We are grateful for this place in which we dwell, for the love that unites us, for the peace accorded us this day, for the hope with which we expect tomorrow; for the health, the work, the food and the bright skies that make our lives delightful; for our friends in all parts of the earth.
Give us courage and joy and the quiet mind. Keep us to our friends, soften us to our enemies. Bless us, if it may be, in all our innocent endeavors; if it may not, give us the strength to endure that which is to come, that we may be brave in peril, constant in tribulation, temperate in anger and in all changes of life, and down to the gates of death, loyal and loving to one another.
It takes a bit of adjustment to get used to life without caring for my mom. And just when I feel like I’m over losing both parents in just three months, something comes up, like a call from my step-sister telling me that the attorney is ready to settle my Dad’s estate.
His estate was of no consequence but we shared some thoughts about having been caregivers for a parent and then having them no longer depending on us. We agreed that their deaths were somehow easier for us to accept than they had been for our siblings who were more distant. We were intimately acquainted with their discomfort and failing senses and so, we could celebrate their demise without shame or regret. Our challenge was to fill the gaping hole in our lives where their care had been. To that end I embarked on a couple of mini-vacations…. I suppose that’s your surprised look.
My favorite cousin (MFC) Mila rode the Amtrak Southwest Chief from Chicago to San Bernardino, two days and two nights of clackity-clack, not- quite-romantic, rolling not-quite-prone through the American countryside, to spend a month in sunny California visiting family – brother, son, grand kids, and lucky for me, cousins.
To meet MFC Mila is to suddenly feel like you’ve just met your kindred spirit; and when you get to know her, you realize that she’s actually more related to the person you would LIKE to be. Her sharp mind is camouflaged by a ready smile and a mellifluous chuckle. No stranger to loss and grief, she was the perfect confidant. So, when she proposed a road trip to Nevada to visit the property her brother Dan had purchased in Goldfield, Nevada, I was all for it.
As you may recall, the Wanderlust was all packed and ready to hit the road for the ill-fated trip to Lone Pine, so it took little effort to get ready.
Goldfield was once the largest city in Nevada. As the mineral wealth ran out, the population declined and most of the town burned down…twice. But thanks to an eclectic assortment of eccentrics, the town is being not so much preserved as hoarded. Oh, there are a few buildings in various stages of restoration, but most of the remaining structures are being used to shelter “collectibles” that remained after the mining industry collapsed. I use the term “shelter” loosely as there was at least one small, barn-like building that was packed so full that the crumbling building had settled onto its contents, unable to fall to its rightful rest.
The Goldfield City Hall houses everything a city needs, hall of records, assessor’s office, motor vehicle department, courthouse, jail, you name it. One of the clerks boasted that the infamous Virgil Earp (older brother of the notorious Wyatt Earp) had once been deputized here. One requirement of the job was not to have ever shot someone in the United States. Good old Virgil Earp was suspected of killing many bad hombres in Arizona, but Arizona was a territory, not a state at that time and so, he was hired.
We parked the Wanderlust at the back of a replica saloon, owned by Randy, a friend of cousin Dan. Randy was a most gracious host and enthusiastically showed us around his antique shops and the saloon which has two bedroom suites upstairs, each of which has two doors to suggest a bordello. A sign on the wall admonishes, “Ladies, please solicit discretely”.
We spent two happy days and nights poking around Goldfield and meeting some of its inhabitants, all of whom know Randy. We had breakfast at the Dinky Diner where the owner welcomed us like old friends. Then I took the girls for a hike up a canyon just outside of town where the local distiller (yes, of course Goldfield has a distillery) told me I would find a spring. Before finding the spring, we found evidence of the local wild burro population. Lots of it. The spring was a trampled mud puddle.
After two days of the most amiable company of Dan and Randy, it was with some regret that Mila, Sadie, Molly, and I bid a fond adieu and headed west towards the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Lying between the Nevada desert and our destination was another mountain range, the White Mountains. Composed of dolomite, and towering 11,000 feet above the Owens Valley, they are the home of an ancient bristlecone pine forest, some 4,000 years old. The environment is so dry and inhospitable that I couldn’t help but wonder what would entice a tree to take root there, much less set up such a permanent residence.
Our detour into the Bristlecone Pine Forest Protected Area made our arrival in Lone Pine a bit too late to find a good camp site so we settled in Portagee Joe Campground, just outside of Lone Pine, next to the California aqueduct.
I took the girls for an early morning walk, hoping that Mila would be able to sleep for a bit as she had been up most of the night reading. Like most of us post-menopausal women, she has trouble sleeping; but unlike most of us, she takes it in stride and doesn’t complain about it. She truly is a most affable travel companion. Whenever I would ask, “Do you mind if…” she always replied, “Not a bit”.
Testing the limits of her affability, I suggested a hike up the Whitney Portal National Recreation Trail. This trail ascends about 2,500′ in just four miles. We had climbed about 3/4 of a mile when Mila felt an inconvenient call of nature. The trail offered plenty of places to discretely take care of business but they did not offer any place to sit. The 500 feet of climbing we had just done had taken a toll on her legs and when she squatted behind a bush, her knee objected strenuously. We pushed on but it became apparent that the offended knee was not going to do its fair share of propelling her up the trail. Fortunately, there was a side trail that was an easy walk to the Whitney Portal Road where I was able to pick her up in the car.
We continued up the Portal Road in the comfort of the car, ascending a couple of thousand feet on a road carved into the side of the mountain. My flat-lander cousin remarked on the lack of guard rails on this precarious road. The waterfall at the top was flowing impressively even for a connoisseur like Mila who described it as “the icing on the cake”.
This little adventure whetted my appetite for another trip and I vowed to return to Lone Pine before winter.
The hiking trip in the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains was abruptly cancelled when my mom fell and broke her hip on the day before we had planned to leave. The short version of the long story is this:
Mum fell on Saturday and after a grueling day of waiting in the emergency room, she was admitted for surgery to repair a broken hip. She survived the surgery but her dementia took on a new and unsettling turn. She was released from the hospital on Monday evening and delivered back home under hospice care. My sister, her daughters, and I cared for Mum in shifts with the support of my neighbor who has over twenty years of experience in caring for patients with dementia at the end of life. By Wednesday, Mum was gone.
The journey of grieving, healing, bonding, and celebrating her life and her release from pain, is now a month long. Every day is a surprise as my mind adjusts to the new normal that doesn’t include caring for her. At first there was the whirlwind of visitors and condolences where emotions spiked and plummeted seemingly without reason. Then came the sleeplessness, ruminating through the night about how I could have been more patient, more attentive, more loving. Wandering listlessly in a sleep-deprived fog, I wondered how something so long anticipated could have come as such a shock.
The Sierra Nevada mountains tower over the sprawling desert to the east just a few hours north of my home in Southern California. These implacable mountains are crisscrossed with wilderness trails that lure an intrepid hiker to vistas of the Owens Valley shimmering thousands of feet below, and sparkling alpine lakes.
The Girls Gone Mild Hiking and Gossip club won’t be climbing any fourteeners (mountain peaks over 14,000′) but we will be exploring some of the trails above Lone Pine and Bishop. I will soon regale you with exaggerated stories of debauched camp parties where four women consume an entire bottle of wine in a week and fall into bed as the moon rises. Rising before dawn, stiff and sore from the previous day’s trek, we will fortify ourselves with strong, mostly-milk coffee and gird our loins for another day of wonder in this unspoiled paradise.
So, stay tuned for all of the mostly true tales of our adventures!
When our Other Gray Kitty began a perceptible decline in health, we didn’t take any expensive and stressful (for the cat) steps to explore the cause of his gradual weight loss.
We have had many cats move in with us over the years, some by invitation, others just appeared at the back door looking for a handout and some love. None has ever been turned away unless they failed to peacefully share our space with the existing tribe. In exchange for room and board, each has sacrificed his/her right to procreation (in this totalitarian dictatorship, social programs are not generational). Veterinary care is unfairly distributed, not by right but by value to the tribe. Naturally, injuries are treated, vaccines administered, and nutritious food provided to all, but beyond that, my finite resources are allocated judiciously to provide the best care for the greatest number (nine at one point). This is an explanation of what follows.
From previous mountain bike adventure stories Xangans may remember how Gray Kitty and Other Gray Kitty were found frolicking in the brush, just off Highway 38, by our cycling group on a sunset ride. They were not named because we hoped to find permanent homes for the little rascals. They weren’t particularly good-looking cats and they were just past the oh-my-dog! adorable stage, so they never left us and their no-names stuck.
About 15 years later, Gray Kitty was getting a bit deaf or dim-witted and walked under the wheel of my SUV as I was creeping into the garage. Who knows, maybe he simply wanted to avoid a natural death. (some might argue that death by car IS a natural death for cats) The loss was mourned as he had been my best gopher henchman.
Other Gray Kitty, wasn’t as prescient and continued his cat life, but as he grew more senile, he flaunted his remaining 8 lives. I say 8 because I ran over him once when he was young but, miraculously, he was uninjured. More recently he liked to sit at the end of the driveway and call the coyotes from the field across street. Coyotes in these parts are well-fed (lots of stray cats and cheeky, small dogs) so they turned their noses up at the smell of this stringy, bag of bones.
So, to make a long story short, and a natural death is nothing if not a long story, over a period of a couple of years, Other grew increasingly feeble. Until at last, he was too weak to navigate, eat, use the litter box, and finally, he gave up purring when groomed. Believing that a peaceful death at home would be his choice, we made him comfortable in the middle of the kitchen floor (his favorite place) and waited for the final breath. The first night of his expected demise, he woke me every hour or two, plaintively asking for water. I would hold his head over the dish for him to lap a few drops and then he would calmly go back to sleep. By the second day we were certain he wouldn’t last the day, but by evening he still lay sprawled, head resting on chin, breathing regularly. Today is day three and his breathing is still regular and not labored. The ants are circling and I’m keeping them at bay with soapy water. At least I have a clean floor.
I’ve never been overly fond of Other; he’s a narcissistic tabby with few, if any, lovable qualities. So, his arrival at the end of the road isn’t a sad thing for me but it does bring to my consciousness of what lies ahead.
My mom, dementia plagued, lies peacefully in her bed or her recliner. Her appetite is good, her bowel movements regular, her breathing is not labored, though she rarely purrs. Unlike Other, she had redeeming qualities too numerous to mention…and she could catch gophers.
I may have mentioned my dentist in previous posts but she really is a remarkable woman and bears a second visit.
When my sister, Babs, first started seeing her, I thought she (my sister) was crazy, that is until she came home with a beautiful new smile. The “Queen of Teeth” had replaced all of her graying, oddly positioned, front teeth with lovely, even, white crowns. Suddenly the thousands of dollars she had shelled out seemed like a reasonable price to pay for such an attractive smile. I quickly made an appointment.
“The Queen” is a little sprite of a woman, barely five feet tall in her platform heels. Spiky blonde hair adds an inch or two but she still has to lower the chair to its lowest limit when she works on upper teeth. Proportionally tiny hands enable her to almost get both hands into my mouth at the same time. This is a very desirable trait in both dentists and gynecologists.
Her office is tastefully appointed, with massaging chairs and the kindest, prettiest support staff imaginable. If one is on time for one’s appointment, there is never a wait. Soothing classical music wafts through the treatment cubicle and there’s a flat-screen TV for the patient’s viewing pleasure. Like flying business class, a “stewardess” offers the patient a variety of liquid refreshment that includes smoothies, coffee drinks, tea, juice, or bottled water. Cozy polar fleece lap blankets are stacked within arm’s reach to ensure your comfort.
I’ve never availed myself of the juice bar but today I heard another patient ask for an iced mocha latte. I had once mentioned that my previous dentist would greet me with a glass of sherry after I confessed to bolting down a shot of tequila in the parking lot to calm my nerves before a root canal. Nobody seemed to jump on that idea; but today, when I mentioned that I’d considered taking one of the leftover Valium tablets she had prescribed for my six-crowns-at-one-time visit, she offered to get one for me from her supply. I admitted that something medicinal to take the edge off sounded fun. Since I was going to work while she made the crown, we agreed that a half of one was probably about right.
What a brilliant idea! I will never go through the tedious process of a crown again without mother’s little helper. Instead of lying there longing for relief from the drilling and sucking and cramped jaw, I nearly napped in utter relaxation. At one point, I vaguely remember she, of the diminutive mitts, inserted her entire hand into my mouth to fit the crown and then invited her assistant to join her by using both of her hands to run the floss between the adjacent teeth while she held the crown in place. I think the stretch marks around my mouth will be temporary.
I’m thinking that woman who ordered the fancy coffee drink would have kicked herself had she learned there were even better options not shown on the menu.