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It’s a nice place to visit, but I don’t want to die there.

I hate drinking water. Trying to drink it before noon makes my lips purse tightly together, my eyes scrunch shut, and my head swing away involuntarily like a baby trying to get away from a medication spoon. Hot weather and physical exertion make water more palatable to me, but otherwise I am as a camel. Or a cactus. My mother nagged me regularly to drink water and Mike has tried to convert me in the past, though he has mostly given up now. He and I are oceans apart on this: he gulps water in huge quantities as though each drop might be his last.

Recently I’ve been hiking much more, including carrying weight in a backpack to build up my strength. (Containers of water make excellent weights, incidentally.)  For as much as I hate water, I love hiking. It’s the perfect activity for me. There’s no canoe to portage, no bike to drag up the too-steep hill, no horse to saddle or shoe or stable. There’s just me propelling me forward according to the laws of the earth and nature. And hikers are, almost universally, friendly, happy people. There’s hardly anyone I meet on a trail who doesn’t have a hello or a smile at the ready. The end of a hike leaves me with a sense of accomplishment and the feeling that I’ve earned a seat at the brewpub and the reward of a dark beer.

Though I’m officially not participating in autumn, winter, or spring over the next several months (I’ve decided that those soon-to-be naked trees, endless cold rains, and murky dark hours don’t exist in my world this year), the weather has lately been purely glorious for hiking. Even the !@!!**& government got its act together and reopened the National Parks, so this past Saturday we hiked the Dark Hollow Falls and Rose River trails at Shenandoah National  Park. Along with being nearly hydrophobic, fully leafed trees make me claustrophobic (no humility here — am I special or what?). The leaves at higher elevations in the Park are past their color peak and have leapt to their anticlimactic  deaths, allowing the extremely late summer (recall my nonparticipation in autumn) sunlight (which I crave like an illegal drug) to filter onto the hiking paths, showing the hand of Midas on the lower trees’ leaves. I didn’t try to photograph that magic. I might as well have tried to swallow the sun.

The Dark Hollow Falls trail drops steeply for about a mile beside a capricious clear stream before connecting to the 4 mile loop of the Rose River trail, which is an up and down affair with rocky and slippery patches. Our pace was steady and felt comfortable. Mike figured later we were walking at slightly under 2 mph. I dutifully sipped water on the way and shed my layered clothing as I built up steam and soaked up sun and huffed determinedly up the inclines. Have I mentioned how glorious all of this was? It was. Glorious.

In seemingly no time at all, we finished walking the loop and re-joined the Dark Hollow Trail for our victory ascent, parts of which are as steep as a Grand Canyon trail. After briefly watching other hikers photograph the falls, we started up that final stretch.

And there I faltered. The beat of my heart was too big for my chest, I rapidly became nauseated, and my body heat evaporated. Light-headedness swarmed over me. I looked sideways to the trail to be climbed beside the falls, at the sunlit glow between the trees, bright and benevolent and beautiful. Yes, it was beautiful. In those few moments as I vowed to stay upright, I could acknowledge and appreciate how beautiful it all was and that I could drop dead in worse places.  But I knew in that instant, too, that I didn’t want to die there, no matter how beautiful it was. I’m pretty good with the matter of dying. There’s no way around it. Death by hiking isn’t the worst I could do. In my opinion it beats death by monotony or boredom, the method of death that insinuates itself quietly and insidiously and with little notice while one lives in bland ruraburbia, that Realm of Nothingness, where nothing changes, nothing happens, nothing moves forward, nothing rules.

I told Mike I needed to sit down and a flat rock at just the right height obliged me. I pulled out the water and started on it. My family history is lousy with heart disease — my mother died early of it and after that my father’s broken heart endured more attacks than I can remember. I banked on simple dehydration for my case, though. It made sense. I’d had coffee before leaving the house and insufficient water and food to see me through our hike. After a short period of rest and consumption of more water, all my systems were once more a go. Mike and I continued up the steepest part of the hike, ate lunch in a sunny spot overlooking a meadow, sent a couple of freeloading ticks to their deaths, and walked another two easy miles on a flat trail.

If I’m lucky, I think, the place where I leave this earth will be wide open with a staggeringly beautiful and endless blue sky and long, long vistas, somewhere in the majestic and harsh emptiness of the  Southwest. A pleasant temperature would be nice, one that would allow for the wearing of shorts, short sleeves and sandals. And I’ll be on a hiking path, suitably wide and not too rocky, with enough challenge in terrain that I could have that sense of accomplishment while loving where I am and what I’m doing. But that’s starting to sound more like heaven, I guess.

So, here’s your chance — tell me, where is your death-wishing place? Where is your golden spot on this earth where you can begin eternity with a smile on your face? Where is it that you want to begin the fulfillment of the often-quoted, “Man thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return?”

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Gallery

Little guys.

This gallery contains 4 photos.

(Subtitle: the devil is in the details.) Men have hobbies:  fishing, running, collecting stamps, burning things (my brother’s hobby). Mike makes tiny people. Tiny soldiers, mostly. I was going to say he paints them but that hardly shows the complete … Continue reading

Shedding season.

I opened the closet door this morning and the first thing I saw was a teal blouse I’ve worn for years. This sturdy staple has seen me through many a day when I was totally unprepared to get out the door for work and it was always wearable right out of the wash. Its color and style allows me to pair it with a wide selection of other clothing I own.

But when I touched it today, I noticed how worn it had become and how its rich color had faded. The styling seemed outdated. Why hadn’t I noticed this before now? Perhaps it was time to retire it. But what would take its place on my unprepared days? And, in a slightly sappy sense, the blouse had been a good and faithful servant for so long, and here I was about to discard it, as if it were the Velveteen Rabbit. I vacillated, thinking of where I’d worn it – to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center where I’d done the most meaningful work of my life – and how it framed my silver and turquoise jewelry purchased from a street vendor during a New Mexico trip.

I thought, too, about the field coat for which I’d longed so many years while living in a hot climate. Catalog spreads featured long haired, Wellington-booted women with silky-coated hunting dogs at their sides tramping through autumn fields; strong, independent, cosmopolitan yet country women wearing field coats. On eBay, I found a mulberry-colored field coat trimmed in brown corduroy and lined in plaid that I wore triumphantly after my winning bid. For about six months, that is, until I realized I wasn’t a long-haired, boot-wearing, country-dwelling catalog model with a purebred dog. I was a citified, job-hopping, purpose-seeking former dog owner, wearing a coat that didn’t fit me.  I folded it into the Goodwill bag. Fortunately, I hadn’t spent much money on the coat. But I had paid a significant price learning the lesson that I could only be who and what I was, not what I saw someone else be in a magazine. As the years had passed, I had changed and grown, and outgrown the field coat before I even got it. But I couldn’t see that I had to let go of the person I was trying to create who could fit the image in that coat.

And now I’ve worn out as well as outgrown the teal blouse. I think I noticed before today that it was past its prime and didn’t want to admit it. But I don’t want another field coat lesson, either. Sometimes what worked yesterday, in both clothes and dreams, doesn’t meet today’s needs, and it’s time to accept the fact and move on. I’ll be sad to see my teal blouse go, but I know I’ll find another favorite.

I’m thinking it will be something in a bright, in-your-face color. Something that a free-thinking, survivor-sort of woman would wear.

 

Exercise common sense.

My little Thought Landfill has touched on such eclectic subjects as inaccurate corn harvest estimates to bras that fit to haircuts that don’t to sleeping around. It’s time to take a big step forward and confront more controversial issues. If this post drives off my regular subscribers, I’ll have to live with that as I grow into my convictions as blogger and a responsible human being. So, if I offend anyone I’ll have to suffer the consequences since this subject has been on my mind for some time now.

What the hell are we doing that we’re calling exercise?

I subscribe to a few email newsletters to keep my little-used brain sharp and on its mental toes, so to speak. Last week I received two separate e-mailings from WebMD, which is a sentimental favorite website of mine, about hot fitness crazes. I imagine C. Everett Koop in his bowtie and glasses lovingly writing each newletter on a manual typewriter with only America’s best interests at the center of his patriotic heart. Dr. Koop always seemed like such a sensible man. Now I realize he either has nothing to do with WebMD, or he’s on vacation, or they’ve put him out to pasture. Does the following photo appear sensible to you?

Jumping shoes. Really.

No, me either. These are called Kangaroo Shoes and can be worn for low-impact aerobics or jogging. They also come with the following caveat: if you are pregnant, have high blood pressure or balance problems, stick with springless shoes. I simply cannot wait to see someone jog by my house wearing these.  These contraptions should come with a plaster cast for the inevitable broken ankle. I assume they come in a kit with itty bitty, impossibly tight workout shorts since everyone in the photo wears them.

Where else are calories burned?

 Next up: pole dancing. Yes, this is indeed a legitimate(?) fitness suggestion. I’ve seen any number of classes offered locally, and I bet you’ve heard all about Pole Dancing for Jesus. (No, I’m not giving you the link — go look for yourself out on YouTube.) The WebMD newsletter  says you’ll burn calories while working your abs, butt, thighs and “more.”  More what? Tongue muscles? Risks include falling(!), rotator cuff strain, and tendonitis. These must be some of the more interesting injuries being seen in emergency rooms. (I have to admit, I’m kinda likin’ those silver boots, though.)

I’m a long-time follower of yoga. The breathing, the focus, the stretching have comforted and strengthened me both mentally and physically. Its rising popularity is also its nemesis, bringing competitivenss and “extreme” to the practice, neither of which can or should be applied to yoga.

Water + board = waterboard yoga

 This is referred to as floating yoga. A stench by any other name still stinks. Balance during yoga poses is intensity enough without having to try to also remain afloat.

Suspendasana. No namaste here.

 Aerial yoga — beyond ridiculous. Yoga has been practiced for thousands of years with a minimum of props, and there are enough downward-facing poses without adding bungee cords, or “hammocks” as they are euphemistically named. The New York Times recently published articles about the increase in the number of yoga-related injuries — well, duh. Injuries will occur in any form of exercise, particularly when competition, peer pressure, and bad judgement are involved.

The photos above show women participating in these “exercises.” You can read into that whatever you like; one fact I read is that these examples are not “manly” undertakings. Fear not, though, the boys are going for the glory as well through “elite” fitness such as P90X and Insanity Workout, which promote “muscle confusion.” (Egads — intentional confusion — shouldn’t that be illegal?) The newsletter instructs the reader to consult a physician prior to engaging in these, particularly in regard to pre-existing joint problems. I take that to mean if you don’t have joint problems, you probably will after going Insane.

WebMD is not the creator of these crazes, just the purveyor of the newsletter which afforded me an interlude of “WTF?” and “WTH?” moments, significant eyebrow exercise and astonished blinking, and some some mental gymnastics. I’m thankful to them for that. But I’m going to keep my yoga grounded, my shoes spring-free, and my insanity level low. I think I’ll take a walk, do a little dancing or a little Zumba, push a lawnmower, take the stairs. You get the picture. I can hear my joints whispering “thank you” and my blood whooshing gently through my arteries. Wherever C. Everett Koop is, I think he’d agree with me.

I might have to get me a pair of those silver boots, though.

Not now, not ever

I will not wait till the last minute to go to the bathroom, especially if a slippery zipper is being anchored in the “up” position by a safety pin.

I will not complain about what’s free — Facebook, cloud servers, Pandora radio,  friends, family, or gifts.

I will not go viral or ballistic, nor will I jump on any bandwagons. The first seems germ-laden, the second downright dangerous, the third just an opportunity to be run over.

I will not pass up a chance to wear a conical hat. Look what it did for Harry Potter. December’s Saturnalia observation is already marked on my new calendar. Being a dunce and wearing the hat has its advantages, not the least of which is a seat near the front of the crowd.

I will not daily blog publicly. If I have nothing to say I will not burden my 25 subscribers with it. Every bit of writing advice promotes “honing the craft” by daily writing. That doesn’t mean I have to bore my long-suffering readers with every if, and, or but I can spell.

I will not hesitate to take the Magic Bus on adventures everywhere I can possibly go, with anyone who wants to come with.

I will not ignore the voices in my head. Shh, just a second. A retrospective of my life shows significant slapdowns could have been avoided if I hadn’t muzzled my own instincts. What were you saying?

I will not pass up an opportunity to toss a coin, accompanied by a wish, into a fountain. No shooting star will complete its arc without my thoughts clinging to its tail. Every dandelion will scatter before my breath and every wishbone will be accommodated.

 

I will never think twice about joining a celebratory parade or doing the happy dance. Not now, not ever.

Shoot. Eat. Repeat.

Be gone, you seemingly magical creature, you of the luminous brown eyes, slender torso, and trim legs of coiled steel.  There you stand, silent and strong, regarding me with calm gaze; near enough almost for me to touch you. . . to caress you. . .

To shoot you. To eat you.

This is no different than that gorgeous boyfriend who ran up your credit card balance, borrowed your car, ate all the food in your pantry, but contributed zero dollars toward food and gas. Eventually you gave him the heave-ho. It’s time to terminate our love affair with the white-tailed deer.

A recent comment about a deer photo referring to it as “Bambi,” preceded by the inevitable, “Aw, gee, how can you shoot” has me “aarghing!”. Do we have Walt Disney to thank for our obsession with this rat on hooves? Did our Pilgrim ancestors forbear culling the herd because some doe turned moist eyes upon them? No – so why do we?

For about two weeks after moving to this rural location, I bought into the cute deer thinking. One would be drinking from the bird bath or standing as if frozen on the front slope. A small herd would emerge from the trees and bound away, single file. So charming, so natural. 

 Then my plants disappeared. They were eaten by the deer. Daily I look out my window and a gaggle of girl deer is grazing through the remnants of the wanna-be garden or across the grass or sunning themselves on the deck. Everywhere I drive, there are deer in the road or beside it. Evidently they sleep all day so they can run in front of my car at dusk. Should I go Magic Bus hood to deer nose, I will likely lose, and possibly more than my car.

There are at least a 1.5 million vehicle vs. deer collisions yearly, causing more than a billion dollars in property damage. That deer is going to look much less cute once it’s crashed through your windshield. And while you’re sitting in the front seat looking that storybook animal in the eye awaiting the arrival of a wrecker, check yourself for ticks. Ticks carry Lyme disease; deer carry ticks. Those chills, fever, bullseye rash, lethargy, and headache you thought were related to the flu or having to pay your auto insurance deductible are also

Mmmm. You tasted really good. I left you a little present -- Lyme disease!

symptoms of Lyme disease.  Untreated Lyme can cause heart muscle inflammation, Bell’s Palsy, meningitis, and arthritis. Enjoy a good burger? While you’re checking yourself for ticks, have one; it may be your last. There appears to be a link to a red meat allergy transmitted by deer ticks. No more 5 Guys Burgers & Fries, or steaks off the grill – ever. Even food cooked on the same grill as the red meat – give that up, too.

We’re eating cows, calves, lambs, rabbits, goats, doves, chickens, ducks, turkeys, pigs and piglets, (possibly horses soon), many of which are pretty darn cute before they appear medium rare on our plates. Why do we continue to engage in this fantasy love affair with deer? Which is the more humane alternative – Bambi hit by your car but not killed, staggering off to die a slow painful death, or Bambi felled by one well-aimed hunter’s gun or bow?

Why do we behave like deer in headlights when it comes to reducing the deer population?

Shoot. Eat. Repeat. 

What would Elmer do?