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Jessica Eve Watkins

8th December, 2014


We met a Catskills’ woodsman around a campfire near Woodstock, and made a promise to visit him again one day. A twinkling light of kindness, his friend described him as ‘the most beautiful man in the world, both inside and out.’ At a Thanksgiving loose end, we plough north from New Orleans to New York towards him, and in the back seat I pray for a moment of luxury to cross our path. I want to feel elegant again, like I did once, and graceful and washed. Maybe put make-up on, roll myself in rose oil.

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Elegance finds us, in his gorgeous wooden home lined with Rumi poetry and oil paintings. It’s warm always. We make lentil bakes and elaborate breakfasts; fold three-deep in a candlelit bathtub watching movies with incense burning; get escorted to the dive-iest bars in town; dance around flickering flames, lose at pool, and shyly share guitar tunes.

Several days slip by in Woodstock. We become enveloped in a hug from John’s friends and family, pulling up extra chairs at their tables for three strange travelling women, passing joints, running barefoot through the snow. Paper games to a soundtrack of chaos on the double bass. There is nothing like being included, crossing icy mountain streams, bounding snowy streets and checking out land for sale in every estate agent’s window, just on the off chance.

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Sunday morning finds us at the Zen Mountain Monastery, for meditation and chanting. We’re taught how to practice za-zen style, by an iridescent, shaved-headed nun. She’s glowing with strength. After the sitting (awakened often by the sound of a wooden stick whacking the necks of slouching meditators) and a prayer for our beloved Thich Nhat Hanh, a monk embraces us with a simple, cross-legged speech. The moment he opens his mouth I gush with hot tears, which continue for the entire car ride home. Something about his voice and words, as they weave between the importance of gratitude and the sacredness of stillness, beckon a reckoning that it is safe to cry here, in this humbleness. It’s a strange sensation, to be weeping in a state quite different to sadness.

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And then it’s Monday and we have to shift towards the city, towards an airport, and the British Isles. ‘We’re always saying goodbye,’ Helsie says, ‘It’s so sad.’ She’s right. It’s been tragic.

So out in the snow, another farewell, trying hard not to dwell on how deep these soul mates could perforate, given the chance. We make plans to move to Woodstock, like we did in Atlanta, and New Orleans, too. Life moves so quickly and desperately, it’s all we can do to appreciate every single dispersed moment, and hope we will be this blessed again, one day soon. We cling and dwell, and then it disappears as the new floods in.

There is always new. There’s four lanes of headlamp traffic as we hit NEW YORK CITY, we’re back here again, narrowly dodging trucks again, blagging toll fares again, and starving hungry for sleep.

Yet another three months in the USA, wearing the crazy heartbreaking highway of living, loving, and leaving has taken its toll on me. Communities loved and left, friendly faces discovered and lost. What a journey, what a sadness, what an amazing, beautiful, mad, wild, freeing, liberating adventure. And goodbye to all of that. I hope it isn’t too long ’til I return.

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