Homegoing

“Home” isn’t a place any more, well, other than my house. There was a moment when I realized that I am a snail and home is a thing I carry with me all the time. Even now — in what I believe will be my last house — I feel like a tenant and I’ve been slow to unpack.

When I moved back to Colorado, I learned something about what home means to me by what I chose to put in the rented van I drove over the mountains.

I packed a box of art supplies, another of winter clothes (because, coming from San Diego in October, I would need them), my dad’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, and my three dogs. Were those things — and animals — “home?” The animals, definitely.

My goal as a young person was to be “at home in the world” rather than tied to a place. I’m not sure I managed that. If “home” is a feeling, well, I’m home when I’m outside with my dogs experiencing whatever happens to be going on when we arrive.

Nature is not “out there.” It’s right here all the time. In my case, it’s literally a block away in winter. Now that the crepitus of arthritis has been diminished through surgery (I still have it in my left knee), my days are centered around the time when we can go out and see what’s happened in REAL reality while we were sleeping.

We humans with our towns and cities have just carved out little bastions of human safety in the midst of it. All animals do this for themselves one way or another, and all of them are destructive to some extent though I don’t think they regard nature as a foe or friend. I think they get it in ways we humans have forgotten. I like it very much when I’m out there and have to adapt to something I cannot negotiate with like cold, rattlesnakes, heat, whatever. For me there’s liberty in that depth of reality.

I hope this summer to have even more chances to go home. It’s a little difficult now without a 4WD car, but that’s OK. I’m making plans.



Spike

The cutest baby in the animal kingdom is the California coastal horned lizard. Your chance of seeing one is pretty bleak since, as you see from the photo above, their camouflage is excellent. Add to that they’re shy. You would be, too, if you lived in a place with innumerable skillful predators. Whenever I saw one on a hike, I felt a little bubble of joy. One day I saw a baby. I picked it up and looked at it a long time. As it was in the olden days before cell phones with cameras, you have to look at this other guy’s hand with a different baby horned lizard. It’s OK. They all look the same and all of them are named Spike.

That Time of Year

Today I took down my 2018 calendar and put up my 2019 calendar. I’m ready for a new year. Before I tossed the old calendar into my recycling bin, I looked through it to see the main events.


At the end of March, my sweet Australian Shepherd, Mindy T. Dog, suffered a severe stroke and I had to have her put down. It was difficult to feel sad because she was suffering incredibly. She was a miraculous creature who had the magical ability to make people feel better just by looking at her. She moved out here with me from California and loved every bit of the journey and her new home.

The main event of the year was my hip replacement surgery. Most of the year was made up of activities leading to and away from that moment — physical therapy, slow, painful dog walks and rides on the Bike-to-Nowhere.

I tracked distance and calories on my wall calendar most of the year. Not because I cared so much about either, but because I wanted to see that I was getting somewhere. On the calendar are the days after my surgery when I walked in the neighborhood with my walker and then with my cane.

Lois came down to get me and take me to Colorado Springs then spent 10 days making sure I was “viable” 😀

The dogs were kenneled because there was no way I could take them on walks with me. I missed them, but I knew they were being loved and I could visit them.

Bear and Dusty being loved on by Lori on my first visit to them after my surgery.

I’ve recently realized (duh!) that I don’t have to track all this on my calendar or do the math. I’ve used a couple of apps for years to track my walks, but a couple weeks ago, I realized I can use one for my bike rides, too, so now it all goes on Map My Walk. I still need to see that I’m getting somewhere, even when there isn’t anywhere to go, really, but it doesn’t matter. Just GOING without pain is absolutely wonderful. Walking without thinking about it is absolutely wonderful. Parking FAR from the front door of the store is absolutely wonderful. Regaining my balance without fear of falling, absolutely wonderful.

December, 2018

I’ve written often about the hip replacement because I know that a lot of people in my age group (I call that 50 to 80, since I had my first hip surgery when I was 54 and my neighbor had his two years ago at 83) might be looking at a similar procedure. I’m grateful for the help, care and moral support I received from my friends here in Colorado, in Italy and online. I’m exceedingly grateful for my doctor’s skill and sense of humor.

Bionic me. On the left, facing, my hip resurfacing prosthesis from 2006. On the right, facing, my hip replacement from 2018.

In October, my surgeon pronounced that I had no restrictions on anything I wanted to do. “Run up a mountain. Maybe I’ll see you on the slopes.” I do not remember ever being more unequivocally happy.

One of the high points, besides the surgery (actually, almost everything was related to the surgery) was my first mountain hike since I came back to Colorado nearly five years ago. My friend Elizabeth and I headed up to hike the Middle Frisco Creek Trail, but missed the trail head. It was no big deal. The three forks of this creek run parallel and we didn’t go far. We hiked on the fourth anniversary of my moving into my house in Monte Vista.

Wrong trail but really who cares…

At this point, I’m no longer rehabbing but just getting ready for whatever athletic adventures await me. I’ll be 67 a week from New Year’s Eve (tomorrow!) but somehow I don’t care. I’m waiting for more snow to see if I can still X-country ski. I’m hoping I’ll be able to downhill ski at least once if only on the bunny slopes of Wolf Creek with my friend Lois in March. These are things I’ve loved forever, missed during my life in California, and hope I can have again, even just a little bit.

Behind all of this physical rehab were two books — The Price and Fledging. The Price is for sale on Amazon, and Fledging is a private project.

I think 2018 was a pretty amazing year.

My Playground

My pals and I go outside to play every day. Yesterday Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog and I went out and played for a long time. It was a magical clear beautiful enchanting calm-wind day. My pal is a great playmate. She always wants to play and when we get to the playground, she knows just exactly what she’s supposed to do. She’s supposed to smell things and roll in the snow. She’s also supposed to pull suddenly on the leash when a very fresh scent hits her nose, but she’s never supposed to pull me down. When I stop to enjoy the scenery, she is supposed to lean against me and I’m not supposed to move away so fast that she loses her balance. When we near the end of our play time, and I say, “OK, Bear, let’s go home,” she’s supposed to walk peacefully beside me while I rest my hand on her back. 

Our trail. Mt. Blanca in the distance
El Rio Grande

I’ve been playing in this way all my life. It’s amazing what can happen when you go out to the playground. Lately, in one of our playgrounds, we’ve had the pleasure of watching a small herd of whitetail deer watch us. Among them is a very large buck who vigilantly cares for his wives and children. He’s a little scary, actually, and I’m glad we’re never very close. 

The big buck is at the far left facing, looking right at me. 

What I’ve learned over all my years of playing outside is that there is always some reward (though play itself is reward enough), a destination (in terms of destiny).

I always see something. Sometimes it’s light on the trees. Sometimes Kris Kristofferson’s face in the clouds (seriously and it was weird). Sometimes a rainbow. Sometimes hawks hunting low over the chamisa or desert broom. Sometimes bald eagles in the trees. Sometimes deer, elk or some other large ungulate. Sometimes a wild cat, a fox or coyote. Sometimes a friendly person. Sometimes the litany of night written in the dust. Sometimes an amazing bird. Yesterday my reward was a Great Blue Heron. 

Just like this (from the Audubon Field Guide)



I thought of a poem by Jack Kerouac the moment the heron revealed himself by leaping into the air, taking flight. 

Kerouac was kind of a Buddhist. For a while he was a happy person, too. During this time he wrote/recorded some lovely stuff. My favorite is The Dharma Bums.  Anyway for a while I had a bunch of CDs of Kerouac reading his work and some of his interviews on TV in the 50s.

In one of his poems he says, “Like kissing my kitten in the belly, the sweetness of the reward that we’ll get. This I know.” 

And it’s true. 

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/12/15/rdp-saturday-play/

West Frisco Creek

Four years ago today, I moved into my house. I wanted to make a big deal out of that anniversary, so I asked my friends to go with me on my first mountain hike since I moved back to Colorado.

My friend Elizabeth (originally from a tiny town in Australia by the name of Buxton) came along. We followed the directions of my physical therapist who’d recommended the trail, “Go to Del Norte and turn left at the car wash.” We were then on a beautiful paved road that evolved into a nice graveled road, that evolved into a nicely maintained dirt road. At the end was the trailhead.

It was my first hike (since my hip replacement) on truly uneven ground with loose rocks and some ups and downs (other than daily life, I mean). It was easy.

We only wanted to be gone a couple of hours, and I didn’t want to undertake more than I could return from, so we ended up walking a relatively short way. I told Elizabeth that the end of the trail is an alpine lake — six miles up. We decided to work toward that for next summer.

It’s a perfect day, not a cloud in the sky, not much wind, comfortable temperatures. The aspen were enormous — I’ve never seen anything like that. They have grown up in groves of beetle kill pine so they haven’t had much competition. But coming up — five feet and lower — are pines, protected by the giant aspen. The light was not only impossible to photograph, but I don’t think I can describe it well. It was my first experience in a large aspen forest and it was enchanting. There are no aspen in Southern California.

Elizabeth is very active in the beautiful Gfenn-like Episcopal church in our town. I’ve visited a few times. Now she’s been with me to my church. ❤

P.S. Now I’ve looked on the topo map and we got the wrong trail, but there are three branches of San Francisco Creek, and we are going back. 🙂

My Brain Doesn’t Get It

So since my hip surgery and the recent (2 weeks ago!) pronouncement from my surgeon that I have no restrictions, I’ve felt very sad. I can’t figure out why. I also don’t understand why I’m not just OUT THERE trying things, hiking trails, taking my bike out of the garage, everything. I’m in good condition. I don’t know why I am sticking with the patterns of rehab I developed and that worked.

I was thinking today as I rode the Bike to Nowhere that the last time I had no restrictions, I was in my early 50s and my most frequent hiking pals were three boys in their 20s who had, at one time, been my students. Two of them were professional athletes, one a surfer and one a weightlifter. For the weightlifter, I provided un-boring cardiac training, and we had so much fun together running up and down the Laguna mountains, hiking long distances fast.

The surfer had no idea that dry land was fun, but he learned, and at least once a month you could find us on a dusty trail going up a hill or a mountain. When he went to Europe to hike the Camino de Santiago, he took a jaunt to Morocco and climbed up one of the High Atlas Mountains so he could take a photo of himself on the mountain for me. When he came back he said, “I don’t why, but it was hard to breathe up there.” It was over 10,000 feet, but he had to have good lungs from surfing…

The third was my most reliable hiking friend — he wasn’t as extreme as the others, and he lived nearby. We hiked often. Our thing was finding new trails and different times of day. We both liked late afternoon/evening/night hikes. We had a lot of fun together. He joked around about the other two because all the hikes usually ended with lunch or dinner in the little cafe in my town. “She (the waitress) probably wonders how you end up here with all of us hot boys.”

But it was great. A couple of years into this wonderful routine, my right hip started to go south. The weightlifter thought (and I thought) it was an injury but it wasn’t. And after that, it seems to me now, my life just went dark. That was 14 years ago.

It’s not dark now, but I’m not where I was last time it was light. Honestly, part of me doesn’t know where I am. I’m going to have to take a big, brave chance, and I sense that my best bet is not a hiking trail. I think a X-country trail on a snowy golf course might work best to bridge the years. I know it sounds absurd and maybe self-indulgent, but anyone else who’s had surgery like this experience post-rehab bewilderment and sadness over the next step?

 

Pain and Pleasure

Yesterday at physical therapy I was standing there doing tug-o-war with my therapist. Yeah, it’s an exercise. I’m supposed to hold still while he attempts to move me away from my center by pulling in one direction or the other. It’s a hip strengthening and stabilizing exercise. The tool involved is stretchy. Once that was finished, we moved on to his pulling me (using the same stretchy tool) from the front. I was thinking about how great it’s been to be able to safely do so many things I want (and more that I don’t want, like yard work) so quickly after surgery thanks all the physical work I did before the surgery, the miles and miles on the bike-to-nowhere, the dog walks that were often excruciating.

“You need to give me a challenge,” I said to Ron, grinning. “I’m pretty strong.”

“You are,” he said. “You know, I think you’re ready to walk on uneven ground.”

“I have been.”

“Where?” I told him about our walks out at Shriver/Wright Wildlife Refuge with the heat the the horseflies, how beautiful it was, how silent and empty (because who wants to walk in heat with horseflies? Only a dedicated idiot stoic like me, I guess). “It’s mostly flat, but there are some little — very little — hills.” My new thing is finding hills. Not big hills, but hills.

I had been thinking that I’m now able to walk my dogs at the slough and do a lot of other things because of the way I was raised. I felt grateful to those “cowboys” who raised me to be tough and to have a sense of humor about it. There wasn’t a lot of indulgence in the Kennedy household. In my mind’s “ear” I heard my mom say, “Quit yer bellyaching,” followed by a slap across the face as enforcement.

I literally grew up expecting pain. One friend a long time ago called me a masochist, but that’s not it at all. A masochist LIKES pain. I don’t like it, but it doesn’t surprise me. What has surprised me is NOT feeling pain. That’s amazing.

I wonder how I would have raised children to expect both pain and pleasure and take neither for granted, to understand pain enough to know that it may be transitory but maybe not; it may need to be dealt with. Still, it’s universal to all people and so should inspire compassion. I would want to raise them to understand pleasure is also transitory and somewhat random, but can be the fruit of their kindness to others — which is intentional and which they can choose and can ameliorate a lot of the pain in the world.

All in all, the cowboy stoicism with which I was raised seems to have been a good thing, though I could’ve done without the slaps. It looks like I’ll be doing that mountain hike two months earlier than originally projected. ❤ Thanks mom.

Stoicism: an ancient Greek school of philosophy founded at Athens by Zeno of Citium. The school taught that virtue, the highest good, is based on knowledge, and that the wise live in harmony with the divine Reason (also identified with Fate and Providence) that governs nature, and are indifferent to the vicissitudes of fortune and to pleasure and pain.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/06/27/rdp-27-indulgence/

Good Gnus

Kindle Front Cover My Everest.001

I got some good news on the famous author front this morning from Indie BRAG letting me know that my little hiking book, My Everest, has been awarded a BRAG Medallion. Basically, this is an award that lets readers know that this self-published book is well-written, interesting and (in this particular case) if you like hiking, nature and dogs, you’ll be very happy. It’s $3 for Kindle, $7 for paper back. Heres the link to Amazon.

Here’s the blurb from the book’s own website. 

Two Miles to the River and Back

Today is my 66th birthday, so yesterday afternoon, Bear and I went out to attempt a challenge.

Below is the map of the Rio Grande Wildlife Area where we like to walk. Our trails are marked in white. Our most common trail is the loop you see over the word “Homelake.” Homelake is a veterans home built in the 1880s for Civil War Veterans. It’s historic, beautiful and is still a home to veterans. The white line that is directly across from it follows the Rio Grande for about 1/2 mile. Then we turn around. It is the trail where I have seen the owls and have taken most of my photos of the Rio Grande. It’s a wooded, shaded hike in summer, mosquitoes and verdant beauty.

Yesterday Bear and I took on the hike you see starting at a parking area near Sherman Lake. We’ve gone on it before, a short distance. It’s (clearly) a trail that goes on for miles and miles (maybe four miles). It’s a “road” through the wetlands, bordering a few farms. In the fall I saw many, many cranes feasting on fallen grain.

On some level, for a while, I’ve been working (psychologically? physically?) toward reaching the river from this trail and yesterday Bear and I succeeded. It is a two mile round trip.

Rio Grande State Wildlife Area marked up

I tried not to think of what I was once able to do. I tried only to think of what I was doing AT THAT MOMENT and, mostly, succeeded. Bear enjoyed all the (apparently) incredible smells. I saw tracks of badger, deer, birds (mostly ravens, I think) and raccoon. For a while we got to watch a red tail hawk hunting. There was a flock of ducks that took flight when the thump of my cane on the ground vibrated through the water. There was one crane.

We were completely alone and except for the sound of a well being dug in the distance, it was silent, country silent, winter silent.

We reached our destination and I was so happy! I couldn’t have done it without my new friend and its shock-absorbing properties and the pointy end that sticks into the dirt.

komperdell-walker-cane-grip-trekking-pole-anti-shock-in-walker-asst~p~7678u_01~1500.3

I’m OK riding the “bike to nowhere” as a way to maintain some fitness and be in shape for what I know to be the inevitable hip replacement, but sometimes a person (me, for example) wants to go SOMEWHERE and see SOMETHING. My ultimate goal is at least once a week to manage a 3 mile hike on the kind and generous surface of the San Luis Valley. It doesn’t matter how long those three miles take me. I have already won all the races I need to.

Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign, a perennial festival is dressed, and the guest sees not how he should tire of them in a thousand years. In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life,—no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,) which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground,—my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space,—all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all;the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God. The name of the nearest friend sounds then foreign and accidental: to be brothers, to be acquaintances,—master or servant, is then a trifle and a disturbance. I am the lover of uncontained and immortal beauty. In the wilderness, I find something more dear and connate than in streets or villages. In the tranquil landscape, and especially in the distant line of the horizon, man beholds somewhat as beautiful as his own nature. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature.”