The Night The Moon Was Eaten

15 Apr

Yesterday, April 14th, was my 23rd birthday. It was actually one of the loveliest times I’ve had on my birthday in a while. I woke up to a super sweet email from my boyfriend, got to spend the day with old and new mates, and then climbed to the roof of my apartment with a couple of my oldest friends to watch the lunar eclipse. A blood moon on my birthday? Why thank you, galaxy. That was an awesome gift.

And that time on the roof, wrapped in a blanket talking about everything and nothing in particular as the moon waned and waxed and became saturated with its bloody hue before us, as the moon took on an oddly placed shadow as the earth passed by the sun in front of it, causing the moon to look almost as if something were eating it – well that, of course, inspired a story.

So thank you, to everyone who made my birthday wonderful with your well-wishes and hugs yesterday. One day after my birthday, this, a story, is my gift to you.

 

Thank you to Casey Handmer, friend and photographer of this fantastic timelapse photo. Permission to use this photo must be obtained directly from him.

Thank you to Casey Handmer, friend and photographer of this fantastic timelapse photo. Permission to use this photo must be obtained directly from him.

The Night The Moon Was Eaten

Something was eating the moon.

Killey leaned back against the thatched roof and stared up at the sky above her. Bale, her little brother, a mere seven years in this village of ancients, had been the first to see it. He’d run screaming through the town, child that he was, screeching in his sweet little voice the same way he would have if a cow had gotten loose from the fields or a stranger had come visiting or a particularly choice piece of candy had just been given him by one of the elder ladies. Bale had not quite learned the art of tone differentiation yet.

And so he had gone streaking through the streets with his shouts naked of discernible emotion beyond urgency and surprise (what kind of urgency? surprise at what?) repeating those two unassuming words over and over again.

“The moon! The moon!” A chubby little hand with its chubby little fingers stretched up toward the sky, waving in no particular direction round the galaxy. “The moon!”

Eyes had turned skyward. Eyes had widened. Eyes had shut.

Smiles turned to swallowed groans.

The moon – that was no typical waxing. That was no mere shadow. It was in entirely the wrong place for this night of the lunar cycle. No, that darkness – it was no usual momentary lapse of our beloved lunar orb. And – eyes opened only to grow wider once again – it was getting bigger. Right before our eyes, the moon was being swallowed up.

Something was eating the moon.

Within moments, ladders were raised and roofs were climbed. Families sat atop their homes, feeling safer in the height and the open than trapped between a lid and the ground. Whatever it was, if the moon was not enough for it and it came to swallow the earth next… Well, the ground did not seem like a particularly safe place to be.

And so we sat on our roofs and watched as the darkness chewed away at the lunar orb.

Something was eating the moon.

“Papa,” I whispered early in the night, “why aren’t we doing anything? Why are we just sitting here, watching?”

Papa had sighed and pulled me closer at that. “Killey, dear, what can we do? The moon in her fortress is far, and there is no certain way to reach her. The veil between us is vast. We can do nothing.”

Except sit. And wait. And hope that the darkness swallowing the moon would deign to return her to us once again.

There was so little left of her. Just a mere scrap now. Soon, there would be nothing but a hole of where she used to be.

The night blew on. The moon continued to fade as we watched.

And then, suddenly, there was nothing.

For what felt like hours we sat on our roofs with bated breath, hoping to see some sign of return of our moon.

But for so long, nothing.

“Papa!” The entire village turned their heads toward our hut as Bale’s voice pierced the air once again. Around me, I could see the faces of our neighbors blanch. No tone was needed to see what had sparked Bale’s outburst this time. The terror on his face was so thick it dripped into the night and leaked in puddles on the roof around him.

“Papa,” Bale’s voice no more than a whisper this time. “The moon is bleeding.”

Papa’s gaze jerked to the sky. All eyes returned to the moon. Yes, Bale was right. There, up where the moon kept her court, was the tiniest sliver of a moon returning to us. Except she was not waltzing back to us, finally free of whatever monster had tried to imprison her in its jowls.

No, she was being regurgitated.

Up in the sky, the monster hacked up the moon queen, bit by bit,coughing up a pile of ragged flesh. The moon we were seeing returned was no longer the cool, pale glow of the star courtiers that danced around her. No. Now, the moon, she had turned sickly, undeniable blood red. And as we all sat and stared, her white gown was only drenched all the more in that frightening color of dying.

“Papa?”

But my father said nothing. I saw his lips move and the knob in this throat slide as he gulped down hard.

I did not like it when Papa was afraid.

The moon was so saturated with blood now that even the glow she cast on our fields reflected the laceration of her veins. A wind rustled through the corn and the cows moaned at the sight of the grass turned the color of rust before them. Around us, the world creaked and cracked and wailed.

Disturbed.

I sat down on the thatched roof, bracing my feet against the straw. Boring old blessedly normal straw. My knees were shaking. I pulled them toward me and held my arms around them tight, trying to make the shaking stop. Bale stumbled over the slippery thatching and plopped next to me. He buried his face in my arm.

“Killey, I’m afraid,” he mumbled as best he could with his nose and mouth smushed into my skin.

I swept a hand lightly through his hair, fixing a few of the tousles. “Me too, Bale.” Against my arm, Bale started to sniffle. “Shhh, Bale. Come here.” I pulled him into my arms and rocked back and forth, humming softly. His little sobs quieted. I continue to croon over his tiny form, a lilting strain from nowhere in particular.

Papa came and sat beside me, listening. He’s always told me he likes it when I hum. He says it reminds him of Mama. She used to sing all the time, he says. I just like to hum, but I like it too, that maybe I could be like Mama was.

Papa leaned in so he could catch my notes better. After a while, he nodded and started humming too. It wasn’t quite the notes I was doing, but he played around them, so it sounded nice. His humming was more repetitive than mine was.

The family on the roof next to ours started humming too, something close to what Papa was doing. Soon, the humming had spread through the whole village, and all the thatched roofs were vibrating with the low chant of families sitting on top.

I wanted to laugh in delight but just put the happiness into what I was humming instead. Bale lifted his head, eyes still droopy with sleep, and smiled up at me. He sat up in my lap and craned his head, looking around at all the other families.

Suddenly, Bale’s body went rigid in my arms. His breathing stopped for just a moment. Relief flooded my melody when his body went loose again and he turned to me, his eyes wide again.

“Killey,” he said breathily. “Look.”

My eyes immediately snapped to the sky. The moon! The moon…

The night had long since carried away the torn and bloodied strips the monster had vomited in the moon’s palace. We had watched as the red mess was replaced again by emptiness.

But now, the emptiness was not complete.

Now, there was something else in the emptiness.

I tiny little sliver, a small glow.

The moon. She was coming back.

And she wasn’t bloody anymore.

“Killey! The moon is coming back!” Bale turned his young eyes, nearly as wide as the moon themselves now, towards me. “You’re healing her.”

I glanced at Papa. He shrugged, his face surprised and uncertain. I don’t know, his eyes told me. But his mouth kept humming.

I kept humming too. Just a little louder.

I met eyes with the woman on the roof next to us. I nodded up at the sky, trying to show her. She looked up, saw. Her eyes got wide too. Came back to rest on me. Nodded.

She looked across the way at the roof next to her, to tell her other neighbors too.

Soon, the village moan had turned to a murmur, a resonant melody punctuated by gasps and caught breath as the rest of the families on the roof looked skyward and saw the moon returning to us, growing whole once more. Coming back from the dead.

All around, our humming filled with wondering. Was it because of us? Had our song saved her? Or had it just been the moon herself, always cheating darkness out of death, just like she did every month?

We didn’t know. So we kept singing anyway.

And the moon kept coming back, brighter. Just barely on the edge of waking, Bale giggled from where he was curled in my arms. His eyes fluttered close, some dream finally claiming his tired mind. Around us, the village song slowed and softened to a close. The moon was back. She was safe. The monster in the darkness had not claimed her yet. Our guardian in the sky was still safe at her post. She had not been eaten down to nothing.

Which meant that for now, we would not be eaten down to nothing either.

Gently, I shifted Bale so he was draped across my shoulder and started down the ladder so I could put my little brother properly to bed. Papa smiled at me and nodded, but stayed where he was, stretched out on the roof, looking upward at the sky. At the moon.

Bale only stirred a little as I jostled him on my way down the ladder. “Shh, Bale,” I whispered, willing him to stay safe in dreamland. “It’s alright now.”

Still more asleep than awake, Bale nestled closer to my neck, his head held right in the crook at its nape. His small arms tightened their grasp around me. His eyes fluttered open, searching the sky for a moment before the lids dropped close again. I carried him inside and laid him gently on his bed. His eyes fluttered open one more time, looking up at me. Drowsily, Bale smiled. “Killey,” Bale murmured in his sleep. “Killey, the moon – Mama came back.”

On the question of a cat call…

11 Apr

In modern feminist discussions, there’s a lot of talk about cat calling. The general sentiment seems to be that cat calling is rude and invasive.

I mean… yes, having someone shout something at you unexpectedly is by definition invasive. But… I am not yet completely satisfied with the discussion around cat calling.

For example, earlier today, I read a Guardian article trying to clarify where the line is between acceptable flirting and sexual harassment. (It’s part of Laura Bates’s series, “Everyday Sexism.”) I generally agree with the article, especially the last two points about context appropriateness (eg. “flirting” in a job interview is a definitive no go) and “am I actually, all things considered, just being a bit of a dick?”

Yeah, that last one’s a question people should probably just ask themselves, like, all the time. Sending an email? Don’t be a dick. Talking to a customer service representative over the phone? Don’t be a dick. Trying to ask someone out? Don’t be a dick. Basically unless you are somehow a sentient cock or some kind of dildo, don’t be a dick. Simple stuff.

But… I do have some hesitations about some of the Guardian article’s assertions. Obviously, pretty much all summary articles need to taken with a grain of salt. There’s no way that six very short phrases are going to capture the mess of grey complexity that is the scope of human interaction in the sexual realm. The Guardian article is by no means definitive or comprehensive. Guidelines are guidelines.

Like point number four, “Is this ‘advance’ actually just a shouted and uninvited assessment on my part of this person’s attractiveness/body/genitals?” I’d say there’s some wiggle room there.

Why? Because there’s a huge range of variation on “shouts” and “uninvited assessments.” What they are, how they were made, the vibe behind them, the person who made them, the person they were made out… There’s a spectrum there that I’m pretty sure runs the gambit from “completely acceptable” to “you will burn in hell forever.”

Let me explain. In my own subjective, personal case, if some guy (or girl) came up to me with very politely folded hands and a mousy little voice mostly mumbled under they’re breath ’cause they’re that quiet and a body posture not at all aggressive and a personal space bubble that kept them at least three feet away from, if this person came up to me and said in full blown self-defacing awkwardness, “Um, excuse me, I don’t mean to interrupt your day, but I think you’re very pretty. Okay, I’ll just let you go now…” I WOULD FEEL SUPER HELLA ALL THE UNCOMFORTABLENESS.

Ummm why was the person so awkward? Why were they so mousy about it? Were they trying to hide something inappropriate under the comment? And that body language… why were they so self-defacing? Are they okay? Are they being bullied? Abused? What’s their mental health state? DO THEY NEED A FRIEND? DO I NEED TO MAKE SURE THEY’RE OKAY? Oh god, now it’s my duty to go make sure they’re okay and make their day better and try to fix whatever hurt in their life I can ’cause they gave me a compliment and there’s so much lack of clarity in this situation and oh god all I wanted to do was go buy groceries…

Plus there’s also the fact that the person actually approached me to talk to me. Came up to me. Joined our personal spaces. Even though (s)he stayed three feet away. As unaggressive as that is, I actually feel like the flow of my life has been more violated than if I’d just been able to keep walking. It was well-intentioned, but I still ended up feeling more violated than I would have if some random stranger had just shouted something at me that I could have just immediately written off and gotten on with my life. Grocery shopping. Whatever.

But again, that’s only one scenario. I personally have actually been sexually harrassed by an ex-mentor who got too testosterone-headed and decided he wanted to tell me something outside the house of a graduation party we were attending and began saying stuff like “I’d love to see you with your hair down some time” and “man, your legs just keep going,” and decided to “wrap up” the interaction with a hug that he wouldn’t let me out of even when I started to pull away. Thank god someone else decided to leave the party at that moment and shouted at us, causing the ex-mentor to jump away from me guilty. In that case, the uninvited comments on my physicality, confidently made though they were, were most definitely sexual harassment. Too close, inappropriate context, indication of discomfort on my part – lots of reasons.

But I have a third scenario to tell you all. Earlier this week, I was actually walking to the grocery store. As I made my way towards the entrance, I had to pass by the table area nearby where people chill, eat, wait for their ride, whatever. As I approached the area, a shades-wearing guy looked up from the sandwich he was eating, smiled (thankfully after having the courtesy to smile), lowered the sandwich, and, looking at me, exclaimed a very appreciative “Woooooow!” It all happened in two seconds of knee-jerk spontaneous reaction on his part.

Yes, I blushed. But I also smiled. Genuinely smiled. And laughed, called out a thank-you, and kept walking. I went into the grocery store, and the guy went back to his sandwich. He didn’t stare at my butt as I walked away, he didn’t make any move to approach me, he didn’t make any more comments. He just smiled at me for the additional two seconds I maintained eye contact and then went back to his day, letting me go back to mine.

Did he shout? Yes. Well, he raised his voice. But it was not a holler; it was an honest-to-goodness exclamation that I was allowed to hear. If he’d just muttered it under his breath, I’d have been creeped out. Alright, you just have your private little fantasy session there, dude, whatever… His smile was sincere. It was genuinely pleased. It honestly probably is the same smile that smacks itself on my face whenever I unexpectedly encounter a dog on the sidewalk. Or that would appear if suddenly one of Van Goh’s works plopped itself in front of me. Whoa! Intense aesthetically pleasing thing that I wasn’t expecting!

Because honestly, that’s how that cat call made me feel. I was an unexpected work of art. A thing of beauty to be given admiration in its own right, not because the guy had any agenda of ownership for it. His voice was respectful, not leery. Then there’s the fact that what he said wasn’t super invasive. It was just a “wow.” A sentiment. Not a specific evaluation. He didn’t name any of my body parts, or label me anything sexual, or imply I owed him anything, or ask me for anything, or try to sound suave. He just communicated his own personal response. “Wow.” Simple. Clear. Non-aggressive. Generally not offensive.

He kept his distance, didn’t try to force himself any more into my space than he had with his prior reflexive response. He didn’t try to get anything from me. He didn’t stick around and try to interact with me more. No. He gave me a compliment – uninvited and shouted – and then went back to his sandwich. Like a normal dude who just happened to see something cool. And that was that.

I don’t think that was sexual harassment. I don’t even think that was even flirting. I think that was just one human’s positive response to the aesthetic of another human that he was kind enough to share with her.

Maybe I’m reading into the situation what I want to see. Entirely a possibility. But I don’t think I am. I have been sexually harassed. I have been cat called. I have been leered at. I have been stalked. I have been complimented. I have been respected. I have been protected. I have been allowed to fight for myself. I’ve seen a variety of human action and reaction, and I think that I have enough social intelligence to at least be able to correctly pick up on the general vibe of an interaction.

So. Cat calling. Not always a cat call. Sometimes it’s a harpy shriek. Sometimes it’s a sincere commendation.

Cat calling is grey and tremorous territory. There is an art to compliments. All in all, I suppose the lesson is that if you’re going to try to venture there – just don’t be a dick.

Unless you are a dildo. Then you may be a dick.

shitty pitcher poetry

10 Apr

Inspired by the fact that the lack of adequately stocked kitchen cupboards and a typo, a compilation poem of fairly shitty verse accidentally by my roommate and me. Enjoy. Laugh. Deride. Whatever.

 

A Pitcher Thought

We do not have a pitcher thought,
a tall, cool draught of hospitality
and ice cubes to offer on a front porch,
a long pour of shared success
with its sugary taste, satisfaction.

The pitcher is a self-sufficient plant,
a long tube and a cup held up by itself.
Very scientific.
Very exotic.
Very sharp.
It’ll hold the water for you,
pour you a little should it get too full.
Stand beneath its bower;
it will provide.
Tempt you to come closer, peer into the depths,
let it discover the taste of your soul.
A depth where there is no bottom,
only an end.
The pitcher is a carnivorous plant.

It’s a vessel for thoughts -
thoughts pourable,
and fluid;
magnetic poetry.

I do not write happy stories.

9 Apr

People want happy stories. Good characters. Sweet endings. Family-friendly. At least, that’s what a lot of magazine submission guidelines seem to be saying.

But I do not write happy stories. I swear, I try. Took me five goddamn years to write a YA novel with a happy ending and after another five years I’m still not finished editing it yet. Happy stories are not the ones that come to me most naturally or most frequently. They are not what my brain generates. They are not what my brain understands. They are not what my brain has had to work with.

Happy stories, sure, they can be nice to read. Like a delightful little square of baklava. But too many of those delightful little squares, and odds are you’re going to be left with sticky, nut-grimy fingers and an urge to go puke up at least half of the sickly sweetness now residing in your stomach into the nearest toilet bowl. Or onto the nearest politician. Either would be acceptable, probably.

I mean, too many sad stories, or difficult stories or unsettling stories or generally unhappy narratives, and you’re also probably going to be left in a huddles mess o’ blankets on your living room couch crooning yourself into a tear-slopped sleep with that bottle of whiskey you’re clutching as your only friend. Not exactly a more preferable kind of overdose.

But at least… at least those tears your crying are real. The elation you feel from a happy story may be a vicarious kind of wish-fulfillment but the pain you’re left dealing with from a grungier tale is a memory, the recollected aching from some time before when your story veered a little too closely to something a character got herself into. Probably why the sadness lasts so much longer; it’s no mere slap-on-the-surface temporary veneer. No, it’s an upwelling of past shame or doubt or anger or disappointment. The kind of sadness that leaves you as said whiskey-breathed mess has roots.

Maybe it’s just because of my own negative-lens tendencies the depression fairy apparently decided to, uh, gift me with at birth, but I know that I, at least, remember pain more than I remember pleasure. In my life-flashes-before-your-eyes-’cause-you-done-fucked-up-and-somehow-now-you’re-drowning reel, the moments of hurt, of regret, of loss would be the first ones to play out again before me. They are, unfortunately, what my brain, my memory centers, my inner interpretation mechanisms snap to first. Over time (read: SO MUCH THERAPY OH MY GOD), I’ve been able to re-groove my brain a bit (hoorah neural plasticity!) and convince my brain that it really is okay to go the positive route every now and then, really, there’s probably not even that much of a traffic jam,  but still… inner GPS forgets about those routes a fair amount.

I’m tempted to write that to me, happiness just doesn’t feel natural. But I know, really, that’s not true. Happiness is totally a natural thing to experience. It’s more appropriate to write that for me, happiness hasn’t felt usual. I grew up in a household of parents who had been fighting since before I was even born. I wasn’t exactly the cool kid in my class for much of high school (but then come high school people realized I was smart and that they needed me and then I ruled the world! AHAHAHAHAHAHA!). I’ve been battling mental health shit since god knows when. Yes, there has been a lot of happiness in my life, but it’s not exactly been the baseline or background. Happiness has been an exception.

But honestly, I don’t think it’s just my own experience that’s made writing happy stories so difficult for me. Ever since, well, ever, I’ve been an emotional go-to for other people. I may not have been the cool kid, but I wasn’t ever that kid – but I did usually end up getting picked out as OMG BFF! by that kid. Then come middle school, when puberty hit and we were all just leveled to a singular playing field of awkwardness, the girls who became my closest friends were also the ones who, like me, had some inner demons that started clawing a bit more actively at our vulnerable brains. And our vulnerable hormones. The rest of pre-college schooling for me was a slew of late night phone calls, desperate pleas to hang on just a little while longer, letters sent every day to some treatment center other, constant scans of wrists and arms and rib cages and stomach circumferences and little pricks in the back of our minds any time one of us wore long sleeves or baggy clothing. Chat sessions into three and five am, glowing laptop screens hidden behind closed doors and under the covers.

Yes, there was a strain of hope. Maybe, just maybe, if I can get through this, you can too… We were all one giant mess of hands and arms clinging to each other and brace the entire structure of our lives. Support went in all directions. Hurt went in all directions. Despair abounded. Hope was a parched substance. It did not rain; it sludged through the ravaged sewers of our tenacity, tainted and unsafe even by the time it got there in the first place. But when you’re dying of thirst, you stop being so picky about these kind of things. Even dirty water will keep you going. For a little while. It might kill you a little while later. But I don’t think any of us would have minded that for ourselves.

We would have wailed over it, though, for each other.

The real-life stories that I have known have not been ones that work out. They have been ones of struggle. Constant struggle. You think you’ve gotten over one thing, and then something new crops up. Your once-savior becomes your new slave master. Relief only lasts so long. Every so often you may find yourself on your feet again, running, and you run as far and as hard and as long as you can, but then some invisible un-reason reaches its ugly snag and you don’t even see and suddenly you’re on the ground, scraped knees and bleeding elbows and your legs are so tired they don’t want to work anymore and your arms are wondering what the use even is anymore to try to pull yourself up one more time if you’re only going to end up down here covered in the dirt of a failed attempt again anyway…

And yet somehow we keep going. Knowing we have likely only doomed ourselves to repeat the process. But the way out is no more glorious than the struggle. So you might as well finish the race. Might as well find out if it was ever going to get you anywhere anyway.

You understand if your fellow runners decide they can take no more of the dizzying, soul-quenching exhaustion. You understand the decision to finally cease running, cease panting, feel only one more final sharp stab at the weary lungs you have forced to keep filling you with breath before saying that no, no more, I will stop here.

It’s a tragedy, yes. But it’s less of a tragedy than most people seem to realize. The loss of uncertain future happiness ways a little less to you than the end to present, undeniable pain.

So far, only one of us has dropped out of the race.

This impossible, endless race. There is some pride in my fellow runners, every time I look around and see them still there, straggling through this thing with me.

We will arrive at the finish line cut and scarred by thorns and brambles that held no roses. Our souls will be impossibly bruised. We might not have the strength to hold even our heads high. But we will have made it. We will have finished.

That is not a happy ending. That is not the kind of story I write.

But it is a story. With a horridly natural, un-fairy tale ending.

And that is something.

Strange Sleep

8 Apr

My brain is a very weird place. Like, very, very, very weird. Possibly also still a bit scrambled right now, seeing how I haven’t downed any coffee yet this morning. But hey. We’ll deal with it.

So, how weird is my brain? Well, when not deciding that I was going to be awake at weird hours and then sleep in a very nonsensical pattern last night, my brain was off in who-knows-what-land spinning incredibly odd dreams. Usually, I’m able to figure out what the stimulus was when I have particularly strange sleephaunts. An advertisement I saw on the Metro, something a friend said, a line from a book…

Yeah. Not so much this time.

I mean, my roommate and I did watch the lump of slap-happy confusion that is Zoolander last night, so maybe that was the impetus for my brain’s thinking that ooh! ooh! it could come up with absolute ridiculousness too!

What was last night’s brand of weirdness? Well, all within less than eight hours of shut-eye, I lived through a Star Trek-themed nightmare (neither Spock nor Captain Picard graced my dream with his presence, though) that was also slightly Monster’s Inc.-esque; I was Disney’s Pocahontas in an alternative history where I got to just hang out with John Smith and tell him he was boring; I was told via phone that the head of the tribe had died and so I (still Pocahontas) had to lead a group of other Native American aristocracy through a mine field where we were being attacked by flying frisbee-ish weapon technology; still as Pocahontas, I fought Malfoy from the Harry Potter books; and then in a completely different dream sequence, I was nanny to the Obama family’s young daughter (who in my dream was like 3 and a very unruly child); that dream somehow involved reality that was hybridized with video game graphics and clicking; and then finally that dream somehow connected back to the Pocahonatas one and the Chinese were going to try to attack through plants or something and I had $25 million that came from a fraud transaction and thus couldn’t gamble but it wasn’t my fault…

You all as lost as I am by now? Geez. There’s a reason I wake up exhausted…

Any of you lovely readers have a comparatively weird night? Hope you all managed a more restful pre-work Tuesday morning.

Brains are weeeeeird, man.

Ahem. I’m going to go drink some coffee now…

Other Worlds: the Galapagos Islands

7 Apr

Ecuadorian flag island pic

Before I left for the Galapagos, I’d decided that when I got back, I was going to write a novel about it. Something with conservation and evolution and a plethora of landscapes. Something sci-fi with the Galapagos as the basis for world-building. It was to be a novel rooted in the fantasmic biological complexity of life. It would feature land and sea and maybe even air as homes for its characters. I was going to call it Other Worlds. I had most of the vague notions for it swimming around in my head. All I had to do, I thought, was go to the Galapagos, actually see and explore the islands, get their dirt under my fingernails. You know, go visit and so solidify my understanding of the place.

Ha. That, lovely readers, was quite a misguided notion.

Jeff leant me his underwater camera for one of the snorkeling trips. I'm kinda in love with the footage I was able to get.

Jeff leant me his underwater camera for one of the snorkeling trips. I’m kinda in love with the footage I was able to get.

I have now gone to the Galapagos. I saw, I explored, I got so much dirt under my fingernails. I swam with sea turtles, I paddled a panga through mangrove swamp, I even climbed volcanoes! I watched the mating dance of the blue-footed boobies, saw flamingoes fly, shared a rock with a marine iguana pile, and got bitten far too many times by fire ants. I was a voyeur to lava lizard courting, I learned how to distinguish the invasive from the native guava, I watched two frigate birds joust above our boat and shouted in delighted surprise as a manta ray jumped from the water and managed three flips before crashing back into the ocean. I counted rorqual whale spouts, chirped at ground finches, and can now tell the difference between a’a lava and pahoehoe.

All that, and the list isn’t even half done. And yet after nine days in the Galapagos, I know that while my understanding of the islands is certainly greater, it is by no means more complete. Definitely one of those “the more you know, the more you know you don’t know” kind of things. I was constantly overwhelmed, in the most beautiful and wondrous of ways. There were times I actually felt like I was giong to explode from the sheer amount of coolness around me. The perpetual flow of strange and interesting and beautiful and curious and dangerous – I’m seriously flabbergasted as to how I didn’t just pop.

“Other Worlds” would certainly be an apt term for a book shaped around the Galapagos. My conception of the islands was completely blown apart by going there. On a map, the islands look so tiny. Barely even crumb-sized, next to the giant swatch of continental pizza that is South America. (I swear I’m not hungry. I seriously just ate. I have no clue where the food metaphors are coming from…)

Here, I've provided a handy figure for you.

Here, I’ve provided a handy figure for you.

Sure, I didn’t get a chance to visit all of the islands (oh, don’t worry, Galapagos 2.0 is totally already on my to-do list), and the islands I did explore were some of the larger ones, but still – the Galapagos islands are freaking hugeIt’s absurd, the amount of diversity, of flat out differentness (shut up, differentness can use fake words instead of their real versions if I want to) present on one island. At times, if I hadn’t known we were just visiting a different side of the same island, I would have sworn we had to have gone to another island. Another latitude, actually. There was no way we were at the same place. For example – lava fields, forests of Palo Verde trees, desert landscape where frigates nested among dry bark and cacti… all on Santa Cruz. And then there’s Isabella, where one half of the island is an expanse of miles and miles of uninhabited desolation, and the other half of the island is tourism central. Kitschy souvenir shops, cheap bars, untended trashcans and litter along the road… Really, the sense of complete separation of the two terrains speaks to how well the park officials and naturalists are doing at keeping the junk of human existence out of the National Park land. It’s not even a policy of “pack in, pack out” – because there are some items you just aren’t allowed to pack in to begin with. No gum, no liquids other than straight-up, plain-ol’ unflavored water, no food of any kind whatsoever, prepackaged or otherwise. Wrappers, foil, plastic – any chance to leave trash behind is almost completely eliminated.

Almost completely. Unfortunately, there was still the occasional stray chapstick cap or dropped pencil (yes, I did backtrack a quarter of a mile to retrieve a pen I’d lost; don’t worry, the pen is now safe and sound back in my apartment, not leaching chemicals into Galapagos soil or anything). Any time we did encounter an errant invader that we couldn’t reach to clean up ourselves (some trails are covered by a boardwalk), Ernesto, our naturalist, noted it so that he could inform the park officials that removal maintenance was required.

Trail maintenance! For the tortoises, of course.

Trail maintenance! For the tortoises, of course.

 

Honestly, the Galapagos is doing a damn good job of keeping human mess to a minimum, largely thanks to the efforts of naturalists like Ernesto. The man, he’s amazing. Having been a naturalist for over 20 years, he basically knows everything. Sure, it’s because he’s studied the material, but it’s more because he also sees the reality, week in and week out. Ernest knows what the papers in scientific journals say about the Galapagos, but he also knows what he sees for himself, in real time, on the ground. And he’s not afraid to explicitly point out when there’s a difference. (Like when he pointed out the carpenter bees that “don’t exist” on Isabela…) I don’t think I’ve ever seen so beautiful a combination of book-smart intelligence and real-life common sense in one man before.

And the winner of this season’s “Miceala’s Idol” is…

Ahem. Anyhoo. I’ve barely just started to tell you all of my adventures, but already I’ve rambled quite enough for one blog post. Sorry for the delay in this first report back, by the way. I honestly just hadn’t known where to start. There’s so much.

But no worries. I have started, and it’s like the floodgates have opened. There will be more.

You might just have to wait a bit for it.

Goodnight from Santa Cruz Island.

Goodnight from Santa Cruz Island.

The Last Day

24 Mar

Well, lovely readers, this is my last day in the US before I head out to the Galapagos. This time tomorrow, I’ll be on a plane to Quito. Or to Texas, where I think we might have a layover… In any case, I won’t be in California, and I won’t be in Missouri, and I won’t be in Florida (those other two places in the US I tend to frequent). I’ll be going some place entirely new.

Honestly, right now, I don’t have any profound words of wisdom about this last day before embarking on the most exciting stint of travel in my life to date. I don’t think it’s quite sunk in yet… I’ve just been sitting here, at the table, in a vague state of shock and awe which might in part be attributable to the Spotify station I’m listening to (which is basically the “here, let me play soft mellow Indie-ish music that will lull you into peace and then tear your emotions out through your soul” station).

Things haven’t really felt “settled” for a while now, anyway, so it’s kind of hard for me to be jolted out of normalcy right now. The past two weeks have been so much in flux, so strange on their own… I’m in school, I’m packing, I’m studying and taking finals and writing a thesis, I’m driving to Santa Monica and back every other day to move my stuff or hang out with Kim, I’m almost finished with school forever, I turn in my thesis, my boyfriend leaves for his visit to Miami, Kim leaves for San Francisco, it’s just me, shuttling back and forth between Caltech and the apartment in Santa Monica in some kind of waif existence, I hang out with new people, I’m at the beach for the first time in months, there are new streets everywhere, Kim’s back from San Francisco but now I’m living in the apartment too but I’m also leaving in two days and packing again for a different trip…

Everything has been strange for what feels like such a long time now. A weird mix of me moving on but also retaining connections from my life “before” and not quite having a new platform to step onto and a weird stasis time of exploring some islands on the other side of the equator to prepare for… There’s been so much difference lately. And those things I’ve clung to, trying to maintain some sense of solidity, of continuity in my life – they’ve mostly been those odd, transient connections made to people I know and people I don’t know over the internet. Chatting with people on facebook, reading the tweets headed by familiar names that I started following back when I still had a room in the dorms at Caltech, visiting the same sites like Tickld and the OhJoySexToy webcomic because it’s a voice, a community that’s cropped up like mist or smoke in my memory… I’ve been carrying the pillow from my boyfriend’s couch that he let me take eons ago around from room to room, clutching it between my chest and my knees while I clasp the first stuffed animal thing he ever gave me back when we first started dating in my hands, a physical proxy for his existence, a reminder that he is still connected to me, that this thing called “us” is still alive in the universe…

I’ve been lonely. There’s been a lot of strangeness – which in some ways I crave – but I haven’t had anyone, really, to share it with. I require another mind, another body there with me to turn the mere slipping by of seconds into experience. I think that’s why this trip to the Galapagos feels like a step back towards “realness” to me. I’m going with classmates I’ve interacted with all term, professors who have been to the Galapagos before and have a level of familiarity with the place they’ll bring. We’re not just being cast off on the sea to who knows where.There’s a structure – an itinerary – a tangibleness to this exploration, something to bring it out of the realm of ephemerality and wayfaring into the place of wanderlust, something I can hold onto more. There’s a someplace we’re going to. A something we’re going to do. It’s adventure. A real kind of magic. Not just… hand waving.

Well then. Maybe some of the words were profound. They were true, a lot of them, at least. So readers, if you don’t hear from me for a while, don’t fret – I’m just galavanting about with marine iguanas! Or sitting on a plane being bored. Either way, I’m still here. I’m still real. I haven’t gone away. I’m just going to be in a different realness for a while. I guess I’m leaving this blog behind, for you all, as the anchor to me, the thing of attachment or proxy or reminder or whatever that I’ve been searching for, for everybody else, for a while.

I’ll see you around the third of April, lovely readers.

Bon voyage.

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