Hello Dear Readers,
Below is a link to a five-minute video to introduce this distinction--infection or infectious disease or illness?
If you want further information after watching, here is an additional link to begin your exploration.
Blessings, warmth, joy, love,
Such a short hike today, up the Santa Elena Canyon, I didn’t even sweat; but I still have that crusty sensation on my skin from yesterday’s hike, because I’m in the desert—not many showers here.
Three nights ago, I set up a shower bag on the back door of my van named Jane; two nights ago, I had a sponge bath. Last night, I just wore baggy clothes to bed, as night and sleep came on quickly. Now, I want to immerse myself in water, possible at a boat launch and picnic area located on the banks of the Rio Grande, on the way back to the campground.
A river guide pulling out canoes and loading them onto a trailer comments as I walk by him in my Crocks and suit, “There is good river access if you take the river trail—less muddy than here,” and he points to a rocky prominence down-river. I thank him, as this boat launch is quite steep, as well as muddy.
I walk the short trail that soon opens onto a shallow and flat portion of the Rio Grande. Footprints cross a muddy slope toward water deep enough to immerse myself, and I walk in that direction. Suddenly, my left foot sinks in mud to above the knee, then the right foot sinks as I put weight on it, trying to pull out the other foot. I finally give up trying to also pull out the Crock sandal, and point my toes—my left foot slides out with a sucking sensation. I reach down to pull out the Crock—no way, it sinks further while trying to tug on it.
My right leg snags on a mud-drowned stick, leaving a wide, harsh, red bruise as it emerges also, with a sucking sensation. As the left leg once more sinks, I flash on my sixth-grade report about how to get out of quicksand—position one’s body parallel to the surface. By now, my left arm is sunken, and I begin rearranging myself on hands and knees; three of my appendages are coated with thick, heavy mud as I crawl to solid, rocky ground. If I hadn’t realized this technique, I would have kept on sinking in this mud; I would have panicked.
Back up on solid ground, I stand upright, and re-assess the terrain; by walking further downriver, I can stay on actual hard surfaces to get to a rocky part of the water flow. Fortunately, my feet are not completely tender, and this plan is feasible.
In a shallow flow of water, I sit on small pebbles, and first rub off the mud—so sticky! Now I wish I’d covered my entire body with it—a true mud bath. Then I lie down for a whole-body rinse; good; this was what I had in mind.
Jane is the only vehicle at the boat launch; the river guide is long-gone. I put out of my mind how if I’d called for help, none would have been available.
This quick stop on the way back to the campground has become an adventure with a lost a pair of Crocks, and learning about mud that behaves like quicksand. Or is this mud a kind of quicksand? I’ll have to look that up when I have reception. . .
On the way to the campground, I gaze in awe at the scenery—Big Bend National Park could define awe. I love this state of wonder; I love exploring, and immersion in solitude and nature. I don’t want to compromise this life. Yet I’ve just had one of those moments that was an in-my-face message about the risks of being alone on these explorations.
About a month ago when hiking in an old-growth forest in Alabama, my toe tripped on a vine; I was walking too fast to catch myself, and landed with a full-body fall on a fortunately non-rocky trail. After the initial jar, I took a slow breath while lying still, assessing every body part; nothing was broken. The only real pain was in my left upper chest; I landed on the phone in my breast pocket, and I could feel a bruise, I hoped, and not a cracked upper rib.
I soberly and carefully completed this walk. I was grateful that crawling out of that trail with a broken limb was not necessary; oh, yes, I was glad. Then, as today on the river, I was alone, and did not see another hiker the entire afternoon.
The left upper chest pain lingered; I couldn’t take a deep breath, and considered getting an Xray, but then I knew they wouldn’t do anything about it if a rib was broken.
A few more days later, I wondered if I had a lung injury—but didn’t worry enough to enter the medical system; the image of walking into a hospital or urgent care center is so averse, I’d have to really be injured. Over the following week, the pain slowly decreased; now, it’s barely present. I suspect I did crack a rib.
From today’s mud adventure, the only consequences are the superficial injury from a sharp branch, and loss of a pair of plastic sandals. I’ve had them five years; now they are deep into the earth’s crust—made from petroleum products, I wonder, how many millennia will it take for them to turn back into liquid oil? Or is that transformation possible? A recent visit to a petroleum museum has stayed with me; I would return there if it was nearby, to see if I could answer that question.
Those sandals were my only pair of slip-on shoes; I wore them when showering, and for quick trips to fill a water jug and such. They can be replaced in this world of consumption, for now. I imagine the ingenuity that may be required, perhaps in the near future, when such ample resources may instantly disappear, say, if Trump actually fired a nuclear missile and immediately all the boats filled with Chinese-made products headed to the U.S. turned back. . . .What then? How about a pair of carved wooden clogs, or moccasins made from animal hide? Or, remember those sandals made from old tires?
Back to this life of personal risk that has definitely caught my attention with the fall, and almost getting sucked into a mud bank. I decide to take these reminders as a message to be ever more careful. And who is to say these risks are any less than commuting on a busy road in a large city?
I don’t want to know the statistics. I also know I could be rationalizing.
Still, deciding to be more careful and minimize the risks will serve me well. I could use a pair of walking sticks—add that to my shopping list: sandals, and walking sticks. I will also hone my senses ever more while assessing any situation; walk on hard ground in the desert when near water (now I really know that); make sure enough daylight remains to take a particular loop trail; pack extra water for a desert hike; give myself a free ticket to turn back on any trail, any time, if I sense disharmony in the environment for any reason, including within me—do I have the stamina and experience to pursue this particular adventure?
This June, I will be sixty-six; I will build and maintain my strength so I can continue to live this life that I love.
* * *
Cruise control set at sixty miles an hour results in twenty-seven miles per gallon in my diesel-fueled van. I made this commitment to lower use of fossil fuel, and I save money.
This van that I call Jane, is my home; so what if it takes another hour to get across Texas or Missouri? It’s one way to cope with this quandary of wanting to decrease oil consumption, yet my current lifestyle depends on using it. Interesting that most roads in Texas, where I’m currently driving southwest toward Big Bend National Park on the edge of Texas, has a seventy-five-mile-an-hour speed limit; their way of supporting oil production, by mandating a high speed limit in order to increase per capita consumption?
I stick to my guns. Even on tertiary roads with a line of cars behind me, I stay at sixty miles an hour; when someone starts to pass, I slow down to accommodate their successful zoom ahead.
The sparse, flat landscape dotted with oil pumps and refineries, the plume of flame that burns off the “offal,” provides a crude, poetic nature to this speed-limit musing.
The name, Big Bend National Park, comes from the bend in the Rio Grande—from its southern flow to a western flow that defines the edge of Texas; the other side of the river is Mexico. I have heard others voice awe of its stunning landscape, and am driving an extra ten hours to get there; another fossil-fuel dilemma.
Usually, I drive only an hour or two a day—I like road life, not driving. But this stark oil-production scenery does not invite lingering; I turn on a podcast to make driving another hour palatable.
Zachary R. Wood, interviewed by Michael Ian Black on a podcast called, How to Be Amazing, is a young man whom I hope will be president of our country as soon as possible, I am that inspired by him. I will send him money to help with any campaign he is involved in, and am grateful for his presence on the planet.
Much of his story is about how he engages in conversation with those he disagrees with; like a true democracy, right? His recent book is called, Uncensored: My Life and Uncomfortable Conversations at the Intersection of Black and White America.
A sign for a Petroleum museum catches my eye; I take that exit. With Wood’s words fresh in my mind, here in the heart of Texas-oil-boom-land, he has inspired curiosity and determination; touring this museum is my version of a conversation with someone I disagree with.
I vote; that’s about it for my political involvement; bureaucracy inspires a desire to shriek and leap out of my skin. Instead, my personal societal stance is captured by the phrase, “the personal is the political”; I am a child of the sixties, after all. How I spend my money, time, what I think and how I act—like driving at a lower speed, like being friendly, even when someone scowls at me, I strive to bring goodness into every moment and every encounter; these are my political statements.
I walk into the Permian Basin Petroleum Museum, imbued with kindness, respect, compassion, and inner authority.
The senior admission rate is eight dollars; hmm. I buy the ticket, pay money for this encounter—I’m on a mission. The phrase, Keep your friends close; keep your enemies closer, comes to mind.
The first exhibit is a brief movie that debunks myths about the oil industry. I find out we’re not going to run out of oil—there is still plenty to serve our needs, far into the future.
The geology, geography, and history exhibits answer some of my burning questions—I am indeed located in the heart of one of the world’s richest oil regions. Oil, still emerging from the ground at the rigs I’ve been driving by, began as organic life forms millions and millions of years ago. My favorite exhibited fossil is a Titanosaurus thigh bone—that’s what the sign says.
I learn of the various layers of earth that cover these pools of organic black-gold substance, and how natural gas is one of those layers, and is considered the future of the oil industry, not having been as prolifically harvested, as yet.
Sometimes oil simply lays on the ground—it has been found and used with such easy access for eons. Oil rigs also existed before this Texas oil boom, but when Ford’s assembly lines got going, the demand for gas to fuel those cars exponentially grew; exponentially might be an understatement; Texas’ oil history goes hand in hand with Ford’s car industry. Within a decade of the early nineteen-twenties, Texas’ oil boom literally erupted.
Myriad paintings of that era are displayed in a large exhibit; most of the men look like John Wayne—as though working on an oil rig is a transformative activity, all of a sudden you are handsome. And all the women are beautiful. And then comes the painting of a romantic kiss. . . .Then a tense painting of a landsman—he is the one who puts together mineral rights deals—talking into the night with a ranch family, the two children fallen asleep at the table, the landsman faces personal financial ruin unless he can seal this deal, and does so with an offer to pay the family’s ranch taxes for this year. It’s a win-win situation—the successful oil drilling means everyone becomes rich beyond their imaginations!
As I absorb this story of how Texas was a cattle-ranching culture that became an oil culture—almost overnight—I have clarity now how this region is completely dependent on oil for its economic survival. I think of all the big trucks I saw zooming in and out of the Walmart lot where I slept last night—their logos reflecting oil-related industry: refining, engineering, waste processing, welding, fracking—and most of the trucks were white; I wonder why they like their trucks white? The oil empire still dominates this region.
If any of them knew I don’t drive over sixty miles an hour, would I have been safe last night?
I’m old enough to remember stopping for gas, when the service included checking the oil level, tire pressures, and cleaning the windshield—by someone wearing a crisp and clean uniform. One of my favorite displays is of an old pump from that era, and beside it is a case with Wonder Bread(!), and a jug of milk. I remember eating Wonder Bread as a treat; we would mash up a slice with our fingers, roll it into a balls, then eat it that way—it tasted sort of like raw cookie dough.
The nostalgia-display seems never-ending; the good old days, including stars like Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley: old Flying A commercials running on TV sets from the nineteen-fifties: and the cars—a huge room contains various versions of race cars, hammering home the connection between oil and car-love.
Another exhibit displays other forms of power—wind, hydraulic, solar, nuclear—along with their respective percentages of productivity; in this museum, oil wins, hands down.
My curiosity and openness has brought me this far through the museum, thank you, Zachary R. Woods; where I balk is at the entrance to an interactive exhibit in a tower—it looks like a Disney ride. I’m invited to take part in an exploration all over the world, for new oil sources; I would be locked into this event for over ten minutes. As the introductory spiel invites me to cross over the threshold before the sliding doors close for this group, I cannot step through; I suddenly feel nauseous, and walk back down the ramp. No, I cannot participate, even in my imagination.
At the next exhibit, I’m introduced to all the various career options in the oil industry, and am invited to participate in a computer program to see which one would most suit me.
Especially this exhibit evokes wonderment that I paid to see this.
Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy comes to mind—her Church of PetrOleum, part of the third book; I wonder if she visited this museum as part of her research?
The last exhibit is several rooms filled with semi-precious minerals—various quartzes, jade, you name it, as lovely as a sparkly display in any jewelry store. I sense they are part of the oil-production fairy tale, like all the John Wayne look-alikes, but how?
What do these stupendous glittering and shining semi-precious minerals have to do with drilling for oil?
They’re both created by enormous pressures under the earth’s surface. . .and when oil prospectors come knocking on the ranch owner’s door, the proposed agreement is for the various companies to hold oil, gas, and mineral rights—not just oil. . .
I walk out of the museum, with empathy for the state of Texas that has this history of winning the oil lottery over and over again; that really did happen in the early twentieth century, and it seemed too good to be true. Now to admit that maybe it is too good to be true, to give up the big win and embrace the reality that climate change really is happening in large part as a consequence of this bonanza, this boom, this economic heyday, seems inconceivable. No wonder the illusion that we can continue this oil industry indefinitely is so potent.
But here is what I know about illusion; if I begin to see the falsehood for what it is, then new possibilities arrive through this truth. Creative ways for the oil industry to transform their resources into earth-saving measures could happen.
The conversation has begun; from what I just learned at this museum, ongoing production of oil products is going to occur, no matter what. I am part of my culture, use petroleum products, including a fossil-fueled vehicle. I understand Texans’ and the world’s fierce ownership and identification with this industry, including these phenomenal fortunes that have been so easily acquired. I understand this desire to hang onto the illusion that scant damage is occurring on our earth.
Illusion versus truth—oil barons and baronesses, please cherish our earth. Your children and grandchildren will have a better chance at the most viable life.
As I climb back into Jane that is fueled by diesel, I wonder; what will it take for me to live without fossil fuel? I’m willing.
My only regret is I did not take advantage of the museum curator’s offer to take a photo of me in one of the formula race cars—the only one of the exhibit that does not have an alarm going off if you touch it. She said, “Usually we have to help you get out of the car, it’s such a tight fit, but I think you could get out yourself.” I declined, at the time not wanting to associate myself with a race car. Now, I wish I did—I’d have a memento of this hopefully ongoing conversation with the oil barons, about our precious earth.
Two-and-a-half years ago, my very first night living on the road, I pulled into a Walmart.
My van-dwelling friend Karl had told me about Walmarts--most of them are friendly to RVs and campers; because then, guess what? The overnighters go in and spend money.
When he first told me, I scrunched my nose with distaste; I had never even been in one. I was loyal to my local hardware stores, clothing stores, and grocery stores, and associated Walmart with destroying small towns.
That first night on the road, I had already used my free-overnight-RV parking app, and Walmart was the only option that popped up; few overnight options were available along that northernmost highway in New York--campgrounds already closed for the season, and I was averse to KOAs.
Any port in a storm--in this case, relatively safe and quiet overnight parking.
The app specified, go in to the store and request permission to park--this is a Walmart corporate policy, even when the store is known to be friendly to overnighters. I walked in, found customer service, and the friendly clerk responded, "Yes, park near the garden center, over that way," and she waved her arm to her right, my left.
"Thank you," I said, smiling, and walked out.
I parked my van named Jane in the designated area, turned off the engine, then sat in silence that was soon filled with a sense of thrill--I was launched, living my first night on the road--and who would have thought, this adventure would include Walmart. . .
While setting up for dinner and bed, I fumbled a bit--where are the matches to light the Coleman stove? Oh, don't pull down the bed yet, I need to get the tea out of the storage bin for the morning. And, did I remember to pack salt? Where did I put my toothbrush?
I managed to be in bed by eight-thirty, and slept soundly. Waking up in the morning, I asked myself, where am I?
I'm in Jane, in a Walmart parking lot.
I prefer campgrounds, surrounded by quiet and nature and dark nights. They're not always available, and often beyond my budget; I am retired, living on Social Security. Faced with the other choice of parking overnight at a truck stop with guaranteed semi-motors running through the night, I choose Walmarts.
As Karl predicted, I began to shop there, too. They have the best price on propane canisters, and sometimes they are the only option for food. I am sad about this, knowing some family grocery store has bit the dust; what to do?
Every time I walk into a Walmart, I have a bittersweet sense--especially when I walk into a friendly, clean Walmart, where the store greeter actually converses with me about local places to hike, or I witness several clerks chatting as though they really are happy to work there. I witness this burgeoning Walmart family making the best of this corporate entity that has steamrolled over small towns--and larger towns.
When a Walmart is not that nice--kind of grungy, and the average weight of a customer is two-hundred-fifty pounds, and the clerks appear tired and depressed, that kind of ambiance diminishes the ease of overnight Walmart parking.
I walked into one of those kinds of Walmarts, my app having listed it as okay to park overnight. But when I asked permission at customer service, the clerk called over the manager who frowned, and said, "No, we don't allow that anymore. Squatters refused to leave, said it was their right to stay as long as they wanted-- they had taken over our parking lot. So we changed our policy. You can't stay here."
My heart fell. It was already past eight p.m., and the app listed no other nearby options. "Do you know of anywhere else I can park tonight? I'm kind of stranded."
The manager turned away to put out another fire, and the clerk told me in a friendly voice, "If you go to the train station, you can park overnight there." He gave me directions, and I left.
I'm familiar with entitlement of the wealthy; here is entitlement from someone living on the road, probably close to the bone. Entitlement in any social stratosphere hurts us all.
I also wonder about the lack of health I just witnessed--the manager reeked of cigarettes and he had few teeth left, the clerk probably weighed over three hundred pounds, and how they turned me away--I was unwelcomed; that cannot be good for their own sense of well-being. In a way, I was glad to have been banished; I would not want to stay someplace so mistrustful, and the huge stacks of junk food at the entrance seemed to invite catastrophic illness. What if Walmart actually stopped selling any product whose first ingredient was sugar? The store would immediately be half-empty.
As I walked toward Jane, I beamed as much goodness that I could muster, to all of us--so we will all turn the tide toward repair and growth and health and love.
Sometimes I pull into a Walmart, and it's obviously okay to park there; an RV city has sprung up in one of the nether-reaches of the lot--shade awnings and picnic tables set up, once even a fellow working a portable table saw, people walking their dogs amongst the vans and RVs, eager to say hello to anyone willing to engage. I'm on the introvert-end of the spectrum, and park with my door faced away from the crowd, hoping for a quiet night.
Last week, my laptop stopped working. I pretty much need a laptop for this writing life to continue. My smart phone still worked, and I looked up electronic or computer stores; on a Sunday afternoon, the only one open until the following morning was, you guessed it, Walmart.
I walked in, for the first time, not for permission to park overnight, but only as a customer. In the electronics section--located always at the middle-back of the store, commonly near the on-line Pick-Up counter, and also where the second bathroom usually is (van-dwellers know where the bathrooms are, yes), I asked the friendly, youthful, carrot-topped fellow for help. He diagnosed that my plug-in port no longer worked; I needed an Apple store next, and he told me where the nearest one was located--an hour and a half away.
I had become a real Walmart customer.
Then again, I can take only so many Walmart parking lots. Glaring streetlights that block the sense of dawn approaching, early-morning delivery-truck sounds, knowing too well the layout of the stores, and the overwhelming displays of junk food, crowd my soul. Some van-dwellers stay at Walmarts all the time--I don't believe I'm capable.
I strategize my budget to allow for more campgrounds when they are available, seek out national and state forests that offer dispersed camping, and often stay extra nights to refill my nature-tank.
After two nights in a Missouri State Park and soaking up the quiet and forests and dark nights, I'm headed to the St. Louis area for several errands--to visit my "home" YMCA in Festus, the Mark Twain Museum in Hannibal, the Gateway Arch, and my van is due for an oil change.
Time to dive back in to free overnight parking. After several Walmart-listings that haven't worked out, a Cracker Barrel parking option catches my eye--time to mix it up.
I had a comfortable night at Cracker Barrel, thank you--including access to chicken-fried steak, and mug slogans such as, "You Go Girl! And Don't Come Back!" Hmm, one could take that a number of ways.
But regarding St. Louis, the best-laid plan can have a life of its own. The weather forecast is scary--ice, wind, and record-breaking low temperatures, starting tomorrow night. Ice is one of my nemeses, and I do my utmost to avoid it.
I decide to squeeze one destination in before high-tailing south to avoid the storm--the Mark Twain museum.
Twain's book, The Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, has inspired me to seek information about Twain's personal history of how he wrote that book. I could write my own book about reading his book, and where it has led me--I've recently visited Rouen, France, to walk through the history of Saint Joan's trial and burning at the stake, for example.
Twain's childhood home in Hannibal is a ways north of St. Louis; I rarely drive more than a few hours, but the desire to see this museum is enough to burn those extra miles.
The drive takes longer than I'd hoped; by the time I arrive, the museum is open only one more hour. I buy the ticket anyway.
The displays are mostly of Twain's boyhood home and neighborhood, and how they inspired his most well-known works such as Tom Sawyer. I appreciate those books, but nothing like the appreciation held for Joan. One museum-section provides a comprehensive time-line of Twain's life and accomplishments; I'm inspired to learn more, somehow.
But not now; at four p.m. (winter closing hour), I start high-tailing it south; avoiding ice trumps even this Joan of Arc passion.
I leave with some of what I'd hoped for. Of the two docents I spoke with, only one had heard of the Joan of Arc book, but she hadn't read it; that's interesting. Twain wrote a two-volume autobiography; I will read those, still hoping for more about his story of writing about Joan of Arc. And, standing in his childhood home was wonderful.
Since the overnight parking app is often inaccurate, this time, I call ahead. Phones sometimes still work. Confirming I will be welcomed, I drive to a Walmart as far south as possible before the storm.
I shop for several days' worth of food, including organic lemons and avocados. I am in a town with a large enough population to support a YMCA; Walmart is its only food-buying option. I surrender to this monopoly, and also gratefully refill my five-gallon water-jug for thirty-nine cents a gallon.
The temperature is still in the forties; the storm is scheduled to arrive around midnight, starting with rain, then mixed precip, then by morning, snow and ice, with gusting winds. I did not get far enough southwest to avoid the ice--close, but not close enough.
I settle in for the night, especially grateful for the furnace that runs off the diesel fuel, and plan to stay put right here in this friendly Walmart parking lot, until the roads are clear.
It's hard to think about anything other than this weather; gusting winds over forty-five miles per hour, spitting snow and ice, windows iced over in some places a quarter of an inch, Jane rocking in the wind enough to spill my tea, furnace constantly running to keep the temperature close to sixty, temperatures falling through the day, with a predicted overnight low of thirteen degrees.
I've become frozen along with the land. I use my tried-and-true gratitude list: I have a working furnace to generate heat; my phone works and I can call friends; I can write; I have plenty of food and water.
How can I reframe this experience? I've begun describing my life as a semi-hermit living in a cave on wheels. I think of the Tibetan nun who lived in a Himalayan cave for seven years; I can go another day inside my cave on wheels. Here's the reframe; I'm on a retreat, inside of Jane, inside of my sacred cave.
Then I wonder, how did she heat her cave? I'm going to research that.
This reframing helps; I spend the day in various states of creativity--writing, painting, cooking, conversing on the phone with friends.
About six in the evening after complete darkness has arrived, while preparing Jane for the night by covering the windows with insulation, the furnace overheats. I turn it off, then on, and it overheats again.
Jane currently sits on a parking lot covered in ice that one could skate on. I've slept overnight in colder temperatures before, with a working furnace--but tonight, what am I going to do?
I text my van-dweller friend, Karl; shall I use the Coleman stove set up on the floor as a heater, or keep Jane idling all night with her heater on? He texts back that running Jane is the safest, but to not go to sleep when the engine is running. Get Jane warmed up, heat water and fill containers to put in my bed, then sleep for as long as I'm warm, then repeat the process.
Ouch. A motel is about a quarter mile away; but how would I walk to it? I have crampons, but the wind and cold and me walking through this desolation? If I stay in Jane, the worst-case scenario is I lose a night of sleep; I can live through that.
I call my other brilliant how-to guy, Gary, and ask if it would be dangerous to try the furnace again. No, it isn't. It stays on without overheating when set at the lowest temperature, forty-eight degrees. I can "live" with that--I can sleep with that. I put on three thick layers, the one closest to my skin is a thick cashmere sweater--the word cashmere alone warms me up--and settle in.
In the morning, I force myself out of the snug bed, and brew tea, as usual. While water is heating to a boil, I peel off the window insulation, and sun pours in--good; solar heat will help melt all the ice. The roads are still icy; I will not risk driving until the view out my window is of dry roads.
Besides, it's now Sunday--even if I decided to brave the highway, places to repair the furnace won't be open until tomorrow morning.
Back on top of the bed, nested in blankets, hats, fingerless gloves and sweaters, I give myself another pep talk, as I catch myself thinking unproductively, what if the furnace overheats again? I feel frozen again--not temperature-wise, but as though I cannot make the next move, whatever that is. I give myself a psychic shake; if it does, I'll deal with it--I already have the plan of running Jane for heat, and then sleeping as long as possible. Besides, tonight's low is predicted to be nineteen degrees, and wind is now mild--already easier. And, so far, so good; the furnace stays on at forty-eight degrees.
More pep-talk: I lived in Scotland for a year, and recall most houses were heated in the winter to about fifty degrees--my frugal nature was at home in that country. Much of the world lives in this range of winter temperature; I'm uncomfortable, only. I'm spoiled with how warm I usually am.
The frozen state dissipates, and I flow into this moment; I discover today's abundance through more creativity--writing, painting, playing the fiddle, and cooking.
As I move, I generate more physical heat; as I create, I generate more heart heat.
At the peak temperature of the day, I put on my crampons and walk toward the Walmart entrance. Closer to the building, the lot is dry, and I take off the crampons.
Here is today's outing--a walk through Walmart to fill my two-gallon jug, and to buy some Hatch green chiles. I have a hankering for that kind of heat, too.
Back at Jane, I open the side door to water the tree with my dishwater that has been sitting in a bucket on the side-door inner step--it has a film of ice on it.
I'm starting to grasp microclimates within Jane--my bed is warm with body heat, by the door is freezing, sun beating directly in through a window is as good as a furnace.
Monday morning, I wake up before six, and leave the window coverings on until the sun is up, so the furnace doesn't work so hard--it's still running, tolerating the forty-eight-degree setting, thank you. I drink tea and set my alarm for when Thermo-King opens, where I hope for repair.
As light arrives, I pull back the insulated curtain to get into the freezing front cab, to start Jane and begin defrosting the windshield. I can't see yet through the layer of ice on the cab windows; when I remove the insulation from the back windows, I can see enough of the road to confirm that I will drive today.
After moving Jane off the adult-sized lego set used to level tires, my micro-climate education continues; on the side with solar radiation, the blocks are free and clear; on the other side, they're frozen into over an inch of ice. I get out my hammer to crack the ice and dislodge them, then toss the blocks onto the cab floor on the passenger side, set my GPS for Thermo-King where I am expected in an hour, and drive away from the true port in the storm that Walmart has been for three nights.
Roger has just finished his description of a stroke he experienced three months ago, available in the previous blog. We converse in his tiny house that he uses for retreat, heated with a shoe-box-sized wood stove--a very peaceful and welcoming space.
I've said all this, and I'd love to hear your response to any or all of that.
I always practiced medicine, and now I practice coaching, with the approach that all illnesses are opportunities to heal.
Let me throw this out to you, then--all my life I had this terrible diet, and I never could go on a diet, I couldn't lose weight, I couldn't resist, I couldn't do this, I couldn't do that, and so the functional doctor told me all this--"You've got inflammation, you're pre-diabetic, you have markers for auto-immune illness," and she said, "lupus." And I said, I don't want lupus, and my initial reaction was, I want to die. My second reaction was, I'm going to do this (diet). And my third reaction was, I'll get over this, I can do this--all three in about thirty seconds.
So those were my reactions that I think were very uncharacteristic from how I'd always been, up to that point. It's like I stepped into that healing. I think it's like that spin you've got, illness is a lack of healing, and it's finding that healing. I feel it's kind of like what I stepped into, for some reason.
So then I was going around telling everybody, I can't do this, I can't eat that, and I joked, "I eat cardboard every day."
And I told a friend who'd actually gone through something similar, and she told me, "You will not say, you can only eat cardboard, and your doctor won't let you eat this. You are going to say, I eat this way because I want to eat this way." My thirty-second reaction to that was, that was harsh. Thirty seconds after that I was, like, I want to step into that. And so that's become my approach, also--that I can do all this, it's my choice to do this, not because the doctor told me to do this. So that's where I got to where I am.
Yes--the free-will "thing" is essential--that's part of my relief of not being in medicine any more, because people expected me to tell them what to do, and I never wanted to tell people what to do. Patients might hear that regardless, but it's always about our own decisions. If I tell someone to stop eating sugar, forget it.
I've heard that a few times, it didn't mean anything to me. I'd stop sugar for the next ten minutes, and then I'd go right back.
I tell people--I'm a total sugar-holic; if someone put a big gooey chocolate cake in front of me, I'd want to eat that whole cake.
Yeah, if I started to eat it, I would. So I don't do it.
Right. I choose to walk away from that cake, because my desire, it never goes away. It's just like alcoholism. And that's how recovery happens, too--it's choosing every day to not act on that desire. That's the cornerstone of real change--and why medicine is so ineffective.
To add insult to injury, doctors fire patients when they refuse to take the prescribed medications--when they're not compliant--when patients don't "do what they've been told to do."
So back to your story; you had already changed how you eat, and you still had this stroke. That's part of this healing story, that you had this family history, and then you had these incredible prayers and shamanism going on, and then there's your spirit in this--was this event you went through part of your destiny?
Are you saying that I made this contract before I was born, or is it part of my genes that came through?
No, I'm wondering, I'm thinking out loud--it's like our bodies give us messages, even through these catastrophic illnesses. You're getting messages, good ones--it's about trusting that inner knowing, that there's nothing better than walking the Carl Sandburg National Park trail day after day.
I came down from that trail so charged, so fully charged, I just wanted to skip, I felt so full of life after what I had gone through. Then my wife, she just blew a gasket; and then finally she said, okay, you're going to do what you're gonna do. If you want to take off and walk through the old growth down there in Alabama, go do it. Do what you gotta do.
So, what do you think about me getting that stroke almost two-and-a-half years after getting on that diet?
I'm intrigued by that, what do you make of it?
I asked my functional doctor about that, and she said, "When you have a type of illness that takes a long time to develop--that's a stroke, diabetes, that's cancer," she says, "that takes a minimum of seven-to-ten years in your body to get to that point. So if you had not made those changes, this (stroke) would have happened, and you would have probably died. But since you have gotten so much in your body cleaned out, you've recovered very quickly." I think it took probably thirty years in my life where all that was building up, but I had made enough changes, I did quickly get better.
That's all possible, and that's the physical explanation. What about the bigger picture? It's here, somehow--it's in your story.
I haven't looked at it until now, with disease as a form of healing. I see it more now, I'm changing to that. I see it more as a spiritual path that I'm on, that wanted me to change gears a little bit, pull out of some things, drop some of my psychological structures--they just washed away, and put me in a different place. We want you to just sit tight for six months, six years, we don't know, we'll see, we'll tell you when the time is right. That's the way I look at it, this is an opportunity for me to prepare for, whatever--if I were to die tomorrow, I would be happy about how all this happened. I have no sense that I need to go do something, but I feel like this is, maybe, a spiritual stage that I need to step through.
Story is always part of an illness--even when you just get a cold, most people are run down--a cold is the only way they're going to stop "running" around--unless they use over-the-counter medications to power through, and then that just puts in more toxins, and eventually the person deals with it, or not. Everyone has free-will, whether they listen to their body messages.
You're getting the message, your story seems clear--you've got the walks in the woods, and just being, you have your spiritual path. Those are gifts. And they make a good story.
Let me ask you this. What is your personal philosophy about medicine and healing?
There's a role for conventional medicine; they saved my life, they saved your life. I believe where medicine is headed, though, no one wants to do primary care; the spin is, oh, we need more primary care doctors. But they don't pay enough, they don't support the process, so it's just spin.
When someone takes charge of their own lives, when someone starts making choices, like just giving up refined sugar--if the majority of us did that, it would change the whole country--that's what I believe in; and that kind of change is available to everybody. And that form of healing taps the inner healer that is in every person.
I have a series of public service announcements. I blogged one already, that had me walking on the road, saying, did you know that a daily walk can be as effective as most antidepressants? I imagine my series of public service announcements coming on TV after each drug commercial.
It's these simple things that are available to every person that can make the most difference--not the newest version of a blood pressure pill. Like a salt-water nose wash for a head cold and allergy symptoms. If we just go back to common sense--if you go to bed at the beginning of a sore throat, even for a half-day, you might not get sick. If you drink more water, guess what? You're less vulnerable to getting a bladder infection.
That was part of why my community loved me, I had that kind of handout for almost anything.
You were allowed to use them for awhile there, weren't you?
Yes. I lived my dream while it lasted.
I write a lot about this inner healer versus the outer healer, in the fourth book, Re-Creation. We all have an inner healer, and we are co-creators in our health.
The outer healer is the one who needs to know about all those medications and how to interpret an EKG. They talk about creating a robot physician, and you can--of the outer healer. You can do remote medicine, even remote surgeries. But it's the inner healer that our medical system does not acknowledge, and maybe that was why I was so threatening.
If somebody has a disease and they get healed through the outer healer, outer medicine, it's likely they'll get sick again; is that what you're saying?
Yes. All medicine buys us time, so we can do the additional inner-healer work. Sure, we can get "fixed," but the spirit still matters. Whether we take the opportunity for deeper healing is where free-will comes in.
I still have an urge to run around buying vitamins or herbs, and I've got a friend who buys all these gadgets about EMS; one emits red lights, another one, you sit on this coil and it hits you with some kind of radiation from something. Is all of that coming from part of the outer healer, or where is all that coming from?
Two things; supplements and herbs can be only the outer healer, if that's all you're relying on. You know as well as anyone the value of nutritious food, that's a common-sense way of living. But do our bodies need all those supplements, is that part of the basic need for nutrition, or are they attempts to "fix" something? Or is a person's inner healer involved, do you have that inner sense that this supplement or that herb is valuable to you? That's one response.
The other thing that comes to mind, is that gadgets or techniques can be used to help us detox whatever has built up in our bodies--they can provide a shortcut, is one way to say it. But then there is the question of how to create in ourselves the capacity to shed what is not useful, and how to deflect toxicity with our own strengths.
Another aspect is the notion of being healed versus co-creating the healing. I used to go on shamanic journeys with drumming, and I acquired insight during them. What a shamanic healer does to someone else is like a short-cut. When I journeyed, I was co-creating directly with the healing process. When a shaman performs a soul-retrieval, he or she has more strength, has capacity to take you to a place where you can heal more quickly and deeply than on your own, and that can either be co-creating with that shaman and your own spirit, or it can be an experience only done to you. Plus, we can get pretty far on our own if a shaman isn't readily available, by co-creating more directly with our own spirit-world.
I've been told by several individuals that they do not believe they have this ability; they want a guide, want to be healed by someone else. That's fine, and we all rely on one another in many ways, and receiving help can certainly lead to co-creating. In any situation, if you believe in yourself, if you begin to trust those inner knowings, more opportunities for healing occur.
It comes back again to free-will; some people don't want to wake up to their own inner landscape; they just want to be fixed so they can go back to how they've always lived; they use their will to stay the same. Like with type 2 diabetes, I used to cringe when someone told me they would take more insulin in order to eat another piece of cake, rather than decrease the sugar. They were missing this opportunity to wake up.
I'm glad I no longer have to face that every day. "Oh, you'd like to increase your statin dose rather than change how you eat? Okay, I can do that." That's how doctors are perceived--we are the gatekeepers to all these meds that "fix" the problem. Plus, I was fired by a few patients for not prescribing antibiotics for viral illnesses. I couldn't prescribe something that I knew would hurt them.
There are parts of what you're saying that I resonate with. There are other parts that I cannot get into--I can't follow Rudolph Steiner, for example (Roger already knows that I was trained as an anthroposophic doctor); I'm a bee keeper, and I've tried to read his bee book four or five times, and I cannot get anywhere with it. I can follow the words, but I cannot understand what all that says.
It's the same way with Ayurvedic medicine, Chinese medicine, the five elements, it's like, I just can't get it. I have to step back from all that, and accept some of it on faith.
What I'm saying, isn't what Steiner says. As I speak, it's resonating with you, because we are both being authentic. But if I bring in Steiner or anthroposophy and things shut down, I'm not surprised. A lot of people are that way about Steiner; it's confusing, and can be intellectually exhausting.
That's my Enneagram five, a coping device, trying to know and understand all that.
I do love Steiner's work. I might read the same thing twelve times before getting to a place where I can grasp what he's saying. It's like poetry for me.
I figure, most religions claim they are "the answer." Same with ways to heal. So they all must be true, be right, is what I've come up with. There are many ways to heal--I absorb wisdoms from all over the place, including Steiner.
Are you familiar with Ken Wilber and his integral philosophy? He says everybody is right, everybody has pieces of the truth. It sounds similar to what you're saying.
Yes, it does.
It's supposed to stop raining in a few hours, I'm going to go somewhere and play the fiddle for awhile.
Where else do you play around here?
Most recently, I played in the parking lot of the Asheville Community Yoga Center; I went to a group class for the Alexander Technique.
I've been exposed to that, but it didn't do much for me. I've done a fair amount of Tai Chi, a few of those principles have been helpful. But I don't get energy. I don't receive energy, receive energetically. That's why I come up with blocks about everything.
Oh, maybe that's related to the stroke. When you can't receive, it's a block.
What do you mean? If I understand, is it going to free me from that? Or the stroke was because of that?
Think of it as a symptom, not a cause. When you don't receive, there's a block. Think of the blockages the surgeon cleared in your neck and brain. The blood stopped flowing--the energy stopped flowing. As you learn to receive, and you're doing that--you received the message about walking in the woods and being in nature, so you do receive, that ability will grow.
I think I do, but I can't sense it.
Okay, maybe that's your cutting edge, the edge of your envelope that you're pushing, is you're learning to receive.
I'm still not able to perceive that I receive.
Right--it's just starting to develop for you.
I haven't seen the fruit of that, yet.
Some of it is trusting--you might not allow yourself to believe the messages you have received. Trusting ourselves, believing what we sense--that's a tough one. But you're the one telling me what you heard.
You're right, it's hard for me to admit it.
Well Roger, we're having an incredible encounter today, thank you.
It has been, it's been dynamite for me.
I did more of the talking than expected--this is the first time I've interviewed someone, I'll work on that. Anyway, I'll let you know how I use this material, maybe in a future book.
What are you going to write about next?
I'm playing with the theme of saints I have known--like Joan of Arc, and Julian of Norwich.
Do you know about Hildegard of Bergen? A woman, I can't remember her name, wrote a book called Slow Medicine, she also wrote about medicine linked to Hildegard--that a German doctor used her writings and information to treat people. Have you come across that?
I haven't, that's a great resource, thank you. That illustrates how I did what I wanted within anthroposophic medicine, and the German doctor took Hildegard's work, and with his strong inner healer, he also practiced the kind of medicine I value. I could take any form of medicine, and be a good healer with it--functional medicine, even conventional medicine, Chinese medicine--they can all bring goodness into the world.
I've had a lot of TCM (traditional Chinese medicine), and same thing, I just can't receive it. Even though for five thousand years, it's worked for many other people.
Your path is clearly working for you.
So try to flesh out for me what a stroke might have done for me. Did I need to have that stroke to get me to the point where I can learn to receive better? Or is that just a piece of this?
What do you think?
I don't have any idea, I've got all these theories that I can list on the wall; none of them jump out at me at the moment.
There may be a lot more gifts from that event; learning about receiving is certainly one of them.
I know how challenging receiving is; I had to receive help in order to heal from my heart event. I'd much rather give; I now know receiving is as essential as giving.
When people offer me help now, I know it's important to receive it. Even small gestures matter. I'm relatively elderly, and I was at a spring and had these two heavy water jugs I was carrying back to the van. And this bright young teenage fellow asked, "Ma'm, can I help you with those?" I was fine, but the gesture was so lovely, I thanked him and let him carry the jugs. Things like that.
You said it very well, that you're challenged by perceiving what you receive. Maybe receiving anything--like these small gestures, will help you perceive more clearly.
Oh--I'm reminded of a great exercise I use in nature. When I walk in the woods or other nature, I beam love toward all that goodness. Just beam away--and then pause, and wait to receive nature's love in return--from the trees, the rocks, wherever I am. It might take a few minutes--most of us are familiar with loving nature, and actually, nature might want to also love us back. At first when I did this, I became emotional, tearful, and sometimes that still happens--but mostly, my joy bubbles up these days.
Roger smiles, and glances out the window; the rain has slowed.
Thank you, Roger, for a wonderful conversation. I'm inspired to search out old growth forests after what you've described--and I will look up the medicine book about Hildegard. Happy trails to us both.
As I reach for my raincoat, Roger is closing up the stove and shrugging on his jacket. We get up at the same time, leave the cozy tiny-house, and walk in the light rain, down the already saturated dirt road.
Sunny with temperature in the fifties, dressed in a pair of wrist-warmers, a hand-knit red wool hat and a long sweater, I am able to comfortably play my fiddle outside.
I didn’t realize how loud a fiddle is, when I bought it a year and a half ago. I used to play guitar, and one can softly play the guitar—not so easy with a fiddle. I seek out parks and roadside pullouts to play in—places where I’m anonymous, which provides a sense of freedom and lack of self-consciousness.
When I first began playing, I had forests to hide in, so others could hear but not see me. Forests aren’t always an option. Now I usually stand at the side door of my van; I’ve grown more comfortable with people approaching, often interested in how I live in a van, others wanting to be near live music.
Some conversations lead to how I ended up living in a van, which occasionally leads to the topic of one of my books titled, Guilty By Degree—the story of an adventure with the Feds—which leads to sometimes rummaging on the passenger seat for some of my books, and then sometimes I’m asked, “Can I buy one?”
These occurrences have inspired me, on this particular day, to prop up some books on my windshield. Why not just put them out in plain sight?
Already having been approached by a young man who just bought a used Sprinter and longingly looked at my hand-built interior that he could view with the side door open, a woman close to my age who just started playing the violin six months ago, and I responded, “Go home and get your violin, we could play together!” but she had lunch guests arriving soon, darn, a woman walking her dog who commented, “Sammy led me here, he wanted to be closer to the music,” now, a mature man approaches, dressed for walking with a brimmed hat and comfortable shoes.
“Hi, I’m Roger.” I say my name, we shake hands, and Roger says, “Mind if I ask you about your Sprinter? I see you’ve got the Freightliner model.”
“Yeah, it’s identical to the Mercedes; they’re both Daimler, the logo’s the only difference—it’s reverse snobbism on my part.”
Laughing, this friendly stranger replied, “I have a Sprinter like this, but it’s one of the professionally-built models. I’m embarrassed sometimes by the Mercedes logo, too.”
We chat about our mutual love of Sprinters, then he moves over to the books propped on the windshield. “If I buy only one of these, which one would you recommend?”
I give him one-liners of each book’s content, and he picks out Lovely Medicine. He comments, “I had vague symptoms, mostly GI that could not be diagnosed by doctors; they just kept doing more and more tests, and then I found a functional medicine doctor who helped me completely restore my health. Then three months ago, I had a profound stroke, was unconscious for two days, was told I may live in a wheelchair. Now I’m completely recovered, and I feel better than I ever have. Like the stroke was a clearing out of something.”
“You’ve chosen well, then, you’ll find yourself in Lovely Medicine.”
We chat more, he hands me his card, and we wish each other a wonderful day.
Roger’s story sticks with me; I want to hear more of his stroke story. Would he be open to an interview?
By default, I’m becoming a journalist. Living on the road, spontaneous concerts in small parks and these chance encounters, often get me thinking about writing articles or more books—about Walmart parking lots, personal stories I hear everywhere I go about climate change, and the myriad benefits of living on the fringe of society. These impulses not yet acted on, culminate in this moment; Roger’s story could be the first of many that will nudge me out of pure memoir, and into giving voice to others’ stories.
Roger is agreeable, and we meet in his nearby tiny house, his getaway place that has a wood stove the size of a shoebox. He sits next to the stove for easy stoking with more mini-logs. I sit across from him in a rocking chair, and he dives in to his story.
Two-and-a-half years ago was when I resolved my gut issue—I’ve been in great health since then, consider myself in good shape; I go anywhere, and do what I want.
So I wake up one morning, my wife fixes us scrambled eggs and bacon, and I’m eating the scrambled eggs, and they’re like, hard to chew; and I get into the bacon, and I can’t chew it and think, there’s really something wrong with the bacon, and I spit it out. My wife comes in and later she tells me that she saw drool coming out of my mouth, and I was tapping the table, which I didn’t realize. She asks me a question and I can’t get my words out, and I think, no problem, they’ll come out. So she gets me into the car and takes me to an urgent care place, and the doctor asks me a couple of questions and I can’t really say anything, and I keep thinking, well, they’ll come out, no big deal. Then the doctor uses the phrase, “global aphasia,” which really resonates with my wife and me—that got my attention, because my dad had a stroke; he died about ten years ago, and he lived thirteen years in a nursing home, paralyzed on one side of the body, global aphasia, couldn’t say anything—that was very traumatic for my family; he was seventy-eight, I’m sixty-six. It was terribly tragic for my family, and had to be terrible for him, living inside himself with a lot of his brain function still going.
They call an ambulance and get me to the emergency room. There they inject something in me that’s supposed to clear the stroke out, and that didn’t work. So then they call up another hospital, and back in the ambulance, they get me there.
I wake up two days later, and my wife was pretty distraught. The surgeon had cut open a place here (he points to his inner thigh), and goes here (pointing to his carotid artery), and there’s an obstruction and they clear that and they put a stent in, and then they go up (pointing to his skull), and there’s been blood pooling and a clot, and they clear that. And when I woke up, my wife was saying, “You’ve had a major stroke, this is a really big deal.” The surgeon had to go in twice; he told my wife I may end up in a wheelchair, and I may die.
After my wife’s experience with my dad’s stroke, she was obviously very upset. But I didn’t know any of this. She told me all this and I thought they just blew it all out of proportion.
I was seen by several neurologists over the next week and a half, was told, this was a very serious stroke; fortunately, your wife got you here very quickly, and I thought, oh really? I didn’t realize any of that.
The occupational therapist came and put belt on me and we walked around slowly. As we were walking back, the neurologist came up to me and said, “You are a miracle.”
I kept saying no big deal.
I was set up to see an occupational therapist. I went through an extensive exam, and he says, “You’re okay, you don’t need anything.” So right after that I go to a speech therapist, and she says, “Well, you’ve got some issues with your grabbing words,” which we’d already noticed, and she kept me for four sessions, and then she said we were done.
That pretty much sums up the medical part of the story, except that the neuorologist put me on a statin and a daily baby aspirin. I don’t like the statin and want to go off it—we’ll see.
Two other parts to the story. Everybody in my family is very cognizant of my dad’s situation, they knew what this could mean. My brother lives in South Carolina, lives two and a half hours away. I’ve got a nephew in his forties who lives there; now, everybody in my family is devout southern baptist—devout; my sister’s married to a retired baptist minister, he’s got a PhD in bible theology or something like that; my wife and I left that about twenty years ago. So my nephew drove two-and-a-half hours to here, the day after the stroke happened. I was out of it, I didn’t know any of this—and he sat at my bed for ten minutes and prayed with me, then got back in his car and drove back home, and went to work.
That really got to me, the amount of faith, the amount of action in faith. Another part of this is I did some work around here with a Buddhist shaman, did a long-term shaman course with her. She is now in Ireland; I found out later that one of my friends contacted her and let her know that I’d had a stroke and was in bad shape, and so she did whatever she did; I don’t know what she did.
So I began to think about this Baptist approach to consciousness and God, and this shaman’s approach to consciousness. Here was the interesting part to me. I was in the intensive care for three or four days, and then they got me into a regular room. It was about ten-thirty at night; one wall was dark green; as soon as I closed my eyes, I’d go into a vision, trance, whatever you want to call it. When I opened my eyes, I’d come out of it. I close my eyes, I’m right back in it. Back and forth, back and forth. I can see some trees, some vegetation. And then I see this woman crawling around on feet and hands, it’s kind of like a low crawl, creepy looking, like a panther walking around. I’m thinking, this is quite odd. And the next thought is I might be in danger. But I think about it, and well, I don’t really feel like I’m in danger. But it’s odd, it’s pretty creepy.
So this goes on for awhile, and then other animals come along, and they’re doing the same kind of thing, low crawl close to the ground. So I’m thinking, well, maybe this hospital is on Cherokee land, maybe I’m channelling the Cherokees who used to live here.
I end up going to sleep, and I go through dreams that are very vivid. Two of them are that same type of thing where there’s someone slinking around close to the ground. Then I move out of that, into being in the woods. I wake up the next morning, and I bet there was a Cherokee graveyard right there.
The next night, nothing happened, and I thought, no big deal.
It didn’t hit me until just a week ago, that it might have been the shaman doing her process, and that was what was all around me.
So then I was thinking—this is my basic religious philosophy, is that we’re all one consciousness. Let’s just say we’re all in this one consciousness, and here’s my nephew who’s praying to God who is my consciousness, your consciousness, all of our consciousness —and here is this shaman who is dealing with her consciousness through her three different worlds, dealing with animals and all that, and I’m thinking about, let’s just picture there’s a God. I don’t think there’s a God, but there’s some force, and that force is sittin’ up there, and let’s say I am this God, and I’ve got this southern baptist guy and he’s really entreating me (God), and then I’ve got this shaman woman and she’s really cranky and entreating me for you, and I’ve got both of them entreating me to do something for you. So that was my spirituality bringing all of this together and doing this healing, of whatever was going on.
Then when I got out (of the hospital), I felt great. My wife was saying, I’m not going to let you out of my sight. I’m going to drive you everywhere. We’ve been married forty-six years, no big deal being together, we get along very very well, but that’s where she was coming from. I’d asked the doctor when I left the hospital, she said yeah, you can drive. My wife immediately said—you can’t drive!
So for the next week and a half, she drove me everywhere, and then she was tired of it.
The Carl Sandburg National Park, it’s a nice place to walk, normally I don’t go that far because it’s hard on my knees, especially back when I had the immune system issue with my intestines; but I decided I was going to go there. I didn’t tell my wife I was going—it was probably forty degrees, it was raining, it was a miserable day, and I drove there, and I had it all to myself, it was perfect. I decided maybe I would go up the trail probably a quarter of the way, and come back home. And then I thought, well, I can go a bit further, and I got half-way up. And then I end up going all the way to the top without stopping; I would stop and rest a little bit, and I went all the way up. This was a few weeks after the stroke.
When I got home, she blew a gasket.
I went back there every day for a week, and I kept getting better and better.
I’ve just been drawn to the woods, hopefully by myself, not always. I’m leaving soon to go down to Alabama to go to this old growth forest. I’ve been doing that—walking in the woods when I can, eating it up, this place (he gestures around him to his tiny house) is a great place for me.
My diet used to be totally atrocious until almost three years ago, when I did no sugar, no dairy, no grains, no legumes—and I thought when I started that, I’m going to die. Then I did it, I physically did it. My wife is a really good cook, she’s been making really good meals for me. I lost thirty-five pounds within about four months on that diet; that got my attention. I was pre-diabetic before then, and that all went away. When I left the hospital, I was down maybe three more pounds. After I got home, I lost five more pounds.
Was it a spontaneous weight-loss after the event?
I think I ate less, and also have been cutting back. My functional doctor told me no sugar, no xylitol, nothing like that, but you can have honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, so I had a lot of those. But since the stroke, I’ve cut back more on those—I think that’s what happened, is cutting out more of those things.
Those are the physical symptoms that I’ve gone through, and I just feel great. When the functional doctor got through with me, I felt like I was ten years younger. Now I feel five years younger than that, that’s what it’s done to me. I feel younger, more energetic, more everything, but at the same time, you’re familiar with the enneagram?
I nod yes.
I’m a five; we can be a pain in the butt, we really like collecting data, like to pull it all together; I seem to have lost that compulsion during the stroke. I’ve lost a lot of those traits that I would say are enneagram five, I’ve pulled back from that. I feel like the universe has told me, go sit in the corner, keep your mouth shut, and go get out in nature all you want. That’s what it feels like, that’s what I’ve been told. That’s what I’ve been doing.
So those are parts of the spiritual side of all of this.
I’d love to hear your response to any or all of that.
What you are about to read is a chapter from the upcoming book, Re-creation: Laughing Buddha With A Fiddle.
In the Northern California redwoods, walking through carpets of oxalis and ferns, I don’t want to leave. Like when I visited Carlsbad Caverns, one day was not enough—I decide to extend my stay to soak in their wonder.
When growing up in California, I mostly took the redwoods for granted. Absent for forty years, I see them with new eyes; magnificent—and I long to stay in their presence.
Not willing to gamble the twenty dollars for an extra night at the casino parking lot where I’ve stayed for the two free nights, I inch further north.
Heading up to the campground the ranger told me is first-come-first-served and to arrive by two p.m., I was out of luck at 2:05. So many people in California! I would have had to reserve a campsite at least a month or longer ago for this region, and I didn’t know then where I would now be. And the campsites are expensive—out of my price range with a forty-five dollar-a-night fee. Yet I want to stay that much, I’m willing to boondock in more Walmarts to make it up.
Now with nowhere to land, I feel as though I’ve been driven out of the area, spitted out like a watermelon seed. At least I can take an afternoon hike along the way.
On the scenic highway, I pull my Sprinter van, Jane, over beside a trailhead for a three-mile loop through another magnificent grove of the giants.
Before hiking, I heat up soup, read a few chapters of The Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, play the fiddle, then head to the trail.
Stopping at the placard, I read that this grove is named after a botanist who helped save the metasequoia, also known as dawn redwood, an ancient precursor to the coastal redwoods that grow only here in Humboldt County, and the giant sequoias that grow further inland.
Interesting—in the Portland, Oregon arboretum where I used to frequently walk, is a small grove of dawn redwoods that I remember well; they lose their needles in the winter like larch trees do, and seem almost ghost-like. In contrast is this grove of giants.
After completing the hike, I face my lack of accommodation for tonight. Once more searching through the free or cheap-camping apps, I find a county park in Crescent City for ten dollars a night. Only a half hour away, I let go of my passion for rural quiet, and head there.
Being so generally comfortable on the road, it’s afternoons like this that remind me how close I am to not having a place to “be;” without a parking space overnight, what would Jane and I do? That is why I can call even a Walmart parking lot or a safe street “home.”
The county park is in its own grove of redwoods; the toilets work; I find a site I can call my own for two nights. A campsite can and does feel like home. I want to mark the corners like an animal. This spot is mine! Do not step over that line. A bit of an overreaction to not knowing where I was going to end up.
Is this a twinge of missing a physical home, one that I can retreat to? In Vermont, I have acres of peaceful land to be in, yet these days I am not at home there.
The next afternoon, I find the trailhead for the Boy Scout Tree Trail that the ranger recommended—it’s not their fault the campgrounds are so full of people and are expensive, I love rangers.
Lots of cars, but it’s mid-afternoon, and perhaps many of them will be on their way out as I head in. This trailhead is off the main road, and I relish the quiet and anticipation of a good hike.
First, lunch—my routine is to get somewhere, then eat. If I stayed at the county park to eat lunch, I may never have left. I put on water to make coffee, and prepare a plate of liverwurst, cheese, tomatoes, and mustard on rye crisp.
After laying down my plastic woven mat on the clearing between Jane and the upward slope of forest, I unfold the TV tray—that name evokes memories of my brother Gunnar and I sitting next to each other on the couch with our TV trays set in front of us with the frozen Swanson TV dinners heated in the oven now steaming hot, and us watching The Ed Sullivan show or Andy of Mayberry. The taste of the meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and apple chunks with a red-dyed half-maraschino cherry in the middle floods me as I write this.
These small fold-up tables are still called TV trays. I have one that when folded, fits behind the passenger seat; when driving, I drape my padded down jacket over it to avoid rattling. When I boondoggle and have no picnic table, the TV tray serves as a computer table, watercolor table, reading table, eating table.
I place my reading stand—a squishy pillow with a casing that can hold huge books—onto the TV tray. Then I prop my Joan of Arc book that is 81/2 x 11-inch size, awkward to hold, onto the stand. My lunch, propped up book, coffee, and upcoming redwood hike—I have bliss.
Satiated, I fill the Camelbak with water, put on hiking shoes, sun hat and sunscreen, and am almost ready. Placing my wallet, phone, and keys in the zippered pocket after locking Jane, I put on the pack and head up the trail.
Today is summer solstice, and I have hours of light ahead of me. Walking uphill in the heat of mid-afternoon, I slow down, still cautious about physically pushing myself. Today is also my birthday; I turn sixty-four in an hours’ time, born six p.m. Mountain time.
About a quarter-mile up the trail, I note tension in my gut—like I’m nervous, and don’t know why. Is it an anniversary reaction? Last year on my birthday I also hiked, a favorite activity. Last year I was approaching the nadir of my Feds adventure, was already feeling ill a good part of the time, and a year ago, my usual solstice bliss was absent.
Or is it something else?
I have opened the portal to worry; suddenly I wonder if Jane will be robbed, and I will lose the books I’m writing on my computer. I almost panic and turn back to make sure I have locked the van.
How can I break this cycle?
A recent new tool for how to detach gracefully comes to mind; renounce and enjoy, Gandhi’s three-word philosophy of life. I can renounce Jane—if someone breaks in and drives her away, I will survive; I have my credit card and drivers license. I could lose all the objects of affection that I travel with, such as the handknit afghan and favorite copper pot, even the computer—they are replaceable. Jane is replaceable. Heck, I could even “survive” without my wallet.
Why am I suddenly anxious about someone breaking into Jane? I’ve been on the road already for months, have taken many hikes, and this state has not appeared like it does today.
I realize, it’s the books I am writing—halfway through the Feds adventure that I am posting as a blog on my website along with two other memoirs with completed first drafts, I have this blossoming passion for creating books. This flow of words seems essential to my ongoing heart recovery; the possibility of their loss seems irreparable. I could recreate them, I guess, but I would like to avoid that.
Continuing the hike up the beautiful redwood slope, I sort out my renounce-and-enjoy task. Okay, I have now imagined all of Jane being driven away, never to be seen again, including the books; I renounce, and push out the worry and that image to the periphery of my consciousness till they fall away, and replace them with joy. I note my breath flow in and out, and enjoy. I feel my feet moving up the trail with a slow and steady pace, and enjoy. I smell the forest, hear the rustling of squirrels and leaves in the wind, and enjoy. I feel a faint warm breeze on my skin—enjoy.
Probably this worry portal did open more readily with the sharp memory of solstice a year ago. I am forewarned; every day through August will hold these memories until the nadir passes; that’s part of recovery.
What better way to practice renouncement than with this redwood walk?
The trail ends at a waterfall that evokes the possibility of fairies. Rivulets of water dance down a steep rocky and mossy face, sparkling like moving diamonds in the lowering sun. Several small pools filled with clear water create ongoing smaller waterfalls as the flow disappears over the next ledge.
Returning, plenty of light remains to take the side trail to the Boy Scout Tree. Honking big tree. How does one describe the majesty of these trees? Being in their presence is the only way I know to know them.
Almost back to Jane, I come up with confidence that when I next hike, I will lock Jane, walk away, and not worry; I will instantaneously renounce and enjoy. I also realize I can set up a different backup system in addition to my manual backup disk. Deep down, I relax.
Back in my campsite, I set up the woven plastic mat, camping chair, and stove on the picnic table to take advantage of cooking outside in this warm weather.
Before fixing dinner, I pull out Fiona, my fiddle, and wander back in the trees to practice; I know other campers can probably hear me, but at least they cannot see me. I have watched several beginner lessons on YouTube, and squeak through scales, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” and the theme song to the Harry Potter movies. I’m just starting to pick out the theme song to Game of Thrones.
Preparing for bed, I keep the back doors wide open, my mosquito netting in place with magnets around the perimeter. Almost like a tent, I crawl into my real bed with flannel sheets and a one-inch memory foam layer, and welcome the outside elements.
The solstice trigger reappears in the early morning hours with harsh, irregular breathing—how I continuously breathed last year for the whole summer. This body memory is not as intense as last year’s state, but present—a reminder. I review my day backward, and relax back into sleep with relative ease.
Relishing at least one more night, maybe more, of these redwoods until I have somehow become them and will take them with me, I decide on the Mill Creek Horse Trail with its trailhead also close to camp.
The hike is strenuous; I challenge myself with elevation gain and distance. Arriving back at Jane after my five-hour plodding-but-steady effort, I feel elated. Not only did I successfully renounce-and-enjoy as I walked away from Jane and onto the trail, I am depleted in a good way—in a muscle-building way. Drinking water from the jug in Jane before the drive back, I look forward to returning to my familiar camp, and think about what to fix for dinner.
Pulling up to my site, I realize it’s empty—my belongings are gone, like they never existed. My plastic woven mat, chair, large pot, large water container—they even took my sponges and dishtowel. On the drive, I was imagining taking a shower with the plastic mat protecting my feet, heating the water for said shower in the large pot, and my chair! That was my perfect Jane chair. I was robbed; someone stole from me.
Now I know to not leave out anything I value or that is hard to replace. Now I know. I’m glad I didn’t leave out my stove, which I considered doing—or the bucket of clean dishes, my tea pot and tea kettle. I brought those along in case I wanted to cook at the trailhead.
Already I strategize what to leave out next time I want to stake claim to a campsite—mark my territory—wish I had this 20/20 hindsight this morning. Next time an old towel, disposable water bottles, old ketchup, books I have already read—what I already want to give away like that pair of pants I packed and have not yet worn, old t-shirts that I wear only because they’re still “good,” those items I will leave behind.
Here’s the street-smart wisdom lesson; I was naive to “trust” the general public; to assume belongings will be there when I return, well, that assumption is an illusion.
I ask the man in the next campsite, “Did you see anyone here? All my stuff is gone.”
“I didn’t even know anyone was camping there, it was empty when I got here.” He is immediately afraid, packs up, and leaves. Wow.
I also move to a different site, because this one needs to be smudged, or a heavy rain needs to fall to clear the air.
Still needing a shower and not wanting to make do with a sponge bath after my long hike, I pick the site with the most private set-up so I can open the back doors into a screen of forest. I wear my plastic clogs, and the forest floor is relatively compact; using my two small pots to heat the water, I do my best to let go of my large pot—I’ve had it for decades—copper-bottomed Revere Ware and made more substantially than those now available.
I wonder if the thief stole things because he or she needed them, or to sell for a hit of crack. I decide to assume the thief needed my belongings; they have gone to a good home. Otherwise, why would they take my old sponges and dishcloth?
Dusk deepens along with my hunger; I continue regrouping by heating up Thai sweet potato soup with grilled chopped-up kielbasa sausage. Across from me a group has a campfire lit and is playing music—a flute providing melody and the guitar accompanying. I imagine playing the fiddle with them, imagine approaching them with my violin case. Today on the trail I sang “Simple Gifts.” I want to play that tune next; I hope for a fiddle lesson in my future.
As I stir the soup, someone knocks on my side door. I open it, and a man of average height and build, wearing a baseball cap and casual clothes says, “Hi, I’m Jack, I’m staying in the F site, and I heard you were robbed. Can you tell me what happened?”
Word has gotten around the campground. I fill him in on the details, and he replies, “I’m camping here for a few weeks while I work a temporary job, I’m gone all day—now I’m worried about my stuff—I just put it all into my tent when I leave in the morning.”
“I’m sure not leaving anything out from now on.”
Jack says, “Well, you can count on me tonight. If someone is threatening you, just yell out ‘F, F’ and I’ll come to your rescue. I have a gun!”
All right—we are this close to anarchy and chaos.
Deciding to put some distance between me and Crescent City, I pack up early in the morning without my usual bliss of tea and writing. Why would I stay here, to start a crime prevention program? No, I will spend a few more hours in the redwoods to complete this chapter of beauty and theft, before heading north.
Finding a place to park in the day-use section at Jedediah State Park, I decide to put Jane in order before the task of replacing what was lost. Using the small pots to boil water while again missing my large pot, I begin with dishes, then wash down the cab and floor. Good. Clean and organized, I have a sense of comfort.
I brew a cup of coffee, sit on the steps of the open side door with the redwoods close, and play Fiona, giving myself another YouTube lesson. My finger pads are thickening, but after an hour I reach the point of pain that requires me to stop.
Now I’m ready to head to Walmart, about a half hour away.
Renounce and enjoy, I tell myself, as I park Jane and walk toward flickering fluorescent lights. Plowing through my list, I once more mourn my good pot as I purchase the only large one available that more closely resembles a tin can. And my chair—I loved my chair—replaced with a five-dollar chair that I will be annoyed about if it disappears, but five dollars for replacement. . .I find the same mat in the RV section and a large water jug, and move on.
Heading northwest, the redwoods soon diminish and are replaced by Douglas firs and madrones. The smell is so different, even as I drive.
Finding a National Forest campground, I’m pleased; already more affordable, I will sleep here for five dollars—within my budget. My site borders a rushing creek; I will sleep with its sound.
Settling in, I note ongoing vigilance after the theft, and work on building up trust. Playing more fiddle, taking a gentle walk in this new forest, setting up the mosquito netting on the back of Jane, I readily count my blessings. I make dinner, a salad—strawberries, blue cheese, onions, red pepper, avocado, spinach, and red lettuce. Nice.
The night was cold; I pulled up the quilt to sleep under along with the blanket—even this short distance inland, the climate is different. The cold and the rushing creek sounds define my environment as I grow conscious in the morning.
I ponder my response to the theft; I do not want it to also rob me of the beauty I witnessed in that area, nor of my faith in humanity. Yet I left, perhaps a day or more early, to “get away” from the theft and the subsequent discomfort in the county park.
Is this my pattern? Something bad happens, and I run away; I left Vermont after the Feds; I left Crescent City after being robbed. Instead of staying to transform.
Am I aimlessly wandering? Why not go back to Vermont and resume planting potatoes and fruit trees? Why not go back to my homestead life where I could also write books and play music in my tiny house I call Hug House?
I can imagine returning to that life, until I imagine going to a movie and seeing some of my former colleagues who did not return my calls or emails after the Feds, who may look straight through me.
I’m not ready to go back; I’m not ready to find my place or re-create myself in Vermont; I cannot imagine how that will occur. And I like where I am right now, in the madrones and firs.
Self-doubt and recrimination swirl a bit, as I chastise myself about not handling the theft better.
My sense of safety was challenged, and I am regaining my equilibrium, that’s all.
What an interesting experience that was, anyway. The day after I had my encounter with fear about Jane being broken into, someone steals from the campsite; that’s interesting. Did my fear open a portal that played a role in this theft? Fear attracts fear.
And then there’s my conscious new habit of giving something away every day. Those actions do not provide immunity to theft, and that is not my purpose in giving. But is giving related somehow? I did not consciously hand over my belongings to the thief; I go back to my chosen presumption that whoever took my things needed them. I’m not done yet in my fear/theft/giving education; I still have much grist to bring to the mill.
What would be irreparable loss? The taking of a life, betrayal of someone’s trust, smashing another’s spirit? I do regret past critical words that have emerged from my mouth and throat—and once out, they cannot be taken back; they are irreparable.
Embedded in my Feds adventure was irreparable harm; my mistake—incorrect billing—became their instrument of destruction beyond reparation. Their actions held no regard for my professionalism, standing in the community, not even for my ongoing personal survival.
Yet now I have these gifts; I am in this lovely campground; I have bliss. Even irreparable damage can evolve into bliss.
Similar to how I have learned to thank the Feds for showing up, I thank the thief for taking the physical items that do not define who I am. I renounce fears, belongings, regard from others; I freely take my walks and enjoy.
I will also keep my valuables out of sight.
Writing goes so well this morning, I am further reassured in my place on the earth, here with the blue sky and madrone wood the color of red copper. Temperatures rise through the morning; I change into a light top, and explore.
A woman pulling a wagon with cleaning supplies and a small dog in its bed approaches me. She is open to a chat, and I find out she stays here for free in exchange for being a campground host. Telling her I’m living in my van, she exclaims, “I live in my car! It’s a great life, isn’t it? I was living with my sister in Portland, Oregon, but I didn’t want to impose. And I love to travel. My favorite place so far is New Mexico. I have started writing a blog about all the things that happened to me when I was there.”
Small world—I once lived in Portland, Oregon, and spent several of my initial van-life months in New Mexico, also loving that state. I ask, “Have you seen Off the Map? It’s my favorite movie, and takes place in Northern New Mexico.” I give her a brief description; a family lives completely “off the map,” and one day an IRS agent arrives due to their not having filed for a number of years; even if you don’t owe taxes, one is penalized for not filing. As soon as the agent arrives, he has a high fever for several days; when he recovers, he is transformed. And the story goes on.
She asks me to write down the name of the movie, and we also exchange website addresses. We are kindred spirits, sharing our love of writing to maintain sanity, and the simplicity of road life. Having bought some fresh lychee nuts yesterday at Walmart (how do they do that, bring lychee nuts to Northern California?), I offer her some; she is intrigued by this foreign fruit. I used to buy them on the streets when living for a brief time in Taiwan; the flavor is unique.
Giving her more lychees, I wish her well when we part. She happily goes off to clean the next pit toilet, giving her dog a treat out of her pocket as she walks away; her dog patiently sat in the wagon during our whole conversation.
I’m humbled with her story; she also took early social security for health reasons, and lives on even less a month than I do. And, when she described changing her clothes in her Toyota Camry, I felt guilt with the luxury of being able to stand in Jane. Life is so relative.
After getting Jane ready to go, I consult the road atlas; I will enter Oregon soon. I lived there eight years and never went to Crater Lake—of course. Now as a New Englander, I will take this opportunity. I also have fond memories of several family camping trips that were spent at Diamond Lake in the same vicinity; another potential stop. At my pace, those destinations are a few days away. I find a National Forest free campsite on a rural highway, and set my GPS.
Before hitting the road, I play Fiona; I’m that infatuated, I play each time until my fingers are too sore to continue. I remember when I first picked up the guitar, my fingers were just like this; I would have played every waking minute if I could.
Similar to writing when I’m in the sweet spot, when I lose time and write until my brain and hands and heart can no longer “do,” they must “be” for awhile to recoup.
No set campsites, just scattered picnic tables, one pit toilet, no potable water (I’m glad I filled all my water containers), a nearby lava flow jutting into a magnificent lake, and white-capped mountains on the far shore—this place seems magical.
After a walk through a pine forest where the smell of lupines reminds me of the milkweed blooms on my land when the scent wafts in the early evening, I set up the shower in a matter of minutes, then put on cozy clothes. Not much food left, I take out the bag of oyster mushrooms dried last summer, to rehydrate. Adding them to a can of Annie’s cream of tomato soup with a few extra spices, I can still taste its glory while writing this.
Blue-green algae blooms prohibit swimming, otherwise I would be tempted to stay another day.
I’ve got my mojo back.
The end of last May when I found out the state medical board was investigating me—apparently the feds passed the baton to them when they were finished, I said to myself, that’s it—I’m going to buy a fiddle. Determined to bring in more goodness and to shrink residual fears, I did just that. In mid-June, I walked into a music store having never even held a violin (violin equals fiddle—it’s what you play and how you play it). After “playing” several beginner models, I picked one based on its resonance; the clerk showed me how taut to keep the bow and how to apply rosin, and off I went.
Having not told a soul my plan or that I bought one, I kept the fiddle to myself for several weeks, parking my van Jane at parks in order to “play” anonymously. When wi-fi was available, I also watched YouTube videos for fiddle lessons; simply how to hold a bow took several episodes. . .
After over fifty years of playing the piano, I’m no stranger to music; I am a stranger to playing by ear. During the last years of piano playing, I focused on playing with my eyes closed, attempting to re-learn the keyboard. I read music too well; that skill had become a handicap to simply flowing with the music. Now with a fiddle, I have vowed to not read a note, and to finally fulfill this goal of “playing by ear.”
After picking out scales and decreasing squeaks and scratches, the first song I found was “Happy Birthday.” Next, my YouTube lessons led me to “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” then to the Harry Potter theme song.
Living on the road means I often stay in campgrounds or Walmart parking lots. This lifestyle provides anonymity; unabashed, I have stood in the forest squeaking out tunes that soon included the Game of Thrones theme song—another stellar YouTube lesson.
One night at a county park in Crescent City, California, I heard a group playing guitars and flutes around a campfire; I loved hearing someone else playing live music. The next day they introduced themselves and invited me to play with them that evening, as “We heard you playing yesterday afternoon.”
“Oh, no, I’m a real beginner, I’ve only played for a few weeks.” Still, what fun that will be. Not yet.
A few weeks later, I was at a national forest campground in the Bend, Oregon region, playing my song list that by then included “Jet Plane,” “Both Sides Now,” and “Over the Rainbow.” A three-year old girl in a pink dress and sandals walked up with her father. After introducing themselves he said, “Do you mind if Lexie watches you play?”
I smiled at this little girl whose eyes were round with wonder and asked, “Do you know ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star?’ ” She nodded yes, and I played it.
They stood there for what seemed like forever watching me play my limited repertoire, then waved goodby and walked back to their campsite.
In the early evening, the father walked over and told me, “I just want to let you know, Lexie talked about your violin for an hour before she went to bed, she liked it so much.”
Wow. I wondered if she’d ever heard a live instrument—perhaps that was the attraction.
A few weeks later I was parked on a national forest road, in a “dispersed” camping area in the Olympic Peninsula. An RV was parked nearby and in a similar scenario, a little girl walked over, this time with her grandfather, to watch me play. Looking at her bright eyes I asked, “Do you know ‘Wheels on the bus?’ ” She looked at me blankly. “How about ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star?’ ”
She responded, “Do you know any Madonna?”
Laughing, I responded, “No, I don’t.”
“ ‘Material Girl?’ ” she asked.
“Sorry,” and I launched into Twinkle, instead.
Afterward, I mused she may not actually know the songs I suggested, only Madonna tunes. Still, the tone of a live string instrument drew her.
Whenever I “anonymously” pull into a park or campground and pull out Fiona (I like to name my belongings—me, Jane, and Fiona have a fun time together), I’m no longer surprised when approached. One mother with her two sons came up and asked if they could sit and listen to me for awhile. By then I could play some Van Zandt, Kate Wolf, Dylan, and the “Ave Maria” by Vavilov. The mother asked to video me playing, and she recorded me showing one of the boys how to hold the fiddle and draw the bow across the strings.
Adults also approach, wanting to talk about their experiences. One young woman eagerly told me, “I played the violin for six years when I was in school.” As she hungrily eyed mine, I offered it to her so I could watch her play, then was able to encourage her to pick one up again after our encounter.
My new life on the road includes exploring a Laughing Buddha life. I simply love the notion of laughing for no reason whatsoever. The Laughing Buddha story I know is of a buddha who walks from village to village and gives out treats to children and laughs with them. I had been stuck on what kinds of treats to pass out—not exactly a culturally acceptable activity in this day and age; spontaneously, this fiddle playing has become my version of the Laughing Buddha. I play, children approach, and I certainly laugh when playing.
Having listened to violin street musicians play fast and clever and lovely—I cannot imagine myself playing how they play; yet I have this rapport. I realize, I can play well enough now for someone to sing along—to "Simple Gifts,” or “Amazing Grace,” for example.
That’s it! While continuing to expand my repertoire, I’m compiling song sheets; perhaps I’ll laminate them, prop them up in the violin case and when approached, offer—“Would you like to sing along?”
Or I’ll make plain copies so if someone wants to take music away with them, that’s an option.
The goodness pours in beyond my imaginings.
My first “jamming” session occurred during an extended visit with relatives in the Olympic Peninsula; my cousins mentioned I play the violin to a woman they know who works at an outdoor education center in the Hood Canal region. Joanne immediately called and encouraged me to visit and play together in spite of my beginner status. I thought, what the heck?
How did Joanne know the delight awaiting us?
Her school at the tip of the Hood Canal provided a stunning setting. We stood outside, playing with the sounds of birds and wind, and the school’s organic CSA was our backdrop. Inviting me to play anything I knew, she then played with me and would launch into harmonies. Teaching myself to play by ear immediately became an obvious advantage as I was then able to pick up simple folk tunes from her and even could launch into harmonies part of the time.
My abilities instantly waned when she tried to record us, wanting to send my cousins a sample of our session. Knowing someone is “watching” me, I freeze; my ability to undergo scrutiny remains a challenge. . .
A few days after playing with Joanne, I headed east for a family event—honestly, the thought of being able to play with her every week or so was almost enough to keep me in that region. I have no hesitation now—next time someone invites me to play, I will.
Playing with Joanne was my second real-time “lesson.” My first lesson was with a nine-year old named Isadora, the daughter of a friend I was visiting in California several weeks after first picking up Fiona. She taught me to tune the strings, apply enough pressure on the strings to decrease screeches, and advised me, “You could just draw the bow across the strings all day long, that is what you need to do first.” Oh, Isadora is a powerhouse in the making, and she was right.
Four months after walking into the violin store, I still find myself wondering, what is next? I have left medicine that defined my life, and I do not know what my next “task” is, my next purpose in life. With the Laughing Buddha as a role model, I put aside the wonder and questions of the future, and gratefully pull out Fiona, tune her, and set myself up at the county park. After brewing myself an afternoon cup of coffee, I stand facing the fields of Sandusky County, Ohio, a destination postponed on my original road trip a year ago, to visit the landscape of Gene Logsdon whose books I love, and with his recent passing he is now part of my cherished dead mentors group; I will play in tribute to him today. I will follow this thread of goodness, joy, music, laughter, connection—in this moment, and then on to the next village.
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Sometimes it’s the waiting that makes things better.
I have this thought as I stand in front of my Coleman stove, letting the tea steep just the right amount before pouring.
Flashing on a tea ceremony in Taiwan fifteen years ago with the Minister of Tea (Taiwan has a Minister of Tea!), I will never forget his presence as he sat in the midst of a variety of tea pots, urns of tea, and hot water kettles. Different teas are brewed in different kinds of pots, using different temperatures, some teas with a quick rinse at the beginning, all with different brew times, and some with different tastes with each subsequent brew of the same leaves. I recall the minister’s serene smile as he patiently waited just the right amount of time and then effortlessly picked up the pot to begin the pour.
I was in tea heaven in Taiwan. Now I am in my usual morning routine of brewing Keemun—a China tea that is naturally mellow, low caffeine with a red tone that I have been drinking for decades. Introduced to this tea by a high school friend’s mother who spent her childhood in Japan as the daughter of a diplomat, she did not drink green tea; she always drank Keemun. Go figure. I’ve sought out Keemun tea ever since.
Now I wait until I know this tea is at its best, and pour. Waiting has allowed the goodness to emerge.
Recently I’ve met several women with new babies who experienced “managed labors” and suffered as a consequence. Learning how to “run the board,” how to manage labors and get them moving or slow them down if medical staff were short-handed, was one of the components of my medical education I found most distressing. Having been trained as a doula and specialized in healing from traumatic births during my years as a psychologist, I was inflicting those same “traumas” on women, knowing they would need recovery from those births afterward. This medical approach of “managed labor” is the opposite of waiting—the opposite of allowing a natural event to unfold into maximum goodness.
Yes, yes, yes, sometimes medical interventions are necessary; sometimes regardless of the best of circumstances, challenging births occur; then all that “management” rushes forward to bring in its own goodness. Most of the time, though, interventions do not result in goodness. Waiting for the baby and mother to come into that synchronous beautiful movement of birth into the world holds pure goodness; that process is often thwarted in our medical system.
My long-ago book, Rebounding from Childbirth, still has its own life as books do after having been launched out into the world, is still making a difference in some women’s lives who struggle with births gone awry. Not often, but I still hear from women who tell me they sleep with the book by their bedsides, who have imaginary conversations with me as they undergo their healing journeys. Waiting for the goodness includes this life as a writer—knowing that I have fulfilled my goal of making a difference in a few women’s lives. Just a few is enough, holds goodness.
Pouring my just-right tea, I am grateful for this moment of having had the wisdom to wait for the goodness, and for this opportunity to expand my patience and kindness for the day.
While practicing cursive writing with Youtube videos, I surprise myself by thoroughly enjoying these writing exercises created for young children. After a wrist fracture requiring external fixation, I was unable to use my right hand for six weeks and had discovered I was left-handed. After the fracture healed, I continued using my left hand, discovering a sense of “rightness” with its use. These exercises provide even more confirmation that I am left-handed; after just an hour, I am able to write better than I ever had with my right hand.
While writing with ease, I have a flash of recognition of all that lost time! Those decades of missed opportunities for this ease, the creation of art and writing. What would my life have been like?
That’s water long ago passed under the bridge, way down the river. My life unfolded in its own “rightness.” As my coach Shari, who has helped me find my voice, has said in times when I’ve been tempted to regret, “everything always happens at just the right time.”
What does it mean to have had to wait for this left-handedness to emerge in my sixties? If I regret it not arriving sooner, that is not in the category of “waiting so that the goodness will emerge.”
When these gifts come late in life, are they less meaningful because we do not have our developmental years to foster these gifts? True, our abilities unfold through our life stages with certain sweet spots—yes, learning a language as a child is much easier than as an adult; starting a musical instrument early on means greater capabilities at a later age. But does that mean these missed moments of childhood such as my left-handedness, or a friend’s grief that he wanted to play the piano more than anything ever in his life and he did not have the opportunity, or another friend’s challenge that she was raised in a family that did not allow daughters to go to college or take art classes, does that mean we abandon these quests now as adults?
These losses are interesting twists of fate.
“Lost” talents not developed in childhood that might have become “genius,” are still within us, can still be taken up as an “elder” when we discover them. These latent talents are opportunities to seize and run with joy, and relish in their discovery.
“I’m too old, it’s too late.” Is it? Perhaps “It’s never too late” is more apt than I realized. Yes I long for the ease of my left-handedness through my entire life; growing up could have been so different! But that’s not an option. Now I have an unexpected blessing of a left-handed life in my elder state, a new way of being that still holds delight and ease, though long-missed.
Though I cannot relive my life, I can rewrite it with this new left-handedness. I can indulge in a moment of wonder about what my life could have been like as though it’s a story. More important, I recognize more clearly that at any stage in life, to embrace the delights in this state of recognition of who I truly am, of who one truly is, is the treasure—one of the greatest gifts I know of. At any age. At any time.
Waiting with patience for these gifts, knowing they will emerge, I am rich.
My cousin Linda quoted her friend Dennis Mahar—“Perfect is the enemy of good,” as we were in the middle of painting her soon-to-be airbnb apartment in her downstairs. You know how it is—when the trim is a bit wobbly, when the spackling texture doesn’t quite match the rest of the wall, when we both have paint on our faces and the bottoms of our shoes and we track it where it is not wanted.
Immediately I felt better as we gazed at our work—yes, this is good. Not perfect. Good enough. I imagine an airbnb guest arrive and instead of seeing our imperfections, will appreciate the fresh paint job.
This phrase could change my life. Every time I feel inadequate I say to myself, perfect is the enemy of good. I am good. Goodness flows.
I’ve been using that phrase a lot as I navigate publishing Guilty by Degree—I noted two typos after the print book was completed, found by the eBook spellcheck. What? Where were you two days ago as I proofed and then proofed again the print book? I could not go back at that point without starting all over! Could I live with those two typo’s?
Plus, creating an eBook is not nearly as satisfying as a book one can hold in one’s hands. The formatting is nondescript; choosing a font or a page layout is not possible, and the fun graphic timeline titled “Waiting for the Feds” along with the author photo was not allowable without major computer engineering. From an author’s perspective I now I understand the simplistic styles of eBooks—that’s all that is allowed.
Formatting the print version had elements of creativity, satisfaction and cohesion--so gratifying I was surprised with the eBook process—like being cooked in a microwave.
This comparison is similar to analog versus digital sound. Live music is even more “alive” with real time changes in tempo and vibrations. Analog is at least from a “live” recording; digital may not even include a human being playing an instrument.
I have kindle on my iPad. Living on the road I sometimes do not have access to books, and yes it is convenient, light-weight, and takes little space. EBooks have their place, and I am happy to provide my book in that format. But if you find yourself missing the feel of a book, it’s not just the weight of it in one’s hands that is missing—photos, diagrams, carefully chosen fonts and sizes of indents, bold lettering and a particular page color—the craft of a book—may be as well. This crafting experience was an unexpected bonus: satisfaction beyond the manuscript.
Kudos to book binders, art from scratch, words not put together by a machine, sounds from handmade instruments, and home-cooked food.
I write this on my computer, hooked into the web.
If you decide to purchase the eBook, scroll down below for the two missing components--included here for the fun of it.
Love, Warmth, and Blessings,
I was fulfilling my dream of a rural practice that incorporated trigger points and anthroposophic medicine for those who were interested. Then federal agents came to town, and their presence is still noted. I developed something called broken heart syndrome or stress-induced cardiomyopathy. Symptoms include an ejection fraction of 20-30% (aka heart failure) with other hopefully reversible signs of cardiomegaly and myopathy, but for now I am completely disabled and on eight different medications. Any ongoing stress triggers additional heart damage, and so I am focusing healing on my self. "Physician heal thyself."
When I am finished with the federal situation, then I will be able to regroup and recreate my purpose in this community. Perhaps next year. For now, I must not work.
The one exception I will begin mid-September is to offer phone consults. A scheduling page will soon appear on this website. Also please note my new phone number: 802 380-2203. I will get back to you the week of labor day.
As I take time to reflect on how I got here (!!!!) I pulled on my tried and true life motto, "Why bother unless it's fun?"
Humor is of the best medicine, and I watch funny videos, appreciate jokes sent, laugh as much as possible.
Before I was in heart failure I began a series of "public announcements." The first is about walking and I will do my best to attach the video to this blog. The second is about humor, and I will bring that one into the next blog post, next month.
Blessings! Light-filled, humor-filled, lovely and love-filled life and blessings, Lynn MD.
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Holistic Coach and Consultant
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