Date With a Driveway

Yes, you read the title right — I do have a date with a driveway.

After being sick for so long, and then my road trip, I am in no shape to do any sort of long distance trekking, so I need to get back into backpacking practice. And what is the best backpacking practice? Backpacking!

Although I went out hiking this morning in the nearby desert, I probably shouldn’t have. It is already too hot. So I decided to go up in the mountains next weekend and see what happens.

One of the biggest problems I have with hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in bits and pieces is the parking situation. Most trail heads around here are off major roadways, and there is no way I will ever be comfortable leaving my car by the side of the road for even a couple of hours, let alone a couple of days!

Luckily, a trail angel who lives near the Pacific Crest Trail is letting me park in his driveway. It will be a long, hot, very steep climb up the connecting trail from his house to the PCT, but what the heck. If it takes me all day to hike those three miles, well, it takes me all day.

It’s good to have the date with the driveway because otherwise I would keep putting off that first backpacking trip, looking for the perfect time to get my feet wet. I’m using the “feet wet” idiom facetiously because there is not a single water source on the trail where I am planning on hiking, and zero chance of any precipitation. I’ll have to haul all my own water, and because I don’t know for sure how much I will need for those days (and because there are limits to how much I can carry), I will do what I’ve always done — when I’ve used half of what I brought, I’ll head back.

Oddly, I’m neither excited nor worried. It just seems like a natural extension of what I’ve been doing all along. I am taking precautions, though. I printed out topographical maps of those miles with trail notes of where things are, and I’ll download a PCT hiking app that will tell me where I am and where I am going, an app that supposedly works in airplane mode.

So, maps, emergency supplies, water, food, shelter.

What else do I need? Oh, yes — strength and endurance. Let’s hope I remember to pack those two items!

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Dandelion Fluff and Veins of Gold

A friend left this comment on yesterday’s post.  Your blog titled 1000 Days of Grief read: “But now I know freedom was his final gift, though it was as unwanted and as unasked for as the grief. I haven’t learned yet what to do with this freedom. Perhaps if I embrace it as I did my grief, it will also take me where I need to go.” In the grief blogs I have read so far you never apologize for following your grief, actually quite the opposite, you give all of us permission to feel what we feel. I may be wrong but you sound apologetic for your ambiguity now. It strikes me as “OK” you feel two ways, even three, four or more about freedom as you follow it, trusting it will take you where you need to go.

Very astute of her!

A few days ago, I wrote about impossible dreams and how important they might be. I followed up with a post congratulating myself (more or less) on having found a direction to point myself, as if the impossible dream was perhaps not quite so impossible after all. Meantime, in an article about how to get in shape for a backpacking trip, I read that the best way to prepare is to fill your pack with however much weight you were going to carry, add five pounds, then strap a two-and-a-half pound weight to each ankle, and go out and hike five miles.

And so the whole pack of cards came crashing down on me. Not only did I re-realize the impossibility of the impossible dream (with all that weight, I wouldn’t even have been able to stand up, let alone walk a single step) I felt foolish for my on-again/off-again dreaming, as if I were a child pretending to be an adult. And because of my posting all these thoughts, my wishy-washiness was out there for all to see (or at least the “all” who manage to find me in the blogosphere), which seemed . . . well, embarrassing.

It wasn’t until the end of yesterday’s blog (the blog that seemed apologetic) that I connected my ambiguity with grief, because how can any of this have to do with grief? After all, I haven’t had a massive upsurge (or even a mild upsurge) of angst for nine months. It was easy to write unabashedly about grief when I was pouring out my heart along with my sorrow, but it seems less heroic just to . . . waffle. And yet it is all about grief. When you have lost the most important person in your life, no matter what you do, it is always about grief.

And in the world of grief, I am but a child, a child in the eighth year of life.

People talk about grief as if it were merely an emotional aberration and that soon we will be back the way we were. They talk about us going through, moving on, healing, journeying, all different ways of describing the grief process, but the truth is, more than anything else, grief is a matter of being. Of becoming. Of Kintsugi.

Kintsugi is roughly translated as “golden joinery” and is the Japanese art of embracing damage, of mending broken pottery with veins of gold, turning what might have once been a simple ceramic piece into a work of art.

And that is exactly what grief is. When you lose the most important person in your life, a person who seems connected to your very soul, you can never be the same. Oh, sure — you look the same, people still treat you the same (or try to), but you know you’re not the same. What you do, however, is embrace all the shards of your shattered life, and one by one you glue each piece back to the whole with veins of gold, and if a piece is missing, you fill in the void with more gold. As time goes on, you turn your life into something new, a work of art that maybe only you can appreciate because only you know the effort it took to put yourself back together again.

So yes, I am ambiguous. I say one thing one day and another thing on a different day. Sometimes I hold on to dreams, and sometimes I blow dreams away as if they were dandelion fluff. Like a child, I pretend I can do anything, pretend that I can be anything (with no regard for reality). And like a Kintsugi artist, I carefully add one vein of gold at a time.

And so I grow.

And there is no need to ever feel apologetic about that.

***
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Pitching a Tent Without Pitching a Fit

A while back, I ordered a backpacking tent, but since my first camping trip will be more of a car camping expedition, I searched for a second tent. It didn’t need to be big, but I wanted more than just a waterproof coffin to sleep in. I liked the idea of being able to stand up and maybe move around a bit, and I didn’t want to have to scramble out of a miniscule door when I was half-asleep to answer nature’s call. (To be honest, I wanted room so I could set up a camp potty so I wouldn’t have to go scrambling outside in the middle of the night.)

I found what I thought was a tent taller than it was wide (which is how the picture looked) but it turns out the tent is hexagonal and the angle of the photo was deceptive. It turns out the tent was about 10 feet wide and six and a half feet tall.

Still, despite incredulous questions as to why I would want such a large tent (this from people who own humongous RVs), I ordered the tent. Because it was a discontinued model, it was cheap, so if it doesn’t work out, I don’t lose much. In fact, all I have to do is sleep in the tent three or four nights instead of at a motel those nights, and the thing will have paid for itself.

I was worried about setting up the tent — most 6-person tents have more than one person to help with set up, and all I have is me — but the tent it
self was easy. The rainfly was a different matter. I think anyone would have had a problem getting that rainfly up and over the top of the six-and-a-half-foot-tall tent without it sliding off, so I don’t feel bad that my first two attempts didn’t work out. It will be easier in the future because now I know how to toss it over the top of the tent, what the fly actually looks like, and what side faces out.

I’d be sitting in the tent enjoying my accomplishmet if it weren’t so hot in there at the moment. (Almost 100 degrees outside and not a hint of a breeze. Eek.) One good thing about the height of the tent
— if it’s too hot to sit inside, I can always enjoy the shade it provides. (I’m wondering if I slip a space blanket between the rainfly and the tent if it will deflect some of the sun’s heat. Or not use the rainfly, but attach a tarp on the sun side for clear days.) But the tent is mostly for nights. And mostly to keep me from thinking about bugs and small animals pestering me — and festering me — while I sleep.

The tent will fun for a while at least, like the playhouse I never had, and it will give me an idea of what — if anything — I can handle when it comes to intermittent nomadic living. (As much as I can plan anything, at the moment, I am planning a couple of months on the road, then coming back here for a couple of months if I can find a place to live, and then . . . who knows.)

I’ll air the tent out for a bit, then fold it up and pack it away. I have a hunch putting it away is the real challenge! (If the tent looks amateurish, all loose and wobbly, it’s because I didn’t staked it out. It’s hard to pound a stake into concrete.)

It might not seem like much of a step toward adventure, but by such small steps, a new adventure begins.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)