Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Other Side of Wow

My hiking buddy and best friend read my last post on forest bathing and sent me this text:

“Why do you only write about the wow, and not the other side of wow?”

Well, I usually like to use my Tuesday posts to center on things I am grateful for.  But she is right - there is another side to backpacking these days.

Between the two of us we have had

1 broken leg
1 broken foot
2 torn meniscus surgeries
1 torn ACL surgery
1 sublimated lower back disc
1 degenerative cervical disc
1 torn rotator cuff
and a hell of a lot of arthritis.

Which is all to say that we are getting old, body parts are degenerating, and we hurt just getting out of bed each day.  Add a 27 pound backpack (for a two night trip) on top of that and you can imagine the moaning and groaning that goes along with hiking 7 miles a day of rocky terrain while climbing a couple of thousand feet in elevation. And coming back down is even harder on the knees.  We had to stop and rest. A lot.  While slowing down did make the “being present” more focused, it also added more time to carrying the pack.  

When we pack, we share a very tiny, low to the ground, two person tent.  I used to be able to enter it with catlike grace.  Now I awkwardly flop into it, often almost taking the whole tent down with me.  But the worst is the getting back out. Crawling on already sore knees I always seem to kneel on a hidden rock or root.  Just enough to send a painful howl into the wilderness. And trying to stand up after sleeping on the ground, cramped and cramping inside a tiny tent for hours is something no one should have to witness.

And then there is the very personal problem of toileting in the woods. Where once I could gracefully squat, my knees no longer have that range of motion. I need to either fully undress from the waist down and pee standing up, or find a tree to cling to and hope to squat low enough as not soil myself.  Either way, it’s not pretty,

I have made other concessions to age.  I now use a walking stick which aids considerably when balance is needed crossing stony creeks and also helps take some pressure off when hiking down hills. I am thinking about using two poles in the future. I have reduced my pack weight to nothing but the bare essentials although I now carry a lot of moleskin for all those areas that blister and swallow an unhealthy supply of ibuprofen to dull the aches and pain.   But, in the words of Grandma Gatewood, who was a senior hiking rock star, it takes "more head than heel. Whether you're going 20 miles or 2,000, motivation and consistency is as important as mileage and speed. Sometimes more.”  I try to remember that when 80 year old hikers are swooshing past us with ease.

There have been many times when hoisting that pack up or taking one more step are almost too painful to bare, my hiking partner and I would wonder “what the hell are we doing out here, doing this to ourselves?”  But then we’d come to another breathtaking vista or get a whiff of rain drenched pine trees, or stand on a mountaintop under a full canopy of stars and think, “oh yes, this is why.”  We know that we cannot experience that magnificence without the effort that we have gone through.  And there is the the realization that yes, it hurts. But we can still do it.   And being able to do something so awesome for the soul, no matter how hard on the body, is not to be taken for granted.  

So yes, there is another side to wow.  But no matter how stiff I am or how much I ache it is still wow.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Forest bathing

Scientists in Japan have reported on the stress-relieving benefits of something called shinrin-yoku. They call it forest bathing.  It doesn't involve soaking in a tub among the trees. Rather it refers to spending time in the woods for its therapeutic effect. Apparently when you spend a few hours in a forest or camp by a lake you breathe in phytoncides, active substances released by plants to protect them against insects and from rotting, which appear to lower blood pressure and stress and boost the immune system humans.

Photo: Jupiterimages

I never went into the woods to wash away stress, as I really never had much stress in my life. I go into the woods to fill my soul which seems to get easily depleted by trauma anxiety and noise. So much noise.

When I was younger I made backpacking a physical challenge - how fast, how far, how high - could I push my body. It seemed the only way to conquer the anxiety.  Now I am much older and much calmer and my body is long past wanting to be challenged. My mind however still needs to deeply disengage and my soul longs to be replenished.

Last week I went backpacking for a few days and had my mind blown by the forest. Travelling at a much slower pace, and stopping often to rest, I found that there was so much more to experience in the woods when you slow down.  Magical. Quiet. Alive.  I was tremendously overwhelmed by the beauty of trees, almost in peak fall foliage color already. The smell of the earth filled my lungs and watching the woodlands animals scurrying to prepare for winter just made me smile. I enjoyed them for quite a while each time before moving on.

We eventually made our way to a mountain top with views that soothed my eyes that I didn’t even realize were sore from too much screen time and near sighted focusing.  It literally brought tears to my eyes to experience such a holy place.

Photo: Dave Heilman II
(Sorry, I don't carry a camera but this is pretty close to the view)

I returned home physically depleted but spiritually overflowing.

Three days in the woods released this past month's anxiety and sent my soul soaring.

Nature can do that.

It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air, that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit. —Robert Louis Stevenson

Forest bathing. I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Full of Grace

  • Being at the lake, surrounded by bonfires, to say goodbye to summer
  • Parking my kayak in places like this and being able to fully breathe it in

  • Sharing my world with creatures like these

  • Liquorice toffee all the way from England.
  • Planning and packing for a backpacking trip. Anticipation is half the fun.

It's been a good, restorative week.

As an aside, has anyone seen fireflies (lightening bugs) this year?
I have not seen even one and I am a little concerned.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016


Yesterday my oldest daughter accepted the job of her dreams as a full time social worker working with kids and families.

Today she found out she was selected to be a member of our Pride Center's Leadership Development Council.  They told her she was selected because they loved her answers to what "3 things about her make her suited to this role, besides her resume?"

Her answers:

I love my two moms;

I wouldn't set foot in North Carolina; and

I would go gay for Ruby Rose.

I do love that girl.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016


Trigger Warning: discussion of violence and sexual assault.

I was already down, violated and incapacitated when I felt it. The searing pain to my left jaw. My mouth filling with blood. Gagging. Dislodged teeth sliding down my throat, suffocating me to death while being pinned to the ground. It was at this moment that my psyche split and my I left my body behind to suffer the rest of it while I checked out.

I never could remember the details of the assault and rape. That moment when I thought I was going to literally choke to death was the line between being there fighting and then detaching, giving up, and seeing the onslaught as if I were floating above it.  An observer. My mind would never even let me question that I had a bridge of fake teeth or why my left foot was always so painful or why my cervix was so scarred that I could never have children.  Then years of therapy brought it all back.  

Long time readers of this blog have followed my therapy journey and my struggle to regain my mental health. But still I stumble.

A few weeks ago I was at the dentist for a new crown that required substantial work. I knew I was in trouble when I began to taste blood, I began to flail at the dentist and then he dropped the crown in my mouth. Panic.  Flashback.  I don’t remember much after that.

Triggers are strange and powerful  things. And while I now understand them much better, I still have to work myself back through stages of recovery.

- Shock. Triggers wipe me out physically and emotionally. I am able to put one foot in front of the other, but I am not at all present. I go through the motions of life but I’m so detached I have little memory of this stage which can last only minutes for mild triggers or, in this case, weeks.

- Awareness. Therapy has helped me be able to distinguish that the flashback memories happened in the past and are not happening again. It takes a lot of effort to calm the anxiety that triggers cause but I know I have many tools to help me through it once I am ready to use them.

- Self loathing.  It really bothers me that after all this time, and especially after so much therapy, that some triggers can still knock me on my ass.  It makes me feel very weak and powerless. I often beat myself up for still being a victim.

- Anger. Self loathing turns outward and I go through a short period of anger that this still has so much power over me.  It is an stage I have long ignored and am now exploring in therapy.

- Healing. After a period of isolation, I slowly force myself to reconnect - to nature, to people, to life. This is very difficult for me at first, but I also recognize it as so important to healing.

- Strength. I get very indignant and vow that I will get stronger and do better next time.

This last episode put a serious dent in my confidence to handle triggers as they inevitably come along. I am extremely fortunate to have Martha in my life as she allows me space to go through those early stages and then knows how to kick my butt when the time for healing comes.  And a best friend who gently sits with me in the calm and healing energy of nature.

I didn’t realize how long I have been absent from this space which is an important component of my journey. I am trying to reconnect and catch up on emails and blogs. I am back in therapy, full time. I am tending my gardens. And myself.

I am getting myself stronger.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Full of Grace - Color My World

  • My local university basketball team will not start their season by going to play the Duke blue devils because of North Carolina’s draconian discrimination laws. This was an annual game that brought national recognition to our small college program and I am proud that they will forgo the prestige to support the rainbow of genders and sexuality.

  • I have green beans! I plant a lot of beans in successive rows, but last year, every single row I planted was eaten by some critters as soon as the plants were an inch tall. Every single bean plant disappeared as if it had never been planted. This year, every row is producing beautifully.  

  • Peachie went deep sea fishing and brought me home a filet of blue fish she had caught. It is one of my favorite fishes, but has become unavailable as commercial over-fishing depleted their population. I cut it into small portions and have been savoring it nightly, broiled with a lemon garlic aioli. Yum.

She also caught this and I am equally grateful that she didn’t bring this one home.

  • This is now blooming in my memory garden. It came from my former therapist’s garden and I look forward to it’s purple plumage every year. I'd like to think that Lauren knows how thankful I am for all she did for me.

  • Another absolutely stunning sky at the lake. Even the old timers have been commenting that they can’t remember a year with such beautiful sunsets as we have had this year.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Full of Grace - Repairing our House

On the 4th of July weekend we went to the lake and first thing I noticed was the picnic table was broken. The girls had just had their annual party weekend and I assumed the table got broken during a fierce game of beer pong.  Then I got out the Adirondack chairs and one fell apart in my hands. A bolt had been totally shorn off. When I turned it on its side to replace the bolt, one wooden  armrest split and flopped off. I put the chair in my chair to take home since it was now a job that needed rebuilt constructed parts. Finally, I went to put the hammock out and the frame was all crooked. The lag bolts had been bent, almost to right angles. I was going to ask the girls about what had happened but decided I probably didn’t want to know.

Some of you may remember a couple of years ago when Martha’s boat died, and then the trailer broke trying to tow it home. Well, she actually paid a lot of money to have it fixed, put it in the water last year, and never got it to start. At the end of the year she took it out of the water and put it back in the camp garage. But I told her it could not stay there and to tow it home and either get it fixed enough to sell it, or take it straight to the dump. Unfortunately, the pneumatic jack that lifts the motor also broke. It took a few friends and a couple of hours to lift the engine enough to tow it home. “I hate this effing boat” may have escaped my lips. It may have escaped my lips quite a few times.

We got home only to notice that there was a large pool of water on the garage floor. It hadn’t rained in weeks so we were puzzled. After moving a load of crap in our hunt, we eventually traced the flooding to a broken water line in the back of the refrigerator. We turned the water off, pulled the frig out (which now blocked most access in the kitchen) and realized we needed parts.  But it was still the holiday so that would have to wait to the next day.

I had thought our well ran dry because we had no rain for weeks but Martha discovered it was a broken switch. (We are on public water but use the well for watering the lawn and plants) She said she would fix it on Tuesday but that I had to move the table where I do my winter seedlings.  So dressed and ready to leave for a meeting I had in 10 minutes I went to move the table, hit the well pipes with a table leg which caused a geyser in the basement and totally drenched me. I apologized that I had to leave, quickly changed my clothes, dried my hair, and ran to work while Martha sucked up all the water. When I returned four hours later, she said she had cleaned up the mess and replaced the pipe and was about to turn the water back on. But when she did, something else broke and we once again had a flood and she was dripping wet. Much cursing was heard. Rinse and repeat.

On Wednesday she went to take the boat into the repair shop only to find the trailers lights weren’t working and the problem was with the hitch on my car. I brought that into our mechanic who told me it was an U-Haul hitch and I should bring it there. But U-Haul couldn’t look at it until the next day.  Of course.  So I followed her boat over to that shop, (about 30 minutes) only to be told that they had no room and to come back. Home again, home again, muttering all the way.

We dropped the boat in the front yard and put the cars in the garage but when I went out again to walk the dog the garage door got stuck midway up. It would not go up further and it would not come down which left both cars hostage inside. Martha tried to manually move it and pulled so hard the handle came off in her hand.  Finally called a repairman, who couldn’t come until the next day. Of course.

We decided we both needed to take a break and went to sit out by the pool only to find out the filter was leaking. At least that explained why we had been losing so much water.  At this point we were starting to think we had some "everything is falling apart" curse on us but it only made us more determined conquer anything that came our way. Bring It. Fortunately that was an easy repair.

The next day we went to take the boat, again, but as we were pulling out, the piece of wood that had wedged the engine up fell out and the propeller was dragging on the street sending out sparks. That took another couple of hours of struggle to work out, and we finally got the boat safely transported.

But as we were sitting, extremely tired but proud that we powered through it, our nation’s strained racial seams began to split wide open. And so, since this is usually the day I post what I am grateful for during the week (and it has been a tough week to feel much gratitude) I will center on this:

  • That we have the talent and tools to repair most of what breaks.
  • That when needed, we have the financial luxury of hiring experts to help us.
  • That to date, everything has been taken care of - including the boat which she will finally sell to somebody for parts.  I hope.

And I am most especially grateful:

  • That Martha retired from being a police officer years ago. I would not want to live with the worry and strain of watching her go out the door every day in today’s climate.
  • That I don’t have a black son, because I can't imagine the worry and strain of a mother watching her son go out the door every day in today’s climate.

A lot of things are broken in our nation, but I have to believe they can be fixed. Everybody has something they can help with. We have the talent and the tools. We will power through this. That is my prayer.