To read an excerpt from the book, please click on the following link:

Monday, September 15, 2014

I Walked Into That Country

Tonight I walked into the country of the dead.

Dust everywhere, white dust, like the dust from cerements.  Shrouds of dust, treetrunks and leaves coated.  Bracken fern gone white with dust; dust clouding the road, taking the shape of ghosts.  We forget that much of this particular part of Santa Cruz County was once a sea; ghosts of ancient sharks, dark hulks of primordial fish, swim around us unseen.  Only the sand remains of that tidal atmosphere, that, and a sense that the moon still tugs, moving the air just so.  I stand outside my daughter's car and breathe in the dust, the faint scent underneath of the forest, untouched, desolate, yet living still.

It is not a place to linger.

My daughter and I braved the drive all the way up the dirt road to Asha's memorial cross.  We were quiet and respectful of the few neighbors up there; the silence we maintained was absolute.  This is not a place to gawk and take selfies next to the memorial cross.  It is a woman and a child's last resting place and therefore sacred ground.  We approached with reverence and in silence.

I saw huge rounds of wood just before we reached the spot where McClish dumped Asha's body--I should say Asha and Anina, for the little baby girl died with her mother, curled beneath her heart.  McClish had been up to that site previously to see about a woodcutting job.  Looks like he never got a chance to finish it, or maybe I am under the spell of illusion: those are likely rounds of wood from recent times, or perhaps not.  It is not easy to know what is past or present here in this landscape; time slips and shifts like the landslides all around.

We stood in the very spot where McClish,  madman, savager of women, murderer of an innocent baby, decided to stop and toss his burden over the side of the road.  A local man, someone who owns a treecutting service (and who is also a priest), had the cross made of first-growth redwood, engraved with Asha's name:  "Joanna 'Asha' Veil and her unborn baby.  Memory Eternal."  It has been placed on the road above the exact spot where Asha lay; a kind young woman found her there as she walked her dog. Ironically, this same young woman drove her car past us and waved.

Looking down into the creek, I saw that a log had stopped the descent of Asha's body.  She was found facedown on it.  Leaves, brush, and dirt made a cradle for Anina and Asha to rest in, as if in the palm of a hand.  I could easily have walked down there and up again without stumbling.  At night, these ravines look like the gaping maw of hell: in daytime, they are relatively shallow.  McClish must have roared up that road, disoriented, seeing the ravines in their illusion of depth and blackness.  Was someone behind him?  Did he panic?  He must have reached the spot where it was possible to turn around, just a few feet up from where her cross now stands.  They say he dragged her to the place where he pushed her off; certainly it was possible for a man of his strength, pumping adrenaline, to do just that.  Yet people do travel that road; dragging along a large wrapped bundle seems so ghoulish and so stupid also, if you don't want to get caught: insanity, incaution, must have filled him that night, or perhaps just a reptilian coldness, the tense langour of the rattler whose venom has been spent.  He did not estimate the tree that stopped her descent, nor the shallowness of the ravine, with the creek darkly running beneath, singing its shadow-song.

I scooped a handful of earth from the roadside just above the cross; I left a penny as payment for the dirt.  You always pay the spirits, but Asha's spirit is not there; she truly is in a place beyond time, beyond sorrow and plight, cradling Anina in her arms, perhaps in that place I envisioned for her when I first began to write this story.  Someone has placed a rag doll with crazy yellow yarn hair at the base of the cross, perhaps something Asha herself chose before she died, a gift for her as-yet-unborn child.  There is an ugly rubber doll there, too, almost like a tiny Barbie doll, as if some child put it there, thinking it a treasure.  I promised Asha I would come to visit another day, clean spiderwebs off her cross, perhaps ask the priest who placed it to use some redwood sealant on it, as it is becoming weathered.  I promised to place something beautiful at the foot of her cross one day, maybe a tiny statue of a mother and child, like the one in my flowerpot of roses for a baby I lost.

I stood, a living woman in the country of the dead and finished by chanting again the Heart Sutra, the  the mantra for a bodhisattva who, having escaped samsara, flies into the nothingness, the One, the absolute boundless dissolving into light.  Then, with nothing left to do but shed my tears for the woman whose body was tossed so cruelly into a dust-covered crevice of earth, my daughter and I bowed three times, then got in the car and drove away down the silent, darkening road.