...and other places Sequoia and I visited on Mt. Shasta. It sounds like the name of a Fiona Apple record, doesn't it?
Panther Meadows where we camped:
Panther Creek just below the campground
The holy spring. I can't describe the sense of purity, the feeling of sanctity.
Someone carefully placed a large flat rock under the spring, just big enough for one person to stand on comfortably. Big enough for a penitent pilgrim to breathe in the sacred spirit and do a few yoga poses.
Or you can stick your head under the trickle and cool off.
Thunderheads at sunset, day 1.
Smoke on the horizon.
Day 2: We hiked from Bunny Flat at about 7,300 feet to Horse Camp at 8,000.
Beyond Horse Camp, the Causeway of the Gods. A single man used a rock bar to maneuver these boulders into place. The smallest of them had to be 60 lbs, the largest - who knows. The path climbs the mountain for a little more than a half mile, but when you're jumping from boulder to boulder, it feels longer. It looked like something Bilbo might have walked on as he traveled to the Misty Mountains.
"My needs are what are giving you the power over me." Message received, thanks universe...
If somebody is a problem for you, it’s not that they should change, it’s that you need to change. If they’re a problem for themselves that’s their karma, if they’re causing you trouble that’s your problem on yourself. So, in other words when Christ is crucified, he says “forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing”, they’re not a problem for him, he’s trying to get them out of being a problem for themselves, because he’s clear. Your job is to clear yourself. In ideal situations you would clear yourself within the situation, but very often it’s too thick and you can’t do that.
Now, what you do then is you pull back and you do the stuff you do in the morning or at night before you go to work, you do the stuff on weekends, you do the stuff that quiets you down and then each time you go into the situation to where you have to work, you lose it again. And then you go home and you see how you lost it, and you examine it, and then you go the next day and you lose it again, and you go home and you keep a little diary “how did I lose it today”, and you see that, and then you go and you do it again, and after a while as you’re starting to lose it you don’t buy in so much. You start to watch the mechanics of what it is that makes you lose it all the time.
If I’m not appreciated, that’s your problem that you don’t appreciate me. Unless I need your love, then it’s my problem. So my needs are what are giving you the power over me. Those people’s power over you to take you out of your equanimity and love and consciousness has to do with your own attachments and clingings of mind. That’s your work on yourself, that’s where you need to meditate more, it’s where you need to reflect more, it’s where you need a deeper philosophical framework, it’s where you need to cultivate the witness more, it’s where you need to work on practicing opening your heart more in circumstances that aren’t optimum. This is your work. You were given a heavy curriculum, that’s it. There’s no blame, it’s not even wrong, it’s just what you’re given. You hear what I’m saying? It’s interesting. Can you all hear that one?
I'm very, very lucky in my friends. There are many beautiful, kind, generous, thoughtful, funny, honest, loving people in my life and they are a great blessing. This post is not about them. Sometimes a girl needs to vent and tonight is one of those nights. You are forewarned.
A couple of people whom I consider to be friends, good friends, appear to go out of their way to make me feel small. They shut me out, reject my attempts to communicate, refuse to engage even on a superficial level. They are cold, withholding and openly contemptuous. They do not value me; hell, they do not like me, obviously. I'm an annoyance they acquired and can't figure out how to discard.
I'm slow I know, but it finally dawned on me: These friends are not my friends.
A friend would never intentionally make me feel small; that's not what friends do. A friend takes my call, seeks me out, enjoys my company. A friend trusts me with the truth, even when it is unpleasant, even when the answer is no. A friend always replies, even if the reply is "I'm too busy to talk but will be in touch soon."
When I make friends, I commit fully. I offer my whole heart. Over the years, a couple of people have accepted my offered heart, waited until I was completely open and vulnerable, then stomped all over it. I don't know why. Are they psychopaths? Do I bring out the worst in some people? How do I contribute to this dynamic?
Rejection hurts, but I'm a big girl, I'll get over it. Not everyone has to like me.
The lesson here is that I must quit seeking approval from exterior sources. If I truly aspire to Jimmy Giancarlo's "quiet the mind, open the heart, allow the soul," I must fully accept that the only approval that matters is my own. I can and should emulate those I admire and measure myself against their example, but the only judgement that matters is mine.
Plus there's this: Fuck 'em. Enough is enough. I'm done trying to raise adults to be adults. It's not my job to teach them manners. In the words of that great sage Popeye the Sailor Man (whom I have quoted in these pages before), "I've stood alls I can stand and I can't stands no more." Or, as Mark Eitzel put it, "If I have to be this lonely, I may as well be alone."
If I'm going to write about Toby, that's where I should start: Chaos.
But, I can't start there, and the reason why is, in itself, a good illustration of chaos, at least as it applies to my scattered thought processes. You see, the great actor and comedian Robin Williams committed suicide today. Like so many others, I adored his work, adored him. Something about him was so open, real, accessible, it felt like that we his fans knew him in a way that, of course, we did not. Such a huge, towering talent, brave, raw and just so fucking funny. No-one else ever made me laugh as hard as he did. He made me laugh so hard I peed my pants.
Thinking about Robin Williams (age 63) got me to thinking about gentle, generous, geunine Jimmy Giancarlo (age 64) who died last week of an aneurysm. I met him back in the 80s when I worked at the Cabaret Theatre. I never stage managed one of his shows, but we bumped into each other fairly often.. About 10 years ago, I went to work at the college theatre department where he taught musical theatre classes and we saw each other frequently. Later on, he choreographed my production of Romeo and Juliet, creating the dance sequence when Romeo first sees Juliet. It is one of my favorite moments in the play and was a beautiful moment in the production. He was such a joy work with. YouTube was a fairly new phenomenon at the time and I may have been one of the first directors who brought him YouTube clips illustrating what I was looking for. I'm sure I was the only director who ever brought him YouTube clips from Lebanese wedding parties. We sat in his office at the Cabaret and giggled at the way one young man used his keys like castanets. He re-imagined that move in the play's choreography, translating my vague description into the perfect expression of carefree, insouciant youth. Such a sweet, kind, giving man, so calm and reassuring. He maintained meticulously high artistic standards without ever being a drama queen or a dick. I loved him dearly.
And that got me to thinking about good people who die too young: Robin Williams, Jimmy Giancarlo, Larry Thompson, Tom Green, and that made me think of Toby, who died younger than any of them.
And that's when I thought, I really should write about him. I've been saying for years that I should write that story down. But how can I write about a force of nature, an agent of chaos?
Maybe I should write about chaos.
But, I can't write about chaos, not yet. That's too far into the story. Maybe I should write about how I met him at the Arizona Rainbow Gathering.
But, I can't write about the Arizona Gathering without writing about how I got involved in the Rainbow Gathering in the first place.
Which takes me to the Bay Area, 1978, and a hippie named T'Om.
I was working part-time as a teacher in a little pre-school in Hayward, leading a class of three-year-olds. Terrifying to think of unstable, 19 year old me responsible for those young minds. God, those kids are in their 30s now.
I was also waiting tables part-time on the graveyard shift at Denny's. It's the only time in my life I've ever worked in a high intensity, high volume diner and the only time I ever worked a true graveyard. It was brutal. Working at Denny's isn't some half-assed cocktail waitress gig; it requires serious skill. I had to keep my orders straight or the cooks would eat me alive. I had to do all my prep, cleaning and stocking or the breakfast-shift battle axes would lay me out. Breakfast was the highest volume, highest tip potential shift in the rotation. The tough old broads who worked that shift had been waitressing for 20 years or more and had zero tolerance for bullshit. I saw one old gal shove a Mexican bus boy against the wall and hold him there by his neck when she thought he'd stolen one of her tips.
I didn't want to work two jobs, one day shift and one night, but I was broke and needed the money badly. I had stupidly associated with some very bad people and had made some very bad choices, all involving drugs. I had come close to fucking up my life permanently and had blown off one of my nine lives in the process. It was time to get my shit together, so I took a second job and tried to save some money.
I was pissed off at Denny's right from the start. This was the late 1970s but Denny's dress code was still firmly rooted in the 60s. I had to wear a polyester uniform, a shit brown dresses that came to the knee. I had to wear panty hose, dress shoes (no athletic shoes allowed in the work place back then), and my earrings had to be smaller than a dime. The final straw in this fabulous ensemble was my hair. It had to be completely contained in a bun. None of it was allowed to escape and frame my face.. My hair was tastefully feathered as was the style and the front layers would not fit in a bun. I had two choices: wear a hairnet or wear a hideous fake hairpiece, a coiled braid bun that looked like one of the big rolls of hair on the side of Princess Leia's head. I had to bobby pin my layers to the side of my head, gather the back into a pony tail, fit it into the Princess Leia bun and pin whole mess to my head. Being a vain 19 year old in the 1970s, the hairnet was too hopelessly, cafeteria-lady square for me to endure. I chose the hairpiece and hated it. I could never get it to fasten neatly to my head. It looked weird and fake, and the pins hurt my head.
Plus I was sleep deprived as hell.
One night was particularly brutal. I had worked all day at the preschool, gone home for a few hours and went out again to start the graveyard shift at 11:00. I was tired, didn't want to be there, the bobbie pins hurt my head. One of the swing shift waitresses made a nasty comment about the hideous hair piece as she counted her tips, her above-the-ear, Dorothy Hamill wedge a perfect reflection of corporate standards. One of the waitresses on my shift called in sick and the other was surly. I fucked up an order early in the evening, took the wrong food to the wrong table and got screamed at by the cook for the rest of the night. The pre-dawn hour was always the worst, the vague gray light in the wrapaound plate glass windows lending a surreal edge to my exhaustion. Finishing a hard day's work as day is breaking feels profoundly wrong. By the time I finally staggered out of there, I was losing my shit. Parked out back by the dumpsters, I sat in my faithful VW Bug and cried.
Plus I was out of gas.
The gas station by the Denny's was expensive, so I drown down the freeway frontage towards the next exit where gas was cheaper. I planned to stop, get a couple of bucks worth and get on the freeway at that exit, but when I got down there, I was so tired I forgot to stop. On autopilot, I drove into a feeder lane at a major interchange and couldn't turn back. I was worrying about whether I had enough gas to make it back to Hayward when there, on the narrow edge of the road, barely out of traffic, I saw what can only be described as an underfed long-haired leaping gnome, a hitchhiker with a pack on his back, enthusiastically waving his thumb at me. I pulled over in a trance.
It was not my custom to pick up hitchhikers, but I did, and this one changed my life. His name was T'Om, that's Tee-Ohm, like the Buddhist chant, a full-fledged road warrior hippie hitchhiking from Rosenberg Texas to Roseburg Oregon. "I love the synchronisty of the two names," he told me. "Rosenberg? Roseburg? I'm supposed to be there, man!" Such an odd little critter with his bib overalls and granny glasses, toting his huge backpack along the Interstate system. Over the next 20 minutes, he proceeded lay down some of the most fascinating, fantastical bullshit I had ever heard.
But not without first asking me, "Is that your real hair?'
He was staying with friends for a week or so before traveling to the Oregon Rainbow Gathering. Rainbow Gathering, says I; what's that? The gathering of the tribes, 20,000 people gathered on national forest land to live in community, commune with nature and pray for peace. Everything completely free, food, shelter, everything. Everyone takes care of everyone else. You should come. You really should. Just show up. Don't think about it, just trust the universe. Just come.
Over the next couple of days, I hung out with him a few times, met his friends, heard more about this Rainbow Gathering business. About a month later, I took the plunge. I quit Denny's, took a few days off from the preschool, drove north to Roseburg and then east. I found the tribe at the White Horse Meadows on the Umpqua River; not far from Tiller, strangely enough. Stupid little wannabe hippie girl, I had my journal and a pack of cigarettes but no tent, no shelter, no food, no proper gear, the wrong shoes, not even a cup or spoon. What did I know from camping? Yet there I was, deep in the Oregon wilderness. The site was so remote it was only accessible by a shuttle (unless you were prepared to hike the 11 miles in, which was inconceivable to me.) I had to leave my car in the middle of a fucking forest, get on a sketchy hippie bus and ride 11 miles to perch on the edge of a muddy mountain. In the rain.
Luckily my pal Suzan who had traveled with me brought a piece of plastic and we huddled under that for a night. The next day, we chatted up some campers and scored a place to sleep in their tent. The sun came out on July 4th as I walked out. Yes, on the high holy day of the gathering, the point of the whole exercise, I hiked out. It took me the entire day to get back to my car and all night to drive to Hayward, but I was only an hour late the next morning, showing up almost on time to meet and greet the 3-year-olds. God help those poor kids.
I was an idiot. Out in the woods with the hippies, I learned that important truth quickly. The Gathering was not the warm, loving experience I had expected, it was hard and strange and cold. But, it inspired me to take an honest look at myself. It made me think about who I was and who I wanted to be. I heard people tell amazing stories and I wanted to have stories of my own to tell. I listened to their prayers and pronouncements and envied their faith. I absorbed the rhetoric, the aspirations, the lifestyles, the tents and the teepees, the hairy-legged, hiking boot chic I would come to emulate. The Rainbow has a way of getting under your skin. It got under mine to the point that I returned the following year for the Arizona Gathering up in the Four Corners region.
Which is where I met Toby.
But that's a story for another day. Chaos. Atoms collide, bind, break apart. Worlds form, deteriorate, reform. Lives begin and end. Meanwhile, this girl's gotta get some sleep. Tomorrow is another day.