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Mountain Bell at Dawn

I have been living at a Buddhist monastery for the past 8 months, and am feeling ready to update this blog again, at least once in a while. ūüôā

The other day I accompanied the sisters who I am on rotation with to ring the big bell at 5 am, which one of the sisters rings each morning to wake everyone up at the monastery in time for sitting meditation. 

It was a beautiful and even profound experience for me, one of the reasons being that I sat on the deck very close to the bell, as Sr. Ph√ļ Nghi√™m sounded it with something I can only describe as a battering ram. The bell is about five feet tall and perhaps four feet in diameter, with a sonorous voice which carries quite far. I could feel my entire body vibrate with each sounding of the bell, and tears were streaming down my face for reasons I couldn’t describe.

Later that day I wrote this poem, and wanted to share it with you:

Great Mountain Bell

The moon sees
through hundreds of leaves
movement on every tiny flower.
The eucalyptus tree
feels the throbbing hum
of wild honeybees.
The ground receives
the white petals drifting
like sand slowly sifting
to the bottom of the sea.
These ears hear the bell
calling over the mountaintop
responding to each touch
of the battering ram
with a soft thunder.
This body resonates deeply
bones shuddering
with each sounding.
These eyes fill with tears
not knowing why they cry
as they look over the hushed community
of wild buckwheat and peppertrees
sage brush and yucca leaves
casting moon shadows
over furtive rabbits
and lizards sleeping in dusty hollows.
Life resonates deeply
through the lungs
of the coyotes.
The bell tolls
the wild dogs howl.
And these feet walk slowly
with nowhere to go
and no one to become.




We officially moved into the bus October 4th…

…but that was really just a stepping stone so that we could let go of house living and commit fully to fitting ourselves and our pets and our instruments and everything else into the bus. But for a few weeks after moving in, we parked at my dad and his partner’s place (in Victor Idaho) and used some of their amenities while we got our own fully functioning.

We spent a few weeks there doing last minute plumbing, carpentry, reinforcement of solar panels, getting the gray water tank and the tool boxes mounted, and adapting to living off of sun energy.

Things that run off of electricity which we can successfully use in the solar powered bus:

  • Lights
  • A small humidifier
  • Propane water heater with an electric starter
  • Water pump
  • Water pressurizer
  • The Splendide Washer Dryer Combo
  • Blender
  • 200 watt electric heater (but we made the mistake of leaving this little guy running on a cloudy day which lead to the batteries draining and us needing to hook up to shore power)
  • The refrigerator
  • The composting toilet vent fan

Appliances that just could not hang with solar power and had to go:

  • 1200 watt electric heater
  • Hair dryer
  • Rice cooker (this may have worked in the long run but we gave it to my dad because he has been wanting one and why risk draining the batteries when we can cook rice with propane?)

We have discovered that having eight solar panels will get us far; but we must only do laundry loads on a sunny day, and we should only use the little 200 watt heater during a mostly sunny day. At night or on a cloudy day we would need to be hooked up to shore power in order to not risk draining the batteries and having our fridge turn off (for some reason the fridge is the first item to give up‚ÄĒmeanwhile the lights will stay on without signs of ceasing).

This immediately raises the validity of having my brother-in-law, Erik, build us that mini wood stove in Washington when we get there. Both propane and solar will be saved by using this third energy source (i.e. solar energy absorbed by trees!).

What we love about our Nature’s Head Composting Toilet:

  • Not needing to flush 1.5 to 7 gallons of water down the tubes every time we sit on the throne
  • The vent fan that keeps the smells going outside at all times
  • Being able to funnel our pee into the gray water tank and send it off with a few sprays of water and essential oils when all is said and done
  • We can put our coffee grinds in there to help the composting process and have the coffee beans absorb smells while they‚Äôre at it

What we don’t love about Nature’s Head Composting Toilet:

  • I personally struggle with turning the agitator afterwards. It hurts my hands because I have to push or pull so hard!
  • The toilet paper piling up underneath us while we sit, threatening to crawl out and take on a life of its own
  • Having to empty the contents eventually‚Ķ

On October 29th we were able to actually drive away from my dad and Greta’s place. It felt like leaving the nest in a real way. No more dad to run to when something wasn’t working right or we needed help problem solving! (And while mentioning my dad, it is worth telling you that he really came through in the last week and made a lot of tricky things happen in the build so that we could safely drive away)

We made our way to Fort Collins via 191 and 80. 

We spent two nights on the road:

 the first night at an RV park…

…the second night parked in a rest area:

What we love about living in a bus so far:

  • Wherever we go, there we are, fully equipped with kitchen, bathroom, laundry, comfy bed, refrigerator, bicycles and meditation station
  • We can now visit our friends and family around the United States and stay for weeks at a time in one place while having our own space and not impinging on someone else‚Äôs
  • No matter where we end up, we can maintain a schedule and do our work and creative practices from home
  • Everyone we meet is enchanted by our cluttered, magical little skoolie. It‚Äôs fun being able to bring a twinkle into the eyes of our acquaintances
  • Our cat and dog can travel everywhere with us in relative comfort and ease. Zoso the dog loves being able to explore new places and meet new people on the reg
  • The bus feels like a Mad Max vehicle that we can hide in and feel safe
  • We have been forced to purge our belongings and might even be able to call ourselves minimalists (maybe‚Ķ perhaps after we get rid of a few more boxes of items)

What we don’t love about living in a bus:

  • It is a bit stressful having everything we own in the whole wide world‚ÄĒincluding a plethora of expensive equipment, gear and appliances‚ÄĒhurtling down the highway at 60 MPH
  • Until someone actually steps inside of the bus and sees the interior with their own eyes, they generally assume we‚Äôre either a) people who love traveling so much we are willing to be very uncomfortable in a funky, hovel of a vehicle or b) out of options and so find ourselves living in a prison bus
  • So far everywhere we‚Äôve gone we have a limited time-stamp on being there, so in the back of our minds we know we‚Äôll have to keep moving soon enough, and so can‚Äôt fully relax into being there (but that will change when we get to Marrowstone Island, WA)
  • Bringing the bus in to get serviced. We haven‚Äôt done it yet, but tomorrow will be our first experience leaving our house at a mechanics (here in Fort Collins) and wandering around until they‚Äôre finished in there

But so far bus life has been a successful venture! As the months and years carry on, I feel we will become more and more at ease with this lifestyle and grateful to our past selves for making it happen.

Two last things worth mentioning:

1. Living on this bus often feels as though we’re living on a boat! When we walk around, our tiny house rocks slightly. And when there are high winds it creaks and sways about even more!

2. The one glaring deficit in this new lifestyle is our lack of hot spot boosting power so that we can livestream our shows and get on Zoom calls with our Patreon community again. This is in the works and we hope to have high speed capacities up and running in the near future.

Signing off,

Captain Jahnavi Newsom of The Love Sprockets Bus Enterprise

Sunset, followed by the moonrise, and then the sunrise over Teton Canyon… watching the world carry on as we carry our friend in our hearts.

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 ‚ÄúFare Thee Well‚ÄĚ, a song we will sing for Evelyn at her memorial service next week.

‚ÄúFare thee well, beloved friend. The time we‚Äôve shared has reached its end. So suddenly you‚Äôve gone away‚Ķ there‚Äôs so much more I long to say. So fare thee well, beloved friend, I know we will meet again‚Ķ‚ÄĚ

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: ‚Äú‚Ķlike tracking a dinosaur through peanut butter‚Ķ‚ÄĚ

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.

And I wonder, where is Evelyn now?

A Part of Me

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 Bicycle Chase Meditation

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?”

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?

Ghost Stories from Brooklyn

(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.
2016-07-31 11.54.27
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.

2016-07-31 11.54.43

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.

Woke Up in New York City

We had escaped the Austin heat…

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.

Ny city at night

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.

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Addison journaling his wave of ideas before we go to sleep

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.

(to be continued)


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

Junk Mail Transforms into My Story

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 wasletters 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.”IMG_0042

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.¬†junk mail

Thus begins the story of transforming junkmail and bills into a story!