Monthly Archives: June 2022

Swimming in Joy: Fresh Water, Fresh Perspective

I feel like I’ve come out of a long, dark tunnel. I’m not referring only to the many days in electronic darkness, but that of my last three decades.

I will swim in still* (fresh) water after my laundry is done — for the second time in 30 years. My last still water swim prior to a dip in a pool two weeks ago was in my parents’ pool in Pearland, Texas. They moved out in the mid 90s but my pool rights were revoked in ‘91 (by emotional pressure vs verbal demand).

I began to swim again in 2016 but only in the gulf and with a full-body swimsuit. Never alone. Usually, in fact, I swam while surf fishing with the man I was married to at the time. We rarely went into the surf just to swim.

I don’t swim in much less now, capris and long sleeves because — old. Regardless of one man’s overly kind opinion, this old frame is just not bikini-worthy.

This lake is clear and cool but not cold and unlike the Kentucky lake of last week, not stagnant and covered in cottonwood snow. I’m anxious to submerge myself in it and feel that joy again. At the pool I dipped in, littles were everywhere. Maybe a lake isn’t much healthier, but I know what toddlers do in pools.

Laundry Interlude

I stepped onto wet, broken slate and other stones that serve as the “beach” at this park. The rocks, largely “chips” of stone, really, aren’t sharp but nor are they sand smooth. There’s something comforting about that; perhaps it’s the knowledge that crabs and stingrays won’t be burrowed into those hard slivers and chunks of stone.

As a recent boat wake subsided, I waded out carefully until I was thigh deep. I checked my sunglasses** to make sure the strap was snug, and dove under.

I came up damn near sobbing with joy.

The “pool” at sunset.

The water was cool but not cold, like April coastal beach temps, and soft as silk. It slipped around me without seaweed or sand or other slithery bits. I began a breast stroke out to the buoy that demarcated the swimming area for swimmers and boaters alike. I found the gentle slope just at my height, turned and did a clumsy, half-remembered back-stroke (college swim class) to one side of the buoy, turned and did side strokes, first right (awful) then left (much better). Finally I simply flipped on my back and floated a while; looking up into deep blue summer sky with scattered cumulus clouds and a soft breeze chilling my exposed parts.

After years of not being able to float like my mom, I’ve found in recent years that I can. I always assumed it was because of the salt water at the coast. Nah. I’m just fluffy. Higher body fat percentage makes for good floating. HA!

I repeated the above twice, floating in between to catch my breath. Then decided I should get back to Sam.

In my childhood, Momma could never get me out of the pool. I had sunburns that made me sick and miserable but wanted to be back in the water the next day. As soon as I got back to Blanche, I was wishing I’d stayed in the water.

To be honest, it wasn’t just the obligation of Sam that brought me home. The lingering discomfort with “showing” my body in public, even though almost no skin was visible, just my generous curves, was the greater drive that pulled me out of the water. A young couple camping at the top of the hill, certainly not the least bit interested in an old woman doing laps, kept getting in my head without so much as being within earshot.

Obviously, I have yet another “wound” to sort out and have known that since I left. I am female and have curves. It isn’t up to me to police what men (or anyone for that matter) see or find offensive. It is only up to me to be comfortable in my skin. I have changed my style of dress somewhat since leaving him, but I still don’t show cleavage or wear pants or dresses that fall above my knees. I have twice worn a bikini top with my capris (no long-sleeved rash guard) and felt extremely uncomfortable, but that was more because I am fluffy than because I was showing cleavage.

Still, while I am definitely too old for a bikini, I would love to move from being two steps shy of a burqini. My health allows for that now and my sanity demands it. The very fact that I am even considering this, says I have progressed significantly out of that dark tunnel mentioned above.

*the lake has waves, of course, but compared to a gulf or ocean shoreline, it is “still.”

**I need sun/swim goggles.

Life Lists: Birds & Fears I have Met

Those are just some of my new life-list birding additions. You may not recognize the last bird on the list. He’s a subspecies of the Common Peckerwood. He’s loud, crude, and mean just like the Common but with a more lilting song.

“I don’t care how young they is, them sorry-ass young’uns never do nothin’. If they won’t get off their asses ‘n help, do dishes er sumpin, I ain’t never bringin’ ‘em agee-in.”

I am still in this valley of a thousand birds and bullfrogs and butterflies and the barest of breezes.

And no internet.

Now and then I eke out a message to my daughter or brother. Now and then some spam text trickles in.

It rained off and on yesterday, light rain mostly. But the length of the river/lake took rain and it is slowly rising, looking to be about 3-4” higher than when I arrived. I missed the flood from last week that muddied everything. I’m in one of the lower spots but there is no heavy, flooding rain predicted before I leave.

All this mud and shade and still air is fertile earth for the birds and their prey.

The ubiquitous and vocal song sparrows, while rather plain, are true to their name, filling the valley with varied and beautiful songs. They, like so many other songbirds, thrushes, blackbirds, and woodpeckers, are here for the bugs.

Song Sparrow

I’m not generally bothered by bugs. I am fond of spiders, love snakes, (I’m told there were four copperheads in the bathhouse rafters last week), and have a healthy respect for other wild animals.

So when the host mentioned potato bugs in the bathhouse, I thought of this critter — one of a few insects so named.

She meant tree roaches—apparently of a species with which I am unfamiliar but that has as much gall to crawl and fly directly at its victims as do the big, ugly bast***s on the Gulf Coast. They aren’t much smaller, either. (Shudder)

I despise roaches. I have an irrational fear of them, actually. I can hold beetles, snakes, spiders, and dead things of all kinds. Don’t make me go near a roach.

I only despise the Common Peckerwood. Nothing irrational there. They’re just annoying.

Still, I want to be as far from both as possible. Trapped in a shower stall in the campground, ladies shower with a tree roach ignoring my commands to “stay on your side, you ugly bast***!” was tremor inducing.

The grumpy Kentucky Mountain Peckerwood—actually kind of entertaining after the initial, oh my gosh, hush!

These are the things that make the days memorable as I make this journey. Some of the parks run together and I can’t recall which name went with which beautiful lake or river. Human and critter interaction is what makes these places real and not simply postcard memory.

I will never return to this valley after Tuesday. It has been a difficult stay and I have four nights yet. My anxiety has reached a high I never experienced in life except in the last several months of my marriage. I am NOT a mountain girl.

I have never suffered claustrophobia. I live in a tiny, fiberglass bubble on wheels and it doesn’t faze me.

These mountains, though—they are leafy, bird-filled prison walls. I have begun to have deep, irrational, absurd fears of a kind that have no basis in reality. Is it possible that the rain will come down so hard that all the roads out will wash out and I will be stuck here for weeks while they make repairs? There is that minute possibility. Is it possible my truck will breakdown and I will be stuck here for days awaiting help to get it repaired? There is that slightly less than minute possibility. Is it possible that by the time I escape this internet wasteland, all my loved ones will be gone from this world and I will be utterly alone forever? Highly unlikely. Is it possible I will suffer a sudden fatal something or another and die here inside Blanche only to be discovered late Tuesday when the host notices the flies and Sammy’s howls to go potty. Highly unlikely.

But these are the kinds of dark thoughts engendered in the throes of anxiety attacks and their related irrational fears.

These irrational fears make “potato bugs” and peckerwoods harder to tolerate. They make mountains taller, darker, closer, and more far-reaching than they are in reality.

I will eventually drive out of mountains and into gentler hills again. Wide open skies of sunrises and sunsets will embrace me in a soft and distant way. My brother laughs and says, “just in time for tornadoes.”

And maybe some Mississippi peckerwoods.

Ah well. Here’s video of a White-breasted Nuthatch. Enjoy.

Thoughts from a Dark Valley: Lenience as Trauma Response.

In these quiet, internet-free days, I continue to discover things about my past and myself that I have been avoiding.

I have determined that my desire to be free of jealousy or possessiveness, both on the giving and receiving ends, is as much a trauma response as hyper-independence is.

I have always wondered what makes some people deeply jealous and possessive. Some men will say they are protecting their partner from all the bad men out there. It seems they are protecting what they see as a possession that can be taken because they fear they aren’t good/strong enough to keep it. I don’t know how most women come by their jealousy, but I suspect it isn’t terribly different reasoning regarding the rationale vs. the truth.

To be fair, in the early years, I had my own jealous fits. In time, however, I became secure in the love of my spouse. I got angry at hypocrisy; when expectations, like no lunches in groups including the opposite sex or no drinks after work, only applied to one of us, but I never feared he would cheat on me.

Obviously, there are experiences that engender this insecurity other than just personal feelings of inferiority. Surely, insecurity is often a trauma response. I’ve examined again and again where my own insecurities come from and I don’t wish to delve into those events from youth and first marriage in this entry. Suffice it to say, I do understand insecurities and still have my own.

Nonetheless, when I look back over the decades and see just how much damage all this “protection” has done to my self esteem, my ability to function in social settings, and my trust in men, I wish I had been more aware of the real dangers of jealousy. More accurately, I wish I’d listened when the experts said, “jealousy is a toxic trait.”

That toxicity isn’t as simple as causing strife in a relationship or even the painful destruction of a relationship. It can be, when it does the kind of emotional damage it did to me over decades, real trauma in the form of complex-PTSD. *

I understand that trauma and c-PTSD more each day relative to hyper-independence and lenience. My desire to be free of any incumbrance of jealousy or possessiveness in a future relationship, to go so far as to tell a love interest , “hey, do whatever you want, just use protection,” and mean it, is also a trauma response. It is not out of some sort of virtue or feigned equanimity that I would tell a man, “I won’t get jealous or possessive. I won’t demand utter fidelity in a relationship.”** It is because deeply ingrained insecurity was used on me in so many painful and unnecessary ways (deliberately or otherwise) to drive me into a cave of isolation through self-hatred and fear.

I will NEVER allow anyone to do that to me again nor will I be the partner doing that to anyone else.

It’s a sort of partners’ version of the abused child who, upon growing up and having their own children, becomes excessively lenient with their own children.

Likely as not, it spells disaster for me and future relationships. It already interfered with one. Many American men expect to be able to do whatever they please, (“men are programmed to have as many partners as possible” goes the story) but their women damn well better be pure as the driven snow. If I tell a potential partner that he can do as he pleases, he will likely hear, as one man said to me, that I want to “sleep with five hundred men.”

I have no such desire. I would like the sometime partnership of one loving and decent man who doesn’t seek to own me.

Otherwise, I will never allow a man to dictate my behavior again, either through insecurity or insults like the above, ridiculous “500 men” comment.

This is me, for now. Perhaps in time, I will balance the trauma response with something more socially acceptable, but for now, the barest hint of jealousy, and it’s concomitant behaviors, dominance and withdrawal of respect, will send me running.

*This is not a self-diagnosis. Qualified mental health care personnel have made this determination and always should be consulted.

**To be clear, I respect and admire fidelity and I would expect it in myself if in a long-term relationship. I simply refuse to demand it or have it demanded of me.

Birds & Broken Hearts, Pelicans & Productivity

(Top left clockwise: Least Bittern, Barn Owl, Starling nestling, Second year, Brown pelican, Ruddy duck female)

“Here I am. Here I am. Here I am. Here!” a Scarlet tanager announces every few seconds, yet remains hidden in the trees despite his blood-red body and coal-black wings.

I’ve strained my eyes for ten minutes trying to locate him in the dense oak, maple, and tulip trees to only catch the briefest flash of red as he dives deeper into the treetops.

Water thrushes pipe along the river and robins sing from low bushes. Red-eyed and Black-whiskered vireos chip and chirp their distinctive calls, little gray-green bundles of feathers forever in motion in the bright green leaves.

There are catbirds here also, yet another bird to add to my life list. I feel some guilt for calling one out of dense brush with a recording on my phone. He approaches in the open, echoing my phone repeatedly, concerned, it seems, as if answering a mate. I end the charade and seconds later, he dips back into cover.

Birds, not boys, were my first love. I wrote silly little poems about them as soon as I could string words together but before I knew or had seen their variety.

When I left Surfside Beach, I left my “puppy birds,” my beloved Brown pelicans. Probably the greatest joy of my life other than my child and grandchildren, was rescuing pelicans. I went to lengths most would not, stripping off shoes and socks and submerging myself into murky ponds or the wind-blown “old Brazos river.”

My first solo rescue. She was very hungry & very flea & mite infested. And I had no crate. She sat quietly while I drove her 20 miles. The fleas & mites were not so obliging.

Of all the things I left behind—a man, a job, beautiful sunrises, and amazing storms—the pelicans were my greatest loss. Some days I’m convinced it wasn’t the man that broke my heart, but these flying dinosaurs with their sweet demeanors and often desperate need for help. The man didn’t need me; the birds did.

Maybe that’s what it comes down to—my being needed.

I tried telling a friend, as I have tried telling many people in my life, I must have purpose and without it, I am flotsam. He said, “Purpose isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.” (Paraphrasing because — crummy memory)

My ex would say my purpose was to take care of him and his house.

My family would say they need me so that’s purpose enough.

My writer friends say my purpose is to put my art out into the void.

They’re all wrong and all speaking from places of value in this world. They have people and things for whom and which to care. My friend has family and a job that expect his care and effort. My ex has a job to which he endlessly tends. My daughter has her job and kids that need her. My writer friends have established writing careers and other jobs.

When I worked full time, I felt whole. I felt needed. I was rewarded for my efforts.

This society rewards “work” but it doesn’t reward saving birds. Two Surfsiders were kind enough to help me with a little money when I was spending hundreds on gas every quarter to save birds.

Society rewards only what it sees as “product,” some outward and obvious expression of usefulness. A bird, healed from a shark bite or parasitic infestation and released back into the wild is, “nice,” even admirable, but not a product. It doesn’t warrant pay and barely warrants praise.

Yet, all these songbirds I have been listening to and recording for the past two weeks as they fly through or settle in the mountains, are crucial to the workings of this planet. Diversity in animals is as important as diversity in humans. We let these things fall apart because of selfishness, greed, “capitalism,” and the mistaken belief that the more money we make, the more value we have. Pretty, wild things have no transferable value.

In my heart, I know that what I did for the birds of Surfside was of value. What I did deserved more than pats on the back and a few dollars in Venmo.

But my rational mind knows that the rest of the world will never understand that until it’s too late, if it isn’t already too late.

My rational mind still says, in order to be of value to this world, I must find my way to a “good paying job” that everyone else deems acceptable and productive. My rational mind knows that I can’t bear to live out my life not being “acceptable and productive,” because society has taught me without that, I am worthless.

But my heart is so tired.

In this valley off the grid with just the birds to entertain me, it’s easy to let my rational mind slip forever into nothing but bird song and isolation. It’s easy to be the catbird, realizing another bird isn’t there and in need, and dive into the safety of the brush and never come out again.

Ether Or: Dark to Light Ruminating

Once more in electronic darkness and I am thinking of capricious time. How quickly the last six months have passed and how little I have accomplished. How slowly these seven days to come will pass as I contend with a silent ether and my loud and persistent demons.

The drive into this valley (oh, had I known, I would never have come here) was frustrating and hard on Blanche, Betty, me, and Sam. Signal loss resulting in wrong turns. Cars behind me too impatient to allow me to get a map and sort out my route. Dead ends with difficult turn-arounds and deep mud. (Yay for 4-wheel drive!) I will escape into town mid-week to get my bearings, but I dread it. The road is treacherous even with a small truck.

And now I know why the spaces were readily available on such short notice. There is only one other trailer here plus the host. My assigned site was flooded, so the host said I could have one of several others.

I’m also out of porter. Probably, given my mood, that’s a good thing.

On my drive here, through Appalachian towns and highway construction, I was optimistic. The hills seemed manageable, then I turned toward this place about twenty miles out and my heart sank. Yes, another deep river valley, threatening rock falls on either side of the road, and shadows, shadows, shadows.

The gate attendant, a young mother, and her waif-like daughters are light — bright in their shining honey manes. The littles are energy and cheer as they pedal their bikes in circles and esses.

I think again of time.

Of a tiny, thin, tow-headed, green-eyed girl, all legs and arms and sunshine, grown now to honey-haired beauty; those eyes like a wild cat’s, large, intense, and mesmerizing. She is a mother herself now, and it is difficult at times for me not to cling to the little girl I remember. I still have dreams of her — small, vulnerable, and sometimes challenging, but always full of love. She is still bright, as if she carries her own light source in her chest. I’ve known few people like her in this world: my mother, my sister-in-law, a friend I lost in the divorce.

Sunshine.

And I think of how she and these little ones on their bikes, thus far, have the luxury of time while other children have not.

How time and cruelty take parents, lovers, friends, and children from us.

I am certain, most days, that I have time. That I will find my way before the geographical journey is done and “stay put” somewhere that makes me feel I am at home. That I will find my way on the emotional journey and stay put in a life that makes me feel whole again.

Other days, I wonder if I will simply wander until I can’t anymore.

Damn these mountains and the pits of despair they inflict on me.

Damn my memory.

Damn time.

Intermission

Last night, as I lay in bed, having driven a single-car road into these shadows, I had an intense, brief pain in my head. I’ve had them for years and am told they are akin to migraine or cluster headache but likely brought on by stress.

For a moment I considered it could be something more ominous and the sudden image of a quick and unexpected death here actually frightened me.

I discounted sheer self-preservation. I thought of people I love and miss so much when I am disconnected. I thought of how much those connections mean to me, even those that are merely electronic. What struck me, selfishly enough, was not how they will feel if I pass now (I can always minimize that in my depression), but how I will miss out on time with them. How I will miss out on a chance to get where I truly want to be.

It’s easy for me to think I am too old to ever be anywhere or anything, to feel productive and safe in a country of such division, to ever have a loving relationship again, etc.

I’ve been conditioned for forty years and two husbands to believe I am unlovable. One told me no one would ever love me like he did. (Well, thank the Universe for that!) The other, through implication not words, told me no one would ever really love me at all. I was just an object to “all men except him.” The Wrong Man, though caring and gentle and a good listener, rarely spoke of the non-corporeal things about me that he liked, and certainly never claimed love for me.

Going down that line of reasoning is what gets me into the wrong headspace. It makes it too easy to believe there are no men out there that would find me a good match. I’ve developed an almost pathological hatred for the institution of marriage (for me) and the smallest whiff of possessiveness or jealousy. That doesn’t fit well with my demographic (Xoomer/Boomer). I am quickly losing my appeal to the Xillenials and that’s probably for the best. 😄

So when night fell and I was alone and had gotten through my nightly cry, and had the realization that my life was, in fact, finite without my intervention, I “came to” for a moment.

In an odd way, it was a relief to be scared of my own mortality again. As anxious as those moments were, they were useful. I still feel like little more than an object. I still have little hope for anything resembling partnership. I’m still dismayed by American exceptionalism. However, I do want to see my loved ones again. I do want to try to make something of these last, potential years.

I don’t know what the next seven days will bring. Weather permitting, I’ll escape into a satellite-lit land for a small period of time to make further reservations and check on the signal at the upcoming reservations. To reach out and let my loved ones know I’m safe.

I may have to alter my path. I have let import things slide as I puttered through Appalachia, certain life was of little value.

It’s time to come out of the shadows.

Beauty in the shadow & light: Bigleaf Magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla)

Craving: Reassembling in Fog

Bear with me. It has been a rough couple of weeks but there is light at the end of this blogging tunnel.

April 2022. South Carolina.

The sky poured onto the forest last night.

Now, in the midday slivers of sun, the duff warms and its sweet musk rises to mingle with the tang of pine & hickory perfume.

The scents smother my thoughts. Dog bounces and tugs happily at my side and I wonder how can his nose, so much more sensitive than mine, not be overwhelmed by this fog of tree.

My head is full—of memory, rage, exhaustion, anxiety, of a lingering love I just can’t kill—yet all this swims in the fog of tree and I can only walk and react to Dog’s alerts, lunges, and pauses.

The fog never lifts as the day wears on. As evening comes, dampness coating Blanche’s innards and exterior, I stare at my phone to try to find words, to try to string ideas and emotions together to form not just coherent work, but a plan.

Nothing coalesces.

For some reason, (the smells and tall trees, perhaps) an image from a nightmare I had years ago comes to mind as fitting of my thoughts: I was a solitary traveler walking an abandoned railroad and came upon a massive pile of rotting, human body parts leftover from some apocalyptic event.

(Yes, I have horrendous nightmares sometimes)

To be fair, it is apt; my plan for the future, my concept of where my work is going, my thoughts on how to recover from my past and move on, my ability to partner ever again, all look like random, damaged, mismatched, and hideous pieces of dead beings.

I struggle to assemble something human from the pieces, something recognizable as complete and functional.

The pieces simply don’t fit.

Sitting at my tiny dinette, I turn on my Bluetooth speaker and look through my music library on my phone. Times like this, I seek something that hits the core of my current mood and existence. I launch K. D. Lang’s “Constant Craving,” her silken voice flowing around me like dozens of warm rivulets.

When I heard the song decades ago, I didn’t examine the lyrics but assumed it was a love song. Now, of course, I know better and appreciate it even more than I did in its early days.

Several people (all women) have called me brave of late. Some, I feel sure, have sat back and thought me quite the opposite as they watch and wait (seemingly indefinitely) for me to succeed or fail.

I feel neither brave nor afraid. I feel disconnected; as far from my future and any certainty as that character in my nightmare who stumbled upon the mountain of human offal and stood in disbelief.

In my dream, I merely walked on, trying to shake off the horror of what I’d witnessed.

For now, I can only sit still and examine these pieces again and again. Hope that something knits them together.

I’ve found no answers in this particular rumination.

I wrote. That’s all I can do sometimes. One word followed by another, like footsteps on a journey.

I suppose, in that, I’ve assembled at least some small figure from the pile of parts.

It’s something.