Sunday, June 24, 2012


My sister is an alcoholic.  She will lose her home to foreclosure in the next month or two - and, lost in her illness, she has made no plans to move.  When I talked to her last week, she had no idea where she is going to go.  She had pancreatitis last fall; if she doesn't quit drinking, she will not live another five years.  And because she chooses not to help herself, there is nothing anyone else can do to help her.  I sit here tonight in tears.  I don't want to lose my beautiful little sister.

These words are incredibly difficult for me to write.  My family has a code of silence around alcohol - its use and abuse and how it has affected our lives.  We notice, we sometimes whisper about this person or another, but we don't talk about it.  We don't confront the person who is drinking too much; we ignore their alcoholic behavior.

Several years ago, this same sister got in an accident on her way to a family reunion.  She was driving another sister's truck, pulling a trailer; her three kids and the oldest girl's boyfriend were in the car.  She went off the side of the pavement, over-corrected, and ended up rolling the truck in the ditch.  Fortunately, everyone was buckled in and no one was seriously hurt, but the truck and trailer were destroyed.  Her blood alcohol level was .20.  At two o'clock in the afternoon.

Because alcohol was involved, we didn't talk about it at the reunion the next day.  I purposely brought it up to several of my cousins; they had no idea it had happened - and we didn't talk of it for long.  Just the facts, 'how awful', then on to other topics.

My sister sat across the way, not talking to anyone, drowning her sorrows in her cup of cheap wine.  To this day, I'm sorry I didn't have the courage my sister-in-law had; the courage to walk over there, take the cup from her hands, smell the alcohol in it, and dump it out.

My alcoholic friends - the ones on the wagon - tell me that no, there is absolutely nothing I can do to help her.  I can't MAKE her stop drinking.  I can't make her see the damage her drinking is doing to her life and to the lives of her children.  I can't throw money her direction and have it make any difference.  (these things have been tried, by others in my family.)  I have no illusions that breaking the code and writing this blog entry will change anything, either in her life or in my family's approach to alcohol.

But I'm breaking the silence anyways.

I can't help, but I can pray; I believe prayer has power. If you will, please join your prayers to mine.  Pray for Maria.  Ask God to find a way to get her onto another path, for the one she is on can lead only to destruction.

Saturday, June 16, 2012


State Forest State Park, CO
Awareness of my own anger is not one of my strong suits.  I've worked to recognize it over the past few years, and have gotten much better, but I still have a lot to learn.

As I was walking down from Lake Agnes in Colorado last week, I stopped for a bit by a cheerful little stream, to rest my legs.  In contrast to the water, which bounced and burbled down the hillside, I became still, both within and without.

As I sat and watched in stillness, I became aware of the tears spilling from my eyes.  I hurt, and something in the movement of water was drawing the hurt out, to be eased and smoothed.  I probed back within to find the source of the tears, and wasn't completely surprised to find me angry with my body for getting cancer.

It was quite a betrayal.  I've done my best over the years to do all I could to minimize the odds.  I exercise, I eat right, I don't smoke... I've done all I could do to stay healthy.  But my body, my genetics... I ended up with cancer anyhow.  And it sucks.  On so many levels.

As the tears fell, I let the anger go, or at least tried to.  I sent it into the water, there to be broken to pieces on the rocks, no longer strong enough to add to my burden of coping with the remaining effects of my illness.

Then, the next level of awareness.  Christians are told to forgive not just ourselves, but our enemies.  Could I forgive, not just myself, but the cancer, for leading me on to this unwelcome detour?  Still fight it with all I have, but fight with cold determination and not let the anger leech part of the energy I need for the battle?  This one's been a little harder; I'm still working on it.

I stayed there for quite some time, until I felt a measure of Peace.  The tears slowly dried, I became aware of the sun on my back, the rock poking me in the leg (there always has to be one of those when one sits on a rocky bank).  I stood, still thoughtful, and continued on my way.

Forgive the cancer?  Really??????

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


Boyd Lake State Park, Colorado
As I was leaving the mountains of Colorado last week, I was reflecting on the beauty of the plains vs. the beauty of the mountains.

The mountains show Nature's indifference to humanity by going up and blocking the sky and easy passage across with their bulwarks of rock.  The plains show it by giving too easy a passage; a glimpse of the vastness of the sky, the breadth of the earth.

They say, "You, humanity, can try to tame us.  You can build your roads across with high speed limits to try to minimize the distance, you can dam the rivers to create lakes where none were, cut tunnels through the living rock to get across the mountains.  But know your efforts will not last.  The forces of wind, water and time will prevail to bring the landscape back to where I, Nature, want it to be."

It's a living example of the old Ash Wednesday prayer:  Remember, you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.  As a child, the refrain scared me - it expressed an impending loss my mind couldn't embrace.  Like many people, I liked my world as it was.  We, people, like our mountains, rivers and seacoasts to be immutable.  When earthquakes, hurricanes and floods impose a new order, we cry, and do our best to restore things to how they were when we first found them.

In the last decade or so, I've begun to appreciate the beauty of the prayer.  Rather than cold death and loss, the refrain now speaks to me of the cycle of life.  As the mountains were once seabeds, and time inexorably washes their rocks again to the sea, so we are meant to grow tall and strong, then return to the One who created us.

"This, too, shall pass."  All are encompassed in the cycle; from the tiny fish who swim in clear mountain lakes to the sun that brings life to the water.

Life is beautiful, precious, ephemeral.  It cannot be grasped; held on to past its time.  Each day I open my eyes, and I have a choice.  As when driving across the plains, I can look for and find the beauty of the sky and the landscape, stretching to the horizons, or I can wallow in frustration, focusing only on the odometer and the hours yet to be spent behind the wheel; worried more about my destination than the glory surrounding me during the drive.

God, help me to seek the beauty.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

It's Fixed

Sorry no photo, but I'm typing this on my iPad - no Internet here at Boyd Lake campground in Loveland, Co.

But, there is a lake and a view of the mountains, and there was construction on the main road through Fort Collins, and I didn't have the energy to fight through it twice to get back to the mountains after getting my pump fixed.

Since my tanks were full, and I couldn't dump them, Plan A, which was to stop halfway down the mountain and enjoy the river, had to be scrapped. I'm no good at camping without water. So, I drove on in to Fort Collins instead, and threw myself on the mercy of the mechanics at RV World.

I'd sent an email to the good people at Roadtrek before I left the hinterlands, and they'd replied in record time with a close-enough description of the wiring for my pump. (It wasn't standard on the trucks back in 2003; the dealers added them as an after-market feature, so the information is not in the all-important owner's manual. I'm not blind after all.)  My new best friends at RV World were nice enough to stop what they were doing and fit me in. One guy helped find the fuse in the engine compartment - sure enough, it was blown. A second jacked up the truck, so he could reach beneath it to unstuck the pump. The entire operation took less than 30 minutes. Total charge: $2.49.

God Bless 'em.

 I woke up this morning with a better understanding of why I was so upset with it all last night. It wasn't that the pump was broken, that happens to stuff; it was that I had half a clue how to fix it, but not enough know-how to finish the job. I hate it when I can't fix stuff I think I should be able to fix!

 I needed to avoid the sun today anyhow. After returning from my hike yesterday with a beet-red face that looked like sunburn, but didn't hurt until I put lotion on it (which meant it wasn't sunburn, and I swear I'd put on a ton of sunscreen!), I looked up the side effects of Tamoxifen. (Each morning when I take my pill, I envision a fresh team of little warriors on white horses hunting down and killing stray cancer cells, and yesterday's team fading to nothing, their job well finished.) Sure enough, there in the fine print, it says to avoid sun exposure. Now I know why.

Tomorrow, I'll begin to head for home across Kansas, breaking the marathon drive into two days. This has been a beautiful break. It's ending too soon, as breaks are wont to do, but it's been long enough for me to stop for a bit and breathe. I didn't realize until the other day how badly I needed to do that. I need to figure out a way to take mini-breaks back in real life.... Hmmmm....

Monday, June 4, 2012

Highs and Lows

Lake Agnes. Colorado

Today was a study in contrasts.

The first part was great.  I took a hike up a trail near here to Lake Agnes.  I stopped at the ranger station for a pass, and they told me the road in was closed, so I stopped at the top of the turnoff and hiked on in.  Turns out the road wasn't closed after all - I could have saved myself a good mile of hiking - but that's OK.  The air was cool and clean and smelled like fresh pine - aaahhh!  I enjoyed the road in; it was a fairly easy hike. 

Which is more than I can say for the last stretch of trail up to the lake.  It was still covered in a foot or three of snowpack.  The snow was soft, the slope was steep.  I ended up taking it in chunks.  Take ten steps, stop, breathe, repeat.  Fortunately for my leg muscles, the snow was almost at the end of the trail.  Shortly after the snowpack ended, I turned a corner, and there was a tiny crater lake.  There were a few other people there, fishing and enjoying the day, but their presence didn't bother me.  Rather, it was a comfort.  It meant that if I slipped and fell on the snow heading out, there would be someone behind me to call in help if I hurt myself.

As you can see, the view from the lakeshore was well worth the hike.  (Yes, that's an island in the middle of the lake!)  I didn't stay as long as I would have liked - some dark clouds came rolling in, and I didn't care for the prospect of climbing down the snow in the rain.  I did take time to enjoy it for the better part of an hour - sat, ate lunch, watched the water change colors with the sky.  The hike down went much more quickly, and was much easier on the lungs than the inward journey.

When I got back to the campground, things went downhill just a bit.  It's about time to empty the holding tanks on the truck, so I pulled to the dump station, and started the macerator pump.  After about 10 seconds, it sounded like it took too big a bite of something, and quit running.

A quick look at the web claimed there should be a manual turn switch on the pump.  Of course, the pump just HAS to be located dead center under the vehicle - but I crawled under the truck to find it anyways.  (I can be a bit stubborn.)  No such animal, but I did get my good hiking pants covered with grease, and discovered that my new boobs just won't squish the way the old ones did.  **sigh**  (Theoretically, there's a fuse somewhere, too, but I couldn't find that either.  I guess I'll just have to be REALLY careful with water until I get back to KC, and can find someone to repair it.)

After a few tears of self-pity, I stopped, pulled myself together, and went in for a shower.  I wanted to wash the clothes before the grease set in, but by the time I'd gotten to the laundry room, they'd already closed up shop for the evening.  ** more sighs **  I'd decided to sit down and catch up on my e-mail, and the lady who runs the camp came by.  She saw my soap and clothes, and offered to reopen the room for me.  ** OK, maybe this isn't the end of the world. **  I got in, rubbed about half a bottle of detergent on the stains, and started the washer.  Not all of the grease came out, but the vast majority of it did. 

My clothes will survive. 
And maybe I will, too. 
Not so sure about the pump...

I find my emotions a bit unstable these days.  Small setbacks - especially when I think I've screwed something up somewhere - upset me disproportionately.  The pump breaks, and I'm instantly a fool for hanging on to the camper van because keeping the darn thing running is going to bankrupt me and I'll never get to travel again anyhow.  (Yes, this ignores the fact I'm on the road right now.  There's very little logic involved in these trains of thought.)

A little dinner, the shower, the kindness of the campground owner - these have all helped.  Along with some good timing - I made it back to the van just as a thunderstorm rolled in.  The internet connection magically decided to start working in my camper during the storm.  See?  Good things are happening, too!

Stop.  Breathe.  Relax.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Way High...

The friend whose advice sent me up through Fort Collins and another two hours into the mountains will be devastated to hear of the damage the Mountain Pine Beetle has done to this remote and beautiful land.

Once out of Fort Collins on Hwy 14, the drive was incredibly beautiful.  Much of the road parallels the Poudre River, with its load of colorfully dressed rafters.  As you get further into the hills, the river traffic dies off, and the road winds through breathtaking mountain passes.

Alongside the beauty, I cried for the trees.  Slopes once covered in majestic green pines are now grey and tinder-dry, waiting for a summer thunderstorm to put them out of their misery and start the cycle of life anew.  (The campground owner here told me they'd cut down 4000 trees on their site alone.)

Yet all is not despair.  Mother Nature is beginning to work her cycle - the aspens are moving back into the barren ground the pines once proudly claimed.  There are two hummingbird feeders outside the camp office - and the brightly-colored tiny birds are darting about, quarreling over some important issue, chasing one another and finally stopping for just a moment to stop and eat.

Tomorrow, I plan to go for a hike up to a small lake near here.  The hike is not overly long, and I have all day.  I think I'll need it - I just jogged the 50 feet back to the truck because I forgot the internet password, and was completely out of breath by the time I got back to my laptop.  Slow and steady will be the watchword.

As the hillsides will renew themselves after their disease has passed, so will my body, if I but give it time.  God has not abandoned these mountains, nor has She abandoned me.  I can't understand the whys of what's happened here, as I cannot understand the whys of my detour - but here in the mountains, where the only sounds I hear are that of distant thunder, the wind and the hummingbirds, I can be a bit more at peace with what has happened these past few months.  God Is.