Ghost Stories

I have always believed in ghosts. As a child, I think it’s just natural to believe in these sorts of things, but I recall the precise moment when my belief in ghosts was solidified. It was Day of the Dead and my mom had decided it would be fun to take me and my sister to a cemetery to celebrate. She packed a picnic lunch and toted us off to find a random grave to dine with. It was a beautiful cemetery, the old kind, a little unkempt and filled with aged tombstones. There were large oak trees that twisted their barren branches through the pathways as we walked, the crush of their fallen leaves underfoot. We found our way to a cluster of graves that were encircled in a short stone wall. This was the spot. We sat down on the wall and unpacked our sandwiches. We were contentedly munching away when suddenly a bottle of sparkling water fell off the wall onto the ground, spilling into the earth. My mom leaned down to pick it up and nonchalantly said “Well, I guess the ghosts were thirsty.” And from that moment I knew, ghosts were real. If even adults believed, they must exist!

Fast forward 20some years later and I was headed on vacation to Scotland. I had been Instagram stalking Old Man Storr for a little over a year and it was time to turn my fantasies into reality. In addition to Old Man Storr, I had plans to check out the cemeteries in Scotland. I love cemeteries, maybe it was my young Day of the Dead experience, or maybe it’s because I’m a closet goth who loves all things dark and mysterious, but I find cemeteries to be enchanting and peaceful. Scotland is the perfect place to go see cemeteries, they are not only gorgeous but are also full of ghosts! It just so happened that my time off landed me in Scotland during Halloween, the time when some say the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead is thinnest. A time when the ghosts don’t just haunt us at night, but walk among us in the daylight indistinguishable from those of us who have not yet passed over.

Halloween was a beautiful sunny day. I was driving to Edinburgh after my time in the mountains and, not wanting to spend too much time in the city, I decided I would include some interesting stops on route. There were some castles, some little forest walks, and what turned out to be the most interesting of all – Old Kilmadock Cemetery, in Doune. Old Kilmadock is situated in one of those places where Google Maps will tell you that you have arrived when in fact you are in the middle of the road and there is absolutely nowhere to stop. I rolled my eyes at Google and, frustrated, parked 5 minutes up the road at an old farm. My map was useless and I couldn’t tell where I was supposed to be. I tried some more searching, but it was useless. Maybe this place didn’t even really exist. Frustrated, I slumped into the seat of my car and let out a sigh. When I looked up, I noticed a little path across the road. It was a nice day, I might as well take a walk.

It was a beautiful walk. The path led me through the woods along a gently flowing river. I just wandered along, enjoying the sun splashing through what was left of the fall foliage. Then, suddenly, the forest ended and I found myself staring into a huge field. And in the center of the field there was a cemetery. Old Kilmadock Cemetery, the place I had been searching for. It was eerie to put it mildly. I hadn’t seen a single person along this path and now suddenly, it was as if I was transported to somewhere else entirely. I walked slowly towards the entrance, looking at the plants around me. I couldn’t quite tell what they were, but there were thousands. And what were they doing here? In the middle of nowhere? On the edge of a forest? Surrounding a cemetery? There didn’t appear to be a farm, just a field. As I got closer I saw that just inside the gate, there was a man. He appeared to be trimming the grass. I always feel weird playing tourist in cemeteries. There is a part of me that feels it is a little disrespectful to go exploring the final resting place of strangers, but I had made it this far and he didn’t look like the kind of person who would mind, so I kept going.

I arrived at the gate, the cemetery was guarded by a large oak tree. It was beautiful, peaceful, and welcoming in the light of the afternoon sun. The man was now hidden at the far end. I opened the gate and walked in. I meandered through the gravestones, wondering about the stories of the people living here. Some had been young, some old, families together, and others alone. Each had a life, a death, a story, but who was there to tell it? Towards the back of the cemetery I saw a tall gravestone with a draped urn covered in lichens. I love draped urns, they always stand out so confidently but also with a delicate class. I walked over to it and started examining the lichens when all of a sudden to my left an old woman appeared. “We’re trying to clean the lichens off, restore everything here” she said. I was startled to say the least, but responded “I think it’s beautiful. It gives a sense of age and time.” She smiled and told me she would give me a tour.

We walked side by side among the graves, as she told stories about each one. She took me to visit the grave of the housekeeper of one of the lords who was buried here many years ago. She told me that when the housekeeper passed everyone gossiped about whether or not she was ‘just’ a housekeeper because her headstone was so nice. She took me to visit some of the oldest graves, and explained that the symbols on the gravestones had to do with the professions they held during life. Then, she told me about her husband, the man trimming the grass. She said they had researched his genealogy and learned that his family came from a long line of turnip farmers. “Funny that, you think about your history, who your family could have been. And us? We’re just a couple of turnip farmers. But, good enough I suppose. We have a good life together, that’s really all you can want. I’ll let you get back to your wandering, I have more graves to clean before sundown.” And with that, she left. I gave her a wave and thanked her, but she was gone almost as quickly as she appeared – quick for an old lady, I thought.

I wandered a while longer, letting the experience settle in and thinking about the lives of everyone resting there. As I reached the gate to leave, I turned around and looked back. I could see at the far end the woman and the man still contentedly going about their business. I wondered how they got there, had they walked in like me? It seemed a long walk, but there was no other way. I glanced around once more, somehow finding it hard to leave this place. It felt magical, almost alive, but it was time. I opened the gate and began my journey back to the road.

I passed the oak tree and started out along the path, surrounded once again by the giant planted crops. Passing one, I noticed something I hadn’t seen before. At the base of its leaves, one plant had a large head just exposed from the dirt – it was a turnip! The mystery plants were turnips! The cemetery was sitting in the middle of a field of turnips! My skin was suddenly covered in goosebumps. The turnip farmer… I was afraid to look back again, but I did and when I turned around I saw the turnip farmer and his wife, smiling at me from the cemetery. I smiled back, pausing for a moment. I had so many questions, but in my heart I already had all the answers, so I kept walking, still covered in goosebumps but with a little smile on my face.

The Midnight Sun

The cathedral was gently lit by the glow of the midnight sun. Not quite dawn, not quite dusk.  It is a glow of timelessness and of magic.  I looked out across the courtyard and there he was.  I had not met him before, but my eyes didn’t need to tell me it was him, I just knew.  He moved towards me, like a mythical creature in the night.  His walk was strong and purposeful, his long hair flowing in the gentle breeze.  When we met, I was greeted with a smile and a big hug, a softness I wasn’t expecting.  The warmth of his smile put me at ease, but I could feel the strength of his presence.

We walked down the streets of Reykjavik headed to a bar for a drink.  His English was almost terrible and my French was nonexistent, but we both had Google, so anything was possible.  He was not quite what I was expecting – just as handsome, but kinder and certainly more funny.  When we arrived at the bar, he led me in.  I felt both strong and feminine in his presence, like a beautiful warrior from a place of myth.  We were meant for each other, at least for this night.  We ordered drinks and took a seat at a corner table.  We sat close, not quite touching, looking at each other with curiosity and an air of a mischievous inner knowing.

We spoke, we laughed, we drank, we gave each other confused glances when our spoken languages failed us, and then we laughed some more, sharing the imperfect moments for all their honest perfection.  And as we relaxed into the moment together, a world formed between us; a world where we were the only two in existence.  His hand touched mine and our fingers began to explore the other’s as if they were the entire body.  Fingers interlaced, I could feel the texture and the strength of his hands.  They told a story of a life I did not know but wanted to explore.  Each time his thumb passed over mine, we dove deeper into intimacy.  From the outside it looked like timid strangers testing boundaries, but in the space between us it was sensual and passionate.  We were telling the tales of our souls with gentle touch.  No words were needed as our bodies understood far more than our minds were capable of.  He leaned in and kissed me. Breath and breathlessness collided.

His kiss was passionate and strong, but with a touch of gentleness his hair slipped down onto my face as if to caress it. He raised his hands to my jaw, gently exploring its contours, and as our kiss grew deeper, he slid his hands along my face and into my hair.  With the most subtle tightening he pulled me in and pushed me away all in the same movement, creating a tension that both satisfied me and created insatiable desire.  Breathlessness took over as I was captured by his grasp.  My neck relaxed to one side, surrendering my head into the cradle of his hands.  His lips moved gently from mine, and never quite leaving my skin, they made their way down my elongated neck.  Breath returned as I inhaled deeply with anticipation.  

It was time to leave the bar, because this was a moment for another place, but where?  We had nowhere to go this night.  Hand in hand we walked down the street, the air was cold but there was warmth between us.  Just a few minutes away, we came across a playground.  There’s something about a playground at night that is both eerie and romantic.  It was perfect.  Gleefully, we jumped on the swings, laughing,  swinging and eventually coming back together, embracing both each other and the night. 

He wrapped his arms around me and I looked into his eyes. They looked back at me, dark and deep like staring into the ocean at night.  I knew there was a lot there, but I had no idea what.  Was it good?  Was it bad?  It was a secret I didn’t need to know, not now, not ever.  He leaned in, brushed past my lips and began kissing my neck.  I melted into his arms as he nibbled through my defenses, releasing desire.  His body began to sway, moving mine to the rhythm in his mind.  Arms around bodies, lips against lips, we moved as one.  And there, on that playground, we danced.  We danced under the midnight sun.  Whether for an eternity or just one night, none of it mattered.  We were there together, existing in a beautiful moment.  A moment, but also a lifetime.

Canada Geese

I have a tarot deck – the Wild Unknown deck. There was something about the imagery that I loved, so even though I’m not sure I believe in tarot, I bought it, I use it, and I generally have no idea what I’m doing or what any of the cards mean. When I first started exploring this deck there was something that struck me – the lovers card. Instead of the usual guy and girl standing naked side by side, there are two Canada geese, flying beautifully in the skies. It was perfect. I have a history of geese meddling in my love life. This deck was definitely for me! So here’s a little story about love and geese…

Once upon a time, I got married. Yep, it’s true. It wasn’t exactly a great decision, but sometimes two people do stupid things in an attempt to further deny the fact that the relationship just isn’t right. I got married in Lake Tahoe on a beautiful day in June. The sun was out and the lake was sparkling its magnificent deep blue. I had my hair and make-up done and was wearing a pretty white dress, feeling completely not like myself. I walked down the path towards my soon to be husband not feeling any of the things I imagine a person is supposed to feel when they are about to get married.

The ceremony began, my fiance and I were standing there, awkwardly about 5 feet apart as our hired fake Elvis said something about love and commitment. Then, off in the distance, I saw a lone Canada goose playing in the lake, and for the first time that morning I felt excited! Instead of listening to what Elvis was saying, I watched the goose intently. I tried to share my excitement with my soon-to-be husband by not so subtlety whispering and pointing. There I was in the middle of what is supposed to be the “best day of my life” and all I cared about was this damn goose. I managed to stay focused on the actual wedding long enough to say “I do”, but still, all I was really interested in was that goose.

The goose stayed for the reception. Through toasts and cake cutting, it watched. It watched as I posed for photos, as I hugged my family, as I kissed my new husband. It was there through all of it, standing in the water relaxed and happy. It’s unusual to see a goose all alone like that. Normally, they are with their friends, relaxing in the grass somewhere or begging tourists for pieces of sandwiches. But this goose was happy to be alone. He was completely content. I should have been like that goose. Alone, doing my thing. And less than a year later, I was. Just me, alone, just like that goose.

Many years later I had my second lone goose encounter. I was on date with a guy who was trying really hard to make me his girlfriend. I wasn’t so sure about him, but was giving him a chance because friends of mine had mentioned that I never let anyone get past a second date. I always had good reasons, but decided it wouldn’t hurt to try something new. Third date, here I come…

We went hiking and in the middle of the hike we stopped by a lake for some snacks and wine. While we were sitting there enjoying the view a goose swam right up to me and just looked me in the eye. I looked back. “I hear you,” I thought to myself, “He is not for me.” And the goose was right, he wasn’t for me. I already knew it, but again, sometimes people do stupid things even when they know it isn’t right.

Now, my tarot deck tells me I have found my second goose. It says – “Two Canadian geese are mates for life.” Reality has yet to align, but the cards are adamant. So I wait, patiently, for my goose to come to me. Maybe that’s what my two lone geese were doing on those days – waiting. Happily enjoying their lives, knowing someday they would take flight with their perfect mate, and in the meantime, all they needed to do was hang out, enjoy themselves and meddle with the hearts of unsuspecting humans.

Rock Magic

Have you ever been walking along the beach and seen a rock that you just had to pick up? Sometimes you carry it for a few steps and then toss it casually aside. Sometimes you take it home and place it carefully in the garden. Sometimes you see another rock and put the two together, because something about the pairing just looks right. This is rock magic. It looks like nothing, feels like nothing, but in fact, is something. I will explain…

I’m sure you’ve noticed, rocks do not have feet, they do not have wings, they do not have fins and they’re pretty dense, so if they want to go somewhere the wind is certainly not going to help. So what do they do? They use us, that’s what! They find unsuspecting people on the beach, or in the mountains, or even just the sidewalk and compel them take them wherever it is that they want to go. That pebble you just tossed into the lake? It’s been wanting to go for a swim all day.

The most memorable experience I ever had with rock magic began at Reynesfjara, the famous black sand beach in the south of Iceland. I found a rock there that called out to me. We spent an hour on the beach together watching the waves and when it was time to go, the rock went with me. This rock stayed with me the rest of the trip, and when I returned to California, it found a new home in my rock collection next to some other friends from Iceland and some new friends from other travels.

When I was planning my second trip to Iceland, I felt like this rock wanted to go home. I put it in the small zip pouch in my backpack and off to Iceland we went. For almost two weeks, this rock went everywhere with me – up mountains, along rivers, into the snow. It was a beautiful trip together until we reached the Glacier Lagoon and I knew it was time to say goodbye. We sat together for a while, watching the glaciers bob in the gentle waves. And, when I felt satisfied with our moment, I gave it a little kiss, placed it lovingly atop a big rock and walked away. I did look back, but only to smile, happy knowing that it was back home and that we had had a beautiful journey together.

Eight months and 10,000 miles of travel only for this rock to end up 120 miles away from where I found it. I really hope it is happy at the Glacier Lagoon, or that if it wasn’t or changed its mind, it found someone else to take it on another adventure. Who knows, maybe it’s relaxing right now on a beach in Fiji.

My little rock, just before we said goodbye.

Alone in the Mountains

I was alone. Just me and the mountains. I hadn’t planned to hike this far. I hadn’t planned to be here. In fact, I wasn’t even quite sure where ‘here’ was. I didn’t have a map, I didn’t have phone service, but the mountains ahead were calling to me, so I kept marching towards them. The thought crossed my mind that if I took a wrong step, I would die here, but it seemed a good place to die, so I continued on.

There was a trail, but the more I walked, the more the trail blended into the surroundings. There were boulders to the left, boulders to the right and boulders straight ahead. It was hard to determine which way was actually the way to go, so I just went up, scrambling over rocks and crossing little streams. My eyes were fixed on the summits above me. They had captured me and were pulling me closer and closer to their snow-lined peaks. On my right, what had once been a series of puddles, was now almost a river. Occasionally, I would pass a rock large enough to break its flow, creating a delicate cascade of water that sprinkled down its face.

My heart was beating in my chest – from exhaustion, from excitement and from fear. I’ve spent plenty of time alone in the wilderness, but this was different. I was under the spell of the mountains and there was no telling what would happen. I had lost control, my heart was leading the way. I continued on until the mountain face became too steep. Even using both hands and feet, I slid more than I climbed, and eventually, I retreated to a place where I could rest. I was surrounded on three sides by rock and snow, and in the distance, far far away, I could see the sun creeping towards the ocean. It cast its golden rays across the surface of the water and shone orange and red on the clouds above. It was time to go back, or I would be lost here in the dark, possibly forever.

When I reached the base of the mountain, I sat down in the grass to watch the final moments of the sunset. I took a deep breath and exhaled out all the fear, joy and excitement of the past few hours. What was left, was stillness and peace. I settled into the moment, enjoying the calm feeling in my heart. It was a feeling that I recognized, but not from my adventures. It was a feeling I had felt only twice before in my life. Once when I was a teenager, and once during the month just prior to my hike, both times nestled in the lap of a man that I loved. It was in this moment that I realized, sometimes, the feeling we are seeking doesn’t have to be found through adventure; sometimes, the feeling we are seeking is waiting for us at home, and all we need to do is take a deep breath, find stillness and peace in our hearts, and let out the things that keep us from appreciating what we already have.

Under the Northern Lights

We were strangers, parked in a truck miles outside of the city, completely alone in the darkness. Having only met this man once before, I had done what any heartbroken and reckless girl would have done – hopped into his truck and went riding off into the night. I wanted to see the northern lights and he said it was a good night to spot them. He was probably the last thing that my heart needed, but in that moment I didn’t care. I just wanted to feel something, anything.

I once had two heartbreaks in one year. Two bad heartbreaks. The kind of heartbreak that doesn’t just leave you broken, but shattered. Unable to make sense of the fragments that once comprised my hopes and dreams, for months I desperately tried to outrun and outswim my racing mind and aching heart. I refused to stop to think, feel, or even breathe. But no matter how fast or far I went, my pain was always faster, stronger and more determined. It always caught up with me and when it did it took me down like a lineman trying to stop the final play at the Super Bowl. One day, I just couldn’t run anymore, I couldn’t swim, and I couldn’t hide. I was trapped with my anger and sadness staring me in the face. The clock ran out, the game was over, there was no way to win.

Still unwilling to actually face my feelings, I booked a vacation. I’m not sure if I was trying to run or hide, or just buy some time so I wouldn’t be caught crying at work. I just knew I needed to be alone. Just me, wandering the wilderness, searching for peace. I left for Iceland. It was one of the only places I knew I could hike alone without fear of being eaten by snakes, bears, mountain lions or tigers. A place where the only thing I had to fear was the weather and myself. As it turns out, I was much scarier than the weather. The weather in Iceland in October isn’t bad, but it isn’t great. There was lots of rain, a little snow and winds that can rip the doors off of cars if you park the wrong direction. I loved it. I watched the Icelandic horses standing in open fields bearing the force of the wind. I watched the calm in their eyes as the rain fell around them, they just stood there unflinching in the cold. They knew how to weather a storm. I tried to learn from them, but lacked their grace and beauty in the face of a storm I wasn’t sure would ever pass, but somehow, when I watched them, I felt understood.

On my search for peace, I had planned to avoid men on my trip. They were, after all, the source of all my troubles. But, I have an iPhone, and it’s trusty battery left me with a choice upon arrival, get really fucking lost or hang out in my hotel for a few hours tethered to an outlet. I chose to be tethered and to pass the time went happily swiping away on Tinder. Before I was even at 50% battery life, I had matched with the most beautiful man I had ever seen. Ever. Icy blue eyes, beautiful bone structure, just the right amount of scruff to bring attention to the contours of his lips, and a photo of him with a horse that showed off both his strong body and his adventurous spirit. It was trouble and I have an unquenchable thirst for trouble, especially as a distraction to pain.

We met the next night in the middle of nowhere. Having asked him directly if he was either a rapist or a murderer, I had determined it was safe to invite him to my hotel to meet for the first time. I gave him my room number and waited, watching the night from my window. There was nothing out there but the wind and the stars. Then, a knock on my door. This was it – was he lying about being a murderer? I was about to find out. The night went well. We talked, he taught me some Icelandic, he didn’t murder me. Time passed quickly and I had to send him away as I had important hiking plans in the morning. I never expected to see him again, but on the last night of my trip we met again, this time to chase the northern lights. It was the only thing left on my trip wish list and the weather was clear and cold, good conditions despite the nearly full moon. He picked me up and off we went, driving away from the lights of the city, to a spot where it was just him, me, the truck and the sky.

As I watched the sky, I could feel his eyes on me. He was a native and the lights display that evening was not nearly as interesting as the crazy American girl sitting beside him. I watched the colors dance across the sky. They were faint against the moonlight, but clear enough to see. I was in awe. I never knew how much they moved. How different each moment would be. It was beautiful. I could have been satisfied with just the lights show, but that was not all this night had planned for me. My eyes met the eyes that had been watching me. They were beautiful, he was beautiful. I wanted to get lost in those eyes, just as I had the sky, I wanted to free myself to the moment, and I did.

As we made love, I gazed through the window at the northern lights still dancing across the sky. It sounds romantic, but it wasn’t. This wasn’t about romance or love, it was just a moment. It was two strangers in the night, giving in to passion and desire. One searching for escape, for feeling, for hope, for peace. The other, well you’d have to ask him. Maybe he just liked a bit of fun, or maybe he was just as broken as me, desperately searching for a glimpse of warmth in the frozen landscape of a broken heart.

Thunder

“Stay close to me, there might be thunder!”

It was a stormy afternoon in California, dark clouds covered the usually blue sky as rain pounded down. My sister and I had been playing outside when the downpour started. We rushed across the yard to safety, and my sister, being older and very protective, grabbed my hand and said to me, “Stay close to me, there might be thunder!” And, just as she said it, a huge thunderclap burst through the sounds of rainfall.

I was probably 3 or 4 when this happened, but I still remember it clearly. It was one of the few moments in my childhood when I felt completely loved and safe. My sister and I were very close when we were young. From the moment I was born, she loved me. She often showed it in weird ways like tricking me into eating a mud taco, pinning me down to spit on my face, and trying to throw me out the bathroom window of a hotel to save me from our parents, but despite the questionable moments, she was always there to protect and love me. The first line of defense against a dark and dangerous world.

Just two little girls.

As we got older, it became harder for her to protect me. Danger lurked in unexpected places in our household. Slaps that flew for no apparent reason, quiet whispers of things children should not know. We lived with the constant nagging feeling that something terrible was about to happen, and it was only a matter of time before someone really got hurt. Eventually, I learned to protect myself. But the nasty side effects of growing up knowing mostly fear and sadness showed themselves as I raged into my teenage years full of anger and pain. There was no way for her to reach me, so we drifted apart.

As teenagers, I worked through my internal turmoil with drugs, promiscuity and a fully immersive socio-economic study of the drifter culture, she sought her escape by channeling her intense fight for survival into academia. She graduated valedictorian and I narrowly escaped death on more than one occasion. But even worlds apart, she was always there. She did the things our parents should have done. She had the hard conversations, she offered support and she showed me love. She did the best that any slightly older child could do. And so, with time, we found our way back to each other.

Our reunion started when she left for college and invited me to join her for a skirt party and underage drinking. Next, I visited her one year for Thanksgiving. It was just me and her in a little apartment making chicken, peppered brownies, and rekindling the love and joy we had shared as children. We drank too much champagne, made incredibly stupid videos, and laughed until tears of joy rolled down our faces. After that, the visits became more frequent and the calls longer. The space between us disappeared, and there we were, as close and full of love as two children running from a rainstorm.

This year, thunder struck again. With my sister in Los Angles and me in France, we reach across the ocean to escape the storm. We both protect each other now. We share the hard conversations, the offers of support and show love to each other when it is needed. We call on each other to remember what is real and what is not. To remind each other not to get lost in hope. To accept our limitations and put our energy where it matters most. We help each other to make the tough calls, to face the hard truths and to prepare for the inevitable. In life, there will always be thunder. There will always be storms and scary things. What matters, are the people who will take your hand and pull you close. No matter how far away it may seem, love will always be there when the storm hits.

The face of love!