Heading Out, Despite My Questionable Confidence


Well, folks, I’m heading out again. Not to the Columbia Gorge you see above, nor even east of the Cascade Mountains, both favorite places. But there will be week-ends for that kind of moseying another month. Still, this view is spectacular and is my home territory. It is a comfort to look at. I thought it served this post well.

The situation is this: I have been cajoled and enticed once again by my oldest daughter, Naomi, to get on a couple of airplanes and meet her in upstate New York. From there we will be driving down to South Carolina with a few choice stops along the way. She is a real, not a pretend, traveler. I’m more the latter–I just say I love travel when mostly I read travel articles and watch National Geographic documentaries. And take a few week-end side trips, a family vacation a couple times a year for a whole seven days. Oh, in the past I have been more spontaneous and far flung. I don’t recall having such second thoughts in my second, third and fourth decades. And I feel I’d enjoy even more roaming….if I can better take myself in hand. But perhaps on foot or by car, bus, train, ferry or a yacht (yes, the last was as fun as imagined). Yes, that’s more how I like heading out.

I have written about this dilemma before, when I  flew out to help her move two years ago: https://talesforlife.wordpress.com/2014/07/31/becoming-bolder-disclosures-of-a-somewhat-reluctant-adventurer/.
That post got surprisingly big views. I saw I was not alone in having issues–a sort of existential love-hate about taking off via planes and so on.

Let’s just say I drag my heels until I absolutely must face the reality and get ready. I leave in a bit over 48 hours. I have a ton to get done before then, including readying things for a visit to our place by another daughter and her husband upon return. I may need to persuade my spouse to scrub floors, do laundry, make as little mess as possible. But housework is hardly a decent reason to lag behind.

I adore Naomi  and we’ll have a good time on the road so I just have to gather the momentum and go. I’m also pretty good at acting as if I am confident even if I am a quaking mass of pudding inside. So that’s a plus. I picture myself striding through airports like an old hand. I will not take sedation; I will be alert and lively.

This is the same kind of circumstance as last time: she is leaving one university for another. The moving company will do their part–I’m not quite up to that much heavy lifting or hauling. We are then driving down to her new habitat by the Southern institution. An artist (primarily sculptor) and professor, she garnered a position that bodes well for long term employment and deeper roots. I am excited for her movement forward and pleased she asked me once more to go along for the ride. Maybe I wasn’t too neurotic after all.

At first, I even had good reasons to not go this year, things that could have stood firmly between me and 2800 miles to her spot on the map. She is persistent, congenially so. Anyone born two and half months early and not only survives but flourishes must have a will of iron. Intrepid, at times. This is a woman who just returned from a six week sojourn around/within the Faroe Islands. And Scotland and England. Much of that time was spent on an aging but apparently seaworthy sloop. I didn’t have the vaguest idea where those islands were, and when I found out I wanted to yank her away from the notion and airport by the ankles. On a creaky, leaky boat in the powerful Atlantic Ocean? She loved it there.

A couple days ago she told me–sent a picture, actually, too–about something unexpected even for her. When she got back from a car-trip through several states following her Faroe Islands trip (she got back three weeks ago–isn’t she exhausted yet?–and she packed before and after…), she was greeted by a bat in her bathroom. Yes, a small bat was lying in her tub. She was concerned for its welfare. I immediately did risk assessment: did it drool even a tiny bit on her? Did it try to nibble her? Was there foam coming out its mouth?

“I just got a big baggie and nudged him in there and then took it outdoors. Never touched him, Mom. Poor guy, I think he’s not doing too well.”

I talked to her today at length. I was thinking of taking my tick repellent, since there are plenty of those out East. She assured me that as long as we are in her vehicle and on asphalt all will be well. I thought I heard her wrong. It’s not like we will be living 24-7 in her SUV. We will have to eat and use the restroom and stretch our legs. She wants to visit friends along the way, and then there are sightseeing moments. I want to walk, even hike some, too.

“Well, buy some lightweight quick-dry pants and we’ll stuff your pant legs into your socks and cover your arms and I’ll dose you with bug spray, and myself. You’ll be as safe, I guess, as anyone can hope to be. Do NOT bring your own supply of bug sprays–I have what we need. In fact, don’t need to pack shampoo and other hair products–I am sure I have it all.”

But that wasn’t all. I am supposed to pack light. There won’t be extra space for much else in her gas hog by the time she piles the last stuff in the cargo area and back seat. And we’ll be pulling a trailer, too, I might add–her gallery on wheels, how she stores all her art (rather large, mostly) and miscellaneous art-making supplies. But packing light is very hard for me. Is that a small or medium bag?

“You know, carry-on. Best to keep it simple and compact and not check luggage, you know.”

“But I know what I need and what I want to have with me,” I remind her. “In case.”

“And it is usually too much. I just got through six weeks with three of each vital pieces, a few pair of foot-saving socks and a warm, waterproof jacket. You’ll be gone for ten days. If I can live out of a backpack…”

“Ugh.” (Alright, I didn’t say that but I thought it regarding the “three of each” part.) “Well, you’re a veteran. I’ll consider your advice.”

And I do accept her tips as reasonable, smart. I don’t always use them. How many earrings can I fit in, what number of shoes? Face lotion, mix and match outfits? Rain coat? It can be rainstorm weather there this time of year, have to be prepared. So unlike the Pacific NW in summer, where sunshine is strong, free of clingy humidity and most clouds evaporate by noon. The SE portion of the country requires air conditioning or one risks a full melt if left in the outdoors too long.

And let’s not talk about bed and breakfasts or hotels, the widely variable food on the road. I know, be flexible, try to not have expectations–and be surprised! That exclamation mark makes me feel more cheerful about possibilities already.

I realize I’m edging toward whining already and I haven’t even thought consciously, deeply, about flying. And going through Customs, since I am flying through Canada to get to New York. (Note to self: must research this online, then write down their expectations.) Talk to husband, who has flown internationally often enough.

His advice?

“Follow along in the packed lines after exiting plane, you cannot escape it. Or ask other people.” He adds sympathetically: “Call me if desperate.”

I do, thankfully, still hold a valid passport from our other forays into Canada. (Memo: find passport tonight and put it by suitcase. Which one? No, in purse. Which purse shall I take…? Not too bulky. But there is the shoulder bag I must carry for books, tablet and camera….)

I’m in trouble already. I know–just think of it as an extended week-end at the Oregon beach. No big deal. Keep it simple, that’s the way.

You can see I am preparing for this–I’m working on a plan. It’s not a big time away, true, more like short-to-sort-of medium length in miles and time, not even close to epic. But it feels substantial. I’m seeing my daughter, entering the rippling and surging stream of her life, which is radically different from mine in most ways. And I only get to have her once or twice a year. How generous that she gave me the ticket that’s allowing me to talk with her face-to-face soon, to just hang out.

I have to finish this up–there is dinner, checking my lists and then a scan and tally of clothing options and accouterments. I have little clue what can be squashed into that blasted carry-on. Husband says to roll my clothes, an old trick. A suitable challenge. Minimalist living is supposed to be good for you. Ah, a decent spiritual challenge! As all life is for me, ultimately.

I’ll be back to these pages in two weeks, ready to scribble more odds and ends. Not writing more than a few stolen moments will be a hurdle to jump over. (Note: must make room for notebook to gather any epiphanies and random jottings; do not forget good pen.) I do look forward to discovering what new stories get stirred up. Until then, fare thee well–go out there and make your own beautiful fun!


Becoming Bolder: Disclosures of a Somewhat Reluctant Adventurer

Misc. photos 029

Though I have days to prepare, I’m already madly packing in my mind, selecting clothes I want, making a mental list of toiletries, determining the comparative value of protein bars (added protein) versus chocolate-covered pretzels (dopamine upsurge =crunchy happiness), and considering what books and magazines I want to lug around. The last seems like a critical decision, but that may change tomorrow. Tomorrow it might be how to find a corner for the white loafers I love but rarely wear. Or the hoodie, just in case. And I can’t forget my omega-3 fish oil pills! And mints for my purse.

I feel like I am about to embark on a journey into another world. In point of fact, I am. Not the Amazon basin (I dream of this) or County Clare in Ireland (I wish). A five hour plane trip back East for nine days. That’s it. But it’s not a very familiar world. Though I have lived in other states, my home has been in Oregon for over two decades.

My oldest daughter, Naomi, has invited me join her exodus from her old place and job at a college to a new place for another college job. Virginia to upstate New York. When she first mentioned it I counted off reasons why it was impractical–costly, lengthy, inconvenient due to family needs as well as writing projects and other weekly commitments. I couldn’t comfortably lift and carry heavy stuff in order to help her so I’d only be moral support. Oh, and her youngest sister has a wedding coming up in the fall–there is much to save for, think about and assist regarding all. And I’m not so good, anymore, at handling three different time zones, questionable food sources, not to mention foreign beds.

Naomi ignored these. “I have a mover coming, mom. You don’t have to lift anything, just be around. It’s not a whole month away. And you’ve not yet been out here for a good visit with me. Plus, this can be a little vacation. You’ll be fine. And maybe Cait can take a day and drive over.”

She was probably right on all counts. And when I mulled it over I realized I haven’t even been alone with her for more than a short day since…well, perhaps the first year and a half of her life. Her brother was born, and then a sister and then two non-biological sisters joined our blended family (one of whom is Cait). Except for the beginning of Naomi’s life, there has forever been a group involved in all activities, overflowing the rooms and filling up time. She went to college at eighteen and a couple years later I divorced and moved with two children to Oregon. She visited us on holidays, for a week or so in summer. Some of the family attended her Masters’ art exhibition at Carnegie Mellon University and visited her a couple of times in Virginia and Michigan. But she has travelled to see the family here or elsewhere once or twice a year.

Since she began college, twenty-three years have somehow passed. I was aghast that I’ve not spent an entire week alone with her since her toddlerhood. It seemed too long overdue. I talked to my spouse, who travels a great deal. He said, “Sure, I have enough mileage to send you. Done. Go and enjoy!”

The last time I visited Naomi in VA. was with my husband two and a half years ago.
The last time I visited Naomi in VA. was with my husband two and a half years ago.

In the span of twenty-four hours I had a flight booked. Then I wondered what on earth I had done. I am still wondering, though committed and engaged in preparations. My full disclosure is that I am not an experienced traveller and, thus, a bit anxious. It isn’t that I haven’t desired to visit more places, but matters of money, time and convenience can alter one’s plans.

When I was growing up, I would have said I was and would forever remain a traveller. My parents took us on trips each summer, often by car. We visited nearly every state to sightsee–for our education, my father would remind us, as well as to visit family and friends. Since we had a decent-sized family, that meant five kids (the same number I raised but with the aid of a minivan) were squashed into our sedan’s back seat, or I would sit between my parents until they couldn’t bear my wriggling or bouncing. I don’t recall feeling claustrophobic–we were crowded at home, too, and we managed. But we took turns hanging out windows until the parents scolded us. There were plenty of stops so we could run off energy or soothe tempers. And we viewed countless historical markers and places, breathtaking scenery, stopped at museums for seafaring or military events or arts and crafts. Later on, we camped in a pop-up camper.

It was the ordinary sights and sounds, the colors and textures of countryside flashing by, impromptu stops at the odd drugstore or cafe for lime Cokes and grilled cheese, the exploration of forested state parks or walks along rocky coastal beaches that I recall. I learned things, yes–everything from impressive geological formations to what farmers planted in different parts of the country to tidbits about Mark Twain or Leonard Bernstein. But it was observing people live their lives that fascinated me. I wondered over all of them, even the ones we passed in cars. Who were these unique beings? What were their hopes? Did that fussy red-headed boy like learning new things, too? Did that round-eyed, elegant young woman want to be a doctor, flight attendant or a famous singer? How was life lived behind closed doors in a neat, quiet place with the pretty town square–or in the maze-like, beautiful metropolis of Boston or San Francisco? Sharing events with others was a bonus but the images and questions were my treasures to hoard for future analysis.

I certainly dreamed of travel. I devoured every issue of National Geographic and Life with hunger. I was possessed of a spirit that craved to roam, perhaps to collect anthropological data, certainly to absorb sights and smells and feelings, meet such people whose very gaze might shake my world up. Fall in love in Italy. Write moody poems in Argentina. Create elaborate stories from the seeds of real-life stuff. Meantime, I took buses halfway across the country as a teen, hitch-hiked when it was still fairly safe, travelled by train a few places and flew enough, my only thought being how excited I was to be on the move. And I planned on exploring countries beside Canada (whose wiles I am fond of and still return to enjoy).

But now I inadequately meet my definition of a real traveller. I am often hesitant to embrace the how and where of leaving home for a far destination. Off to the Pacific Ocean is a breezy couple of hours drive. To the Atlantic way over there is a challenge.

Maybe it started way back, right before 9/11. That spring my mother–my second parent to pass–died. After attending the funeral in Michigan with family, then addressing estate business, I returned home alone. On the plane I was so weary and bereft I could not create a way to relax, be calm. Just be still and carry on. My heart raced uncontrollably. I was abandoned, lost, floating in an emotional netherworld without beginning or end. Looking out the window did nothing to improve my state. I wanted off that plane but had to endure a lengthy flight. I felt so ill that by the time I arrived home I was barely able to walk unassisted. It was grief that rendered me powerless and fearful. My heart was breaking–and that was before I had a heart attack that summer. But the flight was endured. I put the anxiety behind me, I thought.

I still visited places, saw noteworthy things and met intriguing people but I don’t kid myself about being any seasoned traveller. I have several family members (my parents were two of them once) who have been all over the world more than a few times, including Naomi. My idea of happiness is staying in a cottage at the Pacific Ocean or hiking in the mountains, driving to Seattle or ferrying to Victoria, BC. Even an impromptu day trip brings me pleasure. I am hinting to my spouse about a train trip to Vancouver, B.C. next year.

So about this trip to see Naomi. I am brimming with anticipation of all the new things I will see and do. And I am nervous, as I usually fly with others. It is the unfamiliarity of things that both thrills and somewhat intimidates me. If I step back and assess, it is much like other trips–a different way of experiencing time and place, opportunities to learn. To enjoy being renewed in spirit and mind. Riding on a plane is a means to an end. Even better this time I will share each day with my oldest daughter, finally. Revel in her creative intelligence, wry wit, industriousness and boundless good heart. We may learn more about each other and our lives than we reckoned. But this is what I know: we have little enough time to share love. I want to see her eyes shine up close. I want to hear her stories first hand. I need to laugh over stupid stuff, share spontaneity with her. Drink iced tea in the sun as we catch up on crazy and heartening family stories. So I am jumping at this chance even though I’m telling you, it is not easy for me to step onto that plane alone.

Back to packing then. I’ll take my good camera, a pen, pencil and notebook. Laptop, yes? Two novels. That new lipstick? White cropped jeans or grey crops, green or purple top? I am pretty good at organizing so it’ll all get done. I’m giving myself over to this. Going with the wind; may it whip up more adventuring. Welcoming each day with Naomi (and Cait if she can join us) as our mother-daughter journeying continues to unfold.

Get ready, Na--I'm coming!
Get ready, Na–I’m coming!


(NOTE: Due to being busy with travelling, no posts will likely appear next week. But one never knows.)

Weather and View from Here:Variable but Fair

I am not a seasoned traveller, the sort that easily navigates  the barbaric mazes of airports. Neither do I speak fluently many languages of exotic locales. For me, “foreign” means our cousin Canada. I have sung praises of the beauty there–boating through the San Juan Islands, sampling the delights of Victoria and Vancouver, coming face-to-face with bears in Banff National Park. But other than Canada, my explorations have thus far remained within my own country. The primary modes of travel have been car and feet. The last time I flew anywhere was in 2007 when a daughter graduated from Union Theological Seminary, and it took love and will to get on that plane even though as a young adult I loved to fly.

In September when Marc and I planned a trip to Virginia and Florida to visit family, my excitement and anxiety were contained by the distractions of daily living. I had been the one to bring up the trip despite a mild dislike, perhaps more accurately a moderate loathing, of flying ever since events in 2001. I kept focused on the final destination and the experiences we would enjoy. By the first of January I was checking weather reports and planning what to pack. My goal was to be ready for anything but not embarrass my husband with a surfeit of bags. And to be calm upon arrival. I considered the leftover Valium Marc still had after dental extractions. Or the natural kava kava, which I had used when I flew to and from my mother’s funeral May 2001. In the end Dramamine was secreted away in my cloth bag beneath books and magazines, just in case.

But the moment I get on the  plane I know it will be a good trip. We haven’t visited my in-laws in a long while and we’ll see two daughters, as well. I am leaving behind wind-driven, chill rain in favor of delicious sunhine. More crucial, we are abandoning work and humdrum routine.

So it happens: I peer out a small window. My breath catches in my throat as the plane rises smoothly into the sky: I am on a small adventure and anything wondrous and fine can happen. In an instant I fall under a spell.

The world looks kinder from above, as if all the earthly things have come to order. It is as though the fine raiment of the land is meant to complement the colors washed along the horizon. As we near Chicago and the sun descends,  amber beacons pulse across the rolling earth, while the sky gives forth a display of piercing white lights.

From where I sit the Big Dipper appears to be in conversation not only with a perfect moon–which trumpets light all the way to other galaxies–but also with the criss-crossed lines of city and town, the slip and slide of pale country lanes against shining rivers.  I wonder what magic things spill upon the land from the mammoth ladle above.

I rest my eyes on the fullness of the scene–how much there is to love when venturing far, how great the mysteries as we leap in the face of reason and then lilt within the far-flung dark. The city’s lights flare out like a giantess’ necklace on an indulgent bosom.

And the moon holds steady as the night spreads its vast velvety wings. The sky, bemused, opens to the watchful audience of the universe beyond. Lulled by night, face pressed against the glass, I watch the geometry of roads and tiny cars come closer, the plane tilting and sailing toward a better known world, yet no less extraordinary.

The story could end right here, but disembarking feels like leaving one dream for another. I am a space traveller cruising in for a pit stop.

Then suddenly, in Virginia with daughter Naomi, artist/wandering pilgrim, who has been to Europe, to the Caribbean and Iceland, to places I cannot pronounce. To our surprise, it is rainy and cold just like Oregon the first day, but on the second the sun joins us. We take to the sights and sounds of rustic Jamestown, then Colonial Williamsburg. Encompassing 301 acres, with 88 of the original 18th century shops, houses, outbuildings plus hundreds of others reconstructed on original foundations, this is the past vibrant within the present.  We stroll Duke of Gloucester Street and stop to chat with the Shoemaker, whose supple leather shoes are meticulously hand-made for a man of more or less means in the 1700s. We visit the Weaver and learn about beetles from South America that provide the brilliant red that dye the wool the women spin. Then off to the Magazine and Guardhouse where I come upon not only rifles and muskets but a Hatmaker sitting on a bench. He is proud of his work, and informs us that he also can make shoes and is a blacksmith. At Chownings Tavern I enjoy tasty chicken stew and corn bread, then we’re off to see the Cabinetmaker–would I be interested in a lustrous $20,000 harpsichord? It plays beautifully as I run my fingers over the keys.

And so it continues as the sun illumines all. The Silversmith, the Cooper, the Milliner and Tailor. Every shop and house we enter or wonder over holds the hint of lives lived long ago and well, of trials, aspirations, romance. It is like walking hand-in-hand with those who planned and built the bustling town, had heady political discussions, reared families, fought illness and loss.

I stand before the Governor’s Palace and swear I hear the rustle of silk, the resonant ring of crystal from deep within the rooms. Other women and men have shared lives full of pleasure, burdensome with toil. They watch us from the shadows as the bright wind runs through bare treetops and stirs my hair.

On the last night, we three gather at the hotel suite and partake of a redolent beef stew that  Naomi started in the Crockpot in the morning. It is reminsicent of the recipe I often made for our large family a lifetime ago. But it tastes richer. Better seasoned. More tender.

Then: Florida.

Another place altogether with its shy manatees and ubiquitous palms, alligators common and fierce,  lumbering turtles. It’s flat, subtropical landscape is strange enough to me to be a foreign land and yet the warmth of the breezes and languor of the people are a welcome respite after chilly Virginia. And there is family again to welcome us, daughter Cait, who is a minister, and my in-laws. We mosey through Matlacha’s gaily painted shops, then enjoy lunch and melt-in-your-mouth pies on the shore of Pine Island.

The water is a glittering blue that changes hue from moment to moment, place to place. There are boats to watch and piers to walk, along which the sea ever beckons with it powerful rhythms and brilliant depths. The sun moves over skin like warm honey, then removes itself with grace, an empress, bestower of rainbowed light upon the horizon.

At Beth’s, my elderly mother-in-law’s, there is much talk and music. Marc and his brother pick up guitars and sing old hymns, John Denver and Carol King, other random tunes. Their voices rise and fall as though meant to do just this together. Tonight Beth closes her eyes, taps out the beat on the arm of her chair. She telegraphs her love with smiles and soft comments. When she asks me to sing as well,  I am busy videotaping each moment, but hum along a little, sing a few phrases: “If I had a song, I’d sing it in the morning, I’d sing it in the evening, all over this land.” Cait nods at the hymns; my sister-in-law encourages our men. Laughter is generous as well. We are parts of a whole in that room.

In a few days we leave. I do look back. But the planes are still majestic vehicles that carry me through the atmosphere, over the worn garment of earth’s surface. I think of the millions of lives we are passing over, people working and resting, making love or devising plans, recovering from loss or creating something fascinating.

When we arrive in Portland, it is raining, of course, but it rains on top of rare snow. All this moisture keeps the land lush. Even weary, it feels just like home; we are happy to be here, as well.

The photos I study show me more than expected. Some are better than others, but each one tells such a story. Every familiar face is better known now. One trip took me out of myself, toward many others,  and back again. The views have been excellent, the weather everywhere, just right.

(Thanks for everything, family. My heart to you.)