Today: I thought about hiking a segment of the Appalachian Trail and getting a second bachelor's degree; I ditched my bike to read the Dalai Lama's autobiography on the train; I had two cookies for dinner instead of cooking.
Listen: you are not yourself, you are crowds of others, you are as leaky a vessel as was ever made, you have spent vast amounts of your life as someone else, as people who died long ago, as people who have never lived, as strangers you never met.
The usual I we are given has all the tidy containment of the kind of character the realist novel specializes in and none of the porousness of our waking moment, the loose threads, the strange dreams, the forgettings and misrememberings, the portions of a life lived through others' stories, the incoherence and inconsistency, the pantheon of dei ex machina and companionability of ghosts. There are other ways of telling.
-Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby, p. 248
- Keep pancake mix in your pantry for days like this. I've been making the recipe from Megan Gordon's Whole-Grain Mornings—enough for four batches. We rarely have milk, but yogurt or nut milk do just fine as a replacement.
- Limit your cleaning supplies to an all-purpose cleaner, a glass cleaner, and some baking soda. If you make your own supplies, tape the recipe to the outside of the bottle (because you're never going to remember where you put it, otherwise). Along with a few brushes and cloths, place everything in a bucket—and keep it there. Tote around for easy cleaning. Voilà.
- Don't just assume that your tile grout is black, because it just might be white.
What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.
–John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley
You're either going to be miserable and go jump off a bridge, or you gotta embrace it.
–Taxi driver from last night
Dear loved ones,
2014 began with a trying, cold winter—in an old apartment whose radiators sang like birds. Sam and I traveled to the California desert to escape. Then we married in the spring on my parents' farm in Missouri. Friends and family made trips from Chicago and Germany and Panama and elsewhere to celebrate around a meal, and then a dance floor, and then a bonfire. We moved a week later into a little rental house in Logan Square with a porch and a yard. Sam practiced banjo to such an extent that I was constantly humming tunes of gun fights, drowning women, hunting groundhogs, and the like. He developed an obsession with waves—a joke among our friends—and perfected his coffee. I learned about herbalism and aromatherapy; spent days in the yard and nights designing a new independent magazine; and didn't read as much as I'd wanted. We felt overwhelmed by life and work, and frustrated with the city. We questioned staying in Chicago long-term in hope of gaining a quieter existence.
Then we traveled to Iceland for two weeks in the fall, and I visited Oregon and New York to see a few of my favorite people in two of my favorite places. The weather cooled and we both became busy with work. I designed an exhibition catalogue and Sam brewed the late shift. We joked about become professional hobbyists. We felt happy and fulfilled and productive. We loved Chicago. We loved our friends. We loved our family. It was a good, hard, important year.
Wishing you love and light and growth,
HYPOTHETICAL NEW YEAR LETTER FOR 2016:
Gah, 2015 was THE BEST. (I'm writing this from ______—can you believe it?—a surprise trip from Sam!) I read 50 books and learned conversational Spanish. Sam and I trekked 100 miles in Patagonia and I felt strong with my yoga-toned arms and bicycle-toned legs. I was very thoughtful—remembered everyone's birthdays, wrote thank yous, and always brought a hostess gift. I often woke early to meditate and work on projects. I spent less time at work, and with my extra hours—wow!—was able to (re)learn how to knit, crochet, and weave. Sam became an excellent banjo player.
We fermented and preserved throughout the growing season and I became more of an intuitive cook. With our help, the yard became more beautiful than ever, and our friends gathered there on the weekends—there was so much love and laughter. I finished my courses in herbalism and gardening, and felt great about my contributions to the community and to the world.
I kept things busy but took things slow. I paid attention. I created—not for an end, but for the exploration. Oh, and Sam was awesome. This year was awesome.
Even this late it happens:
the coming of love, the coming of light.
You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves,
stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows,
sending up warm bouquets of air.
Even this late the bones of the body shine
and tomorrow’s dust flares into breath.
Woke with long morning search for cafe. Found it eventually at Visitor Center in Hellnar. Very rainy still. Cups and cups of coffee with updates in the journal . . .This is where the entries end, as I've never kept a travel journal consistently. We went on a long hike to Glymur later that day, the tallest waterfall in Iceland. It involved climbing down through a cave, crossing a long log bridge, and then scrambling up to the top. And then we visited the sites on the Golden Circle the next day, back closer to Reykjavík, before returning home sick, tired, and happy.
(Grundarfjörður → Hellnar → Glymur → Reykjavík, Iceland)
Long, rainy drive to Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Ramen in van and venture into Water Museum—pillars of water from each glacier in Iceland. Museum was closed but door was open. Kicked out. Oops! Dinner at Narfeyrarstofa—mussels and fish soup. Left and got a flat tire in lava field outside of Stykkishólmur as sun was setting. Helped Sam jack car and then picked wild blueberries while he put on the spare. Camped in Grundarfjörður.(Látrabjarg → Grundarfjörður, Iceland)
Woke surprisingly not hungover. Foggy drive to Dynjandi (wedding cake waterfall) with stop at Pollurinn later. Asked someone to take our picture and then laughed about it. Geothermal bath hillside with Icelandic family and then to ourselves. Misty. Quiet. Three black sheep came, curiously—very close. Drove to Látrabjarg but it was very rainy. Strange being so near the view . . . with no view. Searched for historic rocks from saga. Walked along beach and found large, curious seal with bobbing head. Walked up and down the shore as it followed. Day of curious creatures.(Ísafjörður → Látrabjarg, Iceland)
Woke and drove to nearby farm for the bathroom, water, and seals. Then drove up the east side of the Westfjords—waterfalls and rainbows everywhere. Late start but we made it to Ísafjörður around 5 p.m. Into the cultural center/library for directions to campsite. Woman (who we now know as Helena) gave us directions. Saw exhibition of gridded sketches, botanical book, worn marble floors. Found campsite and searched town for our planned dinner spot. Ended up being back where we setup . . . in a building from the 1700s! Old wooden fish warehouse. Walked in museum portion by accident where Helena also works—small town. Drinks at another cafe and then back to Tjöruhúsið at 9 p.m. Helena snuck us beers as we waited outside. Lights reflecting on the sea. The best food—fish buffet in giant cast iron skillets—wood interior, bottle of wine, honeymoon toast. Another bottle of wine waiting at our camp when we got back. Thankful for our sneaky new Icelandic friend.(Vatnes Peninsula → Ísafjörður, Iceland)
Awoken by police knocking on our van at 2 a.m.—evacuated in case of flooding due to the volcano. Very nice, blonde, smiley officer gave us advice on where to sleep in Mývatn. Arrived in Mývatn around 3:30 a.m. and camped on side of the road. Morning filled with midges (tiny bugs) and tourists and "dog-bowl" hike. View of cute pseudo-craters. Drove on to Akureyri and happened on lunch buffet at cafe. Sat outside in sun, walked to the church, and then drove on to Goðafoss (actually, before Akureyri). Drove on to Skagaströnd for a "cowboy cafe" we read about in the guidebook. Guidebook old. No cowboy cafe. But! Beautiful walk in a nature preserve on the beach and found a box of simple treasures—shells, books, rocks—in a suitcase. Part of someone's art project. Then to the Vatnes Peninsula. Camped at beach overlook near Osar Hostel. Walked along shore near seal colony. Met Belgian Jeremy, ate soup, and drank port outside as the sun set.(Dettifoss → Mývatn → Akureyri → Vatnes Peninsula, Iceland)
The smallest spark, the most tentative hint of a glow, is imagined in the dense ambience of its absence.
Happy Winter Solstice—the beginning of light, the beginning of life.
Woke to rain and drove through the East Fjords. Stopped in Djúpivogur (man we met in bar a few days earlier's grandfather's brother was a famous giant and lived there—no sign of him) and a few industrial seaside towns. Decided to cut west from Breiðdalur and the weather changed and the land, too—fertile valley with beautiful dappled sun, large lakes near Egilsstaðir, and then over the mountains to Seyðisfjörður—beautiful! Early afternoon of showers and laundry at a hostel. Coffee at Hotel Aldan, eavesdropping on table of artists-in-residence. Sam spilled espresso on his clean pants and I took photos of the mess. House-made beers next door. Walk around town with buildings reflected in harbor and giant ferry to Europe loading. Dinner and backgammon (and exhibition) at Skaftfell Art Center. Drive back over mountains toward Dettifoss. Light rain, pink sky, rainbow, Mars landscape. Hour-long gravel drive to waterfall. Arrive in darkness but hear the powerful water. A little worried about volcano.(Höfn → Seyðisfjörður → Dettifoss, Iceland)
Wake to sheep near van, tired after a sleepless night but everything was beautiful. Sam made coffee. Drive along stretch of lava fields—austerely beautiful. Hike in Skaftafell National Park to basalt waterfall Svartifoss, then up to glacier view. Ate shrimp salad sandwiches. Drove to glacier calving sites: Fjallsárlón and Jökulsárlón. Glaciers cracking at the latter and floating under a bridge out to sea—all vaguely boat shaped. Fish and chips and chocolate shake in Höfn. Drove out of town through tunnel, took a right on next road, and drove 2 km. past farm buildings. Are we supposed to be here? Camping spot. Walked a few hours along beach, moss, and rocks. Secluded other than the sheep watching us. Moved to tears with this experience at dusk.(Vík → Outside of Höfn, Iceland)
Sam stalled the van twice leaving the rental car agency. First day of sheep, waterfalls, green/black. Hiked to Seljavallalaug pool in mountainside. Sam lost keys for 30 minutes inside of van—found. I laughed. Stood close to Skógafoss, watching mist rounds and feeling the sound. Skógar Folk Museum for turf houses, whale vertebrae, bad taxidermy. Basalt cave and black beach at Vík. Foamy white water. Dinner at Halldorskaffi—bowls and bowls of mushroom soup. Nervous drive north, near Þakgil, with swans and sheep. Dusk walk with Sam. Amazing landscape. Windy, rainy, intimidating first night in camper. Glacier view.(Reykjavik → Outside of Vík, Iceland)