Naked Ladies and Other Beauties

I’ve spent most of my life in deserts, first in Colorado, and more recently in a high corner of the Mojave Desert. (Colorado might not seem like a desert since it has tillable soil and no cactuses. What makes it a desert is the lack of surface water. Only Colorado’s white gold — the deep mountain snow — makes the state an oasis. Without water, very little but scrub grows naturally.)

It seems odd then, after a lifetime’s experience of how difficult it is to grow anything, to find myself in an area where things grow almost by accident.

In my walks about town, I see naked ladies everywhere. These pink lily-like flowers of the amaryllis are so named because the flowers grow on naked stems, long after the leaves are gone. But knowing the name doesn’t make these foliage-free flowers any more lovely, especially since I’ve never seen them before.

Nor have I ever seen azaleas, and now a lovely red bloom greets me every morning.

Most surprising, considering my total inability to cultivate rhododendrums, I’ve seen the bounteous bushes growing in the woods.

But everything seems to grow in this fertile place, holly and ivy and a lushness of greenery growing upon other greenery.

And oh, did I forget to mention wild blackberries? Most are not ripe yet, but even so, I manage to find few luscious berries on almost every trek.

What an incredible world we live in. So much diversity! I can only stand in awe, and give thanks.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

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Never Changing. Never the Same.

I went for a three-hour beach walk yesterday. It was perfect timing, with low tide at the mid point of my hike so I mostly had hard wet sand to walk on. It was also a perfect ocean day, cloudy and foggy, and so cool I needed to wear a windbreaker and a scarf around my neck.

For all those hours, the scene never changed — the sea on one side of me, the grass-covered dunes on the other, the sand in front of me, all narrowing to a single point in the distance. It almost seemed as if I were on a treadmill, going nowhere. And yet the scene was ever changing — birds came into view and left, waves of various intensities broke on shore, an assortment of shells and gravel littered the sand.

This never-changing / never-the-same view made me think of us and how we always seem to be the same and yet we are always changing, at least our view point is changing. I don’t know how much we can change fundamentally. At rock bottom, beneath our emotions and our mental chatter, we are awareness, and awareness simply is. But our viewpoint changes with every new challenge, with every widening of our horizons.

I feel as if I should add to this piece, fill out the thought, add a pithy comment or a bit of wit, but apparently, this is the totality of my insight.

Never changing. Never the same.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

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Oregon Coastal Adventure

Yesterday I hiked what was supposed to be a four-mile section of the Oregon Coast Trail, but turned out to be only two miles. Apparently, the distance for that particular hike was calculated as round trip rather than one way, but since the description left out that salient point, when I emerged from the woods into the parking lot after only an hour, I was confused. I wasn’t lost, of course, but I felt lost since I didn’t know where I was exactly, and I didn’t seem to have a phone signal to contact my ride in case I had to notify them of a change in plans. So I continued on down the trail, hoping that the next turnout would give me a better idea of where I was.

The sections I hiked were not really difficult except in spots where steps up or down were more than I could handle. (Like stepping up onto or down from a slanting, very narrow backless chair.) Sometimes I could pull myself up with the help of a trailside tree, other times I had to clamber up on my knees.

After I left the little parking lot, the trail became steeper and narrower. The footpath as a whole was narrow — often only about a foot wide — but sometimes this additional trail section was only six inches wide. And there were more parts that were hard for me to climb up or down. Still, I managed to get to where I could see the next parking area though I couldn’t figure out how to get there from where I was. One unmarked trail led to a creek. Another unmarked trail led to a marshy area.

I did figure out where I was since I was high enough to see that the terrain matched my map. I also figured out that the mileage on the trail description was off. So I headed back up to the first parking area, assured that was my rendezvous point.

Going back up was easy. Or rather easier. (Downhill is much harder for me than uphill. Balance is off; footing is different; and if my left shoe is tied snug enough to keep my foot from sliding forward and squishing my big toe, it pinches a nerve on the the top of my foot.)

I ended up hiking four miles after all. Ended up where I was supposed to meet my friends. Ended up learning something, I am sure, though I don’t know what. Maybe: take things as they come. Perhaps: do whatever necessary to accomplish the next step no matter how awkward or inelegant. Possibly: don’t get so caught up in the doing you forget the being.

Mostly I learned that there is a pub in Oregon with the absolutely best hamburgers ever, made with beef grown and pastured four miles away.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

***

Feeding My Soul

A couple of days ago, I stood on shore, so close to the edge of the land that all I could see were powerful incoming waves and beyond them, in the great distance, more placid waters extending to the far reaches of my horizon. The endless sight of water and the immense sound of surf held me spellbound. There was no fishy odor to bring me back to myself, just the smell of clean ocean air. The usual jumble of words and thoughts in my head were stilled. I was stilled. All that existed at that moment were the ocean and my awareness of this non-human force.

We are so used to seeing things in human terms that we forget how almost inconsequential we are to the world’s existence. The ocean was here eons before the first biped left an ephemeral footstep on the sand, and long after our cities have been deconstructed by nature and the elements reclaimed by the earth, the tides will still exert their power.

Eventually my restless spirit exerted its own power, and I continued my walk on land’s end, but the magic of that moment when I was an ocean stayed with me.

Yesterday I walked through a dune forest, accompanied by the distant sound of the surf, like blood rushing through my ears. Tsunami warning signs reminded me of the power of the nearby ocean, but that calm summer day held no danger. I was the only human creature in the woods, though dragonflies, birds, and a deer shared their space with me. I stopped to eat a few wild blackberries and caught a glimpse of a snowy egret in a hidden pond beyond the brambles.

It wasn’t until I returned to civilization that I realized what I am doing and why adventure pulls at me. I am feeding my soul.

When my life mate/soul mate died, his goneness left a vast emptiness in me, so vast that it could encompass the whole world. So that is what I am doing — encompassing the world.

Someday, perhaps, I will be filled. Someday I might lose the ability to absorb my surroundings. Someday I might lose the ability or stamina to walk much, might even lose the desire for adventure, but whatever worldness and other-beingness I have poured into my self will always be with me, whether I consciously remember or not.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

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Seeing the World on Foot

A friend asked me if I’ve gotten adventuring out of my system, and the answer is no. The truth is, I’m getting addicted. I love seeing the world on foot. I love being part of a relatively untamed environment. And I feel as if, in some strange way, I belong out there. Before I got out of the car the other day to begin a seven-mile, no-turning-back hike, I had to steel myself against trepidation, but as soon as I stepped on the trail, I felt as if I’d come home.

That feeling of coming home was as momentary as the trepidation, though the joy of the walk remained until the excruciating last hour. But the hardship is part of the adventure, too. Coming to the end of one’s skill, coming to the end — or almost the end — of one’s strength and continuing anyway is as much a mental adventure as it is physical. During that grueling downhill slide on loose dirt and rock, I just wanted to be done with it all, but before, during the long golden part of the hike, I wished the trail went on forever. Wished I could just keep walking.

I don’t know if I will ever be able to do long backpacking trips, or any sort of backpacking trip — the hard parts of hiking are hard enough without the extra weight of a pack and the easy parts would no longer be easy — but I have the whole rest of my life to train for such a trip.

Dance classes have helped with my strength and stamina, so I’m planning to be back in class for most of September and October. And then? Who knows. More dancing perhaps. Or maybe Louisiana. I have an online friend I’ve planned to meet for many years, and going to a swampy area is better suited to cooler temperatures.

Meantime, I can hardly wait for the next adventure, to see what I can see, to see what I can be.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

***

Ghost Highway Adventure

It seems odd to me that after all these years of talking about my desire for adventure, I no longer have reason to talk — I’m doing. My excursions might not seem all that adventurous to the truly adventurous, but for now they satisfy my inner cry for something more, and to be honest, they are all I can handle, or maybe I should say they are all my feet can handle. (Right now my feet are so sore I can barely stand, so I am taking it easy.)

Yesterday I headed out on a 7.2 mile hike, starting on what was called The Damnation Creek Trail. After about three-fourths of a mile I took a turn onto the Coastal Trail. This section of the Coastal Trail lay inland on what was the original Redwood Highway. The highway had been built in the 1920s and abandoned in 1935 because of the difficulty in maintaining it — it kept crumbing and was beset with rockslides. (Ironically, on the drive to the trail head, my friend talked about recent discussions to move the current road further inland because it too is crumbling.) In spots, the pavement with the white center line showed through, and even a few of the original mile markers remained.

I’d felt a moment of trepidation before I got out of the car — since there was no phone signal at the trail head, I would not be able to turn back if things got rough because there would be no way to call my friend for a ride back to town. But as soon as I got onto the trail, my trepidation vanished to be replaced by a smile. My smile widened when I turned onto the old road. Pure magic. Not a hike so much as a perfect walk in the woods. I could swing along, enjoying the day, the scenery, the forest without having to worry about where I was placing my feet. I saw a couple of people toward the beginning of the trail, but for three hours I saw no one. Just me and the magical place.

In spots, the road all but disappeared, leaving a narrow trail crossed with fallen trees or buried under rock, but those places were quickly navigated. Somewhere along the way, the old highway disappeared altogether. I think it was right after the viewpoint where I stopped to take a photo of the bay far below. (In the photo, the ocean is barely visible beneath the fog. In fact, from that point forward, my journey was accompanied by the lonesome call of the foghorn.)

The narrow trail along the bluffs began with a steady half-mile climb that had me panting. Halfway up, I found a fallen tree that had been sawed to pieces to remove it from the trail, and the thick logs had been cut into seats. I figured that was a good place for a snack. Unfortunately, so did the mosquitoes. Before I could sit down they began snacking on me (despite the citronella bracelet I wore that was supposed to repel the bloodthirsty critters), so I continued on my way. I felt good. No aches or pains. No tiredness. Then, toward the end of my journey, came the toll for the magic trek along the ghost highway. (Magic always comes with a price. Everyone who has ever read a fairy tale knows that.)

I began a long downhill stretch. Steep and gnarly, the path was still easy enough to navigate. Not fun, exactly, but not gruelling, either. Then I turned a corner. The trail became even steeper, but worse than that, it was all loose dirt with looser rocks. Oh my. I wished I had a second trekking pole, but the time for magic had passed, and my wish wasn’t granted. So I set off downhill. Slowly. Very slowly. The rocks under my feet kept sliding, taking me with them. I lost my balance several times but managed to stay on my feet. When I saw a switchback up ahead, I figured the terrible trail was about to end. It didn’t.

On every hike, there comes a moment when I realize I am way out of my depth (or way over my head — choose your cliche) and all I can do is endure. So I kept going. One exhausting step at a time. After about a half hour of this, I saw a young man climbing toward me. He said I was almost to to the end, and asked if I’d come from the highway (where the trail had started). When I said yes, he responded, “Props to you.” Whatever that means.

I continued downhill on that treacherous path, heartened by the thought that the ordeal would soon end, but it didn’t end. I did. I was just standing there, unable to move another step, when a man climbed up the trail. As he passed me, he said, “You’re almost down. The trail flattens out after the next curve. The parking lot is on the left.”

But it didn’t flatten out. Still, I knew the end would come, so I kept descending. And yes, that terrible path did end. Eventually. But the parking lot was still a half mile away on a gentle incline that was almost too steep for my shaking legs to climb.

Writing this, I find myself smiling. Not about the final descent (it lost 1000 feet of elevation in a half mile) or my aching feet but about walking the ghost highway. There were times I could hear the sounds of automobiles passing. I’m sure the sounds came from the nearby modern highway. Well, almost sure.

Pure magic.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

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Walking Back in Time

Yesterday I hiked through an old-growth redwood forest. The trail was difficult, mostly because of exposed tree roots and the 80% humidity, but the experience was . . . immense. When there were no other people around with their non-stop chatter, the silence was profound. In spots, a screeching bird or gurgling brook rang clear, and the sound of my footsteps always accompanied me but otherwise . . . silence. And when I stopped to listen, nothing seemed to exist except that soundless forest, not even me.

I felt as if I were walking back into time, and of course, I was — the forest is thousands of years old. At one point I was reminded of Ray Bradbury’s story “The Butterfly Effect,” and I wondered if the world would be different when I emerged from the forest, but then, I’d be different too, so how would I know?

The oddest thing about my little adventure is I barely remember it. My aching body tells me I was there, but my memory of the experience is distant, as if it happened a long time ago. Maybe those four hours spent hiking in that primeval forest were so inconceivable that my brain couldn’t register it. Maybe I was so caught up in the immediacy of every awe-filled moment that I didn’t capture the feeling of the whole thing. Maybe I was subsumed into the forest — became, for all those hours, not me but a part of a greater whole.

Or maybe I really did walk back in time, and my adventure happened many years ago. In such an incredible and incredibly ancient place, anything is possible.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

***

Out of the Grimmest Fairy Tale

I spent a lot of time during the past five years roaming the desert. Even when I went hiking in the nearby mountains, the vegetation grew sparsely as befitting a desert climate. Now I’m visiting an area that is so far from being a desert, it’s like a different planet.

Sometimes the green growth seems too way too much of a good (or bad) thing, like butter on bacon. Trees, ferns, moss, vines, shrubs spilling all together in an impenetrable lush wall.

And sometimes parts of this overwhelming growth are downright creepy.

Yesterday I stumbled upon a nearby county campground, the camp sites hewn out of the edges of an ancient forest. I meandered through the trees, away from the campers, following a little used trail. Although this was just a small isolated piece of the Redwood Forest, cut off from the whole by highways and private property, it seemed as if I’d been dropped in the middle of a vast and dense woods, something straight out of the grimmest fairy tale — a black forest where trolls roamed, deformed toads lived in the slimy creek, and creatures were imprisoned in tree bark by evil wizards.

For some reason known only to my phone, the photos I took came out bright and cheery, and give only a hint of how creepy the place was. Not only was the forest dense, dark, and dank, ghosts of an unimaginably ancient forest remained where redwoods had been felled. New trees grew out of the old. Fire and time carved caves in the massive stumps. And mold colored them green.

Eek.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

***

A Different Sort of Adventure

What is the difference between today and last Thursday? I’d really like to know, but I have a hunch it’s a rhetorical question. Last Thursday, I went to Kellogg Beach, and walked for six hours along Pelican Bay without seeing a single creature except for gulls. Today, there were gulls, but also dogs, horses, fisherfolk, old couples, young couples, and a couple of individuals cloud bathing. (At least I’m assuming they were cloud bathing. They were sprawled on towels on the beach, and there wasn’t a single bit of blue or spark of a sun ray in the sky.) I set out on my solitary walk anyway, but people had driven out onto the sand, so were spread out all along the beach.

No one else was walking, so I still managed to find peace and renewal by the bay, but all the activity made me wonder what brought so many people out to play in the clouds. Maybe it was simply a lemming-type day. People woke up, and en masse, decided to head for that particular piece of oceanside land.

Even the worst day at the beach is pretty spectacular, but nothing happened to make it an adventure. Still, I’ve been having an adventure of a different kind. A literary kind. After years of having no inclinination to write, this weekend, I dug out my moribund dance studio mystery and started working on it. Have the first three chapters written. Amazing!

It helps that the friend I’m staying with is not only my first true fan, but a writer herself. (We met online in a writer’s group seven years ago. It took us all this time to finally meet, and it’s as if we’re old friends. Which, of course, we are.) She’s been encouraging, mostly because she wants to read the book, so I’ve been letting her read my work as it progresses. So far, so good.

(I also told her the story of my grieving woman book I began as a NaNoWriMo project five years ago, and her wide eyed-eagerness to read that finished book made me think it’s time to finish that book along with my other started projects.)

I’ve considered trying to find a writer’s colony or a writer’s retreat to help me refocus on what I want from my literary life, and apparently, I got my wish.

I’d planned to go back to the high desert this week, but I’m staying awhile longer. There are still places around here I haven’t yet seen, parts of the beach I haven’t explored, trails I haven’t hiked. And there are words to write.

Adventure, indeed.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

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My Oceanside Adventure

It’s a strange thing, this adventuring. Sometimes what is supposed to be a big adventure turns into a small jaunt, and sometimes a small jaunt turns into a big adventure. And so it was on Thursday.

I’d checked the tide tables and found that low tide came in the morning rather than late in the afternoon, so I planned a small jaunt up the so-called California Coastal Trail. (The tides are important because, as I have learned, it’s a heck of a lot easier to walk on the wet sands of receding water than the dry sand of high tide.) Wet sand forms a hard surface that allows for a nice easy stride, and I expected a nice easy walk along Pelican Bay.

And that’s what I got.

At least for a while.

No one else was on the beach, and I marvelled at being alone with the gulls and the waves, the unending sea on my left, the Tolowa Dunes on my right. It was the sort of experience I’d hoped for when I considered walking the entire coastal trail, and there I was, plunked down alone in the middle of my dream.

I’d planned to walk four miles then cut inland on one of the dune trails to a road where I could be picked up, but I couldn’t find the trail. At least I didn’t think I did. I did find one steep dune with sandy indentations that might have been footsteps, but it didn’t seem like much of a trail. So I continued walking along the beach.

After a while, I saw houses up ahead and I figured if necessary, I would sneak through someone’s yard to get to a road. I walked the mile to the houses, but found that they were beyond reach, on the other side of the Smith River. This waterway was not a small stream I could wade across, but a full flowing river. (The photo below with smooth water is the river.)

Oh, my.

That left me with two choices — go back the way I came (a five or six mile journey) or walk along the river bank and hope I could find the dune trail that went from the river to the road. I chose the river, thinking there was no way I’d make it back along the ocean — it was simply too far.

I walked about a half mile along the river before I found the trail. Or a trail — l still don’t know if the trail was the right one. I walked for at least a mile (“walk” in this case is a euphemism for slip and stumble and slide) along the shifting sands and entangling beach grasses of the dunes, unable to get high enough to see where I was going. Although the map showed a single trail, I kept finding all sorts of similar trails cutting off the trail I was on. All seemed more like accidental trails — trails that are accidentally made when one or more people set out cross country — rather than official trails, and I had visions of being lost forever in those inhospitable dunes.

So I took whatever trails I could that headed off toward the ocean. Some parts of these trails were barely passable, heading up steep dunes, but I kept struggling, and finally came to the ocean.

Well, sort of. I could see the ocean but couldn’t get to it since I was standing at the top of a steep dune with no way to maneuver the decline by foot. I ended up sliding down the dune on my behind. Inelegant, but it did the job.

I saw footprints leading up to me and then angling away, and it shocked me to realize those were my footprints. The trail I descended had been the very trail I’d checked out a couple of hours earlier. Even if it had been the right trail, I knew I wouldn’t have been able to find the road midst all those unmarked paths. At least, walking along the bay, I knew where I was. I just had to trudge those many miles back to my starting point on the dry sands above the incoming tide.

I took a break first, sat on a piece of driftwood, nibbled on some cheese, drank water, changed my socks and knocked all the dune sand out of my shoes. Then I headed back.

I don’t know how many miles I covered in all those hours, but I do know it was at least eleven. I wasn’t particularly tired, just achy — mainly my feet and the calf muscle I’d wrenched a few days previously. And my feet were wet from sneaky waves that found me even beyond the high water line.

But I did it. Had lost my way and found it. Hiked for six hours. Managed to get back safely. Ah, adventure!

I took it easy yesterday. Only walked a couple of miles on city streets to work off the lingering stiffness, but there seems to be no lasting effects from that oceanside adventure.

Did I learn anything from this particular adventure? Probably not. Adventure is about being, and I certainly had plenty of time to simply be, as if I were just another piece of driftwood keeping vigil on the shore.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

***

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