Naked Ladies and Other Beauties

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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Ghost Highway Adventure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pure magic.

***

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

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Walking Back in Time

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

Out of the Grimmest Fairy Tale

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

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

And sometimes parts of this overwhelming growth are downright creepy.

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

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

Eek.

***

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

***

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.”)

***

Supernal Silence and Unfathomable Peace

My friend dropped me off at a road in the Redwood Forest that led down to Smith River. It turned out to be a popular spot for both tourists and locals, so when I saw a narrow trail that veered off from the road, I took it, hoping to find a place to walk far from the madding crowd. At first it was an easy trail, but then it ascended into hills that had been hidden in the immensely tall redwoods. (It’s hard to describe these massive trees without reverting to the trite adjective “towering”, but they did tower. In many cases they were so tall and the woods so thick it was impossible to stand back far enough to see their tops.)

The trail grew more difficult and I was grateful for my trekking pole — it aided with both balance and sure-footedness. Even though the cars and people were not far away, the trees absorbed the sound, leaving nothing for me to hear but the sound of my stepping feet, the zip of a passing insect, the thud of a falling leaf.

I moved slowly, not just for safety but to experience fully this confluence of the forest and me. It seemed strange to think that hundreds — thousands? — of years ago, the first seed took root. And that single seed contained an entire universe of forest, events, beings, birth and death, that ultimately drew me in.

A bench in a small clearing caught my attention. A plaque on the backrest said, “…seated here in contemplation lost, my thought discovers vaster space beyond. Supernal silence and unfathomable peace.”

Of course I sat. Contemplated. Listened to the silence. Felt at peace. Wondered what I would learn and experience if I could sit there for hours. I know what I would feel if I sat there in stillness too long — stiff — so after a half hour, I answered the siren call of the trail.

Later, I saw another bench. This one exhorted me to “Rest and be grateful.” I rested, pulled out my small hunk of cheese, and thought of all I had to be grateful for. The bench. The cheese I savored. The trees. The path that afforded me relative safety in my adventure. My walking stick. Knees that still worked. Feet that took me where I needed to go. Friends who brought richness to my life. The supernal silence. The unfathomable peace.

When I finished the snack and litany of gratitude, I continued my journey.

Shrieks of playing children broke the silence. As I waded past one group, a boy shouted hello. I was so deep in my silence, I couldn’t return the greeting. The woman said, “It was nice of you to say hello.” That brought me to a stop. I turned, and with a finger to my lips, responded to her rebuke with a whispered, “one does not say hello in church.”

In the resulting silence, I headed down the path. It seemed strange that a mystical place for me was simply a playground for others. Most people I’d seen had driven a bit, got out of their cars to take pictures of each other against the backdrop of trees, then drove a bit further, stopped, and took more photos. Others had boats, rafts, and swimwear, headed for watery play.

As I picked my way down the trail, setting my feet carefully and leaning on my pole in the steep post, I had to smile at my pretensions. Wasn’t I playing too? Playing at mysticism? Playing at adventure?

At that very moment, a woman came up the trail with her three noisy unleashed dogs. The dogs surrounded me, barking and snarling, nipping at my pants. The woman screamed at me to stand still, that I was scaring them. And then one of them bit me. Not a bad bite, just a small break in the skin and a bruise, but huh? That was the third time I’d been menaced by dogs since I’ve been here. Don’t people up here train their dogs to obey?

So much for safe adventures. So much for peace.

Despite the ignominious end to my adventure, somewhere inside me and forever a part of me, is the stillness I’d found sitting on the bench, my back pressed against the words “…seated here in contemplation lost, my thought discovers vaster space beyond. Supernal silence and unfathomable peace.”

***

(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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Desert Procrastinations

I have about 12 hours of work I have to do this weekend, so like any well-disciplined person, I got up early, went right to work . . . and checked out Facebook and emails on my computer. Then, because apparently I hadn’t procrastinated enough, I spent a couple of hours resurrecting old email addresses. They hadn’t been used in so long, I had to go through a lot of rigmarole to prove I was human and that these near-defunct emails were mine. (Tell me honestly — can you remember the exact day you opened your email account? And if you have one that’s been inactive for a long time, can you remember the exact day you last used it? Well, gmail expected me to remember. Sheesh.)

Actually, a couple of the email addresses were not strictly mine — they were emails I set up for Jeff. (I don’t have any idea why I decided to keep them alive. But they are available if he ever decides to contact me.) A couple of other addresses were emails I had set up years ago when I was playing around with downloading music. In one case, I used the email a single time before it became flooded with so much spam, it became unusable. (It’s not often you can tell exactly where the spam originated, but since that was the only thing I had done with that email, it was obvious.)

Realizing this online activity wouldn’t get my work finished (or even started), I turned off the computer and went for a walk. A long, long walk. It felt good to stretch out. Felt good to visit the desert again. (Felt even better not doing my work!)

desert knolls

I had a few pangs of nostalgia thinking that in a couple of weeks this near-private patch of desert will no longer be mine. I’ve grown fond of the stark landscape, the tans and taupes,

the rare but brilliant spots of color.

poppy

Still, the thought of all the new places I might walk offset the wistfulness.

When I returned from my walk, I got right to work . . . on this blog.

I just can’t seem to force myself to get the 12-hour task done. The job is tedious and almost anything would be more fun. Watching water boil, for example, would be more fun. Or watching rocks race each other across the desert floor.

Maybe I’ll get up early tomorrow. Start working before I know what I’m doing.

Yep. That’s what I’ll do.

For sure.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels 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.

Five Miles on the Pacific Crest Trail

I went for a hike today on the Pacific Crest Trail. It might not have been the sort of epic adventure that thru-hiking the entire trail would have been, but it was a lovely experience nevertheless.

Pacific Crest Trail

Practically each foot of the trail had a uniqueness of its own, whether rock stair steps,

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hidden caches of water that I was so very glad I didn’t have to drink even if I had a filter,

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tiny baby blue eyes flowers peeking up us from the side of the trail,

baby blue eyes

bush poppies entwined with manzanita berries

bush poppies

vibrant surprises of color painting the path

and stunning panoramic views.

I still dream of traveling long distances by foot, but for now, it felt good to get back to a comfortable house with clean water to drink, a refrigerator full of tasty food, and a cozy bed upon which to collapse.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels 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 Most Observant Person in the World

I do not know who the most observant person in the world is, I just know it’s not me.

When I took my car in to a new VW mechanic (new to me), he told me I should be using 91 octane gasoline. That stunned me. I’d never used anything but the cheapest regular gas. In fact, since these old air-cooled engines are not exactly luxury models, I figured they were built to use plain ol’ regular gasoline. When I voiced my surprise, he said that the octane rating was marked inside the gas flap, but that it had probably been worn away.

I had to laugh today when I opened the flap to get gas. There is was. Not even faded after 43 years. I have opened that flap a thousand times or more over the years. I wonder when I stopped noticing the message? Years. Maybe decades.

I must have seen it when the car was new. Odd that it never occurred to me what the words meant even though the notification was in German. Odder still that all the mechanics I’ve had over the years told me plain old regular was okay.

I just checked my manual — I still have that after 43 years, too. Apparently, since I’d been driving VW bugs for years before I got one of my own, I never bothered to read the manual, because the necessary octane was listed there, too. And so was the information I’ve been seeking ever since lead was removed from our gasoline supply — Yes, I can use unleaded gas. VWs were built specifically to use unleaded gas. I had a small stock of lead substitute that I’d been using, and it worried me what I would do when it is gone, because when it is, it is gone permanently. Not available anywhere.

One of these days I should read the whole manual to find out what else I never knew. Or not. The car has managed to survive all these years, and now that I’ve found a real VW mechanic, it runs like it always did.

I’ve known for a long time that I’m not observant, so I try to pay particular attention to things. The bark on a palm tree.

palm tree bark

The tiniest wildflowers,

The prickles on a baby Joshua tree.

joshua tree

If I keep at it, maybe I will become the most observant person in the world, but honestly, I’m fine with just noticing . . . anything.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fireand 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.

A Life That Ambles

I haven’t been walking in the desert lately. I’ve been mostly wearing myself out packing, and when I do walk, I’m going to or from dance class on city streets.

daffodils

Cities have their advantages.

Where I used to live in rural Colorado, there wasn’t much in the way of amenities, except things for cattle and horses, like alfalfa fields.

alfalfa

So I enjoy the lovely and whimsical sights that cities offer.

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Class was cancelled today, and since there is little heavy work to be done to sap my strength, I took myself out to the desert.

desert

Walking in those barren, path-strewn hills, I was reminded of my life — lots of paths going nowhere, somewhere, anywhere. The straight path to . . .  wherever . . . is there, but it eludes me. I am left to clamber around the expanse, not knowing if there is a pattern to my life, not knowing if I am going anywhere in particular, not knowing much at all, if the truth be known.

And yet, hidden in the barren expanse are magical vistas,

desert

colorful gems,

cactus flower

and lovely surprises.

natural rock garden

There is a lot to be said for a life that ambles — literally and metaphorically — without a set destination. Such a life might not afford the luxuries that money provides, but oh, the benefits to such a life are beauty and joy.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fireand 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.

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