Refreshment

I had a great day yesterday, but then, I always have an especially good time when hiking. Hiking is my therapy, my peace, my freedom. And when I have the perfect companion, hiking is bliss, even when the temperature hits a hundred or more.

Although my cross-country road trip was supposed to include a lot of hiking, I wrenched my hip at ballet class shortly before I left. And driving — all that sitting — only exacerbated the matter. I still managed a few good hikes along the way, but often the pain kept me from long treks. It was only after I figured out that the pain came not from the sciatic nerve but the accompanying piriformis muscle that I was able to find the proper stretches to help heal the muscle. And now, finally, I can hike again.

When a neighbor invited me to go on a hike with her on the nearby Pacific Crest Trail, I jumped at the chance. And oh, how sublime! The part of the trail we walked was fairly easy with no severe elevation changes and only a couple of treacherous spots where the trail had degraded. We ended up at a lovely tree-shaded spot by the golden Deep Creek where we lazed so long, I missed my dance class. But a hike, a new friend, easy conversation, and a creekside idyll were things not to be missed.

The hike back seemed even easier because we were prepared for the bad spots.

Although it can be dangerous hiking in the desert heat, which is why I always carry plenty of water, there is one factor besides the obvious joy of being out in nature that comes from such a trek — the feeling of deep and abiding inside-out cleanliness and freshness that results when one finally gets a chance to shower away the sweat.

Refreshment. Means a whole lot more than just the simple snack we enjoyed beneath the trees by the side of the creek.

***

(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.”)

***

Happy or Sad — It’s All Part of the Adventure

Sometimes I wonder if it’s time for me to stop talking about the ups and downs of my life, just stick with . . . I don’t know . . . upbeat thoughts, perhaps. I won’t, though. I do not believe it is either healthy or wise to always put on a smiling face. Life is good, but it is also cruel. Life is happy, but it is also sad. Life is easy, but it is also hard. How can we ignore the parts of life that might not be comfortable?

The truth is, although I can handle the downs of my life, the emotion lows, most other people can’t. It makes them uncomfortable. And rightly so. People who are smug in their couplehood don’t want to have to think of being the one left behind. People who own houses do not want to admit that some people might be homeless (not in a disfunctional sort of way, but in simply a roofless and rootless sort of way) through no fault of their own. People who are surrounded by family don’t want to know what it is like to be a generation of one.

Perhaps oddly, I have never considered happiness something to pursue. It seems more of a hindsight sort of thing, realizing after the fact that one was happy, which makes happiness a thing of the past, not the present, and therefore irrelevant. Being unhappy at times in the present is not a crime. Sometimes not being particularly happy is a proper response. Most reasonable people, in a hurricane, try to get out of the wind, not revel in the devastation. And above all, I am reasonable.

It is not just the loss of the brother closest to me in age ten years ago, the loss of my mother nine years ago, the loss of my life mate/soul mate six years ago, the loss to mental illness of my older brother two and a half years ago, and the loss of my father one and a half years ago. It’s also the loss of my livelihood (my life mate and I were in business together; although I am a writer, I am not one of the lucky ones who make a living at it). The loss of my home — twice (once six years ago when I came to the desert to take care of my dad, and then again a year and a half ago when my dad died.) And the loss of the feeling of purposefulness more times than I can count. (Lost the feeling of purposefulness that came from building a coupled relationship, from taking care of the sick and the dying, from grieving.)

Considering all that pain and loss, I do not think it is unreasonable to still have times of sadness. To still have times when death makes me cry. (I ran over a snake this morning, couldn’t stop in time, and I cried over the pain and eventual loss of that beautiful creature.)

I do not need to be cured. Happy or sad, I am perfectly fine. Happy is easier, of course, but why does life have to be easy?

I often mention my difficulty finding a place to live, but it only bothers me sporadically. Like when the outside temperature is over 100, and I am exhausted. Then life gets daunting. Meantime, I am staying in an incredible part of the desert, at the foot of the Ord Mountains. I have to drive the worst road imaginable, but I have made new friends, hiked some glorious terrains (and gloriously hot terrains), will go hiking tomorrow with a woman who can show me hidden trails. I am negotiating with a fellow for a room in his house for next month (and space in his garage!). And if that falls apart, I will stay here on the road from hell another month. And if that becomes impossible? Well, something else will come along. Or not.

Happy or sad. Comfortable or uncomfortable. Easy or hard. It’s all part of the adventure.

***

(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.”)

***

 

You Call This a Road?

I seem to have backed myself into a corner with only a nightmare that barely resembles a road as a way out.

Ever since I returned from my road trip, I’ve tried to find a room or an apartment to rent without any luck. I considered just heading out again, but it’s way too hot to drive in a car without an air conditioner, and even if I drove two days north to find cooler weather, there would still be the problem of summer vacation. Not only is it harder to find good camping sites during the summer, but it’s almost impossible to find the quiet I crave. Too many screaming and squealing children everywhere. In fact, the motels and hotels I have been staying were unpleasant for that very reason.

I’d run out of alternatives when I got an answer to my ad on Craig’s List. A woman wanted to rent a room, and offered full house privileges at a reasonable price. I went to see the room, which was pleasant, the woman was nice, the area was beautiful in a desert-y sort of way, and her friend (who was there to offer help in case I turned out to be a nefarious character) assured me that the aura of those highlands would help my creativity. Even though the place was many miles from the dance studio where I am back taking classes, I figured the distance was doable.

What wasn’t doable was the one-lane dirt road leading to her house. Imagine the worst road, the steepest hill, the most rutted and rocky dirt track you have ever driven, and times that by two.

If I hadn’t fixed up my car and was still driving what I considered a throw-away car, I might not have minded. If I were driving a modern car with great suspension, I might not have minded. But driving my 44-year-old vintage Volkswagen was terrifying. No matter how slowly I drove, very rock, every rut jolted the poor relic until I feared the ancient welds and rusty bolts would give way, and my car would simply fall apart, leaving me sitting, holding the steering wheel, in the midst of a thousand pieces, like a character in a cartoon.

After the friend left, after the woman and I visited a bit, I stood there in her living room, totally flummoxed.

If it weren’t summer with temperatures over 100, I would have packed my car and hit the road, but I am still a month away from that being a viable option. So, what to do? Find another unsatisfactory room in a noisy motel? Or deal with the road from hell?

I finally told the woman I had no place to go and asked if I could pay for a couple of weeks on a trial basis. She agreed. So far, we get along fine (well, it’s just been one night and we are both still on our best behavior), and it would be a good situation for me . . .

But oh, that road! I dread the very thought 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.”)

***

Laughlin Adventure

In the last years of their shared life, my parents often went to Laughlin, Nevada. In fact, that was the destination of the last trip they took together. On the way home, my mother felt ill, and she died nine months later.

My mother loved to play the penny slots, and when she could no longer go to a casino, my brother bought her a slot machine. She kept a bucket of quarters by the machine, and even though she only won her own money back, she spent many happy hours in her own private casino.

I never understood her fascination for the game. It seemed boring to me because there was no real challenge except to keep playing as long as you could before your allotted money ran out.

I’d never been to Laughlin, and since I needed an escape from my failure to find a place to live, last weekend I headed to Nevada to the hotel where my parents always stayed. I treated myself to a prime rib and crab buffet dinner, then wandered the riverwalk that connected the casinos, which were strung along the Colorado River. An advertisement for a jet boat trip to Lake Havasu caught my eye, so the next morning when the ticket kiosk opened, I went to buy a ticket, but they were sold out. Determined to get out on the water, I went to get a ticket for a more localized boat tour, but I got there too early to buy a ticket.

So I hopped on a water taxi, paid for an all day pass, and didn’t get off again for five hours. If I hadn’t been kicked off when the boat needed to stop for refueling, I might be there still. There was something so soothing about being on the water, feeling the power of the engine beneath my feet, the rocking of the waves, the surge of speed when the boat accelerated.

It seemed like a carnival tour, watching all the activity of the vacationing hordes. People riding jet skis, sunbathing on a minuscule beach, wading in a roped off area. People excited about eating, shopping, playing.

Most entertaining of all was Captain Joel, the taxi driver, who had a kind word, a joke, a flirtatious tease, or a witty comment for each of his passengers. He kept a bag of gold fish crackers to feed the birds who met the boat. If he was late handing them their treat, they hopped aboard and helped themselves. One perky fellow named Black Jack even attempted to steer the boat, but as Captain Joel admitted after we almost ended up on the rocks, he hadn’t yet trained Black Jack to steer properly.

At one port, striped bass were waiting for their treat, jumping out of the water to catch the orange crackers. It seemed cannibalistic to me to feed fish to fish, but Captain Joel assured me the crackers were whales, so the fish were nibbling on mammals.

Captain Joel had been a park ranger when he was young, flipflopping between Alaska and the Everglades. After seeing every bit of the USA and Canada between those two far points, he is now a world traveler. The most fascinating story he told was about his visit to the Galapagos Islands. Apparently there is a barrel there where people drop addressed but unstamped post cards for other tourists to pick up and hand deliver when they get back home, a tradition begun in the nineteenth century when sailors would leave their mail for homebound ships in the hopes the letters would get to their destination. Captain Joel hand delivered four such postcards to people in Huntington Beach, who were amazed both by the post card and the delivery system.

When I had to leave the boat, I went to the casino to do a bit of gambling in my mother’s honor. At first, it was as boring as I remembered, then I got into the swing of it, enjoying the energy of the place, enjoying the whir of the spinning icons in the machine, enjoying even more when I won. At one point, my twenty-dollar seed money grew to about a hundred dollars. I considered taking the money, but decided that the tribute to my mother was about playing the game, not necessarily winning, so I used the money to play the maximum bet instead of just the few pennies at a time I had been playing. I enjoyed feeling like a high roller, felt, in some way, my mother’s presence. And then an old lady came and hung over me. Wouldn’t go away. And I lost the illusion of my mother’s presence. The old woman sat on the stool next to mine and asked me to teach her to play. Although she was there with her daughter and son-in-law, she seemed lonely, chattering on and on about her dead husband, her new hair style, her family, so I tried not to resent the intrusion and helped her. Weirdly, she started to win and I began losing. And continued to lose. I was actually glad to zero out because then I had an excuse to leave without being rude. I wandered around the casino for a while. I didn’t want to go back to my room and do the things I always do — read or use the computer — so I went back to play again. Again, I started winning, and again, the old woman came to play and chatter next to me, and again I lost.

So I went out and took a couple more circuits on a boat taxi, then went to bed.

The drive back was hard — not just the unremitting heat, but the feeling of foolishly losing all that money.

Now that I have some perspective on the experience, I am glad I spent the money. All I truly lost was my original stake, and since it allowed me to play and to channel my mother for five or six hours, it was money well spent. I also feel as if I have a greater understanding of my mother, which was priceless.

Another weekend is coming up, and again I need to escape. I considered going back to Laughlin, but I don’t think I could handle that long drive in the heat. Besides, it wouldn’t be the same. The experience was profound, a once-in-a-lifetime gift of connection, wealth, feeling free. 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.”)

***

Grateful For Numerous Choices

Although I wrote a post saying Life Shouldn’t Be So Hard, in many ways, that “so hard” arises from the many things for which I am grateful, such as relative good health, a bit of savings to indulge my whim for not settling down, and most of all, my numerous choices. For the first time in my life, I have no one to consider but myself. No one to take care of. No responsibilities. No need to be a grown-up and do the typical grown-up things like get a job, sign a lease, decide what and where to settle down. The world still beckons me, and there is no reason why I shouldn’t follow that beckoning.

As a wise person told me, “You can always settle down later if you want to, but there is no guarantee that you can travel later.”

I am currently staying at a ghastly motel, but I’ve decided to play the “Taxi” game until I find a place to stay around here or until I decide to take off again. At one time there was a horrible television show called “Taxi” starring Danny DeVito, Rhea Perlman, and a whole host of strange characters. One fellow lacked a good grasp of English, and he rented an opulent apartment for an exorbitant amount of money thinking he was paying for a year, though the rent was only for a month. When he couldn’t get his money back after discovering the truth, he and his friends enjoyed the luxury and amenities for that month, and then went back to their normal not-so-exciting lives.

Ever since then, Jeff and I called such a phenomenon “taxiing” and we often talked about going for broke just once, and taxiing it, yet we never did. We were too frugal, too conscientious, too responsible, too aware of the vagaries of life to lavish what little we had on such a short-term pleasure, especially since the expense would make things difficult in the future.

Now, although I’m still practical, I’m more inclined to let the future take care of itself (at least during those odd moments when I’m not worried about what is to become of me). There’s no reason I can’t stay at a nicer motel or hotel for a few weeks, and live it up. (Or down, since such a place would be a lot more relaxing than this fleabag motel where the bugs are feasting on me.)

But, whatever I do, no matter how I sound in my more frantic or desolate times, I am grateful that for now I have such a choice.

pleasures

***

(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 Shouldn’t Be So Hard

In response to my post, Still in Flux, where I lamented that after 12,000 miles, I didn’t notice any change in me, a reader commented:

I think everything’s changed, Pat, but you seem to be missing it right now. You have changed. Significantly. Go back to when I first met you; at three months; and see the fears then and look at yourself now. Indeed everything’s changed.

I responded: It’s odd, but returning here has thrown me back into grief mode. I would have expected such sorrow if I had gone back to Colorado where we’d lived, but he never lived here, never even visited here. It started when I drove into town, even before I remembered that the last time I had driven that bit of highway into town, he was still alive, waiting for me at home. But then, this is where I brought my memory of him. This is where I brought my pain. This is where I cried out for him. I know I am lucky we were deeply connected for all those years, but that doesn’t help with the empty/disconnected feeling I am still struggling with. I feel inept at times. Life shouldn’t be so hard. Or maybe it should be. How would I know.

And she came back with: “Life shouldn’t be so hard” What does this mean, Pat? What is the “hard” you are dealing with? Is it that you still feel moments of grief? Is it that coming back to town is filled with the energy of your grieving place? Is it hard because you don’t accept his death despite intellectual acknowledgement? Is it hard because most of al you miss companionship/relationship/whatevership and hate being alone.

Nail what is actually so very hard right now in July 2016. It will help with your thoughts about the future.

And so, I have been thinking. What is so hard about my life right now?

In some respects, I have it easy. I am basically healthy, with only a few odd problems that the right stretching routine should ameliorate. I have no responsibilities, so I can live at my own whim. I have a vintage car that is mostly reliable. And I have a bit of savings to cushion some of life’s blows for a little while longer.

And yet, and yet . . .

Although it has been six years since the death of Jeff, my life mate/soul mate, I still feel his absence. The void he left behind is not as deep and black as it once was, but it still confounds me, still pulls me into sorrow. I have accepted his death in every sense, but the truth is, acceptance does not always bring with it the peace we think it should. Because accepting that he is gone from this life leaves me even more alone with his absence. (And being back here, where I can still feel the energy of my grief, makes it all the more difficult.)

What is particularly hard is that I have no roots. I often feel (especially when I think of the future) as if I am suspended over an abyss with nothing to hang on to. The high desert was a place of refuge for me during my years of profound grief, its harsh climate mirroring my own inner environment, but now it seems alien, even though I have friends here, and dance classes. The sun is excruciatingly hot, which is dangerous when driving in an old car without air-conditioning. When I lived here before, mosquitoes didn’t bother me, but now I seem to be just as much of a magnet to the critters as I was on the outer banks of North Carolina. I didn’t think my trip changed me, but it must have because I don’t seem to fit the cookie cutter outline of me I left behind.

Part of the hardship comes from not being able to find a place to live. I have looked at tiny windowless rooms scarcely larger than closets with a higher rent than the three-bedroom house Jeff and I lived in, gated communities that are merely fenced rooming houses, apartments with incredibly stringent requirements. I am staying at a fleabag motel on the outskirts of town, which at least gives me a place to get out of the heat and a fairly comfortable place to lay my head, but staying here isn’t conducive to writing. To write, I need a place where I can concentrate, and believe me, a transient motel is not such a place.

Maybe I don’t belong here in the desert. Maybe I don’t belong anywhere. But then what?

Which brings me to the thing that is most hard about right now, July 2016. I don’t know what I want. I don’t know what I don’t want, either. Most people my age don’t necessarily want anything since they already have the things they want, the very things I don’t have — spouses, houses, families, places they’ve grown roots.

I spent the past couple of decades taking care of my sick and dying, uprooting myself after Jeff died to take care of my nonagenarian father. Consequently, I don’t have the retirement funds I would have had if I’d had a regular job all those years, and yet, I did what I needed to do. Now I need to build a life, and I have no idea how to go about it.

The truth (at least as it appears to me at this moment) is that I am restless but not yet ready to be a perennial wanderer, tired but not yet ready to settle down. I like being alone, and yet I am desperately lonely, missing the effortless companionship of our years together. I want and want, and yet I don’t know what I want.

So many internal conflicts! Life shouldn’t be this hard, especially since, for the most part, my life is fairly easy.

***

(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.”)

Still in Flux

I’m back in the high desert after a 21-week road trip across the USA and it seems as if nothing was accomplished. Nothing was gained. Nothing has changed.

That isn’t true, of course. I’ve seen 12,000 miles worth of scenery, met in person at least a dozen people I’d known only online and talked to many others in passing, have experienced various cuisines and entertainments, walked for miles in all sorts of terrain, camped and moteled, endured sadness and loneliness and occasionally felt pure joy.

And yet, it still feels as if nothing was gained (except pounds — I’d hoped to lose ten pounds on the journey, and I still have eighteen to go).

Before I left, I had a hard time finding a place to live, and that hasn’t changed. I still can’t find a place to live. There doesn’t seem to be any such thing as a one-bedroom or a studio apartment around here, so I’ve been checking out rooms to rent. One room I went to see was a windowless cell no larger than seven feet by nine feet, and the “private” bathroom was three rooms away. Another place would have been ideal — a fabulous suite in a farmhouse — but it’s an hour or two drive from here, and I would have had to contend with some of the world’s worst traffic to get to dance class three or four days a week.

Mostly, things have been falling into place without too much trouble, so perhaps things are still falling into place. If it’s this hard to find somewhere to live, it’s possible I’m not supposed to be here for long. At the moment, I am staying in a fleabag motel, but the bed is comfortable, there is room for me to do my daily stretching, and there is a quiet road near here where I can take a walk every morning. I might even be able to do some writing while here. (I did pull out my WIP and set it on the desk, so we’ll see.)

Even though it feels as if I am just vegetating (there are no dance classes until next week, so I am mostly just lounging around reading), I am gradually getting things organized for the next leg of my journey. I finally got my computer fixed. I have an appointment next week to get my car serviced. And I am rethinking my supplies. I brought things with me I didn’t use, sometimes because the item was packed too deeply to easily retrieve, and sometimes because the emergency it was meant for didn’t arise. One thing I know I need to get is a couple of pairs of light colored pants. Apparently, mosquitoes love black, and that’s mostly what’s available in my size, so that’s what I’ve been wearing. I also need to figure out how to do better with food. I didn’t eat the freeze-dried meals I brought, didn’t open the peanut butter, ate only a bit of the tuna, but I did go through all the various food bars I brought. And I ate too much convenience store non-foods.

I’d always planned to come back here and settle down for a while, take dance classes, wander in the desert to soothe my soul, but now I don’t expect to stay for more than a couple of months. Whatever it is that has been driving me ever since the death of my life mate/soul mate and more recently, the death of my father, which left me without a place to live, is stronger than ever. I don’t think I’m looking for anything in particular (except the wisdom and wonder I am always looking for) but still, I continue to feel that need for . . . something. Something to override the lingering void those deaths left behind, perhaps. (Writing might do it, but I am too much alone to welcome the thought of spending even more time inside myself.)

So, see? Nothing has changed. I am still in flux. Still planning for . . . I don’t know what.

20160619_213852-1-1

***

(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.”)

Rainbow-Colored Mysteries

I read once that to be happy you need to narrow the distance between expectation and reality. The article was about happy marriages, and the premise was that unhappy people had unmet expectations, and the greater those unmet expectations, the greater the unhappiness. The closer the reality was to expectation, the happier the people were. The solution, then, was not to stop expecting, but to temper one’s expectation to reality. For example, if you envision life as a perpetual dance and your spouse is a klutz who can’t follow a beat, you can either hold to your vision and be miserable, or reevaluate your expectations and find a more realistic vision.

This expectation-to-reality formula works in other ways. For example, if I looked only at my expectation of the Petrified Forest to be an actual forest, my visit to the park would have been highly disappointing because a few pieces of tree trunks is not my idea of a forest. Yet, when I gave up my expectation and just enjoyed what that visit brought, it was a wonderful side trip on my drive across Arizona. For one thing, the Painted Desert, the scene of the Petrified Forest, was totally unexpected and simply stunning — panoramic views with many hues. For another, the individual tree rocks were spectacular in their own way. (Oddly, there is way more petrified wood outside the protected park than inside, so anyone who wishes to own such a piece of geographic history can easily obtain a piece or ten. In fact, the museum/gift shops at the gate give away small chips as a come-on to get you inside the shop.)

Painted Desert

The mysteries of the Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest weren’t the only rainbow-colored mysteries of my drive across Arizona, but first, let me set the scene.

As I drove to Flagstaff after I left the park, I felt sorry for myself because although I was looking forward to journey’s end, there was no joy in the expectation. I would be able to take care of a few matter such as getting my computer fixed and my car serviced, and I would be able to visit friends and take dance classes again, but I wasn’t going home to a special someone, wasn’t going home to a special place. I was simply going.

And then, as if the very heavens took pity on me and wanted to send me a bit of encouragement, a streak of emerald flashed in the sky. I leaned forward and peered up over the steering wheel to get a better look, and the sky lit up with drapes of horizontal color. For a second I thought I might be seeing the aurora borealis, but there is no way the northern lights could be seen so far south. I watched, amazed, as the emerald gave way to peacock blue, and the rainbow swathe grew crayon bright. I pulled off the highway as soon as I came across an exit so I could get a photo, but by the time I finally was able to take the picture, the bright rainbow had faded to pale sunset colors, though the peacock blue still held true.

fire rainbow

Apparently, what I saw was a rare fire rainbow. (Fire rainbows are formed when the sun, high in the sky, shines through cirrus clouds made up of hexagonal ice crystals.)

Awesome. Unexpected. And totally joyous.

You’d think that the message of the heavenly sign (if a sign it was) that things would be okay would sink in, but no. The next day, as I drove from Barstow to Apple Valley, unexpectedly, I started to cry. Then it occurred to me what those tears were about: this was the first time I had driven that road since my life mate/soul mate’s death. On that previous trip, I was on my way to visit my father, and Jeff was still alive, waiting for me back home. It’s amazing to me that no matter how long it’s been since Jeff’s death, “firsts” still can freshen the sorrow.

I did learn something from my Arizona drive, though. Don’t expect what isn’t. Instead, accept what is.

Now I just have to put the lesson into practice.

***

(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.”)

Adventurous vs. Disastrous

I find it strange that I like camping. I have always been a reader, not a doer, and I have always preferred being comfortable. Despite all the improvements in camping equipment, camping is not often comfortable. In fact, it can be downright miserable when you factor in adverse weather, inconsiderate neighbors, and insects. My last foray into camping included such unpleasantness as lawn mowing operations, interminably screaming children, aggressive dogs, and even more aggressive spiders. (They happened to find two places I missed with the insect repellent — jawline and knee — and one place I never even thought of putting it, the top of my head that’s still healing from my tumble down the stairs. ) I suppose the bites could be from my old nemesis, mosquitoes, but the ping-pong-ball-size swellings indicate otherwise.

And yet, with all that, I came away from that last night in Kansas at Meade State Park with a feeling of satisfaction. A feeling of being soul-fed.

Even the horrendous day of driving afterward seemed more adventuresome than disastrous. After all, if I had wanted to zoom across the country problem-free, I would not be driving a forty-four-year-old VW bug.

Heat, hills, head winds were too much for my air-cooled engine. It vapor-locked on me, once when I was driving, and once after I stopped for gas. (I had to push it into a parking space and wait until the engine cooled.) To be fair, the fault lies not with my poor old car but with modern gas and its low burn point.

As I sat in there in the blistering heat, looking around unsuccessfully for a bit of shade, I couldn’t help thinking how nice a bit of rain would be. As if on cue, the wind blew in a few clouds to offer me and my vehicle shade, and after we were back on the road, rain came. Not a lot, just enough to take the burn out of the over-heated air. And so I was able to continue my journey for a while longer. Actually, a lot longer. Five states worth. The only state I drove all the way across that day was New Mexico, but I started in Kansas, caught the corners of Oklahoma snd Texas, and stopped for the night just over the Arizona border. I wimped out and stayed at a motel. The bug bites worried me, and I didn’t want to risk more bites. Nor did I want to have to worry about my car not starting if I were in the wilds. Actually, it probably wouldn’t have been in the middle of a wilderness area but in a state park, which brings me to my final excuse for staying in a motel. Although I never felt unsafe in a national park, staying in a state park made me feel vulnerable. It was too close to civilization and access was too easy for anyone out looking for mischief.

I’d better get going while it is still a bit cool out. See you on down the road.

***

(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.”)

***

Beguiled

In traveling, as in reading, the surprises scattered among the expected are what make an experience exceptional. Although I have seen thousands of lovely views, the unlooked for, the unforeseen, the unanticipated are the most memorable. Going around a bend and seeing a fabulous valley spread out far beneath me. Finding fanciful rock formations hidden behind a bleak landscape. Passing a fairytale house in a prosaic neighborhood. All wonderfully unexpected.

In Kansas, which has the reputation of being a rather boring state, I have been beguiled by the scattered sculptures that enhance the natural beauty of the Wellington and Wichita area. A herd of unheard horses thundering across a lawn. Children reading. Water fowl taking flight. A blue heron all but hidden in the reeds. These photos are below.

Other sculptures I only caught glimpses of as we passed — children jumping into a swimming hole, a mother and child walking in the garden, a prairie woman gathering flowers, a little boy catching minnows by a pond, a man soaking his feet in a fountain.

Apparently, there are dozens of such sculptures scattered about the Wichita area, though I only saw these few. Still, whenever anyone speaks of Kansas in a derogatory tone, I will smile to myself and remember these wonderful sculptures that add a fillip of playfulness to beautiful but otherwise unsurprising scenes.

***

(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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