Around and Around I Go

My New Year’s resolution to write more seems to have sputtered out before I ever got a chance to make good, but the year is still new. I have more than eleven months to find a way back to writing more. Contrary to popular belief, New Year’s resolutions are for the entire year, so if you think you’ve already broken your resolutions, think again. Try again. That’s what I’m going to do.

Ferris WheelStill, it’s hard to write if I have nothing to say. About the only things going on in my head are plans for my journey across country, and sometimes I’m embarrassed to continue writing about those plans and preparations. I’ve been talking about some kind of epic journey for years, though the scope of the journey has changed. At the beginning, it was about going to bookstores across the country to promote my books, and to that end, I bought all sorts of authorish clothes. Flowing tops. Colorful scarves. Dramatic hats. When that fizzled (I wrote to all the independent bookstores in the country and received not a single response) I got the idea of an epic walk, such as the California Coast Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, or maybe even a walk across the country. When I discovered the impracticalities of such an epic hike (impractical for me, that is, since I can’t carry a heavy pack), I decided upon a cross-country trip, camping and hiking as I go — a sampler of possibilities.

I now have more gear than might be practical, but I need to be prepared for many eventualities. This is supposed to be a fun trip, not a death-defying adventure. Though, to hear people’s warnings, any trip a woman takes by herself defies death. I have heard so many warnings that I no longer listen. If I heeded any of them, I’d never set out. And that would be a sort of death in itself. It would be bad enough to give in to my own fears, but truly stultifying to give in to other people’s fears.

And I have plenty fears of my own. Well, not fears. More like trepidation. Worry. Can I really do this? Take off with no firm plans? Camp out despite dire predictions for unprecedented storms? Go hiking with no support system? Deal with all sorts of physical discomfort? Live with unfamiliarity for weeks on end? Stay with people I only know online?

I tell myself I’ll be fine once I’m on the road and have set up my first campsite. I know challenges and great wonders are in store for me if I have but the courage to go. (And then, of course, I’ll be fulfilling my resolution to write more, because I’ll have things to write about!)

I still have to have one more thing to do with my car (the new engine needs to be checked and the valves readjusted), and I’ve paid rent until February fifth, but then . . . do I stay longer, or do I go? I don’t particularly want to spend another month here in this doghouse (the people who own the house where I am currently staying have seven dogs, one of whom hates me and has tried to attack me), but then I worry I will be leaving too soon and will heading into winter storms. (Of course, if I wait too long, I’ll be heading into summer storms and have to deal with heat besides.)

Around and around I go. Aren’t you glad I haven’t been writing more?

***

(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.”)

Dreaming of a White…Tiger

My untethered life is getting weirder by the day. I thought the last place I stayed was strange, with an incipient serial killer as a roommate, an old folks gated ghetto for a neighborhood, and a Gestapo-like management company that kept track of who was doing what.

I’m being dramatic. It wasn’t that bad. The roommate was just a . . . well, I don’t know what he was, but I don’t think he had killer instincts. Too lazy. And I seem to be the only one who found the neighborhood depressing. (People tell me that I should be careful what I say since I too am old, but I want more for myself than a life full of road bumps, cinder block barriers, and people who have nothing better to do than mind other people’s business.)

tigerI did learn something, though. I am a nester. It didn’t take me long — a day or two of housecleaning and moving things around to make room for me — until I felt at home. (Because, wherever I am, there I am.) Though I have to admit that when I was evicted by the management company and told I had a week to get out, I couldn’t stop smiling. It felt good to be untethered, unnested and stagnation free.

I don’t suppose it will take long before I am used to this new place, but the trouble is the dogs. Well, one of them. One likes me, one wants nothing to do with me, two can take me or leave me, two live in the garage, and one aggressively hates me. Which means either he or I is always segregated behind closed doors. And dare I admit an embarrassing truth? I fell out of the very high, very narrow bed. That sure woke me up in a hurry! Interesting times.

If I can come to an accommodation with the place, I might stay until March. If it continues being uncomfortable, I will leave for my trip at the beginning of February. The later I leave, the better the chances of taking a more northernly route back and might even allow me to bypass some storms. The earlier I leave means the earlier I get to begin my adventure. Either way, I’m ready. Or mostly ready. It turns out I have two carloads of stuff — car camping and backpacking equipment takes up a lot of space in my tiny car. And then there is the stuff for a more civilized life, the original trip I’d planned years ago. Nicer clothes. Computer. My books to sell. Hats for fun and class. So now I have to cut back to a more reasonable level, though it will still seem like a surfeit of stuff.

People keep telling me they admire my courage and my sense of adventure, but the truth is, I am all talk. I still haven’t taken a single step or driven a single mile on this epic adventure. Perhaps I will earn admiration. Maybe I will always be talk. It’s possible that I will get in the car, drive to the other end of the country in a few days and don’t stop to see a darn thing. (That’s how I usually travel.)

But in this case, the destination isn’t the goal. The trip is the goal.

And I am slowly becoming the person who can make such a journey.

Last night I dreamt of a white tiger. (And lots of dogs.) Apparently, a white tiger is an auspicious sign, and means the dreamer has a powerful patron, a friend that always supports her, and also that she has dealt with all her inner doubts and come to a decision.

The tiger didn’t tell me what I decided (the dream ended when I fell out of the damn bed), but since I was walking (the dogs were following along but the white tiger twice passed me going in the opposite direction) I presume the trip is on.

I’m hoping I have the courage everyone seems to think I have.

I certainly have the gear.

***

(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.”)

Living an Inconvenient Life

I asked a friend why she hated camping, wondering if there was something in the equation I am missing. She said it wasn’t just having to deal with the weather and the bugs, though she didn’t like them at all. It was more the inconvenience of the experience. Nothing was . . . well, nothing was convenient.

cleanWe live in a society of convenience. Most of us live in solid structures, with roofs and walls that keep out the weather. We can adjust the inside temperature, our personal “weather,” however we wish, no matter what is going on outside our walls. Body wastes are quickly dealt with by the push of a button, so we never have to consider how our bodies work — the in and out of the various substances we call “food.” We neither toil nor spin (most of today’s “work” is far from backbreaking, taking place in front of various machines that remove one sort of toiling out of the equation, and add in another sort of toil — toil by tedium).

We don’t even have to entertain ourselves — there are televisions and computers, movies and shows, books, music. All available to us at the touch of a button without having to crack a single drop of mental sweat.

I am certainly not adverse to convenience. I have lived a life that while not exactly luxurious, has certainly been one of comfort. Not financial comfort because I’ve never had much, but physical comfort. Warm beds, even when they were simply mattresses on the floor. Piles of comforters to snuggle under. Stacks of books ready for perusal. Good food made from scratch.

And yet . . .

There is more to life than comfort and convenience. Or at least, that’s what I surmise. I am still in the zone of comfort, though I am preparing to step out into the raw world to see what it has to offer. Maybe nothing. Maybe I will hate the inconvenience of it all, the struggle to stay warm without electricity or heat, the attempt at living a more wild life. But the truth is, I love the idea of it, and I especially love the preparation and how it makes me look at everything from a different angle.

When preparing for an extended road/camping/hiking/backpacking trip, you have to look beyond the daily conveniences and find other ways of doing simple things. Some people take to RVing, but that is not for me. RVing seems like more of the same — convenience and comfort, though in a mobile setting. I’m more interested in the basics. What I need for survival. What comfort I can’t do without. What is important, and more importantly, what can be left by the wayside. (Figuratively speaking, of course. In a “leave no trace” philosophy, one leaves nothing by the wayside.)

It seems silly to have amassed a carload of gear in what is supposed to be a trip into simplicity, but there are vast numbers of goods to make things even simpler. Tents. Sleeping bags, pads, and quilts. Ready made food. Tiny but functional stoves. Emergency equipment and rations. Although I have a vision of myself as another Peace Pilgrim, setting out with nothing but a comb, toothbrush, map, and pen, I am smart enough to know that I don’t have the faith such a venture demands.

Someday, perhaps.

At the moment, doing a more traditional trip is still plenty wild for me, especially considering my lack of experience. I do know how to use most of the gear I have, though. I know how to walk. Know how to be by myself.

Oddly, the thing that worries me the most about living an inconvenient life is what to do with all the time freed up by the simplicity of it all. I don’t intend to drive more than a couple of hours a day. Can’t sleep more than eight hours. Am unable to walk more than three or four hours. (Even less if I am carrying extra water and a few items in case of emergency.) Assuming the inconvenience of setting up a home every day takes up another hour or even two, there is a whole lot of time leftover. A minimum of eight hours.

What does one do with such a surfeit of time? No movies, no books, no music to fill it. No dance classes. No housework (not that I do much of it now). No errands. I will have pencil and paper, of course, but still, there will be one heck of a lot of time for . . . I don’t know what.

I guess I’ll find out.

***

(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.”)

Whatever Comes My Way

I spent the morning buying food for a cross-country camping/hiking/backpacking road trip — dried fruit, nuts, protein bars, foil-packed tuna, even a few freeze-dried meals from the sporting goods store. When I got back to the house where I am staying (for the next two months, or so I thought), the manager of this manufactured-home park accosted me in her silly plastic-wrapped golf cart and told me I was here illegally and that I had a week to clear out.

“Illegal” seems a bit harsh since I am here by the owner’s permission. Apparently, however, my being here breaks some sort of park rule saying that non-owners can only live here if the owner is in residence. What it comes down to is that, illegal or not, I have to leave in a week.

old manThe people I’m renting from have a small room in another house they will let me move into for a couple of weeks. It’s in a home for old people who need care and I won’t have my own bathroom, so it’s not an ideal situation by any means. It might not be particularly admirable of me, but I cannot handle being around the sick, old, and dying. I’ve had too many years of that, and now I need to feel alive while I still have a bit of youth left in me. (Well, I suppose it’s more accurate to say while I still have a bit of middle age left in me. People keep reminding me that I am no longer young.) People also tell me I am too sensitive, and that is true. I feel for those folks, which makes it all the harder, but they are not me, and I am the one I have to be.

So, unless something else happens to either delay or jumpstart my trip, I will be heading out in about three weeks. I am mostly ready. I still have a few bits of gear to get, such as a polyester hiking shirt. I only have cotton shirts, and apparently, one should wear polyester when one is backpacking because cotton loses its ability to insulate when it gets wet. To me, the solution is not to get wet, but I am trying to pay attention to wiser and more experienced folk. I also need some sort of hanging food sack, but again, I only need that if I am around various wild animals, insects, and rodents. And of course, there are none of those critters out in the wilds, are there?

I’m being facetious, of course. I know I need some sort of food protection if I am camping away from the car. (If the food is in the car, in an odor-proof bag, there shouldn’t be a problem.) I’m just not yet sure what sort of protection to get. A bear canister is overkill for most of where I will be.

People seem to be worried about my taking off in the winter (others are worried about my taking off by myself during any season) but it’s time for me to be adventurous. To see what’s out there in the big wild world. I do heed their worries, though I don’t have many of my own. If the weather is truly atrocious in three weeks, I might talk the woman into letting me stay a couple of more days, or I might get a motel somewhere along the road.

Or . . . whatever comes my way.

***

(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.”)

Preparing for Survival

I don’t really have anything to say. No insights to impart. No strong emotions to evaluate. No real progress in becoming . . . whatever it is I am supposed to become. I’m becoming older, of course, but since I’m not particularly becoming wiser, I’m not sure that becoming older is any sort of becoming at all.

And yet, I’m still trying. Still surviving. So that’s something.

roadSo far I’m sort of sticking to my sort of New Year’s resolutions. (“Sort of New Year’s resolutions” because the resolutions came first. The New Year was more happenstance than a cause of the resolutions.) To that end, I haven’t been eating sugar and I’m staying away from wheat. Both great successes! I am back to eating a large bowl of raw vegetables with a sprinkling of lettuce almost every day, so that’s good. Rain has kept me from walking much. And lack of something to say (or perhaps simply laziness) has kept me from writing. But mostly, I’m doing good.

I am still preparing for that mythical cross-country road/camping/hiking trip I’ve been planning for so many months. (Mythical because despite all my planning, I continue to be tethered in one place.) Since I’ve already taken care of most of the big items such as tent and sleep system, I’m concentrating more on emergency gear. I do not intend to be one of those people who get written up in Reader’s Digest, having cut off an arm to free myself from a rockslide, or gotten lost during a simple day hike and causing millions of dollars in search and rescue efforts.

To be honest, I think basic survival instincts are more important than emergency supplies. For example, from my wandering in the desert, I’ve learned that if I step off a trail to answer nature’s call, I need to mark the direction I came from. If I will eventually need to backtrack, I mark any fork in the road so I don’t have to guess which way to go. I use trekking poles to help with balance in treacherous areas, and I try to make sure my footing is solid before I move up or downhill. But just in case such basics aren’t enough, I’ve bought a loud survival whistle that includes a compass and a mirror for signaling. I got a Gerber Dime Tool and fifty feet of military grade paracord. Admittedly, I have no idea what to do with the cord since it’s not appropriate for climbing back up if I fall off a cliff (unless perhaps I double up the cord), but paracord must be important because it’s on every hiking gear list I’ve ever read. Add to these few items some waterproof matches (though I would be hesitant to start a fire; I can just see neophyte me accidentally burning down a forest), an emergency blanket, and an emergency medical kit, and I’m as prepared for an emergency as I will ever be. (I will have water and food, of course, and probably even a camping quilt for even the shortest wilderness hike.)

(I’m only a neophyte when it comes to emergencies. I’ve hiked hundreds of miles in various wilderness areas by myself though admittedly, some of the wilderness areas were pretty tame with only an occasional Mojave green rattler or a few coyotes to get the adrenaline going).

We’ve had a couple of days of a very cold deluge, which makes me wonder how I will deal with rain during my travels, but that’s what motels are for. (Supposedly the tents I got come with adequate rainflies, though why a rain cover for a tent is called a fly I don’t know. Perhaps because if you don’t stake it down properly it flies away.)

I have used up my daily quota of parentheses, so I’ll leave you with a quote I recently saw that I’m trying to take to heart, though it goes against my very nature: If you don’t understand, let it go. All part of my survival.

***

(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.”)

2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 72,000 times in 2015. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 3 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Happy Youthing!

I realized a couple of days ago that I’ve spent so much time, money, and attention on rejuvenating my ancient VW, that I haven’t been paying attention to myself, so I’ve resolved to take better care of myself. Be more cognizant of nutrition. Eat more vegetables. Erase wheat and sugar from my diet. Go to bed earlier. Walk more. (I’ve gotten lax on walking, mostly because I live far from anywhere interesting to walk.) Maybe even write more, if only on this blog.

This isn’t a New Year’s resolution, you understand. Just a resolution. The proximity of a new year is coincidence. It’s simply time to pay more attention to myself before the habit of sloth gets insurmountable. I’ve always tried to take care of myself and to stick to such a healthy regimen, but trying and sticking have both deserted me in recent months. Now I’m ready to get back into my youthing program. (Youth-ing, not you-thing, though I suppose both are accurate in a way.)

And none too soon. I met an old man at the dumpster in the complex where I am living, who watched me walking with my bag of trash. He said, “Luckily I can drive.” I just smiled, but I thought, “Luckily I can walk.” And I want to make sure I keep that ability for many years to come. Although I have given up on the idea of an epic walk, something in me keeps wondering. Could I? Would I? Should I?

But such thoughts are for another day. For now, I’m just gosalading to get back into the swing of walking. And, of course, concentrate on vegetables and nutrition, even if some of that nutrition comes from supplements.

I want to make sure I am strong enough to enjoy the good days I have left. Tragedy strikes without warning. Cancer develops in secret to spring forth fully grown. Joints get old. But I don’t have to tell you about the vicissitudes of life. You know what I’m talking about.

One thing I have no plans to change is my attitude, though people often tell me attitude is the key to keeping young. The trouble is, people are so gung-ho in their belief in the necessity for positive thinking that they forget that downs as well as ups are part of living, and should be celebrated in their own way. (Celebrated meaning observed. Celebrated meaning commemorated. Celebrated meaning felt, acknowledged, and processed.) Crying, screaming, whining even, are all appropriate at times. If others don’t appreciate these sorts of reactions, then, well . . . then nothing. There’s not a single thing I can do about their attitude, only mine.

Sometimes there is no way to “at least” your way into feeling good about a trauma. “At least” we’re together. “At least” it’s curable. “At least” you/he/she/it isn’t suffering. Some things are truly terrible and have to be dealt raw without the insulation of “at leasts”. To do otherwise, to raise positive thinking to such a degree as to mitigate the horror, causes untold stress and makes any true adjustment toward a new life all but impossible. And makes a person old before their time. (I realize I am in a minority in my belief. Everyone deals with trauma the only way they can, which is generally to pretend to be happy regardless.)

It now looks as if my cross-country trip will be more of a spring trip than a winter one, so there’s more preparation to do. I don’t have spring/summer hiking clothes, so I’ll need to rectify that. And figure out how to keep to a sort of nutritious diet on the road. Vegetables don’t come refrigerated, so is it possible to make salads and take them along? (Salads that are long on vegetables such as carrots, zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, and short on lettuce.) Or do all cut vegetables go bad quickly? All part of the learning process, I suppose. All part of my youthing resolution.

Happy youthing to you, too.

***

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

A Time of Preparation

The lazy days are flowing one into the other, and it seems as if my life has come to a standstill, as if the stagnation I fear has already set in, but however I feel, the truth is, this has been a year of unprecedented adventure, change, and awe.

I started out the year in my father’s house, dealing with grief for all my dead while I cleaned out his “effects” and readied the house for sale. I gathered all my friends together for a Pre-Probate Party to celebrate the last days before his will went into probate, the last days I knew for sure I would have a place to live. Since then, I have never been without a place to live, though I stayed on couches, lived in a camper, house-sat a few times, and even rented a room for a couple of months. (Oddly, I am ending the year in this same precarious position as I started because my current room is in a house that’s for sale, and soon I will again be Stepping From The Known Into The Unknown.)

Sometime during those last days at my father’s house where I tried to imagine Unimagined Possibilities, I found myself with a new philosophy: Either Things Will Work Out Or They Won’t, which allowed me to stop worrying so much and instead let me enjoy the uncertainties of my new life. If things work out, obviously, I don’t have to worry, and if they don’t work out, there’s nothing I can do about it now because I have no idea in what way they won’t work out. Or things might work out in a way I couldn’t even fathom, which is what usually happens.

yahabibi

And so I drifted through my days. I continued to take the dance classes, which I love, but I dreamed of . . . more. Something epic. Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail or the as yet unfinished California Coastal Trail. Perhaps stepping foot on the Appalachian Trail (which a friend recently told me is pronounced Apple-atchian. Okay. Got it. Now I know the most important thing about the trail if ever I decided to hike a bit of it.) I also considered a more realistic venture since I do not think I have the ability to carry a heavy backpack for many miles — visiting national parks and day hiking to sample a variety of trails and terrains.

WANDERLUST

A friend, who knew my dreams of adventure, invited me to stay with her and volunteered to drop me off at trail heads and pick me up when I was finished with my hike so that I could experience adventure in a relatively safe manner. And so began two magical months of hiking along the ocean, losing myself in the forest (not getting lost geographically, more like letting the forest take me over), becoming one with . . . myself, perhaps. I am usually of two minds about everything, so I am often beset with doubts, worry, and internal discussions. But not up in the redwoods. Not by the ocean. There, I was simply me. Simply happy.

One of the things I had been of two minds about centered around my ancient VW bug, A Forty-Three-Year-Old Lemon. I considered replacing the iconic car with some sort of van I could turn into a mini-home, considered getting an automobile big enough to sleep in, considered, oh, so many possibilities, but in the end decided to keep the poor old thing a little longer. After all, how many people can say they have only owned one car in their whole life, a vehicle they bought new and kept going through the decades? And the way I figured, if I bought a new car now, in five years, it would be old. If I bought a new car five years from now, five years from now it would be new.

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Still, if I were going on a long trip to visit parks and meet online friends, I would prefer to look like a near-classic lady in a near-classic car rather than a homeless woman in a rattletrap, so I found someone who would do the body work. All I wanted was a couple of holes patched and enough rust gone so it could be painted, and six months later, six months of learning to do without a vehicle, what I found at The Great Reveal!! was a full body restoration. And because the outside looked so beautiful, I had to have the inside reupholstered because it truly looked pathetic in relation to the lovely body. And then, when I took it to my mechanic for a tune-up before my cross-country trip and he expressed concerns about the engine lasting for all those miles, well, now I have a new engine, transmission, and a lot of other new parts, and Oh, My, My Erstwhile Lemon Is a Beauty!

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Despite the awesomeness of this year, it seems to me as if it is . . . was . . . a time of preparation, not just for the coming year, but for a new way of living and thinking. I can’t go on a cross-country trip until I have put 500 miles on the new engine and have all the kinks worked out, but I am ready to meet the changes and challenges of both the trip and the coming year.

At least, I hope I am.

 

***

(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.”)

Wishing You All The Great Things This Season Has to Offer

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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.”)

Oh, My, Isn’t It a Beauty!

I got my car back today, exactly as the mechanic promised, everything new or rebuilt or upgraded— engine, transmission, clutch, firewall, cv’s, alternator, and a host of small parts. He said my VW is now the second best he’s seen, the best being an 2003 bug manufactured in Mexico that ended up in the USA and was somehow made legal. But compared to my car, that one is just a baby. Mine is . . . astonishing.

It is astonishing that the car kept going with only necessary maintenance for so many years. It is astonishing I have owned but one car my entire life. It is astonishing that I managed to find both a great body guy and a great air-cooled VW engine guy to do do the restoration, and that I had the money to pay them. And it truly is astonishing that a car I thought was almost moribund has risen from the dead and is now as new as a 44-year old vehicle can be.

Oh, my. Isn’t it a beauty!

***

(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.”)

***
Rebuilt engine and the mechanic who did the work.

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