Saturday, February 2, 2013

On Not Being Able to Get Out of my Car

I arrived at the Grand Canyon yesterday afternoon. Alone. Just me and my car and my guitar and computer and paint and canvases and Oscar and Kea my stuffed creatures. And here's the thing. As I pulled up to the entrance and the Ranger leaned in toward the car to ask for my permit, I chocked up, unable to say a word. Finally, I said, I'm your artist in residence. Only I said it real quiet because it seemed like something I ought to whisper—I'm your artist in residence, you have invited me here to write. I have left my family behind and traveled 1400 miles and now I am here. I am finally here.

The woman smiled and waved me on, and I wandered around until I found my house, and my own personal parking space, and I pulled in and turned off the car and just sat. For five minutes I sat staring straight ahead, not at the canyon which would have been a good excuse for just staring, but at a berm. A dirty snow covered berm.

I felt like I once did when, at age eight, I dared myself to dive off of the high dive at the local pool. No one had taught me how, and no one was there to help me figure it out. I had just decided that I needed to meet this challenge. And part of me was delighted as I climbed that ladder, and part of me was scared. But most of me just knew this is what I had to do. Still it took me quite a long time to point my arms and head toward the water and jump.

So now I am here, and all my stuff is in the house and I have a hot mug of coffee and the Grand Canyon in front of me. When I finally went to bed last night the sky was black and the stars were bright. Then, around three in the morning the moon came out and I got up to peer at the canyon and I saw walls of indigo going back and back and back. Then this morning I went for a walk at sunrise. It was something to see - sunrise on those stone walls. I met a family from Kansas. A mother, father, three children—two, four and six years old. The kids were wrapped in blankets and still had on their slippers. They looked groggy and confused. It was cold. Why had their parents pulled them out of bed so early? But then the sun lit the top edge of Buddha's Temple, one of a thousand formations in the canyon, and the white Kaibob limestone shone like beacon and the littlest boy pointed and said - ahhh.

And there you go. A memory planted. A seed that could grow into an awareness that life is big and beautiful and worth getting up for, and diving into, even when your tired, or scared, or alone. Even when you worry you won't live up its challenge.

-Naseem Rakha 2/2/13

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Road to Manzanar

I knew soon as I got in my car that I would not make it to Williams, Arizona that night. That was my plan, Williams by 6 PM. But I had made that plan while sitting in my kitchen at home in Oregon. Not in a hotel parking-lot off of Hwy 395 in Carson City, Nevada. In Carson City, Nevada, Hwy 395 is an unremarkable road. Pitted with strip malls and Starbucks. McDonalds. Walmart. But look behind those ugly blocks of concrete and glass - look east and west - and you see towering mountains covered in sage and snow. I had arrived in Carson City at night. Gliding down the mountains into Reno's sea of lights and then on into the state's capitol, not knowing. Not being able to see.

But in the morning I saw. And I knew—I would not make it to Williams, Arizona that night.

The sky was too blue to make so many miles. The sun too warm. There were hotsprings to be bathed in, and points of interest to stop and read, and so many other places to see. I have been wanting to see Mono Lake for about 26 years. Every since I read one of my favorite books, Cadillac Desert by the late Marc Reisner. If you live in the west - Cadillac Desert is a mandatory read. Period. It is the story of water and how it shapes land and people. And in the arid west - it is the story of theft on a grand scale, and idiocy and the wild-eyed lure of ambition and greed. I could not put it down.

And delaying me even further, was all the sage I needed to collect. And rocks. At one point I found myself carrying a 20 pound boulder down a steep hill crusted by shrapnel-sharp pieces of pumice. Rocks have always been my downfall.

And then, there was Manzanar.

At it's peak, in 1942, Manzanar held more than 10,000 Japanese Americans. Did you know that only West coast Japanese were "interred" in these camps? East Coast Japanese, Midwest Japanese, Southern - they could all stay put. I learned that yesterday. Of course, the west coast is where most Japanese had made their home - still. Also this: when considering whether to "relocate" the Japanese, government officials also considered imprisoning Germans and Italians. That idea lost ground when one politician pointed out how unpopular imprisoning Joe DiMaggio's parents would be to baseball fans across the country. Interestingly, 300 Italians were carted off to one of those camps. DiMaggio's parents were not among them. One more thing. Do you know there is an ongoing debate about whether it is appropriate to call the ten prison complexes built to hold these Japanese American families 'concentration camps'? The government's preferred nomenclature is "War Relocation Centers." As if war were a hurricane that had swept away these people's lives.

Anyway, I went to the museum and walked around and spent far too little time at Manzanar. The place needs a minimum of a day to explore. Most of the buildings are gone, but ghosts hang out there. I could hear them walking over the brittle cottonwood leaves. I found pottery shards, pieces of broken glass, old rusted cans. Each had a story, I was sure. But unlike the roadside rocks, I left them in place.

It was 3 pm, I had to go. There was still Death Valley to cross. But that is a whole other story, and I don't have time to tell it now. It is morning, and I have to hit the road. My goal: Grand Canyon by noon.  Of course, who knows what I will see along the way....

-Naseem Rakha 2/1/13

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Shuttle Van to a Whore House, Oregon to Carson City, Nevada

Mt. Shasta, from I5.

Well, I got off to a late start, and I stopped about 40 minutes into the drive to call CarToys to figure out how to connect Pandora up to my spiffy new stereo system, and I5 was jammed with oversized semi's hauling what looked like parts for a nuclear reactor, but I made it out of the rain and into the California sun, and over the Sierra's and through Reno, and into Carson City, Nevada where the first thing of note was a shuttle van to a whore house.

Yup. Complete with a provocative logo air-brushed on its side.

The irony of the day came when I started listening to a book I had downloaded the night before. My dear friend and comrade in writing Kathlene Postma had given me a list of authors she thought I should read. One was Elizabeth Berg. So I randomly chose a book from Itunes, knowing nothing about it.

Ended up The Pull of the Moon was about a 50-year-old woman who leaves her family to take a road trip. Her one child is grown up, and she never speaks about having elderly parents - but all else - the whirlwind of emotions and need and crazy making thoughts—mourning life going by and simultaneously feeling wildly powerful and totally intolerant of idiots - were all in sync with my own feelings, and I thought - well, fuck me.

I love it when life imitates life.

Onward. Today, I will drive route 395 through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I want to see Mono Lake and Death Valley. That's my goal. See these two. Walk there. Take pictures. Tomorrow I will make my way to the Grand Canyon where I will unpack my car and hopefully all the other crap I have been carrying around lately.

-Naseem Rakha 1/31/12

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

And the Winner Is.....

I am tired, tired, tired. For the last three days I have been running around ticking off items on my endless to do list, and if I were not so tired, tired, tired, I would pat myself on the back for completing it. Well, almost completing it. I had hoped to make myself tomorrow's lunch, a roast beef sandwich on thick crusty bread with hot peppers soaked in olive oil. But, guess what? I'm too tired. I quit. I need bed.

My plan is to get up, shower, throw any last minute items in the car, make that lunch - two really - one for me and one for my son who I will then drop off at school with a big - see you in a month— hug.

I have never left my son for a month. My husband either. The longest Chuck and I have ever been apart was after we first met and fell in love and then he left me on a farm in southern Illinois in the middle of a wild-life refuge that was surrounded by water and snakes and creeks that flooded so high you could either not get home or not leave - depending on which side of the creek you were when the rains came. He left me - there on that farm while he went off to law school in Oregon. Letters is what we had. Letters and a single Christmas break. Then, one year later I moved out to Oregon too. But it took a year. Half of 1985 and half of 1986. And that, way back then, was the longest we had ever been apart. The next longest came four years later when I took my sister to India for three weeks. Since then we've hardly ever been apart. Sure, a few days here, a week there. That's it. Twenty four years.

So this is a big deal.

But you know what? I am too tired to care.

Anyway, it's time to announce the winner of the What to Bring to the Grand Canyon game.

And the winner is ------- Eric B's husband with his suggestion that I bring sun sensitive photo paper. I did not think of that. I like that idea of taking little things - a piƱon nut, an oak leaf, a scorpion, and catching it's image on that paper. It's like a permanent shadow. Unfortunately, I could not find sun sensitive photo paper. I looked, but it was a no go.  So I guess that is another thing I did not do on my list. Damn.

Anyway Erica B, email me your address, and I will send you something from the canyon. No telling what it will be, but I promise it will not bite.

To bed...

-Naseem Rakha 1/29/13