October 4, 2000
I found last night that writing in my journal was so comforting to me, that I am back here seeking more stability in my morning. Last night I had decided to go to mass this morning in order to get a good breakfast. Somehow I have had visions of hot breads, scrambled eggs and steamed vegetables since 3:45. I am washed and sitting here in my nervousness. It is very dark out there! No one else in the guesthouse has a light. In fact the whole valley is in complete darkness. Even the stars look faint and scared and very alone. I worry about walking that half-mile by myself alone in the rocky darkness. Am I up to that? What about my fears of becoming disorientated in the dark? Will I fall? Will I fail? My insecurity is like heavy clothes on me that make me sweat. Here I go!
It was very eerie walking in the pitch darkness. My flashlight seemed very dim at first and the rocks on the road grew larger and larger as my eyes grew accustomed to the little light. I chose to take the longer route over the road instead of through the courtyard and field hoping that the snakes and things living in the bushes would have a greater chance of missing me. My neck bones creaked as my head swung from side to side testing the atmosphere for other living beings. Above the edge of bushes the cliffs could only be seen by their absence of stars. There were no other lights to be seen. No light was visible from the church. I was darkness walking into darkness. I completed the blackness. Once behind me I thought I heard a woman's cough and looked back hoping to see a glimmer, but there was nothing to see except more formlessness in darkness . I began to wonder if my watch was again wrong and I was the only person out here. Only later as I climbed the hill did I see a flash of light down in the bushes and knew that there really was someone coming up behind me. I slowed my steps even more than my panting breath needed so that we could walk together. It was the woman I had seen briefly yesterday in the parking lot who was wearing the wooden locket indicating that she had taken a complete vow of silence. Thus, we spoke not, but I greatly appreciated her light. Instead of a puny flashlight, she had brought the Coleman lantern from her room that was a lot brighter. Inside I saw she was a devout Catholic in the practiced way she genuflected, took down a kneeling pad and began her prayers. I sat down in the row behind her because she had taken the aisle seat indicating that she did not want me to sit beside her because she wanted to be alone.
The chapel was very dim with only tiny spot lights trained on the seats so one could read the liturgy. The windows which I had enjoyed so very much yesterday were pitch black walls which felt very confining. The service was very long (one and a half hours) and I was very hot.
I am too nervous to go on writing. I am weak and shaking. I feel I want to ask someone to call Marilyn to come and get me. Yet I am in no danger. I am just scared and feeling very alone. I was the only Protestant at communion this morning. It pains me to think of how everyone received the host except me. I was very ashamed when the Vietnamese priest looked at me in shock when I bowed without holding out my hand. I was deeply moved as he recovered his poise by saying a special blessing over me. His speaking above me had the effect of turning the attention of every person in the room in my direction of being non-Catholic.
After stopping to write to weep and feel the deepest despair, while shaking and heartsick, at the end of my rope, I put Marilyn's phone number in my pocket, washed my red face and went to the gift shop to ask the Brother Alerod how to get to a phone.
When I walked in with my tea cup the monk was talking to my new neighbor who was introduced as "J. Wilson". Feeling as if I was interrupting an intimate conversation I walked back to the kitchen niche and put water on to heat for all of us. I could not help hearing that Wilson, who was barefoot, was from Australia. This information did not help my panic, but concentrating on tea making did. As I gazed out the window I saw Scott, who I had heard at breakfast telling Brother Andrea that he was leaving today, heading out toward the parking lot. I wanted to run out to ask him to take me just as far as Ghost Ranch. But his grim nature kept me from asking him for the smallest favor.
Before the water boiled, in comes Sister Someone, a small Indian woman with her arms full of papers and supplies. She made a beeline for the counter between the shop and the kitchen where she spread out her things. I had cups and tea bags laid out, but she ignored this, and roughly pushed them aside and out of her way. Perhaps it was my very tender, raw feelings but she seemed to stare at me with eyes blazed with hostility. She and Alerod, the monk began to talk about the business of running the shop, about orders to be filled, books to be ordered. He made little jokes and she complained. I felt trapped in the kitchen by her presence so I walked out into the store part and tried to busy myself with shopping. I felt so wobbly I could not focus on anything. As soon as I could, I grabbed up my tea to leave. As I walked out the door I noticed a storm with thunder and lightning was moving in from the west. After more nervous shits I sat outside my room watching the storm gather.
Suddenly it hit me, with the reality of a physical force, that if it began to rain there was no way Marilyn could ever drive down that rutted dirt road to get me this morning! I was absolutely stuck here. My panic, which had been at the limit, now kicked into over-drive. I watched two-gray haired tourists come out of the gift shop headed for their car. I was very tempted to ask them for a ride OUT. But I wondered what kind of drivers they were and knew I would be even more panicked to be on that road with strangers. What I really wanted was Marilyn!
In the meantime, between sips of tea that refused to comfort me, the canyon filled with darkness flashed with lightning. The approaching rain clouds tried to entertain me by giving me a few haiku.
thunder rolling into
their darkness reshapes
the canyon river
the earth's blessing
of thunder before
When the rising wind made me shiver with cold, instead of nerves, I came in and dug out my thermal shirts. While I was in the suitcase I got out the walkman and the tapes remembering how comforting Martin's tape on grief and praise had been for me on Sunday night in the midst of my mild pre-travel nerves. As I put the suitcase away back in the corner I could hear the first raindrops on the tin roof. I raced out to sit under the verandah to experience the rain. As I watched in fascination, I was aware that my panic had lessened. As the rain poured down harder and harder, I felt better. I did not know if it was the change in atmospheric pressure or if the Librium had finally hit home or if it was just the knowledge that I had Martin's tape to listen to.
The shower only lasted 5 – 10 minutes but it was long enough to calm all my fears and panic. I was as if I had never known a moment of panic in my life. My total life was filled to the brim with this complete peace.
staining the stone
the earth with thunder
in the rain
cholla cactus gives up
The rain filled the canyon with its silver whiteness.
the canyon takes
fears and panic
lost in the silver
The run-off from the roof into the gravelly pebbles made such a comforting sound – like something I remembered from a very long time ago. I knew Something that knew me, and loved me, enough to raise me above my panic.
the urge to flee
Now I was cold even with my extra shirt so I went inside. I wondered if my panic was hiding there from the joy of the rain. I really did not want to return to darkness.
my powerless room
I tied an old scarf around my neck and that even felt comforting. I ate three crackers as if breaking a long fast. I have decided not to go to dinner. My present mood is too light and joyful for the heaviness of ritual there. Besides, I refuse to walk through the rain (it is continuous now) and that red mud for so much spice and carbohydrates. I am rationing out my nut supply until Friday, Marilyn and Bodie's in Abiquiu.
for Saint Francis of Assisi
right out of Rieti
The way the thunder rolls down the canyon, from mesa to mesa reminds me of the storms Werner and I enjoyed in Alberto's house in Grecchio in Italy. How the small church there was famous because it was the place where Saint Francis first arranged a manger scene at Christmas. And here before my door, between me and the river and the storm, stands a life-sized blacken tree sculpture of Saint Francis.
Now the rain is really coming down. The canyon and sky are one white on white scene; as light as it was dark this morning. I ran out to photograph the non-sight sight. When I got out more film I saw I had not brought Martin's tape but one I used to listen to when I cleaned the Messing house "Ars Magis Subtititer" religious chants from the 14th century. Anyhow the dripping of the roof and the gurgling of the streams running behind my room below the window which will not close completely is my music. I did finally turn on the gas heater, the smell of which is not my favorite. I would have much preferred the woodstove that the web site advertised, but I can imagine the gas heater is easier to manage with the guests who are not used to handling fires. Especially back here without access to a fire department.
I am thinking of going to the gift shop for some incense. The walkways there are covered so it is easy to walk around in the rain without getting wet. Was thinking of doing some shopping there this afternoon just for something to do. The chapel bell just rang and the Aussie is gone – to the bathroom. He is on to the patterns here and only shows up for the meals after the church service.
Maybe I should describe breakfast instead of going in for dinner. After the last prayer after communion people would remain in their places continuing in prayer until they were finished. One by one they would leave the room through the door directly across from my seat. Through that door I could see through another door into a room where I could see them flipping out of their creamy white robes while others were still genuflecting or even kneeling in prayer. When Scott scooted out the entrance doors, I followed him to the dining room. The tables were bare! I saw Scott going into the kitchen and there was the food set out on the counters buffet style so each could make his own breakfast. The huge Cosco boxes of cereal, hot water for tea, hard-boiled eggs and rice in a cooker to keep it warm and in the adjoining galley was bread, butter, jam and peanut butter and orange juice. The kitchen is all made of wood and would be very charming except that it looks as if men have cooked here for a long time. A black cat came up to rub on my ankles and I nearly cried. I felt so alone and grateful for its companionship.
It is disconcerting to sit to eat next to a person without acknowledging their presence. One wraps a cloak of silence around to keep inside the chill. Every person eating was like a mountain devouring itself. A few of the older priests came in to get something to drink, but only the young novices loaded up with all the food they could carry.
When I had been filling my tin plate I noticed pans of dishwater in the sinks. When I took my plate back I saw Scott washing his dishes so I aped him. Somehow the smells of food in the kitchen played havoc with my stomach so I was very glad to be back out on the path now well-lighted with sunshine and thick with humidity.
Tired from writing down the above, I took a nap until about 2:00. I felt rested and eager for a cup of tea. Going down to the bathroom I saw the monk coming to open the gift shop for the afternoon. It was the same one who had been here the afternoon I arrived. His kindness at that time made me glad to know he would be the one in the shop.
As I took my towel back to my room I met the other woman guest with whom I had walked to mass. Now she had take off her vow of silence necklace and seemed eager to talk. Maybe she too was feeling better since the storm broke.
By the time I got my cup and walked into the gift shop she was deeply into a conversation with the young, full-bearded monk. I started to back out to not intrude but he saw my cup and touched my shoulder to pull me into the room. I thought about how much more that light touch said than any words. The feeling of being cared for and taken in meant very much to me.
The tea kettle was already whistling so I made my tea as quickly as possible yet I could not help overhearing how her husband had died very suddenly of a heart attack while driving on the freeway just a few weeks ago and how angry and lost she felt. Though I would have liked to join their conversation, because I too, was working through grief, I felt she needed his whole attention so I left. Later, I realized I had forgotten to pick up a packet of sugar substitute so I went back. She was shopping now so the monk spoke to me saying, "I missed you at dinner." I just smiled and he asked if I was sick. I said "no" but admitted that I found the atmosphere at dinner very hard to handle. He nodded knowingly and said, "You should come for supper. It is much freer."
I sat on the porch enjoying my tea, and seeing the showers move across the valley. Finally the tea could no longer keep me warm enough and I went back inside. Not wanting to go for a walk in the mud and somehow looking for something new to read, I picked up the red booklet left on the desk. It was the Rules of Saint Benedict. I found so many good ideas for living life that I wanted to have a copy of the book for my own so I went back to the gift shop to buy one.
The priest did not know where there would be more copies of it so the two of us began to look around over the many tables covered with books. Finally he found some in a storage cupboard. I wanted to pay for it, but he said, "No wait until you leave and you can pay all at once."
I came back to my room and was reading the book when there was a knock at the door. He had found a larger book on the Rules that was complete with commentary. It was interesting but I felt it contained too much arguing between men over minor points to be worth the extra money and weight to carry home. Before the shop closed I wanted to return this big book. Just as I entered the door the newest guest, a man with a pinched, anxious face in his fifties was deep in conversation so I walked outdoors to watch the storm there.
Finally their voices were quiet, so I took the book in. Now the kind monk had found a whole table full of books on Saint Benedict so I busied myself looking them over. I was delighted to find that Hildegard von Bingen had written (in 1200) her amendments to Benedict's Rules and I was eager to have this book. When I showed it to the monk to be added to my account, he asked why I was interested in such a book and we began to talk. He asked of which religion I was. When I said "none" his eyes bugged out in surprise. He found this hard to believe. "What about salvation?" he said. "I don't believe in sin." I said as I went into a long spiel I am sure only his politeness understood.
Later I was making my cup of chocolate (for my supper) when the Aussie came in. He is very weird. I had the feeling he either wanted to be alone with the monk or to shoplift. He was so furtive and nervous. I almost laughed as I recognized myself a few hours earlier.
At six the bell rang and rang and rang. I felt someone was calling me to come to eat but it was raining again and I was happy to ignore it. I took a shower before it got night dark.
after my shower
in the canyon
I was so tired I read a bit and slept until 9:00. I turned off the gas heater and opened the window and began to write in my journal. I thought I would be soon cold enough to be glad to snuggle down under the blanket, but to my surprise the damp winds were warm, fat with good smells of sage and shiny stones. I leave Marilyn's candle burning all night so it gives me great comfort as the whole valley is again wrapped in complete darkness. I feel as if I am the only person here. The God the men's voices in the chapel are wooing is very far away from me.
Copyright © Jane Reichhold 2000.
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