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Traveling, living, loving, exploring and trying to make some semblance of sense out of this crazy world.  


Friday, April 19, 2013

No Place Like Home

The sink is leaking.  The tub drain stopper doesn’t work.   The toilet leaks.  The gutter pours more water on our doorstep than the storm does when it rains.  There are no screens and the walls and floor were filthy when we moved in.  

The landlord and his son are a pair of tragic comedians without meaning to be so, displaying more stupidity and ineptitude in one day of “maintenance” than I have witnessed in twenty years on construction sites.

But the floors are hardwood, a mix of local pine and cherry, mismatched, but swirled with gorgeous grain.  Our apartment is actually part of state history, an old classroom in what was one of the first schools for Negro children in Petersburg.  From the back window the Allegheny mountains roll away to the northeast, where blossoms of sarvis, redbud, apple, cherry, peach, and locust have begun to touch the dark grey-blue hills with color.

Another city, another epiphany of beauty in the midst of the rush and confusion, the grinding impatience and frustration, the endless waiting and sheer nonsensical hilarity of this thing called life.

There’s no place like home.

I must be thinking out loud again, because Cindy smiles that incredible smile and says one of those things that take my breath away.

“As long as I’m with you, I am home.”  She looks down at slender, graceful hands, one balancing a book, and nods as Dire Straits swings like sultans in the background of our tiny apartment.
“When we were out west, we talked about ‘home’, or-” she smiles and looks up at me over her glasses, “-’back east’ as you started calling it when we were trying to settle in.”  

Twin vertical lines appear between her eyes as those dark windows focus back over the last two years, and clouds drift over that sunny smile. 

“But we’ve gone so many places without finding a ‘home’, no matter how hard we tried.  Then we came home, but it wasn’t home, ever, not in the way we wanted it to be.”  She sighs, pushes hair away from her eyes.  “We’ve met so many people and lost touch with most of them and we kind of made ‘home’ where ever we both were.” 

Another smile, and she looks down at her hands again, my slender brown Madonna, curled like a cat in a rocking chair made in Nicaragua, wrapped in a black cotton khaftan from the opposite side of the world. 

“I like it that way.”

As do I, my love.

Thousands of miles of displacement, to so many places, doing such an assortment of things in a determined effort to make a home, the lessons learned and truths witnessed in a quest that never coalesced into that elusive prize have changed all the rules, perceptions and definitions. 

We’ve lived (as ‘extended houseguests’) in luxury and dwelt in the definition of austerity (a 12 by 24 foot studio apartment in a decaying hotel), fought rush hour traffic and bedbugs and black mold, crack head neighbors and ossified bureaucracy, camped in metropolis and on the edge of the wilderness, on moss and snow and sand and grass.  We’ve pulled cactus spines and lichen and a wide assortment of spiders from our persons, clothing, bedding, and tents, learned to sleep with the sound of trains and freeways and coyotes and bears snuffling through camp, and eaten more rice and beans than some locals in Nogales.  

We’ve memorized the basic street layout, rush hours, public transit, trash services, bad neighborhoods, recreational opportunities, area and zip codes of five major metro areas and a dozen outlying regions in which we routinely traveled, volunteered or camped.

We survived crossing the continent aboard Greyhound Bus Lines, twice, and if I ever find myself aboard another Greyhound, I will know that I have indeed died and gone to the deepest circle of Hell.

We have the run from east coast to west dialed, down to the day and the dollar; miles per gallon (25), miles per hour (65-75), hours per day (8-12), miles to destination (4027.6), power drinks, water, coffee and snacks in the cooler, everything it takes to cook, camp, and conduct the basics of daily life packed into a 4-by-5-by-7-foot space behind the cab and an endless supply of topics to discuss, even after all these miles and what is hard to believe has only been five years since I met this amazing woman and began the process of detachment and surrender that led to this Journey in the first place.

And now we find ourselves home, but without a home.

We have found shelter, and for that I am truly grateful as the storms of spring bring the heat and insects of summer.  I can see that Cindy has blossomed over this past year, making an amazing assortment of jewelry, hiking for miles in some pretty astounding terrain, on full days even I found to be a test, setting and surpassing personal goals in her climbing and keeping a positive energy through so many trials.

But I know she is tired.  As am I; tired, a little road worn, slightly disillusioned, and low on enthusiasm for sacred cows and cliché perspectives.

Well it’s rainin’ out in California
And up north it’s freezin’ cold
And this livin’ on the road
Is getting’ pretty old.

Or is it believin’ in just livin’, that’s such a hard way to go?

We’ve fought with the apathy of bureaucracy, the inner demons of anger and control and depression, battled together against Cindy’s Multiple Sclerosis with natural medicines augmented by lots of love and laughter and adventure, with good music, great food and an assortment of books for the rest days.  Our journey has led through an amazing cornucopia of natural wonders on public lands, stumbling across a vast, lost history that slumbers along the byways, tiny milestones of our heritage unseen in the race to the horizon.

We have shouted in too many deaf ears, listened to too many false promises and danced to the tune of too many repetitive, predictable rationalizations.  Too many people filled with envy for what they see as our 'leisure' (instead of determination and sacrifice) to live a dream the envious would not dare follow.

The perception may exist that we are ‘homeless by choice’, that Cindy could have remained here and stayed in standard treatment and I could have found work in the Valley, at the mill, retrained for employment, et cetera.

That conceit suffers from two fatal flaws: the first; that I could sit idly by and watch the woman I was falling in love with slowly die from the experimental drugs and narcotics that did nothing to treat her disease, only to mask its effects.

The second; that we would long remain free and outside the walls of a federal penitentiary given the zeal with which the war on Americans known as the Drug War was pursued by RUSH Task Forces and other acronym-laden police arms of Prohibition.

We had to leave, quite simply, so that we could remain free long enough for Cindy to heal.  Here in the East, disinformation and prejudice about medical use of cannabis has been deeply ingrained in people that routinely use opioids without a thought, people who are admittedly addicted to their assorted anti-depressants and pain relievers, who regularly vote for harsher penalties on cannabis users.

But the availability of medications for fighting Cindy’s disease and for use as a general sleep aid, performance enhancer (forget Red Bull and Viagra!) and guaranteed effective-every-time analgesic turned out to be just a foot note in the adventure, albeit a welcome one.  Thanks to our friend Sheri Erickson, Cindy was introduced to lion’s mane extract, a natural fungal extract created by Fungi Perfecti, the company owned by Paul Stamets, one of the world’s leading researchers into the uses of mushrooms and fungus in ancient cultures and as modern medical alternatives.

With regular ingestion of cannabis s and lion’s mane extracts, the change in Cindy’s health and functionality was revolutionary.  If this had been a product produced by one of the large medical companies, we would be on every talk show in America and writing the book and screenplay by now.

Instead, we kept track of the changes, as her nerves regenerated and the spasms in her legs and arms stopped.  The burning and tingling under her skin at the slightest pressure faded, as surface sensitivity, long overwhelmed by the static of overload, slowly returned.  She woke up better and faster, functioned more clearly, and showed improved memory, energy and reflexes. With the cannabis, she was able to eat and rest on “bad days” or after extreme exertion, usually recovering in two days instead of the week it had taken when we first met. 

Her Multiple Sclerosis episodes became infrequent, then virtually non-existent, beyond some occasional tiredness, usually on bad weather days when the titanium buried throughout her body ached in time to her arthritic spine and knees.  On those days, it was hot cannabis tea for breakfast, or pancakes with special butter, or the simple expedient of a deep lungful or two of some Indica strain that would level the boom on the pain.  Brownies or Ronin’s Rational Pasta Sauce for lunch, when the chef definitely exposed himself to the dangers of second-hand smoke, and then whatever milady might need til it was time to call it a night.

We went on websites and chat rooms and forums and shared this miraculous transformation on Facebook and Blogger.  No one wanted to know, beyond the people who already knew, who had relocated to cannabis-friendly states to avoid going to prison for being sick.  Our families operated in a frenzy of avoidance, trying at any cost to steer around the topic.  The cure for several of the most devastating diseases on earth, including cancer, had been found, and no one wanted to talk about it.

We gathered in, tightened down, cut away the dead weight and honed our art.  Life assumed a simple rhythm of rest and work, sleeping and eating, reading and sending emails and news, gathering and recycling the tons of aluminum and glass scattered along the highways of this country, tending to assorted chores during irregular forays into town, exploring the incredible array of mountains and canyons, forests and rivers in which we found ourselves traveling and camping.  Packing gear and making snacks, mixing energy drinks, to rise early and drive or hike out after it on some sweet chunk of stone either unknown or just unoccupied, or not, sharing the dawn with whatever other hardy souls have come out to greet the sun, stringing ropes and setting gear, clipping bolts and pulling until your flesh surrenders to the distance between desire and mortality.  Listening to the deep silence as it seeps into the inner spaces of your heart and stills the raging seas.

We have watched with the rest of the country as our elected representatives have lied and stolen, cheated and lost control, destroyed and covered their tracks, justified tyranny with security, wrapping their sins and errors in the flag, as did those in whose shadow they stand, in whose tracks they have walked.  Without the daily distractions of milk for the cat, vet appointments, kids’ plays, house payments, an ailing water heater, road work on the daily commute, office politics as usual, or reality TV, we’ve absorbed more than our share of raw data as our leaders have dismantled the country’s most basic and sacred safe checks and institutions, and as sensible people have supported demagogues whose only interest lay in the mirror.

We cranked out new lines and old, repaired and hiked trails I’d laid a decade ago, ate lots of citrus and local red chili burritos, camped under the stars of Apache Leap and talked about what America was becoming, from where we stood. 

In the west, where there was progress towards ending the pointless war on cannabis, we dealt with shady dispensaries, shifting city ordinances and political games between corrupt law officials and over-zealous supporters of legalization.  Meanwhile, knock-off oxycodone and hydrocodone and high grade methamphetamines were pouring in courtesy of the cartels. 

In the gorgeous desert where we camped and climbed, a huge multinational mining operation was threatening, no, actually, they were promising to destroy or render unusable land of incredible significance to both national and climbing history.  Resolution Copper was looking to save a few pennies on the ton for the vast wealth they were digging out from under the gorgeous plateau of Apache Leap, by using practices that no American mining company could legally employ, and they were (and still are) doing so with the support of Congress members who had sworn to defend this country and its interests and ideals.  Recreational users had fallen to infighting and squabbling over old feuds, and the classic areas had been beaten to dust as the tide of development and involvement simply turned away, leaving Queen Creek and Devils Canyon to their own fates. The advocacy groups which claim to represent climbers had only this year put a field operative in place, after this issue has gone on for most of the last decade.

It made you want to ask people what they were smoking, because cannabis does NOT make you that stupid.

Meanwhile, back in the city, in microcosm of the rest of the nation, pro-cannabis advocates tried to reconcile thug-lovers and trustafarians with Baby Boomers and middle-class grandmas, much the same way a man might attempt to herd cats with a badminton racquet, while the people who made millions waging the war on drugs just kept pushing the same old stereotypes and disinformation we had seen in the east.

It got old.

Damned old.

We had built trail, hosted events, and fed the homeless on a pittance, and we watched organizations and communities with millions in resources and massive PR machines pretend that they had no grasp of how to deal with obvious problems and realistic solutions.  Government and the advocacy groups clearly did not want to find solutions when they make a career out of searching for them, and the puppets who fund both deny the strings that jerk them around. Government officials tasked with providing volunteers with tools and missions are too burned out, under-funded, or unmotivated and clueless to have anticipated the next sunset.  Climbers were too caught up in the next Rendezvous, climbing DVD, pub crawl or gym session to do more than post on Facebook when we tried to share the truth, too focused on ‘the scene’ in exotic locations to find time to explore the wonders right at their doorstep.

We prayed, we meditated, we tried so hard, and in the end we simply stopped giving a damn on a lot of levels.  The price of making this our new ‘home’ seemed too high; crime, bureaucracy, wasted work and money while the real needs went unanswered, and the endless headache of dealing with hundreds and thousands of people going about the business of hating their very existence. 

Far worse were the givers.  Most of the people who seemed interested in our stories or offered any kind of job or help were like bad fairies out of an old Grimm tale; they either stung like scorpions out of sheer kindness, or we could not get rid of them, and/or they were mad as bloody hatters. 

We kept digging for those precious nuggets; loving the adventure and yet dumbfounded as our assorted friends donated to, supported, and promoted the stories of much better funded people who were doing the same thing we were, living on the road, but doing so with a film crew and corporate sponsors, without building trail or replacing hardware or putting up new lines, without the complications of Multiple Sclerosis, an empty bank account, and no fall-back to which one could retreat if things went astray.  Hot chicks in a new truck with a shiny Airstream are apparently more of what ‘soul climbing’ is about than two people in their fifties living out of a 6 x 8 foot tent, nursing a twelve-year-old truck across the country on a wing and a prayer.  

As we traveled, and in the many camps we had set, Cindy made some truly fine jewelry from native stones we found on our hikes, for which I created a webpage which was showered with praise and attention and Facebook ‘Likes’ by people who then turned around and bought their birthday and holiday gifts from strangers with a good sales pitch.

Faith is a gift we receive, if we are blessed, at a young age.  Losing it is a terrible battle, sometimes, or the stroke of a bolt out of the blue.  Trying to recall the exact moment at which you first felt that loss is like trying to catch hold of the retreating tide; it rushes away… it all rushes away.

But I stop, and put out my hand, and Cindy looks up from her book and smiles as I touch her cool skin, putting a finger in her book to close it as she reaches out to cover my hand with hers.


And I know, again, how we have made it, so far, through so much, and how there always seems to be something to hold on to. 


Love levels all preconceptions of  your own heart, or what it can take, how many times it can break, and heal, and rise up to beat on. Love lifts the glory of the morning mountains and rolling clouds out of the rain, finds the tiny flowers that thrive along the shore of the flood, silences all of your laments against the song of a billion billion stars in a desert sky. 

Love fills an empty belly better than food, holds back the chill of night better than the warmest wrap, casts light into depths no lantern can plumb.  Love finds courage when the battle is long since lost, strength when there is no further to go, laughter to greet the arrogant advance of despair, and hope, to rise up, each one of us, all broken anew and remade, to try, once again, to forge dreams into days. 

Love is hearth and home in the midst of the wastelands.  Love is the unique note, echoing forever between two people, struck at the right time and in the right way to resonate, just so, a harmonic only they can taste, but which fills the world and souls around them with light and laughter.  Love connects families across the miles and beyond this veil of tears.  Love is the unspoken knowledge that true friends remain friends, even through the silence of years.

The bittersweet truth is that you cannot go home again, for ‘home’ is a shadow on the grass, a moving shape in the clouds, a whisper on the winds.

Home is not where the heart is.  Home is what the heart is.

We traveled thousands of miles to return to the place where it all began, only to find that the place we sought was gone with the winds that had first taken us away.

The sink is dripping.  The tub drain stopper doesn’t work.   The toilet leaks.  The gutter pours more water on our doorstep than the storm does when it rains, and it looks like rain. 

No worries.

We have enough love to weather any storm.

With love, there is no place like home.

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