The video above includes the sound of the dawn chorus that I recorded while watching the sunrise over Teton Canyon. I shared a few pictures that I took during this time, but they really don’t do it justice. Mostly I wanted you to be able to listen to the birds sing while you read what follows…
The color changes at sunset intensify the fluorescent green lichen and salmon pink of the boulders which surround us here in Teton Canyon. Gray mystery birds stand at attention at the tippy tops of the spruce trees, one bird per tree top. They serenade the drifting Sun until the very second he disappears behind the snowy cliffs of the southern ridge.
Our friend Evelyn drifts through our minds as we sit quietly, her presence like lingering smoke, her memory filling us with love and deep sadness.
The Moon rises a few hours later, appearing with a glowing and sudden brilliance as the Earth tilts towards her, leaving us both hushed. Her light makes the snow glow, and gives a regal bearing to the silhouettes of the trees.
I wander through the moonlit forest, gathering dry branches and leaves to enliven the campfire with. With each step I carry Evelyn with me, wondering what it would be like if she was here camping with us, playing her guitar and telling stories. I’m trying to understand how she can be gone but my mind can’t make sense of it.
The campfire is bristling with yellow and orange flames as we feed it aspen and pine branches. By the time the Moon is high in the southern sky, the fire has settled into a clinking reverie of brilliant, jewel-like coals.
We play mandolin and ukulele, working through the chords and melody of “Fare Thee Well”, a song we will sing for Evelyn at her memorial service next week.
“Fare thee well, beloved friend. The time we’ve shared has reached its end. So suddenly you’ve gone away… there’s so much more I long to say. So fare thee well, beloved friend, I know we will meet again…”
We can see quite clearly by moonlight all night, which is comforting, despite the physical discomfort of sleeping out in thirty degree temperatures.
We toss and turn all night. I dream about Evelyn’s family, trying to reach out to them and hold them in my arms, trying to tell them how sorry I am for what they are going through.
In the morning the birds find their familiar positions at the top of each spruce, and they sing their hearts out. They reach a crescendo above me along the northern ridge, just as the sun peaks into full view.
There are so many colors… the gentle green of the aspen branches and sage brush… the reddish hues of the moose maples… the dark green of the pines and spruces… the grays and pinks of the rocks… the tawny yellow of the dried grasses… the orange brown of the moist earth… the cool white of the snow…
I meditate, perched on a boulder. I try to breath for Evelyn, picturing her face as I wish her well, wherever she is now.
By the new light of day I gather dried sage flowers and branches to put over the small fire we rekindled. I follow moose tracks back down to our camp, recalling something I heard Tom Brown Jr. say once, during a Tracker School class: “…like tracking a dinosaur through peanut butter…”
The gentle smoke of sage permeates our camp as we get ready to go home. We watch the fire slowly go out, and it makes me think of the sacred fire I held for my uncle after his passing, here in Teton Valley. I suppose this was our sacred fire for Evelyn, which we fed with our memories of her, our song for her and our hopes for her family’s healing.
Both Addison and I are sleep deprived and smell like wood smoke, and we are filled up with this time spent in the forest. We feel content and melancholic as we slowly drive away, jostled by the potholes that riddle the snow-packed road.
About one year ago, I moved into this house in Austin where I live now. I was pregnant with a baby girl. I saw that several loquat trees were growing in the backyard of my new home, and it made me happy. I watched as the fruits ripened on the tree, and when they were soft and golden, I ate them, feeding myself and my growing child. I knew that five or ten years ago, a bird had unknowingly planted this tree, by dropping a seed as it perched on the fence.
Whenever I would look at the loquat tree outside of my window, I would smile and know that I carried part of this tree with me. When I saw the blue jays and mourning doves land on the banister outside my window, I would smile, knowing they had eaten fruit from this loquat tree and also carried part of her with them. The birds, my baby, the tree and I all had something in common.
This tree’s fruits and seeds had fallen to the ground outside my window, and many baby trees sprouted.
Six months later, my baby was still-born. We buried her in the earth, at Eloise Woods, where many other people, babies and pets are buried. We planted a loquat seedling next to her grave. The little tree is a baby from the loquat tree in my backyard. Now this tree, who is in me and in my daughter, has a part of her growing in Eloise Woods.
I know that this baby tree will grow up to be beautiful and strong and that she will grow many fruits. Her roots are growing in the same soil that my daughter is buried in, and she is creating life out of death. The animals and birds who live in Eloise Woods will eat her fruit. When I see the cedar waxwings and squirrels at Eloise Woods, I can smile through my tears, knowing they carry a part of my baby with them, and a part of me as well.
And so we all continue on–me, the trees, the birds, my daughter–seemingly without beginning or end.
The air of the room is held captive by a stillness only meditation can summon. The older meditators are sitting in chairs, as still as stones. The rest of us are on the floor, kneeling, with our butts supported by little wooden stools or cushions.
Addison and I had ridden the bicycles we’re borrowing from Tellman and Jodi over to the meditation hall with minutes to spare. The driveway leading up Solar Hill is steep and long, and I could feel my lower abdominal muscles straining to hold my big, pregnant belly in place as I heaved myself uphill. While parking our bicycles, we attempted to calm our breathing down to a reasonable pace as quickly as possible. Meditation had just commenced and we didn’t want to enter the room gasping like a couple of land-locked fish in the midst of their glorious silence.
Apparently a couple of the other attendees had ridden their bicycles to the morning sangha as well, and no-one had appeared to bother themselves with locking their bicycles up. The entrance to the hall is hidden from view and the building itself is set up in the woods, well away from the main road.
This is amazing, I think, as I begin to settle into my meditation. My back doesn’t hurt!
Being almost 8 months pregnant means that I have been experiencing the unpleasant visitations of back pain, which feels not unlike the an overwhelming visit with relatives who are easier to love from a distance.
After a moment however, I noticed that although my back wasn’t really hurting, there was a different concern that had arisen. I can’t really breathe. I wonder if it’s just because the room is stuffy and open my eyes to see if the windows are open. They’re all closed. A plastic tree stands in the corner, wearing a fine layer of dust. And that ‘tree’ sure isn’t helping with the oxygen levels in here.
I shift my weight around, trying to give my lungs more space. But my belly now swells up almost to chest level, so there just isn’t a whole lot of extra space to be had. I should just be present with whatever is happening, I remind myself. Even not being able to breathe properly is something I can be present with.
I can feel my hands getting tingly. I imagine falling unconscious suddenly and falling to the floor. Would everyone remain unmoving, silent statues while Addison tried to revive me? No, everyone would probably leap up to help–albeit meditatively perhaps. But then I’d be responsible for cutting everyone’s meditation short this morning.
The thought of interrupting everyone’s meditation practice by passing out on the floor prompts me to adjust my position. I lower myself down to a supported child’s pose, with my cushion propped under my chest so that my belly has space to hang above the floor. This helps a little. Now at least I don’t feel like I’m going to faint.I take some deep-ish breaths. In, out, I say silently with each in-breath and out-breath.
I hear the sound of softly shifting gravel outside. Perhaps someone is walking up the driveway. A very late meditator coming to join us?
No…I focus in on the sound, my imagination kicking into gear. Someone coming up to check out the bicycles? If someone was going to steal a bicycle, which one would they pick? Mine. Though it’s not really mine. It’s Tellman and Jodi’s. But it’s the one I ride around right now. Mine looks the shiniest. And it would be easy to grab, since it just parked at the foot of the steps with a kickstand.
Shhhhhh… I tell myself. You’re being silly. You’re ALWAYS worried about people stealing your bike… or someone else’s bike that you’ve borrowed.
But there it is again, the crunching gravel sound. I am becoming all but the sense of hearing.
There is a distinctive metal click, like that of a kickstand being released, and then louder crunchings, as though wheels are rolling over the gravel.
I am standing up now and waddling to a side door in the room I’ve never used. If I’m imagining all of this, than this will be a moment of embarrassment to be remembered forever. I wrestle with the door handle for a second, unlock it and then wrench it open. The meditators have turned to watch me as one.
“What’s up?” Addison is asking, but I am hurtling across the deck. A figure wearing a white wife-beater and a backwards, black baseball cap is rolling away, down the driveway, past the pine grove and towards the road. Whoever it is appears to be riding my–no, Jodi and Tellman’s–bicycle. I crash through the tiger lilies and grab Addison’s–Tellman and Jodi’s–bike, which had been leaning on the side of the building. The seat is so high I can barely reach the pedals. But Addison is moving too slowly and time is of the essence, so I point the handlebars downhill.
“Someone stole a bike!” I manage to bark to Addison as his head appears out of the open door. I am flying down the hill, my pregnant belly bouncing in time with the bumps.
“STOP!” I scream at the receding figure. I hear Addison yelling something as well, but I’m concentrating so hard I don’t pay attention. “Give me my bike back!” The whites of the bicycle thief’s eyes flash briefly before he takes a left onto Western Avenue, pedaling awkwardly. The seat is too low for him, and his knees poke out at odd angles as he labors.
I focus on turning without wiping out, and stand up to pedal more easily, since the too-high seat is preventing proper contact between my feet and the pedals.
“That’s my bike you’re stealing!” I holler with air reserves I didn’t even know are available to me. “I’m PREGNANT!”
Somehow this last bit of information seems important for me to relay to the thief. Because stealing a bike is a bad thing to do, yes, but he might still be able to sleep at night after selling it and doing his best to forget about it (and being chased). But stealing from a pregnant woman? That could haunt his dreams for a good long while.
A man in a dress jacket is getting back in his car holding a freshly-purchased cup of coffee.
“He’s stealing my bike!” I call to the man, pointing to the gangly bicycle thief who is now making a wobbly turn down one of the steepest roads in Brattleboro. Union Hill…! “Call the police!” I don’t have time to explain to this guy why I’m still able to chase the thief, who is supposedly riding away with my bicycle, using another bicycle, and I don’t know if he’s actually going to call the police, but I keep pedaling as though my life depends on it.
I’m watching the bicycle thief disappear down the hill and hoping that he might crash thanks to the lack of front brakes on my bicycle. I’d released them earlier that week as they’d been rubbing against the rim of my wheel and I hadn’t taken the time to adjust and reconnect them yet.
My breathing is a heaving, erratic horror story, but I plough on. I’m heading down Union Hill and I see that the young man has wasted precious time by trying to divert onto a side street halfway down the steep hill. The missing front brake has indeed caused him some trouble, and he is now finishing a cumbersome U-turn onto Beech Street.
Chickens are roaming the edges of this little back lane like tiny, modern dinosaurs, their head crests wobbling with each jerk of their necks. They watch the bicycle thief approach with expressions of blank terror punctuated by ear-splitting squawks.
One of the chickens barely escapes being run over, and emits a “bok bok BOK!!!” of alarm. She races out of harms way on T-Rex legs.
“STOP!” I gasp, swerving around the chicken mayhem. At this point I don’t know who I’m talking to… the guy stealing my bicycle… the chickens… myself??
Ahead there is the tall, metal fence that surrounds the playground behind the Green Street School. A steep, non-bicycle-friendly path goes around the side and up into some scattered trees.
The gangly-legged, white wife-beater wearing, backwards baseball cap sporting bicycle thief launches himself from my bike, using the momentum of his sudden exit from his vehicle to hurtle up the path. He careens across the hillside above the school, dodging trees, slipping on loose stones and scrambling for the cover of the bushes at the top of the hill.
I stop to watch my bicycle–well, Jodi and Tellman’s bicycle– slowly fall over on its side, wheels still spinning. I hear the sound of sirens.
I lay Addison’s–I mean, Jodi and Tellman’s–bicycle down and take a seat in the dirt, focusing on my ragged breathing, while the chickens slowly reappear, suspicious, but grateful for the restored peace and quiet.
There is nothing but my breathing for a few minutes.
Then the bell sounds and I raise my head. The other people in the room begin to stir from their statuesque positions. Addison is shifting and straightening his cramped legs. I pull myself up out of my child’s pose and back to sitting.
The meditation leader, a small woman who’s eyes are magnified by her thick glasses, pulls forth a paper.
“This is a poem that was written in the 14th Century,” she says.
And the poem goes like this:
“What is this mind?
Who is hearing these sounds?
Do not mistake any state for
Self-realization, but continue
To ask yourself even more intensely,
What is it that hears?” Bassui
And perhaps I will take the liberty to add to this poem…
What is it that hears the sounds of crunching gravel outside of the meditation hall?
And who is it that went on that bicycle-thief-chasing-adventure?
(names have been changed for the characters in this story, to protect their privacy, FYI)
“My loves!” he cries, as he rollerblades into the Laleeta Indian Restaurant where we are sitting. We stand up, laughing at the sight of the rollerblades strapped around his ankles, and the disconcerted glances from the Indian waiter and south African customers at the table near us.
After embracing each of us he glides into a seat across from us, where the vegetable curry and rice we ordered for him is waiting.
The first time we met Tom Peterson was over 3 years ago, when Addison and I were riding our bicycles across the United States and the 3 of us (4 counting Tom’s girlfriend at the time, Layla) ended up staying with the same Warmshowers host in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. We didn’t know what to make of Tom at the time, but we ended up cycling all the way to Baton Rouge, Louisiana with him. He raised the camaraderie and comedic factor for us during that month of travel.
He had lived on in our memories as an eccentric, bicycle racing cheapskate, who would fill his empty taco bell bag with the free condiment packets from their counter spread, horde wet wipes from the Walmart dispensers to use later on to clean out his tent when we would set up camp, and who would compare the caloric value of the three different bags of 1 dollar trail mix at the Family Dollar, to make sure he was getting the most calories per dollar spent.
But it seems that perhaps Tommy Peterson’s days of hoarding free condiments and seeking out free or under $1 meals has come to an end for the time-being. Here in Brooklyn, he tells us, he’s started a loft-bed installation business and business is booming for old Tommy Petes. He pulls his lumber and supplies around with his racing bike and custom designed cargo trailer, and has more work than he could hope for.
As if he didn’t have enough going on already, he works at a bar every Sunday night (“for the Pina Coladas” he says), working the bar or racing out on his rollerblades to deliver food around the city. When it’s a slow night he can host his business meetings at the bar with potential loft-bed clients.
Tom doesn’t seem to say ‘no’ to work when it comes his way, even when it appears in a bizarre and perhaps disconcerting setting. And as we have come to learn, Tom is a master at attracting bizarre and disconcerting events to him.
“Yeah I’m actually remodeling a haunted house around the corner from here,” Tom tells us, in between bites of vegetable curry. He orders a mango lassi from the waiter who appears every 10 minutes to refill our water glasses.
Addison raises his eyebrow, intrigued. “Haunted house?”
“Yeah, it was built in like the 19th century. I met this lady the other night on the street corner when I was eating watermelon…” he begins.
It was 1 am, a warm night in early July, and Tom had ended up working late on one of his installation jobs. He was exhausted and dehydrated, and decided a big slice of watermelon would do him good. He pedaled his rig to a nearby convenience store and purchased a watermelon quarter and a coke. As he hunkered down on the sidewalk to eat, a woman with a pitbull walked past and said to him, “Watermelon. Nice choice!”
He thought so too, until he was a few bites into his piece and discovered that his particular hunk of watermelon had not been laid down in the ice properly and was warm and soggy from a long summer day. He contemplated the piece for a moment, then put it down, having lost interest. The same woman who had passed by him a moment before circled back around.
“Are you going to finish that?” she asked, pointing at his watermelon.
“Nah,” he said.
“Mind if I have it?”
“Knock yourself out.” He handed her the piece.
She and the pitbull settled down next to him and she began to tear into the watermelon like a wolf ripping into a fresh elk kill. Soon the juices were flowing down her face and neck, soaking the front of her shirt.
The scene made Tom feel a little queasy.
“What’re you working on?” the woman asked between bites, indicating his cargo trailer.
He told her about his loft-installation business.
“Do you do any other kind of carpentry work?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he shrugged. “Anything, really. I’ve remodeled alot of houses, helped build others, pretty much whatever.”
He found out her name is Kathy, and she lives in a really old house nearby and would he be interested in doing some work on it. He said sure, why not.
After some time had passed, Tom told her it’s late and he needs to get to bed. They exchange information, but as he was beginning to walk away, she noticed that he was headed in the same direction as her house.
“My place is on this street,” she told him. “Do you want to step inside to see it yourself for a minute?”
“Sure,” Tom said.
The house was everything one could hope for in an old, historic building. Grand, grimy, and perhaps inhabited by generations of the dead.
Kathy showed him in and walked him around, telling him about her various project ideas. Most of them didn’t really make sense as far as what physical reality would dictate, but Tom humored her and heard her out. She seemed to be particularly obsessed with the stairway, asking him to do things like completely block them off so the upstairs was separated from the downstairs, or to level them and build a trap door.
She told him to follow her, and he noticed that as she was walking upstairs past a room on her right, that she waved to someone who must have been in there.
“Good night,” she said to whoever was in the room.
As Tom followed her, he glanced into the open door of the room where she was looking. A young girl was sitting on the bed, her eyes rolled up in her head. She began to convulse before she fell back into the bed.
Tom stared from the girl to Kathy, but Kathy gave no other indication that the girl was even there, so he stayed silent and continued up the stairs.
He waited for Kathy on the landing while she changed out of her watermelon soaked clothes. She reemerged from her room wearing a sheer, flesh-colored, silk suit. Tom tried not to notice that her outfit was completely translucent, but rather focused on the numerous photographs of a dead bird that she had laid out on her bedroom floor.
“It happened last week,” she told Tom. “The bird flew right up next to me. It paused in mid-air and we made eye contact. It’s like it was hypnotized.”
Her pitbull had taken advantage of this strange and marvelous occurrence, by leaping up and ensnaring the bird in its jaws. The photos Kathy had taken of the bird over the next 3 days showed that the bird had been torn to pieces, its entrails draped across the deck in a gruesome collage of death.
She had photographed the dead bird at night, in the morning, in the late afternoon, at different angles, with different lights and shadows that she had created to capture the manifold looks of its carcass.
Everytime Tom was deciding it was time to leave, she would entrance him with another story, another painting, another piece of art with an intriguing story tied to it, and he felt like a captive witness to this empty shell of a woman, who had so much to say, so many stories to tell, but who seemed to be sucking the very life out of him with each memory she shared. He could sense that the real person, the spirit of this woman’s body, was there somewhere, floating nearby, but she didn’t seem to be an active participant of her own life.
Her next wardrobe change was into a sundress that she pulled up just below her breasts. Tom was kind enough to pretend not to notice that she was naked from the top up. He was well and truly ready to head home at this point, when an incredibly angry man came thundering up the stairs.
“Where’s my drugs?” he was screaming. “Where are they? I’ll kill you, I’ll fucking kill you!”
Tom did not know where the man had come from, but he decided the best plan of action was to move slowly and to act calm. His escape route would have been down the stairs and out the door, but the angry man was currently blocking the stairs. Tom casually reached into his backpack and found a chisel, which he slipped into his pocket.
Apparently the man’s name was Jim, and he was a house guest of Kathy’s. She and Tom both assured Jim that they did not have his drugs, and suggested that he keep looking. But that they were most certainly not upstairs.
Jim thundered around, breaking things, cursing, and generally expressing his displeasure at having misplaced his drugs. But eventually a silence fell over the house, and Tom heard a click and a deep puff, and knew that Jim and his crack pipe had been reunited. Peace settled in, and Jim was soon apologizing for his behavior.
A strange dance began to take place, which continued to imprison Tom at the house. Jim would start talking about Kathy, telling Tom unpleasant stories and bits of information about her, and Kathy would get angry and leave, not wanting to have listen to it. When Jim would finally leave Tom alone for a second, Kathy would reemerge and demand to be told what Jim had told Tom, and then she would respond with a deluge of unpleasantries about Jim. When Kathy disappeared Jim was back, and the sequence would continue.
It was around 5 am when Tom was finally able to extract himself.
“And you still ended up working for her?” we ask him, incredulous.
“This woman had cash just falling out of her pockets,” Tom says defensively. “Someone’s gotta scoop up the cash!”
So Tom started his first project there, which was dealing with the effects that some rotting beams were having on the door frame and stripping. It was his third day at the house, and he had just done some glueing around the door frame and was waiting for the glue to dry.
It was a 95 degree day in Brooklyn, and the house had no A/C. He had been working there since 8 am that morning, and now it was nearly 1:30 in the afternoon. He was afraid to drink the water in the house, for reasons he could only attribute to the half-rotted, moldy aspects of the walls and framing. Feeling drowsy and dehydrated, and drained of energy in a way only this house and Kathy could make him feel, he lay out on the living room couch and drifted to sleep.
“Weh weh meh meh meeeeeee!”
“Hum hum hum hum…”
“Ugh, grrrrr, hmmmmm.”
Tom slowly opened his eyes, not daring to move. He was hearing people in the house, and none of them sounded very friendly. He listened for a while, and was able to discern six different voices. As far as Tom knew, the only person home was Kathy, and she was upstairs.
One person sounded like he was angry, with a deep voice that reprimanded another person, who responded with whines and whimpers. The other voices were talking amongst themselves, though Tom soon realized that he could not discern what any of the people were actually saying.
This may be the end of Tommy Peterson’s adventures, he thought, as he felt his limbs seizing up with an undefinable terror. He was immobilized. He could do nothing more than lie there with his eyes wide open, listening to voices as they got closer and closer.
Something caught his eye at that moment. It was a foot, stepping backwards onto the second-to-last step of the stairway that led to the upstairs. It was followed by a second foot, which ascended onto the final step, also facing backwards. The legs of the person were moving in a stiff, robotic way.
A silent scream was trapped in Tom’s throat. Then he saw that it was Kathy. She stepped into the living room, still walking like a backwards moving robot. The voices had narrowed down to two or three at this point, but they were all coming out of her mouth, and none of them sounded like her own.
As she turned around, her body seemed to relax and with a small convulsion, she was falling into a normal, forward moving gait that was completely unlike the robotic one she had been using before. When she saw Tom, she said, “Oh, so did you finish glueing the trim?” in her own, single person voice.
Tom sat up, gasping in confusion. “What… What do you mean??”
But he could see that as far as she knew, nothing out of the ordinary had happened, and he was forced to regain his composure without receiving any kind of explanation or acknowledgement of the bizarre event that had just unfolded in front of him.
At the point in the story when Tom had mentioned the backwards foot making it’s way robotically down the steps, I had shrieked in horror and flung myself into Addison’s arms. As I squeeze him even harder I also laugh in disbelief.
“Did you tell her she was walking backwards down the stairs like a robot and speaking in six voices?” I ask.
Tom shrugs. “Nah, I didn’t want to freak her out. She’s pretty paranoid as it is.”
Addison is shaking his head. “And you’re still working there?”
“Yeah,” Tom says, and now we are all laughing.
But I guess maybe there was a good reason why she wanted those stairs blocked off.
By flying north over 2,000 miles to Laguardia airport in New York.
And when we step outside of the airport doors into the New York air, a gust of warm wind washes over us, and I can feel sweat begin to trickle down my legs.
It is 8:30 pm, and a wall of yellow taxis fill the street in front of the airport. We find our way to the back of a line that seems to stretch halfway along the side of the Laguardia building, and wait our turn for a ride in one of those yellow cars–hopefully with A/C.
A portly, overly tanned man walking a squat bulldog, accompanied by a luggage caddy, shouts an indignant tirade at an old black man who has pulled his taxi into the crosswalk to load a passenger. Cabs press in around the taxi driver’s vehicle on all sides, and he’s forced to sit there and listen to the tirade while pretending he somehow can’t tell that the man is yelling at him. His passenger, wearing a dress coat and an apprehensive expression, dips into the cab and shuts the door behind him, making no comment on the situation. The bulldog pants and looks around, expressionless.
When we’re getting close to the finish line, the taxi-line conductor shouts to an old lady who is creeping around the waiting taxis.
“Hey, hey,” he says. “What are you doing over there?”
The old lady doesn’t respond, but a flush of irritation crosses her face. She’s been discovered.
“The beginning of the line is all the way back there,” the conductor tells her, waving her back over to the sidewalk.
She grumbles and mutters, yanking her suitcase behind her and beginning the walk of shame past the 50 or so people she tried to cut in front of.
Another old lady, the one who has been waiting in line in front of us, with perfectly brushed and parted silver hair, shakes her head. “There’s always one smart Alec,” she comments with a laugh.
And then we are in the air conditioning of a yellow cab, trying to figure out how to turn the TV off that’s glaring in my face (since when do taxis have TVs in them??), and watching the night skyline of NYC unravel around us.
Our sunny, Austin house, our subletters (who I left equipped with several pages of petfeeding and house maintenance instructions), our cat and dog, our houseplants, the chickadees hanging off of the bird feeder in the front yard and the deafening hum of cicadas… seems to all be fading away into the distance, replaced by dark stretches of water and skyscrapers lit up against the backdrop of the night.
Our friend Zaina is waiting for us in her apartment, cooking a pile of vegetables that seems to stretch beyond the capacity of the pans she’s using. Addison is alive with ideas as always seems to happen when we travel, and I lounge back on the couch while he regales Zaina with his latest and greatest.
She leaves us her room for the next few days, and we proceed to be infiltrated by the spirit of Brooklyn…
Coming up next… wild Nicky Patton stories about haunted houses and drug addicts, seeing a live production of Hadestown at NY Theater Workshop (music score by Vermont artist Anais Mitchel) and other adventures.
The man looks to be in his 50s, with a tan face and well-groomed mustache. But at this moment his mustache seems to be coming undone.
“You rode your bicycle across Mexico??” He fidgets uncomfortably.
“Yeah, I got to Playa del Carmen and then realized I was pregnant and needed to come home.”
“Well….” he seems to be searching for words. “Well you know what I would say about it if you hadn’t gone already… you know I wouldn’t advise doing that! Alone… on a bicycle…” He trails off.
I smile and squeeze his arm. “No harm came to me!” I head into the kitchen to find the others.
Dick’s kitchen is brimming with chattering, smiling, laughing people, arms laden with potluck goodies… pasta dishes, giant chocolate cakes, guacamole dip that is “actually made out of asparagus!”, chips, loaves of bread, soup and numerous bottles of wine.
They’ve all come to see The Love Sprockets perform tonight, and to visit with old friends, break bread and drink wine… and whiskey… and banana daiquiris…
A lovely lady with long blonde hair and a wreath of green leaves and purple flowers on her head rushes to greet me. “Jahnavi! You made it!” Golden exclaims over my pregnant belly, and Lloyd looks at me in shock.
“I didn’t know you were pregnant!” he says, with what looks to be something like reproach on his face.
I’m wearing a slinky, form-fitting dress so that all of my old Baton Rouge friends can get a really good look at my big belly. I only see them once or twice a year, so this is their chance to see me in full baby-bloom.
“Well,” he concedes. “You make being pregnant look good!”
I sit down next to Golden to catch up.
“I was reading your blog the whole time,” she’s saying, “And I was scared for you when you were getting so tired, and than you found out you were pregnant, and…. oh…. But it was so funny when you did the whole pregnancy test in Mexico and your friend was there…” She laughs like tinkling bells.
I see Phil, our first Baton Rouge host from three years ago. He and his wife, Goldie, had taken Addison, Nic and I in on New Years Eve, on a cold, blustery day during our cross-country bicycle trip. We had been instructed to draw up a menu for that evening’s dinner and describe the dishes enticingly. He had taken close up shots of everyone’s mugs that night, even Zoso’s. We all look windburned, bedraggled, and Zoso’s mustache was the color of a hundred snacks, meals and drinks of water that had dried into it. But Phil loved Zoso. He fed him special, handcrafted meals alongside his own two dogs, and lovingly referred to him as ‘Yo-so.’
When I step in to give Phil a hug, his eyes widen with surprise. “I didn’t even recognize you!”
I eat spoonfuls of his spicy bok choy, ginger soup, while he tells me about his idea for the nights events.
“I would really like to hear the development of your music,” he tells me. “A song picked for each stage of your career together.”
“Like, a chronological set list!” I say.
“Yeah, okay, something like that.”
After I’m done with my soup I find Addison unloading instruments from our car and tell him Phil’s idea.
“Cool,” he says, “That sounds like a good idea!”
And then he discovers the missing space that his set of 10 harmonicas, which he carries in a black case, should have been filling.
“Oh no….” he groans. “I think I left them in New Orleans!”
“Oh no….” I commiserate.
We had been on tour since Tuesday, and tonight it was Friday. Thursday we had driven to New Orleans and performed at a quaint, co-op of a cafe called The Neutral Ground. Perhaps because the venue is so covered in artifacts collected over the years, and only lit with soft, glowing lamps and christmas lights, it was hard to see that he had left his black case on the piano bench off in the corner.
“Well at least I have one harmonica,” he whips one out from his pocket. “And it’s in the right key to play Wade in the Water and Soul of a Man.”
That night we all go on a journey together, sitting cozily in Dick’s living room, people cuddled together on couches, smiling and clapping from rocking chairs, or peering from the perch of a wooden kitchen chair to see over the heads of the others.
We tell the story of our meeting, starting the band, bicycling across the United States, and finally arriving in Austin. Each song we play fits into the story, and has its own story behind it. When we get to the part of the night’s journey where we talk about me leaving Addison and biking across Mexico, people sigh, laugh and make commiserating noises. We each play a couple of solo songs to show what music we were playing while we were apart.
Even though we let people get up and take a break halfway through, I am still so impressed and touched by how some of them sit and listen the entire time, following the story and the songs, with no complaint of boredom.
This is music as I feel it must have been in ‘the old days’, before TV, wifi and YouTube. The traveling musician arrives at your doorstep and the village gathers to feed them and gather stories from them about the lands they’ve visited, and to hear the songs they’ve carried with them from other places that perhaps the villagers will never see themselves.
It’s not about the musician, not about how they look or idolizing them as some kind of sex symbol. It’s about the music and the story and the community that’s come together to listen and discuss love, life and death with one another.
Here are some more pictures from our Houston, Baton Rouge and New Orleans tour:
Ever since I was an awkward, unsure, adventure-romanticizing teenager, I have wanted to write a book.
I used to have penpals that I corresponded with when I was living in India, and whom I continued to write to once we moved to Vermont. I started writing to penpals when I was about 10 years old, and continued until I was almost 18.
I remember sending out letters when I was 17 to all of my penpals, requesting that they return to me any and all letters I had written to them over the years.
“I’m going to write an autobiography,” I explained to them, “so it would be really helpful to have the letters to fill in the gaps that I may not be able to remember.”
It was really fun reading all of the letters I had written over the past 7 years.
But I did not write an autobiography at 17.
Now, at 30, with a baby in my belly and an incredibly supportive life partner who not only provides me with daily encouragement, but also with a typewriter, I am finally ready.
Not ready as in, ‘I know exactly what I’m doing or that I am confident this book will be an amazing success’, but ready like ‘No one is going to stop me. I’m going to write every damn day and say what’s on my mind and than I’m even going to go through and edit all that writing that I did, and than I’ll figure it out from there.’
After suffering a concussion more than 2 years ago that still affects me today, I became very aware of how hard computer screens are on me. They affect my eyes, my brain, my energy levels and creativity.
I was sure I would not be able to write a book on a computer. It would be torturous.
I was also sure I wouldn’t be able to write a book doing long-hand, because my wrist was sure to quickly cramp up and die before too soon.
That’s where the typewriter came into the picture.
Except I hate the idea of wasting paper.
“Oh, but we can get recycled and/or renewable resourced paper,” Addison assured me.
“Yeah, but there’s still all the energy that went into making the paper, and then our energy through money to pay for it,” I would say.
One day, after getting doubles of a piece of irritating mail from Blue Cross Blue Shield, I became exasperated. “This is SUCH a waste of paper!!” I cried. “They’ve already sent this to me everyday for the past three days, and now they’re sending TWO in one day? They ALL say the same damn thing anyways!!”
What was even more infuriating about these pieces of mail, was the ‘cover letter’ at the front of each letter, which was basically just a blank piece of paper with my name and address typed into one corner, and big words typed in the center that said “Cover Letter.” What purpose this piece of paper was serving was beyond me.
I snatched the cover letters up and declared, “Well, these are blank on the back, so I can save them to write on with the typewriter.”
And that’s when junk mail, bills and cover letters became exciting to me.
The transformation within me was subtle, like a plant growing quietly off in the corner of your house.
Now, whenever the mail comes, I eagerly tear open the credit card offers and phone bills, gleaning the papers from it that have blank backs.
And every day, I write for an hour on the typewriter, filling the backs of these pages and feeling no shadow of guilt whatsoever about wasting paper.
Occasionally I hit a jackpot when Addison messes something up with the printer and hands over a stack of single sided pages that he can’t use.
Life really is just about how you look at things, isn’t it? I used to feel irritated at the sight of junkmail, and now I feel excitement, anticipation.
Thus begins the story of transforming junkmail and bills into a story!
“FUCK YOU!!” I scream, rain pelting my face and filling my mouth. “I’m trying SO HARD, so FUCKING hard. FUCK. YOU.”
A semi truck passes me on the bridge and a wave of dirty water splashes over me. I don’t care. I’m soaked through anyways.
I am crying now, gulping and gasping, my tears mixing with rain.
When I finished crossing the bridge, I pull my bicycle over. The front tire has been losing air slowly and has become quite soft. So I yank my hand-pump off the frame, and kneel on the wet ground while I fill the tire with more air. I shiver as my wet clothes cling to me, and a peal of thunder cracks the bruised sky.
I had left Dzitbalche that morning, a small town about 50 kilometers from where I was kneeling in a puddle now. I had awoken quite early, without prompting from my alarm, and had meditated sitting on the square lump that represented a bed at the hospedas I was staying at. I had slept on top of the covers with my sleeping bag, not daring to venture into it’s depths after discovering toe nail clippings on the blanket.
I hadn’t meant to end up in a hospedas in Dzitbalche when I had ridden out from the city of Campeche on Friday morning.
I had intended on cycling to Calkini, a halfway point between Campeche and Merida. Merida was my goal, my shining portal of light, a beautiful city with two beautiful warmshowers hosts who had a room waiting for me, a place that was not a hotel, had internet connection, a washing machine, bicycle repair shops, and people who speak english.
I had pulled off the highway on Friday afternoon after having traveled about 80 kilometers that day, to ride on a side road into Calkini. Within moments I received a flat tire from some broken glass, or maybe shards of wire that decorate the sides of the roads here like confetti.
Unfortunately I was not aware of the flat tire until moments later, when I went over a surprise speed bump a little too fast, and felt the unmistakable *whump*–the sickening sound and feeling of a flat tire that is even more flattened beneath a mountain of gear.
I pulled over right away, avoiding the flabbergasted expressions of the villagers who were walking past me, or leaning on their shovels, their work forgotten due to my unexpected arrival into their usually cycle-tourist-free existence.
Don’t they have work to do? I thought grumpily, wishing everyone would just go away while I surveyed the damage of my only mode of transportation, my house-on-wheels.
“Mi bici es mi vida,” I always tell people, when they talk to me about my strange, overloaded vehicle. My bicycle is my life.
Well, my life was currently looking a little butt-fucked, if you don’t mind me saying.
Not only was my tire completely flat, but as I was pumping it back up so I could at least creak my way to a place to sleep that night, I noticed I also had broken a spoke.
Cue the doomsday music.
After filling the back tire with more air, I gingerly remounted my injured steed and began to roll slowly down the streets, hoping to see a sign for a hotel of some kind. When I reached the center of town, I pulled over to look at my phone map, and an old timer sitting on a bench yelled over to me.
“Que estas buscando? A donde vas?”
Well if he was asking me what I was looking for and where I was going, clearly he wanted to help.
I pushed my bicycle over to where he sat and asked, “Sabes donde esta un hotel?”
“Si, si!” He went into a lengthy description of where a hospedas was, telling me where to turn and what the landmarks were. I was a little nervous because it sounded like it might be hard to find.
But I set out to look for it, after thanking him and saying good bye.
It turned out the hospedas was actually quite close and easy to find, and when I pulled up, two older gentleman leapt up to greet me and help me bring my bicycle inside the courtyard. They were amazed to see me and my gear, and asked me lots of questions about my trip.
“Tiene un cellular,” one man said, pointing at my cellphone mounted to my handlebars.
“Asi que se puede hablar con su novio,” the other said, chuckling. (‘So she can talk to her boyfriend’).
“Mi promitido,” I corrected. (‘my fiance’).
“Oohh!” they gasped appreciatively.
It’s somehow even more impressive to the Mexican people that I’m cycle touring alone AND I have a fiance.
That night one of the guys took me around town to visit a couple of bike shops, both of which where closed. But we were told one of them would re-open at 5 pm, so after taking a shower, I headed back there, again assisted by the older man who carried my wheel for me.
A bicycle shop in Mexico is not a bicycle shop in the United States. The ones I’ve seen look kind of like auto shops in the U.S., just smaller, darker, and even dirtier, if you can imagine that. They usually have a few rusty mountain bikes lying around, and it always makes me wonder what exactly they’re doing to improve the bicycles they work on.
The mechanic took my wheel and surveyed my broken spoke. I also told him I had a flat tire and could he fix it.
“Si, si. 30 pesos. Volver por la manana.”
Come back in the morning? Hmmm… I had almost 100 km to ride to Merida in the morning, I couldn’t be hanging around waiting for his shop to open.
“Voy a Merida con mi bici en la manana,” I explained.
“Ah ok,” he said. “Entonces, volver en una hora.” (‘Than come back in an hour’)
I was relieved.
Wow, I’m not screwed. This guy’s gonna replace my spoke, patch my tire, and I’ll be good to go tomorrow!
Me and the older man (he did tell me his name, but unfortunately I can’t remember it) stopped and got tacos (he didn’t eat, but insisted I order 5 or 6–I thought maybe they were kind of small so I finally agreed to order 5 and had to take 3 to go when I discovered they were of normal size).
When we returned to get my wheel, the mechanic waved at it sadly.
“No puedo.” He couldn’t fix the spoke because he didn’t have the right tools for taking my cassette off.
My heart sank.
He did show me that he had kindly filled my tire with air.
I knew this meant he hadn’t actually patched the tire, so that was something else I would need to do before going to sleep that night.
It was difficult to remember to smile when morning came.
I had patched my tire but it was flat again, so I just replaced the tube, not feeling patient about finding a potentially microscopic hole in addition to the other one I had patched.
I pulled my bicycle outside of my room and into the center courtyard, where the older man from the day before saw me and came over.
I was trying to put my wheel back on after having changed the tool, but it was a little complicated because of being the rear one and dealing with the chain and gear shifter. The man was trying to help me–though I really did not need or want his help–which almost made matters worse. Once I had the wheel in place, I noticed it was rubbing the brakes on one side very badly.
I knew this was because of the broken spoke and the wheel not being ‘true’.
I couldn’t explain this in spanish to the guy trying to help me, so he kept fussing with it, though he seemed to know about as much about bicycles as I do about engineering.
I called Watson and he talked me through, so that I could at least set the wheel up to a balanced enough spot where I could ride with the brakes released.
I finally had to shoo the overly helpful guy away. “No mas. No mas!” I said, as he continued to finagle and fuss hopelessly.
I think I may have offended him because he walked away and did not return.
But I was relieved to have him gone.
Fighting back tears, I set the wheel, turned the bicycle right side up, and loaded it with my gear.
As I was rolling out of town, I noticed the other bicycle shop was open.
Hmmmm… I thought. Maybe they have the right tool for taking my cassette off and they can fix my spoke!
The potential promise of my 100 km ride to Merida with all of my spokes caused me to stop and talk to the guys at the shop.
Maybe it’s just because I’m from the United States and in Mexico the culture is very different, but I made the assumption that by explaining to them that I had ridden to Dzitbalche from Austin, TX and was on my way to Brazil–and needed to ride all the way to Merida today–that somehow they would ‘get’ it.
I assumed they would see my enormous, heavy pile of gear and think, “Well gee. This girl is carrying a lot of weight and has a long way to go today. Let’s make sure we take good care of her and her bicycle so that she gets there safely.”
But sadly, this was not the case.
Despite my insistence that the removal of the cassette was the potential barrier to them fixing my spoke, they didn’t look closely and just told me to take all of my gear off my bicycle so they could work on it.
Sure enough, they took the wheel off and began to try and remove the cassette–with no luck.
One of the guys seem to fiddle around with the wheel and the spokes, as if he may have been truing the wheel. I could only hope.
Then he gave me the final assessment. They couldn’t fix my spoke because of the same damn thing the other guy ran into–they couldn’t take the cassette off.
I watched with growing dread as they tried to put my wheel back on.
Why did I let them touch my bicycle? Why was I so hopeful? I could have just ridden past, and saved my self the trouble…
I finally stood up and told them to get out of the way.
I finagled with my wheel until I had found a good position for it to spin freely.
I reloaded all of my gear once again.
I thanked them… for trying I guess… and tried to ride away.
But my wheel was wobbling horribly.
An old lady being pushed in a strange bicycle cart thing by a man rolled past me and she asked me where I was traveling to.
I tried to answer her, but I was so upset by my wheel that no words came out.
She shook her head at me and continued on.
I turned back to the ‘bike shop’ and told the ‘mechanic’ that my wheel was worse off than before. As he watched me slightly open mouthed, I frantically grabbed a small log from their shop and hoisted the back of my bicycle on it. I indicated for him to hold the bicycle in place for me. Than I began to spin the wheel and try to assess what else had gone wrong.
The other ‘mechanic’ came over and eventually ascertained that they had not actually tightened up my wheel bearing properly after having loosened it to try and get the cassette off. He grabbed a wrench and tightened it. Seemed like an obvious thing to have done in the first place, but hey, it worked as an afterthought as well.
Finally, I was able to ride away without any undue wobbling or rubbing.
That’s right around when it began to rain…
“Do you know what?” I said out loud to my bicycle, watching droplets of water drip off the front of my helmet. “You are the most awesome bicycle I have ever owned. And guess what? You and me, we’re going to Merida today! We’re going to stay with a nice couple named Ken and Erin, and we’re going to take really good care of you once you get there. All you have to do is just hold out for today. I promise I’ll get you all fixed up in Merida.” And then, to my surprise, I began to cry and say to my bicycle, “I love you. I love you so much.”
Well, yes, I suppose I had gone a little batty from riding alone for so long and being worried about getting stranded on the side of the highway with my bicycle and gear.
As my my mind raced around, assessing potential problems of riding with a broken spoke, and coming up with solutions just as quickly, I saw some beautiful yellow flowers growing along the roadside.
I remembered something I had read in one of Thich Nhat Hanh’s books: “Happiness is always possible in the present moment. The flowers are keeping your smile for you. You can have it back anytime.”
A smile came to my face.
I stopped to take a picture.
So it is that I find myself 50 km to Merida, in a full-on downpour, kneeling on the side of the highway and pumping up my front tire.
I continue on down the highway, until to my relief, I eventually spy a bridge that I can hide under.
I pull under the bridge and begin to assess the damage. I had been so intent on riding as quickly as possible to Merida, that I had not taken great care in insuring my electronics were in waterproof containers.
My ipod has shut down after getting wet in my belly pouch, and my phone and extra charger are in danger of meeting the same fate.
I quickly wrap them in some clothes from my dry-bag pannier and stow them away into safety. I pull off my dripping wet over-shirt, shivering gratefully as I get my coat out and put it on. While I wait for the rain to pass, I eat an apple and just pace back and forth beneath the bridge, trying to stay warm and keep my limbs moving.
15 minutes later, I’m able to keep riding, though there is a steady drizzle still oozing out of the sky.
When I finally arrive at Ken and Erin’s house in Merida, it is 6 pm, and my feet are sloshing in my shoes. Ken shows me inside his magnificent home and to my room. Than he leads me to the kitchen. “Are you more wet, or more hungry?” he asks me.
I feel like I can barely stand up. “I’m honestly not sure…” I say, squelching alongside him. “But I think I’m too hungry to get changed.”
I eventually resign myself to at least taking off my wet shoes and socks, putting dry socks on, and then settle down in front of a giant bowl of homemade chili.
“You have no idea what it means to me to finally be here,” I tell Ken later that evening. “Today was a true trial. Thank you so much for being here to receive me.”
Later I go to say goodnight to my bicycle. “Hey,” I whisper to her, avoiding the puddles of water that have formed around the floor beneath her. “You did it. You fucking did it. You are so amazing.”
And true to my word, I did get her all fixed up over the next couple of days. The bicycle mechanic in Merida had no problem removing my cassette, replacing the spoke, and truing the wheel, charging me a whopping 30 pesos for the whole operation (that’s like $1.50).
“God is the love that moves the sun and the other stars.”
I sit at a table on a restaurant patio overlooking the ocean this morning.
I have been dreaming about eggs for days now, imagining them gliding around deliciously in a handmade tortilla, dripping with salsa.
And now, here they are with me, huevos rancheros, gazing solemnly up from my plate in their warm bath of red salsa and fresh, crumbled cheese.
The tortillas that my waiter presents me in a basket wrapped in cloth are, indeed, handmade and very hot.
Before diving into my breakfast, I sip my cafe ollo (coffee brewed with cinnamon) and look out at the three cormorants (badass birds that can swim underwater) who have set themselves up on the three available wooden posts that stick out above the ocean tide.
These three birds are facing the sun, which rose about an hour earlier, and are sitting silent and still, in worshipful reverence of the source of warmth and light for the entire Earth.
I stare at them, appreciation swelling in my heart.
Without water, I would die, I think, looking out at the vast body of lapping waves in front of me, and so would these three birds.
Without the sun, I would die, I continue in my head, looking at their peaceful, beaked faces pointed at the sun, and so would these three birds.
I feel my connection to the water, the sun, the birds and… without food, I would die. I gaze down at my breakfast.
I imagine the man or woman inside the kitchen who has carefully prepared my tortillas and huevos rancheros for me.
I feel gratitude filling my chest for this stranger who is making sure I have a delicious meal to give me energy for my day.
And I think about the chicken who has laid the eggs I am about to eat, and wonder where she is right now. Most likely she is scratching around in the dirt next door, chasing bugs with that vacant look in her eye that all chickens seem to have.
I take a sip of the freshly squeezed orange juice waiting in a tall glass in front of me, and imagine the orange tree reaching towards the sun, drinking in his rays and fattening up her crop of bright, sweet orbs of fruit.
After these contemplations, I promptly begin eating.
The waiter approaches a little while later, smiling at me good naturedly with his haggard teeth, and I thank him as he takes away my used napkins.
“Donde vienes?” he asks me (meaning, ‘where do you come from?’).
“Austin,” I reply.
“Austin Texas,” I clarify, silencing the ‘x’ in Texas so he can be sure where it is I’m talking about. “Voy a Brazil con mi bici,” I explain with a smile.
His eyes widen. “Con su bici?”
He wanders away, clearly needing some time to digest this information before his next question.
I have been traveling from Austin, TX by bicycle, bus and car for 2 months now, and in the last week it has now been solely by bicycle.
When I left Austin, headed for Mexico, I didn’t really have a way to prepare myself for the endless highways running through the endless desert, broken up only by cities that are barely navigable by bicycle.
I soon found that my comfort level allowed me only some short stints by bicycle, and then many more by bus and car.
The waiter returned, this time with a new question:
“No tienes miedo a viajar sola?” (‘aren’t you afraid to travel alone?’)
It took me a minute to decipher this question, because I wasn’t familiar with the word ‘miedo’ (‘fear’). But after repeating the unknown word aloud a few times, I understood.
I shrugged. “Un poco. Pero, esta bien.” (‘a little, but it’s okay’)
He laughed and walked away again.
I have come to know Fear over these past 2 months, more intimately than I had ever hoped.
Rarely have I actually been in any ‘real danger’. The fear I have been experiencing is mostly hand-made. 😉
After arriving in Mexico City in the car of a friend, I met Mestre Acordeon for the first time, practiced capoeira with Profesor Nao Veio, spent 5 days with Addison who came to visit me, got a new tattoo, and then finally got on a bus to a town in Tabasco called Villahermosa.
In Villahermosa I spent my first night sleeping in a hammock, something I’ve never done before. It was very hot and muggy, but after being bitten by mosquitoes I eventually pulled out my sleeping bag and somehow managed to wrap it around myself while not falling sideways out of the hammock.
I was at a Warmshowers host’s house. His name is Juan, and he was expecting two more cyclists the next day.
My first morning in Villahermosa I was awoken at 7:30 am by the sound of someone bashing a wall in across the street with a sledgehammer. I shifted around in my hammock, and then eventually sat up to greet my host and his friend.
They both left to work for the day, and I greeted my fear, who was waiting for my undivided attention. I meditated, journaled, cried, called friends, and cried some more.
During my walking meditation, I saw a little statue of Jesus Christ in Juan’s hallway. And I began to say to myself, over and over, “The Kingdom of Heaven is inside of me.”
Finally, I heard a knock during mid-afternoon and opened the door for the two cyclists Juan had been expecting.
Their names are Charles and Denise, and they are retired french canadians who have been cycling in South and Central America now for a year. They started in Peru, cycled down to the tip of South America (Chile), than back up into Peru where they spent four months, after which they continued north and eventually ended up at Juan’s house with me, in Villahermosa.
I was glad for their company, and Denise and I walked together to a nearby supermarket to buy food. I had a strange sense of feeling like a child again, wanting her to be my mommy, not wanting to lose her in the huge supermarket.
This kind of fear I experience is the strongest when I am transitioning into a new, unknown situation. This time it was the transition from Mexico City to now actually cycle touring again, and not knowing what it would be like to spend days on my own, sleeping at hotels in towns I knew nothing about.
But at the moment, I was safe, and I had a wonderful couple to spend the evening with. They made a pasta dinner for all of us, and drew me a route through the Yucatan on my map of Mexico, since they had just come from the area I was headed. This brought me some relief, as the unknown began to feel less ‘un’ and more ‘known’.
That night we pulled the hammock out of the way, and the three of us lined up on the tile floor and slept side by side with our sleeping bags and earplugs.
Sleeping with strangers has never felt so comforting.
The next morning we all packed up and made our procession out to the sidewalk. Juan was chatting with us amiably and helping us out the door.
Charles, Denise and I navigated through the city, and then, after a few blocks of riding together, they turned left and I went straight.
I took a deep breath. Here I go… I thought, watching the highway take shape out in front of me. I would be on Highway 180 for the next week or so.
After sitting and gazing out over the ocean some more, the waiter arrived to take my plate away. I was left with my coffee and orange juice (probably not the best combo for my digestion, but who cares), which I took as long as I wanted to sip and savor.
In Mexico they NEVER rush you in a restaurant. You can sit at your table for hours, maybe even days, and they’ll just smile and offer you more coffee.
But eventually I did raise my hand for the waiter. “La cuenta por favor.”
He bustled away to count up my order.
I’m doing it, I thought, watching a large, blue-black grackle making a ruckus in the tree next to me. I’m enjoying being alone.
It’s so hard for me to go to a nice restaurant, or hang out in a beautiful place and not be filled with the desire to share it with someone.
It’s not that I don’t feel like I deserve it, but I love sharing the world with other people. And maybe I’m afraid it’s as if none of this actually happened, if there wasn’t someone to witness it.
‘If Jahnavi hangs out in a fancy hotel and meditates by the gurgling pool in the garden out back and no one else witnesses it, did it really happen?’ 😛
I say good bye to the waiter, who wishes me luck and ‘cuidado’ (‘be careful’), and make my way back to my hotel room.
I’m taking a day off at this hotel, because since I left Villahermosa that morning with the french cyclists, I have been pulling 7-8 hour days, fighting a headwind as I travel alongside the Gulf of Mexico. My body wants a bicycle, wind and sun free day.
My first day back on the bicycle, from Villahermosa to Frontera, was 82 km and so easy, I was confused. It only took me 4 ½ hours, and there I was, in Frontera, booking a room at a cheap hotel at 2 pm.
I figured the next day, 99 km, shouldn’t be so bad.
But that’s when I hit the waterfront, and was reminded about the joys of a nice, healthy, headwind. At first I was more focused on the fact that I was being rained on pretty thoroughly for a couple of hours, but once that cleared, I began to feel concerned.
I was traveling so SLOWLY.
After 5 hours, I had only gotten halfway to Cidudad del Carmen, the town I was intent on reaching, where a Couchsurfer named Victor Hugo was awaiting my arrival.
It was like moving in slow motion for 9 hours straight.
When I finally reached the city–after crossing a mile long bridge and weeping copiously as my speed slowed to a crawl due to the even greater wind exposure–I had to cross through the entire city to the other end, where Hugo lives.
At one point I pulled over to look at my cellphone map, and a very excited, older Mexican man approached me, eager to practice his english and find out what in the hell I was up to.
I was so tired I could barely conjure up my good manners, though I appreciated his interest in my trip. Most people just regard me as an alien here in Mexico, so when someone actually treats me like a human being and asks me about my life I feel glad.
After chatting with him and explaining that I was riding my bicycle to Brazil and yes, I am crazy, I continued on to Hugo’s apartment.
Hugo was amazed to see me and my bicycle pull up to his place, and helped me inside.
The beer I drank before we ate dinner was like an elixir of life, and we talked about travel, my sister and her husband’s 6 month excursion across half the world, my mom and my brother living in India, and his part in his family’s business.
I had been planning on continuing on to the next place in the morning, but I had already arrived at Hugo’s much later than expected and was feeling rather knackered.
I awoke early the next morning, looked at some maps, and finally decided I would take the day off.
After a morning meditation session with Addison over the phone, I wrote this down from Thich Nhat Hanh’s book called ‘Fear’:
“If you are capable of living deeply one moment of your life, you can learn to live the same way all the other moments of your life.” -Thay
Sometimes I do need to live life moment to moment–any more than that can feel overwhelming when I am in a certain state of mind. And now I can just consider it a meditation practice, this one moment where I choose to live deeply.
“If you can dwell in one moment, you will discover eternity.” -Rene Char
Hugo took me to Walmart so I could buy supplies for my trip (and where, coincidentally, they were blasting capoeira music), and then we ate lunch under an oceanside tent restaurant.
We discussed jealousy (something Hugo struggles with, as do I and most people) and he asked me how I deal with it.
“Meditation!” I said. “It’s the only way!” I laughed.
He was intrigued, so we talked more about meditation and discussed the best way for him to get started on his own, since he’d never done it before.
That evening, my right hip and leg began to hurt so badly, that I was having trouble walking. I tried to brush it away, assuming I would feel fine in the morning and be able to ride.
I stretched, massaged the area, slathered myself with biofreeze (thanks again Diane!), drank a glass of water with arnica drops in it, drank magnesium, and then finally lay myself out to sleep. It took a while to fall asleep, because the only comfortable position for my leg was straight, so that didn’t give me many options for how I could lay down (and boy do I like to shift positions every 5 minutes).
I awoke at 6:30 am, eager to find out if my leg had magically healed overnight.
But when I stood up to walk to the bathroom, I was filled with dismay. It hurt just as badly… maybe worse.
I called Radha and Erik (who are in Thailand) and discussed the situation with them.
Finally, I decided I would have to take the day off. Even if I could manage to get on my bicycle and ride 80 km that day, getting off to walk around was agony, and probably not the safest situation to put myself in considering I’d be traveling out in the middle of nowhere, alone.
So I stayed, and spend some quality time with Fear.
I’ve been meditating so much on this trip that I told Addison, “I’m beginning to feel like a monk, like I’m in a monastery… but I’m on an epic journey at the same time… so it’s like I’m a warrior monk.”
The day off didn’t kill me, and I even got some practical things done, including making music with my mandolin.
“Art is the essence of life, and the substance of art is mindfulness.” -Thay
The following two days would be a blur of oceanside cycling, granola bars, sunburn, Harry Potter audiobook, hotels, limping around, whistling Mexican men, semi trucks, gray foxes, coatis, iguanas the size of cats, swamps, mangroves, beaches, albatrosses, eagles, hawks, fish, exhaustion, alone-ness, and more meditation.
Having spent so much time gazing at the ocean, I gleaned this thought from my reflections: “The ocean is not afraid of change. She never stops moving, never stops shifting, and changing the sands at her edges and the ocean floor beneath her.”
At another point, as I was riding past miles of mangroves and swamps and listening to Danny Malone’s album, ‘Balloons’, this question he asks stuck with me:
“They say the way to know yourself, is by yourself
But what if you’re someone you don’t really wanna know…?”
When I pulled into Champoton yesterday and saw the Hotel Posada la Regia on my right side, I didn’t care if it was cheap, expensive, new, old, had internet, or hot water… I just wanted to stop, and sleep.
But after being shown to my room and realizing it’s actually a nice place and a reasonably nice town, and taking consideration of my very unhappy right leg, I decided I was staying an extra night and that was that.
“The past is not me. I am not limited by the past.
The present is not me. I am not limited by the present.
The future is not me. I am not limited by the future.”
My goal right now is to rest, write, read, and (yes, you guessed it) meditate. Than it’s another three days to Merida, where a warmshowers host is awaiting my arrival on Saturday.
I’m learning to relish this alone-ness, to let it sink into my skin.
Because once I get to Playa del Carmen, I may be traveling with a whole lotta people, and potentially looking back on this sweet, quiet time wistfully–and then turning back to my large group of humans and reveling in their company all the same.
“The greatest suffering can be overcome through the simplest of actions…” -Me
In the past couple of weeks I have cried more and slept less for the longest stretch of time I can remember.
And whenever I would have a moment’s rest from the onslaught of pain, I would wonder… “How can I stay here? I don’t want to go back down. I need to stay above water!”
My sister brilliantly reminded me that I could listen to Thich Nhat Hanh on YouTube or podcasts whenever I wanted.
My own mind was struggling with creating and maintaining a positive thought stream, and I found it almost impossible to stay in the present moment.
So I turned to Thich Nhat Hanh to fill my head with the good stuff. 😉
It took a couple of days of listening to him, but finally, one of my bigger questions was answered and I had a tool I could use to make changes in the recesses of my consciousness.
Thay said, “If you are listening to a CD and you don’t like the music that is playing, why keep listening to it? Just change the CD.”
Simple, yet brilliant.
“If your thoughts are causing you to suffer, why continue to listen to them? You can make a change, right now. You can choose to stop your suffering, right now.
There are seeds in your unconscious. Seeds of love, of anger, of joy, of hate. If you water the seeds of hate, anger or despair, they will take root and grow strong. You need to sing them a lullaby, and put them to sleep. You need to water the seeds of joy, of hope, of love, and they will grow strong in your mind.”
So thank you for being part of my practice of watering the seeds of gratitude and love in my consciousness. I am going to share with you everything I have been grateful for and appreciated over the last couple of weeks here in Mexico.
This is my lullaby, sending the seeds of despair and fear to sleep. 🙂
The first thing that I think of when I feel this swell of appreciation in my heart are the people I have met in the past few weeks:
And there’s more and more…
I’m thankful for the sunsets here…
I’m thankful for the beautiful city of Queretaro…
I’m thankful for cute dogs… 😀
I’m thankful for the beautiful art of basketry…
I’m thankful for the mandolin and the ability to play music and heal…
I’m thankful for my noble steed, my amazing bicycle who carries all of my stuff and goes with me everywhere…
I’m thankful for capoeira, my saving grace, and Professor Marcego for saying, “If I check on you in a couple of months and I see that you’ve quit and gone back to the U.S., than you’re not my friend anymore.” 😀
I’m thankful for delicious Mexican food…
I’m thankful for walking meditation…
I’m thankful for handstands…
I’m thankful for finding random, inspiring quotes on the walls of a restaurant:
I’m thankful for Mexico City for welcoming me into it’s awe inspiring massiveness…
I’m thankful that Addison Rice, the love of my life is coming to see me here in Mexico City in just three days…
And I am thankful to you, dear friend, for reading this whole post and giving me the gift of your attention today. 🙂