for david

There are no photos in this post because the time I am reflecting on was before digital cameras were common.  I am looking for the photos to share here, and will scan and post them as soon as I can. 

My first memory of David Sullivan was on a beach stroll in south Florida. It was a blustery day and the surf was up. There was a good crowd of us walking, most of us clutching our hats to our heads. David was in his swim trunks and he was diving in and out of the surf, splashing and whooping at the top of his lungs. I didn’t know him at all. A mutual friend told me later that David had just survived what had at first seemed to be a terminal cancer diagnosis. He was celebrating, being alive, cold water and wind and all.

We took to talking about travel. I was a baby traveler then, just back from my first trip overseas, to West Papua. That must have impressed David, because he launched into travel story-telling at full throttle. I will thrilled, and we became fast friends. He wrote and sent me books about places I might like to go, or places he had gone. And then he suggested that I go to Tibet with an acquaintance of his.


Yes. This newly found friend offered to introduce me to the founder of this amazing organization doing medical relief work in Tibet, and suggested that while I work out the details, I could just come stay at his flat in San Francisco. No problem.

Really? I could hardly take him seriously, but as he persisted in sending me contact information for the Terma Foundation and telling me more about their travel schedule, I began to believe him. So, as was my habit in those days, I took a deep breath and made the plunge. To California…

David did everything in his power to make sure I fell in love with northern California. He understood the seat-of-my-pants kind of life I was living then, and made the most of it. We had tremendously good times.

He took me to dance where the Brazilians dance, where I watched beautiful black-skinned women in outrageous white dresses dance in ways that made me blush. He introduced me to a dazzling array of ex-girlfriends, all wonderful and fascinating people, and one night he dropped me off for a belly dancing class with the legendary Magana Baptiste. She was nearly 80 years old but still full of zest and instructing with good form. It was an amazing class. We hiked at Point Reyes, Mt. Tamalpais, and Big Sur. Hiking with David usually meant walking until the sun had set and the stars were out. He always brought a thermos of hot tea along. I’ll never forget those long walks, moving across that beautiful California landscape, passing from day into night. The chill came on fast, and the hot tea knocked it back. On quiet mornings, as I took in the foggy Bay light, he would knock on my door and come sit at my desk to tell me about a particularly vivid dream he’d had the night before. He was hilariously funny, and so willing to share, so much, so easily. Just for fun, he staged a photo shoot of himself in a pair of Groucho glasses, me in a white slip, and a seven year old friend (Hugo, wherever you are, God Bless You.) in a monster mask. It was excellent amateur hilarity. My ribs were frequently sore from laughing.  And, when I was deep in preparation for the trip, and he was on a particular hard piece of work, we would take refuge in his warm apartment in the evenings, listen to music, and tell stories. Looking back, I can see that we enjoyed an unusual degree of platonic domestic harmony.  What a gift.

Anyone who knew David knows about his stories. If you heard them from someone else, they wouldn’t seem real. They were swashbuckling, outrageous stories, spanning decades and continents. It didn’t seem like one person could really have lived so much. But with this earnest man looking you in the face, there was no doubt that these were his stories. And no doubt he loved to share them.

I heard about his brief encounters with rock-n-roll celebrities in the sixties. How he sat on a snowy hillside in Woodstock New York and watched the music of Jimi Hendrix’ guitar float out of a chimney below. Jim Morrison on a beach in southern California; a brief tryst with Janis Joplin’s sister. I never hear Joan Baez without thinking of David. He told me what that old music meant to him back when it was new, and it’s connection to his political genesis in Colorado in the sixties. His political intelligence was deep and broad as well, and I never left a conversation without food for thought, sometimes lifetime’s worth it seemed.

David was a private investigator, renowned for his work in cult investigation. I never worked for him exactly, but I was fortunate enough to be brought along, as prop of sorts, I suppose, on some of his more lightweight missions at the time. The best one I can remember was to Esalen Institute at Big Sur. What a beautiful place.  I pretended to be his girlfriend and sat in a hot tub overlooking the Pacific Ocean while he took pictures, casing the location of an abuse case. He had a fearless ability to schmooz his way into unlikely places and make himself seem perfectly at home, but his motivation was not selfish. His sense of justice was keen, almost insatiable.

When I returned from Tibet, I came back to his apartment for a break before heading back east. He was out on an investigation and wouldn’t be home for awhile. I went out dancing (not with the Brazilians this time) and threw my back out. I was still laid up when he bustled through the door. His eyes were wide. He threw down his suitcase and came into the living room, where I had made convenient temporary quarters, walking with long strides. He sat on the floor in front of me and told me the whole story of infiltrating the cult training he had to investigate. You can read more about the story in this month’s Harper’s magazine. I think he talked for four hours. He was brimming with the experience, almost desperate to make contact with the rest of the world again. I treasure the fact that I was one of the first friends to hear him out. He made the case, and the case made his name as a cult investigator.

Not long after that, I returned to Tennessee. Life changed again, and again. We kept in good touch, and even as our lives became more divergent, we did not lose our respect, love, or enjoyment of each other.

When I told David that I was getting married, his first response was: “Really? Why?”

It was an earnest enough question. David was deeply a radical, but never much of a farmwife. He knew that I had a hankering for this place, for land and family, and he wanted to make sure I was being true to myself, to my life, in that big decision. When I answered his questions as best I could, he was satisfied, and there was no hint of criticism.

David was one of the most generous people I ever knew. I was sometimes embarrassed by his generosity, until I realized how integral it was to him. He believed in sharing, and when David believed in something, there was no way to keep him from it. If David loved you, you knew, because he told you. If he was angry, you knew that too. It seemed against his personal code of honor to hold back thoughts or feeling from someone if he cared about them. It wasn’t always easy to be around him, but it was always vividly real. It’s very difficult to say enough, to paint an accurate picture of who David was. If he sounds larger than life, he was. Some people just are. But no one is larger than death.

Even though it had been over nine years since David and I spent time together, learning that he died has ruffled my feathers all over. There are some friends who touch our lives so completely – it doesn’t matter how long or how far we go from each other, we are still right here.

The last time we spoke on the phone he told me about how his cancer relapse was proving more difficult than he had hoped. The stress of maintaining energy for his work and also going through treatments was immensely taxing. As much as I had always believed that one day I could go to visit him in California again, with my family, or that he would make it out to the farm for a visit, I could feel that possibility waning. My heart aches to realize that he’s not on the other end of the line anymore. I relish the colorful memories of him, and the adventures he shared with me. I am tremendously grateful for the slice of life he opened up to me, by convincing me to come see California, to travel to Tibet. I cherish the stories of his life and work that he poured out to me. And I know I am not alone in missing him.

David. I hope I told you enough times how much you meant to me. I hope you felt that love across these miles and those years. It’s still flowing. Thank you friend.

ten breaths

{Ten moments from the past few weeks that captured my attention, realigned my focus and brought me fully into the present. All shifts of awareness taking place in the expanse of just a breath… like ten breaths of fresh air.}IMG_5352inhale. The evening is warm. And windy. Thunder and lightning fill the air at the helm of an approaching cold front. I slip out into the darkness and find momentary refuge in my rocking chair on the deck. A little break from the noise and commotion of the world indoors with three excited children who are as charged as the atmosphere. I have the vague sense of where the moon is by the slight illumination of the racing clouds. Each flash of lightning makes the darkness of the bare trees more intensely dark; their cobweb of interlacing black branches holding up the strobing sky. And there, caught in a momentary flash of light, I see a single leaf on it’s quiet and lonely descent to the ground. A beautiful drifting dance captured in my mind like a painting. exhale.

inhale. Ira is sitting on the couch, practicing his reading. He has selected Dr. Seuss’s Fox in Socks. His tongue gets twisted and he bursts out in contagious hysterical laughter. exhale.IMG_5360inhale. I’m on my way to the wood pile. I’m lost in thought about something or other, probably thinking about what to prepare for the next meal. A sudden “trill” sounds in the air above me. The cranes. I look up into the crisp blue November sky to locate them, so high up I have to squint to gain focus. A tiny arrow of birds soaring southward in the vast expanse of blue. exhale.

inhale. The evening is here again. I walk into the kitchen and see the aftermath of a day spent mostly indoors. I approach the sink to tackle the dirty heap of dishes and half-finished cups of milk.  A giggle escapes from behind one of the cabinet doors. A sly and unseen smile, hiding. exhale.IMG_5356inhale. Saturday afternoon. I’m driving the truck home from Nashville after our final CSA delivery and farmer’s market of the season. I’m feeling pretty tired. It’s always a long drive and I’m eager to be home. Just a few miles from the farm, I look to my left, across a field of rich brown earth and the stubble of recently harvested corn. Caught on the wind, a Northern Harrier soars so low its wing tips seem to almost brush the ground… brown bird painting a brown landscape. The teetering flight, just inches from the ground, fills me with awe. exhale.

inhale. The day is cold. Outside it is precipitating; an uncommitted hybrid of rain and snow. After scanning the scene out the window, I look to the floor near the woodstove, where a lambskin rug is carefully spread. Ten little bare toes wriggle down into the wool. Warmth. Security. Comfort. exhale.IMG_5361inhale. It is starting to snow outside. I grab the firewood bags and head out for a refill, mostly focusing on the completion of the task so I can get the wood inside before it gets any wetter. The girls have zipped outside as well, to check out the newly falling snow. There is loud crunching. I realize that Opal is busily eating an icy snowball. exhale.

inhale. The day has dawned. In the fog of emerging from dreamland, a winter wren sings it’s melodious tune just outside the bedroom window, crisp and clear as a bell. A wake-up call with wings. exhale. IMG_5362inhale. It’s early morning. While breakfast cooks, I try to steal a few minutes at the computer. The words are not flowing and my gaze drifts out the loft window. There in the branches of the dogwood tree that overhangs our house is a bluebird busily having it’s breakfast. The brilliant blue of the bird and the glistening red dogwood berries that it is feasting upon are intensely illuminated against the bleak grey of the sky and saturated bark of leafless trees. Bright jewels of color explode and fly away. exhale.

inhale. My family is sitting down to lunch. The children are busily, eagerly eating and chattering away to whomever might be listening. I see Eric scan each precious face, quietly observing each child. We catch each other’s gaze and share a smile. exhale.IMG_5357So breath deeply, friends! And in the hustle and bustle of the coming holidays, don’t forget to treat yourself to an occasional breath of fresh air…

right now :: november snow!

IMG_5308This afternoon, just before the sun went down for the day (well, if we could have seen the sun), snow started falling from the heavy greyness of the clouds. Snow. We haven’t had much of the stuff ’round these parts for several years. Nor temperatures quite this cold quite this early. But here it is, not quite Thanksgiving, and we’re getting our first (albeit minor) snow. That’s almost unheard of for southern Kentucky! I’ve had the hunch that this winter might have more “weather” in store for us than in past years, especially after a fairly mild and uneventful summer. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what the winter holds for us but so far, looks like my hunch is right on the money. The children were pretty ecstatic about the snow. My wool sheep didn’t even seem to notice. As for myself, I’ll just say that after slipping my way around to get these few photos, I was pretty happy to come back inside my cozy little cabin…  IMG_5301IMG_5307IMG_5309 IMG_5310 IMG_5312 IMG_5313 IMG_5314 IMG_5316 IMG_5317 IMG_5318 IMG_5320