On The Trail Again

I managed to get outside today before the winds returned, so I had a lovely trek in the desert. Oddly, after the hiatus from my faux backpacking trips, I could barely lift the pack, but once it was strapped on my back and resting on my hips, I hardly noticed the weight. Well, not much.

You’d think while I’m out sauntering around on desert trails, carrying an addition twenty-seven pounds (additional to my own weight, that is), that the urge to go backpacking would leave me since trekking with a pack is hard work, but nope. The hook remains. I’ll be interested to see if after I finally get out in the wilderness by myself, the desire will be as strong.

The other day, I was chatting with a friend who suggested that my Seattle trip should be just for my sisters (and dealing with Jeff’s ashes) rather than adding a short solo backpacking trek to the mix. She said, “Why not just do the longer trip in September?” My answer shocked both of us into laughter. “But what if I hate it?”

Despite that totally unexpected response, I truly do not think I will hate being out there by myself. I’ve hiked alone. Camped alone. Could it be so different?

I’m not really that naïve. Of course it could be different — a whole lot different. So, yes — a short backpacking trip first, a trip where someone can come get me if I run into trouble. Afterward, I can decide what comes next.

Meantime, there is the rest of my May trip to plan. As I am writing this, I am printing out a brochure for a San Andreas Fault road tour in the Carrizo Plain National Monument. Although I have no interest in driving along ghastly roads, the San Andreas Fault does interest me. Years ago, I went searching for the fault line (which, I discovered to my horror, was a mere ten miles from where I was living at the time), and though I found traces of the fault in displaced red earth and a lake (pond, really) that had been created by a fault sag (a place where the land sank as a result of earth movement along the fault) in the early twentieth century, there was no obvious indication of the fault, no break in the earth, no line. But apparently, in the Carrizo Plain, the line itself is visible. Probably looks like a dry creek bed up close, but still, if the weather, me, my car, and my nerves hold up, it might be an interesting tour.

Earlier today, I printed out information about the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park. I get a kick out of that — the idea of going from desert to rain forest in just a few days. Talk about jet lag! Car lag? Cultural lag? Geographic lag? Some kind of lag anyway.

It’s funny — January seemed about three months long, probably because I had added the practice backpacking trips to my normal schedule of dancing, blogging, reading (not writing, you might notice). But February evaporated. Just . . . disappeared. The four months until I start my May trip have shrunk to two months (although I call it my May trip, I will actually be leaving about this time in April).

Yikes. Still so much to do! By this time, I’d hoped to be further along in the weight addition category (being able to carry more weight in the pack), the weight reduction category (carrying less weight on me to keep my knees and feet from having to deal with extra poundage), the planning (though that is coming along quite nicely), and the writing. (I’d still like to finish that last work in progress before my life veers into a different direction.)

I better get cracking.

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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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The Gift is in the Preparation

I woke this morning to the sound of wind squeaking through my ill-fitted bedroom window.

(Hmm. Wind. Window. Is there a relationship here? Be right back; I need to check the etymology of window. Yep. They’re related. Window comes from Old Norse words vindr meaning wind and auga meaning eye. So a window is a wind eye, or a wind hole. The earliest mention of window came early in the 13th century, and it meant an unglazed hole in the roof. So originally a window let in the wind and now it keeps it out?)

But back to the matter at hand . . .

I snuggled under the covers, thinking that I’d take a zero day today. (A zero day in backpacking terms is a day when no miles are gained.) Then I remembered my weekends are supposed to mimic a backpacking trip, and if I were really out in the wilds, I’d have to keep on the move. (Or not. There is that zero day thing.)

I remembered also that I only have these three days each week to condition myself to carrying a pack, since I have dance class the other four days. (I still hope for grace and balance from dance. It could happen.) And I need all three backpacking days to get used to carrying extra weight.

So, I got dressed, shrugged on the pack and headed into the wind. Yikes. Cold! And gusty. Some of those gusts were so strong they almost blew me over. But I did it — trudged four miles, teetering in the wind, with twenty-two pounds on my back — and I realized that though the goal might be to backpack on the Pacific Crest Trail, the gift is in the doing. It was hard going today, but what a thrill to be on my feet, moving through the blustery air, racking up the miles. Admittedly, four miles isn’t exactly “racking up the miles,” but still, to be able to walk any distance is a true wonder.

It seems funny that I’ve been thinking, writing, talking about the Pacific Crest Trail for so many years — four-and-a-half years since my first mention of the PCT, four years since my first hike on the trail — but until this very year, I never actually strapped on a backpack to try to train myself for such an epic hike.

I still don’t know if I can do any long distance sauntering, but as I discovered today, the PCT is the goal. The gift is in the preparation. And that, for sure, I can do — even on a windy day.

I still remember seeing this sign and taking the photo when I was on a different outing (to find the San Andreas Fault). I was so excited to see evidence of this mythical trail that I walked up the path a bit, but then I had to turn around because neither of my companions had any interest in the trail at all. I’ve done many day hikes since then, but still no overnights. That fearful joy is still to come.

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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.

“I Can’t Do This!”

So often during the early years of my grief, my blog writing would be precipitated by a bout of crying. In subsequent years, I’ve tried to be more upbeat in my posts, but always a bout of crying would inspire another blog post and yep, you guessed it — today is one of the crying times.

In my previous post, “A Halcyon Time,” I told you about the occupational therapist who’s been visiting me for an hour a couple of times a week. She’s been helping me take a shower, massaging my incisions, teaching me a few therapeutic exercises I can do to keep my fingers and elbow working as much as possible. She’s helped subdue my fears, hugged me when I needed it, and brought a note of sanity into this whole insane experience. She’s treated me as more than just a client — she really seemed to care — and oh, how I needed that! It’s been years since someone cared for me in such a personal, hands-on way, and it’s made this time of home-bound healing palatable.

So why the tears? I just found out that Monday will be her final visit. My insurance won’t pay for any more days, and though she has fought for me a couple of times already and got the visitations extended, she has reached the end of what she is allowed to do, so I’ve been cut loose. I feel so terrible, so tearful. I haven’t even started the hard part of this whole healing journey. The fixator is still on, and once it comes off, it’s going to take a long time — maybe years, painful years — before I am back to a semblance of normal, and even then I will only regain about 50% mobility.

I’m screaming to myself, “I can’t do this!” (this being the next stages of recovery by myself), though I know I can. I’ve done so much I didn’t think I could do during the past seven years.

I still remember those first two months after Jeff died. I was all alone, in the worst agony I’d ever experienced, barely able to breathe, totally lost, and feeling as if half my soul had been amputated. I kept screaming “I can’t do this!” But of course, I did whatever needed to be done. I dealt with the mortuary, the bank, the government. I disposed of his clothes and other “effects.” Packed my stuff. Had a yard sale. Got rid of most of the things I didn’t think I would need. Traveled 1000 miles to go take care of my father. All within two months of Jeff’s death. All while screaming “I can’t do this!”

So yes, I know I can do this. Whatever happens in the next couple of months will in no way match the agony of those long ago months, and even if it did, there is something unbreakable in me that will allow me to do whatever needs to be done. But truly, it would’ve been so much easier with the counsel and support of that occupational therapist.

I hate to admit it, but I’m scared. I’m afraid of the next stage of healing and then going into old age alone with a disability (even a minor one), and more immediately, I’m afraid of falling back into the despair of loneliness and isolation.

There are people in my life who care, but it’s not like having a partner, either in life or in healing. I always knew, of course, the occupational therapist was only a temporary angel, yet I’d hoped to have her support until I felt well enough to continue on my own. Still, as with all partings, I am grateful for the time we had together. (Oddly, I don’t even know how I got involved with the home health service. I think one of the doctors at the hospital prescribed the service so a nurse would check on me since I was going home alone, and the therapist came along as part of the service.) It felt great being in someone’s concern, even if only two hours a week. I know I was darn lucky to have had her in my life the last three months, but now I am bereft.

A friend asked, “Do you think the loss of your OT is triggering the start of your annual grieving? Or it could be you are grieving only her, a caregiver who is gone. I know you feel the loneliness more acutely right around this time of the year, especially as it gets closer to your anniversary. If one could only push a button to fast-forward through these wretched months.”

She’s right — I do feel the loneliness more acutely at this time of year, and it’s possible that the nearness of that terrible anniversary, the seventh anniversary of Jeff’s death, is exacerbating my grief for the loss of therapist’s support, but even without that anniversary I would still feel the loss and the coming isolation. (Without her, I go weeks without seeing anyone.)

But there is no doubt the echo of that one devastating loss magnifies any current losses.

The death of a lifemate/soul mate creates a soul quake that leaves behind a huge void. When I went to stay with my father and discovered that he was living a scant 15 miles from the San Andreas Fault, at first I panicked, and then out of curiosity I went in search of the fault line. Unlike the image I had in my mind of a big crack in the earth, signs of the fault were much more subtle, such as red soil miles from where it originated, but in one place where the earth split, I found a leftover cavity filled with water. (It’s called a lake, though truly, it seems more like an elongated pond than a lake.)

Now that my soul quake has mostly healed, it has left behind a similar cavity inside me, and that cavity seems filled with tears, creating an underground lake or well that seeps to the surface of my life too frequently for comfort. And yet without the comfort of those tears what do I have? Only my ability to plod ahead, I suppose.

And plod ahead, I will.

?????????????

***

(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.

Searching for Faults

When I unexpectedly and quite surprisingly found myself a few miles from the San Andreas Fault, I was at first appalled and then fascinated. Such a mythical place! Who hasn’t heard the warnings of “the big one” and the quite erroneous assertion that when it hits, Arizona will become beachfront property?

I have plenty of faults of my own, so I don’t  need to go searching for personal faults, but I did go in search of the myth. As I mentioned yesterday, there is no giant crack in the earth, and in many places there is no indication at all of the fault line. Erosion, bulldozers, plows, and buildings have all helped to eradicate any “line.”

Still, there are signs. This “lake” (more of a pond, really) is actually a fault sag, a place where the land sank as a result of earth movement along the fault. Water is collected in the lake from rain, snow melt, and underground springs.

Somewhere down in these narrow gorges is the fault line. Supposedly it is visible as it dips south and west, though I couldn’t see whatever it was I was supposed to see.

I could see better indication of the fault line here, because it is marked by the red sedimentary rock. The gray schist is the local rock, but fault action shifted the red rocks to their present location.

This search was an incredible journey, and as you can see, a beautiful one. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all our personal faults were as hard to find as this geographical fault and as colorful and dramatic when we did catch a glimpse of them?

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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.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Today I Will Be . . . At Fault

Or maybe I’ll be fautless. It all depends on how the day goes.

I’m smiling as I write this, hoping you find my pun as groaningly amusing as I do. The truth is, a couple of friends and I are going on a trip to look for the San Andreas Fault. It’s not as simple a matter as it might seem. Apparently, there is no giant crack in the earth. According to the San Andreas Fault website (yep, the SAF as it is so affectionately called, has its own website): “The SAF has not had a major ground-rupturing earthquake since 1906. Virtually all traces of the ‘giant crack in the ground’ that so many people image the SAF to be have been erased. Erosion fills and covers the fault, plows and bulldozers reshape the surface, roads and neighborhoods are built on the fault. The actual surface trace of the fault is subtle. What one has to look for are the land forms that the plate motion has created.”

Really? Neighborhoods are built on the fault? I suppose it makes sense — that would have been the last bit of available land in many places, and probably relatively cheap, such as all the trailer parks that were build on flood plains and in tornado alleys.

Even though a “big one” is expected sometime this century, you don’t have to worry about my being swallowed up by an earthquake. According to a publication called Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Country, “A popular literary device is a fault that opens during an earthquake to swallow up an annoying character. But unfortunately for principled writers, gaping faults exist only in novels. The ground moves across a fault during an earthquake, not away from it. If the fault could open, there would be no friction. Without friction, there would be no earthquake.”

So, not only will I not fall in, I can’t use that idea for a story, which I’d actually thought of doing.  Still, if I disappear, you will no where to find me.  Hmmm. “No where” instead of “know where?” I thought it apropros, so I left in the typo. I hope it’s not a portent for the day.

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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.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.