It was late July 2020 when I flew home to the United States, after two and a half long years away. Also, after two and a half short years. I merged into the rhythms of home smoothly, surprised at how easy it was to be back driving a car, cooking in a fully equipped kitchen and visiting familiar supermarkets and clothing stores, as if I were a round peg that finally landed in the round hole. For a while anyway.
First months spent in the pacific northwest, blueberry season!
Because life is like that. One minute you’re smooth sailing through time and maybe across continents, and the next you’re tumbling, a rolling stone with no direction, alone and feeling like a complete unknown, as the Bob Dylan songs goes. Or so it seemed. Because the family and friends I yearned to reunite with when I was in India didn’t ching-ching into place the way I imagined. Some are busy with school, work or some other project, one is in long term quarantine, and others are still a thousand miles away on the east coast. Nevertheless it has been great to finally enjoy non-virtual hugs and shared meals with family. But deeper down, when the newness ended, I was just me again; no one really, just a person supposedly writing a book and sometimes actually writing it, a drifter seeking anchor and meaning.
I’m now in Denver. I rented a room in a house with the intention of planting roots for awhile but already my mind drifts and I don’t plan to stay in this house long. Still, I like Denver. I have family here. And the high desert has its charms. Nothing gives me more joy than coming upon a community of prairie dogs foraging around their dens by the side of the road. Nor so much wonder as seeing the Rocky Mountains rise up off of the high flat plains, their majestic wild-ness providing a surreal backdrop to the deluge of box stores, office buildings and highways. The Rockie’s which stretch 3,000 miles (4,800 km) across five states and into Canada are the third largest mountain range in the world and each time I see them, which is often, I feel they are saying something to me, something like there are bigger and more beautiful truths in our midst and that things like jobs, cars and bank accounts are transitory, as much an illusion, and not an illusion, as the mountains themselves.
Back when I was staying with my mother in Highlands Ranch, just south of Denver, there was a dry creek bed a few minutes’ walk away. Lined with Plains Cottonwoods trees I took to climbing down into it and walking in the sandy bottom with my shoes off, enjoying the relative peace it offered and the white tailed rabbits loping along and slipping into the low brush. I started leaving a couple of hazelnuts on a fallen tree trunk for a small group of squirrels. After placing them on the tree I often sat down to watch them scampering up and down the trees, going about their business, not unlike the way I watch the humans denizens here go about their business, as if I am a different sort of creature that has entered an alien world.
As these strange covid-times go on and on, the squirrels and prairie dogs are a welcome diversion to what feels like a hard rain falling, as if the crooked highways and seven sad forests of another Bob Dylan song have leapt into our 3D world. Because despite being in familiar territory, in a country where I can navigate everything easily and without assistance, there is an emptiness to my months here, the social gatherings in coffee shops, theaters and homes replaced with masked humans, keeping apart, and speaking in muffled voices.
When I was at a particularly low moment my sister shared with me an apt quote by Pema Chödrön, a American Tibetan Buddhist teacher. Chödrön writes, “Things are always in transition. Nothing ever sums itself up in the way that we like to dream about. The off-center, in-between state is an ideal situation, because we don’t get caught and we can open our hearts and minds beyond limit.”
It’s so easy to “get caught,” to rail against the utter and at times complete lack of neat summings-up. Perhaps this is where the Rocky Mountains come in, the way they beckon one to see beyond the foothills, to where snow capped peaks unfurl for miles and miles, a veritable landscape of infinite possibility. Maybe that is why I shrug off the need to stay. In the blink of an eye I could be anywhere — here, there, nowhere. Like a great mountain range, each moment is so vast you can never see it all.