The Rest of Today

This was another of those days where I spent many hours outside. I hadn’t planned on it, but with a possible thunderstorm expected tomorrow, I thought I better mow my lawn before it got drenched again. And then, since the thunderstorm is only possible, I thought I better water my grass and other vegetation because some of it was looking a bit droopy. And then, I had to plant a few things my neighbor brought over. And then . . . Well, the day got away from me. I only stopped working because my legs and feet gave out on me.

As it turns out, it was a good thing I did all that. Now the forecast says that dangerous storms are possible today as well as tomorrow. Yikes.

It was also a good thing I planned ahead, unlike yesterday, and wore my gardening clothes.

People have asked me if spraying my gardening clothes with permethrin helps prevent mosquito bites, and it seems that it does. Yesterday I ended up with a few hugely swollen mosquito bites (I tend to be sensitive to the bite of little critters) and today, I had none at all. The pants I mosquito-proof are khaki rather than my usual black, so that helps, too, but I tend to think the major help is the mosquito repellant, both on my clothes and my hands. (I use lemon-eucalyptus oil on my skin which works as well as Deet and is supposed to be a lot less toxic, though I still use it sparingly just in case.)

Unfortunately, I have yet to find something that works to eradicate the itching once I have the bites. I use witch hazel as a wash, and that does help some, but what comes next is rather a crap shoot because sometimes a thing works and sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve tried everything, included things people have suggested, such as Melagel, Campho-Phenique, After Bite, Lidocaine, hydrocortisone cream, Caladryl, and several others. The only thing that ever worked for me was on the market just a short time — it was a homeopathic product put out by TechNu, but it’s long gone. (Amazing how that happens — every single time in my life I found a product that actually works, it disappears, and I’m left trying in vain to find something to fill the need.)

But, sore feet, mosquito bites and all, these two days were worth it. My yard looks great! Even better, because of all the work, I have nothing much to do tomorrow but dig up the patch of ground that spent almost three years beneath the pallet of shingles. Not only is that ground hard rock (the truth, not just a cliche), but the grass and weeds that survived the lack of sun, moisture, and air are wickedly strong. I did water the area today, so I’m hoping the moisture will make it easier to dig down to remove the weeds when I get around to doing the work.

But that’s for tomorrow or even the day after that. For the rest of today, I’ll . . . rest . . . and enjoy the single johnny jump up that jumped up and showed its pretty face.

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Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.

Growing Things

First mosquito bite of the season! Somehow it doesn’t seem fair that we pay for warmer temperatures with wind and mosquitoes. It seems as if the mosquitoes (one, anyway) are out earlier than usual, but I don’t really remember when I got my first bite last year. I do remember it was right below the eye, just like this one.

One of these days when I have plenty of time and the air is still, I’ll have to mosquito-proof my clothes with permethrin. That seem to help prevent bites as does wearing light colors (Mosquitoes are attracted to black, though I don’t know why. I wonder if dark colors remind them of murky waters beneath the reeds in stagnant pools.) Of course, even though the clothes help repel the ravenous creatures that so love me, I still have to use some sort of repellent on hands and face. (Lemon eucalyptus oil seems to work.)

I haven’t worried too much about side effects from the repellent because the previous summers I was only out every other day watering my plants, but it looks as if this year, I’ll be out every day. There’s twice as much area to water, and I can’t manage to do it all in one day. At least, I couldn’t today.

I find it ironic that my plan was to get the yard to where it didn’t need any work, so that I wouldn’t look as if I lived in a derelict house when I got too old to care for my place, and yet here I am, adding to my outside labor each year. Still, I’ve decided not to worry about the future, at least not in this regard, and I’ve decided not to worry about the water usage (even though it does make my conservationist heart cringe) because that green, green grass makes me smile. So do the tulips that are still bringing cheer to parts of the yard that are still winter-bleak. For so many years after Jeff died, I thought I’d never smile again, and yet here I am, smiling at just the thought of my yard.

Of course, along with wanted plants come the unwanted ones, like wild mustard and others I haven’t yet learned the names. But for now, while the weeds are so young I don’t even know for sure they are weeds or what to do about them, they add to the lushness of the yard.

It doesn’t look as if there are going to be any more below-freezing nights, so I could probably plant the seeds I have, but I don’t trust the weather forecasters. So, I’ll wait. I have plenty of growing things to enjoy right now.

Well, except for the mosquitoes. I don’t enjoy those particular growing things at all.

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Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Wander Woman

When I was on my recent overnight hike (I can’t really call it a backpacking trip, though technically I suppose it was since I did carry a backpack, and I did spend the night in the wilderness), I got so absolutely wiped out I could not take another step.

Although I’d planned to spend three nights on the trail, I managed only one night. I can’t feel bad about that — I did get to sleep alone far from civilization, which is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. And though I gave up, I didn’t give up. I mean I did halt my trek, but not because I couldn’t handle it mentally or emotionally. My body simply stopped working, and there wasn’t a whole lot I could do about it.

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Because of this experience, I figured the impossible truly is impossible, and I was too tired when I returned to care other than feeling a brief sadness for the death of a dream. The dream originally was to hike the whole Pacific Crest Trail, but I’ve been whittling away at the dream, downsizing it to fit new realities as I discovered them (or as they discovered me). So, if the dream came down to that one night on the trail, well, that’s better than no night.

But here I am, already planning the next backpacking venture, trying to utilize what I learned on this first trek to make a second overnight trip feasible.

The section I want to do is only about eleven or twelve miles long, which just a couple of weeks ago I laughingly thought was too short, but it turns out that the last eight or more miles have to be done in one day because no dispersed camping is allowed in that area, and considering that I can only do about three miles a day, it’s just too much for me. But . . . I can do the first few miles, and if I turn around and head back the way I came, it would make for a respectable overnight trek.

I’ve done most of this section as a day hike, and don’t remember it being particularly difficult despite its uphill nature, but then, I wasn’t carrying much of anything except a small bottle of water and a few nuts for a snack.

(I bought a guide book to the Southern California section of the Pacific Crest Trail, and it’s been fun going through the book and piecing together all the day hikes I’ve done. At the time of the hikes, we carpooled and I never had any idea where I was. Carrying a heavy pack must make a vast difference. Those four miles on my overnight trek were almost impossible, and yet the day hikes I did were all about three or four miles, and I don’t remember any of them being inordinately difficult or exhausting.

One impetus to do this particular hike is that a massive development (16,000 houses, ten schools, two major shopping centers) will soon be built on an erstwhile ranch within sight of the Pacific Crest Trail. Not only will the site be an unsightly sight for hikers, but its 48,000 residents will certainly have an impact on the trail.

For sure, though, I will have to do a lot more backpacking practice to get strong enough. When you are walking on the side of a mountain, with slopes above and below, there are few places to stop and relax, so there really is not much to do on the trail except walk, pause to take in the views, and walk some more. And then there is the problem of carrying all that water, but since the section of the trail I want to do is easily accessible, I might be able to stash some water ahead of time so I don’t have to carry it all.

I also have to figure out what to do about food. I brought plenty, but although I did snack along the way, I could not force myself to eat more than a few bites at the end of the day. Part of the problem, I think, was no place and no way to sit except cross-legged, and that’s hard to do for any length of time. I’ve been researching backpacking chairs, but I’m not sure they are worth their weight, especially since weight is such an issue with me.

And I need to find a way to keep insects from me. I’d sprayed my pants with the insect repellent permethrin, but I still got a couple of sharp stings — from wasps, I think. And nothing kept away the gnats.

So, lots to think about (and do!) if I want to continue being a wander woman.

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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.