Pondering Pines

A brief interruption in the rehab of Brighty occurred in early August. I am quite behind in my posting, I know. I will get better about that, promise. I was lucky enough to get a gig helping the don with some pine cone picking. Unlike the other pines worked on in the spring, these pines have no special genetic traits offering resistance to anything. They were just selected for their looks and value as lumber specimens. The person who had done the selecting would frequently point to a tree and say to me, “See that tree? Would you want a forest full of those?” I realized he wanted a forest of trees that all looked the same, very straight and tall and just a few limbs whereas I think I prefer a forest of trees like in the Dr. Seuss books with bends and forks in the trunk and limbs sticking out all which-a-way.

Would you want a forest of these trees? the don in this pine- see his blue hat?

Also, in case you are wondering, pine cone is one of those words that can be written as two words or as one, called an open or closed compound word. Probably it is best to pick your favorite and stick to that style throughout your writing. I do not promise to do that because I prefer to live the “and” life rather than the “either-or” life. If it is okay to use pine cone AND pinecone then I will probably do that. 🙂

Ponderosa pines are probably my favorite tree because of the smell of the bark. It is either vanilla or butterscotch, depending on the tree, and it is heavenly to smell as you climb. The cones are quite large, about the size of an avocado and about as heavy as a large grapefruit. Now, these cones are just ripening and are still full of moisture making them MUCH heavier than their dried and opened counterparts on the ground and in many fall centerpiece arrangements. I learned this from experience and, as I tend to do, I gained that experience the hard way.

Ponderosa Pine in early morning light

Tip: if you find yourself in a situation where someone 30 feet above you wants to toss a cone down for you to slice open and check for ripeness, let the cone hit the dirt and then go pick it up. Do NOT reach out your hand and catch the falling cone like some baseball outfielder in a World Series game. I have NO IDEA what I was thinking and, really, I’m not a sporty-gal who played softball or anything. I mean, I can barely catch a cold much less anything thrown in my general direction. And yet when the don hollered, “Hey, Susan, can you check this cone,” and lobbed the pine grenade towards the ground, I was walking to the truck and just reached my left hand out and caught the thing. IN MY BARE HAND. To be honest, I was quite shocked that I had so nonchalantly caught it while I was sauntering to the truck, I didn’t even really try to catch it. Probably because, as mentioned, I’m not good at catching things. And even when I do catch something it usually bounces out of my hand and I go running pell-mell after it like a dog with a Kong toy. However, if the caught object has spines like a puffer fish that will stick into your palm and fingers it is much less likely to bounce out.

Spines on this prickly booger make it pretty easy to catch, if one were so inclined

It can also cause a little nerve damage. Even 6 weeks later the tip of my middle finger has that weird tingling numbness to it. I do not mind too much because it still works well enough when that finger needs to point out some minor infraction or irritation that crosses my path.

Ouch. Lots of little stab holes in my hand. On the plus side, I could hardly feel them due to the temporary nerve damage from catching the cone. 

Aren’t these pinecones beautiful? Naturally the purple is my favorite.

Green, brown, and purple cones all from Ponderosa.

I mostly worked on the ground the first two days but then we got to an area where the trees to climb were close enough together that I could climb one and have the don within shouting distance in case anything went wrong. I wasn’t worried about falling out of a tree but there are other things that can go wrong and, even if I am late telling you the story, I always want to get back in one piece and tell it. I am kind of cautious that way. So finally the day comes that I get to climb a tree by myself! I get my gear together, check the ropes and knots, get the little “Bo-Peep” tool the don created to pull the branches in. See, the cones are on the outer branches and I am attached to the trunk so this tool lets me grab the outer branch and bend it toward me to pick the cones. It is actually quite peaceful up there. Very few bugs, lots of birds and the views are amazing! It took me probably three times as long to get the same quantity of cones but that is okay, I was having a pretty good time even if I was slow.

Getting started as the sun just starts coming over the hill
All the gear to climb fits into these two bags
Ropes, clips, and powder
Powdering the ropes keeps them from getting sticky with tree pitch
Me in a not-too-tall tree

Unfortunately the tree climbing was slowed down for me due to getting “glutened.” I have to eat gluten-free or else I get very sick. I had been living in a house with bread and trying to be careful but some crumb of bread must have gotten into my breakfast one morning because on the way to the climbing site I became very ill. I tried climbing a tree but keeping my nausea at bay took most of my attention and I wasn’t able to pick very well. I ended up on the ground for a number of days which is the best place to be if you are vomiting and having diarrhea. When I get glutened I tend to run a fever for a few days, too, and that makes tree climbing not such a good idea, either. At least getting out into the forest was keeping my mind off of how yucky I felt, even if I was on the ground the entire time. I did get to see some pretty sights.

Bee my friend
What do you think the caption for this should be?

I will say it was hard work but it was also really fun work. Watching the sun rise as I headed to the forest site, then going to swim in the river after working, heading home to appreciate a soft bed and shower. It really simplified life to the sweet things. I don’t think I could do it every day for a year but for a couple of weeks it was really good. It is also really nice to have a job that you can bring your dog along with you.

Oh, and one thing, wear gloves when you work with pine cones. Trust me on this.

Training Day 2 (and then some)

Training Day 2 (and then some)

All a girl really needs…

A brief rundown of the situation so far: in 2017 (and honestly, way before that) I was ready for something different and a chain of life-changing events had conspired to let me, if I was willing to risk it all, have a whole new life experience. I quit my work and tearfully and fearfully left my family and friends to take a job that was interesting to me in a location that I have long loved. The job was great but the hours long, no days off, and the owner of the place is a bit whacky. After a few months I finally took my earned time off and traveled to other parts of the beautiful northwest U.S.  Upon my return I found the owner had emptied the bank account and had not paid me as contractually agreed to. After some discussion, I took a hiatus from the work while awaiting payment and chose to follow my heart even further afield. The cool thing about no longer having anything is that there is nothing to lose and no excuses to not try something new. Since I have already left everything I loved, I am sure as hell not going to settle for a situation that is undesirable. My motto: If it isn’t fabulous why bother?

I did get to meet some really cool people in the tiny town of Forks, Washington. While the town has a population that is smaller than the high school my kid went to, it only takes one person to make a good life even more bright and interesting and it is there that I met the don.

the don has led a pretty exciting-sounding life so far and enjoys the outdoors as much as I. However, it was his cooking that got my attention and, I suppose, broke the ice. He told me of his multi-week-long packing trips to go bow hunting in the fall and to collect antlers in the spring, of his winter months in the Olympics Steelhead fishing, time spent surfing on the lower Pacific coast and his recent retirement from regular work as a smokejumper. I was intrigued by the idea of hiking with mules and having a giant tent that is heated and especially having really good food; that is so very different from my experience as a backpacker. I love backpacking. I love getting away from civilization and walking the contours of the land and feeling the wildlife all around me. The thing about backpacking that is kind of hard is carrying all your own stuff and especially carrying food. For one or two days it isn’t that big of a deal but for a couple of weeks it can be very, very heavy. Having a dog along means carrying dog food, too. I was intrigued by the idea of seeing the wild landscape of Hell’s Canyon and having a mule carry all my stuff including some real creature comforts. When the don invited me to join one of his trips I jumped at the chance to enjoy some needed time away from working and that first experience in Hell’s Canyon has already been shared.

After the trip and returning to the undesirable BnB situation, there was suddenly an opening in my work schedule. the don offered me a position in his company doing some contract work this summer, work that even a beginner like me can do. And so now you are up to date on how it is that I find myself literally fit to be tied and learning the ropes.

Fit to be tied

So many pretty colors!

This project has to do with collecting pollen from specific trees that have been identified as able to fight off a disease called blister rust.

Blister Rust Resistant White Pine

This pollen is collected and used to propagate new trees with this desirable quality. the don has been climbing trees and rock faces for decades so he can shimmy up as fast as a lemur. I am a bit more… sloth-like. I haven’t quite gotten to the stage where I stop clutching but I am practicing every day so that I can get up and down a tree and not have my hands cramp into a claw-like thing. Plus, it is probably better not to leave dents in the tree from that death-grip I have been using.

Learning the ropes
Practice makes perfect and one cannot settle for anything less than perfect when 90 feet up a tree.

Here I am, all roped and tied up, practicing and testing my knots before heading out to do a real climb. While I did get almost as high up as the don, I did not do any collection because I wasn’t quite ready to relinquish the aforementioned squeeze and three-points-of-contact attitude.

 

 

 

 

 

Up!

 And here I am up in the tree with a view down at the ropes and the ground. I am only about 10 feet or so up here. I neglected to take a camera with a wrist strap and so this photo is taken with my phone. I wanted to take some photos when I was about 60 feet up but there was no way I was going to risk pulling my phone out when that high up. If I dropped the phone, even if it survived the fall, I’d never find it in the thick forest and there is no cell service available to try and locate the phone by calling it. I only take certain kinds of risks and that isn’t one of them.

Waiting for the tree climbers to return to the ground

So we will have to make do with photos of the don in the tree. This is one of my favorites.

the don

Okay. That is enough chatting for now. I need to get strapped up and get my practice climbing.

Big hug to you and please do tell me what risk you are going to take this week to brighten your life?

Oh, and here are some other photos from the past week and the White Pine Pollen collecting job.

Sadly, this tree was burned in a fire so it won’t be contributing its genes to the pool

Checking pollen ripeness

We missed you!

Orange diamond is along forest road and marks the location of the desired tree in “chains” and cardinal degrees. If you look right of the tree marker at about 1:30 you can see the don in that White Pine.

Getting ready to do my work of cleaning and processing the pollen that was collected. This rock was the perfect desk for my office in the woods.

Pollen processing

My number one fella

Burned out cedar. This giant cedar is over 5 feet in diameter. It was one of the many acres of trees lost in the great 1910 fire that devastated this part of Idaho. It was so large that the U.S. Army was called in to help, including the Buffalo Soldiers.

the orange marker is a newer type of marker, the silver tag is very old and is starting to be engulfed by the tree

The hooligans, mine, the don’s, and a friend’s puppy. A few days before this shot I taught the griffons how to pose for a photo like Monty does- they hit the mark every time now!

Still snow on the ground! After the tree climb I scooped some snow into my cup and poured a syrup of lemonade and rum. Best snow-cone ever!

Nez Perce trail- some pretty sad history here for the Nimi’ipuu

X marks the spot. Think there is any buried treasure here?

White Bark Pine pollen has a raspberry color when ripe whereas the White Pine pollen is yellow.

Two *chains* away is the tree. How archaic to measure in chains?
oh, it’s 66 feet if you were wondering.

Some trees need fire to reproduce. It kind of allows a nice view of the distance, too

Some of these trees have been in the program a long time!

Hell’s Canyon

 

Monty gazing out over the mountains of Hell’s Canyon

“The grandeur and originality of the views presented on every side beggar both the pencil and the pen. Nothing we had ever gazed upon in any other region could for a moment compare in wild majesty and impressive sternness with the series of scenes which here at every turn astonished our senses and filled us with awe and delight.” Benjamin L. E. Bonneville, an early explorer of Hell’s Canyon, wrote about the place I was getting ready to spend two weeks camping and hiking.

Sunset from the Cougar Basin campsite with a view into Oregon.

The area has seen much since white men entered its waters, from its early days of exploitation for copper and gold ore to inciting national division in the 1950s and again in the 1970s on damming the river to present-time recreational pursuits. For many years Hell’s Canyon was hailed as the deepest canyon but that is now contested. Regardless of the numbers, I was about to walk into a place of no outside contact. Not that this is a new experience as I have been solo hiking sections of the Continental Divide Trail for a number of years, but this time was different. I was heading into the area with three mules, three dogs, my friend I call the don and his brother. Would Hell’s Canyon live up to its name and reputation? What hellish fate might await, i wondered?

Could it be anymore perfect for a Texas girl than to have PURPLE bluebonnets?
Okay, technically a cousin to bluebonnets but that can be overlooked.

Obviously I have lived to tell the tale. And share some photos…

the don and his mules

Monty had never been around mules so it was with some slight trepidation that he was introduced to them. He did live through the two weeks but only through the grace of God who looks out for little white dogs.He was disbelieving these creatures were not just big dogs thus he continued to try and befriend them by getting too close to their feet. He would also try to insert himself in the mule train between two mules if I was riding a mule so I ended up in the saddle about 100 yards and then walking the remaining 18 miles into camp the first day. Monty did finally learn, mostly anyway, not to get underneath the mules and would walk very close to the back of the last mule. Thankfully the mules were very patient with this city boy who was just learning the ropes when it came to mule packing. Monty and I had that in common on this trip. One mule was particularly patient with me as I learned to halter and saddle and lead the mules and even let me braid his tail.

Monty learned to stay out of the mule train and trailed along behind. Can you see his tiny white body there?

Otis sporting a fancy tail-do. Definitely a sassy ass!

Hells Canyon will extract its pound of flesh, no doubt ’bout that. Just so you know, there are TWO different manifestations of poison ivy in these parts. There is the normal, vine-trailing-on-the-ground type found in moist areas like near creeks and under trees. Then there is another type that does not resemble a vine or a bush. This nasty and tricksy mo-fo is a stick about three feet tall with lovely white to cream dried-looking berries on it. At least that is how it looks in early spring, maybe in June it gets leaves or hairyness or something but in April it is just a lovely berry-topped stick with delicate red undertones hanging out with all the other grasses that looks like it is begging to be in a floral arrangement.

DO NOT BE FOOLED BY IT

A tricksy mo-fo , this poison ivy, growing along the trail and hillsides in very dry areas and with no leaves.

Another tip, if you are traveling with animals or some companion that goes tromping pell-mell through the grasses, DO NOT LET THAT BEING INTO YOUR SLEEPING BAG, even if it is a skinny puppy shivering in the cold night. That shivering puppy will run through the tricksy poison ivy sticks ALL DAY LONG and then, in the wee hours of the darkness, will bring all that urushiol into your bag and onto your skin. Just imagine what the results of hours and hours of laying in the poison oil will do to your skin as she cuddles up so sweetly to you. All the weight you have lost from so much lovely exercise will not be evident due to the horrible sores and swelling from the blisters and your new trail name will be Scritchers.

 

Only 6 months old, Finn already loved to run the hills all day and snuggle all night.

Three dog night. I finally learned to keep the dogs out of my sleeping bag yet they still loved to snuggle up to me. Here you can see Q, Finn, and Monty’s yellow coat.

Poison ivy legs. The rash was everywhere on my body except my upper back due to a snuggling puppy in my sleeping bag. So much for wearing skirts anytime soon.

This concludes my public service announcement.

Now for the good part, and if you heed my advice above, you can skip the icky and go straight to the good part. People tried to settle the canyon years ago and planted gardens. Most of the people and settlements did not last but some of their food-stuff is still there. If you go in early spring (as for this area, not the early spring of Houston) you will be fed well from the coffers of the canyon. the don knew of several spots where yummies were growing and shared them with me. Sadly I did not get photos of the morel mushrooms the don gathered and then cooked in butter on the wood stove (yes, for real. this is my life now) but i promise they were exquisite. The same day as the mushroom gathering, he showed me where asparagus would grow. Only a few stalks were showing then but when I went back a week later, JACKPOT!

Asparagus growing in the wilds of Hell’s Canyon. Can you believe the luck!?!

I gathered a quart ziplock bag and nibbled on quite a few stalks as I gathered and only took about 20% of what was showing. There is also an area where watercress grows and we enjoyed fresh greens pretty much every day of the trip.

Watercress growing along a creek just waiting to be made into a delicious salad.

Can you imagine a two-week camping trip with fresh asparagus and watercress and mushrooms? and all cooked over campfire or woodstove. Hard to believe yet I offer photographic proof.

Watercress salad with beets, coconut, and mango. The latter two were rehydrated since I have yet to find a mango tree in Hell’s Canyon.

Cooking asparagus over a campfire. Also on the menu this evening was polenta with tomato sauce which you can see in the background.

Monty was his usual majestic self and struck a pose on every rock formation he saw. Truly, I do not pose him and rarely do I even try to arrange a photo. Mostly he gets his vogue on and waits until I finally realize I should take a picture. He even photo bombs and, as usual, his version is much more interesting than my own. Do you think Ansel Adams might come back as a photogenic master in a dog body?

Monty photobombing as I try to shoot landscapes. As usual his version is way more interesting than my boring ol’ flower picture.

I’ll put more photos at the end of this post. At the time every single view was breathtaking and so I have tons of pictures of Monty posing with some dramatic view.

As you may know, I am a former city girl who has decided to try a completely different lifestyle. I am learning so much every day! For example, do you know where the antlers for those awesome chandeliers in hunting-themed lodges come from? Out here it is a hobby to collect the ginormous antlers that are shed naturally every spring by the elk. the don and his brother engage in antler hunting and I began a little hunting myself.  I was better at finding asparagus.

“Glassing” the hillside looking for antlers.

I spy an antler!

Here is one of the smaller antlers. Some were almost as big as me!

Fresh mint- perfect for adding to salads and also to a bit of rum

Waiting for snow to melt and getting a suntan at the same time

Still waiting

Dinnertime in Hell’s Canyon

A fresh and cold spring at just the right height for bottle filling. Hell’s Canyon will extract its pound of flesh but will also provide

Another awesome view of Sheep Creek

Spider on flower. I was so intrigued by this little guy hanging out in the flowering bushes just waiting for bugs

I forgot my hat one day and ended up making one from my bandana and some of the branches from the bush behind me. The branches were to make the brim and I have to say this worked out very well for the entire day!

Rose hips. Reminded me of chinese lanterns

Pictographs!

Curious Otis

the don and mules near suicide point. Can you see them on the trail?

My boy

A view into Oregon

Bear claw marks on pine. I promise, Mom, I never saw any bears this trip!

Brain freeze

Monty near Old Timer

Monty on the mountain

I don’t need inspirational quotes
I need coffee

 

Wishes…

Wishes…

Just before I left Houston my beloved friend placed a kiss on my cheek and this wish bracelet on my wrist as I silently made my wish. As I understand it, the wish will come true when the bracelet falls off. As you can see, it is just a few threads away from happening!
However, it’s been like this awhile now. These few threads, frayed and colorless, holding on to what was and refusing to be broken, perhaps fearful of the idea of no longer existing. These few threads are preventing my wish.
So, dear reader, I am making a plea to you for help. The wish I made is for all the people I love to have the courage to follow what is in their hearts, to pursue their dreams and not have to know the exact ending before beginning. I can promise you that there is so much more available than you can even imagine or know to ask for. Just take the first step towards opening your heart and mind to possibility. If trying to figure it all out seems overwhelming then don’t concern yourself with anything more than this next step, leave the last step for later. You can handle it when the time comes.
I think of the story of Noah frequently now. I wonder how many people God told to build an ark? I am confident it was more than just ol’ Noah. Noah reportedly had zero carpentry skills and certainly no ship building experience since he lived inland. Even though the way and reason weren’t clear, Noah pursued what was in his heart to do.
Is there something in your heart calling to you?

Acceptance of impermanence lets me have courage to go into the unknown. Terror, happiness, peace, insecurity, security, these all come and pass like a breath. In sitting for meditation I see how an itch or a tickle can arise and engulf my attention, my mind screaming out to jump to it, scratch and rub, then everything will be better. But in my short 10 minute meditations from Calm app, I learn how those very itches can seemingly engulf and then be gone to be replaced by another attention-taker. I learn how mind/ego wants to be anywhere but here now, wants attention and throws mental tantrums to get it. I know I can handle an itch or tickle for just 10 minutes and so I watch it, giving 100% attention but 0% action or reaction. And I watch it subside, then a few moments or seconds of blissful peace before another tantrum.
My fears, which have been numerous these last few months, are similarly handled. Give attention, do not try to assuage or distract from the uncomfortable or un-pretty. Accept all as part of this experience, love this life as it comes. Soon enough this body will go back to the ashes and dust of its origin. The poet Rumi, as always, has something to say about this:

WHO SAYS WORDS WITH MY MOUTH? All day I think about it, then at night I say it. Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing? I have no idea. My soul is from elsewhere, I’m sure of that, and I intend to end up there
Rumi

Where, my dear friend, is your soul from and what are you doing to get back there?

Not Earned

Monday, January 15, 2018
Today I leave my last stop of this traveling vacation and enter Forks and my new home and work. Yes, I have mixed feelings about it. I like traveling and especially not working or being answerable to anyone. It is like being a kid again, such freedom! I have fears but, for some crazy reason I choose to barrel headlong into whatever fears I have. I do not run from fear or push it away or excuse it. Probably, more than anything, this is what makes me hard to live with. In my last writing (in my personal journal, not on here) I mentioned Dan and his discussion of how he thought i am beautiful and did I know that.
No. I do not know that.
I have people who have told me, friends who love me and one who was even surprised when i revealed that I do not think of myself as pretty. so i can say that, based on their opinion i must be pretty in a socially accepted way. and I (mostly) accept and appreciate my internal appearance, though I do battle my self on occasion so it is yet to be full acceptance.
And so today I read in Jeff Foster’s “The Way of Rest” about why you are beautiful. If you have not familiarized yourself with Jeff, go do that. Now. Come back after you have wiped your eyes from the tears of love.
So anyway, he writes to look in the mirror and to fully accept all the feelings that arise. Do not resist anything. Do not fight back the disgust or shame with platitudes and affirmations of worth. Let it all just chatter around like seagulls squawking on the shore and then begin to see yourself through loving eyes, whether like a parent or lover or God, just see with full acceptance the pimples, wrinkles, deformities of body and personality.
“And the medicine now is naked, choiceless attention, being as spacious as the mirror itself, making room for thoughts and feelings but not mistaking them for the truth.”
Whoa.
Feel it. Accept it. Hear it. And know what is the truth.
“You are beautiful, without changing a thing; your beauty is not earned.”
I will be meditating on this today. maybe this lifetime.

miracles everywhere

warning- this post is in raw form. it has not been edited for clarity or polished. the reader is warned. 🙂

you can live your life as if everything is a miracle or as if nothing is. albert einstein is credited with that enlightening phrase( and it doesn’t really matter whether he said it or not)

today, christmas eve, is the 56th birthday of my friend who took his life four days ago. i have been doing all the feelings we know and expect, grief, anger, and those heart-breaking I-shoulda/coulda. i should have tried one more time to (fill in the blank), I could have continued to be friends and maybe he wouldn’t have…
and i can argue that with myself in the same way a friend would. “You did all that before, you took all the guns away, you stayed on suicide watch, you called the ambulance and went with him to the hospital, but the truth is you cannot prevent someone from their intent on destruction.” Yes, I know that and yet sometimes those thoughts creep in. Maybe if I had been there more, he would have been able to get deeper into recovery and then he wouldn’t have…
Oh, the ego can get itself worked into a tizzy refusing to accept what is. I don’t know if I have my doctorate in denial but my credit hours are up there. and the sadness of thinking I could have done something, the guilt and shame of the could haves or should haves is choking and burdensome yet I was picking it up all on my own accord.
and today I am putting off getting up out of bed by checking a social media and i see a post by j. iron word “The truth is some people will never wake up no matter how many years they live.” which caught my attention as you may understand. and the post immediately following this post was also by j. iron word, “I love you baby.”
……….sniff…………….
sheesh, even in the retelling of seeing these two posts, the feeling of being seen and understood washes over me, seen and accepted in my frail humanness, seen and loved even when i mess up.
everything is a miracle or nothing is- i choose everything. and this message came to me from him. I need to remember that nothing i could have done would have prevented his death. and that he still loves me and is no longer bound by the fear and monsters and the walls he’d built in his mortal existence. He is with God and he is part of God, like Sandi, like Jesus.

and then i get up and am walking the dog on this cool and clear morning. It’s a beautiful and typical Gulf Coast Christmas with just a few clouds in the sharp blue sky. and i am breathing and open and mindful and feeling the love that he has for me that he couldn’t express before. and i’m so glad it is early on Christmas Eve morning so the neighbors don’t see me crying as i walk the dog down the street. I look up into the sky and see a few wisps of clouds, and it is his face. His face when he concentrated, how he would chew on his cheek and draw his mouth into a sharp line, a forward slash across his very square jaw. and so i see the two puffy cloud eyes and then the strong slash of cloud mouth and I know, Michael has accepted his birthright of peace and wholeness.
and so, on this day of the anniversary of his birth, i am conscious of staying open to the miracles and grateful for knowing God. I am keeping my heart open to the pain of loss, to the miracle of our true identity of one with God and each other, and to the most important of all,
Love, real love, does not die.

Goodbye, Michael

You son of a bitch

That is the first coherent thought I can remember after learning of the suicide of my… what is the word for someone whom you have loved for almost 2 years and to whom you just 10 days before said “Your addiction is killing you and us. I can’t bear this destruction. I love you and I cannot be around you anymore,” what is the term for that person? After 2 years I called it off because the self-destruction of my beloved was too much for me. The broken promises, the chaos and drama, this wasn’t what I signed up for and not how I live my life. He had said he wanted a quieter existence. He wanted gentleness, honesty and transparency. Yet, whether conscious or not, each choice he made was away from connection and honesty and toward separation, isolation, pain. And yet I continued to love him. I could feel the soul behind the pain and I wanted so much for him to know joy and peace. And, to be honest, even after I spoke those words of goodbye, I hoped that he would get back into his recovery program and we could build a life together, a life we had talked of many times in our cabin in the woods.

And I’m set to go to that cabin in the woods in 2 weeks. I had invited him to come with me, to live this dream we spoke of so frequently. And he said right after he just finished this project, after one more thing to do for someone else. But that is what he’d always said to me. I’ll see you for (Saturday, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, your birthday, the play, the movie) right after I finish this project. And it got to where I quit making plans with him because I was tired of being forgotten, ignored, and replaced by the excitement of the addiction at hand.

You fucking jerk

Now there is no hope of a  tomorrow for us. There is no us and there is no tomorrow. Ten days after I said goodbye, he said goodbye. He had been drinking very heavily and took a bottle and a gun to bed with him.

You selfish jerk, this is exactly what I was talking about.

He was in desperate pain. I know that. In a bizarre and unwished for joke of the gods, he and I had a psychic connection. It took me a while to understand that what I was feeling and experiencing was not me but him, his inner chaos, and I never learned how to block out the craziness when it really began to overtake him. Our connection was such that I frequently knew his dreams, we would wake at the same moment from slumber, him saying, “I had the weirdest dream,” and I would begin to describe it. I used to fantasize about that kind of connection with a lover, but this wasn’t what I’d thought it would be. I mean, sure, sharing weird dreams about a red sled on a mountain is benign enough but that wasn’t the typical situation, frequently he was haunted, traumatized, psychically screaming in terror and pain, trying desperately to hide from the monsters. That is what I felt so frequently. And I tried so very hard to save him. I tried to show him ways to cope, therapists to visit, meditations and eating to support a gentler and more loving inner life. Yet after a week or two he would return to his agitated state and work would require his full attention all day, all night, all weekend. And I was left alone with an angry and shut-down being. It was like camping on Mount St. Helens in early May 1980. You knew it was going to blow, but you had no idea how it would go or how devastating it would be. And so I left the volcano that was my lover. And then I got the news, “some terrible news. Michael committed suicide this morning.”

And so he isn’t hurting any longer, for that I am grateful. He had come to me in a dream about 36 hours before he died, and it was a terrible dream, chaotic, screaming, confusing, thrashing about. It was horrible and it was how his internal landscape felt and why he tried, unsuccessfully, to drown it out with his many addictions. He hoped something would work. He hated himself more and more with each succession of failure at drowning out the horror.

How could you give up like this, on you, on life, on us?

Oh sure, he is not hurting any longer but I am. Those he left behind who felt his pain, who loved him, we are left in terrible, terrible pain. And I can’t feel that he isn’t hurting, I feel him still and he feels confused still. I pray for him, I pray he will be taken into God and then remember who he truly is, a child of God, a part of God, knowing and joyful and one with all of us. And I pray that I’ll feel him when he has that peacefulness. I pray I will hear that gravelly voice and see in my heart those green eyes and feel his presence envelope me. And that I will find forgiveness, for myself for not being able to withstand the pain and save him, forgiveness for him for not being able to face his demons.

I still love you

Will I be cautious in the future, will I build my own wall around my heart? Will I hear about someone’s 12 step program and decide there’s no way I’m going down that path again? Every relationship we enter leaves its mark on us; I guess whether the mark becomes scarring that hinders or understanding that opens my compassion further is up to me. Every moment is a choice in the creation of this experience. If I get hurt and choose to build a wall to protect my vulnerability, if I choose to battle the attackers, then soon I will find myself walled in and battling only myself. I see this is true. We create the monster that lurks in our mind and heart and we must be the ones to decide to shine the light of forgiveness and compassion on the monster. Love is the greatest vanquisher of all, because it opens up fully to all. And I must trust my own courage and strength, I must remember to show up and do the things that nurture my being, do the meditations, journaling, exercise and connecting with people every single day. I can honor the soul inside my beloved and tortured friend and remember this lesson of choosing love, forgiveness, and compassion every moment.