I’ve been sleeping in my clothes a lot since I got home. I don’t know why, it’s as if I need to be ready to go at any moment. I’ve also been sleeping on the couch, weird hours, getting up and roaming around in the middle of the night. I’ve yet to really go to bed. I sleep in my sleeping bag; my dreams are in vivid color and definitely not in English. When I wake up, I don’t know where I am; when I remember, I’m disappointed. My ears strain to hear the sound of dogs barking and squabbling, bells in the courtyard; my eyes long for the sting of juniper smoke and smoldering butter lamps.

Right now it’s 3 am. By 6 pm last night I couldn’t stay awake; fell asleep on the couch, more like passing out, one leg hanging off the edge, lights on; when I woke up just after midnight, disoriented, disheveled, I got up and turned out the light, tried to get back to sleep, gave up finally and got up, drew a wickedly hot bath, lit a candle and opened the window to the chill night air. The steam poured out of the room into the darkness, taking me with it; I was transported back to Tibet as if sucked into a vortex, more than remembering, I was there, opening the window in a shared room at Drikung, Tamin silhouetted in shadow, opening it even though the air was dark blue with cold, cold that reached in and stole my breath and flickered the flame on one of the candles we carried with us, bought from a cluttered store on a corner in Samye.

It’s so still. The air is crystalline.The candle burns in a homemade candle holder made from a cut-in-two Budweiser-canned-in-China beer can. Or is it on a metal plate next to the tub in Vermont? The dark blue sky dotted white with stars. The same sky, the same stars, the same wind carrying the breath of everybody and everything that circles the planet over and over and over again.

Where am I? Outside the window a horse blows steam from his nose, the sound of his teeth clicking and grinding as they clip the grass carries on the chill air, while at the bottom of the steep sudden bank the Zhorong Tsangpo whispers and cries in secret languages about hidden things.

I snap out of it– take my tee shirt off in the middle of the Vermont night steamy bathroom, incense burning. It’s the same one I’ve worn for days, stretched out, familiar, no longer clothing it’s become part of me. As I pull it over my head the smell of me, something uniquely mine, carries on the small breeze of its passing. The smell of sweat and incense mingle in my shirt with the places I’ve been, where my shirt has been. It’s a perfume I prefer to anything artificial.

I’m so full of longing; I hold the shirt to my face, inhale that familiar scent, bereaved. Does everyone go through this? It comes as no surprise to me. It’s as if I’m holding the shirt of a recently passed lover. I knew this would happen—I saw it coming while I was still in Nepal, caught in a downpour in Thamel district, rain pouring down onto the crazy streets of Kathmandu, soaked to the skin, traipsing around with a man I love, a dear friend, a compatriot, a fellow vagabond who I was lucky enough to meet up with after twenty years of not seeing each other.

I had abandoned my hiking boots and given into wearing sandals in the filthy streets and alleyways, feet soggy and sticky brown with mud and who knows what else and suddenly I knew what to expect when I got back to the states. “I won’t just think about this when I leave. I will miss this place with my body,” I told myself. “I will miss it with my heart.” Later on that rainy Kathmandu night, I rescued a cockroach from the shower drain at the hotel and decided against a shower, not because of the cockroach– a not entirely unattractive creature the length of my index finger–but because after spending a goodly amount of time setting the fortunate bug free I’d lost interest in showering and elected instead to sit outside now that the rain had stopped. We were in Boudhanath, the home of the Great Stupa in Kathmandu; the dogs were barking while in the shadows, the night lit only by butter lamps placed around the stupa, a lone pilgrim walked the kora, spinning the long row of prayer wheels and gently chanting.

Later that week, on our last night together in Boudha, my long lost friend Shepherd and I sit silently on an old wooden bench overlooking the stupa in the moonlight, silent, no words needed or sought. The street dogs gradually join us, grumbling and jostling for position now that they’ve added a couple of humans to the pack. The moon is pale yellow and luminous in a hazy sky. A long lean pup wriggles himself into my lap, licks my chin. I hear the voice in my head of the travel doctor in Vermont in that distant lifetime before now. Warning: do not touch the filthy street dogs in Kathmandu. I rub and scratch the black pup. His greasy, stiff and dusty hair feels like a doormat. He sighs, settles in.

Twenty years! Our friendship nearly thirty. Shepherd and I first met when he was a refugee from the Soviet regime that had seized his home, the Czech Republic. Met when he was barely out of his teens, when his courageous and strange path led him across Europe and Canada and finally to the Pacific Northwest, where we lived together in tents in the pouring rain and planted trees for a living. Little wonder I believe in karma. In the middle of millions and millions of people—billions! Halfway around the world from home our paths cross after all this time, and I’m not supposed to believe in magic? Others can talk about coincidence, the law of averages and so forth. I contemplate dependent vs. spontaneous arising, the laws of karma as true force rather than some meaningless phrase left over from the sixties.

I feed the dogs from a bag of scraps. I eat some myself, dirty dog hands in my mouth. The pup is polite, whines softly but doesn’t push. “Kalu” Shepherd says. “Black dog”. And he strokes her, looking up at the pale waxing moon lying on its back over the rounded breast of the stupa.

Alas, there’s not a lot of patience for stench, stray dogs and cockroaches in Vermont. I kick my dirty jeans into the corner, toss the tee shirt on the pile and sink into the tub. Up to my neck in hot water, I watch the steam rise, drift, and mingle with the smoke from the incense. My very domestic dog curls up on the rug next to the tub. I’ve told her hundreds of stories, she alone for the most part. She listens closely when I do, gazing off in her mind’s eye at the faraway places where I’ve been. In dreams, she runs in Kathmandu with her wild ancestors; she begs at the temple in Samye, cavorts on the streets of Paro. I lean my chin on the edge of the tub and watch as her eyes blink rapid-fire and she peddles the air. She whines, stretches, curls again and sighs.

31 Comments

  1. Jeremiah Burrow

    Beautifully intimate.

    • Clemma Dawsen

      Oh, that means a lot to me, Jeremiah. I want my readers to come inside. I want to them to let me in. I like to know I’m not asking too much.

  2. Lovely! You took me right there! It brought up a memory of goats head soup on the Peninsula! 🙂 Ha!
    Love a you!

    • Clemma Dawsen

      @ Deborah…Oh, no! I keep hoping that goat has been reborn and is living happily after that ordeal. Thank you for reading, I’m glad I took you right there. Wherever it is, right there is where we need to be. love you too.

  3. dearest Clemma,
    How I miss you!
    this is so lovely..

    • Clemma Dawsen

      …and how I miss you, Jane. When you say ‘lovely’ I know where it’s coming from. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  4. Clemma, love your writing Hope to learn more about your trip.

    • Clemma Dawsen

      Oh, Sue, thanks for reading…I’d like to learn more about my trip, too. All that Dharma, it’s like a big complicated yummy stew, if I want the recipe I’m going to have to keep picking through the pot to find out what all is in there. Thanks for reading, Sue, and for passing the word around. More to come! looking forward to your book in May…kiss those big mts. for me.

  5. Okay…now I am ready to go…if only in my dreams !! I can see the candles, smell the incense and watch my prayer flags floating gently on the patio…more ! I want more !

    • Clemma Dawsen

      To Jacki…we can start with a flight from Phoenix to Spokane or Denver…you could get hooked, never know. But if I had all that sun and olives growing on my patio I might be content to sit still. Thanks for reading! miss you!!

  6. This has brought two memory’s both very vivid in my mind…to light. Monhegan Island Maine, claw foot tub,no electricity,dark stormy night,candles burning,giving my two year old a bath. I can still see it,smell it and feel the steamyness of the darkened room. Tired child from hiking all day,pink cheeks and cozy sweatpants to sleep in. Chills when we leave the room into the evening air.
    The other is one that I believe you might have lived Clemma……top of the mountains in the eastern world….monastery bells ringing and the beautiful sound of hundreds of prayers circling and creating a beautiful hum…..I haven’t actually lived this but in my mind I have and I can close my mind and become peaceful remembering….
    Please keep your writing going and take us on the journey with you…..thanks for your gift…….

    • Clemma Dawsen

      Oh, my dear sweet sister. How incredible to have you show up here, to feel my heart door fly open, feel High Street come roaring in, I can take her, finally, the pain moves, the time passes and only beauty remains. Your story is wonderful, I can see it, hope you’re writing…perhaps we should go to Monhegan and do a writer’s workshop, I’ve always wanted to visit there. I’ll see you this spring, will come by on one of my sojourns south of the border. Many thanks for reading. Oh, Sunrise, how you’ve survived and thrived. Good karma.

  7. Love, love LOVE!!! I miss you but at least was able to feel that I was with you for a brief moment <3

  8. Wow! Clemma! Spellbinding….xo

  9. Rich!

    • Clemma Dawsen

      Such a compliment. I miss you so very, very much..let me know which river the fish are swimming in this fall. I’ll bring a line and a pole.

  10. Great writing,sorry you stopped I was ready to read more…I wish I could have the experience of this great adventure. If Jacki ever get’s over her fear of flying then the three of us could go on this great adventure together.

    • Clemma Dawsen

      Now that’s about the best thing a writer can hear! I’ll give you more soon…and yeah, let’s get Jacki over it. Little at a time; some short hops. Or…maybe, hmmmm… epic might be the way to go. She’d be our captive then! lv u..thanks so very much for reading.

  11. Kris Freitag

    So nice that you got to see Shepherd. He looks the same.

    • Clemma Dawsen

      Thank you Kris, I’m delighted to see you here, yes, Shepherd looks, sounds, moves, sings, laughs, plays the same as always but better. Aging like fine wine. The years meant nothing–when he walked into the guesthouse lobby where I was staying, it was as if we’d seen each other the day before. A slice of life pie to savor til we meet again. Thanks for reading!

  12. Elizabeth Young

    Lovely. Absolutely lovely.
    Thank you.

    • Clemma Dawsen

      Thank you Elizabeth! For taking the time to read, for sheltering the homeless four leggeds, for being the good mother of fine sons, for believing that change is possible. I write for us all, and am thrilled when it hits home. Blessings.

  13. The tears are still streaming as I pry myself away from the story, the magic, that you wove so beautifully. I look forward to reading more.

    • Clemma Dawsen

      Thank you so very much Kim. Such an honor to be read by so many, thank you for commenting here…I hear from people in all sorts of ways…but must say, it’s a special treat to have your voice show up on this page in particular, knowing you’ve read and enjoyed. Your devotion to the herd is a gift to us all, I’m gifted and glad to be counted among the many you find time for. Truly. Thank you. And yes, more to come! Soon!

  14. roger muat

    You express your experience in ways that bring much more understanding to my confusion and unanswered questions about my times in Asia. One of many examples: I have often said ‘India is a LOVE-HATE experience’; but she gets under your skin and you can NEVER not goback. These mysterious images/feelings still arise after 30years….and you take me back to relive and better digest her secrets. Thank You Clemma, Incredable!!

    • Clemma Dawsen

      10,000 bows to you and to Rena. I remember you telling me long ago to write everything down. Finally getting around to it…well, not writing everything down, but at least some of it. Thank you for all your encouragement and for reading. So humbled to be of benefit to anyone…yes, the secret teachings, the carrying of these things in our cells. Little wonder that 10, 20, 30 years later we still respond. Karma, Dharma. Om mani!

  15. Mirabai (joni) Stemple

    Thank you for this, Clemma. I look forward to reading more. I spent 4 months in India and Nepal by myself 4 years ago and I had the same experience after returning home from Boudhanath. As challenging of an adjustment it took to get used to India and Nepal, I think re-entry into the American culture was harder. I had to develop so many new skills and attitudes to survive during my travels, and I was afraid to loose all I had gained. And yes, after sleeping in 26 different beds during that time, returning to the USA was disorienting. Eventually, I took those skills and new confidence inward so that I carry it within myself all the time. But those weeks of re entry were not comfortable and I questioned our culture. I can’t wait to go back for another spiritual pilgrimage and to be of service to those precious Beloveds. How blessed we are to be able to travel! I wish you inner peace, dear Clemma and great JOY!

    • Clemma Dawsen

      Mirabai Joni…how wonderful to hear from you. Yes, yes, the carrying within. I look forward to the day when our physical paths cross, wonder when it might be, feel certain it will come. Let’s keep in touch. Thank you so much for reading, more to come…perhaps we can journey together sometime, perhaps to Mustang? Much love and great joy to you, too. We are the mothers of sons. Emaho!

  16. thank you for reminding me this (your writing) IS here. Love this piece and feel the nostalgia wandering in my own blood …

    • Clemma Dawsen

      Dear Annette…Thank YOU for wanting to read it…I look forward to reading about the Ireland trip…nomadic life, hurrah! Glad you like it and are inspired to roam. More to come!

  17. Images sweep across my mind’s eye as I am transported between Vermont and Kathmandu. Wonderful story Clemma!

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