Some stories just want to be told: healing and wholeness in everyday life
Author: Cynthia Guenther Richardson
Hello fellow readers and bloggers,
Writing has always been a powerful connector to diverse ideas and people. We each are a meaningful part of this beautiful, ever-widening web of life. Blogging enables more interaction, which I love even after 11 years of blogging posts on three different sites.
For thirty years I was an addictions/mental health counselor and also a manager of home care services for elderly folks. Now that I have hit 70 and am more devoted to a creative life! I've published online or in literary journals/collections several times, including fiction and creative non-fiction pieces and poetry over five decades. Additionally, I was nominated for a Pushcart Prize for an excerpt of my novel-in-progress, Other than Words (the work gathering dust at present), about a mute dancer and her impact on her adopted community and a world-travelling photojournalist. I also am working on a connected set of stories about a close-knit town in northern Michigan.
On Wordpress I enjoy writing about living richly despite (or because of) life's setbacks and a diagnosis of heart disease at age 51. Posts tagged "memoir" share spiritual adventures, interactions with nature, the healing of trauma's impact and challenges of writing full-time. Short stories and creative nonfiction, and poetry are favorite genres but I enjoy sharing my photography as well
My hope is my offerings reflect a profound faith in God and our humanness which cloaks spiritual natures. I include myself as part of the diverse group of writers who discover and share the illuminating, positive experiences amid life's uncertainties and hardships.
Let me hear from you when you visit--I appreciate your comments a great deal.
Blessings and regards from
turning ’round the pungent, rocky trail, a critical affair.
Switchback to a bridge over chasm, steps,
coming to the second bridge under which
outpourings of water are freed
from voluptuous earth: a torrent of beauty.
A gathering of benevolence and majesty.
The journey is late this year, yet is done
before winter stalls me further.
And so, Cynthia with heart: to a commemoration.
Twenty years since my intimate friend
crowded against every rib,
throttled my strong knees,
yanked me to gravity’s dominion.
The ruby blood circled throne of heart,
stuttering, pressuring, then decreed
Twenty years since I braced myself, crawled,
begged for release, half-stood, limped back up
a path of terror, leaned against Marc,
every breath a damnation, each step a warning.
Rescue came late, so much later,
and yet this heart and I carried each other
that far, then farther, farther yet.
I would not have it; this heart would take me back.
Or it would not know defeat; this heart wanted me back.
Today, like most years, the path is gentle
beneath my feet, and the small pumping muscle
and I sail up, around and over it.
To the bridge where water’s jazz erupts,
to the steps that nearly killed me, all the way up
and face to face with sweet Bridal Veil.
I tremble; heart flings open its gates.
O mighty waters above, below,
O Lord of heavens and earth,
I come to this wild altar of wonder,
my heart beaming, my life made right
with this water, these trees
At 51, I had a heart attack when hiking. How despondent it made me, but I worked to regain health. Last Thursday, I had a small heart event that kept me quiet for a day or so. But Saturday I hiked the path as I do every year near the date when I was felled. And I felt stronger; it always makes me stronger. Never take for granted the work of your gifted heart–how it keeps us wedded to this life, how it cares for us without ceasing–until we are done.
I had a whole other topic developing in my mind the last couple of days for this post, but I am a bit waylaid. Literally. I can’t sit at my computer desk that long today, certainly not without getting up and moving about some. The other, more involving topic will have to wait. I considered not writing, at all, but it’s a habit I love so I will give a whirl.
I live with chronic pain and have ever since my teens. Most people can’t or won’t see it, not even my husband or other family members. There are days it yanks me off a more livable plateau and won’t release its strangling grip. I know large numbers of people have this problem. Pain relieving prescriptions are a gigantic business, as are other interventions/treatment systems. And if a person suffers the complex ramifications of a severe injury or lifelong debilitating disease–well, all the bearing up, the seeking solutions, the gritting of teeth, the prayers for aid…it goes on and on. I’ve known some of those people and don’t know how they get on with life. Everyone is unique in their tolerance and self-care plan. Many finally do not get on much, at all, and become addicted to pain pills or end up couch-bound. Or worse.
I have for decades pushed against or sought detours around the most negative outcomes and still do. I mean, to live a decent life, one must often push forward, right? I tend to view my health challenges as that picture of the tunnel above: it gets so dark but I can still see the light out there–there is always some way through the strictures of suffering. You come to it, it is gotten through, perhaps even alleviated as well as it can be. Then, fresh air and sunlight are hailed once more. Until the next time. If there are no long term solutions, there are temporary stays from the worst–usually. I need to get creative, at times.
One thing I shy away from is pain medication. If deemed medically critical, the lightest type of prescription pain reliever is used at lowest milligram, in smallest doses and for a day or a night. I am in recovery from alcohol and drug dependence that began as a young woman (partly due to serious digestion issues that remain) so I am not about to go back down a more miserable path. I feel so strongly about this that when in the hospital for chest pain and my cardiologist insisted I take the IV Demerol I was adamant I would not. In frustration, he gave me something else, he didn’t explain his choice. But it was just enough until the tests were completed. On the other hand, as he has informed me assertively, pain control is important for worsening inflammatory responses and increased blood pressure– and my heart health. I got hit with heart disease fairly young, at 51. So I try to ignore it less and treat it the best I can. I don’t want to ruin all the work he and I have done.
It’s not always easy for me to even pinpoint the cause of pain, and that can complicate things. It might be a big surprise and then it can move about, am I right? Last night I had a creeping headache with sudden worsening back-of-neck pain that spread into my back. I took an OTC pain pill, then another in an hour. But it plagued me, anyway. I had to make inventory of all I had done the last few days to solve the “What” of it. I had been reading a good hour at the dining room table, which meant the bad discs in my neck got irritated as I hunched over to read, elbows on table, head bowed down. I also had half-picked up my toddler granddaughters earlier and carried fairly heavy grocery bags up stairs and into our place. And done some cleaning. All these create more stress on an already tricky backbone and spine. So I hypothesized that was it. But even as the headache decreased, it hurt when I took deep breaths. This was a little alarming, but I had no other symptoms; my actual breathing was alright, I felt fine except for pain. In time it seemed to lessen with a heating pad against the back of my good chair, a short neck massage by Marc, and one low dose muscle relaxant. In the morning I felt much improved with barest pain, then none. But after sitting, reading and then typing, there is more pain in my upper back and neck. It is kind of hollering at me so I will pause…
I am sharing this because those who have pain–or worsening pain attacks– understand this process of attention, examination, tentative conclusions, plan of action. It can be time intensive and certainly can interfere with the usual rhythms of life. How does one diagnose the source of acute or lingering pain? I have to carefully check in with my biological systems to tick various boxes: is it coming from stomach pain or gut (GERD/gastritis/colitis)? Is it those crunched or bulging discs in neck and the spinal stenosis getting worse? Is it the tricky behaviors of my heart (coronary artery disease and arrhythmias)? Is it an overreaction to my body’s cues?
Likely not the last. If anything, I have been told I underreact and under-treat. Why?
So many have been taught to be stoic. I know I was. My mother got kicked by a horse as a teen and had no professional medical treatment, and all her life she endured nearly unremitting back pain. I can still see her with an arm tucked behind her back, her fist pressed against the throbbing spot. Sometimes she lay down to rest but she always popped up and got busy again and rarely said a thing about it. She could be washing floors or dressing in brocade for the opera all the while in pain, but she kept on. My father simply ignored health matters as long as possible and loathed doctors. (They both lived into their 80s and 90s my mother longer, but may have lived longer…). A child learns by watching; I learned to minimize my physical discomforts, carry on with a smile. A good attitude could make a difference, in fact; l I had witnessed it, found it often true. Besides which, it was embarrassing to admit to weakness. Who wants to feel weak? Not me, no then, and often, not now.
I was a natural athlete as a child and teen and craved physical activity. I wasn’t into team sports–it was figure skating, cycling, running, diving, swimming, water skiing, softball, volleyball, dancing and so on. And these obviously required vigorous engagement. Even singing and playing cello required sustained output of energy and concerted efforts for long periods. One thing expected was a consistent effort to push through aches and bruises. (“No pain, no gain”–right? The American sports mantra. But it isn’t useful for some of us, at times.) It stuck with me into adulthood when ailments became more intractable, yet I still loved being active outdoors. I also began weight training and body building a few years. Plus I had five kids–so who had time to sit around? I told my kids to get up when they fell, wipe the blood off and keep going; I was naturally doing the same. Or was that such a “natural” response? My children, now adults, have significantly followed suit–they like to think they’re tough. Maybe they are–but at what cost in the end?)
Maybe it’s time to take a look at all these ingrained beliefs again. Progress has definitely occurred since I went off the rails as a teen and other major dips in my late 30s into early 40s. I had to learn to stop forever charging into life. That extended to needing to slow down my well-known hard driving stride upon all surfaces whether with my boots, high heels, hiking boots or bare feet. Take a break, I had to tell myself, not every second is critical to anything or anyone... Undue or persistent stress, one’s life pressures mismanaged creates more aches and pains, thus worsening one’s health status. Seems simple.
My life is no longer all work, too much tiredness and minimal play. Well, I am retired now but believe me, early retirement was still lots of work at home. I still keep an daily agenda book filled with tasks and goals… But perfection is unnecessary, for one thing. Suffering is not always part of the deal, either. My body needs loving care as much as my mind and spirit. I finally got it by age 45, that lightbulb coming on full wattage after another divorce, more years of sobriety, fascinating work and better friendships, more frequent outdoor activities, reading for fun and not always education. Oh, and the board games and cards. I rediscovered the simple pleasure of quietly playing a few again– not to win but to…play!
Still, here I am typing away when my upper back and neck are cringing like mad. (At some point, I remind myself I also was in a bad car accident two months ago, with whiplash and other jolts that may still impact nerves and tissues.) I have gotten up and down a half dozen times as I’ve written. Had a cheddar cheese and cracker snack, made more delicious tea, threw another two wet loads into the dryer. I have stretched, shaken it all out, turned up the heat as a cold rain splatters the ground. Marc will be home soon and I think he will make dinner…it relaxes him, aggravates me too often.
Earlier I took a hilly 45 minute walk even though it hurt some. I fully believe in walking for whole health, perhaps especially for pain management of body and mind. But when I got home I called my cardiologist to set up a check up appointment soon–I usually see him once a year now but it seems a good time before holidays– took another acetaminophen, and got my cozy blanket to wrap about as I write. I may get that heating pad going next and read a bit in my best chair. Despite it being daylight and thinking I really have more to do. Must I still fight against feeling I will be giving in to getting older?
Well, Cynthia, you are getting older; the body takes a beating as it moves closer to that point. Repeat after me: it is alright to practice regular self-care and time outs.
I do know what to do now that I have learned hard lessons over time–including getting medical help when needed. So now I must end this post: I do relent. It is fine to relent. In fact, it is important to stop struggling at times, rest the painful places, allow more of nature’s healing to happen. And to ask for more help from Divine Love. There is that light at the end of the tunnel; I am going for that once more. Always.
I will check in Friday with a poem. I hope you all take care of your bodies, hearts, minds, as well.
It was time to visit the Fruit Loop, a 35 mile trip that passes 29 member farms which offer produce stands. The orchards bear a variety of fruits, and acres of flowers or vegetables alongside wineries (tasty-looking wine, but we no longer drink) make up a cornucopia of delights. We go through the town of Hood River which sits on the Columbia River, and head out one Highway 35. The landscape is breathtaking; this fecund valley lies at the base of Mt. Hood in the Cascade Mountains. (One also sees Mt. Adams in places.) We were seeking apples and pears but the views alone are worth a leisurely drive–during any season, though I love the autumn weather and offerings.
We originally migrated from Michigan decades ago and still miss those big apple orchards, hayrides and up-close views of busy cider mills from our youth. Nothing quite as fine on a frosty day than a cup of steaming hot cider with a still-warm cinnamon sugared cake donut nearly melting in your mouth. This was (and is) a long tradition shared by untold numbers there, and when we grew up and later took our five kids, it was even more fun. There are not just the same offerings in Oregon, though close (apple strudel with ice cream and cider at Portland Nursery, for instance). But our fall outings make up for our Midwestern loss.
We’ll first stop by Drapers Girls Country Farm and U-Pick Orchards. We come here mostly because it has a quaint, almost worn feel and I find it inviting. A third generation farm now run by one family member and her three daughters, it offers ten different fruits. (The place below is a small rental house on the property.)
We wander about but purchase only a handful of apples here–we have a favorite orchard coming up next.
On we go, passing Oregon scenery I love so keep snapping pictures, even from the moving car.
Our destination is Kiyokawa Family Orchards, operating since 1911; their speciality is growing over 150 varieties of apples, pears, cherries, and stone fruit. And that means over one hundred varieties of apples, alone! We consistently find their operation clean, the staff knowledgeable and friendly, and the bounty exceptional.
We park amid a throng of cars; I try to avoid photographing people up too close. But there were a lot of visitors and apple tasters.
Happy with our many choices–whose names we have already forgotten–and munching on a couple different ones, our mouths watering with each satisfying bite, we start home.
Passed a old and empty, dilapidated country store that I had to stop and look over. It must have been humming with business once upon a time.
And we then followed the highway along the Columbia River within the Columbia River Gorge. Next week, I will take you back there for more.
The gist of it is that as I’ve settled into Marionville, I’ve been recovering from a head injury due to a hike interrupted by a stumble that triggered disaster. So I don’t have expectations, other than getting through each day. When your brain feels permanently fogged in, that’s how it is. It could have been worse, everyone says. I suppose so. The surgeries tried to correct things. My right leg is healing from two compound fractures; my nose and forehead could look and feel even better. My left arm is now more useful though it was also fractured. It was a long fall down a very steep, tree-occupied hill. I lost consciousness for three days. My mind still has starts and stops three months later. It’s an intricate, slippery thing, the brain.
My dad–and others–always said that I err on the side of verbosity. So I guess that part of my brain is hearty because words are working better in my mind. It wasn’t that way at first; it was three weeks before things came back into moments of focus. And words worked their way out a little bit at a time. I came around, made better sense, sought more answers. But there were none when it came to the story of a long fall and a supposed rescue by a passing stranger. I was present and aware and hiking, and then I was not. I was given help, then said helper disappeared as EMTs arrived. No one could identify that person from what I had heard.
So, a mystery and I live inside it every day.
Marionville is not where I want to be. My parents long lived here, now only my dad. But it makes sense for a quiet road to recovery. I’m on leave from my radio show until I can demonstrate more communication strengths than deficits. I often have to wait a few beats before responding, making simple decisions. Actual words get confused. I have too many rehab appointments. So I get it that I need time, two-three more months. I hope.
Dad and I keep company–about fair to middling. He has his part of the house–downstairs. I have mine, a bedroom and bathroom, a second room with a desk and single bed to do whatever in. Maybe practice talking in a microphone again, working on a radio show script. Sometime… Right now I gaze out the window a lot. I can think, sort of, but decent writing seems a forbidden event and talking is a crapshoot.
Like this morning.
Dad said, “I’m going fishing, want to come, Sammy-boy?”
The endearing term caught me off guard. But fishing sounded hard. I shrugged as he turned to his array of poles in the garage.
“Guess to stand in water? Can’t pitch a damn.”
“No pitching, we aren’t up for any baseball yet,” he chuckled.
“Fitching, fishes, ya know, hoof– hook in…worms!”
I was pleased to get a part of it out right. Some sentences came out worse than others.
He swung around, studied me gravely. “Guess you can’t use that arm yet. Maybe you forgot how, sitting in a radio station all those years. So it can wait longer, Sammy.”
“I…it’s…” I exhaled tiredly.
As it he didn’t want to cause more embarrassment for either of us, he paused a half beat, then left. I would have stood in cold lake water all day if it made him happy–if he’d waited a minute. But I don’t hold it against him. Retired fireman Carl Garfield Thomas is a man of few words and little sentiment showing on his sleeve. And I do look more like Mom, do love language like she did. And it is true that now, at 77, Dad is going it alone pretty well. Though he cares, of course; he just seems baffled and annoyed by my recovery at his place.
Me, too. I miss Issaquah, just beyond Seattle. I’m in Michigan for the duration. A childhood place left decades ago. I am not in my element, anymore.
But, then, what was normal and “like me” is all screwed up now.
Why did it happen, this accident? I’m not unfit. A thirty-eight year old man, I do enough–hiking, skiing, cycling on week-ends. I love the mountains. I do hike with others but am confident on my own even in the back country. That Saturday I was alone. A bit tired–had been out the night before, but that’s often the case on week-ends. I still felt ready for the hike. But there was loose rock, massive roots, steep descents. Or did something else happen? What came when?
I don’t know. It happened too fast.
But I want to know exactly why. How. There is so much missing. It makes me toss and turn, bad arm and leg in the way, sweating in the quilt, eyes open half the night.
I need to know it all. But it’s not there.
Dee calls to set up a lunch visit at the Spoon and Mug for lunch, a diner at the end of Lake Wenatchee. I reluctantly agree. Dad raises unruly white eyebrows but drops me off. I haven’t seen Dee for three years. We met when my parents moved here for retirement. I visited every Christmas, some summers of falls. And we stayed friends.
“Well, come here, Sam,” Dee says with a throaty laugh.
“Dee. Here we are.”
She gently wraps both arms about me, careful of my balance since I lean on a half-crutch wrapped about my forearm. Her plumpness warmly engulfs my wrecked frame.
We settle into our chosen booth, the one we always sit in, overlooking the lake. I inhale to my toes. Ah, fragrances of burgers, French fires and onions, fruit pies and too strong coffee. I haven’t had a venison burger in awhile, and order after she does.
She searches my face top to bottom, notes my lame arm and leg. I am not nervous with Dee and know the long jagged scar across my forehead remains deep pink; my nose is crooked despite surgery,
“Still handsome, huh?” she says. “You seem to be bearing up okay, despite the ordeal. I thought I’d meet up with a quasi-Frankenstein, but I was not–truly not!– one bit afraid, my friend. You’re still Sam T. Thomas, smooth jazz with most current commentary, right? Of course you are, just waylaid awhile.” But she blinks twice, eyes glossy. “And how’s it going at ole Carl’s? Fishing any good, yet?”
“Funny ask. No, so far. Bum arm, leg. I not a thing, he…this or that. Long days.” I’d warned her about my speech but Dee is a patient sort.
“I imagine. You’re used to being on the move in all ways. Rough, buddy. Give it the time it requires.”
We pause to check out our orders, sip hot coffee.
“So sorry you had to go through it, Sam. I couldn’t believe it when Carmela called me after talking to your dad’s friend, Sherry….”
I stop my fork halfway to my mouth–Sherry who?–but took the bite of cole slaw.
“…and it was a shock. You know your way around a wilderness trail! But accidents…that’s just the way they go. Sudden, a weird succession of events. I was relieved to hear you’re healing, though.”
“Your brains are good, your mouth just needs a little rest, I guess.”
She beams good cheer and I flood with appreciation. A real friend is just what I need. A few back home are busy; they have important lives to get on with.
“Can I ask–Lily? Ok? Sch–shoo—classes ok?”
“Oh, yes,” she says, “back at it and glad of it. Both of us. She’s eleven, going on fifteen in her deluded mind. But doing alright. Overall.” She takes a bite, glances away.
“Martin?” I ask. That’s why Dad’s eyebrows raised, maybe.
“Yeah. Gone. Left one morning without even his usual juicy poached egg and bitter espresso. Back in Grosse Pointe. It was bound to happen, right? He couldn’t stay put up here. We tried hard but had to give it up.”
I think of Lily, reach for her hand. Now comes a barely audible whimper. When she stays quiet on the topic, I attack my venison burger with barely retrained relish which gets her smiling again. I never liked Martin; his hair and Lexus were too important and resolved to tell her later that it will become a better life for Lily–a good kid, a bright one–and her.
Time goes by as we cover basic news we want to know, relaxing with another mug of coffee. I do not ask about Sherry’s identity; that’s my dad’s business. Dee talks about work and Lily, asks questions I answer with extreme brevity. We have a fair picture of each other’s present state of mind. She is sad about Martin but has been letting go. I feel angry and curious about my issues., somewhat resigned but am not letting go.
“So, you can’t remember what happened exactly. From start to the end….when you woke up. I keep coming back to this. Not surprisingly, it seems you want to recall the details…not keep it in the dark like so many people would. How like you to have to dig, find the bits and pieces. And I understand that need to know everything possible, being a librarian.”
“Yeah.” I slowly nod at her–she does get it. I like her inquisitive spirit, too. And the sooner I can part the pea soup fogginess–it can’t all be the concussion’s effects–the better.
She puts an arm on back of the bench seat, narrowing eyes at me, pondering. “Well. I keep thinking of Heaven. Of course.”
Of course. But I chortle–not that I don’t know what she means. Because I do know. And why Dee places so much faith in a woman everyone else calls a crazed hippie artist or a soothsayer or perhaps a mastermind hiding out from the Chicago Mafia, I don’t know. I’ve only seen Heaven Steele in passing and that’s fine with me. I don’t need Ms. Steele to tell me all I have endured. I just need one hundred percent recall.
“Dee, I not all–“
“Not all about that kind of thing, I know, I know. But what is there to lose?” she says. “Let’s go see her–she has helped people. Please?”
I grunt, hold my hands up in the air, screw up a nutty face at her.
Maybe it’s the happiness of a full belly, good talk and shafts of honeyed light drifting through the streaked windows of down-to-earth-wonderful Burger and Mug Diner. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m bored out of my fuzzy brain. And my daily headache is ramping up. But I give in.
How can I rule out something Dee recommends if I haven’t tried it? I trust her. Why not trust her artist-clairvoyant?
Heaven Steele’s house is nothing spectacular though apparently she has money from her Chicago life chapter. I can hear a sweet jangling of glass wind chimes she makes by the dozens to sell to tourists and online. A narrow flagstone walkway winds down the hill to an older modern one-story set above the town. I expected a full glass mini-mansion so she could view the world, maybe keep track of us below. At this moment, anything can apparently manifest per gossip about the woman. I suggest a mystique equating very little.
Dee rings the doorbell, a sound of sonorous bells. When the door opens Heaven fills the space with her height, clothed in a deep blue tunic, dark loose pants. Barefoot. She steps forward to take Dee’s hands into hers, lightly takes my one free palm.
“Hello folks, welcome to my place.”
I wonder what that means–inner sanctum, hill temple, chimes studio, crystal ball room?–but decide to withhold judgment. There is a pleasant living room with large paintings on walls and richly colored upholstery, but she leads us into a dining area, past the kitchen then through French doors–I see a partly glass walled studio to the left and big paintings– and into a large courtyard.
I pause to rest my swinging, heavy leg and take it all in. Flourishing plants, brightly hued flowers, a gurgling fountain, rainbow of lights strung from tree to tree…who wouldn’t come here and expect to hear their fortune told? Or whatever she did. It smells good, feels tranquil. It surely offers sanctuary,
When we sit down, Heaven Steele eases into a seat across from us. Her silvery hair glistens in the dappled light. Her strong hands–they just appear strong–are resting on the chair arms. She inquires after Dee and Lily. It seems they know one another better than social friends might. But I’d had no cause to think of her one way or another. Before now, to perhaps learn…something. Or nothing at all.
Taking her space in I failed to really see Heaven Steele’s face, her eyes. But now mine catch hers and it’s clear what people have noted: one eye is blue, the other greenish-amber. I know this is hereditary–a childhood classmate had the same rare condition–but this doesn’t dampen the effect. I want to look away, yet she easily holds me in her steady gaze. So I look right back, give her a semi-fake smile.
“So recently Dee informed me of the situation. Maybe I can help. I sometimes snag experiences from others. You don’t have to believe in anything I say or do. I’m sorry it happened, Sam. But it was not to be avoided, no matter what you did. Your body took over, it likely tried to save you and then…”
I am taken aback. “Save me? About k-killed-ended me…” I gesture to my face, leg, arm.
“Yes. But wait.”
She keeps me in the thrall of her gaze even as I glance at Dee’s encouraging expression and back. Heaven lowers her eyelids, breathes out a really long exhale.
Please, I thought, no mesmerizing antics.
“What did you hear before you slipped? A sharp sound? A brush of the air? Close your eyes now, follow the path.”
I think back, eyes wide. I’m not closing them, I recall so little, looking at empty blackness behind my lids won’t show me one thing.
“I know you’re anxious. But there is a slight rustle in the underbrush, among the pine trees. You hear it but think nothing of it, a squirrel, a snake, a beaver along the silvery creek. A small clearing, then deeper woods. you tire…”
There was a creek, true. A rustling, but even tiny birds rustle. Lots of things. A creek I stopped by just before taking a turn in the trail, a clearing before I went on. She must see where I was. I close my eyes.
“You feel something out there, then a shot of energy along your spine, neck prickling, but you are soon to descend the trail, head to your car. You’re tired, warm. Almost out of water.”
I am on the trail, legs pumping dutifully, feet getting sore, throat parched as water is low so I wait it out longer. The light dims as I enter a thicker grove of cedars and pines, and if I hear footsteps I think they are far behind. The birds…they are now still as I push on after four hours of hiking narrow rocky trails. Out of the corner of my eye–the barest glimpse… of what? I keep on.
“What do you see, Sam?”
I feel my heart race, look around, see another pale streak, step slightly off the trail as i pivot, enough that I lose my footing, the steep side of the mountain suddenly like a magnet so I am going down, sliding, my legs catching on a stump, hands grasping and missing plants and branches, flesh tearing, leg hitting rocks and roots all the way down, trying to avoid tree trunks, arm catching on a thorny bush and yanked, then I roll over and over and over, head hitting hard places, arm shrieking with pain, then my god my leg, my leg… but…nothing. Hard stop.
Then a terrifying screech.
Me? or is it a woman? What’s happening? I am overcome, engulfed in pain. I’m out.
Dee is crouching before my knees, shaking me gently and I am back as fast as I fell into the past. Heaven is leaning forward, breathing hard and almost breathless, her face alert and open, eyes finding me. Compassion.
“W-wh-what?” I say, suddenly sure of what it was out there.
Heaven speaks carefully. “Yes, a cougar.”
My skin prickles, jaw drops. How can I be surprised? There are bears and cougars and deer and so much more in forested mountains. I have heard the bears, carry bear spray; have seen great elk, sidestepped a rattlesnake once, felt I saw a wolf vanish between the trees. I know cougars stalk their prey a long while, with no sound.
And that they scream. Like a screeching woman. An entirely wild thing unlike me, us.
“Surprised by one,” I say. “Oh.” I rub hands over my face, lean back and run fingers through my hair. But then: “Why…how can I be…h-here?”
It might never have been me. But it was too close to ignore or finally forget. That I am one small human being in a world of other creatures.
Heaven says, “There was another, a mountain woman who realized your danger. She trailed you and the cougar. It was her body you saw that time before you fell. Moving with a rifle in hand. The first time you saw the cougar. I barely can capture a cougar running off, then her arms and hands thrust high, her voice deafening, almost like that of the fierce cougar. What happened? Not sure except she got to her cabin to call for help. And then she went back to wait until she saw their lights. Remarkable.”
We all fall silent, considering it all.
“Sometimes we get lucky–rescue comes at the right moment.” Heaven spreads her hands out, barely shrugs. “There is nothing more. Thank you for letting me witness your trial.”
Heaven makes tea for us. I am still shaking some, as if it all just happened, unsure if i was alive. Dee puts both arms about me, reassuring me. My skin and brain feel tumbled inside out. I can still feel the sensations of rolling down head over heels and the pain and the mindless fear. Was this possible? That I might even have died one way– or the other? That a ghostly wilderness woman saved me?
The burbling water calms me. The hot tea has lavender and other things that taste soothing and feel better going into my body. All three of us are quiet. The fountain splashes and colored lights brighten in the fleeing glow of an October afternoon. After our cups are emptied, we tour her art studio. I study the immense precision of her work, take in the jewel-toned hues, clean designs. I purchase one, but she insists on giving it to me. It will be beautiful to behold as the race toward winter begins, and snowfall comes. A crystalline background for the mobiles of tinkling glass asway in the biter winds.
“Wait and see what winter brings,” she murmured as we left.
But it isn’t a matter of believing in Heaven Steele. She definitely has her skills. But it’s more a matter of facing my fears and believing in myself again. With some help.
I have to manage the coming months, the work it will take. I can heal up from inside out. Become stronger than before if I do it right, find my way to the next good thing. I will accept this country my father loves. I hope to go ice fishing with him. And then there’s the gift of language from my mother who, though long gone, seems to call me to greater renewal. Maybe that was the reason for the fall. Maybe not. I’m digging my heels in for as long as it takes to find out.
Maybe I’ll even get a chance to say: “Heck of a good morning to you, Radio Marionville, hold on to the moment because Sam T. Thomas is here and coming at ya!”
An imperturbable demeanor comes from perfect patience. Quiet minds cannot be perplexed or frightened, but go on in fortune and misfortune at their own private pace like a clock during a thunderstorm.—Robert Louis Stevenson