Thoughts on 36

The older I get, the more I look back on my young adulthood and feel entirely humbled by the grace I must have received – unknowingly – from my older friends who were patient with me and knew I just didn’t “get it” yet. I must have been unbearable at times. I made mistakes all the time. I said the wrong things, I acted poorly, I overstepped boundaries…and sometimes I cost myself friendships with people I loved dearly simply because I couldn’t get out of my own way. I often had no idea how to be a good friend. I did things that now take my breath away when I realize how callous or unkind they were. In many relationships, I think I took far more than I gave. I made excuses for myself that I hadn’t learned how to see through yet – it hadn’t yet occurred to me that it was possible to BS oneself and buy into it. I made everything about me for years and years before I ever heard the phrase, “this is not about you,” and then for years more until I was able to fully grasp what that phrase meant, and then for even longer before I learned how to spot me-centricness in my own words and actions and thoughts. Those friends I have whom I see as models of right thinking and right behavior mystify me with their apparent ability to avoid cloddish behavior without effort…how come it seems to come so much easier to them than it does to me? What did I miss? When did they learn how to be so good, and where was I when those lessons were on the agenda?

And these afflictions were not limited to my young adulthood. I commit many of the same transgressions today, and the number I turn today is far too high to excuse such behavior as that of someone who just doesn’t “get it” yet. I’m 36. I should have it figured out by now. At this age, my mother had an 11-year-old and a 9-year-old. Most of my friends are spouses and parents, and we’re the age that, in my early 20s, I thought was “real” adulthood. The point at which you were a “good person” or a “bad person.” And I don’t feel like enough of me is good to make me a “good person.” There are people in this world I’ve loved with all my heart who ultimately decided I was a “bad person,” and made the call that life would be better without me around. And I have no idea how to reconcile those lost connections…or to reconcile myself to the losses themselves if the connections cannot be reclaimed.

So I’m learning that the patience that comes with age comes from a phenomenon I never grasped till now. It comes from watching people make mistakes…and realizing that I made them, too…or worse…despite having a heart that always longed for connection, for friendship, for relationships I could count on NOT to fail when I needed to lean on them. I have loved dearly people whom my words or my actions drove away. And if i could commit such egregious errors despite having a heart that wanted desperately to love and be loved, to do the right thing, to sustain the friendship…well, then maybe whoever is committing an egregious error towards me has a heart full of love and hope and longing, too. They just don’t “get it.” They don’t know how to act. They’re erring in spite of themselves. And the relationship is dependent upon my grace and faith and loyalty…upon my willingness to see them through the same kinds of awkwardness and error that I have known so well. And if that’s true, my job is to cultivate as bottomless a well of grace and kindness as I possibly can. Because I’ve drawn heavily upon such wells myself. Sometimes I drained them dry. I didn’t mean to. But I did.

I wish there were a way to right all the wrongs I’ve committed. There isn’t. I’m at the grace and mercy of others. We all are. Maybe everyone else screws up as much as I do, and all our friendships are thrown on altars of mercy and grace. if I could pray for one thing, it would be that the grace of my friends would outweigh my ability to test that grace. And I figure the only hope I have of receiving the answer to the prayer is to develop a grace that outweighs another’s missteps, too…to spot a good heart through the errors, and see myself…my own helplessness…my own struggles. I am deeply flawed. I can’t be the only one. So I guess that’s what it means to treat others as you would be treated. I’d pray to be treated with grace. So grace I must give.

That’s where I stand tonight…as I turn 36.

Posted in Moving to Colorado | 3 Comments

Week Two: Prompt Piece 1 – This Body Has Not

Week Two of my graduate-level Writing Workshop tonight.

We were prompted to write a one-page “Portrait of My Body.”  We used Philip Lopate’s work of the same title for inspiration.  The idea was to extol a particular body part and use it to offer insight into one or all of: character, personality, family, upbringing, environment…whatever it revealed about us.  Or, to do the same through a procession of body parts.  When she professor set the prompt last week, she passed around blank paper and crayons (!) and instructed us to draw ourselves – full-length – and then annotate the drawing in order to call our own attention to the stories and revelations our bodies could bring to light.

Tonight, we went around the table and read our offerings aloud, and the night seemed given to positive feedback and a focus on what we liked in each person’s piece…to me, a necessary ego boost given how nervous I was about presenting my writing for the first time to my grad school peers.  This was a gateway night…probably the first of many…but I feel like I passed a first crucial test and proved that I belonged among them.  Some of their pieces were better than mine in this way or that…and all of them were very good.  But I felt mine held its own, too.

It’s had little revision, and I was going to hold off before posting it here, but I’ve decided to do it right away, this same night…otherwise, it’ll get mired in endless editing and self-criticism for God-knows-how-long.

So.

This is the piece I shared tonight.

This Body Has Not

My hair has not worn a veil of white tulle.  My left hand has not borne a diamond throwing dots of rainbows on the wall.  My face has not gazed down at my beloved, kneeling before me, asking me to join him for the rest of our days.  My nails have not unknotted ribbons on wedding gifts; my fine fingers have not graced wedding invitations with my loping, leaning script.  My palm has not pushed down on a blade to cut a tall, white, layered cake.  My feet in elegant heels have paced next to my father’s, and through standing friends lining a path to the altar, and beneath a beautiful gown, but never all at once, and never a white gown.  It was not me those friends stood for.

My ears have not heard cries in the night from something small and helpless.  My breasts have not swollen hard with milk, leaked at the midnight sound of helplessness.  My long nose has not appeared in a smaller face, nor has the strange dimple under my eye, nor the wild curls of my hair.  My features are the mix of two others’, but have not joined with someone else’s in those of a third.  My uterus sleeps curled within my still-flat belly, dormant, the size it’s been for some twenty years; it’s beginning to wonder what the point of it all is.  I do not know which part of the body feels a quickening, only that no part of mine has.  My heels have known stirrups, pressed down behind them on the sides of a horse, and rested in them for the doctor’s tiresome routines, but never forced themselves hard into them, knees rocked back to shoulders, as my muscles roll and cramp through my body to expel a creature who must exit now.  My belly is looser now than it was when I was younger, but only from excess, from laze, never from foreign occupation.  I have always been alone in my body.

The fingers of my right hand have always formed the letters of the same three names.

But I love those three names.  Fiercely, defensively, protectively, to make up for hating them as a child, to reclaim them from sneers and jibes and trickery.  They are mine.

And these fingers are deft, have looped and twisted yarn from quiet, uniform skeins into drapings of beauty, into afghans adorned with ruffles and bows and with tassels and whorls, and in light soothing bright vivid muted and dull hues…for infants born to friends and neighbors, to grace marital beds, and on the davenport (she calls it) of my grandmother’s new apartment to add a touch of home to a place that is not where, for forty-nine years, she and my grandfather have called “home.”

And these arms have held close a girl reeling from grief at the death of her lover…and did so not merely once, upon the day the tragedy unfolded to us in all its awful illogic…but did so for months, and months, as the poisonous evil thing bloomed almost beautifully, death disguised as a thing that would bond us together…and did so until its true nature finally appeared and it tore us apart.  These arms had rocked her even as her anguish rocked her, and then rocked only myself when my face became nothing more to her than a reminder of the worst days of her life.

My face did not cause the worst days of her life.

My thighs have five hundred miles worth of Spain coiled in them.  They bore my body and my pack up the slow, interminable climb into the Pyrenees; they told my bursting calves to keep going, my exhausted back to shore up and lift.  Blisters flourished on my feet; entire toes became fluid-filled sacs of fire.  My right knee accepted the groaning, off-balanced load far more than its share when its fellow on the left gave out, staggering stiffly down from Alto de Perdón, and when it could no longer, the left was forced back into commission, into its work, into its due, coming apart or no.  As miles passed underfoot, my shoulders taught me to walk inside the circle of my pack straps, how not to mind the weight of the load, shift it off to my hips and pull the chest strap tighter – these packhorse parts of me were built for power.  My body those five weeks became like a mare’s, sleek and muscled and tireless, beautiful, the strongest I’ve been in my life, and the proudest.  The front of my shoulder and the toes of my right foot were numb two months after the trip was done.

My curls, shorn in tribute before the pilgrimage began, took over a year to return to glory, to meet my shoulders once again.

Those strong thighs, calves, feet just two years later I called into service again, and found in them fives, tens, halves…not just the 26.2 miles of Memphis, Tennessee that I sought, but eighteen weeks of training as well.  They pounded the pavement of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and celebrated the work of my arms and my heart and my mouth, all of which had combined to bring thousands of dollars from my friends and family to the brave children inside.

This body has crossed oceans.  This body has seen the Atlantic from the east of it, leapt to the Pacific from cliffs in the west of it, felt snow in July as the flakes fell in Sydney, seen Hong Kong’s boat city from Victoria Peak, trekked the Highlands, the Lowlands, the Badlands…and come to Finisterra – the end of the world – on bootsoles, not bus wheels.  This body has been there.  And back again.

This heart has demanded more than a life in the ruts of the familiar road; it’s put my house on the market and my things into boxes and my butt in a Subaru, and it made my feet push the pedals that took me two thousand miles to a place I’d never been and it set me down here in this place.  This heart hears the spirit guide.  This heart is not finished.  This heart has work yet to do.

This heart is bolstered.

My heart knows what this body has done.  It troubles itself not with what the body has not.

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Day One – or, What the Hell is Water?

And just like that, belonging seems possible.

First night of the writing degree; step one on the journey to my M.A. in Creative Nonfiction.  Workshop class.  “We are fourteen, are we not?” is how the professor put it as she counted us, and introduced herself as expecting, engaged, and somehow actually currently of Leesburg, VA – 2,000+ miles from here and a mere 40 miles from my newly-former hometown…yet I was mistaken in the pronoun I used to inquire about her betrothed; her story about wearing a “Lesbian Avenger” t-shirt in an airport threw me off.  Except not.  When she corrected me to indicate that her fiancée was in fact a fiancé, she offered up that he is the only man she’s been in a relationship with, and that he resembles both her first girlfriend and her last cat.  Her five-month pregnancy is nearly undetectable, and her voice is low and kind of smokey, and so far I like her very much.

We are fourteen, I suppose, gathered around the long, narrow conference table in the long, narrow conference room that will serve for our workshop space.  The three men in our number barely register on my radar; in fact, right now, they do not interest me in the slightest.  They seem somehow impotent, powerless in their silence, interlopers in an otherwise fellowship of Amazons…they seemed timid tonight, and as such, entirely unworthy of notice.

Or perhaps I only noticed the Amazons.  Measuring myself against the others in stature and force of charisma and personality, seeking the strongest ones and ranking myself against them, favorably or not.  The men were a blip, as were one or two of the women.  Even I myself do not entirely belong; my eyeglasses are too subtle and my attire too conservative and commonplace.  Most of the others seem at ease in company.  They know each other from previous classes or from GTA membership or what have you.  They are seasoned, they know this place and this program and move through it effortlessly.  They were somewhat intimidating in their outspokenness…I at first withdrew into myself, and then opened up a crack, little by little, tendriling out in offhanded, glib comments when I felt confident they’d be both striking and amusing – not a skill that comes naturally to me, and which I can only pull off when I channel my dad.  Presented an illusion of confidence, of reserve, of introspectiveness…perhaps it’s not entirely illusory.  Maybe it’s not illusory at all.  Maybe I simply succeeded, for once, in not geeking out in front of people whose respect I covet…people who, I must admit, are unlikely to covet mine.

In particular, one classmate, “W” was dazzling, larger-than-life…impossible not to stare at.  She came in blonde and tan, in bike shorts and an orange tank top, with broad, almost masculine shoulders and lean, muscular arms entirely swathed in freckles.  The half-skull grinned over its crossbones on her right shoulder; the comedy and tragedy masks were themselves nearly masked by the swirls that surrounded them on her left shoulder, forming a capsleeve.  She was outspoken, laughed loudly, looked me straight in the eye and sized me up.  She was absolutely fearless.  Crossfit, she said, to explain her powerful musculature, and later astonished me by applying coral lipstick and peering at the professor over the tops of her glasses – the only other delicate frames in the room amidst the horn rims, the black rims, the heavy armpieces that are clearly the order of the day.  As we played “two truths and a lie,” she guessed my lie incorrectly several times, which pleased me, though I had to explain somewhat hastily that the three polydactyls my partner offered up in her introduction of me were in fact consecutive cats, lest my fellows get the mistaken impression that they were serving concurrently.  And I answered the professor that I was in my first class of my degree, and confirmed that I was indeed focusing in creative nonfiction, and that appeared to please W.  Which pleased me again.

There are others, but she’s the standout.  She terrifies me.  But that reflexive, knee-jerk reaction is suborned by a calmer, steadier knowing…that time spent with her, with these other women, with writers, will be intensely good for me.

Because something inside me got to its feet tonight.  Stood up.  Recognized pieces of myself in what I saw in these women.  The knee-jerk me cowered somewhat, shrank away a bit, unworthy…but the standing-up me simply took her rightful place silently, naturally, without hesitation.

The standing-up me is the soul me.

This is the part of me that told me she’d wake up if I had the courage to leave Virginia and move us to Colorado.  She’s the one who told me this was the place where I would come to belong.

I know her.  She’s the one who bought me a rucksack and flew us to Spain.  She’s the one who knew something powerful would happen in Assisi, if only I could get there.  She signed me up for the marathon.  She wrote the sermon I delivered at MCoB.  Jeff C. knew her, saw her talents, and valued her; others here have caught glimpses of her and are already drawing her out.  She knew that the piece we submitted to the MA review board for acceptance into the program would be well received, and she was unsurprised when the acceptance letter came.  She knows we belong here.  She knows we belong amongst these other writers, these strong-willed women, these brave Amazonian artists.

But she’s also the one who chafes so violently in the miserable existence we’re eking out in the office.  She’s the source of the outrage and indignation over the infantilizing, servile treatment we endure there.  That is not why we came here.

This is.

This is where I’ll flourish.  This first night, this first step of a new journey, is going to change everything.  My hopes are that I’ll be moulded by this journey, that I’ll be tempered in fire here.

I’m entirely ready for a crucible.

Because after all, I’m tired of who I’ve been recently.  I’m really not all that impressive these days.  I’m reactionary and panicky, defensive and nit-picking.  I sow discontent among the coworkers I see as my equals or lowers, and think far too much of pecking order as it is.  I’m negative, needy, plaintive.  I seek – and find – offense in the actions of others.  I’m indignant and huffy and my pride is in a constant state of outrage.  In short, I’ve been succumbing to the absolute worst version of my self as it’s been emerging in this caustic environment where I’m forced to spend most of my waking hours.

But tonight, amongst creatures like myself, that all fell away.  Like scales from my eyes.  Like skin shed from a snake.  Like chains shrugged off and left to clanker to the floor.

That’s not who I am.

I’m hoping this venture will provide me a community.  I hope for outings after class; I hope for wine nights at one another’s homes; I hope for fellowship outside the workshop.  I hope the qualities in the other women to which I’m responding, those qualities I myself have in my best moments, will evolve to the forefront of my personality, and displace all the self-doubt and its accompanying neuroses, perhaps drive them out of me entirely.  That they will become my tare.

As I drove away from class, the mountains were flickering in yet another powerful display of lightning that was evidently too far to share its thunder.  I took the long way home, out by my old rented townhouse, near the edge of town, writing this in my head and promising myself that I’d get it actually written before I slept tonight.  I want to document this journey, and if I do, it’s got to start from the beginning.

A space opened up for me today.  My life – suddenly, and for the first time in years, it seems – contains a little biosphere in which I can thrive.  I feel like a fish suddenly dropped into a cool mountain lake after months of gasping on the hot, splintered boards of a dock.

And it feels so natural, that to take the simile one step further, I feel like the fish in the comic strip who, asked by a passing boater, “How’s the water?” stares uncomprehendingly back, then turns to a fellow fish and asks, “What the hell is water?”

koi

Posted in MA in Creative Nonfiction, Raw Material | Leave a comment

Arrival in Fort Collins, CO

I’m here.  I made it.

Took me ten days of travel (one day was in the OBX, not traveling, but still…) and 3015.3 miles to get from my brother’s driveway to my own new driveway at the house I’ll be renting.

And suddenly, just like that, the travel leg of this adventure is over.

I didn’t get sick of driving, surprisingly.  Good books helped.  So did Diet Coke and Starbucks (the FEW FEW FEW times I could FIND IT!) and Hint of Lime Tostitos and Wheat Thins and apples and Ghirardelli chocolates.  So did the stunning, eye-popping beauty of this amazing country of ours.  It really is incredible.  And photos just can’t do it justice.

I was up so late last night, and today was my last day of travel, so I took my time getting moving this morning.  Actually made it to a hotel breakfast for the first time, though, ironically.  They had those make-your-own-waffle flip-over waffle makers.  YEAHH.  Actually, a bit sweet for early in the morning, but you don’t ever remember that till after. Sigh.

I was floored by how much gorgeous country South Dakota still had to offer in its last gasp from Hot Springs out to the border with Wyoming…which, incidentally, I never saw. There wasn’t one, as far as I could see.  I just arrived in a little “town” – a meeting of roads with a building or two…and suddenly I was in Wyoming, and had been for some ten miles.

Talk about wide open spaces.  Holy COW.  And lots of them.  And a few antelope.  And a couple of raptors on the wing.  And one little lizard-type guy who ran under my back tires when I was doing 65+ and couldn’t even consider swerving and I heard the little bump and saw him squished in the side view mirror.

Craggy mesas, scrubby sage pastures, rolling fields of green, four or five horses pressed against one another back-to-front to swish the flies from each other’s faces and their own backs at once…and an iron-colored sky that gradually gave way to more and more blue.  Little homesteads in oases of trees.

Every man I saw was wearing a cowboy hat.  One was even in honest-to-God spurs, coming out of a gas station convenience store.  I pumped gas at an ancient-looking gas pump and paid after.  Haven’t done that in years.

Signs today: “The Bitch’s Corner Bar.”  (GOD, why didn’t I get that picture?  Real live bar title in Lingle, WY.)  “WE R 1 DAY CLOSER 2 RAIN.”  Outside a nursery.  And on the other side, “CLOSED UNTIL IT RAINS.”  The word “Buckaroo” worked into every business name conceivable.  And, most interestingly, “St. Joseph’s Children’s Home.”  As in, a real live orphanage.  That one almost ate me alive with curiosity.

I wasn’t in a hurry today.  I kept pulling the Blubaru over to the right, straddling the rumble strips, letting people behind me pass.  I just couldn’t go over 65 for some reason, though the speed limit was often 70 or 75.  Just felt like that was too fast.  Wanted to linger?  Maybe?  Most people who passed me when I pulled over waved to me.

I was listening to “The Hour I First Believed” today.  It’s getting tough to listen to.  It’s about the Columbine massacre and includes real-life details about the two boys and their writings and videos prior to the act.  And the character telling the story is an East Coast transplant to Colorado.  And his wife is dealing with PTSD and lashing out at everyone.  It’s hitting close to home for me due to this and other recent experiences…and having a very strange effect on me.

After the orphanage, Denver suddenly appeared on the mileage signs, along with Lusk and Cheyenne and Casper.  Some time after that, I saw Fort Collins.  By the time I got onto I-25 South, my new interstate artery, the FC signs were billboards.

I had my camera ready the whole 7 miles to the state line after leaving Cheyenne.  Road work was happening right ON the state line, but I found a turnout where I could pull over and get this shot.

Some 30 miles later, I got off I-25 and onto Prospect Rd, and followed the GPS to my new place of residence.  That description will have to wait till tomorrow, when I’ll have more time.

New old friends…Mandy (Singer) Jensen.

Once I was done there, I headed for the Wilbourns’ new place…found it…they weren’t there…and then down to Johnstown to my friend Mandy’s place, where I’d be staying the night.

We had a wonderful salmon dinner and watched the sun sink down in flames behind the Rockies.  It was mesmerizing.  And I’m looking forward to several more.  I love my beautiful green Virginia, but it doesn’t allow for sunsets.  I don’t plan on missing many while I’m living here in Colorado.

And now I do.  Though I’m in a strange state of limbo, and I can’t really take possession of my new abode till 8/16 (I’ll be in Reno for most of the intervening time), I do finally live in Colorado.  It’s come true.

Guess I better find a job now….

Posted in Moving to Colorado | 1 Comment

The Badlands, Rushmore, Hot Springs

I rolled out of Kadoka today thinking I’d get much farther than I did.  There was a lot to see today, so I knew it wouldn’t be a long day mileage-wise, but I thought I’d get into Wyoming or Nebraska at least.  I’m still in South Dakota, in Hot Springs, where I just decided to quit when it was getting to be 6pm and I was hot and the sun was getting low.

Kadoka – Gateway to the Badlands

On the way to the gas station at the highway, I saw a brown lab bounding down the dusty road after a pickup truck.  The truck pulled into the gas station and the dog trotted around to the side to greet the owner, then jumped into the truck bed as the man went into the convenience store.  Guess that was his morning exercise. =)  I loved it…a town so small that your dog just chases you to the outskirts and runs himself…and you don’t have a thing to fear about him getting hit.

I hit the highway and got another ten or twenty miles of gorgeous prairie land before I saw what I knew must be the Badlands.  I didn’t really know what to expect.  Turns out the Badlands are a stretch of land where the glacial water receded bit by bit and left behind giant rock formations that must’ve been hell on the covered wagons going west in the late 1800s.  Many of them were just sloping hills, but there were some that had formed into stark ridges and outcroppings.  They were steep, forming gullies and trenches that photos can’t do justice to.  Deep inside were a few little gift shops and campgrounds and such…a town called Interior that I didn’t visit due to road work that hung us up for long minutes waiting for the flagman to turn the sign from STOP to SLOW.  I went into the gift shop, and got several looks from REAL bikers who were clearly reading my Hot Harley Nights Sioux Falls t-shirt and wondering what I was doing wearing it when I clearly was NOT one of them. =)  I bought a few Indian-slogan magnets and a horsehair bracelet and a Christmas ornament…always a “must” for me when I travel.

I wish my car had an altimeter along with a temperature and directional gauge…sure did some climbing and dipping along the Badlands Loop till it spit me back out on I-90.

From there it was about 9 miles to Wall Drug.  I still wasn’t quite sure what Wall Drug was, but after some 300 miles of advertisements, I knew I’d have to stop.  It turned out to be a Boomtown-type place, a real tourist trap with cheap souvenirs and western wear and t-shirts and semiprecious rocks and that sort of thing…stuff that caters to families.  They had a cafe that I finally decided to visit, as they advertised buffalo burgers…but I wouldn’t swear it wasn’t just standard beef.  Not bad.  The cool thing about the cafe was that the walls were lined with real cattle brands from the frontier days, along with the names of the people who’d registered them.  I kept hoping to spot one reading Engelen, but I don’t even know if they had cattle at the time, or what the brand looked like.

Wall Drug

I headed back out on the road with a soda and a chocolate malt, and it was on to Rapid City.  Rapid is smaller than I thought it was…till I got up in the hills above it and saw it sprawl.  It felt like a little prairie town, though, but bigger than the ones I’d seen since Sioux Falls.  The cool thing about Rapid is that it has statues of all the Presidents on the street corners downtown…something Sydne had told me about but I’d forgotten till I spotted Kennedy.  She said there were 40 presidents completed, and that the most recent four would be finished and added soon.  I only saw about 6 or 7, as I didn’t go all the way through downtown, and I didn’t get a shot of any of them.

Into the Black Hills and on to Mt. Rushmore from there…I was excited.  I’d never seen Rushmore before.  All along I-90 across South Dakota were big-rig trailers in the fields beside the road, advertising the Guzton Borglum story…the guy who created Mt. Rushmore.  Knowing that sightseeing is much more poignant when you know the history behind the sight, I decided to stop.

It was in Keystone…another little Old West-looking town with lots of motels and campgrounds.  There was a sky tram that I considered briefly, but passed.  The little Borglum museum was pretty cool…it included lots of his other sculptures and paintings and portraits and had a little self-guided audio tour.  There was a life-sized replica of Lincoln’s eye (life-sized from the mountain, that is, so it was about 8 feet in diameter), showing the cuts and shadows and protuberances that were engineered to catch the light and create depth.  Borglum’s father had two sister-wives who were really sisters…and the second wife left when plural marriage was outlawed.  Pretty interesting story.  There was also a sculpture he made called Rabboni, of Mary turning from the empty tomb to see the resurrected Christ…and it’s in DC.  Wish I’d seen it…it looked awesome in the replicas.  He also had an awesome “Seated Lincoln” that’s a replica of the real one he made for Newark, NJ.

On to the mountain.  I kept scanning the hills looking to catch my first sight of it, and finally did.  Pulled over to the side to get the shot.

First sighting

Went for artsy here…the faces and the overlook and the sky….

The monument was cool…though I must admit, it was smaller than I’d expected.  I mean, it’s still HUGE, but yet not at the same time.  It’s a pretty cool little park you walk through to see it, too.  First non-white, non-Native American people I’d seen in days among the crowds there.  I “swapped” photos with two more couples.  (I wish people knew more about photo composition, instead of always putting the person in the center of the picture, in front of the thing they want their picture taken with.  I coached the two photo-takers at Mt. Rushmore after finding the Badlands shot with me smack in the middle, blocking the formations.)

Profile view of Washington

Bought two beautiful preserved silver maple leaves off a Christmas tree in the gift shop.  One red, one green.  And a Rushmore ornament.  I like my Christmas tree to be a story of my travels.  It’s as good a thing to collect as any, I suppose. =)

Entrance sign and general idea of finished monument on mountainside

After leaving Rushmore, I was a bit monumented-out.  I’d paid $15 to get into the Badlands…$10 for the Borglum museum…another $11 to park at Rushmore…and I was tired of yelling kids and chattering tourists who make any “sight-site” a place impossible to really sink into and meditate over.

The monument thus far…head and outstretched line of arm visible…head of horse somewhat drawn on mountainside.

So a few miles later, when I reached Crazy Horse, and saw the stage of the monument and its intended completion view, I decided to pass on another fee and more tourists.  I got a shot from the road and muddled on down the road.  I figured I’d come back someday, when it was done.  Then I read that the first blast was in 1941.  Hope I’m alive when it’s done…it’s going to be amazing.  But they better get on the ball.

Through Custer State Park…herd of bison right there on the road…more beautiful country…not prairie and not Badlands but Black Hills mixed with rolling pastures.  Granite outcroppings.  Swaths of brown, dead pines, victims of the pine beetle.  That was sad.

When I hit Hot Springs, I’d only gone 192 miles, but I wasn’t sure any town down the road would be any bigger, and I wanted Wi-Fi.  So I stopped and got a room.  Sat inside with my computer and watched a lightning storm flash over the buildings across the river.  We even got a sprinkle.  The weather was finally nice…probably about 75.  Nice change from the 90s and 100s.

Roadside view – just gorgeous.

Tomorrow I’ll reach Colorado…finally.  I’m a bit scared.  I’ll hopefully stay with a friend tomorrow night…and starting Wednesday night, my landlady and her family will clear out on a little road trip for a few days and she said the house would be mine till Friday.  The previous tenant should be out by the first few days of August.  Wish I could have ordered the POD delivered and packed out before going to Reno, but oh well.  It’ll work out.

Black Hills rock formation that caught my eye

Man.  Tomorrow.  I’m getting there tomorrow.  Wild.

Terrifying.

And exhilarating.

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Emerald Isle & NC

Top to bottom: Bella, Danica, Bandit. Outside: rain.

Day Two had me heading to Emerald Isle, the new home of my friend Byron from high school.  While he’s on his fourth tour in Afghanistan, his wife Grace is in their new house at the beach, with their 14-month-old daughter Danica and their two dogs, Bella and Bandit.  I’d promised to come visit their new house when they moved there in January, but of course the time filled up as my move loomed.  Originally, my roommate Lumpy and I were talking about making the drive to CO together in just a few days and flying him back…but when his changing work schedule made that impossible, I decided to stretch out the drive and take my sweet time getting to CO.

Thus…Virginia to Colorado via the Outer Banks.

Once that was decided, I’d further hoped to get a chance to drive down Rt. 12 South all the way through the Outer Banks.  I’d never done it, and I figured this was my last chance for a while.  All I needed to do was leave Norfolk early enough…and figure out ferries.

Well, ’twas not to be.  I left Norfolk so late that my northern OBX detour was abbreviated at best…but I did still get to make it to Kill Devil Hills to see the Wright Brothers’ memorial site.  I didn’t plan on that, but when I got to KDH, I spotted the sign and decided it was probably a must-see.  And it was pretty cool.  I didn’t stick around for the guided tour or the talk in the museum, and it was GODAWFULHOT, but I read all the markers and wandered the grounds where they’d conducted those first flights, and walked up to the memorial on the hill.  It was pretty cool.

The OBX is a pretty cool little region of the States.  It has its own flavor…and even several sub-flavors, it seems.  I shouldn’t talk about it like I’m any kind of an expert…my sole experience with the Banks before this was 15 years ago, and the destination was the same: Emerald Isle.  Anybody who’s anybody in Northern Virginia vacations in the Outer Banks…with family, with friends, with whomever…I’d only gone ONCE.  ForEVER ago.  Felt like kind of an outcast over this.  But I guess while NOVA folks were in the Banks, I was in Italy or Austria or Spain or Australia or wherever.  Hmm.  Yeah.  That works.

Orville & Wilbur’s Flying Machine

So I got to see some really pretty parts of NC on the way back inland and south to Byron and Grace’s.  Partway there I got stuck in a downpour so torrential that I decided to pull over and wait it out…I couldn’t even see with my wipers on high.  I decided it was a good time to play on FB Mobile, and jumped a moment later when I saw a cop car pull up beside me.  I thought I was in trouble for a second, till I realized he was just checking to make sure I was okay and wasn’t stopped due to some kind of car trouble.

That was really the only eventful thing on the way there.  I got in at about dinnertime, and Grace was cooking something fabulous, as usual…and had wine ready to pour, as usual…and the dogs were going nuts, as usual…and it felt like a second home.  As usual.  By and Grace just moved there in January, and the layout of the beach house was almost the same as the layout of their VA house they’d just left and rented out…so everything was in nearly the same place.  It was like they transplanted the whole house.

Grace was having a time living there alone while Byron was overseas.  It’s quite a feat to take care of a 15-month-old all by yourself.  Add to that two large-ish dogs who may or may not EACH outweigh their human…and it was a lot to handle.  Grace and I started wondering why neither of us thought to propose a longer summer stay at her house for me.  I could easily see how much it would’ve helped her out.  Hopefully, though, she’ll be able to ask a young relative of hers to come stay with her for a while and help her with juggling the dogs and the baby.

We had a great time at the beach.  I went once with the dogs…and the morning after I got there, we went again with little Danica.  Grace set up a beach umbrella and played with Dani near the water’s edge, and I headed into the surf.

 

NOTE.  THIS is how you go to the beach when you’re 34 and are struggling with body image…particularly the kind that creeps up on you as you get a little older and can’t drop 5 or 10 or FORTY pounds just by thinking about it.  You go to a beach where you don’t know a SOUL, and you go with an old, old friend who you KNOW loves you no matter HOW you look (or, barring that, someone married to such a person who is so awesome in her own right that the veneration transfers to her)…and a BABY.  And you dig deep down into your soul and you find the 9-year-old kid who grew up in the surf, and whose dad taught her to bodysurf and dive headfirst into crashing waves and ball up underwater and let the current bob her around and pay attention to the direction of the undertow…and you CHANNEL HER till you ARE HER AGAIN.  You remember how much that kid used to LOVE the ocean…and how nut-brown and healthy and strong she looked in all those old photos…and you focus on the joy of being sturdy and healthy and strong…and you throw your inhibitions and your friggin’ body issues to the wind and you go tackle the hell outta those waves.

And the waves tackle the hell outta you right back.

And you forget just how much sand you can get in places you didn’t know you had places.

And you tell yourself you cannot, cannot forget that little trick.  That you gotta use it every chance you get and can’t EVER forget how.

Anyway.

Focus. This pic is about the baby.

The rest of my day-and-a-half with Grace and Dani and Bella and Bandit were just as nice.  The dogs and I went for walks…Grace kept cooking fabulous things…we sat in lounge chairs out on the deck off her bedroom in the steamy night air, and listened to the surf so close by, and drank red wine, and ate Ghirardelli chocolates, and talked…and it was so, so nice.  I truly was sorry to leave.  I loved being around the dogs.  I loved seeing Byron in Danica’s little face.  (Isn’t it a special kind of joy to see your friends in the faces of their children??  Particularly if those children were so long awaited??)  I know one day she’ll probably look more like Grace, but Byron has been my friend for 20 years and I LOVE to see his daughter squint up at me and…there he is.  I love it.

 

I drove out on Wednesday morning and headed across the long state of NC to Greenville, SC, where I would meet Trey.

Notables along the drive that day:

  • signs saying “UNLAWFUL TO FEED THE BEARS” and “RED WOLF CROSSING: NEXT 10 MILES” and “ALLIGATOR CREEK: NO SWIMMING.”  Whoa.
  • And the Dare County Penitentiary Inmate Transport bus and all the burly, tattooed arms hanging out the windows.
  • And the sandy roadsides and the scrubby beach vegetation slowly giving way back into the wooded Blue Ridge, Appalachian forest that spills down into Carolina from Virginia.

I also started Lord of the Rings that day.  I’ve got Fellowship of the Ring on audio, and MY GOD is it taking forever to get this story off the ground.  I never did read it (yes, yes, I’m a pariah), but I have seen the movie, and YES I KNOW the book will have so much more in it than the movie (DUH) but I can’t help picturing the movie and trying to match up the scenes to the book…anyway, it’s just dragging on a bit in the beginning.  I’m sure it’ll pick up.

I shoulda planned more time at the beach.

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Home to Richmond to Norfolk

I headed out for Colorado early on Sunday, July 8.  I packed the car with Eric’s help (he carried up my running shoes) and stood around waiting for my brother to return from his Starbucks run for the three of us (how nice!).  He got back, handed me my coffee, and we headed outside.  After lots of snuggles on my nephew, who was wrapped in his new camouflage blanket I finally finished for him, I hugged Mike and my sister-in-law, Andrea (who cracked my bravado and opened the floodgates when she told me in my ear, “I’m so proud of you”) and got in the car.  Set the odometer at 0.0.  Drove out of the driveway.

My favorite little guy =)

Got nearly to Linton Hall Road when my phone went off.  Mike.  “What’d I forget?”

“Your running shoes.”

“Turning around.”

Gotta love the neph.  Got ’em upstairs…but not into the car. =)

He handed them to me through the window…I RE-set the odometer at zero, and headed out again.

First stop was the church, where I left an African violet I’d promised to my friend Lee Mitchell at church…he’s a widower who took a liking to me about three years ago after his wife died and he’d asked if I’d like to have her yarn collection.  After that, we were fast friends.  Mandy and I visited him in the house he’d lived in for 58 years…he’d built it himself while holding down a full-time mechanic’s job and never working on Sundays.  Wow.  Anyway, he had lots of African violets and I’d asked him if he’d take mine.  But I never got it to him, so I left it on Dana’s doorstep and Facebooked her to ask her to deliver it to him that morning at church.  Except Dana was out of town.  As was Mandy, who I’d tagged in the message as a backup.  Ha.  Hope it got to him eventually.

And that was it for Prince William County.

I had brunch in Stafford with Mama K…my college boyfriend’s mom.  It was nice…I hadn’t seen her or his dad in about ten years, I think…we’d  had sporadic contact over the years through email and through postcards I sent her every time I travelled to a new country.  So strange to be in that house again…but I was really happy I saw them before I left.  We had bagels and tea and chatted about my plans and her grandkids and what was new with her sons.  I saw pictures of the grandchildren…my ex’s son is his spitting image.  Wow.  But worth the stop.

From there, I headed south to Richmond.  My college roommate, Emily, had a baby about two months ago and I hadn’t met him yet.  He was a real cutie…and her two older boys, Noah (7) and Jack (5) are always extra snuggly.  We escaped with the baby for a while and went to lunch at Panera…and on the way back, I hit the first wave of emotion.  Asked her to just drive around for a little while, slow, and let me get ahold of myself.  Leaving home…goodbyes to Mike and Andrea and Eric and my Tony…emotions rising again over being back in my ex’s house…seeing pictures of him and his child…knowing I probably wouldn’t see Emily again till her boys were much older…it all just felt like a flood rising in me and I just got carried off by it for a while.  We did have a good afternoon…I spent a good four hours or so with her and her boys and Bob…but it was definitely a tough goodbye.  We were both determined not to cry…and I think we both failed.  As I drove out, she and the kids were waving from the window till I was out of sight.

(ps – I didn’t get any pics of Emily and her kids with my own camera…so I’ll insert them once she posts them.  They’re all precious.)

Nathan, Lisa, and Miss Shannon

From Richmond, I went to Norfolk.  My friend Lisa…one of my best friends from high school…has just come home from two years in Korea with her husband Tim, and since I’ve seen her last, her number of children has doubled. =)  Stephen and Shannon, last about 4 and 2 when I saw them, are now 9 and 7, and are the most well-mannered, thoughtful, and well-spoken kids their age that I think I’ve ever seen.  Stephen takes things apart and puts them back together, draws diagrams of inventions he thinks up, and knows a little about everything.  Shannon, still the beautiful, blue-eyed, strawberry blonde she was as a baby, is quiet and helpful and sweet…but once Stephen gets rolling on his trivia, she joins in, too.  Lisa’s been homeschooling them, and it shows…they are just delightful.  Ethan, who turned four the day I got there, was born in Florida before they moved to Korea, but I’d never met him.  He spends most of his time acting like “monkeyshine,” according to Lisa…he’s an adorable little imp of a boy, forever trying to keep up with his older brother and sister.  And then there’s baby Nathan, about 5 months old, cute and blue-eyed and like a little copy of his brother Ethan, who’s a copy of his brother Stephen.  They’re all just precious.

The only shot I got of Ethan while he was STILL. =)

We went out to dinner at an Asian buffet place (Ethan’s choice), and the kids regaled me with everything they knew about EVERYTHING…and Lisa remarked they should have me over more often, because she and Tim actually got to have a conversation. =)

The seven of us were all packed into a little suite at the Navy Lodge…two queen beds, Nathan’s crib, the hide-a-bed sofa for Stephen and Shannon, and Ethan on two upholstered chairs pushed together.  I read “Nanny McPhee” to the kids and failed miserably at winding them DOWN…we had a blast. =)

So, with four kids under 10 in a place that small, who would set an alarm?

Baby Nathan! =)

I didn’t.  And woke up at 10:40 to a text from Grace…four hours away and the next stop on the trip.  Those kids (and Lisa) were so quiet and considerate that I never even stirred.  Can you believe it?  What an amazing family they have.

So, more snuggles with Nathan…more monkey shining from Ethan…help from Shannon packing the car, and a few more puzzles from Stephen, and I was hugging Lisa goodbye and hitting the road again.

Stephen…and the blur otherwise known as Ethan =)

Hewo!

He was so snuggly….

But first things first…hit a Starbucks and checked my email.  One from the current tenant of the Colorado house.  Landlady had forwarded to her the message she sent to me, expressing that the decision to live WITH the girl was up to me, though it wasn’t what she herself wanted.  The girl had answered and CC’ed me, saying it was clear this wasn’t what either of us two wanted…so she’d find a place.

So the upheaval was settled…the house is mine to myself again.  And I was on to North Carolina…

…and Virginia was in the rear view mirror…for good.

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