Sunday, May 15, 2011

I have seen Monkeys

Maybe you've seen monkeys.

Maybe you've come to the zoo and watched them, swinging from lengths of driftwood meant to simulate a tree. Climbing up metal rungs. You think of Curious George. You gesture to your daughter, "Just like Curious George," you tell her, your two faces in the glass sliding past as you leave the cages for the bright air. Monkeys. Check.

Maybe you're like me and you've come to Asia. You've sat in lines of smoke-coughing traffic to arrive at the monkey forest of such-and-such town, where your few rupiah or baht or yen buy a glimpse of the malingerers. Monkeys fed on bananas and puffy white bread. Monkeys with street smarts, ready to rob you blind--your hat, your lunch, even your wallet if you're not careful. Someone got bitten by a monkey, you heard, and had to get vaccinated for rabies, five whole shots. The monkeys look at you, nudge each other. "Check her out," one says to another. "Let's get her."

But I'm telling you, I have seen monkeys. Leaf-eating monkeys, monkeys running across the grass, shy and watching and balanced by wiry tails. One, then one, then one, baby, mother, father. Monkeys sliding down tree trunks, perfectly, like well-greased levers. Monkeys shaking the branches, loosing fingers of rain onto the tent above my head.

I've heard it--the kind of call they make, shuffling in the palm leaves. How many--20? 30? Those, just the ones I've seen and counted. Extravagant to guess more? They keep at least a few of themselves stationed above me all night long, like guards on duty. That call is neither the round cuckoo of a gecko nor an insect's rising bow over string. It is not the clownish screech of Curious George. More like, jungle. Like night and downpour and flashing eyes. A language from the land of tigers, different, but a sign those crouching cats could be near. The monkey's calls spill between my sleeping and waking, pushing and pulling at my dreams in their conversation's tides. What could happen, I wonder all night long, if they decide that I'm not welcome?

With the sun, relief breaks. Partly for having survived the imagined threat. And partly for not missing this, monkeys filling a forest and calling me back to the wild.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Trains trains trains

Taiwan is a Dr. Seuss dreamscape of trains. Old trains, new ones. Fat trains, skinny ones. Mountain trains and country trains, with jungle rolling ‘round you in a clack clack clack. Fast trains, too, and modern ones—a bullet train to blur the island as you pass, and subway trains that sing like happy mountain birds.

For your heart, the windows, hung with cheerful curtains. They snatch up leafy mountains in their greedy gaze. They grab the muddy pastures stitched green with rice in even rows. They cup them in their hands. Here, they say to you. Hold up your glass. Green rushes in ‘til it spills out all over. You forgot how much you needed that.

For your ears, a friend. You are sure to find one. The person sitting next to you, from Taipei or China or Scotland. Wherever. Give him a fruit, the one someone gave you this morning. Tell him about all you’ve seen. Surely he has a story or two to swap, even if his English is very, very bad. He wants to see what you have in your hands. He makes the ride uncurl, the smoke of understanding hanging at your heads.

Under your belly, the wheels. They are the drums, beat beat beating. Thoughts of home and family, and some things you regret. Thoughts of a woman far away, wondering how to love best. The future rolling toward you on shining distant tracks. Wheels of gunmetal grey, pounding always underneath.

Taiwan’s blood pours through her trains. Trains to tear your heart apart in weeping, silver shreds. Trains to put it back, the book you borrowed but did not keep.

Old trains, new ones. Fat trains, skinny ones. Chug chug chug.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Rules of the Road in Taiwan

You've heard the stories of Indian cabbies who cover their dashboards with gods and gurus. After driving a scooter in Taiwan, I understand the impulse completely. I myself have resorted to using a superhero name—the Coral Wonder—in honor of my Goretex jacket of the same color that puffs up with wind as I drive. And I do feel somewhat superhuman, surmounting my biggest fear about this place (the traffic!) by getting on a scooter. I did it not because I'm so brave or so tough, you understand, but simply because I realized that I couldn't see the beauty of this island without a raincoat and a motorbike.

Here are a few tips for anyone hoping to follow my lead.

1. You can disconnect your signal lights to save energy. You will not use them here. Not ever. How to know what another driver might suddenly do? Good luck.

2. One inch of clearance is good driving—not a close call. Saving space is a virtue in such a crowded place.

3. Traffic lights, signs and other signals are good suggestions. Sure, posted rules such as these are generally good advice. “Eat your vegetables” is also good advice. It carries just about as much weight as the street signs.

4. Taxi drivers are king. That's true everywhere. But here, know that here, there's not a long legal precedent of enacting laws to limit the powers of a king.

5. A four lane road is actually a two lane road. The outside lane, which looks like it was created for moving traffic, is actually reserved for parked trucks and cars, buzzing scooters and clumps of pedestrians. If you are driving in the inner lane, expect any car, truck or swarm of scooters driving in that outer lane to swerve into your lane without warning. All sidewalks are taken up with large plants, tables, food stands and additional parked scooters or cars.

6. A two lane road is actually a three lane road. Double yellow lines at the center of the road mark the third lane, designated for weaving. This is necessary to avoid the pedestrians, scooters and large packs of stray dogs that fill the edges of the seemingly two lane road. This weaving lane exists as much to help hurried drivers as they pass motorscooters on winding mountain highways full of blind curves as it does to help them in crowded city streets during rush hour, when all lanes on the other side of the street are also completely full. Mind the three-legged dogs, as they need extra time when choosing to run out in front of your vehicle.

7. It gets easier. No, really, it does. But thank god I took out the motorcycle rider on my traveler's insurance policy.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A jazz club in Oakland. It's five years ago plus a little more, and I'm at a little table in the back, transported. I've wandered off into corridors and alleys that I've been away from for far too long now, pen in hand as I search for the secret password. The music is something like pinballs knocking on and off the insides of me. Things light up. Sirens signal something coming to life, a win. I think of white, a white heron, and of red, blood red.

Maybe it seems off topic, that jazz club years behind me now. But this morning I realized that I'm there again, in that dusky club, where nothing is scripted out. Travel is jazz. And I'm made of both, always aching for some new riff to help me come alive.

Case in point: this Chinese man. What if I went my whole life without seeing something like that? I bless the luck that brought me here, the other side of the world and drenched in song.

Saturday, January 1, 2011


Where you are, it's 5 a.m.--or 4 or 6, maybe 7. Where I am, it's 9 p.m., and I can see taxis and buses flowing past in a steady, patient stream just down the alley. Today hasn't really been a day, rather, two or three, smeared and streaked together in a jumble of airport terminals, reading lamps and rounds of dozing off in movies or audiobooks. Barring all the technology, I feel a bit like a shaman of old, crossing through a secret gateway from one world and into another with entirely different rules. The fact that Hong Kong prints all its signs in English? My one saving grace.

When I got on the bus at the airport, I quickly realized that the bus driver had neither the language nor the patience to help me navigate the city. Luckily, a young girl on vacation from her studies in Vancouver took pity on me. She and her family passed the address of my hostel back and forth between them, each making comments together until they decided that I would get off the bus with them, where they would find me a taxi. Once inside the car, I felt a calm settle over me I couldn't explain. The streets were dingy and dismally foreign, but none of that stopped me from feeling at home.

My hostel is in perfect Engrish. Signs are all missing 'a' and 'the' and 's', as charming as the man who meets me at the front desk. Older, Chinese, he nearly breaks my heart with his bent-over, crooked-walk hospitality. “You are my guest,” he tells me, flashing a grin so bright I think of a grey old fish with stripes of wild neon down its back. There's barely room for my suitcases in the elevator, and my room is decorated in period IKEA with chartreuse accents.

It's adorable. I could definitely live here.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Invitation

This is the invitation. Come with me on a sacred pilgrimage, one that starts on an airplane, crosses over continents and ends in the heart.

If you would like to join me in countries like Japan, China, Taiwan for the journey of a lifetime, you can purchase one or all of the stories I will write from the road, each created to share the unfolding of Grace and Love that belongs to all of us. I will be creating a total of twelve stories--one for each month I will be away. You can purchase one, the story of where my journey begins; four, one for each season; or all twelve, one each month for a year. The first story will come as soon as my first month abroad is complete.

Another option is to offer a donation in any amount that works for you.

To view a sample of my work, see the blog archive section on the right-hand side of this page and click on the title, "I am thankful for the luna moth with her trilling wing."

To purchase a story….

Click here to purchase 1 "Chance to Fly" Story for $50

Click here to purchase 4 "Chance to Fly" Stories, one for each season, for $100

Click here to purchase 12 "Chance to Fly" Stories, one for each month, for $250

To make a donation at any level that feels right to you,
Click here to make a donation in the amount of your choice

I am thankful for the luna moth with her trilling wing

“The luna moth, who lives but a few days, sometimes only a few hours, has a pale green wing whose rim is like a musical notation. Have you noticed?”

~Mary Oliver, “Musical Notation: I”

Luna. The half-full moon cradles light in her body like a secret that cools and burns. We walk the dirt roads together, maybe 10 or 12 of us, drenched in her light. There are no street lights here, and the night is bright-cold. From any one point we see horizon and mountains stretched against the canvas of a cloudless sky.

“Nothing real is ever lost or missing.” These are the words of Jesus from Glenda Green’s Love Without End, and they ring in my ears now. It’s over a year now since since the accident. For such a long time, I have eaten grief. I have wandered in a dry desert edged with thorns. I have called out for help, and no one came. I have dreamed myself alone.

Yet here I am now, walking through a desert at night—and it’s made of stars, it’s made of glittering velvet. The desert is brimming with moonlight and the faces of the people that I love. I had made a cage for myself out of a story--that no one was there for me in the aftermath of the accident, that no one would ever be there. That I would always be this in pain and this alone. Yet here we are now together, and I see: I see how much I love them. And I see that my experience of anything is what I have created it to be.

We just finished eating together, a plate-piled Thanksgiving dinner. I realized we never stopped and said what we’re thankful for—but then, I guess we didn’t have to. Isn’t it obvious?

I’m thankful for the luna moth and her trilling wing.

I’m grateful for the faces of the people around me—people as thirsty as I am, willing to go even to the ends of the earth in search of water.

It is my job to collect the fallen feather as it lays across the dewy grass. My work to pick up reddening leaves, to notice the trees that they came from and see if I can name them, and then call to them from my heart in a secret language, as my brothers and sisters. There is music in the smallest things, and I am bound to notice it.

“Blessed are those that mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Now is when I abandon death and dreams for the magic of what is given to me.