Archive for October, 2010

10/27 – salt lake city

I am not a car. I am a human being. This i want to yell. I yearn for a place that is geared towards people rather than cars. I yearn for a place that is built on a human scale. At times i wonder if cars have become a species that is taking over, like in many a sci-fi film for it seems that in America the landscape is geared towards them. What i am writing is nothing new, not even to me, but i can ignore this feeling no more. I have wandered north america, and the usa for too long, and the landscape makes me sad. all too often it hurts to walk, the body is fine, but the soul screams out and feels overwhelmed. there is no where i want to go. I am a person in a land built for cars.

I feel this more intensely here, in a city designed for the car, but it is something that has haunted me for many a year – in so many places around the continent. Why not just learn to drive again and somehow buy a car – you ask. Perhaps i could, and i am just being stubborn and refusing to accept the society we have created. Maybe i am, but i feel that something has been lost, something that must be reclaimed – somehow. But how?

At times i have been yearning for Central America or Mexico – the lands where i was last winter, the lands where public transit and public space looms large. A place where you could almost always find some sort of transportation – from a deluxe bus that puts greyhound to shame, to a chicken bus – the school buses of my youth, to the back of a truck, where in the cities buses, collectivos (communal taxis) and in guatemala tuk-tuk (three wheeled motorized taxis) could take you anywhere. Though it is not just the transportation, it is that despite the crazy traffic, many places are still built to human scale (though the big cities are the sprawls of the car). They are designed for walking though the sidewalks are narrow and uneven and suddenly disappear, and the cars zoom through and do not stop and park anywhere. The Cars are part of the equation, but they are not it. People still walk as a means to get around, and for fun. A pedestrian is not an anomaly. Still, the danger looms, making it less safe to walk around.

I am in a city where in many areas it hurts to walk. the neighborhood where i stay is older, one of the first, and is built to a human scale with narrower streets with sidewalks separated by a median of grass and trees, but once i leave i am faced with the wide boulevards full of cars. And even in this area you see few people on the street, and i think that is it.

Public transit in this city is fairly good, with buses passing in many areas every 15 minutes to half an hour. The trax light rail train runs more often and the system is being expanded, as is the front runner train to link the communities to the south. But once you get off, there is little around. The trax to the south is built upon old railway tracks, and stops at park’n’rides with little else around; buses run to and fro but it is a wasteland to the eyes.

In town the blocks are long and the streets are wide – sidewalks exist separated from the street, but few walk along – only those like myself, the poor, the young, the homeless, and the occasional other person. While walking is possible on the main streets, you are overwhelmed by the cars – they are not to human scale. you must push a button to work the pedestrian crossing light (yes it exists) and if you come as the street light changes, you must wait an entire round. The effort is made but you become overwhelmed, and feel visible and exposed as a pedestrian.

The problem is lack of the public sphere – few people walk here and the only ones in parks are the homeless or barely housed so it seems. Yes people are busy and days are getting short, but lunch breaks, and after work – at home alone or with a few others in private space in front of the tv.

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The storm was amazing. it blew in in the middle of the night waking me up with hail pounding down on the window panes and wind howling through the trees. Lightening flashed into the darkened room, and just a few times thunder crashed in the distance. The energy was intense and the change rippled through my body. i had to get up and go outside to watch it, but by then the sheer intensity had passed. Still i watched from my sheltered cove to the sky light up over the flat rooftop.

It made me glad that i was inside, sheltered from the elements, A guy walked into the courtyard, soaking wet, looking for a place to sleep. I had spend most of the day curled up in bed for it was one of those grey rainy fall days where you want to crawl within. And i slept and only ventured out a bit when the rain turned to drizzle and the air was fresh and the leaves were brilliant both on the trees and now collecting on the ground. I had felt so cut off from nature this entire past week, but today’s rain and tonight’s storm reminded me why we want to protect ourselves and i was thankful i was not stuck outside. Even so, i had to get outside to experience it’s glory, a glory in name as i knew i could run back in. the wind still howls and there is light inside.

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I feel disengaged from this place and that is an action i have taken. or is it the result of actions not taken? This feeling of lifelessness is so familiar and remembered and i wonder just how much of it has to do with the place. I begin to think it has little to do with this specific place per se, for the feeling is more a result of disconnection than of anything else – of life not flowing, of it being stuck in a puddle or a large shallow lake. It is more the zone that i am in that drags me down – the zone of disconnection.

That zone is lifeless and bland where little energy flows in or out, and it is the zone where i have felt that i am supposed to be according to the designs of others and society. It is a zone without passions or strong feelings in any direction, a zone of getting through day-to-day, of going through the motions, of survival and of not truly living. It is a zone where i do not feel quite alive. i wander around without a destination; my eyes are clouded and i do not see; my ears hear little, my senses dull and my body becomes heavy to me. it has been a while (so i believe) since i have had this sinking feeling, and i know it often happens in the fall. The days are getting shorter and all around is preparing for winter – the trees will soon drop their leaves, and all turns within, slowing and shutting down, crawling inside. The harvest will soon be done, the harvest of the food and of the experiences that were set out to grow in spring.

And we crawl inside – i crawl inside – disconnected from that which is around. but it is not just the time of year. i am in a city, a leafy one yes, but still i feel cut off from nature. I see the full moon glowing above the mountains that surround, above the buildings, and i know it still affects us all, but i feel disconnected from its powers and the mountains appear as but distant scenery. i sit inside and am shut off, and yes protected to an extent, from that which is outside the walls. I sit in front of the computer and that becomes my world. i crawl into myself and the thoughts become it, and i become disconnected from my body once again.

I know what i feel is the energy of disconnection, an energy, which like all other energetic forms, feeds upon itself and grows. I see little around which calls for my engagement which fuels that sense of standing outside, but because i feel lifeless and apart, i see little to connect with. As i seek to engage with the energies of a place, that renders me lifeless, and i feel caught in a downward spiral for i do feel the energies strongly, and that which i feel is disconnection.

I wonder how much of this i brought on myself – both in terms of the ego self and that of the soul self. I was more engaged my first days here – down at temple square – visiting the centres, watching the films, seeing the buildings, talking with few of the sisters – learning about mormon history and beliefs. some of what i saw intrigued, and some felt sad, and i have not finished writing about the energies there – the gradual change from the seeking and building zion to the city and culture that now is but i felt alive. I also felt pain and confusion inside, and thus pulled away and disengaged. And before i came, i thought maybe i would stay, but as i looked i saw nothing in mainstream american life that called – the materialism and sprawl – i felt it strong, and when i thought of joining in i felt empty and my heart sunk and i was disconnected from all that and did not wish to connect. like the air i found it hard to breathe in when i first was here, so i started breathing more shallowly, shallow like the lake.

But often when if has been time to stop, i feel my heart a sinking – for i know that what i feel that i am “supposed to do” feeds it not at all, but rather than listen to what calls, i pull away and it sinks some more, and i wander lost once again. But how to engage i ask myself, for what calls is so far away. The sprawl that i see, the cars and stores, drain me and i feel that voice saying just give up, join in, do empty work that harms and feeds the cycle, consume distractions in order to fill that empty space that yearns – for something. And then i wonder, is that not what i do anyways. But i yearn for something positive to connect to.

I still can see the beauty of some of this place – like when i went up to a park and looked down at the green valley below and the mountains that surround, of when i walk the neighbourhoods of older victorian homes and trees that are starting to turn – leaves becoming orange and yellow, but what i realize is that they are but pleasant scenery for me. They are nice to walk by, and i appreciate them, but they are not what calls.

I engaged for a few days at the Family History library, doing research on my paternal side. For two days i sat there looking at census records and other documents and was in an active curious zone, I took a break and a burrito cart on the corner near the symphony, and smiled as i ate it one the grass by the fountain where the construction workers with orange vests took their breaks. I went across the street and into temple square and sat by the small fountain crowned by seagull, the state bird, and a bird i love. For a few days i felt alive, on a quest, and while engaged with an activity rather than a place.
The place caught up with me, i was sitting inside in front of a screen all day, and my body began to slump. And i wanted to connect, feel part of something larger than me and saw that was what i was doing – looking for connections back in time, but so many unanswered questions, and no connection with anyone alive that i know beyond my father, was i grappling for something that did not exist. And i knew that i was grappling for that sense of connection that eludes me so. And for a bit i felt engaged, in the moment, see now that sense of connection i had been seeking was what i was looking for. To be connected to something larger than myself and to be a part of the living world. And seeing those names upon the screen eventually led me to feel alone once again, for that is what they are to me, but name on a screen – i know that there is more there but in the end it brought back the feeling of being cut off. And in their culture, which focuses on the family, that sadness at the brokenness of my own hurts me more.

I started this yesterday, and then let it be, for it brought out a sadness in me, so i engaged in something else and disconnected from this. I will put it out and be done with it, for that sense of alienation has returned to me. that sense of alienation from society, and of not having a place to be, a place to life full and not merely survive. But in writing about that i feed the energy, and it is time to put it aside for a while. I did today, and became engaged with theories of place, but i ask myself why am i here, not merely in this city or on this couch, but on this planet earth? For i know there is a reason, there is for each of us, but i only wish i knew what my purpose was. This disconnection is also with the source, and i need to reconnect somehow. But i think it is speaking in this jumble in my mind, this jumble that is even less clearly written than this entry itself.

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The Avenues

I sit out in the back parking lot having my morning coffee and cigarette. I look across the street and the leaves are turning even more – yellows and oranges abound and contrast the green that remains. Clouds cover the sky bringing out the brightness of the colours even more. Across the street is one of the many victorian homes that grace the neighborhood – standing graceful and elegant – connected and lived in. I am thankful for this area where i am. I walk these streets every day, taking a different route on my way to elsewhere, often remembering to pause and appreciate it. At times i wish to stay here, within the boundaries of the neighborhood with two lane streets, pretty homes, and trees. The avenues on the border are grand with the governors mansion, old historic churches, the masons hall with the sphinxes out front, and much more grand architecture that uplifts the spirit. but then i make my way out to the beyond, the beyond of busy multilane streets, newer buildings, stores, and more, and my mood sinks. And i ask why do i go beyond?

In the avenues i walk each day for that is where i stay. And each day i make a discovery – a new street, a park, a cemetery with views over the city, a little store on the corner. I feel brighter than i do in the newer sprawl, but still not quite fully alive. I rejoice in the beauty of the neighborhood, but only for a while then i feel empty again. I feel distant and apart from that which is around. it is uplifting, and reminds me of other neighborhoods which i have walked through in Toronto and elsewhere – older, built with care and lived in, but here the separation is greater.

I ask myself why the distance? Why the feeling of separation? It is because although i stay here, it is not where i live, and this is a residential neighborhood. It is a place of homes, a place where families (and some couples and singles) build their lives, where they come at the end of the day. it is their place of rootedness in life. I admire what others have built and what others care for and do not engage myself. I walk the streets, but do not join in. Much was built long ago, and it is that which is more historical that calls to me – there is something richer and deeper in those buildings, than many of the colder buildings of more recent years. They feel that they were built for living rather than merely for profit as many new developments are. There is life within the walls, but it is a life that i do not join. And here i stay in a hostel which is in what was one of the few bland concrete brick two story apartment buildings around – a building that stands out and does not blend into its surroundings. it is not the place but the way we relate with it that determines its energetic influence on us.

I appreciate these places, and they lift my spirits to an extent. But i am merely a visitor here – a wanderer – and these are not places of wandering. These are places of stability and rootedness, and of creation and maintenance of what is. I am so often drawn to these older neighborhoods but there is also something that makes me walk away. Is it because i have not joined in the lifestyle they call forth? Is is because i wish to join but believe i cannot? is it because that life is not for me?

The avenues is beautiful, but it is also one of the more desirable, and thus, expensive places, and has become a place of those who are more established with money to be had – not the vast riches of exclusive areas, but of comfort and not scraping by. And i ask myself, if i tried to stay in these places would i feel alive or would something inside me slowly die? Each place calls up an activity (or a few) and means of engagement and ways of being – and is what is called up here really for me? Would i connect with the other life forms (people) around? what other activities would become necessary to stay in the place? The trees have strong roots, but i wonder if i would shrivel away?

I appreciate the place and walk some more knowing that my engagement here is that of thanks for what has been created. I remember to focus on that and feed that energy, and not that of the alienation that i often feel. I am thankful for what has been created here.

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how at home are you in the unknown? how good are you at getting lost? at being lost? or just misplaced? do you panic and want to be back where you were or on the road to where you thought your were supposed to go? are you comfortable there?- do you know how to survive? do you go back or turn forward? do you panic? do you ask for help? do you know how to signal distress? do you leave clues? when you are in that unknown zone do you explore and look around or do you grasp on to the shredding strings of familiarity that remain? do you leave the door open for the unknown to come in? do you seek it out? do you have faith that you will be found?

I read somewhere that explorers were always lost because they never knew exactly where they were – they did not expect to. never to get lost is never to live – to learn how to be lost. “never until we are completely lost or turned around do we appreciate the vastness and strangeness of nature. not until we have lost the world do we find ourselves”

i got slightly lost today and ended up in a panic. I was not lost, but misplaced and could not find the street where i wanted to go. I became anxious and jittery in my quest, focused on only the misplaced destination, focused on where i was to go. I had taken a slightly different route through a neighborhood that i knew, and lost sight of the landmarks that were around. In that walk i became blinded to all that was around. I got my bearings, coming out on divisidaro a block from where i wanted to be.

Once i got there, i regretted my panic, and knew i had missed much of what was on the way. An opportunity perhaps? Later i ventured out, onto a new street for me and had to ask when was last time i really experienced or saw anything new? up on tolumne meadows where i panicked as well, into zone of new – and going east of crescent city to a place i had never been, and where i turned back from. And how often have i avoided going out to the unknown? I found myself back in a familiar zone and asked why i had returned. and it was there i felt most lost of all.

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I watch a squirrel eat an acorn – or some other nut, stashed away in it’s mouth. He seems calm, unaware of my presence, doing what we imagine a squirrel to do – collecting nuts, scampering beneath or in the trees, being a squirrel. After all this is nature here – or is it? I came from the campground where the squirrels seem to be a different breed – aggressive, knowing, seeking out us humans – or rather our food. They climb on picnic tables the minute you turn your back, scamper under your feet, try to get into the food lockers and your tents – not eating “squirrel food” or behaving in the “proper” manner – away from their natural state. I go to the store in Curry Village, and a squirrel runs through looking as if he knows this place, comfortable in this environment as they are outside on the patio where people eat and inside the guest lounge. Another customer brings up an opened package, opened by a squirrel and the cashier sighs – a frequent occurrence. the squirrels do not have the concept of money – they live in the created environment but have not adapted to all the rules. they forage but do not buy. Even along the trails they know us, unzip a backpack and they appear out from underneath the stones, waiting for a handout or a chance to grab – for we have become providers to them in this dance of life.

Signs abound in the eating areas outside the restaurants – do not feed the animals or leave any food behind – be sure to bus your table for human food is not good for the animals – the salt (or is it sugar) fat and preservatives are not good for their digestive systems – and it begs the question, if it is not good for them, is it good for us? And we no longer eat or live in a “natural” way – by and large we do not grow, hunt or forage our food. in fact what we eat is not often food, but stuff from a store or a restaurant, made for us. Why should we condemn the squirrels for acting in a similar way, for adapting to the conditions we the dominant animal has set up. is it because they do not obey our rules?

But in Yosemite we do not think of the squirrels but the bears – the bears who seek out our food. The bears that we must defend against. Do not store your food outside. Bear boxes everywhere, bear proof garbage cans and recycling bins. The warning signs and photos and fines should you break the rules. they come to the campgrounds at night and know how to break into cars – not only directed by their sense of smell but sight – they can recognize a grocery bag and a cooler. they learn the environment – teach the young to break into tents, cars even homes when left alone. A different breed. but can we blame them?, can they live in the wild? Once upon a time they fed at garbage dumps, entertainment for the people who watched, but then we decided it was wrong. we give and then take away.

You see the cars with cardboard covering windows and bent out doors. you see the signs everywhere not to leave your food. But we come in to their territory altering the terrain but also bringing gifts of food, we take and give – maybe that is what they believe. We have created the environment and adapted in our own ways. How can we expect other species not to do the same? We come to the valley for out dose of nature, and while it is wild it is also human made, and we do not revert to an unblemished natural state, and neither do those who live in that created environment. After all, could it really be otherwise?

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Containers – i seem to be obsessed with that these days. I have recently gone from one valley to another, valleys that lead me to look inside, valleys that hold the energy that is there to a greater degree than open areas where all flows through more easily. And once upon a time i longed for valleys, to be held and nurtured by mountain walls – they seemed like a safe womb and i wanted to crawl inside. i remember distinctly sitting on the beach in vancouver and looking north to howe sound, wanting to be held by the mountains there.
At times i have felt like a caterpillar in a cocoon. not quite ready to fly out and leave. am i attracted to these valleys because i am self centred and focused or because i need to nurture what is within?

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