I’m not much for dry media. Even my colored pencils are watercolor pencils. I have a beautiful set — untouched for 25 years — of Swiss made Conté Crayons in all colors, but chances are I’ll never use them. But when we were kids, and my brother and I got Jon Gnagy Learn To Draw kits for Christmas, the charcoal was the coolest part of them for me. At that point in my artist “career” I didn’t know how to manage watercolors. Part of that, I now understand, was not having had real watercolor paper. That stuff is a big help. All I had was so called “good paper” (it was all white and had never been used before) and ordinary paper (we got to draw on the backs). Once in a while we’d get an entire drawing pad.
Charcoal was especially good for the exercises in Jon Gnagy’s book that pertained to “values.” My brother was perfectly happy to turn 2 dimensional circles into spheres through shading over and over. I wasn’t. I did it once and that was enough for me. “OK, I get it, NEXT!!!” When I got oil paints, my world changed.
For those who don’t know Jon Gnagy, here’s a video.
The Weather Forecast
This is the forecast for Monte Vista, Colorado. It’s going to be a wild and freezing shit-show with big losses for agriculture, and not just my beans. The total forecast indicates that Monte Vista could get as much as a foot of snow in the three or four day period of this storm. It’s still officially summer here in the US (even though I know those Aussies declare fall on September 1 or Spring, if they happen to be in Australia). It’s snowed in September before in my memory, the fall of 1983, but not this early.
And then it’s supposed to turn back to summer/fall and go on like nothing happened. I’m on the fence about how much I want to fight this on behalf of my beans and tomatoes. I’m going to pick the largest bean pods and bring them in. I’m going to try to cover everything, but four nights of below freezing might turn out to be too much for all of us. Too bad I don’t have one of those charcoal smudge pots they use in the orange orchards.
But I know deep in my soul that nature will as nature will and in the end I have no choice but to resign myself to her/it.
But, I woke up with this poem in my mind. I don’t even like the poem, but considering that last night I trimmed back iris under a fire-sky, red from smoke, and I’m now considering how to cover my plants from frost and wondering where my snow shovel is, it seemed right.
Fire and Ice
BY ROBERT FROST
Some say the world will end in fire, Some say in ice. From what I’ve tasted of desire I hold with those who favor fire. But if it had to perish twice, I think I know enough of hate To say that for destruction ice Is also great And would suffice.
On that profound note, I leave you. I have to clean up the deck for a Covid-19 tea party, or wake for summer, not sure yet.
Flowers don’t cry. One of the true and unromantic wonders of nature is that plants aren’t going around wearing emotions all over the place. When Faith, the Aussie pumpkin, was compelled to surrender to a killing frost, she did it with no fanfare. This is not to say the resultant limp leaves and black, lifeless stems weren’t sad to me. They were. I’d hoped for a late fall and the chance for at least one of Faith’s fruits to mature, but what Faith did accomplish I have here on my table.
Many people find nature “relaxing.” I think (for me anyway) it’s movement in nature that’s relaxing. I don’t think nature is doing its thing thinking, “I’m so beautiful! I will inspire everyone!” It’s just part of human nature to seek respite from the human grind, human nature to experience inspiration. Nature itself is constant struggle. There is a LOT of drama out there.
This time last year I was crossing the golf course and happened on the remains of a red tail hawk. I could read the story just from the strewn feathers. Fox. The moment of their intersection would have been pretty dramatic, and maybe the hawk had screeched. At that moment, he was after food, maybe digging worms out of the ground, maybe a mouse or bunny was scurrying along the grass, and the hawk dived just as the fox was preparing to spring.
As it happens, I later met a guy who was there to see it. I’d read the story right.
One of the great things of hiking in the morning on dusty trails or on snowy days is the stories written on the ground. It’s a constant reminder that things out there are not all sweetness and light. It’s truly kill or be killed, and yet, for us humans — and maybe other creatures — there is the quality of wonderment, like last December when I realized my walks were shadowed by a small herd of mule deer. Over the next few days, I saw that they were curious about me. The watcher was being watched. I wondered what questions were going through their minds.
I thought they were thinking, “Friend or foe?” There came a day when one of the does came within 20 yards of me and continued approaching. I held Bear and said to the doe, “I’m not your friend. I’m really not your friend. Go back.” As if she understood me (though I think it was just my voice that did it), she turned and went back to the herd. The truth is I WAS her friend. I loved this little herd of deer very much (I confess I told them, too, both with my voice and in sign) and went out to see them every day. Even Bear had learned to sit quietly when the deer were in sight.
Similar moments have happened between me and other wild animals. Curiosity seems to be a trait of sentient beings everywhere. Foxes, coyotes, hawks, and certainly ravens have all wanted to know what was going on with me and my dogs.
I haven’t been out there in nearly a month since I sprained my foot — a mid-foot sprain, nasty. Things were moving in the right direction until I reinjured my foot somehow in the night, so I’m in pain again. Sprains take a long time to heal and they are easily re-injured. I know that. A mid foot sprain is very vulnerable and maybe I was stupid not to get the big boot and all that. I don’t know. But it’s my right foot, and I need to be able to drive. Maybe my values are backward. Maybe I should have cancelled my life and done that. It’s nature, after all, my body is nature as much as is a tree or an Aussie pumpkin, a vulnerable red tail, or a curious doe. I don’t know about the existence of “will” in non-human beings, but I know mine is formidable and not always my best friend. It’s been three weeks since I last re-injured it. I suppose I have now to start all over again with the recovery and rehab. Well, with no events planned after this weekend, maybe it won’t be so difficult.
The second installment in the great saga of Lamont and Dude
Another question? Yes! You on the right side, sitting on the aisle, with the obnoxiously screaming child. Let me know in advance if you’re planning air travel soon, OK?
— Tell us about a time when you managed to extract yourself from a sticky situation at the very last minute.
Just so you know, it’s always the last minute somewhere. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Southern California? Looks good, right? But it’s full of traps. Now and then. Always has been. Very dangerous place. Not MY favorite, that’s for sure. Give me an old forest in the Trans-Alpine zone any day. Sure, there are foxes, but you know, if you’re a tree all a fox can do to you is take a wee on your roots. ANYwho, I was in what you know as Southern California doing a bit as a mastodon.
— Mastodon! Wow.
You might well say that. It was a desperate age in its way. The predators were, uh, predacious. There was a lot of food around, though, even for them. It wasn’t like the old days when everyone was immense. Some of us were pretty big — I was, of course, as a mastodon — but the main predator was the Sabre Toothed Tiger. He had lots of choices, but every once in a while they’d gang up and take down one of us.
— What happened? Were you eaten by a sabre toothed tiger?
No. Not me, not that time. I didn’t realize it was my old bud, Dude. He thought it was a game. He was still pretty much a kitten, I think, or he’d have been wiser, more of a strategist. I was browsing calmly on a tree when I realized the big cat was coming. I saw all the smaller animals take flight, well, some of them did, the birds for example. But yeah, bunnies and squirrels were running all round me like their little hearts would break. I looked back and, sure enough, here came a tiger.
— Did you run?
You don’t “just run” when you weigh several tons. First you look around. I had the advantage of height, of course. Then I saw it in the distance. Talk about a trap! It looked like water, hell it was water, but not just water. The water was on top of a large pool of tar. I quickly devised my stragedy and took off running along with the rabbits, squirrels, camels and what-have-you. I ran toward the pool intending, at the last minute — of course, for a being of that size, the last minute has to be longer than a minute. Once again, kill-or-be-killed. I slowed down and let the cat get closer. I could feel his breath on my heels, I could hear his low growls and in that I got the sense of who he actually was. Still, it made no difference. Dude or not, I was prey and he would have eaten me — him and his friends and whatever carrion birds happened to be cruising the area. There were some big ones then, and ugly, but they had their job to do in the interconnectedness of all things, in the kill-or-be-killed circle of life. My one fear was that I’d get to the pool too soon and step into it when I should be turning. But…
— Your stragedy worked?
Yes, by the grace of, grace of, I don’t know what. I veered quickly right. I felt a splash of water and tar on my rear left leg. I turned and saw Dude lunge into the pool. He fought, of course, and the more he fought the more firmly stuck he became. He called out, in tiger, of course. I trumpeted my apologies and said I hoped I’d see him later when we weren’t in this miserable predator-prey connection. Soon bubbles rose to the surface.
Next time I saw Dude, we were both trees. But that’s LA for you. If it’s not traffic it’s tar pits.
Lamont and Dude are characters I came up with in 2014. They have the uncanny ability to remember many of their past incarnations which gives them an unusual perspective on life, the universe and everything.
Because I’m in earshot of 70 years old (3 years away), and I just got Nordic Skis and have been out on them ten times in the six weeks I’ve had them, I’m concerned about the future. Nordic skiing makes me happy. It always has, but I have not always lived where I could easily find snow and I have — for the biggest part of a decade — been dealing with debilitating arthritis in my hips.
There’s nothing else I really want to do, honestly. As time has peeled away aspirations and goals, I stand here with only a couple of things that matter to me. I want to be able to *langlauf. I want to be able to hike in the mountains (because there is not always snow). I want to be able to do these things for a long time.
I already know what bad stuff can happen. I had my first hip surgery when I was 54. My second in 2018, at 66.
How does this happen? I always loved those things. Why did so much get in the way? Why didn’t I see as clearly long ago? No idea. But what matters is doing whatever I can to be able to keep going.
I did some research — tried to do some research — on how best to keep going as long as possible. The short answer is weight training. The long answer? Well, it’s long, OK?
I found a lot of articles written by young people about old athletes. There was no escaping that the whole idea of a geriatric runner or something else is kind of a freak show. This is strange, because I know people who are still running, hiking, and skiing well into their 70s. They don’t see themselves as a freak show and neither do I. It seems that some of the younger people looking at us have forgotten (or don’t know?) that it’s FUN to ski, it’s fun to race, it’s fun to hike. Sure, maybe not for everyone, but who would expect it to be? In all my years hiking, I was most often completely alone (in an urban wilderness park).
One article I read was a review of a photo book with an interview — Racing Age by Angela Jimenez. In this book, a former college decathlete documents several elderly track and field competitors. Jimenez goal is to blast the stereotypes of old folks, stereotypes that old folks — that is to say we are,
“…sick or vulnerable or kind of cute—I had seen those jokey greeting cards of a grandmother lifting a barbell or something—and I felt, as someone who was just starting to think about age myself, a sense of rebellion against that,” says Jimenez. “That’s something I’m always interested in doing with photography—countering visual stereotypes and thinking about how is a group of people being depicted in a simplistic way and what could I do to explore that.”
Most people out here in the real west are jonesing to get into their gardens. Cold weather porn has been arriving (see featured photo) in our mailboxes since Christmas. My email is attacked daily with solicitations about growing deer resistant, bee attracting, mosquito repelling gardens this summer.
Meanwhile in Bearadise, the garden is…
For the moment I’m growing cardboard boxes. They’re doing well. One of their main virtues as a winter crop is keeping Bear out of the flower and vegetable beds, especially as they’re frozen to the ground. They are also mulching their little hearts out, attracting and providing a haven for earthworms. We’ve had enough of a melt that the top layer of soil thawed so Bear could to attempt to dig.
My entire yard is a disaster and there’s not much I can do about it considering the proclivities of the giant white creature with whom I live. One of my goals this summer is to put down a small patio and a walkway between the gardens, leaving Bear the back part where her favorite digging spots are. There’s also the chance that if she keeps at it, she’ll extricate two annoying, giant, weedy lilacs.
I garden but I’m not an enthusiast. I can’t help it. I think it’s in my blood. My lack of enthusiasm but commitment to growing things works well for the plants. In the course of my life I’ve had some huge gardens, sometimes very fancy. But at this point I’m most interested in what the plants do. Two years ago I had freakishly huge zucchini plants — and discovered that I don’t like zucchini all that much. Last year at this time I was putting tiny tomato seeds in Jiffy Pots and moving them around to sunny windows. The best thing in my garden last year was my Scarlet Emperor Bean of Song and Story. That bean was a magic ray of hope and a friend during the weeks leading to my hip surgery when I was scared and in a lot of pain. I gave them each a Chinese name — emperor or author. They were amazing to watch grow, and those that went into my garden grew to be 12 feet tall. I didn’t eat them. I wanted their seeds to plant this coming summer.
These regal beans gave me a lot of seeds and I have shared them with friends. This year my garden will have them but also Australian pumpkins. 🙂
There is something else to my garden that’s very special. When I moved here, there were no gardens. Just a beautiful lawn (that ship has sailed, thanks Bear). Then…
My friends, K, who lives next door and E, who lives across the street both garden passionately. As we got to know each other, and they saw that I also have to dig up perfectly nice grass to plant flowers, they shared their “extras.” We now have many of the same flowers in our gardens, lots of iris which grow well here and multiply like crazy.
I thought about that last year when the iris began to bloom in our yards. Sometime in the future when there’s no K, E or M, those flowers will be growing in our yards. Someone could say, “Wow, these gardens all have the same flowers.” And the flowers will whisper a reply, “Yes. The people who lived here were friends.”
Yesterday I was so inspired by the Birkebeiner Nordic Ski race that I was ready to sign up, but a little research showed me three things that dampened my enthusiasm. In order, first, it’s a crowd of people trying to ski. I’d hate that. Second, sleeping accommodations are renting a mattress and showing up at a dorm with your sleeping bag. I’d hate that. When I say I sleep alone, it includes a room. Third, it would be expensive BUT all other things being cool, I’d willingly go into debt (further).
“But,” I thought, “I can still train for it.” Strangely, that sounds fun, so I looked into it. There’s a whole schedule for preparing for the Birkebeiner. It’s nothing I’m not already doing, only more of it and pushing harder. So, nothing I can’t do.
So, today (in my personal adaptation of this plan, since I cannot jog) was a hike day. I grabbed Bear (not really) and we headed out to the golf course. It was cold and sunny with BIG snow storms in the offing. There was an old guy making his way slowly around the 1 mile ski loop.
“How is it?” I asked him “Not great. I’d like to go up to Rock Creek, but I’d be all alone if I broke my leg or something. Cell service isn’t great. Not fair to my wife.” (It’s amazing how EVERY man I meet lets me know, ASAP, that he’s married. I kind of hate that because I don’t WANT one of my own, but whatever…) “Yeah, me too. I don’t want to go up there by myself, either. Have fun!”
He shuffled off. Bear and I walked a mile and a half before returning back to the golf course. An elderly couple was shuffling along the tracks. The woman stopped to visit (this is a small town and that custom is charming) and we exchanged stories of our joint replacements and she said they’d gone up to South Fork but it was so crowded it was no fun. I thought of my short-lived Birkebeiner dreams and nodded. We exchanged names and personal history. Most people ask my name thinking they should know me. When they don’t, it’s a little bewildering for them. I now have nicely memorized litany to legitimize my living in this insular town that I love so much.
Bear and I headed toward home. Bear only dragged me into a snow drift once. I’m SO good at getting up now it’s impressive.
We were half a block up a muddy alley from home, and the two little kids who’ve moved into the neighborhood came running to their fence to see Bear but mostly to visit.
“What are you doing today?” asked the little boy. (He’s 5. Visiting skills develop early here.) “I just took Bear for a long walk on the golf course so she could play in the snow.” “THAT golf course?” he pointed across the street. “Yep.” I got another exhibition of his precocity in the art of visiting. “We might try that sometime.” “Have you been to the park? It’s more fun.” “We’ve been there,” said his sister. “Did you have fun?” I asked. “Yes!” they both said. Then their dad came out to give them a chore and Bear and I came home.
Once home, I rode the bike to nowhere four miles in 15 minutes. It was part of my training for the Birkebeiner to go fast and then faster for a period of time. As close to running as I can get.
I track everything on Mapmywalk.com. I started doing that just to know the distances I covered when I couldn’t walk well, but now I’m mildly into it. I even signed up for the annual challenge and I’ve achieved a pretty high ranking in relation to other women who signed up which just shows that it’s true that 99% of success is just showing up. I’m the little white figure on the graph of runners. The challenge doesn’t include the Bike to Nowhere. It’s no big deal, but I’m kind of proud, even though it just means a lot of other peoples’ New Years Resolutions bit the dust.
I really appreciate all the care and support while I’ve been having my existential melt down. It helped a lot to write it down, it helped a lot to “hear” what you all had to say, your experiences, your take on it.
It actually helped me figure it out.
Five years ago I saw the handwriting on the wall. My job was being “outsourced” to another department at the university and no one was going to tell us. There were five of us who had 3 year contracts to teach Business Communication. I had a year left. I had every intention of finishing my contact before retiring, but I ended up without the choice. An “under-the-table” deal was made and, since no one went to the union to complain until I did at the last minute, it was, essentially, a fait accompli. But in English. Looking at most of my income gone, I had to retire and leave. OK. Psychologically I was ready. Physically? I was already showing signs of the hip arthritis I had remedied in 2018.
My move to Colorado was great. I’m happy to be back, but it was a little freaky that — though a native — I didn’t know how to live here any more. It all came back, but there was a long period of adjusting both to retirement and life in a very small town I’d only visited once.
This blog helped me a lot as did the one I wrote specially about my move. That blog is gone, but it was good for me to write.
The first thing I did when I moved here was get an Airdyne. I knew I was overweight and in terrible physical condition. I wanted to be able to hike in the mountains and do things I wasn’t able to do. I wasn’t me, but I’d had to work so much the last few years I lived in California that there was nothing in my life but driving, teaching and all the things connected with teaching — grading, prepping, meetings, etc. When I finally moved into my house, the dogs and I began walking on the golf course and going 1/2 mile was difficult for me (and for Mindy T. Dog ❤ ) but we got better. The Airdyne was good, I did get in better shape, I was able to do yoga again (meaning getting down onto and up from the floor) and I did lose a little weight.
Still, the struggle to regain my body took so much longer than I imagined it could. I didn’t even realize until the end of 2017 WHAT my mobility problem was. Then came the search for a surgeon.
Meanwhile, I wrote. I arrived in Colorado with a work in progress, The Brothers Path. In 2017 I finished an important book — My Everest which is about my time in California hiking with my dogs. It was a total labor of love to put that book together. Then I sucked it up and finished The Price which was very difficult to write for numerous reasons I’ve already written about. The surgery worked and my pre-op training and post-op training have returned to me a body with abilities I haven’t had in a decade. I still can’t run. Maybe I won’t ever run — I do try, though.
I’m grateful and lucky. But at this point in time there is also the feeling that another shoe WILL fall. I will be 67 this coming Monday.
We always say we want to have no regrets, but I don’t think anyone can reach this point in life without regrets. I’m surprised at what mine are. I wrote about that, and last night a friend said, “Lots of people say they want to write books but they never do. You’ve written 3 (actually 6 1/2 but who’s counting?)…can’t you look at writing them the way you look at all your hikes? You never thought about point B; you just went.” He is absolutely right. That’s exactly how I can look at my books and writing itself. Everything, maybe.
This morning I read Cara Sue Achterberg’s blog post, on “My Life in Paragraphs.” She writes about how she and her husband are figuring out together what they want the next step in their lives to be. They’re about to be “empty-nesters” and they’re addressing this question with colored Post-It Notes on which they each write something they want in their future or want their future to be. Cara ultimately asks, “What do you want?” and my first thought was, “A marriage like yours, but that ship has sailed.” ❤
As I read, I thought about the different transitions — the late-40’s transition and the late-60’s transition. I didn’t notice the late 40’s one because the usual late 40’s physical stuff happened to me a lot earlier. Looking back, the time between 47 and 54 were really great years for me and, thankfully, most of the time I knew it. Physical debility and a bad love relationship set the “tone” for the next decade, neither of which I could possibly have seen coming. I thought, “I had the house I wanted. I lived in the mountains. I had great dogs. I hiked with awesome human companions, too. I had the job I wanted. I had all I wanted and then…”
It’s always a balancing act between what we want and what we get, I guess.
Yesterday I wanted Cross Country Skis. I texted the local outdoor store — Kristi Mountain Sports — and asked the appropriate questions. Today I got an answer. As it happens, I had written things down on a Post-It note.
Basically, what Kristi Mountain Sports has for sale is exactly what I want.
Today I want $550. It’s right there! It’s even on a Post-It Note! 😀 But I also want to know that if I buy the skis (which means more debt until the tax refund) I’ll actually use them. I have this big white dog and she doesn’t ski.
Anyway, I realized that I if I were to continue with the Post-It Notes, that what I want is a new adventure. I feel a little nervous even saying that — let alone committing it to an actual Post-It Note — because the universe might go, “You want adventure? Ha! I’ll give you adventure.” No, universe, this time let me find my own. ❤
I have a feeling that one’s halcyon days might depend on one’s attitude. I’ve been feeling glum about things. Anyway, woke up in a blue mood, confused and disenchanted. The prompt “halcyon” wasn’t happening.
I realized lately it’s probable that I’ve hit another one of those “turning points” or “crisis junctures” in life, often related to age. Also, maybe, it’s also related to the time of year which everyone agrees isn’t always the “holly jolly” thing it’s supposed to be. In my case, after all the HOPE and striving last year, I have landed square in reality again. It’s OK. It’s a far better reality than that in which I lived last year.
Over the past two days I’ve seen what story the Work in Progress actually is. It’s not a happy story, but it is definitely a Goliard story and it’s a view at a little known aspect of the Middle Ages, though that’s not all it is. I still want to write it, but it’s going to require a lot of discipline and mountain hikes. I wish it would really snow so I could find out if I can still X-country ski. I make take horse-riding lessons. To write this story my life is going to need a very powerful balance toward the good, the happy, the light. Thank goodness I have a pal who’s always ready to go outside with me.
Anyhoo, with all this in mind, I left the story for the day, shopped, cleaned, took the dogs for a walk. At the store a couple of guys were making fun of salad dressing and it just cracked me up.
“All there is is raaanch.” “I hate raaaanch.” “Me too, but look at that. Every brand of raaaanch.” (You have to pronounce it in kind of a nasal way like in a cowboy movie) I had to go where they were to get salad dressing and I said, “You guys are totally cracking me up.” “Yeah and we haven’t even had anything yet.” “Wow.” “What about rawnch.” (Faux British accent) I laughed. “Oh, ranch” (French accent). “Mai oui. C’est merveilleux.” I said.
Lucky I’m easily amused.
Still in a funk, I took out the dogs. We’ve been walking at the end of the golf course where, if I were a deer, I wouldn’t hang out. Now I think my herd of deer might actually “like” me.
Bear notices them as soon as they are within our “range” which is about 100 yards. I knew they were coming and from where when Bear suddenly stood between me and what seemed to be the “big empty” to the west. I knew then it wasn’t empty, but I didn’t see anything.
We kept walking and from time to time I looked toward the north, toward the parked tanker cars beyond which the deer hang out. Not always “beyond which” I know for fact from their footprints, spray on snowy trees, tracks and Dusty and Bear’s passionate sniffing. Then I looked over at the train and saw big ears turned in my direction under one of the cars. I stopped.
Bear resumed her guardian position. I took Dusty’s collar because we were pretty close — maybe 50 yards away and no real barrier. If he saw them, there was every chance he’d bark and chase. I turned and kept going. When I turned around, one of them had emerged from under the train and was walking toward us.
Well, my deer. “We’re not friends,” I told her. “These are dogs and your dad or husband doesn’t like me.” She stopped. Dusty, Bear and I walked away from them and when I turned around, they were gone.
Then I thought, “What’s really better than this? I can walk. I can write this difficult story. It’s in my power now, but it wasn’t before. I live in this beautiful place. I can spend the winter getting ready to climb mountains this summer. Never before in my life have I had this kind of freedom. So what if I’m old and ugly? Dusty and Bear don’t care and neither do my friends. That’s MY female ego problem, nothing more. So what if I’m approaching that ‘three score and ten’ they go on about in the Bible? I don’t want to live forever anyway. Sure, right now I’m disappointed about some stuff, but who isn’t? These are halcyon days, these winter days with the steeply angled light, the indigo mountains and the promise of snow.”
Usually on Thanksgiving, I re-post one of my articles about Sarah Josepha Hale and the true story of Thanksgiving, but this year, I have other things to write about.
November 2017 I was diagnosed with severe osteoarthritis in my left hip. I was in a lot of pain and searching for the right surgeon. I found him in March, 2018, Dr. Edward Szuszczewicz (shu-SHEV-itz or Dr. Ed) in Colorado Springs. This was great because my friends live there. He is not only one of the best surgeons in the US for the minimally invasive hip replacement procedure, he’s my kind of person. The surgery went well. I spent the night in a beautiful hospital room cared for by young nurses whom I liked. I came home in the care of my precious friend, Lois, who stayed with me until I was doing pretty OK on my own. She had ten days of giving me shots, changing my bandages, helping me get up in the middle of the night and helping me with chores. ❤
I couldn’t drive, so Karen, my neighbor and friend, and I went to the store together. We had a blast. Who knew that two women in their sixties would find shopping for food to be so much fun? My other neighbor, Elizabeth, took me to my local doctor (14 miles away) to get my stitches out. When I took my daily walks, neighbors came out to walk with me and ask me how I was doing.
Lori, the owner, Marylou and everyone working at Noah’s Arff, the kennel where Dusty and Bear stayed for six weeks, loved my dogs. They also made sure that if I wanted to come and visit, I would be able to see Dusty and Bear without danger to myself. Lois took me the first time, and as soon as I could drive, I went out to see them on my own. I was still wearing my TED hose and using my walker. 🙂 The kennel gave me a discount on the price for which I’m very grateful, AND an anonymous person chipped in $100. I have no idea who, but WOW.
When the day came that the dogs could come home Lori brought Dusty and Bear to me.
Besides my great doctor, my friends, the kennel and my town, I had great physical therapy. I owe a lot to Ron Muhlhauser both before and after my surgery for the fact that I walk WELL now. He prepared me well so I was in good condition before my surgery and he helped me rehab which basically meant learning to walk again. I turned out that I had osteoarthritis in that joint much longer than I knew and I had forgotten how to do many simple things like take a long stride or go up and down stairs. Really.
This year I learned a lot. It’s not easy for me to need people or ask for help. During my rehab, I DID need people, and I HAD to ask for help. It took courage for me, but I got nothing but “Yes!”
My hip replacement was, naturally, the biggest event of my year. I can now walk as if nothing was ever wrong. I am grateful every time I take a step. In my three-month check-up, Dr. Ed said, “No restrictions. Do whatever you want. Run up hills. Maybe I’ll see you on the slopes. Where will you ski?”
In October, Elizabeth and I took a short — but real — mountain hike to celebrate my recovery and living here for four years.
I decided to spend the “down time” after my surgery working on my novel, The Price. The kicker there was that if I were going to work on it, it needed to be finished before my surgery. I was stuck and didn’t want to go further, so I contacted Beth Bruno whose editorial skills have helped me in the past. I sent her the novel and asked for help. Beth’s response told me exactly what I had to do. I knew already, but I had resisted the knowledge out of laziness? or not liking the characters? I still don’t know. I spent the summer working on it and guiding the characters to an ending that would satisfy readers — and me. I am very proud of it.
I’m grateful for all the moral support I got from people who read my blog. I’m grateful for being alive at this moment so I can “know” interesting people all over the world through writing, my preferred communication. I’m grateful to all the people who’ve reviewed my books and appreciated them, to my friends for caring for me, to my town for being the beautiful, kind and human place it is.
I was an athlete and the loss of “self” has been a huge challenge for me — probably the biggest. I’ve had to consider exactly what that means now, and what it will mean in the future. I’ve had to face my age — at 52 my hiking pals were two young men, professional athletes in their 20s. One was a 21 year old weightlifter who “used” me as a partner in his aerobic training. The other was a professional surfer who had just learned (from me) that there was a lot of fun to be had on dry land, too.
At 66? I have no idea what’s ahead in that realm. I have cross country skis now, I have a dog who is learning to be a wonderful companion. I’ve also learned the pleasure of a slow walk, looking around me, stopping to see things, where once I covered four back-country miles in an hour. I looked around me then, but there was much less savoring.
I think major surgery is a taste of mortality. I could live 30 years longer, but evenso, will they be years of increased physical ability? Probably not. I might achieve more than I have now, but that won’t last.
Learning to savor a beautiful mile on a bright fall day is a gift from my time adjusting to being unable to walk well and walking in pain. Beauty is an analgesic, and since my surgery, I’ve realized how often my pauses on my pre-surgery perambulations were just to allow nature’s wonder to distract me from the pain I was in. That my dog likes to smell everything along the way was just an added happy quality. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to racing through the hills — even if I’m ultimately able. I don’t want to race any more.
Mortality…death is the end of the journey for every living thing. I don’t know what it will mean. I do know that I love the mountains that surround me, the sky, the things that grow here, their changes, the shadows and changing light, a chance sighting of a fox, a deer, a hawk, an eagle, golden trees in fall, the wind, the smell of snow before a storm, snow on my face, new snow crunching under my feet, snow on the distant peaks, hoar-frost, lenticular clouds, cranes, the sound of cattle lowing in the distance, tracks of elk in the mud, a furtive snake hurrying away pretending I didn’t see him (but I did), the smell of sage, the golden blooms on the chamisa, red dust on my shoe, the potatoes blooming in the summer, the sun setting anywhere…. I love all of it so much that sometimes I feel my heart will burst. I don’t want to miss a single thing by hurrying through.
This time last year I was in pain, scared, determined, unsure. The year has been a long strange trip, but, literally, the bottom line is I’m grateful for my life.
The other day I read an article by a guy who’d lost his brother to alcoholism. I got very angry with the writer. His whole point was that if there were a scientific and methodical way to treat alcoholism, no one would die of it. The writer (I wish I could find the article and if I do, I will insert it here) railed against AA and other 12 step programs because, mainly, they put the cure of alcoholism in the hands of the alcoholic.
Statistically, AA works for only between 10 and 20% of alcoholics. Personally, I don’t think the statistics matter when one sober person is enough (IMO) to call the program a success, at least for that person’s family.
I get it. No one wants to rely on the drunk to cure his/her own problems. Who is more unreliable than an alcoholic?
Anyone who loves an alcoholic wants a powerful outside force to come and wrest the problem from the drinker and awaken that person to the wonder of a sober life. I wanted that for my brother every single day of his life. For a time I thought I could BE that power. Later I thought I could ally myself with that power (various rehab programs and hospitals that tried to help my brother). I busted my ass working extra jobs to pay for my brother’s rehab, housing, food, medical care. In all that I learned something important.
There is no such power.
The United States already spends about $35 billion a year on alcohol- and substance-abuse treatment, yet heavy drinking causes 88,000 deaths a year—including deaths from car accidents and diseases linked to alcohol. (“The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous”The Atlantic)
Science continues to research the problem of alcoholism (which is as old as humanity, I think, since we started brewing brew and vintnering vino early in our history) and comes up with chemical aids to treat and help alcholics. The bottom line THERE is that even with the help of science, the alcoholic has to be motivated to use the medications or the psychological treatment.
It’s a pretty common-place notion now that many alcoholics have underlying psychological problems and that booze is self-medication. My brother very likely suffered something like borderline personality disorder. Both our childhoods were traumatic at key moments in our development, and we were very different kids. Some people are intrinsically more reslient than others, less dependent on others, react differently to stress, able to develop alliances outside the family. I am a survivor; my little brother wasn’t. Even as kids if someone picked on him, I beat them up. My reaction was to fight back or leave. My brother’s was to stay there and take it.
In 2004 I realized that though he called me, he didn’t even know where I lived, what my life was like, or much about who I was. I was just an open wallet to him and he would — and did — lie and con me to get money. It was hurting me teaching 7 classes and holding down a 20 hr/week clerical job. His life wasn’t worth more than mine. “Don’t call me again until you stop drinking,” I said on the phone, feeling like my heart was being pulled from my chest.
“Fuck you,” he said.
I never heard from him again. I was totally OK with that. I had realized that I couldn’t do anything to fix my brother. It was 100% beyond me. I wasn’t mad at him, I loved him as much as ever, I wanted him to pull his shit together as much as I ever had, but I finally understood that it wasn’t my job. I had a lot of help reaching that point, the kindness of loving friends who’d experienced something like this in their lives and some of whom knew and loved my brother, too. I took a lot of shit from some of my family over my decision, but those who understood really did understand. I will always be grateful. ❤
No one ever saves anyone who isn’t already clinging to the shore asking for help while he or she tries to pull him/herself up.
My feeling now about alcholism is that there isn’t, and will never be, a “one size fits all” cure for this problem other than the one we know and that is that the alcoholic can stop drinking if he or she is motivated to do so. I’ve known several people who stopped drinking because something outside of them mattered more to them than drinking. My dad’s sister, my dad, my grandfather — just to name three, but my list is longer than those three family members. People do stop, but my brother didn’t. He died of an alcoholism related stroke in 2010. I didn’t even know until five months later.
Today is my brother’s birthday and he would be 65. The ONE thing he refused to try was AA. Who knows?
In any case, I miss my brother, and I would much rather be baking a cake today than writing this. I think I’ll go take a walk. ❤