dinsdag 15 december 2015

Time, music, and memory

I thought I had posted my last update on my trip back to California, but my mind doesn’t stay within the neat boundaries of defined time. I’m back home now, after a month in California and Paris, sitting at my kitchen table, when suddenly this song picks me up and brings me back.

Sometimes memories are more alive inside you than the updated reality. Back from California, here I am in Amsterdam once again, empty hands, with a song that takes me back not to the Co-op Thanksgiving I just visited, but the other Co-op Thanksgiving, a long year ago. So much sweeter, and so much closer now.

“I’m curious to see how you’ll handle it all, because everything will be much different when you return,” my dad had said on the airport on the morning of my departure. Those words rung true, though I didn’t know yet in what way. They kept following me the entire journey, and trailed back home to the Netherlands with me to this moment alone at my kitchen table, where they finally ripen into their full meaning.

A life is so much more than the people or the places that feature in it. It is the place you have in the mesh, the role you fulfill in the perfectly balanced web. I still have a place in the people’s hearts, and I can take up space in old familiar places, but with my role gone, I can’t return to that life.

How strange the way time wraps itself in whichever way it pleases around your existence. I went back to California out of love for those sweet memories, and now once back it’s still those same memories I travel back to, rather than new ones.

How all-knowing is music, showing you your own true heart like that. Those people then, that land then, me in that moment. That’s where the waves of song take me now. And also to the lonely months that followed, stranger in a new city back home, where it was just me and this music to tide me over, onto a new life. The music-and-memory duo seem to have their own agenda, picking out moments you thought were of no consequence at all.

Periods in my life keep rearranging themselves to each other. My trip back to California bleeds over into the year I spent there, erasing the intermediate 11 months in the Netherlands from my mind. Before being separated again starkly by the music that takes me back to my year there, but blots out my recent trip. And the most recent time, spent outside Paris in deep ceremony with indigenous elders from all corners of the world during the climate summit, is a whole story on its own. Time, again, behaved so very differently there. Like a smaller but much denser planet than either my California trip or the preceding 11 Dutch months, it bends the space-time fabric into almost impossible folds. And then periods from years ago poke up their heads from my subconscious, heralded by old characters that featured in them and suddenly reappear in my life.

Like a vast sea, with each wave crest a different period, they keep dancing that peculiar dance with each other, impossible for me to keep track of. Time has shown me so many faces recently that I don’t know what to make of it any more.  

Time, music, memory… such mesmerizing enigmas of existence. I wonder at you, but I’m wise enough not to try to figure out your devious depths. I’ll go along with it all, appreciating your occult nature, giving my life such delicious saturation. I’m curious to see where next you’ll take me.

maandag 23 november 2015

Going Back 2

The trees

“What do you think about all this, this coming and going of people, their arguments and fights?” I ask the big tree. I sit in her lap far above the ground and up here such calmness comes over me. Momma Fig, heart of the Trico-ops, consecrated again and again throughout the years by co-opers who felt the special power in the dappled shade of her canopy. The cool afternoon light and the scent of figs. She whispers her answers into the rustling leaves. This constant flux of people, that divide themselves up into ‘generations’, or ‘houses’, and then again ‘individuals’, and then they’re a ‘community’... They redraw the lines at their convenience, to back a point, to take a stance. The Fig Tree doesn’t see those lines, doesn’t recognize the individuals who return to take refuge in her arms. She just is there. Unwaveringly, unendingly, she receives the life that seeks her out, and gives of her shelter, shade, and fruit. Such a blessing trees are, to remind us little humans with our petty whirlwind lives of stillness.

“What is time like for you? Up here I hardly feel it at all,” I ask the soft hairy branches of the big redwood. Dozens of feet above the ground, this is an incredible spot. A well-kept secret, because it’s quite a journey to get up here. It’s one of my favorite places in Davis, and I had been looking forward for weeks to visit the redwood again. When you trace the lines and crinkles in its furry reddish bark, you can tell the tremendous force with which it’s shooting up out of the ground, towering higher and higher, spiraling upward. And yet trees seem suspended, unchanging, because they don’t share our sense of time. Up here it works differently, and I can almost pretend I never left this place. What a blessing these trees are, calm and steady, to come to and forget all this frantic time travelling for a while.

Finding my new role

I originally thought, naively, that I was coming back to reaffirm all my relationships here. Instead, as it turns out, my return breathed them back to life, and they continue to evolve within the current circumstances. The web of relations has rearranged itself around my absence. Everyone welcomes me with the old love, but my old life here is gone, and the role I played in people’s lives in a few rare cases just doesn’t fit anymore. A very humbling experience. This dance is tricky and unending, a perpetual positioning and repositioning of ourselves to each other.

Back and forth, back and forth, between feeling so uprooted, holding the shattered pieces of my precious old life in my hands, to doing my thing like I could be doing it anywhere in the world. It took me a good week to finally figure out my new temporary role here. I found it on the Pierce Haus trip to Lake Tahoe, in the snowy hills and Jared’s cabin, amid the Douglas firs and Ponderosa pines. For three days straight I felt so in place. Pierce is a fine home, and I am very grateful to the current Piercians – known and new – for welcoming me so fondly in their midst. Since then, I been chillin. Simple enjoyment, lighthearted and happy to see so many friends and familiar places. Drinking IPAs, eating kale salads, still not understanding the traffic rules around here, inserting ‘hella’ in my sentences, Seventh Generation dish soap and food sampling in stores and farmers market stands, potlucks, sleepovers, long boarding, stargazing, camp fires, road trips, scampering up back country hills*, peeing with the door open, ahh I know it here!

* (I actually got lost for an hour in a redwood forest, it was really scary, it would start getting dark soon, no one could hear me and I could hear nothing, and I had absolutely no clue which way was left or right. Cole and Gordon rescued me, a chance for them to repay me after me saving their asses last year on the Lost Coast.)

The magic

But even as I’m chillin, I still don’t want to belittle the momentousness of being here. Moments in the tree branches remind me of what I returned for. I’m here for the magic. I know it’s there, profoundly influencing me subconsciously, even when I don’t readily notice it all the time (thankfully). That’s the reason I’m so aware, so intentional, about my being back here. Some places hold undeniably powerful magic, like the Fig Tree, and the Pierce porch: Palm gliding up the banisters, worn down by so many hands full of love for it, the smell of old wood,  the feel of the cold metal doorknob, the sound of its creaky turn and the door opening to a true home, hallowed by many many souls. “Your absence has gone through me like thread through a needle. Everything I do is stitched with its color”, some anonymous hand wrote by the door. How supported and surrounded those two lines made me feel in the last weeks before leaving last year. And how they still echo in me now.

I planned this whole trip around Co-op Thanksgiving, the annual reunion, which is an event of some awesomely powerful magic. It is the night when the hallowed walls hum with life upon the gathering of generations who poured their souls into them. Last year the event was the absolute pinnacle of my Davis year. This year was different, the Thanksgiving celebration the focal point of some radical and polarizing political criticism from within the community. The night itself was fine of course, but as a result of the intense Facebook discussions the turnout was rather low. A pity, I had hoped to see more people and feel that co-op magic come to life. But a traveler must stay flexible. I am at the mercy of people’s availability and hospitality this whole time here, and nothing ever works out as planned anyway. If anything, this year’s reunion was a good test of character: those ready to take charge of their own experience showed up to have a good time regardless of the circumstances.


Unexpectedly, during this trip I’ve also realized that after being back in the Netherlands for some time, my dominant life is back there now. I’ve even caught myself missing my chilly northern country and its people. Who would have thought… Not me, I thought I would never fit back in. But humans are so adaptive. Though I have relished the chance to reconnect to the Californian pieces of me and the cherished friends and places here, I’m looking forward to going home in the other direction, too.

maandag 9 november 2015

Going Back

Traveling really trips you up, and questions the foundations of the place back at ‘home’ you’ve rooted yourself in so deeply that you see everything in its light. Shake it off! Shake it off! I’m glad I threw myself onto this trip, terribly mentally underprepared I must say. The realization wouldn’t – as I knew it wouldn’t, and how could it? – sink in until I felt my insides sink into the pit of my stomach, in that sweet feeling of lifting off from your native soil.

I’m back. This is not a visit, this is not a holiday. This is stepping back into another life of mine. A whole world that I built up from scratch with my own bare hands over a year’s time on the other side of the planet.  Another reality, and a place I invested so much of myself in that it feels like reconnecting to a severed piece of myself. A piece that finally found a home in sunny, life-loving California and told me it would be happier to stay back there, while my other pieces came back with me to my home in chilly, level-headed Holland.

I knew it would be a trip, but I could not have prepared myself for the shock of crossing over to that other world. Stepping from the plane teleportation machine, and off onto the platform of the Amtrak vortex train station, and through the portal, my senses swelled to familiar sounds, scents, and sights. The distinctive hue of the sunlight here, the scaly eucalyptus trees, the nightly cricket choir, the cork oaks and olive trees, the heavy towering stone pines, the blue jays, the spastic rabid squirrels: my heartland’s nature greeting me. And, unexpectedly, my mind flooded with vivid memories helped along by the man-made environment. The wide concrete sidewalks with the painted curbs, the traffic signs, the street names and all the familiar shops and stores. The very first street I walked down, G St, brought back evenings spent with different friends in the various cafes and restaurants: The Beer Shoppe, Woodstocks’, DeVere’s, Wunderbar, Ket Mo Ree, ACE hardware store, I remember I remember I remember it all.

And then it found its way back to me: the surge, that big surge in my chest, that brimming over with ecstasy. It was the occasional spilling over of that baseline happiness and gratitude I felt in my time here. It came over me mostly when I was racing my orange road bike, bless it, or when dancing, or clambering up the soft hairy arms of sequoia trees. Where to go? Where to go with so much happiness? Oh man, how I loved my life here, how I loved who I was here.

I’m walking through a dreamscape. My mind and body still filled with my (make no mistake, equally sweet) life in Holland, and yet here I am, walking through the scenery of a life that a year ago seemed much realer than my Dutch life. The two sides of Inception, and I’m not sure which side I’ll wake up on. It’s a big confrontation, frankly. I've been turned inside out. For a year Davis and its people and places were a virtual reality that existed somewhere inside me. Now, it turns out it's kept on existing as concretely as ever without me, and I stand eye to eye with it, and I am in it, instead of it in me. 

And yet, it’s all changed; the space-time fabric has filled up the hole I left upon departing. Ahh Time, you get me everytime. All the components of my California life are still here, but only remnants of the life itself remain. They’re stored in the hearts and minds of people, as I’m finding out. They greet me with all the old love. They’ve carried my memory in them, in all the stories that we’ve shared. People are the key. The key to time. The constants while the waves of time ceaselessly keep rolling over, rolling over. People bridge the spatial and temporal divide. People, weavers of fabric out all the different times, gingerly sewing meaning into its threads, they’re such magic.

I am one of them, and as crazy and wild as this navigating of different worlds feels at times, I’m doing it. Quantum dancer on the rolling waves, threading them together. Gathering up all the pieces of who I am in their different shrines, and proving they can all exist simultaneously, finding synthesis in one of those magic human specimens, me.

I’m really glad I came back to check up on things here.

Bye NL, Hi CA

zaterdag 13 december 2014

Taking My Leave

Making the last days count

10 days on the counter. Months ago I thought that by now I would be freaking out, desperately clutching at time and trying to make it stand still. I used to feel a flash of claustrophobia gripping me whenever, in an unwatchful  moment, I would count the weeks remaining. What a crazy twist of fate, to now be finding myself so comfortably on the edge of my time here. I’m even so at ease that  I’m actively counting off the days, just because I like counting things. As the days progress, more and more people around me join in awareness of my immanent departure. “So sad!” “Don’t leave!” “I’m going to miss you so much!” I don’t recognize myself in those statements anymore. I have turned away from stagnation and have shifted my gaze to the future again. I feel resolved: I know why I’m leaving, I know it’s the right decision, and I know I will be back one day.

How could my feelings shift direction so drastically? Since fall quarter, my position in the Trico-ops had changed. Gradually, I had to start disengaging myself. Part of this disengagement was unintentional: 11 out of 14 Piercians were brand new and I had no prior connections with them to release. In fact, I had to play this strange double game of investing myself in my new house while starting to let go of it all. But another of part of this disengagement was that I felt myself zooming out on the community. I was drawn to its history and legacy, its old inhabitants. And I was thinking about its future more, working on a handbook that would capture some of our institutional memory, for times when we would need to represent ourselves, and to help new members navigate their first steps into the community.

Trico-op Thanksgiving

The big shift however, came after Trico-op Thanksgiving, Nov 22. Being so focused on the community at large, I had been living up to this event as the great climax of my Davis year. And it was. The people who choose to live in and love this place do so deeply, because we’re all a bunch of sentimental eccentrics. Those of them who go out of their way to travel here for the annual Trico-op Thanksgiving, even more so. As someone chronicled their co-oper days in the Thanksgiving guestbook: “They loved so deeply they needed stitches.” Our houses, our gardens, every last little corner of this place, are so infused with love. But these buildings would mean nothing if it weren’t for the people who consecrate them as homes of their hearts, again and again. The space dimension won out over time that night, as the generations gathered. You could tell how happy the houses were to have so many of their meaning makers meeting here. They were humming with life. The next morning, as the old co-opers packed up and left again, one after the other, I felt as if they had all come in like a wave, and gently carried me out with them. Something inside me was stirring. The traveler had woken up again.

Trico-op Thanksgiving 2014

The day after Trico-op Thanksgiving was the day my last month here went in. I had planned nothing for it, as I didn’t know how I would be feeling, and where I would want to be. Now I was on the other side of Trico-op Thanksgiving, and I felt fine. Was I really just supposed to sit here and wait around for the end? That didn’t sound appealing at all. That didn’t sound like me. I was feeling antsy, I needed to move. So a few days after Trico-op Thanksgiving, I packed my roadmap and my bag and hit the road again: one final trip across my new land.

I was on the move for 9 days. It turned out to be a magnificent decision, the best thing I could have done. That was because I had let my heart take the lead. I hadn’t even really understood why I felt such an urge to go, but my heart knew. I pulled me across the state to make a few last real connections. And knowing that I probably wouldn’t see the people that I visited again, it became a microcosm of my current situation: a practice in leaving, and saying goodbye. I learnt two great things about saying goodbye on that journey, and those two lessons are what brought me back home to Davis so at peace with my departure.

On the road again. California you are beautiful.

It’s not a funeral

During one of these early goodbyes, a friend pointed out to me that we should lighten up a little. ‘It’s not a funeral.’ Man! How true! Recently I’ve started identifying a lot again with a name a friend gave me many months ago. “Are you a drifter?” he’d asked me. I am a drifter. I forge these super deep connections, share so much of myself, but shield myself in the safety of moving on soon, before it gets a chance to wither. I’ve been treating Davis this way, and many of my friendships here. Granted, I have no choice but to end this journey, since my student visa is expiring and I graduated. But I’ve been approaching my departure so gravely, wanting to make a perfect end, give it complete closure. Silliness! Yes, I do care about ceremonies and celebration, and I’m glad I created the space for them. But this is supposed to be an end to a period, not my life. My attitude toward goodbyes changed after that funeral remark. I don’t like them anymore. They’re too dramatic, and they’re flawed. Life is crazy. Who knows when people’s roles in each other's lives end, or take an unexpected turn. Who knows who out of all these people I will see again. And where. And under what circumstances. Those that I won’t: no big deal, it must mean that we fulfilled our purpose in each other’s lives. Those that I will, will have something more to teach me. So I prefer a casual ‘see you later’, saluting the potential of our wide open future.

It was a big thing for me to start taking my leaving lightly. I think it was easier for me now as I spent the first weeks of the quarter attending to the genuine sadness that has a place in it, too. It’s like this process is constantly one step ahead of where I expect it to be. The sadness came prematurely, and now the acceptance came before I even left! I see the same trend in my goodbyes with friends. With a few of them we’ve already said our goodbyes, with a moment of very intentional and mindful appreciation of each other, and that was that. The next few times I saw them there was just love, a simple enjoying of each other’s company. No more expectations, no looming dramatic final scenes. Just a casual ‘Later dude’ to look forward to.

Everything happens in the moments

The trip also showed me that two humans can connect so deeply in such a ridiculously short amount of time, that it can’t be time that holds the key. Connecting deeply has happened for me again and again this past year. To different degrees and with different outcomes of course, but whether it was a matter of days or months, I’ve begun to realize that all connecting happened in just a handful of moments. Everything happens in the moments. It all just depends on how deep you choose to go into them, but when you choose to dive, whatever mysterious potential lies between you will bloom. It’s a realization that the circumstances are forcing on me, since I have nothing left to me here but a few moments, but it’s a profound realization nonetheless. Moments really are where it’s at. And moments are timeless. Perhaps I have found a way to make time stand still, after all.

This realization also allowed me to get on the road in full confidence that it didn’t matter if I spent all my last days in Davis or elsewhere. By now I feel so secure in my position in Davis that I know that for the strong friendships I have made here it wouldn’t matter at all if I’d leave today or in a month. We’ve already had the moments we needed to have the seed of our relationship germinate. It found its little niche and took root in our hearts. I’m simply grateful for my friends’ existence, and excited for our mutual future.

My Pierce babies

I’m so content. I really made the most of my year. I saw more, felt more, and made more soul connections than I could ever have possibly hoped for. There is nothing I regret not doing, because I have done it all. Everything I could possibly think of. It’s crazy to think how much I managed to squeeze into 12 months. All corners of California explored, all true-ringing friendships pursued, every moment cherished and loved. And now, I even feel less of that looming loneliness ahead of me. At another Thanksgiving dinner, with my friends at the Turtle House, I heard myself giving thanks to my year in Davis, and say that I would have a lot to take home with me. Well there’s a new thought. It’s true, I will go home empty handed, free to build something new back in Holland, but I certainly won’t go back empty inside. On the contrary, I have lived in my light this year, and people saw it, loved it, and loved me for it so deeply that I now take off into my future strengthened by the confident belief that dozens of dear friends have in me and in all the great things I could achieve if I keep living in my light. How lucky am I, to feel propelled into the next adventure not just by my own drive and passion, but also by so much love from my Californian friends and family. Thank you California, it’s been real. 

dinsdag 4 november 2014

Creating Meaning

Recently I’ve realized that all the good and beautiful times here obscure two concerns that have chronically put me on edge: the traveler’s black line, and the graduate’s black hole.

Black line on the horizon

Tuesday September 20. It is still as hot and sunny as midsummer. I’m biking across campus, two days before we’re all set to embark on another school year. I feel a heavy weight settle on my chest. As exciting as all this is – all my old friends are back in town, and new Piercians are trickling into the house every day now – the beginning of Fall quarter also means the beginning of my autumn here. For the first time in months, after I’d managed to push it beyond my horizon with the extension of my visa, that black line looms on the edge of my sight again. I came here alone, but I can’t imagine how alone I’ll feel leaving this place. What will I do without all these people? My life feels as it should here: people dancing morning dances in the kitchen with me, holding me up for an hour or more when I'm just passing through, people to cook for, brushing their teeth with me, calling good night! from the living room, falling asleep in the bunk bed over my head… Just people everywhere, intermixed in every other little moment of my day. It’s unbearable to feel that richness slip away as the days tick by. I have all these visions of arriving on the airport in Amsterdam, and lying on my mom’s couch, lethargic and lonely, all these voices that surround me now still ringing in my ears. This time it’s final, and I’ll have to come to terms with my immanent departure.

For two weeks after that bike ride across campus, I walked around feeling dejected and empty. A stark contrast to my usual mood. I was entering a process of mourning while finding myself surrounded by so much newness and excitement. I had a whole new house (11 out of 14 new Piercians!), and community to help build and nurture. Amidst my resignation to letting go, I was still forging all these new connections. It was a strange double life. What was I doing? Shouldn’t I enjoy whatever precious time was left to me here? Why could I not even find the motivation to try to be happy again? How could I forget so fast what carefree happiness felt like? But I didn’t want to rush out of that premature melancholy. I wanted to sit with it, long and deep enough, until I’d figure out how I would want to relate to it. Ignore it or embrace it? I journaled a lot, wrote and performed a song about it, and talked to a lot of people. Interestingly, I felt myself increasingly drawn to old co-opers: to their history, my legacy. I was very sensitive to the realization of how many before me and mine had swept through this place, and had their lives transformed by it and hearts broken when they had to leave. I took to the Trico-ops’ history as I realized I myself would soon be history to this place.

The Trico-ops biggest problem, in my view, is the loss of institutional memory due to high resident turnover and lack of documentation. An opportunity lay for me here to contribute. I have begun compiling a new Pierce hand book. It will contain not only the logistics and practicalities of how to clean cast irons and shop for 14 ravenous students, but more importantly, stories. Over the past few weeks, I have been reaching out to a lot of old Piercians to collect anecdotes they wouldn’t want to be forgotten. ‘The Pierce chronicler’, a friend called me, doing my part in building that bridge between present co-opers and their legacy. It is as much a gift to the community as it is therapeutic for me.

To top off my two weeks of intentional melancholy, I went on a trip to visit a friend in the Bay who I knew had had a very hard time leaving the Trico-ops three years ago. I figured he might have something useful to say about my sadness. He did. By this time, I was starting to get impatient with my sadness and was on the lookout for a word of wisdom that would pull me out. Unexpectedly, it was a very nihilistic remark that did it for me: “You’re asking me what’s the point of it all? There is no point. We were never supposed to have evolved this far. We’re a fluke. But it’s still fucking awesome that we get to experience all of this.” When I came home from that, I felt I had given my sadness the attention it needed and deserved, and resolved to turning to life again. The next morning, I rose early, worked out with my friend, and was dancing a breakfast dance for my housemates in the kitchen again. ‘I guess we’re done being sad…’ I thought to myself, and so it was. Done and ready to embrace the last round of countless precious moments. All I can do is just be grateful for getting to experience all of this. Staying active and daring to reach out for help showed me how surrounded by love I am. What goes around comes around. I’m so thankful for all these friends I’ve invested in so much, who were so ready to jump in with comforting words, warm embraces and fond smiles that will echo inside me long long long after I'm gone. Whether I'm here for another 2 days, 2 months or 2 decades, each moment here lived in full surrender feels like it will fulfill me for a lifetime.

Dinner at the Domes. Photo by Tanya

So why would I leave?

From time to time people will blurt it out when we land on the topic: “Stephanie stay forever!” I know they mean well, but for them it’s just a thoughtless, impulsive remark. Their lives won’t change significantly whether I’m here or gone. But me… It doesn’t make it easier to have them so casually drop that line while I’m trying to convince myself that isn’t an option.

Now that I have graduated, there’s no real purpose to me being here anymore. I’m already out of place, living amongst full-time students, having to fill my days while they all study for papers and exams. I could find a new purpose, like work, but my visa won’t allow me to get a real job. The only visa I could readily get after this is a tourist visa, for only 3 months.

And we’re in a college town. This is inherently a place of transience, the Trico-ops ultimately nothing but a backdrop to a few ephemeral college years. Whether it’s 1 or 3 or 5 years, it ends. It was very comforting to hear a friend tell me I’d probably seen as much in one year as he had in his three years in the Trico-ops. I’ve been living my life in such surrender, cognizant of every opportunity likely being the only one I’d ever get. I’ve really been soaking it up, but I wouldn’t have if I wasn’t scheduled to leave.

And I know myself too well, I’m afraid, to know what trap is waiting for me should I decide to stay. The same as what happened with University College: I’d fall into my Curse of Comparison, wallow in regret, because nothing could ever beat that magical novelty of the first year. Besides, all my friends would graduate and disperse one by one. I can come back to this place, but not to the experience. Time marches on mercilessly, and there’s no going back, and no standing still. Another great comfort was my friend’s observation that while my people may vanish from the scene, I will always be a part of this community. Hopefully future Trico-opers will gladly receive me because they’ll love me for loving this place. It reminds me of that Garden State quote: “Maybe that’s all family really is. A group of people that miss the same imaginary place.”

And lastly, there’s a lot to say for leaving at my peak. I like to leave parties before they die. I like them fluid, when I’m allowed to move freely from scene to scene before I get bored and jaded. This is the same. Of course, living your whole life like that is highly unsustainable. I hope that with all that I’ve learnt here, I’ll one day find a community that I’ll want  and can  commit to growing with for an extended period of time.

In short: yes, I would love to come back to California. I have fallen in love with this land just as I have fallen in love with its children. But it would have to be with a new purpose, and a new life.

Creating your own meaning

Friends here – still in school – tell me how they would gladly trade my freedom with me. Of course, it is such a relief not to feel stressed out or guilty about school all the time. It’s as if summer break never ended. It surprised me how quickly that chronic stress dissipates from your system and it becomes harder and harder to fully empathize with others’ homework distress. It is such a blessing to have all my time available to fully experience rich life in the wider Davis co-op community. I acknowledge and greatly appreciate my easy livin’, but there’s more to it than that.

We have become so used to this giant structure that we can lean back into and let create meaning for us. All we need to do is follow the rules, play the game well, and we’ll end up with a nice piece of paper at the end of those four years. And then the structure falls away, and while your life still looks the same, you sense this gaping nothingness. Your feet are dangling in it. People are scared of it, or pressured not to venture there: they flee into grad school, or internships, or a career. But if you take a minute to stare it in its terrible face, with unsteady eyes, it’s definitely, undeniably there. And you realize that this time, you need to create your own meaning. It’s in living in the face of the great nothingness of existence that awesome, inspiring, unique lives are forged. Terrifying though it is, that’s where I want to be.

People ask me all the time, ‘What are you going to do when you go back?’ Well I don’t know. What even is a Liberal Arts degree? I feel very qualified, but I have no idea for what. Work? What can I do? What do I want to do? What opportunities are there? I didn’t learn anything about that in school… And I don’t want to rush any decision about a master’s degree. Right now there’s no one interest of mine that stands out enough to deserve my prolonged and undivided funding and attention. What’s more, for years I’ve felt I would want a break from college upon graduating, in acknowledgement of the many other angles from which to approach life. I’ve been in school for almost two straight decades, the very vast majority of my life! Time for a shift in perspective. Time for all the other parts of my being that matter to me and I haven’t had time to explore and develop: my art and music, my health and strength, craftsmanship, practical life skills, engineering my own dwellings and transportation, knowing and growing my own food…

Garden party

But before all that, I still have some time here that I need to create meaning for. I keep myself busy, which is easy enough around here. I bike all around town visiting friends in all the different co-ops. I spend entire days just hanging out with people. And then in the weekends there’s always the parties. Just in the last 5 weeks: at the Domes, under the Trico-op fig tree, at a farm festival, in the Turtle House, a renegade dance party in the Arboretum, in a Berkeley co-op, my graduation ceremony, Halloween, an ‘intimate house show’ celebrating our remodeled living room… With all that hanging out, and absolutely zilch external structure or scheduling, I need to be very intentional about blocking off times in my days to work on projects that will give my final weeks meaning. Organizing events, painting murals, building a spiral herb garden with the bricks of our old chimney, and most of all, compiling and writing that new Pierce handbook. I want to contribute, make my time here count, leave this incredible, transformative community better than I found it. That would give me purpose. And after that? We’ll see…

zondag 5 oktober 2014

Burning Man and the John Muir Trail - two wild weeks to top off the bestest summer

The Gate Road Pregame

I open my eyes. The light is the pale blue of the early morning, before the sun has begun its ascent. No, bluer than that, as blue as it can only be when it’s raining. I hear drips dropping onto the windshield of our car. I look around me and see we haven’t moved an inch since the last few times I woke up. We’re surrounded by other sleeping cars. We’re in a 14 lane wide traffic jam. I remember the number from last night, carefully winding off a mental thread to find my way back from a pee excursion. We are stranded with tens of thousands of cars in the middle of the Black Rock Desert, Nevada, because of rain. But I’m still too tired to contemplate the bizarreness of the situation. I close my eyes again.

The next time I wake up, life is stirring. People are clomping around on the desert floor, which has turned into a colossal mud flat overnight. The very alkaline Black Rock Desert was once the floor of a Pleistocene lake. Wet, it remembers its ancient past and gets nostalgic and clingy, caking onto your shoes till the sheer weight pulls them clean off your feet. The gate to Black Rock City was closed at 6AM, to protect the wet desert surface from getting ripped apart under the weight of moving cars. By this time, we’d been inching through the desert night for five straight hours. This year’s theme is Caravansary. How fitting. In the morning people are grumpy, exhausted and bummed about being caught just outside the gate to Burning Man. But as the day wears on, people resign to their fate and switch over to what humans are so good at: adapting. They bust out kites and bikes and camping chairs. They introduce themselves to their neighbors, go for walks along the car caravan which stretches from one end of the horizon to the other, and climb on top of their vehicles to bask in the sun. One RV nearby hoist their stereo installation onto the roof and start up a full blown dance party. People swarm in from all directions. Burning Man has already started. The Gate Road Pregame.

At the end of that day, a good 24 hours after we started our journey, we pass by the Greeters, and find our camp in the dark. Miles was in a different car, so waiting for him, Gabe and I go exploring. We climb onto a giant carrot top shaped dome, and a wild scene unfolds itself below us: utter darkness, were it not for the vast sea of bright flickering neon lights, a total traffic anarchy of people and bikes going crisscross in all directions, interspersed with giant Dragon art cars, pirate ships on wheels and poof ball golf carts. Loud beats and noises blending into one big cacophony. Utter kaleidoscopic chaos, a fluorescent apocalyptic dreamscape. Where are we…

Dual experience

We’re camped on the outermost street of the circular Black Rock City, in the walk-in camping. Perfect spot. It emphasizes the duality of the Burning Man experience. On our left, there’s the sickest multiplicity of parties of our lives, the crazy social experiment of the Black Rock City, a temporary society made up of 70,000 eccentrics that unleash their wildest fantasy and imagination onto the bare desert floor. The Black Rock City never sleeps, never takes a breather, it pumps and fumes and raves all day and all night long. On our right hand side, there’s nothing. Desert. Distant mountains and blazing sunsets and porta potties a quarter mile away (so we share a pee bucket right outside our tent). The Festival of Festivals though it may be, Burning Man is also the largest Leave No Trace event in the world, founded on respect for the desert’s ecosystem, and based on principles of complete self-reliance. All three of us are ‘virgin Burners’, but I’m camping with two seasoned outdoor adventurers, and we’re crushing it, out there in walk-in, figuring everything out all by ourselves. We got plenty water, amazing backcountry meals, two of each of the backpacking necessities: camping stoves, first aid kits, pocket knives…

While roaming the streets and plains of the festival, your primary needs are constantly on the back or forefront of your mind. You can’t carry enough water not to feel perpetually dehydrated. And then there’s the glaring sun, compelling you to always be on the lookout for shade shelter and nap spots. Life is water, food, shelter, dancing your brains out, rest, repeat. And then the Playa dust, which gets into everything. Since we set up our geodesic dome on the very outskirts of the city, with not enough fabric to cover the whole structure, we are one with the dust. It cracks your feet and lips and gives you a clogged and bloody nose for the entire duration of the event. Try combining partying like you’ve never partied with confronting your own immediate survival. Quite the experience. It pulled me right into the moment and didn’t let me go until I was well a ways away from the sweltering swirling desert flats.

Unlocking the Playa

But despite the acuteness of the moment, it took me some time to tune in to this gigantic magical madhouse, find the mental portal that would lead me in. As a newcomer, you look around at this swirling insane merry-go-round and wonder, ‘What do you want from me?’ The thing to realize is that the people themselves make the festival. There are no main stages, no line up, no central programming of any kind. All it is are camps of participants that organize their own fun, and invite everyone. And there are many, many camps. The potential for adventures is infinite, and the course of your wanderings is as erratic as a hoverfly on acid. You have to resign to the fact that you will never come close to getting a fraction of it all in. That’s one of the main reasons I think why people keep coming back. I felt it: ‘I missed the Great Butterfly Migration and the cross-Playa Unicorn Stampede!’, or ‘I didn’t have a tutu for TuTuTuesday!’, and ‘They had a ballpit? I’ve been missing those in my life ever since they kicked me out of the one in IKEA because I was ‘too big’!’ But that’s its nature: there’s enough crazy shit going on to provide 70,000 people with a unique experience, a unique trail of zany sights and play sessions. I myself, a little bug in this whirling anthill, had such a great time with my collection of moments. Gradually, with the help of a little medication, the Playa unlocked itself to me and I sank right in. My favorite place was Deep Playa. It was the vast dusty expanse behind the Man where the line between reality and the dream world, as well as the horizon, blurs. It’s the place where by day I choked in dusty white outs, found free ice cream stands in the depths of my overheating, stumbled upon giant hammocks, mutant bikes materializing from the dust, and stray hair dryer chairs. It’s the place where at night I swerved from thumping dance parties on towering pirate ships suddenly looming overhead, to a ‘Hug Deli’ in the middle of nowhere, to an amazing live funk show on a portable porch far out in the dark nothingness that every last person in the audience had just happened upon in their wanderings, to a revolving, human powered steel globe that evoked the ecstatically wide-eyed, agile, tireless monkey in me, one of my very favorite alter egos. That’s one deep piece of my heart that the Playa gave back to me, and Gabe saw it: “You are a climber at heart.” That would make my family proud!

Burning Man is a larger than life tribute to and product of human imagination and creativity in its wildest freest form. People get to do something they’ve been missing most in their lives since society told them they were too old for it: pure unbridled PLAY! It was evident to me that if Burning Man was about anything at all, it would be that. People danced and frolicked and adventured and climbed in every little thing. There was a strong emphasis on lust and sexuality, but all so silly and innocently. From free spanking booths to workshops in arguing naked to genital puppetry camps. Haha! A giant summer camp for wayward children. In that respect, certainly, a dry and dusty paradise! The little moments did it for me: chasing MOOP (matter out of place) down across the expanse, howling at the sunset in a scattered choir of a dozen invisible voices every evening, me and Gabe pretend-tripping on our trike over an imaginary tripwire that two people on either side of the street were pulling taught.

Our crew

Gabe the risk-averse camp instructor, the well-spoken orator, the brilliant musician and bestest dance buddy. And Miles ‘get-your-shit-together’ Ryan, the dogged einzelgänger, the rugged mountain man. And me, Playa-named Sunset Moment, the excited monkey and ranting philosopher.

For an unexperienced trio that faced a number of obstacles to get here (finding our tickets 4 to 5 days before the start of Burning Man, car issues and a 24 hour long drive), camping together in a small geodome in the desert, we were an amazingly functional team. I loved waking up in between my boys, covered in white dust and the sunrise in my eyes, fixing up great breakfasts and dinners together, unplanned afternoon pit stops in the dome, our occasional little house meetings where we talked about feelings and adventure plans and where to store the car key. We struck a pretty ideal balance between letting each other free in doing our own thing and bonding over joint adventures. There were enough times spent roaming the vast city alone, with weird scenes left and right that popped your eyes and blew your mind every 10 feet. And enough time spent together in pairs, exploring the Playa or visiting jam sessions or parties or workshops on our blue two-person trike. And there were a few precious, colorful, crazy nights where the three of us stuck together and pedaled up and down the Playa from art car to art installation to dance party or Jazz café on both our trikes, circling round each other and freestyling and shouting and romping around, high as kites.

The Eternal Return

I owe that last title to Burn night. It was after the Man burned, and the enormous crowd had started dispersing across the hundreds of nightly raves and adventures. We had lost Miles, but our friend Dom, Gabe and I had wandered to where all the art cars blasting their music were lined up for the occasion in a large circle, enclosing the perimeter of the Man. Our dances became wilder and zanier as we hitched a ride down a freeway into the Playa state of mind, until the world was whizzing so fast we broke loose and skittered off into the dark of Deep Playa. We stumbled upon the large spinning globe again. Clambering in that thing swung outwards by the centrifugal force felt like thermal currents lifting you up by the wings. We scrambled off into the dark again, until Gabe called out, “The garden of galaxies!” I looked up, and sure enough, on large poles perched in the night sky, a dozen twinkling miniature galaxies, buoyant over our heads. We came upon a giant Lite-Brite, swirling star storm projections on the sand, and our own shrinking and stretching grinning shadows. But OH! adventure kept calling us on. “Onwards!” We moved along, but this time, looming at the horizon straight ahead, something caught my eye and mind that wouldn’t let go. As we approached the metamorphous lights, I saw spirals morph into parrots that morphed into monkeys and into cranes and into human shapes in such mesmerizing graceful fluid motions. What mid Playa mystery was this?

By the time we got close enough, the lights had been quenched and the movement had stopped. We saw people grouped around what looked like a large whirligig. It was a giant, 3D zoetrope of an acrobat swinging around a gymnastics bar. Circled underneath it were a number of old-looking dust-caked rowing machines. What were we supposed to do? “You have to row, that’ll turn it on!” someone in the crowd said. Some of us took place on the seats, while others stayed and watched from the sidelines. We rowed and rowed, but nothing happened. “You have to synchronize your movements! I’ve seen it work!” someone from amongst the spectators shouted. We tried syncing our movements, still nothing. Then all of a sudden, at a seemingly random moment, the strobe lights zapped on again, and the giant zoetrope geared into motion. We looked up. It looked absolutely magnificent from down below. “See! You did it!” Who said that? Why were they so sure? I felt wary. Something was off. It didn’t seem like we were making anything happen. Those handlebars weren’t attached to anything… I didn’t feel any resistance in my rowing seat. It was dark, and I couldn’t see it properly, but my suspicion grew steadily. I leaned over to Gabe. “Gabe! Someone’s messing with us! This doesn’t do anything, we’re just making a fool out of ourselves and the whole audience is in on it!” “No no! This works,” people kept assuring me. But my suspicion was headstrong, and I wouldn’t buy it. Some of us got up from our seats to inspect the axel. Sure enough, the cords coming from our rowing seats weren’t attached to anything. In some seats they were missing altogether, while in others, they were cut off halfway into the engine. “See! See!” I shouted. What kind of joke was this? I peered at the spectators. My suspicion was reaching fundamentalist proportions. Someone, perhaps all of them, were in on some conspiracy. I bolted towards them, shouting I wasn’t buying it. But every person I approached assured me they didn’t know how that thing worked, and that they thought we, the rowers, did. Two spectators came with me to inspect the engine again, in disbelief of my reports. The girl was just as puzzled as I was, and walked up and down with me, trying to figure out the mechanics. “See! There is someone in the audience with a remote control! Someone’s just pushing a button and sniggering at our plodding!” But none would come forward, and every person around me really looked as puzzled as me. The zoetrope behind us turned off again. Suddenly, it struck me, like lightning. I gasped. Wide-eyed, I gathered Dom, Gabe and the two spectators around. “I figured it out!!” I hissed. “There’s no-one with a remote control! No-one pushing a button! And we’re not doing anything either! It’s on a TIMER!!!” The realization sank into me with a loud clunk! and the momentousness and conviction of a revelation.

“But if it’s on a timer and the people aren’t the ones that power it, I would notice that if I stood here all day,” the spectator girl countered. “Aaah! BUT, have you been here all day? Noooo! See, no-one stays here all day. Once they’ve figured it out, people grow distracted and take off into the desert again!” And there, looming at the horizon of my consciousness and rushing towards me, was another revelation. Waves of understanding kept washing over me as I ranted on at my little audience of four. “It’s not about the art at all! It’s one big social experiment! It shows what happens when a group of people splits itself in two, the rowers and the spectators, and one half takes agency while the other half watches, and both halves think of the other that they know what they’re doing. The spectators are shouting instructions and encouragements from the sidelines, while the rowers have to believe that they’re making something happen, or else they’d just be making a fool of themselves! And as both sides convince themselves the others know what’s up, the aggregate of the whole group believe they’re in control. But then one person becomes suspicious, starts questioning their perceived control, and starts investigating, trying to figure out how this thing really works. Others join them, and the group slips into a new stage, the stage of critical thinking and asking questions. Then they discover they’re not in control at all! Their ropes aren’t attached to anything! In fact, they are severed at different levels, some early on, some deeper into the core of the machine, but all of them have been cut. That was the plan all along, all done to give us that illusion of control. It’s all a big joke! So the people become upset. Who’s fooling them?! Where’s the trickster?! Is it someone among them? Is it someone outside of them, who’s not immediately present? But no-one seems to know what’s going on, and they can’t find a culprit. By now, the two halves of the group are reunited once more in their collective search for answers. Then, all of a sudden, it hits one of them… No-one is in control. None of them, no third party amongst them, not even anyone outside of them. No-one. It just happens… with time… And as the group reaches this final revelation, this collective enlightenment, they rest their case and scatter off again into the dark night. And then a new group arrives, oblivious to the process of the previous group, and the whole process repeats itself!” “And get this,” Gabe interjects, “This art piece is called ‘The Eternal Return’, which is a reference to Friedrich Nietzsche, who said that everything in history repeats itself into infinity…” “YES! Exactly! This is about existence itself! One after another, clouds of consciousness, entire universes, enter into the space-time dimension as the TIMER (get it?!) turns on, and go through the whole process of drawing up boundaries, naming, splitting apart into dualities, rowers/spectators, male/female, day/night, life/death, and so on. Then they fall under the illusion of control, but being the unruly rebels that humans are, they start questioning ‘Who’s got the remote control? Someone amongst us, someone outside of us? Is there a Jesus? Is there a God?! And they discover there’s no-one, life simply happens, and the trickster, that third party with the remote control, is as much of a fool as all of us, for as we thought Him up, He Himself started thinking He existed! He was tricked into existence!” That, right there, is the story of Samael, the blind god, who made the mistake of forgetting that He was a metaphor for the Unknowable, the Unnamable. And as He pronounced, “I am God”, by naming Himself, *poof* he negated Himself, and God was no more (thank you Joseph Campbell). “And with this final answer, they dissolve into the Original Unity again, fana, enlightenment, liberation from samsara, and float off into the dark void… And there comes another wave, and IN washes an entire new universe, oblivious to all the understanding, or even existence, of all its predecessors and successors, with no-one left to recount the infinite repetition of insights and revelations, and we’re back at the start!” This, my friends, is nothing less than what Joseph Campbell calls the Foundational Myth, the story of existence. I figured it out. I couldn’t believe it. I f*cking figured it out! And all this washed over me, wave after wave of next level understanding, after I’d lived through it bit by painful suspicious bit, as a single partaking unit of consciousness underneath the machine of life. I was the rower with the nagging scepsis. I taper down, and the three of us walk away into the night again. I’m dazed. My thoughts keep going back to that episode of just now. I turn to Dom and Gabe again, “Guys, five words, Isaac Asimov’s The Last Question WOW! My head is still whizzing, Joseph Campbell and Alan Watts seem to be smiling down upon me. I could keep thinking about all this stuff forever! Humanity has been thinking about this stuff forever. “You should rewrite the Bible,” Dom comments. “I know!” And then I hear myself. The term ‘Jesus complex’ flashes through my mind. Oei, that’s enough. Bad things happen to people with that.

But Man, that was powerful. The human mind is a vast and wild, wild place. And all that triggered by a piece of art. I am astounded. What I find there, that night in Deep Playa, is a profound new appreciation of art. And a new understanding of what kind of art I love: the kind that invites engagement, interaction, play. Like all the art on the Playa. This, I realize, is how I think they meant for Burning Man to be experienced. This is where you go when you ‘go Deep Playa’. I’m there right now, this is the Playa state of mind, this is the flow.

The John Muir Trail

With all those magical moments and crazy sights in my pocket, far too many to document up against, and the night of the Eternal Return as the icing on the cake, my first Burning Man was a solid gold one. I’ll be chewing on all the impressions for a while to come.  But it didn’t stop there. We left right after the Temple Burn, driving through the night once again, with a pit stop at 8AM at Mono Lake, an ancient alkaline lake just like what the Black Rock Desert must once have looked like. (“Where are the neon lights? Oh I miss it already, I miss our dome,” goes Gabe.) We meet up with Gabe’s friend Naomi in Mammoth and spend the next week preparing for and backpacking the first section of the 200 mile long John Muir Trail. Miles is bagging the whole thing in three weeks’ time, from Yosemite Valley down to Mount Whitney. We’re here to send him off in style, hiking with him the first four days, from Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne Meadows. What a beautiful, beautiful place. The sweet smell of the pine forests, the bear cans and our excellent backcountry meals, identifying Ponderosa and Lodge pole pines, Mountain Hemlock firs and Incense cedars, spotting deer and coyotes and sage grouse and a wide variety of chipmunks and squirrels. Reading the map, telling stories, reminiscing our Burning Man days, campfires, and swimming almost every day, in hot springs, lakes and rivers. This is the life.

We even climbed Half Dome, I, because I hadn’t thought to bring the right shoes, barefoot. Excellent decision. I had great grip on the almost vertical granite wall and it brought out that nimble little monkey in me which made it all so much less scary and so much more fun. And I received about 30 comments on the way up and back down again about my bare feet, and how bad-ass it was. I feel so grateful for my young fit body, and that the two of us together can feel so alive! Oh, what luck, to be able to put my newfound identity to practice so soon! I am a climber, I’ve been one all along. I just needed the environment and the people to bring it out again!

Find your tribe

Speaking of which… this still is one of the things I value most about my time here in California. I love backpacking. In fact I think it’s one of the things I love doing most. The stunning wild scenery, the feelings of adventure, accomplishment, attunement, calm… It is and always has been such a big part of who I am. But for many years now, with the lack of a tribe of like-minded people in this respect, it’s been pushed to the back burner. One thing I love about the Californians I know is their intimate connection with their outdoors. I’ve never been surrounded by people my own age who understood so well just how important nature is to me, and even know it better than I do. Many of my friends are ecology or plant science majors, knows lots of plant names, have their Wilderness First Responder certification, have instructed at summer camps, work at Outdoor Adventures on campus, have gone to tracking schools and wilderness survival programs and so forth. It’s so inspiring to me, and an old part of me is lit back up again. And the great thing is that it is transferrable. I can take this fire and experience and skills back home, and with my altered perception of distance and soon with my Californian driver license in my pocket, I can’t wait to explore more of Europe. It’s been such, such a good decision to stay longer. Last time I had only three months left, I would be overcome by feelings of claustrophobia and time pressure when I heard a plane passing over or counted my days. Now, I have actually started looking forward to all the great things I can do back in the Netherlands, all that’s waiting for me there if I take the trouble to find it! Now, I can actually see myself being ready to go home in three months!

Another related and greatly empowering thought is the knowledge of how FREE I am! I am graduated, untethered to anything or anyone, and I’m spending a year drinking in all this delicious colorful LIFE  in a distant land while my life back at home is undergoing a self-cleansing reboot, stripped to its bare essentials. When I come back, it’ll be free and open to build it up again exactly as I want. What a rare and fine set of circumstances. And what an extraordinary blessing to feel so clear about what I want.  I know exactly what social circles I want to fill my life with, that’ll rekindle and challenge parts in me that haven’t seen broad daylight in a long time. Agency! Turning towards different parts in me to continue becoming the well-rounded, self-actualized person that’s in my future! Oh, the potential! The possibilities! Oh, the joy of living! Oh! The places I’ll go!

So you see, I’m still a gleeful happy camper, with the wildest two weeks behind me to top off what may well have been the best summer of my life so far. And now, buckle up again, and settle down for the final bumpy ride! The last leg! Fall in Davis, in Bro-op turned Shakti-house Pierce co-op, with old friends, and new friends, with near and with far lands, I’m ready for this! To keep going, going, going! No point looking back too much, no point getting stuck in the muck or in some wonderful spot. I’ll make sure I’m well-fed, listen to all the important things said, but onwards I’ll be going, cause there’s so much ahead!

zondag 14 september 2014

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy…

I had thought that by the time I would be sitting down to write about my summer in Davis, it would start with something like: ‘It is 100 degrees F outside, I am up on my loft, I can’t move and I’m drowning in a pool of my own sweat…’ But no. It took my body only a few weeks to adapt to the heat, and now, here in the quiet little summer town of Davis, I am in fact in the midst of living the most incredible summer of my life. Once you surrender to the slow pace and the sweat, this place is a little heaven on earth. For real.

The Domes

Home base this summer are the Domes, the magical fairytale community at Baggins End, where I’ve moved for these months. Fourteen white geodesic domes with two people in each, amidst a sea of fruit trees, stone pines, prickly pears, agaves and aloe vera. The Domes with their huge property, the community gardens right next door, and the neighborhood of Village Homes, are all overflowing with ripe fruit, far too much to eat and preserve up against. What a place of abundance! Even though I know the Domes well and had good friends who lived there during the school year, I once again felt that tingling excitement and empowering freedom of moving somewhere new, where every pathway leads into the unknown. Looking for someone here isn’t from door to door like in the co-ops, but like looking for someone in a jungle. And I so appreciate my dome mate, Lucas. Without having to waste any words on it, him and I have established a cozy little household. I have my chair, he has his, and we’ve become attuned to each other’s habits and routines. Quietly, he’s become a friend in a way I appreciate them most: in deed. When I finally, thankfully, found a Burning Man ticket, four days before the festival was to commence, he got up from his chair, said “Let’s go” and drove with me, for 11 hours, 450 miles, to Fort Bragg and back, to pick it up. With nothing in it for him, except perhaps the prospect of seeing the Northern Californian coast for the first time. When we got there, though, the whole coast was so fogged up we couldn’t see shit. No big deal, we had dinner and drove back. Such generosity impresses me greatly.

The secluded, overgrown Domes are a quiet summer refuge from the hectic Trico-op life, a chance to catch my breath, spend time by myself, and process and recover from all those intense learnings from the school year. The basic format of my life these days is simple: get up before it’s too hot, make a dank egg kale yogurt burrito for breakfast, play guitar on the chair outside my door on a few steps down on the sidewalk, go downtown for some errands, stop by the Trico-ops on the way back to hang out with friends, make lunch, eat it outside with a ginger ale and my guitar beside me, read my book, go to the daily delicious elaborate dinner that other people have cooked for me, hang out with the Domies, sleep. I love this slow paced living, where my senses get a chance to take in all the beauty around me. I feel  incredibly blessed, but also over sensitized from the Trico-ops, and have to keep reminding myself that I need personal space, solitude, time, and calm right now. But… though there is more privacy, with only one dome mate instead of 15 housemates, I did enter into a new intentional community. Scary at first, feeling things out, but before you know it you’ve sunk in and a new vibrant social life is taking shape around you. My calm default day plan quickly filled up: writing, making longboarding a new mode of transportation, volunteering at the bike collective, watching Holland’s world cup games with friends, climb trees, spending a lot of time with the few old friends left in town for summer, and with new friends amongst the summer Domies, organizing a dance party and the Domes Summer Festival, lots of fruit harvesting, baking, drying, canning… This is the life man. Wait! Yes, yes, personal space and calm, I know… But there’s so much fun to be had! It was hard to sit quiet this summer, and frankly I’m happy that I didn’t. I healed and recharged through adventures. And adventures I’ve had!

The Lost Coast

The Domes and Davis were only base camp for a ton of trips. My favorite possession is my road map of California, on which I’ve highlighted all the highways I’ve traveled. Man, I’ve been all over! Yosemite with Joe; Berkeley, Los Angeles, Camarillo, Pasadena with Jess, Josh, Doug, Lili, and Alex; San Francisco with Derk-Jan; the Lost Coast with Gordon and Cole; Mendocino with Efren; North Fork with Reggie, Kelsey and Lili; Fort Bragg with Lucas; Berkeley again with Trevor and Gordon; and now, to top it all off with the most incredible adventure of all: Burning Man in Black Rock City, Nevada, with Miles and Gabe! Oh boy… what a summer!

Let me tell you about one trip. A few weeks ago Gordon, Cole (two of my housemates and friends from Pierce) and I drove out to the Lost Coast in Humboldt for three days of camping and backpacking in the most incredible untamed wilderness you can imagine. When they built the famous Highway 1, which runs along the Pacific Ocean from North to South California, they were forced to divert the highway land inwards for one section because the forests and cliffs and mountains were too rugged to slash a highway through. Hence the name, the Lost Coast of California. We’d saved the biggest chunk of our route for the last day of backpacking. We are a good 5 hours of hiking into the day, down mountains, through forests, and out onto and along the shoreline, by the time we come upon the trailhead of the last leg of our journey. Tired and with quaking knees, we gaze up at Buck Creek Trail, a windy 5 mile long trail disappearing back up into the mountain forests, infamous for its steep grades along a climb of 3,300 feet. We look at each other before we start the ascent, “This is gonna be brutal guys.” Little did we know just how brutal. I quickly slip into a good rhythm. A steady pace, matched to my breath, an inhale and exhale for every two or four steps. Gordon follows right behind me, in the slip stream of my rhythm. He calls the water breaks where we wait for Cole, who proceeds at a slower pace. I am grateful for Gordon, because I don't want to think about breaks, I just want to feel my breath and stay in the pace. We keep this up for hours. But as we near the top of the ascent, I notice I’m starting to lose Gordon. Suddenly, I see Cole and Gordon drop their packs and sit down behind me on the trail. Alright, I guess we’re taking a break.. I wait for them, a little ways up, to get up again. Laboriously, they eventually do. I turn back to my rhythm and push on till I reach the top of the climb. I can’t feel my tiredness, I feel good. I feel like at this pace, I could keep going for hours more, because time falls away in it. Then I turn around. Gordon is no longer behind me. In fact, he nor Cole are nowhere to be seen. I wait. A few minutes later, Gordon appears from around the bend. He gait is faltering. Then, I see him stop and stoop over, leaning on his knees. Uh oh. He gets up again, catches up with me, drops his pack on the ground, lays down and falls asleep instantly. Cole reaches us and follows suit. Damn it, I’d hoped we could kill this last part in one go. Well, a break it is I guess. I let them sleep for 15 minutes. It is 6pm. “OK boys… let’s get going…”, I try. “Just a little longer Stephanie, just a little…” Cole looks like he can’t be moved, so I wait. At this point, I still think it’s funny, this skinny girl striding up the hill with two heaving guys behind her. A little while later, I carefully give it another try. “You know, I really think we’re very close, and I want to try to be back at the car before it gets dark. We’re really almost there.” I hope it’s true. “You know I hear you Stephanie, and I feel that. But I’m just completely zapped of energy right now.” I begin to realize it’s more serious than I thought. Surely we can’t stay the night here, without food or water… We have to get to that car. Cole asks for his flannel, then his sweater. He’s cooling off. I tell him to put on his long pants too. Gordon is still pretty much unresponsive. I get the stove out and cook up the very last bit of pasta, all the food we have left. Gordon wakes up, and suggest to make chai tea with our last teabag and the pasta water, and to finish our last beer. I give them the pasta, repack our packs, give the lighter one to Cole and my walking stick to Gordon. Finally, they get up. We fall in line, and I steadily start up the trail again, much slower this time, and glancing back repeatedly to see if we’re not losing anyone. Then the image comes to me of a rope of light. I grab one end with both fists in front of my stomach, and pull Gordon and Cole right on through to the end of the trail, which, thank God, is only half a mile away. We get to the sign post and hug, “Thank you for saving the crew Stef!” “Thank you.” The last mile back to the car we regain our spirit and talk about hamburgers and giant dinners. We reached the car safely, thankful for our bodies, our minds that tell us to just keep going, and for friends. Man, that was an experience. The pasta, the tea, the beer, the rope… It amazes me how resourceful people can get when in need. But I’m very happy we steered clear of danger this time. I think of my friends here who have a Wilderness First Responder certification. How good must it feel to not feel useless in emergency situations…

The next morning, back in Davis, I get up early and clomp down the stairs of my dome’s loft. My legs are sore, but I feel great. Young, strong, alive! I sit down behind my computer and crack down on an online traffic rules practice test for 40 minutes. Then I bust out of my dome and race over to the Davis Department of Motor Vehicles. Barely passing the test, I leave the building with a brand new learner’s permit in my pocket. $33 later, a whopping 1% of what it would cost me in the Netherlands, I can now drive a car with a co-driver until I feel ready to take the driver’s test for free. Finally, at 23, I’m all set to learn to drive. My mother’s favorite ‘lesson’ that she very explicitly tried to get into my brain was what she called ‘the art of deferred desire’. She taught me well. I am so ready for this now! I feel so grateful for this now! This is a great first step in becoming more equipped to help out friends in need. Just last night I was wishing I could drive us all back home again. I bike home feeling bad ass, blasting all versions of “I’m feeling good” on my iPod. I swerve around the corner of G Street to the Food Co-op and treat myself to my favorite food in town. On the terrace where it feels like an eternal summer vacation in southern France, I chomp down on a bomb ass Food Co-op sandwich, marble rye bread, brimming with fresh veggies and pesto mayo sauce. Man, taking charge of your life feels f*cking GOOD.