Panorama Tells a Different Story

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Top panorama:  The mountains in Eastern British Columbia.  I love how the different shades of grey make it simpler, but give it dimension.

Bottom panorama:  This is in Eastern Idaho at my uncle’s ranch.   The panorama really makes your eye focus on what you would notice if you were standing there (the barn.)

Does This Oxygen Tank Make Me Look Badass?

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Heaving the heavy pack onto my shoulders after so many years was both familiar and forgotten.

The closest thing I’d felt to its bulky weight was the solid smack of my oxygen tank hanging loosely on the same shoulder for 2 ½ years.  “Tank’s” nasal cannula tube draped down my back, the prongs pulling in protest against my nostrils as the regulator pulsed puffs of oxygen.

The pack—which I affectionately referred to as the BMW of backpacks—had a sleek, silver design and was everything my silver oxygen tank was not.  Adventure. Activity.  Independence.  Healthy. 

But that was Hiking Me

Current Me is short of breath, fatigued by even the gentlest of hikes and aware of the way the hip belt digs into my stomach from the extra 35 pounds of prednisone weight.  Current Me hikes alone so that I can get back to Hiking Me without being embarrassed at my pace and how a relatively flat hike can kick my ass from here to there. 

Surprisingly, now that Tank is no longer my companion, Current Me savors the ability to hike at all.   My pride is on my sweaty back, my new fleece pullover and my muddy boots.

Hiking in the Rain: A Love Story.

 

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Northwest Drizzle is the weather of solitude.

On a hike I pulled my red baseball hat down further to shield me from the rain and pulled my black Gore-Tex hood over my head. By the time I left, my jeans would be heavier than when I arrived from the continual drops that soaked into the cotton.  Each step, a splotch and squish of the trail, was littered with puddles that squirted their muddy contents on the calves of my cheap and well-worn Old Navy jeans.  As the trail dipped down, dodging the trees to sneak between them, the familiar heft of my hiking pack skidded slightly against my back.  It held in place by somewhat tight shoulder straps and a snug sternum strap across my chest.  In the Northwest, the earth smelled warm and damp after a rain, a natural baptism.

I never minded the rain.

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I fought the Ape Caves and the Ape Caves won…

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When Don invited me to go to the Ape Caves, I thought he was joking.

Did you say Ape Caves?

Ape Caves are the “longest continuous lava tube in the continental U.S.” (thank you very much Wikipedia) and are located in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Southwest-ish Washington. They are a balmy 42 degrees year round.   He thought we should hike it.

Hiking in the dark didn’t seem like the smartest idea, but it had been so long since I had hiked anywhere—sans oxygen tank—I was anxious to prove myself. There were times I was constantly trying to prove that I could handle things.

Traveling alone.

Getting a disease.

Carting an oxygen tank around at 36.

Friends getting cancer at an exceptionally high rate and especially young ages.

I wanted others to believe that I could handle it. I wanted to believe it myself, that I have somehow “got this.” I wanted to think that what drops other people to the floor would not drop me. I would be the exception. I wanted to believe that I would not be disarmed by tests, by drugs, by side effects, by the anticipation of massive loss.

So—hiking boots firmly tied, flashlight and headlamp at the ready—we descended into the cave.   Its walls damp and green further and further down until they were bare and almost entirely dark. The floor was uneven and rough. I wanted my stride to be confident, handling each up and down of natural steps with agility and comfort.

Instead I was awkward. My arms stretched to the side at times, ready to catch myself with each unseen crack and drop of the floor beneath me. My headlamp—which seemed just fine when I’d checked it above ground, was less beacon, more tealight down here.

It’s tough to prove yourself when you look as if you might land on your butt at any moment.

About a mile into the cave Don and I waited till we were alone and shut off our lights. No one else was around as we put our hands in front of our faces—totally unable to see them—and marveled at our own blindness.

Further in the tunnel—in a moment we will call Ultimate Graceful Essence—I bought it. A sideways falling with my hands smashing awkwardly onto the rocky floor, my right hip smacked the pumpkin-size rock with all my body weight and my knees scraped along the calloused surface of the lava tube.

I’m not sure which happened first, the bleeding or the swearing.

Bleeding hand with peeled back skin like chipped paint and blood mixed with dirt and stinging. My knees—bleeding—looked like a 8 year old who had fallen off their bike and wanders into the house with dripped blood down the shins. Genius. Could you pick a little less convenient place to bite it? My hip ached. For a moment I was afraid to move out of fear I had really hurt myself and moving would make it worse.

There was something a little embarrassing about having a place called Ape Caves kick my ass. Had they had a more intimidating name it might have been a point of pride for me. I wish I could have impressed people with things like….

Dragon’s Gauntlet showed me who’s boss.

Or

Satan’s Wall really schooled me.

Instead, the truth of it was The Ape Caves—named after a Boy Scout troop by the way—bullied me.

Still, there was something about it. Getting up—battle wounds still bleeding—and continuing on. There was something bold about it for me. If it hadn’t hurt so much I might have sat down on the ground and laughed about it. Those caves were a physical manifestation of the butt kicking I had taken for the last 4 years. But you get up. Why? Because really, what is the alternative?

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Mother’s Day Casualties

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My hands have been typing for 5 hours today.   Solid.  When I was done, I’d written 9380 words for a grand total of 22 glorious pages.  To be totally honest, I didn’t have to think up most of the words, they were already in pen in my notebook. 

But it is Mother’s Day.  And, as much as my own mother gets her day and her shout out, I’ve been thinking a lot more today about all the folks for whom Mother’s Day is a minefield. 

1)   A dear friend who only days ago had her mom’s funeral.   

2)   A mother whose college-age daughter passed less than 2 months ago. 

3)   A new mom who is celebrating her first Mother’s Day without her mom who passed when she was 17. 

4)   All the women who want to be moms but are pounding their fists against the wall of infertility.

So why the words you ask?  Why the explosion of typing bonanza?  Why risk my fingers falling off?  What do these words have to do with the above people?

Simple.  I’d been holding onto the words of #2’s daughter (my friend.)  Hours of conversation, sharing and openness have been tucked away in my writing notebook.    For weeks they have been talking to me (nagging me really, but I’m trying to be nice.) 

“Hey, you need to share us with her mom…this will mean a lot to her.”

And there is nothing like the dead to prompt me into action. 

So I text her mom…

Me:  Would you like to have our early conversations?  See the things she shared?  Her answers to questions?

Her mom:  Oh [insert my name] that would be wonderful!

And when I am tempted to apologize to her for how ridiculously long it is—22 pages? I mean  really would it kill me to revise??  I warn her to get comfy before she sits down to read.  I am tempted to warn her that—even though it is over text—that it is heavy.  That her daughter says things like “I’m not dead yet.”  But I don’t warn her.  There’s nothing I could say that she hasn’t thought, heard or experienced in the last few years of this.   Instead, I give her her daughter’s words—and with it, many of mine, many of my sharings—and hope that she finds it helpful and warming to the soul.  

You’re gonna think I’m nuts, but hear me out.

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I believe in signs.

I don’t always know whether they are coincidence, signs from The Universe, or God or what, but I believe in their significance.  If that sounds too woo-woo, tree-hugging, new age whatever to you, I totally get it.  I’ve hugged a tree before and I’ll probably do it again.  But hear me out.

If your body can send signals that you are sick or something is not right, or body language can tell us things without you saying a word, then why not other signs?  Who is to say that we can’t be prompted into noticing things that we would normally blow off?  Who is to say there isn’t a greater message there?

Did that pair of shoes just tell me to buy them online?  Why yes, yes it did.

Who am I to argue?

Recently I had an experience that felt like this.  My dear friend Meagan Jones passed away recently at the ripe old age of 23…wrong in every sense of the word.   She was blunt and honest and loyal as hell.  She had an edge when she was annoyed and was brave when she shared the difficult truths of her life.

It had been about a month when I was sitting in church not paying attention—I’ll own that—and was thinking of her, noticing that even though she had died recently, I hadn’t thought of her for a few days.  I know in my head this is normal.  Still, the guilt arrived at the entrance to my thoughts and started pounding on the door.

“So soon?”   Guilt demanded, “You are forgetting her already?  Did your friendship mean so little to you that you forget a mere month-ish later?  That’s pathetic.”

Shoving Guilt aside, my mind drifted and tried to focus again on what was happening in the class at church.  They were doing introductions of new people.

“Welcome, what’s your name?” The class teacher said.

“Meagan Jones.”  The young woman asked.  I stopped breathing for a moment.

I don’t share this to make it seem extraordinary, just to point it out… The Don’t Miss This Moment of that experience.  “Her name is common,” Doubt countered.  But that’s not the point.  The point is that sometimes the universe, or coincidence, or God or even the incomparable Meagan Jones takes the time to show us something and the importance lies in our noticing.

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Open Your Soul and See What Happens

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When I suggested our college-age YMCA cabin group do the activity “I’m from a place” I knew I was suggesting they open their souls to each other and trust that the group would support them.  That was how “I’m from a place” worked.  In this activity, the group stands up and spreads around the room—our room being about 15×15—and the group is quiet.  Then one person steps to the side and says, “I’m from a place….” And fills in the rest of the sentence for them.  It doesn’t have to be detailed, it can even be general, but it should be personal.

Things like…

I’m from a place where my parents don’t understand what is important to me.

Or

I’m from a place where I’m not sure where to go with my life right now.

Or

I’m from a place where it is hard to tell who my real friends are. 

Or

I’m from a place where I feel loved and supported most of the time.

Since these are college-age participants, their comments often are about finding their place in the world, what kind of decisions to make etc.  And, when someone in the group steps to the side and says their statement, then everyone who identifies or connects with that statement comes to stand near them and put their hand on their shoulder (or on the shoulder of someone who already has their hand on that person.)  Then, once everyone who has moved is done and there is a few moments of support, the next person steps to the side and says their “I’m from a place…”

This goes on for maybe 30 minutes with a group of 12.  Usually everyone goes about 2, maybe 3 times.  It is quiet.  It is thoughtful.  It is supportive.  It is intense.

And the feeling in the room as people quietly say something that is true for them, is powerful.

As the facilitator of the activity, I usually go first.  It sets the tone and gives them an idea of how it works.  It also gives the permission so to speak, to go to the place where they share the thing they struggle to say.  I don’t do this with all groups.  Not all groups get to the place where this activity is the right choice for them.  This is also one of those activities where I ask the group if they are interested in doing an something that really puts it out there. I tell them, “This is a beautiful activity and it is powerful, but if you aren’t in the mood and want to keep it light, are feeling distracted etc., it is totally cool to do something different.”

This particular group was on board.

So we started.  Simple.  Deep.  Honest.  Even when their I come from… was vague, it always hinted enough that individuals could interpret it as they wished.

Such as, “I come from a place where I’m really struggling right now.”

We don’t know why or how that person is struggling.  We don’t know if we are struggling in the same way.  But the reality is that it doesn’t matter.  If you are struggling and I am struggling, then we come from the same place.

We got the activity started and before you know it people gathered around, hands on shoulders, a hand or two on backs and other people standing nearby.  In a few moments, the whole group was connected.  Silent, but connected.

After a few moments—which we called “Giving the sharing its time” someone new stepped away.  And on it went from there.

My anxiety climbed after about 10 minutes when I thought about sharing my “I come from…” with the group.  I wanted to be able to say how what had made this last year so painful—so heartbreaking—but couldn’t find the words.  Everything seemed inadequate, or too specific.  I wanted to speak a truth for me—one that captured the profound loss without saying the details.

Also, as the leader of the group, I didn’t want it to be about me too much. I could be a part of the group to a certain extent, but not so much that the spotlight stayed on me.  The only people who had a sense of what my last year had been like were my co-leader and one of the participants who I had know for 4 years.  As I scrolled through possible phrases, they all seemed to miss what I was trying to say.

I come from a place of deep hurt.

I come from a place where this last year I feel like I no longer remember who I am.

I come from a place of deep, deep anger at the events that have happened.

None of them worked.

When I finally knew what to say I almost panicked at the thought of speaking such pain aloud.  To say this in a group of strangers would be one thing, but 2 of the people (my co-leader and “R”—the participant) would know what I meant.

I stood to the side and said, “I come from a place where I have lost one of the most important things in my life this year.”

Gradually, one by one, they came over to me.  The comforting pressure and warmth of hands rested on my shoulders.  Gathering friends—strangers only 2 days ago—moved beside me and behind me.  Then R walked in front of me and faced me.  She went against the norm of the activity, stood a foot away from me—closer than you stand if you are going to have a conversation, more like a hug—and she looked up at me until she had my eyes.   Reaching out, she took both of my hands—another unchartered territory in the activity—and she held both my hands.

She knew what I was referring to when I said I had lost significant things and people.  She knew exactly.  Standing behind me, or next to someone else was not enough.  R knew the pain I was referring to.  She had seen it play out.  Even though she was 16 years younger than I was (a 19 to my 35,) she stood with me in that moment.  I was unaware of the others once she did that.

Rarely have I felt so exposed, so vulnerable and so supported at the same time.

She didn’t say anything.  She just smiled at me and squeezed my hands.

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Why I Press the Shutter…Why Certain Images Grill My Cheese

ImageWhat is it that makes someone me press the shutter?  What is it about that moment that makes a photographer–I sound so swanky when I refer to myself that way–say, “Now”?  As someone who got on WordPress to write, I take photos for the same reason I write.  I want to capture something.  I want to get it exactly like it was…a moment, a look, a conversation, an image.  

Above image-Little Cottonwood Canyon near Alta Ski Resort, Salt Lake City, Utah.  

This photo was my respite from an incredibly stressful funeral for my grandmother.  Even late into the fall, it still held surprises as we drove further up the canyon.  It was an escape. 

 

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Above image-a close-up of one of the oxygen tanks I used.  

Cart around an oxygen tank for 2.5 years and you might find yourself taking its picture too.  The oxygen, my regular companion–loathed and appreciated at the same time–was never something I saw in my future and never something I felt would ever be “normal” for me.  It would always be an awkward appendage.  This picture isn’t about irritation though.  When I took it this was about acceptance. 

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Above image-a dear friend, in a cemetery.

What draws me to this picture is the warmth despite the winter trees, the bare branches and the fact that 20 feet away were acres of headstones.  When photographing people I know, I am drawn to the idea of being able to capture “them.”  Writing is the same way for me. When I write about people I know, I want the reader to see them the way I do.  My friend S says “You always write me better than I am,” but that is how I see her.

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Above image-a ghost town jail in Western Montana.  This is where they would chain the prisoners to the floor.

The macro lens lets me see every grain of dirt in the floor, the scratches in the metal, and the grain in the wood.  In the same cell there was a small window that looked up on the hill where the prisoners’ hanging would take place.  When I look at this photo, I think of all the people that were attached to the metal and all the stories I don’t know.