Beauty…or A Love Letter to Trout Lake

On March 26th, I bundled up on a 30-degree day and headed to Island Lake State Park across the street from my home. After a week of Michigan covid cases rising from 60 to more than 560, the walls were closing in and anxiety was mounting.

img_4815I’d never had the courage to hike on my own, but over the past five years I’ve found strength and healing in nature. On that March day, I hiked 1.7 miles. In the early morning hours, it feels as if the lake and trail are my own.

Hiking the same trail brings the comfort of familiarity yet awareness that every day is unique. I’ve watched the trail transform from winter’s leafless slumber to fluffed up Summer foliage threatening to hide its treasures from interloping humans.

The sandy road surrounding Trout Lake can only be reached by foot, bicycle or park ranger patrol. The lake, oh the lake with its still water reflecting the deep coral and blue sunrise as if you are seeing double. As above so below comes to mind, yet ripples remind me it’s but an illusion.

trout-lake-sunrise-beautyOne day might be gloomy and overcast while the next is crisp without a cloud in the sky. Give me a tequila sunrise with interesting cloud formations over a clear sunrise any day of the week.

I’ve seen sand castles, socks on trees, forts, moats, and beach trash, lots of beach trash like Hungry Howie pizza boxes, empty Oberon bottles, and abandoned towels. Just be zen and don’t react, I tell myself. Then I get pissed off at the inconsiderate beachgoers and mutter “Seriously, pack it in, pack it out.” I remind myself to bring a bag next time.

Once a neon translucent teardrop hanging from a tree caught my eye as I passed. It appeared to be a fishing lure wrapped around a branch, but looked more like a charm decorating a tree for fishing season.

img_5602Mother Nature is a gifted artist and my photographs don’t do her justice. They don’t capture the steam rising in tendrils from the lake. My still images make the mallard swimming across the lake and the sandhill cranes flying a V formation with their rattling bugle calls above my head seem insignificant. But I’ve stored those scenes firmly in my head and heart so when I’m living a landlocked life, I can relive them.

Today I took my 68th hike since the pandemic hit. While Michigan cases spiked early making the state number 3 in the country, we’re now number 18 thanks to our Governor’s steady guidance. Work tells me I’ll be teleworking through the end of the calendar year. For now, I cope by hitting the trail at dawn, listening to nature waking up, watching steam rise from the lake, and savoring every sunrise…at least for another six weeks.

Holding On In Tumultous Times

“We have to find find those things that make us feel most alive, and hold onto those.” Chris Fagan, Adventurer

The above quote is from a Mother’s Day episode of She Explores: Women in the Outdoors podcast with adventurer Chris Fagan who shares openly about the strategies she had for coping with her husband’s cancer diagnosis. Although the episode was recorded pre-pandemic, host Gale Straub encourages listening with a Covid-19 filter for resilience lessons.

What makes me feel most alive these days is staying active through treadmill walks on crummy weather days and hikes on good weather days. Today is Day 66 of social distancing and yesterday I took my 16th hike. Getting out on the trails and seeing nature springing to life reminds me that everything has a season, and this too shall pass. Right now, it seems endless…and hard.

I’ve always been a planner, so the ‘not knowing’ is what has been hardest for me: how we can safely resume working with others without fear of infection; when we’ll get an effective vacine; how and when we’ll have effective contact tracing; and when we’ll ever be able to heal the fissures of distrust and hate that have come to define our political discourse.

On my last hike, I listened to an On Being episode where host Krista Tippett and musician/artist Devendra Banhart read passages from When Things Fall Apart, by Tibetan Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön. The first passage Krista read from the book was “Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”

Although the book was written more than 20 years ago, it’s never been more relevant given world events. As Chödrön says later after that passage, “Letting there be room for not knowing is the most important thing of all.”

When I’m feeling anxious in the days to come, I’ll remember these take-aways…Give in to grief, because there is a lot to grieve now. Make room for every small relief you feel, the roof over your head and the food on your table, because so many are struggling. Move through your misery, because it too shall pass. And breathe in joy, that you are still alive in this moment.

Oh The Places We Used To Go

It’s Day 57 since I’ve been staying home and safe, but every day feels a bit like Groundhog Day. As the ongoing national trauma worsens, Coronavirus cases in Michigan have topped 45K with more than 4K deaths. Our Governor has extended the stay-at-home order until May 28th, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t get extended again.

If you’re like me, you can’t help watching a TV series or a movie and feeling a little envious for the freedom they have to congregate and do the things we used to enjoy. And I’m having a hard time getting motivated to write. It’s been more than six weeks since I wrote a post of substance. I’ve defaulted to taking care of myself by using my treadmill, going on hikes, and trying to read more books. As an older person in a higher risk category, I’ve limited my outings to only those necessary to pick up groceries and outdoor hikes at times when I can avoid people on the trail.

Some days are harder than others, but it has helped to do buddy checks on friends and family, and hold weekly Zoom calls with my extended family. Once we run out of things to talk about, we resort to playing a fun game of homemade Bingo together.

react-to-covid-lifeIn my search for Covid-19 news and it’s impact on our lives, one of the new people I follow is Scott Galloway. Galloway is a Professor at New York University Stern School of Business, author of two books, and a great email newletter called No Mercy, No Malice. In Post Corona: The Cosmic Opportunity, Galloway posted this graphic and discussed the concept of time, making a case for readers to consider their lives, family connections, and growth opportunities to prepare for the post-Corona age.

With opening of the Y2K Time Capsule at the beginning of 2020, the concept of time has been all too relevant for me. Twenty years of my life elapsed, seemingly in the blink of an eye. The question of what my life might look like for the next ~20 years has been on my mind a lot, and coming into sharper focus during these last two months. I try to limit my trips to the Fear Zone, focus on staying in the Learning Zone, with a goal to live in the Growth Zone.

In the spirit of making new dreams reality, sometime in the next five years I’d like to retire and hike the Camino de Santiago trail to celebrate. I’ve walked at least 3-6 miles every day for 36 days, and taken 12 hikes so I’m already training. I’d also like to have my memoir published, so it’s time for me to get back to work on that too…before the sands of time slip away.

Keeping It Real About COVID-19 Anxiety

white and brown wooden tiles
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Earlier this month, my day job told me I had been selected for a six month developmental position in California. I miss the left coast and figured it would be a good way to get my Cali fix so I applied. I’d been monitoring the coronavirus situation in Europe via Twitter. The previous weekend I’d noticed an orange dot on the map near where the assignment would be located.

I confirmed my acceptance tentatively to begin April 1st. Then I added “Do you think the coronavirus situation will impact travel or the assignment?”

“I don’t know, let me check.”

Well, we know how fast things have escalated since then. Needless to say, I’m hunkered down at home with my wife, our two Australian Shepherds, and our tortie cat Mocha. I’m thankful to be able to work from home for the past week and for the foreseeable future, but I’m worried about our healthcare system, essential workers, and people living in the margins.

I’m not gonna lie…I vacillate between a zen-like “I’ll handle whatever comes” to an “oh shit, I said I never wanted to survive the zombie apocalypse” feeling. Daily life? It’s somewhere in between.

I’m a figure out a plan, get it done kind of person. I’ve never identified as being anxious until recently with all the unknowns. Sunday my anxiety was off the hook. The reality is I’m over 60, prone to bronchitis, and have an “underlying condition”. If shit hits the fan and what is happening in Italy happens here, I’ll be one of last priorities. With that in mind, I’ve been getting my affairs in order with the thought that if I’m prepared, it won’t happen. So given that, let me share a couple of podcasts that have helped me with techniques to manage my newfound anxiety.

Brené Brown has an awesome new podcast called Unlocking Us, and her first episode is about FFTs/TFTs (effing First Times or the family friendly Terrible First Times). She acknowledges that this locked-in pandemic living is new and scary for all of us. So she encourages listeners to name and normalize the new thing, put it in perspective, then reality check your expectations. It’s a great listen, and I look forward to her future episodes.

In my hyperanxiety state yesterday, I searched “coronavirus” in my podcast app and came up with an episode called Fear in the Time of Coronavirus on the Being Well podcast with Dr. Rick Hanson and his son Forrest Hanson. Dr. Hanson is a Bay Area psychologist and he and his son are the authors of Resilient. I was hooked at 1:22 minutes when Forrest says, “I can say personally, I feel psychoemotionally activated literally every time I hear the word coronavirus.” During the podcast, they talk about their feelings, how to cope with our inner and outer worlds, and techniques and tools for coping with this new reality. It was a great help in calming my monkey brain.

Today Michigan’s Governor Whitmer held a press conference where she said the Michigan COVID-19 cases doubled over the weekend. As a result, she issued a Stay At Home Order for the next three weeks. Excuse me while I go listen to the podcasts again.

Be safe and stay healthy!

Week 1: How Are You Doing?

balance blur boulder close up
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

It’s been a week since we started social distancing in our attempts to flatten the curve. Weirdly, I miss my commute to work where I listen to podcasts of shows I never have time to watch, Audible books, and music. I also miss the personal interaction with other humans. As an introvert, I’m surprised by that but I guess I shouldn’t be. When I was working from home in real estate a decade ago, I welcomed the chance to work with clients face to face. The difference now is that it’s not a choice. Michigan cases have gone from 60 to 560 over the past week and based on reports from other areas, it may continue to worsen for awhile.

I’m grateful to have a day job where I can work from home. I’m worried about the economic fallout, especially for those people whose lives depend on serving the public. As Stephanie Land, author of Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay and a Mother’s Will to Survive, writes in the New York Times, “Social distancing is forcing us to make decisions that go against our capitalistic nature: to cut back. Remember who this affects the most — the hourly wage workers who have no option to work remotely, no safety nets and, still, families to feed.”

black laptop computer turned on
Photo by John Dubanek on Pexels.com

After a work week struggling with a new normal, I needed an escape last night to avoid going down a rabbit hole. Thankfully my Facebook buddy Gordy offered just the medicine I needed…listening to musicians via Facebook Live.

First up was from Stay In Your House Shows with five different Michigan musicians: Dan Rickabus, Steve Leaf, Loren Johnson, Justin Stover (Stovepipe), and Emilee Petersmark. Unfortunately, I was too late for performances by Dan and Steve, but I thoroughly enjoyed Loren’s soulful voice, Stovepipe’s quirky “Haunted Americana” songs, and Emilee’s crazy wicked talent on covers and originals. The heartfelt messages from the artists made me feel like I’m not alone in my anxiety. Stay In Your House Shows hasn’t announced when their next concert will be, but I’ll definitely be tuning in.

Then I saw that Bobby Jo Valentine, a musician I’ve followed since hearing him perform locally, was on Facebook Live. Bobby Jo’s soulful lyrics “…when life gets complicated, when life gets hard to understand, the simple things are sacred, like the touch of another hand…” brought me to tears. It was yet another reminder of the power of connection.

img_4143Earlier in the week I had read about Keith Urban, John Legend, and other musicians doing live streaming for their fans. After listening to the Stay In Your House Show artists and Bobby Jo talking about being musicians who earn their living doing live shows, I’ll be supporting them and their music making this time of social distancing tolerable.

This morning I started my day with a 1.7 mile hike around the lake across the street. I’m intentionally avoiding news, taking care of myself, and reaching out to friends and family. That’s what is important to me right now. How are you doing?

Social Distancing & Telework

One week ago, the first two cases of COVID-19 was diagnosed in the State of Michigan. Today, the number increased to 65. Thankfully we haven’t had any deaths, but COVID-19 related deaths in the US now exceeds 100. There are nearly 200K cases worldwide and the number of new US cases today doubled yesterday’s number…that is not a good trend.

Last Thursday I braved the crowds at Kroger and bought what I thought we might need for a couple of weeks. I worked my normal telework day on Friday then ventured out for a thermometer (we take and record our temperatures every morning and evening), isopropyl alcohol (since all the bleach and hand sanitizers were sold out), and a couple of pizzas. Then we hunkered down for the weekend.

By Monday, my day job was encouraging telework which could very well last awhile. My anxiety was off the hook with all the changes and unknowns, so I took a walk around the lake near my house. It was just the shot of Vitamin N I needed.

Today on my lunch walk, I decided that if this is my new normal for awhile, I’m going to embrace it. I’ll get back to writing since I have a little more time now that I don’t have a commute. And I’ll enjoy at least once daily walks in nature.

Trying times for sure, but we’ll get through it.

Covid Chaos

CVS Pharmacy Sign Seen on Friday, 3/13

Saturday, 14 March – Michigan schools are closing, cases are mushrooming, and residents are stockpiling. It’s not the zombie apocalypse but I imagine it might feel similar.

I read a story about brothers in a southern state who traveled over a thousand miles to buy up all the masks and hand sanitizer they could get their hands on. Funny how their first nudge was to capitalize off other people’s misery. And people fighting over toilet paper. Have we lost our humanity already?

The poetry reading I was looking forward to tomorrow is cancelled. My monthly writing group meeting next week is cancelled. Seems like a good time to hunker down and write…but I find myself searching for the latest news and wondering if I’m an unknown carrier just waiting for the curtain to fall.

These are trying times.

Healing My February Funk & Reclaiming Its Blessing

For the past two years, I’ve dreaded February with its deep Winter chill and memories of loved ones passed. This year will be different, I thought as a booked a Corporeal Writing workshop in Portland, Oregon. I’d never been to Portland, my memoir was in a stuck place, and the workshop was being facilitated by two memoir writers I admire, Pam Houston and Stephanie Land.

img_3908I signed up for the workshop, booked a flight to arrive two days early to allow for sightseeing, and reserved a room at a hotel in Downtown Portland. I was ready for an adventure and to take the month back from grief’s grip.

The flight left Detroit later than scheduled, so when we landed in Seattle, I had to run from one end of the terminal, catch a tube, then run to the other. Breathless, I caught my connecting flight just before the doors closed. Once I arrived in Portland, I could hail a Lyft for around $30 or take public transportation (the MAX) for $2.50 directly from the airport to Downtown. I figured the trip cost enough and I’d taken public transport in DC, so surely I could navigate the MAX.

The ride to Downtown Portland was about 35 minutes. Sitting directly across from me was a middle-aged couple that looked uncomfortable with public transportation and distrustful of any characters they might run into. They tried to appear casual but her body was pressed up against the wall and her husband sat with his hand on her thigh. As people walked by, she would tense and his grip would tighten. They never met my eyes, keeping them averted to the floor. I recognized that tension, that stress, that woman…I used to be her, afraid to venture out of my comfort zone.

Upon arriving downtown, I checked into The Society Hotel room, dropped my bag, then took the MAX to meet my cousin. Tim has lived in Portland for 30 years, and we couldn’t remember the last time we saw each other. It was great to catch up and re-connect again.

Running_For_Good_Semper_Fi_SisterFirst thing Friday, I had to see the massive bookstore I’d read so much about. Powell’s City of Books didn’t disappoint with three stories, nine different levels arranged by topic, and one million books under the roof. It was cool to see my story Semper Fi, Sister on the shelf and representing in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Running For Good.

When talking to a staff member, I commented that I had traveled with a small suitcase and had no room for more books.

“Well, if you buy 10 books, we’ll ship them home to you for a flat rate.”

“That would be great, but I don’t have time to look at everything I want now.” This was sightseeing day and my Powell’s visit was a recon mission. I had places to go and things to see.

“We’ll hold your books for three days. When are you leaving?”

“Monday. So wait. You can hold these two books, I can come back and add to stack…then Sunday I can pay and you’ll ship them home for me?”

“We will.”

It was a brilliant marketing strategy that I eagerly took advantage of over the next three days. I gave them my books to hold then spent the rest of Friday roaming Downtown Portland. In my research of things to do, I was excited to see the “Walk of Heroines: Honoring the Women Who Have Illuminated Our Lives…”at Oregon State University. Although the garden was underwhelming (not surprising this time of year), my favorite quote was from Dorothy Allison in 1992 who said, “Write the story that you were always afraid to tell. I swear to you there is magic in it.” So I’m finding out.

Voodoo_Doughnuts_Portland_OR

On the way back to the hotel that evening, I came across “Voodoo Doughnuts”, known for their crazy combinations and decadent pasteries. Though I didn’t try Maple Bacon, Voodoo Bubble, or Oreo-topped Dirt, the apple fritter was delectable. The lines out their door are a testament to Voodoo’s popularity.

Finally, workshop time with Pam and Stephanie arrived. Among the many things I learned is that my memoir doesn’t have to be linear, it doesn’t have to follow the traditional hero’s journey, and it can be written in any form I damn well want it to be. That felt liberating.

My long weekend adventure was over all too quickly. I’m still processing what I learned at the workshop as well as my affinity to The Society Hotel.

What I remember most about the trip were the connections I made with my classmates and the serendipitous conversations I had with the people during my travels: Christian, the Army officer traveling home for his sister’s wedding; Domi, co-founder of Corporeal Writing who witnessed my embarrasing faceplant on my recon visit; the couple from Sacramento I met in the Voodoo Doughnut line who commented they’d visited Powell’s but didn’t personally know a writer until me; Tom, the pony-tailed nightshift history buff and dayshift manger Anthony who filled me in on the fascinating history of The Society Hotel; Doug, the Portland Airport blues guitarist who soothes frazzled traveler nerves; and the Michigan organic seed growing couple traveling to a conference. Each and every person I met helped heal my February funk.

I thought my Portland trip was about reclaiming the month from grief, but in the end it was a reminder to live a connected life with those around me. And to celebrate my parents…I am their living legacy.