A Menopausal Odyssey ? (Day 6)

June 28, 2001

I woke up in a tent this morning.  Did what I always do when I camp; build a fire, make a cup of coffee, and read.

Peace finally. Time to think.

IMG_2292

I am 52.  I’m a menopausal woman.  I guess I got through it okay, physically.  Hot flashes. Once on a 10 degree day, I drove to school with the air conditioner on.  And then when my second graders went to gym I opened all the windows in my classroom.  I’m now eating old peoples’s bran cereal every morning to keep me regular. I started getting a troll doll belly about a year ago.  I remember the original troll dolls from my childhood. They had jewels in their belly buttons.  Now in the morning when I get out of the shower, I  look at my body and wonder what would suit me better, a subtle turquoise stone or a sparkly red ruby.

Midlife crisis.  Is this trip a way to prove that I am still young or is it a urgent flight against the passing of time?  I am having a hard time with the psychological part of the menopause.  I’m no longer “cute”and I don’t  get the looks I used to. My confidence is low. Am I a crone now?

I remember Day 4 sailing with M.H. and writing about the power of words. Old. Crone. Menopause.  Are these wrinkled, dried up, slow moving, stifling words part of my new reality, my new way of life?  Or is it just a meno-PAUSE before something else? I have 64 more days to figure it out.

 

 

70 days, 7000 Miles, Day 5

June 27, 2001

I left M.H.’s house in the morning and got on a highway that follow the Ottawa River. I was on my own now and I was anxious. I was really doing this, alone  I found a beautiful campground and was given a great site on the water.

IMG_2290

I was agitated for two reasons today. First, I had just finished teaching 5 days ago.  I loved teaching my second graders but the end of the year was so hectic.  A field trip, grades, lesson plans to be turned in, room to clean, grade level meetings, district workshops, placement of students for next year, final evaluation, etc., etc., etc.  It usually takes me two weeks into a summer vacation before I stop being a teacher.

And there was another factor, I hate making mistakes.  It is my biggest fear and the cause of the most distress in my life.  It all comes from once being a very self conscientious,shy child.  I always tried to avoid any kind of attention especially anything negative.

Today judgement and doubts were shouting at me. “Should I stay here for one night or more?”  “Should I stay put because of Canada Day on the first?” “I’ve only gone 300 miles?” “How many miles to Michigan?” “I’m I doing enough?” ” I’m I being enough?”

I chipmunk came up to me after I got settled and I fed him some crackers.  He came closer and finally came up on the picnic table.  The little creature allowed me to feed him as he sat before me inches away.  He was so trusting, so into the moment we were sharing together.

I  decided to stay here 2 nights or maybe three. I need to make a vacation transition, passing from a goal oriented rat race to serendipity, one day at a time, one lovely present moment after another.

I will get to Michigan when I get there.

 

70 Days, 7000 Miles, Day 4

June 26, 2001

Yesterday’s words with M.H. were aging, loneliness, inability, and dying. But today we lived new words.

sailing 2

M.H. drove me to her yacht club so we could go sailing.  She had her own sailboat and the woman who the night before worried about the inability to perform daily mundane tasks took that boat out on the water and gave me the ride of my life.  It was a little breezy and at one point I thought we would capsize. As the second mate, I followed her directions and we kept afloat. The words of the day were capable, graceful,  joyful, and alive.

That night we went to a Toastmasters’ dinner, Canadian style. I  talked to a woman named Nicole, a woman who had known a few more springtimes than me but had a incredible spirit and smile. M.H. had told her about my summer odyssey and Nicole gave me a voucher for a three night stay  in a condo near Banff,  Alberta. She said she wouldn’t have the opportunity to use it.  I thanked her and told her that  now my trip had a definite destination.  I am going to the Canadian Rockies.

It was a great day. A story of beautiful words.

 

70 Days, 7000 Miles, Day 3

June 25, 2001

Great night’s sleep. Woke at 6:00 am. Breakfast. Said “goodbye” to M. and R. and thanked them for a really great time. Went out on the main highway and almost got  hit by another car. They honked at me which I accepted because I didn’t see them because I wasn’t looking.  Note to self- BE CAREFUL. PAY ATTENTION!!!!!

Headed north of Ottawa to The Gatineau Region, the foothills of the Laurentian Mountains, to visit another Canadian friend, M.H.

After I became divorced I threw myself into life.  That whole thing about getting back on the horse and keeping busy, the American cure for everything.  I joined a local Toastmasters’ club which was an organization that had nothing to do with toasting but with public speaking in general. Because our local chapter was so close to the border,  we were part of the larger Toastmasters’ regional organization in Canada.  As a result, I went to competitions in Cornwall, Ontario; St. Hyacinthe, Quebec; and Montreal.  The big convention was in Ottawa.  There were informative workshops all day, and then the banquet and dancing. It’s where I learned the chicken dance. Canadians, especially Quebecers, know how to party.

I met M.H. who a regional director when she asked me to sign a petition to protect the wolves in Canada.  Since I am an outdoors person, we struck up a conversation about common interests.  She told me she had once worked in communications for Lester Pearson who was prime minister of Canada from 1963 -1968.  I saw her from time to time at TM events and at our local chapter. She invited me to visit her.

IMG_2289

I found her blue house among the trees. I brought in my stuff and then we went to Wakefield where Lester Pearson was buried.  I sensed she had been very fond of him. M.H. explained that in their youth, Lester Pearson and his two friends, made a pact  to be buried next to each other. There they were, three graves, the prime minister, Hume Wrongs, Canadian Ambassador to The US, and Norman Robertson, Under Secretary of State for External Affairs.  A fitting tribute to a lifelong friendship.

We went back to M.H.’s house for dinner on her porch.  We talked about getting older and the problems that go along with it, loneliness and the inability to handle daily mundane tasks.  M.H. is very involved, intelligent, and vital. She is running for her life like I do. But old age is frightening.  I will deal with it when it comes.  Not today.

70 Days, 7000 Miles, Day 2

June 24, 2001

klimt

A very busy day in Ottawa. Woke up. Great breakfast prepared by M.  In  M.’s car by 10:00. Camping store. Canadians have great camping equipment. Lunch at The Canadian National Art Gallery.

Ottawa is so beautiful.  The capital city presents everything so well and there is so much to see and do.  Do  local people take the time to really enjoy it? Do they take it for granted? I don’t. I love this urban option two hours from my rural home.

Do I live in the right spot?  A very conservative area with some but few cultural outlets.  But the people there are genuine and kind. Would I be able to travel if  I moved someplace else and got into debt? It will be interesting to read this journal entry when I finish my trip. Feeling a little anxious at this moment. I have a strong faith but it needs a little restoring at this moment.

Hmm, my faith. I believe in God.  I have witnessed too many coincidences that affirm this path.  But I am a freelance spiritual being, respecting all religious perspectives  even the choices of atheists.  Live and let live.  Some denounce those of us who say we believe in God as hypocrites because we are just as flawed as the rest of the world.  I am a self proclaimed selfish diest freely admitting that I have committed probably most of the sins out there. But having spent many moments in my life alone and very scared, I find courage and an ever present companionship with a loving God.  I wouldn’t be making this trip if it wasn’t for Him.

At the art museum we saw a Klimt exhibit. He believed in truth, a rebel in his time.  Art nouveau, symbolism.  Birth, youth, old age, death.  Hope I, hope II, hope II and so forth.  Was he trying to tell us that it is better to produce what we believe in even though others disagree? Be true to yourself? He stuck to his convictions and now he is appreciated and revered. Passion, color, life.  He set his own course. He died at the age 53 of a stroke and pneumonia due to the worldwide influenza epidemic of 1918.  Art for him was freedom, the way it should be.

Klimt_-_Der_Kuss

We had snacks and wine in an open air cafe, the kind I love. We went to a French music concert. The temperature was perfect. The air came in contact with my skin touching it softly and lovingly, ending a perfect Ottawa day.

Copyright 2018 @ The Autonomous Traveler

 

70 days, 7000 Miles, Day 1

June 23, 2001

Left the house at 10:30. Talked to my daughter before I left. Stopped in Ogdensburg for gas and lunch. The girl at the gas station told me she wanted to hear about my trip when I got back.  I’m a little apprehensive today but I know I have to do this. The first two weeks will be an adjustment. I remember the beginning of my Poland trip. Scared out of my mind but it was the best thing that ever happened to me.

When I took the turn from my country road onto the main highway, much of my stuff went flying across the back of my van. I need to rearrange my things so they don’t become projectiles every time I make a sudden stop. I am expanding my world but everyday mundane things still have to be ordered and organized in my little van/tent world.

I’m staying in Ottawa, Canada for a few days visiting my friend, M.. The day is rainy and gray. I stopped at Canadian Tire and bought her a beautiful pink rose bush. The flowers were in clusters, graceful like a plant in a Japanese garden.  M. is a high school teacher but has the vision and the soul of an artist. Her life is her canvas and she  creates lovely environments.  She lives with R., an outdoor enthusiast. I was so happy to see them. They know the true meaning of hospitality and kindness.  It was a great way to start my trip. She and R. have transformed their combination dining room/ living room into a warm nest of colors from Southwestern paintings. The walls are the color and texture of the rusty rock formations in Sedona, Arizona. And the floors and furniture glow in honey browns all fitting together like a completed puzzle of a desert sunset. We shared a delicious steak dinner and wine.

One purpose of getting away alone is to resolve a lifelong issue, the balance between sticking up for myself and being a good person. Confidence and kindness.  Is it the world that is the problem or is it me? I feel strength but many times I sell myself short. Will I figure this out? I have 70 days to find out.

 

 

 

70 Days, 7000 Miles-A Midlife Odyssey

IMG_2279

In 2001, I took a solo 70 day, 7000 mile camping trip across the US and Canada. I was 52 years old and an elementary teacher at the time.  I left my home the Saturday  right after school let out and returned the Saturday before school started up again. Having taken many camping trips that seemed to end so quickly, I wanted to find out what an almost infinite vacation would be like. I kept a journal, 88 pages of observations, insights, and some whining.  Being middle aged and newly menopausal, I needed to find out what this part of life meant to be me and others, where I fit in, and what the future might hold.   I hoped a completely different context and a little adventure would bring some answers.

All school year I saved money for the trip.   My daughter didn’t want me go and she made me promise not to get in a car or boat with anyone. I swore I would  follow her instructions and told her I would call my friend every three days to check in and report my location.  I didn’t have a computer at the time and I used pay phones for communication.  I think I had a bag phone which was only good for 911 calls.

I asked my dad to search for a minivan for me.  He loved to wheel and deal and found me a used Dodge Caravan in great condition.  I gratefully reimbursed him.  My plan was to tent and use the van if I couldn’t find a place to stay (this actually happened one night) or if I didn’t want to take the time to set up camp or if the weather was really stormy.

I left on June 23, 2001.  Many friends have told me I should write about this adventure. Well, starting this Saturday, June 23, 2018,  I will be including my daily writings from my journal and some insights from the present.

Come along me!  I promise to get us all home by September.  Please consider clicking the word “follow” on the right hand side of my site. If you do, you will be notified by email when I post something new.  It would be great to have you with me on this odessey and hear your comments.  Thanks for your interest and support.

 

Mayfly-A Fly Fishing Woman’s Tale

I am reblogging this once more for two people I recently met who fly fish.

 

100_2135

When I was newly divorced and my kids were off to college I used to go to a place with a band every Friday evening with my single female friends. Heads up and stomachs sucked in, we pretended to be aloof.  Neon beer signs, the tiny red dots on the sound equipment, and a street light through a grimy window provided the bar’s main illumination.  But dragged down by disappointment and gravity, we welcomed the dim lighting. We always chose a table close to the small stage thinking that proximity to the band increased our chances of being asked to dance. We deemed some of the males unsuitable and rejected them. And since there is justice everywhere, even in a place that served draft beer and cheap wine, the men that we saw as desirable rejected us.

I would sip coffee in my living room the next morning hoping it would take away my feelings of defeat. The things I had worn the night before were crumpled like discarded love letters in piles across the floor. The once clean and carefully chosen clothes reeked of cigarette smoke and stale beer.

Sharon, the  librarian at my school who was also divorced, asked me if I would like to go fly fishing with her in The Adirondacks. She knew I loved the outdoors and camping.  But I stubbornly clung to the hope that the bar with the loud music would bring  me love and romance if I just kept trying.

One day Sharon asked me to pick up my second graders outside after her library class.  When I did  Sharon was decked out in a green vest and a hat with several  tiny feathery things attached to it and one of my boys was waving a fishing rod in the air.

“Good cast”, she old the 8 year old as she took the rod from him.  “Remember, you don’t need a lot of force. Let the line do the work”

Gentle as a tree in the breeze, she moved the rod forward and then positioned it upright and back. The line, an elongated twenty foot inverted “c” sailed behind her forming a string of translucent light against the sky.  Reversing the direction of the loop, Sharon placed the tip of the line thirty feet away.  She did it once again.  A perfect beginning, middle, and end.

“Don’t you think your teacher should try?” she asked my class.

“Yes’, they all shouted.

I always told my students  that new things were always hard and to never give up. I didn’t want to cast  but I knew, as a teacher and a constant role model,  I had to.

Sharon handed me the rod. I took a breathe, hesitated and then flung the line backwards and then whipped it ahead with a smack. My students laughed.

“Okay, kids,” Sharon said, ” Let’s help your teacher.  What does she need to know?”

Ten o’clock, Two o’clock,” they said in unison and they all demonstrated with their arms

“Okay, relax,” added Sharon.

I focused on my arm. I let the line stretch out behind me like wings, and then as I shifted I felt the power of momentum as the line raced over my head. It landed not as far as Sharon’s  had but just as gently.

“I did it,” I yelled and my students clapped. Sharon gave me thumbs up and we all went back into the school, smiling.

At the end of the day, Sharon stopped by my room. ” Have I convinced you yet? Do you want to go fishing?”

“Okay,” I replied.

On the next Friday at the end of the school day, we drove east to the Adirondacks. As we traveled, the villages became smaller and smaller and some buildings stood as shabby monuments to battles against The North Country winters.

100_2113

Vistas revealed miles of tree going up and over large hills and small mountains. The forest squeezed the highway. Small bushes and thick brush discouraged entrance into the interior.  As we  went higher, stacks of mountains receded from dark green to the palest of blue. Hardy collection of daisies, buttercups, and purple lupines played among rust colored rocks.

 

Like the pop of a Jack-in-the -Box, the village of Lake Placid exploded out of the trees, a  collection shops and restaurants,  an open air mall between  mountains. We kept driving. The sidewalks ended and a golf course took the place of the concrete and brick. The high peaks reveal themselves above the chemically treated turf. The road continued up and down, over and though, as if frantically trying to escape the man made insanity. The green intensified and soon we saw the Ausable River shyly peeking through the leaves.

100_2164

Further on, two grey cliffs appeared on each side of the road. A small man made wall protected us from the river that jumped over rocks and boulders.

We arrived at Wilmington Notch Campgrounds. I had been there many times.  My family and I camped there when I was a little girl.  Not far away, The North Pole still exists and after all these years Santa still makes his summer home there.

A thick canopy of leaves above the cleared sites offered a sense of order. All the white birch trees I remembered from my childhood were gone. Sharon and I set up our tents, arranged air mattresses and sleeping bags and ate a one pot stew warmed over a fire. She went through her stuff and pulled out a bottle of wine.  As our woodland retreat lost its vivid colors and faded into the black of the evening, the light of the campfire enclosed us in a sphere of orange light. Beyond our source of illumination, the world disappeared as we drank sweet wine out of paper cups.

Sharon told me about artificial flies and knots for tying  line, leads, and hooks. She talked about pocket water, pools, and fish spit which she insisted was the foam that sometimes appeared in the water.  I learned about the three types of insects that trout feed on. Stoneflies, caddis, and mayflies.  I marveled at the fact that the caddis make  a tiny cocoon shelter out of small stones.  And that mayflies live as ugly nymphs under the water until one day just before they die they become creatures with  lovely shiny wings.

Sharon and I talk and talked and she told me stories about fishing The Ausable with her daughter and about Fran Betters, the writer and legendary trout fisherman of the Adirondacks.

It was getting late. We threw water on the fire. The stars leaped into the sky and the gray steam from the embers kissed their faces goodnight.

We got up very, very early the next morning.  With no makeup or coffee or breakfast, we drove out of camp  in the sweatshirts and sweatpants  we had worn to bed.  Sharon had extra waders for me and a rod. We fished for hours and didn’t catch anything. But  it was wonderful being a part of it all, the greens, the sound of the flowing water, and the peace.100_2140

I loved fly fishing with Sharon because we developed our own female version of the sport.  After morning fishing,  we stopped at a quick stop for cappuccinos and a pastry.  Back at our site we showered. There was time for a little reading and then a trip into Lake Placid to do some shopping! We went back to Wilmington to fulfill one of Sharon’s fishing traditions, a visit to The Wildwood Inn for clams casino and a glass of chardonnay. Who was I to argue?  Then more fishing until sunset and back to the evening campfire.  I enjoyed it all.

The next day we drove to a spot where the Ausable dropped over a dam. The falls filled its lungs with air as it exhaled a curtain of creamy foam. I listened to the rushing sound of gravity, feeling its pull as I struggled to navigate the steep, stony path to the base of the dam.

100_2146

The lower elevation allowed shadows to stretch across the river as the sun moved further down in the sky. At first a few flashes of reflected light appeared in air.  And then hundreds of bits of motion fluttered everywhere. Focusing on one, I saw an insect with a long graceful body and beautiful translucent wings. Its companions danced and swirled above the river as the fish came to the surface and jumped to get a better look. Abruptly it all stopped. The winged creatures disappeared and the fish swan below.  Sharon explained it was a mayfly hatch and I will never forget how so alive and beautiful  it was.

I fished with Sharon a lot in the next few  years. I remembered the moment I caught my first trout. I looked over the water and cast my line. A fluttering movement came up through the rod and I felt a life. The trout pulled and jumped in the air, gleaming green, pink, and white. I reeled it and took the hook from its mouth. And following Sharon’s example, held the rainbow like a precious jewel, lowered it into the water and set it free.

Sharon passed away several years ago.  She was a great storyteller, teacher, fly fishing woman, and a fantastic friend. I will see her again because I am sure there are trout streams in heaven.

Sharon taught me the lesson of the mayfly, a little bug who struggled and struggled  most of its life to leave the dark bottom of the river. And just when it thought its life was over, it got a second chance.  It became lovely and magical and free.  I have had many hard times and disappointments in my life but things don’t seem as bad anymore.  I finally have my wings.  Thank you, Sharon.

100_2165

Copyright 2018@ The Autonomous Traveler

Remembering My Dad-Our Ambulance Camper

Somebody once wrote “I dream things that never were and say ‘why not?'” My  family lived these words long before they were ever written. In the late 1950’s, when our small town fire department put its outdated ambulance up for sale at a bargain price, my father bought it.

It wasn’t a box van like the emergency vehicles  we see today, but rather something that looked like a blood red hearse. Our purchase included two very comfortable chairs with tiny legs for medical attendants, a system to hang canvas stretchers from the ceiling, and a metal gurney on wheels.

When my dad proudly brought the ambulance home, he enthusiastically announced that it would be our new camper. So on our  family outings my mom and I would sleep on mats on the floor, my two sisters were suspended from the ceiling in new canvas hammocks, and my hardy ex-Marine father would sleep on the wheeled gurney outside. It was only when he almost rolled into Cranberry Lake in the Adirondacks that he realized that the stretcher always needed to be tied to something solid.

For some reason, we only had the ambulance for one camping season. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that so many cars would pull over to the side of the road when they saw us coming. The cute red chairs with the short legs became our TV chairs and the gurney became our favorite toy. My sisters and I hooked a rope to it and as two of us pulled, one sister would have a thrilling ride around the outside of our house. As the momentum built, a final accelerating pull would be executed and then the rope was released. The rider would be hurtled down a hill in front of our house and eventually be stopped by a small ditch about three feet from the road.

One day, a man driving in front of our house turned pale as he saw a little girl on an ambulance stretcher speeding down a hill toward his car. Of course, the gurney stopped just before the road like it always did but the man got out of his car and gave us a stern talking to. After calming down a bit, he asked us why we would ever do something so crazy. Since we were the daughters of our unconventional dad, my sisters and I looked at each other, shrugged, and replied, “Why not?”

Copyright 2018@ The Autonomous Traveler

Travel Camera(s)-My Opinion

IMG_2110

I have three cameras, two identical Canon Power Shot 1300s and a Cannon Power Shot 570. I  purchased them all on Ebay and I took all the pictures on The Autonomous Traveler with them except one picture for my story about Poland. I had to get that picture from the internet since all my Poland pictures were taken with film.

Why this choice of cameras?

(1) I wanted a camera with a viewer window.  In bright sunlight,  I can’t see what I am shooting.

(2) I wanted something small so I would always have one with  me, either in my purse or in my pocket. You never know what you are going to come upon.

geese license plate

(3) I always keep the silver A570 in the car.  I have a spare 1300 because I am always leaving a camera at my grandkids’ house.  I love taking pictures. When I am cameraless, it always seems like I’m missing out on some terrific shots.

(4) I stretched my travel budget by buying used on Ebay. I rather spend my money on experiences instead of things.

(5) All three cameras are battery operated. I have never had a problem getting more batteries in other countries but I have fried a few of my devices in foreign electrical outlets.

(6) I carry extra SDHC cards in my wallet.  This grandma tends to leave them in the computer when she leaves the house.

I know there are much, much better cameras than mine but I like to travel light and ready.

geese

      Show geese going to a competition by way of  The NYS Thruway.  October 2015

Copyright 2018@ The Autonomous Traveler