Saturday, February 23, 2008

bursting in phoenix

phoenix, az. After leaving the sunny snow of Colorado, I headed to the airport with my family. Lindsey, Ricky and Dad all heading to Chicago, and me off to sunny Arizona, where nan and uncle Kurt live. When asked by the curbside check-in where I was going, I offered: Chicago. Midway. “Really?” he asked, “I see a Richard on here, but no Ashley.” Oh jesus. I am going to Phoenix, not home. Indicative of my place right now – lost, unsure, bewildered, filled with wonder – I hopped on the plane headed for the desert sun.

Uncle Kurt and Nan picked me up amid all of the airport congestion. We spent a few days bumming around, seeing their friends and a movie and lunches and dinners. We ran into Rick and Bonnie, friends with whom I stayed in Paris on an excursion from Rome. We talked US state department and related careers, and I asked for advice for my future. The more time I spend away from home, with time to think, I begin to know that I do not know what I want with my future. The conventional wisdom suggests, however, that I shouldn’t. From every woman I have ever known who has had a baby or gotten married or settled in a career before twenty-five: don’t do it, see the world, explore, find yourself. So I am.

At Nan and Uncle Kurt’s house, I spent time lying on the cold concrete in the hot sun; it felt like an electric blanket warming me in the mild desert winter. They had pink grapefruits growing on a tree in the backyard – when eating them I just felt like I was biting into fertility. These luscious fruits just burst out of the dry sands and now exploded with flavor in my mouth. It always smells like spring in the desert, with few blossoms to be seen, I still smelled a plethora of budding flowers as I made my way through the day.

Ani’s visit was a welcome change. She came in from Miami for the weekend and we went straight away to see her native friends at o’odham tash carnival in casa grande. Amid some car troubles and uncertain directions, we found our way to the festival by looking for the ferris wheel among the desert flatness. We met up, ate flat bread, watched a rodeo and chatted in the soft winter sun. We listened to some country, then traditional Mexican music, then sauntered over to a baseball diamond where the o’odham where holding a pow wow and a drum circle. We headed back over to the rodeo area where there was to be a dance. It was too early so we ran off to get some food, and back in time for the festivities. Shane showed us how to “chicken scratch,” a dance by which everyone walked in a counter-clockwise circle all together doing something that looked like a cross between meringue with their feet and bobbing their head like a chicken to cumbia music. This communal dancing lasted all night; Ani and I cut out after a few rounds.

The next day we met up to take a trek to Montezuma’s castle – a cliff dwelling belonging not to Montezuma, but another tribe up in the sheer rocks of Arizona. After the short tour, we decided that we had enough day left to head to Sedona. We squabbled over where to park, and then found our way up bell mountain. The higher we climbed, the more spectacular the view, and we just kept conquering the boulders going up and up and up. The sun was fading quickly, so we had to turn around. We slipped out of the red rocks just as the sun hid behind the mountains in the distance and popped into a strange cafĂ© in town. We laughed over the strange waitress, Taco, and the wackiness of the decorations and staff. Our cheers slipped out the door and into the fading blue sky, echoing amongst the purpling cliffs.

Ani’s visit was a joy, filling me with such love for my good friends. The kind who always want to know how you’re doing, but actually care about your answer.

It was quite comforting to catch up with my family in the west: talking to them honestly about my hopes and fears, being taken care of by them, and feeling belonging for a time. “If we loved you any more we would just burst!” So, I bursted inside with joy and love and contentment.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Alex drove me into the bay area and dropped me off at Ricky's house. I won't be seeing him for a couple weeks. After a lonely afternoon listening to new music I just downloaded from the film There Will Be Blood Ricky came home and we got some dinner with Nolan. The next afternoon we flew out to Denver. Dad and Lindsey flew into Denver from Chicago and had already gotten the rental car. Our cousin Brett picked us up and we headed up the mountain. In On the Road Kerouac and his buddies spent a lot of time in Denver; I remember his description of his first time into the west sitting in the back of a pick up truck and breaking out of the confines of Iowa. It is like the air overflowed with oxygen and the crisp stars were so many that they lit up the sky like tiny flames. Denver felt, to me, like any American city. So much has changed since Jack's time. The air was cold and the mountains formed a wall in the distance. We drove into the storm in the night. We were meeting dad and Lindsey at the cabin. Walls of snow surrounded our car, the wind shook the steel frame, and I felt sheltered. As we drove along, some divine lights peered around the corner of the jagged rocks -- a rock quarry in the middle of the mountains swirling in the snow. Colorado is as I imagined.

We got to the cabin, unpacked, Lindsey and I snuggled up in the bed and chatted in the warmth until we lost consciousness. We rushed in the morning to get skis, to prepare for the blizzard snow hill and its negative temperatures, and to fuel our bodies. I felt too hot then too cold, there were moments when millimeters of skin exposed felt susceptible to frostbite. My joints got cold and sore in the weather. We quit early.

Lindsey and I giggled and got into our bathing suits and went outside in the winter weather and slipped into the pool. We shivered in the water, not being cold but perceiving the snow that surrounded us, we felt it was the appropriate thing to do. We squealed with delight and pretend coldness and dared each other to get out into the freezing air and plop into the hot tub. Finally, we hopped in, and so did the rest of the resort, and we found ourselves surrounded by middle-aged wonks who sounded, to us, like the teacher from the peanuts. We got out, showered, went out to eat, said goodbye to Brett and then slipped our sore bodies into bed awaiting the sustained activity that was to come with the dawn.

Morning came and it was sunny. What Brett called a blue bird day. For comparison's sake, yesterday was a dirty city pigeon day. My legs felt warm and Lindsey and I were set to explore. We found the perfect run: it was long and slow and beautiful. We spent some time skiing through the trees, finding little bumps and getting a few inches of air. Lindsey and I then decided to go tubing. These tobaggon-like ruts in the snow held the tubes as you slid down. Lindsey, inevitably, got involved in snowball fights with the workers there, flirting and taking names. I laughed till my cheeks hurt, assuredly getting taken for a ride with her antics. The boys were from Chicago, she is to meet up with them again, never I'm sure.

We spent the evening the the hot tub as before, this time with young college boys with big muscles. Lindsey sat coyly and smiled. We went out to eat and had beer and buffalo, then stumbled home and fell asleep.

We left the resort the next morning after some cheesy snapshots and memorabilia, drove out of the mountains and across the plains to Boulder, where Brett lives. Ate in a hippie sandwich place with Brett and his girlfriend, gave them back their borrowed clothes and some leftover food and headed for the airport.

A nice, safe, family trip with only fond memories.

Friday, February 1, 2008

the california coast

Alex and his mom and I packed up their motor home and headed out for the coast this week. The weather up here in the foothills has been pretty awful, so we thought maybe we would catch some sun on the coast - and boy were we right. Here's what we did:

1. Hearst Castle. This is a very large home erected by former media magnate William Randolph Hearst, on whom the film Citizen Kane was based. I was excited to see the place partly because of my extensive study of the film and partly to gawk at the belongings of this one man. The tour was surprisingly not cheesy at all and quite interesting. This man collected original roman columns, 3000 year old statues from Egypt, 6th century Iranian tiles, and tapestries and paintings and whole ceilings from churches in Italy and Spain, and the list goes on. I was particularly moved by the quality of the grounds and the care taken of all of the art. In the midst of all this wealth, I could not forget that the depression was raging while these sycophants splashed around in the heated pool and ate imported international cuisine. Some people love to gawk and adore massive wealth, but part of me really hates that a place like this exists. I was also interested in the historical context in which this place exists. It took centuries for cultures to create the art and architecture that this man bought for his once palace in the 20th century. This is an effect of the early industrial revolution and an act that will -- unless we find another source of abundant energy again -- never be repeated. All in all, a quite fulfilling tour with fantastic photos to be taken.

2. elephant seal beach day. So, apparently the elephant seals all got a memo to meet on this beach just north of San Simeon, because it was a par-tay! There were thousands of them, lying on their fat bodies, rolling over their young-ins, and smelling like the outhouses at the end of the taste of chicago. There were considerably more females than males, with an obvious harem around the largest males. The ladies fought for the big kahuna's attention while sometimes suffocating their young under their blubber, and the loser, smaller males stuck over by the coast, wallowing in their tiny sorrows. I noticed one time, where a thin tiny loser male came charging at this big guy, and the guy just turned around and showed him how big his nose/trunk was, and the little guy just shamefully backed away.

3. Limekiln State Park. Here we could park the motor home with a spectacular view of the coast. This particular beach is a meeting place between the sheer coast mountain ranges, a raging glacial stream and the sharp varied rocks left by years of erosion. Just a few feet in from the beach was a pathway to a fairy-tale-esque forest. We hiked only about a quarter mile and found the warmth and windlessness of the forest enchanting. There were giant redwoods and a river carrying down the effects of the recent snowstorm in the mountains. The sun gleamed off the river and birds chirped and I wondered where Snow White was. or Pocahontas. We took a stroll on soft pathways of pine needles and found these giant kilns in the forest made of limestone and metal. I felt like an explorer, coming upon the remnants of an ancient society.

4. Point Lobos State Park. Also known as the crown jewel of california's state park system. Suffice it to say that I saw gray whales, harbor seals, otters, pelicans, sea lions, sea urchins, starfish, anemones, and deer. In this post, i'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

I have now begun to appreciate California's great natural wonders.