Sunday, December 15, 2013

What if...

Well crap.  That’s what I want to write. Leave it at that.  But just as I forced myself to do my yoga last night, I shall force myself to write a little bit today. Two weeks ago I wrote that my mood had taken a downturn…seasonal funk, if you will.  My tool of choice to stop the descent was exercise. Every day, ten minutes…who cannot do that?  Ha!  I did great for three days.  Yoga and some 15-minute exercise magic cut out of a Redbook.  Then I was tired.  Busy. Tired again.  I did try to park a little further, take stairs more often…for a few days, until Judy was just only “back to the sedentary”.

I forced myself to attend some holiday events, festive outings. I did enjoy them, though through a bit of a haze sometimes. But the minute I was back to the usual routine, my fatigue and depression returned.  And then a friend died.

Just like that -snap- he is gone from our lives at 44 years young.  There was a memorial service two nights ago.  I am processing. Slowly. This friend was a part of my core group back in those awkward and often-painful high school years. We were the ‘alternative’ group.  Although ‘freaks’, ‘weirdos’, and other less kind terms were often thrown our way. I did not mind and took pride in my ‘different-ness’.  I was a fighter, a rebel with a small cause, and we banded together in our efforts to protect each other.  

All the fabulous bangs! That's me in the black hat and white fringe shirt.
Many of us lost touch over the years, but I was blessed and brought back into this friend’s life two years ago.  Lo and behold, he had become a cowboy! A genuine Buddhist, 80’s music loving, cowboy!  We saw each other twice and talked on the phone; often at first…but then we got busy. Tired. Sick. I wish that I had found a way to push through that.

Many memories were shared at the service, but the one I want to walk away with is love. People must love themselves if they are to live their genuine life. A person who can love others unconditionally is a gift. A person who acts on that love consistently is rare. A person who can do these things while battling adversity…I do not know what to call that person, but I do know that I was blessed to call one my friend. 

My pops and his Mickey Mouse vest
So you see, on top of my own battle with the blues, I have new sadness. And old sadness. Yesterday was the 15th anniversary of the day my father lost his life to cancer. Yet I have not been alone in this grief, new and old. Trust me, there is comfort in sharing the load, the weight of grief and sadness.

As I attempt to reframe my sadness, and yes…depression, into thankfulness for what has been and what is, I still struggle with that wonderful imagination of mine. My tendency to predict the worst-case scenarios. A recent example- my family was given a lovely and GIANT artificial Christmas tree. I have always wanted one, the live ones being beautiful, but allergen hotels. This giant tree came in five pieces. We can barely use three parts and it scrapes the ceiling!  It is made of metal and broke the first stand we tried. That was enough for my morbid imagination to get started. On day 7 of “artificial tree mayhem” we finally hoisted it into place on a sturdier stand. A pair of bright yellow eyes greeted us halfway up the tree! Squints, our mini-cat ninja, was in ambush heaven.  While my family laughed and snapped photos, I launched into full distress mode- “What if she tips it over and it crushes her? Or she is skewered by a branch?” “What if she is electrocuted chewing on the lights?!”  The ‘what ifs’ are plentiful in my mind during these moments. My family tries to reason with me, but they may as well save their breath. I not only have a good imagination, I am also a bit argumentative.

I drove home from the memorial service Friday night too exhausted to deal with the freeway. I meandered through downtown and found myself at a stoplight on an isolated street corner. Under a brightly lit awning of the Rescue Mission were 5 or 6 men with sleeping bags, blankets and miscellaneous sacks around them.  One was reading, one was smoking and one was curled up so far into his sack that he wasn’t really visible. I found myself asking, “What would Steve do?”  I do not know for certain, but he would have done something. He was not one to pass by someone in need. I did nothing more than ask the question and imagine several ‘Steve scenarios’ as I drove home. I have an idea to combat the ‘what ifs’. For every ‘what if’, I will also ask ‘what would’.

If I do not first love myself enough to keep climbing up that slide, no matter how many times I slip, then the rest is mute. I grumbled through yoga yesterday and bought myself some chocolate as a reward.  I made my nettle tea, took my supplements and sat with my Happy Light this morning. Steve's sister made it clear he would want us to be happy, try not to spend too much time in grief. When the ‘what ifs’ start, I will ask myself, “What would Steve do?”  I hope that somewhere he is getting a laugh out of that one. I am pretty sure he would be both flattered and amused.

It will be an interesting exercise for my imagination…Steve was not only kind and loving, but funny. Quite a prankster from some of the stories told. My father was the same way and I’m sure I have a bit of the hereditary funny bone; it just disappears with the sun. Perhaps with enough practice, my ‘what ifs’ will be stories of love and laughter. What if we secure the top of the tree to a hook in the ceiling, don’t plug in the lights and just hang toy mice for ornaments? Sure, I will try to get consistent physical exercise, but I will try even harder to work on exercising my imagination in the direction of good and happy 'what ifs'.

It doesn't have enough legs, but it was moving fast!
 Postscript: I had not yet shared this post when I sat down to dinner with my partner Mark and my oldest son.  As I proudly shared my new ideas for the tree they listened politely.  When I was done, Andrew said, “Can you pass me the multivitamins?” As I picked up the bottle a large, fuzzy spider ran from behind it and headed toward me. I screamed and moved myself, and my chair, three feet in an instant. They were cracking up as Mark pulled out a stack of magnets that he had been holding under the table and picked up his fuzzy Velcro magnetic spider. Um...that's totally a "What Steve would do". I admit it- they got me good. But when Andrew suggested letting the cat play with the spider…oh no! Do you know what can happen if they swallow a magnet?! 
Sigh….this is going to take practice…

A friend shared this video in honor of fitting. Especially if you were one of us inthe '80's ...Rest in peace...much love.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Do you see what I see?

I won't be writing much today. I am feeling sad about a loss. A friend who was like a little brother to me in high school. And for nearly 25 years we lost touch. Then in 2011 we reconnected "through this crazy thing called the internet", he would say. And again he felt like a little brother, though all grown up. Two visits, several phone calls and way too many canceled or re-scheduled get togethers. Life, health and circumstances beyond our control. I learned today that he has passed away. And the strange process of notifying, grieving and mourning "through this crazy thing called the internet" begins. It is strange and confusing and I am left with more questions than answers at this point.  

I want to share this lovely post that I read this week on the Daily Good. Like myself, my dear friend had some invisible health issues. He had also overcome much adversity. Not always something that is visible from the outside

There is so much that we do not know about what we see.  I wrote last week about how we fill in the blanks.  Click on the link for a good reminder to be careful of how you fill in someone else's story.

You are gone too soon my friend...

Sunday, December 1, 2013

"The Dangers of Stretching" by Ms. Sad

Last Thanksgiving I was not in the mood to write a post.  I weaseled out of it with this post about Comfort Carbs. Don't get me wrong...the carbs are comforting again this year.  But then I confessed the following week that my heart wasn’t really in the post. The end of November 2012 found me exhausted.  As I read my old posts I can say with certainty that this year, so far…not as bad.  Knock on wood!  My autumn and winter fatigue is certainly a combination of MS and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  Call me “Ms. Sad”!   
I can’t always sort out whether I am tired from my MS or tired because I am depressed. The reality is that remedies for one will inevitably help the other. The addition of the Happy Light in the morning, attempts at eating more fruit and vegetables, getting adequate sleep, etc…have been intermittent this last month.  When one starts the slide toward the ‘sadlands’, efforts toward self-care often decrease. But I believe I may have caught myself this past weekend, grabbed hold of the handle at the top of the slide and I’m dangling there…angering all the other children lined up behind me who want to go down the slide…but I have changed my mind. I do not want to go down the slide. I’m going to scramble back up and find myself a teeter totter at the very least, because at least then we know that what goes down comes back up! I am not a fan of merry-go-rounds, but a swing would work as well. A comforting sort of ‘back and forth’, ‘back and forth’, as I make my way through the holiday playground.

Do you remember the Santa scene from “A Christmas Story” The one where Ralphie is on Santa’s lap and for the life of him he cannot remember that he wanted to ask for the Red Ryder bee bee gun. Everything is spinning around him, voices and faces are distorted and he cannot think. And then, just as he starts down the slide, he remembers- flash! A moment of clarity!  My moment of clarity was not quite as dramatic. It happened rather slowly over one or two days this weekend. I would catch my thoughts…thoughts that seemed out of place, overly grim or downright macabre.

One instance occurred after I returned home from an outing with terrible shoulder and neck pain. I decided that the healthy thing to do would be to stretch out on my exercise ball (that I don’t exercise on, so I should really call it a stretch ball). As I lay across it, arching my back and spreading my arms wide I could feel the tightness in my chest.  “Ah…this is good,” I thought. So I rolled back a bit more until my head was hovering a couple of inches off the ground. At this angle I had to put my arms crisscross on my chest so that it did not aggravate my shoulder. Thus my arms were folded in a similar manner to how I picture Count Dracula in his coffin. Then I thought, “Oooh, I hope I don’t lose my balance, I couldn’t catch myself in time. I wonder if anyone has ever broken their neck on an exercise ball? A person could break their neck!” Some of you would never have that thought and most of you would have at least stopped it there, but Ms. Sad was not done. In my mind I actually visualized myself falling and lying there with an oddly twisted neck, like you see when people break a leg or arm. The paramedics would arrive and not know how to pick me up. They would warn me that the movement might cause whatever spinal messages were still hanging on to totally sever and I could die. Or be paralyzed for life. My children would come down to my room before they moved me (Reminiscent of a morbid story I recall about a man pinned by a subway train making a final phone call home before they moved the train and he died). Yes, I gave my deathbed speech in my head whilst lying across the exercise ball! It was a fantastic speech- Oscar worthy! I nearly brought myself to tears. And as I rolled carefully off the side of the ball and went to find some Kleenex for my runny nose, I thought, “Judy, you are weird and you are depressed. That is not normal.” 
Dec 2012- me, my boys and the dangerous exercise ball...I think it ate Andrew's legs!

Now I am slightly embarrassed to admit that there were several such scenes, though none quite as dramatic, that played out in my mind over the next 24 hours. I found myself drawn toward, and fixated on, the negative or worst-case scenarios.

On Saturday, when I refilled my pillbox for the week I slipped an extra pill for nerve pain into each daily slot. It is coincidentally an antidepressant.  But then I took it out. My nerve pain has not increased. So instead I promised myself that I would exercise 10 minutes every day. It may seem a small amount but it has to feel doable because I have to do it EVERY DAY. Currently I am not really exercising at all. Sure sometimes I take the stairs instead of the elevator or park further away, but this will be a dedicated round of yoga, Tai-Chi, hula-hoop or weight lifting. Not all at once of course, though there may be a market for “Yo-Chi hoop lifting”. 

I was once the benefit of an intervention group in a research study that looked at exercise as a treatment for depression in people with MS. I know it can work for me. The extra pill might work too, but the beauty of exercise is that it will also help with pain, fatigue, stress and immune function, just to name a few. That’s right Santa, all I want for Christmas is steady exercise!

I will also work my other strategies to steer clear of the ‘sadlands’ this winter.  The exercise is the hardest for me and that is why I share it here. Public accountability! I will check in each week and post my success or challenges (nice word for failures). I will not deprive myself of holiday goodies and have even decided to reward myself with a weekly peppermint nonfat mocha. I believe I have grabbed hold of the slide’s handrail just in time. It’s hard work to drag myself back to the top, but easier than climbing up from the very bottom! Do you suppose anyone has ever died from Downward Dog? Broken a hip on a hula hoop? No? How do you stop yourself from going down the slide into the winter sadlands?

Monday, November 25, 2013

How to Follow Faeries

How to follow faeries?  Does this mean, literally, how to find and follow faeries in this world?  Or is it asking the question of how to follow along with the Faerie Wood story; how to understand it? Or is it a question for the author, not the reader, a matter of what to write next. It is all of these things…partially.
When one looks up the history of faeries it becomes clear that there are different notions and types of faeries around the world. But there is one consistent thread throughout the descriptions and that is- faeries are inconsistent.  Their behavior is unpredictable. They may be inclined to do good, evil or mere mischief. Or severe mischief.  They will not be squeezed into a Wikipedia entry or a one-size-fits-all box of magic and definition. The difference between faeries and humans seems to be primarily a matter of ‘magic’, which is simply that which human beings can provide no scientific explanation for.  Of course faith and miracles land squarely in that camp.  As do things like the grace of Mother Teresa, black holes and the goodness of Peeps.

As I wrote the Faerie Wood I had time to reflect on that marvelous weekend outing. With each passing week my leg continued to be pain-free and my movement returned to a place it had not been since March. It was, and continues to be, a mystery to me. Perhaps it is a coincidence of sufficient time for treatments to take effect and my body to mend itself? The healing (and scientific) power of all those good chemicals that my body released as I relaxed completely, laughed with my family and let the beauty of the Olympic Peninsula surround me? Or was it something of faeries and faith? Magic and miracles?

 There are so many pictures of me laughing and cracking up on this trip!  I have always thought I have a pretty BIG smile, but sometimes when I laugh so hard, my eyes scrinch closed, tears run down my face, my nose turns red and my teeth and gums are really all you see!! I was honestly too vain to put some of the 'near hysterics' photos on the site. But trust me...I laughed ALOT! How can that not be healing?!

 The Faerie Wood story is a work in progress but I am pleased to have written as much as I have. For now the story ends and it feels like an afghan unfinished; pieces of yarn and needles dangle from the end. Yet it’s lovely enough; warm enough; cozy enough if you just scoot the crochet needles out of the way. It is fact and fiction; faith and fantasy.
These are a few of the mysterious truths of my story.  We did have rolling thunder our first night at the cottage, very unusual for the Northwest. My sister did bring along a lovely, glittery puzzle called “Magical Fairies” and the ‘puzzle-work’ was a favorite time for all of us. There were mountain goat warning signs and women making tea in the restroom. The sun did come out to greet us and lure us onto the trail. My sister did find the “little shack”, and to this day we cannot agree on whether it had a door.  A moth followed me for some time. The trail was blocked with branches and re-routed. There were pebble pyramids and a dragon’s head on the bridge, though I did not take a picture because my camera had begun to misbehave (a little faerie mischief?).  And our mother and grandmother did, much to our dismay, begin to rally the search and rescue forces. The mystery of motherly love?

A little ‘asking around’ led us to a possible answer for one mystery. That strange sign in the water, just 20 yards from our cottage, “Warning: No Trespassing- High Security Area”…Well, a friend of a friend claims that her family vacationed at Alderbrook for decades and the fenced in home adjacent to our cottage belongs to…hmmm.  I shall just say ‘a famous and wealthy family from the Pacific Northwest.’ Perhaps they will read this some day and thank me for my discretion by inviting my sister, mother, grandmother and I to tea!  Assuming they forgive the surveillance camera footage of my sister and I peering about in the enclosure of their locked gate, looking curiously at the lock, the keypad, intercom and yes, the camera!  Oops!
Did you notice the mysterious, translucent bubbles or bright spots of light that appear in some of our photographs? My son suggested raindrops on the lens. Maybe. I suggest faeries.

Do you see that light EXACTLY on my right hip?The very leg that hurt for 6 months...and was better after our trip.

Seriously Mr. and Mrs. Rich and Famous...have us over for tea...we are a riot! We will mak you laugh so hard you'll cry...and that's a good thing.

Readers will have to guess at the rest of the story- fact or fiction?  The truth is, even I do not know! As I wrote I could not help but think about the things that we perceive to be fact each day. Yet so much of it is a story that we tell ourselves. Take the time to truly ponder just one day in your life. Be amazed at how many places you fill in the blanks with assumptions, preferences, guesses, stereotypes and suspicions.  If a full day is too much, just consider the last hour of interaction that you had with another human being.  Try it. Write out your story and then be honest about how much you are certain is fact. It may sound cliché’, but that ‘grumpy cashier’ may be a grieving or sick cashier.That medication that got rid of pneumonia...maybe…or maybe rest and someone taking care of you? What about a near miss accident on the freeway, the one when your cat-like reflexes saved you? Perhaps, but do you tend to have cat-like reflexes?  I most definitely do not. So I may pause to consider a guardian angel looking out for me.

My most precious mystery involves fireworks. I have written before of my father’s love for the 4th of July. When he died, his four children were living in three different states. It was close to four years before we were all together again in one house. My oldest sister and I had flown out to Indiana in November. We were staying at our younger sister’s house. It was just after dinner when we heard what sounded like fireworks. I don’t recall who investigated or opened the door. What I do recall is myself, my older and younger sisters, my brother and step mom…five people who fiercely loved and missed my father…all gathered on the front steps watching a fantastic fireworks display over the treetops. In November. We stood quietly for a few minutes and then someone asked why there would be fireworks. No one could say. I knew that somehow my dad was there. Later my younger sister would learn that a car dealership in town was having a big promotion and the fireworks were to draw people to the sale. But that’s okay you see, it still fits with my story, because my father spent the last years of his life working for a car dealership. I choose the magical story.

Me and my dad...drivin' the landcruiser

How will we follow the faeries?  At the very least, allow for the possibility of a mystery, an unknown. Recognize that we can fill in the blanks with a magical story, and hopefully a good story. If you are like me, a realist with pessimist tendencies, perhaps a starting point is to offer ourselves an alternate version of the first story that we create, just for consideration. After all, it could be climate change and flooding or it could be that the faeries are up to no good!  Remember that you are in charge of your story and the power of authorship is both daunting and freeing. This is what I struggle with now- what to write next? For this blog, for my life, for this day; what story do I want to tell?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Faerie Wood, Part V

Kathy hesitated just a minute, staring at the river and the barricade of Hemlock branches.  She wondered what lay beyond the branches and she was a bit sad to leave the river behind. As the sound of Judy’s singing grew dimmer she turned and followed. This newer and narrower trail traversed the flat tops of giant glacial boulders buried beneath the layers of soil and duff that made up the forest floor. “I want to know why the trail is blocked,” Kathy said. “It’s very curious.” 

“There are a lot of curious things on this little adventure,” Judy replied, “Starting with the ladies making tea in the bathroom!” she chuckled.  As Judy began to list the mysterious encounters of the day Kathy stopped walking and pointed in the direction of a small tributary in the distance. “Look,” she said in a hushed tone. The lack of undergrowth on this side of the river allowed them to see for greater distances. “What?” Judy asked quietly. She squinted at the waterway concerned about what she might see.  “There, in the creek,” Kathy replied, “Do you see that tower of rocks?”

Judy finally spotted it; in the middle of the creek, sitting atop a flat boulder, was a towering stack of progressively smaller flat stones, presumably from the creek bed. Much like a small pagan pyramid built by faeries of the forest, it was both mysterious and eerie. The water was running too fast, and too cold, for someone to have built it recently. 

“Someone must have done that this summer, when the creek was dry,” Kathy still spoke in a hushed tone. Something about the quiet solitude and undisturbed nature around them made this little stone structure, a marker of people before them, seem almost sacred. They may as well have stumbled upon a person praying in the middle of the forest; or a tombstone.

The sisters were quiet and reflective as they continued on the trail, each mulling over the mysteries of the day in their own minds. If they had looked behind them, they may have seen a small brown moth land on the tiniest pebble atop the pyramid. A second moth flew above their heads, flitting from cedar to vine maple, as the sisters walked on. “I am hungry,” Judy finally said. “That cookie is not cutting it!”  Just then the trail reached a point where it crossed the tributary on a split log footbridge with rough-hewn log hand railings.

“I’m sure it’s not too much farther,” Kathy encouraged. “I think I remember this little bridge, but it’s hard to be certain.  You know we are doing the trail in reverse.”  Her younger sister stepped gingerly onto the bridge and then paused. “Ooooh….”, Judy breathed more than spoke the sound. It was her turn to point slowly in the direction of a small stone pyramid. This one was not far upstream from the bridg, in the middle of the creek, where the water now flowed cold and deep. The girls stood there for some time mesmerized by the little stone structure, until Judy’s stomach reminded her to keep moving.  Yet she no sooner reached the far side of the little bridge, with Kathy right behind her, when she stopped again.  “Look at this log! Doesn’t it look like a dragon’s head?” she asked her older sister. The far end of the timber handrail appeared to have been the part of the tree where trunk meets roots. The straight log turned into a swirling of gold, weatherworn wood and the fresh red flesh of recently exposed inner bark. Grooves formed a shape like a dragon’s head, with a large lump on the trunk creating the skull. A knot of wood formed an eye and more grooves wound through the wood to create the outline of a dragon’s jaw and snout. The final touch was the flexible root ends poking out of the dragon’s mouth like a burst of flame. “Cool!” Kathy exclaimed, “It totally looks like a dragon.”

“Do you think somebody carved it, or it just looks like that?” Judy asked, and then answered her own question just as quickly, “Nope, not carved. That is awesome and scary!” she said, as she turned back to the trail. She would later regret not taking a picture of the dragon bridge and yet something urged her to continue on at a faster pace. The small brown moth dropped down from the branches overhead and settled into the grooves of the dragon’s lower jaw. 
Banana Slugs eat dragons for breakfast

Back at the resort the youngest Caroline was walking through the parking lot
searching for Kathy’s car.  She was relieved when she spotted a charcoal gray, Toyota 4-Runner. The girls must be on the trails across the street if they didn’t take their car.  But when she spotted a second, and then a third charcoal gray 4-Runner she muttered under her breath. She looked in the windows; the one with a carseat was definitely not her daughter’s. She could not be sure of the others.  She headed back to the cottage to let the girls’ grandmother know what she had found out. “Perhaps they are already back,” she mused to herself as she passed the other guest cottages.
The elder Caroline was standing on the porch as her daughter approached. “Did you find them?” she asked. 

The girls’ mother explained that the valet was searching the woods and she was not sure if their car was in the parking lot or not. “They may have gone somewhere else Mom,” she tried to sound reassuring. Two seals poked their heads out of the water just 50 yards from the cottage as the two women talked. The seals watched curiously as three small moths flitted about the mother and daughter; grandmother and mother. To the seals it looked as though the moths were dancing to the rapid, excited music of the animated conversation. “Let’s go inside Mom,” the younger Caroline said, realizing it was chilly out on the porch. The elder Caroline reluctantly followed her into the cottage. The three moths, as though bored by the women’s departure, flew out across the canal, passed over the seals and continued on toward the forest.The girls’ mother made some cocoa to warm them up.  She showed their grandmother the note with the hospital and sheriff's phone numbers and tried to reassure her that the girls were okay.  “If they aren’t back by dark, then we will call these numbers mom.  I’m sure that they’ll be back any minute. It has not quite been four hours.” 

But the grandmother was not consoled. “Judy is making the stew for dinner.She would have been back by now to start the stew!”  They sat down at the kitchen table with their cocoa and added the phone numbers of Kathy’s adult children to the list of people to call. The younger Caroline told her mother the story of the winter that Lorraine and Judy had gone wandering at Lake Cushman and scared her to death; she had been certain they had been lost in the snow or fallen in the lake. In the end the girls had simply been out having an adventure and lost track of time.

 As the elder Caroline listened to her daughter’s story, across the water the girls were nearing the end of the trail. “I think I see the Ranger Station up ahead,” Kathy declared. Indeed the narrow path had reconnected with the broader original trail, the canopy was thinning and the sisters soon found themselves back at the parking lot. “Well that was the best hike!” Judy said triumphantly. “I feel great! I may be sore tomorrow, but right now I don’t feel a thing….except hunger,” she grinned. They made a quick stop at the bathroom, grabbed some paper towels and tried to get as much mud off the back of their pants and shoes as they could, then hopped in the car and headed out of the park just as three small moths alighted on the entrance sign.

The two sisters were chatty and giddy from their adventure. The sun was shining and they stopped along the road to take some pictures next to Lake Cushman. They had no idea that the Carolines were worried and looking for them. The rain and mist that kept the cottage shrouded in fear had left the forest hours ago; the girls felt happy and alive. “Let’s be sure to stop and pick up some biscuits to go with the stew…I am starving!” Judy said in dramatic fashion.  “I wish I would have remembered the crockpot, then it would be waiting for us when we got there!”  As Kathy steered the SUV carefully back toward the resort the two sisters talked about the forest and the many other hikes and adventures that were waiting. They stopped at the little IGA grocer in Union to get some Pillsbury biscuits, yogurts for the next morning and a little snack from the deli.

The resort parking lot was much more empty when they got there and they realized that all the wedding guests had checked out.
“I bet mom and grandma are getting hungry again,” Judy laughed. “I’ll microwave the potatoes to get things cooking faster! I think they eat dinner earlier than I usually do.”

“Agreed,” Kathy replied as she hopped out of the car and grabbed the bag of groceries. “I hope they had a good nap, it isn’t as sunny here, I wonder if the sun ever came out for them…” she mused as they strolled up to the cottage. As the two sisters came around the corner of the porch they caught sight of the two Carolines sitting in deck chairs and staring out at the water, their grandmother wrapped in a blanket.  Their mother leapt up in surprise and soon everyone was talking at once, their chatter filling up the air on the deck and chasing the chill mist back out across the canal.  

The confusion increased when the cottage cabin phone rang.  Judy was already in the kitchen so she answered, “Hello?” she said tentatively. “This is Elliot at the front desk, ma’am, just calling to say I didn’t find anything. I’m sorry. Have you heard from them?”  Judy’s mind struggled to rapidly fill in the bits she had gathered from the Carolines and make sense of the question on the other end of the phone. “Hello?” the young man said. “Oh, um…well…we are them. I mean I am one of the daughters. Well we are back.” She stammered, knowing it wasn’t making sense. “I am so sorry that you had to go out looking, we just ended up going on a different hike, we weren’t actually across the street,” she said, probably giving the valet more information than he needed. She glanced at the Carolines and whispered into the phone, “I don’t know why they were worried, we said we would be gone awhile, sorry about that!” 

That evening over a dinner of beef stew, biscuits, kale and cookies the sisters told their mother and grandmother all about their adventure. The Carolines scolded them for not writing down where they were going. Kathy scolded her mother for gathering the phone numbers and preparing to sound the alarm. Judy agreed with them all. When dinner was done they put away the fairy puzzle and posed for group pictures. They laughed and giggled as Kathy would set the timer and run back as fast as she could to get in the photograph. Later, by the fire, hot chocolates in hand, they told stories of the past, present and future…until their sleepy eyes and the sounds of night creatures told them it was time for bed. They would need their rest, for surely more adventures waited for them tomorrow. As Judy lay in bed that night she thought again of the mysteries in the forest; she dreamt of dragons sleeping on beds of moss, fairies flying over a sparkling river, and moths…she dreamt that she was chasing a moth down the trail and into a darkening forest. In her dream she was surprised that she did not feel afraid in this dark forest, but she knew somehow that the moth was leading her to a magical place and she must not lose sight of it. When she woke in the morning she could not remember where the moth had taken her.

That is the end of this story. Fact and fiction…as most of our lives are. When we don’t have all the answers or explanations we may fill in the blanks with what makes the most sense to us, but in the end we are only using iMAGInation combined with logiCAL reasoning.  So try filling in the blanks with what seems most MAGICAL. It’s your story after all, your life…wouldn't you rather have a magical life?      

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Faerie Wood, Part IV

The sisters, by mere coincidence, had chosen September 22nd, the Autumn Equinox, to go on their adventure. The Autumn Equinox is the day that daylight and darkness are equal in time, with the following days increasing the hours of darkness until the Winter Solstice. It is a time when plants and animals prepare for hibernation, suspension and stasis through the winter. Early civilizations gave much spiritual importance to the Autumn Equinox, while now it often passes unnoticed.  
Although they were not aware it was the Equinox, they had stood with their mother, on the porch of the cottage the evening before, to wonder at the magnificent moon reflecting on the water. And they now stood in awe of the beautiful autumn foliage around them.Their eyes and spirits took in all that they could on this leisurely adventure, as though they instinctively knew that it might shore them up for the winter to come.

The forest was beautiful, rain-washed leaves, lichen and fungi gleaming and sparkling where the sun peaked through the canopy. Judy stood up in the roots of the giant tree for a few moments and gazed about her at the lichen that hung like Victorian lace from the ancient firs and evergreens. The sound of the river seemed to wash away any echoes of summer tourists, like a lullaby sung to sooth an over-stimulated child. Indeed this had been one of the driest summers on record and the hikers and campers had flocked to the National Park, a relentless onslaught of feet and noise.
Judy climbed back down to the trail somewhat begrudgingly. “I suppose I ought to pick up the pace or we’ll take 3 hours to do this 2 mile trail,” she said to Kathy. 
“Oh, it’s fine,” her older sister replied. “I think we are close to the suspension bridge and then we are halfway. And if I’m remembering correctly the other side of the trail is much flatter…it won’t take us as long to get back.”

They walked along in silence for a little while, until Judy saw some movement out of the corner of her eye. She felt a little foolish and laughed, “Say! There is a little brown moth following me!  I knew I had the feeling something was following me and I was worried it was a mountain goat- ha!” 
Kathy was too far ahead on the trail to see the little moth, but she laughed as well, “Beware the rogue moths!” she chuckled.  The trail had moved closer to the river and they found themselves out of the canopy and able to enjoy a bit more sunlight peeking through the scattered white clouds. “There’s the bridge!” Kathy declared. 
The suspension bridge, with a span of 
215 feet, was installed the previous winter. It was built higher than previous bridges in the hopes that this one would not be wiped out by logjams that sometimes move down the Skokomish during flood season. A slight incline and some steps led up to the bridge. “How is your leg doing?” Kathy asked. 
“Oh…” Judy paused, “Actually…it feels fine. Weird. I wonder if hiking on the softer ground and the fact that we are sort of climbing about is actually good for it? You know, not the same as the repetitive motion and hard
Following the faeries?
surface that I get when I walk around the neighborhood.” 

Judy glanced down at her right leg. She poked it, as though that might make it hurt. “I have got to do more hiking! It is ridiculous that we live in such a beautiful place and I have seen so little of it. I always feel so good in the woods! And it doesn’t feel like exercise at all, just an adventure,” she added. 
Her older sister enthusiastically agreed, “Don’t you remember when we were kids? All we did was run around in the woods…I love it…it feels so peaceful and calm.” Judy sent Kathy out onto the bridge first to pose for a picture. She did not realize that the swaying of the bridge made her sister nervous and she was amused as Kathy quickly scurried to the other side. Judy moved slowly across, as it occurred to her that the faster she went the more the bridge bounced. She paused mid-span to take some more pictures of the singing river, then joined Kathy on the other side. 

The undergrowth on this side of the river was thinner, likely caused by a wildfire years before. These fires are a natural part of the rainforest ecosystem, helping to thin the undergrowth and allow new Douglas Fir seedlings a chance to grow. It would make sense that a fire had stopped at the river, making the trail on each side quite different from the other. A yin and yang with a river running through it. Large open areas of ground fairly glowed with the vivid rust color of spent fir needles. They turned and headed in the direction of the campground, with the river now flowing on their right. Judy doled out the M&M cookies and picked up her pace as she realized that she was getting hungry.  Yet every few minutes on the trail some new plant or fungus would appear and they could not help but pause for just a moment to admire the mysteries of this temperate rainforest.

At 3:35 pm the younger Caroline used the cottage phone to call Judy’s cell phone. Her daughter had bragged the day before that her cell phone was the only one to get service at the resort. What Caroline did not know, is that across the water, in the faerie wood, nobody’s phone would get service. She left a friendly message on Judy’s voicemail, “Grams wanted me to check on you girls, just wanted to see when you would be back. Okay, we’ll see you soon.”  She was not particularly worried, but the girls’ grandmother was. 
“They said they would be back in 2 hours. I’m afraid something has happened.” The elder Caroline stared out the window. “Do you think if Judy fell or hurt herself Kathy would stay with her, or would she go to get help? You know how her leg has been bothering her….”  A tiny brown moth fluttered from one window to the next on the deck, as though it anxiously wanted to get inside.
The girls’ mother decided to walk up to the main office and get some phone numbers, just in case. She approached the front desk of the beautiful timber lobby with some trepidation.  She did not want to cause an unnecessary ruckus. “Hi, we are staying in the waterfront cottage…my daughters left to go on a hike a few hours ago and haven’t returned. Do you have a suggestion of who I would call if they don’t come back? I don’t think that we need to do that yet, but I just want to be prepared.” 
The gentleman working the front desk look concerned.“Where did they go hiking?” he asked.
“I think just across the street, in the trails that you have there,” she replied uncertainly. “I’m not really sure, but my younger daughter has been having trouble with her leg and I’m afraid they might be stuck somewhere.” 
It had been a busy day at the resort’s front desk with wedding guests coming and going, but the lobby had quieted down now. A young valet standing nearby offered to go and look for the sisters. Their mother had to smile a bit as the young man grabbed his raincoat and nearly sprinted out the door, obviously pleased for a chance to get outside and have a small adventure of his own. The gentleman at the front desk looked up the phone number for the local sheriff, as well as the local hospital.  “Did they take their car?” he asked. Caroline frowned. She wasn’t sure…there had been a lot of talking going on when the girls departed. 
“I don’t know,” she said hesitantly. “I tried to look in the parking lot as I walked up here, but all I know is it is a gray SUV, maybe a Nissan.” He looked up the make and model of the vehicle that the girls had registered and their mother added that information to the list of phone numbers. She had hoped that by ‘doing something’ she would keep their grandmother from worrying, but unfortunately the conversation with the man at the front desk only increased her own worry.  She headed back to the cabin, with his reassurance that he would call when the valet returned from his search of the trails. She took her time, walking through the parking lots to see if Kathy’s car was there.

It so happened that around 4:00pm, just as their mother was scanning the parking lot, the sisters were scanning the trail for clues about which way to go. They had noticed several Hemlocks with branches recently cut clean and had reached a point where the branches were stacked, blocking the trail and diverting them onto a smaller, narrow trail that veered away from the river. “Well this is suspicious,” Kathy said in a playful way. “Indeed,” Judy replied, playing along, “It could very well be a trap! Someone has attempted to disguise the trail and lead us off in the wrong direction!” The girls giggled. “Well it isn’t a very clever disguise is it?” Kathy replied. “Likely the trail along the river wasn’t safe anymore or too worn or something and the Rangers made a new path.”  

Salamander friend
“OR, the rogue mountain goats are down the river trail!” Judy said with a laugh. “Carry on my wayward son…” she sang, as she marched off down the new trail, taking the lead for the first time on the hike. 

Patient Readers

Part IV will be posted early this evening,west coast time.  Thanks for hanging in there and I apologize for the delay.  Illness, followed by a work trip, followed by a wonderful (albeit short) trip to meet my new nephew have all conspired to delay my writing.  It's been a lesson learned for me, the blog may not be the place to develop a short story.  Then again, if I didn't feel like someone was out there waiting for the rest of the story I might quit entirely and not finish it.  Hmm.....things to think about now that I am at the end of my "one year of blogging" commitment.

Be sure to check back later tonight or tomorrow for a bit more of the story.  I'll finish it up next Sunday with Part V.  

Sunday, October 20, 2013

I did not know that our Olympic National Park was one of the 'last quiet places'! Check out this very cool story from The Daily Good website! No wonder the faeries are still there.  After reading this I think I will have to go back soon, a November or December hike may be in order.  I am posting this in the hopes that you will enjoy reading this interview/article while you wait for me to finish up Part IV.  The October plague has slowed me down for nearly two weeks now and I find myself getting further and further behind on things...writing included.  I am beginning to feel better, but now begins the 'catching up' phase!  I may get part IV posted by the end of today, or perhaps Monday or Tuesday.  Hang in there! 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Faerie Wood, Part III

The park bathroom was a small cinderblock building with just two stalls. As the two sisters entered, the five soggy hikers already occupying the space had to move around, relocating their wet rain gear that was dangling here and there. “Sorry,” one of them said, “We had to get dried off a little before we got back in the car.” “We barely managed two miles and got soaked,” said another.  The sisters nodded sympathetic understanding and Judy mumbled something about the heavy rain.  They squeezed between the hikers. 
The loud chatter of the women helped somewhat with the awkwardness of trying to go pee 2-feet away from complete strangers. Judy appreciated this until she realized the chatter was directed at her. “It’s really wet out there... the trail is covered in a lot of places with water.” Followed by a different voice, “We had planned a much longer hike, but could barely manage two miles, hope you aren’t planning to go far.” “Sorry we are taking up so much space here,” said a third voice, as a hand reached up and grabbed a pair of rain pants hanging over the door of Kathy’s stall. “We are making our tea, it’s a tradition!”  Flush…the sound of the toilet covered whatever was said next. “Look at all this mud that I got on me when I fell…” A second flush muffled the words yet again. 
The two sisters emerged in tandem from the stalls and the shuffle of bodies began again. Judy’s quick glance at Kathy confirmed that they would both like to get out of the bathroom as fast as possible. There would be no hand washing, which would have required the woman squatted by the tea contraption to stand up and move everything. They smiled and thanked the hikers for their advice and exited the bathroom amidst more recommendations and warnings. The adventurous sisters did not notice when, just moments later, the bathroom became quiet. They did not see the five brown moths fly out of the bathroom window. Three moths flew in the direction of the river, while two of them seemed to follow the sisters, moving slowly from one tree to the next.

The sisters walked quietly toward the trailhead, zipping up coats and pulling on hoods.  Finally Kathy said, “Weird.”  Judy laughed, “Yep…super awkward.”  As their parked car came into view the rain began to diminish. When they reached the parking lot, the rain stopped entirely. A patch of blue sky and sunshine was directly overhead.  “Aha!” said Judy, “the universe has made clear that it wants us to hike! It has brought the sun just for us,” she joked as she pulled off her hood and ran out onto the wooden bridge that crossed the Skokomish River. She lifted her face, spread her arms wide and smiled at the sky. Kathy followed, and somewhere inside they both felt ten years old again, a sense of adventure pushing aside any words of caution from the other hikers. The ‘girls’ were so preoccupied by the sun, they failed to notice that the others cars were now gone from the parking lot.


“Oh this is going to be so much fun,” said Kathy. “The trailhead is over here!” But “over here” proved to be a large mud puddle on the verge of becoming a small pond.  Kathy stopped and looked at it for moment before she strode purposefully round the right side and started across a large, soggy stretch of grass. “Um…I don’t think we should do that,” said Judy, who was more concerned about her feet getting soaked than about breaking the rule of staying on the trails. 
“It’s fine…what are we supposed to do?” Kathy asked. Judy tentatively followed, musing in her head that she had always thought of her older sister as the one to follow the rules, and to be the ‘girly-girl’ who would not want wet feet. Apparently things had changed. “Here’s the trail,” Kathy announced. And she marched off with such certainty that Judy did not hesitate to follow. If Judy had not been feeling like an adventurous ten-year old she might have noticed that the trail grew increasingly narrow. She may have questioned why a supposedly popular trail was now reduced to just wide enough for her to walk on.  Instead she stopped every few minutes to stare in wonder at the rain swollen current rushing over the boulders in the Skokomish. Kathy described how much slower the current had been when she was there the month before, during one of the driest summers on record.

Kathy finally stopped at a log that had fallen across the trail, “This is not right. This is not the trail, something’s wrong,” she said. It was then that Judy realized they had obviously ventured onto a side trail.  “Hmm…it’s just over here somewhere. I know it’s in this direction,” Kathy said as she stepped off the trail and began making her way through the temperate rainforest undergrowth. 
“What are you doing? You cannot just go marching off the trail. We should go back to where we started!” Judy was shocked. She watched in disbelief as Kathy continued, with unwavering confidence, to march deeper into the undergrowth. 
“I know it is this way.  We can’t get lost, we can just head back to the river if we need to.”  
Judy followed for a bit, until the salal and ferms became thick around her knees. The soft ground of rainforest compost made her nervous. “That is not safe,” she shouted at her sister.  “I am not following until you find the trail.”  But as Kathy passed out of sight around a large cedar tree, Judy cursed under her breath and carefully followed, trying to step exactly where she had seen her sister step. 

It was surprisingly dark under the dense canopy of evergreens and moss. She could not see Kathy anymore. “Where are you?” she called out. Her sister’s voice responded cheerfully, “Oh see here, there’s a little shack here... I am right here by this little shack. We must be close to the trail.”  Judy froze in her tracks and shouted back to her sister. “Are you nuts?  A little shack?! Listen Gretel, I am not following you to the little shack in the forest.  I am going back!”   The sound of branches and twigs snapped as someone, or something, moved through the undergrowth.  
A moment of silence and then her sister’s cheerful voice again, “Here it is, I have found the trail!  Just head towards my voice, you will pass the little shack.”  Judy let out a sigh. She had obviously lost her ten-year old self back by the river. As she worked her way toward Kathy, she found herself wondering when she became the worrier and her sister the adventurer, or had it always been that way, she wasn’t really sure.  As she approached the ‘little shack’ an uneasy feeling came over her.  The door was partly open and she fought the urge to peak inside, torn between the rational thought that it was a well house and the paranoid thought that a crazed lunatic would be lurking inside. At least a dozen tiny brown moths and two large dragonflies flitted about the odd, tiny structure.  She took a quick picture and picked up her pace to join a smiling Kathy on the trail. 
Faeries disturbed?
“That was creepy,” Judy muttered, “I wanted to peek around the door and see what was inside but I was scared. Did you look?” she asked Kathy.  
“There was no door,” her older sister replied. 
“There was a door and it was ajar. And creepy,” Judy added. 
“There was not a door…I would have seen a door,” Kathy responded, again in her matter-of-fact voice that let Judy know to drop the debate.  I’ll just show her the picture later, Judy thought.

The two sisters quickly discovered that although it was no longer raining out on the road, it would continue to ‘rain’ in the forest, as the hours of heavy precipitation collected in the canopy continued to trickle down onto their heads.  They put their hoods back up and found some sturdy walking sticks to help with any tricky parts of the trail, but mostly to throw at any rogue mountain goats that came their way. They frequently had to step off the trail to avoid large puddles and potentially unstable sections. They clambered over nurse logs and tried to step carefully around the delicate fungi.

To get around flooded sections of the trail, they clung to tree roots on the uphill side of the trail, exposed by years of rainfall. They avoided the side of the trail that dropped off into forest, or occasionally straight down to the river. The sisters moved quickly past large boulders left behind by the glaciers and kept up a steady conversation as they talked about the past, present and future. Judy frequently stopped to admire yet another mysterious fungus, as they marveled at the enormous diversity and
mystery of the trees, plants and fungi. The Olympic National Park has such unique biodiversity that it has been declared both an international biosphere reserve and a World Heritage Site. 
Kathy reviewed the rules of engagement for an aggressive mountain goat. These surly goats are not native to the Olympic Peninsula. They were brought there in the 1920’s and their numbers had become so large and problematic by the 1980’s the park service began a plan to manage and control the population of goats.  Judy, bothered by the loss of peripheral vision from her hood, frequently stopped to look behind her.  She had an uneasy feeling that something was following them but decided it was too much talk of mountain goats.  “I am going to periodically scan for rogue goats,” she announced.  
Kathy laughed and turned around, “You look like a hobbit!” she smiled.  “Climb up there and I’ll take your picture!”  As Judy climbed up into the roots of an ancient evergreen, a small brown moth followed.

Can you see the faerie?

 Meanwhile, back at the cottage, water was boiling for tea.  The two Carolines, mother and grandmother to 'the girls', had just finished their tidying and organizing.  The rain had let up again and they opened the windows just a bit, to let some fresh air in.  The younger Caroline took her tea into the den to cozy up with a good book.  The grandmother sat at the kitchen table with her tea and looked across the water.  She did not notice the two brown moths that skimmed across the canal at surprising speed, flew up onto the cottage porch and perched on top of the windowsill. As she sat quietly drinking her tea, she glanced over at the dock next door.

The property next to the cabin was a curiosity to the four women, surrounded as it was by a tall wood fence with a locked gate, security cameras and ominous warning signs. The grandmother’s eyes settled on the sign just poking out of the water “Warning: High Security Area. Do Not Enter”.  A sense of unease and a chill passed over her. She got up to close the kitchen window. “Shoo,” she said, and waved her hand at the two moths. As she turned the window latch she called out to her daughter, “Isn’t it about time for the girls to be back?” The younger Caroline looked at the 
clock, “No, I don’t think so.” 
“They said they’d only be gone a couple of hours, hasn’t it been two hours?” their grandmother persisted. “Not quite, mom. If they aren’t back by 3:30 I’ll give them a call.”  The younger Caroline decided to find something on the TV to keep them from worrying. She could not decide if the slight nagging feeling she felt was instinct or simply brought on by her own mother’s concern. They settled in to watch a nature show and for the next half hour they did not wonder about the girls.

 To be continued..Part VI..The river, mysterious stones and a dragon's bridge.