"All in the Cold Midwinter and at the Midnight Hour"

IMGP7064eFIRST_CABIN_ORKILA_OOr, what I did over my winter vacation.

I’ve actually been dying to blog about this but wanted to get some other things out of the way first. Like revamping it and updating it, for instance.

A few years ago, I wrote this post about my favorite winter memory, the second winter I spent living in the dispensary, a perfect cabin at Camp Orkila and how blissful that winter was, reveling in my connectedness to the natural world. I sometimes feel there aren’t words for how satisfying in a soul way living there was to me. And it wasn’t just the proximity to the ocean, the way I heard the owls and the creaking of cedar trees at night, or the thick woods I could walk through or even the months I lived there while having very little work, or all the great books I read, or the great company I had in my friend Tracy, or the walks by the coast.

Some of it was the house itself. I have lived a lot of places. I could romanticize a lot of them in memory. I’m a nostalgic kind of girl. But the dispensary was different. To me, it was perfect. It’s really a cabin, all wood walls, and I just love the coloring and the light, it just really strikes something deep inside me and when I’m there, I feel like I’m sort of spiritually home. And it is not something that is only in retrospective nostalgia. I felt it the moment I first walked in, in late 2003. I remember it so clearly. The regular season at camp was over, there were only a few of us left and this girl who I didn’t know too well was living there and she invited me to come over and so I went. When I got there she was on the phone and kept telling me she would be off soon and kept talking and I was just soaking up the surroundings, instantly struck with an affinity for the house, the adorable way the curtains hung on the windows, reminding me of some old camping trip or something. While I waited for her to get off the phone, I had a little notebook w/me and I took it out and wrote a poem about the house. If there is love at first sight, well maybe it felt a little like that. I am a place-lover anyway.

So all that to say, it’s been years since I spent any extended time there, until a few weeks ago. I still don’t know quite how it happened. I was planning on going to Orcas for the holidays, but was having some struggles arranging it, knowing where to stay, how to get there, and somehow it all fell into place. I took the train to Seattle, met with my buddy and writer friend/mentor Janet who drove to the islands, and some friends who are at camp this winter suggested staying in the dispensary. So I did.

It was blissful. In my heart of hearts it was exactly, EXACTLY what I wanted out of my winter vacation. It was like my own private writing retreat, and I desperately needed something to get me started. Something felt so comfortable there. I sat on the couch where I once read Mists of Avalon for a month, and wrote for three days. I slept in my old room, in my old bed and just tried to soak up every moment of being there. It looks a lot different, with different people’s stuff there. In the summer, the house is the “health hut” so there were all these doctorly things in there, which just rocked my world of course, lol. In my bathroom there were all these anatomy charts on the walls. It was perfect.

My first night there, I got in late at night, dropped my stuff off and immediately walked by the ocean. I have missed the ocean. I have missed that stretch of ocean, even during all the years living on Orcas but off of camp, I have missed it. I have missed walking it alone. It had been probably close to five years since the last time I did that. It was weird. I used to do it all the time. I used to know all the trees and major logs and rocks. I used to walk there all the time. That got me through the early winter of 2004, which was my first winter on Orcas, and really hard, and really, really rewarding. I had so many insights and realizations and aha moments walking that shore. I walked in when I was sad, when I was working things out in my own mind, when I was caught up in grief, when I was inspired, when I was happy, and mostly when I was most deeply, really me. That shore, with its cold, softer Puget Sound waves, its inky dark water, its curved shoreline shape, its distant, unreal horizon, its other islands, its sky, became like a real, good, true friend to me and I loved it unequivocally. And knew it. There are so many experiences I could recount that took place there, like the time I went skinny-dipping in the middle of February and how gorgeously cold the water was, but most of the experiences were more internal, personally meaningful, subtle and intangible but palpable.

So it was weird to be back. Really weird. Disconcertingly weird at first. It made me think of that phrase, “you can’t step in the same river twice.” It was beautiful and somber as always. It was the same. I wasn’t. I felt so viscerally the difference between me visiting and walking this ocean now from me who had walked and loved that ocean years ago. I don’t know if this makes any sense, or even what it means, but the main feeling I got (aside from being a visitor now, rather than a regular part of that landscape as I felt before), was that I felt taller.

What? I don’t know what that means. My actual height hasn’t changed. If I felt heavier or bigger it would make at least some sense, but I just kept getting this unshakable feeling that I was taller than the last time I’d been there, alone, at night. It was such a strong, distinct and precise feeling, so unmistakable, but also so not actually true in reality. So I thought it might be symbolic, but of what? I don’t know. I do think it meant something though.

I also felt like I couldn’t re-enter that old self that used to walk that sea. Sometimes, I sort of do this thing, if I’m really hit w/nostalgia, where I can almost re-enter an older time. The almost part is painful, like it’s just within my grasp, so almost there, but always not quite, just almost. In this state I can conjure up the old feelings like body memories and capture a sense or a “feeling” about the older time, something I never would have quite felt when I was in it because it’s a sense or feeling colored in by memory. It’s hard to explain. But I couldn’t do it. I was so not the same person as I once was.

The distance felt so undeniable, an inarguable fact. I felt the distance and I felt like I was somehow more detached, more cynical maybe, though that doesn’t quite describe it. Distant is really the word. The tide was out and I climbed up a huge rock that I always used to sit on. I sat there for awhile, thinking about what happened between back then and then. It made me feel sad, and I felt like I should have felt more profoundly sad, and on some level I did, but it felt like things were only getting to that level, and not to anything deeper.

It just got me contemplating, and thinking about how I haven’t been writing much, for years. Not really. Not the way I used to. Not anything other than blogs or journal entries. No poetry. No stories. No memoir. When I start, I write for a few days and then I turn away and just don’t want to go back to it. Something I’ve been sort of circling around for months now suddenly became crystallized.

I don’t write because I don’t want to feel.

And if I write, I will feel. And if I write, I will write about a particular situation and I don’t want to feel one sliver of it. I don’t. It was awful. I was in a horrible relationship – that is not to say the guy was horrible, I want to make that clear, and I was no saint either, not by far – but somehow the mixture of the two of us was destructive, to me anyway, in ways I couldn’t see until after he left. What kills me, the part I have the hardest time with, is my part in it all, the fact that I betrayed myself. I betrayed myself every day, day in and day out, every day we lived together. I did it so much it became invisible and I stopped even seeing it. For whatever reason, of all the things that happened, THAT is the part I have trouble accepting and facing, that betrayal of self. I shut my mouth about what I thought. I didn’t say anything when he would make these outrageously sexist comments that seriously offended me. I didn’t say anything when he ridiculed things I believed in politically, I just stopped saying them, or pretended to agree, to keep the peace. And then there were the things that were actually directed at me, that I still would never want to say b/c I feel so awful that I didn’t say anything. And those are just the surface-y things. It went so much deeper. I wasn’t myself. I wasn’t free to be myself. I’ve gone through a lot in my life, a lot of horrible shit in one way or another, and always I felt like there was some intrinsic, spiritual core inside me that survived, that sometimes was even enriched and deepened by loss in the right context, an inner guide of sort of led me through, and when things got really awful I would often have calming or sacred or healing experiences around nature. It always felt like that part of me didn’t survive that relationship. Maybe because I suppressed it and abandoned it at every turn. I’ve felt really lost. Really afraid to feel. Ever since. It’s been awhile now. I don’t want to keep feeling that way.

And, sitting on that rock, I realized that continuing to not write is, in a way, just a continued betrayal. There are a million reasons not to write, but that, and the fact that it could be hard doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do it. All I know is, I feel like that story is inside me, screaming, clamoring louder and louder every day to be let out, to be put on paper so it can be real, so I can look at it and maybe see things I never saw, so I can write into truth that goes beyond what I consciously know, because that’s what happens when I write, other ways of knowing surface, some sort of healing alchemy stirs into motion. And I always feel better after. Not always during writing difficult things, but I always feel better after. And a lot of times it’s funny. I mean what can you do sometimes when things are really, really dark, how can you face that darkness without a way to laugh? So a lot of times it ends up funny in ways that surprise me, dark ways, ironic ways, funny ways that aren’t really funny, not really because they’re heartbreaking, but they’re also funny. And laughter, like crying, is release. But most of all, when I’m writing, I am really, distinctly myself with all my complexities and not the face I put on for anyone else, or the self I put on in this shitty situation, but wholly myself. And it is terrifying! But also rewarding. So I decided for 2010 I am going to write. I am carving out the time. I don’t know where it will take me, and I am really just writing for myself, longhand, but the point is, I am writing. At the moment I’m writing about writing, but still.

As I got off that rock and walked the sea back to the dock, I started thinking about an experience I had when I was living in the dispensary. One morning I woke up really early, just around dawn, and it was one of the most glorious mornings ever. I was in the middle of Mists of Avalon (which I will tell anyone, is a great book to read in winter, it just is). I was at this part where Morgaine, the main character who was trained as a priestess in goddess worship, who has sort of left behind her training to live in the world. Then, much later, at the point where I was reading that morning, she was reconnecting with her roots, rediscovering ley lines and the old ways. Something about the feeling and that morning was so infectious and filled me with this magical feeling like I too was waking up to something. It was winter, right before solstice, but there were some brilliant sunrise colors. I went on a walk through the woods to a place called Chapel Rock in the early light and just felt so inspired and connected to the natural world and like I was coming undone and blossoming inside myself.

Awhile later, when I left camp the first time and stopped living there, I was pretty heartbroken to leave. I feel like people never fully understand this because people are so used to loving people (which of course I do too) but I loved that land. Leaving felt like tearing a part of my heart out. I had never had a relationship with land quite like that and it really, really broke my heart to leave. I had my reasons, and I think they were good and wise, but really, really difficult. I was in mourning in the days leading up to my departure. And I remember my last day of work that time around, being there in the morning, and being really caught up in the mourning, thinking of all the things I was leaving, remembering fall mornings washing the lodge windows and seeing the brilliant colors of the trees, revisiting a tree I had once leaned on in a time of great sorrow, knowing my life wouldn’t be quite the same after I left. And it wasn’t. I always missed living there in fall and winter with a yearning that could cut through me, and years later, I still sometimes do. I was afraid I wouldn’t be my true, in touch, soul-satisfied and whole self that I was while living there.

And I remember thinking that morning, as the hours slipped away, time feeling so unreal, that maybe it would be okay. Maybe we have to lose ourselves or just lose sometimes, so that we can have a morning of awakening like the one I’d had that winter morning, reading about Morgaine’s. I even wrote something about it, because years ago, I wrote about that day. Let me go find it.

I’m a little worried still that I might just be numb, but then I think again, so what? Maybe it’s not so bad that we lose ourselves now and again, just so we can experience awakening. Maybe I will indeed have another day like that one in winter when I woke up so early with Mists of Avalon and couldn’t even contain my yearning for life in the wild early hours, when I felt acute and alive like the most divine lust. It’s never a straight path, there are so many spirals and levels that i’m sure there will be more euphoria mornings.

Okay, I must say, reading this years later, I am embarrassed by that last line, b/c it’s a reference to Chris Cornell and it’s kind of corny, and he sucks so bad now, but the words are perfect for the feeling.

So anyway, a few weeks ago, on the solstice and at night, walking back along the ocean, I was thinking kind of similar thoughts. Maybe it’s okay if parts of us go underground for awhile. Maybe we need that for survival, even if it’s surviving something that shouldn’t be the way it is, something that needs to be changed. Survival always comes first. Sometimes those parts go underground because we need to live in the world, like Morgaine, and maybe that’s okay because there is eventually if we allow it, the joy of rediscovery, awakening, coming home to ourselves. And it’s somehow richer because there’s some mettle behind it, if that makes sense. There’s wisdom. There’s life lived. Morgaine would have been pretty boring to read about if she had just stayed on Avalon, never joining the struggles of the world and living a human life.

It felt like that is what my journey to Orcas for the holidays was about. It was an inkling. It wasn’t as vibrant or as innocent as the morning years ago, but it was a glimpse of how to dig up the buried parts, and for me, it’s always primarily through writing and nature. So I’m writing.

I spent the next few days walking around, writing, soaking up the feeling of the dispensary, trying not to forget that thawing out and coming home may not be easy, but they are worth it. And now I’m back home in my new home, and I’m still writing. So, that’s something. I guess I got what I wanted for the holidays, and I think I’d take this more difficult gift which might require some wrestling with over anything I could find in a store, any day, and especially in winter.

Speaking of, the lyric I used to title this blog is from a song that Tori does on “Midwinter Graces.” And what shocked me is when I came home and had my own little holiday thing in my apartment, drinking hot chocolate and watching (yes, here we go again) the Christmas episode of Grey’s (and I love, love, love, love it, one of my all-time favorite episodes, it’s sooooo good) and another version of this same song was on there! Love it.

Currently Listening:
“Abnormally Attracted to Sin” – Tori Amos

Impeccable peccadillo
You are off your guard
Pussy will calls there by the church
“don’t go in if you are
abnormally attracted to sin”
Abnormally attracted to sin

She may be dead to you
But her hips sway a natural kind of faith
That could give your lost heart
A warm chapel
You’ll sleep in her bell tower
And you will simply wake
Abnormally attracted to sin
Abnormally attracted to sin

Impeccable peccadillo
I know who you are
Tales of longing sway
Lost without a verse
Hymns of swing lay low
there by the church
“don’t go in if you are
abnormally attracted to sin”
Abnormally attracted to sin

She may be dead to you
Kind of faith that could give
Attracted to sin
To sin
To sin

6 thoughts on “"All in the Cold Midwinter and at the Midnight Hour"

  1. Wow, can I just tell you that I have missed your writing? Reading this blog made me realize this. It is a beautiful blog, you allowed me to take that ride with you. Thank you!

  2. Thank you Leo, I majorly needed that so I appreciate it. You know I write things, and I feel pretty much fine writing them, and then the moment they can be read by anyone else I start flipping out thinking, "Fuck, why did I say x, y or z? FUCK." So, yeah, thanks!


  3. You write so you will feel. Pretty huge revelation. I;ve missed your writing. Happy New Year, brave one.And I love the new digs – they match your hair! Peace, Linda

  4. Thanks Linda!

    The pink is finally almost all faded, but the truth is that I miss it. Whatever they use in India in their dyes stays a lot longer than any cool color dye I've tried here in the U.S. Rumors are the dye had lead in it.

    Always love seeing you here! I want in on your Friday thing, btw. It's just so cool! I did a little reading and found it is supposed to be for fiction writers, which only makes me want to join more – there is something in me that just always wants to break the rules!I also want to say, I wrote a poem the other night. It was pretty terrible, but it was the first one I wrote in years.


  5. Pingback: The Artist’s Way Reflections – The Basic Tools: Morning Pages | April Julia

  6. Pingback: “Please, Picture Me, In the Trees” | April Julia

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