Fate seemed to play a part, when I met my big dog, Darla. She is a boxer, pit-bull mix, which is the same mixture that my sweet, recently-deceased Clover was. I was told that she was good with people, including small children, cats and other dogs. That was important because of potential visits from grandchildren and others, and because of my little dog at home. She was six years old, which was the same age as Rosa Parks, my lonely chihuahua who I felt would benefit from a companion. Her name was Darla, which is also the name of one of my sisters, beloved and remembered though she died in infancy.
Along with my friend, Linda, who I was visiting, I stopped to see Darla several times at the no-kill shelter where she’d spent most of her life. Finally, I signed the papers to make her a part of my family. With the big dog beside me in the passenger seat, we drove across the state toward home. With several stops along the way for short walks and nature calls, and one shared fast-food meal, we got to know each other. Through the long drive and the short, noisy plane ride, I assured Darla that she was coming home. By the time we got to my house on Beaver Island, she almost seemed to be wearing a smile.
There were a few complications when Darla and Rosa Parks met. It turns out, each of them would have preferred being an “only dog.” Still, they both loved walks down the country roads, rides in the car, and trips to the water at nearby Fox Lake. They both loved me, tolerated each other, and learned to be friends. Later, when Blackie Chan, a long-separated litter-mate of Rosa Parks, was added to our family, there were a few more challenges. Again, we worked through them.
As I’ve worked to negotiate a “pecking order” to keep the peace in this multi-dog household, Darla’s good nature has been a blessing. Because she is the fastest eater, I always put her food dish down last. Because she’s too large to share my twin-sized bed with me, Darla has to be removed to her own nearby bed when I’m ready for sleep. The two small dogs sleep with me. Though Darla has her own large comfortable bed between the heater and my desk, the small dogs often take that space to be near me when I’m working at the computer. Darla doesn’t argue, but moves to the armchair, or a rug, or the now-vacant bed.
Both little dogs have rugs that mark their eating spot; Darla has a raised stool that I put her food dish on, to make her meal time more comfortable. Still, she seems to notice the discrepancy, and I’ll often find her big body curled up on a tiny rug, beside a small dog’s food dish. I see her looking enviously at a little dog taking up space in my bed, or in her bed, or in my lap. I imagine her thinking about what it would be like to be the only dog. Still, she kindly puts up with the little ones, watches out for them, and indulges them with the utmost patience and good humor.
Last week, without a single thought to Darla, I brought home a new rug for the kitchen. I got it to replace the tiny, unraveling and threadbare one that had been in front of the sink. The new one is beautiful, thick and cushion-y, and large. It stretches across the length of the floor in front of the entire double sink, right beside the stool where Darla eats her dinner. I love it!
Someone else does, too! Darla believes I brought it home just for her. It’s right next to her food dish, after all, and exactly where she loves to lay – underfoot – while I am preparing dinner. It is perfectly sized for her. She claimed it immediately, with a big smile. “Finally,” I imagine her thinking, “I am the favored one. THIS is my DESTINY!!!”
Last week, I looked at the next topic to write about, from the list I compiled from the table of contents of David Whyte’s book, Consolations: Despair. Oh, dear. What to say about despair? How could I relate to that?
Of course, I know what the word means. I have probably experienced it at one time or another, in my long life. I recall times of great upheaval, others of tremendous sadness and loss. Despair, though, was different somehow. Though it seemed like something I had a personal understanding of, I didn’t quite recall the feeling. I couldn’t get a handle on how to write about it.
Instead, I added another topic. “Deliriously Happy” was still roughly following the alphabetical order of the list, and was easier to expound on. It wasn’t the first time I’ve altered the format, and I’m still very close to the beginning of the alphabet! I wrote two essays on the topic of “Besieged.” I added “Christmas Past” and “Cancer” that were not a part of the subjects Whyte listed, and then I wrote two essays on “Crisis.” So, not feeling in the mood to write about despair, I did it again. It’s my blog and my list (complements of David Whyte), so I guess I can adjust it when the mood strikes.
It is easy to write about being happy, when happiness is all around, and I’m feeling it in my bones. I didn’t know exactly where it had come from; I noted several small and unrelated events that led up to it. I compared it to a great astronomical event, caused by all the stars and planets quietly and slowly converging into just the right formation. Well.
A few days later, I woke up at two o’clock in the morning. I noted the little dogs, snuggled in on either side of me, as usual. I looked out over the room, dimly illuminated by the moon. Nothing was out of the ordinary; nothing was wrong. And yet, like a damp and musty, heavy woolen blanket, a great feeling of sadness and isolation washed over me. Ah, yes. Despair.
I was smart enough to analyze, right then, how the feeling differed from sadness. In my life, even extraordinary sadness brought on by immeasurable loss was tempered by the knowledge that I was not alone in my misery. When my sister died unexpectedly just a week before my mother died of cancer, and less than two years after my little brother died, I had other siblings around me, sharing my grief. We shored each other up, and helped each other through. In despair, I think, you are all alone. Or, at least, you feel all alone.
Sometimes, circumstances or feelings of depression conspire to make you believe you’re isolated, whether that is actually true or not. I often feel like my frustrations are my own fault. Sharing them seems like a sign of weakness, and/or a cry for help. I’m rarely looking for help. It is keeping things to myself, though, that leads to feelings of despair.
So, what went wrong? How did I fall from “deliriously happy” to “despair?” I don’t know, really. Nothing big, certainly. Minor annoyances, small disappointments, little vexations. Much can likely be attributed to normal fluctuations in mood. When I’m laughing hysterically one day, I kind of know I’ll be crying uncontrollably before long.
How to fix it? First, I got out of bed and wrote a long rant. We won’t have a dentist here until spring. At least until spring. My tooth, that I’ve been trying to get repaired for almost two years, continues to crumble, leaving sharp edges that scratch the inside of my cheek. Getting it fixed before spring means an airplane trip to the mainland and the use of a car there, all adding to the cost of the necessary crown.
The new manager at the hardware store is young enough to be my granddaughter. She doesn’t have any idea how much I know, and she’s a little bossy. Beyond that, there’s the owner, who I’ve worked for for over 18 years, who should know my capabilities, who put her in the position of being my boss without a word to me beforehand.
The window estimate from the contractor came back high. Or, much higher than expected, anyway. Do I want new windows…or tooth repair? And on and on, in that fashion, about every little rotten thing.
Next, I went for a long walk. The dogs don’t care if it’s a good mood or a bad mood to credit for my desire to get out in the fresh air, they always enjoy a good energetic walk. Later, I made a couple phone calls. I spoke to my friend, Linda, and my sister, Brenda. They are both good and sympathetic listeners. Slowly, the feelings of despair faded. Luckily, not before I’d gleaned enough information to write this post!
I took my dogs for a walk down the Fox Lake Road the other day. Just as I do every single day. It was different, though; I’ve been puzzling over the reasons why.
First, the sun was shining. That in itself is a reason to celebrate. On this small island, when the temperature drops and the big lake still holds open water, we have many gray days. I know it has something to do with the variance between water temperature and air temperature, but I couldn’t begin to explain the science. It doesn’t take an expert to notice, though, how rare a day of sunshine is. Not that it isn’t beautiful here anyway; it is. Not that there isn’t plenty to appreciate, whether the sun is out or not; of course there is. But, when the sun is shining in the middle of the winter on Beaver Island, we do take notice, and appreciate it, and get outside to enjoy it whenever we can.
Second, in a winter that has so far been wavering in its production of either lasting cold or snow pack, we got a few inches of fresh snow. Thus, all of my driveway and most of the Fox Lake Road, that had been a slippery, frozen mess of ruts and ridges, was now easy to walk on. I could stride along without worrying that my next step would send me off sideways, or down. Beyond that, snow converts the regular scenery into a magical place. No matter what winter means, with its offerings of cold and mess and discomfort, it’s hard to deny that there’s a great deal of beauty in a snow-covered landscape.
Third, we were all feeling pretty spry that day. I’d had a not-too-tiring day at work that had been just stressful enough that I was looking especially forward to getting outside in the fresh air. Though I have the normal aches, pains and complaining joints that seem to come with age, I was feeling strong and capable. My three dogs, too, were up for the exercise. They are each nine years old, and have their own health issues, but they all still relish their walk.
On that day, Rosa Parks ran ahead, full speed, just like she used to when she was a puppy. Then she’d make a wide loop, and run just as quickly back to me, with bright eyes and a wide grin, to get a treat before she charged off again. Blackie Chan picked up on the excitement, and charged off, too. If Rosa Parks slowed down or stopped, which happened a couple times, Blackie Chan, nearly blind, ran right in to her. It didn’t faze either of them for long, and they continued on with their game. Darla was, meanwhile, loping steadily beside me, except when she was following scents along the sides of the road.
I smiled the whole distance down the road and back. Except when I was singing, to help Blackie Chan find his way. Or when I was laughing out loud at the antics of my three companions. It was one of those rare days that I recognized, in the moment, how unique and precious and special it was. I told myself, “Remember this, when the days are gray or the road becomes a muddy path. Remember this…when the dogs are older, or more infirm, or gone. Remember this…when I am not so strong, or so capable as I feel right now. Remember this, remember this…one more perfect day.” And the fact is, there was nothing so much more special about any of it; it was just a slightly-above-average, ordinary day. Except that I took notice of it!
I have three good dogs. They are wonderful companions, a good source of comfort and laughter. They each believe they are my favorite, best dog. They are each correct.
Rosa Parks knows that she has seniority over the other two dogs. She expects first place, and usually gets it. I put her food dish down first, only seconds before Blackie Chan’s and then Darla’s. She usually holds the prime position, closest to my pillow, next to my heart, in bed at night. Usually, though, she doesn’t take advantage of her exalted position. She lets Darla take the lead, and most of the credit, in their bird-chasing, barking-at-the-road-truck home-protection antics. When Blackie Chan decides he wants to sleep exactly where Rosa Parks is sleeping, he climbs right on top of her. Magnanimously, with a look on her face that says “Oh, brother…” Rosa Parks just rolls her eyes.
Darla is the biggest dog in my house, and she has the biggest heart. She watches over and worries over the other dogs. If Blackie Chan wanders down the neighbor’s driveway, Darla paces with furrowed brow at the road, waiting. If Rosa Parks falls behind on our walk, Darla circles back to see what the hold-up is. She waits patiently while the little dogs dance in place, excited to get their dinner, until I put her own dish down. Usually, the biggest danger Darla presents happens when I’m on the floor giving pats and scratches. For a good belly rub, the big dog would, without a second thought, crush any chihuahua that stood in her way!
Blackie Chan makes my heart ache with the earnest, intentional way he approaches life. A walk is serious business. I can almost hear his mind working, as he runs through the checklist: “I must walk straight and tall; keep a little smile on my face; keep my tail in the air, gently wagging; I must pee on every single clump of grass and pile of leaves.” Blackie Chan has a mild, imploring little whine that he directs at me when he wants his dinner, or some attention. His voice changes in an instant – like a scene from The Exorcist – from the humble mewling tone to a tooth-baring snarl if Rosa Parks gets involved.
Still, most of the time, my dogs get along. Until the rare instance when they don’t. Then, it’s a crisis! It all started when I gave Darla a beef bone. It had quite a bit of meat and gristle still on it. The small dogs were outside. I was right there to watch that she didn’t chomp down and splinter the bone. I took it away from her as soon as she’d cleaned the meat from it.
I thought nothing of it. Darla will, if I forget to put it up out of her reach, go through the garbage. She’ll gnaw on old dog food cans that were rinsed and flattened, for any slight flavor she night be able to still get out of them. She will lap up old hamburger grease and chew up the tin foil it was wrapped in. She has chewed into bits the styrofoam containers that once held sausage or chicken. Amazingly, it doesn’t make her sick.
That beef bone, though, did not sit well with Darla. For an entire day, she ate grass whenever she was outside. She declined treats when I offered them. When I got home from work, she had vomited a big mound of grass onto the entry rug. She rushed out the door, and dug right in to eating more grass. Clearly, Darla had an upset stomach!
By the time we got back from our walk, though, Darla seemed better. I fed the dogs on time, as usual. Darla was still working slowly through her meal when the other dogs finished. I gave each of them a “Greenie” that is their after dinner treat. I dropped Darla’s into her food dish. I turned back to the stove to finish preparing my own meal.
Suddenly, the room erupted in chaos! All three dogs were barking; Darla and Rosa Parks were tangled up in battle. Both were yelping and snarling, Darla on top of Rosa Parks, who was on her back on the floor. “No,” I shouted, as I slapped Darla (not hard!) on the flank. Immediately, the fight broke up.
Rosa Parks righted herself, and scurried to her “safe spot” under my desk. Blackie Chan, still anxiously trying to figure out what was going on, poked his head under the desk. Rosa Parks snapped at him, and he backed away, as if beaten, to cower on his corner pillow. Darla had gone, right away, to the rug in front of the kitchen door, where she huddled, ears down, tail between her legs, so miserable.
In a flash, my happy household was in crisis! It seems Darla had abandoned her food dish, with a few bits of kibble and one whole Greenie still in it. Rosa Parks had decided to take advantage of the situation. Darla wasn’t having it. Blackie Chan was just trying to understand. By the time it was over, my heart was pounding, and I had three sad dogs.
I gave them each some individual love and attention, in their own areas. I made sure Rosa Parks wasn’t hurt, let Darla know she wasn’t bad (and that I was sorry I’d smacked her), and explained the situation – as well as I could – to Blackie Chan, while rubbing his ears. By the time I sat down to my own dinner, the crisis was forgotten and all were forgiven.
Besieged. It sounds like a word I know, but I looked it up anyway. Yes, it was the word I thought it was, and I had the correct meaning in mind, too:
besiegev.t. lay siege to; crowd around; assail with requests
That’s exactly how I feel: besieged. Not always, but often.
The dogs want my attention. Constantly, it seems. I want to write, or draw, or even, for heaven’s sake, do the dishes. They want me on the floor with them, scratching ears and rubbing bellies. I have two hands; I have three dogs. A few minutes on the floor with them, and the discrepancy becomes evident. They scramble for the best spot. They push and nudge and slide in close. The big dog, Darla, will drop onto her back for a belly rubat any time, without a thought to the small chihuahuas that have to move quickly away to avoid being crushed!
When they can’t get attention that way, they want out. Then in. Then a treat, as reward for going out and coming back in. Over the years, due to extreme demand from my too-plump dogs, the size of their reward has shrunk. Currently, the treat they get is the same kibble they get for their dinner. Each piece is only slightly larger than a BB.
I dole the tiny pieces out one by one. First, one goes to the dog that actually made the trip (“Good girl, Rosa Parks, outside and in!”). Next, one each to her two companions (“Look, Darla, what Rosa Parks got for you! Here you go, Blackie Chan, Rosa Parks wanted you to have this. She loves you guys…just as I do.”). Finally, one last little bit of kibble for the dog that went out and in. We call that “the bonus.”
I barely get back to what I was doing, and another dog has decided to make the trek. They tag-team me that way, until we are all exhausted. I’ve tried saying, “Enough! No! You just came in! You don’t need to go out again!” To that, Blackie Chan will crumple pathetically against the door, as if it will magically open on its own. Darla will lay down in front of it where, even through a sound sleep, she will methodically scratch on the window until I relent. Rosa Parks, without hesitation, will march straight for the bathroom, to pee on the rug without an ounce of shame or regret. It’s not worth it! I continue to go along with their relentless game.
I come home from work after a long and trying day. I have a handful of bills from the post office, a bag of necessities from the grocery store, my lunch bag, purse, thermos and coffee cup to carry inside. I balance everything in my arms and hands and, bone tired and with aching feet, make my way from the car to the kitchen door.
Before I get even halfway up the walkway, I can hear Blackie Chan. He’s the big “talker” of my three dogs. “She’s here! She’s home,” he seems to be announcing. And when I open the door, there he is to greet me, with Darla right beside him. Seconds later, Rosa Parks, who is slower in noticing my arrival because she’s nearly deaf, rounds the corner with her own big grin. I put everything I’m holding down onto the counter, and drop to the floor. Darla wriggles from nose to wagging tail with enthusiasm as she gives me a big sloppy kiss on the cheek. The little dogs both clamber into my lap, thrilled to have me home.
Soon, I’ll get up. I’ll put away the groceries and move the mail to the table. I’ll grab my camera, fill a pocket with kibble, and set out for a walk with the dogs. For a few moments, though, I just enjoy the greeting. I wallow in the pleasure of being happily besieged!
It starts with a show of white: Queen Anne’s Lace along the side of the road, and the ramp flowers in the woods. Dandelion flowers turn to wishes, and milkweed pods burst open to reveal glowing silky streamers. White birch bark stands out against the dulling greens around them.
Next comes brown. Dark stalks of poppies rise above the dry, withered and paler leaves, all that is left of what was a magnificent bed of flowers in June. Ferns dulled to umber cover large areas between the trees. Tall grasses range from shades of tan to deepest rust.
The bright colors begin showing themselves, stingily at first. One red leaf will drop into the road. A gift, or an omen? A single branch of an entire green tree will turn yellow overnight. Leaves of the beech, growing up as scrub brush from the roots of fallen trees, start showing their russet tones early.
Then, abruptly it seems, the woods have turned golden. This is it! “This is the fall color at its best,” I think, as I snap a dozen photos. The next day, it’s even better. The day after that, even more beautiful.
As some colors deepen, the yellows glow even brighter. A hundred shades of orange and red provide contrast to the golden hues.
Fall winds whistle through the night; cold rains pour down. “That will be it for our fall color,” I think, but the view is only better for the onslaught. The ground is covered, then, with a crackling carpet of autumn shades.
The trees seem even more vibrant, now that light can shine through the remaining leaves. The bark, darkened to nearly black by the wet weather, provides a nice foil for all the varied colors.
Sundays have lately become my favorite day of the week. I don’t work on Sundays, and since I also have Monday and Tuesday off, there is no urgency to get things done. I have plans, of course, but I approach them slowly. The most important thing on my Sunday agenda is relaxation.
I don’t set the alarm for Sunday. My morning routine stays intact, but it begins when I wake up naturally. I take my time with it, too. Journal-writing can get a little more expansive on a Sunday morning; I put additional time and effort into my drawings. I may spend a few extra minutes in meditation practice, or increase the time spent exercising.
When I open my book to study, I don’t have to watch the clock. On a work day, I may only get through two or three pages, reading and taking notes. Sunday mornings, I can finish a chapter, or complete a topic. I can continue until I’m tired of it.
On days when I have to be at work by eight o’clock, the dogs don’t usually get a morning walk. They often sleep in, and wake up slowly. One by one, they go outside, and come back in. I take all three of them out for a quick turn around the yard before I leave for the day. Most of their exercise happens after I get home in the afternoon. Sunday mornings, though, we set out early.
I bring my little tablet to take pictures, and to listen to whatever book I currently have downloaded. Right now, that is Think Like a Monk by Jay Shetty. Often, the book I’m studying, the one I’m listening to on Audible, and the one on my nightstand for reading before bed are widely disparate. At this time, they are all quite similar in topic and energy. In the morning, I’m taking notes and doing exercises from Meditation & Mindfulness by Andy Puddicombe. Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words by David Whyte is what I turn to before I switch off the light at night.
When we’re back from our walk, the dogs are ready for a nap; I’m ready to turn on the news. Because the programs I like are available on my computer, I’m not tied to their programming schedule. I enjoy CBS Sunday Morning. It’s the news, but more inclusive of personal interest, arts and entertainment as well as the usual headlines. Then I watch Face the Nation, which gives me an in-depth look at the current happenings.
After that, I plot out my day. My blog had moved to Friday, when that was my only day off. Now, I think, it’s better planned for Sunday, when I have the whole day to fit it in. In addition to that, I have a few choices. The weather is cool, but the sun is shining; I could start the mower and finish giving the yard one last good trim. The raspberries need to be pruned before winter, and I’d like to transplant the roses this fall.
I brought movies home from the library yesterday, to entertain me while I worked in the studio. That’s another good possibility; there’s plenty to do there. I also picked up a book review, and haven’t read it yet. I got a new catalog in the mail yesterday, and a magazine the day before that. No need to rush to any decisions. I have this entire wonderful Sunday ahead!
I’m a pretty careful writer, but I’m especially good, if I take the time, at editing. I don’t always do it, though. Sometimes it’s a friend that points out that I’ve used the same descriptive word (often something like “large” or “extremely,” mundane and uninteresting enough if used only once) thirteen times in a single essay. Sometimes I notice a problem (that “friend” showed up as “fried” when I missed the N, for instance) weeks after publishing, leaving me wanting to send each reader an amended copy, with an apology.
In re-reading the story I wrote last week, about being lost in the woods, I came upon a few problems. In one of the first paragraphs, I noted that this incident happened more than twenty years ago, that I worked, then, as the morning server at the Shamrock Bar & Restaurant, and that I did not have dogs at that time. None of these bits of information had anything to do with the story as I wrote it. Why did I even put them in?
Well, actually, I should have also mentioned that my Aunt Katie was still alive, and living here on Beaver Island, and that my walking routine rarely varied at all. Two more loose ends to be sewn up!
The dogs deserved a mention because in the years since then, when I’ve gotten turned around or momentarily disoriented while out berry-picking or searching for morels, the dogs are quite good at finding their way. If I’d had dogs with me, I certainly would not have traversed that wide, watery bog. Thinking of the burs they’d pick up in their fur, I likely would have turned back as soon as the trail narrowed. And maybe they could have led me out when I couldn’t find my way. That’s why I brought up the dogs; I just forgot to bring them to any conclusion.
I mentioned my job at the Shamrock, and my morning coffee drinkers because, as I was wandering through the woods in the middle of the night, I was thinking, “No one knows I’m out here. No one will miss me.” Until, of course, I wasn’t at the restaurant to serve coffee in the morning. Then the coffee drinking group would wonder. They might call my house. Maybe, they’d send out a search party to see if my car was broken down on the side of the road. If they made it all the way to my house, they’d see the dirty dishes I’d left in the sink. Dread!
Finally, they would call my Aunt Katie, to see what was going on. “Her car is in the driveway,” they’d tell her. They’d speculate, together, about various possibilities. Maybe they’d make a call or two, to make sure I wasn’t asleep on the sofa at Emma Jean’s, or out on a boodle with Diane. If they wondered that I got turned around while on a walk, my aunt would be quick to assure them, “Cindy always walks along the road.” So, there would be no way to know that I was back in the trees and bog behind Fox Lake, lost in the woods.
As I wandered that night, and in the years since this happened, these considerations have all seemed an important part of the story. I just presented them, then left them hanging there. It took another entire essay just to sew up the loose ends!
A customer came into the hardware store this week, wanting to purchase a compass. We didn’t have one, but his query reminded me that I have several. Or, at least, I did. After I got lost in the woods, it seemed like I was receiving compasses right and left, from anyone that heard the story. Over the years, I have given away most of them, to grandchildren and others, and probably misplaced a few, too. If I had to, I don’t know if I could put my hands on a single compass in this house today. I hope I don’t have to; I’m pretty careful not to get lost, these days.
Have I told this story here? I can’t remember. I’ll tell it again.
It happened a little more than twenty years ago. I was working as the daytime server at the Shamrock Bar & Restaurant, opening at 7 AM for customers who gathered for conversation with their morning coffee. Then, as now, I was in the habit of taking a daily walk. I did not have dogs, then, so I generally walked alone. That year, I’d set a goal to walk one thousand miles from January to December, so I’d increased my daily distance.
Instead of trekking from my house north to the end of Fox Lake Road and back home, which was two miles, I was going south, to the other end of Fox Lake Road where it meets the West Side Drive, and back again. That was three miles. I’m a steady walker, but not particularly fast. Twenty minutes per mile is my speed, unless I deliberately speed up or slow down. I’d usually set out from home at about five o’clock. Three miles, and I’d be home by six.
One day in late October, I got an early start. It was a beautiful, warm and sunny fall day, and I left my house at four o’clock. One mile south, Hannigan Road bumps up to the Fox Lake Road. On a whim, I turned left onto Hannigan Road, then right onto Middie Perron’s Trail, which starts out parallel to the Fox Lake Road. I’d never walked the whole length of the trail, but I’d encountered it from the other end, where it met the Camp #3 Trail.
So, rather than my usual route down the Fox Lake Road and back again, which suddenly seemed so dull, my plan was to take Middie Perron’s Trail to the Camp #3 Trail, which would then take me out to the end of Fox Lake Road, where it met the West Side Drive. I’d see more of the beautiful fall foliage, and have a different than usual view. If it turned into a longer walk, it was no problem, because I’d gotten an early start.
Now, I should mention that, at that time, we’d had three nights in a row so dark that neither the moon or a single star was visible in the sky. That played a part in the decisions I made. The other thing was my dislike for retracing my steps. When lost, I’d rather go forward and find my way than turn around. It has gotten me in trouble while driving, and it caused me some trouble when out walking that evening.
Middie Perron’s Trail curved and zig-zagged. It narrowed from a rustic, leaf-covered two-track down to a skinny trail barely wide enough to squeeze through. Blackberry brambles grew up on either side, and arched overhead. The sun sat low over the treetops to the west. If the sun went down, and I was left in a night as dark as the last three had been, would I be able to find my way forward on this path? Could I find my way back, if I turned around?
In a moment that seemed like a flash of courageous genius, and quickly proved itself to be otherwise, I made a decision. I turned off the trail and walked directly, through tall grass, small trees and towering, thorny brambles, toward the setting sun. West, just a short trek through the wilderness, to the Fox Lake Road. Some things I forgot, didn’t know, or didn’t factor in, when choosing that course:
Just because Middie Perron’s Trail starts out parallel to the Fox Lake Road, it does not remain so;
Neither Fox Lake Road nor Middie Perron’s Trail run exactly north/south because of all the twists and turns they both have;
The sun does not set exactly to the west all year, and in the late fall of the year it is decidedly off course;
Fox Lake bog, which makes much of the land in the vicinity of Fox Lake very swampy, especially in the spring and fall;
Fox Lake. Yes, the entire lake stood between me, on Middie Perron’s Trail, and the Fox Lake Road, that was, in my foolish estimation, “just a short way to the west.”
I walked away from the trail. I pushed through thorn bushes and sharp grasses until I was far enough from where I’d started, I knew I couldn’t find my way back. That’s when I came upon a huge wet area. I looked back, considering. I looked ahead. Clumps of tall reeds grew from bits of earth rising up out of the shallow water. I went forward. I propelled myself from one bit of land to the next, clinging to low branches and reeds, and now and then sinking in up to my knees in cold water.
Many times, as I maneuvered through the muck, I thought I was making a big mistake. The way back, though, seemed just as scary and treacherous as the way forward. When, at last, I was through the boggy area and on dry land, there was no choice but to continue forward; I was not going to tackle that watery obstacle course again! Some things worked in my favor:
Though it was late in October, the weather was good. It was warm enough so that I was comfortable in a light jacket. It wasn’t windy or rainy. I wasn’t cold, even when wet;
The moon came up full and bright that night;
I knew, from observation, that the moon rose in the east and set in the west, so I could prevent myself from walking in circles by using it as a guide;
I was accustomed to walking, and in pretty good shape.
Once the earth under my feet was solid rather than liquid, and the moon was out, I started methodically trying to find my way. Keeping the moon behind me, I walked until I reached water. I carefully walked into the water until I was sure it was not just a puddle, then back-tracked. I did the same thing with the moon on my right side, then left, then straight in front of me. I seemed to be surrounded by water.
I continued in this way for several hours, changing the angle slightly each time. As the moon rose higher in the sky, I had better visibility. One body of water was a creek. Great! Any river or creek will lead to a lake. At that point, I didn’t care if that would be Fox Lake, or Lake Michigan; either would give me access, eventually, to a road.
I followed the creek until it spilled out shallowly over a large area of wet land, with no clear edges to follow. I turned and followed it in the other direction. When it appeared to turn into a large body of water, I tried to follow that around the perimeter. Every lake has an access road, after all. That, too became impossible to follow, spreading out into watery swamp filled with willow-like branches.
In this way, I continued on, through the night. Once, I tried calling out for help; not appearing to be anywhere near human habitation, that seemed like a waste of energy. I never panicked, but grew increasingly frustrated. At one point, I cried. I was tired, but never considered stopping, even just for a rest.
Eventually, I came upon a pile of cut logs in a clearing. They were dark, and moss-covered, indicating that they’d been there for quite a while, but I could still see the slashes of red paint on their ends that the loggers marked them with. There would be a road, leading to this spot! I scrambled over cut logs and through piles of brush until I found it. It was a narrow two-track; the deep tire ruts were filled with muddy water. Still, it was a grand sight to me!
I stayed on that path, sloshing through the mud when I had to but never considering changing course, until it came out onto West Side Drive. I got my bearings there, and walked north until West Side Drive met the Fox Lake Road. And that road took me home.
I walked into my house, and looked at the clock. It was just after two in the morning. I’d been walking pretty steadily for about ten hours! I peeled off wet clothes, brushed pickers and twigs from my hair, and stood for a long time in a hot shower, relieved to have finally found my way out of the woods. That’s my story of being lost.
In years now long past, I went swimming in Lake Michigan early in June. By mid-summer, I was accustomed to the bracing water; by August the big lake seemed almost welcoming. I was used to it. That’s not the way it is any more. Nowadays, I rarely go to the beach, and I almost never swim. When I do get to the shore, as I did when my sisters were here on vacation, it takes quite a bit of self-talk before I even dip my toes in the cold water. It’s much harder these days. A lot of things are like that.
August 11th marked the passage of another year since my mother died. She has, almost unbelievably, been gone from this earth for nine years now. Because memories attach themselves to momentous events, whether happy or sad, that also reminds me that my little dogs are nine years old, as they were born in February of that same year. It gives me an idea of how long my brother has been living in the family home, and how long my sisters and I have been gathering for vacations together. Because I started this blog as a reaction to my mother’s death, I know, too, that I’ve been doing this for close to nine years.
Nine years! I’ve published a blog at least once or twice a week pretty regularly. I spent one year writing every single day, and I usually participate in the “April A ~ Z Challenge,” which involves writing every day except Sundays, through the month of April. Judging by my record with commitments, this blog has been a major success! Until this summer.
What happened? I’m not sure. A few “off” days; difficulty finding a relatable topic; a sick dog; not enough of a schedule in my days, switching quickly to too many obligations in any given day; justifications and excuses…and just like that, a habit fell apart. Not just any habit, but one that I was confidant was so firmly ingrained in my weekly routine that I didn’t have to worry about it, like brushing my teeth, or reading before bed.
I should know better. Over the years, I’ve watched other good habits fall by the wayside. One bad winter and a decade-long walking routine falls apart; a few days of giving in to exhaustion, and a cleaning/tidying habit goes out the window as clutter piles up around me. This I know: it’s easier to maintain a habit, even through hard seasons, than it is to resuscitate a habit that has been allowed to die.
In trying to honor the habits that make up my routine, my rule is, “don’t break the chain.” I like the rows of X’s that mark things completed, day after day. When that’s impossible, I tell myself, “don’t miss twice.” That way, one bad day doesn’t destroy all the diligence that has gotten me to that point. The behavior is still intact. When that fails, the habit is at risk. And that’s the point I’m afraid I’ve come to with this blog.
So, here I am, dipping my toes in the water. I don’t have much of interest to say. If I stand here long enough, I’ll get accustomed to the cold. I’ll warm up to topics that I can elaborate on. If I keep returning to it, it will start to feel welcoming again. For now, I’m just here.