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End of the world

Today is December 21, the official Mayan end of the world…and it’s snowing in Mars Hill, NC. Well, it’s snowing a little. We might get an inch. I’m glad I decided to stay home and work on writing and art rather than risk getting out on these wendy-windy, hilly, icy roads. An inch doesn’t sound like much but it’s enough if you’re going downhill on a curve nd you hit a patch of ice…and there’s no shoulder, just a  sheer drop. I won’t tempt the end of the world theory by getting out on dangerous mountain back roads.

I’ve been hearing “It’s the end times!!” all my freakin’ life. Really. I’m 59. How can people continue to be scared of something that never happens? Are our memories (as a species) that short? I guess so. Every year-EVERY YEAR-I hear people saying, in surprise, “It was so cold a couple of weeks ago and I got out my coats and gloves and now this week is so warm! Now I’ve got to get out my short-sleeved shirts again! What is with this weather?” Jesus Christ, it’s called Indian Summer and it happens EVERY YEAR. Every year it gets cold, then warms up, then settles down to being cold for the winter.  During the winter, here in the South, we’ll have several cold days, then a couple of warm days. In my hometown, 70 on Christmas day is not unheard of. Here in the mountains, it’s cold. Cold and icy and snowy. And peppered among the really cold days are relatively warm days. So, why are people continually surprised about the weather? Maybe people simply don’t go outside enough. Anyway, I figure those are the same people who will give you big lectures about the “endtimes”-even though those are the same dire warnings I’ve been hearing my entire life.

My own personal end times will get here eventually, and those are the only end times I spend my energy on, and I suggest you all do the same. Live your life. Yes, go Zen on yourself and everyone else and appreciate the moment you’re in. Make sure you stop, several times every day, and just experience whatever is going on. Even if it’s painful. Sometimes feeling the pain is better than resisting it or denying it. Experience your work. Stop and look at what you’re doing, even if it seems mindless and boring. Remind yourself that this moment, honestly, this particular moment is IT. None of us are guaranteed anything-not tomorrow, not 20 years from now, not this afternoon. So stop and make sure you aren’t missing the moments of your life. We don’t know how many there are going to be.

I had a boyfriend once who was constantly letting me down. Once, we were supposed to drive to the mountains for the day-I lived somewhere else then-and he changed his mind when I called to remind him. He didn’t feel like it, he said, he wanted to stay home and watch TV. When I pointed out that he’d done this each time we were supposed to take a day trip he laughed  and said “Oh, there’ll be other Saturdays, get over it.” I lost it then. I told him I was going to the mountains for the day, I was leaving at 8am and if he wanted to go, he was welcome, but I wasn’t staying home. When I got home the next night (yes, I went alone and had a great time!) he was astounded and upset that I had been gone all day. He was worried, he said, what if something had happened? I said the only thing that had happened was I realized I had no idea how many Saturdays I had and I wasn’t going to waste them watching TV with him. You may have figured out by now that I also decided I wasn’t going to waste any more of them on him. I didn’t and now when I really want to do something, I figure out a way to do it.

Here’s a quote I ran across the other day that made all kinds of lights go off in my head. I hope it helps you:

“Walker, there is no path; the path is made by walking.” Antonio Machado.

So walk already.

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Connected

I’m reestablishing my life. Internet, TV, phone-all connected. My cats (especially Max) were initially alarmed at the TV-“who’s that? Where are they? What the hell is going on in the strange flat box thing?” After an hour or so of slinking and staring they settled down in my chair with me and napped. They accept what is, these two. And my Max seems to think if Mama’s OK with it, he should be too. So they wriggled in on either side of my legs in the easy chair and slept while I watched a movie and caught up on the news. Of course, once they settled down I couldn’t move, but that’s OK.

I am doing research for a couple of writing projects so I’m glad to have access to the world again. And I’m back to 60+ hour work weeks so my writing projects are going slowly. My thinking is to work as much I can until the really bad winter weather. I think last year was an anomaly, ice and snow are on the way again. If I can work a LOT and put a little money away, I can work on art and writing on the days I can’t get out to work. I’m also trying to make myself get up and write for a specific time every day. My weekly job at the nursing home puts me getting home after 11, and I read for a while before I can get to sleep. It’s tempting to sleep late, but I absolutely despise waking up with only an hour or two before work. I’m too tired to do much when I get home. I can read any time, but writing when I’m really tired hasn’t been working. I’ll try it again, but mainly I want to lose myself in an alternate reality after I’ve spent 8 hours at the nursing home. My feet have healed up and boy am I testing them! So far, the adjustment back to working in a nursing home has been painful. I said I’d never go back, but I’m trying to stay close to home and there isn’t a hospital in Mars Hill. I am wary of private duty, because you never know when it will end. Still, if I could find something close to home I would leave the nursing home. I haven’t done much that is more depressing and sad than working in a nursing home. It reaffirms my decision to NEVER do this. I won’t be dependent, I won’t live the last years of my life being wheeled around because I can’t walk, fed because I can’t hold a fork, diapered because I can’t get myself to the bathroom. It’s not life and I won’t live it.

Being injured also emphasized that my decision is right for me. I knew I would get better, I knew what the injury was and how to treat it. But getting there, from injured to healthy, was painfully slow and I was afraid every day I’d done something permanent. I could not live with that powerless feeling as a way of life. I won’t. I don’t want to be at the nursing home, and if I find something else I’ll leave, but in the meantime I’m using it to shine the light of gratitude on my life. I’m healthy, I’m sane, I’m independent, I’m as free as I can be as a human being.

Grateful

My feet are healing well and I’m going to start a new assignment next week. Being a CNA doesn’t pay much, but I can always find work. The work itself isn’t perceived as valuable; the pay reflects that. But I know I’m needed, and most of the time the people I’m actually helping are glad to see me.

My friends here have been so supportive and kind since I got back that I know I made the right decision. My generous friend Susan, who is giving me a safe, comfortable and stress-free environment to heal, has reminded me of that, urging me to not feel guilty or responsible for the damage to my feet. She suggested that holding on to that kind of guilt and misplaced responsibility actually holds the damage in, arrests the healing process. We know, all of us, that what we tell ourselves is the truth becomes the truth. She pointed out the folly in my continued thinking that I had damaged my body, even if I didn’t mean to. What I need ed to be thinking, and saying, was that I was healing my body. Such a simple thing. And so profound.

So here it is. I am healing myself, physically, mentally, and spiritually. I am grateful for this opportunity to concentrate on the healing process, on being present in that process. Thank you, Susan, for being kind enough to help me help myself. Oh! And for letting me spend time with Harmony. I miss my animals so much. It’s one of the things that caused me such personal pain on the Trail. Being here, with Harmony, has help me relax and appreciate the present, relieved the stress of trying to figure out what I’m going to do. Harmony has accepted me completely, just as I am, and that warmth does more good than any pill from the doctor.

My landlord has welcomed me back and is looking forward to my return once I have a regular work schedule. He says we’ll worry about rent after he gets back from a trip up North in a couple of weeks. I can pick up Annie and take her back home. Max will come home, he assures me.

It’s hard for me to understand the generosity of the people I have in my life now. My brother and his wife, Susan, my landlord, Richard, Donna at Common Ground, so many people here who are welcoming me home. It’s hard for me to grasp that this is home, but it is true. I haven’t been so sick for a place, for certain people, in my life. When I came back, the familiar streets were unchanged and indifferent. I felt I could look down and find my last footprint and simply step into it. Life would continue with or without me, but the footprint was there for me to step into and begin moving again. Oh, it’s good to be home!

My Feet!

I’m at my brother’s house, letting my feet heal before I head back to Asheville. My brother and his wife are long-suffering, understanding and generous. I know he would probably love to see me head back out when I heal up, because he’s such an avid backpacker and outdoorsman himself. He also has respect for my decisions and is probably breathing a quiet sigh of relief. Yeah, he’d love to see me stand on top of Katahdin in September, but he’d also like to see me putting more of my art out, submit my writing and be safe in a place where I’m at peace with myself.

Like I said, he and his wife are rare, wonderful people who I am grateful to have in my life.

My feet still hurt. I have to take some pretty serious painkiller to move around, so I spend a lot of time in bed, letting the tissue rebuild. When I hobble to the bathroom I think of the people I’ve cared for and how they haven’t been able to navigate freely for years. I never want this for an extended period of time. This just reminds me that my life offers me more freedom than I realize, sometime. The prison of bills, of trying to make a tiny bit of money cover necessities and hope there’s enough left over for the inevitable surprise (car trouble, bad weather, etc.) keeps a cell for most of us. I’ll remind myself of that the next time I get angry when the money doesn’t stretch far enough. At least, I’ll say, I’m ambulatory, healthy, and I can depend on myself.

It’s good to be back.

Leaving Asheville

Linda, who owns Fiddlestix (the first shop to carry my art in Mars Hill) and her helpers, Billie, Jean and Anne, gave me a going away party Saturday night. We drank wine and good beer, munched fresh veggies and homemade chili and mingled the way good-natured people do at parties. Everyone is supportive and cheerful about my hiking trip. They came to pat me on the back and warn me about bears. Linda  stayed after a tiring, busy day, uncorked wine and arranged crackers, cheeses and dip.  Jean brought fresh veggies and hummas. Billie and her husband, Bob, brought homemade chili and wine from Michigan. Donna and Lawrence, from Common Ground, came after an equally tiring day with big smiles and hugs.  My former landlord, Richard, came and reminded evryone he is still planning to meet me in Hot Springs –with beer! Shawn, another outdoor enthusiast made us all laugh with camping stories. Todd, who makes furniture from sticks, much of the time right there in the woods where he finds them, wished a safe trip. Susan and Bentley, who have been so encouraging and happy for me, gave me extra work to help finance this trip. Seth is caring for Annie and lets me sleep on the couch. Sherrye and Benson. Sherrye helped me get in my first major show here. She also gave me a bar of her wonderful handmade soap. Gyspybee.com is her soap company and you should check it out.

I made them all stand still for a couple of pictures. I don’t usually do that irritating picture thing at parties, but I’m going away for 6 months into the woods so it seemed …appropriate.

It was a fun party, it lasted just long enough for everyone to get to know each other a little better, and for me to realize how many good, solid friends I have made here. This is the place I think of now when I think “home”, I have friends to come back to. It makes leaving easier, and harder. Easier because I know they will be saving a place for me. Harder because finding a home as eluded me until just now. It’s hard to leave something you’ve just found.

My little house in Mars Hill was my first real home in the traditional sense, but after I made this decision to hike the trail I gave it up. The past 6 months have been teaching me that I carry my home inside me. It hasn’t been easy, and I fought it a lot of the time. I’m still learning to accept when old habits say resist, but I’m catching myself more often.

I’m still learning to step back, stop judging, stop bitching and let it go. I’m still learning to look inside for home, peace, self-worth.

Seth and I hiked yesterday, a trail that followed the Laurel River at Hot Springs. Even though there are places defiled with graffiti and trash (WTF?) the trail is absolutely beautiful. I realized I wanted to hike it again in the Winter, when the scenery should be spectacular. We talked about other trails, in other seasons, and I said “6 months isn’t such a long time.” I started thinking of what I want to do when I come back. I hadn’t let myself plan to come back until just then. I didn’t realize how much I thought of Asheville as “home.”

I understand that I carry my home inside me, but I also believe, because Asheville has taught me, that there are places that make keeping my inside home quiet, sane and peaceful. My hikes in the mountains have taught me that there is nothing more beautiful than the outdoors, nothing more interesting, nothing more fun, nothing more satisfying. I don’t go shopping for something to do, I go hiking; I don’t  watch TV, I sit by a river and watch what happens. Here you can listen to the woods, smell the juniper and fir, drink spring water cold enough to make your head ache, breathe air so crisp it slices. I can feel my own blood and muscle pushing me up the mountains. All of this I have done here, and it will take me through the Appalachians.

For many of us, Asheville is a place you find, a place where you  can truly live. It’s not a place you ever leave. Not really

new poems

FRIEND

There is no crueler arena

than Childhood.

My attempt to help my friend

left me as far on the

outside as she was.

She lost control

of her bowels at school,

one of the greatest fears

of Childhood,

exposing

some weakness,

knowing the predators

at the edge of the herd

would pick us off.

I helped her out of the

great laughing crowd

in the schoolyard

and stayed with her in

the sickly green vastness

of the bathroom.

I stood outside the stall

where she cried,

passing wet paper towels

under the door.

Somewhere between

the dust and dirt

of recess

and the cold echoing sobs,

small, fierce vows

leaped the chasm between

her head and mine.

I lived afterward with

the horror of my secret,

would there ever be

anyone to sit with

me in the

cold green bathroom,

and risk

Eternity on the Outside?

======     =-=-=-

DRIVING

I checked the oil,

the air in almost-new tires.

My gas gauge pushed the F

and my windows sparkled.

The passenger seat held

an assortment of books on tape

and a notebook .

Backing down the drive I

breathed in the moist

air of dawn and

smiled at the wake-up

songs of cardinals.

I drove down the highway

that connects my house

to the house 100 miles away,

hoping, again, I will

find the person I lost

So long ago.

If I pack more carefully,

drive slower or faster

maybe I can find

that bend in the road

that takes me back.

When she still breathed

the same clammy air

at five in the morning

that I breathe now.

Breathing and talking and laughing

maybe if I time it just right,

I can reach her

before she’s gone

and ask her the questions

that propel me out the door,

and down the highway

over and over again.