I was delighted to have another opportunity to guest blog at http://hearingelmo.com/
About a month ago, I attended a day-long training at one of my part-time jobs. I had the distinct impression that I would not get a lot out of the time I was certain would be better spent doing my tasks back at the office. I wish I could be more go with the flow, able to remember that I am often surprised by what happens when I stay open to things. I’m not big on group dynamic activities. Whether it’s because of my hearing loss, or my personality, or a mixture of factors, it’s hard to say. I find many of the get-to-know-you activities tedious and somewhat forced and superficial. But I was going to be there all day, so I decided I would make the best of it.
Several of the participants brought activities to share with the group that they have used in their work in substance abuse prevention to engage others in dialogue.
They all had some measure of meaning to me, and I could see how many could be utilized in different settings.
During one activity, we formed a standing circle, and each of us was given a sheet of paper and pen or pencil.
The activity went as follows:
-Write down six things that are exceedingly important to you. Do not include your family or your spiritual or religious beliefs.
-Cross out three you could let go of before the others.
-Pass your paper to the next person, and that person shall cross out one of the remaining items from your list and return your list to you. You now have two items remaining on your list.
-Cross out one item, leaving one remaining item on your list. The thing that is most important to you after you’ve made your list of six, crossed out three, dealt with someone else crossing out one item.
My list started out with:
I removed, initially, food, friends, and camera. The person next to me removed my Independence, leaving me to choose between my car and my passionate nature.
It was clear to me that the car would have to go.
When all was said and done, I found my passionate nature to be so important that I would do without all the people and things that make life rich. I understood in that moment how my sense of self is tied up in that quality.
What is a passionate nature? For me, it is the life spark, the reason for being and caring and hoping and working and making every sort of move in life. When it is flagging, when the flame feels suffocated, I am not well. My mood is irritable, I retreat, and I struggle with caring about…everything.
A few people expressed how it made them feel to work through such a priority list. I stayed silent. When the leader of that activity started collecting the papers from everyone (to throw away) I told her that I wanted to keep mine.
I got a high five. J I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
Last fall, I quit my full-time job and spent two months traveling around the country, seeing old friends, meeting new ones, spending time in nature, in the country, in the towns. Seeing sights, enjoying delicious food, eating over a small camp stove when I spend nights under the stars. I returned home with a drive to create a life space that made sense to me at this stage of my life. I struggle financially, but it’s more important to be able to continue to create that space than to be “secure”. I have been busy with a couple of jobs, one I really enjoy, the other has proved not to be a good fit and I will need to make some changes around that. Overall, it is good and right to stay focused on creating a life that is in alignment with what matters most, what feeds the flames of the passionate nature. That is how I can be at my best to myself and to my community.
“We never know how many tomorrows we have left: eat dessert first!” “We plan, God laughs.”
The notion that we shouldn’t waste time because we have no idea when ours will be up is all too familiar. We’ve heard it, we’ve said it. Often, it’s a loss of a loved one, or the abrupt change in personal status that makes us take a fresh look at our lives. When my father died in 2013, and a dear friend died a mere 11 days later, I experienced what I’ve just recently heard described as “zombie grief”. I remember trying to describe it to some friends, that sensation of being nearly paralyzed. I was sure, I said, that it was the body’s way of preventing one (me) from doing anything drastic. After a while, I was able to move again, but I struggled both physically and emotionally. Only in relatively far retrospect did it dawn on me that I was depressed, grieving. I felt a great deal of anger, and in a way, it was refreshing, in that I felt freer to say “no”, and I did simplify my life somewhat. I stopped giving so much mental energy to people who took my energy but didn’t replenish it. I realized that changes that had occurred in my work situation needing changing once again. I planned for my departure, taking a two month hiatus and traveled across the country, enjoying plenty of time alone, visiting friends old and new, camping, and doing a little creative work through writing and photography. I returned to North Carolina, and struggled to find a balance of work that would be meaningful as well as pay bills alongside my desire to have some flexibility to do the other things that are important to me. It has not been easy, and still needs some adjusting, but for the most part I am glad for where I am with that process.
A week and a half ago, I had a couple of biopsies done on the sole of one foot. I had been concerned about the appearance of small to medium markings that had not always been there. My father died as a result of metastatic melanoma, which coincidentally appeared on the sole of his foot, so I’d been quietly terrified that those biopsies were going to come back as melanoma. I did share this concern with a couple of friends, but for the most part said nothing. I told one friend that if the report showed melanoma of the type that my father had, there is really nothing to be done about it and I would plan accordingly. I thought for just a moment and said “why am I waiting to find out if I have melanoma before deciding to plan accordingly?” Although I continued to wake up each morning wondering if today would be the day I’d get the bad news, I also spent a lot of time thinking about how important it is for me to continue to work towards ensuring that what I devote my time and energy to is more and more in alignment with those things I hold dear.
This afternoon I got the relieving news that I should keep an eye on things, but there are no high alerts at this time. I am thankful. I also hope I have the capacity to keep my eyes towards those priorities and avoid the trap of complacency. I aim to keep things fresh, and not be afraid to shake life up as I did in the fall when I quit a job that offered a modest salary with those much-coveted benefits in exchange for days and days of adventure, exploration, time with friends, new experiences, another kind of self-confidence, creative energy, and lots of “I wonder what today will bring?” mornings.
Eat dessert first!
As I walk through the old Zoar cemetery, down in the country, I step carefully around the headstones, trying to read what is written, though it is often impossible to make out names, or birth and death years. The stones, covered in lichen and faded by time, have a strange beauty, as those who love cemeteries can appreciate.
It is approaching middle springtime in the Piedmont, when a cold snap can threaten the initial bursts of enthusiasm from the early blooming plants and trees. Today, the grounds of the cemetery are virtually blanketed by bluets, a wildflower species that often reaches no more than one inch in height. The blooms are small and delicate, and they are usually gone by early summer. They are a treat for the eyes after a winter with little color on the ground. So I step lightly around them, around the headstones out of respect for the deceased, and around the delicate blue, white, and purple-tinted blooms of the wildflower with the same sort of reverence. As I do so, I cannot help stepping on the moss, the grasses, the smaller rocks that are everywhere in the cemetery. For a moment, I attempt to step around some of the more interesting (to me) combinations of ground cover. The more I do that, the more I have to try to avoid squashing with my hiking boots. It pulls me to a standstill as I consider that I have been showing favoritism for one or another plant. Why? Because I think it’s pretty, or delicate, or fleeting. But what of the strength and character and subtle beauty in the wild grasses, the moss that stay green year-round, growing plush and vibrant at different times of year, but always there, an important part of the ecosystem? Why dance among the little flowers while walking all over the rest of the earth? I am troubled by this, because if I conclude that there is just as much reason to avoid squashing the other plants among the headstones as there is to avoid damaging the pretties, well then, where do I walk? Should I even be there? Where is it OK to walk, to step all over, to squash, how is such a decision made? Do we intuitively know that no, we have no right to do damage, but since we live on the planet we have to make some decisions? We say well we should never do such and such, but we can sometimes do this and that, but other things, well, that’s just the way it goes, buddy.
There are a few of my friends who have heard me say that in the past couple of years, I’ve gone from being the friend-who-brings-beautiful-flowers when she visits your home, to the one who cannot stand the thought of cut flowers, flowers torn from their natural (or created) habitats to be put in water in a vase on a table. I suspect it comes from having spent a ridiculous amount of time over the past several years, wandering back roads, looking closely, deeply and intimately, at blooms as they run through their life paces, on trails, roadsides, and in deep woods, that I feel like to cut a flower for the express purpose of putting it on a table for a few days for all to admire is an unnecessary assault on the plant. Let it be! I’ll bring you a bottle of wine instead. J So, how different is this feeling from wanting to protect all living things? Why do I struggle with the idea of giving up meat more than I do giving up flower bouquets? Selfishness, basically. I hold that there are ethical ways of letting live, and killing, animals for human consumption and I try to make choices around that as much as possible. Is it dancing around the wildflowers again? Yes, in a way. I’d go mad if I were to pay that much attention to my every move, every moment of each day. Yet it feels a spiritual illness not to pay attention, too. Working towards balance, every day.
Photo credits: Deborah Marcus
Note: this essay is a reflection on journal notes scribbled back in July 2015.
My friend Amy had sent me a Facebook message, catching up after our being out of touch for a little while. I was dealing with the trigeminal neuralgia and other chronic pain issues that I try my best to manage and then ignore as much as possible, but which have impacted my life. Apropos of nothing, she wrote: I just want you to be happy (with lots of exclamation points)! It’s a lovely sentiment, really. It got me thinking about a lot of things, especially, you know, what is happiness? I can remember—sometimes it feels like I was still in high school, but it’s probable it wasn’t until I went off to college, having taken an introduction to philosophy class during freshman year, when I was introduced to a manner of philosophical questioning that has helped to shape how I think about things ever since–an experience of walking with my dad. Walking and talking, my memory is that we were on Fifth Avenue, walking along Central Park in New York City. At some point, I decided to muster the courage to ask him something I’d never discussed with him. I can’t recall why I had this question, but I did and I asked: Dad, are you happy? He looked at me and said something like “I don’t even understand that question. What is happy?” I don’t remember every detail of what he said but I remember the essence of his response. Which, if you knew my dad, you’d know that I’m telling you the truth. He said that happiness it’s not some sort of amorphous, fleeting thing. I’m happy with the things that I’m doing in my life, and I feel productive. What more can anybody ask for? This response was so Dick Marcus, quick and pragmatic. It was not his inclination, as I came to understand better much later in life, to think about things in that way. He wanted to know “are you doing OK? Are you doing work that you love? Can you support yourself?” He didn’t even talk about money that much with me, it was sort of a given that it was important to be able to support oneself. He spoke more about are you enjoying what you’re doing? Are you productive? Always, always, are you doing work that you love?
This started out as a philosophical consideration, a search for some definition of happiness. But I see that it becomes for me about feeling productive, enjoying my work. For everything that didn’t go right in my father’s life, for every mistake he made—and he made mistakes—he was also a loving person, and he lived his message. He loved his job. He was retired from the NYPD for more years than he was on the job, and it was so much more than an affiliation for him. He loved his work. Even on days when the system drove him nuts, he loved what he did. He believed in what he did.
It’s a point of reflection for me, because having made a long transition from my previous work, having wondered deeply about why I am here and what is my purpose, my feeling is that I shouldn’t be spending tremendous amounts of time doing what I don’t love, and which I don’t particularly believe is serving anyone much good.
Which leads to my next questions: what is “work”, what is “good”? I’ll get around to that after a while. For now, it makes me (deep breath) happy to finally understand why it’s essential to make it a priority to always, always, do what I love. If I steady my sights on that, I’ll keep my bearings, be of the most service to others, and have the most energy and enthusiasm possible in all my endeavors. If this resonates for you, take it with you.
Three years after my father’s death, he is still teaching me important things.
“I have the same problem with understanding conversation in a noisy environment.”
I met with a friend over lunch yesterday. We’ve known each other for at least 4 years, and our visits usually take place in one noisy restaurant or another. I enjoy her immensely, and we’ve talked about many different topics over the years. She has known from the start that I am deaf and hearing with bilateral cochlear implants. I have periodically made reference to my hearing in the context of one thing or another, but at lunch, while discussing the search for employment, it took on a different tone. Ultimately, it taught me old lessons through a new lens.
It is immeasurably difficult to explain adequately what it is about my struggle to filter out noise in order to hear speech (conversation) that is different from the struggle of the person who has difficulty hearing in noisy environments but has otherwise normal hearing. My friend asked me if I’d consider working as, say, a waitress in the bar and grill we were sitting at right at that moment. I proceeded to explain that though I’ve done that sort of work in the past and am not opposed to it in principle, I probably would not pursue it because a key aspect of the job is to take food and drink orders and I cannot count on being able to reliably understand all the details of the order provided by the customer. The background music, conversation around us, the overall noise level creates significant challenges. Even if I were to be successful most of the time in not needing a lot of repeat information or making a lot of errors, I am aware from experience the level of cognitive fatigue I would endure simply from the kind of intense and focused listening and lip reading that would be involved. I know that not only would that exhaust me physically, it would exhaust me mentally, and if I were to need to do other intense listening activities outside of work, my mood might be altered to the point that I would become irritable and unable to modulate my responses to external stimuli ONLY because of that cognitive fatigue. It would become a quality of life issue.
I tried to say all that face to face, but I don’t think I got it all out, nor do I think it would have made that much difference. Why? Because my friend has only her own experience, which is to struggle with hearing conversation in a noisy environment as a normal hearing individual. That’s her reference point and she cannot be expected to relate to a completely foreign experience, i.e. to hear electrically with bionic technology. One of the things I started to tell folks I mentored through the cochlear implant process is that I no longer spend a lot of time trying to describe what it sounds like, initially as well as in later stages, to hear with cochlear implant technology. It is not possible to understand unless you’re hearing with it yourself. The issue of hearing in noise as a hard of hearing person who wears hearing aids is somewhat similar. We use the same language to describe it, yet again it is different from my experience with cochlear implants.
I also took note of the fact that I was becoming somewhat defensive. I took my friend’s insistence that I can do this, that everyone struggles with the same problem, as an attack on my ability and willingness to pursue all reasonable options for employment. We discussed this, and she was able to help me see that she was just trying to understand. I appreciate her curiosity and willingness to stick with it all the way through. Many will not even care enough to try. However, it really is not something that is entirely possible to resolve. The message for me is that I must continue to build on my internal strength, to know and love not only my strengths but my limitations. Good life lessons over lunch.
Goldie, as some of you know, is my 2008 gold Honda Civic. When I moved to North Carolina from Colorado in 2009, I pulled into town in a blue Subaru Forester towing the smallest U-Haul trailer available. Soon after I arrived, the transmission completely went out on the Forester. I couldn’t afford to replace the whole thing, so I had to let it go and get another car. That’s Goldie. I didn’t name her for a long time, and didn’t say it out loud until after the high drama of April 2015. I went off the road on a dark, rainy night, in either a hydroplane or bump in the road event. I was airborne, spinning 180 degrees and down a steep embankment, getting tangled up in some heavy brush and missing the trees below by inches. Goldie was still running! I got stuck trying to drive back up the steep hill and needed to be towed to the road, but I was able to drive home from there. That was the night I decided that I should appreciate her a little more, and call her by her proper name.
Goldie and I have been through a few exciting events. In the fall of 2012, I was hit on the passenger side by a young man who was in a hurry to leave the bank parking lot. The force deployed the airbag, which tore out the fabric on the car ceiling. That and other damages took Goldie away from me for close to two months. I finally got her back, only to have the engine overheat a week later. What?!? I had her towed to the body shop, because I thought it had to have something to do with that accident and all the work they did. No, they didn’t think so, and so I towed her over to Brueilly Auto Repair. Steve Brueilly had been recommended to me a couple years prior, for minor work. My friend told me that he was highly qualified, and just as important, he was trustworthy. If he can help you out he will, is what I was told. The next day, Steve called me and said “you’re not going to like this. You have a cracked engine block. It costs upwards of 4,000 dollars to replace, and there can be a lot of damage from the crack. I was devastated. I didn’t have that kind of money. I envisioned myself paying two car payments: one for the Civic, which I wouldn’t be able to repair, and another for a car that I would have to buy so I could get around. I called my dad to make sure that this report about cracked engine blocks sounded accurate. He groaned and said yes, it’s very expensive to replace. I decided to just think about it overnight. Steve called me the next day, saying that something seemed strange to them there, so he had called up to the dealership in Greensboro and had them run the VIN number. Turned out there was a recall on that engine block! He told me to get it up to the Crown Honda in Greensboro, and they’d get her fixed up.
I was in a shocked state, but thanked him profusely for following up on this for me. If he and his staff hadn’t taken the time to figure out what was going on, I would have been in some hot water. I called my dad, this time with a remarkable update. He was delighted and relieved for me, and heaped praise on Brueilly for his consideration and help. “He could have just told you the cost for the job, take it or leave it, and not given it another moment’s thought. He’s a mensch!”
This second event, with the engine block, actually spilled over in 2013, mid-January. Dad had been receiving monthly chemotherapy since October, in an attempt to shrink a liver tumor, a metastatic event from a primary retinal melanoma. The retinal condition had been treated a few years prior, and he had been given clean bills of health at all follow ups with the eye specialist, but it wasn’t really gone from his body. By mid-January, he was getting ready for the fourth and final treatment, with the plan to see the oncologist in February to review whether the treatment had the intended effect, and possibly bought him some time. He expressed some pain and fatigue at that point, but we are certain in hindsight that he was not telling anyone exactly how much pain he was in. He kept about most of his usual daily activities. Dick Marcus was not one to lay around and watch television, but one day I called him, it was a weekday, in the afternoon, and he said “Honey, I’m not feeling well. I’m lying in bed in the middle of the afternoon. You know that’s not a good thing.” It broke my heart, but he was not to be coddled, and it was the only time he alluded to such discomfort. Even then, he thought it was more the side effect of treatment that was getting him down than progression of the disease.
At the end of January, I received a piece of mail from him. There was a note that read “Give this to Brueilly, with my thanks. He might get a kick out of it. Love, Dad” In the envelope with the note was a plastic card, one that he received copies of every year as a member of the Retired NYPD Lieutenants Association. I put it aside, thinking I would stop by one day soon and deliver it to him. Two weeks later, I was flying to New York City to say goodbye to my dad, for the treatment had not worked, and he was gone within days of the oncologist’s report that there was nothing else to do except provide comfort care. Soon after his death, I pulled out the envelope with the card intended for Steve Brueilly. I didn’t want to go and see him and give him the card. I was afraid I’d burst into tears, unable to finish. So, I put it aside, thinking “I’ll get over there soon”. I’ve been there since for auto care, and I’ve never thought about that card. This morning, I was organizing some paperwork. I saw my father’s handwriting on an envelope, and curious, I pulled it out. I could feel the outline of the little plastic card. I read, again, the note, and held the card in my hand. I’m keeping it with me in my glove compartment. Hopefully I will remember to pull it out and present it to Steve the next time I’m over at the shop. I do think he’ll get a kick out of it.
Since I’ve been back from my nearly two month journey, the most frequently asked question has been “what was the best part?”
Often, I would preface my answer with another question: the best part of which part? The tent camping, the seeing people, the being alone with my thoughts, the food, the sightseeing–to the extent that I actually went sightseeing, for that was never the intention of this journey.
Although I am able, when pressed, to point out one or another highlight, the more I thought about it, the clearer it became that the whole of it was the best part. The whole, here, is something other than the sum of its parts.
Here is a list of many parts from this journey which are no greater or less than any of the other parts. It was in the process of writing all of this down that I developed another layer of appreciation of the power of being fully present. I am as guilty as any other of losing sight of that quality, of judging, or measuring, comparing, to what-if-ing.
–Selma, Alabama, walking across the bridge, taking in the harsh history, being reminded of the redemptive power of hope.
–Driving for two and a half days across Texas in torrential, sideways rains. After my experience in April, when I hydroplaned and went down into a ditch (likely having hit a dead animal or some object on Highway 220 during the evening and heavy storms) I’ve been anxious about driving during those same conditions, even pulling off the road to wait out rains normally not problematic. I would have lost almost three days of driving had I waited for all the rains to pass, so I was able to get more comfortable driving through heavy rains again. Although I was not doing it at dark, it was pretty good post trauma work as I am now able to drive comfortably during reasonable amounts of heavy rain.
–Staying two night in a motel in Marathon, TX, instead of camping. Ongoing torrential rains. See above. Time to just stop moving, do some writing, communicate, walk around when it wasn’t raining. I got one great day in Big Bend National Park, and that was worth it.
–Big Bend National Park. I could’ve stayed a week and not properly seen it all, but I had a great day with perfect weather and a few nice photos out of the bunch.
–Carlsbad Caverns, wandering down the mile and a half path, slippery with bat guano, to the “Big Room” which is the size of 14 football fields. I’d been there about 15 years ago and wished to see it again. So I did.
–Alamogordo, New Mexico, White Sands National Monument, New Mexico Museum of Space History, crossing the wide open spaces, staying at the cleanest, comfiest motel sojourn over my entire two month adventure (White Sands Motel, the one with the old fashioned lit up sign out front). Good price, too, with a decent continental breakfast. I liked it so much that when I needed to make a huge detour to avoid highly inclement weather on the way back from Southeastern CA, I decided to go back through there so I could stop and rest at that motel.
–Las Cruces and Old Mesilla, New Mexico, with my beeline (chile line?) to Andele Restaurant for my much-missed taste of Hatch chile in a comfort food style stew, a stroll around the historic Mesilla Plaza, all served to add a bit of enchantment to my travels, in “Tierra del Encanto”.
–Camping and hiking in the Cochise Stronghold, Coronado National Forest, Southeast Arizona. This was, in fact, a true highlight. With no perceptible wind and no threat of rain, and a cozy sleeping bag for a 40s degrees night, I was able to enjoy sleeping under the stars in my mesh sided lightweight tent. I hope to return there again.
–Engaging with Humane Borders, Inc. and Joel Smith, operations manager. We were a good match: me, for my desire to understand more about the work they do, and to experience it firsthand, and he, desiring to share this story and this life with anyone showing a genuine interest and concern. It was a priceless experience and I share my experience both in writing (see Borders and Borderlines on this website) and with anyone seemingly remotely interested in hearing about it.
From here, I had to admit that I am more of a social butterfly than I would have people believe! Graciously hosted by the marvelous Michele, I was able to also have great visits with Sara, Susanna, Ken, Bob, and Janet, in and around the metro Phoenix area. Great conversation, food, sightseeing (who knew there is now a reason to walk around downtown Mesa?) over a several day period. I was able to spend a whole day with my dear friend Sharon, with Ken and John joining us for lunch. Sharon was one of the first people I’d met when I lived in Phoenix back in 1990, and we’ve remained friends ever since. We don’t see each other often, but when we do it is incredible how we just seem to pick up where we left off. Leaving from Phoenix, I drove the alternate way over the White Mountains region and had a lovely visit with Becky and her husband Scott. Again, conversation, great food prepared by Becky, a walk around a nearby lake, and a good night’s sleep, had me on my way to Northern New Mexico.
I stayed for a night with Teresa at her home in the Barelas neighborhood of Albuquerque. It was a wonderful evening and morning of conversation and reflection. She has a wonderful traditional style home, and it was a pleasure to spend time with Teresa, and to just be there in that space.
Continuing north on I-25, I arrived in Santa Fe. I had been to both Santa Fe and Taos in the past, but was unaware that two friends from high school, who’d shared some great times with me over the years, were now living in these towns. Laurie lives in Santa Fe with her teenage daughter, and we had hours to catch up on our lives while I was there. We went out partying a few nights, the first just the two of us to hear her boyfriend, Tom, play in one of the bands he is in around the area. Tom is super, and it was a pleasure to meet him and hear him play in both a more modern music band as well as in a traditional jazz band a couple of nights later. Two of the three nights we went out, Alex, who lives in Taos, joined us. I hadn’t seen either of them in well over 15 years! It was fantastic to see them again. After four days in Santa Fe, Alex picked me up (we were worried about my Civic handling his off-roads, and in hindsight, for good reason) and we drove up to his home above Taos. Alex is a woodworker, and more than that, he can fix just about anything. He built his home on the side of the mountain, off-grid and fully solar. He gave me the royal tour of the area, a mix of scenic wonders and cool bars and restaurants. We spent time with his girlfriend, Janet, who is a sweetheart. Perhaps the best part of the visit, though, was the time we got to just talk about all kinds of things, sitting in his home, listening to music, getting deep into some topics. Those were some very special days, with Laurie and with Alex. Oh, lest I forget: Madrid, NM. A special highlight. J
–Rhyolite NV, Tecopa CA, China Ranch Badlands, Mojave Preserve, Nipton CA, these are some of my favorite spots in the United States, for disappearing off the grid (or nearly so) sometimes for days at a time. I had not planned to travel to California on this journey, but in speaking with Laurie in Santa Fe about the pull this region has on me, and her reminder that it was a lot closer to Santa Fe than Asheboro, North Carolina, I decided to make the 13 drive to spend a few days in the desert. I could and probably should write more about that, but suffice to say it was worth all the added hours behind the wheel to soak in the hot springs pool and wander the desert land. There was one day when the winds were so intense and relentless that I could not keep my little tent up and had to sleep in the car. All part of the experience.
–Norman, Oklahoma is the home of my new friend Laura and her family. Niece to my good friend Beth, she welcomed me on my eastward trek. In fact, Beth’s mom was visiting at the time, so it was fun to see her there and get to know Beth’s family a little better. Laura and her husband own a horse farm. She might be one of the hardest working people I know. After putting in a full day’s work in OKC, she give riding lessons on her farm, and then tends to all the tasks necessary before bedtime. She spends time with her young daughter, bathing and reading and putting to bed, then getting to bed before it’s time to start all over again. A dream comes with much hard work, but she loves what she does. I was also able to have a wonderful visit with my friend Vernice, who lives nearby. We’d only know each other virtually until this recent visit, so it was really special!
–Arkansas, where I was able to stop and pay a visit to the Clinton Center in Little Rock (worth one’s time!) is the home of two friends I’ve only known on Facebook until this trip. Jeanie invited me to her and her daughter’s home for a night, and we had a great day together. Her grandson is the best! The next morning we met up with Jeanie’s sister Margaret and we went out for breakfast together. I really like both of those ladies. At Margaret’s suggestion, I made a quick stop in Fayetteville and walked around the town center. I could see that there were strings of lights all over the trees, and when I saw photos shared by them later of the sight of them all lit up for Christmas, I wished I’d been there a little later in the season. Glorious! Arkansas is beautiful. I need more time there, next time.
–Tennessee was scheduled full. I visited the National Civil Rights museum in Memphis and was glad for the suggestion from my friend Debra R. back in North Carolina. Powerful record of events! I headed that evening to see Ricci and Leigh Ann. They have a beautiful home and made sure I felt quite comfortable. We went to Beale Street in Memphis one night, to make sure I’d get a taste of that classic Memphis scene. From there, I had a number of Tennessee stops: Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, where I was a cochlear implant research subject for a few days, and where I had dinner one evening with Jennifer, Diana, Dennis, and Emma. Such fun! Onward to Chattanooga, where I spent two nights with Ruth and Gary. Always gracious and ever helpful, I was able to bounce ideas off of them for my future planning once I returned home. I visited with Laurie and Steve in Maryville. As always, Laurie and I had some great conversations, and we went for a scenic drive near the Smoky Mountains one afternoon. As I prepared to leave town, I did one of those check-in posts on Facebook about getting my car oil changed. I got a message from Bill D. asking if we might meet for lunch. Such great timing! Bill, his partner Emalie, and I had a wonderful lunch together before I headed out of town.
I was able to enjoy a few more stops in North and South Carolina before heading back for the duration: hot springs in the mountains, an invite to stop by for a plate on Thanksgiving by Eric, a fun weekend in the Charleston area with Beth, Nancy, Steve, Alex, Savannah, and with Carol and Bruce. Then, it was back to the business of discovering what my next life chapter will look like.
It was all the best part.
I had the great pleasure of hiking and camping in mid-October at the Cochise Stronghold campground, in the Dragoon Mountains within the Coronado National Forest in southeastern Arizona. I arrived late morning, and enjoyed a hike before setting up camp. At 5,000 feet, it gets chilly once the sun sets at that time of year, but the granite walls and sheer cliffs that surround the campground act to reduce winds that might otherwise make tent camping a bit uncomfortable overnight. With virtually no chance of rain, and little to no perceptible wind, I was able to enjoy a rain tarp-free experience, hunkering down into my sleeping bag as I peered through the mesh of my tent and watched the sky darken and fill with stars. At early morning, I was able to view the sky as it lightened and the sun came over the cliffs, the stars fading from view. I shared the entire campground with just one other camper. He arrived about an hour before sunset. I had two thoughts when he pulled in: “aw, I thought I’d have the place to myself tonight!”, and “should I be concerned?” My gut said it would be fine, that he was just camping out like me, and I was correct. We spoke briefly upon his arrival, then went about our respective business.
I had been sitting and eating my dinner when he pulled into the site. As there is no water whatsoever at that campground, I didn’t attempt to cook rice or pasta or anything that would’ve made excessive demands on my water supply (cooking and cleaning). I boiled some water, first for coffee, which I enhanced with a shot of bourbon, and then boiled more water to heat up a food packet filled with a tasty Indian spiced side dish. With that, some crackers and nuts, and the brew, I was set. While I ate, I wrote down some of my thoughts and feelings about the recent death of an old friend. Betty and I met when I was at college in upstate New York. The mom of the young man I became engaged to (but did not marry), we were close for many years beyond that time. I felt like an extended family member for a long time. Circumstance and distance changed things about 10 years ago, but we remained friendly, with my link to her eldest son keeping me abreast of developments when her health took a serious turn for the worse. Pancreatic cancer ultimately took her from this life. She died a few days after I started my journey, days before I arrived at this stronghold. I felt her presence as I sat on the bench, eating my simple meal and writing about her, about who she was as I understood her, and about her influence on my life. She taught me many things about relationships, family, devotion, and the little things that people do for each other to show love. She had a faith in God that I did not fully understand, yet I loved being around that part of her, because I felt like whatever it was that made her so special was intricately woven by that fabric, and I hoped it would rub off on me. I think it did, somewhat.
I heard so many birds calling as sunset came to the campground. Earlier in the afternoon, there were two woodpeckers nearby just having a ball, flitting here and there, banging away at trees, squawking, looking askance, I’d swear, at my feeble attempts to photograph them, to capture a focused shot or two. As I listened to the sounds around me, I remembered how thrilled Betty was for me at the success of my first cochlear implant, the technology that has allowed me to hear again after decades of severe hearing impairment. A musician, it must’ve saddened her more than she let on that I was losing my connection with the hearing world, especially with music. So as I retired to the camp tent for the night, I reflected on how much she meant to me, and how she made me feel like I mattered to her, and how cheered she would be to know that I could hear all those marvelous, musical sounds in the natural world again.
Desert. For many, the word conjures up a vast desolate barrenness. Wasteland. Dry, blowing dusty scorching hot days, sans water, no life to speak of, a place that one is banished to, punishment for a litany of misdeeds.
I don’t think I’ve ever viewed them that way, not since I made my first diorama in elementary school, attempting an approximation of the Gobi desert. I remember putting a small hand mirror flat on the floor surface, surrounded by sand obtained from the property we lived on out in Long Island, New York at that time. I was in the 4th grade, I worked with what I had, you know?
I don’t recall exactly how I learned about the Mojave Desert, but I believe my first visit to what was at the time the East Mojave National Scenic Area took place soon after I moved to San Francisco, around 1992. It became a National Preserve in 1994, overseen by the Bureau of Land Management. I quickly expanded my wandering range from there up to the hot springs town of Tecopa and the nearby Amargosa Valley. Death Valley is near to that area as well, but truth be told, I’ve only visited Death Valley once. It’s a marvelous place, but doesn’t hold the sense of magic and wonder I experience in those other two areas in the region.
Over the years, I have visited in all seasons, but I have preferred being there in summer. The air seemingly vibrates in the loud quiet of the summer season. Temperatures soar then, and it’s a trick to camp out. I’ve occasionally caved to the need for an air conditioned night when the nights never dropped below 90 degrees Fahrenheit. I love it best then, when, loaded up with water and salty chips, I have the spaces virtually to myself. Me and the lizards and the very occasional sighting of snakes.
As a result of a planned road trip commencing in early October, I had the pleasure of visiting the area in the fall this year. The winds are, at times, challenging, but I found them exhilarating all the same. I didn’t pull out my camera as much as I would have due to fairly frequent rain alongside that wind, but it was still a marvelous experience. I had one day that I was able to take a hike behind China Ranch near Tecopa. It is a date farm, a veritable oasis in that desert. Behind the farm is open land, what folks call the badlands, which are made available to all by the landowners. It is arguably one of my favorite places on earth.
I had two good friends ask me if I weren’t considering looking for work in the region, and possibly affording myself the opportunity to access the land and the springs that flow at Tecopa all the time. It has crossed my mind on many occasions. Perhaps I will one of these days. I know enough to recognize that living in a place is different than being a visitor. Nevertheless, there is something about these spaces that fit me well. We shall see.