Monday, November 28, 2011

Here it comes

November 18, 2011, taken on my way home from work

With the time change, comes the darkness. No, not the deepening gloom of winter. I refer to the deepening gloom that envelops my soul as the days shorten and I lose time to hike and time at the keyboard. (Because the cabin is so cold in winter, I can only sit here for short periods. After ten or fifteen minutes, my hands are so cold they become too stiff to type.) Thus, as we inch toward the solstice, I find myself unable to do two of those activities which keep me (relatively) sane. Oof.

I’m hoping things will be a bit different this year. A few months back, I bought a custom-made, solid oak drafting table and set it up (with the help of The Grandson) about ten feet away from the furnace. Last weekend, when we had snow, I put it to the test—working on the dog book for some time, writing out page after page in longhand, which I don’t mind doing. My writer-friend Lola DeMaci tells me that this is the better method, anyway. I’m a fast typist; I’ll do the transcribing when I finish the section (which, by the way, is the final section of the book).

That still doesn’t solve my problem of having to curtail long walks in the forest. By the time I get home, it’s 4:00 or past, and it’s dark here now by 4:30, so unless I walk all the way ‘round with a flashlight, I won’t be able to walk The Loop except on weekends… which means I might just pack back on that six pounds I shed this summer.

See? It’s depressing. To say nothing of Christmas coming on and no one to share it with. Well, except my own little Sugar Plum.

OK, I promise my next post will be a bit more uplifting. We’re only 24 days from the solstice… and then the light will slowly return….

Sunday, November 20, 2011


I waited all day for the rain to turn to snow. I love walking in snowstorms… because the activity is more than faintly reminiscent of our journey through life.

I can see, when there is snow on the ground, the tracks of others who have come before me (even though I might have felt very much alone), and it reminds me that we all have our own individual path; we leave our own unique mark as we go.

Sometimes along the way I make mistakes, errors in judgment, as I did today when I stopped to brush the snow from my jacket. I really didn’t need to; the waterproof shell was doing its job, but I was concerned about getting damp. In my over-reaction, I hadn’t realized how slushy the snow was, and when I’d finished brushing it away, I discovered my gloves were wet—bad news when it’s 30 degrees outside. There was nothing to do but keep walking, keep putting one foot in front of the other, telling myself, ‘Well, you’re going to have cold hands from here on out, the consequences of not thinking things through.’

While I am not always mindful of it, my very efficient Transitions lenses do darken up a bit, even in a snowstorm, if it’s daylight. Realizing this, as I take them off to wipe the snow away, I become aware once again that I often perceive the world as being a bit darker than it truly is.

Walking in 30 degree weather in driving snow is not much different, actually, than a summer-time walk around the loop if one is privileged to be able to afford the proper gear. Today as I stopped near the falls to consider this—in my heavy Lands End squall jacket, waterproof pants and sturdy snow boots, I felt grateful. I have not always been this well suited up for life’s challenges. In the past, I knew what it was to be cold and hungry and to be powerless to change those circumstances. Sometimes now I forget what that felt like, and how far I’ve come. Remembering, even when it is painful, is crucial to keeping an attitude of gratitude.

Finally, part of the appeal of walking in a storm is the promise of what I will return to upon arriving home. At the end of this day that is a life, I hope there will be warm fires and my loved ones to greet me. Today, it will be a hot cup of tea, my little cat Sugar Plum dozing by the fire, and the soft music I left playing as I went out into the world.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

High school reunion, Part II

(Photo by Col. William Pine, USAF.  Thanks for your patience, Colonel!)

I dragged my feet, I stalled, I changed clothes a couple of times and finally settled for looking like someone’s grandmother at a funeral—with legs, since I foolishly selected my dormant black skirt which kept riding up my thighs all night while I sat for hours, alternately tugging at my skirt and picking at my vegetarian lasagna.

I did see Preston and Janice Smith, neither looking any older than they had at our 30th, and Diana and Bill Pine were there to offer me a seat at their table, thank heavens. Diana reminded me that she had attended Catholic school up until high school, so she hadn’t known many people, either. Yet she did manage to find, throughout the evening, a number of people who remembered her. Not so, me. No one ever approached me and the one person I did try to connect with made it clear he had no memory of sitting in Mr. Campbell’s U.S. History class for 180 school days, talking nonstop to me about whatever caught his fancy. He sat behind me. I was an ear to him; my name and face were meaningless.

Maybe high school reunions aren’t for everyone. Maybe high school reunions are for those folks who felt connected to the—I began to say “institution,” but let’s just say “organization”—of high school… the athletes, the band and theater kids, the ones who participated in student government… those who were invested in school beyond academics. My experience was nothing like this. My daily plan back then was to get home as soon as possible after school, before one more boy made one more crude remark on the bus or one more snotty chick asked me why Dennis and I were still together or the neighbor girl offered to sell me drugs one more time and I had to stammer out “No thank you” again.

I want to say that I felt safe at home, but only when my Wicked Step-father wasn’t there.

I went to school because I had to, but I was never comfortable there. I was a sojourner in a place where I didn’t belong.

When this epiphany came to me last night, I was deeply entranced, juggling a thousand thoughts, as writers will do, and I suddenly awoke to realize I’d been placing forkful after forkful of the sickeningly sweet dessert in my mouth. At that point, I knew it was time to head home, back to the mountain, where I do, at long last, feel safe.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

High School Reunion, Part I

Tonight I will don irresponsible shoes and drive all the way to the Marriott in Riverside to attend my 40th high school reunion… from Rubidoux High School. Why am I going? I’m not sure.

I was not a memorable person for any reason when I was in high school. And when I began at Rubidoux in my sophomore year, my classmates, who had been attending school together since elementary school, had pretty much established their surrogate families on campus. I was the red-headed step-child, in more ways than one, an interloper from a foreign land. Add to that the dazed (read “closed”) look on my face brought on by culture shock; we had left Orange County, the haven of preppy white kids, and journeyed to West Riverside, the racially diverse, just-above-poverty-level home of my Wicked Step-father. Add to all of that my melancholy, tortured-poet-in-training persona, and you have an easily assembled loner chick.

I had five friends in high school: Pam, Molly, Mahala, my boyfriend Dennis and his sister Anita. After Dennis and I broke up, I did have a huge crush on Leo Wilson, football player and popular man on campus, but he was deeply in love with the woman who is, I’m pretty sure—and sincerely hope—still his wife.

I have not been in touch with Pam, but I’m certain she will not attend the reunion. Molly and Mahala have let me know they won’t be there. Perhaps Anita or Dennis or their older brother Preston who married Janice, from my year, will be there. 

I know that Diana, a person I wish I'd known in high school but met later in my professional life, will be there; she and her husband Bill were both kind friends to me when I taught at Jurupa Valley High School and it was Diana who let me know about the reunion.  I look forward to seeing them.
At my 20th high school reunion, no one remembered me. By my 30th, the people I’d met at the 20th had forgotten me.

So...  I've paid $75 to eat a vegetarian meal tonight in the Grand Ballroom of the Marriott because….

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Observations on the first snowy weekend of the season

It’s cold.

Breathing in icy, pine-scented air cleans your lungs of all the particulates left behind by dirty air. Or at least it feels like it.

It’s easier to walk the loop in low-top sneakers in dry conditions than it is to walk it in high-top snow boots through slush and snow.

No matter how long you put off going outside to bring in firewood, it will always—always—start snowing harder once you finally put your boots on and go outside. And the minute you finish the chore, the snow will let up.

Walking through the forest when it is enshrouded in cloud still reminds me, after all these years, of the book I read as a child, in which a young girl is visited by magic ponies that appear—in colors of pale blue and green and lavender—only when there is heavy fog. I still look for them just beyond the trees.

Apparently my body is made of rubber. Yesterday I took one step down my front stone steps and slipped on the ice, falling onto my back against the steps. My first thought was, ‘I wonder if my back is broken.’ I sat on the steps until I could take an inventory of all my parts, then got up. My neck is a bit stiff today, and my left hip hurts. But I think I’m fine. Amazing, given how hard I fell. Maybe it’s that (almost) daily yoga that keeps me flexible enough to bounce. Does that mean if I keep doing it I’ll still be flexible in twenty years, when I’m almost 80?

The secret reason—and please don’t tell anyone—the secret reason I love walking in a snowfall is that it makes me feel like I live in a snow globe. It’s quiet and peaceful and safe, immured inside the bubble, with only the tiny flakes falling. In that state of being, I can pretend I live in a world where banks don’t steal houses, psychopaths don’t rise to power and commit genocide, people don’t steal children, and there are no earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes or wildfires. Just peace.