Home is [Northern] California

Home is a sentiment but I feel it strongest when I am elsewhere.

Last week I left the desert with the dawn and reached Chico 10 hours later at dusk as the sun set and the rain drizzled. My friends and I went out for fantastic pizza and shared a bottle of white, nestled in a booth in our winter jackets as the lights outside bled in the rain. Back at my Airbnb, Scout was curled into a cinnamon roll on my bed. It was a perfect evening.

In the morning, finding our plans in Yuba had been cancelled, Scout and I returned to Bidwell to revisit the scene of one of her more memorable shenanigans. The rain from the day before had left in the night and a low fog hung over the rim. The volcanic rock was running with rainwater; ephemeral waterfalls sang from the edges of the bluffs. I danced my way along the trail as Scout raced from puddle to pond to rivulet along the route. We hiked 10 miles before lunch. It was a beautiful experience that caused my heart to sing constantly with a harmonic refrain of mutual glee and grief. Scout was off leash the entire time and never caused me concern. I couldn’t have asked for a better day in Chico.

On Tuesday night, in a drive I could have done in my sleep, I swung up to Redding for the evening. Magnetically drawn, it should be no surprise that I found myself back. In the morning, Scout and I hit the road before 8. The pink and purple sunrise framing a cloud-draped Lassen was picture perfect. I sometimes forget the views I took for granted. The orchards and fog on the way back south were equally as scenic. It was getting old having my breath stolen by the scenes around me (she said sarcastically).

Scout and I arrived in Truckee after noon. Though some snow was clinging to the heights of Donner Pass, the Sierra was suspiciously bare. Scout and I spent many hours walking and hiking over the next few days there. We stayed in a home on the golf course which had open space connecting it to the Truckee River trail. We stomped boot tracks and paw prints all over those trails and fields. On Thanksgiving, Scout threw herself into the whitewater but nimbly climbed from the river without needing swift water rescue. When she emerged from the brush, her breath hung in an icy cloud around her alert eyes. We also hiked around Mount Judah at Sugarbowl and visited Donner Memorial State Park. We lived our best Northern California lives and fell into exhausted, cranky sleep in our bottom bunk each night. We missed the snow though. The ice rink at Northstar wasn’t yet open, the ice rink in town was closed, the resorts had delayed their opening days, and an uneasy anticipation hung over the area as visitors and locals alike waited on the forecast to bring the magic. Unfortunately, that magic wasn’t projected to arrive until Scout and I were long gone.

On Sunday, I was too angsty to sleep. Scout was restless too. We pretended to sleep from 2am onward but eventually accepted our fate and rose to begin our slog back south. The wind had risen in the night in advance of the storm system. By the time Scout and I reached the east edge of Lake Tahoe, pink clouds stained a moody velvet sky in advance of dawn. The wind-whipped white caps at Sand Harbor and the state park looked more akin to the Pacific than the beatific shores of memory. The wind would be our howling companion all day. (Also, the cool thing about heading due south for 10 hours is the sun is in your eyes from the moment it crests the horizon until it sets again.) We made the most of the Eastern Sierra journey though, since it had been a trip I had been wanting for a time. Mono Lake, June Lake, Convict Lake, Mammoth, Hot Creek, and various hot springs in the Owen valley were the highlights of the drive. Unfortunately, having passed the last location on my to-see list outside Lone Pine, checking the GPS revealed I still had 4 or more hours of quality car time ahead of me.

The allure was lost. From then onward, as 395 shrank into a two-lane highway, as 58 took me towards Barstow, and finally as 247 pulled me into the Mojave, I was mercilessly abused by a combination of the wind and a succession of aggressively slow moving trailers and motorhomes. It was a nightmare. I was angry about leaving my home of Northern California, I was upset about the lost time, I was anxious about the work week ahead of me, and I was exhausted from a combination of all the things. I unpacked and was asleep around 7pm, much to Scout’s disappointment.

Returning to Northern California was something I had looked forward to since April 8th when I strapped my bike onto the back of the Subaru, filled the gas tank at the last station outside Yuba City, and headed south into the rice fields. I’d left on a rainy spring afternoon and I returned on a rainy autumn eve 7 months later. Every day within those months had contained thoughts, dreams, and memories of the places, people, and experiences that’d composed my years. Returning was everything I had hoped. Northern California’s beauty and wonder was not a construct of my mind or memory. It’s real and it’s still there. If anything, besides breaking my heart, the brief interlude affirmed that “home” will only ever mean that area. I strengthened my resolve to make it back in whatever capacity I can. There are many sides of California, but that one is mine. That one is home.

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Words

Whether or not northern indigenous languages contain a dozen (or dozens) of words for “snow,” we should take a cue from their linguistic largesse when considering our own.

It seems woefully lacking that the word love should mean the same thing in the phrase “I love nachos” as it does in the sentiment “I love you.” I mean it differently in each of these sentences; is any of them more valid than the others?

I love mountains.

I love my family.

I love my friends, near and far.

I love animals.

I love life.

I love him.

I love you.

I love Chipotle.

I love traveling.

I love the outdoors.

I love napping.

I love books.

I love Apple products.

I love….

The list could theoretically extend indefinitely. Each love is meant differently, however. Some include an attachment, be it physical or emotional; others involve a passion; still others contain an affinity or interest; some are likely to change and others are a part of my very identity. Why should all of these feelings be forced to share one verb?

In Inuit (or Yupik, or Sami, or various other northern dialects), the reason snow has so many linguistical variants isn’t that there are multiple words per se. Rather, there is a root word that is then developed further with an assortment of prefixes and affixes which build descriptively from the original essence into the necessary noun. In addition to that, this variety exists not for superfluous reasons but because language evolves to suit the ideas and needs of the culture that uses it. Language is dynamic; language will find a way to say what needs to be said.

Love is equally as dynamic. Maybe there once was just one love. Maybe it meant a feeling you couldn’t help. Maybe it meant a warmth inside your chest. Maybe it meant goosebumps or butterflies. Maybe it meant ‘looking forward to.’ Maybe it meant ‘can’t imagine life without.’ More likely though, these are the modern incantations of the term. At the time of the birth of modern languages, to have the luxury to love something was probably unthinkable. When survival is the priority, what room is there for sentiment? Love perhaps meant the feeling you had for something you could not live without. Maybe that is how it came to mean what we know it for now.

Even knowing that it’s perhaps a dated term, and accepting that I’m being overly pedantic about the whole thing, I wish I had more words to describe the feelings I have for the people and things that are meaningful.

I want a word to describe the deep, visceral attachment I feel towards mountains and forests. I want a word to describe the way my breath catches when I see the deep blue and green of an alpine lake. I want a word to describe how my family sometimes frustrates me but the mere thought that someday our ways will part eternally strangles me instantly. I want a word for spending years with someone and no longer knowing how to differentiate familiarity from desire. I want a word for knowing that someone will always be a part of your heart, regardless of contact. I want a word for someone that is lurking in your thoughts and influencing your actions. I want a word for that feeling of pleasure and purpose that a class full of earnest smiles and eager questions brings. I want a word for the feeling of relief I get when the final bell rings. I want a word for the camaraderie shared between those of similar minds, or those embroiled in shared suffering. I want a word for a food you never tire of. I want a word for tiramisu, and raspberries, and wild flowers. I want a word for the elation that moody, puffy clouds carry. I want a word for love. I want many more words for love.

I love words, but I want more.

Beauty

Life is about balance. I want to be mindful and aware that, in spite of hardship and struggle, beauty and peace also exist.

  1. 7th grade students – full of wonder and enthusiasm for life and learning
  2. Colleagues – wise and patient instructors of children and adults alike
  3. The night sky here – fiery layers of stars from dusk until dawn in a deeply dark bowl above and around me
  4. My family – implicit supporters in spite of the tears and fears
  5. The sunrise on the morning Steve left – sorbet layers of clouds and desert haze above the blue mountains
  6. The way the air shimmers after a windy day
  7. Tiramisu – light and creamy
  8. Scout’s caramel eyes – sparkling with love and excitement
  9. Clean sheets – crisp and cool; an embrace
  10. Tight pants – confidence
  11. Smoked gouda – guilty pleasure and favorite Farmer’s Market find
  12. Lemonade – acceptable substitute for water, which I miss
  13. Raisinettes – desk drawer treat
  14. Baby bunnies – everywhere, always
  15. Cooler mornings – a chance to wear sleeves and hoods on morning jogs
  16. Earlier sunsets – a welcome end to every day
  17. Heirloom tomatoes – colorful, firm, flavorful
  18. Roadrunners – Ridiculous dinosaurs
  19. Dog park friends – compadres
  20. Yoga classes – twisty, restorative me-time
  21. Raspberries – relics of wilder, wetter lands; tasting of sunshine and dirt
  22. Autumn in the San Bernardino National Forest – colors like northern home
  23. Southwestern food – a staple
  24. Weekend couch naps – essential recharging
  25. Books – sweet escape

Title Options

Some ideas for working titles for my memoir if/when I survive this experience:

  • “‘Why Is This Wet?’ and Other Questions I Don’t Want Answered – A Memoir of a Junior High Teacher”
  • “Dick or Cactus – The Dangers of Encouraging Drawing in the Classroom”
  • “You Kiss Your Mother With That Filthy Mouth — Yes, I Have Ears”
  • “Fist Fights, Drug Busts, and Runaways – My First Month of Teaching
  • “You Wish Today was Rock Bottom; Count Your Blessings – A Devotional”
  • “8th Grade is my Vietnam – A War Memoir”
  • “This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things and Other Realizations”
  • “This Class is Lit – Words of Affirmation from Generation Z”

A New Climb

Struggle is subjective.

Everything I have ever thought was the hardest thing I have ever done has, over time, been replaced by a greater challenge. There will always be a greater mountain to climb and perhaps that is the purpose of life. Perhaps when you run out of challenges, life is over.

I thought losing Jaydon was the hardest thing I could go through. At that moment and in the months that followed, it was. Then it was the sale of the family home. Then it was raising a puppy. Then it was the credential process. Then it was walking away from the perfect relationship. Then it was leaving Yuba City in conjunction with accepting the desert. Now it is teaching.

One day, this will be a mountain that I look back on from another higher vantage. I will reflect on how, at the time, I thought I would never reach the peak.

Every struggle you have will one day feel doable. Every hard moment will one day be a distant memory. Every climb leads to a great view …and after every great view, you get to do it again.

Many days, I sense that I am fulfilling some purpose that was chosen for me millennia ago. Some days though I feel like a joke. On those days–the days that I am the jester–I try to remember that this feeling is short-lived. These moments feel lengthy in real-time but, in hindsight, are formative and swift. There is a snap, a sting, a shudder …and then there is nothing (save wisdom and strength and the wherewithal to do it over again).

This is hard but likewise have many other experiences been and, furthermore, will future endeavors likely be. If it is hard, it is working. If it is hard, I am still living.

Struggle is subjective but still this climb is daunting.

I Lived

“What’d you do this summer?”
“I lived!”

Even by my standards, this was a busy break. I visited the 9 western states, which took many hours of online planning, a nearly equal amount of time in cars, and 12 flights to accomplish. I explored new National Monuments, state parks, historical sites, museums, galleries, and eateries along the way. I slept in rentals, in tents, on couches, and with family. I stocked up on ridiculous souvenirs and took enough pictures to fill a new Dropbox. There were heat waves and sunburns and thunderstorms and flood warnings. There was joy and there was uncertainty. There was delight and also frustration. Nevertheless, I sought out new experiences and areas outside my comfort zone and I was rewarded handily. The “Summer of Solo Travel” is something I definitely anticipate repeating moving forward, as a result of this inaugural experience. I don’t know what this school year will be like or what the next 10 months will hold, but I know that I did everything I could to make this time my own. These next months belong to MUSD, or TPJHS, or even CCSS. They belong to students. They belong to administrators. But these few were mine alone and I lived them to the fullest.

Rewritten

As part of the comprehensive changes characterizing this year, I have rewritten many parts of my narrative. Some are major elements with plot twisting impacts; others are less so. One of the lesser elements I’ve adjusted to suit this latest variant of Carolyn is my taste in music. [This was more or less facilitated by the area I’m now living, which gets 2 radio stations, both of which are talk during morning commute hours. I’ve moved on to streaming music–I know, I know, ever the late bloomer–and have chosen genres without prior attachment as my sole musical selections.] Even so, I keep running into songs that speak to my heart. Here are some I’ve overplayed across the summer miles:

The Night We Met: Lorn Huron

I am not the only traveler

Who has not repaid his debt

I’ve been searching for a trail to follow again

Take me back to the night we met

And then I can tell myself

What the hell I’m supposed to do

And then I can tell myself

Not to ride along with you

I had all and then most of you, some and now none of you

Take me back to the night we met

I don’t know what I’m supposed to do, haunted by the ghost of you

Oh, take me back to the night we met

When the night was full of terrors

And your eyes were filled with tears

When you had not touched me yet

Oh, take me back to the night we met

I had all and then most of you, some and now none of you

Take me back to the night we met

I don’t know what I’m supposed to do, haunted by the ghost of you

Take me back to the night we met

Ghost Towns: Radical Face

I’ve got no need for open roads

‘Cause all I own fits on my back

I see the world from rusted trains

And always know I won’t be back

‘Cause all my life is wrapped up in today

No past or future here

If I find my name’s no good

I just fall out of line

But I miss you

But there’s no comin’ home

There’s no comin’ home

With a name like mine

I still think of you

But everyone knows

Yeah everyone knows

If you care then let it go

I’ve seen more places than I can name

And over time they all start to look the same

But it ain’t that truth we chase

No, it’s the promise of a better place

But all this time, I’ve been chasin’ down a lie

And I know it for what it is

But it beats the alternatives

So I’ll take the lie

I still miss you

There’s no goin’ home

There’s no goin’ home

With a name like mine

I still dream of you

But everyone knows

Yeah everyone knows

If you can, let it go

Stubborn Love: The Lumineers

She’ll lie and steal, and cheat, and beg you from her knees

Make you think she means it this time

She’ll tear a hole in you, the one you can’t repair

But I still love her, I don’t really care

When we were young, oh, oh, we did enough

When it got cold, ooh, ooh, we bundled up

I can’t be told, ah, ah, it can’t be done

It’s better to feel pain, than nothing at all

The opposite of love’s indifference

So pay attention now, I’m standing on your porch screaming out

And I won’t leave until you come downstairs

So keep your head up, keep your love

Keep your head up, my love [x2]

Keep your head up, keep your love

And I don’t blame you dear for running like you did all these years

I would do the same, you’d best believe

And the highway signs say we’re close but I don’t read those things anymore

I never trusted my own eyes

When we were young oh, oh, we did enough

When it got cold, ooh, ooh we bundled up

I can’t be told, ah, ah, it can’t be done

So keep your head up, keep your love

Keep your head up, my love [x2]

 

Every Little Thing: Carly Pearce

The scent that you left on my pillow

The sound of your heart beating with mine

The look in your eyes like a window

The taste of your kiss soaked in wine

Every little thing

I remember every little thing

The high, the hurt, the shine, the sting

Of every little thing

Guess you forgot what you told me

Because you left my heart on the floor

Baby, your ghost still haunts me

But I don’t want to sleep with him no more

Every little thing

I remember every little thing

The high, the hurt, the shine, the sting

Of every little thing

I remember every little thing

The high, the hurt, the shine, the sting

Of every little thing

They say time is the only healer

God, I hope that isn’t right

Cause right now I’d die to not remember

Every little thing

I remember every little thing

The high, the hurt, the shine, the sting

Every little thing

I remember every little thing

I’m haunted by the memories of

Every little thing

The high, the hurt, the shine, the sting

Every little thing

Save As Draft: Katy Perry

[Okay, Okay, KP is definitely Top 40 but she has been reading my mind]

I remember when you used to be my every other thought

But now my calendar’s so full, it’s easier to move on

Sometimes I swear I pass your SUV on Sunset Blvd

I don’t fuck with change, but lately I’ve been flipping coins a lot

I struggle

I juggle

I could just throw a line to you

But I should let sleeping dogs lie ’cause I know better, baby

I write it

Erase it

Repeat it

But what good will it do

To reopen the wound

So I take a deep breath

And I save as draft

You don’t have to subtweet me

My number’s always been the same

But all’s been said and done

Will we ever really close this case?

Yeah, I will always be here for you, but I could no longer stay

Still my body goes in shock every time I hear your name

I struggle

I juggle

I could just throw a line to you

But I should let sleeping dogs lie ’cause I know better, baby

I write it

Erase it

Repeat it

But what good will it do

To reopen the wound

So I take a deep breath

And I save as draft

I’ve heard you’ve done some changing

I’ve been rearranging

Wish that I could know, but I just don’t know

Never get that time back

Fear we’d fall in old traps

Why can’t we just let go

Staring at a fork in the fucking road

I struggle

I juggle

I could just throw a line to you

But I should let sleeping dogs lie ’cause I know better, baby

I write it

Erase it

Repeat it

But what good will it do

To reopen the wound

So I take a deep breath

And I save as draft

Summer jams, fam! Check ’em out. Overplay them and hear them in your sleep like me.

MDLT

Today was my last day at Mojave Desert Land Trust as I prepare for some final summer trips and the return to school in August. Moonlighting in the environmental conservation sector has long been something I was interested in pursuing so this was an experience that I have appreciated on many levels.

I liked that it allowed me to contribute to preservation and conservation during such a tumultuous time for the environment. I liked that I got to network with so many local and like-minded individuals. I especially liked the relationships I was able to cultivate during my time here. I’m looking forward to continued interactions; my work “framily” and I are planning to attend weekly trivia nights. Spoiler alert: we’ll slay.

I also liked that working for MDLT gave my summer vacation a purpose. Through the years I’ve noticed a trend wherein I invest a lot of time looking forward to break, go extremely hard in the first week accomplishing all the things I’ve wanted, am forced to nurse assorted wounds from said “going hard” during week two, the allure wears off in the third week, and by the fourth I’m in a full-blown existential meltdown. What’s my purpose? How am I contributing to the better good? Is this the life I should be living? What is life? Where all da people at? etc. Finding a summer job has completely alleviated this dynamic.

Clocking out today for the final time was therefore bittersweet. Summer vacation can begin in earnest, on one hand. On the other, my days spent fighting on behalf of public lands have come to an end, and that’s something I’ve really come to embrace as part of my identity. The sun may have set today on my time as a Desert Defender, but tomorrow the sun will rise on my first day of summer vacation.

Let’s do all the things! 

Quote

“We were victims of unsynchronized passion. Those times when I was out of love, the Kraut was deep in some romantic tribulation, and on those occasions when Dietrich was on the surface and swimming about with those marvelously seeking eyes, I was submerged.” –Ernest Hemingway

Where I Needed to Be

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” –Douglas Adams

 

In many ways, I have achieved much of what I imagined for myself as an adult. I live on the boundary of a national park and every evening, the shadow of the mountains blankets my house as the sun sets and the stars rise. Coyote howls come in the open windows on the wind. I’m moonlighting at a conservation agency partnered with organizations like Patagonia and The Sierra Club. Last week I conversed with an author of desert literature I’ve long admired, whose canon of non-fiction books dot my shelves. Today I met the superintendent of Joshua Tree National Park. Next month my contract begins at the junior high, where I’ve been hired as the 7/8 English teacher and entrusted with a new curriculum developed with the help of the History and Bio channels. I maintain an active, healthy lifestyle characterized by travel and new experience. I just spent my first weekend home since April. I have seen every sunrise (thanks for that, Scout). I have made work friends to brighten my days and dog park friends to fill my evenings. Sometimes they even overlap. What more did I want for myself than these things?

 

I am humbly grateful for this life. It is not what I expected; it is not what I could have imagined, but it is what I needed. I am unaware of the long-term plan shaping my life, but I see it evidenced at each stop along the way.  If I didn’t move to these new places periodically, I would have missed out on meeting these people, seeing these sights, learning these things, sharing these insights, and being shaped by these elements.

 

Your gifts are not given to you for you. They’re given to you to share with others. This experience is not what I would have chosen for myself, but it allows me to share my gifts with those who either need or appreciate them. I am thankful to be such a vessel. It is fortunate that while being able to share my gifts, I am also able to fulfill so many of my own desires.