The first two weeks of six months off were a blur of pinecones, forests, trips to the West Coast Co-op, cooking, and adjusting. I was kind of preparing for all the walks down nature’s green carpets that lie ahead.
Immediately upon leaving my post at UCSF I left San Francisco to join Brent, his parents, and his brother and brother’s girlfriend deep in the forest of Willits in Mendocino County. Each of these people inspires me in very distinct ways so launching this period of joy surrounded by all their inspiration felt like many cathartic inhales and exhales. It was a dramatic shift from my usual routine in many ways.
Poetically, as I drove away from San Francisco, I participated in a conference call with one of my all-time favorite philanthropists and an equally favorite faculty member to bring a 2-year gift discussion to a successful closure. Because I was officially off the payroll I was acting as a volunteer, just for the record. It was the perfect ending and the perfect beginning.
Everything felt different every moment that I reminded myself that it was. I hadn’t anticipated the many physical reactions I would have to my pressing the pause button on my daily dose of stress. It turns out that all that stress I had been nursing for 22 years, while horrible for me in almost every way, was How I was orienting myself each day. No meetings? No need to stay up until 2am writing a briefing? No crisis to live in at work? Yikes…now what? I imagined my brain looked like a post-apocalyptic Mall of America, full of stuff to buy but vacant of shoppers with escalators still running and the amusement park rides going in endless circles with the occasional short-circuit.
It took me about four nights before I could sleep soundly or really at all if I’m being honest here. And the insta-calm I expected to wash over me when I no longer had to speak in terms of tens of millions of dollars is only now coursing its way through my veins. It is day 15.
It was helpful to have a clinical psychologist of 45+ years on hand. As Brent’s mother gently offered an explanation to my physical uneasiness with my new (and temporary) life-of-leisure, I began to relax. For me, having a way to explain myself, or anything for that matter, allows me to let go.
Brent and I took one of our favorite hikes to a mountain peak on day two and then the most incredible hike on day three to a glorious waterfall I had never seen. There really is nothing better for me than a good, long hike with my own personal Sam Shakusky leading the way through an almost untouched forest. I’ll follow that man anywhere. A hike with Brent is always a guarantee of more awareness of the world around us and a reconnecting with my soul. We also made a campfire that day and ate our lunch while listening to the crackle of wood, basking in the glow of our decision to spend six months in each other’s company without our usual distractions. Full disclosure: we were not actually camping but we enjoyed our fire out in the woods all the same.
We hiked and hiked and then hiked some more. After a week in Willits we drove north to Blue Lake in Humboldt County for four days and then returned to Willits for a night before making the trip home in the torrential rain. Without realizing it we curated several days of hiking through forests that had their 15 minutes of fame. Jurassic Park II, Return of the Jedi and probably a few other films have used the ancient forests of the Northern most coast of California to transport their audiences to another world. These forest are very effective at time-travel. It doesn’t take long to get it. We’re small, short-lived, destructive beings and the trees are giant, ancient ecosystems that give life. Perhaps I watched too many Disney movies when my kids were younger but I was really expecting the trees to start talking and for their eyes to gently emerge among the burls on their trunks. The limbs turning into arms takes no imagination at all.
Our plane is quite literally landing in Newark as I type and soon we will be in our hotel in Greenwich Village getting ready for our dinner reservation at Claudette. Here’s to a week in the jungle of NYC.