Friday, June 08, 2007

many paths, one journey

A week ago today I crossed a great swathe of treeless land, heading to the ocean. I travelled with Sam, our on-site dog carer, in a massive white van; our mission was to finally meet the dogs of Ms Wu, whose stories and faces have already brought tears to my eyes. I loved the journey; those desolate mountains rising from the earth, barren yet ripe - to my eyes - with potential: a sense of spaciousness, enormity. I told Sam I could live on one of those mountains tops, and look from yesterday to tomorrow and beyond; he laughed, and said he would rather be eaten alive by ants, or something similar - he likes lush humidity. But I am drawn to those landscapes where nothing evokes the promise of everything. I have crossed the Nullabor (tr: no tree) Plain in Australia - which is famous for the longest straight stretch of road in the world - several times, mile after mile of the very same view. There it's pretty much flat - though extraordinarily, at some spots if you deviate but a short distance, you meet the stark edge of the continent, which truly is a sheer drop into the ocean, like a great piece of land bitten off and cast away, the sea roiling hundreds of feet below. So the appearance of drab flatness belies what is really close by, simply hidden.

It was evening time as we courted the edge of civilisation. We stopped once for a real home-made pizza, but there was nowhere to stay, so we drove on, my eyes panning the exits for safe harbour. I spied a very low-key place, the American Inn, in a setting that would not rate reviews. Perched at the edge of the freeway, old and worn, perhaps seedy. But it was cheap, and the clerk was friendly, and, it tuned out, German. I lived in Germany for some years, and love the language and the country - still sometimes feel homesick for that culture. Better still, I had visited his hometown, so there was a shared journey, a connect of our past.

Appearances are so superficial; in fact, the room was lovely: old, but immaculately clean and welcoming, just perfect. However, it was early the next morning we discovered that the narrow dead end street of a few plain, small homes contained some jewels. Kwan Yin, the Chinese Bodhisattva of compassion stood just a few doors way, eternally pouring her compassion forth from a jar in her hand, and next to her, magnificent cactus flowers. The Guru was there, we were sure.

We hit LA proper some hours before the flight, and, when close to LAX, randomly detoured off the freeway to find breakfast. We found ourselves in a nice part of town - cute houses being renovated, lush yards, beautiful windswept trees. And a French cafe! We pulled into a side street, and walked back. There, next door to the cafe, was a white picket fence garlanded with red and white flowers - the colours of Bodhicitta, or awakened compassion. We looked up - prayer flags flying in the breeze. We knew the Guru was there.

After breakfast we headed for the ocean; I have not seen the sea up close for more years than I remember, though I grew up splashing in its brisk salty welcome. We took off our shoes, and my toes remembered warm sand.

Santa Monica beach was greyed by clouds as was the water that stretched to kiss the horizon, frills of foam dotted with surfers in wetsuits. Sam wandered into the water, i stood further back and allowed the space and the air and the sand and the water to hold me; i looked around and recited the Seven Line prayer to the Guru, there was nothing else to say.

Finally, our destination loomed and we were at the airport, circling in the loop, trying to find our bearings. The wait was long, but suddenly there were two luggage trolleys laden with dog crates, and I cried, "There they are!" and smiled, as the airport guys relentlessly moved on and out and up to the curbside, unstopping. I looked at them all, smiling greetings. Mostly they looked saucer-eyed and unsure. I searched out Lucky - although not coming to us, she remains for me the signature dog of this event, epitomising Ms Wu's love and dedication for bringing life where there was nearly death; somehow she has a corner of my heart. She was thinner, older than her picture suggested - all grey whiskers. I gave her biscuits and said "Om mani pedme hung" - the mantra of Compassion, again and again. This may have been the one moment i ever have with her, I wanted it to be the gift of her life.

The extraordinarily kind men that escorted these dogs were executives from an international company - they had flown first class, but had generously spent 2 hours in customs on behalf of these dogs. They passed on documentation and pineapple cakes from Ms Wu!!

So at 4.30 pm, van filled with dogs, we turned westward, from chaos and sea to the silence of the desert.

We drove straight through the night, our passengers silent, sleeping. They awoke, I am sure, for the last bumpy hour and a half on the corrugated washboards of forest service roads. It was 4.30am when we arrived - the hillsides softened by moonlight and the suggestion of dawn. The others here for the event got up to meet us, and we carried the crates into the newly built dog gardens. Then, one by one, we opened their doors. It was not easy for most of them to come out - the fear and strangeness of a journey that had begun in a foreign country,with sounds and smells now torn away. They were timid, scared of the newness. Eyes still large, questioning the loss of the familiar. Gingerly they came out, and looked around and, after a brief time, we tethered them, at Ms Wu's request, to ensure their safety.

Now they are settling in, and play and explore together when we are there. We still keep them tethered when unsupervised, a decision I do not regret at all. This morning I received a phone call from someone who said she had found my lost dog in Ramada Hills. Confused, I questioned her. Lucky!! Ms Wu had been scrupulous in her organisation, and had put my name and number on every dog. Lucky had escaped over a day ago, unbeknowns to me, and had just been caught by a very kind woman. She has been injured by coyotes, but not too badly. i was so distressed to hear this, but grateful she was found. With a few phone calls, I tracked down the lady who had taken her - also extremely distraught, and who had no idea how Lucky could have even got out of the yard; she had been desperately searching for her. She told me what a lovely, dignified old dog she is.

It's a miracle Lucky survived a coyote attack, given her age and frailty. Last night we did a Tsog practice - a ceremony where we offer food and prayers for the nourishment and end of suffering of all. I offered Ms Wu's pineapple cakes on behalf of her and her beloved dogs; it was after this Lucky was found. I am sure the Guru was there.

Our Taiwan Babies are gorgeous - smaller than I imagined, and just delightful. I hope we find them all homes very soon. And then I hope we save all of Ms Wu's dogs; I read on a website that Taiwan is considered one of the worst places in the world for animals.

So their journey began across the ocean, and joined ours, which began across a desert.
On the way I was reminded again and again that the journey is not about the apparent beginning and the end, it is each moment. Each moment contains the seed and fruition of the entire journey, if we stop to look and breathe, and know with our hearts. This was a journey of compassion embraced by many people, including strangers we met on the way, and it began before I was born and will be a path trodden by many, long after my bones have blended with dust. In just 2 days I traversed more than the landscape, my eyes and heart were opened to the possibility that every breath, every view, every second contains that place of refuge we all seek, and we all share.


Tia said...

What a remarkable journey, for the dogs and for you, and everyone touched by all of you along the way. Your life of devotion and compassionate actions are such a gift to us all.

EdaMommy said...

Wonderful story, great pics! Glad Lucky's OK! Thanks for helping those little guys!