I was making my way back down from Portland, en route to Arizona. Long enough, I thought. For what, I didn’t know. I had a sister and an old friend of a desert waiting for me; a place I’d spent my teenage years.
Warmth. After a hard winter in the Pacific Northwest, I ached for it badly. I’d left a relationship that had slipped itself between my ribs — it was a love I felt every time I moved, and with each breath, it hurt. I almost didn’t know the shape of myself without it, yet, the careful feeling was gone. I was spacious again.
I was an hour and a half out of Portland, driving south on Highway 5, when my steering wheel started shaking uncontrollably. My tire blew out, but not entirely. I could see the tiny metal grating of the skeleton of the tire from the emergency lane, hazard lights blinking and my hair flying around my head from the wind created by the semi-trucks flying by. I prayed to sweet baby Jesus I could make it to a tire shop without ending up grinding my rim into the asphalt. Yelp told me I’d pulled over on the offramp that would take me to a Les Schwab a half mile away.
Miracles, baby. Except: I was broke.
I’d left my day job, exhausted my resources and was living on little more than a prayer until my freelance pay showed up in my bank account. I was traveling, I had my dog and a tent and propane camp stove, some just-add-water noodles and (thank God), instant coffee. If one tire needed to be replaced on my all-wheel-drive vehicle, then two tires needed to be replaced, and instant noodles don’t barter well.
When people say, “Leap and the net will appear,” this is what they’re talking about: I discovered, mercifully, that my spare tire was an actual tire — and it was brand new. So, I left with one new tire, and a pat on the back from the Universe.
But I was also, now, behind my travel schedule and had no idea where I was going to camp that night.
A funny thing happens when the net has appeared for you, though: you feel fucking invincible. I drove through the Drift Creek Wilderness, eyeing my Thomas’ road map, watching the sun dip low in the sky and felt the Earth circling her arms around me. See? she asked. This is always here for you.
I reached the coast, racing the setting sun and made a decision: I would drive south on the Oregon Coast Scenic Byway until my campground revealed herself to me. I was feeling pretty unstoppable, and incredibly trusting. So of course I found it: a campground tucked back away from the highway, cradled by massive Sitka spruce, and ferns the size of a Rolls Royce.
I also discovered that if pointed myself toward the sound of the crashing surf, I was roughly fifteen paces from the ocean.
How can I describe the frog-song coming through the mesh windows of my tent under the light of the Beltane moon? How hearing the great Mother of the ocean reminded me of how to be a woman; of the foresight and patience to be permeable, yet persistent — to be like water, over time so penetrating that even rock yields, becoming soft sand between the toes.
In the morning, I took Bodhi down to the shore so he could run amuck, and so I could feel the cool, salty breath of Freedom on my face. I paced in wide circles, all the way out to the water until the soles of my boots were wet. I watched my footprints grow bubbles as I walked away, and listened intently to the sound the wet sand made — that smack, smack, smack of my feet patting the shore. I felt its grip on me, its gravity clinging to the bottoms of my feet, holding onto me like I had clung to my lover’s hand whenever he left our bed.
I walked for a long time along the shore — dirty hair, sleep in my eyes and a sky so wide and brave she could hold everything, not concerned in the least she’d run out of room inside herself — or to be. I began to think it might be possible for me to be like this, too, someday. I sipped my coffee, and felt deeply, quietly, grateful.
I turned to head back to camp and along the way, picked up pieces of sand dollars, trying to find bits that fit together like a puzzle, imagining how I might piece them all together to form one whole, if imperfect, thing. I found myself wanting to be like that: whole and imperfect, pieced together by all the parts of my life — chosen, curated people and places that worked together to make the shape of me make sense.
That damn John Mayer song, “Half of my Heart,” was running through my head as I bent down, sand dollar piece after piece — fifty-three cents here, seventeen cents there — when I reached… and froze. Nestled in the sand, and absolutely unspoiled, was a tiny pebble in the shape of a perfect heart. You’d swear my high school crush had just walked in the room the way my heart leaped and started pit-pattering at the sight of that tiny pebble.
No, I heard. Not half of my heart. The whole damn thing.
I left many thank-you’s where I picked up my pebble. I sang a song into the wind and turned, calling Bodhi back to me. It was as good a sign as any to get on the road. I returned to my campsite to find that Alonzo, the guy I’d camped next to the night before, had left a note for me. “If you’re ever in Eugene,” he wrote, and left his phone number. “Happy travels.”
We drove the coast, me and Bodhi. He was sandy and breathed heavily into this blanket on the passenger seat, squinting at me sometimes when he could feel me looking at him. I braided my hair while steering the car with my knee — a thing I have perfected. I drove through towns with utterly precious names like “Darlingtonia.” I got more coffee at a Dutch Bros. I was incredibly happy, and deeply peaceful.
We eventually arrived at the southern-most stop of our Oregon coast adventure to a campsite I’d read had a shower and had a path to the shore. I figured we’d stop for a night or two, but this was mostly due to the fact that I was getting low on gas, the campsite had to be paid for, and my paycheck still hadn’t come in. I had a hefty supply of backpacking food I kept while traveling. I had firewood. But I couldn’t get in the car and drive to Northern California, as was my next plan. I didn’t even have any chocolate, for God’s sake.
So in a way, we were deserted, me and Bodhi — in the most idyllic place you can imagine. It was bright, sunny, and warm. The campground was tucked back away from the shore in a pristine gorge, wide open, home to Steller’s jays and seagulls and pygmy-looking squirrels. When the wind came in from the ocean, it shook the trees above first with a rustling chorus and then whipped through the campground. It was like a hippie-fucking-Fantasia!
The grass surrounding our campsite, mine and Bodhi’s, was filled with tiny white flowers — a weed, I’m sure — but which made for the feeling that I was setting up my tent in a faery wonderland. Wee forest nymphs could have appeared, and I would have let them ride on my shoulders, completely unsurprised.
After a walk on the beach and eating lunch in a glorious little alcove someone had built with driftwood — perfectly protected from the biting wind — we stumbled back to camp. And there, tucked inside my REI tent, boots off and Bodhi curled up next to me, I took the most glorious nap I think I’ve ever had in my life, warmed by the sun, stirred by the wind, and not a damn thing in the world to do — or buy. All I had to do… was be. (Until it got dark enough to build a fire.)
And this was how it was. I built a fire under the almost-full Moon. I ate packaged rice noodles. I tried to charge my phone by running my car and plugging it in to the crap generic charger I had — to no avail. And so I had no alarm.
Yet: what I had was enough. In fact, with maybe thirty-five dollars to my name and no real clue as to when I was going to have any more than that, what I had was a choice — and choice, I have come to believe, is perhaps the deepest well of wealth there is.
I can’t say what’s true for you. I can’t say what struggles weigh heavy on your heart, or your body, or your sweet, suffering mind. But I can say that I have an intimate relationship with Fear — of not-enoughness of all kinds. Real not-enough. About as real, that is, for a white female who, yes, was living paycheck-to-paycheck, but who was still waiting for a paycheck. (And I will also tell you, that when that paycheck came and I was able to buy more substantial food, I ate the absolute SHIT out of some bacon-wrapped hot dogs.)
But was my fear real? Absolutely. It was the fear of Lack, the fear of Alone. And regardless of how blessed or broken we are, fear is a very real thing that, if we’re not careful, can capsize us. It can steal the very thing that can reveal the world as something magical — it can steal our presence. And presence is what makes choice possible, and I’m not waxing Disney-poetic when I say:
We always have a choice.
To feel peace.
To love bravely.
To be kind.
To be grateful.
There is no purpose in wealth of any kind (and there are many kinds) if we don’t have access to the Self that can enjoy it, and offer, in return, deep gratitude — for what’s here, right now, if we’re looking.