Lessons of the Desert

The desert in bloom

A woman I know told me a few months ago I had not spent enough time alone, since Jim’s death. She is someone I respect. She has experienced the loss of her partner as well.

I wasn’t sure what she meant so I let it sit until I could figure it out. Then I went to the desert. I left at the end of January and returned to San Diego today, Sunday.

I know a little more now about spending time alone. The desert is not for everyone. For me it is a place of healing and beauty and more. If you ever want to be alone, not just physically but in all dimensions,  there is no better place to go than the desert southwest.

Every time I travel to the deserted places, I know a little more about myself when I return to civilization. What do I know? I am not sure. I do know that there is a stronger presence of peace within me. At the same time confusion is also present.

I believe that people go through periods of identity crisis in their life. The first major one for many, appears around our 27th year. This is often times of big change, a move, a career change, people get married, others get divorced and whatever else can be imagined. I know that when I turned 28 my life changed a lot. I was off and on the move, exploring myself spiritually, emotionally, physically and more.

Another year of great change for me was when I turned 50. I think 60 might have been a marker year for me. I did not expect it to be because of Jim’s death. It is amazing how strong one can be when one has to be. When I didn’t feel strong, my friends and family were there to support me and hold me steady. They still are. I never did celebrate my 60th birthday until my 62nd year.

With the sale of our home, last July, I finally gave myself permission to wander and be lost if I needed to be. Elsie and I moved into the Roadtrek (the little house on wheels) and began to wander. The first few months were with purpose. I was the sag wagon for my friend Cat, as she bicycled the Pacific Coast.

In November when I returned to San Diego, Pat, a friend,  kindly took Miss Elsie and myself in. Little did I know it would be for almost three months. Teeth are tricky and I became close friends with the dentist while I was there. I finally asked for some time off and with some sound advice from my dentist, I left for the desert.

After the first few weeks, I have spent most of the time alone. And, I have been wandering. My feet have definitely been wandering. Hiking and walking every day has been a good adventure. I feel as if I have gotten back to my younger roots, and have begun to wander the desert freely and without reserve. I do use my hiking poles. As a good friend, Mary would say, NBA. No Broken Ankles.

I have pondered death and what it must have been like for my parents to see their friends and acquaintances die. I am reaching an age now where I too am beginning to know of loss of health and life. I always thought that someone would miss me when I was gone but the reality of it is, is that life goes on. We may carry the memories of those who have left, yet all of our lives continue to move forward. This is hard to acknowledge when it comes to Jim. There is so much I have learned from our time together. He was a gift in my life. I know he cannot be here physically yet I can carry the memories with me as I continue to grow in my own life.

it is hard to explore some of the more fragile parts of my existence. Life is not always positive. Yet even when things are looking dim I believe I can make my life positive by acknowledging the hard things of life. We all experience those hard moments. For some moments last for years. Not for me.

One of the questions I have asked myself out in the desert is “what do I have to live for?”. Existentially, I believe we all ask this question at some point in our existence. This is a hard question to ask and expect to receive a total answer. Some days I am not sure what the answer is. Other days I have a better grasp on it. When I get low I have amazing friends who know just when to call. This happened with me a few nights ago. Thank you Mary for calling. It was just what I needed.

Here are a few ideas of what I have to live for.

  • Friends-near and far, known and unknown.
  • Miss Elsie the Cat.

    Miss Elsie the Cat

  • The basic fact is that I am not ready to leave yet. I have given this some thought since Jim’s death. There is no easy way out.
  • Friends
  • My family. I have two sisters that care about me and nieces as well. I now have a great niece and great nephew. I don’t see my family  often yet I know they are out there for me.
  • Jim’s family.
  • I still have a lot of books to read and things to understand. I am not done growing yet.
  • Photography and painting.
  • Friends
  • I am still working on how to help others. I did this for most of my work life. I feel like I needed a break. With everything happening in the world it is time for me to address this again.

I believe the list is much longer and changes from day to day, moment to moment. It is not always defined. Little “ah-ha” moments are sometimes all we have.

I made my way to the outskirts of San Diego. I am staying at a beautiful county park. My view is incredible. I have one day off tomorrow and then I become busy.

A view from my home for the next two weeks

My tax and dental appointment loom on the horizon. Yes, the realities of life.

 

Leaving the Sonoran-Arriving the California Desert

Today I move. In about two weeks I need to be back in San Diego. One more dental surgery to go and taxes need to be done. Sigh.

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Ah, Sunset

Last evening was the warmest evening I have spent in southern AZ. I could actually sit outside till long after the sun had dipped below the horizon. It was a perfect Sonoran desert evening. No wind, owls hooting, and the traffic had dwindled to a minimum. Elsie was busy watching things, out there in the world. Definitely a perfect evening.

I spent the last two days meandering the desert. There are no trails here except the ones the wild burros have made as they trek to the tinaja (water tank). I had to sign in to be on this land. The docent where I signed in said just follow the burrows. FTB. I did just that. I walked through the mountainous terrain to the valley that lies beyond. I walked into the wide dry wash and stood listening to birds. Those pesky birds are hard to find amongst the willows, palo verde and creosote.

What I thought was a dry wash revealed itself as I looked down. The burro tracks revealed a different story. I could see water at the bottom of their prints. The wash was not as dry as I first thought. Water, the life blood of the desert, the mountains and all humans. In this dry, harsh climate I have gained a new respect for water. The tracks at the tinaja were numerous and varied. Even the bees were there drinking from the green rank water. If I was really thirsty, I know I would be joining the others for a drink.

Those Pesky Chollas

Those Pesky Chollas

img_8671You have to be careful when walking in this country. Even though the cholla really do not jump sometimes it feels like they do. Most things are thorny and prickly and demand respect. There are many holes dug in the ground, big and small. They are critters homes. If you don’t observe where you walk you could stumble into one of these. It could lead to disaster. The first hike I did alone I returned to where I thought my RT was only to find I was quite a distance to the south. A strong sense of direction is a must. A map is even a better idea (I didn’t have one). I always carry a compass and in this case looked west. I knew there was a road out there somewhere.

I have seen desert Big Horn Sheep, climbing up and over the top of a rocky mountain. Two javelina surprised me as much as I did them one morning. They started up the mountain. One stumbled and slid down a rock but quickly regained his footing and the last I saw of it, it was running over the summit.img_8570

 

Desert Lily

Desert Lily

Wild flower season is beginning to happen here. With just the right amount of water the desert blooms with the tiniest of flowers. All are showy. It is hard to step around the white daisies that carpet the floor in these washes. The desert is a happy place when there has been rain. Ah, water. I could mention most of the flowers I have seen but that would take too long. The desert Lily is always one of my favorites.

Today El and I pack up and leave. I am not done with the desert yet. I am moving towards Anza Borrego State Park in the California desert. I am having a hard time saying goodby to southern AZ. I have seen so much, found some peace for my sometimes weary soul, and met some lovely people along the way. I know I will meet up with most of them again. We are all part of a group-the wandering, adventurous souls. We love to travel. It is a strong bond and one I want to explore more in depth.

17021834_10153749903052537_7288542039359449127_nI had the opportunity to visit for three glorious days with Missy and Dan. Missy and I have been friends for many years. They live on the east coast, splitting their time between Florida and Maine. It makes it hard to get together, yet every so many years we manage. It was a delight traveling, camping and hiking with them. I loved the access we had with their jeep. I love them.

I have no doubt that I will return to this country. The desert draws me back again and again. Who knew that this east coast woman would fall in love with the wide open space. Now it is time to pack and get ready to move.

I plan to carry my time in this country forward with me. It has changed me as each new experience does. I feel a little less alone and more at peace. These are good things and even if I forget these moments and feelings, I know my body and mind will hold them for me. That way I can tune into this anytime I want.

Getting ready to pack.

Listening

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I have spent the last two nights at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Refuge. It is in eastern Arizona and is a migratory stop to 7,000 plus, Sandhill Cranes. The whole valley is a stop for more than 23,000 of these beautiful birds. Each morning around dawn they leave in mass to feed in the nearby ranch fields. It is an amazing site to witness their departure and return to the refuge.

Leaving the refuge in the morning

Leaving the refuge in the morning

Arriving back at the Refuge around noon.

Arriving back at the Refuge around noon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The refuge is also home to many ducks, shore birds, owls, and yellow-headed blackbirds. Coyotes, bobcats, foxes and more make this their home as well. For those of us in our RV’s and tents, it is a free camping spot. I think the refuge provides the camping as most get up to see the pre-dawn take off.

cinnamon Teal

cinnamon Teal

Shovelers in Flight

Shovelers in Flight

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes it was amazing to see these graceful birds. Yes I loved the ducks and all the other birds. What was most amazing were the amount of sounds that surrounded me when I stopped and listened.

  • The cranes were never silent, even in the middle of the night.
  • The ducks quacked, squeaked and more.
  • The first evening when the yellow-headed blackbirds returned to the refuge they flew directly over my head. It was so amazing to listen to the sound of hundreds of wings. They were so close I could almost feel the breeze as they flew above.

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    Yellow-headed Blackbirds Arriving at the Refuge

  • Later as I was making my back to the RV, the reeds sounded like the wind was blowing, although it was still. It took me a few moments to realized that the blackbirds were making the noise in the marsh reeds.
  • The owls hooted in the trees surrounding the marsh.
  • Night two I was able to witness a murmuration up close as the blackbirds swooped in and out of the marshes. They created their own arial dance. I could hear them as the swooped and dove, settling for a few moments on the reeds and then taking to the air again.

Listening is defined as “giving attention with the ear”. It is an art form. There are classes to teach active listening. People listen to each other. A therapist listens to their clients. Fine music can sweep one away.

How often do we stop just to listen? How does the wind sound today? How does the quiet sound, right now? When it is too quiet do we actively do something to disturb it? What does silence sound like? This refuge was so alive I cannot tell you what silence sounded like.

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Listening to nature is a form of meditation. It can quiet the mind, still the ever present rambling thoughts. I have found that it can increase my awareness of the present moment. The more I am quiet in the wilderness, the more I become aware of the subtlest sounds. As I stood in the refuge I realized that the ultimate experience at this place, was sound. There was so much of it all around. If I had not taken the time to quiet myself, I might have missed the sounds around me.

I have noticed, since leaving San Diego in January, that quiet is becoming more important to me. It is not quiet that I seek as much as it is the increasing awareness within myself to acknowledge the sounds that I don’t often pay attention to, like the blackbirds in the reeds. It was an amazing revelation to realize that the reeds were alive with birds. It drew me back the next night and so I was able to witness the murmuration.

Now I am listening to my stomach and it is telling me it is time for dinner.

Further Travels of Elsie

img_7404Hi this is Miss Elsie checking in. I am one traveling kitty. I have seen more than most kitties see in a whole lifetime.

we arrived in San Diego and for almost three months I thought we were stable. First we moved in with Janet’s friend, Pat. She has a great house. I love the wood floors where I can “rip and tear” to my heart’s content. One day this little girl came in the house and she really wanted to play with me. She scared one of my nine lives out of me. I have learned to become very good at hiding. After that day every time I heard little kid voices I ran and hid. Like I said I am good at that.

Then Janet disappeared for two weeks. I don’t know where she went. She did come back. For those two weeks I stayed at Nancy’s house. I really liked it there. I have always liked Nancy. I don’t run and hide from her. She talks so nice to me. She had a really cool back yard. There was a corner of the living room that smelled like catnip. It was fun to roll there.

Janet came back and we returned to Pat’s house again. Another reason I liked Pat’s house is that the windows are so low that I could look outside and never have to climb on anything. I liked looking out the windows. At first I could go out back and out front, on my leash. Then one day Janet saw a coyote in the back yard and I didn’t go there any more. It didn’t really matter. The front was really fun. There was a wall I really liked sitting on.

I don’t tell time well, I am a cat and time isn’t that important. I eat, I sleep, I play and I get scratched. I am quite evolved. One day, all of sudden we moved back in to the little house on wheels. We have been traveling since.

People keep showing up and disappearing. One place we stayed for almost a week. There were two people and two tiny houses. Then two more people showed up. Their house on wheels was not so tiny. I heard they had two cats inside that house. I am not fond of other cats. The lady, Linda said that I was a designer kitty. Pft, I have always known this. I am a cat. Then a few days later another person shows up. Then Janet and I left, along with Mary. Where does everyone keep going? I am really not sure.

My favorite place, to this point was a place where it was only Janet and I camping. Well, Mary was there and then she left. I am not sure where everyone keeps going. They come and then they leave. This place was very quiet. We were the only ones there. I loved rolling in the dirt.

Burros

Burros

One morning Janet took me for a walk-she carried me. All of a sudden I saw these large animals and they made a really strange sound. They scared me a lot. I ran all the way back to our house. Boy was I thirsty and tired. I don’t recommend them. Janet said they were burros. They were really huge to this 6 pound kitty. If you ever see them, be careful.

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coyote

We have been exploring the desert. It is really weird place. Everything seems to have pokey things. I look out the window and talk to strange birds. I like all the windows in our little house. Some places I have been able to go out at night and some I can’t because of these animals called coyotes. They look like dogs, I am not fond of dogs. Janet says they would like me for dinner. That is kind of rude. I guess it is a good thing to stay away from them.

A few days ago I got another fun surprise. We visited with Raquel. It took me a few minutes but I remembered her. She stayed at our sticks and bricks house for a while. Janet disappeared and so did the little house on wheels. See what I mean, people keep disappearing and then reappearing. It would be quite confusing, if my needs weren’t met. My needs seem to be always met. I am a cat. Raquel took good care of me. I really like her. I was surprised to hear a familiar voice. People just keep showing up. Why was she out in the middle of the desert? I am not sure. These things are confusing to a little kitty.

Now we are in a place with trees. I can go out here. There are skunks-they smell bad. I have to be careful of them. There seem to be no coyotes here so I am able to venture outside after dark. I hope Janet is right about all this. I have to rely on her a bit.

Each day I get to roll. Then she wets a towel and wipes me off. I don’t know why I can’t keep the dirt on. It feels good. It is a direct challenge to get dirty again. Hee Hee.

Janet got me a really neat present. They are called sheepskin seat covers. I love sleeping on them. In fact I no longer sleep with Janet. Every night I head to the passenger seat for sleeping. Sometimes Janet kicks me off the seat because she wants to sit there. I should get priority. I am the cat. It’s OK though. I just move over to the driver’s seat. These are cushy, warm, wonderful things. I recommend them. I even sleep on them while she is driving, though I still go to the blankets for undisturbed naps.

Tomorrow we roll again. I am not sure where we roll to. Janet has told me that we are getting ready. More adventures to come. With all the current excitement (thunder and lightening) I am ready to retreat to the blankets. See you later.

Breezes of the Desert

75ccc72e53440b46961e7776d2add1faimagesEarly this morning I awoke around 1:30 am, windows open in my Roadtrek and the gentlest of breezes was beginning to blow. I love the desert. When the night breezes begin, the desert is beginning to cool down from the heat of the day. My RV begins to cool off and now it is a time where snuggling into the blankets begins to feel really good.

Coyotes are howling out in the countryside. Despite how I worry about coyotes and Elsie the cat, I love them. They remind me of the wild country before we had big cities. They remind me of Jim, (one of his major spirit animals) and they give me comfort. I embrace the wild-around me and in me. It gives me the will and desire to wander into uncharted territory.

Instead of worrying about not being able to sleep through the night, I accept the waking and explore the dark, welcoming the moon and the moonless nights. I listen to the wind. Reaching over I open another window so I can get a cross-breeze. I love the feel of the coolness on my face, arms and hands.

Sonoran Desert

Sonoran Desert

Before I arrived on the outskirts of Tucson, where I am for the next few days, I was in the desert north of Ajo, AZ. I was boondocking(dry camping). I had driven about a half mile off the main road into the desert. Each day I would go on my own short walk-about, exploring my temporary home. For two days I sat in silence. My only conversation was with Elsie the cat. In the distance I could hear the occasional braying of the local wild burro population and the occasional coyote. Silence is hard to get used to at first. Then it becomes familiar. Then I embrace it. It is hard to let it go, when I go back into the city or even the small town. I hope that some of the silence follows me back into the noise of the everyday world.

Wild Burros

Wild Burros

In the quiet I can begin to hear and feel in a deeper and clearer way. I feel the gentlest of breezes and welcome it’s whisper, quieting my heart and mind.  The sky becomes clearer and the world around me brightens. Sitting out after dark I begin to hear the scurrying of little critters and have a passing hope that a pack rat is not setting up home in my engine, they do that.

When I first moved west I thought I was going to see sand and dirt and nothing.  The desert is so alive. There are plants big and small and so many different cactus. The birds and wildlife are varied. In Suguarjo National Park there are over 200 species of birds. They all have their own unique way of surviving in the hot summer months and cold winter months.

Late Afternoon Hike, near Gilbert Ray Campground

Late Afternoon Hike, near Gilbert Ray Campground

I would like to consider that I may also have my own unique way of surviving. This is why I sold my home last July. This is why I moved into my RT. This is why I accept my questioning spirit. This is why I know it is OK to grieve. This is why I know it is OK to roam and wonder what is next. Maybe just maybe when the wind whispers, I will hear the answer I am seeking.

 

 

 

 

Into the Desert

img_7051Last Wednesday, Miss Elsie the Cat, the Roadtrek and I left San Diego for points southeast. The desert was calling my name. The dentist gave me a reprieve and so we departed into the vast Sonoran Desert.

It is winter here. It is chilly at night, if not down right cold. It is wonderful hiking weather during the day and after the rains the desert is alive and the color green is showing up everywhere. The Octotillo are already blooming here at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

Why the desert? The desert is the place I go to seek solitude, solace, to think and sort and grow. There is something about the wind and the animals and the vastness of the desert that is wonderfully healing for me. I slow down and really observe my surroundings.

Roadtreking Together

Roadtreking Together

I am not alone. I met up with Mary, a friend of mine. She has a Roadtrek too. We are exploring the desert together. We get along well. One of the nice things about having our own vehicles is that when we need time to ourselves we can retreat to our tiny home on wheels. I appreciate the fact that we both are respectful of our need for our own space.

I enjoy sharing my life with others. Mary asked me if I felt that things were getting easier for me, regarding Jim’s death. This is a very interesting question to ponder. I don’t always take the time to gauge where I have been, what I have achieved, and where I am going regarding Jim. Now the question has been asked I will take some time to bring this into my awareness.

Before I left my friend Nancy mentioned she was having a hard time remembering what I was like before Jim. And there it is. I will never return to who I was before Jim. Who I was before him, during our relationship and who I am now is a cumulative effect of all that has preceded this day, this moment in time.

Years ago Jim and I rafted the Grand Canyon. It was a life altering event. After the trip was over, we often would mention before Grand Canyon and after Grand Canyon. I notice there are times where I regard my life as “before Jim’s death and after Jim’s death”. How have the past four plus years affected who I am today? Well that could be a loaded question. I mean over six years ago I was entangled in the the whole breast cancer issue, that led right into Jim’s diagnosis and his death a year and a half later.

Most of the time I see those times as a hard exercise in growing. I had always heard of others who went through periods of trauma (all kinds-you pick it) and then life smoothed out again. I am hoping that my time of trauma is smoothing out. There are issues still to address but for the most part I would like the smoothing to start.

I miss Jim. It is not often that I feel that overwhelming raw grief that carried me through the first few years. I am thankful for that. I was reminded of it, once again, after the National election results this year, and although the grief was strong I knew to step beyond it quickly. Raw grief is not somewhere I want to stay. I find I like to carry him with me, in the stories I tell and the photos I look at. I guess I feel he is here and I can still advance forward in my life.

Janet, Hiking Alamo Canyon

Janet, Hiking Alamo Canyon

Most days I feel I am doing much better and am working towards sorting out my own life. Grief has no timeline. I am not even sure it ever truly goes away, it softens over time. I would like to consider the possibility that grief is softening for me. I am doing better at meeting people I don’t know well and enjoying their company. I have needed to re-teach myself how to reach out to others and know I will be accepted. Being alone most of the time is not good for me. I am enjoying the moments of meeting others and feeling valued as a person. One positive experience leads to the next.

While this all goes on within, I find I am enjoying each day, sometimes a little and sometimes much more. I am enjoying the desert. It was time to leave San Diego. I did not know that when I left and yet it only took one look at the Anza Borrego Desert, as I was coming down the mountain, that I knew I was where I needed to be.

Gila Woodpecker

Gila Woodpecker

Even in an organized campground, with people around the quietness of the desert is everywhere. I wake each morning to a Gila Woodpecker on the cactus next to my campsite. It is good to get up early to greet the dawn and enjoy the wildlife before they disappear in the warmer part of the day.

Elsie is slowly adapting to life on the road again. Thanks to the calming flower essences my friend Beth gave me, she is quietly and shyly coming out to explore. I appreciate my steady little companion on this journey of mine. At night she curls up on the bed with me. Like I said, a good companion.

I will be returning to San Diego, late in March-one more dental surgery to go. I know some of you have been waiting for an update. It is because of all of you out there in the world, known and unknown to me, that I can continue forward with the adventure of life.

Each day, I am getting ready to hike and explore this marvelous country.

Sorry No More, well maybe

 “Dear random women I meet every day: if we go through the same doorway at the same time you don’t need to apologize. If you happen to be going down stairs at the same time I’m going up, don’t be sorry. If you’re looking at something on a store shelf and I pause to look at the same shelf you don’t need to excuse yourself. The next time you’re about to make a valid point in a discussion, don’t start by saying “I’m sorry but.” You deserve to be here. You deserve the air you breathe and the light you absorb. You deserve the space you take up. You deserve to have an opinion without it being diminished by an apology. What is the message when our daughters, sisters, students and any young women see us apologizing for simply being here? For thinking? For taking up space? What are we signaling to men, to anyone, about our sense of our own value and worthiness? Is being sorry the way you want people to see you? How can we possibly fight for gender equity for ourselves and others when we behave as if we don’t belong? Try this for a week: stop apologizing. Apologize ONLY if you have truly caused harm. Then do it for another week. Then keep going. ”                     Patricia James  

 

I am the queen of sorry. Ever since I was small I apologized. I always felt that most things were my fault, even things that did not pertain to me. As I have grown into adulthood, this has continued. I apologize for everything, the weather, the day, not being fast enough, not being slow enough, being in the way, not being in the way. You get the idea. When Jim, my husband entered my life he started to subtly and not so subtly work with me to change this habit. It is hard and yet, with his help I find I have, over the years, apologized less. I can at least recognize my moments of broad and random apologizing.

imagesI am not the only one who has this issue. Many women also work through this frustrating habit. I believe that society teaches women this behavior, as we grow up. If I speak to other women and I once again apologize and then say “I am sorry for saying sorry”, nine times out of ten they get it.

I belong to the Pantsuit Nation Facebook page. Recently the above quote was written on this page.  I had already been thinking of posting about this topic. When I saw Patricia’s quote it struck a very deep and personal chord. Another woman I follow on Facebook posted the below quote from feministvoice on Instagram.

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OK I get it. When the moment is right the messages come. It is time for me to stop apologizing for the world. I don’t often pay attention to New Years resolutions. This coming year I plan to stop saying “I’m sorry”. It is not something that is going to change overnight. Creating positive change takes time and patience.

The first step is awareness. Since Jim’s death (four years ago), I have recognized more and more, my moments of apologizing. I have no one who can lovingly and gently guide me. Now I have to step up and become my own muse.

Hopefully my friends can lovingly support me through this change. If I say I am sorry, I really don’t want anyone to correct me. Maybe a “go Janet” would be better.

I really like the idea of changing the “I’m sorry” to something positive. The title of this blog is Journeys of Thankfulness. As a noun gratitude is the state of being thankful and grateful. As a adjective thankful is showing appreciation or gratitude. I am right on track and ready for this personal challenge. It is long overdue.

Today I am thankful for strong women who, through their voice, assist me in change. Today I am thankful for all who read this post and their quiet or verbal support. Today I am thankful for only apologizing when it is the correct situation. Today I am grateful.

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Bring it on 2017