What is summer to you?

photo (10) water sunset self-portrait sunset boatSummer has a way of sliding over me like my favorite t-shirt. It takes a little while for me to settle into my summer stride.  Maybe you relate. You know, first I have to fight off the nagging feeling that I should use my vacation to be productive, that I should EARN my vacation by a lot of work.  But then I went camping recently (and totally lacking anything productive) and suddenly it felt real.  There was a precise moment (sitting in the camp chair, feet on the picnic bench, joking about our state park neighbors) when I actually said, “This feels like summer.”

I have a long and meaningful relationship with this season.  I went to camp as a kid and then worked at a camp for 19 years.  I GET summer.  It is a magical time for me. Summer isn’t about weather for me. It is about 5 simple things.  What about you?

1) Being outside.  Getting my nature on.  Wandering into the woods or out on a dock and enjoying not being surrounded by people.  Having the view–the extraordinary view–be enough.  Be MORE than enough.

2) Relaxing.  Not I’ve got 15 minutes to sit down relaxing. I’m talking FORGETTING YOU HAVE A JOB relaxing.  This is the moment where your biggest decision is Should I make more tea or finish off the Doritos first?  It isn’t necessarily laziness–though Lord knows that’s an art form–it is about enjoying the pace of right now.  Nowhere to be.

3) Camping.  Now I know this might be sketchy territory for some folks, but hear me out.  Camping (or hiking even) gets you out of your space.  Gets you out of your home.  Gets you out of your parking spot.  It makes you small in the world.  Bye bye TV.  Hello, JUST SIT THERE.  Watch the way the fire licks the sides of the log you just turned over.  Stare up and actually notice that there are stars in the sky.  Stare long enough that you can’t count them.  Sip a cup of tea, tilt back in the chair and balance a book on your knee.  A BOOK.  Remember those? Heaven.

4) Laughter, preferably about something ridiculous and unimportant.  My friend and I, while polishing off cheese quesadillas, killed a good 1/2 hour discussing whether we could buy green vests and pretend to be the volunteer campground hosts.  We talked about what our duties would be and how we would hide the evidence if the real hosts came around in their golf carts.

5)  Being with kindred spirits.  My favorite people on the planet are kindred spirits.  They know me, they get me, they have no desire to change me, they banter, you get the idea.  True summer to me is saying to them,”I want to spend time with you” and their response is “Me too.”

What about you?  What makes your summer magical?

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Sometimes It Just Takes a Backpack…

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Yesterday—deep in the woods of the Olympic National Park—I found a little part of myself.

I’ve been lost for a while.  Maybe you know the feeling.  The uncertainty that comes when life turns upside down and the memory of who you were before slips away like dreams in the morning.

I was healthy…then I wasn’t. 

I never thought about my breathing…then I thought about it often.

I was enthusiastic and full of energy…then I couldn’t remember what that felt like. 

I didn’t forget who I was overnight.  The loss was almost imperceptible.  Faint moments of forgetting replaced by whatever pressing matter was at hand.  Old thoughts replaced by new concerns, bigger concerns.

I know you used to do that…but NOW you do this.

I used to hang out with friends…now my social calendar included my doctors. 

Stumbling across little bits of me was a process.  Wandering down the trail I saw myself scattered like rose petals dropped carefully by a flower girl.  A little here.  A little there.   I had not lost myself all at once. It made sense that I wouldn’t find myself all at once either.

It started in the ranger station parking lot.

  • The familiar confidence of my hiking boots.
  • The daypack with enough water and snacks.
  • The extra Ziploc of emergency essentials—a pocket knife, small flashlight, a lighter, and a small first aid kit among other things.

My first step on the trail was a moment of pride.

Oh yes, I remember now.  This is who I am.

I picked up that part of me and made space for it in my pack.

Further down the trail, my feet falling into comfortable cadence, my breath escaped. This part was New Me.  Short-of-breath-me.  Can’t-quite-get-a-full-breath-in-damnit-me.

New Me—like a needy child—asserted herself and announced, “I’m here too!  And I’ve been here awhile, so don’t go hiking off without me!”

So I told Old Me, “Hold on a minute.  New Me needs some attention.”

And I slowed down a little and fought the short of breath, incomplete feeling.  Then I kept hiking.  I have this place to myself.

After 15 minutes, the trail begins to climb.  Nothing drastic, but enough to make my thighs start to burn and send my pulse to thumping.  The nature worship of only minutes earlier is not replaced with Ok, just get to that point up there and you can rest.

Soon, the trail levels out and I find myself again at the top.  I see the Oh yes, I can do this.  I remember this.  I put that part of me in the pack and keep hiking.  My photos along the way are my proof that I did this.  They are my evidence that I remember Old Me.

This trail, this green and mossy trail, with its Douglas Firs and Cedars standing protectively nearby, is my last 7 years.  And I am back.

I am humming Stephen Sondheim’s closing song to his musical Into the Woods.   All respect to Steve, I claimed the lyrics as I hiked.  He must have known my story.

The way is dark,
The light is dim,
But now there’s you, me, her, and him.
The chances look small,
The choices look grim,
But everything you learn there
Will help when you return there…

Into the woods–you have to grope,
But that’s the way you learn to cope.
Into the woods to find there’s hope
Of getting through the journey.

I’m not the same me now as I was before all of this started.

But we’re in the same neck of the woods.

 

I’m Right Where I Left Me

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Coming Back

Being back on the rugged Washington Coast at the ocean after 6 years, disease, an oxygen tank and a life overhaul was like wrapping up in a comfortable warm blanket.  Walking the beach, a grin glued to my face, I looked up at the trees on the ocean. These trees are badass.  They lean recklessly into the wind.  Their branches sparse and thick.  Not a place for spindly branches with the protection of the forest. Trees on the ocean need to be able to stomach the wind and the salt water and be the first line of whatever came off the Pacific.  These were Don’t screw with me trees.  These trees were tested.  They weren’t as full or even as the ones further back in the rainforest.  But they had seen worse.

Me and those trees.  Worn and beaten. A little worse for wear.  Still standing.