Fire in my heart, smoke in the sky

Day 20, MacKerricher Beach to Van Damme State Park, 18 miles

Dream: Intense intimacy with my lover, then rejection, anger, betrayal, counter-rejection. Suddenly she morphs into a man, in drag, who then puts on a monk’s habit, to which I say, “Oh you’re a priest too? Dios mio!” To which my lover, now rolling on the floor laughs, “You are so terrible!” I’m laughing. Until I wake, shocked at the vivid images and feelings of the dream, how I’m still involved, still wanting her, even knowing the impossibility of the relationship. Then the tears come. I lay awake, in my tent, crying quietly. Others are camped so near. Who don’t know my struggles. Yet. I pull out my journal and write the details of the dream, a treasure trove of insights to be mined later in my counseling session. Such powerful emotions, a fire burns in my heart. I thank the gift of the unconscious, even as it brings me such deep grief.

I drift off again, waking when I hear a woman talking to the other cyclists, “There’s a fire, near Ukiah, Highway 20 and 101 are closed.” I peer outside the tent and see that strange, familiar color of the sunlight: smoke in the air. I feel a shudder, remembering the horrendous fires in Oregon this summer. Just a few weeks ago. Right at the time I was breaking the relationship in two. Breaking two hearts, too. Worlds were burning, inside and out. And now, California. I pack up my gear and greet my companions. Chas and Josh are already packed, and we set off together down the haul road towards Fort Bragg.

The haul road very bumpy, an old railway, needing resurfacing. The park ran out of the money set aside for the project, so we’ll have to make do. It’s still a far cry better than riding the busy Route 1 into town. We cross the Pudding Creek trestle, a fine bicycle bridge now. The sky is brown with smoke to the east, the sun orange. Would be beautiful, if not for what the fire was doing to property and lives. We stop at the Mendocino Cookie Company, for coffee, and cookies, of course.

I talk with Josh and Chas about many things, our plans for travel south, how we might get past the Mud Creek slide in Big Sur. We are discuss the awkward politics of my evening, how strange it is to me that someone can support Trump. They tell me about Mike Pence, how as governor he was a disaster for Indiana. Even now, I wonder how to have political opinions, when the stakes are so high, without judging people. How to practice nonviolent communication, in every circumstance: political, personal, and in my innermost thoughts. Time is moving on, so I bid them safe travels as they head off towards Manchester, under the smokey sky.

I return to the common space inside the old building, where laptop and batteries are charging. I’m writing, checking news on the blazes, listening to the clerk at the coffeeshop discuss the devastation of the fire in Santa Rosa: the Hilton burned to the ground. Kmart is gone too. Many homes. People died in trailer courts. San Francisco is choked with the smoke of the fires in Sonoma and Napa counties. My friend Gianna writes that she’s evacuated, so my plans to visit on Wednesday are obviously off. I wonder about Kirk in Gualala, so I call and leave him a voicemail. I wonder about his beautiful forested property. Will it burn? Then wonder, won’t it all burn, eventually? Hasn’t the climate been getting hotter every year, less rain, dry fuel waiting for a spark, or lighting strike, or careless cigarette butt tossed from a window, or a foolish teen lighting fireworks in the forest?

Time for my session with Lara. I’m ripe to dive in, explore the many insights and conflicts I’ve uncovered since our last session, nearly 10 days ago. Counseling on the move, phone work with her is a new experience. And vital. I’m more present on this trip than any other, as a result of it. Another gift of the struggles of last year, reaching out and establishing this healing partnership. The dream is indeed filled with apt symbols, revealing my struggles to integrate the lost parts of self, the complexes, as Jung called them. How I neglected my need for trust and safety in intimate relationship. How I used conflict and addiction and projection to abandon myself. How I’m learning to create trust and safety within myself, on this journey. I’m coming home, at last, again, to myself. The hour session passes so quickly. I thank her, commit to further exploration, then I’m on my bike again, heading to the next stop.

I ride south over the Shoreline Highway, under smokey skies. Traffic seems heavier than normal, as the routes to the east are closed. By grace the shoulders are wider between Fort Bragg and Mendocino. Only a few miles to go, past Caspar, Cabrillo Point, Russian Gulch. I turn onto Mendocino Head, gtoppinh for some food and coffee, probably too late in the afternoon. I’m ready to get to the campground, but first I head to the hardware store and get some fine particulate air masks, Scotch 8511 to be exact. I don’t know how bad the particulates will be heading south, but I know I need to breathe to climb the hills ahead.

Just a couple miles, then I follow the steep descent into the cove and Van Damme State Park. The sun is now a dark orange disc, sinking in the western horizon. Chilly air, but clearer in the park, tucked away in a deep ravine along a creek. I meet two other cyclists, who ask how it is out there. I give my report, then set up camp. One is a German, who rode north to see the eclipse, then was planning to explore the Cascades only to be forced back south by the Oregon fires. We joke that he brought to smoke with him. Nervous laughter. Fires have us all on edge. We know the meaning of such burning. The peril that awaits, whether immediate or inevitable.

Sun has set, and a chill deepens. I retire to my tent, but lay awake for a long while, restless. Too much coffee late in the day? Or too many concerns on my mind? I pull out the Sun Magazine, lay back to read and think of the upcoming retreat. I have some writing to do there. I’ve been doing a lot of research this last year. Many stories to tell, feelings to explore, dreams to awaken, passions to wrestle with. The fire still blazes in my heart.


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