Are you Indigenous Indian?

“Are you part indigenous Indian?”  Asked a man waiting in line at the Post Office.  A secret smile crept onto my face.  I really wished I was and told him that.  He said he was part and commented on my looks.   No one has ever asked me that before, though I did have one boyfriend years ago, who commented on my feet and how they looked like I had walked many lands and that meant to him that I was very wise.  I decided to just let that be true… for him.

I wondered what the man at the Post Office saw that made him ask. I searched my history and memories like they were typed pages holding secrets, hidden between words.  When I was little I was a blue-eyed blonde with Russian ancestors. But I always thought my grandmother, who was born in Russia, looked like an indigenous Indian and wanted to know the story of her parents and childhood.  I wondered how her looks came about, the tall thin woman she was, with high cheekbones, and sunken cheeks.

That small comment, that day, made me feel so special.  The man spoke to my desire to be with or in as many cultures as there are people, a desire to be part of a tribe, well, many tribes.

Images flutter in front of me and I see my grandmother next to an ancient wise Indian, one whose feet have walked the earth, touched the actual soil. I see the deep sun-dried lines that suggest, wisdom and natural beauty which is simply, beautiful, worn and filled with stories.

Good pick up line, I thought.  It turned me inward, into things deeper in me than I can understand. It made me aware of a ball of light deep inside that glows when I decide to look that way.  It may glow all the time, even when I am not looking.

And when those words enter my thoughts I also hear, “There she goes…off the deep end… again. She is sure that is what certain friends and family are saying about her now, “Ball of light, glowing deep inside…whaaat!”  That says too many years in California, for sure!

So, of course, I am headed back to California, with plans to meet old camping friends, and we will camp our way back, through indigenous lands, where I am pretty certain, no one will ask if I am indigenous Indian.  And I will be back in the land where spoken words of balls glowing deep inside are more commonplace, as well as shamans, healers, and therapists.

Dad's Glass

Sometimes We Don’t Know

This past year has been one of surrendering to all I don’t know.

My heart can become muddled over this process of surrendering.  I carry hope and fear around with me as if they were mini-me’s swaddled and attached to my hip, crying for constant attention as to which will get fed first.  On a daily basis, I can feel my impatience, my need to know, and my hopes and fears. My busy mind wants to distract me with thinking that every thought and feeling I have is very real.

My work becomes something of a cliché of being with what is, right now, right here. It is no easy task, and the most difficult part is getting my brain to join me in this being with what is.  It wants to “do”, and fix and make things happen.  So, I resist answers, and solutions and wonder when and how I will know what is next. It is an untethered feeling but inside, I don’t feel untethered. Inside I know everything is working out.  Not by magic and not by force, but by letting possibilities unfold.

The home I stay in is in a low-income community of Evanston, Il. The children in the neighborhood have lives I know little about.  I only know what I see. From time to time a mom is yelling in a tone of frustration, for their kids to come home, or the kids show up at the park when it is snowing and 32 degrees and they are sockless with feet falling out of their gym shoes, no gloves on and I feel cold for them and send them home to get something warmer. Or, like the other day, I take them to Goodwill and buy them gloves, socks, and boots because they tell me they don’t have things warmer.

When I take my soulful dog, Henry, to the park, they come running, gleefully yelling his name and he greats them with a full body wag and jumps to meet them.  The kids are full of life and energy and adorable!  They seem hungry for a hug and signal me by leaning their head against me, and I ask, do you want a hug and each time, they say yes. So we hug and the sweetness of connection is good. It is one of those moments where I, and perhaps they, can forget our differences of color, age, background and just connect. We talk about Henry, school, life, and they take turns running or walking Henry around the park. I learn a lot from these kids and the innocence they still have. I love them and wonder how I will tell them I will be leaving when I know I will.

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In some cases, these are children, burdened with parenting children. Their side of life is a ways away from what I have known and my kids have known. They raise questions for me that I have always asked about the deep inequality of our society and more profoundly, the deep wounds inequality makes in young people’s souls.

Maybe it is my imagination but it seems there was a time when more of our society and government felt a responsibility and cared about all who did and did not have, who was safe and who had shelter.  There was certainly a feeling that it mattered if our kids were safe at school, which outrageously has become a question and challenged in these times.

I feel such a mix of hope, sadness and, fear for these kids on my block, and what lies in their future.  I know some will thrive no matter what, some will do okay and some will drown regardless of resources, programs, encouragement and plain humanitarian caring.

I want to gather all these kids up, give them 3 square meals a day, teach them about junk food and other things about living healthy, give a few hugs a day as needed, tell them that life works out, and hold them close. Connect them to their roots and offer them wings.  The best I can hope for is that our interactions are positive enough that something about our meetings will stick with them and be something they can use one day.

There is an old Chinese proverb that says parents must give their children two things, roots, and wings.

“I have the roots. Now I want wings…Off to Paris to follow my dreams. Be brave, Ida and Morris.  We will meet again in that starry-eyed city. You know I have always lived by my dreams.  And now they have come true.  Roots and wings, roots and wings.  I’ve got to go, Daddy-o.”

~Max, the dog, from Maira Kalman’s Max Makes a MillionMax Makes a Million

Family, Friends, Donald Evans and Things Part 1

Travels within the phases of life. I have no idea when Part 2 or 3 or anymore will arrive but it just seems like this is a Part 1. I find myself in a mix of darting thoughts about family, friends, possessions, my current role with my kids and others, my personality and everyone else’s.

6/18/17

The ritual of graduation was the subject of a short debate, to walk or not to walk. Nellie Evans didn’t make a lot of request of her kids to do things they weren’t keen on, but this ritual felt very important as there were so few in their lives. She felt it important for her youngest to claim her spot as a scholar as she had worked hard at being a student and it was important to Nellie for her youngest to be honored just as her eldest had been. The ceremony of honoring all the work done and an acknowledgment of a path that will curve and change, wind back and go forward was of consequence and not likely to be forgotten. Nellie felt it important to hold the significance of this ritual even when her daughter wasn’t so sure it was that “big of a deal” and even with the complaining about the dreaded and mandatory suffering of a 3.5 hour long ceremony.

The graduating daughter decided to walk, pleasing her father, Nellie and maybe herself. With this graduation came a celebratory backyard BBQ with cousins, and friends.  They were people known to Nellie and unknown.  Some socialized in ways that she wouldn’t and others she felt quite comfortable with.  All the while, having a propensity for seriousness, her mind kept being drawn to the nagging question of what really mattered?

Nellie’s perspective had shifted and changed about how she held people, places, and things. People who she held very close, she now felt the relief of distance from, others remained very close and she found great fulfillment in the connection. Things that had felt so very very important to her really didn’t matter now and that was strange. But not so strange that she would want to do anything about it other than watch it.

What really mattered? The move from the West Coast to the Midwest gave her pause to think about all the things that had transpired since April when she started the road trip East.  She thought about the relationships that were transforming without knowing how they would look, the artwork which she sorted through that was inherited and valuable, some she stored, some she sold.  There was the furniture which passed from one generation to the next and now outfitted her two daughter’s homes as well as a few friends’.  The jewelry was held safely in a family jewelry box waiting to be chosen by the daughters. And placed around the jewelry box for padding and protection were the wonderful sofa pillows that were made by Nellie’s mother.

Life as she had known it was now memories and the trip to the Midwest seemed something of a karmic sorting.  At least that was how she could make sense of it.  It brought to mind Harry Potter’s sorting hat and she wished she could just don it and know what group she belonged with whenever she doubted or feared.

The letting go of so much of this became Nellie’s job along with trying to figure out what matters? Who matters?  Which memories would get lost in the letting go, which would remain, how close would those memories be held by the upcoming generation and how close to the truth would they come and did that matter? What relationships would hold and what would drift away?

Of the many things that had changed, was Nellie’s need for an aesthetically pleasing environment. She had been a person who couldn’t be too long in surroundings that didn’t suit her aesthetic or around people very different from herself.  She liked things and relationships to be copacetic, and beautiful to be around. She had been known to talk about things in her surroundings that didn’t look right and how those things made her mind work too hard or hurt her eyes.  Her home had been of great pride, making it warm, inviting, and easy on the eyes.  She grew up with that and felt it the quality of being a good enough mother to help her kids carry it forward into their homes wishing them a comfortable life.

She currently resided in a wonderfully roomy room in a house and though the aesthetic was not what she might have picked, it had grown on Nellie.  It gave her comfort in that she did not have to start accumulating things to decorate her living space by purchasing again all the things she had just let go of. The dark maroon of the 4 walls at first looked just dark, but now she saw it as Buddhist maroon and took comfort in that. The color fed her spiritual need for a partial monastic life.  She found she was opening to things and people she would have judged and not come very close to in her past, though those who knew her would say she was always a very open person.  This move had shown her how much more open she could be.

“Give up your homeland— this is the practice of Bodhisattvas.” This is because the moment you leave the circumstances you’ve grown accustomed to, you are in foreign territory, and it’s easier to realize how much narrow-mindedness you are carrying around, including all your opinions, judgments, habits, and so on. Get yourself out of your comfort zone. By Dawa Tarchin Phillips, the resident teacher of the Santa Barbara Bodhi Path Buddhist Center and the Director of Education for the Center for Mindfulness and Human Potential at UCSB.

All in all, she continued to ask if any of the aesthetics or “right” people to be around really mattered?  If it did, what part mattered? And, why? Sometimes she could see her life and what matters fitting so nicely in a room like the one she had stayed in at Spirit Rock Silent retreats.  The rooms were simple, some might say barren.  The 125 square foot room contained a sink, a few towels, a large window, a small place for clothes, a single bed, a small table with a lamp and a clock on it,  That was it and it seemed to Nellie that it was complete. Upon arriving for a retreat, she would position the small table by her bed, and make the bed so she could look out the window and see the greenery.  She went to the retreats for the silence and so she only got to know people and be in relationship to them in a very particular and peculiar way.  At the end of a 7 or 9 night retreat, and silence was broken, she was always wondering who of the 90 or so people she would want to know more about.  She paid careful attention to the instruction given at the end about how to break silence, who to speak to while being mindful, questions she could expect from friends outside the retreat, and how to drive home safely. Sometimes, the awkwardness of starting to talk just gave her more permission to be quiet.

Towards the end of a Fall retreat, the final silent meal, she broke into hysterics with a dining companion over a silly hat a participant had chosen to wear.  The hat had eyes that peered at her and a top knot of sorts, that ordinarily might have only made her smile. But these circumstances put the three of them in fits of gaiety which they attempted to make into silent laughter with little success. Finally, they left the dining hall to arrive outside and let blow the laughter barely contained inside each of them.  All the while she thought about the laughing Buddha, just to give herself permission to fully feel the hysterics bursting in her.

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Finding herself in a new phase of life, Nellie’s questions about importance got bigger and bigger.  All the things that had meant so much to her seemed to not be all that important. All the judgments of others was still somewhat there, but less so. She found herself quieter in her thoughts, quieter in her interactions, and she thought more accepting of what is, at least some of the time.

In a tongue in cheek way, she actually wondered if she was dying.  She would exclaim, shouting in her head, “Well of course I am! We all are dying, just some of us seem a bit closer by way of age than others.”  She wondered if she was psychic and in fact, her life was coming to an end.  Or maybe she was just in a new phase of letting go by way of looking at what really, truly matters?

She grew up with people who held onto everything and all of it seemed to matter a lot. Even as they approached the end of their lives and left lots for the upcoming generation, it all mattered. She felt a bit different from that. In fact, she was different from that but carried the collector DNA which she constantly fought.

She was very curious about how all of this would land, what her life would look like in 5 years.  What country would she find herself in? What language would she speak?  When would she arrive there? And who would she be in relationship with? She found herself thinking of Donald Evans, an incredibly creative artist who made up countries and postage stamps for the countries. She always wanted to travel to his countries, she always wanted to know him and hear how he thought.

 

 

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GPS on “Walk”…Wait, What?!

4/6/17

Last night in Tulsa OK, Mr. H and I took a long, leisurely, kinda’ southern stroll, through the historic Swan Lake neighborhood of Tulsa. With the GPS set to Walk, I found the restaurant Roka and got an amazing dinner to go. Just easier to get food to go while traveling with my buddy.  As we waited for the food, H and I chatted up the incredibly kind waitress at the restaurant and met some folks that fell head over heals for the buddy.  We also met a fellow Airbnb host, originally from India, who invited us to stay on our next Tulsa visit.  Hmm, as beautiful and friendly as this area was, I am not sure when a next visit would be.

 

This morning I loaded the car with my belongings along with my very reluctant dog, put my phone in its holster, and set it for the next stop The Magnolia Hotel in St Louis.  I looked at the google map enough to see a 5 and read it as 5 hrs.  I was so happy it was not the expected 6.  After grabbing a wonderful latte at Shades of Brown Cafe, I was puzzled that the GPS was taking me on lots of side streets and roads that went right next to the highway and wondering why it wasn’t putting me on the highway. I was enjoying the greens and browns of land, the old broken down houses which were once someone’s dream, the gentle hills so much, that it didn’t occur to me that the GPS was telling me the walking route to St Louis and that it would be 5+ days to get there!  Not 5+ hours.

I did get to see lots of Tulsa and things like the self-proclaimed,  “Most Inspirational Rest Stop”.  It was an absolutely huge cross that made me think about who built it and how it would be to have that smack in the middle of a lawn.  It sure is a way to remember that you’re supposed to remember god, or faith or whatnot. Not my cup of tea, in fact, it was really off-putting for me but I imagine it is something someone is very proud of.  Now the windmills, that’s something that inspires me and even makes me proud, like I own energy saving ways.

This whole walking route also made me think about Forest Gump and wonder if I would want to walk my way across the US sometime.  Still thinking about it.

The GPS and I reconciled our differences, her British accent helped a lot with that. We got on track with Drive not Walk and continued on the road.

After several Rest Stops, tumbles and rolls in the grass, we made it to St Louis about 3pm, walked around the amazing Arch, saw some really disturbing history about slavery and got to see what an amazing city St Louis is.

Henry rolling around the grounds whenever possible.

 

Long Stretches, Henry, and Strangers

4/4/17

“We don’t set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people’s hearts.” From Brain Candy facebook page-

It is April and it is Winter here between Gallup and Amarillo.  This day started with ice on my car windows, followed by alternating sleet, snow, hail, rain, gusty winds, 32-46 F, and upon arriving in Amarillo it has been just plain blustery, rainy and cold here.  Long, very beautiful, straight stretches have been the visuals for my drive.  The radio, when I can get some good music or news and my book on tape, rescue me from the weight of being the sole driver.  Sometimes a conversation with myself works as well and sometimes it is interesting. I tried to teach Henry how to drive and how to have a conversation, but he was just not interested.  Rest stops have been a welcome change for both of us each day.

There is grass here in Amarillo, unlike Gallup where it was mostly “decorative” rocks. When fortunate, there were real, beautiful, ancient rocks at the rest stops.  And when we arrived in Amarillo at our hotel this afternoon, Henry was thrilled to just roll and stretch in the grass, kicking his legs out behind him, rolling on his back, laying his belly on the cold turf.

Our room overlooks the highway and a Longhorn Steakhouse sign. Within a block of each other, there are two more steakhouses. I am certain they are there just in case there isn’t enough steak at the Longhorn.

Steakhouses, Roadhouses, Indian trading posts, souped up trucks that audibly make their presence known within 10 miles, truckers, cowboy hats and boots, line dancing, quaffed hairdos, bolo ties are very real and very personal to people here.  They are part of a culture and identity just as gourmet restaurants, cafes, boutique stores, media and the arts culture are part of mine. What people identify with here in the southwest, can make me curious, it can also make me want to turn away, it can offend me and hurt my eyes and it can stir all my fears and stereotypes.

And then this happened.

While waiting at the bar for my dinner to go, at one of the steakhouses tonight, I met a man who wore a cap with an orange bill and the rest was camouflage like his jacket.  His first comment in a deep Texas accent was about Henry and how he had had a yellow labrador and what great dogs they are.  He talked about moving around with his dad in the service, his ex-wife who didn’t like hunting, his son who had committed suicide in his early 20s, over which he got ever so slightly choked up, and how that was the end of his marriage. With a large smile on his face, he talked about being happy to have a great girlfriend now who liked to travel, camp, fish, and hunt.  I can hear about the ex, the son’s suicide, his moving around, the girlfriend. But I really did not want to hear about the hunting…really! Or even the fishing. I am such a hypocrite because I eat meat and fish, I just don’t kill it. Maybe that’s worse.  He was a nice guy and he might not have chatted me up if Mr. H was not there.  We shared a lot about travel and the adventure of entering a different culture.  He was a really nice guy who shook my hand when I left and genuinely wished me safe travels.  It was so good to connect with another human and not keep a distance just because of some stereotype that I can project onto another.

Henry opens doors, opens hearts, brings out a smile, and kindness in most everyone.  With all that he brings out in people feeds my belief, that underneath, we all have similar needs. We all want connection and a reason to connect, we want to be accepted for who we are, and we want to be free from fear, we want safety, food, and shelter. We want to care.

Right now, the weather is just weather.  The drive is just the drive.  And, everyone is just doing what they do and being who they are.  Henry will always be Henry, no drivers license and not a conversationalist, but indeed a true love and companion.

 

2 Rules Broken or…Wait a Minute…

4/2/17

Rule #1 Stop driving after 5-6 hours, 7 at the most, each day.

Rule #2 Fill up gas when half full.

I got carried away on the first day.  I really wanted to make it out of CA even though I knew that wouldn’t happen.  When I reached Barstow, CA, my gut said not here, go to Needles, even though I reviewed this option at least 3 times before my departure, the first time with the AAA lady and we agreed, Barstow was enough for Mr. H and I, for one day.

As I approached Barstow, it just felt wrong, the energy of the place was wrong, and I didn’t need more information than that. But that meant driving another 2 hours, making the day a 9 hour trip with stops, and forgetting rule #2, fill the tank at half full.

As incredibly beautiful and desolate the Mojave is, it does not have many signs saying when the next gas would be.  I set my GPS to show me gas and the first one was disappointingly way off on the other side of the freeway, the GPS marker said “short detour”. From my side of the road, the tall Mobil lollipop sign was filthy, barely legible, and didn’t look open, but as I drove by I saw it was filled with trucks.  My thoughts took to comforting me for missing the stop; That’s okay, I don’t need to support ExonMobil right now or ever, or for that matter any gas company, but then where would I be? What a mess we are in. Exon, with all their money, should have a clean sign, right?! And on and on.

There, my justification for not stopping was complete. But a slight concern about getting gas felt like a gaping unknown and took me down unnecessary imaginings of driving on the car battery or ending up on the side of the road waiting for AAA, happy I had Henry with me to ward off any weirdos.  As if he would.

The fact is I had plenty of gas to drive another 100 miles or at least 75. Certainly enough to get to Needles. I began to wonder if the energy of the Mojave made me feel the concern for enough gas when I had enough. The fear of being sucked up by the desolation of the desert, getting left and lost there fed my concern for enough, enough gas, enough whatever.

Seeing the dusty Mobil sign made me think it was better I missed it as all the really bad stereotypes of truckers came to mind; the bearded guy, that calls you honey, the guy with nails that are never cut and always dirty, the guy who smiles with too many teeth missing and those left are yellowed and brown, the trucker with the southern accent which gives no credit to how smart they might really be, the blonde cowgirl/woman trucker that calls you honey, and is scarier than all the men put together, and on and on. All the while I knew my feelings would be different with a companion other than my K9, Henry. It would be a discussion about should we try it or drive on.  On my own, I didn’t even want to try it. I looked to Henry for approval of my decision, but he was busily focused on the back of my head working at getting into my brain to get me to stop…just stop anywhere.

Two hours later, I reached Needles with 2 notches left of gas, eye holes in the back of my head, from Henry staring and saying,  “It’s time, way past time to get out of this frikin’ car!”

I want this trip to be uneventful, except for good words spoken between myself, fellow travelers and hotel and restaurant clerks. I want it to be a nice trip, a really nice trip. It can also be interesting, but definitely nice.

And, about the rules for travel, I made them up, I can break them.  Just sayin’.

Rule #3  Do what is needed to make this a nice trip

 

Shadows

4/1/17

Each place I travel I will find shadows and each place I will find light.

It is the night before I start to drive to Chicago.  I am in a room with the most wonderful shadows, up at midnight, wondering how tired I will be tomorrow and how far I will drive. I am excited, I am afraid.  The adventure began with the knowing I wasn’t where I wanted to be, then the anxiety of change, the packing, the sorting and now, getting on the road…tomorrow.

I am so aware of all the good thoughts people have for me and this adventure, all the support in words and gifts that make this adventure so much more than my adventure.  It seems it has become an adventure for many and I am so pleased to have people join me.  I am deeply grateful for all who are my traveling companions.  So let’s go along and see what we find, who we meet, what strangers say hello and offer kindness.

Tomorrow we, Mr H and I, are off, with the intention of leaving at dawn and arriving in Barstow, CA.