Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Missive From The Void

So, is this how it is going to be with us now? Almost six weeks and I don’t call. I don’t write. I can’t go on like this.  Disloyal to my first love. Seduced away by bylines. Driven by deadlines. Distracted - by other writing. I didn’t mean to, really. It just happened.  I promise to do better if you take me back. I’ve missed you.

Revelations 1: Slipping Into Busy
I’ve been writing for 3Story Magazine and I helped an accomplished artist write statements about her work. All this came along when I was starting to feel lazy and it is a gift of learning and fun. It is good. Yet I have been spending more time "out there" with tasks and deadlines, interactions and collaborations – a bit like “work” – a little performance anxiety even. So easy to slip into a kind of busy.  Engage in sort-of-work, day-to-day necessities, social and arty events, a little trip for a family wedding and a writers’ retreat and the result is less time "in" - time just being, which is what generates insights and impetus for writing here.

I’m wanting a way to integrate it all, without a divide like there used to be between work and life. And I want to hold dear that empty space so that what matters can rise up. Which means, oddly enough, I need more structure - setting aside time to just be and to write about what’s going on. It’s working so far. Here I am!

Revelations 2: Born Again
Early on, I was thinking an epiphany might hit, that in due time I would be born again.  Like when one finds Jesus. A moment. Something coming over me. Only not Jesus. Me. Born again as me.  So there would be a before and an after.

But it’s not been like that, although having a regular writing gig is a shift. It’s more gradual. The unfolding takes time and integrating it all into defining a new life takes time.

And the epiphanettes about life after retirement that struck regularly early on don’t keep coming. There is more space between as life takes on a new rhythm.

Revelations 3: Beyond the Frontage Road
I’ve been learning a bit about writing, most recently in a three-day, small-group retreat with some real writers.  My perception of myself and my writing is evolving. I’ve had two encouraging manuscript (meaning, this blog) reviews from actual writers. And kudos for the mag features. Although writing is becoming a bigger part of what comes next for me, writing about writing is not something of general interest – that’s another blog.

So I’m not sure where I am with this other writing or where it fits on the frontage road to zen. I don’t know where it’s going, but I’m following its lead. Who knows. I might arrive somewhere. Born again as me.  


Monday, September 23, 2013

Falling In Love Again

No, I haven’t found a potential significant other. 

Rather, I’ve fallen in love with where I live all over again. This is my first full summer here for many, many years. When I worked, I traveled and was more gone than here. This is what helped me “survive” the summer. But really it deprived me. I don’t care what the weather man says about rainfall this summer. It was, and still is, green everywhere. Flowers abounded in waves as the rain windows opened up. Skies not to be believed. So lush.  So vast. Gorgeous sunsets and moonrises have rekindled my love.

I show you all these pictures, too many, like new parents in love with their baby or the artist in the throes of infatuation with a new lover. We can’t help ourselves. Those of us falling in love again. We think you are just as interested we are. 

Friday, August 30, 2013

Something Did Happen

I know you remember, because as I’ve said before, you are hanging on my every word. But in case not … last falI I wrote about getting out there, following my interests until something sticks, going to Tucson Modernism Week, blah, blah, yadda, yadda.  And about my little synchronistic experience that confirmed my belief that Anything Could Happen, and something would happen, eventually.

Well, at TMWeek I met some cool women from my neighborhood, one of which is Gillian Drummond, editor of 3Story Magazine, which was about a month old at the time. I subscribed and started enjoying reading the magazine and following it on Facebook. And kept it up.

As I read each month I felt a little twinge of envyness. “Gee, why can’t I be doing something creative and cool like these people?”  And I was telling myself I’m not a professional like all those other people involved in TMWeek and 3Story. See how that work-world, need-credentials point of view can stick (and undermine)? But, I was in my being, not doing, stage anyway.

Then, eventually, and coinciding with my starting to feel a little lazy and that I wanted to step it up a bit, Gillian posted a solicitation for an intern who could write with “accuracy, flair and enthusiasm” to do one or two pieces a month. I thought “Hmmm, I could do that”. Thinking that Gillian was probably looking for a 20-something journalism student and that it was a long-shot, I wrote her, saying as much, using my blog as a writing sample and hauling out my decades-old Bachelor’s degree in fashion merchandising and my long-time vintage cred and interest in what goes on in Tucson. It worked. We met, chatted and decided to give it a try. The rest, hopefully, is herstory.

So, I'm possibly the oldest intern ever, but you know how I like being the oldest person in the room. I’ve never worked in a “creative” field before. It’s a new world, although a lot of  my skills transfer. My goal is to learn about this kind of writing and have fun. And be part of something pretty cool.  

When I retired I thought I’d eventually do some sort of volunteer work. Since this is unpaid, for the time being, I guess it counts. I thought it would be more philanthropic, but I rationalize that I’ve done decades of “try to make the world a better place” work and I’m due a little self-indulgence. Besides, 3Story is all about celebrating the creative talent and goings-ons that make Tucson such a great place to live. It’s part of building urban community, so I figure that counts.

I will still be telling my personal story here. And, for now,  I’ll have another life as … girl reporter.


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Lazy Mary Takes It On

When I was a kid my mom used to sing my sister and me a fun little song when trying to rouse us. It went like this (you’ll have to improvise the tune): “Lazy Mary will you get up, will you get up, will you get up. Lazy Mary will you get up, we need the sheets for the table!” Obviously from the era of my mom’s youth, but it still dances around in my head every now and then. Like now.  While I haven't been bored, I started to feel a little bit lazy.
Last August when I retired,  I gave myself the first year as an experiment, a sort of financial la-la land. I planned to pay attention in a general way to the estimated budget, spending, and  investment performance, which I did. I had a little run-in early on with my attitude about money, but belief in abundance stared down the financial picture and I continued with my year. I hoped all would magically flow to my advantage.

The fact that I even have a budget is a bit annoying. When I was working, I always lived below my means and did my best to save, even in the really lean years. In the last decade of work when I had an actual job, I had discretionary cash. Although there wasn’t a ton of it, there was enough to easily fuel my adventures.  But a budget is a fact of life when income is fixed and a bit uncertain given partial dependency on investments. So, as part of taking stock of my first year of retirement, I recently looked at finances in detail. It was a bit sobering in the budget-versus-actual-sending category. Nothing drastic, but I can see now that I will need a little more money if I want to continue to live in do-whatever-you-want land. Or I’ll need to make some adjustments in that regard.

My first reaction was a bit of a panic. All about scarcity and uncertainty: Uh-oh. Gotta get a job. What if someone reads my blog and sees I'm not ideal employee material. Might have to take down the blog. But I love the blog. Writing is what I enjoy the most.  Oh I wish I had a husband to pick up the slack. I wish I didn’t have to make these kinds of decisions on my own. I’m alone. And on and on. Waa-waa. Boo-hoo. For about a minute. Until...whoooaa. Wait. No I don’t (want a husband).  And no I’m not (alone). And haven't I learned anything from my year of authenticity and pursuit of zen? Some changes will need to be made, sure, but I don't need to grab back to old ways. I'm still gonna eat and have a roof over my head. There's nothing urgent about this. Let’s just turn on the Pandora “calm meditation” mix and get a grip.

I feel an energy coming on, but in a new way.  I've overcome the fear-of-being-a-bag lady syndrome that has kept me from taking some risks in the past, sent me down one road rather than another in the name of security. Which is why I even have the privilege of retiring now, so no regrets there. But that’s not where I want to be now.  I cannot fall back into fear-based thinking. I am believing in myself and the path I am on. This is the real change that I was hoping for once I set out on the frontage road. No turning back now. Instead, I’m going to pick up on the inspiration from the wise words in my last post and dance with these circumstances through to true change. It's time to step it up and learn more than I already know about the financial investment world. Not rely so passively on the experts. And continue to explore what comes next.
I had been thinking that maintaining the abundance attitude and belief in my ability to find my way are easy when circumstances are flowing along easily. I wondered how it would be when challenges arose. Well, now I’m finding out. Lazy Mary is up. And about to take it on.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Back to the Future

Ok, so it's been awhile. I know. I'm back now. I wasn't really gone. Just diverted. Doing hard labor in my front yard, which has been interspersed with random thoughts, just not enough to corral into something. I'm seeing how writing takes presence. Intuitive clarity.  Clear thought field. Instead, I've been working my lists and moving crushed rock around.

I've resurfaced in time to acknowledge that August 1st was one year of retirement. This anniversary feels more meaningful and celebratory than my upcoming birthday cause I've had lots of  those. Good opportunity to take stock.

Early on, right before I actually stopped working, I wondered what the challenges of being able to do whatever I wanted almost every day would be. Wondered if I would finally learn to meditate (no) or drink in the day time (every once in a while. it's 3 p.m. now and I'm drinking a beer. that's what writers do). I suspected I would get bored and be inspired, be lazy and be active, travel far and wide and burrow in, watch a lot more movies and, I  hoped, live my own story. That pretty much sums it up, although I've done a lot more reading than movie-watching. Books come to me. Not sure how interesting or inspired my story has been, but I certainly have been living it.

And I have yet to be bored. Daring that precipice and engaging "not knowing" have been a gift. There has been a lot of good nothing and plenty of somethings. Life is different now. I am different now.

I'm no longer working against type. Or my type has changed. I thought all that paying attention to details and the intensity that propelled my work life might transfer. But now I swim in the ocean of conceptual, big picture, creative possibilities and am no longer driven to push the rope uphill against an avalanche of resistance.

My relationship to time has really changed. Life is much more spontaneous. I get caught up in the day, going from one thing to the next without regard to time. I love looking at the calendar and seeing many days ahead with nothing planned. There is so much going on in my head and out. I hardly have to plan. Things present themselves - invites out, workshops, camp-outs, meet-ups - or they don't, and I read or putter. A big day can be getting some really good berries on sale. On a Friday I'll have a list of a few things to do on Monday. But then they might not get done for a week. So what. Things seem to get done when they really need to. I haven't missed a deadline yet, although I have come close because I'm just not "on time" anymore. I'm off time.

I've become patient with change. I recently came across this bit of inspiration that resonated:

True change isn't a light switch. It's an intention you hold. It's a dance with the circumstances that present themselves.

So I'm no longer looking for the big something that comes next. I'm open to whatever good  is looking for me. And there has been plenty of that. Seems passive, but it's more in tune with how reality actually is, unlike in the workplace where everyone pretends we can control circumstances more than we can. I just keep doing what comes to mind, feels right. While I have some ideas about what might come next, I'm only thinking a few months ahead now (increase my Spanish proficiency) with vague notions about anything after that (travel alone in a foreign country). I might combine the two, although having traveled so much while working, I'm actually paying more attention at home. Traveling is less essential to maintaining a sense of adventure than it once was. Now I have more of that on a day-to-day.

Writing has been grounding. It has created an outlet for my internal dialogue as well as being something in and of itself to learn about and get better at. Admittedly, I veered a bit from chronicling retirement per se because living in retirement is about more than the absence of work. Like getting older and embracing certain realities. I'll probably be doing more of that. Those posts were among the must popular.

I'm still about emergence of authentic self, just no longer necessarily in relation to the past work life. A year away from stopping work, experience is starting to stand on its own. It is less a comparison to what was and more about what is. I'm still on the frontage road to zen. And probably always will be. I can't wait to see what this next year holds. I hope you'll stick with me on this continuing adventure. Thank you all for being there.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Somnambulating Through Sonoran Summer

Anyone who has lived through a desert summer knows the out-of-time nature of it. Intense light. Intense heat. In Tucson where students and winter residents have left, this whole town becomes more like what it used to be decades ago. Smaller, quiet­. And there is a palpable feeling of camaraderie among those of us who stick around.

Then come the summer rains. In good years there are almost daily downpours.  The sky opens up about four-thirty and dumps for about an hour. Then glorious sunsets are reflected on the under surface of thick yet dissipating clouds. Sometimes the pink or golden glow extends all the way over your head to the eastern horizon. Stunning. Reward for staying with the lizards and braving the parched oven-blast air that slaps you as you emerge from an artificially cooled building.

We’re still waiting for those rains. Last weekend we got a little preview. In an effort to get out of the house, a friend and I went downtown and walked a couple blocks to our dinner destination through hot, somewhat heavy air that draped us like a burka. It was overcast so the sun was an eerie glow in the west and the slanted light was greyish gold. As we ate and chatted we noticed a rise in the mood of our fellow diners and looked outside. It was raining. Soon we emerged into the caress of lush air. Puddles created a cooling effect as we made our way to PorchFest, a first-time event in one of Tucson’s historic neighborhoods. We met a couple more friends and wandered from one porch to the next where musicians played mostly acoustic music. The little bit of water awakened desert neighborhood scents – creosote and cleveland sage, pigeon droppings and warm wet concrete. Music wafted in the luscious air along with the scents and the soft receding light. Really lovely.

That was short-lived though. This week we’ve had a little bit of afternoon rain but for the most part it’s been about 106 outside and a little humid as the monsoon season builds. With the creeping humidity, I’m retreating. Shifting to a more internal life inside my house. There is a lot of reading.  Many hours of reading.  I keep the phone next to me on the off chance someone will call. I don’t want to have to get up from my chair.

Yet I have been slowly making progress on my house projects. These are the conditions I’m facing: I went out earlyish in the morning to measure my front square footage in preparation for ordering crushed rock cover, walking round the edges with a tape measure. It’s only about 400 square feet so we’re not talking a lot of time outside. I came back in and was fine for about a minute. And then sweat burst from my entire body. Which just perpetuates the desire to close the blinds, turn the air conditioning down a couple degrees and dive into a pool of words.

I know it is probably a lot more interesting for all of you if I get out and do things and then report back. But for now I’m kind of hibernating. I’ll let you know if anything dramatic happens. Like, I went outside. And survived.


Friday, June 28, 2013

Nun with A Ruler

My self-discipline has really been flagging lately. There are several big-ish house projects that have been nagging me and I want to have done, but not actually do. The only way to get these projects done is having nothing else on my plate, so I've created that reality.

Yet I procrastinate on the tedious info gathering and the many decisions that need to be made. I read, I write, do the dishes, water the plants. I plod through my house projects list like a reluctant teenager. Do I haf ta? Also part of this self-imposed lethargic reality -  I can’t seem to plan more than a week in advance or motivate beyond my few weekly commitments to various exercise activities. And I’m not paying attention. In the span of three days, all these things happened to me: 1) I went to a meeting and parked in the downtown library garage underground. Came back at 8:30 and it was gated, locked, inaccessible. I had failed to see the sign that said when it closes. It was daylight when I went in. 2) I had my credit card in my hand in a weird way when putting the movie into the Redbox slot and it got sucked in with the movie. No way to get it back. I checked. 3) I was tired driving back from horseback riding and saw the flash of the remote camera. Looked down - eleven miles over the limit. Looked around - no other cars.  I’m waiting for the envelope in the mail.

I completely re-habbed my little house in 2008 before I moved. I don’t remember it being this tedious. I just added all the rehab tasks into the fast track that is the work world. And work filled in the spaces between the numerous small accomplishments that it takes to get a project completed.  This is not enough to make me miss work however.

Clearly, instead of an inner child, who has pretty much been running the show lately, I need an inner nun with a ruler. A taskmaster who can tell me Pay Attention! And yes, you haf ta. So you can get on with the rest of your life. I’m visualizing:




Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Workshop Confidential

Apparently I'm a cliché. Or not, I'm telling myself.

In keeping with my “methodology” of getting out there and exploring things of interest to see what sticks and wanting to write more better, I go to the 25th annual  writers workshop sponsored by our community college. I’m in line with the other retired people, or at least a lot of people in my age group, thinking they could be, or who are, writers.

Apparently, older retired people who take up writing are a known element with established writers who have been dedicated and paid dues for decades. "Uhg, another retirement blog" can be an initial thought that needs to be transcended. As quickly as possible. I'm already contemplating taking “retirement” out of my blog title in order to capture the attention of the retirement-blog-adverse. 'Cause this ain't your grandma’s blog. Or so I want to think.

Quite a few of the participants looked grandmotherly or conventional.  Others reflected a sensible-shoes, makeup-less look….bookish. Duh. Of course: Writers. Books. Reading. This wasn’t what I expected, even though I didn't realize I had expectations. Probably  something more like this:


I’m like the homosexual who is uncomfortable with the effeminates in the community. “No. I'm not like them. Please don't put me there.” But we need to embrace the whole of our communities least we engage in self-hatred.

The diversity evened out a bit over the weekend but I was one of the few people in the crowd looking at the internet during presentations. Probably because I was the only one that needed to look up the authors to whom references were made. Not sure if I should be apologetic, although no one noticed because it was in an auditorium, or a bit "hey girl" for my modern habits.

I learned terms like project, voice, and platform.  Are you working on a project? Uhm. Pause. Oh, project means some piece of writing .... a book, a play. Quick. I think. Is a blog a project? Sure. Make up the elevator speech on the spot. Try to describe using terms that resonate.

And I got an encouraging review of my manuscript (aka this blog) from a published author. I really appreciated being matched with a writer young enough to be my daughter. Score!

Main take-away: be more descriptive. Not the first time I’ve heard that. So if you see my posts getting a bit longer, blame the workshop. It’s called scene-setting.

I can see that being a writer requires deep commitment, especially if you want to get published - like, for real. I’m not ready for that, for so many reasons. For now, and so as not to get too self-conscious about words, I’m going to focus on the art of living, rather than the art of writing. So I have something to write about. Descriptively.







Friday, June 7, 2013

Owning It

I’m on a roll. Having faced certain truths and accepted that the limits of my physical abilities no longer encompass tens of thousands of stone steps, I’m letting go of more outdated images from the past.
Another nostalgic pipe dream I had for retirement was also based on the image in that forty-two-year-old self photo (see my last post). I was thinking I could get back to that weight and cohesiveness of flesh. Despite efforts - I tried - I really, sort of, tried - that hasn’t happened. And isn’t going to happen. Instead I find myself, for the first time ever, accepting and owning the excess. Or at least some of it.

I let go of self-consciousness and wore a sleeveless blouse, which I haven’t done in several years. No one even noticed, of course. I didn’t catch anyone starting disapprovingly at my crepey underarms.  Not even me.

Growing up labeled a “big girl” puts down deep roots. Now, I’m digging them up, tossing them out and just accepting what is. Perhaps some of the recent press on and advocacy by fat girls has bolstered my shift. For example, check out local rad girl, The Militant Baker. However, those images are limiting – it’s always young women. With zaftig flesh, yes - but its firm, smooth - young  - flesh. I see the pictures and think: talk to me in four decades girlfriends, when gravity and time have worked their magic. That will call for a whole new support group.

On the other hand, there’s the photo-retouch-plastic-surgery-industrial-complex that creates impossible images to emulate.  I thought once I got older, I’d be free of that. But no, here we have Helen Mirren in her skimpy two piece bathing suit, Jane Fonda all sleek, Susan Sarandon's unrestrained boobs,  and Diane Keaton (skinny bitch!). There is no end to the images of the ideal. I just had to stop looking.

I still notice the number of products it takes to keep it all going though. I remember thinking when I was in my twenties, when I had not-much money and smooth skin and wore little make up: Who would pay $40 for under eye cream? Uh, your future self, sweetie. I’m not letting go of that hedge against deteriorating aesthetics.
Just as I’m not going to start sitting in cafes because I no longer will be doing tens of thousands of stone steps, I’m not giving up. I‘m still going to wage battle with gravity and time, but in a more aikido kind of way. With love and acceptance of what is no longer possible. And know that just as I look back on photos from decades ago and think “hey, you looked pretty good despite what you were thinking at the time”, I’m going to look back on photos from now and think the same thing.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Certain Realities Must Be Faced

After my trip to Nepal, it took me over two weeks to get back to normal sleep patterns and energy level. It wasn’t just the jet lag, which was formidable. It was 17 days of not-normal sleeping and the physical demands of eight days of trekking up and down tens of thousands of hand-hewn stone steps.

I’m caught up with myself now and back to the day-to-day. And realizing that the trek defined what my physical limits are now. Made me face some realities.

Many months before I went, I put a picture of myself on the refrigerator for inspiration.  Somewhere in the recesses of my mind I thought maybe I could be that woman again. As though looking at that photo and a little increase in my exercise routine would prepare me. My knees knew otherwise.


It was the early 90's. I was 42 and in great shape.  I’m standing on the side of a road where we had stopped for some reason, out in the middle of nowhere in Mexico. We were there primarily to climb Popocatepetl, Iztaccihuatl and Pico de Orizaba. They are all fairly non-technical climbs, which means walking zigzag up snowfields with crampons on your boots for traction and an ice axe for stability and to catch yourself if you fall and start sliding.  Beginner mountains. 
The “we” being my recently no-longer-boyfriend and his friend. Both almost a decade younger than me. I was big into bravado in those days. Probably still am - or was until now. My claim to fame – crouching behind a rock on the lip of Popocatepetl to change a tampon while looking down into the steaming caldera.  Booyah!  
I did some more mountaineering in the years after that. Even then it would take a bit to recover from the physical demands and depletion. So I’m not sure what I was thinking when I signed up for the trek. That, like then, I’d get out there and after a day or so I’d be adjusted to the demands? That I could recreate that level of fitness before I went? That didn’t happen. And it’s not going to happen.
Which is not to say I’m not going to keep doing as much as I can as long as I can. I’ve always thought that I can sit in foreign cafes when I’m old. Although my knees still hurt, I’m not there yet. I am here now.  At a point of realization. Of acceptance. I’m admitting that I need to rein it in a bit. Take it a little easier on the relentless ascent and decent.
I can look at that picture from 20 years ago with love instead of longing and think – it truly was, and still is, all good.  Even if I need a regular dose of Ibuprofen at the moment.


Monday, May 13, 2013

Fun With Avalanches

If there is such a thing, I had it.
On Monday,  the mid-point of our trek, we were supposed to reach Annapurna Base Camp (ABC)  (13,500 feet) which would have put us right at the base of the Annapurnas. We never got there. 

While hiking on Saturday it got a bit rainy and foggy as we got higher. We stayed that night, as planned, at Deurali (10,500 ft.)

When my roommate and I woke up at about three in the morning, which wasn’t unusual, and she when came back into our little room from her trip to the loo, I asked “Is it still raining?” Answer: “No. But it’s snowing”.  Yikes. We weren’t expecting that. So much for going back to sleep. We huddled in our sleeping bags hoping for the best. However,  as we emerged into the weak morning light, there were about three inches of snow on the ground and it was slowly still coming down. It must have been about 30 degrees, so it was that big, wet-flaked stuff. Unseasonable snow fall.

It was still coming down after breakfast.  Half rain. Half snow. As we took off for Machapuchare Base Camp (MBC), our next destination, none of us said anything even though we were all wondering what we were in for.  At that point I knew that reaching ABC the next day was in question because, if nothing else, if this kept up, we wouldn’t see anything. But in big mountains, you never know what is going to happen. Weather can change very quickly. So, we just … went. Following our experienced and enthusiastic guides. Up another 1600+ feet. More stone steps and muddy, rooty, rocky trail.

Hours later, when the buildings at MBC (12,140 feet) appeared from the behind the curtain of falling snow and clouds, there was more snow on the ground.  
 Arriving at MBC

When we woke up the next day - “summit “day - there was more snow. And it was still coming down. And was predicted to continue for three days. 
What we woke up to at MBC

We ate breakfast wondering what the plan was going to be. Stay here an extra day, people had been stuck at MBC before? Go down in poor visibility and conditions? The thing is, the trek crosses one small and one large avalanche chute. Spring, when things freeze at night and then thaw in the day time, is prime avalanche time.  That morning we could hear small avalanches happening at a distance, higher up. Like every 15 minutes. A rumbley rocky thundery sound. Yet I’m thinking: We’re fine. We have food, shelter, warmth (well, Himalayan-style warmth), competent guides, as well as contact with the outside world – there was Wi-Fi (what a world). Plus DK (our lead guide) carried a satellite phone. We were never out of contact with Active Adventures HQ.
Eventually DK tells us that we we're not going to ABC  - “too risky”. We’re going down – and that if it looks too dangerous when we get to the avalanche area, we’d come back to MBC. So we start out. The porters hiked with us, instead of bounding ahead as they usually did, for their safety and ours, and we all stuck together more closely. I felt calm and in-the-moment. I’d been in avalanche conditions before when I did some mountaineering in the early 90’s and I know that knowledgeable people can look at conditions and take a decent read on the risks. Gokul, our Nepalese guide, had been through that corridor dozens of times, including in snow conditions. I trusted his judgment.  I knew that he and DK wouldn’t be taking unnecessary risks.  So it was fun, despite the fact that it was very slip-slidey-slushy and everyone took at least one plop in the snow and me once in the mud.

As we’re hiking we can see small, brief avalanches happening at a distance, high up and on the other side of the ravine. Think of long, narrow waterfalls you have seen - it was like that - only it was snow. It didn’t feel threatening. Just surreal. Other-worldly. Indeed the guides and the porters all said they had never experienced avalanches happening so often. I have no pictures to show you. We were all focused on the conditions and maintaining our footing.

To add to the drama, as we’re about 15 minutes or so away from the main avalanche chute, other, faster hikers coming up from behind us (they must have left MBC a bit after we did) tell DK that there is a woman by herself struggling on the trail a ways back. I guess he looked like someone who could help because, of course, he was. The code of the mountains and guides being what it is, he goes back to check. The rest of us keep going. We get to the avalanche chute. Gokul and the porters are talking back and forth – in Nepalese, so we don’t understand a word. We get the signal that it’s a go. Standard procedure is to walk as briskly, but safely, as possible and not stop. That’s what we did. One does not dally in an avalanche chute.
All safely across, we go a bit more till we’re out of the avalanche area. Still no DK.

As we’re taking a break, DK emerges out of the fog, holding the hand of a Japanese woman who seemed dazed. She had become separated from her hiking companion, a major no-no, even under good conditions. And she was totally ill-equipped to be out there – her shoes were so slippery she had been sliding along the trail on her butt. DK had her put her socks on the outside of her shoes for some traction. See, experienced guides know these things. He said she could have so easily slipped over the edge. He pulled out some chocolate from his pack just as we all needed a boost and she hiked on with us.

As we were moving on, the most spectacular avalanche across the ravine stopped us all. We were spell-bound watching it.  It was coming over the top of a small high saddle and looked like a liquid snow fall. There are high lakes on the other side, so it could have been a combo of water, ice, and snow breaking through. I’ve never seen anything like it. We all just stood there mesmerized. It went on for so long we just had to move on.

As we moved lower and reached the tea house for our morning break, I wondered whether the rescued hiker realized that she could have died that day. By contrast, we had experienced something truly unique and exhilarating.  We were fully alive and engaged for a fleeting magical morning.


Monday, May 6, 2013

Himalayan Freak-out

I went to Nepal with a New Zealand company with which I had done trips before:  Active Adventures. There were six of us in my group, plus two guides – one Kiwi/Maori and one Nepalese (and four porters – who were always well ahead of us, despite their loads).
Some of us were more fit than others. Some of us were younger than others. I was an other, not an us, on both accounts.  The  first day of the trek was a little rough for me. My primary thought: I should have taken training for this a lot more seriously. The terrain was mostly steep up and steep down (and then up and down again) on hand-hewed stone steps (uneven surfaces, uneven heights – I’m guessing over 100,000 of them all told) or on rocky, root-strewn forest trail.

It was humid at the lower elevations and I’m not used to that. So the strenuous first-day uphills meant lots of sweating. After half a day of this, we had to rather quickly step up out of the way of a donkey train (the method for moving goods at the lower the elevations). As I stepped up off the track to let them pass, I got an intense charley-horse in both of my hip flexors, from knee to groin. The definition of OWWWWW. I had to consciously relax them. The muscle cramps subsided soon enough and I moved on (one guide took my day-pack, which helped). I had experienced this once before, years ago after a strenuous hike without enough water, so I knew it was continuous use coupled with a bit of dehydration from all that sweating.
That evening, after arrival at our tea house, settling in a bit and downing an electrolyte packet and lots of water, I had to watch how I moved so as not to set off the charley-horses again. Worrisome, but so far so good. But as I lay in my sleeping bag after dinner, ready for sleep, I start to shiver – although I wasn’t cold.  My mind raced – “What was I thinking? Can I do this? Maybe I should turn around.” And I couldn’t stop – till I realized that the shivering was probably a physical manifestation of anxiety and I had to consciously corral my thoughts and attitude or I’d be quaking all night. So I switched to deep breaths and:  “I’ll make it to Chhomrong (which was an actual small village more on the main track and our next destination) and then I can go back down if I have to. In the morning, I’ll talk to DK (our competent, patient and experienced guide). We’ll figure out options. It will be alright. I will be alright. It. Will. Be. Alright.” And it was. I calmed down and when I woke up I was fine. Physically and emotionally.
Although the relentless up and down and stone steps never stopped … neither did I. It never got easy, but I gradually got into the rhythm of hiking six or so hours a day - about 2 hours at a time (we stopped for morning tea breaks and for lunch): Breath deep (especially as elevation increases), drink water, keep moving forward … slow but steady. It is cliché to say, but now I know what Lance Armstrong meant when he said: It’s not about the bike. Now I see: It’s about the psych. I’ve never experienced that so poignantly. THAT will stick with me. As will the melodic sound of the donkey trains. And I have a (hopefully temporary) aversion to stairs.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Time Warped

It is 6 p.m. on the clock in my kitchen. I need the clock to orient me, although it is just a number - it doesn’t feel like anything. It is out of context as I slowly emerge from my longest journey so far - almost 40 hours of travel, including one 16 hour flight. I left my hotel in Kathmandu at 8 p.m. on Sunday night and arrived at my house at 10:30 p.m. Monday night. Nepal is 12.45 hours later than Tucson (yes, they use a quarter-hour difference; no, I don’t know why). I lost track of time, day/night, breakfast/lunch/dinner somewhere over the Arabian Sea when I awoke from my first of many “naps”. I didn’t even try to keep up - I just reset my watch each time I landed. I practiced “be here now” - ate when there was food, slept when I was tired, watched movies, and read. Not bad really.

Wading through the return time warp is different this time. First, my luggage is still on its way back from Houston, so I’m not engaging in the usual unwinding of all that prep and packing as things get washed and put back in their usual places. (All went well in the developing world, where we assume there will be problems. The Kathmandu airport was hot and crowded and chaotic but they managed to get my luggage tagged and on my plane just fine. Here, in the developed world, we have all kinds of computerize systems on which people depend.   Things can look ordered, but there is chaos - like three different places to drop off your baggage after clearing customs and misinformation from people not really paying attention. Welcome home!)
More importantly though, wading through the time-warp is different because when I was working there was a need to get “caught up” - to get “back to it”. Now, there is no back to an it, there is only forward. I can let this re-entry unfold at its own pace.  Integrate the experience in a new way. At some point I’ll catch up with myself and the time zone and be able to process it all. And see how it will shape what forward means. Time will tell.

Thursday, April 11, 2013


No, I haven’t taken up some geriatric version of burlesque. Rather I’m talking about what comes next, after cultivating boredom (see Dare to Be Bored, Feb 2013), namely: stripping away of expectations.
In preparing for my trekking trip to Nepal, I’ve found myself on the excitement/anxiety edge. While I have some sense of what it will be like, the trip is so different from those I have taken in the past (which was the point) that I don’t know what to expect, really. That had me on the edge. But as it gets closer, and all the little details are taken care of, I am anticipating the unfolding. The revelation of the unknowns. Gradually sitting deeper into the moment…becoming more “present” with the experience. I want to make that way of seeing – that way of being - part of me and bring it back. If I can, that will be my most valuable souvenir. If I need some guidance, perhaps one of these Hindu holy men will have some insights:

For now, I’m noticing how good home can feel when you are about to leave it.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Looking for Lessons

I haven’t written in a bit because I have been distracted and a little anxious. In February I wrote about seeing more clearly in the figurative sense (Post: I Can See Clearly Now) and the consequences of that. Now I literally cannot see clearly. I’ll spare you the details, but the vision in my right eye is blurry, so everything is a little off. I can’t tell if having this kind of thing happened now that I am retired is better (I don’t have to be reading emails all day in order to get my work done  - and there’s more time to run around to appointments and to get meds) or worse (more time to dwell … worry about what is going on and feel the frustration of navigating doctor office gate-keepers who aren’t listening and cause days of delay as my vision gets worse).

I’m not one to think that everything happens for a reason. I’ve seen some pretty random stuff – good and bad - happen for no discernible reason – to people who did, and people who did not, “deserve it”. Yet I do like to explore whether there is something to be learned or experienced from an altering of things as they were, to something else. An opportunity to see things differently (in this case, literally).   In that I am not cultivating a new career as an impressionist painter, I haven’t come up with anything for this yet. Blurry vision has not enhanced my worldview.

At its simplest, it has been a lesson in dealing with anxiety: think positive – “it’s something that can be dealt with” (which, it turns out, it is) – rather than negative -  “I’m going blind”  - and dealing with frustration: be patient with people who are not entirely competent, or more likely, working in ineffective systems. I failed both these lessons in the past few days. And I kinda don’t care. There is probably a lesson in that too. If only I could see it.

P.S.: Just as I was putting final touches on this and about to post, a friend posted a poem about Dukkha  a Buddhist term, and the first of the Four Noble Truths,  commonly translated as "suffering", "stress", "anxiety", or "dissatisfaction". I think there is a lesson in there somewhere. I’ll have to look for it.

P.P.S (about 5 days later): I think the lesson revealed itself: Admit that I might actually need some help. Ask for help. And the help will appear.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Animal Husbandry

Another thing I thought I would do at some point after I retired was get a dog.  Up until 2004, when my last dog went to doggy heaven, I always had a dog - and a cat.  My last two dogs were wonderful companions and lived to be 12 years old. I fed them basic dog food, trained them to  sit, stay and come (sort of). Gave them their shots and brushed their teeth myself.  Took them backpacking and hiking with me.  And attended to emergencies (like when one of them got too intimate with a huge bull while we were hiking and ended up with a 3” by 3” skin-flap-wound right through to the muscle. Fun times.) But that was pretty much it.

Now there are so many expectations to dog ownership. (Note I didn't say “parenthood”. I just can't go there. Those of you who see that differently, please do not report me to the ASPCA.)  Now you practically have to put them on a list to get them into a good doggy preschool and, as a recently-viewed pet food commercial opined: attend to their needs - physical, emotion, social (and one other need I can’t remember  - maybe spiritual - we’re not far from that folks). Although I did refer to my dogs as Canine-Americans, I just can’t live up to current expectations.  Plus, and probably most important, I don't know how much traveling I'm going to be doing as an ongoing thing, so the timing is just not right.

So I'm thinking about these things when I see a little ad about a desert tortoise adoption program. Eureka! I think. Just at my skill and commitment level, I think. When I was working, I assisted with collaboration on the recovery of the Mojave population of the desert tortoise and learned a lot about them.  I’ve run into a few out there in the natural world and marveled at their ability to survive on so little.  So I go online to check out the details. And find that there are six steps to the requirements, including numerous yard modifications -  not to mention the things you are supposed to grow for them to eat (yes, store-bought produce is inferior for these guys). I don’t put that much effort into feeding myself. And my frontscape re-do (to create habitat pleasing to me) is yet to get underway. Geeez, I think. I don't even measure up for a tortoise.

So I guess I’ll be leaving the animal husbandry to the 4H-ers for now. I wonder how long one can wait to get a pet to reap the live-longer benefits that supposedly flow from pet ownership? At some point, it is just a little too late. I’ve got awhile before I get there though. I think.