Monday, May 30, 2011

Days Twelve & Thirteen: Bandelier National Monument & Taos Pueblo

So off we went from Santa Fe, headed for a short (and consequently very-popular) sixty-minute drive to Bandelier National Monument. We spent the night at Juniper Campground there, predictably surrounded by juniper trees and a mild smattering of other visitors.

Bandelier is a very cool place. This was my second visit. Mike and I made a trip here probably 10 years ago. Thick wooden ladders take those willing up into abandoned cave dwellings, the ceilings black from ancient smoke. In some places the support beams remain, or, if not, then the evenly-spaced perfectly round holes where they were. Multi-story stone houses once stood in front of the cave rooms.

Bandelier is not in a land hyper-severe where you can easily buy into the centuries between the then of a vibrant community of real people and your water-privleged life of convenience, though it has just enough crag and rock funk to appeal to the exotic. People lived here. Heck, I'd have lived here. Stream, canyon, trees, rock walls willing to give just enough to house your family, shade them or warm them depending. In short, good energy.

I feel like I rushed too fast through the small museum. I often burn out quickly on information presented in this way, and so may have just fallen into old habits of “skimming” the displays. But the ones at Bandelier are well-done and interest me as others sometimes don't. Trilingual translations of key elements. Speculation on what went on and why it stopped.

I must accept that Isaac will have his own experience of this journey, no matter what I attempt. He was bitten by a fire ant. (Very exciting.) He spent a long time conducting scientific experiments on various sizes and states of pine cones in order to determine their viability for a new truck bumper he was inventing. (Very serious.) And at the dwellings themselves, there he was shouting down to me from a window in the rock face: “There's CHINESE writing in here!!” Ah. Yes. Well.

We reluctantly left Bandelier and headed north on US 285, where we encountered the New Mexico Department of Transportation doing their best at cultural awareness. Native, or native-like art – I'm not sure which – lines the highway walls. And the overpasses – I couldn't help but notice the words painted there. “K'uuyemugeh” says one – Tewa for “place of the falling rock” (not to be confused with Tiwa, the oral language of the Taos people.) “Posuwaegeh” comes the next -- “place to drink water.” These are the original names for the villages that stood here.

The story is not just what used to be, but it is a story of overpasses, a story of what might still be trying to be, what would have been, the dispersion of who has access to it now and for what purposes... I could include the transliterations of those Tiwa village names, but from what I've read, they're really just the already bastardized Spanish versions. So many layers to try to see through to the past.

The overpasses as somehow “tribute” to the people who once lived there remind me more than a little of how we have a penchant for naming streets after what was sacrificed for the streets themselves. “Maple Grove,” they are called, “Stag Leap Lane.”

There is it again; our oft-discussed love affair with the road. And yes, I see the irony? hypocrisy? of writing this from my road trip.

And since I never lack for stores of irony, this bit – I think I became convinced with some finality that a move to Massachusetts from California was in order one day back in January. The weather was in the 70s and Mike and I were on a date, driving south on Highway 1 with the top off his Honda del Sol. I was weary of people constantly asking me whether I was “ready for the snow” when I mentioned the move, and the fact that I'd know in more absolute terms that I'd do it while basking in January's sunny splendor is just somehow fitting. Our adult aversion to snow has so much to do with how it affects our ability to ... drive. Think about it.

I consider Bandelier in the snow and I think of beauty. Likewise the Taos Pueblo, which was our next stop.

Continually inhabited for 1,000 years continuing to present day is Taos Pueblo – where a timid college girl toured around our group telling us about life there and the horrors of our government. Afterwards, we explored on our own and shopped around the many craft-filled adobes. I dreamed of unlimited funds and a way to transport delicate pottery I watched being hand-painted, but then came to my senses and bought a small, clay bowl in the traditional Taos style.

There is Red Willow Creek that runs through the Pueblo, its source Blue Lake over the mountains – taken from the Taos in 1906 and returned after a long, ardent fight in 1970. There is no electricity or running water allowed within the walls of the Pueblo where today only 40 people live full-time, though many more have homes they occupy on feast days and many live on the Taos acres outside the walls. There is the Catholic church, complement by now to their nature-based religion, full of saints whose clothes change for the seasons and who were the only things besides the bell tower to survive the US Marshall ordered canon fire that hit the old church in the early 1700s – retaliation for the slaying of the US-imposed Governor Bent. They had hidden the women and children there, thinking it a sanctuary.

I did not pay the extra money to register my camera in order to take pictures. I'm not exactly sure why I made that decision. Maybe forced into the choice, I decided on having the experience as opposed to framing moments I'd viewed through the lens. Sacred mountains, a bloody history, secrets of the kiva... There is so much already between us. 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Days Ten & Eleven: Still Santa Fe

8: am – Curious George
8:30 – Cat in the Hat
9:00 – Super Why
9:30 – Dinosaur Train
10:00 – Sesame Street
11:00 – Sid the Science Kid
11:30 – Clifford the Big Red Dog

In case you need to know the PBS Kids line up and happen to be in the Santa Fe/Albuquerque area. It's guilty mode for me. I am exhausted, working on some terrible cold, my little sea-level sinuses suffering a (very dry) elevation of some 7,000 feet. Baby belly is protesting all kinds of things, unhappy again with its position on the priority list. Mike is at his conference all day every day. And meanwhile...

My boy is pure energy – never stopping. Banging, jumping, cartwheeling, yelling, from the word go. I am unworthy and simply not up to the task. I regularly get lectured in rocket science before breakfast. That is not a metaphor, that is in fact my life. Walking down the street with this child is like walking with a jackrabbit working up a nervous twitch who's already high on caffeine.

When I can manage and I've numbed his mind all I can stand with cartoons, we try to explore Santa Fe. I find myself impatient with its touristy essence, its midweek, deflated balloonishness, the sad clown waiting for the curtain to go up so he can turn on the charm. Empty rickshaws, half-hearted turquoise vendors, the plaza dotted with a few pan handlers. We stand outside the New Mexico Museum of Art while Isaac admires the FedEx truck parked out front. “I just want to wait and watch it drive away,” he whispers with the awed reverence of a teen girl outside in the alley by the stage door after the show.

We go to what I thought was a museum of fossils and minerals, but turns out to be a store. Isaac is unperturbed and we dive into this world of gems and rocks, ancient fish trapped in sandstone. There are pieces in excess of $5,000 next to me. I check my preggo balance and move toward the box of 50 cent shark teeth. I am stunned by my own aptitude with dinosaurs, as I discuss with the store clerk the importance of the discovery of the first archeopteryx fossil while milling around a replica, as if I do this every day. “Guess the original must be in Germany, huh?” I throw out knowledgeably.

The Georgia O'Keefe museum is closed for a new installation, but we go into the gift shop so I can show Isaac her style, talk about another artist. He is mildly impressed, but turns down my offer of a kids' book called My Name is Georgia: A Portrait, with its engaging story of her path and how she did what called to her heart. He wants to know if we can buy the hand-blown hourglass instead. Hey, a giant glass thing in the van for four more weeks. No, love. We can't. Why do I bother? If we head back now, we can still catch Clifford.

I buy the book anyway. I am a total sucker for those things – kids books on the lives of poets and artists – and soon I'll have another captive audience to read them to. I have a gorgeous one on Frida Kahlo. A children's book that I used to read to Isaac when he was too little to protest and ask for “the space one” again, too little to even eat the pages. It's perfect. All those things you want for your child before the child comes. A lesson plan before the students get to it. I will read about O'Keefe and Kahlo while we rock; s/he will know beauty and perseverance and creativity as central to our being. Often, all through my first nauseated tri-mester, and now, when I am feeling not so pregnant glowy, I will admonish my lack of writing: “Kahlo painted with a body cast on! She painted through all kinds of pain!” Then, I roll over and dream my self-pity dreams. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Detour: The More Things Change, The More Things Change

There is a moment I remember from years ago. I was standing on Mount Washington in Pittsburgh, PA looking down at the city lights. I was with my boyfriend at the time; we'd been together a couple years or so. It was a beautiful night and we were having a great time. We were also in the process of breaking up, though neither of us was up to admitting it yet. I was about to move out of the city. I would come back to visit more than once, but by then our relationship would have dissolved. Some part of me knew in that moment all the things I couldn't articulate, things that were moving and changing, things that needed to move and change for growth to happen, things that I myself had a part in setting in motion.

I have been a renter all my life. Another goal in this move: buy a house.

I do not have a particularly good opinion of landlords. And if I reread that sentence I want to laugh out loud. Because the truth is, I am seriously convinced that they all go to Landlord School and take courses in how to be the biggest pricks they can possibly be.

This time, we'll only be screwed out of $250. My landlord decided that the backyard of the house we lived in is overgrown and we are responsible. Nevermind that he told me he would have a gardener come and cut it down after we moved out. (“Yes, but I never said at my expense.” Bastard. Bastard. Bastard. Bastard.) So he got an estimate and somebody, who's job I definitively need, told the fool that to trim back a pea-sized yard it would cost $350 – that's right ladies and gentlemen, my golden-hearted landlord is absorbing $100 of the cost – say it with me – Out. Of. His. Own. Pocket!

The fact that I will be charged for lack of gardening is so ironic, as to cause me to want to bite down on something like the stump of a giant petrified log and gnash my teeth for a good long time (but that would mean returning to Arizona, so nevermind).

“All I ask is that it needs to go back to the way it was. I'll send you pictures of what the backyard looked like when you moved in!” Mr. Landlord says to me. I don't give a flying fuck what it looked like when I moved in. And here, my friends, we enter the real conflict of thought.

He wants it the way it was. Hmm. Then I will have to try my darnedest to take the thriving passion flower vine climbing the trellis outside the living room window and return it to a struggling upstart. I will have to snap every bloom off the stupid-ass roses he left for us along the front yard wall. I will siphon all the homemade compost from the gopher-proofed garden beds we added and stamp out the wild flowers that moved in to the side yard.

We as humans have completely unreasonable expectations about returning things to the way they used to be. As if that is ever possible. Not to mention, we are also majorly conflicted about growing things. Look at the gardening section of your average store that carries any such items.

Fertilizer. Potting Soil. Round-up. Ceramic Pots. More Round-up. Seed Packets. Some product that means sure death to all bugs good or bad that enter here. Nurture/Kill. Nurture/Kill. We're lost. We're desperate for control. We will do anything to deny that in fact, things grow, and do not return to how they were. Sometimes that's pretty difficult to take in. Sometimes it makes a person a little edgy. Usually, we have no idea just when change begins or exactly how it sprouted. Usually, it takes us a very long time to catch up with the fact that it has happened at all.

We change things before we admit consciously what the full array of consequences to that change will be. Otherwise, we probably would never do it. My heart is still full of Monterey. There is nothing else yet to replace it with.

In an otherwise innocuous discussion about the microwave in the house we stayed in in Santa Fe, I proffer, “I guess we're used to the one we have at home.” A sentence that calls us all to stop short. We exchange shy, sad smiles. “I mean, in the old house,” I correct.

Isaac has been somewhat prone to meltdowns on this trip so far. Moreso than his usual pretty easy-going self. Chalk it up to less sleep, or lack of routine or major life upheavals. One morning, he had come down from his sleeping perch in the second floor pop-up portion of the van to have breakfast, which he wanted to have while curled up in the covers of our sleeping perch. Somewhere along the line, blankets became tangled in a way he disapproved of. Things devolved down a track that was both tragic and ridiculous, as many situations can become when you are six, until finally he was shoutinga bout the blankets, tears streaming, “I just want it back how it was! I want it to be how it was before!!”

And before I knew it, I was crying, too.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Days Eight & Nine: Santa Fe

We were settled in to our sweet rental cottage with its 12-inch thick adobe walls that blocked all cell reception. We were ready to be in an environment that didn't roll for five whole nights. 

 on the streets of Santa Fe
Emily says: Just try and get me back in that van!

Other than the kokopeli couch pillows, they seem to have been conservative about their southwest themed décor here, sticking to the heavy, wide-beamed wooden headboard and door frames, carved hutches and formidable coffee table. Folks favoring this style probably didn't move very much, I thought, and if they did, their friends might require a bit more than pizza and beer. Indeed, this style comes from a time before a lot of migration, uprooting, separation from family. A different time than now.

Isaac was engaging me in one of those six-year-old battles of rationale where no one wins and at least one person usually ends up in tears: “But you said...” “No, what I said was...” “But that doesn't make any sense!” “Sorry.” “But you said...” Hold on. It's gonna be a long ride.

He gets it from his dad. No accounting for circumstances.

Mike was due home shortly from, mercifully, just a half day of conference meetings after something like an 11-hour day the day before. I stepped outside to call him and left a message to see if he might find some tortilla chips along his short walk home that we could have for lunch with guacamole – the makings of which we already possessed. A few minutes later I got a text: “Looking for chips.” I felt an oddly familiar twinge, but tried to ignore it.

As it got later and we got hungrier, I had to wonder about the wisdom behind my request. My husband is the kind of person that takes my words very seriously. He is nothing if not literal. On the surface, it's a lovely quality. One could cheer this quality; or, one could starve waiting for chips.

Mike is the guy who arrives three days later, chip bag crushed to his tattered shirt, sunbaked and sweating, beard grown in.

“I had to hitchhike to Texas, but I got 'em!!”

“Why on earth would you spend three days hitchhiking to Texas??!”

A pallor of innocence and exhaustion would cross his countenance. He'd hold up his hands in askance. “You wanted chips,” would come my answer.

Applying logic in these incidents is only like putting water on a gasoline fire.

Just recently I had a dream. In it, Mike and I were on a bus and we were due to be married soon. I told him I'd like to get married right away. Before I knew it, the driver had pulled us over and was beginning our wedding ceremony. “We are here to join Mike and Rhonda in marriage,” he said with a smile. “Is this our wedding?!” I asked Mike. “Yeah, you said you wanted to get married right away.” “What would make you think I wanted to get married on a bus??” “You said right away!” “He doesn't even know my name!”

People were starting to get angry because they weren't getting to their stops. “You said you wanted to get married right away!” Mike protested again in his own defense. “My name is not Rhonda!!”

This is exactly the kind of thing that happens to us. He thinks he is doing all he can to fulfill my every need, never noticing how circumstances may call for adaptation, never stopping to take into account the extraneous and absurd factors making his continuation along the original path impractical or even harmful. If the road to hell really is paved with good intentions, my husband has a pitch fork with his name on it.

Always good to get a refresher course on the old wherever-you-go, there-you-are theme. Patterns do not change easily. Monterey. Santa Fe. Here we were.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Day Seven: Waking up at the Gallup KOA

Seven mosquito bites, one for each day on the road. For those of you unfamiliar with the central coast of California, we have none of these uncivilized bugs. Well, that's not true. They exist, but they don't swarm and buzz and eat you on any regular basis. Just one more of the benefits of living in paradise. Now I must return to the lands ruled by vile insects and I'm none too happy about it.
Painted Desert

As you might imagine, all the hullabaloo at the Meteor Crater took something out of us. Even so, we continued on to the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert. There were ruins and mysteries and unbelievable mineral colors in the setting sun. We found our first petroglyphs of the trip and wondered about the ancient Anasazi that they say left to join the Hopi or the Navajo. Of course, we'd already encountered their ancestors, whom the Great Spirit apparently implored to go forth and make billboards, to build their trading posts under the Shell Oil signs and sell their inlaid knives in a building that shares space with Dairy Queen.

 Runis from a village they believe to be 800 years old.
Entering New Mexico
All this exploring and all this driving – our longest day yet – left us exhausted as we rolled into Gallup, NM. The last 30 miles dragged on and on and my preggo belly, fighting the good fight with my seatbelt, needed to recline immediately. That's how we decided to forgo the final five miles to the campground, worrying that if they closed it at the late hour, we'd end up coming back into town, having to drive at least 10 and then beg a hotel to take Emily. And so, in an overnight that made the Paso Robles RV park look like a naturalist's paradise, we stayed at the Gallup KOA.

“Remember, it's not camping. It's Kamping!”

OMG. I don't think it's in any way an exaggeration to say the Gallup KOA is a parking lot, a soul-sucking slab of asphalt and concrete sandwiched between Rte 66 and I-40. I wanted to cry or wretch or curl up at the gate of the original campground.

We slept like logs.

So maybe I won't get a book deal out of this trip, but I'm thinking Emily could. It'd be just the goofy kind of thing that would work. Make her a Facebook page, thousands of people follow my cat across the country. Just an idea. I'm not above using those near and dear to me to get some press.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Day Six: on the Road to Gallup, NM via the Meteor Crater & the Painted Desert

I had read online that tears are supposed to help pink eye. If that's the case and if that's what Isaac had, then he should have been completely better this morning.

He'd cried himself to sleep the night before because – did you know? -- our cat is a true Houdini! Point zero seconds to get out of her collar and her harness. Oh, she came back. I like to think our tight little family creates such a vortex of dependency that even our pets cannot escape. It's a longer, not-that-interesting story involving some blood and Bandaids, special treat food provided by the campground office, a raccoon sighting, the transmission of the van, and Isaac wailing at the height of the crisis, “I just want to read a boooooook!!!”

Despite being pained by his distress, the word nerd in me couldn't help but be pleases that this was his refuge. Well, books and the two-inch blue bunny my sister gave him a couple years ago.

So, like I said, he should have been looking spiffy-great, but in fact he looked worse than ever. Both eyes were puffy and bloodshot; he had deep rings under them. We applied cold compresses, warm compresses; we bought some children's allergy medicine, and then, we did what any concerned parents of a sick child would do: We took him to a meteor crater.

That would be THE Meteor Crater... “Experience the IMPACT!” Get it? The impact? You know what this is, don't you? Our first official Kitsch Stop! NOW it feels like a road trip! The cheezy announcer-voice loop recording on the radio (1610am Winslow, AZ), the signs along the road, the need to get off the highway and drive five-miles toward absolutely no-thing but this goofy site – no pretending you were just passing through and so you might as well take a peek...
They trained astronauts at the Meteor Crater in the 60s
The Universe is a kind place, my Buddhist friends tell me. And now I see it. Tens of thousands of years ago, outer space vomited down an enormous and economically viable rock, providing dozens of jobs for the good people of Winslow, Arizona. If I grew up in Winslow instead of Cape May, NJ, I might have spent my summers touring people who were too pregnant to do the Grand Canyon around this place. That is, if I wasn't employed as the “girl in a flatbed Ford,” smiling for photo ops.

It was laughably expensive to get in, though the woman at the ticket window took pity on us and didn't charge us for Isaac. I was much in love with the wicked winds that swept over the crater and stole your breath. If you've ever been down a roller coaster or up a lighthouse (most particularly Point Sur Light Station in Big Sur, CA) you have probably experienced this kind of wind drama. I have to say, though, the museum was pretty interesting. My son was partial to the “Make your own crater” exhibit where you chose velocity, density, radius, angle and planet and see what happens when you unleash a virtual asteroid. First time around my guy managed the outcome of “total destruction of the Earth.” Oops. Well, don't let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy. Ciao bellos.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Detour Entry: Community and the Dumpster Story

***A QUICK PLEA: If you are reading along, please consider leaving a comment so I know you were here. Under each entry there is a link called "Dare to Share." Thanks!!***

Isaac was born in a place that calls itself “America's Last Hometown.” We lived there for about two years. It took me about two days to figure out that I do not belong anywhere near America's Last Hometown. Now, I will also tell you that one of the biggest reasons for leaving the Monterey Peninsula is a search for community. One might expect to find community in America's Last Hometown. One might grow old searching.

When Isaac was one, we moved to another town that lacked all of the aesthetic charm of America's Last Hometown. It was better this way, you had no expectation of camaraderie or neighborliness. I could talk on this topic of neighborhoods ad nauseam, but I will spare you for now and get to the story.

I'd lived behind a church for the last 4 ½ years. While packing and cleaning in the last stages before we left, we had a few things that weren't going to fit in our garbage can.

“Put them in the dumpster over there,” my next door neighbor advised. “Charles always says I can use it.”

Charles, I knew, was the groundskeeper and maintenance person for the church. Though we rarely spoke at any length, we'd wave casually across the two-foot chain link fence to the parking lot.

Mrs. Johnson had told me several times in the past about our access to the dumpster, but I never had had need or interest before now. Isaac and I walked around the charming chain link I'd stared at for almost his lifetime with a couple pieces of Styrofoam we'd evicted from a box we needed to pack Isaac's outside truck fleet in. He skipped ahead of me with a fat tree branch he was planning on propping the dumpster lid open with.

Iz's tool worked well, but before I could toss the second piece of foam in, I heard a voice yelling from not too far away.

“Excuse me! Excuse me! You can't put that there! You can't use that dumpster!”

A man was sprinting toward us from the church. I paused, the foam suspended, Isaac still propping open the lid with his stick. I blinked passively and waited while the man, now within a few feet of us exhausted his script a second time (though he could not possibly have been more exhausted than I was in that moment).

“We were told we could use this,” I said with calm annoyance.

“WHO told you that? WHO told you that?” said the man, still agitated in his valiant defense of the trash receptacle.


“WHEN did he tell you that?”

This was really getting tiresome. “You'd have to ask my neighbor.” I pointed to Mrs. Johnson who was bent over sweeping leaves up in front of her gate at the time.

“Which house do you live in?” the man demanded.

I pointed to the only other house in striking distance of where we stood.

“Oh, oh,” he said, though his blood pressure didn't quite seem out of the woods yet.

At this point, Mrs. Johnson stood up and took in the scene. She repeated for him what I'd already said but in that bitchy, old lady way that commands respect.

“Sorry, sorry,” the man was saying now. “I didn't know.” “'pologize,” he added in my direction. I grunted and started to turn away.

“So, y'all moving?” he tried, suddenly friendlier.

Clearly, no 16-foot storage POD in front of the house was going to get by this guy's keen observational skills.


“You lived there, what? 20 years or something?”


“Oh. Yeah, yeah,” he said, non-commitally.

Isaac and I took our leave. And thanks for saying hi before, I think as we went.

“How you doin', Mrs. Jackson?” the man calls over to my neighbor, still trying to redeem himself, and really, what's in a name anyway?

Here's how we do community in this country: You live beside someone, or someone's church, for four or 20 years. You notice each other, kind of. You don't really try to make contact unless something of yours is threatened – someone encroaches on your property line with their shed, someone's dog poops on your pansies, or someone dares put something in your dumpster.

At the top of our list for reasons to move – searching for community. One that works. One that is not transient. One where young families are visible, and I don't have to drive 7 miles to take my kid to a playdate.

My sidebar has a link to a book I read recently, In the Neighborhood, an interesting look at how our lives have shut down to each other in the decades following the birth of the suburb. The author sets out to get to know his neighbors. Perhaps when I get to where we're going, I'll ring some doorbells and hand out copies.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Day Five Continued: Otter Pops!!

Little Orphan Orange
Alexander the Grape
Poncho Punch
Louie Blue Raspberry
Sir Isaac Lime
Strawberry Short Kook

Anyone else remember these frozen pops you squeezed up their little plastic tubes after you'd ripped them open with your teeth?? Major flashback moment in the camp store!!

We'd gone in looking for sports drinks; trying to get some electrolytes into my kiddo.

“No way! Otter pops!” I exclaim.

“What? What?” Isaac wants to know.

Man alive, and they are 25 cents! I look down to be sure I haven't turned into my 10-year-old self, glance at the cars outside to ensure it is not suddenly 1979 and I'm not in some hokey movie where the dog talks or the people trade bodies for the appropriately alliterated day of the week. Otter pops.

I glance perfunctorily at the list of ingredients. I'd be hard-pressed to find any food from my formative years that did not contain high fructose corn syrup, which is, naturally, listed second only to water on the Otter Pops label. HFCS is known around our house as “that 'gredient Mommy doesn't like,” and alternatively, the “not-good-for-you sugar.”

It's only day five on the road and already our nutritional and hygenic rules have bent so far as to be unrecognizable.

“What flavor do you want, Iz?” I call cheerily.

Like the serendipity that surrounds us all if we only choose to look, my boy picks “the green one,” i.e., Sir Isaac Lime.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Day Five: Lo Lo Mai Springs Campground, South of Sedona

“Why is everything red here?” -- Isaac

I have no pictures of the actual campground, which was quite lovely as a matter of fact. All the state park sites we tried for were full up, so we headed for the private one that brought you around in a golf cart to pick out your site. (Isaac adores golf carts. He had a smile plastered on his face for hours. Maybe he picked up the obsession -- not to mention my own community obsession -- when we went to Catalina Island, in utero.Couple pics here.) I have no pictures because we were all a bit sick there (and super excited to be spending two whole nights in one spot). Pictures were not a top priority.

Isaac, who'd started to get a red, itchy eye a couple days back, now had two red, itchy eyes and a runny nose and just didn't look so hot. Allergies, we thought for the most part. Except in those dark recesses of evening when you are sure your child has a fatal disease and you've done nothing to help him. Are most parents familiar with this surety? Am I off in my assumptions here?

He woke up after our first night in Sedona asking for water and then spewing same projectile vomit style back up. Dehydration. I'd broken my baby. Crap.

And had the cat peed in the last 24-hours? And OMG, my ankles were the size of logs, and Mike's back was barely holding steady at “somewhat strained.”

“We should drive above the valley, get out of this heat today,” Mike argued.

“We should stay put in our shaded spot and not drive anywhere for a day,” I countered. “We all need a break.”

Sedona was somewhere we'd been looking forward to being for long before the trip started. Also, before we blew our cushion day by leaving Monterey so late and spending a night in that charming Paso Robles spot, we'd even considered chilling for a third night here. (We still had to make it to Santa Fe by Monday for a conference for Mike.)

Mike and I had come to the Sedona area years back, pre-kid(s). We'd caught Flagstaff on Flag Day (I have a vague memory of pig races down the main street.), went to Slide Rock State Park, an amazing natural water park, and tumbled further down the canyon to the red towering cliffs of Sedona. We enjoyed exploring the hills, and we liked the town itself – cute and ready with a multitude of cultural crafts.

I bought a beautiful jade ring in one of the shops and made the mistake of asking the proprietor some detail about the Native American history of the town, a question I was forming after visiting the landscape that I guess I was hoping a local could fill me in on. “I do not know,” the woman at the store told me rather haughtily. “They are people of the earth.” She pointed to the floor. “While I (pause) concern myself with things of a higher plane.” She fluttered her hands around her face for effect.

Right. Got it.

In short, we had very fond memories of our time in this town and, in that way that parents sometimes do, we looked forward to sharing this experience with our child, forgetting that, well, we had a child.

Isaac wouldn't care about the quaint coffee shops, he would miss the amusement to be derived from fluttery women not of the earth, he'd probably think the “Pink Jeep Tours” that sped tourists over the red rocks kicking up dirt and scaring away the canyon wrens were cool rather than obnoxious. His Sedona was bound to be entirely different than ours.

Before and after we came to the campground some 12 or so miles outside of town, we worried about having to drive back into the center with Emily in the van and no shade over the public parking and temperatures spiking at at least 95 for no good reason I could see. How would we get to do anything? Meanwhile, we were set up at a site with a river, mature Cottonwoods, a pool, a playground, laundry, and even some limited Wifi.

But, but, what about SEDONA??

“He should get outside and get some fresh air,” Mike said, always good for some stoic, fatherly advice.

“Leave him be. He's resting.”

Had my marriage gone through a time warp and come out in the 1950s? I wiped my hands on my flowered apron, then held one to my boy's forehead.

After Isaac had thrown up more water and the two bites of banana we'd tired to cure him with, he wanted to read a book. He and I settled in on the bed of the van together and I read him some soothing tales of extinct carnivorous reptiles.

“This is what I've been waiting for all night and all morning,” he said, resting his head on my shoulder.

“What?” I asked perplexed.

This,” he replied definitively, and clasped my arm to snuggle in closer.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Day Four Continued: Nutritional Challenges & More of the Road to Sedona

Emily can be a bit of a backseat driver.

In Seligman, AZ we stopped for lunch. This had been tricky so far – lunch, that is. In preparing for the trip, I'd worried about going places to eat or run around along the way and having to leave Emilycat in a hot van. In fact, what we were finding was that there were no places inviting enough so far along the route to want to slide into a booth over.

Instead, we'd order a burrito to go from a window connected to the convenience store or patchwork together a meal from what we had on hand and the refrigerated cases at the gas marts. There was a bit heftier a selection than your average 7-11 of course. Aware as they might be of their strategic locations, these places were sometimes stocked in things like cream cheese, parfaits, and chopped apples, as well as bungie cords and neck pillows. Still. Baby ain't exactly enjoying an organic, gluten-free ride.

We'd left Monterey just hours before the first peaches of the season were due at the farmer's market, a detail I couldn't reckon with easily. Mocking my craving for fresh California produce were establishments we passed like “Wagon Wheel Restaurant” and “Roadkill Cafe.” These names repeated at the various exits. The issue was not chains and franchises, but simply people who thought they were all the very first to be quite that clever.

As she'd done at the last half dozen stops, Emily would just stay with Mike in the van under the shade of the gas pump ports while Isaac and I tried to find a compromise among the limited choices and use the bathroom. We waited in line with our hard-boiled eggs, banana, pretzels and ice cream bar behind a man talking to the cashier about Obama being a traitor to the Muslim world and blah, blah, blah. He finally turned his body enough that I could throw my pretzels on the counter and did so, attempting the hint.

“I've got a six-year-old by the hand and a cat in the van, pal,” I wanted to tell him. “Save it!”

He faded away still mumbling and we heard the bell on the door buzz.

“Whatever,” the cashier said, shaking her long grey hair and rolling her eyes.

“You're the bartender!” I told her laughing.

“I am,” she confirmed.

We left again for the parking lot where everyone was moving to and from their cars, pretending it wasn't hot enough to melt eyebrows.

We settled in, distributed our provisions, and headed off. The road kept stretching east, more mountains presented themselves, signs read “Elk next 20 miles.” And to think, I was so distracted when we left Monterey, I hadn't even noticed the moment we turned away from the coast.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Day Four: on the road to Sedona

Miraculously for our little troupe, we managed to leave from Mojave by 8:15am. The impetus? Having to drive uphill in the chugger through the hottest spot in the country. We needed an early start.

Across the border in Arizona, we stopped for gas. It was 9:30am, 94 degrees and climbing. The bathroom at the travel stop had three framed paintings – all of ocean scenes. Two beaches with swaying palms and sailboats, one of waves crashing on cliffs. Outside, truckers squeegied their windshields, the backs of their necks as red as the dirt surrounding us. A couple small, white clouds held perfectly still in a blue sky, as if they too were just too hot to move.

This desert was once the ancient sea bed. The bathroom paintings perhaps a nostalgia for glory days gone by, like the armchair nationalists I encountered in Hungary with maps of the old empire on the wall. Something missing that they've lost ownership of. Something that once held a key to their identity, no longer visible to others without props, without protest. I used to be single and childless and could sleep in. I used to speak Russian with ease. I used to teach at a university. I used to live in Monterey. Who will care about these things now?

The past always looks more attractive when you're peering over your shoulder. Be careful not to miss what you have; the road goes on, and on. 

Day Three Continued: Mojave National Preserve

I was reading. The boys were out exploring. It was after six o'clock and the evening had reached its cool, breezy desert perfection.

I kept hearing a rustling. After wondering for several pages if some really cool desert animal was just outside the van and ready for viewing, I sat up to look. The rustling was our trash bag shimmering in the soft wind, but there was something else I could make out now. I heard singing. I was pretty sure I was right about this one.

I looked out the window: the little cinderblock house for the pit toilet was in my direct line of sight about 25 feet away (purposeful site choice). Beyond it, another 80 or so feet to the left was a minivan with something tied to the roof and a man in a red shirt standing near it. To the right, a little further on toward the hills I could see a pick up and an RV.

I listened. It wasn't a radio. It was definitely singing. Pretty, though I couldn't make out the words. The red-shirted man walked to the other side of his van and eventually the tune changed. It was him for sure.

His song warbled and took a dramatic rise.

Not much by way of family camping in these parts. Most people seemed to arrive alone to an already lonely place. I am no expert on desert or landscape or spirituality, but there appears by all accounts to be something spiritual about these places. Some kind of secrets the barrel cactus holds in like spare water. The sage brush not giving it up either as we intruders tromped by their bristly hedges for a few hours, a day or two.

I wondered if the people who came here came because they liked the solitude or because they needed it. I was sitting here alone, too, and I could sit here happily alone pretty much all day. A book, a journal, a pen. I was set. The boys could explore without me. I did not feel cheated by the extra bedrest this pregnancy required. This is what I did often on a regular vacation. But that's different. I knew my family would be back eventually. I knew I wouldn't be the one maneuvering this van out of the sandy paths and back onto the highway. I knew it wouldn't be long before someone would ask me to read a dinosaur book or come look how high he could climb. I did not come alone to sing to the red hills whether or not anyone else witnessed it. Writers like audiences.

This personality is foreign to me, the one where standing alone you watch the Mojave yucca, that is also standing alone and this is enough. This constitution, like the desert itself, is something I can only observe with fascination and know there is something special in it, a magic I do not possess, but am more than grateful exists in the world with me. 

Days Two & Three: Red Rock Canyon State Park & Mojave National Preserve

That's a crazy idea.
It doesn't make sense.
You'll do it?
Of course
I replied.
- magnet my friend Trudy gave me that now lives on the van dashboard

Five weeks+ on the road. My friend's 14-year-old looked me sternly in the eye. “Where will you shower?”

I had the urge to mess with her a little, say something outrageous that would confirm every fear and image of horror blown up in her imagination. Kind of like when a woman I will decline to identify, a mother of four, native of Massachusetts who has never traveled outside its tiny borders, asked me with genuine solemnity on a holiday visit there once, “Do they have Christmas trees in California?”

“No,” I wanted to whisper, teary-eyed and trembly-lipped after a pregnant pause. “Nn-Nn-No.”

“They make us decorate surf boards and sing Bob Seger songs. I-I would give anything for a blue spruce. A simple potted pine. ANYTHING!”

Red Rock Canyon State Park was beautiful. Loads of wacky-o hills and caves to explore. We saw some bunnies, some tracks that looked suspiciously road runner-like, and one gorgeous brown and gold snake while still driving around to pick a site which I consequently didn't get a picture of because I was too busy trying to alert Mike from running it over. 

We also had our first fellow-Westy encounter (as in Westfalia, as in, the VW camper, as in the van). Mike and the other Westy owner had a predictable conversation that went (I'm paraphrasing, but believe me, I'm not far off), “Nice ride.” “Yeah, yours too.” “They're great machines. “Yeah.” And so, with the male bonding out of the way, we settled in for the night. It was wonderfully quiet and starry.

We didn't go see the petroglyphs nearby and we didn't find the owl pellets on the cliffs. In short, we didn't do any of the magnificent things people recommended to us to do in the area. But we survived, and we were on our way on this crazy trip at last. My final argument with my landlord was over, and, though unsatisfying, calling his sorry ass wouldn't have to show up on my to-do list again. We had a little bouquet Isaac had picked drying on the dash, a healthy supply of water; Isaac had lots of impossibly long trains to watch; the cat hadn't yet thrown up or run away. Life was pretty good.

We headed out toward “Hole in the Wall” campground in Mojave National Preserve for day three. We were on 58E bearing down on Barstow and its hot, empty, why-would-anyone-live-here grandeur. “Flower Street” a sign said. I didn't see any hints of a clear street much less any flowers, but I could smell horse dung, which felt oddly familiar and reassuring after miles of flat red dirt and construction vehicles. The cat and the boy were asleep and I was looking forward to peeing in only another 10 miles or so. Maybe this scene was the “big adventure” everyone kept envying us over?

I'm reminded of when I lived in Hungary teaching English and traveling in Europe on my breaks and as my meager salary allowed. Friends from home marveled at my “adventurous spirit,” my “exotic” journey into international waters. I would often think of their words as I washed my exotic Hungarian dishes, or when I'd get on the wrong train, again, and find myself standing in a weedy lot somewhere in the Slovenian countryside, little boys begging me for gum. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Day One: Paso Robles, an inauspicious start

We thought we'd never leave. But somehow there we were, staring out the window at the live oaks stuck into the gold hills like decorations on a cake, and the giant metal oil birds peck-pecking for the sludge we all live on.

We pulled into Paso Robles, CA around 8 pm, giving up the drive only four hours short of our original goal. We were not making it to Red Rock Canyon tonight. Even better, after following what initially sounded like decent advice at a local grocery store, we ended up at the “campground,” also known as “Wine Country RV Park.”

Wine Country RV Park consisted of asphalt alternated with concrete, in addition to small rectangles of grass where picnic tables were planted and watered nightly between midnight and 7 am.

It's been quite a while since we've gone south. We are pretty much NorCal people. Whenever I told people we were thinking of visiting the Mammoth Site – a tar pit of prehistoric bones in South Dakota, they'd inevitably bring up the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles. Sure, I could go through L.A. county, when otherwise we'd have to drive days out of our way to South Dakota, completely mucking up my plan for a southern route and forcing us to travel through Nebraska or Kansas or Iowa, perhaps rain-soaked Missouri.


South Dakota it is, then.

The RV Park confused Isaac, a seasoned camper. The luxury bathrooms were just beside the pool; both were empty; the token lawn chair display beside the behemoth living rooms on wheels, unoccupied. You think there can't be that many people willing to steer 45 feet of vehicle around, but then you enter their great pueblos and lo-and-behold, it's a far-reaching sickness. Enthographers and anthropologists be forewarned: don't expect much contact with this crew. You will probably just have to catch them walking their dogs – the size of which is in direct opposite proportion to the size of their ride.
There's our little out-of-place van, lost amongst the giants

I have forgotten many, many things from my grad school days. (My grad degree was my original purpose for heading out to Monterey.) But there is a line on of my profs said that I recall often from Second Language Acquisition class. I can't quite remember the context within which it was told to us, but I've used this information on innumerable occasions. I find it to be very helpful to set myself straight when I start to get all freaked out and fear-driven. (MIIS people, if you are reading this and it sounds familiar, please help fill in the background.) What Leo said was, “An organism will not carry with it what it can easily find in its environment.”

The human is one hell of an organism.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

It's Mother's Day

Don't go too early.
You're tired. But everyone's tired.
But no one is tired enough.
Only wait a little and listen.
      • Galway Kinnell, from “Wait”

The memorial brick for my mom should be installed this weekend at Leaming's Run Garden in Swainton, New Jersey. Here's what it looks like.

I recently found out that I lost two mothers last year. When I was in college, I spent a summer in Yucatán, Mexico. I lived in a small town with a host family that included four boys between the ages of seven and 16. My brothers. When two of them and I reconnected on Facebook, I discovered that their mom, Esther, had passed away last March. I was there, it was that summer, when she first discovered the cancer. I didn't make it back before it took her. She was a lovely woman, a teacher who as a child had to struggle to learn Spanish in school – her first language being Mayan. She didn't marry until she was 30 years old, unheard of in her community. She was fiercely dedicated to her faith. And I was privileged to be her only daughter for a few months a long time ago. I wish I could include her picture, but of course, it's packed.

Now, I will be a mother again myself. In all of the fuss and stress and planning of the move, the pregnancy has sometimes slipped back into the recesses of our days. I don't like this and, apparently, either does my body. I've had some issues with signs of preterm labor that have been worrying to say the least. I've had to stay off my feet as much as possible in these last weeks as time ticks away and the to-do list never seems to shorten. But baby kicks me constantly, letting me know s/he is in there, reminding me that despite it all, s/he's growing, s/he's alive and well, that s/he's exploring, that s/he is pretty jazzed when the ice cream comes, that s/he's firmly here and along for the ride.

Hope s/he likes Nebraska.

Shouldn't we be escorted out
as we are escorted in
to this world? When we go
there should be showers
and ceremony. Stretchy pants
with monkeys and beanies
stitched in hippos. Primary colors.
Cards with balloons. And most of all
our mothers should be there singing Hush
Our mothers, to show us this new
and strange world we will enter.
Our mothers to hold us while we sleep.

Friday, May 06, 2011

dogs, cats, and other hail storms

Maybe this is what it's like to get old. You just don't care. Certain hesitations and worry over social etiquette, social status, social posturing fall away. Next I'll start farting loudly in other people's homes. Leaving this place with a collage of beautiful friends behind us is incredibly difficult. In addition, I'm proud to say that as I look behind me, over the 13 years here, there is no need to scurry quickly out of range of any towering infernos where the bridges used to be. I'm good. I'm just saying that on a particular level, there's a freedom of movement I can now access.

Like when my landlord brought a young couple through our house. The third such event we've endured. Nowhere near the trauma of our last move and our last landlord, but still. It's a big fat pain in the arse. And that's even before we talk about the fact that after they left, they didn't lock the back door which doesn't latch properly and opened wide leaving my house unattended and my already freaked out indoor-only cat to go explore the neighborhood, which in turn created an stressed out mama in Braxton Hicks and a hysterical little boy who was convinced his pet was lost forever. But, hey, that's another story, right?

The people coming to look at our place, as I raced off to an appointment had at this point only committed the crime of inconveniencing me somewhat and casting doubts on the future care of my lavender bushes. They were 30 minutes early and toted along with them a little mop of a dog. Without making full eye contact, I blurt, “That dog isn't coming inside, is it?” Oh. Did I say that? Um. What I think I meant was, “Oohhhhh! Loooooook. What a sweet puppyyyyyyy! Hi little fella! Hi there! What's your name?”

Moving is also like short hand, then. Saves you words.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Monterey County

Elkhorn Slough, with its pieces of driftwood sticking up all over the place like some sort of strange graveyard of antlers
the otters, tagged and preening like floating kittens in the bay
the curry-colored house down the street which once or twice a year hosts a huge event in a tent, piles of shoes outside the flap, saris of every color in and out of the rented port-o-potty
the Salinas Post Office, where I once got to cut the line in exchange for translating (Spanish/English) for another patron
the Monterey Post Office, where they turn on jazz music when the line gets too long
the Pacific Grove Post Office, asleep, like the rest of that town
the Seaside Post Office, most multicultural spot per square inch on the peninsula besides The Breakfast Club restaurant
The Breakfast Club restaurant, with their flat screens rotating advertising for tire places, CoffeeMate, where “Anywhere is fine” and I once saw my favorite clerk from the Seaside Post Office.
the 50-degree July days
Marina, where every Mother's Day weekend the snowy plovers have to compete with the hang gliding demo at the annual kite festival
the homeless man who sits at the busstop on the way from my secret parking space to the Aquarium
the cuttings faires, third Saturday in March, where if you want to know anything about the plants you are taking home you have to ask the man in the white beard
the man from Salinas who delivered my storage POD, what was once surely a gang tattoo on his neck now inked over into a black pool
the ones who didn't deliver my storage POD and ended up buried, gang tattoo intact on their young necks
the summer movies at the Outdoor Forest Theater, bring your own picnic, cozy up to the fire pits
the “controlled” burns to rid the old Fort Ord of unexploded ordinances that send ash raining down on my yard on the most beautiful, fog-free days
the tiny airport that fills to capacity with golfers, conference goers, and where the TSA agents give out stickers to the kids
the conference goers, forever lost in the 1 square mile of downtown, their nametags thumping against their overdressed chests as they cross the street by the Chinese restaurant
Monastery (aka Mortuary) Beach each year sweeping someone from its coarse sand into its dangerous currents
Soledad, where the “It's Happening in Soledad!” sign is followed by the exit for the correctional facility
Carmel's art galleries
the cypress canopies
the baby harbor seals on Hopkins beach
the sea lions barking as you climb Rocky Ridge Trail
the gully at Garapata State Beach filled with calla lilies
the jump houses that fill the miniscule lots
the midnight drag shows at Norma Jean's
the coveted right lane at the Naval Post Graduate School on southbound Del Monte Blvd to avoid getting stuck behind the left turners
the National Steinbeck Center pretending to be dedicated to literature and history as if it's not funded by the big ag(riculture) companies
avocados year-round
the man who runs the old time clock shop whom I never got to interview, everything around him ticking, ticking, family photos from the old country shining in sepia tone from the walls
the Castroville Artichoke Festival
Pfeiffer Beach covered in photographers in waders all snapping images of light through rock windows

Monday, May 02, 2011

a charmed life

We were eating breakfast. Isaac was already late for school. Again.

The computer had seized, its hard drive grinding and gnashing its teeth for several hours before simply refusing to come to life at all. On it, downloads of 50 CDs that were to be our travel music for 5 weeks that Mike had not yet gotten onto an MP3 player.

I was limping around in pain, my back on the lower right side pitched to the point of no return; relaxation not so simple, my couch already disappeared into the storage POD outside my window and the religious peddlers forever pounding on the door while I try to prop myself in bed.

My garden had been ravaged – friends digging up my blooming beauties – better they have them than the landlord's extermo-gardeners mow it all down without discretion after we're gone, though in the latter scenario I wouldn't have to watch.

My son's pretty face was marred by the gashes and cuts of a recent and terrible asphalt tumble that left him trembling like I've never before witnessed, his knees torn up by the same fall and one more two days later when he grated his skin over a climbing wall after losing his grip and sliding the rest of the way down.

Mike was wearing a brace against his wracking cough that threatened to wrench his back out if loading the POD didn't first.

My father-in-law was in the hospital again.

I was showing signs of preterm labor.

We were leaving our life in 8 days, but it seemed already to be falling apart around us.

My husband's '93 Honda del Sol, the very same we traveled across the country in when we came out to Monterey was still not sold or otherwise disposed of. However, he'd had an inquiry, a man who might even pay him $1,000 for the junker – one dollar for every day that bag of chips and salsa have lived in the center console, I guess. We were discussing having to get that deal moving when Mike discovered he couldn't find the keys. The del Sol was down the block, booted from its usual spot in the driveway or in front of the house by the VW van and the POD, respectively. “Sometimes the keys get left in the trunk lock,” Mike offered.

“They do, huh? Just 'get left' there?” I asked, wondering if this was really the time to discuss the social and grammatical implications of the passive voice.

And then, I started to laugh. And laugh. Hysterically. I couldn't stop.

“Why are you laughing?” Isaac asked me half-concerned, half-giggling himself under the pressure of contagion.

I could barely catch my breath to explain. The sound just rolled out of me, on and on, full and maniacal. “Be-B-Be-Be-Cause...Our a DISASTER!”

Mike returned from the car, which miraculously was still there, with the keys. “Yup. Trunk lock.”

Ah, see. No one stole the car. The keys were found. The gods, clearly, have been smiling on us.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

From: These United States, an episodic tale. Pre-departure thoughts: Nebraska.

Though we haven't had nearly enough time to concentrate on planning the fun stops for our drive across country, we have the beginning and the end more or less mapped out. It's the middle that we're still not sure about. How many other treks, real and figurative, must share this dilemma?

As it looks now, we may be crossing the state of Nebraska on our journey east. When this first came to my attention, I of course emailed Megan, our former babysitter extraordinaire. She watched Isaac a couple days a week for us for about two years. Truly, if I thought tying her down or bribing her with riches would have kept her from moving to Portland (along with most of the rest of California), I would have done it. Megan was the kind of person you dream of watching your child. Isaac loved her; and what was not to love? She is fun, creative, responsible, infused with common sense, and dedicated to teaching young children (she left to complete a certificate program in Montessori education). Megan is also a traveler, a vegan, a generally interesting person and, as it happens, a native of Nebraska. I figured if Nebraska had produced such a soul, perhaps there was more than basketball and grasslands there. So I asked her what we should stop and see in her fine state. Her advice? “Just keep driving.”

Damn. But surely... With the determination that comes from an age honed in its futility by mindless hours of internet research, I soldiered on, finding with every Google click involving Nebraska, one common feature: “Carhenge.” Voted America's 2nd "Wackiest Attraction," it apparently just lost out for the top spot to a toilet seat museum in San Antonio. But nevermind the near miss, this is Nebraska's roadside claim to fame. A spot in the middle of nothing where someone has painted cars a silver gray and piled them up to resemble the ancient and mysterious Stonehenge of England. Except stacked cars are not ancient or mysterious, and neither, I was starting to see, was anything about Nebraska.

One more try – The Nebraska State Parks website featured links to their various regions and attractions of each. I chose a region at random and clicked. There were two attractions listed. One was a steak house.

Sometimes you try to give something a fair shake. You shake and shake, but nothing comes out.

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