Carrizo Plain #touristbloom

Miles of desolate dirt road are no longer deserted, at least not today—the day before Easter; the day after the LA Times headlined an article about the four best places to see wildflowers in Carrizo Plains.

You know, #superbloom (Trendy thanks to the Mojave Desert super bloom in 2016. Thanks a lot “The Media!”), but this year, I’m calling it #touristbloom because people exploded alongside the flowers in Carrizo Plain National Monument.

Wildflower viewers take a rest in a field of blazing stars after the steepest part of the hike from Elkhorn Road into the Temblor Range.

Even thought I didn’t read that LA Times piece, I’m sure the trail I picked was on that list, because the number of people crowding onto the first leg of this hike was shocking. Like little ants with cameras and tripods in hand, they milled around for about 1/4 of a mile, gawking at the yellow goldfields and white-tipped tidy tips that speckled the normally brown earth, spilling down from the ridge line on both sides. The high point on this leg was where most stopped, but the color that has been on my bucket list for four years was still waiting for me.

Yellow goldfields and tidy tips, purple phacelia, and orange blazing stars color the hills of the Temblor Range in mid-April. It’s wildflower tourist heaven.

The floral abundance is indeed super, but Carrizo Plain National Monument pops with color every year around this time. Purple phacelia, yellow goldfields, orange fiddleneck, and white tidy tips stretch into carpets of color that patchwork through the valley along Soda Lake Road and undulate through the hills of the Temblor Range. Signs of life for a few weeks in an otherwise bleak, baked, and barren landscape. Last year, I drove, stopped, and explored the monument alongside relatively few fellow wildflower seekers compared to this year.

Desert candles peer over the tidy tips and phacelia that cover the range miles above Soda Lake on the Carrizo Plain National Monument.

But then, I only drove my Toyota Matrix through the valley below my current perch, where dust billows behind cars and trucks pulling campers meander next to random fields of yellow and purple that follow the road’s track for 30 miles from the California Valley to Highway 166. You can see the train of vehicles traversing south from way up here, where that same loose, fine, dry dust wafts onto my legs as I push them to continue ever higher. It’s steep, and I can grab the trail in front of me without falling over. My ankles ache from the awkward angle (years of sprained ankles) and the unpacked soft, ashy dirt trail is flanked by orange-yellow blazing stars that continue up over the next hill.

Blazing stars grow in fields above the Carrizo Plain National Monument.

A desert candle flies solo above a crowded field of wildflowers in the Temblor Range.

The trek persists up over the next hill, this one covered with the purple of caterpillar phacelia, and up over the next higher one, covered with green grasses and views of the neighboring hills eclipsed by yellows and purples.

Wildflower seekers take a rest in the Temblor Range after trekking up a steep trail through goldfields, blazing stars, and phacelia blooms above the Carrizo Plain National Monument.

It’s hot and dry, and the flowers are starting to wilt, curling up in random patches. They will be gone soon and so will all the people. The population in this valley will drop back below 500, and the number of cars on Elkhorn and Soda Lake roads won’t stir up enough dust to hang in the air all day long. That fine stirred up sediment now fills the sky like smog, hazing up the view over Soda Lake, a white expanse that currently has water in it (Thanks atmospheric rivers!). That dust will eventually settle and the California Valley residents who were yelling at me to slow down as I drove 25 miles per hour down Belmont Trail should no longer feel overrun by people who don’t know how to drive on rutted out dirt roads.

California poppies and blazing stars glow orange on the hillsides of the Temblor Range above Carrizo Plain National Monument over Easter weekend 2017.

Dieting makes me cranky

I’ve tried three different times in my life to dramatically alter my intake of food. Why? Because I don’t look like a model, basically. Sure, I’m active. I mean, I don’t go to the gym or anything, but I play soccer three times a week, I hike on the weekends, I take my dog on walks everyday. I try to do something that physically exhausts me at least four times a week.

Not because I think it’ll make me skinny, but because I like the way it feels when sweat is dripping down my back and pouring down my face, when my shins and arms get slick in the heat, and when my muscles start to tell me to stop and I start to slow down. And sometimes my body stops altogether, but when I tell myself to push through that and I get to the other side and feel a surge of energy, it makes me feel powerful.

But, there’s this part of my body that I hate. When I look at myself in the mirror, it’s all I see. My stomach turns into a blubber pit of white flesh, my love handles seem to grow exponentially—and then of course I jiggle it a little, just to make sure I can still see that my body isn’t perfect. That I’m disgusting.

Believe me, I realize it’s not true. But, nevertheless, it never fails when I eye myself in that reflective glass.

It’s a ritual I’ve carried out for many years. Since my teens, I would say. Here I am 15 years later, and I still feel the same way about it—the feeling hasn’t changed throughout my years, whether I was lean, fit, a little chubby, or out of shape.

It’s my cross to bear, I guess. My demon of sorts, and three times in my life I’ve attempted to rid myself of my five to 10 pounds extra through dietary means. And well, this last time took place over the last four days.

It was the low-carb, no-sugar thing that’s been all the rage for the last however long. No grains, no starch, no fruit, no high-carb veggies. Also known as that fad that started with Mr. Atkins of South Beach. Florida. A quick fix.

I don’t eat a ton of grain- or starchy-veggie-based carbs, mostly only at dinner, and of course I eat fruit, so I didn’t really think it would be a huge stretch for me to pare down my eating habits and up the green-veggie ante.

My friend lost seven pounds in seven days. I thought, if I lose seven pounds in seven days, I’ll finally look like a model. WRONG! I’ll never look like a model, because, well, I’m not a model.

What I’ll always look like is me. The question is: What kind of me do I want to be? AND How do I want my body to feel?

Here’s the thing. That super low-carb, high-fat diet effects everyone differently. And it turns out, that weight everyone loses in the first couple of weeks in water weight. The real weight loss doesn’t start until about a month into it.

And these last few days, it was like I couldn’t consume enough food. Even after I ate I was hungry, tired, and pretty cranky. Especially this morning, when I woke up feeling depleted. Completely depleted. My muscles felt like they were empty. They hurt in a way I’ve never felt before—a deep, empty ache.

Last night, I played soccer. For the first 20 minutes, I felt good, although I felt a little off, kind of jiggly and unstable. For the rest of the hour we played, I was completely useless. My muscles felt like lead and I couldn’t convince myself to move. My body felt like I had just done strenuous physical training—anaerobic sprints and plyometrics—and then I was trying to play soccer.

I realize that I’m older now, and your body changes. But I played two separate times last Wednesday and didn’t feel this way. I’ve had a headache for the last three days because I’m going through carb withdrawal, which sounds like I have a carb problem and should go to a carb-eaters anonymous meeting, but really I could just cutback on the beer intake and do pretty well.

I ate breakfast this morning and was still hungry. I’ve eaten so much food since Sunday, I’ve eaten more protein in the last five days than I have in the last three weeks, and I’ve eaten a lot of greens, but i always eat a lot of greens. I have been perpetually hungry since Tuesday. My stomach has been a broken record of growls, and it gets worse after I eat.

I feel like my body’s eating itself. Which, I suppose is the purpose of the whole diet thing. Maybe I’m just bitching, but it feels unhealthy in a weird way. Like, I’m missing something in my diet. I would say it’s that portion where I get my energy. That stuff my body metabolizes when I’m active—it’s called carbohydrates.

And what’s really strange, is everybody has an opinion. Yeah, I guess I probably am too much of a sharing-type person. But, everyone has a different opinion on why I’m feeling the way that I am. It’s kind of funny, in this day of the internet and global nutrition, we’re all experts.

Truth is, no one really knows except for maybe someone who has studied nutrition their whole lives, and even then, the conclusions they’ve drawn all stem from a subjective point of view. All we learn is spoon-fed to us by “experts,” we run around counting fat intake, calories, carbs, and sugar. We are obsessed with the backs of packages, exercise and diet fads, and nutritional supplements. It’s become a way of life.

It’s just not the way we’re meant to live. And it makes me tired. And cranky. I’m going to take the less-diet heavy path and stop eating carbs before I go to bed. “They” say it’s bad for me anyway.

Not that dieting doesn’t work for some people, and more power to them, they have a higher level of self control than I do. It just doesn’t work for me.

Fearless

I forgot how much I love the Pacific Ocean, how much its rhythm quiets me, how fast it breaks me from my complacency, how quickly it wakes me into the present; coloring my mind with the soft sound of lapping, crashing, receding, and the white of the water’s insistent presence, drawing me toward something bright in the dark of moonless-ness. The muted crunch of teeny pebbles reverberates almost silently as I step with the awkward intensity of absolute desire not to fill my shoes with gritty sand before giving into the inevitable and removing the barrier between my naked foot and the gentle give of the shoreline.

white

I forgot about the ocean’s power over me, incessant in its pull, waves demanding my attention as they pound and recede from the sand. About the scrape of sediment as it pushes between my toes and over the top of my foot, kicking up the back of my leg and forward, redistributing itself in barely visible sprinkles. About the chill that makes me inhale quickly, even if it’s only my feet that touch the water.

favbeach1

It’s easy to forget when I’ve been away, when I’ve allowed the last 10 years of my life to take precedence over the first 20, when I’ve lost the strain of myself that used to give into the ocean constantly—that person I was before I became who I am. The one who fought through adolescent reveries and love and loss and confusion to trudge through a decade of pathways. The one who used to feel the ocean inside her blood as she stood and stared; the salt and wind would wrap her up, enveloping her in a sea of comfort that separated her from the longing or anger or angst that drove her to the shoreline for counseling.

favbeach3

It’s easy to forget that when I left those coastal California counseling sessions, I used to be fearless. Fierce and determined to trail no one, to start fresh, to lay down the bricks that would build me a new path, to face my fears head on, to wrangle the unknown and force it to be what it was and not what I wanted it to be. To force myself to be who I was and not who I or anyone else thought I should be.

Ellipsing

As I forget the things that life has taught me, those lessons reach back up and slap me in the face with a wakeup—if you want to call it that—that people don’t change and neither do I. Somehow, I fall back into a seated position with my head heavily in my hands, and I shake it back and forth in wonder at how life has trespassed across some unwanted path, yet again.

It sounds depressing, but when you step away from it, it’s not. It’s just a part of life. It’s the part that gets you to a better spot, a better place. It realigns you and your movements. At least, to me, that’s what those lessons are for. Without them, I think it would be hard to look at life in retrospect and see where you’ve been and where you want to go…but I digress.

It’s constant. Cycling. Circling. Forever bent into a curve that repeats. It’s not always the same, but generally it’s similar. As I roll along, I am faced with the same lessons scattered along the timeline of my existence. They live on a bell curve that pulls me up and down along a path.

The people who wander in and out of my vision, the people who I allow in and out of my subconscious, those who I devote my time and energy to, are occasionally the ones whose behavior throws me back and for some reason, although it’s happened before, it leaves me stunned.

Usually, it’s just life—outside of my home, outside of my personal space, away from the place I hide in safety and curl up to think. But this time, it was different, it was something I couldn’t run from. The reason I am between houses, and left in the panic that only I can push myself to when I have a goal to reach, is because I gave a person I trusted too many chances.

My landlord, who had become a friend.

I hesitate as I write this because I feel like I’m betraying some sort of unspoken trust that is her story, but then I realize that this is my story too.

We all have cycles and tendencies, which I have already touched on. For me, it’s trust and a desire to help someone I see flailing that gets me into trouble. I put myself out too far, I give too much of myself to another, and then feel tremendous guilt when I pull away. It’s always been that way. I can remember my mom getting upset at me for doing it when I was in elementary school.

There are, of course, other Camillia-cycles too, but we’ll leave those where they are.

For this person I rented a room from, her circular path always veers back toward chaos. It’s her bell curve and constant existence. I listened to the stories she told me and in the six months I lived with her, I watched her go from the top of her curve to the bottom, go from new habits to old habits, and in the process, because we lived together, her life became my life.

Near the end, it was just too much for me.

Her spiral, in my opinion, started with a job loss. She wasn’t fired, but was let go because the orthopedic surgeon she worked for was downsizing. That was almost two months ago.

During that first month, I watched her get depressed. I tried to reach out, but the empathy that I can usually muster for those going through rough patches had run out. I couldn’t be there for someone I felt wasn’t there for herself. I started to step back and inevitably got sucked back in.

In the first couple of weeks after she lost her job, I held a little birthday weekend camping trip in Big Sur for myself. She came with me, and we drove up to meet my friends. For me, there were two sides to that weekend—a great little vacation and time to talk to people I hadn’t seen in a while and also one where I saw a side of my housemate that I hadn’t seen before. Without getting too far into it, I don’t think either one of us was happy at the end of our three-day trip.

The trip ended badly. A side-trip to Morro Bay and a fist fight pretty much threw that weekend into my own personal record-book of things I’ve never experienced before. Not to worry, my housemate and I didn’t fight, but there was a fight involving her, that ended with a couple black eyes.

Two nights later, her ex-boyfriend broke into the house and “stole” her wallet. She was dating someone new and her ex started harassing and stalking her, badly. He harassed her friends and family, both via phone calls, text messages, and Facebook. He made threatening remarks and had come into the house un-announced and un-invited several times over the preceeding two weeks.

I had called the cops on him once. That evening when I came home, I finally convinced her to call the cops on him herself. She did, filed a report, and he came back to the house later, so we called the cops again. Turns out, he had a copy of the house key, and that’s how he got into the house.

To me, this is not normal behavior. Not during a relationship, not after a relationship, not ever. This is a series of events that also goes in my record book of things I’ve never experienced before, and to put it frankly, it had nothing to do with me, but because I lived there, I got to be a part of it.

The next morning, I changed the locks. I started to feel weird about making sure the doors were always locked. She said she was working on filing a restraining order against her ex, and she changed her phone number.

After a couple weeks, I thought she started acting really strange. She would come in and out of the house without saying hi to me, she couldn’t look me in the eyes, was always locked in her room. I really started to worry that her depression had spiraled to a point where she needed help, and wondered what I could and should do as a friend.

Then, one night I saw her pull up with her ex. I found out she had been sneaking him into the house and not telling me. The reason for her strange behavior clicked. Obviously, I wasn’t supposed to know—maybe it was the late nights she had spent hiding from him, or all the crazy things I had witnessed, or the cops. Either way, I kind of lost it and let my anger take over. He is a thief-harrasser-stalker-crazy person who had mentally abused her. To hear it from her side, now, “we abused each other. It wasn’t just him.”

Tell me, is this something you want in your house, in your life?

For me the answer is an easy, exasperated, agitated, infuriated “No.”

It’s not safe, he’s volatile and unpredictable, he’s capable of awful abusive things when he doesn’t get his way. And now, I don’t trust the person who I pay rent to so I can live in a room in her house. Wonderful.

So, I gave her notice and got out of there. It was a weird transition. It’s not like I despise her or anything like that. In fact, I feel lighter now that I’m no longer in that situation. And now that I’m on the other side of it, I can see why that’s her cycle. It’s what she’s used to. For her part, she understands why I don’t want to be around it and don’t want her life to be such an intimate part of my life.

“My friends are used to my drama,” she told me.

It’s not the first friendship that drama destroyed for me. It’s not the first time my empathy for someone has run out, or I willfully decided to remove myself from the life of another. For me though, it was the first circumstance like that I’ve ever experienced.

Warning signs for big disasters are always there. I remember taking mental note of the ones that shot red flags up for me and made me think that I wanted to get out of that living arrangement much earlier than the beginning of November. But I didn’t do anything about it, they were just thoughts without action.

And those big diamond-shaped yellow signs that signal danger up ahead, are part of my intuition, but for some reason, I usually choose to ignore them and push through. For some strange, cyclical reason, I feel like human connection and kindness are more important, like a simple human relationship will fix all the problems in life.

It doesn’t. And my stubborn behind always learns things the hard way.

The way it is

In the past two weeks I have witnessed a fist fight, called the cops at 1 a.m. on a Wednesday morning (not because of a fist fight), changed the locks for the front door of the house I’m renting a room in, pushed out a controversial 3,300-word cover story about fee-to-trust land that I’m extremely proud of, turned 31 years old, been to Big Sur twice, made a couple of new friends (I think), and witnessed varying degrees of discrimination being perpetrated both in public and private against different kinds of people.

I’m full-up on life. And I’m tired. But I’m not complaining. Sometimes that’s just how life happens. BAM!

morrobayset

It’s not always calm water and soft, fluffy cat tails.

Morrobaypreset

Sometimes it’s in-your-face, life-changing moments that really make you think hard about your life and the lives of those around you. The kind of moments that make you want to turn and sprint as fast as you can away to anywhere but the present. And as far as I’m concerned, that’s why we live; to face those kinds of moments, to learn to deal with them, to get angry and then sad and then happy, to think about what’s fair and not fair, and to really spend time evaluating and developing those things you define yourself by.

When we fight with anger, we fight with something we have no control of. Our emotions come to the forefront and take precedence over the words that lash out of our mouths. It’s discrimination in it’s rawest, most outright forum. I’ve seen it on an empty street in Morro Bay, in public comments made during a Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors meeting, and spilling from the mouths of U.S. Representatives.

If it’s not Republicans blaming Democrats or the other way around for the “partial” government shutdown, it’s me blaming somebody for being unhappy with their life because I have to hear about it or someone blaming the world for their problems because life can be a real drag sometimes, it’s Santa Ynez Valley residents saying they don’t trust the local tribe or the tribe saying they don’t trust a county supervisor.

And then the name-calling begins, the pointed arguments that have nothing to do with anything but grasping at emotional straws to make a point. It’s years, days, hours of absolute bullshit that’s stacked up over time, and we’ve somehow aligned ourselves with it and convinced ourselves it’s true.

“Obama is the devil.” “The Republican party is crazy.” “Obama care will turn America upside down.” “But we’re not going to pass a budget either, so hah!” And that’s the part where everyone sticks their tongues out at everyone else with their hands on their hips.

Some of the people who live around the Santa Ynez Reservation say that tribal members need to get DNA tests to prove they actually are who they say they are. Or that the tribe peddles prostitutes and is trying to put casinos and oil wells all over the valley while draining the water supply at the same time. Then the tribe blames certain groups or people for whipping up fear about the fee-to-trust proposal and calling people racists.

It’s an argument that’s been going on for decades, and the present collection of words sound strangely familiar to all those that have been said over the last 20 years. Each side says terrible, personal things about the other, that may or may not be true, but the statements made make the people saying them sound like awful human beings. The worst part is, there are good, genuine people on both ends of the argument spectrum. When will they forget the rest and talk about what’s actually going on, about the reality of the current situation, without weighing it down with old bitterness, anger, and resentment? My guess is never.

The lack of communication we experience at the national, local, and personal levels is our own damn fault. How can you blame someone else for something you’ve had a hand in?

When all  I see is what I let myself see, what I let into my life, what I believe to be good and true, how can I possibly allow anything else to be communicated to me? How can I see the world for what it is–myself for who I am–when I’ve already defined it? Compromise is not easy, it involves giving into the pride we hold dear to our chest, giving up a little bit of the definitions we’ve stamped on the world, and letting go of some of the anger we’ve wrapped around ourselves.

But sometimes, if I take a step back, maybe I just need to see the world for what it is, rather than what I think it is or what I want to be.

Undercurrents

Sometimes I wonder what more goes on in the brains of the people I hang out with. Is it always the same old stuff—family, friends, boys, and work—or is there more? There must be an undercurrent of more, there has to be.

Lewis range, Glacier National Park

A range of repetition that changes with each peak.

Is there a thought that goes missing, so all they see is the life around them in the space that they are? Like last night, the whirring fans and the fog that slowly settled all the way down to the water soothed me as the words we’ve spoke before once again spilled out of my friends lips.

It all came into focus and my brain just switched off the record of whatever continuously plays over and over again. I noticed the light behind the bar turned the etched glass a light teely-blue color, and the sound of the few customers chatting became loud. I pushed my chair back against the window, listened, and watched—half of me engaged with the person in front of me and the other half just felt quieted, at peace, satisfied.

It wasn’t the food. The sole was fishy and tough, not moist and tender like you want fish to be. The pinot noir was sweet and raisiny, not mellow and complex, like you want a wine to be.

It was just the moment. An off-switch that was triggered, allowing time to tune into the world. Time to feel the goosebumps from the fans constantly turning from the ceiling. To notice the boat outside the window had a stuffed animal hanging from its mast. To watch the mist of foggy air settle into the water of the bay, see the light turned on inside the galley of a fishing boat across the harbor, feel the vibrations of movement from the kitchen, the table next to us, and the bar.

A smile that spread over my body and the deep breath of reality that spilled into my insides left me feeling like I wanted more. More of that now, more of those moments that we filter out from the everyday. It’s not good enough to think about what’s next and why or what was last and why or how I will fill my time now. That’s boring and stifling at the same time, suffocating me with a mask of monotony that I don’t really care for. The effort it takes to piece life together from snapshots of desire and want make me tired sometimes. It drains me of my emotion, uselessly spent on the things that, in a moment, matter least.

Goose Island, St. Mary's Lake, Glacier National Park

A rest to watch the breath of day change to night.

I want to run, not away from something or toward anything, but just run into the breath of air that touches my face when the wind blows. Run into the ever-so-tiny drops of water that barely kiss my skin when the fog rolls in. Run like a crazy person, screaming out at the world, just because it feels good. Just because it isn’t mundane or repetitive, it’s different every time I experience it.

Because it’s what I can feel with the outside of myself rather than what I bottle up into happy, sad, angry, and bored. Last night I remembered what that feels like.

In the dark

After work on a Friday, I find myself bumbling along at 60 miles per hour on a stretch of road so flat I can see the blinking light of a stop sign that is miles away. It’s not a situation I’ve found myself in since I moved back to California. It was as refreshing as it was odd, and something I’ve decided I definitely need to do more of.

Explore.

It is two lanes and flat, but bumpy because the pavement rippled with the dirt below it. As I leave Interstate 5 behind me, I wonder if I’m heading in the right direction. The further away I get from the four-lane semblance of civilization I exited off of, the darker it gets, and I think to myself “just trust your phone’s directions.” Kind of a strange thing to think, considering I’m always the type to know the route before I get in the car. Essentially I put my trip in the hands of an electronic device that has steered me wrong in the past.

But nevertheless, on I drive. The stop sign I saw from a distance 10 minutes ago, is only visible by my headlights as I approach it up close. The lights from a water truck blind me as I come to a complete, non-California roll, stop. Left I go, just like the directions told me. Onto another two-lane beauty with pot holes and signs that read “Road Subject to Flooding.” It makes sense, considering the water level on the left-hand side of the road looks to be at the same level as the road itself, held back only by a dirt berm that’s hilled up only a foot higher than the road.

That is when the smells start hitting my nostrils. My windows are rolled down so I can feel the heat of the Central Valley evening flood into my car and warm up my coastal fog-chilled bones. Irrigated fields of alfalfa, corn, and some crop that looks like small, low-to-the-ground rose bushes with yellow flowers meet up with the shadowed outlines of open barns containing far too many cows for such a tight space. The smell of sweet and wet collides with the skanky aroma of rotting roots and methane produced by dairy cattle.

Lights illuminate something I can’t quite make out. I’m staring at it hard, when I hit a pothole and swerved onto the other side of the white line to avoid a semi-truck. I missed my turn and flipped around to make my right that is now a left onto another two-lane road that takes me right by the lighted structures.

A stop sign outside the entrance reveals that it’s the home of the Corcoran Correctional Facility, like the ones I always see as I fly by them on the interstate. You know, the ones that always come with signs that warn drivers about picking up hitchhikers. Barbed wire tops one-story tall chain-link fences and guard towers watch over parking lots that become buildings. The compound is gigantic, by my slowed-down driving estimates, at least a half a mile long. And it’s also a little creepy.

The smells seem to land on top of one another as I move from staring at the compounds to looking at the what’s visible in my headlights. Scents interweave between awful and nostalgic. Corn rows hide dairy farms, lights illuminate dirt lots, barns, and mooing movement,  and the bugs start hitting my windshield at rapid fire. I get to a busy road, start to worry about directions again, and finally pull over to look at my phone one last time. It assures me to keep moving in a straight line. I thought, “here goes nothing,” and on I continue.

I cross a couple highways, but remain steady in my eastward movement. Towns, fields, and more cows click by. I start to wonder if this place I’m going is actually a segway into the mountains, because it’s beginning to seem like the flat will go forever.

Finally, I see a sign for Porterville and then a sign for Springville.

Finally, the road starts to twist a bit and gain elevation.

“Sweet,” I think. “I’m going to make it.”