Tag Archives: life

I’ve been roaming

I recently spent 30 days almost entirely off social media. And during those 30 days, I spent some time almost every day in the nature.

This was not planned. Over a long weekend when I was at the tail end of a particularly stubborn sinus infection and completely over feeling like crap, I found myself outdoors several days in a row and mostly away from my phone. I welcomed the marked reduction in my anxiety levels. Like many, I live by my phone and specifically by my social media apps. Facebook and Instagram are how I stay connected with friends and family, especially since I moved across the country a year ago. They are my news sources. Hurricane Harvey was still stubbornly hanging over Houston and we have family in the area. The political arena was as contentious as ever. I felt obligated to worry over, understand and comment on every event in our country. I was tired, overwhelmed and now more aware of it because my body was tired and worn down.

The sinus infection that gave me a reason to rest and put down my phone may have started this little experiment but once I was back to 100%, I wondered what would happen if I continued the trend. With work and home life, could I even find time to get in the woods every day? And how would my body handle it? I’ve had knee and foot problems off and on since I started running and hiking 4 years ago-would i be physically able to sustain a daily practice, even if I took it easy?

So I did the one thing I’ve found that works for me when I’m uncertain or scared about moving forward, I just told myself that I’d just see how far I could get and if I needed to quit or take a rest day I could. This takes the pressure off of a brain that very much feels an obligation to finish and check off to do lists. And the point was not necessarily to stick to an admittedly arbitrary schedule just for the sake of the schedule, it was to see what happened when I made consistently more time for the outdoors and less time for the screen. 

Here’s what happened:

  1. I read 8 books (and actually finished a 9th the day after my official 30 days was up)
  2. I put approximately 100 miles on my legs and accumulated somewhere in the neighborhood of 15,000 feet of elevation gain
  3. I started a poetry project that I’m calling Words Hewn-every time I step into nature I take a photo and write a poem inspired by that experience. The goal is to continue this for a year and see how many I accumulate. Still figuring out if I want to post it somewhere or not.
  4. I was in nature in some form or fashion-from local nature parks or gardens to 7000 feet above sea level on wind swept ridge lines-for 29 of the 30 days (I took one day off when my body gave me the very clear message that I needed a damn break).
  5. My husband and I spent more time together in nature. Normally my weekend excursions are done alone as he is not a masochist and doesn’t enjoy spending 5 hours trudging uphill. However, increased frequency meant I often needed to decrease intensity (though I still indulged in a few sufferfests-old habits and all that). And since the goal was to get outdoors every day instead of my usual schedule of 3-4 days a week, I had many more opportunities to get outside in a variety of ways. We explored a state park, a trail in the Tillamook State Forest, a local nature park and Portland’s beautiful Japanese garden, in addition to our usual haunts. There was more time spent walking and talking and I feel more connected to him than I have in a long time. I also noticed that he seemed to put his phone down more once he saw I wasn’t reaching for mine at every lull in conversation or commercial break though I never asked him to or made an issue of it. Which led to more discussion or just being with each other in shared space.     
  6. I realized I feel like I haven’t learned anything new in a long time and I want to change that. So far I’ve found an online naturalist program (like a continuing education sort of thing) that starts in a few months, started reading about the history and geology of the area and am contemplating all manner of classes-from how to set rock climbing anchors to wildlife biology.
  7. When I got free of all the clutter, I found I was able to get more engaged in the world and what was going and ready to be more involved since I wasn’t feeling so overwhelmed and helpless due to a barrage of information, opinions and issues.

On the flip side, I also missed really important happenings in my friend’s lives-family deaths, wedding announcements, job changes, moves-not to mention the regular, normal, happy interactions I have with friends.

But when I first checked instagram after the 30 days were up, I immediately felt a wave of anxiety and the old comparison monster. Thoughts of: I’m not cool enough, I’m not doing enough, I’m not invited all tsunami’d through my head. Maybe I’d been so used to being inundated with social media that I didn’t notice it much before but the thoughts felt loud and sharp. Then I wondered: does my Instagram feed make someone feel that way? and immediately cringed at that thought. 

I’m posting this on a media platform because I want people to read it because I feel a need to share and be seen. What I’m realizing is I want to be a little more thoughtful and intentional in how I do that in a way where I can still be my snarky, ridiculous self. And also how I want to consume social media and connect with others. 

More to come but for now, just a few of my favorite shots over the last 30 days:

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Keely: final words

I remember when I first picked her up from that shelter, knowing I was getting a dog that would need a lot of help and care.

Then I saw her and she looked even worse that the pictures and my heart stopped but she ran to me, straining on her leash, ready for what was next, despite how weak and hungry and in pain she must have been.

I remember standing in the vets office, mouth agape, as he outlined all the treatments and pills and instructions and my ears started ringing with the overwhelm of it all but he looked at me and said very calmly, ‘This the best time because it will only get better from her. It will never be this bad again.’

I remember having to carry her upstairs so I could bathe her because she was too weak and freaked out to navigate them and her legs stuck out at all angles as I clumsily tried to carry her as gently as I could. How I thought she couldn’t possibly look any worse until I had her in the tub and she sat there, bedraggled and naked and even skinnier somehow as the water ran brown with the layers of dirt and neglect washing down the drain.

I remember the time, about 4 days in, when I took her outside to do her business and a leaf fell or something and she pounced on it and I started crying because it was the first time she did a normal dog thing.

I remember when her hip bones no longer became prominent and people stopped asking me what was wrong with her and when our wonderful vet put his hand on hip at her one year appointment and said, chucking, ‘I didn’t expect her head to get that big.’

keely then and now

I remember around that same timeframe when she jumped up on the couch with us for the first time and we both just looked at each other, not daring to move lest we startle her and ruin the moment.

I remember mundane, silly, sweet, sleepy moments that don’t mean anything to anyone but right now are my most treasured memories.

a face

Like her squeaky bark and how she liked ‘to be her own dog’ and spend time alone out in the yard and how she was the boss of everything and anyone that walked into our house was required to give her belly rubs.

keely bird

I remember when she started limping two years ago and we took her into the vet thinking it was arthritis or something but he walked into the examining room with a grim look and X-rays and a box of tissues. How he said it’s usually osteosarcoma and gave me some articles so I could prepare myself. How he patiently and kindly let me wipe my tears before he said, ‘Don’t count her out though, she’s a fighter.’

I remember eating lunch with Jason when the specialist called with the biopsy results and said it wasn’t osteosarcoma, it was chondrosarcoma which had a much better prognosis and we cried together in Burrito Jimmies because our girl had been given a fighting chance.

I remember the day I picked her up from the leg amputation and clenched my jaw until it ached as I tried to help her walk so that I wouldn’t scare her with my tears.

Then blessedly, there were more mundane, silly, sweet, sleepy, somewhat slower moments where things sort of went back to normal and life went on. We moved across the country. We settled into new jobs and a new home. We continued to give her belly rubs and peanut butter and fall asleep to the sound of her snores.

keely black and white

Until a few weeks ago, when I noticed she was licking her remaining front leg a lot. And her breathing sounded weird. I quietly told Jason that we needed to make a vet appointment for her because I knew what that could mean. Cancer in the leg so easily metastasizes into the lungs.

And I remember all the air going out of my lungs as I looked at the Xrays. That knowing that this might be the diagnosis hadn’t prepared me in the slightest for the sucker punch to my chest as I looked at a death sentence.

I remember our kind new vet letting me know what pills they’d give me to keep her comfortable and how her breathing would change and that’s when we’d know it was time.

Then last saturday night, it did. I sat next to her on the floor as she labored to breathe, sounding like she was trying to suck air through a hole in a wet plastic bag and she looked at me, staring at me for a long moment right in the eyes and I understood.

We said goodbye to our sweet, spirited princess Monday, July 3rd.

You know what the messed up part of it is? Not the abuse and neglect she endured before we got her, not the cancer and amputation and then cancer again. Not that towards the end, every step hurt and she couldn’t move without gasping for air. It’s that no matter what she was going through in her life, she kept running towards it. She WANTED to be here, even when she was scared or skinny or sick. Running towards life. Right to the very end.

And I’m mad, I’m so fucking mad that cancer overtook her spirit and that it backed me into a corner where the kindest thing I could do was make her leave.

Keely taught me to keep going even when I was scared or unsure. She taught me to live completely in the moment. She taught me not to tell myself stories of how things ought to be but instead keep looking forward. Maybe she’s just a dog to some but she was the bravest creature I ever knew.

And I’m hurting and grateful and grieving and relieved and appreciative and mad as hell and don’t know what to do with all of it.

So I guess I’m going to do what she would do and keep running towards life.

The Kings-Elks loop that didn’t happen: apparently crying in the woods is a thing I do now

It was about the third switchback, not even that far up from the Kings trail head when the tears started.

My dog is dying.

We are almost two years past the cancer diagnosis and the surgery that took her left front leg. We knew then that we were borrowing time and it seems to have caught up to us. Cancer in her remaining front leg has metastisized to her lungs. The vet said we’d know when it was time and all that’s left for us to do is keep her comfortable until then.

I’m already sick of crying and she isn’t even gone yet.

For anyone who thinks that because there aren’t any tall peaks in the coastal range surely no trail could be that challenging, come hang out with me sometime. The trail up Kings gains 2500 in only 2.5 miles making it’s grade somewhere between this shit is ridiculous and kiss my ass hard.

I’d originally set out to do the loop from Kings to Elks mountain, a total of eleven miles and about 4000-ish feet of gain between the two mountains. It’s on my bucket list of stupid hard crap to do and right about now, I’d really like to experience something physically uncomfortable enough to get me out of my own head.

I don’t think there are enough switchbacks in the world to do that right now.

With every pounding heart beat, I thought about Keely’s journey. From skinny, starved, abused shelter dog on the kill list that I met in December of 2007 to cancer survivor in Sept of 2015 to where she is now. Her life has been unfairly difficult. And I worry, always worry, that we haven’t given her enough good moments in between to make up for what she’s had to go through.

Dammit, now I’m crying again.

The thing about the trail, that I’ve heard plenty of people say, is it’s a metaphor for life but I think it’s a little more than that. I could escape my life pretty easily if I wanted to. We humans have found so many ways, many totally legal, to distract us from ourselves. I think the trail is a fun house mirror of life that you can’t escape. Even if you decide to bail a few miles in, you’ve got to get back to your car somehow so you are forced to face every crappy thought your scared little brain throws at you. It’s not pretty.

And that’s why I like it. Because it doesn’t give me easy. I’ve had too much of easy and never gave me anything but an ache for what was missing. So I go out there and find stupid hard things to do because then I can live completely in myself and every time I’ve face the scared, mean, angry parts of myself and managed to get back to the trail head, I’ve also found a little more empathy and compassion and forgiveness. Peace. I could use some peace right about now.

trail1

But my time with Keely is shortening by the minute.

So I decided to shorten the hike and only get to the top of Kings and back so that I could spend more time with her, even if that meant just listening to her snore. One day in the very near future, I am going to desperately miss those snores.

Right about then was when I looked up and noticed the 2000 ft elevation sign nailed into a tree. That meant I only had about a mile and 1200 feet of gain to get to the top of the mountain. The last time I was there, it was raining and the entire area was shrouded in mist which gave the sense that the ground just dropped away to nothing once you get out of the tree line and I wanted to see what it looked like when it was clear. I can now comfirm that is absolutely true.

trial3

At the top I said a prayer to the winds for peace. Not for me. For her.

trail2

And then I went home and sat in the sun with my dog and didn’t miss the trail for a minute.

Trail stats: (Kings trailhead to summit only)

Trailhead

Difficulty: So this is funny. Tillamook state forest calls this trail ‘challenging’. Oregon hikers call it ‘moderate’ which is complete bullshit because they also called Cape Lookout moderate and having been on both of those trails, I can assure you, they are not even remotely the same grade. I’m sticking with my personal grade of ‘this shit is ridiculous’.

Distance: 5 miles round trip

Elevation gain: 2500 feet in 2.5 miles

Bathroom sitch: chemical toilet at trailhead.

 

It was supposed to be a rest hike but I ended up crying in the woods

Rest hike (n): coined by friends, these are the hikes I take on weeks where I’m decreasing mileage because I want to give my legs a break but still want some time in the woods. In general, they are no more than 5-6 miles at the most, are an actual hike and not my patented run/hike/death shuffle combo and don’t have significant elevation gain. They are also the only hikes those friends will go on with me because apparently I’m ‘crazy’.

As I drove towards the coast and my decided rest hike at Cape Lookout trail, I randomly started thinking about the dark times I’ve had on the trail. Those times when I’ve been in pain or fatigued or just beat down by the heat and how I have had very few moments like that since moving to Oregon. I guess it’s kinda hard to fall into such a negative space when you still are new enough to the area that everything seems like some magical Rivendell to you. The fact that it’s not 85 degrees by 6 am also probably helps. And I fully expected this hike to be in the same vein. Beautiful, enjoyable, maybe I see some whales.

Oh expectations. I should know better by now.

The hike to the Cape was wonderful with the requisite outstanding views and big, old trees that remind me how small I really am in the grand scheme of things (no whales but I did see a bald eagle).

cape lookout 1cape lookout 3

On the way back, I texted a happy birthday greeting to a friend back in Texas and he responded with some very good news regarding he and his significant other that had happy tears stinging my eyes because I could clearly remember holding his hand 2 years ago when his world was falling apart, helpless to do anything but remind him to keep hanging on because I’d been there too and the roles had been reversed then as he’d been the one that helplessly watched me crumble.

Haha. Oh there you are dark spot.

We moved to Oregon because I’d felt the calling in my soul for years to move to the mountains. The calling started as just a ping, a ‘wouldn’t it be nice’, and slowly grew over several years. By the time we started seriously looking into a move in the summer of 2016, the calling had increased in volume and grown insistent. It was time to go.

Paulo Coelho said: When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.

In our case, the universe didn’t conspire so much as it came clambering, rushing, tripping over itself to greet us. The time between when we started looking for jobs and the time we landed in Oregon was 3 months. The time between when I accepted a job and the time we started driving across the country was 17 days. SEVENTEEN DAYS to pack up our entire life, get the house ready to sell, sell the house, find a new place to live and somehow say goodbye to the friends and family that have been hard fought constants in our life.

My family moved all over the country when I was a kid. Including Oregon, I’ve lived in eight states and on Guam (a US territory). The roots that were planted in Texas took years to grow for someone unused to consistency and almost a year after our move to Oregon, standing amidst 300 year old fir trees, I felt that same grief and confusion at how quickly I pulled them up.

cape lookout 2

How could something felt so right to me also leave me so conflicted?

The tears were no longer happy so I finished the hike as quickly as I could and headed into town to get some food (I am notorious for being calorically underprepared on my excursions).

After a valiant attempt at consuming a slice of pizza bigger than my head, I knew I wasn’t quite ready to go home so I headed to the beach.

Standing there with my feet in the cold pacific ocean, I remembered the other times in my life when the universe had pinged me and I’d ignored it, even when the soft whisperings had turned to desperate screams. How I’d scrabbled and clung to the way things were despite blatant signs that life as I knew had fissures getting closer and closer to my heart every day until finally, they gave way and the ground beneath me caved and buried me alive. How I still wonder sometimes how different things might have been if I’d listened and how I still sometimes feel like I’m scrambling to make up all the lost ground from having to dig my way out of the aftermath.

And how we are all so short sighted while the universe plays the long game and that every transition I’ve ever had in my life, no matter how painful, has lead to something better and deeper and stronger that I never in a million years would have guessed and that I’d committed to myself years ago that I wasn’t going to ignore the callings of my soul anymore which meant I am where I’m supposed to be, even with the confusion and longing for the people I’d left.

I do love this place.

cape lookout 5

Trail stats per the internet:

Trailhead

Trailhead bathroom situation: Porta-potties. I’ve been spoiled, apparently, with the luxurious chemical toilets at other trailheads. I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.

Length: 5 miles round trip

Elevation gain: 930 feet according to the internet but maybe that’s how high is above the ocean because I know I didn’t climb that much. The trail head is at 840 feet so maybe there’s a couple hundred feet of elevation change or something.

Difficulty: the internet says moderate. I probably need to learn how the grades are determined. It felt easy to me.

Mud level: Yes.

cape lookout 4