Piñon Pine

Abstract Essays, Cultured Narratives

My sense of time had been seriously distorted that week due to sleeping in a dark room and being an opener at a coffee shop at 4am, while also subconsciously aware mold must have been seeping through the walls of that apartment and into my sinuses. I was barely breathing, in a state of minimum consciousness when my alarm screeched unpleasantly, piercing my eardrums. I didn’t open my eyes. I was nauseous and dizzy, better prepared for death than I was a road trip to Utah.

The voice telling me this would be an instant life-changing trip was the only thing propelling me to roll out of bed two minutes after I was supposed to arrive at Emery’s house to depart to Utah. A painful rush of cold blood flooded my head as I did so, but I miraculously found myself capable of throwing my five luggage items into my car, throwing clothes on my body, and driving a mile and a half all within ten minutes.

I was headed there with my class of Fort Collins herbalists to visit House of Aromatics, a essential oil distiller lab. The concept of distilling essential oils from scratch intrigued me, but Utah was the last place I planned on travelling to within my lifespan. My imagination could never quite grasp what it would feel like to be there—to drive through flat-topped sandstone hills with red dirt mountains sprouting bushy bundles of Artemisia.

The descent winding down the western Colorado-Utah border was overcome with traffic but surrounded by beautiful scenery, including majestic mountains and equally mystical ghost towns blanketed with fog. Despite the beauty, two hours of riding in the backseat made me so cold and nauseated I could have passed out. Fortunately, I was in a car full of intuitive herbalists—one of which happened to possess a homemade ginger tincture. After consuming a few drops of that, stopping for coffee, and walking briskly through the cool, mountain morning air of Georgetown, Colorado; I witnessed the healing powers of nature already reviving my health and my spirit. We were walking along a full river in search of a coffee shop, which I spotted just in time.

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I savored the taste of comfort; a sweet, warm soy latte while walking back along the river lined with vivid green grass and medicinal plants that our Mother Herbalist pointed out to us. That crisp, cold and rainy air flowed through my veins, allowing me to breathe a little more clearly. Our next stop was also by a river that I walked downhill towards… and my soul shouted for joy at the view of yet another element I clearly didn’t visualize enough: water. Water, earth, fire, wood, air. It occurred to me indirectly along this journey that I hadn’t been surrounding myself with the essential life elements, so it was no wonder I was experiencing so many ailments such as respiratory issues, fatigue, and infections.

Now nearing our destination as we wound up the mountain, I was feeling the most enlivened of the entire group. I was transfixed by the pink reflection of the setting sun illuminating the valley with cirrostratus clouds overhead, casting contrasts of pink and indigo upon the plateaus. I had never seen a more expansive sky than this one. The expansiveness allowed me to breathe in the atmosphere, appreciating the journey. I almost choked on my water when I suddenly spotted a formation of white sandstones perfectly shaped like a guitar, right there on the hill! It was a large formation, obviously natural. I shouted at the other passengers my revelation, but we’d already passed the hill and they’d been oblivious.

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Though this caused me to double-take on dreams versus reality, I knew I was not mistaken. Guitars were engraved in these hills, playing music to the sky and the valley. I felt instantly at home. The trees were smiling at me.

We were there for the Wood and the Earth, but I was astounded to recognize that the wood and the earth were there for us, before anything. The entire time, we wore the scent of the trees upon our skin in the form of hydrosols derived from piñon pine’s essential oil. This way, we absorbed that aroma both internally and externally while emitting Piñon’s scent from our own pores so that we could better connect with all of nature. Especially the trees. After collecting pines from the forest, walking barefoot, and sniffing flowers, we stuffed the pines into a large barrel that would sit, generating heat, for days.

I believe it was the trees, out of all elements, which transmitted a wonderful idea to my soul whilst I was amongst them. They made me believe that all of my aspirations are beautiful and magical, surely possible to achieve. Don’t give up, they said. Everything is always okay. Nothing is a mistake; only part of the plan. They shed light upon the fact that not only had I been so out of touch with the elements- I was out of touch with the entire Universal cycle and it was making me crazy and forgetful and depressed. But spending time with a multitude of trees twenty-five times older than myself rooted some ancient wisdom within me. One being: we are part of them. We are part of a living, breathing organism and our personal health influences the entire body of the ecosystem.

Another forgotten “element” I rapidly remembered along this trip was space. Is it an element, or all the elements? Our existence is something else compared to space—something quite small and seemingly irrelevant to the entirety of the Universe and beyond… yet somehow, each one of Us is actually composed of all the elements that our Universe is composed of. Though we’re merely “atoms in the hind leg of a dog on some foreign galaxy”, according to Eryl, we are also God to one of our living cells.

 

So it’s no wonder the six of us found ourselves laughing nonstop in the oil distiller’s kitchen for four hours that night while everyone else sat outside drumming around the fire and searching for the spiritual truth. The spiritual truth sometimes means nothing more than laughter—the kind of laughter that is so relentless it hurts. The kind of laughter that ignites smiles to every one of the cells forming your body—all the atoms spinning around at the speed of light, holding you together in one piece. The kind of laughter that causes you to gasp for oxygen because your muscles are uncontrollable in the moment. The kind which causes you such shortness of breath you don’t take heed the very real possibility of death, because the overwhelming load of serotonin rushing to your brain makes you forget everything. It makes sense that laughter creates a higher vibration when your entire organ system vibrates with the untamable action.

Sometimes, stillness and silence may also lead to the most serendipitous moments. While I was lost in silent wonder, staring up at the sand hills basking in the golden evening sun, I met Jackie from Florida and Nora from Switzerland outside of a barn party in the small town of Boulder, Utah (population 150). How either of them ended up at this particular barn party was a mystery to me, until I wandered inside the barn and was confronted with the most passionate, lively energy I’d experienced… ever. A marble dancing stage sat at the south entrance, and hanging lights of all colors lighted the north stage. The sound coming from the stage was one that would instantly bring to life even the most lethargic of souls, such as myself at the time. I came to life, fully, as I became one with all the other colorful dancing spirits from all over the world in this middle-of-nowhere-Ute barn.

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I danced with the crazy locals to a cover of Gnarles Barkley’s “Crazy”. My body flowed with the rhythm, inspired by the reckless, carefree dance moves of everybody in the front crowd including my Mother Herbalist and the owner of the field on which we were camping. Absorbed in the band’s sound, I was astonished when the reckless, dancing local woman with whom I was barely acquainted suddenly turned around to face me and placed her palms on mine, hands still in midair.

“You know what’s crazy?” she looked gravely into my eyes, staring straight into my soul. If I hadn’t learned anything about magic and synchronicity within that past year, I would have merely thought she was drunk. She was, but I knew she had turned towards me, specifically, to make an significant point worthy of permanent remembrance. “The world we live in, where we’re so afraid of being what we really are.” I agreed that it is a crazy world. “But now is the time to break through society and just be our crazy selves. Right? Just let go of everything. Be free. That’s what we really need in our world.” The guitarist kept rocking a riff while repeating “Crazy… crazy… crazy…” and the crowd roared under a hundred multi-colored lights. “Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid to just be you.” The woman with brown eyes squeezed my hands before letting go, then turned back around to dance facing the performers.

I lost myself in the music as the song transitioned into “Moonage Daydream” and two free-spirited young girls reenacted a 1980s David Bowie rage. I allowed my entire body to move freely, synchronized with the rest of the audience who felt as much. I let go of everything and just felt. (I did not get up on stage with the girls and rage.)

The sky was densely lit with mysteries clearly visible in the open field throughout those nights: beaming stars, galaxies, and the Milky Way. The sky was also looking at us during those Central Utah nights while we made music by the fire, danced carelessly in a barn, made friends from across the world, drank wine, and gossiped about the stars. The galaxies would undoubtedly remember us, the Herbalists, simply trying to shed light upon other living beings united in our system as a whole. And I believe it was a success, especially there in a land where we, the plants and the plant-lovers, could view what was happening up there on a tangible level.

On the last day, we gathered in a circle around the barrel of pines and lifted the cover off the top. A multitude of three whole trees– or more– had created a mere five ounces of essential oil. Steam emanated from the barrel and into my sinuses; it was lovely and sweet, but also powerful and healing. It was as though a blast of clarity hit me directly in the face. I could breathe. My heart was open. No one said a word; we were all suddenly still. Tears were shed around the circle. We had co-created this substance with the Earth, asking her permission, and now she was thanking us. This steam carried more with it than its anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antimicrobial, and anti-viral properties… it carried the Spirit of Piñon Pine.

We gave the remains of Piñon Pine back to the Earth. I was feeling light, like weight had been lifted from my heart and mind. The golden sun paved the road home, shining past our sunglasses, igniting some kind of hidden light within our souls that evaporated any doubtful parts of us, replacing those parts with hope and wonder. I took with tools of healing and wholeness derived from a variety of sources, silently thanking each source.I experienced a newfound appreciation of the layered sandstone canyon walls surrounding us, and mountains freckled with sparse bright green trees contrasting with vividly red dirt.We drove under tunnels holding our breaths, and I was reminded of the ancient concept of emerging from underground caves with a new perspective of life. We emerged from the tunnels every time in bursts of laughter.

 

 

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Emergency Day Trip

Cultured Narratives

“This could be a good bar joke, like when you walk into a bar and meet a girl who gives you the wrong number. Except it’s not like that: Three herbalists walk into a hot springs and exchange numbers…” I joked to a faceless stranger via text message as I tried to justify my message proclaiming my identity after receiving the ironic response, “Okay… do I know you?” I wanted to say yes, you probably do. And you definitely know the person whose number I apparently typed in wrong, given the reality that your phone numbers are one digit apart in a town with a population of just over 1,000.

We got it situated.

Ultimately, a delirious exchange of riddles and laugh-crying emoticons with God-knows-who  was the outcome of my emergency trip to the mineral hot springs in Saratoga, Wyoming. That’s not quite a bad thing. And that’s not the only outcome of this 5.5 hour round driving trip, either.

On a day when most people should be either bouncing off the wall or hungover, I was in a state best described as a manic depressive anxiety attack. This, perhaps, is also what a combination of the two latter states would look like. It turns out that on this day, the day after what is considered an auspicious birthday for most, I still had no better sense of direction towards my life purpose. Instead, my mind was scattered in a thousand different directions, leaving me in a hopeless state of despair similar to the despair I’d felt the day before, and throughout the entire week.

Too many messages to respond to, too many phone calls to make, too many children and pets and flowers to care for, too many websites to create, too many options for creative living and making entrepreneurship work… and I don’t even have a job, so why even bother with any of those things I love? Do I focus on completing my novel or making music? What was the point if I can’t be part of something bigger than myself? Should I keep my current apartment, or should I migrate to New Mexico for the winter to avoid loneliness associated with frigid air? Where would I be if I hadn’t gone to college, hadn’t gone to herbal studies school, hadn’t enrolled in any other certification courses, and had focused on art instead?

Too many decisions, too many mistakes. I was tired of trying. At this point, I didn’t care about whether making the drive was safe considering my sole three hours of sleep the night before, and extreme dehydration, and the time restraint (being already middle of the afternoon). I had absolutely no other option other than to drive west and soak up these so-called healing waters, something I’d only done twice before at a hot springs that smelled so strongly of sulfur I became nauseated. If I didn’t do it now, my heart would still be racing, my head would still be spinning, and my hands would still be shaking. I was just going to have trust my instincts and take a risk before anyone could change my mind.

Whizzing past I80’s familiar dry landscape, my mind began to settle. I was able to amuse myself by gazing across the open plains while communicating with the radio; absorbing the words as though these artists were speaking directly to me. Talking to the radio, as I see it, is a skill well-mastered amongst the rare spiritually inclined only-children. This skill is sometimes the secret motive behind decision making, and it will sometimes drive you crazy. I tried to ignore it– I didn’t need any more words influencing the clutter in my mind– but as I was pulling into town, Carly Simon still made me laugh as she sang, “Well I hear you went up to Saratoga, and your heart naturally won… You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you, don’t you?”

The entrance was beautiful: cattle grazing near mineral ponds, a glistening lake to the left of the road, and elegant Western archways to ranches on the right. I couldn’t recall ever entering this magical town before, though my family says I have. I swerved into the nearest parking spot on what appeared to be the most ‘bustling’ street of downtown. I got out to stretch my legs and walked into a bar, because, firstly, why not? Secondly, I was automatically attracted to the large, brightly-colored sign which read “LIVE MUSIC” above the doorway.

There were only two people in this bar, including the bartender. They told me a man comes to sing here every night but Sundays and Mondays. I was compelled to come back when it started, but it was Monday. The man sitting at the bar described his style of music– an East coast country folk vibe– which sounded very intriguing and similar to my own style. I noted that I was also a musician, and they invited me to casually sit in with this singer sometime. Sure, I would come back for that.

I could practically feel the hot springs pulsating from there, drawing me near. Even better, I couldn’t smell them. I continued my journey along the river and followed signs to the Hot Springs. I dismounted my car and walked along the river path, bordered by aspen trees. Now I could smell the springs. There they were, populated with smiling people washing away their own worries. For free. However, I didn’t feel the need to socialize on this particular day, which was a rare occasion. I chose the smaller, cooler spring, which at the time only two people were dipping their feet into.

The late afternoon sun was still warm upon my shoulders. I waded into the clear blue water up to my neck. Immediately I felt a surge of something nourishing rushing through my pores. I was floating in a warm blanket of comfort and hope, one with the Water, one with Earth. I tuned out the conversation between the couple and simply soaked up the healing warmth, listening carefully to what the water had to say to me. Feeling with every cell what the Earth and the Sky were giving to me. I was realizing that the combination of sunshine and mineral water could probably cure anything.

Soon, two more hot springs soakers arrived, saying they were from New York. I couldn’t resist conversation if we were sharing the circle with practical foreigners. I have too much Wyoming pride to do that; I wanted to know why they were drawn here. We learned that the New Yorker ladies were boho elementary teachers, enjoying their seventh week of wanderlust. They asked the woman across from me what she did; she was an herbalist! I chimed in that technically I shared that common title, but couldn’t call it a profession. I explained I was a “foundational herbalist”. Within five minutes, five more people had entered the pool. Was it my willingness for conversation drawing in the entire surrounding area? These new people were locals and Boulderites.

The woman next to me overhead this as she walked in, saying, “For the record, I’m an herbalist too! An herbalist of personal study for twenty-seven years.”

The New Yorkers were astounded. How was this possible, that three unacquainted herbalists could end up in a hot springs on the same August afternoon? Well, this IS a hot springs, the local acknowledged, regarding the ancient magic. We rambled off the benefits of cayenne pepper, the dangers of essential oils, and common immune boosters. They were delighted when I shared the basics of making flower essences. Aspen bark is not only an analgesic and coagulant duo, as they mentioned; the flower essence is a courage and anxiety remedy. We shared the common herbal mantra, “When in doubt, use nettle!” The local shared the Saratoga hot springs history and what it is, exactly, that makes the water healing.

“You’re absorbing essential minerals directly through the pores of your skin, so it’s like taking a multi-vitamin. Magnesium, zinc, copper, etc.” I continued the conversation with the newest member while the herbalist and her husband from Denver and the New Yorkers carried on about cultural and climate differences. Soon, I revealed to the local herbalist, Tasha, my profession as a singer-songwriter and my interest in playing somewhere in town. She was elated; she was going to a meeting in forty minutes where I could meet the town’s music booking agent! She was adamant about me meeting them there ten minutes before the meeting began. When I introduced myself, she repeated my name in such a suave way that my entire perspective of introducing myself was transformed.

“So that must be the reason you’re here today, right? You didn’t just drive 128 miles for nothing.”

Well, there are other reasons. But, yes– that’s really what I was looking for. To imagine playing at The Yard, a music venue overlooking the river, during Ladies Night where other solo female singer-songwriters performed… that’s one destination I knew I belonged to. How did I never know about this location only twenty miles west off the interstate I traveled biannually? How did the world not know about this hidden, magical location? I was going to have to exit the spring before my face turned purple. There was just one issue: my face was still going to be red as a tomato by the time I met this booking agent, and I hadn’t brought any makeup with me.

The inspiring words came to mind: With creativity, I can solve any problem. I was back at my car, dressed in a maxi dress I’d luckily not had time to donate to a thrift store that day. Otherwise, I would have been out of dry clothes and out of luck. Frantically, I searched for some sort of pale concealer or powder that might have fallen under a seat three years ago. I found none. I stood at the door in distress when one of the boho teachers came walking towards me. We officially introduced ourselves. I told her about the meeting I’d been invited to. In desperation and embarrassment, I asked her if she had any concealer. To my dismay, she replied, “Concealer? No… I’m sorry. I don’t own any makeup at all. But I don’t think you look red. You look great– you look tan.”

Then, even more surprisingly, she pulled down her sunglasses and exclaimed, “Why are you standing like that? Don’t cross your arms. Have you heard of power poses?” She landed a pose with hands on her hips. “Studies show that if you do this for two minutes a day, it will boost your confidence. It’s what animals and men do naturally. Expand yourself; be expansive.” She demonstrated a few more poses. I was humiliated. Of course she didn’t own makeup; she didn’t shave her armpits or tweeze her eyebrows, either. Those were only traits of pure confidence, though, and I was also grateful for this encouraging advice. She concluded with, “Google it! You look great.”

In exchange for my tip about making nettle powder with a mortar and pestle, she’d given me a confidence resource. I thanked her as she walked away. And as I peered at my reflection in my mirror once again, I acknowledged that this is one good reason to travel. No one I know personally would ever tell me they don’t like the way I’m standing, but this new acquaintance from New York did so because she cared about my future– and she might not ever see me again.

I met Tasha at the top of the hill across from the local greenhouse, where the meeting was supposed to be held. She informed me that it was canceled, but called the ill director and made sure I would at least be booked for next year’s music events at The Yard. I was given various sites to drive past while still in town, which I did. Every car I passed waved to me, like I was one of them. I could live here to soak in the springs every day and wave to all the locals who pass by, I thought.

I drove back home off the beaten path, past the infamous mountain and the lake my existence is based upon (due to my parent’s wedding twenty-five years ago). I hadn’t dared to venture anywhere this beautiful in too long, perhaps for years. In my closed mind, I hadn’t realized 128 miles was so close. I drove with confidence and appreciation of this entire experience, beauty surrounding me in all directions. For the first time since childhood, my mind was rid of fear and anxiety, overflowing instead with a sense of peace.

This is only way I could have ever mustered the courage to finally upgrade this secret, four year old blog into a website. There was just no other option. I was also able to cross a couple other decisions off my decision-making list: I can rent my apartment while traveling for a month. and finishing my novel. Maybe the reason I bothered interning with a Mayan healed through my college study abroad and attending a separate 7-month intensive herbal studies course was to be able to converse with two other herbalists in a hot springs. Who knows?

When in doubt, use nettle… Or if you’re too anxious to even think about brewing a cup of tea, go to a hot springs. Just make sure it isn’t infested with brain-eating amoeba like what was just detected in Kelly Warm Springs this week.  Glad I didn’t go there.

 

 

 

 

 

Midnight Flying

Cultured Narratives

Last March, I was settling into my new apartment complex in the dead center of Fort Collins, Colorado (although in all my five months of living there, I was never close to settled). However, it was a new adventure that gave me hope for my future dreams. I was under the impression I’d be nourished by an artful way of living surrounding  me in all directions, expanding my creative horizons and increasing my health.

What I didn’t expect was that the opposite would occur. While I was gaining irreplaceable knowledge about nature and health from my six-month herbal studies course, my physical and spiritual self were quickly declining. As for my emotional state, I remember being withdrawn from any that might have arisen. I couldn’t really feel anything of my emotions any time I was on my feet, being one step out of my original roots– my home city, Cheyenne.

The only time I ever recognized my emotional state in Fort Collins, the city of adventure and liberty, was when I was flying. More specifically, when I was flying through the dark and couldn’t see my tracks.

On my road bike, I felt free. Scents of the setting sun, the evaporating pond, the wilting grasses, and the windswept willows blew into my nostrils, acting as my oxygen. These scents were distinctly unique to this city I’d always dreamed of living in. Cheyenne’s air simply didn’t have as much dampness to it; it wasn’t quite so heavy nor so warm. It wasn’t quite as dense with mosquitos and fruit flies, either. There was a sweet sadness to Fort Collins’ air, but it was the sweetness I did appreciate.

I’ll choose to remember the times dew stuck to red vines grazing silver gates, when I flew down to the Poudre River and sat with the herbs growing there. On occasional June nights, my roommate and I got lost riding bikes in the dark through a neighborhood with only tree species for street names, and we would fly down Lemay at midnight in jean shorts, exhilarated to be riding so close to the lake dazzled with yellow lights that seemed to stretch out forever.  I’ll remember the groundhogs grazing hills full of burdock underneath a silhouette of street smog during late afternoons. But I also flew uphill to the base of the mountain on the verge of summer, when apple blossoms were blooming and I saw hues of green in every direction I gazed upon, spotted with pastel blues, pinks, oranges, and yellows.

Getting lost was only spiritually reviving when I was on my bike. I discovered hidden paradises that way: a green fairytale jungle in the middle of a random neighborhood, a Hawaiian-esque hostel/ yoga retreat, and an artsy old blue door draped with ivy, for example. Such colorful images filled the gap in my soul where love was missing.

Love didn’t mean much to me there. It was the scents and the scenes that kept me going, which are memorable and worthy of writing so I can account at least some good of those five months which, in reality, I spent lost in a land where my heart wasn’t present.
®Camille Garcia, 2016

 

Green Chili Roots

Cultured Narratives

Sometimes we must retrace our own footsteps and dig deep into our own roots in order to bring forth new beginnings. We must dig deeper than our youth, deeper than our time of birth, deeper than our parents’ births.

Deeply entwined within the heart of my soul is a native New Mexican essence. Generations of memories have been passed down to me through my ancestors, and I begun remembering them at the time I started writing my novel when I was 14. I hadn’t actually visited the specific scenes I visualized as I wrote… until four years later, when I went on a summer road trip from Cheyenne to Santa Fe and spotted peculiarly familiar locations on roadsides, in churches, and adobe houses (some of which my grandparents and great-grandparents built).

San Luis, located in southern Colorado on the border,  was especially distinct in my instinctive memory. I remember walking out of a restaurant/bar and double-taking the view before me. No. It couldn’t be… It was Anaranjado, the fictional city I thought I’d been clever enough to create from scratch! It was my grandmother’s hometown, where she learned to flip tortillas from her mother and helped mold adobe bricks with her father. It was where she attended school taught by nuns at the convent. It was where the entire community of Spanish settlers held kitchen dances, removing all the furniture and dancing just for a good time.

I can see the smiles and laughter on their faces as they danced. I can hear the accordion and banjo music my relatives used to play together as a band. I can smell the corn tortillas broiling and the posole simmering. I can feel the warmth radiating from the hearts of those people, as warm as the New Mexican sun. I can relive those moments, for now, until I go back and experience that once again.

In a month of windy weather and dark clouds, I can’t help but crave the taste of the sunshine. I can’t help but dig out old New Mexico magazines and envision myself playing gigs in Santa Fe wearing the dress I bought specifically because of that. Or sitting on a rock near the river, finishing my novel.  Perhaps also wildcrafting herbs and working at an apothecary there while I’m at it… And still, maybe it’s only important to keep these visions and memories in my heart at all times so that I never lose that root essence of myself. Today,  I wear green turquoise earrings and a patterned pendant around my neck to remind myself of this, and also to spread NM’s essence to all others I encounter.

7: Birth

Abstract Essays, Cultured Narratives

Everywhere I drove, I saw plates from Goshen County marked by the number 7. The number 7 always used to be my favorite number, my lucky number, before I began seeing number patterns repeatedly everywhere I looked fifteen years later. Seven became insignificant compared to the persistent 222s, 221s, 555s and other random number sequences—until a couple weeks ago when sevens kept flashing before my eyes no matter where I went. But it was the license plates that were leading me to dig deep into my roots, to search for something I didn’t know I had lost.

So here I find myself in a window seat of the newly opened bakery in a town out on the open prairie with a population of 5,000— Torrington, Wyoming. It’s a town with prominent aromas of cow manure and dried couchgrass. Almost nobody born here stays—but I imagine there are some that do. It’s a town of new beginnings, just like every other mildly progressive town in Wyoming. A new restaurant had sprouted at some point within the past fifteen years with my last name as a title. A western boutique with a few boho items stood within a tiny complex at the end of downtown. The furniture store was closing.

Driving eighty miles through such a scene the average person would consider “nothing to look at” was surprisingly a beautiful revelation for me. I drove down the dark road surrounded by an open area of buffalo grass below a subtle blue, cloudless sky. But if you scan see past that, looking with a deeper vision, you might see the Rocky Mountains glowing in a pink aura through the rearview mirror, and feel the wind rustling your hair as though you were among the horses on the sides of the road. You can see herds of free-range cows along the prairie drinking from a deep blue creek that is somehow still flowing in the middle of November.

And you thought you’d finished the straight path, you arise on top of the prairie and gasp in awe. Oh… so this is where I come from, I thought. The road was no longer black; it descended into hues of purple, nicely complimenting the hues of red sagebrush. Small rock formations sat piled in pyramidal stacks across the view, only to be noticed by those curious enough about this happy land. Really, it was a happy, lightweight feeling I was overcome with. No longer was my heart sinking into the same view I saw each day; instead, it was spread right out in front of me. There was the old faux chimney rock we called “Hitchhiker’s Thumb” with various roads open up to explore the top if I ever felt the urge to do so. There was Horse Creek, there was Hawk Springs. Places I’d forgotten existed. I’d forgotten where I came from…

Along the horizon, majestic purple plateaus were glowing magenta. Everywhere I looked along the roadsides, healthy bussels of astragalus were sprouting amongst couchgrass. I was breathtaken—breathing in the whole sky, the plains, the purple plateaus. I was now spiraling down this two-lane road, wondering what incentive everyone else travelling it had. Cars from Nebraska and others from upstate Wyoming were speeding towards me. What was triggering their travels? Was it the number 7? Was it any kind of number?

Finally, I came upon the Water Tower and the unnecessarily bold billboard exclaiming “WELCOME TO TORRINGTON, WYOMING”. My grin expanded outside my face and into my heart and crown chakras. I was home.

Wildflower

Abstract Essays, Cultured Narratives

Written July 16th, 2014.

You are a seed.You have been planted in the core of this ground and you are spreading your roots, making your way up through the soil, up from the Earth, like you know where you need to go. Maybe the wind has carried you a great distance to get you where you are now: in the present.  

I almost didn’t come. But the wind had managed to carry me to this sacred place surrounded by trees and a gray sky from all the way across the ocean in just over twenty-four hours. Glancing up at the gray sky that was threatening to rain, I deeply inhaled the crisp, fresh air. Merida’s smoggy, smelly skies were already long gone memories. I was back home, back to the soil of which I had originally blossomed… but something was different. I could feel something changing. It was going to be a positive change, but I was the only one who knew that. No one else would ever look at me the same…

 The seed does not know competition. Its life is not bound by outside influences. The seed cannot foresee the future, but it has a vision. You are blooming, blossoming in that place where only you know you need to be.

This voice had a forceful impact, as if it were the wind.

With my body pressed against the Earth in Child’s Pose, I felt rooted. I was grounded. I was a seed being watered by the rain that so coincidentally happened to be falling, ever so gently. It did not pour on us. We did not have to leave. We were where we needed to be; eight people on the sixteenth of July, doing yoga in a grassy secluded area in the park surrounded by trees.

But you are not the only seed. You were placed amongst thousands of other seeds, each sprouting in different places. But you bring your own uniqueness up from the soil, your own unique light.

And as I rose from the the ground, I blossomed into that red wildflower I picked on the hill earlier that day. I was carried across the Gulf of Mexico, had seen how the jungle’s tropical plants thrive,  and now had come all the way back to bloom again– albeit a harsher climate. This challenge was one that I was more willing to fight now.

There was no rain the rest of the session.

Because the seed cannot hear, it is able to grow upward into something better than it was, listening only to its core: the heart of the seed. We bring our hands to that heart center, knowing that this is the only place to begin our growth. We bow, bringing ourselves to respect that core: the heart.

I smiled at these words. Our movements were those of seeds sprouting roots, struggling to break through the comfort of the soil we had become so accustomed to.

The seed cannot foresee the future, but it has a vision.

After becoming fully awakened from my trance state, I walked to the water and submerged my feet, becoming one with the land. I then walked further to the dock, where I sat down, barefoot, with my knees against my chest. I watched the gentle waves all across the deep blue. I saw green trees on the other side. I became a part of those waves; I could feel myself rolling with them.

When I stood up, after an unknown period of time, I floated towards those green trees on the other side, barefoot. Once I reached the green trees, having no particular destination in mind, I walked even further, because time was all I had. But time didn’t matter.

Mañana Cotidiana

Cultured Narratives

The roosters squawk, creating a canon song. An elder woman wearing a  traditional huipil dress sits in a chair eating a mango and her granddaughter sits besides her, eating a coconut. A man reaches into a tree with a giant fruit-picker while his son waits expectantly to catch the guayaba as it falls to the ground. A woman waters plants.  The almond-shaped leaves of the avocado tree sway slightly in the warm morning breeze. Spanish words bounce back and forth among the people in different positions on the back patio.
A girl of almost nineteen years sits at a table on the balcony of the hotel restaurant, observing this scene from below, imagining how peaceful life would be with these vivid colors, these bright sounds, and these friendly people surrounding her every day. A sense of community every morning, with one’s entire family gathered around a table now eating breakfast together in the gentle glow of the morning sun. Grandmothers, fathers, mothers, children, aunts, uncles, cousins, chickens. Now, birds chirp, singing songs in all different octaves. This place has become home to her, however, even if this family doesn’t speak her native language and they don’t share the same blood. The sounds of their voices have become familiar, their faces have become comforting. The songs of the birds and the squawks of the roosters have become a soundtrack to her life.

Day of Happiness

Abstract Essays, Cultured Narratives, Small Miracles

Driving from Windy City to the City of Sun was almost unbearable. My friend and I decided to cross the state line on Thursday because we knew better things lay hidden on the other side, but as I drove, the wind whistled through my windshield wipers, ceaselessly howling at us for the entire hour it took to get there. When we finally arrived in the City of Sun, the wind abruptly stopped. It was like magic.

Our first stop was at a coffee shop in an alleyway. We climbed a flight of stairs to reach this supposedly legendary coffee shop. Upon entering, I took in my surroundings—the cultured people, the windows overlooking the town below, the aroma of coffee mixed with lunch food, the laughter, the different atmosphere of each of the four rooms one could choose to sit in—and I thought that in a way, it resembled a café in Hawaii I had once been to. This city has never failed to surprise me; it could be so many places at the same time, even bringing back island memories.

In that coffee shop, I sipped the best-tasting Sweet Chai I have ever had. The creamy texture and blend of spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom) were perfect. The rest of the day was spent exploring similarly magical places and strolling the sunny sidewalks of Oldtown. Whenever I come here, I never know if my happiness arises from the positive vibes that everyone in this city radiates, or if I’m just happy to not have to wear a sweater. Probably both—but I was feeling that way on this particular day, too: light and light-hearted and filled with light1 – perhaps an even stronger sensation than usual.

The last shop we entered was one that sells the most beautiful and expensive clothing that I would never buy but always enjoy browsing through. It also sells a variety of locally made jewelry and candles. I had to smell the candles in antique mugs because I always do—and they were the best-smelling candles I think I will ever smell. The candle-maker wouldn’t give away her secret, so I bought one: Fig. To this day the scent lingers in my nostrils.

We were so caught up in the spontaneity of the day that we could only find time to get lunch during late afternoon. After almost half an hour of deciding where we should go, we finally drove to a sandwich shop on the other side of town. The warmth of the day had been consistent, even at this time. As we arrived, I remembered that today, March 20th, was the first official day of spring.

“Hello! Did you know today is the International Day of Happiness?” a smiling woman greeted us when we walked inside. It was like she was asking us, “Did you know you’ve been wearing your shirts inside out for the entire day? No wonder everyone’s been staring at you!”

“Are you serious?” we gawked in unison. No wonder we were so happy.

“Yes, it really is! And it’s the first one ever!” she handed us smiley face stickers that we stuck on our shoulders. “Now if you’d like, you can write down on that poster what you’re happy about today.”

Well, I couldn’t have been happier that those threads of destiny2 had pulled me and Destiny to our favorite city on a sunny day to celebrate happiness on the first ever International Day of Happiness. We would have never known otherwise. I wrote, A day in my favorite place with my best friend and sunshine.

  1. See “Region of Pure Air” published Dec. 27
  2. See “Threads of Destiny”, published Feb. 19

blue light bistro

Abstract Essays, Cultured Narratives

Months ago, we hesitantly entered the glass doors of this place that was buzzing with the laughter of countless sophisticates. We weren’t quite sure what it was at first—it was much too elaborate to blend in with the typically dull scene of our hometown:

Its walls are glass, so that you can gaze out at the city lights: streetlights and whatever cars might be passing by at that time of night. There is an even thinner sheet of glass separating the bar from the bistro. Above the entrance to the reservation room at the far right, a black and white 1920s film is always being projected onto the wall—not that anyone is ever watching or listening to it intently.

Florescent blue lights illuminate the entire bistro, reflecting off the artificially dyed heads of the regulars there. We always get one of the long tables on the stage to the left of the entrance because there are always at least seven of us. From this position, we can observe the back of whoever is singing karaoke, and the expressions of all the intoxicated professionals in the audience.

People sit at separate tables but they are so close together that anyone could strike up a conversation with the person sitting behind or next to them at any time (although their voices might be overpowered by the karaoke music). The same, welcoming music is always playing whenever we decide to come because the regulars always sing the same songs by the same artists.

Shannon sings Carole King, Les sings Chris Isaak, Tiffany sings Alanis Morissette, Greg sings Red Hot Chile Peppers. There is one outlier: Jean, the feisty older woman with curly gray hair who sings anything from Aretha Franklin to the Rolling Stones with great enthusiasm, curls bouncing like springs in all directions.

It’s become such a familiar place in such a short time; one in which I share a bond with all those city sophisticates who hibernate in their cubicles during the week. We can sing songs for each other and not be embarrassed, because we know that we can only improve with every song each week in an atmosphere illuminated by blue lights and filled with laughter.

The Voices of Trees

Cultured Narratives, Fiction

She grew up to be what she believed a good woman to be: gorgeous beyond all belief, with cheeks sunken in to bare her zygomatic bones, lips painted a dark yet subtle color, hair bleached an unnatural blonde, dark makeup engulfing her brown eyes, and a body worked so hard and malnourished for just long enough to be an ounce thinner than healthy. She had also believed a good woman to be loved by a fine man, however ugly he may be.

Claire had followed through with these beliefs for the past fifteen years, but long nights and fights had torn away her love—twice– and she could no longer maintain her previous identity. Now she was a two-time divorcee without love, without identity. What good was her undeniable beauty when no one was present to admit it? Loveless. Lifeless.

Smoke swirled inside her black car and drifted out into the morning sky while the frigid winter air came pounding down through the window and into Claire’s weak lungs. She began choking on her smoke and coughing uncontrollably. Her delicate manicured fingers flicked the cigarette out onto the road. Claire kept her eye on it through the rearview mirror until it became invisible. It was so small compared to the cloudless sky above her.

After weaving through pines and week-old snow for what seemed like a millennium, she could finally see the log cabin that she would be inhabiting for the next month—whether or not she could bare the mental and emotional consequences.

It was family time in [what Denver city girls would call] the “suburbs” of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Yipee. Lord knew from past experience just how much fun the Alderson family could have while existing no further than six feet apart from one another at any given moment for an entire month. Once celebrating a marriage, and now a death (though unfortunately, this culture is not particularly keen on celebrating death), emotions within the log cabin would be in full swing from hormonal teenagers, men in mid-life crises, women suffering from PMS, and menopausal women such as Claire herself. Piling grief on top of this already-toppling tower of stress would not exactly transform the spirits of the Alderson family (particularly Claire’s) in a positive manner.

She had just begun menopause two weeks earlier and couldn’t get used to the sudden urge to fan herself like she had seen her grandmother do in church every Sunday years ago. Decades ago, to be more precise. She didn’t want to feel like a grandmother. Not yet. She had walked the Earth for forty-nine years and still hadn’t borne any children, still hadn’t set foot outside the U.S.A., and apparently still hadn’t experienced unconditional love.

Perhaps her mother had given her unconditional love at some point, but now her mother wasn’t here to lend a shoulder to cry on. Why did it have to be like that? At the time in her life when Claire needed her mother’s shoulder to cry on more than ever before, her mother could not be there for her. Didn’t she know that no one else in this family could comfort her in the same way? Evidently not. Now, she would never be able to know that her own death took a toll on Claire more than anything ever had.

In the four days since her mother’s passing, Claire had done nothing but cry. Good Lord, she could cry. God had never seen a child cry more than Claire Marie Alderson Greeley. But this reaction could not be greatly contrasted to Claire in her natural state of loneliness.

When in doubt, cry. When depressed, cry. When the sun no longer shines, cry. Cry, Cry.

When you want something more than anything, nothing will prevent it.        

Claire hit her brakes. That voice was real and seemed to be speaking directly to her. She felt a presence, but the radio was turned off and no one was around; she suddenly felt nothing but the solemnness of the pines surrounding her. Great, now she was hearing voices. She was hearing the voices of… trees.

She suddenly remembered that saying. It was her mother’s.

Tears emerged in the corners of her eyes and threatened to drip, but she stopped herself. She blinked.

Someone honked and flew past her car. She was sure they’d given her the finger. But how could she care at a time like this? At a time when she could hear trees talking? She gazed upward at the winding road in front of her, then at the strikingly bright blue sky. Slowly, she regained speed to her vehicle (subconsciously trailing along at thirty-five miles per hour). Going slow was okay right now.

Okay, she thought, What is it that I want? What could she possibly want? She didn’t have to think too hard at first; she wanted love. Real love. Without a partner and now without her mother, she wasn’t sure if she could find enough consolation in speaking with her cousins. She was an only child and had always been happy about it, but at a time like this, it seemed siblings would serve as an ideal source of love. Well, it’s a little too late for that, she thought.

Children? No, she didn’t really want children. Not really. But they would provide love, right? She had often considered adoption, but most times when she’d lie in bed straining her brain about this subject, she’d always come up with the conclusion that there wasn’t a true balance between the love of parents and children. Children were too needy and unappreciative. Parents always had to do the cleaning, the cooking, the driving, the changing of diapers, the paying of medical appointments, etc. Pets were also too much to handle. Maybe fish would be okay.

She exhaled a sad sigh smelling of nicotine and tobacco and whatever other toxic crap cigarettes are made of. That was another thing—she wanted to quit smoking. But Lord knew this particular week certainly wasn’t the time to do it. She’d have to wait until the new year.

She also wanted red rubies on her fingers. She wanted a double chocolate frappe loaded with fat and sugar and extra espresso. She wanted to feel the sun turning her shoulders brown. Now, what was preventing all of this at the moment? To name only a few: she was in debt, there wasn’t a Starbucks in any direction for three hundred and fifty miles, and it was a toasty eighteen degrees outside. And her mother was channeling the forest, or vice versa, solely to inform Claire that nothing—nothing at all—was preventing these things from happening?

Claire was oblivious to the various cars honking and flying past her on the highway, and she couldn’t have been sure how much time had passed before she realized she was ascending up the winding road called Harmony Lane that led to her family’s cabin. Almost there. Instead of tensing up like she normally did at this point, she felt a sense of calm flood her body. How strange.

She gazed up at the sky that now contained a few clouds, one of which was shaped distinctly like a guitar. There was no questioning this—Claire had seen and heard plenty of stranger things before (i.e. hearing trees talk) that made her believe there was something wrong with her mind, and maybe there was, but there was no doubt that this cloud perfectly resembled a guitar. This time she wasn’t just seeing things. It made her want to play guitar again, more than anything…

She remembered the way she felt when she used to play during her high school and college days. It had always amazed her how she could speak another language through a piece of old wood that used to be a tree. She would spend hours singing harmonies alone with her guitar and writing down the words the guitar spoke to her. She had begun to perform in bars, coffee shops, and for her friends at parties.

The talent came so naturally. Everyone who heard her would always gaze at her in awe. That feeling was like nothing else, yet so familiar… it was a light-hearted feeling, as if she were floating in the air and flooding her soul with happiness. She could taste happiness when she sang her songs and picked those acoustic steel strings with her bare fingers. Then when people were listening and watching, absorbing her words and the sounds her fingers could make, they looked at her like… they were in love.

And she was in love with them, too. She was in love with all of it: with her guitar, her voice, her words, fingerpicking, creating chords—all of it. She was in love. That was real love for her, and she had completely abandoned it and traded it for her worthless first husband Carl and a full-time manager position at a bank. She wished she could take back that portion of her life and just change all of it. Hadn’t she wanted those things at that point in her life, though? It was hard to imagine now, but she was sure she did.

The harsh truth hit her: she used to love Carl, but she never wanted to marry him (and this was also the case with her second husband). She used to want to be the manager of a bank, but she never loved the job. She realized now that happiness meant making choices that she wanted as much as she loved and vice versa. She realized now that she wanted to fall in love with music again, more than anything.

Just as she approached the log cabin, feeling more relieved than grieved, Claire  could not think of anything preventing this from happening.