I’m an introvert, so social distancing isn’t too difficult for me. What is getting to me, however, is being inside.
We have had a lot of rain these past few weeks. Normally, I love rain, but right now, it is making me feel like a caged animal.
One of my favorite things to do when I’m home is sit on my patio and work or read. It’s too wet and cold outside to do that. The patio is covered, but with no walls for protection, the wind blows right through it.
I am also pretty content to get my vitamin D by visiting my fruit trees and wandering the backyard to look at rocks and insects. Right now, my backyard is a two-acre mud pit. I’m sure I would have loved it when I was a kid, but I’m mostly beyond that.
I keep telling myself that I will start taking long walks around the neighborhood for exercise and a change of scenery. The idea of getting soaking wet and being cold the entire time is very unappealing.
Sunshine, I’m sorry for all the times I cursed you for blinding me with your rays while driving. Please forgive the many times I declared my dislike of you because you’re too hot, too bright, too intense.
Please return, Sunshine, so at the very least, I can get outside of this house and set my eyes on more than the walls that surround me.
I was visiting my mom and sister in Edmonton, Canada, when I got the news. It was the day after Christmas, and the West Edmonton Mall, where my sister and I were spending the afternoon to distract ourselves, was crowded.
Our brother had been taken to the hospital the day before because he was not well. My mom, sister, and I could see this when we Face Timed him Christmas morning. My sister-in-law brought him to the emergency room in Idaho Falls, and he was admitted immediately. His liver was failing.
The news from Idaho got worse and worse as the hours passed, and my mind was shadowed with what if thoughts. But we didn’t really expect him to die. He was only 40 years old! Sure, he wasn’t in the best physical condition, but he had three young sons and a wife who needed him. Things like this don’t happen to us.
But it did.
The call came as I was considering a purchase in a store that doesn’t exist in the states. My sister was the one to get the news from our sister-in-law. She turned to me and said two simple but life-changing words: He’s gone.
I was in shock at first. Then the white-hot pain of irrecoverable loss seared its way into my core. I was gutted.
We abruptly left the store. Our mom, who lived within walking distance of the mall, needed us. Tears now rushed down my face as I dodged shoppers, strangers who knew nothing about my pain, looking at me as if my secret-to-them tragedy might be contagious. I wanted to fall to the ground and cry out that my brother—my baby brother and one of my best friends—was dead.
I tried to call my husband, but my US-based carrier wouldn’t connect until I was outside in the cold. My sister led the way as I followed far behind, trying to tell my husband what had happened. In my distraction, I almost walked into a man who was crossing in front of me.
Canadians are supposed to be nice, but this man’s look said, “Watch where you’re going, idiot!” I stopped, prepared to challenge him, to stone him with four-letter words. It might have felt good to take some of my anger out on this man, but he kept walking. That was a good thing, for both of us.
My hands grew numb during our walk, which was longer than my sister implied. She carries her grief differently than I. I wear my heart on my sleeve; she keeps it inside. My hands grew numb, and I was glad. I welcomed the pain, the distraction.
By the time we reached my mom’s condo, my southern California body felt nearly frozen. But that didn’t stop the nauseating disbelief and emptiness. It didn’t bring back the breath that was knocked out of me at the news. It didn’t stop the tears.
I was broken. I am broken. My brother meant the world to me. He was good. We shared a bond through our love of nature, a similar sense of humor (he was so much funnier than I am!). We worked together as team teachers at the same school for a while, and I never tired of talking to him.
My brother was loved by countless people—former students, school families, friends, co-workers. Again, he was good. He touched lives every day. His wit, combined with his non-judgemental heart made him easy to talk to.
But he struggled. Underneath his humor and his generosity was a man who was filled with anxiety, depression, and self-doubt. The grace he extended so freely to others, he rarely gave to himself. Not many people knew this side of my brother.
He felt he didn’t have much to offer, that he wasn’t able to impact people in a positive way. This bothered him greatly. He passed on with these doubts. One thing that comforts me is that I know he now knows how much his life mattered to everyone who knew him. He now knows how loved he was.
We had a memorial service planned for my brother. It has been postponed because of the pandemic. As is natural, the loss of my brother has taken a back seat at the moment as Covid-19 slithers its way into countries, cities, communities, and families around the world.
Andrew was a father, husband, son, uncle, brother-in-law, cousin, friend, teacher, counselor, mentor. He was my brother. He will always be my brother, and for that I have been eternally blessed.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is the largest state park in California. It lies on the eastern edge of San Diego County, with parts of it extending into Riverside and Imperial Counties. The park is well known for its wild flowers in the spring, hiking trails, camping, diverse animal population, and unique beauty. For now, the park is closed, like so many others across the country, due to CONVID-19.
It has only been in the past couple years that I discovered the beauty of the desert. I was born a mountain lover and used to turn my nose up at the seemingly barren, uninteresting landscape of the desert. A couple recent desert visits changed my view forever. The desert—Anza-Borrego, specifically—is anything but barren and uninteresting.
From a distance, the desert looks drab. From the inside, it is a colorful place. Flowering desert plants, patches of flowering ground cover, reddish sand, striated cliffs and boulders, and minerals of red, white, and black are just some of nature’s swatches this desert hides from those who don’t venture in. In the spring, Anza-Borrego explodes in color in the form of wildflowers, giving even the most desert-averse the gift of its underappreciated beauty.
This is a gorgeous example of spring in Anza-Borrego. This is not my photo. Attribution is given in the caption below.
If I had to choose between the mountains and the desert, I would still choose the mountains, for that is where my soul is bonded. Without the mountains, the Anza-Borrego Desert might be very different from the one I’ve learned to love. In this way, they are tied together, an attachment only nature can form.
These photos are from a recent winter excursion. I was hoping to go out in the spring to see the wild flowers, but social distancing happened. Hopefully next year.
I’ve been neglecting my blog lately. As usual, the excuse is I’ve been too busy. Right now, there are several other things I should be doing, but sometimes it’s good to take a brain break.
Topping the list of my too-busy-to-blog excuses is that I am taking a couple online classes. One is a California history class, and the other is called “Single-subject Methods for Teaching Social Science”. I am also studying for the state-required exam that will deem me—once I pass—eligible to teach social science at the middle school and high school levels. For anyone who might be reading this outside of the US, middle school is what we call school for children who are eleven to thirteen years of age. High school is for students who are between the ages of fourteen and eighteen years.
I will finish both classes at the end of May and take the exam the first week of June. Then in July, I will take the same type of class and start studying for the same type of exam that will allow me to teach English language development to middle and high schoolers.
If all goes as planned, I will be credentialed to teach all grade levels.
The worst part of doing this is how exhausted I am. It’s tiring to work full time, be a mom, do adulty things, and go to school all at the same time. The end is in sight, though, and that is what I hold on to when I feel like I’m going to drown in reading and writing assignments while trying to tackle the ever-growing pile of my students’ papers to grade … all while trying to study the material I need to know for the social science exam.
Why am I doing this? Because I thrive on change and I love to learn. The end result, however, is to make myself more marketable. Options are always a good thing.
Three years ago, I lay curled up on the couch in our living room, covered in an icy blanket of hopelessness and depression. My dad was dying.
The hard truth about death is there is nothing anyone can do to stop it. We can only postpone it. My dad’s time had come after years of keeping it at bay, pushing it off each time it crept in like a fog, and I knew it.
What could I do?
He needs his music.
The idea, seemingly external in origin, reached in and took hold of me. I knew how important music was to him. I couldn’t stop him from dying, but I could give him one final gift—the same gift he gave me years before when we sat, poring over his record collection, listening to everything from Janis Joplin to the old-school folk music of Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie. I pulled myself off the couch and spent the next couple hours scouring iTunes and making a CD of music I knew he would like.
Three years ago I sat by my dad’s bed in the skilled nursing facility, talking to my mom and listening to the CD I placed into the player on the laminate wood nightstand. Together, we waited. My dad had been in a “non-aware” state for a couple weeks so my mom and I talked around him, not to him—at least until my mom needed to make a short run to her office down the road. She kissed him and told him goodbye … that she would be back soon.
I think he was waiting for that moment. I think he didn’t want to die alone, but also didn’t want to put his wife through the pain of watching him take his last breaths.
I turned up the music, which had been set to a barely audible volume and returned to my chair near the foot of his bed. I laughed when Johnny Cash repeated his famous lyrics about falling down, down, down into a growing ring of fire. That kind of imagery probably wasn’t the most comforting to a man who was about to pass from this world, into what lies beyond. I said as much to my dad while switching to the next song. We shared the same dark sense of humor, so I’m sure he didn’t mind.
During the next couple of songs, the time between each rise and fall of my dad’s chest grew longer and longer. I moved my chair next to the head of his bed and held his hand while we listened to Alison Krauss and Neil Young. I cried bawled. I wondered at times if he had taken his last breath, only to see his chest rise again. I called my brother, who was at work, and told him to call our mom.
I told my dad it was okay to go. That he had been a good dad. I thanked him for taking me fishing and camping, for always being a part of my life, for sharing his love for music with me.
I told him I loved him.
I don’t know at what point he left his body—the exact moment that he died. He left without a word, without a sign. At some point between his last breaths, he had opened his blue eyes just enough that I could see the light was gone.
He was gone.
Still, the little CD player serenaded him with the music he loved while I held his hand, tears streaming.
I smiled. I don’t know why. Maybe because he chose me to be the one to see him off; I was honored. For a moment, I felt his presence in the room. But maybe I imagined it. I like to think he stood—for the first time in years—and saw that I wept for him, for the loss of him. Then he felt … gone.
Death is a knife to those left behind, cutting deep, leaving scars that heal slowly. But, just like music, the memories play on.
I mentioned a couple of posts ago that my twelve-year-old son is into photography and cameras—so much so that he goes by the name of CameraKid online. Since my photos of the Wilderness Gardens Preserve aren’t nearly as good as his, I thought I would dedicate a post to his photos from our hike.
If you’ve driven through Pala on Highway 76 (in north east San Diego County), you may have seen signs for the Wilderness Gardens Preserve. The signs don’t look like they would lead to anything special; all I ever saw was the side of the road.
A couple of weeks ago, we decided to drive the ten minutes or so from our house to see what the place was all about. I’m glad we did.
The Wilderness Gardens Preserve is a surprisingly beautiful area. The reason I could never see the preserve from the road is because it is tucked away, in a tree-covered stretch of land to the west of the highway.
According to San Diego County Parks and Recreation, the Wilderness Gardens Preserve was acquired in 1973 and is the oldest County Parks and Recreation open space preserve. Its 737 acres offers four miles of trails, ranging from easy to moderate. It looked to me as though most of the trails would fall into the “easy” category. The trail that we took, the Upper Meadow Trail, might be considered moderate by some, but I’m willing to bet most hikers would find it easy to traverse.
The views from the Upper Meadow Trail are nice. From near the top, we were able to see much of the Pala area and the San Luis Rey River corridor. Palomar Mountain and the Boucher Hill Fire Tower are visible in the east.
My favorite part of the Upper Meadow Trail was flora. Everything was green, thanks to the large amount of rain we’ve been getting this season. The ferns were thriving, moss clung to the rocks in the shade, and lichen had settled onto the trunks of many of the oak trees along the trail. Parts of it reminded me of being in the Pacific Northwest.
After cresting the trail, we looped down toward the pond, where we connected with a wide trail that forked off in three directions. I have to admit that the road-like trail took away from the whole hiking atmosphere. It looks like it might be there solely for the use of the rangers’ utility vehicles.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover some history in the park. Not too far from the pond, and off of the rangers’ trail sits the remnants of an old grist mill. The sign at the site tells the story of the Sickler brothers, who came from Kansas in 1868 and built a state-of-the-art grist mill.
The mill was the first in north San Diego County. Local farmers brought their grains to the mill then camped out on the land while they waited for their grains to be ground. This could take a couple of weeks, so the families who congregated at the mill used the time to socialize and trade goods.
It was designated a county historical site in 2006. Visit the links below to learn more about the Sickler brothers, the mill, and the history of the area.
I will visit the Wilderness Gardens Preserve again. My son and I tried to explore the river bed, which was dry while we were there. We didn’t get far because we had to leave. I want to look for the grinding rocks made by the Luiseño Indians that can supposedly be found in the park.
A couple of things to keep in mind if you decide to visit the preserve … it costs three dollars to park (at the time of this post), the park is closed in the month of August because of the heat, and it’s not open every day of the week. Check the San Diego County Parks and Recreation website for details.
I know, I know … how does anyone get lost anymore? I do have navigation on my phone, but two things were working against me. First, once I hit the back roads, my cell connection gets pretty sketchy. Second, Kanaka Flat is within the Santa Ysabel Wilderness Preserve; it’s not its own preserve. I was looking for “Kanaka Flat Something Something Preserve.” It’s hard to find something that doesn’t exist.
I read about Kanaka Flat on Modern Hiker’s website, and by read, I really mean skimmed over the important stuff … important stuff like how to find the hike.
It was late in the afternoon so rather than spend more time looking for the elusive “Kanaka Flat Preserve,” we parked at the entrance to Volcan Mountain and decided to give it a try. My hiking partner for the day was my twelve-year-old son, CameraKid. I call him CameraKid because he’s been into cameras since he was seven and he’s freakishly good at photography.
Parking was easy to find along the road that leads to the preserve. For being Martin Luther King Day, the area wasn’t crowded. We passed a few hikers as they returned to their cars and a handful on the trail, but other than that, it was very quiet.
The hike started off easy as it followed a wide path up the first part of the mountain. Before long we came across a set of stone steps to the right of the path. This is where the Five Oaks Trail begins. I couldn’t resist the pretty steps, nor could I not take a trail that has “oaks” in its name. So this was the path we chose.
The Five Oaks Trail is a nice little hike. The sign behind me in this picture describes it as a 1.2-mile “hikers only” trail that was built in 2003. As you might expect, there are oak trees along the path. But there are also beautiful Manzanitas and plenty of chaparral.
The views alone are worth hiking Five Oaks Trail. To the south, hikers can see the Cuyamaca and the Laguna Mountains. To the northwest, Palomar Mountain lies in the distance … and beyond that, the San Jacinto mountains. Furthermore, the recent rains have turned the hillsides and meadows a beautiful Irish green, making the spectacular even more so.
This photo shows part of the view looking north. CameraKid tells me I need to use a real camera, not just my cell phone. Seeing how this photo does no justice for the real-life view, I think he might be right. He’s offered to teach me how to take good pictures and I’m going to take him up on it. He’s also giving me his “old” Nikon D5000. Did I mention he collects cameras? Birthdays and Christmases have been good to him.
Anyway, back to the hike. The trail gets pretty steep in a few places, but it’s well-maintained, making the going pretty smooth—unless you’re like me and had a few too many eggnog lattes and pieces of fudge over Christmas. I didn’t realize how out-of-shape my two weeks off of work and exercise made me until I found myself having to stop to catch my breath more times than I care to admit.
I’m not sure if we hiked the whole 1.2 miles of the Five Oaks Trail. It sure felt like it, but if there was any indication that it had ended, I missed it. We could have kept going and would have eventually reached the top of Volcan Mountain, but we didn’t. We turned around at about the halfway mark because we didn’t want to get stuck in the preserve after dusk, when it closes … and all the mountain lions come out to make supper of stranded hikers.
At least that’s what I told CameraKid. But he’s smart enough to know that I couldn’t have dragged my butt another 100 feet up that trail.
The hike down was just as beautiful. The clouds were building in the south of the county and it started to get chilly. Camera Kid and I had just enough daylight and energy left to stop and take advantage of a climb-ready oak tree off the side of the main trail.
In spite of my out-of-shape lungs and sore butt the next day, I would do this hike again. Next time, however, I want to give myself enough time to get to the top of the mountain.
Side note: With Volcan Mountain Preserve being so close to Julian, of course we had to make a detour to get some apple pie. It’s practically a crime to not stop for fresh-made Dutch apple pie … especially after a beautiful hike on a gorgeous day.
Here are a few more pictures from our hike.
Manzanitas grace the Five Oaks Trail along with oaks, chaparral, and amazing views.
I’m trying something new. I’m going to bed early, even though I’m sort of interested in seeing who wins the World Series. I am going to try to write in the morning. I like morning. It’s quiet. Problem is, I like nighttime too. I wish I could sleep in the afternoon .
November is just a couple of days away, and that means it will be time to start up with National Novel Writing Month. This will be the third year I’ve participated. The first year, I was working on my zombie apocalypse novel. The second year, I was still working on my zombie apocalypse novel. Guess what I plan to work on this year … if you took an educated guess and said “your zombie apocalypse novel”, you’d be correct.
In my defense, I spent most of last year’s NaNoWriMo rewriting the story since I decided I wanted to take it in a slightly different direction. I’ve since changed it back to the original story line. Mostly.
Sometimes I wonder if I really want to finish this novel.
Part of my dilemma is that I’m tired of zombies. There. I said it. I never thought I’d get tired of zombies, but after a few years of watching The Walking Dead, reading zombie books, editing zombie books, and writing zombie short stories, I think zombies have lost their charm for me.
But I’m more than 50,000 words into my current story. I’m not that far from having a full-length novel. And I like my three main characters; I created them and now I need to give them a chance to live. Right?
Some days, I want to write juvenile fiction. Other times I think it would be good to write romance novels. Or historical fiction. Or historical nonfiction. Or all of the above?
This NaNoWriMo, I’m going to finish The Valley of the Shadow. I have to. Even if it sucks and nobody reads the finished product, I will finish so I can move on.