Mist in the morning. Hawk Hover. I stood in the shower that morning with unpolished toes on thin worn linoleum, thinking maybe this was the contraction before the expansion. Twisting the shower head to find a height that was above me. Sacrilege in my sacrum, awoken lingering thread of having driven toward the fire, deeper into mushroom clouds of mountain smoke. She told us in our first gathering that the Esalen people came here to die or to heal and to sometimes do both and I think I did both that first night, consumed by my own Soberanes Fire, waking up bewildered in the darkness into the hovering stillness of the valley, while the air also burned, as if with the sound of trees being consumed on the incline just above me. Like my own inevitable surrender into consummation.
Running West towards what I pictured would continue to create me: a poetry and spoken word “Tongue and Pen” workshop, sparkling blue water underneath wide open sunny skies, ocean cliffs lingering somewhere between the curves of thrilling and slightly dangerous, skin saturated green grass and pool swimming, writing with abandon into all the ways we long to and can when we feel safe. And I couldn’t help but notice the irony that existed in the way that I was toeing that line all week. Instinct telling me to run, intellect reminding me we were still safe. Compression first I thought, leading me then into eventual expansion.
Deep unexpected sighs rising up, like the disappointment over this not being the sunny-skied, sparkling ocean cliff trip I had imagined, releasing from my bones and becoming more apparent to my body. Yoga in 60 degree overcast coolness, alongside pieces of ash falling quietly though the air, within the rusty fenced in outlines of the pool in the morning becoming my own self-created hope that I had some semblance of control over the day. Like the mist on the morning mattered, like safety was a thing self allowed even in the midst of smoke silent mountains. Longing for my own re-imagined bigness to fill both me and the landscape.
That self-care routine, yoga in the foggy early edges of the day, somehow inducing whispers of that sun-on-skin full. in. my. heart. feeling that I anticipated would only have come from the basic comforts of big enough hours: standing fully upright in the shower, salt air smell capable of being breathed deep into the chest, warm enough clothes. That similar way external crises have of somehow offering comfort by creating the space for us to connect further in.
The week became a reminder of all the not so small things we take for granted. Sensory connection. The reliability of sunset. Not having to worry about potential evacuation.
The day before, we arrived and drove further south down Highway 1 into the clouds of smoke that were initially visible as only half threatening tornadoes off in the distance, and as we and the 55,000 acres of burning land permeated the air, California suddenly became Kosovo, almost as arrestingly as the way we drove down miles of unmarked highway between parched, pleading, sun-burnt grassy earth mapped against the mountains. California Condors swirling lazily overhead, above signs for garlic & cherries, free kittens, avocados 5 for $1, and concrete front lawn ornaments with 2 wild horses paused, mid-leap, as if anything that happened here might come to be seen as all existing within the realm of normal.
And on that first night, white ash landing on my dinner plate like intermittent confetti, only I wasn’t sure what it meant here yet to celebrate.
I did my best not to abandon the place, though I felt in the godless moments, like I might be abandoned by it. Throughout the week, often, the wrong date was written by my distracted fingers on the top of the journal page. Those first few mornings, spent looking out over grey overcast miles of water for a landmark that could become a stronghold for my hands, a reassurance of belonging for my body.
What to try to manage and what to let go, noticeable: limited internet only available between meals, no cell phone service, the hidden landlines throughout the property equipped for only a reverse 911 call, making one hope her fate mattered as much to an unknown stranger as it did to herself, and the natural traveler’s disruption of comfort of the familiar and of routine when venturing somewhere new. The parent pieces of some of us thinking: about securing a way to leave. Through it all still, a penitence I longed for the land to let my knees give to it, to take the parts of me being held in captivity that I had carried here all the way from the East.