Interlude: A very brief love story

helium balloon

This morning at the Be Kind festival, a smiley face helium balloon – one of at least a hundred tied to various posts, plants and tables – detached itself from its string to come fly straight in my face.

I grabbed it with both hands and looked it straight in the eyes. With several witnesses’ concurrence, I decreed that balloon mine, or rather, since it had chosen me out of all the people under the tent, maybe I was its. The lady in charge of the festival happened to walk by with scissors right then – don’t worry, this isn’t a morbid love story. When she heard of our serendipitous encounter, she promptly cut part of a string from another balloon so that we might tie a knot to keep us together.

Oh, we had such a joyous time, for a short while. We socialized, took walks in the park, smiled in the face of dark clouds and rainy weather. I still don’t really know why my new friend left me. It surreptitiously cut its string as I reentered the tent, and flew away. By the time I realized it was gone, it was already high over the city and heading straight towards the mountains. I watched it get smaller and smaller. It seems happy there, or at least it was still smiling. I was sad to see it go, but also, I understood.

“Yep, that was your balloon alright.” were the only words of comfort my friend could offer.

balloon in the sky



If the world was more like the playa.

If the world was more like the Playa

A list of 10 suggestions for world improvement

by the Roaming Bobcat a.k.a. Maya of the Playa
(I have many names)

  • 1. Welcome home

If the world was more like the playa, airports would be welcome centers rather than threat screening gantlets. In this world, there is no need for passports. Language-proficient agents in welcome booths greet visitors in whichever manner is the custom of the country. A guide of the history and customs of the country, along with basic guidelines and a map is provided. For American citizens entering the US, for example, the custom would be a sincere “welcome home. I hope you had a nice trip. We’re glad you’re back” and a big bear hug.

  • 2. Artful urbanization

If the world was more like the playa, art would be fully integrated into urban settings. In this world, there is no advertisement, billboards, or no suggestion that anybody should consume more or act differently. Instead, art is on display as a gift to the community. Larger art pieces are accessible and interactive. Artist are respected as craftspeople and appreciated for their contribution. Urban dwellings are diverse and highly personalized but generally aesthetically pleasing and non-intrusive. Cityscapes, from a distance, seem like colorful beautiful chaos.


  • 3. Radical inclusion

If the world was more like the playa, individuality and self-expression would be prized above all else. In this world, anything goes, and it goes well. Anyone can live naked or fully dressed, and any state in between as appeal to them, with no concern of offending others and no risk of negative judgment. Crowds are colorful cacophonies of tall boots, revealing underwear, tutus, bunny ears, leather, hats, and plain old jeans and tee-shirts. Straights and gays and polygamists and people quite content with being single have equal rights and respect. Non-conformity is encouraged, but conformity is just as well. For those who prefer expressing themselves through group association, themed parades and gatherings are available. No one is ever judged for participating, or not participating.

  • 4. Places of worship

If the world was more like the playa, temples and other places of worship would be designed for introspection and inner-exploration. In such places, all emotions are celebrated. Grief and joy are equally expressed freely and openly. Anyone can design his or her own rite of passage and ceremonies and perform them in public view and with public support. In this world, temples are haven of silence with dirt floors for earth grounding and skylights for easier cosmic connections. Hugs are available on demand; alone space is provided otherwise. Occasionally, a person with an exceptional voice gives the gift of a song in soft tones. The message is always uplifting, personal and intentional.

  • 5. Community support

If the world was more like the playa, no one would ever feel lonely, unless they actively chose to feel so for the value of the experience. In this world, love is a free-flowing commodity. Promiscuity is valued as long as boundaries are respected. Boundaries are never judged negatively. Innocuous gestures of appreciation, such as random hugs, acts of kindness and compliments, are common place. No one is ever considered a stranger, and the community supports each individual’s growth with care and compassion. The individual, in exchange, takes responsibility for their own growth and only depends on the community as is appropriate. Kissing and hugs booths are provided for entertainment only, affection is a normal mode of operation.

  • 6. Footprint awareness

If the world was more like the playa, bicycles and vehicles of mass transportation would prevail. In this world, each person is highly conscious of his or her own carbon footprint. Leave-no-trace is so ingrained that it is second nature. Streets are clean. Trash is minimal. Resources are conserved and recycled. Vehicles, motorized or not, are well decorated and an integral part of the urban art scene. Art cars, as vehicles of mass transportation are called, are free to ride, but their destination is usually unpredictable and time-tables are non-existent. This works well because no one has an agenda or destination beyond the experience of riding on the art car, meeting new people and exploring new grounds.


  • 7. Free and voluntary education

If the world was more like the playa, education would be free, voluntary and widely available. In this world, children are encouraged to discover and pursue their natural talents. Learning is achieved through world exploration and self-discovery, rather than codified lessons. Everybody is a teacher according to their area of expertise. Learning is a lifestyle, not a side activity, and can happen anywhere simply by asking. There are also learning centers, with bright airy dome-shaped rooms. There, students sit in a circle with the master for the lesson. All classrooms have an open-door policy, so students can join or leave as they see fit. There is no stigma on any topic. One dome might specialize in practical craftsmanship such as welding, wood working, etc, another might offer workshops in tantric sex, understanding the sacred masculine and feminine energies or offer practice in applied manifestation techniques.

  • 8. Gift-based economy

If the world was more like the playa, the economy would be based on gifts and self-sufficiency. In this world, there is no currency, no Federal Reserve, no taxes or fees of any kind. Because each person is engaged in activities he or she enjoys, nobody feels they have to work, and nobody is ever forced to share. People of this world, however, love to share their crafts and talents with the community. Everybody is completely self-reliant. Either as individuals or within smaller communities – called village -, food, water, shelter is the responsibility of each. In this world, I think that would even be true of coffee – so that is one up on the playa, where you can, actually, buy coffee and ice. Unappealing tasks are few through the application of leave-no-trace by everyone. Communal toilets are the responsibility of all, and cleaning them is a highly respected and praised service to the community (another one this world has on the playa).

  • 9. Natural integration

If the world was more like the playa, people would live in harmony with the natural world. In this world, the weather and terrain are integral part of each person’life. The planet’s natural rhythms are part of each person’s basic education. With this knowledge, the community aligns itself to the changing environment and flows within the natural cycles. Sand storms, might, for example, be appreciated for their exfoliating properties, for the opportunity to wear eccentric protection goggles and for the surreal dimension they add to large art pieces. Heat waves, might, for example, be taken as opportunities to slow down, find a hammock and practice the essential life-skill of “being” rather than “doing”.

  • 10. Purposeful ephemeral

If the world was more like the playa, structures and effigies would be burnt to prevent nascent idolatries. In this world, people value experiences above all material possessions. The ephemeral is celebrated, and each one is encouraged to modify his or her dwelling, outfits and other means of self-expression to reflect continuous growth. These burns are the great celebrations that punctuate life and give a semblance of organization to the natural chaos. Some burns are designed for the release of pent-up energies. These are wild occasions where everyone can push their self-expression to whichever degrees they chose, whether it be public copulation, naked dancing, or guttural howling – anyway by which to release strong emotions before they can fester and become malevolence. Other burns are designed to release what no longer serves, whether grief, fear, old loved ones, lost loved ones, detrimental self-images, etc. These are solemn, respectful events, during which the community finds its Oneness. And yet, other burns are just for the pleasure of burning stuff and stare into the flames for a while.


You may say I’m a dreamer … but there are at least 70,000 others out there
I hope someday you’ll join us.




The Bobcat – A statement of purpose.

The Bobcat

– A statement of purpose –

To follow my heart blindly in all decisions, and in all aspects of my life
impervious to judgments, internal or external

To approach all experiences with faith, trust and levity
and always remember that I am here to play

To hold a vision of the life and world pulling me forward with anticipatory gratitude
and keep that vision as my compass for the next steps


What happened that one night by the Little Colorado.

“Sipapu!” I’ve had the word stuck in my head for days now. Most people get songs stuck in their head, I get words. Once, in India, I had the Sanskrit word Patanjalim on replay in my brain for a full week, and for hundred of the PCT miles I had duress pop up several times an hour for no obvious reason. In most cases, I have no idea where I originally pick up these sticky words, but I do know where Sipapu comes from, and this post is that story, and yes, it does have spirits in it.

Do you remember, if you even paid attention, this post I wrote on Facebook a few months ago?
January 20th, 2013: “Wow. I know I’ve been updating my status everyday with stories of how amazing my move to the desert has been, and I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging, but, wow, this takes the cake. Camped several miles down a dirt road on the straight down steep rim of the Little Colorado river canyon, far from any light pollution. I even got Google sky map out. The silence here is intense. About to crawl into my bag with a book of Grand Canyon lore. Love ya.XO”

This is what happened that night: I had gone to the Grand Canyon to familiarize myself with the lay of the land and hike down to the Colorado River. On the way out, I decided to go East, through the Navajo and Hopi reservations, to link up to I89 south to Flagstaff. I left the Desert View, in Grand Canyon around 5 pm, which placed me along the Little Colorado River canyon right at sunset. The vast expense of gold, pink, orange desert was surreal and well beyond the abilities of any camera I own. I passed several side-of-the-road stands destined to become Indian Jewelry tourist traps when the season kicks in. Back in January, they were nothing but empty low tables under thatched roofs, dirt and tumble weeds.

I had intended to drive straight to Flagstaff that night, but the desert was so inviting and serene that I decided to make it my home for the night. I took a dirt road behind one of the empty native jewelry stands and aimed straight for the Little Colorado River. I drove a few miles, went past what looked like abandoned ceremonial structures, and found a pullout within walking distance of the canyon. The Grand Canyon might be grand, but I think the canyon of the Little Colorado is just as beautiful, and much more intimate. I could see the water at the bottom, a dark emerald green shade surrounded by a low fog. The canyon edge were steep, the sun had already set and I was hungry, so I didn’t linger.

I cooked myself a meal on my little fuel stove, sat on the tailgate of the truck looking at the desert in the last dusk glow, checked Facebook and talked to my friend Ana on the phone until well past dark. Nothing unusual. By then I had been living in the back of my truck for months, I am comfortable with being alone far from civilization. In fact, I prefer it.

A beautiful starry silent night fell on me, the truck and the Little Colorado. I crawled in my deliciously warm bag and got myself ready to sleep like a log, as I usually do in the truck. But something was not quite right. The wind had picked up, but not to any alarming extent. This was not my first windy night in the truck. For no immediately obvious reason, I felt compelled to sit up and check on the desert. I couldn’t see anything worrisome so I laid back down. A few minutes later, I again wanted to check, and still, nothing there. I repeated this maneuver every couple of minutes for about half hour and started to get the feeling that something was seriously not right despite the lack of evidence. I sent a prayer out to the Universe, “Please protect me from fear and harm, especially fear”. That has always worked well enough for me, but this time, I couldn’t shake the uneasiness. I crawled back out of the truck to check the desert in person and pee. I usually love peeing under the stars, it’s a treat, but that time, I pee with my back to a tire, so that the truck protected my blind side. On the way back, the hair on the back of my neck suddenly stood up. I didn’t know what was there, but I didn’t question it. With my back to the truck, I side-stepped to the cab, sat at the wheel, locked all the doors and drove the hell out of there.

I figured I’d drive a little further down, but the “fight or flight” feeling stuck with me for a good hour. I ended up driving into a national monument and camping illegally under the perched citadel ruins of ancient Puebloans people.

This was the comment I wrote below my own Facebook post the next morning:

” So , this is how that went … after I wrote the above post, the night got darker, and the whole place started to feel creepy. I’ve been sleeping in the back of the truck in a different location for 3-some months now and never felt so uncomfortable. I had no reason to feel so, but I didn’t argue with it. By 9:30 pm, with the hair on the back of my neck raised, I got out of there. No idea what that was about. I drove several hours and finally crashed in what looked like a parking lot, no one around. I woke up this morning RIGHT underneath some ancient Puebloans ruins surrounded by infinite golden grass field. I actually think it was even more beautiful than where I was last night. What a weird life I’m having, seriously.”

Fast forward two months. I get hired by Pink Jeep Tours, I move to Tusayan, just south of Grand Canyon and I start the guides training (side note: I have already quit Pink Jeep. Wait, what!? True story … read my next post when I write it. )

One day, while visiting the ruins of an Anasazi (of which the Hopis are the descendants) village with the group of trainees, one of the current guides tells us: “You can always find a little portal covered by a rock in Anasazis’ ceremonial rooms, usually a few feet from the main fire in the center. It is called the Sipapuni, and its function is to prevent spirits from entering this world, the 4th world. Not to be confused with the Sipapu, which is an actual place in the Little Colorado River canyon. The Sipapu, according to the Hopis, is the portal into the underworld and the place where spirits enter our world. It’s an actual place. There is a hot spring there, and a vent with steam. The water is very green, almost emerald color”.

It didn’t register right away because I was busy taking notes, then suddenly it dawned on me. Holy smokes! That’s where I was. What I took to be fog was steam, I remembered the dark emerald water. So, I must have camped RIGHT above the portal between the 4th world and the underworld, the specific place where spirits emerge. No wonder I was spooked out of there.

When I got back to the hotel, this is what I dug up on the internet:
“The story of the Ancestral Puebloans lives on in the mythology of the Hopi, considered by many to be the most mysterious and mystical of all Native Americans. It begins with the claim that their ancestors emerged from the Third World through a crack, into this, the Fourth World, in a placed known as Sipapu. Their Sipapu – other Native Americans have such places of emergence elsewhere – is located near Desert View, 25 miles of Grand Canyon Village, near the confluence of the Colorado and the Little Colorado Rivers. The Sipapu itself is a natural salt dome, six to eight meters high, topped by a permanent spring”.

I didn’t actually see the Sipapu because it was too deep in the Canyon. Apparently, accessing it requires a seven hour trek along the Salt Trail Canyon. I’m not sure I have the guts to go there. Certainly, I would not want to be there at night ever again.

There you have it. Sipapu.
I live in such a magical land. Arizona, I love you.

XO – Roaming Bobcat.


[To whom it may concern:]

That is all I ask

If I come unglued
Would you gather me up and contain me?
If I fly high
Would you be an open sky?
If I shine
Would you showcase me, without shielding me?
If I dwell in the shadows
Would you shine brightly, and illuminate me?
If I whisper
Would you still hear me?
If I roar
Would you roar with me
or gently lead me back to peace and silence
and always know which is appropriate?
If I laugh
Would you sing songs in praise of my laughter?
If I cry
Would you hold me in your arms and let the rivers flow?

Would you walk with me, in step, to common destinations?
Would you run with me, and clear obstacles with effortless bounds?
Would you fly with me, so high that all perspective is lost?
And hold my hand as we fall back down to earth with perfect accuracy?
Would you always set a net to catch me, and trust that I would do the same for you?

And when we find our way back to the ground safely,
Would you lay with me in the fresh spring grass under a cloudless sky
and tell me that you love me
without ever speaking a word?


[I write poems in the middle of the night. Instead of sleeping]

Anniversary of not dying – story I wrote last year.

Exactly a year ago, I had a little brush with the beyond. This is the story I wrote that day. I am thankful to still be here so that I can continue to have adventures of this sort, and some less intense too.


What not to do if you live by the Mississippi.

By Melissa Park. (3/25/2011)

I was in a very bad mood this morning, so I decided to go air myself out by the Mississippi. I have just met the river, but already it has provided me with good ideas, great sunsets and even an ice climber, so I hoped it would cure my case of the blues.

First, I was shocked to find out that the Mississippi flows towards the airport and not away from the airport past where I live. Because I had not yet walked to the other side of the bridge, I had not seen the middle part of the river that is not trapped under the ice. I was sure it flowed the other way. My mental map of where I live has been backwards since I got here! Pleased with having this wrong righted I decided to walk south, which is what I mistakenly thought I had been doing all along. My mood had already improved by the time I got to the other side of the river. This was a new trail, and I needed an adventure.

I found a path in the snow and followed it down to the river. The trail meandered through trees then out onto a flat snow field along the river. Now, I have never seen this river in the summer, so I don’t know what sort or banks it has. Is the steep part the banks? Was I walking on snow over a sandy shore, rocks, water? I really liked the trail because it was down from all the city commotion and I felt as though I was walking in the wild, plus it was in the sun. I thought “Well, there are steps here, and they look no older than yesterday based on the light dusting that covers them. The person who made these, based on the size of the footprints, was much bigger than I am and he (most likely a he) didn’t sink that much. And, it’s colder today than yesterday, so if yesterday was okay for a big man, even if I am over water, it should be solid enough to hold me”. They say that every accident in retrospect can be pinpointed to one bad decision … I committed to the trail on the flat.

It was a gorgeous day out despite the well below-freezing temperature. I took photos, enjoyed the sun, took deep breaths, looked at the trees. I walked this way, being careful to walk by the steps but not in the steps (because I sank less than whoever made the steps), for about half an hour. I was approaching a bridge when I noticed there was ice at the bottom of the man’s steps. I started the thought, “That’s weird. I wonder if the snow in the steps thawed and then refroze as ice with the colder temperature, or if the ice here is so thin that the water from the Mississippi is …”. Jolt of adrenaline, I was suddenly down to my left hip in water, left hand and arm included. I swore. My other leg was folded over the ice still, so I tried to push myself out, but the ice gave out under my right leg too. I grabbed onto the snow towards the shore, but the ice was breaking from the hole in which I was to wherever I tried to go. Finally, in a very ungraceful commando maneuver, I beached myself on the ice, kicked my legs out and belly crawled to the shore until I had a tree firmly in hand.

My heart was racing. I swore a couple of times to clear my head and said out loud “Who the hell is so stupid as to go hike alone on top of a frozen river!?”. I took my gloves off to wring them out, but they froze solid in their wrung position. I cracked the ice off them and put my hands back in quickly lest they become so frozen as to make them unwearable. My left leg and boot and my left arm from the elbow down were covered in a thin sheet of ice. A pain in my left thigh let me know that I will have a bruise to commemorate this event.

Without much thought except that of getting away from the danger zone, I started scrambling up the slope. Right up there, only 30 feet or so up was the road. I just needed to get there. But as the slope got steeper, I realized my epic exit wasn’t over yet. I stopped about midway and considered my options aloud (I don’t know why I speak aloud when I am epicking by myself; maybe to make it sound like somebody else is there). There was no place to walk below except for the trail I had followed, and with the day advancing I figured I was risking more icy baths by the minute. I was lucky on the first one, but not willing to tempt fate any further. It was too steep and the trees were too sparse to traverse. I could go up, but it only got steeper. I dug in the snow to figure out what lay below. More ice! Nice slick rocks covered in ice with heavy caked snow on top. I think at that moment I was not any less concerned than if I had been on a high alpine route and discovered I took a wrong turn.

That was the deciding factor: although the way up was scary, it’s the kind of scary I know, and so far God or the universe or whoever looks out for small dogs, old ladies and stupid climbers has always had my back. A little off to the north, I saw a rabbit trail. I figured animals are much smarter than we are about trail finding, so my best bet would be to follow it. It was the right call, except for the fact that I weigh slightly more than a rabbit. I was soon stuck on a tree belay, just 6 feet below the lip to the road, with not another hold for feet or hands within reasonable reach. I stayed at the tree pondering whether to try my luck elsewhere or leap for a branch hanging over the lip to the road for a while. I thought that without an ice axe, if I missed, I’d likely tumble all the way back down to the river and break a leg or some other body part. My pants were freezing back into a solid object, so before I got too cold, I lept for the branch. That branch led to a tree that had a branch that led to the top. And that is how I got out.

It felt so anti-climatic to find myself on a road in a pleasant neighborhood with cars driving by, while I stood there, a death-defying ice-caked weirdo, that I just laughed for at least a full minute before moving on. Maybe it was  nerve release too.

I walked home on the road and by the time I got here, my gloves and pants felt like they were made of inflexible plastic. It took me a while to thaw, but I am well and warm now. Thank you to all who worried about me.

Epilogue – As I thawed in the shower I thought … what if I had fallen all the way in? Would I have known how to get out? Nobody could have seen me from the road where I was. Nobody would have worried about me until tonight. Would it have seemed strange to my friends if I died in the Mississippi? In the middle of a city? Is there anybody to whom I would have regretted not saying goodbye? Or made peace with? Maybe the adventure was not so epic as to warrant such thoughts, but I’ve been pondering a lot of existential questions lately, so it hit me at a good time. It was a good reality-check. A don’t be blue, you’re still alive-check. So, although I don’t plan on doing anything quite that stupid again anytime soon, just know that I am selective in my choice of friends. If you are reading this, then you are special to me, and I am thankful to have you in my life.

XO – Mel.