Waiting to See What I Will See

I strapped on my backpack today and went out walking in the desert again. I’m surprised that the twenty-one pound pack doesn’t bother me all that much, though by the end of four miles, I did get a little wobbly. The cold wind today didn’t help, especially when it blew my hat down so I could only see a few feet of the ground ahead of me. So for all I know, this is what the desert looked like today.

Yeah, right. I would guess, no matter how little of the scenery I saw today, it was nowhere near as beautiful as the photo, which I took during my cross country trip on the Overlook Azalea Trail in Georgia’s Calloway Gardens. The Azalea Trail has understandably been called the most beautiful place on earth, though the California Poppy Preserve in Antelope Valley is a close contender.

But, even if today I didn’t see such vibrant April color (both photos were taken in April, though two years and a continent apart), I also didn’t see a skull in a bucket, like a friend of mine did. The skull incident happened several years ago so, although the bucket was found on a trail I have been walking, I am not in any danger of my skull ending up in such a place (so not an item on my bucket list!)

Although I’ve been feeling as if I Want to Run Away, the truth is, I also want to run toward. There is so much of this country I haven’t seen, so many fabulously beautiful places that are waiting to delight my eyes (and yours!). Fall in Virginia. Summer in Glacier Park. Lovely lakes hidden in the back country. Wildflower meadows beyond the bend. Peaks and valleys, creeks and twisty trails.

Luckily, I will be getting a peek at the wider world when I take a trip to the Pacific Northwest this May. I can hardly wait to see what I will see.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

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Wanting to Run Away

Lately I’ve had the feeling I want to run away. I’m not sure if I’ve been around people too much, especially those I don’t care for, or if I haven’t been around people enough, including those I don’t care for. Either way, especially today, I feel the need for something else, though I don’t know what.

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Originally, my May trip was supposed to be the beginning of a year-long road trip (partly because I do not want to spend another summer in debilitating heat) but I backed off because I need to give my arm more time to recover. And give me more time, too — after all, I spent six months juggling between narcotics and pain, in addition to being injected several times with the soup of drugs they use for anesthesia (some of which no one understands why they have the effect they do).

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But today I again wonder if it’s time for . . .

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I don’t know. More adventure?

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But May will be coming soon, and that should give me a taste of being out and about and help me decide when/if to continue my great adventure.

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After tomorrow, where I will have to deal with someone I would prefer not to deal with, I will have three days of adventuring in the desert. Maybe that will be enough to get me through another week without running away.

Or not.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

The Truth About My Desert

I always try to take the most dramatic photos when I am out hiking in “my” desert, which makes it seem as if the place is wonderfully remote and serene.

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Despite what the above photo shows, the truth is that folks in the nearby neighborhoods use the place as a dump. There are piles of junk everywhere, but instead of railing against what I consider a desecration, they become part of the mythology of the place and help keep me on track. For example, I know that to return to the city, I need to turn right at the pile of trash spilled from a black trash bag. At the top of that hill, to show me I am on track, is an entire suite of broken-down living room furniture. And on a more distant pathway in a more distant time, is this television.

One of my favorites was this lovely bear I found during my early days of grief. He always made me smile, reminding me that even on my darkest days, the desert, at least, loved me. After weeks of seeing the little fellow, I decided I should rescue him, but he’d disappeared. I never knew if someone else had taken him or if the strong winds had blown him to another sad woman who needed his message.

Mostly, of course, I see such things as discarded condoms, empty beer bottles, and ragged clothing, but sometimes a bit of color catches my eye, such as this toy I saw today, which shows there is beauty in unlovely things:

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Or this one yesterday that seemed to be urging me down a different path than I had planned:

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All in a day’s walk. All part of the truth of my desert.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Past the Coyote Den

Yesterday was such a lovely day — cool temperatures, warm sun — that I decided to ramble in the desert. A friend who’d seen one of my previous posts told me about a place where water, perhaps from the Mojave River, had made its way to the surface, and I wanted to see this miracle. Supposedly, a few cactus grow around the guzzler, so I figured I shouldn’t have trouble finding a spot of green in all that taupe. Since I didn’t like the sound of her directions — go past the coyote den, and then leave the trail and climb a snake-infested hill — I decided the best thing was to ascend the highest hill and search for anything growing.

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All I found were a few scrawny creosote bushes and gorgeous views.

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And boulders. Lots of boulders.

I started to descend one hill, then stopped and looked around, enjoying the solitude, and I saw a sign that stunned me.

Can’t read the sign? Here is a blow-up.

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Active firing range? Yikes. I knew the gun club was far below me — I’d been there a couple of times to participate in their Women on Target program, and besides, I could often hear the pop of guns when I was out roaming the desert — but I didn’t know it could be dangerous so high up. I scurried on down the path away from the sign and up to another hilltop where I had a good view of the desert across the street from where I’ve been staying. Although the knoll looks like an elongated pyramid from this view, from where I sit at the moment, it looks like a lot of rocks and jagged peaks.

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Since the hardest part of my recent hikes have been the mile-long return trip on city streets, I decided to pick my way around a gated community (the houses the far left of the pyramid photo toward the bottom), across the pyramid, and then down. There wasn’t a path as such — mostly I had to make my own trail through bushes and over rocks. (Not something I would ever do in snake season!) But I did manage to escape that long tarmac trek. When I exited the desert I simply walked across the street and up the driveway.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Re-Summer

I went hiking in the desert again, not wanting to waste the last couple of days left from this halcyon summer rerun before colder temperatures set in once more.

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(The warming trend after the first frost used to be called Indian Summer, but I suppose that name has become anathema along with all the rest of the terms being restructured for political reasons, and I have not yet heard the new term for this re-summertime. Not that the season cares what we call it — it simply is. And besides, in the desert, the summer was never this lovely, so perhaps the current mild weather isn’t a rerun at all, but the real thing, no matter what the calendar says.)

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The trails I took today were a lot easier than the previous ones, mostly because they were wide enough I could chug uphill on the smoother parts and zigzag my way down on the steeper slopes.

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I wasn’t the only one making use of the fine day, but I don’t want to ruin the experience by mentioning all the boys of all ages with their noisy vehicular toys zooming along the trails. (Oops. Do you see what I did? I mentioned the noise after all!) I really shouldn’t complain about the motorized toys — after all, if it weren’t for vehicles, most of the trails in the desert would be as treacherous as the one I climbed the last time I was there.

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The hardest parts were balancing me, my trekking poles, and my phone so I could take photos. Usually, photos seem more vibrant than the natural subject, but for some reason, these photos don’t pop the way the real scenery did, maybe because there is nothing to show the scope of the slopes. (I suppose I could have done a selfie or two, but that’s not my style. I prefer to be outside the photo looking in, rather than inside the photo looking out.)

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Still, the photos are good enough to show the beauty of my walk without showing all that isn’t beautiful, such as the roads carved into the desert floor by the ATVs and the garbage strewn everywhere. But let’s not talk about those things, and remember only the intermittent silence and the beauty.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

When You Can’t Go Forward and You Can’t Go Back

After my success hiking in the small part of the desert across the street, yesterday I decided to go further afield. Beyond these two hills is what I used to call “my desert,” the area I used to ramble when I stayed with my father.

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The view was different from I remembered, but then, I was further south than the trails I used to walk, and was looking at the hills from a different direction.

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I didn’t want to overtire myself the second day out, so I rounded the hills and headed back. In the distance, I saw an interesting rock formation jutting above a hill, and since I wasn’t at all tired, I took a short detour to check it out. Such a lovely mini canyon!

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By then, I’d climbed a rocky trail that had been easy to walk up, but seemed too dangerous to walk down, so I kept going. The trail ahead of me seemed steep but easy enough.

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Oh, my! Most of it was okay, but parts of it were so steep I simply could not hike any further. Perhaps if my damaged arm and wrist were stronger, I could have hauled myself up using the trekking poles. Perhaps. As it was, I could only stand there, legs shaking, body trembling with adrenaline.

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So, what does one do when one can’t hike up and can’t hike down? You toss the poles ahead of you to free your arms and crawl on your hands and knees. At least, that’s what I did. I had to laugh at myself — I’ve been dreaming again of a long distance hike, something epic and life changing, and there I was, in what certainly could have been a life-changing situation, especially when I encountered not one, not two, but three such spots, each more dangerous than the last. But finally . . .  finally . . . I got to the top of the hill.

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When I was safe, I glanced back and couldn’t believe those innocent-looking hills held such beauty and treachery.

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You know what the worst part of the hike was? Yep, you guessed it — not the hard part of the trail, but what should have been the easiest — the long paved city mile back to the house. After two hours hiking I was exhausted!!

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Pat’s Big Adventure

In April, when I moved into my current rented room, the desert across the street called to me, especially the trail I could see in the distance, but I had to ignore the siren’s song. I’d just had surgery on my hand, multiple drugs had been pumped into me, and I had a hard time finding my equilibrium. Even worse, the thought of falling panicked me.

Today, finally, I followed the trail over the hill. It wasn’t much of an adventure as compared to climbing Mt. Everest, but it was a huge milestone for me.

As it turns out, it was a good thing I waited. I needed to use both hiking poles (which I couldn’t have done six months ago) because the trail was rocky, and in some places, I had to pick my way carefully through narrow rocky paths.

At the best of times, I’m not much of a hiker — I’ve seen people clambering hills as sure-footed as a mountain goat, but not me. Still, slow and steady keeps me going and gets me home safely. Despite some briefly treacherous places, the worst thing was entering a gated community from the back side, and not being able to get out. Luckily, I only had to wait about ten minutes until someone drove through the gate. I had to scurry to get through before the gate closed, but I managed to exit the neighborhood.

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One great thing about getting out in the wilds, even if it’s only the wilds across the street, is being able to get a different perspective on life. For example, in this final photo, the city between the boulders in the foreground and the hills in the background looks like just another field of scattered rocks.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Fabulous Fall

Today was an astonishingly beautiful day, the sort that makes up for the summer days of blistering desert heat.

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It was an especially nice day because I was able to share it with a friend I haven’t seen in over a year. There’s been too many traumas for both of us, which shouldn’t surprise me since trauma was always something we had in common. We met at a grief group at the absolutely worst times of our lives. I still remember the look on this woman’s face the first time I saw her — absolutely disbelieving, eyes wide with indescribable pain,  clutching the arm of a friend as if afraid grief would swallow her.

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Well, grief didn’t swallow either of us. And today, the sparkle in her eyes along with her easy smile was, I am sure, matched by my own.

And the day smiled at both of us.

We walked twice around “our” lake, the place we’ve most often gotten together, and afterward promised each other we’d do it again.

It might even be so.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

The Blooming Desert

The desert is blooming, and so, I hope, am I. Each day I do a bit more, stretching my poor deformed limb, trying to get back into my life, whatever that might be.

No — not my poor deformed limb. My exquisite limb. As Sheila Deeth, friend and fan extraordinaire, suggested, paraphrasing the blurb at the bottom of my posts, “’an exquisite wrist, wrenching to move, and at the same time full of profound promise’ perhaps?” I like her phrasing so much better than the way I describe my wrist! And I’m sure the wrist would appreciate the new appellation because it is trying so hard to move! It’s not the limb’s fault it doesn’t look the same as it used to. (Though who am I to judge? I don’t look the same, either!)

Today I used both Pacerpoles (I’d been using the right-handed trekking pole as a cane), thinking the left pole would give my wrist a workout, and sure enough, it did, though I had to carry the pole part of the way. Still, any usage of the wrist, no matter how painful, is a step in the right direction.

And, even better, both my exquisite wrist and my exquisite self were rewarded with these exquisite images of the blooming desert:

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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.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Serendipitous Day of Shrines

On my way to Door County in Wisconsin, I saw a highway sign listing attractions, one of which was “the only approved Marian apparition site in the US.” I mused on that a bit because I didn’t know there had been any Mary sightings in the United States. Apparently, those musings went deep, because a few days later as I was passing the exit to The Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help on the way back west after my Door County visit, I jerked the steering wheel at the last minute and went off to see what I could see. And feel.

It was an incongruous sight, that chapel with it’s various shrines in the midst of miles of farmland, but despite the sound of nearby tractors, it seemed a peaceful place.

I don’t have any deep religious convictions, so I didn’t necessarily believe Mary had appeared to the young Belgian woman in 1859, but I was curious to see if I could pick up some spiritual or other-worldly vibe. Even though I knelt at the prie-dieu and emptied my mind, I felt nothing but quiet in that candle-lit grotto. (It was called a chapel, that small space beneath the church, but it felt more grotto-ish than chapel-like.)

I wandered around the grounds for a little while. I needed to stretch my legs and figured I could soak up some religiosity while I was at it. I took a few photos, and when the place got too crowded, I left.

I planned to head back up to highway 57, but since I didn’t know where the ramp onto the highway was, I checked Google Maps on my phone to see how to get to Kohler. (A friend told me about a plumbing museum there, and it seemed the sort of offbeat place to while away a few minutes.) I kept heading north to the highway, but Google kept me going in circles until I finally gave up and followed its directions south through more farmland.

About twenty miles into the country drive, I noticed what looked like a pristine walking path meandering among the fields and snaking up a hill. Then, for just a second, I caught a glimpse of a fantastic castle perched on the hilltop. I craned my neck to get a better look, but trees obscured my view. I took the next right (much to the dismay of Google, which kept directing me to make a u-turn and go left) and got a side view of the place. It was huge. Rectangular. Like a vast hotel or resort. But there were no vehicles in sight. No people. Nothing but that immense building sitting in the middle of . . . somewhere.

I went back to the road where I’d seen the front of the building, took a couple of pictures, then continued to the plumbing museum.

I must have had shrines on my mind because many of the bathrooms and other exhibits at the Kohler Design Center resembled shrines more than places to deal with body functions.
(The candles were in a niche in one of the bathrooms, not at the Marian shrine.)

I ended the day at the bicycle capitol of America. (A shrine to bicycling. See a pattern here?) The first thing after I checked into the hotel was to Google “castle in Wisconsin near Denmark.”

Apparently the place was built in 2002 as a monastery for discalced (meaning unshod) Carmelite nuns, a strict cloistered order. It was built to last 300 years. Since the nuns have almost no contact with the outside world, the place has to be as perfect as possible to keep repairs at a minimum. What I thought was a walking path was actually the gravel road leading up to the monastery. If you are interested, you can find out more about the place here: http://www.holynamecarmel.org.

I found it particularly interesting that before the nuns moved to the castle near Denmark, they lived next to The Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help.

After such a day of serendipity and visiting shrines of one sort or another, wouldn’t you think I would have continued my journey more spritual, or at least changed a bit?

But no. I’m still just me — an undiscalced (calced?) wanderer trying not to live a cloistered life.

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(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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(Note: the little house is a restored roadside chapel. Such chapels had once been prevalent in the Belgian community.)