Wednesday, May 2, 2018

May Day: To the Sand

May Day: To the Sand

I am up on the ridge again. I come here to let things go I guess. When life feels too complex or heavy or confusing, watching the sunset literally gives me perspective. The vultures are out riding the evening thermals. I don’t think there is purpose to it, just play. They circle up until some unknown height and then turn to go up canyon in fighter jet formation. It feels like there is purpose to it, and that is the difficult part, not knowing it.

The cliff swallows chirp and dart in and out of the cliff cracks. It is May Day, a day of rebirth, ritual, growth, and fertility--and me too. After a year of shadowing and mentoring, and 6 months of being an interim director, the university decided not to hire me as the full director. And like that, identity is ripped from you, you fall into liminality, I feel like I am fledgling again. It hurts to try so hard for something and to feel like you fail. Nature reminds me that failure isn’t an end place, perhaps nothing fails in nature. I have worked hard to let my ego go--to see all these moments as opportunities.

The sun is about to set now. The wind grows as the high mountain cold, Lassen still covered in snow, sweep down the canyon to a valley sparked with life and wildflowers. Shadows creep east across the valley floor. I came here to let it go, to you, to this journal, to these relationships that hold me up and carry me. I see in this land the metaphor I seek. I see the way the river cut the rock to create this canyon, each failure in the rock surely must feel that way for the rock, for that moment, to feel the water cutting into you, to feel the cracks widen, to feel that relenting to forces beyond you, but as the sand of the rock washes to the sea, it never sees the beauty of the river which carried it away.

I want so badly to be part of a solution, so badly to make a mark in the world for doing something good, and as you wash to the sea, the moment of letting go is your art.

The sun dips behind the last clouds of the day. This was a dream too. The sun ignites from below the clouds, framed by the mountain below; it seems to hold me there. I stand to take in this breath, the last breath of another sun, another day, another hope for another better day. I found such reward in the work I was doing. Is there something more and better to be done? Isn’t that perhaps the beautiful question at the end of each day--what will come? What is below this rapid, around this bend, down the river, out to sea, pushed on currents that travel the world? The end of each day comes with such hopes for what beauty you will find as the next day rises. What will come?

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Valentines Day

Tonight I came home this evening to this on my porch: a small note, a candy bar, and a budding flower. I sat next to this note and played guitar to love in a setting sun after a long week. I watched as the golden light of the sun faded across the heart-shaped note.
Every day, I sit on my porch and watch homelessness, watch bits of despair; today the couple in a broken down blue Ford Explorer, who have been working night and day to repair, have moved their car about 20-feet, and just around the corner. I play music on my porch and sometimes I’ll notice a person moving to my rhythm. I will see them sitting up against the warehouse, their feet tapping along to my guitar, or a head bobbing to my time. Some have clapped, many have just looked at me oddly.
Every night, as I walk Chico around the block, I can hear the soft mumbles of people in the shadows trying to sleep in such biting cold. I don’t really have any solution, and I often beat myself up about my own selfishness and all that I do have to give, more that I could do. Leonard always says hi to me and Chico...usually he says hi to Chico first. He often tells me he loves me, and I do back to him. This is every single day at my house.
At work, I am now the interim director of a program, it is a program I feel deeply for, one that I know is making a difference for a lot of people. It is only week three of my first semester running this program, it wasn’t an easy week. But each day I work with these students, these lives that will just pass through my life, and I see how amazing they are.
And then there are you, all of you out there I write to, my friends and family. You who take the phone calls when I am uncertain. You who text me about your garden and the trees about to bloom. You who play music with me. You who argue with me and open my eyes. You who help me find a car and find a bike. You who encourage me to be better each and every day. You who leave me notes of love. I have written about love for most of my life. Poetry, and songs, and stories, tried to make metaphors that matter.
Sometimes life feels lonely. In a morning of mass murder, I hate my own numbness, but you, all of you, help me feel so deeply. I want you to know, as I do, that you are loved too.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017



Tonight I walk under the cold winter wind with Chico. Chico has a haircut from his surgery that makes him look like he has pompoms on, or is a go-go dancer or something. It makes me laugh and I don’t think he understands why. He prances down the street like he owns the world anyways. Another semester has passed. I am grading papers and feeling that slip of the boulder. I had a strange dream the other night of Chico falling from a bridge I was repairing. My father and I were sleeping on this bridge after a long day of repairing it. A looming steel bridge with a large moving river below. Something out of the Frank Church or the Middle Fork. We sleep on the edge of this broken bridge, the grates of steel allowing us to almost feel like we fly above the river canyon. I wake in the morning to the distant sound of the river below, I look over and Chico is sleeping half hanging over the edge of the bridge. I am afraid to startle him awake and I try to gently move towards him, but when I move he lifts his eyes open and slips off the bridge. I watch his body as it kites in the wind falling and I yell one of those gut wrenching loss wails from a mixture of deep in your bowels and up beyond your own head and out into the galaxy like your scream is searching for the existence of god in the universe, or some hope of divinity, and I watch him splash into the water, back first, his legs up in the air.
I run down the bridge, jumping down stairs, yelling to my dad to wake up and help, help, help and I run down flights after flight until I get to a lower road below, start to run for the banks, but then run back and jump off a cliff, diving into the water below. I swim towards Chico and find him, he is pulling himself up out of the water, whimpering as he crawls out onto a sandy beach. I hope he will be OK as I wake washed in sadness in my bed. Ugh...a dream, and I lay my hand on Chico, call him a good boy, he rolls over exposing his big belly. I pet for a while until I hear him fall back asleep and I do the same.
That feeling of Chico slipping from the bridge must feel how the boulder rolls back off of Sisyphus’ hands. The first one must have been devastating. That first boulder he walks to the top, struggled, clawing the boulder forwards, leveraging up over cracks, and around trees, across streams. Sisyphus put his back into the boulder until his hands knew every off center point--did the gods taunt him when he stopped to rest, when he thought about his family, when he thought about his wife, his kids, and maybe even his dog...did the gods taunt him that if he could just get the boulder to the top he will be free.
And so he did. He pushed and grinded, and shoved, and rolled that boulder up out of the valley up to the very top of the mountain peaks; through thunderstorms and downpours, in the bright beating sun to the dark moonless nights where Orion’s eternal pursuit is best understood, he could hear the voices of those he loved in his ears at each break. He wants to give up, but he refuses to give in. He figures he has to prove to the gods that he won’t be broken. He is just about to the top of the mountain when he slips, he thinks it is nothing, just one time the boulder rocked to the left instead of the right, and he leaps to try and stop its momentum, and he jumps in front of it and braces his shoulder for the impact, but it just plows into him and lauches him sideways as it begins to bounce, then jump and tumble down the mountain. The breaking rock sound echoing off the canyon walls; it crashes through the forest below. He yells for it, in pain of loss of a loved one; that boulder was all he left behind, all he wanted back, but he refuses to quit that too, and he gets up, glances to the summit so close, and then turns to walk back down to get the boulder.
No, it would be the second time that you would fully understand the eternity the laid in front of you, the toil and loss over and over again. The second time would crush you because you would understand the reality of your fate. I love that he doesn’t give up. Surely, as the years go by he would realize that his wife had passed away, his kids grown up and parents, and grandkids, and great grandkids, and his name would begin to fade from them too. And when his own kids had surely passed, he was still pushing a boulder up a mountain. When everyone forgot him, he keeps pushing. I think this is why Camus says that he comes to understand that the struggle is enough... he says, the struggle is enough to fill a man’s heart.

It is the end of another semester...I am struggling to get through the grading, but always amazed at these students.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Ode to Razorback

Ode to Razorback

Razorback has been laying on his side for six days now. This morning, his breathing is shallow, he nays softly to an empty barn after all the other goats have gone down canyon for the day. I try to give him water through a bottle, but he doesn’t want to drink. I try to give him the “goat crack” granola he used to want so badly, and he starts to eat a bit, almost as if by instinct, but after two bites, he puts his head back down and doesn’t move again. I rub his head between his beautiful swooping horns and whisper to him. He is 20 years old and this canyon, this ranch has been his home; soon he leaves.
I turn 41 today. For the most part, I have loved this ride on earth, the beautiful places I have seen, the amazing people I have shared it with, and the hope so many have for a better future.
I don’t know if we will ever cure death.  More than just re-programming cells to keep regenerating, or changing the DNA to not wear down, maybe it is more about mapping consciousness into a robot version of yourself. These questions always leave us with questioning individuality because if I can map my life into a wired system connected to some grid, then what is to say that consciousness is ever individual. If it needs a system to live, then it is symbiotic, if not parasitic. And from there it is easy for me to see that this is true right now of humanity. My life is not my own, but contained in stories with you, with family, with friends, with my community, and the landscape of my life, but all these experiences are siphoned through past experiences, and none of it began alone. My whole story into life is filtered through all of you—early childhood explorations into the world and words, the way we create what we see, and how we approach it, and what is appropriate action.
My housemate helps me and we rotate Razorback over and get fresh straw underneath him. He is mostly bone now. For many years I have chased him and his herd off the mountain, listened for the sound of the bell tied around his neck to figure out where the goats have gone. His bell still a necklace around his neck lays muffled in the hay. Razorback is the icon for Oak Springs Ranch, between the arcing horns to his long goatee, like some old Kung Fu master of the mountains, many people have come to visit the ranch over the years and all of them would get pictures of Razorback. He is blind now. He has had a couple of strokes. He was able to barely stand when I started watching the ranch for my friends a few days ago, but now he can’t get up. I tried to help him up, but he will leave this canyon on his side.
Two days ago one of the new baby goats died. In the morning it wasn’t doing well. His mother was calling to me to help. He wasn’t moving much, and just wanted to lie down. I tried to feed it a bottle of goat milk formula, but he wouldn’t take it. I wrapped it in blankets to try to keep him warm. His head kept sliding back awkwardly, his eyes fogging over more and more. I read online about how to take care of sick baby goats; however, most of the things were beyond my medical ability involving shots and tubes. I called my friends who own the ranch, and they said this happens sometimes. They have lost many goats; they just seem to spin downwardly fast and there isn’t much you can do. I have seen this one other time with a baby goat here and I know this happens. They said the night before they left, the young goat came back alone really late away from the rest of the herd. They were afraid something happened. He theorized a rattlesnake bite, but I couldn’t see any sign for that. In the morning, rigamortis has set in with the goat. I load the stiff body onto the ATV and take it down the canyon a bit. I have to get to work and there isn’t time for anything more. It is unceremonious. Perhaps this is the best way to die. What difference does this make to the dead anyways. Ceremonies are for the living.
Surely death is the ultimate trail, the travels into the unknown we all go towards, transcendence from the physical; while any unknown is intriguing, do not go into this unprepared. A life well lived, a life filled with love and friendship and laughter makes it hard to go, but more ready than you could ever be. If I am an interconnected part of this community, culture of humanity, then I want to be a force of positive change. I am setting myself out to be a person that not only sees the best in other people, but also makes sure to help others see that in their own self too—to tell people not only they can, but they already are.
I am hoping Razorback will last until Rick and Kimberly get back.; however, I am ready to put him down. He moans softly and I try to shoo the flies out from his opaque eyes darting back and forth. My housemate has been up here with me and he has gone back and forth checking on Razorback all day, making sure he has water. We both think maybe we should just stop trying to keep him alive. We talk about getting a gun. We both agree that it isn’t what we would want of our deaths.
He ate a little bit last night. I sit down next to him. I tell him that it is OK to let go. I say, “hooo goat,” to him, the call I learned to bring the goats home for the evening I still call out to the herd without Razorback leading them.  I pet between his horns. It is now six days since Razoback felt earth under his hooves. Soon he will be under the earth. There is no doubt about this. Ever since understanding what Shakespeare meant in Sonnet 18 about immortalizing a person in writing, in the way some part of you lives on, passed down in tales and lore and poetry., I have set to write it down—to hold on to it because all else fades much quicker. Perhaps every person with a need to create does so against the empty abyss. There was death here, war here, a family here, toil here, this land was worked, and as even stone washes away story remains, reshaped, selected for, interpreted, and interpreting. People should know about this love ,this is the love we should carry forward into life. Even the author can fade from the story, but not the heart. And maybe, if Razorback is so lucky, maybe if my own words are careful enough, in them is some understanding of humanity, some gift to move forward, that others decades or centuries from now, when all that might remain is some hint of rock and creek, Rick and Kim long gone, the house long gone, fires ravaged the whole canyon, the stalwart oaks and few Ponderosa Pines are even gone, there remains some remnant story about a goat that once wandered these hills, fighting off Mountain Lion, enduring rain and sun and fire and frost.

They say goats are one of the domesticated animals most quickly to go feral, to return to the land, perhaps they barely ever needed humans in the first place. It was only us that needed them...once again, humans the parasite. Maybe they have a strong will to live, that even when old age has you down, when the weight of gravity is pushing you into the earth, you fight your way to one last breath.
Goats are perhaps the oldest domesticated animal, genetic analysis dating them back to 10000 years ago. Our lore and myths are filled with them, from pan to Satan, goats are part of humanity. Think of all the stories told around campfires eating goat meat and sipping wine from goatskin bags.

As night falls again on the ranch, Razorback still lives. Maybe he never dies. Long lives this, and this gives life to thee. Good night sweet Razorback.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A Losing Fight

A Losing Fight

Today, on the bike ride home from work, another dog attacked Chico. In the dog world, a little scuffle happens, and I get that; however, this dog wasn’t just sniffing too long; it ran at Chico and instantly jumped on him, biting, and shaking at him. I yelled, and Chico knows I don’t want him fighting. He tried to move away, but the dog kept attacking. I jumped off my bike and pulled at the dog trying to get it to release Chico. A second dog then came over. I yelled more and Chico fell over for a second. In that moment, he wasn’t being submissive, but he simply fell over onto his side. He jumped back up, but in that moment I saw him as more fragile than I ever have. I saw the scared look in his eyes, his legs up in the air, his old tired body rolling over. I leaped between the dogs and yanked it off Chico. The owner grabbed his dog and I took Chico away to a safe location to check him over.

I didn’t say anything, though in my mind I had a lot to say.  They didn’t punish the dog at all really. Just told it to go inside. If that was Chico starting a fight like that, he would have been pinned to the ground and on his back and I would hold him there. I have been harsh with Chico at times. As some people know, I trained Chico with a shock collar. I rarely needed to use it, but if Chico ran into the road, or chased a cat, he surely felt it, and he listened after that when I said no. I have been strict with him because I love him, because he is my responsibility.

Chico wasn’t phased by the whole event. He just seemed to run on forward again as if nothing happened. He had one good puncture wound on the top of his head. Another on his back, and another on his ear where blood began to pool and swell his ear. I wanted to yell something. I wanted to drop kick the dog. I wanted to tell the owner something, but I just walked away and got Chico to safety. The owner didn’t even leash their dog after that, didn’t apologize, or even walk it back to their yard. I could feel my own desire to stomp on the other dog rise inside of me. When we got home, I washed it out, put ointment on it, and laid down on Chico petting him as we both fell asleep. I am worried about losing him. I am selfishly worried about my own sanity when I don’t have him anymore. Maybe he is a crutch to life for me, a reason to be alone, an excuse to hike out into solitude. Through all the major loss of my life, I have had him: my grandmother, my grandfather, lost loves--Chico has been there waiting to go walk, to push his body against mine as he fades into dog dreams.

In the last months of my grandfather, I visited him at the nursing home and everyone in there lit up when they saw Chico. They all had stories of past dogs they once had too. I know I have a lot of life to live that will happen without Chico. I imagine, I too, will be reflecting back to this little bit of selfless love in my life. Maybe it is a bit pathetic, but he is one of the most significant relationships in my life. He has taught me a lot about love and caring.

I was just at the Vet with Chico running full panel of blood work on his, urinalysis, fecal analysis to make sure he is doing OK at over 10 years of age. They gave him a clean bill of health. The Vet said he will most likely die of old age. That, unfortunately, isn’t all that comforting. I make an appointment to take him in tomorrow. Regardless, I rub Chico’s belly and feel the rise and fall of his breath as I use him like a pillow. I listen to his deep breathing. Often at night, when he dreams, he does this underwater type barking, and I will reach out and put my hand on him, let him know that I am here for him. I hate that he was hurt today and that I didn’t get there soon enough to stop it. I can’t get the image of him falling over on his back as this dog attacked him; he looked over to me for help. I try to be there for him. I tell him I love him. I grab a hold of his paw in my own hand as I too fall asleep.