I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Finding a home

It has become my Sunday morning meditation to write down the bright spots and dark memories that precipitate out during the week of stirring the pot of my personal history, almost like a huge vat that gets muddy and begins to clear towards the end of the week, with a few things I know I must address floating to the top.

When I was going through my old photos, remembering, I saw the exact same smile in that young girl in the banner with the lush babe in the middle. I asked my husband to take a picture of me today with that same smile for the banner, and he said he would try, but the person in the last one has a few miles on her. There are 56 years between the earliest picture and the latest. And I realized why I am doing this: the arc of my life is almost finished now, and I want to see what it looks like from the perspective of age. Not old age yet, that is still to come, but nearing the 70-year mark is close enough.

When I joined the commune in the early 1970s, I learned another way to live. The residents shared all household duties, and we prepared one meal around five or six in the evening. Any visitors were invited to join us for a small fee. I learned to cook for thirty people, and how to shop for that many. You signed up with three other people and cooked at least once a week in a kitchen with massive ovens and refrigerators. I'm not sure what the house was originally used for, but it was perfect for us. The main living room was the only place that non-residents were allowed to visit, other than the ballroom, with all the bedrooms on two floors above it. In the basement ballroom, Sufi dancing was held twice a week, open to the public.

Some members were professional people who went to work every day, and others were like me, living day to day with no visible means of support. Life was easy, and I learned to hitchhike (having ditched my car) up and down the coast of California, visiting the baths at Big Sur, attending large gatherings at universities to hear Ram Dass and throw flowers into the air. I allowed myself to gain some weight and stopped wearing a bra. I took to wearing long dresses and bib type overalls.

Donna lived there too, and we became fast friends. She worked part time as a teacher and when summer rolled around, she intended to go to a dude ranch in Colorado to work as a maid. I asked if I could join her, and she agreed. When it was time to leave the commune, we decided to spend a month in Mexico before heading off to Colorado. We spent an idyllic month living in a palapa on the beach in the Yucatan, long before Cancun was built. One strong memory I have is a moonlight swim, Donna and two guys we had hooked up with, on a beach with phosphorescent sand: as we walked along the beach, our footprints lighted up behind us and the waves rolled in, not only reflecting the moonlight, they also lighted up from the tiny organisms. It is a beautiful memory.

The dude ranch in the mountains of Colorado was quite an experience. I had never worked as a maid before, but I had waited tables somewhere in my past, and that's what we ended up doing: cleaning the cabins and waiting tables in the restaurant. We made friends with the wranglers that took care of the horses. People came from all over the country to spend a week or two at this ranch, taking hikes in the surrounding mountains and riding horses. Donna and I both had a day off every week, and we would take a trip to Boulder, in the foothills down from the ranch. I fell in love with the town, and I remember thinking I would like to live there someday.

When the summer came to an end, Donna and I found a rooming house in Boulder and we made plans to buy ourselves good bicycles and take a trip from Boulder to San Francisco. Since Boulder is a town with plenty of athletic outdoor shops, we got outfitted with excellent touring bicycles and panniers to carry our gear, and we set out in September of 1975 on a six-week-long trip. We went through Yellowstone, riding up passes, whistling down long descents, up through Wyoming and Idaho, across the long desert that is the eastern part of Oregon, pedaling up and then down the Cascades, then stopping for a short while in Eugene, where Donna had relatives. We slept in city parks, campgrounds, and sometimes people invited these two interesting women to stay the night in their home.

By the time we reached Eugene, Donna and I had strained our friendship to the breaking point. We no longer wanted to travel together, so we decided to finish our journey separately, and I arrived in San Francisco with no plans. I called my parents to tell them I had arrived safely, and my mother asked me (since I was at loose ends anyway) if I would be willing to go and live with my grandmother in Santa Monica, who was ill with cancer and needing a caretaker. I agreed, so after having spent two months on the open road, I was suddenly thrust into a small house with Grandma, two cats, and used her car to drive her back and forth to the doctor.

This picture was taken of me at Grandma's house with a shirt I designed and my dulcimer. I wanted only to return to Boulder, and when Grandma began to get well, to the amazement of everyone, I decided to leave her and come back to the place that felt like it could be my home. Never having had a home town, it was possible for me to choose one for myself, and I remember moving into a room in a boarding house, me, my trusty bicycle, and my few possessions and pronouncing Boulder my adopted home town.

For several years I worked in different jobs through a temp agency. Eventually I would get a part-time assignment at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, NCAR. I loved the place and on August 6, 1979, I began working there half time, sharing a full-time position with another secretary. Job sharing was encouraged back then, and I was not ready to settle down too much, since I had become quite fond of outdoor activity, hiking in the mountains during the summers and cross country skiing in the winters. My schedule was working Monday and Tuesday and the morning on Wednesday, when my partner and I would have lunch together and she would take over. I was free to do what I liked with the rest of my time.

Other than a few phone calls with Derald and Chris, I had no contact with my son. It was as if all that had happened to someone else. My life would go on this way without much variation, until the first day of summer, 1981, when I was bicycling down Boulder Canyon and was hit from behind by a truck. I was thrown free, but my bike was pulled underneath the truck and completely destroyed. The driver got out and stopped traffic, someone called an ambulance, and I was taken to the hospital with a shattered T-12 vertebrae. As I lay there, I knew I was hurt but could wiggle my toes so I knew I wasn't paralyzed.

Although I recovered completely from that accident, my wanderlust had not left me. Being able to remain in my job by taking unpaid leave, I decided to take the money from the settlement to travel to Peru and took a six-week-long vacation, traveling around and hiking the Inca Trail, among others. That was my first international trip but it would not be my last.

I'll talk about that next time and tell you about Chris coming back to live with me again.


CiCi said...

Oh my goodness, I am so glad I found this blog and am getting in at the beginning of your memorable writing. Each post is written clearly and in a way that I can almost feel the carefree young spirit. I have looked at the photos across your banner so many times and I think that is a great way to show your changes. The spirit always shines through.

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

I am impressed with the many lifestyles you have lived! You developed a lot of different skills in the course of your life.

Norma Jean said...

Hmmm? Why does the dress in the left picture make me think of toothpaste?

Love the pictures. You are almost to the point where I start to remember some of the things you are talking about.

Stella Jones said...

You certainly indulged all your fantasies, didn't you D-Jan. Do you re-visit some of these phases of your life nowadays, in your dreams?
Blessings, Star

Leave a Legacy said...

Now I'm caught up to date. I have just spent much of my Sunday reading about your so interesting life. I feel like I just watched a movie on "Lifetime". And it could be some day. I'm kind of sad that Chris wasn't with you for a time. Can't wait until the next chapter to hear about that.

The Retired One said...

I just can't imagine having the courage you did to go so independently traveling about the country as you did. How did you ever afford to live with only working 2 1/2 days per week?
And then to survive an accident and to go traveling in Peru...wow. That is all I can say.
Not only would I be afraid to do so, but I would be so totally lonely. I am not wrong in encouraging you to write this all into a book. Seriously! It is all amazing!

Lucy said...

I wish I had had your hootspa. My mother always made me feel way too guilty when I was young to ever do anything like travel, let alone to another country! I'd have been disowned.

Whitney Lee said...

It really does sound like a tale from a fantastic book...
I love the new banner. It seems to me that you have lived several lifetimes in your 60 some years. Most people don't do half of what you've done up to this point in your retelling. I know I'm not yet 30 and I have far fewer adventures (though my sister has her share of stories). It takes a bold soul to go all the places you've gone (I don't mean just geographically).
You make me think a bit of a turtle; you don't need a great deal of 'stuff' and determination will get you where you want to be, eventually. I'm guessing that would be where the similarity would end as you obviously move far too quickly to be a turtle!
I am so enjoying this journey. I imagine for every memory you have shared there is a minefield of memories left untouched. I would agree with the Retired One that this would make an incredible book. Just in case you were looking for something to do between Facebook, hiking, blogging, and knitting;)

Far Side of Fifty said...

I appreciate and identify with the stuff that is floating at the top and has to be dealt with. You have had quite a journey..you are one strong adventureous soul DJan..I love reading your story:0