Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Of Snow and Spaceships

February got quiet after the Super Bowl. Two staff members went to Haiti to teach pottery; another left for a wedding in the Austrian Alps. The other two full-time staff live off campus. So these days I find myself in the odd position of being the most seasoned resident at the Grünewald Guild, even though I just got here last month.

Grünewald garden, sleeping under snow

It may be quiet, but a couple of things have kept my life interesting this month. One was the discovery of nits in my hair. I still don't know how I got headlice, but there they were. I embarked on a series of treatments, natural and commercial, and did heaps and heaps of laundry. Now I'm pretty sure my skull is de-infested. Whew!

The puppet on the right represents Pestilence.

The other thing is snow... which, I admit, I wished for. The locals have mentioned how weird it was to have a "brown Christmas," and January was too warm to bring much more. By the beginning of this month, the region had gotten only half of its average snowfall. But in the past two weeks, it caught up on the other half.

Carrying clean laundry to the Homestead
The pass to Seattle closed to vehicles without chains or four wheel drive, which made life exciting for some of our visitors. The fluffy white stuff is still coming down daily, and that's a good thing: the Wenatchee river won't run low this year, and forest fire danger will be greatly reduced. But we are reeeeally looking forward to it going away again.

We're not using this door much these days.

I've been at the Guild for almost two months now. This is the longest I've been in one place since I left Chicago over a year ago.

A year ago today, a member of the Bloomington Catholic Worker gave me one of the best compliments of the trip: "I'm excited for whatever community lands you." I don't know that I've really been landed yet, or even whether I'm truly land-able. But in three days I'll conclude my residency and become the Volunteer and Hospitality Coordinator for the Guild, so it looks like I may be here a while. I'm pleased. It's been a good place to work on my book so far, and it'll be nice to earn a little income again.

One year ago, I drove from Bloomington to Ohio. On the road, my MP3 player kept me company, as it so often has; that evening, I journaled about a song that kept popping up on Shuffle Mode and making me cry. If Rivers and Roads was the theme for my first year on the road, Cloud Cult's "The Arrival: There's So Much Energy In Us" was the theme for the second. [YouTube, Last.fm, download until March 4.] Before I began my trip, I dismissed the lyrics as overblown, new-agey sci-fi metaphor, but here it was, wrenching tears from my eyes as I journeyed farther and farther from home.

A million years it's been since the search began;
Still can't find it, still can't find it.
The fuel's nearly spent; check the maps again.
Can't let go of it, can't let go of it.
Now the crew is cold and drunk on chemicals:
Can't believe in it, can't believe in it.
And I heard the Captain say, I heard the Captain say,
"We're so close to it, so very close to it.
We still have energy in us."

I can feel the fear and desperation in the singer's voice. The trip was glorious and intense... and draining: physically, emotionally, financially. I never really questioned what I was doing, but there were times, in the privacy of my car, when I spoke with that same quaver of desperation. The pace of the second year was tough for me, as I shortened my stays to fit in more communities. Still, no matter what, I was driven to keep driving.

Feel our hearts break as the engines fade...
Still need to find it, still need to find it.
We took the written words of our philosophers
and built a fire from it: let's get those engines lit.
We took the church's veil and built a mighty sail
to carry forth this ship... We're still losing it.
And I heard the Captain say, I heard the Captain say,
"We're so close to it, so very close to it.
We still have energy in us."

The song doesn't specify what the crew of the spaceship are looking for, just that they're risking everything for it. That fit. I had a stated purpose, but I didn't really know what I would find, or what I would do with it, only that I needed to go... and that I had to leave a lot of things behind.

The mission's over now; my breath is running out.
Can't let go of it, can't let go of it.
I didn't mean what I said, I didn't mean what I said:
I love you more than this, I love you more than this.
Then lights they fill the air -- or were they always there?
I finally see it. I finally see it!
And I heard the Captain say, I heard the Captain say,
"You're always close to it, so very close to it.
There's so much energy in us."

As I listened on the road, I wondered about the song's ending. The crew finds what they were looking for, apparently, but do they survive the journey? These days, knowing that I did, I tend to hear the ending as triumphant. But on the road, I wondered: was the vision just one last brain-spasm before death? What became of the crew? Did they ever make it back home again? Was their journey really worth it?

In the years before this trip, I had just about enough energy to go to work, slog through the day, then come home and plop down on the sofa. While I was first making plans to travel solo across the country, I privately wondered how I would keep going from place to place when I could barely drag myself out of my own bed on a Tuesday morning.

On the road, I was so spent so often. Many days, I felt like that spaceship, running on dwindling fuel, my crew working overtime just to keep moving forward. But through grief and sickness, loneliness and fear, I still found the energy, resources, and help I needed to finish the journey. The energy wasn't all mine... but the Captain never said "There's so much energy in you." The pronouns were all plural.


  1. I love how some songs speak to me differently now than they did before. Isn't it strange how the weirdest metaphors can cause that effect.

    1. Yes! Music and metaphor are both strange magics... combined, even more so.

  2. Hey you,
    Just read this post and am struck by the change in your writing, which probably is symptomatic of a change in you. Real proud of you. Keep up the work and give us our book! Miss you and wish you well.

    1. Thanks, Hillbilly. :) Life feels different now that I'm not thinking of every moment as a potential book scene... maybe that's it. Or maybe you're right about me changing!