Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Inadvertent High School Reunion / Hurricane Odile

Nothing like built-in friends when you're housesitting! Turns out, three people from my 1980 class live nearby--even though it's 816 miles from my small hometown of Auburn, California to Port Townsend, Washington. Two are artists, one a writer. I love you, synchronicity.

Kathleen and Jenny (aka Kate and Jennifer), class of 1980.
Last month, Jennifer and Dwight came to spend two days with us. They just happen to live a couple of blocks from where I lived as a grad student at the University of Washington in the late 1990s.The four of us enjoyed lots of outdoor splendor.

D&J with the boys at Lake Crescent
Recently, Dave and I took the ferry to Whidbey Island where we met up with Mike and Kim for outstanding fresh mussels and halibut. Last time we met, four years ago, we did the same thing--and talked about Mike's and my writing. 

In the late 1970s, Mike and I had Journalism class together.

Now Kim and I had a lot to talk about. There are fascinating parallels in our lives. And I wanted to hear all about her job. Knee-deep in the literary world as the executive director of the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts, she's doing great things for the writing community.

Double Bluff Beach on Whidbey Island
We didn't have to travel far to get to Laurie and her husband Lou. Turns out they live two miles away! We went to their house for a great afternoon of BBQ and conversation with their slew of cool friends--and a group of charming teenagers, including their son and daughter who are both creative as all get-out (he plays the cello, she's into stage performing like her mama).

We both danced in high school musicals.
We also went to Laurie's cool gallery, a co-op situated under the sidewalks of town. Continuing in underground fashion, we went for yummy vittles and drinks at the Cellar Door. I must mention, too, that I fell in love with Laurie's wacky little dog, Sochi.

We were also lucky to get a visit from Gary and Laurie, longtime family friends who live in Seattle. They were good friends with my parents and are like an aunt and uncle to me.

Who knew Port Townsend would be so people-rich for us? We feel like part of the community. Yet in two weeks we leave, headed south--a two-month journey that will take us to Baja Sur where our new little casita awaits. 
Speaking of which, we were insanely fortunate that it didn't get blown away in Hurricane Odile. My sister was just north of Cabo at the time, hunkered down in a shower with a few people while the house windows blew out. After an arduous trek back to San Diego, she's home safe. Many people lost their homes and livelihoods--and a few lost their lives. This was Baja's Katrina. News is that the Mexican government is doing a good job getting the place back on its feet. But there's still a lot to do. You can donate to the Mexican Red Cross or Baja California Disaster Relief Fund.

Old friends, new friends, strangers--does it matter? It's about the love, folks. And we're all in this together.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


Walking the beach with the dogs, we see people combing through the sand for sea glass. When a glimmer catches my eye, I'm tempted to pick up a piece. A lover of the water and a former synchronized swimmer on the Auburn Mermaids, I feel especially drawn to these mermaid tears. I also love that garbage has transformed to jewels.

I used to have a collection of sea glass. I gave it away a few months ago during our second round of getting rid of our things. So what's the point of collecting more? Collections do not jive with nomadic ways.

But I couldn't help myself. An especially beautiful amber piece winked at me from the sand. I bent down to pick it up. I turned it over in my hand, enjoying its smooth texture and honey hue.

When I passed a young woman digging in the sand and dropping pieces into her bag, I bent down and said, "Would you like this one?"

Her face lit up as though I'd offered her a yellow diamond.

"Wow, thanks!" she said. That's when I noticed one of her hands was shrunken like a delicate bird claw. She held out her other hand, and I dropped it in.

So for the past couple of weeks, I've been doing that: Picking up pieces and giving them to the collectors sitting in the sand. I love giving stuff away. It feels so good. (I recently read about a woman who does it for a living.)

Yesterday on our beach walk, Dave and I held hands and stared at the shimmering Strait of Juan de Fuca. We sent out beams of love and healing energy to a good friend who at that moment was undergoing cancer surgery. Last August, I had brain surgery--and I wished the same phenomenal healing for her. The day before, I sent her an email, a compilation of what I had focused on during my medical experience. She printed it out to take with her to the hospital:

I know tomorrow is the day you are pushing the reset button to get rid of the old and bring on the new, totally healthy you.

May you see the bright white light of all your health practitioners.
May you appreciate their expertise and everything that brought them into your sphere.
May you appreciate all the conventional and alternative resources that have come together in your life.
May you see the truth of yourself healed and whole.
May you feel the powerful stillness of your spirit, which is fully connected to all that is.
May you feel the love of everyone who surrounds you and thinks of you.
May you know that all is well.

"There is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophies."
-- Friedrich Nietzsche

I thought about all of this as we turned to walk down the beach, the dogs flying.

We came across a stretch of sand peppered with more sea glass than I'd seen in one spot. Dave bent down to pick up a blue piece. I picked up a white one. We held out our palms. We ooohed and ahhed.

We gathered piece after piece. We dropped them into a plastic bag and kept going. I wondered for a moment if we were going to keep these. Could we not help ourselves?

And then I realized we were doing it for our friend. We will find the perfect vessel for these gems. We will give them to her when we see her in October. We will tell her about the gifts washed up from the sea, just for her.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Believe it!

When we left Santa Cruz last year to live on the road, I wasn't sure I'd ever love a place like I loved our small town by the sea.

But as we travel, I'm realizing there are so many great places in this world, truly wonderful places I could live long-term. Port Townsend--where we are housesitting for two months--is one of them. Of course it doesn't hurt that it, too, is a small town by the sea.

Port Townsend is a gem of forest and beaches and mountains. The air is fresh and invigorating. It has the laid-back vibe of many beach communities, with lots of people marching to the beat of their own drummer. There are good restaurants, shops, bookstores, and a Food Co-op (whose loudspeaker music was playing, of course, the Indigo Girls). There's a nice farmer's market Wednesday and Saturdays, with lush produce, locally made foods, and live music.

Speaking of music, we could see music here every night, it seems. Last night we went to a groovy place called the Pourhouse. It was a warm evening, perfect for the outdoor patio, where we drank craft beer on tap, listened to tunes, watched a brilliant sunset, and talked with friendly strangers. We also ordered food from a nearby restaurant. They would have delivered it to us, but Dave walked down the block to pick it up.
That double kayak has a barbecue on it.
The Pourhouse's patio abuts the beach, where a fun scene was going down: Two women created fantastical bubbles, while a guy grilled just-caught salmon on his double kayak.

We learned about the band when we met Stephen Ruffo. We needed directions and spotted him in his front yard. In Port Townsend fashion, Ruffo (as he's known) immediately engaged us in genial conversation. When he heard we are music aficionados, he told us that his band was playing the next night. He also told us he knows the founders of the bluegrass music festival we just attended, and that he developed a mandolin symposium with David Grisman (who played with Jerry Garcia) that takes place in Santa Cruz. His 99-year-old mother lives in Santa Cruz down the block from where we lived, and his father served as mayor of San Jose and was the first assistant coach of the SF 49'ers.

Serendipity, synchronicity, coincidence...call it what you will...it's been happening so much to us these days that we've decided it's better to accept than resist. Instead of saying, "Can you believe it?" we now say, "I believe it!"

Since I'm on the topic, how's this? Our friends Dwight and Jennifer, who live a ferry ride away, came to visit. Turns out, the deck chairs here were built by his company.

The maker (re)meets his chair.
The four of us enjoyed hanging out in this incredible custom house, that's plunked down in the forest. We also walked the beach at nearby Fort Wordon, and took the hour-plus drive out to stunning Lake Crescent. We took a long hike and enjoyed watching the dogs rush around joyfully off-leash. Max can chase a stick for hours, while Levi likes to explore, chase birds, and dip in the water when he gets hot. Afterward, we ate super yummy fish and chips at the charming Lake Crescent Lodge.

Jennifer and I, with Max, have known each other since high school.

Yes, Lake Crescent really looks like this.

Our favorite nearby place to run the dogs is North Beach. First you easily park, as is the case everywhere in this town (no cost and ample spaces). Then you walk with the dogs down the beach for miles, if you please. A few people here and there might be wandering around or combing the sand for sea glass.

You might get to see otters, a blue heron, and some of the dozens of different types of gulls. But for a lot of the walk, it's just us and the dogs--and we feel like we're at the edge of the world.

We were also lucky to see other creatures on our boat trip to San Juan Island.

Bald eagle watching a sea lion.

At one point the captain stopped the boat, and a pod of orcas surrounded us. One spy-hopped on one side of the boat, and a couple reared up on the other side. Of course we didn't have our cameras ready. You'll just have to take our word for it.

You can trust us! (At Friday Harbor, San Juan Island)

Speaking of creatures, because of the plethora of bird feeders (that Dave constantly refills), we see all kinds of feathered friends here, including this bizarre thing, a pileated woodpecker:

We've seen deer everywhere, too. The owners of this house keep them out of the garden with a high fence. An advantage of this housesit, like the last one, is that they planted the garden, and we get to reap the benefits. I never before pulled potatoes out of the soil. It was like finding buried treasure!

garden goodies

 We've been here shy of two weeks and have just scratched the surface.

Portal to this magical house.
My calendar is filled up with things we can do for two months straight. But I think we'll do only a portion. We don't have boxes to check. We aren't on vacation. We are living life, taking time to garden, write, read, do yoga, cook, soak in the huge bathtub-with-a-forest-view, and play Rummikub.

Wood-fired sauna, which we plan to use when the cold sets in.

Besides, who wants to spend too much time away from such a great pad? The owners--whom we met through Trusted Housesitters--have built a little paradise in paradise.  A guy we met the other day said we are here the right time of year; late summer and fall are the best. By winter, some people migrate south. Funny, that's what we will be doing too. We learned that a lot of Port Townsend-ers go to--ahem--Baja Sur, in the very area where we will be as of November.

Can you believe it?

I can.

Working on my next book with canine company.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Like Natural Beasts

Everything is impermanent. I know this in my head. But living nomadically reinforces it daily in my mind, body and soul. Especially now that I'm falling in love. With these guys:

Of course I'm already in love with the one in the middle. The other two have also captured my heart. Golden retriever brothers Max and Levi are our charges for two months as we housesit in Port Townsend, Washington.

Dave and I love dogs but don't have one because we travel so much. When we housesit, though, we often take care of others' creatures.

Because the housesits are temporary, we are acutely aware we will be saying goodbye to whatever we are enjoying: the animals, the garden, the gorgeous house, the great town, the astounding natural beauty. We are immersed in all of those things right now.

It's beautiful to watch the dogs joyfully run the beach. To pull potatoes out of the soil. To pick huge raspberries and blueberries. To write in front of a window facing the forest while Dave fills the bird feeders and waters the garden and cuts flowers to fill the house.

Yet all of this will come come to an end.

Dare I risk love in the face of impermanence?

That's life's big question, isn't it?

After all, what's permanent is change. The flow of moments and days.

"Let us ride our lives like natural beasts, like tempests, like the bounce of a ball or the slightest ambiguous hovering of ash,the drift of scent: let us stick to those currents that can carry us, membering them with our souls." - M.C. Richards

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Opening the Door

Last fruit and flower gathering before going.

Today we leave the California farm. Next up: Nearly two months in the Pacific Northwest.

A friend of mine asked if I ever feel sad about leaving a place I have fallen in love with.

It can be bittersweet. I think about leaving our routine of berry picking and animal feeding and  pie baking. I think about saying goodbye to the beauty of the redwood trees and local friends and comfy couch where I read each morning.

And I realize in two short weeks this farm morphed from foreign to familiar. From unknown to home.

That's been the case with most every place we've stayed in the past year.

So when it comes time to go, I acknowledge the impulse to cling. Then I ease myself into letting go, softly, through appreciation of everything we experienced. Then I turn my attention to curiosity and excitement about what lies ahead.

What's ahead?

Always a new adventure. Always new doors opening. Because change is the nature of life.

If I'd known this when my marriage of fifteen years ended, I could have saved myself a lot of grief. Can you imagine letting go of a person you love? Accepting that the person wants to move on? Accepting that we own no person, no place, no object? Accepting change--meaning the nature of life?

Can you imagine fear morphing into excitement?

Yet the clinging and rending and devastation taught me so much. Nothing is wasted.

This nomadic life teaches me more and more every day about letting go. About what serves me better: viewing something as an ending, or a beginning. Viewing an obstacle as a hardship or an adventure.

One of my greatest teachers is this regard was my mentor and other-mother, Gabriele. She viewed her dying experience as an adventure. Her heart was not filled with fear. It was filled with curiosity. Even joy.

I've always been a creature who liked change. But that was on my own terms. Now, I'm more radically embracing "letting go" and "letting be." Life feels more rich that way.

As Mark Nepo says, you have to put down what you carry to open the door.

Monday, July 28, 2014

What is it about July 23?

July 23, 2011...
...I caught the bouquet at my cousin's wedding.

July 23, 2012...
...We got married in Hawaii.

July 23, 2013...
...I woke up having a seizure in Cape Cod, the morning of our first-year anniversary. Brain surgery followed.

July 23, 2014...
Our two-year anniversary--and so much to be grateful for.

We decide to go on our favorite bike ride. Even though we are living a traveling life, we happen to be in our previous hometown of Santa Cruz on this day.

We ride up West Cliff Drive and on the bike path along Highway 1. Then through Wilder Ranch and over to a dirt path that follows the ocean. Farm land to our right. Infinity to our left.

Dave suddenly says, "Stop!"We scramble off our bikes. Hundreds of harbor seals lounge in the sun and play in the water.

We watch, entranced. Their silver bodies shimmer, as in celebration.

I'm suddenly so connected, so plugged in to life. As Shakespeare said, "One touch of nature makes the whole world kin."


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Living Many Lives

"And now for something completely different."

That's what Dave says when we are plopped down into a new life. Since we are nomads, this happens often.

Right now we are playing farmers in the Santa Cruz mountains, housesitting for friends.

Dave gets up early each morning to feed, water and let out the chickens, ducks, turkeys and geese. He does the same at sundown, herding them into their enclosure.

He feeds the rabbits. He gathers eggs. He cuts flowers and fills the house with color and fragrance.

We pick berries, plums, nectarines, peaches. We pull greens from the garden.

Using this fresh food, I've cooked stir fry, berry cobbler, and crunchy kale. Dave uses the dinner leftovers for breakfast hash. I'm making smoothies every day. Coming up: Plum pie, and potato salad made with hard-boiled duck eggs.

It's very satisfying to recycle everything. When I cut off the tops of strawberries or root out a rotten nectarine, I set them aside for the animals. Eggshells, banana peels and peach pits go to the worms that make fortified dirt.

When we first got here, I felt a little overwhelmed. How were we going to pull this off? But a day or two later, I was into the swing.

Laundry on the line? I can do this!

I love watching Dave take to the next "completely different" thing. He doesn't complain or worry. He just goes for it. He becomes it.

Living so many different lives is challenging me to become more flexible and resourceful. I'm learning how to suspend judgement, and to trust in my creative powers.

Today, I root myself here. Yet change is a constant, waiting in the wings. "Something completely different" is always around the bend--not only for nomads, but for us all.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Best Idea We Ever Had

Capitol Reef National Park? Seriously, who knew such a place existed? Okay, maybe you did, but I was oblivious until now.

Capitol Reef Natural Bridge hike.

Capitol Reef is the third Utah National Park we've explored in the last couple of weeks--and I'm now convinced that Utah is a national treasure.

Fremont Indian petroglyphs, about 1,000 years old (in Capitol Reef).

I'm no longer under the spell of only Yosemite, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. Yes, those three are fantastic. But there is so much more to see--and fewer summer crowds in other places.

Zion National Park is incredible. My favorite aspect is all the water. Get really hot on a hike or bike ride? Jump in the river! There are a zillion swimming spots. Or you can hike The Narrows, walking through water for miles--and stopping for a plunge in one of the many swimming holes.

The Narrows

Before leaving Zion, we drove around the back side into Kolob Canyon and took a hike with awe-inspiring views.

Kolob beauty.

Then we headed to Bryce Canyon National Park, first spending a night in Cedar City, Utah.

When we were checking in to the adorable Big Yellow Inn B&B, the owner told us a Shakespeare Festival was taking place a block away. And that night, tickets were two-for-one.

I'd had no idea that this festival has been taking place at Southern Utah University since my birth year, 1962. We had two choices that night and picked Sondheim's "Into the Woods" over Shakespeare (sorry Willie). Dave and I were amazed how the actors flawlessly sang so many complicated lyrics. Even though the play ran three hours, we enjoyed it. (Serendipitously, we discovered that the film version is being released this Christmas starring Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp.)

Bryce was visually incredible. I was Verklempt by its grandeur.

In Bryce, it's hard to believe nature creates such things.

This time of year, the weather in Southwest Utah is dramatic. Bright blue mornings often precede dramatic thunderstorms in the afternoons or early evenings.

Sunset, with moonrise, out the window of our room near Capitol Reef.

Wallace Stegner called the National Parks "the best idea we ever had." Indeed.