Tag Archives: Texas

Chickadee’s Legacy

Artwork by inmate Aaron Pearson

Each time we find ourselves standing on a stage or in a living room or in a backyard in Illinois or Vermont or Baltimore or Baton Rouge and we are holding our instruments and gazing into the unknown—a group of faces belonging to people we’ve never met, or people we’ve just met, or people we’ve known for years—we always reach that moment of free fall, when Addison introduces the song “Chickadee”.

“This next song is the title track of our new album, and is dedicated to our daughter, Chickadee,” he says, “who was stillborn two years ago. This whole tour is about her and this album we recorded for her. It’s also for you—all of you who showed up here and are making space for this music and this story.”

I stand transfixed, almost in horror, as he bares our bloody hearts for all to see.

“This song is the silver lining to something that was really hard,” he says. He begins playing and I fall into step with him. We free fall into the arms of strangers.

When the set is over and we enter into the midst of our audience, we find acceptance over and over again. We find a shared story with our listeners.

A woman approaches me. “Thank you for sharing that song about your daughter. Not many people talk about these kinds of things. My sister’s first and only child was stillborn. She doesn’t really talk to anyone about it and no one says anything to her, except for me. I’m going to share Chickadee with her.”

A man comes and stands with me, his eyes filled with tears. “Thank you for sharing your story. My wife and I lost three babies.” We embrace, and our tears mix together to create an elixir that heals us, a little more. Just a little more healing to get us through.

We’ve played our music for people all the way from Colorado to Louisiana and we finally arrive in Austin Texas where Chickadee was born, and where she is buried. The sights and smells remind me of the intense joy I felt while I was pregnant with her.

Our first show is at the Mohawk, a music venue with a stage and big lights that shine in our eyes as we stand up in front of a group of people we can’t see. I consider the option of bailing on the whole vulnerability aspect of the tour. This is a big venue, and people are here just to “have a good time”, right? We don’t need to ruin their nights by talking about our stillborn baby. But balking now would feel like a betrayal to something we’ve spent the past two years discovering.

Our voices and instruments are so amplified I feel as though I will be knocked over by the sound, so I try to ride the waves instead. We reach the part of our set where we’re supposed to play Chickadee’s song, and I barely breathe, not looking at Addison but watching his every move. Is he going to go through with it? He introduces the song. I wait, frozen. I wait for people to turn away in disgust. To walk out, shaking their heads. No one moves. I feel their hearts open, their willingness to go there with us.

“Being here with y’all is really what this whole tour is about,” Addison says. “Sharing this story and this album with people like you, especially here in Austin where this story began, is really special.”

After the music is over, we find our way off of the stage and once again into the arms of strangers. Human beings who have all suffered and lost, just as we have.

“Y’all are giving us all permission to be ourselves,” one person says after we’ve pulled everything off stage to make room for the next band.

“You’re doing something with your music that I want to be doing but don’t know how”, one musician tells us. He plays in different bands around Austin, but works on his own music as well. “I want to get there. I am figuring it out. I’m so inspired by your vulnerability and your story.”

A week and a half later, and about a month and half into our tour, we are going to a Buddhist gathering at the Travis Correctional Facility in Dell Valle Texas with our Dharma teacher, Alyssa. We pass a mandolin, banjo, guitar, harmonicas and fiddle through the security check and inside the fences and razor wire, and find a group of men in white and black striped jumpers, ready to meditate, to listen to our music and to discuss the wonders and hardships of being alive.

I look into the faces of these men, and see that their suffering has transformed them. They are in jail, but they are learning to find a freedom that they will always have access to—freedom from their thoughts, feelings and perceptions; freedom from judgement, freedom from attachment to things being a certain way; freedom from the notion of being a separate self but rather the freedom of finding ourselves in everything and everyone.

Addison, Alyssa, these prisoners and I have all come to this Buddhist practice through our own trials by fire, and we have arrived together from different paths, yet now we are together and trying to support one another along the same path. Alyssa greets each man as though he were a beloved son, embracing them and listening intently to their updates and check-ins.

We sit down and meditate together, following Alyssa’s instruction to relax the tops of our heads down to our feet, and to allow ourselves to arrive here fully. After meditating, I push metal finger picks onto my right hand and place the banjo into my lap. Addison tunes his five string violin and then we begin to play. The music transports all of us, beyond the prison walls, and we all forget where we’re sitting. We forget that this is the first time we’re meeting each other, feeling a familiarity that goes beyond our stories and judgements.

I tell the men briefly about losing Chickadee and how she appears in the song we just played and the one we’re about to play.

“I’m so sorry,” I hear one man utter softly.

After we play some more songs, a man shares the story of his father dying, while he was still in jail and unable to be with him. “Look at your hands,” Alyssa says. “Can you see your father’s hands in your hands? He is still with you, he’s still inside of you.”

“My father used to hold my hand through church service every Sunday,” he says. “I can still feel his hand on mine when I close my eyes.”

“Here in prison, right here with y’all,” one man says, pointing to the instruments in our hands, “is a joy I never experienced when I was ‘free’. Back when I was taking dope and peddling drugs, I never felt joy. I didn’t know what joy felt like. I would take drugs and ‘have fun’, but that was nothing close to this. Just sitting here in this circle with all of you, is the greatest joy I’ve ever felt.”

The men ask us questions about our life, how do we support ourselves, is it only with music?

“We offer people something that we have the ability to offer – our music, our story, our presence – and we always receive something back,” I say, “whether it’s money or a place to stay or a juvenile peacock feather tied to our merch case. Like being here with you and bringing you joy is a compensation that goes beyond anything we can compare. It’s the most fulfilling thing I can think of doing.”

It’s time to leave, so Alyssa rings the bell, and we bow to one another in gratitude for showing up and for what each person shared of themselves. Then we turn to bow to the trees and the insects and the sky and to all of our ancestral teachers. As the men prepare to leave, they give each of us hugs, thanking us for coming.

We make our way back out of the giant cage of the jail, and Alyssa asks if telling Chickadee’s story over these two months on tour has been like ripping a scab off of a wound repeatedly. Alyssa lost her grandson a few days after he was born, not long before we lost Chickadee, but I still haven’t heard her talk directly about him in her Dharma talks. Maybe one day she will.

“You know I don’t think there was a scab on the wound to pull off,” I tell her. “Talking about Chickadee and playing her songs for people has been helping the wound to scab and heal, instead of just bleeding non-stop.”

I used to feel so isolated in my grief, bemoaning the lack of ceremony we have as a culture around death, especially of babies and children. I had no idea until I was a bereaved mother that the way the death of babies is handled by many people is by avoiding the subject, for fear they might “upset” me, as if I’m not already beyond upset. But I don’t feel angry about the avoidance anymore. I understand their silence comes from not knowing what to do or say. So Addison and I created our own ceremony around Chickadee’s death by recording her an album and traveling the country with it.

The next morning after visiting the prisoners, we packed some snacks and Zoso into the car, picked up birdseed from the store and drove the thirty miles east out of Austin to Eloise Woods, the green burial site where we left Chickadee’s tiny little body two and half years ago.

On the day she was born, we had held her for hours, admiring every inch of this little miracle who emerged from my body. A few visitors had come and gone, crying over her both in sadness and in wonder, including my sister and my dad, who’d flown in at short noice when they heard the news. The hospital put her on ice afterwards, to give me time to recover from giving birth and slowly regain feeling in my lower body from the epidural.

Later we asked to see her again, and we cradled her cold, bundled body, looking into her face and wondering what we should do with her. The hospital was offering to incinerate her and give us a tiny urn filled with her ashes. Our midwife was telling us about a green burial space that we could bring her to.

“But we’ll need to keep her on dry ice all night, and change the ice out every four hours,” she said. “And we need to bury her tomorrow for sure. Her body is very fragile and delicate, and it will start to fall apart quickly.”

Talk about fucking impermanence.

I was trying to wrap my mind around keeping her in a box in our bedroom and changing out dry ice in the middle of the night when I could barely even walk and Addison was a bereft zombie version of his former self, when my sister stepped in.

“I can take care of that,” she said. “I’ll set a timer and change her ice out and whatever else needs to be done. You won’t have to think about it.”

She looked into my face, and I know that she could tell that the difference between us burying Chickadee or cremating her was what kind of support she could give us in this time of utter disbelief.

“Ok,” I said, knowing that I could rely on her. As soon as my sister received the news that my baby died while I was in labor, she’d gotten on the first plane out of Seattle that she could find a ticket for. “Thanks Radha.”

I’d imagined Eloise Woods to be an open area, a rolling cemetery covered in bright green grass with giant willows weeping across the symmetrical lines of gravestones. But Texas is not the northeast, where I’ve spent most of my life. This green burial place is a couple of acres covered by scraggly oaks and scrubby brush, with stony paths cut through the woods. Erect gravestones are not allowed, so all of the markers lie flat on top of the burial mound they belong to, mostly marking the graves of babies and pets, though some adults rest there as well.

We arrived in a caravan of cars. Addison parked our car in the shade where I waited with our daughter in a styrofoam ice chest beside me. My sister visited with me in between checking on the progress of finding a spot to bury Chickadee. Addison wanted the best place for her and was walking in circles around the site, trailed by his mother, my dad and the midwife. What felt like an eternity later, he’d decided on a couple of options, and they led me around and showed me our choices. I was dismayed by how hot and merciless the sun was, and by how unwelcoming this place felt, and despaired at finding a burial place I could be happy with. At one spot I was being shown, I turned around and looked behind me. There was a corner patch of woods where I could see an opening at the foot of an oak tree.

“What about over here?” I asked. Everyone turned and looked. I wanted Chickadee to be buried somewhere remotely shady, and between the oaks and a big pine nearby, it was one of the shadier options. It was also a private nook, where no one else was yet buried.

Everyone agreed it was a good spot.

I went back to my seat in the car with Chickadee, and the men got to work, relieved to have something to do with themselves. They cut back brush, raked and eventually were able to begin digging her burial spot. It need to be at least three feet deep, which is no small task with soil as hard and rocky as this Texas soil was.

A chaplain, who my midwife had asked to come, was helping to cut and dig, when I asked if I could see him and talk to him about the ceremony he was planning on leading for my daughter. He walked slowly to the car, brushing dirt from his hands, and sat next to me solemnly.

“Mary Ellen asked me to do something involving some Christian songs and words,” he said, “but I hear you’re not Christian.”

“No, I’m not,” I said. “Not that I have an aversion to Christianity either.” I think my dad had been worried about his granddaughter getting Jesus-afied during her burial, because he’d seemed a bit grumpy after the chaplain’s arrival.

“What do you believe?” the chaplain asked me.

I was so glad to be having this conversation. So glad that someone was asking me this.

“Everything I’ve read that the Buddha taught really makes sense to me,” I said.

“So are you Buddhist?”

“I don’t know…” I said slowly. “Maybe I am.”

We talked about life after death, spirituality, God or no God, all of the topics I love discussing with intelligent yet kind people such as this man.

We wrote out the ceremony together, and when it was time all of us formed a semi-circle, standing or sitting, around the freshly dug hole. Addison went to the car and carried the little bundle of his daughter over to the grave and carefully lowered her in. Later I would regret not having held her one last time, but at that moment I just sat and watched her go into the ground.

Addison and I each sang her a song, and her Nana tried to sing her a song but couldn’t get the words out through her tears, so Radha and I picked up the song where she’d left off and sang it. Radha also read her a message from my friend Colleen, and my friend Alice read her a Mary Oliver poem. MariMikal and her friend sang a couple of songs as well, and then my dad stood up to say some words.

“I can’t help feeling that she’ll be back,” he told all of us. “She came to Jahnavi and Addison at an important time in their lives, and now that her work is done she left again. But I think she’s coming back.”

When it was time to bury her, I lowered a beautiful moonstone necklace onto her bundle, given to us by the midwife’s assistant, along with a moonstone necklace each for Addison and I. Everyone surrounded her and began to pour shovels or handfuls of dirt over her. A chubby stone chickadee was placed at the head of the grave, along with some other pieces of art and beauty brought by friends or family.

Two and half years later we are arriving in the same car we’d transported Chickadee in, but this time we know our way around. We open the gate and roll in on the bumpy dirt trail, parking at the beginning of the Moonlit Garden path. Zoso knows the drill, and bursts from the car in a flurry of excitement, and commences with peeing on things and chasing rodents through the underbrush.

It’s spring this time, and although it’s sunny, it’s not yet too hot. There are wildflowers bursting with vivid colors all around, and it lends a feeling of cheerfulness to this unassuming patch of Texas forest. I look around, wondering how much of Chickadee’s essence is dispersed through the landscape here, how much of her is still inside of me, and where is the rest of her?

According to Thich Nhat Hanh and the Buddha and science, our bodies and energy re-disperse into the world around us after we die, our molecules becoming a part of the insects, trees, plants, birds, sunshine, rain and clouds. Perhaps our mind-stream carries on to another form, but that is always up for debate. As the Dalai Lama says, until science can prove that re-birth does or does not exist, then maybe it does.

“As far as I know, no modern psychologist, physicist, or neuroscientist has been able to observe or predict the production of mind either from matter or without cause,” he says. If something has no beginning, it makes sense that it has no end.

Addison and I sit by Chickadee’s grave for a while, talking, playing music, journaling, reading and, of course, filling up her bird feeder with a mix of sunflower seeds, peanuts and safflower seeds. I sprinkle the seed mix around her spot, and Zoso wanders around picking up the peanuts and munching them contentedly. He’s hot, and keeps trying to do the frog dog, legs splayed out and belly to the cool earth, directly on top of Chickadee. Addison keeps shooing him off, but I finally say, “You know what, just let him. She’s his little sister and I don’t think she minds.”

Yes, I know that a dog can’t actually be related to a human, but Zoso is our baby and so is Chickadee, so there it is.

It’s strange sitting with a part of me that has been buried.

We take a walk around the grounds, noticing new burial sites with markers from 2018 or 2019. Beautiful quotes engraved in stone mark the paths, and we pause to read them or to smell the fragrant wildflowers who smile up at us. We find a dog bowl for Zoso because he’s hot and thirsty, and as we search for a spigot to get him some water, we discover a two foot tall medicine Buddha hiding behind the tool-shed.

“Oh wow,” I say.

“What’s he doing behind here?” Addison asks.

“He’s too tall to meet the marker requirements,” I observe. “And they don’t want statues set up here either. I know we have our chubby chickadee, but we are technically breaking the rules. So someone probably brought him here not knowing that, but then the caretaker saw and hid him back here while they figured out what to do with him.”

“Let’s take him to Chickadee’s spot,” Addison says.

“Ok,” I laugh. “They’re going to discover him sooner or later and carry him away again, but we might as well bring him over to hang out with her for a while anyway.”

Addison picks up the Medicine Buddha and sets him next to Chickadee’s grave. The Buddha gazes down at her in his cross-legged pose of blissful concentration.

Chickadee left a legacy of the greatest sorrow we will ever know. And she has left a legacy of music that we hadn’t known how to play until she came around. She taught us to be brave. She helped us commit to a spiritual practice, first when we were expecting her and meditating with her every morning, and after she left us. She has shown us that we really are interconnected with all beings, and that everyone has a story. If we stay vulnerable and just listen, we will hear the entire universe in the laugh of a baby, we will see all of the oceans in the tear of a woman, and we will smell the beauty of the entire world in the fragrance of a flower. When we begin to live our lives for the benefit of others, our happiness expands and we can begin to truly see other people as human beings with a story and a legacy of their own, which is not separate from ours.

We’re all in this together.

Loneliness

“Yes I’m lonely, wanna die… I am lonely, wanna die…

If I am dead already… Girl, you know the reason why.”

-The Beatles

I am almost 8 months pregnant now. It is late September in Austin, hot, humid with a population of mosquitoes that boggles my mind, despite my years in India.

I hail most recently from Vermont, and am unaccustomed to the long months of confinement in air conditioning that I’m experiencing here in Austin.

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Our cat loves meditation time

Sometimes I venture to open a window, to let the sound of bird song drift in… But the heat quickly fills the house and I am quick to shut it again.

I slip outside on a daily basis to water my garden. I move quickly, swatting away mosquitoes while I hold the hose. Sometimes I’m lucky and only get 5-10 bites before I duck back inside.

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These guys don’t mind the mosquitoes…

Most mornings we meditate out on the back-porch. We set up by lighting two citronella candles, several sticks of incense, an essential oil burner filled with lemongrass and citronella oils and whatever else we can find that smokes and smells vile to mosquitoes. It’s wonderful to be able to sit outside and not get bitten… too much, anyways. An occasional kamikaze mosquito will break through the frontlines and find it’s way to a leg, or a foot, usually getting a blood sample or two before it’s exterminated with a mighty clap.

One day I scurried outside equipped with a mini saw and some clippers, to cut back the unwanted saplings and suckers from the trees in our front yard. I moved as quickly as I could, while a veritable cloud of blood sucking, hungry mosquitoes formed about me. Ten minutes later I was rushing back inside, my work done, and throwing myself onto our bed, moaning in agony. I counted almost 100 mosquito bites on my body (I got in the habit of counting mosquito bites when we lived in India and were camped on some land covered in rice paddies while we began construction on the community that would be built there). Addison and I rubbed ice cubes over the swelling bites, and I lathered myself in essential oils that eventually helped the itching to calm down.

My midwife told me about these mosquito repelling DEET sprayers that you can clip onto your belt while you garden. I never knew I would actually consider getting something like this before, but it sounds awesome. Misting mosquito death all around me… a force field of toxic doom for the blood sucking masses. Ahhh….

At this point you may be wondering what all of this mosquito talk has to do with loneliness, the title of this blog post.

Or maybe you live in Austin and you are simply commiserating with my mosquito tales. 😉

What this all has to do with loneliness is this: I am hugely pregnant, spending a lot of time at home. My usual activities (when not in my third trimester of pregnancy) involving nature connection, capoeira and cycling adventures have been put on hold for the moment.

I go to bed early. I wake up to pee up to 5 times in the night. I try to get up early and write for a couple of hours before I do any other work.

I go to Barton Springs and swim in the healing, cold waters that seem to suck the inflammation from my swollen ankles and fingers. These spring waters are a veritable source of bliss for this pregnant lady.

I have a mandolin lesson every other week, and noodle around at home, practicing the melodies and chords in preparation for the next lesson.2016-09-21-14-27-43-1

I read out loud in french, practicing for when the baby is born and I have to speak to her in french as much as possible so she can be bilingual as she grows up.2016-09-15-15-22-02

I reach out to a few people every week, hoping someone will want to come over and see me, or maybe go swimming with me. Perhaps, in some people’s minds, the fact that I’m pregnant means that I don’t exist right now. If I can’t come to capoeira class at night, or go see a show, than why invite me to anything or check in on me? I have a full time job creating another human being, so what else could I possibly want to do?

Ok, that was my bitter, proud Leo side speaking.

I’ve always wanted people to reach out to me, to invite me on adventures, to include me in crazy schemes.

But that’s what I do, not other people. I’m the one who calls people up and asks them to go camping with me, I’m the one who tries to get everyone together to make crafts and play music, I’m the one who writes letters on a typewriter and sends postcards and am thrilled if anyone responds in kind.

I know I am loved and adored by all of my friends. I know most of them would do anything to help me if I asked. I know they all care.

But I am in my third trimester of pregnancy, and I don’t want to be alone all of the time. I do like being alone most of the time. But not all of the time.

I’m feeling discouraged about creating community in Austin at the moment.

I did have a brilliant idea.

I updated my Couchsurfing profile and switched it on, to “Accepting Guests”.

Lo and behold, I’ve had requests from interesting, friendly people from all over the country who want to stay here… and that’s just within the first day of turning it back on.

I even had a Persian PhD student ask if we could be adventure buddies since he enjoys hiking and camping and wants other people to do this with. I said yes, but as I am so pregnant, I can only go on short hikes and am better off swimming.

The other day we had a young couple from Olympia, WA stay here. We talked about adventures and travel, and then they squished together on our leather chair next to the vinyl player reading books, while Addison and I worked out a couple of songs for our show on Saturday (are you coming? It’s at In.gredients on Sept. 24th from 6-8 pm).

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Back when I hosted a cyclist from England during my second trimester of pregnancy

It was very cozy and nice to have other human beings in our house.

Next weekend a woman from Alberta, Canada is going to stay with me while Addison is in Chicago. We’re going to go swimming, crotchet and read french to one another.

The weekend after a couple from Colorado is staying here for ACL.

Oh, and this kid from Denmark, who is traveling around the United States, just hit me up while I was writing to stay here tonight. 🙂

And ANOTHER guy just hit me up to stay here this weekend… he’s offering us Thai massages and yoga instruction. Woah.

Another idea I had is to figure out how to sit in my front yard on a daily basis, so I can wave to neighbors as they walk by. If anyone stops to chat, I’ll offer them a drink and a seat. I just need some really baller outdoor furniture and some extra citronella candles… maybe a fan that blows mosquito repellant everywhere. 😉 (if you live in Austin and have baller outdoor furniture to share with me, let me know! If the furniture comes included with you sitting in it, even better!)

I have always wanted community. But I didn’t always know that’s what I wanted. And now that I know that, I don’t know exactly how to make it happen. I’ve moved so frequently my entire life that I have friends and family spread across the world, literally.

Sometimes I sit and consider who I’m going to visit when, and as I start going down the list my head begins to spin. Should I spend New Years in Saltillo, Mexico with my new family-away-from-home that I spent last New Years with during my bicycle trip? How will that be with a newborn baby?

When should I fly to L.A. to visit my uncle and my new cousins who I still haven’t even met yet?

And then there’s always India. I haven’t been back there in 10 years, and I’d love to visit my mom and brother in their natural habitat, and revisit the Tibetan refugees who live near Govindaji Gardens (the spiritual community where my mom and brother live) and walk through their beautiful temple again and see the incredible depictions of the Peaceful and Wrathful deities.

Oh and France, of course. Half of my family lives there, shouldn’t I do a french pilgrimage and visit them all with the new baby?

And since my sister and her husband have decided to move to Washington, well I suppose I’ll need to head that way in the next year as well!

I will have to wait on all of these schemes while I discover what it’s like to live and travel with a baby. But I do believe she has a lot of adventuring in her future… 😉

For now I am thankful to have a beautiful, spacious home and a guest room, so that I can invite people to stay here.

And perhaps one day I will actually buy a house and live in the same place for the rest of my life and build up the kind of community around me that I’ve always wanted.

Seeing as you’ve read this all the way to the end, something about this topic must be interesting to you and I would LOVE to hear your thoughts. About any of it. In addition to being curious about what other people’s thoughts are on community and loneliness… and mosquitoes, reading your comment I think will help me feel less lonely. 🙂

On the road again

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.”

“That’s brilliant!”

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.

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A picture of Mark, the artist who played before us, at The Neutral Ground

“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.

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Me playing ‘A Moment’s Rest’ on the mandolin

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:

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Packing up the car–no dog left behind!
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On our way to our live appearance on 90.1 KPFT Houston with Roark, one of the happiest DJs we know
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A Houston native
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Addison playing a solo song before our set at the Avant Garden open mic in Houston
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The Love Sprockets at The Neutral Ground
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Zoso getting comfy before our show at The Neutral Ground
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Me and the owl
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Packing up in Baton Rouge the morning after our house show at Dick’s
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Driving into the sunset, Austin on the horizon

San Antonio, and headed to the Border…

On December 20th, 2015 I left Cibolo, TX and made my way to Rohn’s house (a friend of a friend of a friend) who lives near San Antonio.

When I showed up at his door, we hung out by his pool-converted-into-a-fish-pond and talked about life, death, birds and cats.

rohn's pond

rohn's kitty

Then I took a nap to give my concussed brain a rest.

That night we spent some time with Jocelyn (she’s the friend of a friend who found me Rohn to stay with) and her family.

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Then we hit the town on bicycle, to see the beautiful lights along the San Antonio River Walk, and narrowly avoid running over oblivious pedestrians as they stared at their phones (or the beautiful scenery around them).

san antonio riverwalk

The next day I had to decide whether I was letting Addison drive me over the border in Laredo, or whether I would just cycle the whole thing.

On one hand I didn’t really want to cross the border alone with a big pile of gear and then ride the semi-truck infested toll-road from Laredo to Monterrey, with naught but cactuses and muffler exhaust for company for 3-4 days…

But on the other hand, I didn’t want Addison to have to bring our car through the border and then have to drive back from Monterrey alone.

What if the Narcos got him??

After meditating with Rohn and his tiny cat…

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I packed up and we headed downtown to a coffeeshop.

During coffee and breakfast, Rohn told me about the video project he wants to embark on (I’m hoping he’ll set up his own Patreon account so I can support him!) about the history of San Antonio beginning 20,000 years ago.

I bid Rohn adieu…

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…and pointed my bicycle in a southerly direction (I hear that’s where Brazil is!).

For some time I was trapped on the river walk because after I had gotten myself deep into the heart of the city and the river walk, stairs appeared in all directions and I couldn’t find a way out.

A kindly young lady (who worked for the park) gave me directions, and I told her and a mom and her son what I was doing and they all gaped appreciatively. If there’s any reward for what I’m doing, at least seeing people’s expressions when they find out where I’m headed is rewarding enough! 😀

By the end of the day I found myself on I-35 Frontage Road, watching the sun begin to set. I knew I should find a place to sleep, but I was really enjoying riding and wanted to keep going!

(coincidentally, it was the shortest day of the year, so it definitely felt like daylight had run out too quickly!)

Just then I noticed a man in a black leather jacket standing on the side of the highway with his motorcycle. I smiled and waved, at which he began to yell and wave his arms and run towards me.

It turns out his motorcycle had run out of fuel and he needed to use a phone to call his girlfriend.

Once he’d made the call and I told him what I was up to, he shook his head in disbelief but then said, “I want to come with you!”

“You can!” I laughed. “I’d love some company getting over the border.”

“Yeah, but I’d be riding that,” he pointed at his motorcycle.

I nodded. “You’d be going quite a bit faster than me, that’s for sure.”

When he asked where I was sleeping that night and I said, “I don’t know yet”, he told me the road I was headed to next didn’t have much of anything on it.

So after saying good bye to him, I turned back to the last town I’d seen and rolled up to the first church I could find…

‘La Iglesia de los Hechos’.

I knocked on some doors but no one came out.

I called the number on their sign and a woman answered.

“Hola,” she said.

“Hola,” I replied. “Habla ingles?”

“No… Pero hay una mujer aqui que habla ingles. Solo un minuto…”

After a second, another woman picked up the phone.

“Hello?” She had a thick Spanish accent.

“Hi!” I said cheerfully. “My name is Jahnavi and I am on a bicycle tour right now. I’m riding from Austin to Brazil and I am outside of your church right now. I was wondering if I could set up my tent next to the church to sleep tonight. I don’t need anything else, just want to have a safe place to sleep.”

I could tell she was still trying to grasp what I was saying to her when she said, “You… want to sleep at the church?”

“Just outside, in the grass,” I said.

“The house where we have guests is full. A family from Mexico is living there. They have nowhere to go.”

“I don’t need a house, I have a tent.”

Finally she called the Pastor, who was inside the church at the time.

He came out to meet me and stared at me and my bicycle.

“Como se llama?” I asked after telling him that I just needed a spot to set up my tent.

“Salvador [and then a long string of names I can’t remember] Pastor.”

We shook hands.

He showed me into a building that was under construction. There was plaster dust and boards everywhere, but it had a door that locked, and windows that opened.

I was thrilled.

“Muchas gracias!” I told him. “Es perfecto!”

Salavador Pastor looked at me then with what seemed to be a mix of horror and pity. The fact that I was traveling alone and was so thrilled to be pitching my tent in his empty construction area, seemed to baffle him.

When he left me there, I found a room without boards and tools in it and set my tent up there.

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I also plugged in my devices to charge along the wall, before heading over to a Subway that was around the corner.

Vegetables are hard to come by on bicycle tours, so even though they were Subway vegetables on a foot-long sub, I was delighted. They were colorful and crunchy, and I even got to have some guacamole on my sandwich.

While I was eating, I noticed a brand new pick-up truck pull in. It was done up to the nines: lifted, shiny rims, guard-rail, etc.

I thought, Wow, that is such a big, fancy truck… If I was a native person who hadn’t seen cars before, I would assume that some kind of god would step out of it.

When the door opened, a small, portly man in baggy clothes plopped out. He looked haggard and stooped, and his health appeared to be anything but good. He spat out a watery glob as he headed into Subway with his two overweight children.

I stared at him and then at his his truck.

For a moment I had this feeling that the truck had stolen his soul… He must work so hard to maintain that truck and keep up with payments, I thought. What if he chose to just invest all that time and money into healthy food, exercising and taking a vacation out in nature once in a while?

I pondered this as I headed back to my empty building.

I didn’t sleep so well, because apparently, in this tiny Texas town, it is a ritual to hit the gas when you’re driving through a certain intersection, spin out your wheels, and gun it all the way to the highway… only between 2-4 AM.

Around 4:30 AM I drifted to sleep.

At about 8:30 AM, Salvador Pastor opened the door to the building and called in.

“Hello? Hello!!!”

“H-hi…! Hello!” I responded blearily.

“Are you okay?” he yelled.

“Yes, yes! I’ll stop by the church when I’m up,” I told him.

“I just wanted to know you’re okay,” he said, and then shut the door.

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After I had been up for a while, a Mexican man appeared at the door.

“Hola, buenos dias,” he said.

We were able to communicate by gesturing wildly and inserting random english or spanish words into sentences.

His wife had come by when I had been at Subway, to invite me to sleep in their house and eat dinner with them, but I wasn’t there.

He wanted me to come to the house and drink coffee, use the bathroom, and stay for another day if I wanted to.

I did use the bathroom and drink coffee with him. He showed me pictures of his four sons, all strapping young men who depicted themselves shirtless and flexing, lifting weights or posing in a backwards baseball cap.

He was so sweet and kind, that I wanted to give him our album (The Love Sprockets: Nobody Wants to Die) and my contact, and to figure out how in the heck to say ‘tent’ in spanish.

(google translate was telling the man that I had slept inside my ‘cottage’ that night, so it was cool)

I called my friend Negro/Felipe who speaks fluent spanish and asked him to be our translator via speaker phone.

I brought the album to the man and held the phone up, feeling relieved as Negro babbled in spanish to him and helped me explain what I was doing and what the album was.

It was Dec. 22nd. The sun was warm and pleasant as I continued riding south around 11 am.

Addison was coming to get me from Austin that day, and I wanted to ride as far as I could before he caught up with me.oG1NSaLmgmXLscmGqeN5ljPU7PpJRwghbh1Oh0XwQ_0

I listened to music and to my spanish lesson, pedaling along cheerfully. I stopped in the shade of a bank to eat food and greet the people who pulled into the parking lot to do their banking.

I rode on mostly back roads, listening to birds and bugs and rattling along on the uneven pavement.

By 5:30 pm I had managed to go almost 40 miles and I was ready to stop. I knew Addison was close by, so I pulled into a gas station and waited.

I felt so happy.

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Next stop? Laredo and the border…


	

Taking the Plunge

When you are supposed to leave on a 5,000+ mile journey by bicycle, and your launching point is your comfortable, safe Austin apartment where your fiance and your cat and your dog live… it becomes very tempting to keep pushing the departure date off.

I delayed my inevitable exit for a few days, but finally, Friday the 18th of December, I got my butt out the door.

When my bicycle was all packed and waiting down the stairs and in the parking lot, I went back inside and announced to Addison that it was time. He stared at me from the couch where he was lying in semi-shock, a mix of disbelief, surrender and sadness written on his face.

We made our way out to my 80 lbs of stuff-strapped-to-a-bicycle rig, and took some pictures in commemoration of the day I left Austin, on a bicycle, in hopes that one day I would arrive in the land of Brazil:

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Here it is! My trusty steed…
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“Wuv… twu wuv…”
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The whole family… Shiva the cat is like, “What the heck are they doing to me and why isn’t anyone feeding me??”

When I saw Addison’s eyes fill with tears, I had to find a strong place in me that would enable me to keep smiling and keep moving, rather than pulling him back inside and cradling him in my arms whilst we both wept copiously.

And luckily he had a harmonica lesson he was biking to, so he hopped on his ride and I heaved, hobbled and gingerly mounted mine. I rode with him to his lesson, where we had one more good bye, and then I turned to face the sun and started pedaling.

First stop: Alice’s house!

She was on my way out and I needed to return her Spanish book anyways… 😀

Boy was she surprised to see me at her door in my alien cyclist outfit!

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Baby Josephine took my bike for a test ride, and sanctioned that it was indeed fit for the upcoming adventure

I was in good spirits as I rolled away, waving to Alice and baby Josephine standing in the bright sun. The temperature was 70 at the most, and the sky was clear and bright blue.

It was really nice having google maps guiding me through back roads, neighborhoods and small sections of bike trails (unlike my last bike trip where we had to stop every few miles to check and see if we’d gone the wrong way on the map).

(I was on my way to my friend Morgan’s house, in Cibolo, TX — 60ish miles away)

But I quickly discovered that my phone cannot hold its charge. I dropped it in the toilet a month ago (in preparation for this trip, ya know–ha!) and its battery just hasn’t been the same. I know I would most likely be traumatized if someone dropped ME in the toilet. 😀

Luckily I have this nifty charger pack with me, so I was able to keep the phone on… for a while.

At one point google maps sent me through the backside of a highschool to cut over to another road. Siiri must have not taken into account that there would be over ten school buses lined up along the whole length of the connecting street, and hundreds of highschool students swarming in throngs in and around the street.

After trying to navigate through crowds of humans who seem to only be able to see the nose in front of their face and not much else, I gave up and just started walking my bike through.

Considering how I was dressed, my overloaded bicycle and the gopro mounted to the top of my helmet, the few students who did actually look at me, gaped in a mix of interest and horror.

I heard muttered remarks of, “What the hell?” and “Woah!” and then finally an older man standing at a corner asks me, “Where ya headed? Alaska?” with a laugh.

I smiled pleasantly and told him, “No, Brazil! The opposite direction.”

He was chewing over that bit of fantastical information as I straddled my rig once more and creaked away, pedaling up some momentum to get me down the road. A highschool student sitting in a parked car saw me pass and yelled, “What are you doing??”

I only smiled and kept going.

But that did set the tone for the next hour of my ride as I mulled it over.

What AM I doing? I pondered. And yes, ‘what the hell?’ is right!

Eventually I stopped to eat lunch in the sunshine.

By 5 pm I had only gone 30 miles and my phone and charger pack had both died completely.

I pulled up next to a University stadium gift shop (which was closed) and found a power outlet on the side of the building. I hunkered down and began charging things. I knew I had a place I could stay just 4 miles away, but that would mean not getting to Morgan’s house that night.

Morgan lived another 33 miles south, and she had been very excited to see me because she is also getting into bicycles and touring.

When I called her to say maybe I should stay with the closer host and see her the next day, she continued to be optimistic that I could reach her house at a reasonable hour, and the rest of the ride was on one road, so I wouldn’t need my phone for navigation as much. She was so upbeat and seemed to be really looking forward to seeing me, so I ignored the little voices crying out for mercy in my head and decided to keep going.

I watched the traffic flowing and stopping in the light of setting sun, while my phone charged a little longer.

5:30 pm, I thought, and 33 miles yet to go. It’s going to be dark in half an hour… and cold. Why am I doing this to myself?

I am a sucker for ‘stupid adventures’ (as me, my sister and her husband so fondly call all of the mishap adventures we’ve been on together), and I’ve never ridden a bicycle loaded down with 80 lbs of gear through the dark night on a busy road. A new experience, right? Ha ha.

After packing everything back up, I hit the road and joined the traffic onto I-35 Frontage road.

It was scary.

Big, small and enormous vehicles rushed by me in the dark, some of them slowing down, others speeding up as they saw me. Some people changed lanes to give me room, others shaved by me at close quarters.

It is not my time to go, I reminded myself. This is only the beginning of the journey.

After another ten miles, I had gotten so cold and distraught that I felt I surely must give up.

Instead, I stopped at a traveler’s rest stop and got a big, hot, cup of steamy coffee. I stood in the breezeway with my bicycle and charging phone, as people pushed past me. Some of them looked at me and my gear with curiosity, others just shoved by as quickly as they could without knocking me over.

One guy talked to me at checkout, smiling in amazement when I told him what I was doing.

A friendly Mexican man stopped several times to talk to me about my bicycle, how far I’d come, where I was going, and eventually he offered to buy me food. I was touched by his offer, and reminded that all of us humans are one big family, and even though I am separated from Addison and the rest of my blood family, I’m still not really alone.

I thanked him, but told him I had food and a nice hot coffee. I would have loved to just stop my ride right there and it a big pile of food with him, but I knew I still had another 18 miles to go.

I would definitely take someone up on a ride right now… I thought, as people walked by.

At that moment, a disheveled, sad looking black man approached me.

“You ridin’ that bicycle?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Alone?”

Hmmm… probably shouldn’t say I’m alone… But what the hay, he seems pretty harmless.

“For the moment. I’m actually about to call my friend who is meeting me on the road.”

He pondered this for a moment.

Then asked, “Where ya headed?”

“Cibolo,” I said. “It’s about 18 miles south of here.”

“You need a ride?” he asked. “I can give you a ride. And I won’t bother you.” He stared at me. “I would love to bother you… but I won’t!”

I smiled. How touching. “That’s okay, my friend is meeting me so I’ll just ride.”

He insisted I take his number, which I did, knowing I would never call it.

When I got Morgan on Facetime, she was all dressed in her cycling gear and even had earrings that lit up and blinked brightly so drivers could see her.

She offered to just start riding towards me so that we could meet up halfway and then ride to her house together.

Even though this wasn’t someone offering me a ride in the car, it heartened me all the same. Misery loves company! 😀

So I put on a hundred more layers of clothes and gloves and then precariously maneuvered my bicycle back outside.

It was 8:00 pm-ish.

After another hour or so, Morgan and I eventually found eachother at a McDonald’s and embraced like long-lost friends, talking excitedly.

And then we rode side by side for the next hour chatting and groaning as we encountered more and more hills.

By the time we reached the intersection that led to her house, I thought I might die. We took a break in the parking lot of a bank and looked at the stars. I could have slept on that sidewalk for all I cared, I was so tired.

We reached her warm, inviting house at 10:30 pm-ish. I was so happy to see her home that I could have hugged every single Christmas reindeer decoration in her yard.

I could have wept over the steaming bowl of pasta she and her family presented to me.

And I could have wept into my hot, epsom salt bath for joy.

I didn’t weep until I was lying in bed, drifting to sleep.

Here are some pictures of the next day. Now I gotta hit the road and keep riding! 😉

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Diane, Morgan’s mom
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the shopping area where The Bread Box is that Diane and Morgan work at
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Morgan
bread mixer
The dough mixer
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Morgan and Co. in the kitchen

Dark Dreams, a Bright Future

During the wee hours of Thursday, October 8th, 2015 I received a dream.

When I awoke later that morning to start my day, everything had changed.

How did I go to sleep thinking about band practice and how many classes per week of martial arts I needed to do in order to graduate and feel good about my skill level, and then wake up the next morning with my priorities completely shifted?

How is it that, now that I am established in Austin and thoroughly enjoying living here, I decide to walk away from it all overnight?

I will share the dream with you that I had, but let me give you a quick snapshot of my past for some backstory.

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Addison and I on our cross country bike trip

On January 16th, 2013, Addison (my fiance) and I arrived in Austin, TX on bicycles. We’d ridden all the way from Brattleboro, VT with musical instruments and our dog Zoso.

The emotional journey I embarked on in order to leave what I perceived to be my permanent home (Brattleboro), to ride my bicycle across the United States and move to a foreign country (Austin) was tumultuous. But it was something I had to do in order to be where I am now. Quite literally.

But during our cross-country bicycle trip, I had a feeling that I never wanted to stop. I wanted to keep going South until I reached Brasil, the mother-land of a martial arts I’ve practiced for over ten years (capoeira). I wanted to leave North America and learn Spanish and Portuguese and meet people who thought completely differently than I do and knew how to live in community in a way that many North Americans don’t understand anymore. I had been talking about visiting Brasil and going back to Mexico and Guatemala for years before my U.S. bicycle trip.

Somewhere in all of this, after living in Austin for a while and then going back to visit my beloved Vermont, I had a severe concussion. Throughout my healing process I dipped in and out of various levels of depression. Over the next two years, I would tell many people about how I was going to bike to Brasil once the time was right, come hell or high water.

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A picture of Radha after finishing hiking the Long Trail

My sister, who is traveling through Western Europe and on to Thailand by bicycle with her husband, Erik, has been encouraging me from the start, and even sent me some travel supplies for my trip to Brasil (this included a pair of underwear that claims to be wearable for six weeks without washing–something I will probably not attempt to confirm). She has also hiked the Long Trail by herself, which was something she’d always talked about doing since we were teenagers.

Whenever we would talk on the phone I would tell her that I was working on making more money so I could save money faster and eventually embark on my Brasil trip with Addison.

Yes, Addison had to come with me of course! We’re The Love Sprockets (that’s the name of our band) and that’s what we do! We adventure by day on bicycle and play music for our hosts at night. Plus, I can’t travel through Central and South America by myself! That just wouldn’t be safe!

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The Love Sprockets

Yes, that’s the name of our band: The Love Sprockets. We perform in Austin a few times a month with our drummer (Pete) and upright bass player (Watson).

That is… until Watson announced he was ‘goin’ to Mexico!’. It was always something Watson had threatened, but we didn’t pay it too much heed.

“F** this sh** guys,” he’d say, after taking a swig of the Thirsty Goat beer he brewed 60+ hours a week at Thirsty Planet brewery. “I’m goin’ to Mexico!”

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Me (left), Watson (center), Pete (right)

So now we’re scrambling to find a new bass player. But how do you replace Watson? He’s an ideal bass player in every way: hysterically apropos, high energy, fast talking, mustache-havin’ and a phenomenal musician. He’s also a cyclist.

Well, slap my ass and call me Sally.

Anyhow, let’s get back to my life altering dream, shall we?

So I was always telling people that I would go to Brasil ‘when the time is right’. But the time has not been right for Addison or I. We have our band, The Love Sprockets to play shows with and tour the country with. We have growing relationships with clients who want to pay us to do things that we’re really good at. I have my capoeira school where I get to train as often as I want and actually get good at this martial arts I’ve always loved.

On Wednesday October 7th, 2015, I went to sleep feeling completely satisfied and excited about my life in Austin.

Sometime in the early morning hours of October 8th I had this dream:

In my dream I was with my dad, my brother and sister. All of the people around us were getting randomly inflicted with a plague of some kind. They would see a black powder appear on their skin, and at that point it was too late–the black powder was a sign that the mysterious disease had already begun to set into their muscles and turn them grey and brittle. Soon after they would die a painful death.

We were sad for all of these people, but also feeling a surreal surrender to the unfathomable workings of Death and its suddenness at times.

That was when I noticed the black powder on my own skin.

The four of us took in this new information. I was going to die, and soon.

I sighed, and said, “You know what guys, I’m not scared of dying. But I am scared of being in terrible pain while I die.”

They nodded in agreement.

After this, I went into the bathroom by myself and began to wipe the black powder off of my skin with a warm, soapy wash cloth.

As I cleaned myself, I thought about all of the things I had wanted to do with my life, and the people I would miss. A vision of the little girl I was supposed to have with my fiance, Addison, flashed through my mind. I could hear my brother talking in the other room and I knew, somewhere in my waking mind, that he lives in India and I wouldn’t see him before I died. I would miss my friends and family.

I was sad about all of these things, but resigned to my fate.

That was when I remembered that I had not biked to Brasil yet.

In my dream, I fell to the ground, howling in anguish at this realization. I cried and cried and cried. 

I wanted to get on my bicycle right then, and cycle until I dropped dead. But I could feel the crunchiness of my muscles and tendons and knew the disease had compromised my ability to pedal a bicycle.

Eventually I cried myself awake, much to Addison’s surprise, who was asleep in my bed next to me.

He tried to comfort me as best as he could when I told him about the dream. “You’re okay baby,” he told me. “You’re not going to die of the plague. Nothing bad is happening.”

I lay next to him silently as he fell back asleep.

And I knew something then, that I hadn’t fully realized before.

I’m not afraid of dying, I thought to myself. I’m afraid of not fully living.

I eventually drifted off to sleep, and when I awoke in the morning, I knew things could not stay the same any longer.

During what was supposed to be our meditation session, I unfolded my deepest thoughts and feelings before Addison, and for the first time, we were able to agree on this one truth:

It’s time for me to ride my bicycle to Brasil.

Not next year, not after I have enough money saved.

Now.

I’ve given myself a month and a half to prepare.

And I leave at the end of November, 2015.

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Me, on a 75 mile ride in Texas–note the thick, dark glasses necessary for my concussed vision

I hope you will join me on this journey through my blog and Patreon (I will set up Patreon over the next couple of weeks and let you know when it’s launched).

Thank you for reading this. 🙂

Foreign landscapes, familiar people

We’ve been living in Austin on and off for two years now, and I’ve felt a disconnect from the natural landscape largely due to the fact that it’s very foreign to me (I’m familiar with the northeast and northern California landscapes).

But even though I was biking everywhere in Austin, taking hikes, going swimming in the rivers and going camping, I still felt this painful disconnect.

“I live in an apartment complex!” I would sometimes say out loud to myself, in utter disbelief. I never knew I would live in an apartment complex!

That’s when I remembered that my connection to nature is not simply me and nature. It also involves OTHER PEOPLE.

And the best people to help me connect with nature, are… naturalists!

I’ve spent time at a few different eight shields wilderness schools (a model put in place by Jon Young), and find that the people that these schools attract are people who I feel very at home with.

I did some research and discovered that the Native Earth wilderness school is here in Bastrop, and got in contact with the owner of the school.

I went in for an interview, and will be getting involved with their different programs and be on hand to sub for their staff.

This week I went to spend time with some of the Native Earth instructors who are teaching summer camps for kids at McKinney Falls State Park.

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I discovered some really special spots at the park that I hadn’t found on my own…

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…and today I watched Chris (one of the instructors) work on a figure-4 trap with his kids and smash a lime beneath it!

(the lime represents a small mammal that you could then eat in a survival situation)

Check out the photo sequence:

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Chris propping up the figure-4 trap
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The figure-4 trap is balanced perfectly, and a lime is placed where the bait would be set up for a small mammal to discover
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Using a stick, one of the kids gently tapped the inside part of the trap, where the animal would have bumped against it, resulting in the heavy stones and board crashing down
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The aftermath. One of the kids had filled the lime with red food coloring for gory effect.

I’m glad to have found some like-minded people to spend time outside with, and look forward to learning more about the Texas landscape and survival techniques from them.

When Addison and I embark on our next bike trip—which will be across Mexico and Central America—I will feel better equipped, having some survival skills under my belt that are specific to this kind of region. 🙂

Thanks for reading!

-Jahnavi