Wherever I Wander is a collection of Judith Azrael’s lyrical prose written between 1979 and 2001. She takes the reader on an unforgettable voyage of discovery from Northern California to the San Juan islands, to Southeast Asia and along footpaths to tiny villages and chapels on the Greek islands. Whether she writes of teaching a writing workshop at a prison camp, stays at Buddhist monasteries, or watching dolphins leap from the sea in Bali, her words are haunting in their beauty and simplicity.
“Every story and essay in Judith Azrael’s Wherever I Wander is a long, beautiful prose poem. Mysterious. Sensuous. Spellbinding. Gentle. But deeply probing, too, and instructive. She writes, she says, for forgiveness. I think she writes like she lives and breathes and wanders, to find herself in this incredible world. It feels holy to be allowed so deeply into another's soul, another's way and time on earth.”
—Sharon Doubiago, winner of numerous awards and author of ten books, including Body and Soul and The Book of Seeing With One's Own Eyes
“What if a journey were free of destination? What if friendship with the self kept no score? What if a paragraph were not burdened by a thesis? In Wherever I Wander, words become sensation. Judith Azrael gives us literary fragments like exquisite small meals, a dash of tea, koans to brew within the mind.”
—Kim Stafford, award-winning author of a dozen books of poetry and prose, including The Muses Among Us
“What a lovely way to spend an afternoon traveling vicariously with Judith Azrael. She uses words to sketch her journeys so we can see the world through her eyes.”
“Wherever I Wander is the kind of book to reach for when you wish you could travel, when you are restless, when you don’t have the concentration to read poetry but you are looking for romance and reflection in your life.”
Beth Helstien, Columnist, The Journal of the San Juan Islands
“A pilgrimage written in startlingly lyrical prose.... I came away
Helen Ruggieri, Calyx Journal (Vol. 23, No. 2)
The book is divided into three parts (“Surrender”; “Receiving”; “Forgiveness”), and contains a total of 17 pieces in the form of lyrical essays, journal entries, and fragments (or “sketchbooks”). Below are excerpts from some of the pieces in the book.
I write this for you, mother, because your heart is tender. And because there is little that any of us can do to ease another’s longing. We plan our days and feel we know what will come next. But some days go their own way and surprise us. Some are cruel and stunning as the stroke that canceled all our plans. You have learned to walk again and your arm and your hand have grown strong. You are across the country where the summer days are sultry. And I am standing on a rocky shore with the wind blowing and a seal pup in my arms.
First I will tell you about this morning. It is slow and peaceful. I am moving away in a few days and my car is already packed. All the last chores have been done. I wander down the road along the sea and stop to weed in John Brown’s garden. His wife died last summer and the garden is in need of care. He’s away and I’ve always wanted to work in this garden. I move among the bright oriental poppies and pull up grasses and wayward dandelions. The garden is across the road from the sea. I work and watch the fishermen getting their boats readied for opening day. Friends stop by to chat. Someone tells me there is a seal pup on the beach. And so the weeding never does get finished.
I find a small group of people are gathered around the seal. This is what I learn. It was found four days ago and part of its umbilical cord was still attached. Some girls have tried feeding it with a baby bottle but the seal couldn’t suck on the nipple. Yesterday someone saw it struggle to the water and swim out of sight. But it is back now and it is hungry. Its eyes are luminous and gentle and its fur is soft…
I turn away from the foggy coast and head inland to the camp. It is a minimum security prison about seventeen miles up a winding mountain road. I will be teaching a class there in creative writing. Another instructor who teaches there, Karen, has prepared me somewhat. She has assured me the men are all right. Their crimes are non-violent, mostly connected with drugs. “Be open with them,” she tells me. I have wanted to teach at this camp for a long time but tonight as I approach I wonder why I am here. A logging truck in front of me slows as it climbs a long hill. I am glad of the delay. I find myself hoping he won’t pull over to let me by. It is only a few moments later that I come to a sign for the camp and I pull off the road and turn my engine off. I sit there quietly. And then I drive in…
The sea here has the colors of the Caribbean, a soft turquoise and uncountable blues. Behind the port where most of the tourists stay is a lively little village filled with children. They are dark-skinned and have a wild gypsy look.
* * *
The nights enchant me. I sleep by a deep-set open window. I hear the scops owl calling its high plaintive note. The cicadas sing and now and then a donkey emits a startling bray. The town clock chimes the hours. At first light the roosters begin crowing. And soon a chorus of children’s voices sings out like a flock of small birds greeting the dawn.
* * *
The village spills down the mountainside with beautiful old houses and ancient churches and dusty lanes. I climb to a monastery high above and look out to sea. Stretched out below are green mountainous islands in a sea of mist.
Antiparos, everyone says, there is nothing there. It is too quiet. There is no life. Antiparos, go there for an hour or two. It will be enough. I take the small boat that crosses the narrow channel between Paros and Antiparos and arrive at the small port. I find a room in a pension that overlooks the harbor where fishing boats are swaying in the breeze. The edge of the water is lined with small cafés shaded by trees. They thrive on the water from the sea, a Greek woman tells me. They are called the salt trees, she says…
Shoes are lined up in pairs outside the door of the meditation hall. One pair is as small as a child’s. It belongs to a young Japanese woman. I have watched her creating lovely intricate flower arrangements. She places them on the altar and in each room where we gather.
The monk talks about a period in which he felt as if he were in a gray box. He was puzzled at his own discontent until he realized it was the I that imprisoned him. Who is meditating and who am I were the questions that allowed the spaciousness to return.
Buddha says the greatest happiness is letting go of the concept of I am.
Conceit in Buddhism is believing I am whether you believe yourself to be wonderful or terrible or mediocre.
Excerpt Copyright © 2004 by Judith Azrael