Love’s Perfect Timing… Finding Elias Part 6

“Life was always a matter of waiting for the right moment to act.” ~ Paulo Coelho (The Alchemist)

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Elias

Driving into the beachside parking lot where Elias was waiting, my senses amplified like the mid-air firing of a rocket booster. Only a few times in my life do I remember this happening. Usually, these episodes happened just before an athletic event when I was warming up for a race.

I heard the crunching and felt the grit of the gravel under Clementine’s tires; My temples and jaw tingled like I’d just taken a bite of a sour lime sorbet; Everything looked too bright and too focused. It was a hyper present moment. I wasn’t appreciating it. I could have done without the side effects, thank you very much.

The “why’s” of it don’t matter. I was about to see the flesh of my flesh. Blood of my blood… And I couldn’t stop the tears. I did, eventually. I dowsed them. Wiped them. Took a big swig of cold water, parked, got out and walked to Amy. I probably hugged her too hard.  I then slid in the backseat next to Elias. Poor little guy… Sooooo not used to this woman’s big energy.

I didn’t want to scare him, so I tried not to be overly… anything. Still, I couldn’t help but touch his hand. His blonde hair. I leaned over and gently kissed his fingers where they held onto his car seat. He didn’t look at me at first, and then just fleeting, curious glances. I tried not to talk too much. I let Amy take the lead, gently guiding conversation.

On a different plane, I started to hear a gentle murmuring, and started to relax. Yes, I’m one of those grandmother’s who will admit that I am a “Hearer.” I hear things most others don’t. There are people who “see” things – nuances, spirits, glimpses of other worlds and times. They are the “Seers.” While I do sometimes, mainly, I am a Hearer. This is interesting since my physical hearing is waning. Maybe that makes hearing the ethereal easier for me. I don’t know the answer to that. And I digress, which will undoubtedly keep happening.

Amy had planned for us to visit the local aquarium, botanical gardens and finally, the beach. The weather was cold, overcast and rainy and I could tell she was stressed and wanted the day to go well. I wanted her to know that anything we did would be fine with me, as long as I could be close to Elias. So, we went first to the aquarium… Eye contact was rare... but precious.

Mainly, I watched Elias from a distance during the first part of the day, primarily because he moved fast, and I had a hard time keeping up with him. Second, because I transform into a little girl, or… the little girl in me emerges when I am in an aquarium, especially standing in front of floating jelly fish, sea turtles, sea horses and, for the first time ever… face to face with a manatee.

It was in the aquarium that Elias decided to claim me. He turned toward me, held out his hand and beckoned me from across the aquarium room. “Come ON!…” Before then, I was just a tag along, a stranger. When he called to me… my heart swelled. I still gave him space, but I stayed closer, watching his eyes, his gaze, his 3-year-old finger pointing into the touch tank.

Back in the car, I sat with Elias quietly while Amy and her boyfriend took a breather and a short walk. I wondered if Elias was going to drift off for a nap. His head leaned back in his seat, he was gazing up into the sky. I listened to his breathing. And realized that there is a Love much different than what we have for our own children. And it’s a much different strain than we have for our lovers. I was feeling the lovely nuances of it. I felt it deeply then – the thunderous, juicy Love we have for a grandchild. I leaned my own head back on the seat and closed my eyes. And then I heard it – Elias’ sweet sigh. He leaned forward, put his hands on his knees and turned to me… “Oh gamma Dell, I miss you, too…”

“…Oh, sweet boy, I have missed you…” Sweet Elias' heart.

It’s important to say at this point that I have only seen Elias four times since his birth. And each of those times he never acknowledged me. This moment is something I will treasure forever.

This blog post was difficult for me to write, I admit. I have shared a very little bit of our day together. But, I have shared the parts that tell the important part of the story. And this is it… I fell in Love with my grandson even deeper. And I am so very thankful to Amy for helping it happen.

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Elias making images at the botanical garden. Wonder what he sees…

Finding Elias Part 5 ~ I am…

Let your dreams outgrow the shoes of your expectations. ~ Ryunosuke Satoro

WeekiWacheeSignNight

Well, I’m here… Now what?


Most things aren’t like I expect them to be when I’m finally face to face with them, especially when I’ve been imagining them for so long. I prefer my imagination. I keep reminding myself that, as Steinbeck says, “the journey’s the thing.”

I had read that Weeki Watchee Springs was a “little burg” that had conceived of, and built, Weeki Watchee Mermaid Park as a way to lure travelers into their economically waning little community in the late 1940s.

When I made my way into the “town” of Weeki Wachee, I discovered that, in fact, it was a sprawling south Florida megatropolis built primarily around a north-south highway. Fortunately, I had arrived in the middle of the night and didn’t have to navigate maniacal traffic, or deal with throngs of tourists.

Instead, I pulled into a massive deserted parking lot reminiscent of Disneyland, and navigated Clementine up to one of the dozen or so larger than life mermaid statues, painted white so many times the surface appeared similar to a well coated old farmhouse. I got out, stretched my back and stood at the front gate, identical mermaids spread out to my left and to my right. I could hear a few midnight drivers whipping by on the highway behind me, and I felt oddly self conscious. I looked up to see a surveillance camera aimed directly at me…blinking red. It made me think of National Lampoon’s Vacation, and the Griswold’s cross country trek to Wally World.MermaidStatue

At first I thought I might as well just crawl into Clementine and sleep right there in the parking lot. But, frankly, even though Weeki Watchee is a designated state park facility, I wasn’t so sure the local SWAT crew wasn’t going to come racing out at any moment to eradicate me. I pulled further out into the lot and opened up my trunk and car doors to organize, let in some fresh air and eat something.

Just as I was pulling on a fresh pair of Levis a white state park service truck whizzed by within a few yards without stopping, though the driver seemed fairly interested in what I was doing… I thought this was quirkily interesting since it was about 2 a.m. I pulled my can of Mace out of the back window and slid it into my hoodie pocket while I finished packing my car, and finally decided to drive on toward Bradenton Beach.

Though the rain had stopped and the sky was clear I still knew I needed to find a place to sleep soon because my eyes were blurry and I was making some really stupid driving mistakes. I honestly don’t even know what town I was in when I found a Starbucks parking lot to stop in for some shut eye. I do know I slept with my hand around the Mace can, but overall felt pretty safe. The advantage of the location, I reasoned, was knowing where I would be getting a hot cup of coffee the minute I woke up.

Breakfastatthebeach

My kinda breakfast…

My dreams were again of water, deep water, rushing water… and being moved around by it, but not hurt…

I woke up realizing that I had, again… slept through an intense rainstorm. Everywhere around me there was standing water and the sky was still brooding dark. I stumbled into Starbucks and ordered the largest coffee I could. I imagine I looked like a vagrant, but the early morning baristas were witty and warm. Back outside I pulled a bottle of Irish Creme liquor out of Clementine’s trunk and spiked my coffee. Soon, I was on my way to Bradenton Beach, about an hour’s drive south. In Florida it seemed everything was always … south…

To get to Brandenton Beach, one must first navigate Bradenton. I did not like Bradenton, even in the early morning hours before the natives awoke and filled the roadways with their luxury cars. I suppose I was hyper alert for lurking revenuing cops, which is why I seemed to be reading a lot of lit up signs. It occurred to me that many folks don’t seem to put much thought into signage. And, maybe they should…

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Perhaps a little bit more thought was in order…

Soon enough I escaped Bradenton proper and followed the signs to the beach. Houses got smaller and signs invited me to buy shells… lots of shells… everywhere shells. Then I saw it, a cross between a car and an overstated art project with dual mermaid tail fins. I made a fast u-turn and pulled into the parking lot of The Sea Hagg. All I can say is that… it felt so good to laugh… and laugh… and laugh. I imagine if anyone was watching that morning I would have appeared insane. What I found at the Sea Hagg was what I’d hoped to find at Weeki Wachee. Hilarious whimsical fantasy… The Sea Hagg had that in spades.

I pulled out my camera and circled the heavy black iron fence shooting in the dim morning light, since the shop wouldn’t be open until later in the morning. I made a mental note to make time to return to the Sea Hagg on my way back to St. George Island that evening, entered the coordinates into my GPS under “Favorites” and drove on to Bradenton Beach.

TwinTails

Twin tails. How could I resist a u-turn?

When I finally arrived at the beach I found a parking lot with beach access, walked out to the surf and watched a surfer huddled on his board about 50 yards out, waiting out an early morning storm burst. The wind was whipping the tips of the waves and I started to taste sand. And I started to worry about what we were we going to do, since “playing at the beach” with Elias was clearly not going to happen. I never saw the surfer attempt a wave, and wondered what the hell was going through HIS mind at that moment.

I looked at my iPhone and realized it was nearing the time for my rendezvous with Elias and Amy, his mom. After a flurry of texts, we gravitated toward a meeting spot. When I pulled in I felt my heart stuttering. I was about to spend the day with my grandson, something I had looked forward to for so long. I parked… and swallowed the lump in my throat.

“All is well…,” I kept repeating. “All is well…”…  I am here. I am… here. I am.

There is nothing else but now.

Pathtobeach

I am… here now.

Finding Elias Part 4 – Sea Haggs & Mermaids

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“Darwin may have been quite correct in his theory that man descended from the apes of the forest, but surely woman rose from the frothy sea, as resplendent as Aphrodite on her scalloped chariot.” ~ Margot Datz, A Survival Guide for Landlocked Mermaids

Finding Elias Part 4 – In Search of Sea Haggs & Mermaids

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“Mermaids don’t drown.” ~ Suzanne Palmieri, The Witch of Belladonna Bay: A Novel

There is an internal clock that ticks in my psyche. I think it is linked through my DNA to ancient ancestors who roamed the landscape. The connection and cellular memory have less to do with what these people were doing, than the fact they were simply moving, roaming, making their way across the geography of a place.

Those closest to me have mostly considered this a bane of my personality. Most of all, I suppose, would be my children. This is one point we markedly disagree on. I think – considering our lives together – that I have created “home” wherever we have been, whether in Idaho, California or Oregon. I do understand the difficulty of making new friends in new places. Still, I consider that a valuable skill. I suppose this subject deserves its own essay… For now, let’s just agree that I am a bonafide vagabond by choice, and I did my best to tone it down for 34 years of mothering. I don’t have to do that anymore, so I’m not.

Moving on…

Harry As

Props to Jeremy at Harry A’s for feeding a hungry traveler after the kitchen closed! May the mermaids whisper your name in adoration from henceforth!

I sat with Donna & Keith in Harry A’s, a little cafe/bar on St. George Island. They’d just treated me to a table full of fresh seafood and a Corona… and I heard the ticking grow louder in my brain. Donna must have heard it too, because she kept peering out at the darkening sky and finally said… “I think you need to go… now.”

I didn’t take offense, because I have known Donna Darling for over 10 years. She says what’s on her mind. She cares about me. She is a wise traveler, and she wanted me to get as far down the road as I could toward Bradenton Beach before it got dark and another storm made driving difficult. I agreed and we headed back to their beach house so I could pack up, grab my scrounged seashells and dead sea stars, share hugs and say goodbye. (…Only for a day, though, because I’d invited myself back to hang out with them for Thanksgiving… I can do that with Donna and Keith. They’re about as flexible and welcoming as people get…)

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The sea has eyes…

Oh, what to dial into the GPS???…

Bradenton Beach? Or… Weeki Watchee?

It’s getting late. It’s dark. I know I will not make it to Bradenton Beach before morning, and I reason that Weeki Watchee Springs (the infamous home of mermaids…) lies between me and my final destination. Like a siren’s song I am pulled there and punch the coordinates into my GPS. Who cares that I’ll be arriving around midnight. Seems fitting… Never mind that I won’t see any mermaids. I’m going anyway. I can’t help myself. I pull up Pandora on my iPhone, find my Shakey Graves Channel and drive on into the night toward south Florida in search of Sea Haggs and Mermaids…

To be continued…

Crying Back the Ocean – A Journey Log

JOURNAL NOTE:

I have logged many miles, made many images and taken many notes since I left Oregon in February 2014 and headed to Oklahoma, and then east to North Carolina. This is where I will compile those notes and images to rough together as best as I can what this journey has been like so far. I’ll be dropping in images and journal entries as I locate them and pinpoint their dates. 

July 25, 2014Bryson City, North Carolina

Every story has a beginning. Or maybe it’s the storyteller who has a beginning and drops into the telling at the bidding and invitation of the story.

This morning I was journaling…. or trying to journal… but kept being drawn to the corn by my chair. I found the Green Corn necklace at a hokey “Indian Souvenir Outpost” when I entered Oklahoma Cherokee territory. It was the only thing in the whole store that didn’t in some way offend me. So, I bought it, hung it around my rearview mirror and stared at it across the next 2,000 miles driving east to North Carolina.

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The ear of corn came from the fields of Kituwah. That is a story for another time. I brought the two together as a symbol of my first swath across the Cherokee Trail of Tears. (Feb. – March 2014).

February 7, 2014 – Grants Pass, Oregon

I begin researching the actual Cherokee Trail of Tears route…

Cherokee TOT Map 1

The Cherokee Trail of Tears removal routes were numerous, but all originated in the Cherokee homelands of Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia.

It’s hard to pinpoint the genesis of the idea that I wanted to learn more about the TOT. I would say it occurred to me a couple of years before my youngest daughter, Emily, was set to graduate from high school. It grew from simply wanting to learn more about my lineage (Cherokee, Choctaw & European) background, to knowing with certainty I needed to retrace it… to committing myself to embarking on a documentary film project.

Maps and historical accounts indicated there wasn’t just one route, but several. Each had its own time frame, familial histories and stories. I also learned that the TOT wasn’t just a land route. The Cherokee Indian Removal also included a water route over which many Cherokee were transported by keel boats across 1,400 miles of river from Tennessee to Oklahoma. (The Cherokee Trail of Tears Water Route would eventually become a focal point for the Crying Back the Ocean documentary film project.)

Finding Elias Part 3 – Storm Dreaming

“But you might as well bid a man struggling in the water, rest within arm’s length of the shore! I must reach it first, and then I’ll rest.” ~ Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights

The inevitable will always happen when you start a journey… at some point you have to stop. I don’t mean just stop the trek. I mean… stop moving. You can’t just drive on forever. And while “just keep moving” is a philosophy I employ often, especially when I’m stuck or scared, (Enter … Dory ) at some point I hit the wall and have to sleep, or eat, or….

I’ve mentioned before that I have a distaste for hotels and motels. Not only do I think they are a waste of money, I actually think they are more dangerous (on many levels) than sleeping in my car. This may not be a popular opinion (due mainly to overactive imaginations, B-rated horror flicks and misplaced neurotic worrisome sorts). For me… I’ll choose my Clementine Sleeping Nest over a room formerly inhabited by hundreds of other people nine times out of 10. I prefer my own energy to steeping myself in the energetic residue of countless other travelers of unknown states of mind or attitudes. Nuf’ said…

TO SLEEP OR NOT TO SLEEP

On my way to St. George Island, I decided to keep driving after my armadillo incident. While I realized I needed to stop and sleep, that wasn’t the time or place. So, I kept driving, knowing that, sooner or later, (even though I had no idea WHERE I was at the moment), if I just kept driving forward I would reach SOMEPLACE where other people dwelled, and hopefully it would be an acceptable place to get some rest. This rationale isn’t much of a stretch… there are a lot of little towns in south Georgia.

A-Stone

A reassuring south Georgia sign.

Sure enough, a glow appeared over the swamp trees. The lightning and rain eased  and stars started to appear. I rolled into Quincy, Georgia slowly, not knowing if it was a “safe” town, or a “shady” one, wove my way through old town and decided the safest place to hole up would be in the parking area of a local pharmacy. (I’ve found pharmacies to be neutral places to do this, though I loath what they stand for…) I got all ready to bed down and realized the Red Bull I drank about an hour before was in full effect. I really don’t like that feeling… being totally exhausted and simultaneously amped by synthetic caffeine. There was no way I was going to sleep and since I now knew my location, I replotted my course for St. George Island.

Back out on the road I entered a kind of droning silent meditation, no music, very little thought… just watching the road and the stars. Before I knew it I started passing sizeable fishing boats in yards and signs for shrimp, oysters and fishing bait. I rolled down my window to smell and feel the ocean air. I arrived on the island well after midnight and wasn’t about to wake the friends I was going to be visiting. So, I found a semi-quiet parking spot by a local eatery, climbed into Clementine’s back seat and drifted off.

STORM DREAMING

I started dreaming of water and something around me was rumbling and roaring, but, I wasn’t afraid. In my dream I found the sound soothing. I woke up at about 4 a.m. and realized I was in the middle of another wild lightning storm. But, this was different. I wasn’t moving…and I hadn’t just hit an armadillo. I could just lay back snuggled in my magic sleeping quilt, watch the lighting bolts like I was in an outdoor movie theater and feel the delayed thunder vibrate the air around me. Even amid the storm, I fell back into a blissful sleep. 

The next morning I found my way to my friends’ vacation rental, gladly drank my fill of their coffee and watched them play a few hands of Canasta.

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Florida sea life amazed me! I felt like a little girl exploring an entirely new world.

Soon, Donna and Keith had me out exploring nearby Appalachacola and walking along the St. George Island beach searching for seashells. I like that… searching for shells… It’s a search for nothing, really. It’s just something to claim we’re doing so we can walk and talk together. Mostly, I never seem to keep up. I’m usually wallowing around on the sand making images, watching crawling things and poking at dead things.

Donna-&-Keith

Donna & Keith Darling. My “Love” mentors.

More than once I looked up to see my friends walking together, steps relaxed and ambling, arms intertwined. It made me remember why I like these people. My friends Donna and Keith –  they know how to love. And I like being around love. I like it very much.

Finding Elias Part 2 – Shelter From the Storm

When I am afraid, there is a place I go for comfort. It’s not where you might think… like “God” … or “Meditation”… or even prayer.  Truthfully, that isn’t necessarily my first choice – my gut instinct.

It’s a different kind of shelter I reach for when my stomach rolls with anxiety, when I see the Leviathan approaching. My refuge doesn’t have walls or doors or a timbered roof to keep out the storm. I learned a long time ago that my most soothing comfort comes from music. Not just any music… Not music born out of formula or dictated by ego.

I recently interviewed Craig Chaquico for a blog article. The piece was on the state of music videos and will be published in the next month or so via a major music retailer’s blog. But Chaquico went much deeper than the questions I posed to him… Much, much deeper. Initially I wondered why I had offered to conduct and transcribe the interview, since I was deep into my own projects. I wondered if I was just distracting myself because I happened to be at a really tough place. Half way through I understood why this interview had been necessary… Without really intending to, Chaquico helped me understand something I’d been struggling with for months…

Music, he said, is more than a sound coming through amps, more than fingers picking at strings, hitting keys or pounding out a rhythm.

“Music is this thing that’s usually invisible, but that can fill the room. It’s somewhere between the angels and the algorithms, you know? Between the math and the magic. Between the science and the spirit. That’s where the audience comes in. There’s the artist, and somewhere in between the artist and the audience is the music. They’re connected.”

It used to be, when I hit the road for a trip, I would reach for the radio, hit the power button and start searching for stations. (I only do that now when I have hankering to listen to Terry Gross’ Fresh Air, or see what late night PRI program is airing.) Now, I wait for music to come calling.

I used to be blissfully ignorant. I could absently belt out lyrics along with most anything that came on the radio as I ground through miles on the road (sometimes accurate, sometimes not). Then came Pandora, where I’d plug in an interesting artist and the Pandora genre crawlers would curate and play similar artists on designated “channels.” I liked that… I still do. It’s how I discovered Shakey Graves. But then there came a time when everything I thought I knew about what music was… changed… And there is a man I blame for that. (“Blame” because sometimes life is so much simpler bathed in benign amniotic nothingness.) But, I digress – which I do often, because storytelling isn’t a linear business…

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Driving toward the Gulf of Mexico on my first leg to see Elias, as it got later into the night the rain turned to torrents somewhere in the strange moss laced forests of south Georgia. My usually dependable GPS started demanding that I turn left and right and right and right and left too frequently and I realized too late that somehow I’d gotten turned around. I gave up and just shut the glowing piece of shit off.

My eyes were tired and blurry and the windshield wipers couldn’t keep up with the dowsing rain. Cloud-to-cloud lightning was constant and I couldn’t accurately pinpoint my location, the road I was on, or any town I might be near. I’d just hit an armadillo and had pulled over thinking that I should probably get out and see if there was damage resulting from it.

But I didn’t… Instead, I laid my head back on my headrest and cried… Yep… I did. Then I picked up my iPhone, synched it via Bluetooth to my car stereo (Thank you, Rob), scrolled through my playlists, and picked out the one track that has comforted me across thousands of miles of obscure highways. I hit “Repeat,” slid the gear shift into “Drive”… and kept moving through the night.

Rob Hands

The genesis of Marker Two Two – the hands of Rob Gunderson. (CLICK IMAGE to hear “Marker Two Two”)

The song doesn’t have an actual name. It was born of heart wrenching inspiration, flowing through the vessel that is the heart of a tortured man. The name that I call it is the name he called it, the name that it is still logged by – “Marker Two Two.” It’s instrumental with no lyrics. I wouldn’t want any. The soul of it flows through the strings of one guitar. There is no post production. I can hear the ends of fingers on metal strings. Now, after Chaquico’s explanation, I understand where it is that I’m meeting Marker Two Two’s magic, and why its become so important to me.

Chaquico didn’t create Marker Two Two, Rob Gunderson did. And for that, I will forever be grateful. Marker Two Two has become my guide and my friend. It’s become my shield and my cloak. It transports me to a place where I am safe and soothed and inspired – regardless of electrified skies or an undercarriage filled with armadillo guts. It gave me courage before I slid into a kayak for the first time. It settled me before I held my grandson, who I’d only seen a hand full of times in his whole life. Marker Two Two is more than a piece of music. It stands apart from the man who birthed it, though it remains connected to him. I didn’t intend to develop a relationship with a guitar riff. But, it came calling… And when Spirit calls, its always a good idea to hear what it has to offer…

Finding Elias… Goodbye Friend

“Truth is a deep kindness that teaches us to be content in our everyday life and share with the people the same happiness.” ~ Kahlil Gibran

Of all of the images I made on my trip to Florida, this one is the most precious to me. Elias had been playing with another little boy in the Children’s Corner at the botanical garden. Their exchange wasn’t always the most congenial, but they figured it out after awhile. When it came time for the other little boy to leave, Elias was very engaged in the separation from his new friend. I watched Elias negotiate it emotionally, and that was the most precious part.

Goodbye-friendBW

My grandson, Elias, 3, saying goodbye to his new friend.

Elias understood that his playmate was leaving. He took a few steps toward the door and gently waved goodbye. The thing with Elias is that his tenderness is unmasked. He is as real a human being as it gets. I feel incredibly blessed to spend time with him, especially when he throws his arms around my neck and giggles in my ear. ((sigh))