“All Who Wander Are Not Lost”

The other day I sniffed the air, opened my eyes wide, and leaped…into a world I have always wanted to own.

Yes, own.

For years I slept in an ancient army-surplus mummy bag, stuffed with feathers that stuck into your skin and made sleep a chore.  It was definitely not waterproof.

Eventually I graduated to a fifth-hand Eureka pup-tent, which I still own.  I found it last year when some workers were taking down an old house, and it was stashed away in a corner of the attic.  I gave my truly amazing Marmot four-season mountain tent to my son, along with the really excellent down bag I haven’t used in years and years.  He does use them.  He’s in that part of his life.  One day maybe he’ll pass them along to his own daughter or son.

So I, longing to own the road rather than be owned by it, have acquired a small camper van.  It has everything I need in it, unlike the barn I have been occupying for the last several years.  It has a tiny but functional bathroom, complete with tiny but functional shower.  It has a large back seat that converts into a king-size bed.  A king-size bed!  Maybe I need another dog.  Noga would never forgive me, though….that mass of blonde hair is Noga.  She’s 13 pounds of fierce.

20130319_221249I have been asking myself, truly, is this the life you want?  To purposely NOT have a home?  And the answer is always a resounding YES!  I need a break.  I need a break from fucking everything.  To be able to pick up and amble my way to New Mexico, Colorado…Boulder, such an interesting patchwork community….and I want to see the Redwoods.  I lived in America for 54 years and never saw the Redwood trees in Northern California!  What’s up with that?  I guess it just wasn’t time yet.

If you asked me if I plan to be a gypsy for the rest of my life, today I would say no.  Tomorrow, who knows?  I don’t want to be constrained by time.  Geography is a bit of a challenge for me, as I really would rather be gypsying in Israel.  That, however, is not only physically impossible, it is outright dangerous at this moment.  This breaks my heart.  My constitution is not set up for war.

So, no, I have no idea where this is going, where and when and how long it will take me…but it will be a liberation for me, a throwing off of all obligation and responsibility.

I’m already finding others who live on the road–mostly people like myself, who have had enough of working their brains out for–what?  A fancy house?  Even a not-fancy house?  There was a time when a fancy or not-fancy house looked mighty good to me, when I was outside huddling in my not-water-proof feather bag.  Now people of my generation are saying good-bye, so long, farewell to permanence, and have formed a loosely knit family of choice, meeting up at campgrounds or by a lake, or any place they choose.  I guess we’ve regressed, hit the road again–the Woodstock Generation gone to seed.

I’m going to try it and see what it’s like.  I’m a solitary person–this way if I want a little human company, I know where to find it; and if I want solitude, well, that’s everywhere to be had.

Daily Prompt: Verbal Ticks

Thank you, Ben Huberman.  I really needed a larf, and Huberman’s  Daily Prompt has got me rolling on the floor: “Verbal Ticks.”

Do you have a “verbal tick” you can’t get rid of?  Does it bury its head in your skin, suck your blood, and give you Lyme Disease, all the while chattering away like a demented dummy?

Ben, darling, I really am not dissing you.  It’s just that I’m a compulsive editor/proofreader with a cranked sense of humor.  I would have left you a comment in the “comments” section on your post, but there doesn’t seem to be one on the Daily Prompt, and if there is, I couldn’t find it.  My bad.

The word you wanted was tic.  A verbal tic is a vocalization, whether recognizable or not, that builds up inside the sufferer’s mind/body with increasing pressure until it exits, one way or another.  It’s a common feature of Tourette Syndrome.

I heard of a lawyer with Tourette’s whose main tic was verbal.  His brain compelled him to utter foul curses!  Most of the time he was able to blend them into a faked cough, but occasionally he had to exit the courtroom in order to drain himself of curses!  The judges all knew of his disability and made accommodations for his needs.

So now I’ve had my larf at the expense of our dear Ben, and it really is bedtime; but I will have to distract my mind, perhaps by watching Betty Boop cartoons, lest my dream be populated with chattering blood-sucking arthropods.

The Rushing Waters of Time

The trees surrounding my perch in my tiny 6’x6′ deck have leafed out, mostly obscuring my view of the river.  The river has become my friend.  Its constant roar, modulated only by the volume of water crashing over the rocks of the small waterfall, used to give me a feeling of vague unrest, when I first moved into this primitive building.  Now I welcome its constancy, and the violent early-summer storms bring an exciting urgency to the swollen stream, as if by throwing itself over the waterfall it might relieve its own discomfort.

The waterfall, although small, is mighty dangerous.  There’s only one chute, and even at low water, or perhaps especially at low water, the hidden rock directly below the chute is a trap for inexperienced boaters.  The experienced ones take the placid flatwater bypass around the falls.  They know about the treacherous hole that awaits the nose of a kayak or canoe, to flip it over and dump its occupants into the swirling eddy.  If they’re lucky, they’ll get thrown free of the boat.  If not, they might hit their heads on the submerged rock, and if not rescued by their comrades, go the way of many an unsuspecting boater on this piece of an otherwise easy river.

I sit in my perch and grip the rail, as I would at any sporting event; except that this is not for competition or entertainment (except maybe in the boaters’ minds).  Whether they know it or not, this is a life-or-death moment.

I become morose sometimes, watching and remembering how I used to be an avid whitewater canoeist: the crazier the water, the better.  But these widow-maker rocks with a hole on the other side….no thank you.  I didn’t mind “going swimming” (the river runners’ term for getting dumped unintentionally into the water) occasionally, but notoriously dangerous falls were not on my menu.  I wanted to pull my boat out of the water at day’s end, exhausted and happy, and most of all, alive.

My body is past the point of boating.  Both of my wrists have been reconstructed, and the torque of a paddle even in flat water would be painful.  Whitewater would tear them right off my arms.  So I guess that’s history.  I am banished to my front-and-center box seat, where I sit and cheer the players on, breath held when they attempt the chute, applauding when they make it through, looking on anxiously when the scrape of boat on rock indicates a wreck.

Today two out of three in a party of four boaters bit the dust; or rather, went swimming.  The first boat, a two-seater, contained a couple of experienced and skillful boaters: they took their time, back-paddled for a bit, assessing the situation.  When they made up their minds that they were really going to shoot that rapids, they lined up perfectly with the chute, and paddled like mad.  They flew through the chute and hit the rock with the bow pointing up.  The boat shot up and they became briefly airborne, accompanied by amusement-park shrieks.  I could practically see their hearts pounding as they floated in the eddy and came to rest in the pool nearby the little beach opposite the falls.

Boater number two, a big guy in a single sit-in kayak, landed nose-down in the hole, got thrown from the boat–luckily, for he could have got stuck in the hole, or whacked his head on the rock and been no more.  As it was, he got himself scraped up on the rock.  Then he got caught up in the eddy while trying to get back into his boat.  He was altogether shaken, and when he finally got hold of his boat, he hauled it out on the small beach below the rapids.  The couple in the first boat paddled over and pulled out to help their wet and shaken comrade.  He had broken both paddles, which were fixed on his boat with oar-locks.

Boat number three fared no better.  Number four wisely took the flat-water bypass.

Sigh.  No more boating for me, not flat water, not rapids.  No more skiing, no more running.  No more this, no more that.

Thank God, I can still walk, although sometimes painfully.  I now use two hiking sticks: not for the exercise; rather, so as not to fall over.  My balance isn’t so good because of the weirdness of my spine.  I’m sure the effects of poly-pharmacy don’t help.

So today, being the Sabbath and having no other responsibilities, and the weather being perfect, I mixed up a spray of lemongrass and geranium oils, which makes a fine bug repellent; and taking sticks in hand, with with little Noga on leash because of the lamentably lush growth of poison ivy, set off on a walk into deep old woods.

When we got past the worst of the poison ivy I let Noga off the leash and she tore off, exercising her nose as much as her little furry legs.  I wondered if her anti-tick stuff was really going to work.  I would be sure to make a thorough examination when we got home.

The forest understory is rich with treasures now: blue and black Cohosh, St. John’s Wort on the edges, and miracle of miracles, some real ginseng.  There are lots of things that look like ginseng, but once you’ve seen the real thing you’ll never forget.  I used to have a patch of it in a little crease in my mountain, when I had one; but unfortunately my goats ate my ginseng instead of the multiflora rose they were purchased to eat.

At last Noga and I found ourselves swishing through the meadow that borders the creek, or “branch,” as they used to call it here.  The grasses were knee-high; both Noga and I became uncomfortable.  This year has already been a good one for snakes; and I am always wary of putting my feet or hands in places I cannot see.  A copperhead could easily be stalking the plentiful crop of frogs along the branch, hidden underfoot in the lush meadow.

So we turned tail and made for home.  The shadows were already lengthening, and by the time we got home it was dinnertime for both of us.  Leftovers from last night for me: Teriyaki salmon, home-made cole slaw, and a last-minute concoction of quinoa and various vegetables that tastes pretty good in spite of its improvised nature.  Dog food for Noga; she is disappointed, even though it is salmon-flavored dog food that cost me a fortune.  She gazed mournfully at my dinner, then grudgingly yet thoroughly ate hers.

I understand why so many “retired” athletes commit suicide.  One minute you’re out there tearing it up, the next you’re reaping the unfortunate consequences of the excesses of youth.  When I was young, I would never have applied the word “athletic” to myself.  Looking back, I glimpse myself running three miles a day, seven days a week, lifting weights three days a week, Shaolin Kung Fu every day, dancing Salsa/Merengue/Cha-cha several nights a week, running rivers on the weekends; and then, when I got too old for that, skiing daily, horseback riding daily, 6am aerobics–crazy stuff.

I never could do tennis because the first time I tried it I dislocated my elbow.  But raquetball was OK.

I see the pattern, and I felt it then: physical activity was my medicine.  I remember acutely how it felt to run off an incipient manic episode; or conversely, to run off an episode of depression, running until I “hit the wall” and pushing through it into exhilaration, the “runner’s high,” which lasted an hour or two before the Black Dog curled up at my feet again.

Now bending my elbow to wash down handsful of pills seems to be about as much exercise as I get in a day.  Even gentle yoga, which may feel good while I’m doing it, tends to give me a bad pain day on the following day.  But I am finding some serenity now.  I just determined that I had better accept the fact that my ass has its own postal code, and buy some larger pants.

Vascular Surgery



Vascular Surgery

There’s a good reason women make the best surgeons, she thought.

Quick, deft hands, single-pointed concentration, focus.

She thought of the women jet engine mechanics she had met in the Air Force.

Not that she had been in the Air Force; but in the course of her duties as a civilian surgeon under contract, she had met them. Now, reining in her reverie, she was intent on the task at hand.

Drat this light, she thought. She really needed a more direct light source, but one has to work with what one has at hand.

Slowly, painstakingly, she drew the outlines with a surgical marker: carotid triangle; carotid vein; carotid artery. This, the artery, was what she wanted.

She steadied the syringe she had readied with an oh-so-fine 27-gauge needle.

2% lidocaine with epinephrine should be enough analgesia for comfort, and enough epinephrine to ensure a relatively bloodless field. She couldn’t help chuckling: bloodless indeed.

Squinting in the insufficient light, she injected the layers: first the skin, then the loose fascia of the neck; lastly, the layer surrounding the vessels of the neck, careful to avoid direct injection into the wall of the vessel, which might cause a spasm.

Now it was time to cut. She picked up the number 11 scalpel and steadied her hand. Carefully, carefully she opened the delicate skin of the neck, noting with satisfaction that the epinephrine had done its job. There was no need for the tiny hemostats she had ready in case of superficial bleeders.

The next layer, the loose fascia, pulsated bluish, overlying the great vessels of the neck. These she would blunt dissect with the larger curved hemostats.

She injected a bit more of the anesthetic, just to be sure. No need to cause discomfort, which might result in unwanted movement.

At last the artery was exposed. She marveled at its pulsations, at the tiny arteries that nourished the big one itself, and the minuscule veins that issued from it, carrying its waste into the larger system of veins, to be cleansed by the liver and kidneys downstream.

Holding her breath, she slid the first hemostat, jaws open, under the artery. Clamp. The vessel, trapped in the jaws of the hemostat, stopped pulsing abruptly. There was no going back now.

Now the second hemostat, exactly one and a half centimeters below the first: clamp. She raised the surgical scissors, poised for the definitive cut between the clamps.

Tilting her head to see better in the mirror, she cursed the dim light in that bathroom again.

And then, the definitive cut!

In a single motion, she swiftly removed the two clamps and was instantly drenched in red liquid. A scream of agony split the night as she sat bolt upright in the bed, heart pounding, drenched in sweat, clutching the sodden bedclothes as she struggled, locked in the arms of the Angel of Death like biblical Jacob.

Frantically clutching her throat, she rushed to the bathroom, the very same bathroom, and strained toward the mirror in the same dim light.


Her throat, graceful and bluish white as ever, shone back at her from the reflection. Sucking in a deep gulp of air, letting it out in a sigh that brought the dog running, she splashed water on her face and neck, toweling off the sweat.

“It’s OK, buddy,” she whispered to her whining canine companion. “Just another nightmare.”

The dog smiled anxiously, wagged his tail tentatively, and licked her calf. She reached down and patted his faithful head.

“Good thing I have you, she murmured. Stripping off her sweat-soaked nightgown, she rinsed off in the shower before throwing on a fresh one. She sank into the recliner with a book: sleep would not visit again, not tonight.


Ominous Dreams

I don’t think my  Life In Turmoil dreams would give Carl Jung  a run for his money, although I would dearly love to call the old man up and ask his opinion.

The first to make its appearance is usually the tornado.  I spent most of my childhood years, and many of my mid-life years, living in Tornado Alley: Ohio, southern Michigan, Illinois–where tornados were a very real reality.  Many spring and early summer days we  anxiously watched the skies, and went to bed not knowing whether we would still be there in the morning.

I was nine or ten when the super-tornado swept most of Toledo, Ohio, into Lake Ontario.  I heard it roar over our house.  I was listening to a record at the time.  The turntable growled to a stop.  The dog ran under the couch.  The lights went out.  The roar and hissing in the dark sounded like the sky had broken loose from the firmament and was racing off on its own course, leaving the rest of the world behind.

And then just as suddenly, the noise stopped, the lights went on, the turntable started up, the record took up where it had left off, the dog came out from under the couch and sat licking herself on the rug, and everything was normal again.  We didn’t know what it was.

The next morning, my mother and I loaded up the trunk with the laundry and went to the laundromat.  It wasn’t there.  All that remained of it was the concrete slab it had stood on.  It was two miles from our house.

There are many more tornado stories, but you get the idea.  For me, the tornado symbolizes existential impermanence.  Of course the nature of our existence is impermanence itself.  Nothing about this life is permanent.  Everything is in a constant state of decay.  The human condition is a continuous fight with the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the Entropic Force that demands that the sum total of creation should find itself in a permanent state of impermanence.

Whenever the Tornado Dream appears, I know that my subconscious has Had Enough of wherever my present state of chaos has spun me. My Inner Self wants to get off the merry-go-round and live a nice stable predictable life, with a real bathroom and no bed bugs.  Or at least no fears that bed bugs follow me wherever I go, which what has happened ever since my Bed Bug Crisis last summer.  The fear, I mean.  I hope.

Hate to disappoint you again, Inner Self, but this particular brand of chaos ain’t goin’ anywhere soon.  We am Stuck Here until the last dog is hung.

The Second Archetypal Dream is the one where I am in my own dwelling (which is not necessarily a house, as is currently the case, as I am dwelling in what used to be my father’s ceramics studio–basically a pole barn), and I am looking for something.  I know where it is, but the problem is that the building keeps changing its configuration.  A room will become a closet (I have neither, but never mind), the bathroom is suddenly a parlour; there is a hall lined with closed doors where there was none before.  I open a door and find a Victorian bedroom with an old lady sitting up in bed reading.  She does not look up.  I try to hold onto myself and not be overcome by the wave of panic that is building like a tsunami.  Usually I wake from those dreams hyperventilating, drenched with cold sweat.

Last night I had a New Archetypal Dream, building and expanding on the Second.  In it, I had rented a small apartment at the top of an old apartment house, somewhere in the Middle East–it was hard to tell where.  The buildings shared some similarities with Pueblo-style architecture in that they had levels piled upon each other, many passages and nooks and crannies.  Very complex.

I had one of my late beloved German Shepherds with me.  We went out for a walk, and marveled at the denseness of the population, the many and varied apartment buildings that seemed to hold people of many different ethnic groups.

As we walked we began to get thirsty in the desert sun, and headed toward our own dwelling, only to find that we were in a part of town that we had never seen before.  There didn’t seem to be any order to the positions of the buildings: no North, South, East, West.  We were completely disoriented.  The neighborhood seemed to have expanded into a sprawling city, and we were walking in the baking noonday sun around the edges of the city, as if we had been pushed out by some centrifugal force.

Dog ran off, to find our apartment, I presumed, and to come back and get me.  My dogs were Search-and-Rescue trained, and that’s what they would have done, if I sent them.  I wandered in the direction of Dog, thinking he must know something.

Eventually he came back to me, panting, but I knew from his look that he had not found.  The sun was lower in the sky, though, so at least we had a sense of direction.  We headed North, not because we really expected to find anything, but because North is a good direction to go when you are lost.

I could not remember the name of our street, or the name of the apartment complex, or anything.  I suddenly remembered I had a cell phone, and was hoping I had the landlady’s number on it, even though she spoke I language that I didn’t; perhaps I might have noted the address in the contacts.

But alas, the phone had changed into a prism made of glass!  There was something written there, embedded in it, but I couldn’t make it out.

At last Dog and I found our way to an apartment.  It wasn’t ours, but there were some young people inside, and they were speaking in English!  The door opened and someone came out.  We slipped in, uninvited.  My chief concern was to get some water for Dog, who was panting hard.

There were several young hippie types in the apartment, but they didn’t seem to see us at all.  It was as if we didn’t exist.  So I found a bowl and got Dog some water but he wouldn’t drink it.  I was distressed about that.

And then we were outside on a patio behind the building, and there was an Arab lady hanging out clothes in the sunset.  I went up to her and greeted her in Arabic, but she also did not seem to know I was there.

Dreams Two and Three are about displacement on top of impermanence: not only is my world in immanent danger of total destruction, but now there is no place to go, no place to be.  What seemed real is unreal.  The solid has become fluid: the world is quicksand beneath my feet.  Just as solid ground becomes liquified during an earthquake, so has my life become now: no solid ground to put my foot on, because as soon as I take a step everything changes.

Not only that, but my person-hood has been erased.  Nobody sees me.  It’s as if I have become a ghost, wandering around looking for my resting place and finding none; seeking relationship, yet invisible to others.

And even my guide dog becomes blind in the glare of the shifting sands.