Saigon Dreams

I’ve been meaning for over a month now to write about Vietnam, but every time I sit down to do so the words slip away. Maybe I need time to digest, I told myself. The trip needs to coalesce, to firm up.

But it never did. When I think on Vietnam, all I see are fragments, moments.

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Maybe that’s because of the force of nature that is Saigon. Ho Chi Minh City—a never-stopping sea of people and scooters and red flags and little plastic stools on sidewalks. The smell of herbs and frying pork and sugar, of exhaust and day-old rain and heat.

Oh, the heat. Walking out of the airport close to midnight, I thought, This isn’t too bad. Yes, it was heat you walked into, a dampness you could feel wrapping around your skin. But it felt like Maui, like Florida, like any other tropical climate. It felt manageable.

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The next day we walked out into the city… and there was the heat. Inescapable. A weight slowing you down. By the end of the first day, after a long walk back to our apartment, sweat dripped down every trail of my body. It was like I had stepped out of an hour-long hot yoga class. (According to locals, this was nice weather. Not too hot, not too muggy. Of course.)

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The afternoon rain storms did nothing to break the heat. Neither did the thunder, waking us one morning by shaking our entire apartment, the metal patio door rattling.

The metal patio door, kept closed, keeping the heat out and the AC in. But through it every morning you could still hear the swish swish swish of the woman outside, sweeping the sidewalk with her twig-tied broom. As the morning wore on, honking scooters and lottery ticket vendors added their cries to the mix. Still, over those sounds, that broom. Swish swish swish.

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These are what stick in my mind—the sounds, the smells, the sensations. No distinct moments, no momentous events. Daily life in Saigon was about the little things. Sitting on plastic stools in an alley, drinking iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk. Watching the neighbors come and go, greeting each other. A restaurant owner instructing us how to mix our vegetables into our broth. Watching the city go by from the back of a scooter, wind hitting my cheeks.

The more time passes, the more Vietnam seems like a dream seeping into my consciousness. Less memory and more of a feeling, a longing—for slowly dripping coffee, for complex, confounding, astonishing food. The rows of tamarind trees, high above the streets. Even the heat. All a hauntingly written story; once you’ve read it, you can’t ever really get it out of your mind.

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Here There Be Giants

Four years ago for our honeymoon, we traveled to the Grand Teton National Park. I fell in love with the Tetons immediately, head over heels. Teeth rising straight out of the earth, fierce and abrupt, like a hand simply slipped underneath and pushed. Yet the Tetons were familiar in their own way–like how a child would draw mountains. Flat land, series of triangles, nothing in between.

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Glacier National Park isn’t that way. We drove out there a few weeks ago, prior to a friend’s wedding. I’d done my research on the park, knew what to expect…yet I still felt myself warily circling it as we drove, hiked, explored. Glacier feels raw, wild–like, actually wild, not a tamed human version of wild. (Even though technically, yes, it is.) When you first enter the park, the ranger hands you a brochure with a close-up of a snarling grizzly, its muzzle covered in blood. A bit dramatic, perhaps, but it does get the point across: you are not the top dog here. Not by a long shot.

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The Tetons are the same range as Glacier, all the Rockies…yet the mountains here feel different. No child drew these. In Glacier, you can see the giant, ancient, mind-boggling powerful forces that shaped this land, carved it, curled it into bowls and peaks and valleys. The tiny remnants of those forces remain; from the road, you can see Blackfoot and Jackson and Salamander Glaciers. Seeing those, then imagining their size and scope when they created this…

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To the Blackfeet Nation, this was holy land. You still feel that. But this doesn’t necessarily feel like a benevolent deity, one shaped in man’s image. This feels deep, potent, a giant slumbering under the earth. A force that doesn’t care much for the humans on it–at least, not any more or less than anything else that scampers and crawls and flies across its surface. It feels like it would open one sleepy eye and say, “Oh, you,” before casually flicking you away. Which is not to say it’s evil or mean. It’s just indifferent. Which is sometimes nice, sitting near a power so much larger than us, that doesn’t care if we stop and mind the view.

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We spent almost a full week in Glacier and still I don’t know it. How can you know something so ancient, so old, when to it you are simply passing through, like dust in the night?

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These Stories Run Deep

If Ireland is a thin place, Greece is a deep one. Walking through the labyrinthine streets of the Plaka neighborhood in Athens, you don’t have to know that people have walked here for 7,000 years–you can feel it. Cobblestones worn by millennia of footsteps, the smell of roasting meat, the hot fecund air sticking to your neck. That citadel looming above the city, the Acropolis, icon of Western civilization that millions flock to every year–that was once new. The people who lived here watched that being built.

In fifth grade we studied Greek mythology–and by “studied” I mean we colored pictures from D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths while our teacher read us the stories. The birth of Athena, the tragedy of Orpheus, the downfall of Persephone…I devoured each and every one like pomegranate seeds. When we moved on to the saga of the Iliad (a toned-down, child-friendly version, of course), I couldn’t get enough of the drama, the wit. My parents bought me a copy of D’Aularies’. I read it over and over until the spine cracked and the pages started falling out.

On Santorini, I sat on the black-sand beach and looked out towards the distant island of Anafi, imagined living here thousands of years ago, seeing Athenian sails billowing on the seas. In Crete I swam into the brilliant blue waves, remembering the sirens and Odysseus and his journey through these islands. At the Palace of Knossos I walked the kingdom of Minos, touched the stones, saw how such a place could inspire the Minotaur. I walked a city that saw the fall of Troy, that held contemporaries of Achilles and Helen and Agamemnon.

These stories run through me and here are their roots. You can hear it in the crash of the waves, what these places have heard. A murmur of something unbroken, unchanged–stories that bind us through space and time. If I’m ever able to tell stories with a tenth of that impact, with an infinitesimal fraction of that power, it will just be a continuation of a tradition that started long before me.

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Thin Places (Or, the Goat Leg)

Empty your heart of its mortal dream. -William Butler Yeats

Have you heard of “thin places“? It’s originally a Celtic term — the idea that some places on earth are “thin” and therefore closer to “the other side,” whatever that might be.

Ireland is one of those places. Unless you’ve experienced it, it’s a difficult feeling to describe — it’s like you want to enter it, but there’s no “it” to enter. A line I wrote in my travel journal sums it up: “I want to walk away into the mist and leave everything worldly behind.” You feel it walking along the Cliffs of Moher, you feel it watching the ocean break on the coastline, you feel it driving through the bog.

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Admittedly — I totally set myself up to “feel it.” I’ve always been interested in Irish mythology, so I read a lot of Yeats before our trip. In the late 19th century, Yeats collected traditional folk tales about “the gentle folk.” And let me tell you — all in all, the gentle folk aren’t all that gentle.

They steal children, they carry away maidens, they trick and deceive. Basically, if you feel drawn to “walk away into the mist” — NOPE, turn around, it’s probably a fairy trying to trick you. And fairies weren’t the only things to look out for — there were also mermaids (and mermen), banshees, puca (changelings which often took the form of goats). If you saw the color red (the color of magic, according to Yeats), watch out.

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While it’s true that the “old ways” are mostly gone, you still get traces of them here and there. At Blarney Castle, there’s an ancient cave where they claim a witch used to live. And every August, the town of Killorglin in Kerry still celebrates Puck Fair — a festival where they capture a wild goat and name it king of the town for three days.

 

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We passed Killorglin at the start of our Ring of Kerry tour. Kerry is a county in Ireland, and it’s a wild place. Bogs and heath give way to uplands of shale, with sheep grazing wherever they can find vegetation. The predominant color in March: rusty brown shot through with yellow flowering gorse.

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A low mist hung over everything, giving an other-worldly glow — a feeling only heightened when we passed the Eightercua stones.

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Our tour paused at Killarney National Park so we could get out and hike up to Torc waterfall. Now, we’re from the Northwest, which is famed for its greenery. But the hike up to this waterfall — crazy green. Moss covered the trees, the rocks, every possible nook and cranny. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such intense, all-encompassing green. It almost hurt your eyes to look at it.

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Up at the falls, after I’d taken a few photos, Byron said, “I think I see evidence of magic.” He pointed — I saw a red coffee cup sitting next to the trail.

Now, Byron knew I’d been reading all these Yeats books, and he’d been giving me a bit of good-natured teasing. (He’ll probably protest. But I’m calling a spade a spade.) I had told him earlier in the trip about the color red and its association with magic.

“Ha ha,” I said.

“No,” he said. “There.”

I looked. A few feet away from the cup, placed neatly next to the walking path, lay a soggy goat foreleg. If the size hadn’t given it away, the hoof would have. It was unbloodied and, apart from being disembodied, perfectly intact.

“Where did that come from?” I said.

“It must be magic!” Byron said. “I don’t know how else it could have gotten there.”

“Or something ate it,” I said. We’d seen goats wandering the park minutes before.

“But where’s the rest of the body?” Byron said.

It was true — there was no sign of the rest of the goat. And the foreleg was so very neatly cut off — no sign of gnawing or bits of fur lying around. It seemed too clean to be an animal kill. And the way it was lined up next to the path, it did look like someone had placed it there.

“Why would someone put it there?” I said.

“I don’t know. Maybe an offering? It does feel like a magical place.”

I stared at the goat leg for a few moments more, both repulsed and fascinated.

“Are you going to take a picture?” Byron said.

I didn’t take a picture. There is no photographic evidence of the goat leg. I didn’t want the gentle folk to take offense.

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Lost to California

Snap back to reality. Back in Seattle. For the past two weeks we’ve been transients, driving up the California coast, packing a bag every day and going from motel to hotel. The sort of trip where you forget if it’s Monday or Tuesday (or maybe Wednesday?), where every meal was just brought in off the boat, where the biggest decision of the day is, “Should we stop at this beach or keep driving to the next?”

We traveled the Pacific Coast Highway, Highway 1, a classic stretch of road that hugs the sea. We rented a convertible and drove from San Diego to San Francisco. I had done parts of this drive before, but never the full thing. California has a strange, magical pull over me, and I wanted Byron to experience that magic.

What I wrote last year is still true:

Everything down there just seems scented with a kind of forgetfulness — like there is nowhere else in the world to be, nowhere else in the world you should be.

I really think I temporarily lost my mind down there. It may still be floating around somewhere off the California coastline. I assume it will meander back home at some point, back up to Seattle, but for now I’m content to let it wander.

USS Midway in San Diego.
Starting in San Diego, visiting the USS Midway.

USS Midway in San Diego

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Birds at Torrey Pine State Reserve.

View from Torrey Pines State Reserve.
View from Torrey Pines State Reserve.

Vroom vroom.

Crystal Cove State Park
Crystal Cove State Park.

Great blue heron at Crystal Cove State Park.
Crystal Cove State Park.
Crystal Cove State Park.
Crystal Cove State Park.
Crystal Cove State Park.

Will Rogers State Beach
Will Rogers State Beach in Santa Monica, where we used to go swimming with my grandparents.
Morro Bay
Morro Bay.

Morro Bay

 

Pelicans at Moonstone Beach
Pelicans at Moonstone Beach

Pelicans at Moonstone Beach
Sea lions.

Big Sur.
Entering the crazy twisting Big Sur.

Pacific Coast Highway in Big Sur

Big Sur
We stopped at the Henry Miller Memorial Library and started chatting with the young woman at the cash register. She was from the Netherlands and had just arrived in Big Sur yesterday. She’d been driving down the Pacific Coast Highway in her van, liked it where she was, and decided to stay. That’s the kind of place Big Sur is.

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Big Sur
Yellow flowers at Big Sur

Redwood trees in Big Sur.
Even the little Redwoods tower.

Juan Hiquera Creek in Big Sur

Point Lobos State Reserve
Artist Francis McComas called Point Lobos the “greatest meeting of land and water in the world.” I’d have to agree.

Point Lobos State Reserve
Point Lobos State Reserve


Point Lobos State Reserve
Harbor seals at Point Lobos State Reserve
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Eucalyptus trees.
Eucalyptus. My favorites.

Highway 80 in California

Quarter horses.
Pit stop to a family member’s horse ranch in northern California.

Quarter horse.
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Manzanita Adventure Weekend

This past weekend Byron and I packed up the dog and the car headed down to the Oregon coast. We met up with a group of my best college friends — and I just about exploded with nerdy glee when my new camera arrived just in time for the trip. I realized a few weeks ago that my old camera is now technologically outdated — the photos it takes, they just ain’t lookin’ so hot. So based on some friends’ recommendations (thanks, Lauren and Hen!), I took the plunge.

Oregon proved to be the perfect testing ground. Sun, beach, epic trees… what more could a gal ask for when trying to figure out the difference between shutter speed, F stops and ISO?

Manzanita Beach. Photo by Laura Dedon Oxford. Manzanita Beach. Photo by Laura Dedon Oxford.

Manzanita Beach. Photo by Laura Dedon Oxford.

Manzanita Beach. Photo by Laura Dedon Oxford.

Peaches and blackberries. Photo by Laura Dedon Oxford.

Neahkahnie Mountain. Photo by Laura Dedon Oxford.

Neahkahnie Mountain. Photo by Laura Dedon Oxford.

View of Manzanita Beach from Neahkahnie Mountain. Photo by Laura Dedon Oxford

Louie the Dog. Photo by Laura Dedon Oxford.

 

Rockaway Beach. photo by Laura Dedon Oxford.

Swimming at Manzanita Beach. Photo by Laura Dedon Oxford.

Sunset at Manzanita Beach. Photo by Laura Dedon Oxford.

Sunset at Manzanita Beach. Photo by Laura Dedon Oxford.

Sunset at Manzanita Beach. Photo by Laura Dedon Oxford.

If you get a chance to visit the small sleepy town of Manzanita, I highly recommend it. It is a magical beach in a special corner of the world.

Trying New Things: Tarot Card Reading

Let this be a lesson: if you put something out in the universe enough, sometimes the universe will respond by tossing it in your lap.

In this particular instance, the universe took the form of good friends: Jenny and Adam. These two have heard me yammering on and on about how much I want to do a tarot card reading that they decided to do something about it. For my birthday, they got me a session with a local tarot card reader. Rad friends — I got ’em.

Now, I know that astrology, tarot cards, palm reading… some people argue that all of these things can be wrapped up under the umbrella of “a bunch of horse shit.” People argue that it’s a fraud, that astrologers and palm readers and tarot card readers are just attune to people’s emotions and mental state, and use that to give an “accurate” reading. Which… yeah, I mean, I get that. Maybe it’s true. But that doesn’t mean it’s not fun. And besides, I tend to be a bit hippy-dippy myself. So I went into the reading with an open mind, not knowing what to expect but eager to see what this whole tarot card thing was about.

About 10 seconds after meeting me, the reader said, “Happy birthday! I do some astrology stuff, too, and since your birthday just happened, I’m guessing last month was a really hard month for you.” Which YES, YES IT WAS. Last month saw the introduction of a new job, new responsibilities, a new jam-packed work schedule — all in all, a trying month. But more than that, it’s had me wondering how I can possibly find time to write and edit a book  when life is so damn busy. When other obligations are so demanding, when I need to step up to the plate in other arenas. How can I do all that, and still have the energy to focus on my own pursuits?

The tarot card reader and I settled in. She sprinkled some salt (I’m not too sure what this was for? But I love salt, so I was down), she arranged a white napkin on the ground, and then she had me shuffle the tarot card deck. I drew My Cards. And then we started flippin’.

Six of Wands Tarot Card

What quickly became apparent — a WHOLE lot of fire and water was goin’ on in these here cards.

Tarot Card Reading

Tarot Card Reading

In fact, it was ALL fire and water cards — the Suit of Wands and the Suit of Cups. The Wands are apparently all about “movement, action and initiatives and the launching of new ideas”, while ye ol’ Cups deal with “displays of emotion, expression of feelings and the role of emotions in relation to others”, as well as being linked to “creativity, romanticism, fantasy and imagination” (according to the first website I found, Biddy Tarot). 

That dude on the far right? He represents the big ol’ grand vision — my future self, where this is all leading. He’s the Knight of Cups, with a sweet white horse and winged feet and a “cloak covered with images of fish, the symbol of the spirit, consciousness and creativity.” And what does this knight in shining armor instruct you to do?

Be open to exploring your passions and your grand ideas at this time. You may find that you have been drawn to a particular passion or hobby and now is the time to start turning into ‘something’. You do not need to go at a cracking pace but it is important to balance your ideas with action and ensure that you are taking proactive steps to achieve your goals and ambitions. — Biddy Tarot

You can probably tell where I’m going with this. How have I interpreted my tarot card reading? That I need to get cracking. That I need to get down to business, and stop with the excuses. Write, edit, create. Life has been crazy for the past month — but that doesn’t matter. Work will always be there — crazy life obligations will always be there. In five years, I’m not going to regret an hour less sleep every night. I’m going to regret the stories I didn’t finish, the publications I didn’t submit to, the runs I didn’t run to get my creative juices flowing. I’m not going to regret the minutes of hard work — I’m going to regret the words not written.

Sometimes we need an outside source to refocus and get our rears back in gear. Maybe tarot card reading is all baloney — maybe it’s not. At any rate, I’ve gotten what I needed out of it.