn.

The room felt chilled, and the cold reach behind her eyes, behind her heart, settling into her lungs.

It wasn’t cold, she realized, when she sat up. It was pain. The room wasn’t cold–she was.

Clouds rolled in from the coast, settling over the mountains, bringing the scent of sea and rain.

This was the feeling of pain.

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Healing didn’t happen in a straight line, she realized. It doesn’t resolve in a day, a few weeks, a month. You can’t wipe it away, no matter how much paint you apply to a canvas.

Or can you?

She took a quick tally of how many canvases she’d painted so far. Seven. That was nothing.

What had she done before, in college, when that long-haired boy with a slanted smile and eyes that hid when he laughed–what had she done when he left her? How had she buried those dreams she’d made with him?

This wasn’t the first time she’d felt this cold inside.

She’d written poems, she remembered, about rain boots caked in mud; vines in winter, spiked with thorns.

She remembered a line about her heart, a blackberry left, shriveled and molding, on the vine.

After twenty poems, warmth returned. And there had been happy moments during the nights of twenty poems.

One evening, unable to sleep, incapable of focusing on translating an assigned passage from The Iliad,  she took her moleskin notebook and a black pen that splattered ink like a monk’s quill to the campus coffee shop.

Peter Beagle was there, singing and playing his guitar, stopping now and then to recite a passage from The Last Unicorn.

She fell in love with him, for that evening only, and while his voice wound through her, and now and then he caught her eye, where she sat in her solitary corner and smiled, she realized, yes. She could love again.

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Behind her stood the paintings of the yellow bike and the single tree.

She wasn’t meant to heal in an instant.

She was meant to discover the patterns deep within her, those that led her towards others, and those that drove her away.

Her stay was a little more than half over. She still had weeks to find her way back.

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She took the day off from painting to explore.

Parrots filled the jungle canopy with splashes of red and blue, as bright as their voices were loud.

In the plaza, a speckled gecko hunted crickets near the planters.

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A rainbow arced over the falls.

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In a moment of awe, she felt that the air within her was the same as the air without. She lifted her head, spread her arms–this was the joy she’d known as a child when the broad oaks called and hawks circled on thermals overhead.

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She played her violin against the percussion of the cascades, a large iguana her only audience.

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When she set down her instrument, the stillness of the pool spread out, beckoning towards the coast, sixty miles away.

A single lantern shone, suspended from a pole on the dock. Though it was day, the lantern’s light was brighter even than the sparkles of sun on the green pool.

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This is a moment of happiness, she realized. The music of her violin still resonated within, and she watched the quiet water until the notes faded. Soak in it. Happiness is here.

In the evening, she tried to capture the patterns of light and dark at the edge of the clearing.

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The next day, under a cloudless sky, she layered blue, and black, and green over the empty canvas.

His life goes on, like this twisting black line. Her life spreads, like the sky.  There is no merging, but the context of everything, of life, of the green breath of living, offers moments. And that is all we need. No more. No less.

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Author’s note: For a poem about this painting, see Kristal, Day 2 of my GloPoWriMo project.

GloPoWriMo: Day 1

dayone

Kristal

One word
to end it.

The lie was that
we would love forever.

The conclusion, simple.

Suds in a sink–
maybe one day
I’ll forget
that word, “No,”
and with the grime,
my shame,
down the drain.

Then I’ll discover
my secret:

In solitude hides my pleasure.

Daily Prompt:Write a poem that is based on a secret shame, or a secret pleasure,” from Na/GloPoWriMo.

Author’s note: I’m participating in GloPoWriMo, a poem a day to celebrate April as National Poetry Month! You can join, too! Just check out the Na/GloPoWriMo website to find (optional) daily prompts. Whether you’re a practiced poet, or, like me, an inexperienced poet, if you take part, at the end of the month, you’ll have 30 poems under your writer’s belt! 🙂 Let me know in the comments below if you join in (with a link, please), so I can enjoy your poems!

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Eight Pieces: A Single Tree

kristal304

The best days happened when she stayed at the casita. Sunlight poured across the cleared jungle and over her south-facing front porch.

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When she was two or three, she played in dappled sun beneath an oak tree. She hadn’t known the word “lonely” then; her playmates were acorns, sun shafts, and crinkled brown leaves.

She hadn’t known loneliness until she’d been married for a decade. These last twenty years, the ache had become habit.

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For a moment, she forgot the meaning of the word “lonely” now, for the sunlight, the sunlight, the pouring warmth, the comfort, the yellow, echoed in the rising blooms of the kitinche tree outside the mission chapel, the sunlight spread into all, and into her, as well. And she wasn’t lonely, she was alone. She was all one.

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She rested in solitude.

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That particular ache would never be filled, the one that stirred when they stopped listening to each other. He would never listen to her again. She could never listen to him. That option had closed.

But she didn’t have to hold onto that ache. Though it had become habit, it could be unlearned.

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When they got married, she thought, “I will never be lonely again.” She would always have someone to listen to her, and someone to listen to. She’d stopped listening first, she realized. It was because it was the same thing. And he held a snobbery behind his socialism. He scorned those who wanted to buy things. That’s what had made her stop listening.

“Look at those little rats,” he said, as they passed Walmart driving to the university. “Scurrying to the cellar for crumbs! Hurry, little scruff-bums! Scurry! Scurry! The sale is ending! Get your plastic bags! You can’t live without ten bottles of dishwashing soap! Buy it! Buy it all! Buy it fast! We’re selling out!”

She looked out the window to see a young mom holding her son’s hand.

Besides, rats were graceful, intelligent, resourceful creatures. First, you don’t criticize other people, especially when they have to work hard simply to establish a comfortable life. He didn’t know struggle. And second, what would ever cause one to think that another creature, another living being, would be something to be used for an insult? What does this say about how he perceives other living creatures?

She tried to get past that day, for it was still early enough in their marriage that their ritual of jokes and what she liked to refer to as their “herd chatter” served to maintain their bonds. But then, not long after, he stopped listening.

“I took a long walk during lunch break today,” she said on an early spring evening. “The dogwoods are blooming–have you noticed? And when I rounded the admin building, I caught the sun, shining through a storm of petals! It looked magical! Like the fabric that was the petal had become filled with something so pure, so beautiful! Like liquid love.”

But he had turned away and was washing his hands. And after he dried them on a towel–she still remembered, it was that red checkered towel her grandmother had given them two Christmases before–he left the room. Her eager speech rattled through her mind and settled below her larynx in a hard knot.

She had thought once that when you were married, you always had someone who would listen to your innermost thoughts, and that was what loneliness was: the discovery that this wasn’t so.

The kitinche tree rose its golden branches towards the late afternoon sun.

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It stood, alone, by the chapel door.

If she were a young girl on her way to Mass, she would look up at it.

Let me lift my face to the light, too! She would sing to it, “O holy, holy! Bathed in sun! O holy, holy! Solitary one!”

She didn’t feel lonely when she painted. She felt alone. All one. The thoughts, the feelings, the tiny moment that opened into the immense expanse of life! It all poured out onto her canvas.

One chapel. One bell. One door. One tree. One me.

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Aimless: Evensong

This story was written for the December 2017 Monthly Short Story Writing Challenge held by our writing community at the EA Forums. If you write SimLit, we’d love to have you join us! We have a new challenge each month.

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Winter nights, I sit at the piano to play the carols. I have a favorite collection by Melody Bober which weaves a minor interlude through the old tunes, carrying the undercurrent of memory, solace’s shadow.

Hark the herald angels sing,
Glory to the newborn king!

My mother plays, my sister sings, while we craft confection snowmen and soldiers to guard the Christmas table.

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I pop a marshmallow into my mouth, and the sweetness melds with my father’s words as he reads the end of A Christmas Carol:

“…It was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!”

–Charles Dickens

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We wish you a merry Christmas
We wish you a merry Christmas
We wish you a merry Christmas
And a happy New Year!

We rose early, in the chill before dawn, and piled into the old VW van, stacked to the brim with presents and luggage and tins of cookies, so that there was barely room for the five of us. My father wore his heavy hiking boots, the better to press down on the old vehicle’s accelerator, and we all willed the van up the steep mountain passes, whispering earnest prayers as the trucks heaved past us, and singing as Old Trusty left her wheezes behind when we crested the pass and sailed down into the long, rain-splattered valley. After growing weary of travel-bingo, and “I spy,” and after singing Rudolf with every variation we could imagine, and after daydreams of riding each and every reindeer, long after the setting sun, we pulled, wearily into the driveway of my aunt and uncle’s house and the cousins piled out to wrap us in hugs and there was hot chili, hot chocolate, cold oranges, sweet, fresh Seattle water, and kisses, and laughter, and jokes, and then more songs, and stories, and it was time for bed and in three days it would be Christmas.

My sister, nearly a grown-up already, herded us kids on a caroling expedition.

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She sang the lead, we sang the chorus, my brother clapped the percussion, and while we performed, my cousins didn’t fight, my brother didn’t tease, and we joined our voices into one song.

“That was lovely, dears! Charles, come hear this! You must have some cookies!”

We sang and ate our way through the neighborhood, and when we finished at Grandma Earthy’s house, everyone said how clever we were, and wasn’t it fine to keep the old traditions alive! My sister’s eyes shone, lit up with song.

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I wonder as I wander out under the sky 
How Jesus my Saviour did come for to die 
For poor on’ry people like you and like I 
I wonder as I wander out under the sky.

I fell in love with Jesus when I was a teen. If I’d been born Catholic, surely I would have wanted to be a nun. As it was, I pledged my soul in the only way I knew: Stay true. Keep seeking. Find what is real. Don’t lose the spark. Give it all over, to all that is.

The year before I came to know Christmas blues, Joe, my brother-in-law’s father, driving me home from babysitting his youngest children, said, in reply to my seasonal cheer, “When you’re young, Christmas brings nothing but joy. When you’re my age, it’s the most depressing time of year.”

I couldn’t comprehend his gloom. “But you were a minister!” I exclaimed.

“All the commercialism,” he said. “It’s a capitalist’s feast, void of meaning. Another reminder of how far we are from anything real.”

The next winter, I snuck out of my sister’s house, where family was gathered, and wandered through the city neighborhood, under the colored lights that dimmed the stars. Old Joe’s words came back to me. The trees, the lights, the roasting chicken, the carols, the cheer–for just this few weeks a year–what relation did they have to the long road, traveled for thirty-three years by foot or donkey, that led from a stable in Bethlehem to a cross?

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That year, I was old enough to know that people would still hang a rebel, even those who, this night, sang of peace and goodwill.

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Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye, who now will bless the poor,
Shall yourselves find blessing.

When blessings abound, cheer can’t be kept down. A steady train of years passed, with Christmas dinners at my aunt’s, and all of us, even the old grandparents, gathering around, and family, still, was family, and home was home. To sit with my grandfather, to listen to his stories of long walks and long nights reading poetry and wondering, the reminder to savor these times, when we were together, kept winter blues away.

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Each year was like the next, until they weren’t.

O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!
Sondern laßt uns angenehmere anstimmen,
und freudenvollere.
Freude!
Freude!
Freude, schöner Götterfunken
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!

I have spent one Christmas alone. J ventured south to prepare for our move here. I stayed up north to finish out the year of teaching. Our old station wagon wasn’t up to driving across the pass to Seattle, where my family celebrated. So I remained in our small town, nestled in the Channeled Scablands between three rivers. Sunday before Christmas, friends invited me to dinner, and the snow fell and we built a snowman and threw snowballs under the crystal moon.

The snow melted by Christmas, and the sun warmed the sagebrush, though nights brought frost. After my solitary holiday feast of cranberries, baked potato, butternut squash, and a veggie burger, I started the old Plymouth and drove along the Yakima River.

Beethoven’s Ninth played on the radio, and I turned the volume as loud as it could go.

Beside me rolled the deep river, traveling through the soft hills and broad fields. The sky sparkled as tiny ice crystals caught the sun.

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In solitude, my spirit soared and stretched: “Even the worm can feel contentment, And the cherub stands before God!”

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Christmas Eve will find me
Where the lovelight gleams
I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams

We had no Christmas the year my dad passed. He left the night before Thanksgiving. On Boxing Day, I flew up to spend time with my mom. This was the first time I’d seen her home during the season without a Christmas tree.

We took a long walk along the cold lake shore. We couldn’t talk, but the physical warmth of our bodies radiated between us as we walked side by side.

We spent a night in an old, run-down cabin on the Puget Sound with my sister and her husband. We walked all evening, sharing few words, seeking comfort in the stillness of the cold water and the distance of the wide horizon.

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Oatmeal cookies with cinnamon, hot tea, and a fire in the Franklin stove couldn’t thaw the chill.

In the dark of the empty night, I woke to hear my mother weeping behind a locked door.

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O Holy Night!
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary soul rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

We live in a desert town where the sun shines three hundred days a year. On Christmas Day, my garden smells of petunias and rosemary, and thrashers sing and finches dart among the dried stalks of Mexican sunflowers, feasting on seed. 

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We don’t need a festival of lights when the sun wakes us at seven-fifteen and bids goodnight at five-fifteen, for we’ve spent the day beneath its rays, and our hearts are as warm as the afternoon.

We leave the trees growing in the forests. We feast, we sip coffee and tea, we watch the old movies, we look back on thirty-seven winters we’ve spent together, we share our blessings, we remember it all with gratitude.

I play carols on our piano, and I remember.

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I step outside beneath the stars. In me, the spark that I am jumps to the light, joining, in that continuous moment, all the sparks of light that ever are. It is Christmas, and I can hear my father’s voice as he reads the old story, “It was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!

We remember and, in memory, connect with the eternal moment. The light that shines through my father’s eyes, through my sister’s, through mine, it’s the light that keeps us bright the whole year through. May it shine, and keep on shining, in your eyes, too!

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Wonder 37

Charlie

3701

I had one more personal day before I had to return to the clinic. I decided to spend it alone. Time to think and time to be.

While I was painting after breakfast, I realized that this was the first day alone I’d ever spent. Growing up, somebody was always around. I wondered what I’d discover.

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I heard the ten o’clock ferry blow its horn, and I realized I had the whole island to myself. All my neighbors spent the day on the mainland. I was completely alone on an island in the middle of the bay.

I took a dip in the pool and went for a jog. I didn’t even bother putting on clothes–why, if there was no one to see?

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Running in my bare skin on my bare feet through the wild island meadows brought a strange feeling, both powerful and vulnerable.

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Blood raced through my veins, my muscles were pumped, my lungs filled with air and emptied again–this was vitality and the strength of being alive.

At the same time, here I was an insignificant dot of sinew and flesh on this tiny island in the middle of the bay.

I was the center of my experience, and at the same time a speck of no-notice in the grand scheme of things, mighty and tiny all at once.

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This seemed like a profound realization to me–something that might be significant for a healer to understand.

What are we? We are both the center of our experience and part of the whole.

I wondered if each cell in our bodies had that same type of doubleness: imagine each cell being the center of its system, its awareness, while also being a tiny part of the whole.

Health must be related to this: bring integrity to the small unit, and health is achieved in the whole. Provide health to the whole, and integrity will be brought to the tiny unit.

The family is like this, too, I thought later in the day.

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Even now that I’m living on my own, I’m still part of them–they’re still part of me. We share an inter-being which connects us always.

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Solitude felt rich when I contemplated it from this perspective. Solitude isn’t the same as separate or alone. I’m still connected to everyone and everything, just one more cell in the big scheme of the Universe.

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I spent the evening researching. I was surprised to see how many clinics incorporate holistic healing into their practices. Not only that, but the financials for these clinics are head and shoulders above the traditional medicine clinics. I’ll follow Tia Berry’s advice and learn the profession first, but when I’m ready to start incorporating new approaches, I can see there’ll be a market for it!

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I began to feel eager to return to the clinic the next day. Insight and inspiration were with me now. I was ready.

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