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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Hitchhiking to Heaven

The guardian to heaven's gate 
The gate to heaven a month or so from today 

I knew I'd be hitchhiking this morning so I prayed to St Christopher last night. Though God has let me down, St. Christopher never has. Yes, men have pulled guns on me, and one woman pulled a deer skinning knife, but I'm here to talk about it, aren't it?

I got up at five. I knew I should try to eat something, though I had had trouble with dinner last night. My heart may be broken, but it's my GI tract that is on strike.

I sliced one fresh peach and placed a dollop of plain Greek yogurt into a bowl, ate them.

I began walking the three miles to the bus.

Breakfast reappeared en route. I got to see what peach skin looks like after a half hour or so inside a human body. Knew I'd be nauseated for a while, and that that would make me not want to drink, and that I'd get dehydrated, and risk a migraine. I had disgorged the anti-migraine med as well.

Oh, well. Nothing was going to turn me around. I needed this.

Bus was five minutes late. Five minutes of clenched fingers, shallow breath, and even more GI shenanigans. Please, Jesus, let this bus driver let me off at my stop.

I don't want to get all heavy here, but this is the simple truth. When a white driver named Jim Maget had this route, he would always let me off at my stop. A bald black guy who wears purple plastic gloves while driving often won't. Sometimes he will. Sometimes he won't. Maybe I should bribe him. That's it. Next time, I'm bringing a bribe.

This morning, he promised to let me off at my stop. I was happy.

We traveled beyond suburbs, into woods. I've seen bear run from the bus in these woods. There's my stop. The bus driver had promised to let me off. But he wasn't stopping.

I stood behind him, squealing with anxiety.

"There's nothing here," he observed. "There isn't even any shoulder. No houses."

But that's the whole POINT, I thought. "Please let me off," I begged.

He just kept driving. Soon we'd be in New York State.

He pulled over.

"Thank you!" I ran down the stairs. "Thank you!"

I ran to the opposite side of the street and stuck out my thumb. I had to hitchhike back to the spot the bus driver had just refused to let me off at.

A beat-up, compact car pulled over. It was stuffed with a random chaos of items.

I peeked inside. "I'm trying to get to Skylands," I said.

"Get in the back seat," he said. "Shove that stuff aside."

I did so. A big, lumpy canvas bag was hard to move. I was pinned against the door.

I observed the driver. Grizzled goatee. Baseball cap and sunglasses. His forearm was short, so he probably was, too. But he had exaggerated forearm muscles. Yup, he could kill me. That's my first assessment. Could this person kill me? Second assessment: Does he want to?

"I used to work at Skylands," He said. "When I was fifteen. I was a professional flower arranger."

"Holy cow!" I said. Professional flower arranger: I factored that in to the "Does he want to kill me?" question.

"Now I'm busting my butt doing construction." Plainly. He was t-shirt and jeans and he was covered with white dust – are there construction night-shifts? And he was muscular.

"I worked at Ringwood Manor, too. They have greenhouses there. That's where they get the flowers for their gardens."

"Did you go to Lakeland?" I asked, naming a local high school.


"Did you know any of my brothers?" Always the first question for a girl with four notorious older brothers. I try to say things that will make them less likely to kill me.

"Name sounds familiar," he said. "The art teachers loved me," he said. "I was a good artist. They would take my work and show it to other students. Mr. Palomino."

"I remember him!"

He sounded angry. Was he fresh from a fight? Or was it that he was a good artist and now working construction? I wanted to be helpful. He was helpful to me. He went out of his way, and got me to the entrance road sooner than I would have gotten there had I gotten off at my stop and walked from the bus. I mentioned that I lived in an artist's housing project. Maybe he could get a studio there, do his art, do less construction.

"Thank you!" I said. "Thank you! Look for my book on Amazon!"

He said he would. God bless him.

I began my walk up the road.

This is an advantage of living in poverty in a post-industrial slum, without a car so escape is difficult. Once I enter nature, trees all around, human voices out of earshot, I cast off what humanity has done to me and I enter bliss.

I was an abused kid. I knew no love, respect, or even the right to be alive. I used to go to the woods. And I just knew. Everything is right. I am supported and part of this. This is beautiful.

Anyone who has seen one tree in full sun must know the power of God. It is all there, visible.

Mount St. Francis was to my left. I guess it is no longer Mount St. Francis. The Catholic church is selling it, so I've heard. Oh, Catholic Church, you have squandered our dollars so unforgivably.

When my sister Antoinette was a kid, she went to Mount St. Francis on a school trip, and dropped a new pendant into the pond. The pendant was never retrieved. She missed it in the way that a kid misses a lost item, a gift her clumsy fingers have surrendered to the deep, a precious locket that she watched slip forever beneath the surface of an element, to her, a terrestrial being, utterly foreign. Every time I pass that pond, I want to ask the Canada geese if they have the pendant, and how I can ransom it from them, to make my sister happy, to restore her little kid grief.

The road to Skylands is wooded. Lots of beech. Uphill. And then you see the two concrete eagles. And then you are there.

A different me that exists only here smiles inside when I see the two concrete eagles guarding the entrance to Skylands.

Because I traveled so much, people ask me my favorite place on earth. Skylands. In New Jersey. No question. It is magic. Arno, when he heard this answer, thought "sky lands" was my poetic way of saying "Heaven." Close enough.

I sat. I let go. I walked. I greeted old friends. A bullfrog in the pond, just his eyes and forehead above the surface of the bright green pond weed. Forget-me-not. The large leafed magnolia: leaves as long as my arm. I walked up the hill over the glacial rocks and felt bliss. I skipped over the many downed trees on the trail. Downed by Sandy, that monster hurricane that knocked us all to our knees. I noted that one downed tree, a completely horizontal maple, produced leaves this summer. I was inspired.

I walked over rocks that he and I walked over together. I have a photo of him on this very rock. No. No. That never happened. You are alone. Resign yourself. 

A large, healthy looking red fox sauntered slowly over the rock. He was unhurried, casual. We were mere feet away from each other. Oh, he looked so beautiful. Not mangy or scrawny like so many foxes you see.

Was this fox saying to me, "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye"? I considered. But he had trashed my heart, not just my eye. Forget it. He never loved you. Forget it. You are alone. Resign yourself.

I walked down through thick woods. The woods knew how much I loved them. They knew how much they mean to me.

It's funny; I mainline high culture. I publish, I read, I am a news junkie. I am political. I strive to be plugged in to pop culture. And I never feel as much myself as when I am alone in the woods.

I checked up on the persimmon; I always do. I love bringing friends – victims – to the persimmon tree and inviting them to sample the lovely looking fruits before first frost. You can't eat persimmons before first frost; if you do, they feel like an alcohol-soaked wad of cotton in your mouth. They are astringent – they suck moisture right out of your mouth. Yes, it's a prank. I play it on myself, sometimes. Just to experience the weird feeling.

I picked three apples from a wild tree. I knew I needed, fluid, sugar, something. I polished and ate two and managed to keep them down.

I passed a noble, silvery ash tree. I have a photo of him in front of that ash tree. Fuck him. Pardon the obscenity. It's just one more feeble attempt to heal.

You are alone. Resign yourself. It never happened.

Two pileated woodpeckers and two red-bellied woodpeckers were ON THE SAME TREE!!! Very close to me!!! If you are not a birdwatcher this will mean nothing to you.

And ten swallowtail butterflies in one eye blink.

And two black vultures sat atop the manor house. I wonder if those who plan their weddings here object to the presence of the vultures.

I object to the presence of the vultures. When I was a kid, the only vulture in New Jersey was the turkey vulture. These were black vultures, formerly a more southern species. Global warming. Scarier than vultures at a wedding.

One vulture stuck its bill into the other vulture's mouth.

Food only a young vulture could love.

When I was a kid, when I, barefoot, which I often was, walked over clover in summer, I had to watch for bees. I, now shod, just walked through a field of clover, under the apples, and saw few bees. When I was a kid, when I, barefoot, walked outside at night, even just over a suburban lawn, I had to watch out for legions of frogs. Where are those frogs now? When I was a kid, the spring dawn noise from the woods at the end of our street was a wall of sound. It was so loud it was almost oppressive. Now, silence. And one fall, Antoinette and I looked up at the sky over our town, and a giant flock of birds, maybe starlings, maybe blackbirds, took several minutes to pass by overhead. I've not seen a flock of birds that large since.

Heartbreak, and small comfort that I never had kids. The world now is so freighted with tragedy.

I poked the tip of my walking stick into the koi pond and small fish scattered and a large alpha fish attempted to eat it. They were disappointed, but surely my stick's tip stuck in their pond so I could see them more clearly was not the largest disappointment of their aquatic lives.

I always pray, when leaving Skylands, when passing the eagles on the way out, I always pray for my return.

Joe-pye weed by Roger Soule
Purple loosestrife, an evil invasive plant, quite beautiful.
LW collections
Walked downhill to Ringwood Manor. Also lovely but not Skylands. Swans, more geese. Joe-pye weed everywhere, huge, running rampant, like some omnipresent political party taking over everything. In a month it will be gone till next summer.

Purple loosestrife, the evil, invasive weed, that is so beautiful. I even love the name: Loose strife. Strife that is loose, not attached to other strife. Like my heartbreak. Forget it. Forget him. It never happened. You are alone.

Stuck my thumb out. Three cars stopped. One woman, God bless her forever, with a car full of kids. Maybe black maybe Hispanic. She was not going my way. A man in a work car – his company's name was all over the car. Also not going my way. A man about 80. Circled me in his SUV. Asked questions. Almost wanted to see my resume. Finally let me in. His wife died a year ago. He and she used to hike up this way.

He did not take me directly. He drove me around Cupsaw Lake, Erskine Lake, showing me rich people's beaches, and talked about his late wife, and how much he missed her. I encouraged him to find someone new. I was serious. It is not good for man to be alone. Me, I'll always be alone. But there's still hope for the rest of humanity.

Source: Andy Hohokus.
When I said Skylands is my favorite place, Arno thought I meant heaven. Close enough. 


  1. Beautiful writing Danusha, thanks for sharing.

  2. Such a heartfelt piece and such expressions of human vulnerability, Danusha. Nature heals, perhaps it brings us back to the place from which we come? The place of innocence, the Garden of Eden. Thank you for sharing your story.

  3. I loved this post. It took me back to my childhood, which was opposite from yours (I'm sorry), We didn't have persimmons that I know of, but we did have hills covered with douglas fir and dogwood; creeks; snakes you didn't have to be afraid of because there weren't any poisonous snakes west of the Cascades; cherry orchards where you could go and glean after the pickers were through (so much fruit) where I found a brand new looking cap gun and holster hanging in a tree (treasure); an ocean 70 miles away (30 as the crow flies); so much natural beauty available to everyone. I'm not sure why I left, but I believe it was to meet my soul mate, part of the "plan". Glad you were safe and didn't meet up with any of the psycho people out there. God bless. Karla

  4. Beautiful post. May you keep writing always, even in heaven.