"I was, in fact, homesick for wildness, and when I found it I knew how intimately - how resonantly - I belonged there. We are charged with this - all of us. For the human spirit has a primal allegiance to wildness, to really live, to snatch the fruit and suck it, to spill the juice." - Jay Griffiths, Wild: an Elemental Journey

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Traveling People and Cool Sites and Surprise Beaches

This is not a real post.  I just wanted to say

"OH MY GOD" about this guy.  What an inspiration, and on less than $100 a week!  I love to hear stories that show how, gosh-dangit, this life IS possible.

And I also wanted to say, check out this awesome site.  I contacted this woman via her post on craigslist looking for travel writing interns.  By the time she received my application, she had already filled the intern positions, but said she was intrigued by my writing and still wanted to talk with me about maybe doing business together.  We've been trying to talk over Skype despite our time difference (she's currently living in Madrid).  I'm so excited about this possible opportunity, and wanted to tell you all to check out her great shoestring travel site.

And finally, here is a picture of Brighton Beach from the rainy window of the coffee shop where I'm working this morning:

One thing I love about Santa Cruz so far is all the "surprise" beaches.  Sort of like ancient ruins in Rome, I keep turning a corner and accidentally running into beaches - like everywhere.  "Oh, there's the ocean," I keep saying.

And that concludes your random, disjointed, rambly blog post for today.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Pulling Cosmic Threads

I'm into following threads lately.  Like a cosmic sweater, when an end comes unraveled from my life, when a tiny, tempting thread presents itself to me and says, "Pull," I do.  I pull and pull and follow the thread from one person to the next and from one place to the next, and it leads me on a wild and beautiful journey.

For example, when my friend Kaeti from my grad school (Tai Sophia) back east heard that I was in the Santa Cruz area of California, she gave me the contact info for her friend, Leslie, who lives here.  I called Leslie, who invited me to spend Thanksgiving with her friends (as you read about in this post).

While at Thanksgiving with Leslie's friends, I met Dylan, who gave me the number of his friend, Don.  Don is currently moving his home, business, and farm, and needs some workers to help.  I've been working for Don for the past few days, earning some temporary money while I find a more permanent work situation.  Perfect.

Don's pitbulls in the Uhaul.  Well, their butts at least.
At the same Thanksgiving dinner, I met Rhonda, who invited me to come stay with her for a week in her beautiful mountain cabin.  Which I did.  This is where I am right now.

Rhonda's mountain paradise (there's a hot tub in the back)

Rhonda's chickens
On the drive between Rhonda's place and Don's place is a funky coffeeshop called "The Ugly Mug."  I stopped in there yesterday for some coffee and writing because I had time to kill before I could go to Don's.  Exhausted from handing out 25 resumes over the past two days, I didn't even bring my stack in this time.  Almost as an afterthought, as I paid for my coffee I asked, "You're not hiring, are you?"

"Actually we are.  I'll get you an application."

I almost fell over.  That was the first answer of its kind I've received so far!  And now I have an interview here tomorrow.

And I haven't even mentioned all the threads I followed to make it to California (where I never planned to end up) from New Mexico (where I thought I'd end up), or the threads I followed to even begin this road trip (which I thought would be with my husband who ended up leaving me left right before I started) and so much more.

Have you ever pulled a cosmic thread and found yourself somewhere you never thought you'd be?  Discuss.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Every Day I'm Hustlin

Looking for a job takes as much time as actually having a job, except no one pays you and you have to keep feeding parking meters all over the place.  It's kind of a crappy job, now that I think about it.

I'm grateful that I have all I need and am continually provided for.  AND, holy crap it's a little scary living so close to the edge, day by day wondering if someone will respond to your couch request or follow through on their offer for you to stay with them. . . feeling hungry for hours while you apply for jobs but having to wait until you're back at the house where you're staying because you can't afford to buy any food.  I need to start carrying more snacks.  Bananas.  Yes, bananas are cheap.

I'm learning compassion for a whole new segment of the world's population.  So many people live with this daily wondering of where they will sleep and what they will eat and if anyone will hire them.  I have never been in this situation before.

Last night as I was walking down Pacific Avenue dropping off resumes again, a young girl with pink hair asked, "Hey spare any change?"

I laughed in spite of myself and said, "I could ask you the same thing, honey.  Good luck to  both of us."  She smiled in a snarly way that said I'm-not-in-the-mood-for-your-comeraderie-give-me-money-bitch.

I walked away sort of shaken by the brief exchange.  Am I close to that?  Am I one step away from being the hey-got-any-change girl?  I was the head of a middle school for pete's sake.  I am almost finished with my master's degree.  I'm a singer and a writer and I make great pasta.

But none of that matters to the 25 restaurants who now have a copy of my resume sitting on some pile on someone's desk somewhere.  This is a truly humbling experience.  There's a small part of me that is enjoying it.  It's like a new adventure - the "being poor" adventure.

Because really, I know that I am not one step away from being that pink-haired girl.  I know I will probably never  be that pink-haired girl.  There are too many people all over the country who have made it clear that I may show up on their doorstep at any time and stay for as long as I need to.  I can't emphasize enough how much those offers carry me through days like this.  Even if I never take you up on them, knowing they are there is like having a steady supply of xanex in my purse.  (It's comforting - for those of you who didn't get the analogy.)

And also, I have not forgotten that this life was my choice.  I am not a victim here.  I left my job of my own accord and dove headfirst into a life of financial instability.

Yet here in the direst of my days, I would still choose this over the 70 hour work weeks I had back east.  I would have every reason right at this moment to idealize my old job; to get nostalgic and pine for that steady paycheck.  But while I do miss my old school community, I am not so far removed from that life that I have forgotten the cost of financial security - the cost to my time, my health, my sanity, and my true passions.

Give me my freedom.  Give me mornings without an alarm, and days free of other people’s demands on me.  Give me the ability to pick up and go wherever, whenever I want.  Give me time to write, time to read, time to cook, and time to laugh with friends.  I’ll take financial insecurity for this any day.

An exhausted self-portrait taken the final week of school in June

An elated self portrait taken during a portion of my trip in October

Twilight on the Santa Cruz beach

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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thanksgiving, Part Two. Double the Food, Double the Thanks.

I watch the temperature gauge like a hawk as I drive the 30 minutes from Watsonville, where I'm housesitting, to Santa Cruz, where I am about to meet a new friend and attend a Thanksgiving dinner with a bunch of people I don't know.

My car overheated two days ago, and I am feeding it water like an insatiable camel to keep it chugging until I can take it to the mechanic when he opens on Monday.  As I drive, I send up another prayer (a surprisingly frequent occurrence lately) asking for help.  I need work.  I need a place to live after Sunday.  I need to know what is wrong with my car and find the money to fix it.  I need friends in this place where it seems my lack of funds will force me to stay whether I want to or not.

I park in front of Leslie's house, excited to meet this friend-of-a-friend from back home, a gift via Facebook.  I am grateful for the invitation to Leslie's friend's Thanksgiving dinner, despite my status as a complete stranger. I walk up to the whimsically-decorated house with signs, stickers, and flags about love, gratitude, and faith, and have a good feeling about this woman.  I ring the bell.

I hear a flurry of rushed footsteps as Leslie runs to the front doer.  She opens it, nearly breathless, with a wooden spoon dripping gravy in one hand.  "Do you know how to make gravy?" she says, eyes wide with hope.

"That is something I do know how to make," I reply with a smile.  (Thanks mom.)

"Great!" she says, and scurries back into the kitchen.  "Come help."

I drop my things at the door and follow her.  We make gravy from the drippings in the pan that still houses a turkey in the oven.  We fall instantly into a rhythm that feels like old friends, chatting, cooking, laughing, drinking wine.

When the gravy is finished (and my arm ready to fall off from stirring), we pack a basket with my coconut kale, our gravy, and Leslie's giant bowl of salad.  I carry the basket to the car, then we both carry the monstrous turkey pan, and we are off.

The vintage home, full of kitchy antiques, was brimming to the windowsills in family love as we entered.  A group of pre-teens (my favorite age) sat playing cards on the living room floor.  Some adults  gathered in the kitchen, busily preparing the table and putting the final touches on each dish.  Some more adults gathered for a smoke on the back porch.  Just before we began the meal, a grandfather showed up.

The generational picture was complete, and I, somehow, had found a small place in it.

Preparing the buffet table

The dining table

Is it done?  What do you think?
This family was a true 21st century, glorious patchwork of not-easily-explained relations.  The host, whom I'll call Emma, was there with her current husband, as well as her ex-wife and their son.  Emma's niece was also there with her two sons, one of whom was with his girlfriend.  A cousin my age showed up from northern California, along with the man that I can only guess was somebody's grandfather.  Leslie, my personal host and ticket to this party, is simply a friend of them all.

Over dinner, the conversation delved right into the heart of the spiritual, philosophical, and ecological topics on which I have been spending a considerable amount of time pondering myself.  Ya know - the shift to a more feminine consciousness on earth, the interconnectedness of us all, the wonders of mycelium, etc etc.

Then, without pause, someone says something ridiculous that I can't even remember now and probably wouldn't translate in writing, and the whole table bursts out laughing.  Some people keep laughing so hard they draw tears and need to hold on to the person's shoulder next to them for support.

Dinner time!

Teenage couple who are becoming quite an important part
of my life. . . read on below


Love at the table

My adopted Thanksgiving family
After dinner, I float from one conversation to another, in an out of various rooms, sometimes out to the back porch.  At one point, a dance party breaks out in the kitchen.

Among these conversations, I discover that the 19 year-old young man (who has the spirit of a 70 year old sage) lives in an eco house with his girlfriend on a nearby ranch.  They are into survival, ala Tom Brown, and he is working on developing his own survival school.  Not only that, he tells me that there might be a place for me to live on the ranch, and that he has a friend with a farm who is looking for people to work right now.

Another conversation with a woman there turns up in an offer to live in her mountain cottage just outside Santa Cruz, with her two dogs, two cats, and yard full of chickens.

Yet another conversation with the cousin from up north brings up the possibility to work with a friend of his in the area that runs outdoor trips for students.

By the time I leave this warm and wonderful place, I have two offers of places to stay, two possible job leads, and a whole smattering of friends.  I think Santa Cruz is going to be a just fine place to stay for a bit.  Just fine indeed.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanks and Thanks and Thanks and Thanks!

This is the first Thanksgiving I've ever spent away from my family.  In my whole life.  Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, because gratitude is my favorite emotion.  Being grateful is just good stuff, ya know?

Growing up, we always spent Thanksgiving with my mom's side of the family.  Before my grandparents died when I was 14, the gathering was always at their country cottage in rural, northern Pennsylvania.  My aunts and uncles would come, along with my eight cousins.  We all camped out in the tiny house for two or three days.  There was much card-playing, movie-watching, backyard football, and tree-climbing.  (And midnight stealing ice cream from the extra freezer in the hallway.  It's time I come clean about that one, actually.  Sorry grandpa.)

My favorite tradition was the butcher paper.  Before the table was set, my grandfather covered the whole thing (which spanned the length of his entire living and dining room) with brown butcher paper. The tablecloth and all the dishes were then set on top.  After dinner, the dirty dishes and nice tablecloth were removed to reveal that brown butcher paper.

All the kids would descend on it with our crayons, markers, and colored pencils until no blank spot was left.  There were many turkey hands, of course, and poorly-drawn pilgrims, among other Thanksgiving paraphernalia.  What I didn't realize until I was older was that this was all a scheme to keep "those crazy kids" out of the kitchen and from asking "when are we having pie?" while the grown-ups cleaned up.  Brilliant.

This year, I found a place to share the joy on Thanksgiving, albeit not with my own blood.  SwingTime Cafe in downtown Watsonville served a free meal in the outdoor park, and I volunteered to serve food.  I must say it was the sunniest, warmest Thanksgiving day I've ever spent!  The food was smashingly delicious, and everyone I met was quite friendly.  An elderly couple whom I served next to even invited me to stay at their home should I need a place when I'm done housesitting!

The line


Notice my lack of apron.  Get it together.  Sheesh.

Sunny California Thanksgiving

The other thing I am feeling very grateful for this year is YOU, my blog readers.  This blog has really taken off in recent months, and it is entirely due to your encouragement and support.  After all, this wouldn't be much of a blog without anyone to read it!  I think it's just called a secret diary then. . .

Earlier this week, I sent personal messages to a bunch of folks who I know read my blog, but hadn't yet become "official" followers, asking them to please consider joining.  The response was overwhelming, and my followers jumped from 28 to 61 in just one day!  THANK YOU!

It is very important that when potential publishers visit my blog, they see that I have a large, loyal following.  They will think ooh look at all of these people who already read her writing, I'm sure if we paid her to write for us she'd draw a large following, we should start her with a million dollar contract. . .

But seriously, I have one more favor to ask.  If you read an entry and are inspired to comment, I would so greatly appreciate if you did so here, right on the blog.  Most of my entries get several comments on Facebook, which I LOVE reading, but it helps the whole publisher/appearance thang if they also see that people are actively commenting here on the blog.

Because I'm a teacher at heart, let's practice together, shall we?  I'd love to hear your favorite Thanksgiving tradition, like the butcher paper one I mentioned above.  Just drop a line or two as a comment on this post.

Thank you all for being a part of my life!  I never feel alone on my travels because you are all in my pocket.  These pants are getting heavy. . .

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The One Where My Car Finally Breaks Down

As you readers know, I have been noticing/cultivating abundance in my life lately.  (Like here and here.)  It's sort of a chicken-or-the-egg situation.  Either abundance has always been present and I am just now learning how to see it, or the act of looking for it has brought more into my life.  Or maybe both.  Either way, I have been increasingly filled with the warm sensation that all is well, I am taken care of, watched over, and that there is really, truly nothing to worry about.

Last night as I drove back to my temporary home from the downtown Monterey market 40 minutes away, I smiled at the abundance that was in my car.  For less than $20, I had a bag of fresh salad greens (including flower petals), brussels sprouts as big as my fist, fragrant cilantro, two meyer lemons, dark green kale, half a pound of spinach, and a head of garlic.  As happens more every day, I was brought nearly to tears at the sheer gratitude of being here, in this place, with a wonderful home to live in and a car full of fresh, local vegetables to eat all week.

Meyer lemons and persimmons at the market

Downtown Monterey Tuesday night market

My blissful train of thought was interrupted by the check engine light, which caused me to look down at my dash, which caused me to see that my temperature gauge was up into the red "danger" zone.  I pulled over immediately and breathed deeply, reminding myself to stay grounded and focused, and at the same time realizing that it was nighttime and I knew no one here.

I shut off the car, got out, and did what any strong, capable, independent woman would do in this situation.

I called my dad.

He helped a bit, then suggested I call my uncle, who knows more about cars.  My uncle talked me through how to add water to the radiator reservoirs, all the way from the other side of the country.  However, I only had a half gallon of water in my car, which was not nearly enough to cool my engine to even get me to the next exit.

Turns out my life was abundant in everything but antifreeze.

My uncle suggested I try to walk or ride the bike that was strapped to the back of my car to the nearest gas station for water.  I thanked him for his help and hung up.  I stood on the side of the road in the warm California night, next to my raised hood, feeling my hair blown back by each car as it whizzed by.  I hugged myself around my sheer, flowered shirt.

This is it.  This is when I put my money where my mouth is.  I've been going on and on for weeks about being grateful that I am cared for by some unseen force; about how everything always works out exactly as it should.  Even this? I asked myself.  Can I trust in that benevolent force even when my car, my HOME has broken down in a town where I know no one, at night, and I am almost out of money?

Yes, I decided.  Yes I could.  And I would.

I got back into my car, breathed deeply once again, smiled in preemptive gratitude for the way that I knew things would work out, and considered my options.  I had less than $100 left in my wallet - all the money to my name until I get paid for this housesitting gig.  I didn't want to use it all on a tow truck.  But I didn't know anyone in town, either.  And while my uncle meant well, he couldn't see where I was, and had no way of knowing what a bad idea it would have been for me to go walking or riding my bike on that dark, busy highway.

I said a little prayer, got back out of the car, stood in the light of my blinkers, and began waving my arms at cars as they drove by.  One of the first people to pass saw me and stopped.  Phew!

The white jeep backed slowly up on the shoulder until it was in front of my car.  I waited anxiously to see who got out, hoping for a woman or priest or some other obviously non-rapey person.  The door opened and a middle-aged Mexican man emerged in ripped jeans and Timberlands.  I could see the glint of his gold tooth in my headlights.

Oh great.  My stomach tightened.  I chastised myself for possibly being racist and/or sexist, but at the same time remained smartly aware of my single-woman-on-the-side-of-the-road status.  I almost blurted out, "Please don't rape me!"

But instead I said, "Hi.  Thanks for stopping."

"Sure," he said and smiled, his gold tooth glinting.  "What's wrong?"  His accent was thick, and he dropped the "n" sound in "wrong."

"My car overheated.  I was talking to my uncle, who - uh - lives nearby and knows exactly where I am, but can't come help me right now and, um, anyway, I just need water."  I'm so bad at lying.

"Water?" he asked.

"Yes I just need to get a few more gallons of water to dump into my radiator tank to cool my engine enough to get home."

"Oh!" he said in sudden realization.  He smiled that huge smile again.  "I can take you, no pro'lem."

I hesitated and twisted my hands together.

He must have noticed my trepidation because he said, "Don't worry.  My wife in the car.  You no need worry."

"Oh!" I let out a huge sigh of relief.  "Thank you for saying that!  Sure I would be so grateful if you would take me.  Let me just grab my bag."

I drove away with Hector and his wife, Alba (who spoke no English at all).  We chatted as much as possible with the language barrier.  Hector helped me carry the water, drove me all the way back to my car, and then filled the reservoirs for me.  He warned me to stop in 15 minutes to put more water in, regardless of whether the temperature gauge had risen again or not.

I thanked Hector and Alba profusely, "Muchas, muchas, muchas gracias!  May God bless you both and return this kindness to you!"  Then I drove safely home, stopping once to refill the water as Hector had instructed.

This morning, my plan is to drive my host's truck (I have permission - duh) into town to buy antifreeze, bring it back here and fill up, and hope that does the trick.  If it leaks out quickly or if the next time I drive my gauge spikes again, then I'll bite the bullet and take it to a garage.

But I am grateful that this happened.  Really.  I know now that my growing contentment is not just because everything is honky-dory in my life.  That deep-rooted sense of peace did not leave me for a moment last night, and I am not the least bit worried about what will happen today.

Perhaps my car will be easily fixed by a $10 bottle of antifreeze.  Perhaps the whole machine is done for, in which case maybe I'll sell it and use the money to go traipse around southeast Asia for awhile.  These details really don't matter.  Car, no car, whatever.  I am alive.  I am safe and warm.  This car took me almost 9000 miles over the past two and a half months without any trouble at all.  My life is full of love and adventure, and hey - I didn't get raped last night.  Bonus.

Monday, November 19, 2012


The less security I have in my life, the greater the opportunity for the divine to show off.  When I blindly lift my foot for the next step without knowing where it will land - without even having a backup plan if it lands nowhere - I am all the more amazed when I find myself once again standing on solid ground.

I mean, let's be honest, there's really nothing inspiring about things going "according to plan," is there?  It's only when I let go of what I think is best that the most beautiful things happen.

When I left New Mexico, I once again threw myself into the deep seas of unknowing.  I left what could have been a whole winter of being stationary, with all my stuff in one place, a kitchen full of pots, pans, and spices, and a part time job in town to refurbish my dwindling bank account.

I knew that with Jacob's help (my temporary travel partner), I could just barely afford gas and food to get to California, but I had no idea what I would do once there.  When we drove off, we didn't even have a place to stay.

After sending out multiple couch requests on couchsurfing.org, I had heard nothing.  We went to sleep in our po-dunk hotel room the first night with the subtle pinprick of uncertainty poking at our brains.  Upon waking the next morning, not only did I have an email confirming a couch for us in California, I had several.  Instantly, we had free places to stay for the rest of the week until Jacob flew out to Hawaii.

But I still didn't know what I would do after that.

On the drive to Watsonville, California, where our first host lived, Jacob - a couch surfing novice - asked me about my past couch surfing hosts.  I told him that in my experience, the people with the least are the most willing to share what they have.  I told him how I often drive through beautiful neighborhoods of houses that probably have multiple guest rooms to spare, but would never be on couch surfing.  The people I stay with are simple, kind-hearted souls who offer me the small couch or only piece of available floor in their humble homes.

As we approached our Watsonville host's home, we spiraled up a mountain road.  At the tippy-top of the hill, we were greeted by a huge gate.  We punched in the code previously given to us, and the wrought iron swung open to reveal the rest of the driveway.  The sizeable house sat overlooking the entire valley, surrounded by tropical plants and lush, green grass.

The house

Jacob looked at me and said, "What were you saying about people with means never opening their homes to strangers?"  I was speechless.  This was hands down, the biggest and most breathtakingly beautiful home I have ever been invited to stay in.

We brought our things in, greeted everyone, took showers, and came back down to visit with this family whom I was now burning with curiosity to know better.  Gary and Jess met when they were only 19 and both in the Marine Corps back in Maryland.  Now in their 30's, Gary works in computer security, and Jess is a nurse who currently stays home with their two, beautiful children.

I immediately felt a touching humility from Gary, and a tender kindness from Jess.  Over dinner, Jacob and I discovered that we were their very first couch surfers.  I could hold back my curiosity no longer.  I asked, "What made you join couch surfing?  I mean, why did you host us?  Why are we here?"

Gary put down his fork and glanced knowingly at his wife, as though I had asked a question that touched on something they had recently been discussing.  She smiled in return, confirming my suspicion.

He turned to me and said, "You know, I've been thinking a lot recently.  The more successful we get in life, the further we get from each other.  We live in bigger and bigger houses, further and further away from each other, and then we buy electronic gadgets to keep us occupied."  He motioned to his daughter, who was now pretending to brush her mom's hair with a whiteboard eraser, and to his son, who was banging his fork on his high chair tray.  "I want something different for them.  I want their world to be bigger."

I almost cried.  He was so genuine.  So open and generous right from the start.  Here was a man who was blasting all of my carefully built ideas about wealth.  He wanted nothing more than to share all he had with those who would be grateful to receive it.

Just when I thought this whole situation couldn't possibly get any better, Gary asked me, "How long can you stay?  I mean, I know you need to take Jacob to the airport on Sunday, but do you have plans for Thanksgiving week?"

"No, I don't.  I honestly don't know what I'm doing.  I kind of need to find a way to make a bit of money soon."

"Well we haven't been able to find a house sitter to care for the dogs while we're gone over the holidays.  Is there any chance you could stay here for the week?  We'd pay you for your time."

Good lord this wasn't happening.

"Uh, yes."  I stammered.  "Yes I think that could be arranged!" I laughed, and both Gary and Jess sighed with relief.

I should really stop being surprised when this stuff happens.  My ventures into unchartered territory have only ever been richly rewarded with blessings beyond what I could have imagined in my most carefully constructed realities.

So if you wonder where I am this Thanksgiving week, I'll just be chillin' up in my mountain mansion with two mastiffs and a cat.  Ain't no thang.

Little Man

Mommy Jess with the little woman

George and Dora, my two roommates for the upcoming week

Meatloaf the cat

A shot from the top of the landing

Gary at the puehr tea ceremony he prepared for Jacob and I on our last night

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Another Nomad Wanders on to My Blog

From Melanie: 
Many of you faithful readers told me you enjoyed my guest post on Kent's blog, and also that you enjoyed reading Kent's writing once there.  To complete the story swap circle, my new travel friend has written a piece for my blog as well, about a mutual friend we made while at the hostel in Taos.  I hope you enjoy, and that you go back for more travel writing goodness at http://nomadicbytes.wordpress.com/!

From Kent: 
On the second day of my Taos stay, I met Erik. Of all the enchanting folks at the Abominable Snow Mansion, his handshake came last. Leaving Taos, post his bear hug, I realized I'd saved the best for last. Defined as much by his silver Ringo Starr hairstyle as the mischievous glint in his eye, his contrarian comments, the rolling tobacco in his lap, his snaggle-toothed grin, and the coffee cup chronically in hand, Erik's 6'3" lanky figure and English-as-a-second language accent painted a character with a broken mold.

We'd gotten to know each other between communal hostel meals consisting of homemade goat cheese, southwestern kimchee, tortilla chips, rice, and steamed red cabbage -- not your mother's kitchen, but delicious nonetheless. He'd heard I was writing about my travels and, having no current aim, he gave it a gander. I was feeling rather proud of myself when I turned in for the evening with Erik still eye's deep in Nomadic Bytes.

The following evening, Erik and I found ourselves having the run of the lodge. He bemoaned the fact that he'd never be able to write "his story" as well as I write. My ears turned barn red, but inspiration overcame my embarrassment and I offered to write it for him if it'd help his story see daylight. Lit up like a firefly, he emphatically agreed.

Preamble concluded, this is Erik's Story: "The Divine 2X4s", and my first attempt at biography's cousin, a biographical sketch:

Erik at the Snowmansion hostel

16 years after starting my life's work, it was over. Bled dry by faceless, overseas developers' names and voices, my dream of creating a software platform to manage supply chains came to a bankrupt, abrupt halt. I'd unwittingly put my faith and capital in unscrupulous business men who strung me out like a predatory fortune teller failing to deliver any value. I'd taken my first divine 2x4 to the head, and it hurt no less, reducing me to a pile of burning rubble. If I were a spry spring chicken perhaps I could have recovered -- but I wasn't, and I didn't.

Almost simultaneously, the second divine 2x4 catapulted my freeze-dried ego into orbit: my wife, the love of my life left me. My livelihood stolen and my best friend gone, I spiraled, wallowing in self-absorbed pity until I went to the doctor who walloped me with the third divine 2x4: cancer. Beyond orbit, I went into another solar system, free-wheeling on the edge of sanity. I'd like to say this was the bottom. In Hollywood it would have been, since directors know their audiences get turned off at too much suffering. But unfortunately, my reality read more like the Book of Job.

Having no money meant having no alternative and into chemotherapy I went -- it was the only option funded by the state. The chemotherapy did it's job, but without the hairless, digestive tract symptoms that typically walk hand and in hand with the chemical treatment. Call me lucky or an odd duck -- you may have called me both already. As opposed to the other wheelchair strapped chemo patients, I found myself waltzing around the hospital with a whistle between my lips, baring a smile for every soul I passed. I still don't know if it it was genuine happiness or insanity born from dating the witches of fate.

Being stuck in a prison bed, I mean hospital bed, for months, my boredom was kept at bay by scouring the internet, letting curiosity, ever the wily coyote, lead me by its trickster ways. Throughout my life and the ordeal thus far, I'd maintained my atheist belief system, but synchronicity reared it's circular head and I kept running into a spiritual blog. A greater reality began to dawn on me: the universe clearly had some reason for keeping a broke, lonely, cancer survivor around. In my greatest act of courage, born by my budding faith, I surrendered to the divine...and the divine within me grew, competing with the cancer for space.

Until now, the creditors had been kept at bay by my cancer -- the last morsel of humanity in big business, I suppose. As the cancer worked into remission, I silently wished for more time to avoid facing their music. Be careful what you wish for! The fourth, and thankfully final, divine 2x4 struck, making itself known by a 25% loss of my body weight. A surgery during the cancer process had been bungled, not allowing me to digest food. Had it been diagnosed before I ate a quarter of myself, it would not have been so bad. A second surgery and more hospital time corrected the mistakes of the first surgery and I recovered, both my weight and from the cancer.

Now convinced I'd been kept alive for some divine purpose, I followed a hunch, with the help of a financial gift from a friend, to Mexico where Les Visible, the author of the spiritual blog that had ignited my spark was holding a conference. What held the promise of tomorrow couldn't withstand the trials of today: too many chiefs with too few squaws and the scene melted dow -- a different drama story for another time though.

Having no better place to go, I made for New Mexico where now I sit, and have since February, waiting for what's next. A broke, single survivor am I and I'm grateful for each day I continue on my path -- I know it has a meaning even if I'm not aware of it yet. Here I am, just waiting.

Read an inspiring piece by Les Visible: here

I'm blessed to have had the opportunity to put this story on screen. Perhaps it'll be the opposite of a 2x4 for Erik on his path. Regardless, he's a kind, big souled man and I wish him all my best in discovering his divine purpose on our planet -- I wish you all the best too.

Kent ordering at the Solar Ice Cream Bus at the Rio Grande River Gorge

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Did I say New Mexico? Oh actually I meant California.

So here's the god's honest truth.

Taos is not all happy spiritual rainbows and green gardens.  Yes, I've had a few fun times this week, and that's what I've chosen to write about.  But also, it's frickin cold.  This is not the "warm place to spend the winter" that I imagined.

Also, Muna is not here and the gardens are not green.

Also, this is place is all about skiing, and I don't ski.

Also, I'm almost out of money and no one is hiring me.

Also, it's dry and dusty and barren and many of the people I've met in town are dry and dusty and barren.

Also, I am overwhelmed by male energy.  I have been surrounded by men all week at the hostel.  Some of the guys are fun and/or sweet.  Some of them are loud and immature.  And one of them has been downright inappropriate.

While I can see the draw of this place when the gardens are booming, Muna is there to teach and inspire, and the hostel is full of travelers (of both genders), I was about to face a long, dark, dusty, cold winter - full of men.

One night, things came to a head.  I laid in my cabin, trying to fall asleep, but plagued by the gnawing sensation that I was not in the right place.  That perhaps it was not time to stop traveling yet, at least not here.  After all, I had promised myself that I wouldn't choose somewhere to stay until I got there and felt the vibe and made connections and was sure it was right.

Hadn't I broken my own rule by making a commitment to Taos before even arriving?  I made it out of fear - fear of running out of money and of not knowing where to go next.  I was here ten years ago and liked it then so I thought that was enough to go on to make a commitment over the internet.  Turns out maybe not.

And also, I laid in bed worrying about the drunk men inside the hostel (one of whom was the inappropriate one), and how I was the only woman in the place.  I looked at the flimsy little lock on my cabin door and at the bear spray next to my bed.  It was a rather unsettling train of thought to fall asleep to, but fall asleep I finally did.

And then I was woken up at midnight by Mr. Inappropriate knocking on my door.  My exact worse fear.  "Hey!  Hey Melanie!  Hey!"

"Wh- who is it?" I asked, trying to sound strong and awake - neither of which I actually was.

"It's me!" the shaky voice said.  "Hey do you wanna go for a soak?"  He meant in the steam room/hot tub thing.  Ew.  No.  What should I do?  I didn't want to open the door.  But I didn't want to make him mad.  He had been drinking and I didn't know what kind of a drunk he was.  The fact that he even thought it was ok to wake me up in the middle of the night to ask this question meant his judgement was clouded at best.

Just then, I heard Jacob come out of his cabin next door to mine.  He had heard Mr. Inappropriate as well, thank god.  I heard him say, "Hey man, what are you doing out here?"

"Go back to sleep!" Mr. Inappropriate barked at Jacob.  "Hey so Melanie, do you want to go for a soak?" he said back to me, through my door, trying to use his softer voice now.

I was shaking in my bed, staring at the flimsy lock, hoping Jacob was still outside.  "Uh, no dude.  I'm - I'm good.  Thanks.  Goodnight."

There was a long pause.

Then Jacob's voice again, trying to get Mr. Inappropriate to leave, "Hey come on, man."

Another long pause.

"Alright.  Well if you're good then," Mr. Inappropriate said to me, disappointment in his voice.

"Yep I'm good.  Bye now." I said, and he left.

And I laid in my bed and shook and worried and shook and worried and barely slept all night.  It was 3 degrees outside.

At 7am, I was awoken with another abrupt knock at my door.  I bolted up in bed.

"Who is it?" I asked for the second time that night.

"It's Carl."  The young kid who sometimes stays at the hostel.  I sighed with relief, but  was still annoyed at being woken up - AGAIN.

"What do you want, Carl?" I asked groggily through the door.

"I need a ride to work.  Can you give me a ride into town?"

"Uggghhh," I groaned.  "Can't Amu or Subra or somebody else take you?  I'm sleeping."

"None of them are here.  I'm gonna get fired if I'm late again."

I considered for a moment whether that was my problem or not.  I didn't want to take him on principle - I was starting to feel like I was alternating between being the object of desire and the mother of the place, and neither role was appealing to me.  But he was young and I didn't want him to lose his job.  I compromised with myself.

"You need to give me gas money.  At least $7," I said as firmly as I could muster.

"Yes ma'am," he said through the door.  "And, um - I need to leave in ten minutes."

"Uggghhhh," I groaned again.  "I'll be ready.  Just lemme brush my teeth."

On the way back from driving Carl to work, I fussed and fretted within myself.  "I don't want to stay here anymore!" I said to no one in particular in the car.  But where else would I go that would be warmer?  And how could I possibly pay for more gas after still having not gotten any jobs?  I sent a plea up to the universe to help me out, show me the way.

When I pulled back up to the hostel around 8:30am, Jacob was standing in the parking lot with all of his bags packed.  He walked urgently up to my car.  "Hey," he said, bending over to my window.  "Can I pay you to take me to Santa Fe?"

"You got a computer to sell down there?" I asked anxiously, hoping to at least make some money today as his business partner.

"No, I gotta get outta here.  It's clear to me, man.  It's time to go.  I don't want to stay in this place anymore."

"Me either!" I said.  "Where are you gonna go?"

As I drove him to Santa Fe, we hatched a whole plan.  He had bought a ticket to Hawaii that leaves in a week from Oakland, California.  I thought sunny California sounded like a great idea, and if Jacob came with me, I could afford the gas.  Plus I wouldn't be lonely in the car.  We could travel together for the week and then go our separate ways after he left for Hawaii.

Then I realized that we would be passing through Mount Madonna Center, the place where I took my transformative silent retreat two years ago.  I've been dying to go back ever since.  When I mentioned it to Jacob, he said he's always wanted to go there, too.

Then I remembered that Mount Madonna Center had a school, too.  I made a few phone calls and sent my resume, and I have an interview lined up for Friday.

And my prayers were answered.  This wild girl isn't done with the open road - not yet.  Save some sun for me, California, here I come.

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Monday, November 12, 2012

Guest Post!

For something new, my latest blog post appears as a guest post on another blog!


Kent is a fellow traveler whose skill as a nomad is only rivaled by his skill as a writer.  I enjoyed meeting him, adventuring with him for a few days while he stayed at the Snowmansion hostel, and mostly, I enjoyed talking travel writing with another travel writer.

Please check out my post on his blog, and while you're there, check out his posts as well.  I think anyone who enjoys reading about my journey will also enjoy reading about his.  Happy travels, and happy reading!

Kent in his "mobile home" on one of our shared day adventures

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Scenes from the First Week



Jacob (fellow seasonal worker whose cabin shares a wall with mine and who is quickly growing into a comforting older brother figure) takes me to dinner in Taos.  We eat blue corn enchiladas, drink margaritas and shoot tequila, and share the beginnings of our life stories, the rest of which continue to unravel through subsequent days.



I become Jacob's employee by driving him two hours to Santa Fe to sell two Mac computers, which is his self-started business.  A coyote runs across the road.  We share our favorite hip hop songs with each other in the car.  For the first time since June, I earn money instead of just spending it.  And I get to see Santa Fe - briefly.


I walk the town of Arroyo Seco, where I live - all one dirt road of it.  I walk into each business - the natural food store, a gallery, the mercantile, the consignment shop, the coffee shop, the clothing store -  one at a time, saying, "Hi, my name is Melanie.  I just moved in to town and wanted to introduce myself."  People smile and tell me their stories.  At some places, I leave not only my smile but my resume.

Arroyo Seco

The Taos Cow - the coffee/ice cream shop



I wake up to my alarm at 4:30am, throw on warm clothes, and toss my headlamp, a towel, and some snacks into my daypack.  I meet Kent, a hostel-guest-turned-friend in the parking lot by 5am, ready to head to the hot springs for first light.  We drive in the dark to the remote Mesa and on to a rough dirt road that leads us to the mile long trail, which takes us to the banks of the Rio Grande.

We sit in the hot springs talking about politics, the purpose of money, and what Jesus was all about anyway, while the sun comes up and two hot air balloons visit the gorge.

A hot air balloon visitor from the POV of the springs

Hot springs on the bank of the river



At 7am, I stumble from my outdoor cabin to the main building, sleep still in my eyes, and am surprised to see police in the parking lot on my way.  They ask me where a particular guest is staying and explain that apparently there was a "domestic disturbance" issue with a couple here last night.  (Ah, so that's what the yelling at 3am was about.)  I haven't even brushed my teeth yet.

Later, I drive the man from the couple (who was the victim, not the perpetrator) into town to catch a free bus out of here and begin his new life, away from his ex, who has disappeared into the mist.


I take my bike out for the first time since arriving here and do some exploring.  I don't know where I'm going.  I end up in the next teeny tiny town, Arroyo Hondo - which is even teenier and tinier than Arroyo Seco.  On the way back, I stop at a folk art gallery by the road.

My bike ride


I run my first solo shift at the hostel, after a whopping hour or so of training.  I sort of know how to use the computer system to check in guests and make reservations.  I sort of know where things are, and how much some things cost.  I don't most of what I need to.  The night is relatively successful, regardless.  

I check in a lovely family from Switzerland who are touring the western U.S. to rock climb.  They have been sleeping in a tent with their two young children for the entire trip except their three nights with us.  The parents speak marginal English, and the kids speak none.  Nevertheless, I played with the kids a bit (the girl took my heartbeat with the Fischer Price stethescope, and the little boy threw his stuffed bunny at me while laughing - I think that counts as playing).

The boy with one of our resident cats, Snowcone

His sister wants to be in the picture, too



I run my second solo desk shift at the hostel.  I check in a large group of 17 people from University of New Mexico, here for the weekend for a mountain medicine course.  I accidentally charge them twice as much as they were supposed to pay and my boss has to come fix it.  Oops.

The main room filled with college students

While I’m on shift, Jacob calls me from the road, where he is hitchhiking back from town.  “Yo!  There’s a reggae show at KTAOS tonight!  Wanna go after you’re done working the desk?  I’ll pay for your ticket.”  At 10pm I find myself at KTAOS, a completely solar-powered radio station/live music venue/bar/restaurant, listening to an awesome reggae band and meeting a bunch of new friends around the fires out back.

Reggae show at KTAOS

It's been a good first week.