It’s not often I write about my dad or talk about my relationship with him openly. It is in fact a very spiritual relationship between me and him. My connection to him has always been very significant at many points in my life. I look to him in the pages of his Bible and in memories. At certain times, he stands out very strong in my thoughts and especially during spring planting time. Then there are those moments where my life takes a turn and I’m once again trying to make sense of it all. Those moments where I’m questioning my authenticity and my purpose. The self deprecation of life.
Boheme Cabin of Solitude
So here I am, tucked away in some boheme artist cabin with painted mermaids framed in window panes on the walls. It’s supposed to make you feel like you’re in an underwater cabin. The bathroom has a painted seahorse and ceramic tiles artistically inlayed. A gold spray painted spiral staircase leads up to a loft and a working door to nowhere. The minute I walked in I thought, “This is what some of the homes would have looked like at Oceti Sakowin in Standing Rock, if they had been allowed to stand.” The plywood walls, the red propane heater and random exposed beams. It was a whimsical Oceti home.
The silence at night here is so loud and ringing. The first night I spent listening to the crescendo of bull frogs in order to focus my ears so I could sleep. This morning, me and my dog, Valentine headed out the door in search of solitude among the mountain trails. While driving through the windey canyon roads, my thoughts drifted to my dad. The lyrics from a song started playing in my head. I drove in silence and hummed the tune. After awhile, I plugged in my phone and played the song with the windows open. As I scanned the scenic view a subtle smile crossed my face. I felt like my eyes were seeing for two.
I picked the trails of Paramount Ranch, an old western movie film spot where Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman was taped. The lush green landscape from all the rain was breathtaking. Rain was forecasted later in the day so there was a mist hovering in the air and forming on the peaks of the Santa Monica mountains above. The vegetation was so lush and the wildlife seemed so active. I breathed in the sweet air and exhaled, finally. I let all my senses take in the sights, sounds and feelings. Along the trail my eyes fell on a plant that had leaves with prickly ends. I smiled and looked up at the birds twittering in the trees.
Planting with My Dad
I followed my dad everywhere as a kid. When planting season came, I was right on his tail. There was a vast field by my Grandma Vera’s house that my dad helped fence and till, as was the tradition. I remember following him to the field one day, insisting I help. He used a planting stick to make a hole in the mounds of tilled earth and showed me how to drop the blue kernels of corn and cover it. With my little bag of corn, I followed him up and down the rows. I remember looking up and seeing him dig holes as the sun blazed down on his light blue denim shirt. I listened to his worn cowboy roper boots as they crushed the clods of earth. I loved the sound of his foot steps because I knew he was near and I thought his boots sounded so powerful, especially on the house floor. I always tried to make my boots sound like his.
It was hot work to drop those little kernels in the mounds that were practically at my knees. Ever so often I could hear him pause to stare at me. For some reason, I was always wearing these terry cloth like shorts. I hated those shorts. Prickly leaves and grass stickers always stuck to them. At some point, my dad breaks out laughing. Since I was a kid, being laughed at always made me incredibly mad especially when it was my dad. As he’s laughing away, I get mad, throw my corn down and start to go back to my grandma’s house. His face changed and he grabbed my arm. Attached to my butt was a big bush of these stupid prickly leaves. As I was duck walking down the row dropping seeds, I managed to pick up more leaves. By the time my dad noticed, I had a trail of them dragging behind me. The more I tried to pick them off the more they stuck to my fingers, socks and shorts. I was on the brink of a tantrum. This of course only made him laugh more and made me madder. I was a mess. My dad tried to wrestle with me to get these things off while I squirmed in angry frustration. Finally after a stern warning to settle down, little by little they were picked off. Still stewing while he laughed, planting continued. On we went, he made the holes and I dropped the seeds. When I think of my dad, this is the very moment I think of most. Especially around this time and when I see my niece do the same with my brother.
Constant Prayer, Constant Thoughts
I steadily hiked along, visiting this memory. I breathed more heavily, but I welcomed it like a massage of the tension in my chest. I took in the scenery as I scrolled through the things that have been on my mind. I thought of the recent changes in my life, the forks in the road and my self doubts. Reaching a summit that overlooked the meadows and trees below, I sighed, “I don’t know Dad.” I felt comforted by the vastness of the mountains and hills. I wanted to feel small and insignificant amongst the vegetation. To feel safe. Valentine jogged ahead and then turned back to make sure I was following her. Almost as if she was leading me out. She does that a lot.
My mind shifted to those I’d been thinking about. Stories, thoughts, struggles shared on my Facebook feed. My cousin’s sister, my friends from the Navy, my family, relatives I made from Standing Rock, the list is long. I tend to say “I will think about you”, because to me I am always in prayer. A thought is a part of my constant prayer. I thought about alcoholism and my own sobriety. The miracles of sobriety I’ve seen and the heartaches. I breathed out and looked around me as I paused on a ridge.
I noticed the drizzle turn to a sprinkle so I picked up my pace. My mind drifted to the geometrical connections I’ve made in the past year and even this very morning. I looked down at the sweatshirt I was wearing. It showed a Hopi warrior, Kaletaka and “HOPI” in red letters at the bottom. I recently bought it from a Hopi artist along with the hat I was wearing with an embroidered rain design. I was in line at a coffee shop and this couple kept looking at me. I’ve been a little “spikey” lately so I assumed the worst. Finally the guy asks me if I have ever been to Hopi. I told him I was Hopi and his face lit up. Turns out he had spent a spring helping to plant the fields belonging to one of the men from the book, Hopi Survival Guide. He invited me to go hiking sometime. I thought about this encounter. Life is so interesting with it’s geometrical lines and connecting points. I shook my head. Solitude is never found in my world. I’m always reminded in the way I understand. I am never alone even if I try to hide in a boheme cabin nestled in a canyon.
With this playlist of thoughts playing loud, it rolls back to my dad. I look up at the shadow of rain sweeping across the valley and then across the tree lines. I wondered if I was doing alright by his account. Then I hear this whip like a sheet being whipped out in the air so close to me. I look up. Swooping above me is this huge red tailed hawk. I stood still; stunned, afraid and breathless. I was frozen. I watched it glide by. There was another hawk in the distance as if accompanying the larger one. They both disappeared into the trees.
I got to a part where the trail split off to a foot trail nested in high grass. I could smell spring water close by. I started to walk down the path then stopped. I am incredibly afraid of snakes. I spooked and called Valentine back to the more open trail. I smirked as I recalled the time my dad put a bull snake in my hands. Then I heard the air whip again. The same hawk was back. It swooped in so close I could see it’s gaze on me and the lines in it’s tail. For some reason I held my hands out at my waist with my palms up, half expecting the hawk to drop something in my hands. It flapped it’s wings hard as it swooped in and made circles over my head. It swooped into the trees and came out with something in it’s mouth. It circled around again. A breeze came in and it sprinkled more. The hawk glided into the breeze and floated above me, then it just lowered down above my head so close I actually leaned back to see it’s underbelly. It made one more circle then coasted towards the trees. It dropped something on the ground and flew off. This whole time all these little birds were fluttering around whistling with the other hawk at a close distance. Then they both disappeared behind me into the hills. I was stunned. I searched the sky but it was over. My mind went silent. The playlist was gone. I knew then what had happened. I looked up with a hard lump in my throat, “Asquali!” After a deep exhale, I started quickly walking back to the car. On my way, I looked down by chance to see what the hawk had dropped. I nearly jumped out of my skin because I thought it was a snake tail, but on closer examination, it was a lizard tail with the head missing. Always the one with the last laugh. I continued on as the rain picked up. It was time to leave this place.
As I drove through the windey mountain road again, I rolled the windows down and played the song I played before but louder and I sang along. “Old Man” by Neil Young.
“Old man, take a look at my life, I’m a lot like you.”