11 May 2009

The Lonesome Red Flower.

When I was a kid I always wondered why my pet iguana, who was free the roam the house along side us humans, would crawl to the top of the tall wicker bookshelf that stood in the corner of my parent’s living room and remain there for days, until some bodily function called him down again. The lizard’s hearty nails wore through the small holes in the wicker, leaving the bookshelf worn and unattractive. It remained in the corner until he died, and then my mother put it out on the curb.

I felt like my childhood pet iguana standing on top of a hill on the coast of California, in Trinidad. I could see everything in the distance: the vast Pacific Ocean, the hill upon hill that lined the shore.

I felt safe and boundless. Then the fog whirled its way up the coast and all I could see was white with the outlines of hills and gulls and rocks.

The fog lifted as quickly as it appeared, but it all too soon came tumbling over the hills again. I took advantage of what I could see when I could see it, all the while perched on a rock that jutted from the hill like a diving board. Standing above everything in sight nurtured my self-confidence, even if sudden death loomed underneath.

I can remember standing on a hill off interstate 70 in the southern Utah canyons.

I felt vulnerable and diluted at the bottom. I was at a point in my life where I had to come to terms with a certain truth; the kind of truth that sits in the corner of the room with its hands folded in its lap. No matter how much I screamed obscenities, spiting as I yelled, or how I cried with my face in my hands at its knees begging it to leave the room, truth still sat there looking down at me with empty eyes. But when I reached the top of the hill, the wind was blowing fervently and it took with it the overwhelming pressure that had formed in my brain and chest. All the rejection of truth blew away like sand.

As I stood on the hill overlooking the turbulent Pacific Ocean, a cool draft came in from the south. The snails of sweat slowly dripping down from my temples to my chin evaporated. I thought about the healing hill in southern Utah. I realized there is something about wind that can restore to one back to mental health. If I close my eyes I can almost see a big hand wiping my mind and body clean of pain or anxiety. The feeling of the wind on my skin nourished me like the taste of bowl spicy red curry with rice, or like the smell of gardenias. I hadn’t noticed that the beauty of life could be perceived through all the senses individually, each different from the others, but tied together by some overarching purpose.

I left the wind to blow without the expectation of healing and continued down the narrow dirt trail. I found an opening in the bushes that led to the sounds of seals I heard below. I followed the path, many times pausing, looking back up the brushy half-trail and considering to turn around. But I never turned around. I was driven to stand alone on a secluded beach, my red toenails poking out from under the gray California sand, and watch the seals warm their blubber in sun and raise their fat necks, squealing violently.

Through the bushes I saw an asphalt road. My spirits dropped but rose again when I realized the road was forbidden and a well of undiscovered details. To my right, I saw a lighthouse.

I could hear the buzz of the light turning off and on. A foghorn off in the distance was in tempo with the buzz. Horn. Buzz. Horn. Buzz. The squealing seals added the melody.

I walked towards the lighthouse. In my head, I was acting out what to say if I was found on this forbidden road, notebook in hand, semi-professional camera around my neck. Maybe I would just say I’m lost, but I don’t think the coastguard understands actions without criminal motives. The place breathed trespassing.

The metal gate to the lighthouse was locked. A gate leading to a staircase overgrown with plants was locked.

Everything was locked and desolate. I could still hear the seals below. A tall metal fence separated me from them.

I sat down Indian-style on the asphalt. I couldn’t figure out what drew me to the seals. I think they fed my solitude. Living in Salyer, which consists of a general store and a post office, civilization and people had become an encounter, like seeing a mountain lion in the forest. I’ve grown accustomed to solitude. I read. I write. I talk little. I sustain myself with self-discovery, and I rarely get bored. When I get lonely, it’s this investigative kind of loneliness.

My solitude has resulted in the hibernation of my body. I’m just a mind right now, living off new experiences. Feelings shoot straight to my brain to be analyzed. And when I’ll have people close to me again, I’ll change. I’ll have a body again.

I tried to remember what its like to be touched by a human being, to have a body. Vague images and sensations flashed by. Little feelings living in my subconscious rattled for posterity’s sake. It feels so far away. Everything feels so far away, the past, the future. All the while, I still feel alive. I still feel the beauty that floats around in the air like pollen in the spring, the beauty that is only perceivable when I take a deep breath, sucking it all in through my nose.

I didn’t want to go up to the path the way I came, through the branches that left little red streaks all over my arms and through the poison oak. But all the locked gates restricted me from leaving in a comfortable manner. I climbed back up the way I came, brushing against the venomous poison oak, and holding my camera close to my chest to shield it from the branches. I never found the secluded beach. I never saw the seals.

I came out of the bushes at the same spot where I went in. The snails of perspiration were crawling on my temples again, and now under my stubbly armpits and my breasts. I was smiling when I came out, and I continued smiling as I walked down the tan rocky path. Small accomplishments make me smile these days, like tromping through the bushes on steep hills without the thoughts inability plaguing my confidence. I’m not the anxious suburban woman I was before.

A man dressed in loose white linen pants walked past me as I stared through an opening in the brush overlooking the Trinidad coast. I asked him what the boats were looking for down in the bay. About five or six tugboat-looking vessels were anchored not far off the Trinidad shore with large black balls strung to the front of them.

He said they’re looking for crabs, but that this year wasn’t a great season. I thanked him for the information, and he smiled, bowed his head and walked out of my life, back into his own. With eight billion people in the world, these short encounters with strangers must have some significance; that two, out of sea of people, meet for a second and then part, as if life were dance. These experiences, I thought, must be trying to teach me something. I watched him walk away, a collection of stringy scarves dangled around his neck. He didn’t look back, just kept walking forward, his scarves whipping around in the wind behind him.

As I neared the end of the one-mile loop that took me all day to complete, I paused in front of a lonesome red flower with yellow spears shooting out of its center like rays of the sun. My camera still hung from my neck. A middle-aged man adorned in stylish hiking attire walked by, smiling in my direction.

“Capturing beauty?” he asked.

And I said, “I’m trying.”


Alys May 30, 2009 at 3:06 AM  

bravo vanessa not only you have describe your story with such delicate way and sensitive way and above all your honesty,and all together your pictures were very cool and beautiful keep going lady you have something to say