Tag Archives: isolation

Boondocking in Texas: The Davis Mountains & Accepting Fate

Most trees in the Davis Mountains are stunted —low to the ground as if cowering from the sunlight. Mesquite, evergreen sumac, cholla, and pinyon juniper — all scattered yet multitudinous. I can imagine their careful root systems through the hard sandy soil, inching through time until they run into their neighbors’ roots, whereupon these thirsty tentacles shrink back in deference but—only so far.

There are exceptions, oak, madrone, ponderosa pine have all found footholds in this ancient, weather beaten, volcanic landscape.

Most of these plants keep some kind of winter foliage as if survival here means never giving the parched land (approx. 16.5” precipitation annually) a chance to get the upper hand.

It’s here I have found myself in utter darkness on a January night, curled up inside Blanche, truly “boondocking” for the first time. I have heard one vehicle pass us since we parked six hours prior. It’s 11 pm and in the dark with my propane heater cycling, Sammy snoring, no Internet, not even a signal to inform loved ones that I am safe and comfortable, I have finally reached emotional equilibrium.

My phone informs me it is “wind down” time and for a split second, I think that means the wind is down so I can relax. Of course, that’s a long “i” and it is telling me I need to prepare to sleep if I want to awaken at 6:00 bright and alert.

The wind is blessedly calm here in this canyon. Because it is winter, there’s simply no sound at all. No crickets or katydids. No amorous coyotes. We passed javelina and deer on the way into the canyon but they have surely bedded down against the cold night as well. I have no idea how cold this night will be. I don’t retain information like that anymore. I looked at numerous forecasts for several towns. It’s either in the 30s or freezing. Boondocking below freezing isn’t ideal. I need to run the heater even if I don’t want to use too much propane. I know my other tank is full but I also know if I have to get to it, I will be fighting with it in the cold in complete darkness. There are no street lights here and there is no moon. The stars are brilliant but the cold keeps me at bay.

This was my plan: boondocking, that is. The isolation of the spot? Not so much. I couldn’t tell much on the app about the location. I got a late start so going farther to see if a better rest stop lay ahead is unrealistic. We arrived here moments before the southwestern sky turned deep orange and crimson and I settled for Blanche on a nose-down slope and no other humans for miles.

I didn’t cry.

It was a close call though. When I realized the cell signal I had just moments before I rolled around the bend and downhill was now nonexistent, my gut began to lurch. I worried I was going to revisit the unpleasant chicken sandwich I had half consumed back in Van Horn.

We are naturally and necessarily afraid of the dark. It’s not a silly childhood fear although many a modern-day, light-at-your-fingertips parent chastises their child as such. Fear of the dark is hard-wired in us. We have to learn to not be afraid of it through parental reassurance and other social conditioning. A healthy respect for the danger of it remains within as we walk dark streets and dark woods and venture into dark houses and basements. It is utterly rational to be afraid or anxious of these unlit places.

So when I accepted our fate at this “Depression era rest area” in blooming nowhere, it was still light out and I was fine. Not happy. Not comfortable. Not scared.

When night fell early as it does in winter, and I had only my most basic resources (but thank the universe for this new phone with its excellent battery) THAT is when I became unsettled. That is when my reptilian brain reminded me that humans get eaten by bears and gored by angry javelina moms and what if someone said this was a safe overnight parking place on the app just so unsuspecting nitwits like me would park and be vulnerable without her cell reception?

The perfectly rational fear of the dark became irrational.

I crawled under the covers with dog, got the urge to snack to ease my discomfort, and began to think of other options. I could pack Sammy and me back in the truck, throw the chocks back in Blanche and lift the tongue jack and head back out. Go back toward I-10 and hope I found something before dawn. Or head on to Fort Davis and look for a better spot there or even see if they had available spots at the pricey RV place in town.

Or just stay. My maps didn’t work without a signal so I couldn’t be sure what I was heading into either way nor how long it would take.

I stayed.

I sat in the dark, missing humans, well, a human. I wanted to text anyone really, or call some presence out there in the ether for reassurance that if worst came to worst, they’d come get me and take care of me. But I hadn’t even been specific with my brother about where I was going to stay the night so all he knew was that I was heading for the Fort Davis, TX or Marfa, TX.

Then the oddest thought struck me and it will sound negative or even cruel but isn’t meant to be: My biggest fear in this moment is, have I put myself in danger?

Rather than answer that directly, I answered with a hypothetical. So what if this is my last night on this earth?

So what?

Disregarding for a moment that the loss would hurt others, it ultimately means nothing to me. I will simply be gone. I have done, in the last few months, things I never expected to do when I was still married: Published poetry online & in print, had a lover, fallen in love, lived alone in a house, lived alone in a camper, traveled across Texas alone pulling said camper, made my own repairs to said camper, and finally, boondocked in the middle of an ancient cluster of hills and mountains near the U.S.-Mexico border with just the dog, a propane heater, and some nice memories.

There was a time when I would tell you that though I didn’t fear my death, I did care that I hadn’t done the things I wanted to do in my life and I regretted that. I didn’t care about my life, nonetheless. Recently, that’s been turning around and I care about my life in that I want to make the most of these last years, however many there are of them. I would tell you now that I don’t fear my death AND I don’t feel I must accomplish anything in particular before I die. Would I like to do so? Sure. I simply no longer have that fear of a wasted life. I don’t expect to ever love again. I don’t expect to ever be particularly useful to society or produce anything of value. I am useful to my family and that’s enough.

In the morning I will drive away from this secluded little spot, assuming the chaotic universe allows. I had considered doubling back to I-10; go the safe route and make my journey back to Dallas and my grandbabies less exciting but safer.

I think, if my phone tells me I have the fuel, I will go to Fort Davis instead. Take the long way home as I had intended when I packed my truck last night when I had street lights and electricity that gave me courage. When cottonwood and elm were bright and airy and reaching tall into the winter sky because they had the Rio Grande seep feeding their roots.

Tomorrow I’ll put faith in the crouching trees and dark, narrow rivers of blacktop, set my phone to “shuffle” and sing my way east.

https://vm.tiktok.com/TTPdMSAhvn/

Chaos & Growth: An Auspicious Anniversary

In short order it will be the anniversary of “leaving.” I left my former home (and by extension, my second husband) in mid-March of 2020.

What should have been a rush out into a new life with new possibilities, was, instead, a rush from one form of isolation and loneliness into another.

Don’t worry, this isn’t a whining post.

It was a bit of a shock, I’ll admit. Leaving a person who wanted me to be as housebound and uncommunicative and as much of an introvert as he, only to have a virus force me into being very selective socially — introverted and uncommunicative. Ha!

It was still an improvement, and in some ways, that continued isolation was a positive thing. In many ways it was awful, but I want to steer away from that. Many of us have experienced the awful of 2020 and early 2021.

The good stuff:

I spent a lot of time on the phone with my brother who is also, necessarily and unfortunately, isolated and grieving. Our different griefs, shared in long conversations, allowed me to see my circumstances through his lens and not just through my self-involved pain. This has been an empathy-building experience, not just with him but with others, as well. I’ve made plenty of mistakes in that regard, but learning to balance my needs with that of others is a process, not so much a goal.

Another advantage of the solitude: I didn’t immediately go nuts dating. (not that I didn’t immediately go nuts looking.)

Here’s my history: I went straight from High School to my first marriage within a year and dated only my first husband in that time. We had two dates before he proposed. Yes, I was young and stupid. Why do you ask? 🙄

After our divorce, I immediately fell in love with my second husband who I had known at work for well over a year.

Fast Forward to 2020: the year of living slightly less stupidly, if only because that’s what universal chaos made me do. I couldn’t date after this divorce—because COVID! I have a little job and I meet a lot of lovely people, but they are brief and transient exchanges about the work, the village, beach life, etc.

I did not meet anyone with which to fall in love. I did not date and decide to give away my autonomy again out of loneliness. I worked, I wrote, I flirted, and I felt the sting of rejection here and there. Though it did require meeting/dating some in recent weeks, I learned rationally and viscerally, I really don’t NEED men. I do enjoy a man’s company and perspective (among other things), but needing anyone right now is a disquieting idea for me, especially needing a dedicated companion. This is my take on companionship and not a reflection on how I think others should behave. See here for key points.

All of this points to a single, fundamentally positive notion about 2020 and early 2021 from my selfish view. While it had its hellish days, days I wanted to go to sleep and not wake up, I grew.

I had to go through a bit of the “boy crazies,” because I never had that chance as a young adult. I had to experience being completely without another human being in my home for months on end, because I have never had to do that. I had to relearn to be open and friendly like I was thirty years ago, because it is a normal and healthy part of life that I require. I had to relearn how to interact with others without the fog of self-hatred. (Still working on that one)

I have to heal these things, and more, for me to move on and start the real work of determining where I want to be this coming year and the years after that, if Universal Chaos allows.

I have ideas but lack a plan. I’m winging it and winging it is scary. But, when I left that house (and by extension, the order and planning the man within it brought to everything), I knew I was walking out into something unpredictable at best.

And that was the beauty shifting subtly under the pain of leaving and isolation: escaping suffocating order and expectations to greet chaos and growth with joy.

Autonomy and Isolation: Separating during COVID-19

I’m at the bottom of a well so deep that I can’t see the opening at the top. No light betrays day or night above. No sound leaks down the narrow shaft to relieve my solitude. I am utterly alone but for the soft breathing in the dark of a furry companion. A voice drifts down like a leaf falling slowly until it lands on my ears, “You okay down there?”

I want to scream, “No! Please throw down a rope. A chain. Anything. Save me. It’s cold. It’s terrifying. I’m so tired of this.”

But I was raised to not lean on others. My parents were always busy with my siblings. I had to learn to entertain myself.

I call back. “I’m fine. Thank you.”

Another verbal leaf falls. “Okay. Well, we’ve all been in wells before. Let us know if you need…” The voice trails off.

In the darkness I nod at no one and settle back into my solitude. The breath of my animal companion quickens as he finds his way next to me and reminds me that he is there and that has two implications: he will be beside me in my solitude and he will die beside me if I die.

I awaken in a brightly lit older beach house in a brightly lit beach village in Southeast Texas. My dog is breathing heavily from steroids he is taking to treat an ear infection. He hogs the bed as usual.

“I’m fine. Thank you.” I say with some sarcasm and pat his head. I examine the dream images with respect to my personal circumstances.

When I was in my early twenties, I was married to a violent alcoholic with Bipolar I (one) disorder. I went to work when our daughter was three and very gradually acquired skills plus a tiny savings he didn’t know about. (Just enough to pay for a lawyer) Meanwhile, my daughter and I endured his manic outbursts, his rage, and his pitiful sobbing under self-medication. My family helped where they could, when it wasn’t too painful to watch, but I was of a mindset that I had to handle things by myself. I made the lion’s share of income in my little family, a fact that angered my self-pitying husband even more so. When my daughter and I finally escaped him, I had a good job and had returned to college. I was, in a word, independent.

I began dating a coworker. I was insistent, though he found it more amusing than admirable I’m sure, that I pay for my own meals when we went out. Throughout our “courtship,” I continued this. I had been in a relationship of control. I was not going to let go of my newfound independence. I wasn’t going to give a man an excuse to say, “I gave you something. You give me something in return.”

That autonomy bled away over twenty-nine years during this second relationship for various reasons. Now I sit in a little home I rent for myself, the dog, and my possessions. Now I have recovered some part, though not all, of that autonomy.

Now there is COVID-19.

I moved into this house on March 20th 2020, just as the virus and social distancing were ramping up in this part of the country. Just as neighbors and friends were beginning to take it seriously. Parting hugs as I gave them news of my impending move at the beginning of the week suddenly seemed foolhardy at best, deadly at worst (thankfully, we all remain well).

My birthday came and went a few days ago, with no great fanfare. That’s all well and good. The alternative to being older is, after all, death. The month has been stressful, exhausting, and painfully quiet at times. Now and then, a call or text comes through the ether, “Are you doing okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“I’m okay. Not sleeping well.”

Chit chat back and forth about the dog, the house, the weather, the virus.

Sometimes ranting about this or that. Politics. Religion. The romantic fallacies of “soul mate” and “forever.”

Sometimes, after I hang up the phone or log out of social media, there is sobbing and wailing, and internal pleas of “Throw down a rope! A chain! Anything!” But tears are usually kept to myself because I had planned to do this on my own power as much was possible.

I simply hadn’t planned to do it—PHYSICALLY ALONE! With no visits from my daughter. No hugs. No coffee with friends. No trips to town to wander in the mall or walks on a crowded beach to feel connected with other people.

My estranged husband is fond of saying, “That which does not kill us only makes us stronger.” I hate that expression because there have been times that emotional strain has nearly killed me, either through illness or depression. It wasn’t worth the strength I gained.

I feel better equipped, oddly enough, to survive this pandemic despite having no one within six feet of me. I have more hope than I have had for many years. I have, however distant, a great deal of support from loved ones. I have the peace and ease of this little house by the sea. And I am fully aware that I am far more fortunate than so many. I am not, after all, on the COVID-19 front lines. I am merely, like so many, in COVID-19 limbo. I am simply alone. Well, with the dog.

Fearful as I am of the virus changing our way of life permanently. Fearful as I am that the loneliness of the coming months will be too much to bear. Fearful as I am, not of losing my own life, but of losing loved ones, I am grateful that I am here and getting this chance to be the Autonomous Me.

I have watched others live in their autonomy for a while now. I’m fifty-six. It’s late. But I’m here. Ready to turn down someone offering to pay for my lunch again. Ready to put aside a little money if I need to escape something, anything. I have a considerable wait ahead of me for those events and that is the hard part.

I’ll have to throw my own rope down for now.