Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Finding Your Way Back to the Light

I frequently can be heard (if anyone cares to listen) groaning/mumbling "I do NOT understand my body..."

I've NO idea what's actually wrong with me, neither does the medical establishment, and as much as it might be comforting to have a label to slap on my idiopathy, all in all I'd just like it to go the fuck away. Strong language definitely intended, sorry if it offends you, but to know me is to hear such words on a regular basis. A legacy from my mother, I fear.

Three years ago it was clear to me and to anyone who spent any amount of time with me that something was really wrong with my body, so I sought help, then more help (read: I threw money at the problem), and finally was told they couldn't find anything wrong with me and that 1) I needed to follow up with a shrink, and 2) if I really felt I couldn't bear the pain (oh sure, I can handle it, I just wanted to come hang out with the super-power urologist in Seattle, a very difficult two hour trip from my house in Port Townsend, and pay for the privilege), I should find a Pain Management Facility. I tried the latter, and discovered that a "Pain Management Facility" is primarily a place for recovering addicts, not for people who need help with managing their pain. This clinic (the only one in the area, btw) could NOT seem to understand that I NEEDED some help with the pain and wasn't taking, let alone addicted to anything! When I finally got them to understand, they told me that there was a two year waiting list to get in. Two years?!
I pushed back on the doctor who sent me there, explaining I needed some help with the pain NOW. And the answer I got? She washed her hands of me, telling me through an assistant to "go to the emergency room if you're in so much pain!" The ER is why I ended up in her office in the first place! I honestly believe that because the doctor couldn't figure out what was wrong with me in spite of her mega-education and medical facilities, she didn't want me around as a reminder.

Frustrated by zero help from my urologist, completely out of funds, and with the pain increasing daily, I simply lost all hope. I questioned my sanity - WAS it all just in my head? I was in incrementally worsening pain and utterly sans hope, simply waiting to die. In the night I begged the powers that be for release, and I wrote poetry. A lot of poetry. Here're three from one difficult but still lucid night that tell the tale:

Toothed and Clawed
Three About Pain

Sonic waves of pain
- so familiar
I barely snarl.
Breath shallow*relax the belly*pain almost gone
(I have the trick; the secret)
I inwardly whisper
Another rogue wave breaks
- the secret drowned
in pain.


Dull Darkness
Icepick Sharp
Exquisite Focus
Hideous Constant
Silent Suffering
Secret Succubus
Energy drain
Life taker
Nothing else matters
Only now
To stop


Inside I
claw & scratch
Willing it
to stop.
I’d do anything
to get away
from the twisting
whips of pain.
I think
this must be
men break under torture.

Two and a half years ago I was still occasionally managing a trip to the post office or downtown, but when I began dropping to my knees in the middle of the sidewalk or my favourite bookstore due to the extreme pain, even those small pleasures stopped. Two years ago I was unable to walk without a staff upon which to lean as I crept forward, and upright was a position I could no longer attain. So I moved from bed to bathroom and back, tears coursing down my cheeks, and I prayed - HARD - every night that I would die.

A friend who lives his own brave life with chronic pain suggested I might try the family of neuropathic pain blockers now on the market, so I decided to seek help again through my local doctor. Douwe Reinstra 's a real gem, with both a medical degree from Duke and a degree as a homeopathic physician, too. AND he has common sense enough to know that he's not a God and that we're partners in my health care. I sat there and cried, telling him of my sheer hopelessness and wish to die. He was duly alarmed by my obvious pain and resultant emotional distress.
When I remembered to ask him about the nerve blockers (I'm certain I had written it down, as my brain had no capacity to hold any resident data at that point), he suggested we try a drug that'd been around for awhile; amitriptyline. This drug was introduced in 1961 as one of the very first anti-depressents, and it did a terrific job but for one small problem...it knocked people out. Well YAH..it's hard to be depressed when you're sound asleep. So by pharmaceutical standards, it's been around a long time, but only recently was its efficacy in treating neuropathic pain discovered; said use still listed as "unapproved/off-label/investigational" use, though not illegal.

I still HAVE pain, but I'm no longer house bound, and because of amitriptyline's sedative-like effect, I sleep HARD every night after my 9pm dose. I really have to push myself to wake before 9am, and 10am is more reasonable according to my body. :-)

But I was still in a deep pit of despair created by years of misery, in spite of some relief from the terrible agony, as I didn't think there was a chance that I could ever manage to resume a real life again. And I became suicidal again. Ideationally, not actively. .so I did what I always do...I turned to books. The next major turning point for me on my journey back to the light was a book, "Anatomy of Hope; How People Prevail In The Face of Illness" by Dr. Jermone Groopman.

The biggest difference between this and the usual book written by a member of the Medical Establishment is that it isn't merely another load of preaching by some self-appointed God-like Doctor (cue the angelic chorus). Instead, Dr. Groopman takes us on a journey from his years as a young intern learning about hope and hopelessness and how best to help his patients, to his own terrible illness and hopelessness and slow crawl back to into the light. More than any other single take-away from the book, I learned to tell the pain it was no longer allowed to have complete control of my life, and that I was not going to just do absolutely ANYthing to keep from feeling pain.

And day by day, step by step, I have worked my way back a LONG distance into the light. I use my art as an outlet for my frustration and pain and rage, I volunteer one day a week at the local library, about to move up to three, I have begun to get involved in a number of other local groups, and *gasp* I'm actually gaining some friends because I push myself every day to take another step toward life again.
I still have PLENTY of bad days and nights; I'm recovering from a particularly nasty flare up right now, largely brought on by the massive meltdown experienced a couple of weeks ago (see June 29 post). Stress, absolutely, without a single doubt or argument causes the idiopathy (LOVE that word...SO perfect...it's an idiotic pathology!) to overpower me. But my doctor has VERY reluctantly deigned to give me pain meds (not his fault, for the Feds are holding all doctor's, good and bad, to the fire - do NOT get me started on the fear mongering government agencies that are causing doctors to refuse pain meds to EVERYONE. The Feds can't meet their drug war quota, so they've turned to doctors and legal meds. Grrr...), so when I see trouble on the rise, I medicate it and lay low for a day or so. I made a 30 day (1x daily) supply of Oxycontin last....are you ready for this? Almost a year. Yeah. I know..I'm stunned by that, too. Over two years, the amitriptyline has had a leveling effect on my situation, and as the problem has calmed, I've been able to do more, etc. A reverse Catch-22, if you will.

So there you have my thoughts about pain, at least MY pain, for whatever it's worth. If you'd care to crawl around a little more inside the mind of chronic pain, sadly, there are a LOT of links available just by searching on "chronic pain," but here are some good blogs/articles that will afford you a better understanding of what too many of us endure every single day:
The Fat Lady Sings
Existential Punk
Living With Fibromyalgia
The Prejudice Against Chronic Pain
The Spoon Theory

Monday, June 29, 2009

Manifesting Love

I live in the same house with a man with whom I used to have an intimate and loving relationship. Through a series of events and experiences, we are no longer in that relationship. We've tried out the idea of being brother and sister, but that hasn't worked, either. For economic reasons, we are still moving forward as a financial unit, but in terms of relationship, well, let's just say you could freeze a steak between us. That's right, the cold spot you feel in this house isn't a ghost of a person, it's the ghost of love.

I moved across country to a new town with Peter three years ago, leaving my friends behind, and I have very sadly been without either friendship or love ever since, my heart saved only by a wonderful array of caring women I found via the Net.

Three weeks ago, Peter took a two week vacation with the woman he's been in a relationship with for an undetermined number of years...possibly dating to a time before he'd met me. I don't begrudge him love, but I DEEPLY resent his duplicitous behaviour. *sigh* But there's little value in descending into that valley of pain.

While Peter was gone and I was hollow-eyed with self-grief, I wandered around my favourite (metaphysical) bookstore, Phoenix Rising for a couple of hours. In the process, I happened across a little book, The Soulmate Secret by Areille Ford. As with so many self-help books, this one had an assessment quiz at the front. Now I'm wide open to the idea of a soulmate, so, scanning, I asked myself the questions, thinking it would be the usual ho-hum nonsense. But then I read "If your soulmate knocked on your door right now, how prepared are you emotionally and physically?" and "Is there room in your home for your soulmate?" And those two questions really made me think. AM I ready if the right person suddenly appeared? Would I be proud of myself and my life, or apologetic? And so I started taking stock and making myself ready for my love, who I feel certain is surely nearer me with every breath taken. Love, I am waiting...

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sunday Uplift - I Feel Lucky

Today's post is dedicated to Kat and to so many others going through tough times right now. The connection between women, near and far from one another, is so much stronger than any other magic I've encountered in the world. So here's to us, gals. Hold on..and remember, sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug...

Monday, June 22, 2009

My Brush With Greatness

Everyone's had one...some event or occasion or incident during which you've seen or interacted with a celebrity. I've had a few, including one blissful moment in rush hour traffic on Mopac in Austin, TX. Slowly making my way home from a HORRIBLE job, I was bawling about my miserable life, when I happened to look over at the Mercedes in the next lane with the open windows and sunroof, and there was Robert Redford, driving and laughing with a male friend. And suddenly I just didn't care about that stupid job anymore.

So that's the kind of thing I'm talking about. The pinball-esque nature of the human condition dictates that we will eventually bounce off a better-known steel ball or two. And as wonderful as my pinball clank off Mr. Still-Dishy Redford was, I had another that thrilled me even more.

The year was 1977, the city, Seattle. Summer, 10pm or so, and I was standing in line, waiting to get in to see Star Wars for the very first time. That's the FIRST Star Wars movie released, for you kids, and yes, that DOES make me a tad creaky around the edges, AND on the leading edge of Nrrd Grrls, too. Star Wars was the first film I'd ever seen a trailer for on television and I believe the first to use toy merchandise as a tie in, both of which served to up the amperage on the excit-o-meter.

So anyway, I was all young and cute and jumping around in my excitement as I stood in line, and then with one bounce I suddenly hit the human wall behind me.

And I turned.

And I looked up.

And up.

And looking down at me with a sweet smile was Bill Russell, all magnificent 6 feet 10 inches. The Celtics basketball legend and then head coach of the Seattle Sonics was looming large right behind me, waiting in the same around-the-block line to see Star Wars. You see, I cut my teeth on watching the Boston Celtics and 76ers (and later the Lakers) battle it out, year after year, and learned to truly love Russell when he became the Celt's coach. And then, thrill of thrills, he moved into the head coach position with the Seattle Super Sonics, creating a team that Lenny Wilkins led to the National Championship two years after Russell left. And there he was, my hero, living and breathing within inches of me! I swooned with pleasure on the spot, and probably would have gushed all over him, but just then the line began to move forward.

So now I like to say that Bill Russell and I saw Star Wars together. What? It's TRUE!

How about you? What're some of your tales of brushes with greatness?

'Tude Central

Had a MISERABLE day yesterday, in spite of just trying to lay very low (can you say "stay in bed as much as possible"?), with a myriad of meltdowns, a plethora of pain, and a hatful of hissy fits. Yeah, okay...enough with the illiteration. By bedtime I was writing notes to a friend on the other side of the world, my vituperative prose positively bleeding a vast array of profanity!

*Click 'Send,' go to bed. Wake up on the run with too much to be done in one day before my feet hit the floor. Have a slim moment of miracles and magic before the hideous umbra of the day before stole back in and darkened the day and my mood again.*

One of the things that MUST be addressed this week is the growing pile of promised artwork, so I decided to cruise a few favourite websites, not really for inspiration but rather for a little "you can DO it!" shove. So there I was on Illustrated ATCs, enjoying all the beauty and inventive ideas, when BOOM! The very illustrated expression of my last two days had been created. S. L. Scheibe (Sal to her friends) is a terrific artist and very pleasant human being, too. She describes herself as "a freelance graphic designer and web developer in Ontario,"but she's far more than that to those of us who benefit from her various modes of expertise.

Seeing those pictures of my mood made me laugh, and laughing defanged my fractiousness, of course. Hurray for art...it has such amazing powers of persuasion, healing, expression, and on and on. What has art done for YOU lately?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sunday Uplight: Fathers and Daughters

I miss my dad so much sometimes. I could really use his guidance right now, his arm around my shoulder, his pride in and approval of me. Don't suppose I'll ever get over him. So for Father's Day, I offer a lovely animated story about a father and daughter. I cried. You might, too.

From the filmmaker, Michael Dudok de Wit, “‘Father and Daughter’ is a film about longing, the kind of longing which quietly, yet totally, affects our lives.”

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Jedi Master In The White House

Have you seen this footage?

A entire FLOOD of thoughts hit me when I saw that small piece of film. At the center of my own set of principles is Intent is Everything. I frequently use a story from Paramahansa Yogananda's Autobiography Of A Yogi to illustrate how important Intent is to everything we think/do/are. The story is of Yogananda as a young student of his guru Sri Yukteswar. Sitting one dusk at his master's feet, he lifts his hand reflexively against a mosquito inserting a "hypodermic needle into his thigh," only to suddenly remember a harmlessness aphorism he'd been taught, and stayed his hand.

"Why didn't you finish the job?" asked Yukteswar
"Master! Do you advocate taking life?!" exclaimed Yogananda in shock
"No, but in your mind you had already struck the deathblow." answered Yukteswar

Intent, it's all about intent. Once you really understand that, then it becomes completely possible to kill a fly with a clear understanding of any repercussions. A lot of people worry that Obama doesn't have what it takes to "push the button," but the calm, PIERCING intent he showed when killing that fly puts those fears to rest. And for those of us who worry about someone in his position being too eager to push that button, Obama's calm and apparently constant centeredness soothes our weary brows.

Yep, Obama is the perfect man for his job! A Jedi Master in the White House!

Or maybe his skill is simply the result of a childhood spent in tropical places with lots of bugs.

Either way, the Force is strong in this one...

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sunday Uplift: Massive Monstrous Manbeasts and Scary Rubber Hands!

Okay, here's the thing. As a kid I was CRAZY about the cheesy sci-fi flicks of the time. Not Godzilla so much as the ones made in the USA during the mid-50s, especially ANYthing to do with the Atomic Age or Aliens. I also favoured comics with that theme, and I still have most of my Strange Adventures and Mystery In Space comics, bagged and boarded, thank you very much. But this isn't about comic books, it's about silly sci-fi movies of my childhood. My two favourites were The War of the Colossal Beast, the sequel (yes, I said sequel) to The Amazing Colossal Man, and The Invasion of the Saucer Men. I loved these movies, and would watch them over and over and over on Saturday television's completely ridiculous Creature Features with Bob Wilkins out of Sacramento/San Francisco. If you care, there's a complete list of the films shown at the CF link above.. One fun tidbit is the voiceover in the trailer for Saucer Men, which is being done by Paul Frees, a gentleman whose resume is absolutely stunning and worth your time to read.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Lyrical Art

Two absolutely lyrical pieces of animation today (why yes, I AM on a bit of an animation kick lately..not to worry, this too will pass). These lovely bits of perfect storytelling in the animated form are from Impactist out of Portland, OR. Everything that comes out of this company seems to make me smile, and hurray for anything that can consistently create such a miracle of joy!

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Nightingale

Akira Kurosawa said "To be an artist means never to avert one's eyes." I understand what he meant by that, and though I have an agreement with myself that when harm to animals is depicted in any form I may save myself the inevitable and terrible pain by turning away at the slightest foreshadowing of same, I also tend to look at the unlookable, think the unthinkable, and now and then do the undo-able.

One of the segments from Kurosawa's uber-brilliant Dreams

I grew up in the 50s. Cartoons in the early days of television were the ones made in the 30s and 40s, for the most part. Thus, I grew up watching profoundly lyrical depictions of the world; bucolic scenes of bees and flowers dancing to classical music; cows and horses to old bluegrass pieces. I grew up in and watching a decidedly non-pc world. Little Black Sambo delighted me with his cleverness in outwitting those tigers, Uncle Remus was a wonderful storyteller to my young ears, and the story of The Nightingale and the Emperor was one of my favourites. Now in my opinion, non-PC Beauty is beauty nonetheless, and I am unwilling to avert my eyes from this lovely feast. My first prom date was Black, my first husband Chinese, facts I always figured lent me a little slack in being called a racist for appreciating old movies and cartoons and books. Maybe not. And so it goes.

In 1998's obituary of Mr. Kurosawa by Rick Lyman, he wrote, "Mr. Kurosawa described a trip he made with his brother, Heigo, through the ruins of Tokyo after a massive earthquake in 1923. More than 140,000 people died in the fires that followed the quake. But as the pair moved through the ruins, Mr. Kurosawa said, his brother insisted that the young Akira look closely at the charred corpses.

"If you shut your eyes to a frightening sight, you end up being frightened," Akira remembered Heigo telling him. "If you look at everything straight on, there is nothing to be afraid of."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Dark Animation

Doll Face: A beautifully drawn and animated piece that could be interpreted as about the fultility of vanity. Ah me...

Elephants Dream: An interesting parable that is as open to interpretation as the open source software used to create it. What do YOU think it means?

Fallen Art: A beautifully drawn and animated piece about, well, I'm not really sure...but therre's certainly amazing artistry being displayed here.

Two Sisters: This is a deeply emotional and dark story about a physically deformed writer and her caretaker-sister. One day their isolated lives are interrupted by a man compelled to meet the writer.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Save A Place For Me

Okay, so here's the really condensed version of a part of my life very, very few of you have known existed prior to this post. A large part of my twenties were spent on the road with my husband, Rick, helping him provide the sound system for a lot of very famous names in the music business. From monster rock and roll names of the time such as The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Linda Ronstadt, Supertramp, Alice Cooper, and Gladys Knight and the Pips to dozens of amazing, wonderful smaller acts such as Leo Kotke, Steve Goodman, Bonnie Raitt, Manhattan Transfer, Gordon Lightfoot, Neil Sedaka, Wendy Waldman, Maria Muldaur, Phoebe Snow, and on and on and on.

One act was Chuck Mangione on the 1977 Feels So Good tour, and it was absolutely one of the very best I ever heard. So I was dismayed to hear just the other day that band members Gerry Niewood and Coleman Mellett had died on the terrible commuter plane crash in Buffalo, NY this past February.

And then, just a few minutes ago, I heard that a lovely man had who I and so MANY others held in the highest of musical esteem and appreciation, Kenny Rankin, died at age 69 of lung cancer. This is being written through a veil of tears, for when I hear the Rankin's Silver Morning album, I instantly remember how it felt to be completely in love with my husband in 1975.

Kenny Rankin was a musician's musician, with a glorious tenor voice of beautiful range and timbre, and an ability to interpret songs in his own distinctive and delicious manner. Kenny's reworking of The Beatles' "Blackbird" was the first time aside from Joe Cocker's "A Little Help From My Friends" that I'd ever heard anyone brave - or good enough to tackle a Beatles tune. Rankin's version so impressed Paul McCartney that he asked Kenny to represent himself and John Lennon when they were inducted into the Songwriters Hall Of Fame.

Silver Morning is one of my all-time top ten favourite albums, and one I would definitely want along with me on a desert island. Here's a sweet young Kenny Rankin singing and playing "Oh So Peaceful Here" off the Silver Morning album...

And here, some 30 or so years later in 2007, is Mr. Rankin with his (stunning? phenomenal? great? searching unsuccessfully for a word here) version of "Round Midnight"

I am SO glad I got to hear these wonderful, unique artists voices, the world is a much better place for them having been here. And guys? Please, PLEASE save a place for me at your sessions...I can hardly wait.

"Everybody's Been Shot..."

Anyone who's hung around me for any time will know a couple of phrases that I use to help myself and others get through life. The first is "Shut up, cheer up, nothin's gonna be alright," is which from a song written by a dear friend, Jimmy Ash, and the other is a snippet from a film by way of a wonderful column (full column here) written by the Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan. She writes,

There's a small but telling scene in Ridley Scott's "Black Hawk Down" that contains some dialogue that reverberates, at least for me. In the spirit of Samuel Johnson, who said man needs more often to be reminded than instructed, I offer it to all, including myself, who might benefit from its message.

The movie, as you know, is about the Battle of the Bakara Market in Mogadishu, Somalia, in October 1993. In the scene, the actor Tom Sizemore, playing your basic tough-guy U.S. Army Ranger colonel, is in charge of a small convoy of humvees trying to make its way back to base under heavy gun and rocket fire. The colonel stops the convoy, takes in some wounded, tears a dead driver out of a driver's seat, and barks at a bleeding sergeant who's standing in shock nearby:

Colonel: Get into that truck and drive.
Sergeant: But I'm shot, Colonel.
Colonel: Everybody's shot, get in and drive.

And I say, "preCISEly!" Everyone - EVERYONE - has a painful wound somewhere, and so WHAT?

So folks, here's some music for when you're feeling particularly wounded that may help you "Get up and get down and get outside..it's a lovely sunny day

Reasons Not To Be An Idiot

And then, just one more from this wonderful musical spirit.

And I won't sit down
And I won't shut up
And most of all
I will


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Knit or Perish

As with so many others I know, if I am to maintain an even strain, to gainsay insanity and the darkest of depressions, I must have multiple projects cooking. One project in the noodling stage (oooOOO...THAT's an interesting idea...how would it work?), one in the planning stage (If I added a gear here and then pulled that wire taut...), and one in the work stage (click click hammer brush brush brush). Of course I usually have far, FAR more than a mere "one" in the first two stages, and frequently more than one in the final, DO IT stage, too. Not to mention all the ideas that fall outta me like endless rains, resulting in mysterious muddy footprints wherever I walk. But you get my drift.

In various baskets throughout the house are strange piles; knitted/crocheted THINGS.

**RATHOLE: no real idea what they are beyond expanses of lovely fibers, though I believe those two oddly compelling wine-red pieces are slated to become the luscious dripping sleeves of an equally odd garment for which I'll end up having to CREATE the event that will command said apparel**

Anyway, I turn to those piles of needle-knotted fibers when bogged down or bored with everything else on the Project Stove. I seldom actually FINISH any knitted thing, probably because of the aforementioned lack of direction with my odd objects, but also because I'm a VERY pedantic technician with needles and hooks. But even with a mere set of two or three stitches, I find the act of knitting very satisfying all by itself. And so it is, I have heard, to my fellow wool gathers.

All that said, I now present a beautiful look into the heart and mind of the compulsive knitter...

Monday, June 8, 2009

My Close Encounters In the Wild

As promised some time back, here is the tale of my close encounters whilst camping in Towanda some weeks back.

I did a little walking in the wild while camped at Salt Creek. There's a nice little mountain trail (Striped Peak) adjoining the park that goes from sea level (where I was camped) to an altitude of 1000' - a nice little day hike. I left camp 10 am-ish, my daypack filled with slices of apple, chips, cookies, water, my camera, and my travel set of sketching/painting gear; my long walking staff in hand. Two days prior to my little hike it rained, and rained HARD, so the trail was seriously muddied up, very slippery and treacherous in many spots. Falling down was NOT something I wanted to do, so I proceeded VERY carefully, noting as I went that there were no trails of cougar or bear in the mud, just some coyote and raccoon.

I made good progress uphill, and felt terrific as I crested the first big hill. Noting the steep downturn of the trail ahead, and spying a particularly muddy patch on that slope, I decided to stop and think it over while having a snack. So I stepped off the trail and found a nice downed tree to sit on while I ate. A perfect day, with filtered sunlight dappling through the trees, a light breeze, and fruit, salt, and sugar at the ready!

As I sat there, tucked out of sight from the trail but able to see it, I heard something big crashing along just out of sight around the bend up ahead. In the woods around here, only two things crash through the woods like that on a trail - humans and bears. So I sat quietly and waited to see what was going to show up on the trail. The crashing grew closer, but not a single sound of humans accompanied the sound; no talking, singing, or even the occasional exclamation of effort most of us make when hiking. And then I heard the grunting and snuffling, and I knew it was no human around that bend, but a bear.
Now I had a very close encounter with Ursus Americanus a few years ago..I literally stumbled into one taking a sun bath on a sand bar on the lower Quinault in the Hoh Rainforest. Annoyed, it jumped up and ran off into the trees. I figure that's pretty much as much close contact with a bear needed in a lifetime, you know?

So between the mud, the steep descent, and the almost certain bear just ahead, I decided to pack it in and head back. I took a different fork of the trail back that brought me out at the official trailhead. I was looking at the map to see how far I'd gotten along the trail when I noticed the bright square of paper at the lower corner. It said "CAUTION: A mama black bear and her two cubs have been sighted on the Striped Peak Trail. Do NOT hike alone, and if you encounter a bear (blah, blah, blah...the rest of the cautionary advice)." Kinda cool, huh? And a fun tale of an almost close encounter with a bear, but NOTHING like what happened to me the NEXT day.

The next morning, after a lovely breakfast of eggs and bacon and strong coffee, again I donned my laden pack and picked up my walking stick, this time deciding to try my luck in the adjoining forest. I had studied the trail map thoroughly and reasoned I could surely follow the cliff line until it linked up with the trail to the peak a mile or so away. So off I went, stopping to tell my camp neighbor what I was attempting just so SOMEONE would know to miss me should I not make it back by dark. I also thought to take my cell phone along, as I had good reception via Sooke, BC, directly across the Strait in Canada. So off I went, at first easily following the many trails made by humans before me.

Before long I needed to bend over at the waist and crouch to get under branches and still follow the increasingly faint path. It quickly became clear that the path I was following had been made by animals, but they were still clearly visible paths, so on I went. After awhile - an hour? two? fifteen minutes? time is so hard to track when you're deep in the woods - I realised that I was no longer following a path and that there wasn't a chance that I was going to cut through to the main trail this way. As I'd gone along I'd kept my wits about me and my senses open to the forest around me for any sign of danger, and nothing felt wrong so no panic - yet.

I stood and turned in a full circle. Going back wasn't an option, as I'd had to cross some areas that were one-way jumps, and forward...well, which way was THAT? So as I often do when faced with a difficult situation, I asked for help from the Cosmos; the Great Mystery; the Ancestors, or as some would say, God. And when told to turn a direction that didn't seem right at all, I trusted the Cosmic Higher Wisdom and went in the direction I'd been instructed. And indeed, the turn would bring me back in line with the direction I knew I needed to go to get out of the forest. I noticed as I passed them, a couple of trees had deep scoring high on the trunks, and another had been clearly debarked. Bear or cougar? Difficult to say, but neither was a good choice.

It was very slow going, as I was in such deep forest that the only really solid foundation to step on was directly around tree trunks. I used my staff to feel the ground ahead of me with each step, but eventually I took the fall I had been trying so hard to avoid, and for a few scary minutes I feared I wouldn't be able to put any weight on my knee, let along put it through the strenuous workout that was required to get me out of the woods.

So I stood there, in throbbing pain, and I felt the slightest electric wash of panic flood my system. But I'm not an idiot, and I knew pushing ahead was the only way I was going to get out of the bad situation in which I found myself.

And then I noticed the forest had gone suddenly silent all around me. Not good, I thought. So again I asked the Cosmos for some direction on getting out of that forest safely, and was told I needed to go around the large downed tree to my left. Now that did NOT look like a good place to explore at ALL, so I pushed back. "Are you SURE I need to go that way? Isn't there some other way I can go?" When the only answer I got was an insistance that I go around the tree, I took a deep but shaky breath and walked toward and around the tree.
The next few seconds are like a series of snapshots rather than a normal film-like memory. Click! fur Click! a leg Click! hooves Click! an eye Click! fresh blood And as fast as a breath could be taken, I registered the fact that I had walked into the middle of a freshly killed mule deer, and within another breath I had backed out - BACKED, not turned - and was moving away from that spot as fast I could possibly go.

There are only two creatures in the forests of the Olympic Peninsula that kill deer; Man and Cougars.

No human had killed this deer.
I took my walking stick and waved it over my head as I walked purposely away from that terrible scene (never run, make yourself seem bigger than you are, if you get jumped curl up in a ball and protect your head and stomach..the litany of warnings was like a mantra in my head). I could no longer hear the forest over the sound of my own heart in my ears, but the deep and sure sense of being watched put every sensor in and on my body on full alert. I kept looking up as I passed one clawed tree after another, constantly expecting to see a very large golden cat looking down at me. To say I was scared is a word that simply has no relation to the terror coursing through me at that moment. I fell hard again, but I got up and kept going. WHAT knee? And as I braved armpit deep nettles (WHAT burning pain?), I suddenly saw, through the trees in the distance, the campground. Never has a grassy area covered in tents and rvs looked so good. Back at my bus, I fell onto the bed and just lay there, deeply aware that life is GOOD.

Later that day, I told the park ranger, who'd been stopping by for a gab session every few nights since I arrived, about my experience. He proceeded to tell me about an incident last winter, when some cougar prints were seen in the 2 feet of snow outside a camper's tent one morning (yes, I used "snow" and "tent" in the same sentence...we're a hardy lot up here in the north woods). He brought a local expert on the wildlife of the area out for a look at the prints, and the fellow estimated they were made by a cat between 200 and 250lbs! That is a BIG cougar (the average weight range of the male is 115-160lbs, and for females between 75 and 105lbs). Here're a couple of "fun" facts that I'm glad I didn't know while trying to get out of the forest: cougars can jump vertically 18ft (two stories), horizontally 20-40ft, and can run between 35 and 45mph!

Now some may not call this "a close encounter," but I will tell you that it was close enough to qualify as aerobic exercise, just based on my heart rate over a 20 minute period! I always thought it would be VERY cool to see a cougar in the wild, but now? I'd still like to see one in the wild, but I want it at a distance that requires good binoculars. Or to paraphrase Veruca Salt, "Daddy I do NOT want to see a cougar up close!"

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Sunday Uplift: How Champagne Glasses Got Their Shape

In doing some research for an art doll swap, I happened on a wonderful Irish (CORRECTION: Lisa tells me she's actually a Maltese native, living in Ireland) artist, Lisa Falzon, wonderfully and completely new to me, though now that I know to look, she's all over the Net! I am especially enamoured of her Madame Pompadour, whose breasts Louis XV of France so adored he had the Royal Glassworks create a special glass just the shape and size of lady's lovely ta-tas. I knew the story, of course, but her presentation of it is so delightful I just had to share. Lisa has many lovely things for sale in her Etsy shop, or you can simply peruse her web site or her blog where, much like me, she writes and paints and makes whatever art sings to her soul. What a wonderful Tribe we artists are part of, eh folks?