Tag Archives: Texas

Night Shift: the anxiety of staying put.

Last night, the world was silent, still, and dark in the state park I camped in with Sammy, Blanche, and Betty.* So dark I couldn’t see the RV parked next to me just fifty feet away.

If I walked to the edge of the lake, lights from small-town enclaves pierced the darkness at the lake’s perimeter and stars punched holes in the sky, but to see the ground in front of me required a bright flashlight beam. Thus far, parks and roadside campgrounds have been blessedly light-free.

Trees in Lake Whitney

Tonight, I am “camped” outside a business in a suburb of Dallas. (Permission of the proprietors) Brilliant security lights make reading possible through Blanche’s largest window and freeway traffic noise is as constant and thunderous as a storm day on the Surfside revetment. But I have power, a full water tank, and safety, and I am only a thirty-minute drive from my grandchildren.

I appreciate this brief way station and the reduction in costs it allows. Dallas isn’t exactly a haven for campers. Campgrounds I might have chosen were either priced higher than I prefer to pay currently or had, shall we say, issues. Add to that the significant distance from my family and the idea of setting up in those places was unappealing at best. Nor would Blanche fit comfortably, even for a short time, in East Dallas neighborhood streets.

So here we are, listening to the traffic storm and looking at the patterns in the ceiling carpet.

Ok, so there’s no pattern. It’s just beige carpet. There’s not much to look at, it turns out. Sleep would probably come if I were actually sleepy.

Sleep might come if I could shut my mind off and stop worrying:

  • About all the things I cannot do and have not done. 
  • About all the people I have disappointed or have disappointed me.
  • About time and the cruel forward motion of it. 
  • About his moss agate eyes.
  • About how none of this really matters. Not him. Not time. Not my failures or that of others. Not traffic noises in a lot behind a business. Not stars nor darkness nor silence. 

None of it matters. When I am dust, I will simply be dust. 

Cheerful meandering, eh?

I awaken to brilliant North Texas sunlight and blue skies, a brisk breeze, and the kind of space within which I can take care of life’s tasks that get set aside on the road: my old phone needs attention, Blanche had an injured turn indicator, I need items from shops not available in tiny rural towns that have only convenience stores and local diners.

My mood shifts slightly if only because to survive, to keep going yet another day, I have these things to do: little errands that hopefully won’t smack my back account too hard.

It isn’t being alone that strains me or even lost relationships or love. Those are the rocks and potholes on the road. It is the inevitability of failure drummed into me since I was a child: “Come on, baby. You’re smarter than that.” “You’re intelligent. You just have no common sense.” “Darling, you forgot x again.” “You’re so intelligent. Why aren’t you more motivated?” That last while putting constraints on how I could use my education.

It isn’t the road I’m on that beats me down. It’s the road that came before.

I’m exhausted from the voices of my past. The voices of my future don’t stand a chance.

Unlike all the people around me lecturing me on how to move forward and how to find strength, I can’t quiet those voices. I try every day with new efforts and goals, but every night the darkness (no matter how well lit by security lights or stars) reminds me I am still me and I have only come so far and have so far to go with yet so little time left ahead.

I want to end this entry on some pithy, upbeat note. Some motivational preciousness that will redeem my mood for those of you who will tell me to put on a smile or “let go and let God.” Compartments, again.

I am, perhaps, a writer for the very reason that I can’t do those things. I can’t pretend I have no discernible income. I can’t pretend my heart isn’t scarred. I can’t pretend I believe I will survive despite staring down the barrel of 60 and having nothing to show for it save a higher education and a dog companion.

So I wrote this and y’all just have to take the agonizing posts with the pithy and hopeful.

*I’ve finally named my bicycle: JT (based on the brand and model). Now all pets and vehicles are officially named and as such are dependents that require I keep going.

Wandering: into the earth and out again.

I am wandering with slight aim. I have a goal of Dallas but beyond that, I am uncertain. To that end, after Fort Davis, I simply headed east on I-10 and waited for the mood to strike.

Years before, my then-husband had mollified me with an overnight stay in Sonora, TX where we ventured up a small hiking trail — supposedly the hideout of the Sam & Tom Ketchum gang at some point. While I had little interest in revisiting the hike or the memory it stirred, I thought the town a fair enough place to pull up for the night and contacted the Caverns of Sonora. “First come, first serve,” said the chipper young man on the phone (who would later be our competent and pleasant tour guide).

The Caverns sit atop the fringe of the rolling, rocky Hill Country terrain about eight miles out from Sonora and are well-maintained with friendly atmosphere and personnel. This “attraction” is both a lovely peek into the underground world of the Texas Hill Country and a beautiful camping spot.

The Caverns of Sonora has facilities for campers of all sorts: from tent campers to small travel trailers like mine to fifth wheels and Class A buses. If you can drive it or haul it in, it seems you can set it up at the Caverns and the price is reasonable for water, electricity, showers, and restrooms if you need them. A well-stocked gift shop is on the premises with clothing, jewelry, and geological trinkets of all sorts. I felt utterly at home.

The view from Blanche at The Caverns at Sonora

What I found there on the hilltop was a beautiful, wide expanse at the mercy of winter winds. The blanket of night was almost as dark as the mountains but with a near-180° view of the stars. The Milky Way shimmered and a new friend reminded me of constellations I thought I had long since forgotten. I had the company of small oaks and juniper and we walked on soft grasses that kept Sammy free of foxtails and goat’s head burrs. And of course, I enjoyed the warm, humid depths of the caverns that surprised and impressed with their beauty and variety.

What I also found there, beyond the beauty of the caverns and the surrounding countryside, was a friend, several days of peace, “down time” to drink beer and chatter incessantly, and solid sleep after the dark restless night in the mountains.

It was difficult to leave, especially with only a vague idea of where I was going next and for how long. I could imagine myself there for days, but I could feel myself sliding back into too much comfort again. Back into too much reliance on the kindness of others to make me feel safe emotionally such that I would not move forward. How easy it is for me to make that mistake!

On day three, the wind let up and in 19°F weather, I packed up Blanche, Betty, and Sam, bundled myself in my coat, and said one last, difficult goodbye.

It was both a relief and sadness to pull away from the Caverns. Like most places I visit, I plan to wander back if my time on earth allows. For now, the niggling discomfort of the road is also odd reassurance I am on the right path.

Heading Northeast

Leaving Davis Mountains: Arriving at a new piece of self.

I chose to drive south from my sad little boondocking grounds and make the U to Fort Davis. South of I-10 and the McDonald observatory. The pretty little Texas town has a sweet historical Main Street with easy parking for my truck and trailer — at least in winter. Spring or summer tourism may be another matter as visitors seek the spring bird migration or the observatory.

The drive from my hideaway in the mountains to Fort Davis was pleasant: a quick dip downhill to run the foothills of the old volcanic formations and look out over the high desert that stretches toward the US-Mexico border followed by a deep U-turn northward back into the mountains and a steady 15-mile climb to Fort Davis.

Leaving the little burg was something else. I was not prepared for the emotions I experienced. Surely there are more stunning sights in this country and in the world, but for the little girl in me that had been cooped up in some version of suburbia for at least the last 20 years, rounding each bend was joyous. I called my daughter to check in at one point and as I came around a turn to be met with great, dark pillars of volcanic rock marching toward the road like an army crammed together at the fortress gates, I lost my words and began to cry.

Davis Mountains columns. A less spectacular view where I wouldn’t get run over.

My daughter said I sounded like her grandmother. That added to my joy. I will never be my mom but if I can regain some part of myself that is in any way reflective of her grace, I have made progress in my life.

I will never grasp how someone can spend their life hardly leaving their own town or county. I will never understand the reluctance to stop and see roadside beauty and instead simply race by it at 80 mph. One doesn’t have to take the extreme journey of buying a camper or van, driving across the country, and boondocking. But given an opportunity to witness beauty and variety first hand, why not take it? More so, why be afraid of what you may glean from it?

There is so much to be seen in this world that lies beyond our driver’s side window. So much that lies beyond our easy chair. If our only way to get there is television, that’s something. I would never judge a hardworking life that makes one feel they must stay in place because of economics. But, if one is driving from point A to point B, consider not worrying so much about the destination and focus more on the country rolling under your tires and the people that populate it.

I’m thankful I opted for the mild anxiety of driving out of my way and into unknown territory when I pulled away from that little splotch of gravel on the side of the mountain road. I will never forget the elation and tears from seeing those stunning columns.

I hope to see them again in spring and perhaps the other people drawn to them. Winter travel is solitary and starkly beautiful and I am gaining much emotional and spiritual ground with each mile. Still, I look forward to more social milieus.

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/

The Weight of Fog: Processing and revisiting the last two years.

I’ve always loved Texas winters. Our glimmering summers can be brutal and suffocating in their airlessness. Winter, at least when I was young, was tolerable. I could move, breathe, and be active.

Here on the immediate coast, winters are particularly damp and gray and in the past week, each day has been punctuated with fog horns much of the day as boats move up and down the Intracoastal Waterway.

Aging has a way of changing your views of these things. I don’t mean the obvious stuff like how it’s damp cold and it gets into your bones and it’s harder to warm up. I don’t mean things like the fear of slipping on algae-coated stairs or driving in darkness after 6 pm. I’m not talking about the pure physicality of the seasons anymore.

I’m talking about, yes, again, grief.

Once again, it is the anniversary month of the loss of Big Dog (January 13th, 2019), my father (January 12th), and my mother (January 29th). I survived the holidays and my isolation by working and keeping in touch with my family and friends. Early January was filled with distractions on the political front and I have had concerns with some personal relationship stuff.

But here I am, revisiting my older blog entries and memories and how last year at this time not only was I reliving the loss of my sweet, furry boy and my parents, I was also in the throes of a separation that only I and my husband of the time knew about. The looming death of that relationship seemed it might be avoidable. It wasn’t.

I’m feeling sick currently and can’t know (yet) if I am just suffering a cold, allergies (Cedar Fever season is starting), or the dreaded COVID-19. Results of a test taken Sunday should come back soon. Whatever the cause of this malaise, I am leaf-drifting back into my grief. Thinking of Big Dog. Thinking of Dad. Of Momma. Of Elise. Of Twenty-nine years. In the midst of the sadness, the days have, one after another, been foggy and drizzly. My floors are constantly damp. My dryer has died, so clothes hung to dry refuse to do so. These little annoying things make me angry at winter. Angry at loss. Angry at grief.

Why can’t it be over with already? Why can’t I just be done with it?

I remind myself this is a process. I stumble through little relationships with friends and potential suitors and find I am not able to be present for those people the way I should because this recovery process is so all-consuming. I am not unhappy most of the time. I am not happy most of the time. I am simply here and functional (sort of) and waiting to get back to being a full human being.

No matter how hard I try to peer through this dense sky around me to see what might be ahead, I remain clouded with doubt and distrust. I know, in my heart, not “all men are X.” I also know that I am just not capable of judging them with any kind of clarity or fairness, right now.

No matter how much I know I must move forward in all areas of my life (work, art, caring for my dog), I am often hamstrung by anxiety.

No matter the weather, I am fogged in.

This winter has been unpleasant for me not because it is cold, gray, foggy, and unforgiving, but because even on the blue-sky, sunlit days, I recall the past two winters of pain. Summer will bring with it still other memories (good and bad) of my first year alone and the turmoil of that season.

This is what age does to us. It loads us down with memories throughout the years such that beautiful days and ugly days alike become representative of pain and joy alike. Winter is no longer just chill and rain. Summer is no longer just heat and children playing in the surf.

Seasons can become weights. Perhaps they can become buoyant breezes again, eventually.

Moon Jelly Tide

A few days ago, we walked the beach on a cool, cloudy day. Moon jellies lay splattered about every fifty yards: flat, clear, mostly-harmless blobs in the sand.

Spring is approaching and the tides are bringing in spring things. Warm days lie ahead with increasing numbers of visitors appearing on the beach on weekends while weekdays remain quiet. Birds of prey are scooping up fish and field critters as the chills of winter fade and breeding season ramps up. Brown Pelicans are gathering again, drifting in from Central and South America to form ever-larger squadrons along our spit of land called Follet’s Island.

The wind is in its March wilding, blowing the house into shivers and rumbles. Day to day, the Texas coast simply can’t decide what season to express: Forties one day, eighties the next, sixties yet another.

Life feels upended.

Life is revealing its rough edges as harsh and unpredictable days often keep me from wandering the island while howling, ghostly nights keep me awake with the racing thoughts of my history, my future, and this precarious, ever-present grief.

Springtime. Beach houses. Dogs. New cars. Jewelry. None of these things patches a hole in a grieving heart or solves a personal problem. One simply feels a moment of appreciation of a new bauble, or a few months of joy in the glow of new adventures. In time, the newness becomes the reality of life the way it always was and one returns to routine. The glow gives way to the same internal and external battles.

Certainly, the beauty of the beach and its inextricable partner, the sea, is as soothing as anything can be. Stand at the shore on any given day—be it a calm day with a shore break so gentle that the sand seems to whisper in surprise when a wave falls softly on it, or a raucous, red-flag washing-machine before a squall hits—and one can find awe-inspiring peace.

Can. In theory.

Some days, clearing the mind and reaching over the water for that peace is like reaching across the sky to grasp the moon. Some days, life is upended and you are upended with it and all you can do is teeter at the water’s edge and listen to the whispers or the raucousness and hope to be set upright again.

On those days, I often don’t listen to the sea at all. I put in earbuds and listen instead to music made by landlocked humans. My mind’s eye sees things that aren’t in those restless waters: memories, dreams, past and current hurts. Some would say that is one of the greater of my many flaws. I am not letting the sea heal me like I should but am running from that healing much as I have run from my Faith in the last several years. In the end, I am little more than the jellyfish, lying on the beach, deflated and dying, having traded the healing music of the sea for the music of the unforgiving land.

But, that might just be okay, for now. Processing only what I can process on this Moon Jelly tide might be all that should be required of me right now.

When my husband and I bought our first home, it was with the conviction that it was our last home. “This is where I will grow old with him and die,” I told myself.

When the economic growth of the area accelerated and he decided he wanted to sell and move, I was devastated. After a childhood of upheaval, I sought stability and needed to believe my home could remain an island of such in the madness growing around me. In time, I realized it could not and accepted the move.

Our new home, twenty miles south and three hundred square feet smaller, was just a house:  nice enough, comfortable, but not that space that said, “Forever.” It was, however, an island. It sat on one of the highest lots in the neighborhood and when Hurricane Harvey struck last fall, the water crept up to the curb but never truly threatened us.

It was quiet, as well. Despite being in a small city that is embedded in the Greater Houston area, in fall and spring, when the air conditioning doesn’t run, it’s almost too quiet to sleep. I often found myself listening anxiously to my heartbeat in the early morning hours.

It was a social island as well. If one has children in such a neighborhood, one socializes. If one is “older” and beyond child-bearing years (like we are), one just smiles and says hello or maybe occasionally shares a dog anecdote or two.

If one were to ask me to describe my dream home, it would not have been this little house near the bayou.

Ah—but the bayou.

bayoutree1a

I do love it. It is called a creek, but it is a bayou. You can call it a creek and you can even call it by its official name, Clear Creek, to make you feel better about the breen, silty flow that eases and oozes its way ever so lazily around Brazoria and Galveston county—but it’s a bayou.

I love it, in all its bayouness, along with the rest of this sometimes perilous swampland that is Southeast Texas. I love the birds, bats, bugs, and plants that take refuge in it. I love the year-round greenery, the mild winters, the Gulf breezes that smell of salt cedar and seafoam on stormy days. I love the signs warning of alligators and other dangers in the parks.

gators2

And yet we have left the bayou behind in recent weeks. We’ve said goodbye to that reliable little house where Harvey tried but failed to harm us.

We have moved to where the bayous knit together and trail into the sea. We have landed on another island, one of salt marsh and seagulls and “Oh my God! But what about Global Warming?!” Now, I sleep soundly in a house that I truly love, listening to wave susurrations. I truly hope this will be my last home, but I can accept that it may not because my life has simply never been about permanence.

The bayou remains within reach. In truth, there is a shadowy bayou just up the road—just not “my” bayou. I am not far from Texas live oak, hackberry, chip-chipping cardinals, and complaining crows. There are new plants and birds to meet there as well. Perhaps I will leave this space here for a little “new bayou” chatter.

Nonetheless, watch this space for a new page link; this new island is just as chatty.

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