Thursday, December 07, 2017

Sifting through the layers

I've been sifting through the layers
Of dusty books and faded papers
They tell a story I used to know
It was one that happened, so long ago
-Kate Wolf, "Across the Great Divide"

A lot has happened since my last post. Actually, that is an understatement. My life has taken an amazing, unexpected, and positive turn. I can't wait to share more details, but first I need to go back and work through some of the stuff I thought I was going to have so much solo time to reflect upon. Because, that context is necessary to begin to comprehend the present. And if I am going to move forward with blogging, I need to address some parts of the story that were never told. Part of why I have not blogged consistently in the past few years can be summed up in these words from a post in January 2015:
So maybe my lack of blogging frequency in recent years has been due to a feeling that I am not completely expressing the truth about my existence. I'm not telling outright lies, nor do I have the need to, but there are truths out there that I am not comfortable putting in words for everyone to see. Is there anyone who can't say that? 

For example, when I started this blog, I (rather pompously) considered myself a "homesteader"--you know, the self sufficient lifestyle, to various degrees. I even included the term in my blog description. But over the years, the term has lost its meaning to me and I no longer identify with it. To tell the ongoing story, of how we built our own house and all that, means leaving out some truths that don't fit that "homesteader" image. The human fallibility. The stuff I don't want others to see, mostly.
 When you are married to a person for 25 years, naturally you know that person in ways no one else can. You are not the child, the sibling, the coworker, the friend, the neighbor. You are the spouse, and your knowledge of this person is more intimate than anyone else's can be. That can be a good thing, or a bad thing. Or maybe there's no good and bad. It just is.

I thought long and hard about what I was going to say at the memorial service. In the end, I decided to play Minnesota Nice and talk about the good times. Because there were some, and some of the musical events we shared together probably opened up the door to being where I am today. Memorials are not exactly about honesty; we are all feeling a bit vulnerable and needing to protect each other's feelings. So it's "He was such a nice guy" rather than "That sonofabitch still owes me money!" But now that time is over and it is no longer my job to protect anyone's feelings. I need to be true to myself.

My happy little eulogy did not include much from the last 15 years. Because, we did not come here to Sand Creek out of some grand dream to live closer to the land. We came here because we were broke and had no other options. We had spent the last few years moving from state to state, chasing jobs. Just after my daughter was born, we left Minnesota and the home we had made for seven years, so he could accept a job with a conservation organization in Missouri. I left my job, my family, my friends, and a landscape I loved to be a stay at home mom to two toddlers in a strange city. With a touch of postpartum depression to boot. That did not go so well, so we moved back to Minnesota so I could work, but it somehow wasn't good enough...so a couple moves later, we were high on a hill overlooking Anderson Valley in Mendocino County, this time with me being a stay at home mom to three young kids, while he worked for a "sustainable living" center. Oh the irony...I could see so clearly that this was definitely unsustainable, while he talked about what a wonderful place that was.

So it was, in early November 2002, we arrived back to our 40 acres and cabin, still on contract for deed. No electricity, no running water, three kids, one just starting kindergarten, in a tiny cabin with winter setting in. I was exhausted, and looking back, probably suffering from PTSD. Definitely not feeling in control of my life, or that I even had a say. We survived, and just over two years later I began this blog in the winter of the owl irruption. I believe the owls had a message for me: Wake up and start using your voice. This blog may have been a life saver for me; I found my voice, found some friends who shared my love of nature and the outdoors, and realized just how lonely and isolated I had been...

This blog tells the story of how a house was built. And I am grateful for the foundation that was laid, the walls and timbers and blue steel roof, sturdy and warm. But somewhere along the way, his motivation slowed down, the ability to take small steps each day to get something done diminished. Medical issues had a lot to do with it; diabetes takes its toll mentally and physically. Emotionally, he was not the same man I once thought I knew. If that ever existed. And, I found it harder and harder to keep blogging about our life here, with so many parts of the story I could not tell. As my blogging diminished, I immersed myself in the busyness of work, kids' activities, and eventually, running, yoga, and music. Which all have saved me.

In the last couple of years, our marriage could be best described as a "peaceful coexistence". We were in much better shape financially, the kids were more independent, and I think we both moved beyond any bitterness from the past. We went to concerts, or just drove around looking at wildlife. We talked about going fishing some time. But a peaceful coexistence can be lonely, and it leaves so much unfulfilled. For the sake of my peace of mind, it was probably better that I did not know how much that even was.

Now you know the rest of the story...but not all of it. Some things will remain unwritten.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A new journey

It has been a little over a year since I declared "this blog is not over". And I had not posted since then. I guess I had been a bit unsure about what the "new direction" was going to be.

Sometimes, life events make that decision for you when you least expect it. My husband of 25 years, whom I referred to as "The Hermit" on this blog, died suddenly in his sleep in the early hours of Thursday, September 7. He was 62 years old.

The events of the night still feel as if it were a dream. Waking up, not to snoring, but to strange gasps and gurgling, then nothing. Knowing unquestionably that something was not right. Tapping and then hitting him. Calling 911. Attempting CPR on him in bed. Yelling for Joe to drive out to the end of the driveway to let responders know this was the place. Feeling a bit surprised at how calm I was. Sitting on the floor holding a confused Labrador while paramedics worked. Knowing, before they told me, that he was gone. They said he was probably already gone when I first noticed him unresponsive.

One of the fire department first responders happened to be a friend of mine. She sat with me while we waited for the funeral director to show up. I poured myself a glass of wine, then another. The funeral director happened to be one of Vinny and Joe's baseball coaches. Small town life, I would find out in the next few days, is pretty amazing.

The days between then and the memorial service on the 12th are a blur. Neighbors bringing food. My brother driving up from Minneapolis to talk, perhaps our first talk alone in years. Nina, who had just moved to North Dakota, coming home. Vinny taking time from his job to come home. My dad, aunt, and uncle hunkering down in Palm Coast, Florida for Hurricane Irma. My friend in Duluth asked if I would like to go to a Charlie Parr concert Thursday night. I did. The next night, a friend was playing at the coffeehouse where I play occasionally. I was surrounded by friends there. And Saturday night I already had bought tickets to see a Swedish music group, Jaerv, in Minneapolis. Nina went with me. Music is powerfully healing. In between music, family, and friends, I found myself sleeping late, walking around the house not knowing what to do and not really feeling like doing anything, making lists. And starting to write. Many hours thinking about what I was going to say.

The service was more well attended than I thought it would be. It was very informal, as Russ would have wanted it. His older daughter and his sister shared memories, and in between a friend of mine played songs we had chosen, by Greg Brown and Townes Van Zandt. Then I got up, still not knowing exactly what it was I was going to say. But the words flowed from nowhere, stories of how we met, his passion for the environment, and our trips to music festivals--how he gave me the gift of music when I may not have done it on my own.

After the service and all the people, I needed to be alone for a while. I drove down to a park on the banks of the Kettle River. My musician friend from the service was there. So were some other friends who had been at the service, I found out later. We all needed the peace of the river I guess. I found a secluded picnic table, drank a beer or two, and started writing the next chapter of my life.

Friday, September 09, 2016

New directions

This blog is not over. Let's make that clear from the start. A lot of love has gone into this, and I will not leave it hanging.I will post about my latest half marathon, or whatever. But, new stuff is happening.

I have started a new blog on WordPress, and even sprung for a domain: singingtheriver.com . I am on iPad and Blogger app does not have all the fancy options WordPress does. So copy and paste to your browser and go there. That is where my writing soul will be. But the story of my life will be here, for a while.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon 2016

I wasn't so sure about this, going in. I was coming to dread the weekly long runs, I was worried about a dreadful 10K I had run in early May (hampered by a respiratory bug that would not go away). I was thinking I needed a break from running, for a while. But then, stuff like this happens. A great race when everything works out. This is the story of how it happened.

My daughter Nina and I set out for Duluth, a mere hour's drive from our house, at about 11:30 Friday morning. We had a place to stay, in a large suite in a converted warehouse building in Duluth's Canal Park, thanks to my long time friend Val. This was the second year we would be staying with this group of runners, and we knew it would be fun. But first, shopping. Race essentials, of course. We went to the mall and we both decided we needed Sanuk sandals for post race. It would turn out to be a great decision.

We arrived at the hotel, and I parked my car, not to be touched until Sunday. That was kind of nice. Driving in and out of Canal Park on marathon weekend is a hassle that is best avoided.

We then walked to the expo at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center (DECC) to pick up our race packets and get free samples of stuff. It was very crowded. This was the very same spot I had attended a Bernie Sanders rally a few months ago. I ended up buying the race belt I needed, and a few headbands that I thought were pretty cool. We went to the huge spaghetti dinner that is a Grandma's Marathon tradition. They had Ben and Jerry's ice cream for dessert. I had Cherry Garcia, one of my favorites. 

Our suite has strict pre race night rules: lights out at 9 PM, which is good, since half marathon runners have to wake up at 4 AM. Nina and I slept on a very luxurious queen air mattress that was provided by our new friend JoElle. I kept waking up because the refrigerator was making strange noises, but when my phone alarm rang I felt well rested.

We grabbed hotel breakfast, and weak coffee, on our way to the buses. I normally don't eat much before a run, so I had half a banana, and half a bagel with peanut butter. I watched the sun rise over Lake Superior on the school bus that took us to the start. We arrived approximately 45 minutes before starting time. Plenty of time, right? Actually, not Due to the very rural, small nature of the starting area, we had to walk about half a mile from where the bus dropped us off. There were portable toilets spaced along this route, and huge lines at each of them. Nina and I eventually chose one, and the line turned out to move exceptionally slow. I was in the bathroom when the starting horn sounded. No worries, chip timing. 

I finally crossed the starting line about 10 minutes after the official start. My plan was to run the first six miles conservatively, and I kept checking Map My Run for a pace. The first mile clocked in at 11:08. Perfect. I also wanted to remember something about each mile of the race, and for the first mile I remembered running by McQuade Harbor on Lake Superior. The second mile was something about lupines framing an incredible lake view. I almost wanted to stop and take a picture, but I had a half marathon to run. So I kept to my strategy of getting the first half of the race behind me without thinking too much. That worked. My mile paces were pretty consistent. 

The first six miles of the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon are run along a two lane scenic highway along Lake Superior. Scenic, but not much for spectators. Still, there are the conversations among runners. I can't imagine chatting with people while running a half. Part of me wants to wear headphones and listen to music to drown it all out next time, the other part is intrigued.

My plan was to take a gel at 4 miles, but somehow I missed the water station, so I had to wait until 6 miles because I did not want to take a gel without water. Oh well, I felt fine and I was not stopping. At six miles the scenic road turns into London Road on the outskirts of Duluth, a residential highway where spectator participation increases. There was music. There were bacon stands. I noticed a guy running barefoot. Wow. 

After six miles, it was starting to get hot, and humid. I felt strong, but I started walking intervals to pace myself. Between seven and eight miles, I blessedly forgot if the next mile was seven or eight, so I was pleasantly surprised to find out it was indeed the eighth mile already. Between eight and nine miles, the course takes its steepest hill. I walked the hill, having nothing to prove and a lot to lose. Then the course turned on to Superior Street, the heart of downtown Duluth. The energy really picks up there, but the street is quaint cobblestone so you have to watch your step. The Superior Street portion seems to go on forever, but when you turn the corner and head towards the harbor that means there is only a mile left. And, I was feeling better that I remember feeling on this course last year at that point. I had taken another energy gel at mile 9. Good to go. 

This was taken by a race photographer on a bridge that goes over I-35 towards Duluth Harbor and the end of the race. I normally ignore race photographers, but I was feeling so good and having such a good time, I played along. 

The rest of the course winds around the DECC and two blocks to Canal Park Drive and a couple blocks to the finish. It seems to take forever. But I ran most of that last mile, and I was one of those runners who did the sprint thing in the last quarter mile and passed maybe five runners before the finish. It was over. And I didn't feel like I was about to die. I was full of life!

I can't fully say what this race did for me. It renewed my confidence as a runner. I did everything right, and I could have done it faster had it not been for the heat. I had the support of a suite full of running friends, and I enjoyed the rest of Saturday with a walk with Nina to the beach, and then reading and chilling out by the ship canal. Duluth is beautiful, I am so thankful I can run, and I am looking forward again to more races and maybe longer distances. 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

A bad run, and a good run

I am coming off a respiratory infection. After boxes of tissues, and a strange feeling in my chest, I think I may be getting over a mild case of viral pneumonia. Confirmed by my run today.

I started out good. I parked at a wildlife management area just west of the town of Sturgeon Lake, and headed east on County Road 46, the paved road I had just driven on. There was very little traffic, except, as I would find out later, my son and his friend. They had camped out on the Kettle River, fishing into the night. I don't remember seeing Keith's truck, but I am glad they had a great fishing adventure. 

I ran my first mile in 10:30. Pretty good, but it was mostly downhill. I realized I would have to make up the altitude later. 

My plan was to run that county road to a gravel road that would take me to an ATV trail that would take me to an old railroad trestle over the Kettle River. Then over that, another mile or so, back to the county road. 7 miles or so. But, after mile 2, I realized I was struggling. I could no longer run more than a quarter mile or so without feeling short of breath. My legs were willing but my lungs were weak.

I found the trail and ran/walked to the river. It was there I had to confront another demon: fear of heights. I knew this run would lead me onto an old railroad trestle. I just didn't realize I would be at treetop height before I was actually over the river. Crazy fear I know, after all this bridge was built for trains, and now all terrain vehicles weighing much more than me cross it every day. But still. I did not make it across the bridge.


This is the lovely view I had from the bridge. I'm sure it would have been even better had I made it across the bridge. 

The rest of the run, if you could call it that, was hard. I ended up going back along the trail to a road that would take me back to my car. I tried to run when I could, but my snot loaded lungs would have no more. When I hit 5 miles I called it quits on Map My Run, even though it was about a half mile to the car. I gladly opened my Bell's Two Hearted Ale, about an hour and five minutes after I started. A measly five miles. With the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon in two months. Oh well.

I was glad I ventured out to new territory for my run. And next time, I am going to cross that bridge.

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Journey

This poem, by Mary Oliver, says it all.

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice --
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voice behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do --
determined to save
the only life that you could save.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The road to 50


I turned 49 on Sunday. That means I'm counting down 361 days to a milestone age. And suddenly I'm thinking about where my life is, where I want it to be, etc. and, how I can make this one wild and precious life the best it can be. Not that I didn't think about it before, but face it: I will, for all practical purposes, have two kids in college next year (Nina will be full time Post Secondary Enrollment Opportunity, spending her senior year of high school at Lake Superior College; Vinny will be at University of Minnesota-Duluth). It's a time of letting them fly, but also a time to discover myself. 

A lot of good things have happened over the last few years. I've started practicing yoga, which has had great mental and physical benefits. I've started seriously running and completed two half marathons. I have played a few musical gigs and even developed a group of friends who come out to see me play. In short, I have become much more comfortable in my own skin. 

Still, there are things I want to be better at. Parts of myself that still scare me! I think one of the best ways of working these things out is by writing. I used to blog a lot, and I think the time has come once more. There is so much I have discovered that I want to share.

I don't have a plan for this. I don't want to commit myself to a post a day, because one day I'll break down and not post, and, seeing I have broken the commitment I'll say "What's the use?" And not post for months. So, let me just say, I want to share, regularly, stuff that makes me stand in awe. Stuff that makes me think. There's a lot of beauty that happens every single day, if we allow ourselves to see it.

So today I had some time between work and yoga class. I am fortunate to be able to take a yoga class in the small town/rural area where I live. I started with a class offered through Community Education, then a few classes with a circle of friends, and now I am taking advantage of the class at Anytime Fitness. Getting back to today, the sun was out, weather warm enough to go for a short hike along the Kettle River. The photo above is at Robinson Park, a former sandstone quarry from the 1900's, from which the town of Sandstone gets its name. The trees have grown up among the piles of rock, but the Kettle River flows on.