The Truly Creative Mind

A couple of weeks ago, I was discussing my work-in-progress with a friend. This WIP is about a murder in the studio where we take dance classes, and my idea is that each of us should have an unconscious hand in the murder. Ideally, each of our flaws would become a fatal flaw. For example, if one person hadn’t been late, if another person hadn’t left something behind, if a third hadn’t picked up something by accident, the poor woman wouldn’t have died.

We discussed possible flaws to assign to our classmates, then my friend said, “You know what’s wrong with you, don’t you.” I gave a rueful smile because I knew what she was going to say even before she said it: “You’re too sensitive.” (I don’t know how to work sensitivity into the story equation, so for now, I’m thinking my character’s flaw will be disdain, which I have to confess I sometimes feel when people say things that are patently untrue.)

This seems to be the consensus nowadays, that I’m too sensitive. I take things to heart, am sensitive to slights, hurt terribly by unintended insults, feel unfairness no matter who it’s directed at, wounded by disloyalty, and being ignored or shot down when I speak silences me completely.

I’m not sure why my sensitivity bothers others, but there it is. It would be a lot more comfortable for all concerned, of course, if I were able to accept with insouciance what anyone said to me, and yet, sensitivity has always been part of me. Grief blew whatever defenses I’d built to smithereens, and now everything bothers me, partly because I think people should feel honored that I have deigned to spend time with them. (I’m joking, of course, though there is an uncomfortable kernel of truth to the matter.)

To be honest, I’m not sure what being less sensitive will gain me. Why would I want to feel less? To insulate myself from unpleasantness? To ignore nuances of voice (both complimentary and chastising)? To accept other people’s view of the situation as the only reality?

I read something when I was a very young girl that has stuck with me throughout the decades because it seemed to be about me. I found this quote in the forward of a Pearl S. Buck book. (I was a precocious reader, having read everything in the children’s library by the time I was in second grade and everything in the young adult library before the fourth grade).

“The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. To him… a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death. Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create — so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating.” —Pearl S. Buck.

I’m not as hypersensitive as Pearl Buck, at least not anymore, but I was that sensitive as a child and a young woman, and apparently, I am heading once again in that direction. I have a hunch this sensitivity is something that being so connected to Jeff all those years protected me from, because I didn’t feel so abnormally sensitive when he was alive. His presence seemed to give me a safe place to “incubate,” to be myself without fretting about my difference from everyone else (because I was like him). Then later, his long illness dropped me into a period of dormancy, of numbness, of simply getting through the days, weeks, years.

And now? Without the cocoon of our relationship or the numbness of his dying, I am thrown once more into the world to deal with life however I can, to feel whatever I can. I seem to have fallen into a period of relative joylessness, but one day, the joy will return, and what will I have gained if I have learned to shut myself off from my sensitivities?

Of course, if people considered my feelings first, debates about my hypersensitivity would be moot. And since that will not happen, all I can do is deal with the fallout as best as I can with walks and tears and chocolate. And blogging.


(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.”)

Me? Cantankerous?

I have a hunch I am not going to be a sweet old lady when I become elderly, one of those geriatric dears everyone loves because . . . well, I don’t know why people like them. I just know I’m not going to be one of them. I’m going to be the crotchety old crank who won’t give an inch, and who has nothing but contempt for the fools who manage to find their way into her orbit.

Oh, wait. I am that crank now.

After class today (where I kept my mouth shut when our exercises were interrupted with a political harangue by a woman who didn’t know what the hell she was talking about), we went to a nearby restaurant for lunch. We all ordered the same thing, windexcept I added an extra condiment, which made my bill 80 cents more than everyone else’s. But I was charged almost $2.00 more. I pointed out the discrepancy, and the cashier told me they gave me the same discount they gave everyone else. I tried to explain that they gave me a 10% discount on one item, not the total bill. I should have just shut up and let the matter go, but the more the two young women ganged up on me, arguing that they were right, the more I dug in my heels. I can’t say it was the money that bothered me, can’t even say it was the principle of the thing. It was simply a matter of their rudeness and their refusal to concede they might be wrong. (The way I see it, the world would be a lot better off if people just listened to me. :-) )

And I was cranky.

After all that, I didn’t feel like eating, so I told them to give me my money back. They said they couldn’t do that — the manager would have to do a refund, but the manager wasn’t there. So I took the food home and gave it to my very strange roommate.

I apologized to my companions for making a scene. My dance teacher said I had to calm down, I’ve been too nervous lately. She asked if I were worried about our upcoming belly dance performance or my trip, and I said no, though the truth is, upon reflection, I find I am nervous about both things.

I enjoy our small performances, but the big productions we participate in at the college a couple times a year are not fun for me. It’s a huge commitment of time (for example, on dress rehearsal day we are there from about 1:30pm to 10:30pm, though we are on stage approximately 6 minutes total for our two dances.) There is a level of competence expected that I so often cannot meet and, for some reason, this year I have become self-conscious about how I look on stage. It didn’t bother me the first time we did a belly dance, mostly because for me it was about laying it all out there, saying “this is me.” But that was then, and this is now. I am two years older, no thinner, and I hear the echo of a friend telling me after our last performance that we looked ridiculous, us older folk among the energetic college kids. (A friend I’ve since dropped.)

And I am having second thoughts about taking a trip in winter in an El Nino year. It is frigid here in the desert, the winds have been fierce, and there seems to be more precipitation than normal, which makes me wonder what it will be like elsewhere. I worry about traveling in unsafe conditions, especially since drivers lately seem to have gone berserk. Three times today alone, drivers moved into my lane with apparently no sense I was there. Luckily, all three times, I was able to move into the next lane or slow down without incident.

So yes, I am a bit anxious, though not enough to be losing sleep over. Mostly, I’m just cantankerous.

Want to make something of it?


(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.”)

Life Lessons

Being cranky and impatient with the shenanigans of others as I currently am has a good side. At least for me. Being hyper aware of people’s shortcomings is like a having a mirror that shows me my own shortcomings, shows me what I need to work on.

The people who insist on making everything about them are reminding me the world does not revolve around a single person. We all revolve around each other, all have a place, even if it’s hard to concede another’s place, even if it’s hard to hold our own.

Those who refuse to take responsibility for their actions, including seemingly simple actions that affect others such as asking for more than is offered, are teaching me to be mindful of how everything affects everything else, and to accept the consequences of what I do.

Those who insist on always being right are teaching me that sometimes kindness and discretion are a greater right.

Those who insist on having the last word are teaching me to hold my tongue.

Those who insist on always doing their own thing even in a synchronized dance class are teaching me the importance of cooperating to get harmonious results.

Those who constantly one-up others, who have done more, been sicker or healthier, been more successful or more victimized, are teaching me that modesty has its place. (Actually, this is something I already know. But these poor folks remind me why I do not like to push myself forward.)

One of these days my hypersensitivity will pass, but these lessons will remain with me. I hope.

(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.”)


What Goes Up Must Come Down

I find myself shying away from writing about what I am feeling now that many people I know in offline life read this blog. It was one thing telling my truth to strangers who were attracted to my words because they felt the way I did or who were curious to see what I wrote. It’s something completely different to worry those I encounter every day. Sometimes it takes more courage than I have to put myself out here in the blogosphere, especially if it shows me in a bad light, but not doing so hurts only me. For many years now, writing this blog has helped me find my way through the trials and trails of my life, and I need this now as much as I ever did. So here’s the truth, as far as I know.

20150903 120855 resizedWhen I was in Crescent City, wandering through the Redwood Forest and meandering along the beach, I couldn’t imagine ever being unhappy again. And yet, here I am, slowly sliding into . . . Grief? Sorrow? Loneliness? Emptiness? Depression? Not really sure. I do know I am prone to Seasonal Affective Disorder, where the closing in of the darkness makes me SAD. (Which is why I always celebrate the end of the creeping darkness.) And allergies affect my mood more than they affect my sinuses. (Never have figured that out. In fact, my severe allergy reactions have sometimes been mistaken for mono or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.) It’s also possible the balance of life is kicking in — what goes up must come down, and I was “up” when I was up north. And now I am down in the southern part of the state.

Even worse than feeling down, I am finding people’s shenanigans hard to tolerate. Find their constant prattle . . . dare I say it? . . . boring. But I also find my time alone empty. (Come to think of it, this could be just plain old fashioned grief. I miss Jeff, still and always.)

I have never particularly liked this town where I find myself. I did love being close to the desert, but ever since my father’s house was sold, I’ve been city-bound when I’m here, trapped not just by miles of surrounding houses and businesses, but by first the heat and currently the chill winds. Now that I have my car back, I could drive to the desert to walk, but the desert doesn’t speak to me as it once did. Still, I will have to do something to catapult myself out of this particular phase. (Those of you who have been in this sort of situation understand the vicious circle. You know you need to walk off the exhaustion and sadness, but you are too sad and exhausted to get out there to do it.)

I sound as if I’m whining, and maybe I am. I know I sound self-centered, and that I definitely am. (It’s hard not to sound self-centered when you are writing about yourself.) Still, I am keeping busy in the hopes that busyness will stave off some of the sadness. Tomorrow I have ballet class, then a visit to a home show, and finally a movie and birthday party.

And in less than five weeks I leave on an extended road/camping/hiking trip. I worry about heading out in winter, but I know if I don’t do something, I will slowly fold in on myself, and I can’t allow that to happen. Won’t allow it to happen.

And guess what? It’s only 38 days, 19 hours, and 18 minutes until the end of the creeping darkness!!!


(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, andDaughter 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.”)

Blog Stagnation

I seem to have fallen into a period of blog stagnation. Nothing to say, no noteworthy thoughts, no insights, no adventures. Every day I come here meaning to write something, and every day I end up doing other things. Playing solitaire, researching camping equipment, helping a friend set up the social networking sites for his business, sometimes even typing a bit of the book I started writing. (Just typing, you understand. Not writing anything new.)

I don’t seem to find myself smiling very often, either, and yet just a few weeks ago, I could feel the smile on my face whenever I set out into the woods. There was something so basic about walking among the trees that it felt mystical. Now? Not much of anything going on. It’s too hot to do much walking around here, and anyway, there’s no place interesting within walking distance. (It was less than a mile to the desert from my father’s house, which is why I became so familiar with the desert. If I had to drive, I’d never have bothered. And even if I wanted to drive somewhere interesting, I am still minus a car.) Even dance classes don’t fill me the way they used to, maybe because when the rest of my life was a mess, they provided an escape, and now that I don’t need that escape, well, let’s just say the not-always-pleasant interactions with others are harder to deal with.

(Yep, just got tired of sitting here trying to think of something to say, so I opened a spider solitaire game. I’m hopeless.)

I have a hunch malaise has settled on me because my whole life right now feels as if it’s at the mercy of other people. I can’t just work on those business sites and get the job done, I have to wait for him and the others involved to respond to my requests for the information I need. I can’t just drive to the store to get what I need because my car is still not finished. I could walk, of course, but there is the matter of heat.

Enough whining. I’ll get back to you when I have something more interesting to say.


(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.”)

Mood, Persona, Mindset, and Personality

Moods and personalities are supposedly two different, intertwined things. Mood is considered a fleeting emotion, where personalities are static, but this distinction might not be true. I once read a theory that there is no such thing as a mood, that moods are actually different personalities. According to this theory (which I cannot find online, so I can’t cite my long-forgotten source), we all have multiple personalities, though most of us don’t have a multiple personality disorder. I suppose what we have is a “multiple personality order” since we know who all our personas are.

massesIt seems a silly idea, and yet, we’ve all experienced that shift in personality. For example, you’re feeling sorry for yourself because your husband is neglecting you, and then you see the exhaustion in his face, and as if your brain toggled a switch, you stop feeling sorry for yourself, and see he has problems that leave little room for you. It doesn’t make his neglect right, but it does make it understandable. And what about the inner child that has become so clichéd? That inner child is real, not just a mood but a personality.

I suppose this all makes sense to me because I have long been aware of my different personas, have often felt that toggle switch from one point of view to another. (It’s possible these are simply different mindsets rather than personalities, but what is a personality if not a mindset?)

I did a temp job a long time ago, where I was supposed to be a shill for some guy who was trying to get VW bug owners to rent space on their auto bodies. I was my normal reserved, almost-shy self before the show, which made the guy very nervous. He needed vivacious, outgoing women to help. Well, once the thing started, that’s who I was. Radiant, charming, “on.” It’s the same with dancing. People tell me that when I don my wig and costume, I have a different personality. Which, perhaps, is closer to the truth than they realize.

Once someone asked me a question that I couldn’t answer. I had too many conflicting ideas and feelings about the subject, each of my personas wanting something different. In the end, I sent a response, telling this friend what each of my personalities wants. (Following is a generic list, rather the specific answers to the conundrum my friend posed.)

The student wants to learn the truth.

The logician wants to make sense of it all.

The mystic thinks that truth makes sense of itself.

The sensualist wonders what things feel like.

The artist wonders what others think things feel like.

The seer sees, understands, and never judges.

The giver says, “Anything for you.”

The selfish one says, “All for me!”

The waif (the sad little girl who never had a childhood) just wants to learn to play.

The naif doesn’t know enough to know what she wants.

Wonderkrone knows too much to know what she wants.

The bookworm says, “Where can I read about it?”

The adventurer says, “Hell, yes, I’ll do it!”

I was again made aware of these different personas after my northern adventure, where I hiked for many miles by myself in the redwood forests and along deserted ocean shores. After each hike, I could barely remember what it felt like — the awe, the utter aloneness, the frustration, the joy seemed to have happened to someone else. Each time I went back to hike, however, those memories and feelings were immediately available, adding enrichment to the experience, as if I’d always been there, while my other life receded into the background as if it were a distant memory.

Now that I am back in the heat of the desert, I can barely remember my cool northern adventure. I see the photos, remember how wonderful my hosts were, still feel close to my friend, and yet . . . it’s all so distant, as if it happened to someone else. I also feel different. Timid, almost. The woman who so gladly embraced her wildness is now taking tentative steps, aware of everyday dangers. (Still, I’m planning my next trip, a southern adventure, just haven’t yet decided if I want to go by train or to drive. Driving puts things more in my own hands, giving me the ability to visit parks and people along the way. The train gives me the opportunity to see the country, like a long slow video playing outside the window.)

Perhaps the point of all these personalities (yep, the logician always needs to get to the point after letting the mystic ramble), and the point of us, is to create and develop as many personalities as possible, and to finally integrate all the personalities into a whole. Or maybe it’s enough to just go with the flow of the different mindsets, experiencing life from myriad points of view, because some of the personalities are too opposite to be integrated. Can you be a timid bookish person sitting at home reading and at the same time be an adventurer out in the wilds? Can a woman be quietly reserved and vivaciously outgoing at the exact same time?

Whatever the truth of mood, persona, mindset, and personality, I’m looking forward to the next person I create. Because yes, I do believe we create different personalities when we step out of our personal status quo. The woman I created all unknowingly when I fell in love with Jeff, the previously unloved woman who learned to love with all of her being, the independent soul who could give herself over to a shared life, died when he did. (Or perhaps she was simply subsumed into the whole of me.) The grieving woman, the woman who gave herself over to the profound powers of grief in the hopes it would teach her how to live again is also being subsumed into the whole.

One personality I still have a hard time creating is the joyful humorist, the one who finds joy and humor in every permutation of life, in every setback and loss, in every idea no matter how seemingly foolish. This personality has eluded me all my life, but someday, I know, I will finally create her (or she will create me). For real.

And maybe someday, I will learn to go beyond mood, persona, mindset, personality, and experience life raw as I did in the wilds. No point of view — just being.


(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.”)

I Hiked in the Woods

My summer adventure is nearing an end. Just a few more days of ocean and trees before I return to the desert. Since yesterday’s forest hike has to last me for a while, I stayed out most of the day, following one trail after another until I reached the site of my very first hike up here. It was an odd sensation, coming out of the forest to that very spot, as if I’d spent all these weeks wandering in the trees without a break. It certainly felt like weeks, though it was only six hours uphill, downhill, along rivers and creeks, picking my way on gnarly trails, tripping over roots, feeding myriad mosquitoes. (Apparently the mosquito-repellant bracelet I wore was effective only in areas without mosquitoes.

I didn’t make it to the touristy Stout Grove as I intended — the bridge across the creek came down on the 1st of September — nor did I find the trail to a secret grove where some of the forest’s biggest and oldest trees hold court, but I did find one lovely grove of giants among giants. I would have taken a photo, but those trees were so large, all that showed up in the viewfinder was a part of the trunk.

And that grove was only one of the wonders of this final redwood journey. The trail went through a tree trunk (the photo looks like light passing between two trunks since I couldn’t step back far enough to get a photo of the single tree). The trail went under a floating forest (all sorts of trees and plants grow on fallen tree trunks, and this fallen tree never had reached the ground). It passed through a bizarrely awesome tunnel with a fallen redwood creating a 300-foot wall on one side of the trail and deciduous trees on the other side forming a canopy over head.

I saw the green of the Smith River far beneath me, and when I came out of the forest onto the riverbank, I took a photo of the forest from which I had emerged, and I find it impossible to imagine myself hiking in there, a speck compared to those gargantuan specimens. Apparently, although my mind registered what I saw, it cannot acknowledge that I was physically present.

And it is hard to acknowledge. In my mind, I am the eternal bookworm, sitting comfortably and safely, reading about other people’s adventures. In one place, the trail was nearly vertical for two or three yards, and though I know I scrambled up that bank, I don’t exactly know how I did it. Such a strange activity for a bookish woman.

All these experiences seem as hard to believe as my years of profound grief. I sometimes wonder if that woman was really me, that woman who loved a man so deeply that his death all but shattered her. Now I wonder if this intrepid woman is really me. Since neither of these traits — deeply emotional, ardently adventurous — fit with my view of my prosaic self, I suppose it’s time to reevalute my view of myself. Or not. Perhaps I really am just lounging on some cosmic couch, comfortably and safely imagining this life.

But such a vivid imagination is not something I credit myself with, either, which then means I am imagining myself imagining myself . . .

Still, however it happened, whether I believe it or find it impossible to fathom, I hiked in the woods, and I have the photos to prove it.


(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.”)


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.”)


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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