Just when I think I’m getting my act together; a wave of brutal honesty sweeps over me and I admit to myself that I’m kind of a hot mess. From my weight, to my diet, to my mood-swings, to my… oh, those are all the same thing. They are. I can go from drinking smoothies and eating vegan on Monday, to having mac & cheese for breakfast and twenty chicken nuggets for lunch on Tuesday. Then I try again on Wednesday: smoothie, veggies, fruit, quinoa – yum. “Cool, I’ve lost a few pounds.” Then I go to the store and I’m dangerously close to Wendy’s or Popeye’s. “Crap, I’ve gained a few pounds.”
I was relieved when the battery in my scale died. Maybe it was a sign that I wasn’t supposed to weigh myself or worry about a number assigned to my existence, other than my age. “Eat heathy, stay healthy,” was my new mantra… my short-lived mantra. Everything I do to get my life back on track is temporary. A step forward, a step back – which is better than two steps back, I guess. But one step forward and one step back means I’m standing still, pivoting, spinning.
Getting in the car and driving, literally moving away from my shit, is the only thing that helps. Escapism. Avoidance. I took a five-day respite in Palm Springs when my mother turned the last corner. After she expired, I drove all over, all the time: shopping, driving, eating, driving, seeing movies, driving. Just before Christmas, I went away to a magical home in the Washington woods. On Christmas day I drove to the beach – from one vacant lonely place to another, then ended the day gorging at an Asian buffet. When an old friend recently offered me another chance to get away, I jumped at the chance to leave town again.
It began with a four-hour drive to a cat sanctuary. Most people hate the drive through the desert, not me. There is something about driving on a straight road through a barren landscape that soothes my soul, like meditation. In 1989, I drove this same route headed south where I stayed with friends for a few weeks while I looked for an apartment. This time, I headed north to spend a few days with one of those same friends, thirty-one years later. Each highway had changed quite a bit in three decades, yet there was something familiar and comforting while driving past Joshua Trees, perfectly spaced telephone poles, and slow-moving trucks. The brilliant blue sky took up two-thirds of the windshield with nothing obscuring it. Hundreds of wind turbines, vast areas of solar panels, plus the occasional cell phone tower, were new to me. The landscape turned from desert to farmland quite abruptly. Before I knew it, the narrow highway was wedged between rows of fruit and nut trees. Some were heavy with citrus, while others were covered with white or pink pompoms. Insects pelted the frontend and windshield. It reminded me of a time I took this route on a motorcycle – without wearing a helmet – bugs hit my face like BBs.
If you know me personally, you know how much I love cats. My first kitten was born on this day, February 29th in 1972. I guess there were no babies born on that day, because our small-town newspaper announced the birth of the “Leap Year Litter.” It has long been on my bucket list to visit The Cat House on the Kings: a 12-acre cat rescue and adoption center. Cats that aren’t adopted can live their entire lives at the free-roam sanctuary. I spent just over an hour wandering around petting hundreds of cats. I can’t even adequately describe how I felt; I wanted to cry… a lot. I was happy beyond measure, possibly the happiest I’ve been since moving to California. At the same time, I was miserable. There’s something about unshared joy that isn’t joyous at all – it’s tragic. It’s like seeing something amazing and saying, “Wow! Look at that,” then you realize you’re alone. No one will ever see what you see or feel what you feel. I sat on a bench looking over the King River while five or six cats rubbed against my legs, two competed for my lap and hands, and dozens wandered around the bench. Could I volunteer and live with hundreds of cats for the rest of my life? Could I just stay there? Would anyone notice if I slept on that bench overnight or forever?
I pulled myself together, and off the bench, then continued on my journey north. My friends live near Yosemite National Park; I had another hour to drive and a million orchards to pass. The landscape started rolling with hills, vineyards and wineries, cattle and new smells. I arrived at their house just before sunset. What is it about these magical houses in the woods? Who knew I had so many new age, spiritual, Bohemian friends? Walking into their home was like ‘coming home.’ I sat down and exhaled, instantly comfortable and comforted.
LONG PAUSE: I was going to finish this last night. I was going to write about visiting Yosemite, Bass Lake, Bandit Town and Old Town Clovis. I was going to lament about the devastation of drought, wildfires, and Pine Beetles. But… but the friend I stayed with in Washington just lost her mother. Boom! Out of the blue, she’s gone. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve discussed our mothers over the years and what it meant to me to have someone who gets it and gets me.
So, I’m stopping here. My grief is renewed.