A Circle Completed

The GPS (my gypsy friend) on my dashboard sometimes sends me on complicated routes, promising they’ll be faster. Often I’d rather go the few extra miles to avoid confusion. But overall my gypsy guides me efficiently on this 8500-mile tour of the U.S., occasionally on routes I haven’t considered. And at the end of each day’s journey, when she announces, “You have arrived,” with that wonderful tone of finality, it’s as if I’ve done something noteworthy.

In reality, all I do is manage to stay alert each driving day, a feat I accomplish by almost constant nibbling. Nothing else—not singing, listening to music or talks, observing the scenery, slapping myself—keeps me as alert as nibbling, especially on puffed kamut and puffed corn (both organic). It’s that crunch of teeth on the puffies that keeps me thoroughly awake.

The last few days of the trip I set out before dawn, the big, brilliant moon before me and the sun slowly brightening the sky in the rearview mirrors. Another kind of alertness, an alertness of the heart, is remembrance that God is the light of the sun and moon and whatever happens is his kindness.

Portland (Rainland), Oregon, where it’s fated to rain/ snow every day this week, marks the end of this book tour circle. The camper, parked in the driveway of a friend’s home on a quiet street, feels extra cozy on wet days. Grateful to be dry, warm, and safe, I’m quite certain that in this lifetime I’ll never become a truck driver.the journey's end, March 22, 2012

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Heading East

I had to leave Sedona well before dawn and regretted that I’d be missing the views from 89A North, one of the U.S.’s more scenic roadways. But the moon was out, lighting snow-sprinkled mountainsides and peaks with mystical, iridescent royal blue hues, now appearing, now disappearing behind curves.

My overnight stopover in Albuquerque was near a mausoleum where, to my astonishment, a thick wall with names, birth and death dates, and occasional plastic flowers, held coffins stacked six high. The next morning I again started before dawn, traveling east on I-40 as the sun rose before me, a huge, radiant orange orb that so illumed every watermark, scratch and dust particle on my “clean” windshield that I could barely see. Such bright, head-on light is humbling, I thought, for it shows every flaw and failing. Yet the very light that makes flaws and failings visible is also the light by which a person can rectify them, or perhaps learn to live with them without sorrow and, eventually, see past them.San Antonio dawn

When I crossed the Texas border I half expected to see expensive, shiny pickups parked on the roadside waiting patiently for their owners—weathered Republicans wearing cowboy boots and hats, standing in the open scrub shooting ducks with rifles. Instead, the first words spoken to me in that Lone Star state were from a thirty-something radiant, Afro-American gas station attendant who, smiling and looking right at me said, “Have a blessed day!” What a wonderful thing to say.

I can’t remember any other time in my life when someone has said that to me.

Sedona, Arizona

I arrived early in rainy Sedona to find the place where I was supposed to stay locked and empty. It was too wet to walk any distance, so I passed time at the Sedona Public Library next door. Moseying down aisle after aisle, shelf after shelf, countless books drifted before me, books that delved into innumerable endeavors, emotions, and fancies. The library’s solemn patrons, its silenced ambiance, and the expanse and diversity of the literature it held expanded my appreciation for the human attempt to discover, create, and record, well, everything.

During a few fleeting hours in a library, what extravagant respite can be found in the human mind’s magnitude, preserved in written words that mystically carry a willing reader to undreamed depths.

So many books surrounded me that I wondered what is left to write about. And with all that’s here to read, who will read what comes after? Yet I couldn’t think of not writing. A couple have their own child even though they know billions of people already populate the earth, and a writer writes even knowing that billions of words have already been written. The writer’s contribution may be miniscule, but she wants to write clearly, with impact and freshness, so that readers will feel their time was well spent – maybe even that they benefited a little.

A Buddhist shrine and prayer flag beneath red rocks.

California! Arizona.

While visiting friends in northern California, somehow or other I parked for a week with the camper level from front to back but tilted five degrees from left to right. Living in it was like being in a boat that’s stuck on the side of a frozen wave, and I often lost my balance—it was a strange type of seasickness. Farther south, in Ojai, I parked level all around in a land where oranges burden trees that grow next to cacti and the streets are lined with valued herbs and flowers—rosemary and lavender, gardenias and birds of paradise. Spared of concrete and given a little water, the earth here erupts with bounty and offers it with grace.

Now in Arizona, I start driving well before dawn and watch the sky slowly lighten. Moment by moment the Rorschach-shaped titanic rocks that jut out of the desert to the right and left of the freeway become visible. During dawn and dusk the earth’s rotation through the firmament is more noticeable, a light-induced reminder that every moment makes a difference and can be used wisely—or not. As Phoenix looms in front of me, it’s rush hour and the freeway predictably fills with cars that can’t stand to be behind one another. In this city too, I’ll surely hear stories of suffering from financial lose, soured relationships, illicit acts, unmet expectations, physical woes.

I did hear all that, as well as a Nepalese immigrant’s story. Janardana lives in Phoenix now, but as a boy he herded his family’s five cows in a forest near his village. The milk from these cows, he said, was “nectar,” and just a small amount of it was fully nourishing and satisfying. Processed milk from commercial dairies doesn’t compare, he said, and he’s sure that economic and ecological pressures would oblige us “modern” people to return to a more simple, land-based, God-centered life, which would actually be progress. Such a life is less stressful, more fulfilling, and healthier than our current lives. At least according to Janardana, who has practical experience of both types of living.

Amatory Americans

Getting ready for a book and DVD tour.

My husband and I bought a camper van from our friend Philip, a car dealer in Eugene, Oregon, and while the camper was still parked near Philip’s house I spent a few days learning how to drive it before setting off on my first crosscountry book and DVD tour. One afternoon I was in the camper when I saw a man across the street talking to, then hugging and kissing a woman near the woman’s car. I thought, “Oh, they’re Philip’s neighbors, and the wife must be leaving her dear husband for a business trip.” Two hours later, when the two of them finally drove off in separate cars, I suddenly understood I’d witnessed a paramours’ rendezvous. Later, Philip’s wife Divya told me that both the man and the woman are married, work in the same office, and come to that spot near her home daily – sometimes twice a day.

Beneath towering dark firs at the end of a quiet street, a couple jeopardizes their status quo in their family, at work, and in society for the overpowering dance of a happiness called love. This innermost need for completion, excitement, joy, for deep and requited emotion is the topic of uncounted songs, stories, sculptures, plays, poetry, paintings, dramas, films, and fantasies. It’s a need within all of us, yet the love that fulfills it is notoriously elusive and fleeting. Strange phenomenon, that.