Opening to the Universe, part 1

I owe you all a post or three from my recent travels in the Golden State. So here’s just one of the many highlights.

Josephine, my dear friend and east-to-west migrant got tickets for a planetarium show, and I thought, “Cool! I haven’t been to a Planetarium for decades!” I had no idea just how cool this would get.

The Kepler StoryThis show wasn’t JUST a planetarium show, it was The Kepler Story, written by Nina Wise and produced in incredible dome-surround audio-visual amazing magic at the California Academy of Sciences Planetarium. And if you are in or near the Bay Area, run don’t walk to get a ticket, it’s an awe-inducing experience.

The show consists of actor Norbert Weisser playing Kepler as he copes with the waves of change in his amazing life, against the backdrop of the universe, projected on the dome, plus an inspiring original score. It’s the first collaboration of planetarium in-the-round projection and live theater, and it’s intense, emotional and uplifting. The performance aspect is beautiful minimal stagecraft and a powerful solo performance, set against astonishing visuals that range from interiors of great architecture to Kepler’s mathematical imagination to the universe itself.

Nina Wise
Author & Director Nina Wise

Kepler’s personal story is fascinating and pivotal. He lived in the time of Galileo, defied the Roman church, a significant patron of math and science funding at the time and suffered the consequences. His mother was accused of witchcraft in retaliation for Kepler’s intellectual intransigence. He was working with the emerging yet still heretical idea of orbiting the sun, and his lasting legacy is the discovery that orbits are not circular but elliptical — a building block in the theories of gravity and relativity.

Kepler pursued his work with passion, intelligence and faith: not, perhaps the sort that his employers wished, but clearly a great faith in the beauty and harmony of the universe, as well as the god-given power of the human mind to comprehend it.

Coming Soon: Part 2: Opening the Gates of Awareness

from the road: LAX to Ventura

June 26-

Are you lost in paradise my love, or have you found a home?  ROO PANES — INDIGO HOME

I could wander the planet following the bloodhound nose of my curiosity, and seemingly never tire of the lure of what’s just around the bend.

So many ideas I thought were a fixed part of me have been falling away. It starts with little things, opinions in examined for years, like “I won’t like LA.” Surprise! I kinda do! “I’m a water person, I could never live in the desert.” Wrong: I adore the arid zones, they fill me with an effervescent excitement, I love the big spaces and seeing the bones of the earth laid bare.

So how am I to understand my own self going forward?


Astounding: after a nap, fitful at best, I raise the window shade and recognize the landscape we’re flying over! I am looking down on the Rio Grande river south of Albuquerque. The clouds are hyper- real, as if the distinction between them and dry air makes them tighter, shiny, iridescent. I see the blotches of malpais spreading out, and see the narrow green passages that bring water out of the hills.


I’d guess we’re over AZ  now. Earth peach then cream then rosy rust, freckled with sagebrush and scored with fine lines of roads. Ambly rivers mostly dry, wide dry washes, scoured places, the cross hatching of Mesa cliffs rising to their tabletops. There’s a river that looks to be milky sand white, shaded with green that fades quickly from the edges.

There’s a layer of yellowish mauve smog above us that was nowhere to be seen in April. Smog at over 30,000 feet – clearly that’s not from around here.

June 27 —

When I was a young teen I had a transistor radio, the boxy kind with a wrist strap, a 9v battery and only the AM signal. It was my constant companion, hanging from bike’s handlebars, saddle horn and nesting under my pillow at night. I was discovering all kinds of music, from R&B to folk to acid rock, and loving the journey.

In those years my radio station was CKLW out of Windsor Ontario, one of the old Clear Channel power stations. At night you could pick up those big stations hundreds, maybe thousands, of miles away. I heard CKLW in Connecticut one time, visiting a high school friend who moved away.

Now I have my iPhone in my hand or nearby, all my waking hours, and often it’s streaming internet radio. And there are still those magic times when sounds float out of the radio that make my senses thrill, a wild sense of joy and freedom arise, or a deep longing for something lost or never seen.

July 1 —

Beacon coffee, Ventura California. Dont miss the coffee here, seriously. yum.

The Manage the Manager conference ate my weekend, in the best possible way. The course wasn’t as good as I’d hoped, but the companionship, networking and socializing with amazing people was better than I could have dreamed.

Last night’s twilight drive up through The Valley was pretty stunning, these shades of violet steep hills backlit by a soft mauvey sky – I thought it was such a cliche image, but this am surfing for a similar scene and I can’t find it. I guess I should try a painting.

Today I head north up to the Santa Ynez wine country and on to Pismo Beach for the night. I booked my hotel there because I needed to sleep where I could hear the Pacific, and it cost me pretty dearly. So last night in a chain motel, just crashing along the road, there is a ‘theme’ on the TV with wave sounds and an animated  ocean and moon. The video was too bright, but the wave sounds were just what I needed. In theory I resent the synthetic ocean, but it was really excellent sleep, so what’s to complain about? I’ll compare to the Real Thing tonight.

By chatting with my host the coffee roaster I learn that from Ojai to Ventura is the setting for the award winning film There Will Be Blood,  directed by Paul Thomas Anderson with music by Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead. (The score really boosts  the intensity of this film, which is not about nice guys. Fair warning!) It sets the tale in the era of oil discovery in California.  I highly recommend the film for a glimpse of our industrial history, as well as its cinematic quality.

Floating in the Garden

fig treeMulberry and fig trees, heavy with shade and fruit, hung over the luminous turquoise pools as liquid light wrote sinuous patterns on the pool floor, the water and the bodies within. It was meditative bliss to float in the Warm Pool at  Harbin Hot Springs.

Harbin is a ‘take the waters’ resort in the hills north of Middletown, CA. You can find it by driving North through the Napa Valley, through the beautiful vineyard vistas and small towns north of the Bay Area.

What a beautiful place! in the apex of an increasingly steep valley the mountain gives forth her waters in a cool spring, a mineral spring and a very hot hot spring. There are a variety of pools from 113ºF/45ºC to the cold plunge at barely 60ºF/16ºC, with a full size lap pool that’s comfortably cool and a warm pool for silent soaking that’s big enough for dozens to share. There is an elven quality to the place, with lovely metalwork, tile, stone, gardens. There are cottages, dorm rooms, cabins and lodges as well as a campground. When you’re not soaking you can dance in the temple, stroll in the labyrinth, read in the library, snack in the cafe . And the dining hall serves delicious vegetarian food with a few fish & chicken options as well.

For Harbin pictures I refer you to their lovely web site, for the pools are clothing-optional and few opt for clothed bathing. There is a no-camera policy that forbids phones, iPads & iPods and computers in most areas of the resort, thankfully.  Really unplugging from technology is but a pleasant side effect. Harbin offers in impressive palette of bodywork with world class therapists, everything from reflexology to scalp massage, deep tissue and lymphatic massage to Watsu, a waterbourne treatment in addition to all its other restful qualities.

I’ve enjoyed naked swimming before in different settings. There is always a code: Growing up in Michigan skinny dipping always took place at night, since our cottages were crowded together at the river. At the Ithaca reservoir swimming itself was forbidden, so why not dispense with attire? Suited swimmers were greeted with suspicion.

Harbin Hot Springs takes great care to preserve the healing and peaceful experience, with three of the pools  dedicated to meditative and sacred space,  silence requested. It’s against the rules to proposition someone, so it’s not a cruising spot.

But I will say, as an artist, the people-watching is amazing. So many sizes, colors and ages, I wished for a painter’s day, when bathers would give permission to become inspiration for artwork. How I wanted to sketch and paint those figures in repose, surrounded by the Edenic beauty!

Was I self-conscious about stripping? A bit, at first. I was with friends whom I don’t often see, and hanging out naked with them brought us closer, faster. The trickiest part for me was shopping for spa-wear: what to wear when you’re not wearing anything! Sounds silly, but the linen big shirt I draped myself with, and the sarong I purchased, had to be just right.

In daily life I often feel like an outsider because I’m quite fat. At Harbin I experienced being a body amongst bodies, a goddess amongst gods and goddesses, connected and human, as if our differences, instead of being revealed had been shed like skin. We were in the garden, eating from the trees of life, and we did not notice our nakedness at all, except to feel that it was right and good. So mote it be.


The Bay Area is Amazing

What more can I say? After our long journey across America in all its splendor, California’s Bay Area hardly disappoints. Jose’s new home is in Pleasant Hill, a dense suburb with rapid transit and all the comforts of American excess. The neighborhoods are more compact, the homes smaller than I’d expect with this level of affluence, and that’s grounding. It is a pleasant and convenient place.

Last night we drove in to the Oakland hills to visit friends. The route took us through and under some of those spectacular steep grassy hills that look like golden suede, or the hide of a Sharpei. Popping out on the western side, there is The Bay, shimmering like a mirror. Said friends have a complete urban farm that runs on solar power and collected rain water. On a small lot they grow fruits, veggies, flowers and herbs. I’m enjoying one of their luscious lemons in my water.

Today I got to visit the Siddha Yoga Ashram in Oakland for a lovely lunch in their cafeteria, a browse in the bookstore. We peered into the large auditorium, dim and scented with years of devotion, then meditated in the temple, a tented garden where the flowering vines are working their way in, as if to receive blessings. What a beautiful place. Not just the surroundings but the pervasive aura, calm and loving.

Golden Gate Bridge

After the Ashram we set sail for the Marin Headlands, which took us on a magical tour over the Bay Bridge(s), across the Embarcadero, through some neighborhoods and onto the Golden Gate Bridge. I remembered how the first time I saw it I gasped “It’s RED!” I had assumed the bridge itself was golden.

San Francisco Bay

The topography of the Marin Headlands is mind boggling. Climbing up above the GGB gave me serious vertigo – the sensation that I was going to fall down, down, down.

I’ll leave the rest to pictures, and Josephine.

Friday evening, May 3rd

We’ve now been in Pleasant Hill terra firma for just a little over 48 hours. I oscillate between open-hearted wonder of being here, gratitude for sleeping in the same bed — for two nights now! —  and a certain anomie. I am not altogether rootless, and yet, it will take time to grow those roots that makes this home. So when I’m experiencing that not-here-yet, I have my free-floating fearful moments. They pass. They rerun, sometimes in dreams.

Today, open-hearted delight in taking Patrise to my beloved Siddha Yoga Ashram in Oakland for lunch, and after, a brief tour of the place. I was welcomed by Swami Siddhananda at the front desk, an old friend from years back. The very energy of the whole place welcomed me, as well as Patrise. I have arrived, I am home.
Our next destination was the Marin Headlands, where Patrise, Tango and I ritually touched the waters of the Left Coast. Connecting and grounding of another sort. After 10 days and 3,550 miles of patiently curling himself up in a small corner of the car, Tango –off leash — joyously galloped full speed up and down the beach, a bit shy of salt water, and ran and played with several other pups.
I have arrived. I am home. I will need to repeat that mantra more than once.
Tango and Patrise in the surf

We have completed our #coast2coast project. Touching the pacific, feeling its chill foam slosh around my legs, touching the salt to my lips, the mission is complete. The journey, however continues, with no less wonder.

Day 10: Welcome to California

A few days ago we were worried about crossing western NM and eastern AZ, and remarking on the desolate desert landscape. What the hell did I know, innocent Easterner? That was a trip through green pastures compared to today.

Leaving charming Williams, AZ after breakfast we rapidly descended from 7,600 ft to less than 400 at the Colorado River. The terrain changed and changed again, from tall pines to arid red rocks to scrub desert as we spiraled down out of the high land of the Colorado Plateau.

Looking at Needles, CA across Goose Lake, Havasu Wildlife Refuge, Topock, AZ

Seeing a watery wildlife refuge, we exited Route 40 just before the California line. Tango got to wallow in water from the Colorado that fills Goose Lake, a huge wetland surrounded by white sand desert. It was hot and windy, and a very strange place. Even a few dozen yards from the water and the landscape was unforgivingly harsh. Still, there was the scruffy town of Topock there, touting its recreational benefits.

After lunch we excitedly crossed into the Golden State and began climbing uphill again. Soon it was apparent that we were in a monumental desert world. The adjective ‘lunar’ worked its way into the conversation. Almost all the greenery disappeared and the colors grew muted. Some cactuses, a few small yuccas, tumbleweeds. And rocks, sand, wind.

Mountains were toothy and varied in color and form. Sometimes there was a totally black mountain. Later we saw more ‘malpais’ – recent lava erruptions of grainy black stone. There were no signs of life, no living things, no houses or power lines. For dozens of miles.

The Mohave Desert is over 25,000 square miles of daunting desert, stretching from Vegas into Arizona and California. It felt like the surface of Mars, only less colorful. It’s the first landscape where I couldn’t imagine surviving on my own. I like to think I am comfortable in the wilderness. But this environment was deeply hostile in my book, despite the long list of creatures who live there.

Jose and I have been on the road for over 3,200 miles and ten days. We’re tired, and so is our vehicle. Today, while watching the engine light and the temp gauge, one strap holding the bicycle broke, fortunately we caught it before it got completely loose. Later, in 30+ mph winds the cartop carrier began rattling ominously, so again we were on the hot, windy and dangerous highway fussing with straps and buckles to cinch it tighter.

After the blasted feeling of the Mohave, climbing up into the Tehachapi pass with all its windmills was exhilarating. But then the high winds had whipped the dust into a haze, and the sun was low. All those twirling pinwheels spinning on the mountainsides were mesmerizing.

After that, the rugged hills softened to a leathery tan, more green appeared and livestock to dine on it. Trees other than Joshua were a sight for sore eyes. And when we hit the first orchards in Caliente, it was like being in candy-land. The colors were so intense!

Here in north Bakersfield The air smells of flowers and manure, and its relatively humid. there are vineyards and orchards just outside of town, and they will line our route home tomorrow, the Garden Basket of the US.

Welcome to California, a huge, strange, rugged, lush state. What a first day!!

Thanks everyone for following along on this wacky adventure. There are many more tales to tell, and tomorrow, more miles to go. Stay tuned!