I stumbled, half awake, to the bathroom this morning, trying to keep my eyes closed and my brain stilled so I could crawl back into my still-warm down comforter and pick up my imaginary wanderings.
Morning dreams are only remembered for the briefest moment though, as I’m immediately brought to full consciousness by two warm noses nudging me and two tails fanning the chill morning air through my diaphanous silk long-underwear. I wonder at the evident joy with which Molly and Sadie greet me every single morning.
Their greeting conveys that they expect only good things of the day to come. And indeed, their lives are filled with doggie delights: breakfast (oh boy, my favorite thing!); a trip out to the yard to smell who’s passed through during the night (how interesting!); a walk in the wash with exotic aromas of chasable creatures (mostly unseen but nonetheless exciting); a dog biscuit from dad who rewards us just for being so adorable; a nap, filled with dreams of chasing, barking, and eating; a ride in the car; another nap; dinner (same thing as breakfast but even MORE delicious than ever before); yet another nap while Mom clatters away on her keyboard; and then bedtime, perhaps the best of all as our peeps are all safely ensconced just feet away from our ever-vigilant (albeit sleeping) watch.
When I come home from work, I’m greeted as if I’ve been gone for days rather than hours. Though if you think of it in dog years, I have been gone for 2.04 days. I try to explain this concept to young, working people who contemplate getting a puppy. The modern idea is that you simply store the little guy in a crate and give him a bowl of kibble when you get home from work. Maybe he gets a walk around the block or maybe you’re too tired, busy, bored, or preoccupied to even indulge the mutt in what is the single most wonderful activity in his life.
Deprived of socialization, exercise, and proper pack leadership, dogs become the opposite of what is expected of man’s best friend. I could go on for decades about how to be the person your dog thinks you are, but this particular post wasn’t intended to be about responsible pet husbandry. Rather it was to point out how a dog’s perspective on life could teach us how to be content. They focus intently on the good, praising it with wagging tails and quite literally $#!+-eating grins on their faces and sleep through the boring parts…dreaming of the good parts.
A long-married, elderly couple were sitting companionably watching Judge Judy when, during a commercial break, the woman turned to her husband and asked, “When did we stop holding hands?”
He thought for a moment and then gently took her spotted, bony hand in his and held it tenderly through the rest of the show.
The next day they were washing the dishes together and she turned to him and asked, “Remember when you used to come up behind me and kiss my neck while I was doing the dishes?”
Taking the hint, he wrapped his withered arms lovingly around her ample torso and planted a chaste kiss on her wrinkled neck.
That evening, after donning their flannel pajamas, the great-grandmother said, “I used to love it so when we used to cuddle together and you would nibble on my…”
The old gentleman fairly leapt out of bed, scrambling for the bathroom. “What are you doing, pet?” she asked in dismay.
“Wait just a moment while I put my dentures in!” he croaked.
We were several miles into a relentless climb and my legs were complaining so shamelessly that Colleen, my super-fit riding companion could see the agony on my face. She fell in beside me and launched into this rather long joke. At the slightly weak punchline, she apologized for the bad joke but pointed out that I’d completely forgotten my suffering and we were now at the summit. There’s a reason I seldom ride with Colleen, the reason being that I don’t know many women who can keep up with her, myself included; but I was reminded today of how much fun she is, in spite of the pain she inflicts on us mortals.
Starting the new year with a group ride is almost a tradition and so, I was foolish enough to accept an invitation to ride with a group of monster climbers. The only other woman at my fitness level (still ten years my junior) was riding an electric motorized bicycle. This left me gasping at the back of the pack, pushing the biggest gear I could to keep them in sight. Nonetheless, it was a spectacular day and the company was good, or at least it sounded like it from the snatches of laughter and conversation I could hear from my distance and over my labored breathing.
I’m a firm believer that age and treachery are formidable tools against youth and strength. So, I felt no shame at all, when the young folks steered their bikes down the gentle, pure vanilla trail, I pointed my my own steed down an overgrown, outlaw trail that plunged steeply down the hill and intersected with the domesticated route they had chosen a couple of hundred feet below. At the intersection, I waited smugly, knowing that for the rest of the ride (all downhill) I would no longer be at the back of the pack and I had regained my trail cred. Ha ha, I showed those young whippersnappers!
My Favorite Niece (MFN) Tara invited me to join her hiking group on an easy hike out in the low desert near the Salton Sea. I was ambivalent about making the two-hour drive to get there, especially because she warned me that the dogs couldn’t go because the trail included some ladders. But, it was a dreary, overcast day here and I knew the desert would probably be warm and sunny and if I stayed home, I would just waste the day on cleaning the house.
Her hiking buddy, Gilbert, drove and the two-hour journey passed pleasantly with interesting conversation. The other hiker in our vehicle was a Frenchman, Jean Pierre, who went by his initials, J.P. because Americans can’t seem to pronounce his name. We met four other women at the trail head, exchanged introductions, and headed up a broad, gravel wash in search of Ladder Canyon.
Some reviewers of this hike had complained that the trails were poorly marked. We had no trouble finding this trail marker which pointed to the trail. The trail, however, was a little more obscure.
Ladder Canyon quickly slotted up and it became obvious how it got its name.
We thought the hike was over when we discovered Rope Canyon just before we reached the parking area. Scrawled on a rock at the entrance was a warning: “Danger!” That was all we needed to entice us to scramble up the canyon which immediately became so narrow that we had to take our packs off to squeeze through. Chock rocks of various sizes blocked our path, forcing us to either crawl under or scramble over. Thinking of Aaron Ralston’s ordeal of getting trapped by a chock rock that shifted under his weight, pinning his arm to the cliff, I was very careful about placing my trust in these unpredictable boulders.
Everyone made it through with nothing more than a little scrape and tired legs and all agreed it was probably the most fun hike we’d ever done.
When the winter rains come to these parts, the riding gets interesting, and by interesting, I mean breathless, heart-pounding, white-knuckled FUN!
I’d pretty much given up riding the outlaw motorcycle trails in the local conservancy, not because they are illegal, but because since I fell and sprained my ankle, I was too chicken. Oh, I’d ridden some of the less terrifying sections, but I completely avoided the section that was my nemesis and some of the more technical ones as well. But after a rain, the traction was inspiring AND I was riding with “the boys”.
We climbed Three Hawks, a popular, hiking trail that demands enough technical skill to avoid piles of dog poop while navigating steep switchbacks. Being risk adverse when it comes to such hazards, I rode with extreme caution. The trail joins a fire road which climbs gently for a few miles and offers views of the motorcycle trail (MT) which follows the hog backs of the ridge. At each saddle where the trail drops down to the road, I examined the condition of the trail, looking for ruts that would make the steep descents too perilous for my skill level. It looked mostly good.
The first section of the MT scares me. The climb just to get to the top of Zanja Peak is leg-burning, lung-busting, heart-breaking, steep. This terrifies me worse than a dog poop slalom. If that were the only thing against it, I might climb it, but the descent down the other side is commensurately treacherous. I decided to wait at the first intersection of the road and the MT while Mike, my husband, rode that section. This meant that I had to climb the second section with no momentum to assist in the effort. Joining Mike at the crest, I panted, “Whose idea WAS this?” And then the fun began.
Following Mike through the chest-high brush, the trail was rarely visible but at least I could trust that it was where I remembered it having been as indicated by Mike’s rapidly vanishing backside. All too soon, the trail, bisected by two axle-deep ruts plunged steeply back to the road. A really good rider, like Mike, would have released the brakes and allowed gravity to have its way, trusting the bike to ride the slick hump between the ruts to carry him safely to the bottom. I, being of weak faith, braked, which slid my rear wheel into the rut. I twisted my foot out of the grip of my Speedplay pedal, and dabbed my foot along the high side of the rut all the way to the bottom. “What a tourist!” I muttered to myself. And again, I had to climb the next hill with no assisting momentum. Mike was waiting at the top and kindly refrained from any disparaging comments about my lack of confidence.
The next section was my ankle-spraining nemesis. I approached the summit with some trepidation but Mike was already nearly to the bottom so I had little choice but to point the front tire down the rocky descent and keep my eyes trained as far ahead as possible. To my surprised delight, I found that there was a wide, fairly smooth (no rocks larger than a softball) rut in which I could comfortably track to the bottom. The traction was so sticky that speed control was easy peasy.
After such a boost to my confidence the subsequent hills, though steeper and probably more difficult, were only marginally thrilling until I came to the penultimate lock-em-up, slider descent to the road. I could see Mike waiting at the bottom and yelled down to him, “Where’s the line?”
He hollered back, “Follow my skid marks.” Sincerely hoping he wasn’t referring to any loss of bowel control, I let my bike roll over the lip of the granite outcrop, braking judiciously until it became obvious that braking was futile. I loosened my grip on the brakes, allowing the bike to straighten itself out, and I was instantly catapulted to warp speed. At the bottom of the short drop it was crucial to cut a quick turn to avoid running off the trail into the unknown. Self-preservation prevailed and I carved the turn and skidded breathlessly to a stop inches from Mike’s bike.
Next month I’ll be 67, but today I felt like a 10-year old.
Modern technology is daunting enough for those of us who were not raised with it, but when you combine a confusing array of terms that seem to germinate like weeds, with a post-menopausal memory, well things can get… well, let’s just say funny, for lack of a better word.
A couple of days ago, I noticed that my cell phone wasn’t speaking to me. Puzzled, I went through my settings, adjusted the volume, tried calling myself to check to see if anything I’d done had remedied the situation, and after three tries, lo and behold it rang. But shortly thereafter, my Fitbit vibrated telling me that I had an incoming call, but again the phone was giving me the silent treatment. Finally in desperation, I looked online for the solution and of course, found that the mute button is on the side of my phone and I had only to move it to un-mute. I gleefully told my husband how happy I was to have finally figured out what the problem was. At which point he said, “Oh, yeah, the other day your phone was making noise when you were outside, so I just started pushing buttons to get it to shut up”. He doesn’t even have a cell phone because he…well, I can’t explain his eccentricities, so I can’t imagine how he figured out how to mute mine, especially when it took me an hour to figure out how to un-mute it.
Here’s the “funny” part of the story: I now recall that I had accidentally hit the mute button several months ago and had to ask my great-nephew how to “fix” it. One would think I would have remembered that!
As I continue my journey into crabby-old-lady hood, I find more and more little things that people do that aggravate me. Many of these things are probably annoying only to me, but nonetheless, I feel compelled to share them with you that you may be aware of just how crabby we old ladies really are, even when we smile pleasantly and say, “Oh, no, honey, I don’t mind, not a bit.
So, here’s something you might never have guessed is annoying: fabric softener. Some folks clothes smell so strongly of chemically induced fragrance that I can barely stand to ride behind them on the trail. I wonder why anyone, but men in particular, would want to smell like that.
In that same vein is cologne. Fragrance is like music in that hardly anybody likes the same kind. So, play it safe and don’t inflict it on others. Have you ever heard somebody say, “Gee, you don’t smell like anything.”? Nope, they don’t notice; but I guarantee plenty of people have thought to themselves that you smell just awful when your cologne can be smelled across the room. Take a shower once in a while, wash your shirt now and then, and chances are you will smell just fine.
Music is another subjective taste. Don’t assume your neighbors like country western music just because you do. I happen to love classical but I recognize that I’m not in the majority on that. So, if you want to listen to music while working outside, wear earbuds. Same goes for in your car. Nobody wants to have their windows rattled by your car’s sound system. I know you think you sound cool, but you’re not. You’re just annoying.
And, you grown men riding around on loud motorcycles, pretending to be outlaws, you sound stupid. You look like attention seeking little boys yelling, “Mommy look at me!” Grow up.
In the noise department I think my neighbors who fire off mortars for the entire month before a holiday are inconsiderate jerks. It scares the beejeebers out of the neighborhood dogs and wakes crabby old ladies who have been in bed since 9:00, making them even crabbier!
And fireworks segue into barking dogs. People, if you ignore your dog when he barks, he’s not going to be a good watch dog. A good guard dog barks only to alert you to possible danger. If you ignore his barking, he grows anxious because he realizes that he needs his pack leader to back him up. This leads to more barking and even crabbier neighbors.
I walk a lot. I mostly walk on trails but sometimes I have to walk along the street to get to trails. I wonder as I walk, what kind of uncivilized creature tosses his trash on the ground. Even more puzzling is, who on earth thinks it’s okay to dump their old couch into the ditch? C’mon folks, you know better. You should be ashamed. In my county, trash service is mandatory and that service includes twice a year large item (4 items per trip) free pick up. Should that be too convenient to suit you, the county landfill is open six days a week, and for a small fee they will allow you to dump your crap in their ditch.
You would think I would lose steam but I just keep thinking of things, like people who say “like” twenty times in one sentence; or supposedly articulate pundits on the radio who say, “you know’ repeatedly. No, I don’t know; why would you be on the radio telling me if I did know?!?
Okay, now I’m just being petty and I welcome your petty grievances too. I’d be so gratified to learn of something annoying that I might be doing to irritate my own neighbors. The other day, I asked my neighbor if my cats using her yard as a litter box was annoying and she smiled sweetly and said, “No, not a bit”.
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.