Awareness

Note: I took a break from this blog in order to document my journey across the US where I sang in all 48 lower states. You can read about my MelOdyssey here

I easily could have worked from home, but the call for structure and a desire for a warm, isolated cubicle brought me in. Awaking in the dark, still not having figured out how to work my new alarm clock that will help me pretend it’s not winter with its gradually glowing light. Record colds in Portland are nothing like the ones across most of the country, but they are enough to disrupt our daily lives and kill a man. I put on an extra sweater, my soft cream hat, and my new Christmas scarf and walk to the bus as the sun begins to rise.

The bus turns and we pass the same dead lilac garden on the same route as all the other days, only this time it looks different. Half of it is covered in ice, yet no rain has fallen for days. A sprinkler break, perhaps? It’s as though someone took a fire hose to the small trees in the middle of the night. A woman gets out of her car to take a picture of it, and I long to do the same. I can’t remember the last time I took any photos, even though I keep my camera with me at all times, just in case.

Work was slow so I bundled back up an hour earlier than usual and walked down the hill, ignoring the two buses that passed; it was time to be in the sun. I took the long way down so I could revisit the icy lilacs – had they melted in the day’s light? Though it stayed below freezing, it was bright every time I left my cube to appreciate the big yellow thing in the sky, a rare sighting this time of year. As I rounded the bend and reached the bottom of the hill, I saw the trees still shone. An older man was there, too, appreciating the beauty of the cold.

img_5681

Hidden in plain view

I asked him if he knew what happened. He hadn’t considered my sprinkler-break theory, and attributed this wonderland to the simple fact that the sun never reached here, In his mind, the lilacs have been weighed down by ice this whole time (several days, if not weeks). That didn’t feel right to me; have I been passing this very spot while on the bus for days unnoticed? I can’t believe that to be the case. The man continues on the path, careful not to slip.

img_5685

Had this been here the entire time?

A woman comes by, walking her dog. I ask her if the lilacs will be OK. She reassures me that the lilacs will be just fine in the spring and I’m relieved. Too much death lately whether it be from Mother Nature or carelessness or whatever causes death. I take several pictures, walking carefully on the iced grass and dirt, shining in its sleekness. There are no sure steps in this grove, an isolated mystery right in front of me. Is this what happens when something is left in the dark, without warmth? It’s beautiful but cold.

I head out of the park and onto the sidewalk where the sun does shine – at least for today, perhaps even tomorrow. Then the rain comes back. Or maybe snow first, then the ice, until the sky falls as a typical Portland winter – grey, damp, wet – behaving as it should. When that happens, the lilacs will lose their weight and become as I assumed they always were, until I looked out the window of the bus this morning and actually noticed what was going on.

 

Advertisements

Day 2: Tiger Leaping Gorge: I hiked three hikes today

The uphill. Light rain – enough to keep the air cool and the gorge hidden. We begin to climb and start counting the infamous 28 bends, only to realize the teahouse stop is not only closed but also the signal to start the real ascent of the bends. More heavy breathing, and many short stops along the way. Red numbers painted on the rocks signal our progress – until #16. Then they seem to stop. We reach the summit which offers no view. Lisa says to take a picture would yield the same result as showing someone a white piece of paper. Still, going up was easier than I expected as the pink flowers that helped me so dearly yesterday were replaced by their vivid yellow sisters. I felt confident that I would make it the entire time.

the summit

Soaking wet, we made it to the top! Trust me, this is the summit — the flag proves it!

Then came the downhill. Though the rain had stopped, it had left its treacherous mark. Mud and slippery rocks made up the narrow pathways we needed to descend. Out group naturally broke off into three again, and like the day before I was by myself in the middle of our sprawled pack. At least I knew there was someone behind me in case I fell, but there were many times that offered little comfort. Sometimes the path was no more than 8 inches wide, with a steep drop-off providing strong motivation not to slip on the shiny, wet rocks. I reminded myself I was out of shape. The pine smell was beautiful.

 

Around a bend I saw our group leaders stopped, admiring the view. We had descended far enough that the clouds were above us, and the gorge made an appearance, the Yangtze River rushing below. I caught up with them, but then stayed behind to take more pictures that didn’t come close to capturing the textures, depth, and complexities of reality.

IMG_4283

Trust me again. It’s super cool.

Alone again, I slowly made my way down dirt paths, bamboo-covered paths, and rock “paths.” I thought my legs were going to give out. The painted red arrows assured me I was going in the right direction even when the paths vanished – not even burro droppings made it clear which way I should go. I could no longer hear my friends – or anyone for that matter – ahead or behind. For awhile it felt like Oregon, though, with pines and rhododendrons lining the path. I looked down at the hiking skirt I wore, once owned by my friend who is now gone. Alone, I was surrounded by familiar halfway around the world. Not alone, just by myself.

I reached Tea Horse Guest House, our chosen spot for lunch only a few minutes behind the leaders. I could have sworn they were miles ahead. Ten minutes later, we were all together. The trailers weren’t so far behind after all. We ate amazing food, my favorite dishes being the broccoli and yak (yum!), and warmed ourselves with the tea that greets us at every stop. Sated, we put our packs back on and walked the last leg of the day’s journey. There was sun and baby goats. The paths were still narrow, but the terrain flat. We tended to stick together as a larger group. The mountains met us at every turn. Sun, scenery, and company all together as we reached our stopping place for the night. My legs are wobbly, but I’m energized. The view from the room is as breathtaking as it was from the trail. Still, electricity is reserved for later, and once again I handwrite this documentation of the day.

IMG_4309

The view! From our room!

IMG_4310

Farmers working below our room.

IMG_4312

View from the deck.

I give thanks to all three legs of today’s trek and the gifts they brought. And now it’s time for a beer.

Note: I didn’t write anything about Day 3. Rest assured, we made it safely. The terrain was mostly flat and the weather was nice. There were more super-cute baby goats.

Tiger Leaping Gorge: Day 1

I’ve been back from my three-week trip to China for almost a week. The lack of internet access prevented me from posting while I was there, but I hope to share some of my experiences now, unfiltered, transferring my scribbled notes here. This is the first post.

I’ve let my body down. Pleasure, laziness, and grief have made my heart, body, and breathing heavy. Straight up hill through the dust. Bright sun and still air. It’s beautiful, but I barely notice. I’m not sure I can do this and start to imagine my failure one hour into a three-day hike. Many of us are struggling, but it’s only my short comings I see. An old man follows us closely with his burro, hoping to make a few extra kuai by carrying our packs – he probably walks this trail several times a day, yet here I am struggling to do it once. No way will I give him the satisfaction of carrying my belongings, even though my face is already flushed with the first signs of heat exhaustion. This is the first hours of a three-day hike.

IMG_4259

The uninspiring beginning of the trek.

Then the path levels off and the smell of pine urges me on. I give thanks to it and the lingering cherry blossoms (or some pretty pink flower), somehow surviving in this unlikely climate. I’m simultaneously reminded of why I don’t hike and why I should do it more often.

IMG_4261

One of the only pictures I took that day. I was too stinking tired to take more.

The blossoms fade off as the terrain changes back to rock and dust. Two butterflies, my totem animals of change, lead me down a steep path. I separate myself from the group, part ahead and part behind. I let the grief come through, though the tears only last a few minutes. Molly should be here. Some would say she is, but I’m not the sort who believes that.

We reunite for a snack break near a farmhouse. The scenery is beautiful. We guzzle water, make small talk, and rest. Moods are positive. It’s hard to be anything but content in such a setting. I watch an old woman in traditional Naxi dress coming home from the fields. I wonder what her life is like living here, and don’t come close to having any perspective of it. Her life and mine are worlds apart in every possible way.

IMG_4269

Naxi woman carrying vegetables from the fields.

IMG_4264

The beautiful farm lands.

Off we go again. Soon after, we arrive at the Naxi Guest House, and I don’t feel so bad. We made it one day, and will spend the night before embarking again, moving forward. The tea given to us by the guesthouse staff is floral and slightly sweet, a true welcome after our “easy” hiking day. I hand-write this memory in my notebook while sitting outside, sipping the warm, comforting beverage. Relaxed, happy, grateful. It starts to rain.

We take shelter under the eaves and I notice my breasts are still sweaty and the wind on my back plus my perspiration cools me down. The tiny trek was tough, but I did it: the unforgiving inclines, blissful straight-aways, and slightly slippery descents. At some point the man with the burro had given up on us, seeing we were going to reach our destination. I didn’t notice exactly when that happened.

The rain comes down harder, and somehow the air is even fresher than before. They’ll turn on the electricity at seven tonight. In the meantime, I watch my friend and his daughter play UNO and wait for the sun to set.

Seven days

I sit on my couch and watch NFL playoffs, exhausted, feeling my immune system fighting against the push I gave this week. I actually fought writing this post, part of me too tired to do it, but knowing that the words would keep floating in my head until they made their way through my keyboard and onto the screen. My wonderful seven days, where I was able to experience so many loves, refused to remain silent, wanting to be boasted to the world (and deservedly so).

Last Sunday morning, I woke up to a miraculous view as Seattle welcomed a rare sunny day in the middle of winter.

IMG_3918

I could stare at this all day, every day.

Then, my friend and I were off to a bar to watch the home team come up victorious on an improbable last-second play. The crowd erupted in the excitement of playoff football, strangers celebrating together as sports fans do. I high-fived the young man who shared our crowded table even though I was secretly rooting for the other team. The pure joy caught me, too.

20160110_102857_HDR

It’s not difficult to figure out where this bar’s allegiances lay.

No sooner was the winner declared than it was time to go visit a friend from far away. Reconnecting with someone from Korea – someone I wasn’t sure I would ever see again. Yet, here I was, seeing her twice since I left the country. Tea, girl talk, and a late lunch of authentic Vietnamese food in a strip mall passed the hours too quickly and it was time to go back to Portland. I wonder when/if I will see her again as she heads back to her home in Iksan. I arrive back, and it’s time to unpack and repack for the next trip.

20160110_160419_HDR

I miss this sassy lady already!

Off to Enterprise, OR for a work-related site visit – perhaps the one time I will see real snow this season. The road dangerous, but my colleague skilled at navigating our route through the elements. The clinic visit was informative, as I learn more about the healthcare system everyday I work this job. Evenings we were treated to beers from the local brewpub – ones that could only be had as a reward for making it all the way out to eastern Oregon. The hotel had an indoor pool and hot tub for two nights of relaxation. It took a few days, but on our last morning there, the sun came out and we were able to see the mountains as we headed back. I learned that the billion-dollar Powerball winners live in California, Florida, and a small town in Tennessee three times as big as where I was staying. I won’t be retiring soon.

snow in Enterprise

We drove through this…

IMG_3930

…to get to this.

One day of work in Portland which featured lots of writing and struggling with data on difficult topics. Speaking my mind when things didn’t feel right, I was both firm and tentative in expressing my thoughts on a project I feel deserves more authenticity than the quick-fix it was being given. I struggled through tough conversations without sacrifice. Celebrated the end of the day by buying my plane tickets to China in April, and then settled in for a night filled with bad TV and good food. Leftovers are never to be taken for granted; stews taste better days later.

The weekend immediately followed and consisted of some volunteer work tearing down an adult entertainment establishment that will someday be replaced by a community center. Over 25,000 square feet of red, white, and black décor. Tearing up over-worn carpet and removing nails from 2x4s that will gain new life somewhere presumably happier. Taking a sledge hammer to the bar area was extra satisfying – shards of tile tumbled to the ground and drywall simply fell away with every swing, perfected from my softball days. I was sore and it felt great.

20160116_124955_HDR

Goodbye, Sugar Shack! Though that cheetah *is* something to behold.

That night I met up with a friend to see The Book of Mormon. We arrived at the theater several hours early to enter a lottery for cheap tickets. We were the first names drawn, and for less than half price ended up in the second row – close enough to see the actors’ facial expressions and even when they sprayed their lines. I forgot how much I love musicals and though I could vow to see them more often, I’m not so sure that will happen, but it’s something to keep in mind.

Reflecting on this past week, it’s easy to see how I’m the luckiest woman in the world.

Good things that happened today

I went to bed, and woke up with, the worst headache I’ve ever had, and went to work anyway. A colleague brought me some Advil, and then went out to get me some more.

The weather was cold, rainy, and dreary, so I treated myself to a decaf pumpkin latte. The warm cup felt cozy in my hands.

As I walked home from work, it started to rain, so I stopped by to see a friend in her shop along the way. There, I bought two Christmas ornaments: one for me and one for a friend. Her cat let me pet him.

A wheelchair-bound woman was struggling to get up the ramp when a young man asked if she needed help. She quickly accepted and within seconds he pushed her to the MAX stop. A small task, but an enormous gesture.

I had no plans for the evening, so I cooked myself a meal of roasted Brussels sprouts, my favorite, and ate them while watching an old episode of Fantasy Island. I just heard the line “Why don’t you just boogie on out of here, Duke.” A healthy pleasure accompanied by a guilty one.

Sometimes when things look bad, they really aren’t.

FANTASY ISLAND - Gallery - Season One - 1/20/78 Ricardo Montalban (as Mr. Roarke) and Hervé Villechaize (as Tattoo) star in "Fantasy Island".  Tales of visitors to a unique resort island that can fulfill literally any fantasy requested.   (AMERICAN BROADCASTING COMPANIES, INC.) RICARDO MONTALBAN, HERVE VILLECHAIZE

FANTASY ISLAND – Gallery – Season One – 1/20/78
Ricardo Montalban (as Mr. Roarke) and Hervé Villechaize (as Tattoo) star in “Fantasy Island”. Tales of visitors to a unique resort island that can fulfill literally any fantasy requested.
(AMERICAN BROADCASTING COMPANIES, INC.)
RICARDO MONTALBAN, HERVE VILLECHAIZE