Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Secret Side of Me

"You are living the life I always wanted."

HA! If only you knew!!!! Yes, I feel proud that you've said this and for a moment, I even forget the truth and the secret side of me. And yes, someone asking if they can publish a piece of my writing feels GREAT. But I also know the cost and the secret side of me. The vision that blurs around my periphery because I am concentrating-focused, racing from thing-to-thing-to-thing, trying to hold it all together and I care so much about it all that I can't bear to drop a single shard cuz I'm sure the whole caboodle would be shards if a strong enough wind came by. I do love it all: grad classes, new teaching job, MY STUDENTS (are awesome times 10,000,000!), my colleagues, my family (oh yes, they're in there somewhere), my mountains. The outside look is happy, happy, happy cuz I do love it all.

But the cost. Man, I know the cost. Nights like last night where I cannot drag myself to the pool. Instead my car steers itself to Target and the Oreos are open before I leave the parking lot. Potpies ensue - comfort food for the frenetic. I allow it. One night of total abandon. (I know, sexy abandon this. Feel free to add yoga pants and baggy sweatshirt for the full effect.) That somehow recharges my batteries and makes me able to get up the next day, get on my bike and charge uphill (yes, it is literally 5 miles uphill to my school) to see my students again and teach them math and writing and music and... life. Followed by the downhill ride where I plunk again in front of this laptop and respond, respond, respond to grad level reading but connect it to me. I have to make it who I am. Then to eat and exercise and have any kind of social life that is permitted at this point.

HA. If only you knew, colleague of mine... the secret side of me.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Autumn's Kiss

Kissed by autumn
sunlight and cold
their lips meet
and leave pure gold.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Picture of Fulfillment

Today, I walked into an eighth grade classroom where "my" kids were. The students I had last year. There was a groundswell of "Ms. Triiiiteacher, Ms. Triiiteacher..." And smiles. Let me tell you about the smiles. Every one of their faces swiveled in my direction, lit up in shining recognition.

I felt famous today. And gratified and fulfilled.

I said a brief piece about how I'd be co-teaching in that particular class two days a week (more cheers from the crowd) and then yielded the stage back to the eighth grade teacher. Throughout the class period, I worked my way through that crowd, asking about this one's horse, that one's favorite book from last year, checking for pretty shoes on the girl who shared my shoe fetish... reconnecting with the kids to whom I grew close last year. I have a great job.

It makes me more committed as I start my new role this year. I am teaching English to speakers of other languages. In this role, I get to be with many, many students across three grade levels. I have an opportunity to be present, to weave together my knowledge of 11-14 year-olds and my different areas of expertise: math, science, literacy, Spanish. I have the chance to do it all.

Vow: I am going to be the best, hardest-working, biggest-hearted, most attuned advocate and teacher for these students. I want them to excel, I want them to feel great, I want so much for them... let me see the way to give them the best in me.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Diamond Necklace

“You wander from room to room
Hunting for the diamond necklace
That is already around your neck!”


I find the diamond necklace 
In the scramble up a chimney 
to a summit block 
and friends
In the easing of slight nausea 
as I descend to 10,000 feet

In the full body wag
of the creek over rocks
In the sight of a wild rose
and the rush of my dad
posing by a rose for Mom
backpack on his 70 year-old back
His goofiness
His steadfast neediness

The sight of a Shooting Star
and hours later humming
"Don't you know that you are a shooting star
Don't you know? Woah, yeah!"
And feeling it must be me
In sunlight on my face
daydreaming on the narrow gauge train

I reach up and feel --
Yes. Necklace.

Thursday, June 26, 2014


Today I want to write about the way that grief inhabits your body. The way you breathe around a lump in your throat, the way you hold the steering wheel and your shoulders hurt, the way your chin feels wobbly. The way your stomach has that sinking feeling all the time walking around. People say grief gets better with time.

In a way it is true. In another way, it is not. There is vestigial grief, vestigial digits and fingers of hurt that come back. My sister and her husband have to put down their dog this week. She has been their dog for 13 years. She was young with them when their marriage was young. They were exploring California after they left Wisconsin, taking her on hikes to explore mountains and beaches and the American River. She was with them when 9/11 happened and comforted my sister when her husband was traveling.

I have my own memories of Daisy. She comforted me. When I first moved out here after my divorce,  I lived with them for a period of time. One night I was crying, silent tears rolling down my cheeks. I was trying to be private about it. I was in the basement away from everybody. Except Daisy. She came down to check on me and with an empathy I've seen only in her, she laid her head on my knee and just rested it there.

As I grieve Daisy, I feel the old pain inhabit my body. So quickly the body relapses into the interstices of that old grief. I feel for this loss and it feels like the old loss. I feel for my sister and her husband. To contemplate that most horrible thing. Putting down your friend, letting her go. There is the decision-making, the second-guessing, the effort to be rational when your emotions are cloudy. Then there's the pain of watching her in pain and wondering if you've done it soon enough. It is a horrific proposition.

And they will miss her. There is that side yet to come.

There is a time-sucking quality to grief, especially in stores. Scene today: waking up from reverie so many minutes later in REI wondering what it was again I was looking for. Passed the dog section. That's what set it off. When I divorced, seeing willow trees set me off. Heh. Breathing set me off then.

I get why people have to die. I mean, how many layers of experience can the body hold? Yet then, I feel sad for Daisy dying. She won't get to see all the beautiful things in the world anymore. The hikes, the smells of piney woods, the splash of the creek, the doggy joy in catching a tennis ball.

The joys. The time when Sis and Brother-in-Law sent me on a 12 mile hike in California with Daisy as my guide. I was new to mountains, new to hiking, new, new, new. Daisy was my seasoned guide and boon companion, trotting by my side, carrying her joy in the loll of her tongue, the wag of her tail, the bounding steps of exploration. Crossing a stream, she would fetch a rock from the stream and bring it for me to throw again. Pure frolic.

The same joy I feel in water. And that's true too. As I carry the interstices of my old griefs, my body and mind carry the remnants of past joys as well. On the water kayaking with my sisters earlier this month, I remembered learning to kayak from someone who loved me. When you learn to paddle from a lover, your memories are of chasing moonlight across a lake, of ducking into "garages" made by bent willow trees, of stopping and kissing, pulling up alongside. That magical, magnetic pull. I remember nearly dying waiting for him to do the car drop and come back so we could be together. Of watching him log-jump, of being his cheerleader, his confidante. Of him watching me dive to the bottom of the river, running my fingers through the sand-rolling, pebble-running bottom. Coming up for air and his face, his smile. And the knowledge that he would be there, enjoying my joy.

I get why people have to die at a certain age. I mean, how many layers of experience can the body hold? There must come a time at which the interstices of joy and grief have carved deep enough wrinkles into the skin and that is the time.

Daisy has reached that time. In dog years, she is 91 and cancer has eaten up her body and carved an end point to her time. I salute the layers of joy - and grief - she has given my family.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Men Are Like Fishing

Since I’ve gotten back from my trip (three days ago) and re-posted my pictures on the online dating site, I have “talked” to several men. One is a quick hitter; he swooped in, liked me, blew up my inbox. We flirted hard for two hours. Good sense of humor, this one. Then *poof.* He disappeared. Like the turtles who nabbed my mom’s nightcrawlers, this one returned to the muddy depths with all my bait. *Sigh.*

Another is a professional correspondent. This type comes on slow, like 3-inch crappies working a 5-inch crawler. He nibbles around the edges of conversation. He continues to nibble. When I go on a trip, he grows fonder. I hear from him 4-5 times per day. When I’m in town, we set a blistering pace of 3-4 messages per week. These men (for the current correspondent is not an anomaly; he is a type) amuse me. I picture them with their iPhone in hand, thumbs working away, smiling and flirting. Glancing down, you see their feet - the polar opposite of all that activity above - potted in clay.

Others are the kind you land. They can handle the bait - 8 inch crappie on a jig. This kind can even follow the bait. Two of my 8-inch crappie have checked in with me since I returned, asking if I am now ready to meet. Then you disaggregate… one is a slow burner. I said yes, I can meet and gave him two nights that will work. Wait for it, wait for it… no reply yet.

The other was quick to choose a night, now is choosing our venue and time. I may actually land one!

And then what??

More types to come!

Monday, June 09, 2014

My Track is Good

That statement is true.

Some snow, lots of beauty at the start.
I took a hike up Herman Gulch today and broke the trail. It started with just some snow, but soon became all snowy and postholey.

Gushing stream.

I got my bearings on the stream at first (keep it to your left) and then the jaggedy peaks that peeked out in occasional clearings in the forest.

My track! I broke right on up this steep
snow slope.

And I landed on the top, turned right, and landed at the lake! I wasn't sure the whole time, and I am 100% sure I didn't stick to the designated trail, but I did land - as if helicoptered in - at the intended destination. It was beautiful. I feel so proud of where I've come with my navigating skills. Used to be I couldn't find my way out of a paper bag. Now, I can actually tell people, like the couple visiting from Ohio who followed me... "My track is good!"

Plucky, pioneering Globeflower
 This applies to other areas in my life. I feel like I'm living so non-traditionally and like there are no role models. Single, mountaineering, independent females were not the women around whom I grew up. I now take snippets from everyone around me, but sometimes, it has felt downright lonely and like I'm pioneering. Sometimes I've felt like my track is not good. Sometimes I had no sense of my life, my track, my legacy at all.

The snow is melting fast. Trail clearing in the scant 2.5 hours
since my first picture.
But I'm getting there. And I want to be there. It was such a joy to see the Ohioans on my descent and reassure them that my track would take them to the lake. I want to have something to offer. And I have, just as with my hike today, taken some younger women (and climbing men) under my wing. I'm starting to sense that, in many senses, "My track is good."

Monday, June 02, 2014

To Do List: Fall in Love

Okay, so I also have on it to clean the fridge and send invitations to a dinner party I'm hosting. But really, falling in love is at the top.

To that end, I've started online dating. Again. I gave it a whirl for three months last November after I finally decided to make the Convenience Man my ex-Convenience Man. Online dating was... interesting. So interesting that I stopped in March because I needed a break.

Now it's June and I am ready to undertake it all again. The messages in my inbox proclaiming that I'm all that on a cracker (OK, those aren't the exact words. They are that colorful. Just more R-rated.)

And then the times I reach out to a promising man and never. hear. back.

That's what was so difficult the first time around. The people I liked didn't like me, and the people I didn't like seemed to think I was hot stuff. It was downright disheartening.

So what am I going to differently? I am going to really try this time.

Please laugh at that.

But in a way, I mean it. I'm going to stick it out and meet lots of people and steel myself for disappointments and keep it all in perspective. I really would like to meet someone who was right.

Ideal? A climber, a peak bagger, with a side passion for relaxing like a fiend after the hard stuff is done. A thinker, a reader, with a passion for laughing and banter. Someone for whom I want to dress in pretty clothes and go get sushi. Yet he thinks I'm just as striking in my climbing gear and harness.

What a sweet dream. Makes me smile just writing it.


What I'd settle for? Someone who would support my passions and let me support his. Someone who fit with my friends. And was sorta hot. Or really hot. I'd be okay with that too.

What I have to wade through to find him... people who like my pictures but don't like to hike. Or don't like my brains. Or that I don't want kids, or that I'm an atheist, or that I'm... me. At the base of it, that is what I have to not take personally. I am me. And some guys are just not going to be into me. I have to be into me enough to hold out hope that there is someone out there who is just as (even more??) into me than me.

And that I dig him like crazy. I wanna dig somebody. It's such a great feeling to love someone and want to treat them like gold. To anticipate, to read them, to want their happiness like I want my own. To help them get it, to make them laugh, smile, sigh, dream bigger... Yeah, I'm ready. It might take 2 dates, it might take 200, wherein enters my endurance training, right? I'm ready, set... GO!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Eleven Hours, Three Minutes

Eleven hours, three minutes to pull off ascents of 13er Mount Lady Washington and Longs Peak on Monday, Memorial Day. It was beautiful and grueling and scary and fulfilling. I can't wipe the grin off my face even today.

We cruised up the first 2.5 miles, me getting the scope of my cousin whose motto is "Fast equals safe." He lives by it. I am usually not the slow one on a hike. He left me huffing and puffing, but also determined to hang and not cave in to burning lungs.

Snowballs on the way up Mount Lady Washington.
By Chasm Lake, our snow climb began. We rounded the lake instead of crossing it. On the far side, we heard sounds that would accompany us the rest of the day. The sounds of snow and rock fall off of Longs' Diamond Face. We heard it and would spot the area and could not believe that what looked like a dusting of snow and dust particles could echo off the walls and ricochet sounds to our ears. It was intimidating. We decided to stay well away from the face for our approach. Which meant climbing straight up Mount Lady Washington's steep snow. It was so steep that snow balls were peeling free of the snow pack and rolling down as we climbed up. Gravity's victims all. We achieved the Lady and snapped a few pictures, ate some calories. We took some time to case our remaining route.

We saw snow. Lots of snow. But a mountain does not get climbed by looking at what lies ahead. After spare minutes, we descended to the saddle between the peaks. The real ascent began.

I thought I had become familiar with steep 'n' deep snow as we ascended that first snowfield up Lady Washington. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!

I had known nothing. This was brutally steep, with sections where I watched my 6'2" cousin sink to his thighs. Conversation was sparse, though at one point he felt it necessary to excuse a stop, "I can't see. My sunglasses are running with sweat." He lead for most of the way, but when he stopped for particularly long periods of time, I'd catch him and offer to lead.

I quickly realized how following in his footsteps, brutal though it was, was child's play to breaking the
We ascended along the right flank of the Diamond.
trail. I developed a method of motion. I jammed my two trekking poles into the snow ahead, weighted them and moved one foot, then the other. Sometimes my foot plant would sink only six inches - HALLELUJAH! Other times it would sink six inches and then with a knee-wrenching thud, give another 6-18 inches. I usually managed another plant of the poles and a shift of each foot before I needed to pause to breathe. I allowed for 5-10 good yogi breaths, mindful to open my chest and let the oxygen in.  On the sinking steps, I managed only one pole-plant, the need to breathe prohibiting further movement.

Then there was the fear. The rock and ice dustings continued echoing around the chasm. As before, we were in such steep snow that snowballs kept rolling down around us. One came with such speed, I heard it whoosh past my helmet. It had several friends that broke loose at this time too, giving the impression that the mountain itself was rolling, dozens of ping pong snowballs rolling down on me. I needed to speak. I turned back at John to ask, "How you feeling about this snow?" He was brief, "It's good." That was enough for me to keep going, and going fast. Getting off of this quickly would mean safety and the end of ragged fear breathing.

I lead a good 100 yards until we we reached the rock where our technical climb should start. Two right-facing corners jutted out from the snow field. This climb goes as 5.4 in the book. We put on harnesses and crampons and swapped out our poles for ice axes. John took the lead, edging his way along the rock, digging in crampons and ice axe. He moved quickly up the first block and turned back to ask if I wanted to rope up. He had made it look easy. I refused the offer and started my own ascent.

My first five or so moves felt secure and I enjoyed the feeling of vertical upward motion. Then I hit a thin part. "Uh, John, how did you do this?"

"It's thin, but there's a good pick with your right hand and a good left toe in the corner. Toe in so you can feel it, then step up slowly to test it." It's such a slow-motion act, climbing is. You incrementally shift your weight into the ball of your foot and then roll ever-so-gently into the toe of your foot. All the while screamin' Jesus in your head, hoping it will hold.

It held. I marveled at the trust I could place in the metal. The tips of my crampons and the tip of my ice pick in those teeny crevices. I was denied the security of skin contact. There was a layer of remove between me and the rock, metal touching rock versus the boot or hand. It is so much scarier. But doable.

We continued to climb the seventy technical feet without roping up. There were two more thin sections to negotiate - the first John coached me through, the second I gathered my forces and figured out.

Left flank of Longs
At last we topped out. I saw John ahead of me - ON FLAT GROUND!!! He saw that I was okay and charged toward some summit rocks, seeking shelter from the blowing winds that are always present on a mountain. I was feeling cold, had to go to the bathroom, and was more weary than I'd realized. I started to follow him and noticed I was missing my right crampon. I called his name to let him know I was going back to look for it, but my voice was lost in the wind. I saw where he seemed to settle behind some summit rocks and turned to find the crampon, hoping against hope it was somewhere on the flat section, not down in that technical section.

It was. I had dropped it right after topping out. With relief, I scooped it up and now, stopped, thought to go to the bathroom, remove my harness, and put on some warm layers. As I was doing this, the clouds that had been approaching arrived, swirling the peak in a white mist with flurries of snow. I couldn't see John and panicked at the thought of being separated. I quickly stowed my harness and the crampon, not taking the time to put it back on. I followed John's track - the only ones on the summit that day - to where he rested behind a rock. We high-fived and bolted calories, feeling the urgency to get off the mountain. It was 1:00 with less-than-ideal weather and a serious descent to undertake.

Another beautiful pic that doesn't match the story. Sorry,
no pics from the heavy breathing sections. Need I say:
oxygen took precedence.
Without speaking, we'd both arrived at the same conclusion. There was no way we could descend as we'd ascended. Snow covered the rappel rings that would have allowed us a cushy rappel down the technical section. We'd have to descend the standard route. Which meant more steep snow and exposure through the Homestretch, the Narrows, and then the Trough, all the way back to the Keyhole. Gracelessly and with no pride, I backed down the Homestretch, digging my axe in above me and backing my feet down. John walked forward down the whole thing, stopping to check I was OK before beginning his next section. Route finding was tricky in sections; we grinned madly anytime we spotted one of Longs' famous bulls-eyes. We reached the Keyhole and were relieved to pick up someone else's track to follow through the Boulder Field. We took off our crampons for the first time in hours, and made the reverse poles/ice axe swap.

It was a cruise the rest of the way out. We relived the climb, talking about the things we'd both noticed - notably the two loud cracks of thunder - but hadn't acknowledged at the time. It was funny how we'd had many parallel thoughts but had needed to breathe more than talk. We made up for it on the descent, talking the whole way. First about the climb and mountaineering, then talking life.

We two cousins grew up separated by 1000 miles and a seven-year age difference. We had scant childhood memories of the other, but used those Longs miles to fill in the years with sibling stories, parent stories, and adult life stories. We covered a lot of territory and I added my respect for him as a person to my respect for him as a mountaineer.

The giddiness that had simmered on the hike set in in the car and then percolated to the top when we reached Lyons and lunch. Our "we're safe" texts sent, we ordered and drank and ate, tasting the best food ever. Which is anything you eat after an 11 hour climb.

And here I find myself, days later, alternately grinning and wiping the sweat from my hands as I write this. Afloat on a cloud of... achievement, pride, knowledge that I pushed and my body and spirit rose to the occasion? Yes.