October 2, 2000

Well, I have arrived. The road back here was a nightmare and all my thoughts now fly to Marilyn as she retraces it against the fading light.

This morning Werner and I were up at 4:00 and in the car by 4:30. It was unnerving to drove along the ocean and to not see anything but its starless darkness. Then at 6:30, while looking off to the left I saw:

first light
the earth separates
from the sky

In spite of my nausea, I at least got that good thought. In Petaluma we waited about one-half hour standing outside the fair grounds in the first pink fog. Werner looked really bleak. He had planned to drive on to Tiberon to take the ferry into the city but the way he looked, I did not think he would do all of this. I suggested he get a good breakfast before he decided one way or another.

The airport shuttle bus was on time which was a blessing as I felt I could not stand up on my shaking knees another minute. As soon as the bus began swinging around the curves I wished I was standing upright in a spot of fresh air that did not move.

mountain pass
the last barrier

The nausea only got worse as we got closer to Oakland.

sitting next to me
in the empty sea
my anxiety

Standing in the long line in the airport, I reminded myself that I was off the bus, but I wondered if this situation was any more comfortable. Fortunately, I had brought my walking stick and could lean on my suitcase and that to keep me propped up in a semblance of normalcy.

Once I was checked in and had been relieved of the big suitcase, the hour to boarding went fast. On the plane I saw a mild-looking couple with an empty aisle seat so sat down beside them. They were completely engrossed in reading material so I got out Of Water and the Spirit by Malidoma Patrice Somé , a book on African shamanism. Only when the peanut parade started did I notice them looking into my book and so I looked at what they were reading. Their laps were thick with Christian devotional booklets! Nary a word was shared between us. As a wall got thicker and thicker between us, I held my book so the lady could no longer sneak peeks at the pages. I was bent up as if I was reading True Confessions during science class. This did not bode well for my stay at a monastery, though I felt they would not have approved of that either.

Marilyn was right on time, waiting for me to debark and we easily found a shuttle bus to the parking lot. As I got out of the van, my left foot slipped on the narrow step and my whole weight came down and bent my right knee with a snap. "Oh, dear," I thought, "there goes the whole vacation into knee surgery." But miraculously, in a few minutes the pain was completely gone. We chattered away as if it had only been a couple weeks ago when she last brought me here. With her, I was able to relax and put away all my travel weirdness. She is always such a comfort to me on a level deeper than the physical. We stopped at Bodie's in Abiquiu (they had remodeled out much of the charm) for pretzels that became my lunch. At the checkout counter I saw the metal glasses cases like the one Ginger had sent to me. I could see and feel her in the store, and her joy at finding such a strange little gift.

Forest Road 151 was spectacular. So many times we wanted to stop to enjoy the view, but the sun steadily sank and the rougher the road got, the more we both wanted Marilyn to drive back out with the light.

12 hours on the road
the same quarter moon
over the canyon


When she stopped for a pee I got a couple of photos of the Charma River winding far down below us. It was about as yellow green as the sound Marilyn made.

After looking with our whole bodies we finally saw a speck upon the side of a cliff wearing a cross and knew that we had arrived in the vicinity. At the parking lot was a sign that cars could not go beyond this point. I knew there was no way either Marilyn or I could carry my heavy suitcase over that rough gravel driveway so I told her to drive ahead. She was very afraid of doing something wrong, but at last she gave in to me. Around the row of small bushy desert trees was a two-story adobe building with signs indicating a gift shop in one of these wings. From a rustic swinging gate came a sweet-faced young monk waving his arms and motioning us to go back to the parking lot.

the welcoming brother
with a Christ-like face
from Mexico

His eagerness to get rid of us, his lack of language skill (I suspect he was from Mexico) only increased the confusion as I tried to impress upon him that I was a guest. This, also, he did not understand. As I talked past him I remembered that I had been given instructions that my room assignment would be listed on the gate. There was my name. What a change in his face and manner! Night turned to day. He was bent over with apologies to us. Evidently he did not expect a guest to arrive so late in the day. He grabbed up my big suitcase as if it was full of fluff. I gave Marilyn a quick hug to get her started back and we went off to the left into an 'L' of rooms facing a dirt courtyard. He showed me the meager aspects of the cell: one window, one Dutch door, a roughly made wooden cupboard, a desk and chair and a brick bed. He said vespers would begin in 35 minutes.

I unpacked the things I thought I would need here and stuffed the rest back into the corner so I would not have to see a suitcase for five more days. The odor of Lysol was very strong, yet my romantic ideas composed:

pinyon fragrance
my rustic room filled
with the Holy Ghost

The view I kept passing from my doorway was so incredible I rather left the messes lie while I went out to say hello to the cliffs and to get my bearings and some fresh air.

a line of trees
down a rock fissure
a green river


This involved a few haiku which involved a pen that I noticed had a bent point. My next revelation was that I had ink on my hand before I saw that I also had huge black spots of ink on my clothes. Bad omen, right? I washed out all the ink I could and dipped into my reserve of clean clothes far too soon.

only the flies have no
vow of silence

Now really hungry, I started UP the hill where the chapel was outlined against the sky. I could see the refectory behind it and guessed that was my real goal. As I trudged along the dirt road between sage bushes higher than my head, I got hotter and hotter and the 6500-foot altitude began to fill my chest with pain and panic. I gave up going to vespers and returned to the gift shop where I had been told I could make tea whenever I wanted it. In the shop was the other guest, a surly 30-something man who grudgingly showed me how to work the gas stove. I was glad to get away from his negative vibes by going back to the lawn chair outside of my room.

self-made tea
my first night's
dinner of light


gray non-monk
at the monastery a rabbit
nibbling grass

The courtyard had its own resident rabbits that seemed to know that the gaunt burned tree statue of St. Francis would protect them from the hungriest guest.

night sounds
walls coming down
to the river


red white and black
the monks move among
the canyon shadows


I sat there in total content as the sky darkened until I realized that I had to organize some light sources for the coming night. In a closet by the restrooms, far from my room and up one scary step, were the Coleman lanterns – one had my room number on it.

Marilyn had given me one of those 7-day candles in a glass that will be my night light and one of her rugs to make my room more homey. I began arranging my things for the times without light and got my trip to the restrooms done before it got darker.

I was in bed by 8:00 (what else can one do in the dark?) and asleep by 8:30 but then I woke up at 1:00. The strong smell of Lysol in the room and on my sheets was driving me nuts, so I got up and dumped a small hill of scented powder on the dark blue sheets. Finally, I was able to go back to sleep. I woke again in the dark. I knew the first service began at 4:00 but I was much more interested in having a shower than prayers.

Copyright © Jane Reichhold 2000.

More from HOLY GHOSTS October 3.