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beyond a distant star

I woke up this morning at 3:00 am because I went to bed incredibly early last night.  And the night before.  I’ve had some interesting dreams recently and perhaps there is something I’m searching for in my subconscious.  I wake up anxious most Sunday mornings and then become irritable (irritability a symptom of anxiety as well).  I heard the expression the “worried well” the other day and this seems to be my fate.  I’ve been meaning to go work on my classroom every weekend and just don’t get around to it.  Tried to hike yesterday so proud of my new tires and promptly got stuck.  I started laughing and playing fetch with the dogs while my friend sat in the truck.  I feel I create getting stuck over and over to see the folly in it all.

I’m anxious for today as I’ve taken myself off the teaching schedule at the community center and will be teaching yoga at the school.  Teaching yoga used to give me the biggest shot of anxiety and I forever worry about teaching from the mat, using the same cues over and over, messing up my inhales and exhales, lefts and rights. I worry about who I will bother using essential oil at the end of class.  I was able to take a few yoga classes in Denver and felt a little better about teaching.  I teach from the heart, as authentic as I can be and I think I should give a little more space to myself and others to be perfectly flawed.  I feel I teach the same lessons over and over:  self-love, the impermanence of life, breathing as spirituality, non-violence.  I’m the last person you would think would teach yoga, trembling with anxiety and questions—this is probably why I teach.

I’ve reached all my goals again in too short of a time and feel my life has somehow gotten ahead of me.  I was able to get a space for an elementary school garden—bigger than I could have dreamed!  I check out the brown grass and wonder who can help me in this creation.  I’ll need all kinds of folks:  permaculture people, production garden people, landscapers, laborers, dreamers—I can see this garden in my mind’s eye as maybe a labyrinth surrounding a grow dome.  I’ve already got permission to use a grow dome space uptown and gently plop an apple core into the worm factory I inherited.  I’m trying to understand what I ought do with the community space and my own garden and find myself drilling holes into a plastic garbage bin for my own homemade compost bin.  That’s the best part about gardening—it’s all about slow, simple solutions.

Now what?  I find myself nostalgic for hot yoga and good food in the big city and watch pictures of aspens breeze by my Facebook feed and I realize I miss Wyoming.  But—when I was there I wanted more.  I felt restless.  And now I feel restless again because my only job is to be.  To do my tasks with mindful actions and thoughts.  I want to continue my play therapy practice and learn so much from all the kiddos around me.  I want to follow through on my garden project and see how much more I can learn from horticulture therapy.  I’ve got my eyes on all kinds of masters level classes because my pay grade goes up with every 10 credits.  But, secretly, I don’t think it has anything to do with pay but everything to do with feeling proficient at something.  I’m good at school and it always helps to feel good at something to start to integrate the things that are slightly beyond me.

My new goals?  Dig up my utility and figure out a way to ski mostly free.  Get the plans and folks for the garden project written down.  Manifest it. Learn to communicate better with parents and teachers, teach some parenting groups, help my school to become trauma informed.  Get a handle on this anxiety.  Let go of the past, forgive those who have hurt me.  Try a running race that challenges me.  Quit drinking Michelob Ultra and start to see the world through sober shimmering eyes once again.  Get out in the woods.  Camp, hike, learn to read maps.  Take more classes, but only if they are free.  Save my money to spend it on my legacy.  Learn the ways of the river.  Dig deep for even more resourcefulness to this mostly free, as well.  And as always, love myself, practice non-violence.  And breathe.  Always breathe.

“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.”

― Amit Ray, Om Chanting and Meditation

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the remaking of life

“How were you able to get over the fire?” She tells me that she took sage and ceremonial tobacco and cleansed the place of the fire and that it all just melted away–sugar in a hummingbird feeder. Twirls of smoke intertwined with the intention of hope after cleansing by fire mix with the hot, humid air of July while I think about these words in August. I speak of sweet grass which is not indigenous to this area but I know how to find the shiny long leaves in between 7,000 and 9,000 feet in Wyoming near a special ranch in Elk Mountain. The Latin word for sage, salvia, means “to heal” and the intent is for spiritual healing, wisdom, clarity. Sweetgrass represents positivity, strength, and connection to that which binds us together–God, Creator, the stars. And so I invoke sage and sweetgrass of the mind.

I wake up to another email citing my decision to create some really clear, healthy boundaries as a step in a feeling, non-logical, direction. Lots of feelings to be sure–pain, hurt, confusion, anger, nostalgia. I pick up a braided rope of sweetgrass in my mind and say the words “positive, persistence, patience” and feel the wisps of smoke surround my synapses. I’ve been practicing setting boundaries with the ACT method–acknowledge the feeling, communicate the limit, target alternatives. Before I speak to some folks, I write down exactly what I want to say. And then I prepare to communicate the limit over and over until its no longer a line in the sand. There is tons of anxiety in holding the limit–I want to be liked. Even better to be loved. But this can no longer come at the cost of my basic sense of self. I unraveled more fully this year than any other time I can remember.

When I was younger, I was in 4-H and learned all the trades that seemed manageable in my city slicker existence. I went to a crochet class and learned how to make tiny loops with fuzzy blue thread. I couldn’t figure out how to hook into the second row and so I just kept looping over and over and showed up the next week to class with one long chain as evidence of my efforts–I tried. I tried this year to loop into the second row of my heart creating a long chain of repetitive actions–the same fights, the same hurtful words. I don’t know if my anger is from anxiety or from pain. I rule out borderline because I miss the second diagnosis criteria in every section: stable identity and goals, plenty of empathy most of the time but lots of hostility towards one person. The teacher of the crochet workshop laughed at my long chain but I wasn’t upset–I did the best I could. I spent the remainder of the class pulling the thread, undoing each sweep of the hook and was left with a pile of blue yarn in a brain on the floor.

I used to be a projectionist–I thought I was a movie theater worker but realize years later there are only a few old school theaters left in the country. Spools of film would arrive in orange boxes inside the duct taped door of the Wyo Theater and I would pick up the boxes one by one to carry into the projection room. Spool one sits on a nail by the projection platters and I turn on the machine waiting until the tail of the first spool starts to spin and flap. The platter is turned off and I turn to the splicer grabbing the head of the second reel and press the splicing machine firmly into tail and head. Repeat until the platter contains the entirety of the film. The hardest part was turning on the machine–one wrong move and the film might spray everywhere. “Braining” happens when the projectionist isn’t quick enough to pick up on an error and the film piles up on the floor resembling a brain. These mistakes are always fixable but with one film in particular we had to splice out about 18 inches. It’s usually just a small blip in the film with bubbles on the screen where two sections are melted together. This blip was a big one.

A long chain of soft thread, a long line of film with each picture containing just a milisecond, lines of smoke lingering in the air. There may be a time when I regret my decision to set a boundary–but I don’t regret never learning how to crochet or entering a blanket into county fair. I don’t regret quitting my job at the theater and skipping the anxiety of the projector bulb burning out over and over and having to refund the $3 entry fee at the “cheap seats.” Sweetgrass smells so lovely and lingers in the air for days after its burned. Every once in a while I get a whiff of the smell here in Colorado where I havne’t met anyone that burns sweetgrass. Sage grows here but not like in Wyoming when after a rainstorm and entire field smells of the earthy, pungent plant that I pick and rub between my palms to smell as I run. I plan on heading back home sooner than later where I can reflect on my move to Colorado and the events of the past year. I don’t know why I was never that good at meticulous tasks and perhaps those are the tasks I missed in trying to create a relationship that was full of still pictures of lies and deceit. And so instead I act. Acknowledge the feelings of anger and pain, quit hurting myself, and choose to grow instead.

“Grief is in two parts. The first is loss. The second is the remaking of life.”
-Anne Roiphe

 

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no mistakes, just experiments

This morning my friend is running another marathon. LIke his 300th or something like that with about 70 wins. He calls himself a weekend runner and works 40+ hours a week and eats almost exclusively pizza, fries, and bacon. He tries to get about 100 miles a week and I watch his Strava as he endulates between 8 slow miles to work and then sprinkles the pattern with sub 5 minute/mile sprints that defy my logic. He’s stacked and doesn’t do much cross training. He’s one of those–the 1% that just has an affinity for running. I worry about his obsession but am also highly impressed and probably a little jealous. We all have our gifts and talents and how neat he found out about his.

I’ve started gardening this year and its changed the way I look at my goals. Everything has become cyclical. I’m already working on amending the soil for next year’s plot trying to figure out how to build a deer fence and researching “off season” gardening. I’ve got a worm farm saved in my ever growing shopping cart on Amazon but try and temper those impulses–I haven’t bought a thing yet for this garden. Someone described my approach as a slinky, I’m going round and round in circles but going up. That’s how a garden works–whatever isn’t consumed is still used. I start thinking differently about food and get excited about watermelon rinds, banana peels, coffee grounds. I start to say things like “healthy soil, healthy food, healthy people” and “slow, simple, solutions.” The garden has become a metaphor for my life.

There is no winning the gardening. I’m very inspired by the huge bushy bunches of tomatos and kale at the community garden but am not too worried–I will get there! Any flower or growth is a victory to me and I start to realize more and more I’m a process oriented person. Even if something won’t grow–its food for other plants. Even if I have no yield–the soil has been worked by worms and roots and is only becoming a better home for next years plants. I start to relate the whole thing to adventure running. There is no destination, no need to go fast, and the best part is the journey. Of course I’m super pumped to eat a home grown tomato raw with salt but I also love smelling the pungent spiky leaves and stalks of each plant. They don’t like their leaves wet and I can relate hoping my feet don’t get too wet today on a hike I’ve got planned.

Plants are like people. They don’t want a shower in cold water and so I have a black bucket that I fill each time I water and let it rise to temperature. Plants like their space and grow nice and tall when they’ve got room. They want to stay warm so I stack a thick layer of straw around each plant and notice someone has done the same with the potato plants in the community garden. Plants won’t be rushed–they grow just how they know how each day and yet it does happen rapidly–the kale and arugula have taken off and grow back with fury each time I pinch off the thick green leaves. I feed them stinky compost but bread and meat are no good for the compost tea and I start to wonder how good either of those are for me.

What will my friend do when he wins all the races? When he nabs his 2 hour 30 minute win in Washington? Stop and go, stop and go, medals, t-shirts, pint glasses. I keep hounding him to start ultras with me hoping that he will start to garden with me too. I think I’ve reached all my goals. I can’t think of anything else I want to win, to achieve, I’m so ready to just be. I’ve got my dream job, my dream house, my dream town. It’s all simple and little and perhaps narrow but each time I pour water at the base of my little plants I feel connected to the larger world. Each time I pray I feel the energy of other human beings. My yoga practice is now running, gardening, play therapy. I’m healing through planting, growing right along with my garden. I don’t know if its fair to try to bring my friend with me but simply become aware of how we are approaching it differently. But, I still hope he wins if thats what he wants. And what I want is to enjoy it all and bask in the sun of all those small little things that create this big, big, life.

“There are no gardening mistakes, only experiments.”

— Janet Kilburn Phillips

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why I run

I run because it feels good. Even when it feels awful theres some kind of satisfaction in burning lungs, tightened hamstrings, twinges in the IT bands. I started running in 2012 as I tried to fill my time with more wholesome activities. I had these cut off sweatpants and a cotton short sleeve because it had been so long I didn’t even own workout clothes anymore. In my 1998 model New Balance (I stockpiled shoes back in the day like I would some wear those Nike basketball shoes again) I hopped on the treadmill at the gym shadowy like a garage and ran for an entire two minutes. This was progress as I recounted thirty minutes on the Eliptical freshman year making me feel like an Olympic athlete.

I ran my first trail race in 2013–it was my first time running on the trails–ever–and I entered an endurance race as part of the Crossfit team. I was intimidated but felt I had practiced some, maybe not enough, but I was gonna do it anyway. I counted my first lap as the course test run I had trotted the previous day with my boyfriend at the time. Things got tense when we lost the course and ran 10 miles instead of 6. We exchanged word but shared pizza later as I apologized that he had to go to work at the local bistro right after. The next day, I showed up for my first lap and started off. Promptly got lost again (I do this a lot) and ran in about 18 minutes over my target to the questioning of the Crossfit team. Sorry, guys. I’m having fun!

The next lap was at dusk and one runner came in saying she saw a moose after the second creek crossing before the meadow. Well, shoot. I put in one headphone and heard my breath heavy as I waited to either die in the mouth of a moose or the thud of lightening in a thunderstorm. I was passed by a female ultrarunner who was touring the nation to run as many long races as she could stand. I rolled in at about 9 or 10 and went to go get more pizza for another lap. I arrived back at about 1:30 am and this time I didn’t care so much about what nature might serve up. Pepperoni fueled and phone charged up–I came in at 3 am and my team was asleep. We DNF’d but I could have cared less. I was now a trail runner.

I don’t have fancy gear to run and use a sock to cover my iPhone 5c while I wear the same UWyo running shorts, Lulu Lemon shirt and bra, and a pair of Brooks I bought for $13 on EBay. I use Strava but secretly wish for a Garmin because I get too caught up in things I do and things other people do and maybe I wish to hide my average status. I don’t think i will ever be a fast runner. I was 6 feet tall at the age of 12 and was always very aware of my body and often would not take any risks. I’ve never done a cartwheel in my giraffe frame and I remember going back to a playground in my 20’s to hang upside down on the monkey bars–I had never done this before. Running became freedom to me and the trails became home. I started to run my favorite loop at Pole Mountain in Wyoming almost everyday and recognized each aspen stand in each version of light.

I don’t enter many races running as it amps up my anxiety into overdrive. Heart pumping I start obsessive rituals and apply about 70 billion layers of chopstick, tie and retie my shoes, rebraid my hair. I was sometimes good at physical activity, sometimes not. Never confident enough, never aggressively attacking hills or anything really–that was always the gripe as I played basketball–”Get mad, Jennifer! Get really angry and just rebound!” Sometimes I think about these words if I am trying to dig deep but more often than not I walk because I can. I don’t think I’ll win and maybe that’s why I don’t want to. I run Sheep Mountain with the High Plains Harriers in summer of 2014 and slow the entire group down by hours. Embarrassing to be the weakest link but also informing how I work with other new runners–hey at least we are out here. Release in the breath.

I’ve been working the same hill here in Pagosa Springs of about 400 or so feet and have accomplished a few small goals of running the entire hill, snagging a PR on the way down–but these are all below average times on sections of trail that a handful of folks are recording on Strava. But, this is not why I run. I run because its mostly free–I haven’t bought a new pair of shoes in a few years and while a new pair would be nice my holed up Mizuno’s wont’ stop me. I run because its meditative. I love the rhythm of breath and feet slapping the trail or pavement. I slap my feel not on purpose but I don’t have any real technique or knowledge about how to carry my body better. I just run. I get some advice: lean forward, pick up your knees. Bomb the hills and run the flats. If you can walk or run, run. Run all the flats. So, I just keep running.

I run because it keeps me well. As a therapist, I keep many secrets and sufferings of the world locked inside my mind and heart and let them all shake out into my toes and heels on the hot pavement of an 80 degree day. I run to listen to music–sometimes I wake up with a tune in my head and add it a playlist and feel the rhythm enter my pace and every once in a while I stop to dance or grapevine–whatever bodily gratitude feels right. Running just feels right. I sometimes worry about the runners around me who have running streaks lasting 1000’s of days or put in 100’s of miles a week. But I try to step back and know that running is doing for them what it’s doing for me–we are healing with each step. Sometimes I will practice a loop 30, maybe 50 times, to understand each hill and switchback and think of this as practice for a relationship. Waking up everyday and trying again, running again, loving again. This, this is why I run.

“The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.”
― John Bingham, No Need for Speed: A Beginner’s Guide to the Joy of Running

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twenty six under three

286 marathons and we’ll call most of them sub 3 hour. When I ask how he was able to run that many marathons he says it was more than 300 and he runs them as fast as he can because he doesn’t like running. I don’t believe but sit and stare at the moon shining through my two sliding glass doors and wonder what goes through his mind. He likes to eat pizza and drink Mountain Dew–its like meeting an earlier version of myself but I have yet to run a marathon.  I am intrigued by the paradox as he eats an entire pepperoni pizza and his calf muscles pop out with each step. He’s not sponsored yet and I secretly think about helping because we wear the same shoe size and my Mizuno’s have gotten another hole in the left toe like clockwork. Enduance athletes are a safe zone of friendship–its guaranteed they don’t mind time alone and that they won’t ask questions when I say I just need to go on a run.

A little different this time–I don’t have to hear a laundry list of accomplishments but every once in awhile hear a story of sleeping in a car after winning a race or getting banned from a race in Wyoming because his 43 year old friend got with the race directors 23 year old niece.  I laugh having seen these situations play out in other ways in other circles. I ask if he lifts weights as I become fascinated with the human body–my own arms giving the deceiving suggestion of upper body strength when really I know the lengthened muscles start to pop out as I lose weight–you can start to tell a yoga body from the thinness and stomach and and arm muscle definition. I love course marshaling races to study the obliques of Boston marathon qualifiers and the quads of Tour De France qualifiers. Pushing the body to the brink confounds me and so I’m obsessed.

We talk about toenails falling off which is a thing–the shoes can be the best shoes in the world and after a certain amount of mileage in a week things just start breaking down. He’s the human version of my philosophy of running–to get better at running, just run. He explains he will do a longer, slower run one day and a short, fast run the next. He discusses using the treadmill (dreadmill) to crank up the speed and I think about this technique for myself learning to leap and glide to gain some speed. Seven minute miles for 32 miles impresses the heck outta me and while I might not ever do it, I like to deconstruct the feat in others. My marathon achievements are in the mind–26 miles of advanced degrees completing my coursework on time but hard to say if I qualify for the big race–the PhD. I’m fairly certain I want to go back and often muse on a dissertation topic revolving around rural areas and mental health care.

The pain in my shoulder that became so strong in March and April is coming back slightly and I wonder what this stress may be about–trying to fit in all my clients and doing good work, worrying about my next job and how to develop a program when I’m still working. Entering two metaphorical races, one right after the next, I will be digging deep to pace at both. School counseling different from clinical counseling I think about how much I will miss my sessions in the garden and outside but also excited to hold groups in a school setting and hear children singing and laughing. I’m intrigued by it all and just as I quiz my new runner friend I ask questions to the universe about how to be my best at this job.

Doing my best means being around others who are doing their best. A new friend who’s running inspires me and who speaks to me kindly will help me see my own assets. Course marshaling at races with world-class athletes inspires me to keep going in the race in my mind. I DNF’d my last relationship because it was becoming dangerous. Lightening on the peaks, mud on the trails, water alarmingly low. I have this tendency to try out a difficult hike knowing full well I may fail and then going back to understand where I messed up. But, I don’t need to go back to this race. I won’t improve my results because the whole thing was rigged. Like that crazy swamp in The Princess Bride, wild boars flopping all around–I’m gonna go ahead and leave the forest. And so I find the knights-of-running, some wearing shiny armor and some less obvious and soak in the bravery that will help me conquer this next dragon of life.

“Originally, I heard that if you get 10 states done, you could join the 50 States Marathon Club. I didn’t have I time goal; I just wanted to do them all. As I kept going through them, I got better and faster. When I did get through them, I realized I had 30 of them under 3:00. So I went back and did the ones where I didn’t run sub-3:00. I had a couple real close calls. Utah was the hardest—I missed four times before I got the time I needed. Some of the western states are tough for people because it’s hot or the altitude gets to people.The dumbest thing I did was I did a marathon in Missoula, Montana, and I drove the 1,150 miles home afterward because I had to work the next day. I’m really proud of the spreadsheet where I keep my results. It’s obvious I’m a nerd.”
-Gary Krugger 

 

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lighting up the eastern horizon

“Yeah, you seem to do better alone.” Yes, this is probably true and what is truer still is I do better without the person behind those words. I’ve had snippets of what I want last spring with a very nice firefighter.  Making bacon in a cast iron skillet in the morning and basting eggs in salsa verde. Drinking French press coffee and talking about our plans for the day. I didn’t realize how much snowmobiles work the core and I think longingly of my grad school days of private Pilates lessons and facials. It feels good to take care of myself, it feels good to be taken care of, its feels good to be here with him.

I’ve planted a garden this year. I water and talk to the plants twice a day curious as to why that tomato plant in the eastern bed is a little yellow in the leaves at the bottom. Garden talks are every Tuesday night but I crave my couch smelling of lavender and lemon oil I squish a pillow under my knees and start to google my thoughts crawling around like a spider in a sink.  Search one: what do I do if my partner can’t get over their ex.  Checking all the boxes I wonder if maybe the depression of losing a best friend could cause such nasty behavior.  Search two: am I an emotional abuser.  First article to pop up explains how it might feel that way fight after fight.

It’s hard to know exactly what I want in life and I reserve space to change my mind and grow into the woman that is underneath mean and defensive statements. I start to think about fall and my new role as an elementary school counselor. This is what I went to school for. In 2009 I started working in an elementary school with a very special little person and I would glance into the play room and knew this was what I wanted to do. To be completely myself around these little kiddos who make me laugh and smile so, so big everyday. “Miss Banks, you look like a rockstar! Miss Banks you are pretty and ugly at the same time.”  There is no holding back in the fall months and everyone falls apart at least once. Maybe we ought let this happen for all of us and enjoy the coming apart.

I wonder what I should do with my next summer off. I start to google Kripalu and yoga ashrams dreaming of eating vegetarian food, swimming everyday, and going deep into myself, my practice. Then, the other side of me dreams finding the perfect dog. Walk him (her) twice a day at minimum, water my garden twice a day at minimum, ride and run twice a day to shake out the spider thoughts. And then, I sit back and decide I’ll know when the time comes. I’ve not given myself much space to let my dream job status sink in. It’s taken quite a bit to get here and I don’t know that I’ve really ever recounted the whole story maybe because its mine–you’ll have to search for my process if I’ve not nervous and vomiting stories everywhere.

I feel extremely guilty at work for resigning. I feel my eyes move to one side or the other as eye contact becomes extremely difficult because I’m ashamed. I’m embarrassed. I’ve not really been myself starting out with a huge learning curve and trying so hard to mesh my ideas and theories of counseling with social work. How can I investigate and ask questions but still be non-directive. I haven’t figured it out. I may have not given myself enough time but I shake with excitement and watch goosebumps bubble up on my fuzzy arms when I think about developing a counseling program and resource room for kiddos. It will be safe. Piano, gardening, art, walks, unconditional positive regard, on my toes. This job means I get to be more myself.

I don’t know exactly what I want but I know what I don’t want anymore. A partnership is not making dinner with the exact items requested “an energizing salad” but letting whoever needs the salad make the darn salad. I want to be supported in my career–lets not let these solliquies go into the early morning hours while being told how the actor has worked on five hours of sleep. Yeah, I’ve worked with five days of no sleep. I want to be well rested. I want to be my most authentic version of myself. That’s bed at 8:30, rising at 4:30. Reading books at night and on the weekend. Walking with no headphones and noticing each flower and brush oak bush grow and change with each 24 hour cycle. Eating chicken from a bag or maybe I’ll even roast a whole chicken. I’m ready.

This whole journey has been such a wonderful time. I never knew Pagosa Springs existed and now I’ve got a beautiful home with a yard that I will tend to just like my heart. I’ve got a job I’ve been working toward for almost 10 years and I have a strong desire to rise to the occasion and I’m fairly sure I will. I can’t wait to try out community organizing, to infuse my social justice work into yoga and counseling lesson plans. I dream about becoming better at skiing, biking, running. Teaching spirituality Wednesdays and Sundays at church. Honing in on my own spirituality. I may be selfish, I may be alone, but I am not cruel and I am not lonely. There is nothing wrong with me the exact way I am.  I know I will unfold my self petals soon enough for that right storm cloud where the thunder is loud, the pines release their scent, and the whole sky lights up. My whole life has lit up.

 

“I only go out to get me a fresh appetite for being alone.”
-Lord Byron

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hair like falling rain

When I first moved to Pagosa, I was so curious.  Learning from everyone around me I truly wondered how things worked here.  I’ve always lived in some proximately to American Indian reservations and grew up knowing Blackfoot and Lakota people living near South Dakota.  I looked up information about Pagosa—first the trails, then old newspaper articles, editorial pieces by two gentlemen who maintain their own news sources.  Then, I looked up the word Pagosa itself and thought it was a Spanish word for “yellow pine” as Alamosa was the Spanish word for “little cottonwood.”

I moved here for the trails, for my job, and was able to explore last summer.  I took in the area bounded on the north—the Weminuche Wilderness.  Hiked up to meet the Contintental Divide from Four Mile, then later in fall hiked from Wolf Creek Pass on the divide down to Archuleta Trail to meet up at Big Meadows.  Drove to Platoro near the Colorado-New Mexico border, and spent days in the San Juan Wilderness running from the front porch of a friend’s house.  Haven’t made to Yellow Jacket Pass on the west but I live here now.  There is still time.

I’ve soaked in most commercial and hidden hot springs in the area, barring Rainbow Hot Springs which people will say is a 5 mile hike, but I’ve heard 8.  Yet, I still am a newbie, curious, wondering.  The skies here remind me of Wyoming and the clouds are wonderful right before the afternoon storm of the mountains that I grew accustomed to at 7200 feet in Laramie, WY.  Sometimes, the clouds reach down like fingers pouring rain on mountain meadows in the distance.  Turns out, American Indian (Navajo) men and women have their hair long because it symbolizes the falling rain bringing sustenance and watering plants, herbs, crops.

I started attending town council and remember one meeting where low-income housing was struck down but a $70,000 overlook structure was approved near the bridge at the center of town.  Perfect for the tourists to stand under jutting over the San Juan River and The Springs—the largest resort in town with over 25 pools.  Nice move for tourism, Pagosa.  I was a little upset that there is a slight housing crisis here caused by rentiers and lack of funds for subsidized housing but yesterday heard a bit more of the story.  Many of the lands are owned or homesteaded by Spanish and American Indian people  To develop some lands or put in easements for trails would displace peoples who have been displaced so many times.  I am still learning.

There’s many story on the websites highlighting Pagosa but it seems that only the Anglo (French, English) stories are told bringing the forefront stories of mountain men highlighting the tales of the military expeditions and beaver trapping.  I heard these same stories in Wyoming fourth grade social studies, gnawing on pemmican probably watching “Dances With Wolves” so we could all feel good about the interactions between pale face (white people) and American Indians.  There are two main tribes in the area—Navajo and Southern Ute.  I found a story about the warring between the two tribes.  The story that goes into museums dotting the main highway 160 and highlights the towns cash cow—hot springs.

This is the story that they want you to hear:

There’s a tale of a fight to the death between the Utes and the Navajo to determine the ownership of the springs. Confrontation had marked these two tribes relationship for many years. Both recognized the San Juan River as a dividing line between their nations, but the springs was still a source of contention.

They decided each tribe would select one man to represent each side. The dispute would be settled by whoever emerged victorious, and the winner would win the possession of the Great Pagosa Hot Spring.

The Navajos selected a huge man who was famous for his fighting ability. Colonel Albert Pfeiffer volunteered to fight for the Utes. He was an Indian agent, and a friend of Col. Kit Carson, as well as an enemy of the Navajo and an adopted member of the Utes (having married into the tribe). His one request was that he could elect the weapons they would use, and he were chose Bowie knives.

They met unclothed, except for their breechcloths, and fought with one hand tied behind their backs. The Indian had the advantage in size, and the Colonel knew it. Suddenly, however, when the Colonel was some feet from his adversary, he made a very quick movement with his arm, his knife left his hand and was buried in the enemy’s heart.  The Utes were victorious, the Navajo withdrew, and never more did they lay claim to the “Great Pahgosa.”

But, there’s another story.

The war was not occurring so much between the Southern Utes and Navajo but the Navajo and white settlers.  The Utes and Navajo were ancient enemies, from what I’ve heard, but I can’t find much information on the internet other than the story above.  According the Southern Ute tribe website, the Ute people are the oldest residents of Colorado, inhabiting the mountains and vast areas of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Eastern Nevada, Northern New Mexico and Arizona.  According to tribal history handed down from generation to generation, the people lived here since the beginning of time.

Navajo is pronounced “NAH-vuh-ho.” This spelling came from Spanish– you can sometimes see the same name spelled “Navaho” instead. It comes from a Pueblo Indian word for “planted fields” or “farmlands.”  Think about the clouds and the long hair—these were people who cultivated crops in a place not known for the best growing season. The Pueblo Indians probably gave them this name because unlike their relatives the Apaches, the Navajos were farmers who lived in settled villages. Traditionally the Navajos called themselves Dine’é or just Diné (which means “the people”), but today most Navajo people also use the word “Navajo” themselves, especially when they are speaking English.

From the stories I heard, the Navajo were here long ago, and Pagosa does not mean healing or boiling waters but rather comes from the Navajo word “Pagosah” (although other accounts say it’s a Southern Ute word—depends on who you talk to) which means stinky waters.  The Navajo considered these lands sacred and white settlers kinda liked it, too.  The account I’ve heard is not that each tribe sent a representative but rather the military men transplanted the Southern Ute here, knowing full well they were considered an enemy of the Navajo.  Make it easier on the American government by letting them kill each other off.  Cultural warfare.  Scorched earth on sacred land.

Folks seem to believe that white supremacy is a modern day myth and racist ideology of hatred promoted by marginal extremist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan or the Aryan Nations. Often overlooked and neglected in this view are the structural inequalities that ensure the continued supremacy of whites over non-whites in all facets of social life.  Like putting two warring tribes in the same place.  Only advertising the stories that bring more white folks from the south to enjoy the land and dump dollars in a community that does have its issues with poverty.

I still stare at the clouds every day from my back porch thinking about hair like rain.  I haven’t cut my hair in years and now I will look at town council a bit differently.  Seek out the old families of color who have been here forever to hear the stories, to protect traditions that aren’t necessarily mine, but that I still hold in my heart and I learn about my new home.  This year I’m trying to grow a garden like I’ve grown my hair using the rain that forms over the San Juan mountains and recollect the adage that folks come to Pagosa to “heal, hide, or take a hike.”  I’m here to heal.  I’m here to learn.  I’m here to be.

“Don’t be ashamed to weep; ’tis right to grieve. Tears are only water, and flowers, trees, and fruit cannot grow without water. But there must be sunlight also. A wounded heart will heal in time, and when it does, the memory and love of our lost ones is sealed inside to comfort us.”

― Brian Jacques, Taggerung

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positive regard

I woke up sweaty and feeling pieces of pork in my belly from my emotional eating fest that I sometimes take to late at night. Shoving rigid, burnt, pieces of dry chops into my mouth to fill my empty belly hoping somehow the nourishing chunks will reach my heart. I smell the scent of my own sweat happy now that it doesn’t bug me. I pick up my sweatshirt lying curled on the floor and take a whiff of faint perfume and dryer sheets still hanging around even though I quit my practice of using like fifty every drying cycle. Maybe I am growing.

I felt like myself, writing again about the larger world not just my soul in and out of love. I stepped out of my house so thankful for a space with two floors still feeling guilty I don’t use my yoga studio as much as I’d like. Then, I glance at my plants in the corner feeling warm at the metaphor for growth–long vines curing sideways and up, pink green leaves and primary color pots. If these plants can grow without my knowing anything about good soil, Latin names, lighting–then I can grow in an environment where I try mountain biking for the first time, skiing, boating. A little droopy at first, I’ve taken root and no longer worry about how I’ll do in a small town. Turns out I’ll be just fine.

Fine as frog hair I can hear the chirping of crickets and croaks of frogs outside my back deck lips tilting into a smile because I have created exactly what I want. I’m on the trails everyday–exploring my inner and outer worlds. There are a few things, though, that have been pointed out that I would like to change. I check on Strava and see that one of my running partners has gone back to improve on my special loop. I start the cycle of run anxiety–I need to beat them! These thoughts are self-defeating as I’ve never done to well in the physical arena at competition. I remember the summer of 15,000 basketball shots–I improve through repetition and tiny little shifts in my thought process.

How do people change? I don’t think they change by making promises regarding past or future situations. Expectations can kill the change process and I believe only when a person can be their complete, crusty, loving, stinky, gorgeous selves can they start to make changes towards who they want to be. I sometimes get muscles cramps in my feet and legs and instead of curling up and moaning about the tenseness I step right into the pain. Pull back toes, step back on the calf, go right into the tenseness. It takes a lot to rebuild trust like peeling a mango and trying to find the giant seed-nut inside and trusting that while some of the tender sweet flesh will remain on the rind and seed what’s inside is worth the work.

I change my mind a lot about what I want in love. I have gained so much insight this year. I need humor, I need long talks and discourse that helps me to challenge or accept my position on any number of issues. And I am allowed to change my mind–to uphold some liberal ideas and still cling to my Wyoming cord with rights and liberties guaranteed to the individual.  And I can choose to completely disengage knowing that the personal is political and the way I live my life is the most convincing evidence of what I believe.  I want passion–not just passion between two mounds of flesh but passion to grow one another like wilted plants, hard mangoes, fatigued quad muscles ready to mend into stronger versions of trees clomping up a mountain. I want to change in the gray tick tocking until I slow down in the middle space that fits my soul in the present moment.

We all encounter our mirrors in life, sometimes in nature, sometimes in objects, sometimes in others. I can make a choice to see my positive aspects in the mirror–still aware of my black and white thinking, my strong nose, my horse teeth, my bird nest hair. What I have found in others is my humor, my pragmatism, my ability to see past behaviors that are really just a mask. I feel some friction in my life like wearing running shoes with no socks, tiny rocks of incongruence press into the tender fleshy part of my foot and I have the tools to end the friction, to find a new pair of shoes I can wear for the next 500 miles.   And with a tender foot, I can take one step at a time.

“I am increasingly an architect of self. I am free to will and choose. I can, through accepting my individuality… become more of my uniqueness, more of my potentiality.”

-Carl Rogers

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with or without wings

I fly in my dreams over brown fields spotted with blue lakes and grey rivers that become synapses of the brain. Trees in the wind standing strong and bushes firing up green chemicals changing to spiders send the message through the amygdala.  Emotional response.  Right brain feathers plume up in terror to make the edges of my mind just a little bigger to outsmart disassociation.  I fly at the words “negative bitch” and feel my hamstrings and quadriceps curl up like burning newspaper and unfold from my body peeling away from sturdy, strong, like-a-lamppost femur bone.   The air becomes thin and I become the air, dirt and old leaves spin around in my chest cavity as ribs crack apart from strong breath and lament.  Flapping, panicked, wings emerge from my hunched shoulder bones worn like a sweater to protect my heart from the cold of the altitude from being so high, so high up.

Taking off.  Ascending.  Soaring.

May I never learned to fly.  But I have learned how to get so, so high up, body numb, head warm and light as my grey brain turns to dryer lint fuzzy and floating in the wind.  Puffs of lint coil into slow moving sliding snakes twirling and busting out into tiny fires bringing me back to the coal mines of Wyoming where tiny piles of coal spontaneously combust like my lint-brain.  Smoking piles morph into the breath of a dragon swinging his spiky tail to take out tiny cottages of the heartspace dotting the safe space of my soul.  Maybe the dragon never learned to fly.

Back to a hospital room at age four getting yet another asthma treatment feeling my head float like hair ready to meet the lightning strike seen in the high valleys and plains of an early evening thunderstorm.  I fly right before sleep when I psychoanalyze my clients and my own life scared of my own narcissism jealous of the bird that flies high with no regard or thought of consequence about who might be flying lower.  Tearing down a county road on my heavy mountain bike at thirty miles per hour—fast to me—and wings spread wide, shoulders open up, chest pounding strong but no cracks no mistakes in these headwinds.  Rattling of the back tire keeps me on the ground thinking about that five hour flight to Alaska all the way up on the promise of the inside passage and Alaskan highway.

What goes up must come down, down, down, before ever clawing its way back to dry land through the dark caves and rivers of primordial times.  Down the dark veins of the jungle-river, deep in the dark sea journey of the psyche.  Heart trapped inside the hard, brittle shell—the womb of growth where I will grow a beak to tap, tap at my surroundings.  Tap, tap, woosh, woosh.  Feathers covered in mucus and the snot of life lubricating the tiny feathers.  Little strands of bird-hair poking out from meaty thighs wondering if I’ll be a bird of primary color or mixed yellow-green to blue growing my ideas of existence out of pink-white, unfinished skin.  I didn’t know I could crack open and escape this place.

Out in space and I’m not alone.  I don’t know if I flew here or if I went through the portal of the bedroom again and this is the revelation of flying—I am here with the bones of my past and the thoughts of my future.  In dark space always looking for the v-shape of the river, the v-shape of birds as they fly above knowing exactly where to go using intuition and tiny feathers like stabilizer muscles holding up the larger muscle groups that never fatigue in flying.  This migration is hundreds of miles and I’ve already come thousands.  I run faster and faster down the mountain and feel legs kick and heels strike as I start to move faster not worried about falling, not worried if I catch up, not worried if I win.  I am flying.

Maybe I never learned how to come down.  Learning to fly young flopping off safe branches of tiny trees, losing a feather that takes its time swinging back and forth landing on the ground to be blown and blown to somewhere—not here.  High up in the whispy clouds of undecorated thoughts where I wonder if anyone can see me.  A dot in the sky, a shadow on trees and buttes, a screech in the wind.  Heard at dusk and dawn and screeching sometimes piercing into early afternoon in the middle of a nap.  Even when unheard, the song goes on.

 

“The only true voyage, the only bath in the Fountain of Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to see the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to see the hundred universes that each of them sees, that each of them is; and this we do [with great artists]; with artists like these we do really fly from star to star. ”

― Marcel Proust, The Prisoner [and] The Fugitive : In search of lost time, vol. 5

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lint on the lens

Sometimes, lessons aren’t learned until the mistake is repeated over and over like a cup of morning coffee–bitter yet soothing at the same time. I went back to the same situation that has caused me so much confusion this past nine months. I justify that I want to be loved, want to be held, want someone to run with through the trails of life. I want to be challenged and supported. I want to be heard and I want to listen. Drawn in once again through social media, “Why you blogging my shit, why won’t you say hello at the grocery store? You can at least be civil.” Seeing him sends my heart right up to my throat where my words are suffocated and my chest collapses as my rib cage and my backbone disappear.

We ran around 15 miles in the short lived four day attempt at normalcy. Parked at town hall we made promises I knew I couldn’t keep. I wrote letters filled with lies to keep the pain around one more day–self harming of the soul. He wanted to warm up for a run and I suggested a mile approach to a hill. We started off and I could hear his feet clomping in Chacos wearing my too short running trunks and a long sleeve shirt smelling of strong sweat and cinnamon. Breath pumping out the lungs and legs tired for the first half mile then feeling my flow as the steps sync into three per breath–my sweet spot. That flow was not shared, the sweetness lost and later I was called out for not being an expert, award winning runner who has never completed an ultra. Always less than.

The demands began the third day where he was frustrated with friends, frustrated with me. I imagine going back to someone who you painted to your friends as a villain would cause discord. The same thing was happening in my life as I avoided my friends and sister too scared that I was wading in toxic sludge. The sludge became thicker and thicker as I was told to apologize for threatening to report child abuse. I wasn’t even entirely sure when this threat occurred outside of naming my observations of developmental delays, selling drugs, alcoholism. Who am I, anyway. I’ve made these mistakes but without children forever frightened to fail as a mother and acutely aware of my own faults at potential parenting having this deficiency used against me in the bitter fights.

There’s always moments that I cling to, when he cried and said he wants help to stop being an abuser. When he apologized and expressed shame for being a narc. But, this came back to him. He was sorry about what he had done to himself and his image as someone who tells on people, unconcerned about the effects of going to my employer and how that might play out in my concerted efforts toward professionalism. I’m towing a thin line, must remain at my best, must be the mandatory reporter, and slowly realize how very much he puts me at risk. At risk to be hurt by him. At risk to get caught up in the drugs and boozing. Smiling and trying to show interest and support of a booze infused river trip. Giving a judgmental glance when another party story is recounted.  Shame, confusion, disappointment.

Get out. Get out. Get out. My heart would beat quickly to these words when the fights ensued about my failure to grovel on my knees to make his life easier. Fights about how knocking on the door for twenty minutes shows care and concern and is completely reasonable and prudent. Fights about missing running, missing my writing group, driving 25 minutes to stare out the back deck at Pagosa Peak asking the mountains to tell me where is my mind in all this. I was too hurt to forgive, too eager to point out how prior acts were emotionally dismissive. Then, I’m attacked for being inadequate, unable to act in a submissive manner. “You know, I just realized we are not equals. You can discipline your body but you can’t discipline your mind.” I’ve got degrees like coats hanging in the closet with other accomplishments that mean nothing in this world. And I feel ridiculous clinging to my past goals.

“You are such a negative bitch. I can’t stand you.” This time the word bitch meant nothing to me. Just another rage fest where projection would be the trip leader rowing down a whitewater river with pour overs, strainers, all kinds of obstacles with potential for danger. I become the bearer of uncomfortable, embarrassing, and annoying emotions. I need to apologize for being negative as I’m told I’m not equal to others. I’m a horrible runner when I crush the hill I’ve been running for weeks. I’m weak in my mind when I’ve achieved a masters–like 8% of the population. There is truth and confusion in everything that it said. I start using manipulative tactics and digs to recover myself and then I question my body, my mind, my heart. I see clearly that I’m wanted for control, to augment something that is missing–compassion, empathy, regret?  And I see clearly how I react in error projecting my own shortcomings–I don’t know much about rivers.  I don’t know much about being in a marriage.  I have my own struggles deep in my heart that were put on blast.  Always a good way to invoke change.

I trace my fingers on collarbones and hip bones. I take in a big whiff of sweat and the subtle smell of wind rubbing shoulders and calves. I came back for this. I came back for vulnerable tears and talks of the future with gardens, rivers, trails, supporting me in my PhD, supporting him in his education. I’ve done wrong by reflecting the behaviors–blaming missing my run on another, refusing to apologize and admit faults, using sharp jabs and questioning every thought and act. I watch my friendships improve, I watch my job performance improve, I watch my trailrunning improve, I watch my yoga following grow. But I can’t seem to get this right. I can’t seem to change in the moment when I’m scared, frustrated, lost in love. And so he left. And so this is a blessing.  I can use my anger as fire to cleanse my own hard stuff.  I can use my negativity to become critical and engaged and I can use my body and mind to climb out of that hole like a crab from a bucket.  And the claws of that other crab can no longer reach me. I am free.

“YOUR ABUSIVE PARTNER DOESN’T HAVE A PROBLEM WITH HIS ANGER; HE HAS A PROBLEM WITH YOUR ANGER.
One of the basic human rights he takes away from you is the right to be angry with him. No matter how badly he treats you, he believes that your voice shouldn’t rise and your blood shouldn’t boil. The privilege of rage is reserved for him alone. When your anger does jump out of you–as will happen to any abused woman from time to time–he is likely to try to jam it back down your throat as quickly as he can. Then he uses your anger against you to prove what an irrational person you are. Abuse can make you feel straitjacketed. You may develop physical or emotional reactions to swallowing your anger, such as depression, nightmares, emotional numbing, or eating and sleeping problems, which your partner may use as an excuse to belittle you further or make you feel crazy.”

― Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men