Sunday Morning~ The Haute Route

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I can’t remember when I heard about this hike but when I did, I knew I wanted to do it. It’s 100 miles up and down peaks between the highest mountain in France and the highest mountain in Switzerland. It can be done in 13-15 days without killing yourself. I decided 15 would allow the most enjoying of scenery and the least amount of pain.

A long hike among gorgeous snow-covered peaks and fast-disappearing glaciers—who wouldn’t want to do this? I was afraid of getting lost. I’d read the book and was intimidated and confused, but taken step by step, it all comes into focus.  Standing in the spot described in the text makes perfect sense! Yay! Good directions! So no getting-lost stories yet. Remarkable for a trip of mine.

It’s so exciting to arrive in a foreign land, at least for me. The surroundings, accommodations, the unfamiliar faces and language, all excite me and pique my senses. I’m careful about every step. I’m aware of what is around me and am always looking for landmarks and signs. When I’m hiking like this I’m more grateful for each sunny day and say that aloud at regular intervals.

As we traverse the route, taking one day at a time, we celebrate destinations reached and massage sore legs and feet and the warm shower washes the salty water down the drain. We try new beers and meats and cheese, and they mellow the memories of the day’s loose gravel, boulders, and steep green meadows where cows graze for two months of summer.

I think of Heidi and how I wanted to be her as a child. I wanted to live out of doors in beautiful settings where it is always peaceful and the water is clear and rushes to the valleys, where we fill our bottles and drink deep. Then we give thanks for strong legs and adventurous spirits and those who gave us those gifts.

Sunday Morning~ Can't Sleep

Every time I get ready to travel I think I’ll get a good night’s sleep and finish the final details in the morning right before I leave.  Why don’t I ever learn? Ever? I’ll be exhausted and fall into bed thinking I’ll be asleep instantly and then start thinking, “Do I have enough cat food for the next three weeks?” Then I toss and turn and think I should just get up and check, but no, I need my sleep! So go to sleep!  And then I start thinking, “I need to drive for five hours!  Go to sleep!  Wait, did I leave laundry in the dryer?  Or worse, the washer? Do I remember my PIN number?  Did I change it recently?”

Then I start counting the hours of sleep I’ll get if I fall asleep RIGHT NOW! Then wonder if that decaf was really decaf and who I should be angry at about that.  And then wonder how cranky I’ll be, but I’m going on a great trip!  This is nothing to complain about!  But my little world here needs so much attention, or so I think.  And then I think, “Really, don’t you go more than two weeks when you are home without watering every single plant?  It probably is more like a month. And everything is fixable and the garden will do it’s thing and new adventures are calling….so GO TO SLEEP!”  If I were two would I be crying right now?

Oh my God, then there’s the blog!  I was going to get up and write all kinds of inspiring things about friendship and trust and poverty and greed.  And then I think, “Wait a minute, should I print out all those reservation details in case my cell phone dies?  And what is the absolute latest to be on the road?” And I think, “I’ll be so tired that I’ll write crap and won’t have time to edit it and everyone will think I’m an idiot.” And then I think, “Wait, who even reads this?”  And then I remember, “Oh right, there are people who don’t like things that I write”, and I think, “Really?  People actually care about what I write?” And while I get paranoid about what I wrote thinking it was harmless and just my opinion so I can write whatever I want, right? Then I think, “Stop thinking about this and go to sleep!”

And I did. I think.  ‘Cuz I had a dream, so I must have slept. Anyway, next week from a Swiss Alp from my phone.  We’ll see how that works!  That woke me up!

Sunday Morning~Summer Sunrise

It’s 5:30 am and I am sitting on the porch watching the light broaden over the bay. The sky is that light blue, hazy pink color.  The water is perfectly still. There are birds softly chirping.  I am wrapped in a soft red blanket.  My love still sleeps; I was somehow able to slip out of the bed without waking him––an unusual accomplishment.

I haven’t had much time alone in the past few months. With constant visitors, rented rooms, and a new relationship, I’ve spent very few solitary moments.  It took me years to get used to being alone, and I came to like it.  Was I just telling myself that or was it really true? I know I’m a pack animal and was terrified of being left alone, but gradually accepted it as a new norm.  I convinced myself that it was a better way of life with no compromises. Now I’m glad to see I can slip back into the herd and be happy here.  I just need to carve out time for myself, set limits, and stick to it.

Now the sun is a big red ball shining through the fir trees.  Another few minutes and it will be above them.  From my perch there isn’t a view of open water and makes the scene much more interesting and picturesque. I wonder what it would be like to live here all summer.

We leave in a week for Europe and a trek through the Alps. This walk is something I have always wanted to do.  Well, always since I learned of it. I have been drawn to the mountains since I was a child.  Growing up, we were on many a forced march up one peak or another and I  remember being miserable much of the time. It is very possible that my father was reasonably happy then, accounting for my attraction to heights.  Not sure. It might be why I love skiing so much as it was the only time my father and I weren’t fighting.  Does understanding where things come from make them more valuable? Would I love the mountains more if I knew for sure the reason why, or would my fascination start to dwindle? I’ll push these musings to the back while I make lists of what to bring and all that needs to be done before I go.

One hundred miles between Mt Blanc and the Matterhorn. Small Swiss villages along the way offering supper and bed.  This is not a remote route, nor a dangerous one (by hiking standards) and we should manage just fine.  I’m anticipating days full of spectacular vistas and evenings full of conversation and good meals. Who knows if this is accurate or this particular fantasy will come true, but lately I’m on a roll.  In fact, I’m starting to think I should dream big right now before the genie goes back in the bottle.

The sun has gone behind a cloud just above the horizon.  It’s the only cloud in the sky. It looks like it will be another perfect day.  Summer on this beautiful coast where fir trees make their way down to the granite shore and all seems peaceful and calm in the world. What a perfect place for escape. How easy it is to ignore the entire of humanity from here. But that’s because we have food and wine and fresh berries. I have my laptop to write on, good books to read, good friends to talk with, and a good man to be with.

We have been visiting with friends who were also Peace Corps volunteers, and last night, over a fabulous dinner, we had a discussion about happiness and poverty. Interesting juxtaposition, but it made perfect sense. Having worked with people who experience abject poverty, living day to day on what they could produce or collect from the earth, we felt like they were some of the happiest children/people we knew.  Much happier than people here overall, and wondered what that means about our lifestyle and motives for helping them.  I am not talking about those starving or sick.  I’m talking about people who are devastatingly poor by our standards, but have enough.  Just enough. Without access to information about the rest of the world, they had nothing to compare their lives with. They didn’t know there were other options out there, so were content with their fate. Is it moral to consider this good enough? Is denying them information, which could make them malcontents, ethical? In Congo, it people were only poor, we would have considered the project wildly successful. If they could live in peace and have enough to eat, if the women could live without fear of rape or death from childbirth, if the children could make it past their fifth birthday, we would have declared a stupendous victory. So what are our goals in life? When is enough good enough?

The sun is over the trees and a hummingbird sips at the feeder, it’s tiny wings beating away.  I wonder how joyful it is to them to find the sweet water? The sun is already warming my face and the prospect of a hot day looms as a sweet feeder that draws me in.

Many people are asking me what I’ll do now that I’ve left my full time job. It is so unlike me to NOT have a plan. I could go back to Africa, and will in some as yet undecided capacity, but not sure when.  Maybe next year. I still have to work on what I would want to accomplish there. Teaching is noble, especially when there are so many students eager to learn and grateful for the opportunity.  It’s so different from here where we take it all for granted. That could be incredibly satisfying. Working on getting health centers going again in rural areas, yes, could do that, but need to figure out where to start.

I may not know exactly where my love of the mountains comes from, but I can accurately identify where my guilt comes from, and it is not the Catholic church. I can sit here and appreciate the beauty of my surroundings, give bottomless thanks for my blessings, relish the tea I’m drinking, but I couldn’t keep this up without sharing some of my good fortune by helping others.  Now the question is, what is really helping?

Satisfying work. Another blessing and gift.

Sunday Morning~ This Summer Bubble

Summer is a different animal around here.  Instead of shops closing and population dwindling to skeleton crew, the pace accelerates to cyber speed and days pass in a blur of old friends, fundraisers, concerts, lobster, and too much wine. The roads, while covered in out-of-state cars, are not covered in snow and arriving at one event after another has no excuses––all are too good to pass up.

So there’s this can’t-miss-a-thing going on, while simultaneously missing what the rest of the world is up to.  I hear there is a presidential election next year but I haven’t listened to the news in weeks, and though there are several newspapers lying around, I haven’t “had time” to read them. In Shamwana we lived in a bubble and heard only about  huge events like killings in Kenya and conflicts in our region. Even though day-to-day life there was difficult, I found the absence of the information-barrage a relief. The only thing to consider was the day ahead. This summer is starting to have a similar feel, without the violence. I’m on an information hiatus and assume someone will let me know if we are being invaded or evacuated. It’s as if someone tapped a photo of the world a thousand times and my tiny spot is all that’s visible on the screen.

The most taxing decisions of the day seem to be which mountain to climb, or how to prepare the lobster for the current guests. Decisions like choosing health insurance or managing retirement accounts, aren’t fun and therefore aren’t invited to my summer consciousness. This seems so obnoxious as others here work seven days a week to get through the year, and since they still haven’t found anyone to replace me, pick up more shifts at my old job. A sense of guilt creeps in on occasion but I have a bouncer at the door. Go away you feelings of un-fun.

Yesterday I forgot the water bottle when we went on our morning hike. It was chilly when we left and I was only thinking of how good the thermos of coffee would taste at our breakfast picnic. The day got quickly hot, and though the coffee was good, water was in order. Later, we stopped to pick blueberries, tossing small handfuls into our mouths, satisfying our thirst and I thought what a good couple we were. We’re in sync. We fit. I thought about our glorious hikes, showing off the beauty of this island I call home, our little training regimen for the Alps, and wondered how my life could have gotten so good? Not that it wasn’t already a very good life, blessed beyond measure, but now it is so far over the top I worry I’ll wake up from the dream. That’s what being in love does, I guess, creates a rosy bubble where everything is good, and kind, and loving, and true. Can it last? Will a harsh reality set in and tarnish it with nagging about wiping down the kitchen sink, or taking out the trash? Or will we continue to look at each other and say, how did I get this lucky? I hear it’s possible.

It’s been so fun meeting each others’ friends. (Note repeated use of the word fun.) We both have such full lives I wondered how on earth we would manage to blend those from opposite coasts. It’s been easier than I imagined. My friends, skeptical at first, set out to make sure I wasn’t being duped or fleeced.  Endearing, I thought.  How sweet to see how they all cared so much and didn’t want to see me broken or hurt. They would have to pick up my pieces, though, so there was something of self-interest there. But it’s not long into the introduction before I’m getting thumbs-ups, and intense  gazes above silent mouths forming the words, I love him! or He’s a keeper! (How fun!) And now the tables have turned and I am taken aback a bit to see his friends do the same. Loving, smart, generous people vetting me to evaluate my worthiness of him. Nothing is sweeter than this. On a woodland walk I was describing all the home maintenance looming at my house, and stated emphatically that I am only replacing stuff with materials that don’t rot. His friend replied, “Right. Including the man.”

I know there is a big world out there where suffering is rampant and injustice prevails and I will get back to working on that, I promise.  But for right now, I want to be carried away by the Mozart Requiem while holding hands with the man I love.  I want to look around the church at my talented community generously sharing the genius and believe nothing else exists. I want to gaze at friends who read poetry aloud at our al fresco dinner as we laugh at the funny lines and feel that all of it is love-making.

Sunday Morning~ How did I ever raise five kids?

I admit to being efficient and productive.  I learned that at a young age when I wasn’t allowed to go out with friends until all my chores were done. I think it irritated my parents that I was able to get the list accomplished in time to socialize, so they kept adding more chores to the Saturday regimen. I don’t remember arguing about it, just setting my jaw and adopting a “just watch me” attitude.  I’d fly through the house like the white tornado, clean the bathroom, dust the stairs and the furniture, fold laundry, and clean my room.  I think in the warmer months there was also yard work, but that was mostly the brothers’ domain. I’d get it all done, and take off with whichever friend was available and interesting at the time. Never one to turn down an invitation, I developed some good cleaning skills and managed to organize my activities to fit everything in. I remember once, upon returning, my father demanding, in his ever-accusing tone, an account of what I did at home that day.  I listed my accomplishments and glanced at my mother, daring her to deny that I’d gotten it all done. Reluctantly (it seemed to me) she admitted I was telling the truth. Defeated, he got distracted with something else to save face, and tucked away the particular punishment he’d had in mind for a later date.

When I had young children I would get a days-worth of chores done in an average nap time. Not a second was wasted, and even I marveled at what could be done in a two-hour timespan. I also learned the fine art of a second wind. The kids would go to bed at eight, and though all I wanted to do was crawl in to my own bed and sleep, I’d start on some project that was SO MUCH EASIER to do without the kids around.

These skills have served me well and I am grateful for them. However, living on my own for many years, I’ve become a bit slack and, though most of my friends would laugh at this, don’t get nearly as much done as I used to.  Yes, yes, yes I can rally and race around cleaning the hour before company comes and feel like I’ve still got it in me, but most of the time I’m less than efficient. This week I am  wondering how on earth I kept up that pace way back when. My two-year old granddaughter, one child, has brought me to my knees. And she is a good kid and not very demanding! How did I do this with five? And work? I feel like I have not had an intelligent thought all week. In fact, I’ve been struggling to remember nursery rhymes.

My op ed got printed in two newspapers this week. There was considerable response, and if I hadn’t had a two-year old for the week would have been obsessing about that instead of which lane the muffin man lived on. It was with some trepidation that I had sent that op ed out to the world, knowing it would hit some nerves.  I remind myself that responses are a good thing, but in all honesty, really only want to read the positive ones.  I expected some pushback from the medical community and there was very little.  The vast majority were supportive, though maybe there was a sense that responding to it was giving it credence and some wouldn’t even stoop to that.  Perhaps if written by a doctor the opinion would seem more credible, like when the Harvard OB/GYN wrote that data shows less intervention safer than a high-tech birth. When HE said it, the concept was all of a sudden taken seriously. Midwives have been saying that for all of eternity.

There was one particularly negative reaction to my piece that came from a surprising quarter. I expected the medical community to get a little (or a lot) defensive, but I was not expecting a home-birth midwife to react as if I had insulted and offended her. I had 700 words to work with and distilling my message took a lot of time and consideration. It’s the sound-bite world that terrifies me, as it has elected morons and destroyed noble men and women. It’s a real craft to hone a message like that and I fear I may have missed the mark a bit. Or she’s a wing nut looking for a platform. I know of her, but don’t know her, so I can’t say, but it scared me. Everyone has a right to their opinion, I get that, but to re-write my sentences and post them to social media with her reaction was downright scary. At least the newspaper pulled the comment when they discovered the name-calling and profanity. I pull my hair out at how hard it is to advance the messages of  nurses, midwives, and alternative care providers. We all constantly swim upstream in our rigged system, and spend so much time setting traps amongst ourselves. It’s like the Democrats in Congress, constantly eating their own. Physicians don’t ordinarily do this.  They are so reluctant to criticize and mete out consequences for unsafe practice that the state of maternity care has sunk to the level that it has. Non-physician providers would be fired in an instant for behaviors that are tolerated in physicians. I just don’t get it.

The negative response was reacting to a point I was trying to make was about how our profession is misunderstood. There is an association of the word “midwife” with uneducated women who only do home births. That is completely erroneous and educating the public, legislators, the medical community, and the world has been one huge long slog. There are many wonderful, brilliant, educated women who do home births and I know that very well.  I work with many of them and trust them completely. They have offered women alternatives that they deserve and they do it safely. I am eternally grateful to them and want to see their careers grow and prosper.  And they will, as home birth is growing steadily in this country. We need them and they need our support. As women in rural areas can’t find maternity services near them, they are turning to home birth as an alternative. This is not what the medical community is expecting.  Nor do they expect that when they refuse women the right to have a vaginal birth after a cesarean (VBAC), she will then turn to home birth for that option.  That is the largest growing population of women choosing home birth.  Hospitals are declaring that VBACs are unsafe and women must succumb to unnecessary surgery, and many of those women are then delivering at home very safely? Yup, and it shows how crazy the system is that we’ve created.

My attempt to say all this in very few words was taken as if I were the one calling those midwives uneducated. I was very relieved to see that someone rebutted the distorted comment, but I really don’t want to be distracted by this. I want my message to stay clear. It was a good wake-up call, though, to be ready when bigger, scarier fish come after me. So thank you, Carol.  You’ve given me a glimpse into the hard, cruel world of standing up for what you believe in.

There! Done in a nap time.  And is it Drury Lane where the muffin man lives?