The Pull of the Forest

The Pull of the Forest

Frantic, I race through traffic, lights, and noise towards the edge of the forest. Honking horns and revving engines drown out the sound of my feet on the pavement. My mind is sharp and alert, my body tense and ready to react amongst the cars, trucks and bikes.

I exhale completely as I reach the periphery of the forest. Standing here, I’m on the edge of a vortex. City noise and lights swirl wildly around me, consuming my awareness and dulling my senses. One more step and I’m overwhelmed by a centripetal force pulling me into the heart of the trees.

As I enter the dark thicket, the temperature drops and dense fog surrounds me. No longer can I see through the wall of trees to the streets beyond.

I enter the deeper woods, leaving the turbulent perimeter far behind. It’s dark here. Silent. Peaceful. I breath in the stillness, the tranquility, letting it enter my lungs and flow through my body. I could stay here forever.

photo-36

My heart rate drops, my muscles unclench. I feel an overwhelming calm. Here amongst nature the outside world falls away. A heaviness, I didn’t realize I was carrying, steals off into the trees. Left, is me and my need to move. My need to love. My need to frolic in nature. Here, light in heart and spirit, I dance with the trees and sing to the birds. I lose myself in the fog.

I’m careful to stay away from the forest edges, where the thunderous noise of daily life can be still heard. I will escape it for as long as my body will allow me. I want my feet to carry me on these woodland paths, in endless circles, until I’m dizzy from the fresh air and exertion. I want to live in this kind of calmness and joy until I can’t stand it anymore.

Then a thought creeps in, breaking the repose. A task needing attention, an appointment to keep, these forces pull me back towards the city, back to the forest edges. I know my time today in this state of peace is done, but I resolve to come back. To make time to push through the gales of life and enter the core of all that is comforting to me.

I stand again at the perimeter of the trees, this time facing out towards the hurricane of sounds and motion beyond. Yet I feel different from when I entered. I feel ready to be out there again, in the chaos, at least for a while. At least until I feel the vortex of the forest pulling me back, the sweet serenity enveloping me once again.

Chicken Wings, Downpours and Newlywed Bliss

Buckets of chicken wings, the Superbowl and my husband and I on the couch surrounded by my mom and his best friend. Lovely. Not exactly the way I had imagined our first day of happily ever after.
Unbeknownst to me, I had planned my wedding on Superbowl weekend, and I was currently experiencing the consequences of such ill foresight. My husband, Jon, and I were scheduled to leave for New Zealand on Monday for a week of backpacking through New Zealand’s oldest national park, Tongariro. The trip promised amazing views of the New Zealand landscape, solitude of the wild backcountry and lots of quality time together enjoying one of our favorite pastimes.
However the day in between our wedding and our honeymoon was a little less idyllic. While everyone else enjoyed the game, I looked around and pondered how this situation had occurred. I had been a relaxed bride, picking a random month in February to marry because I knew reserving a hotel then would be easy. I also knew people would be available and I wouldn’t be competing with a lot vacations and holidays to have them attend. Best of all, we would always have a reason to escape the dreary Portland winters by celebrating our anniversaries in warm tropical places. I had made certain that we avoided getting married on Valentine’s Day, but what other holidays were there in February? Well only America’s favorite pastime….Superbowl Sunday….one I will now share my anniversary with forever.
Chad was at our house today because he was my husband’s best friend. Jon and Chad had tossed pizzas together at Dr. Munchies Pizza Parlor after school, they had double dated for prom and they spent most Sundays eating and watching football together. Sadly, Chad also had end-stage Lymphoma. The truth was, we weren’t sure he would be here next year on Superbowl Sunday (and in the end it turns out he wasn’t), so I couldn’t even think of saying no when Jon requested he come over for the big game, the day after our wedding. My mother, on the other hand, always looking for an excuse to cook for a group, asked if she could join and offered to bring an assortment of hot dishes for the occasion. At this point it seemed, why not, the more the merrier. We reigned in her cooking enthusiasm at several pans of enchiladas and the guys rounded the spread out with two -dozen chicken wings, which they gorged themselves on until they were nearly comatose.
In the end I don’t remember who won the game (shocking, I know, since the date of the whole event had alluded me), but I do remember being relieved when everyone finally went home to give Jon and I some alone time and let us prepare for our trip. However, Jon had one of those unfortunate early evening hangovers that occur after too much midday celebrating of food and drink. He fell asleep at seven o’clock, passed out on the couch with his red hair sticking up akwardly, a romantic start to our new life together.
The next morning Jon was slow to rise- when he did he was white and holding his belly in pain. It was clear the chicken wings had not treated him well.
He immediately called Chad and his mother answered. While I could only hear Jon’s part of the conversation, it didn’t sound good.
“Hi Anne Marie, how’s Chad feeling this morning?…..Oh, he can’t make it to the phone….. because he has been in the bathroom all night…..,” I heard my husband say.
Oh that’s great, I thought. We have a fourteen- hour flight to New Zealand, leaving in four hours, and my husband has food poisoning….. for the rest of the story please contact me!

Running: It’s where I want to be

I gather with the other runners at the starting line, nervously shaking my legs out, adjusting my socks and setting my watch. “Quiet……..!” the announcer calls and a hush falls over the crowd of 6,500 runners. “On your mark!” ………. Bang! And I’m off, amidst a sea of runners racing down Agate Avenue through the University of Oregon campus for the Eugene half marathon.
The sound of the starting gun spikes my adrenaline, like a flare signaling my potential to reach a new personal best today. The pack of runners is tight and I feel bonded to my peers. We have all made sacrifices to be here. We have all logged mile upon mile of training, endured countless aches and pains and pushed our bodies in preparation for today. At this stage it doesn’t matter if the person next to me is an elite racer or a first timer. We have had a similar journey to get here, and for a few moments it feels like we are all in this together.
However, about two miles in, the pack the starts to thin. I am forced to find my own pace and rhythm, one that I can trust, one that will allow me to complete the remainder of the 13.1 miles race.
As I crest the top of the first hill, the exuberance of the fans is amazing. They are so loud they make me feel like an Olympic-caliber athlete entering the stadium for my gold medal performance. For a few seconds I let myself pretend that I actually am but quickly the wind picks up and its briskness brings me back to reality. I start downhill, feeling the gust of wind cool my flushed face.
About mile three we enter a quieter section along the racecourse. I can now hear the symphony of labored breaths and footfalls of the nearby runners. The sound of all this exertion starts to make me feel anxious. Thoughts of doubt start to creep in my mind- I am beginning to struggle slightly and we have nine miles to go yet. I start to question my ability to maintain this pace. So I crank my Ipod another couple notches and drown out the sounds, letting the Talking Heads, Naïve Melody, begin to carry my thoughts away.

…..Home
Is where I want to be
But I guess I am already there
I came home
She lifted up her wings
I guess that this must be the place….

As the verses flow, my mind drifts to my husband who is waiting for me at mile 9, ready to cheer me on and offer a multitude of items I have instructed him that I might want- energy blocks, water, sunglasses, etc. I think how lucky I am to have his support. I ponder that I am still out here competing after 17 years of racing. I reflect on how the years have slowed me, but I am still able to stay ahead of most of the field. I think how good the sun feels on my face and how wonderful it is to be able to inhale and exhale so deeply. I enjoy the amazing feeling of being able to propel my body over such a long distance.
Soon I reach the 10k mark and realize that I have been gently climbing for the last two miles. Now I find myself swiftly traveling back down that slope as the course turns back on itself.
Ahhhhhh!
My legs start to turn over a bit quicker, I feel a little lighter and the thoughts of self-doubt exit my mind for good.

….Feet on the ground
Head in the sky
It’s Ok. I know nothings wrong.
Nothing…..

For the remainder of the story- contact me!

The Blue Square

I stood there looking back at the small slope I had just struggled down letting out a heavy sigh. Still riding the green circles. Would I ever feel comfortable on the blue squares? I had attempted to move up several times but only to be petrified at the top of a seemingly impossible steep section or nearly dying with embarrassment as I plowed down, my quads seizing under the sustained effort.

This was season five of learning to snowboard. I, of course, was wondering if I was ever going to feel any comfort or enjoyment while on my board. I waited for the lift chair with my husband, a very skilled snowboarder and the sole motivator in my learning endeavor, feeling my usual anxiety about mounting and exiting the lift. As the chair approached I did my usual pirouette into the seat, landing with not one ounce of grace.  My husband cannot understand this maneuver, however it seems the only way I have managed to get seated in the chair without incident, and trust me I have had plenty of lift chair incidents. The pirouette, as he so aptly refers to it, is required in order to transition from waiting for the lift chair in a sideways direction and yet sit on the chair in a forwards direction, all the while with one foot akwardly fixed in place on the board. I envy skiers every time I undergo this process.

We haven’t named my exit strategy anything, but it does resemble the strategy of our former present, George W. Bush, stay the course. I stand up, push off  and glide straight ahead until my momentum comes to a stop, all the while praying that someone or something does not happen to be along my course. I never manage a turn with one foot unclipped from the binding. No turning equals no stopping. Therefore I am at the mercy of the conditions to bring me to a hault. Suprisingly it works for me about 90% of the time, I am not sure that Bush can report the same success.

As we headed down the first slope I felt my usual akwardness of the first days run. I couldn’t find my toe edge and so was forced to transverse the slope hoping that nobody actually riding downhill would hit me from behind. My husband was waiting for me intermittently, watching me struggle, politely asking how I was feeling. I was so obviously inept that I couldn’t even discuss the situation. As usual we decided it would be best  for everyone if we parted ways and met up later. I took 4-5 runs down the same slope before I felt that I was managing my turns and board well enough to venture to new terrain. When we meet up at noon I was just getting my legs underneath me. My younger brother had taken his first snowboarding lesson and after several head over heels experiences he promptly annouced he was done for the day and would be waiting in the car. My nephew had also taken a lesson and though he was tired he still wanted us to ride the bunny slope a few times with him. Why not, it can only help my confidence I thought.

That is exactly what it did for me. Watching my nephew struggle for 10 minutes to come up to standing on the board, only to fall immediately back into sitting was highly reassuring. I had in fact spent an entire day doing that exact same thing, nearly in tears by day’s end from both the pain in my tailbone and the shear frustration and embarrassment of it all. I started to realize that I really had come a long way over the past five years, maybe not as far as I would have liked, maybe not as far as other snowboarders, but I had in fact learned a thing or two about keeping myself upright , getting down the slope and generally out of the way of more skilled riders.

We headed back up to the higher slopes for a few more runs before heading home and these were definetely my smoothest rides of the day. The bunny hill had given me a new perspective for my skill level and for the first time that day I relaxed, rode and even smiled a bit at the bottom of that blue square.

Committed.

Committed. To entrust. To place in confinement or custody. To be put in a place or be disposed of. To bind or obligate. Committed, a word with so many implications in our society. Also the perfect title for Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book about her exploration into what it means to unite as one in marriage.

She spoke tonight at the Bagdad in SE Portland. She was honest, candid and sometimes a little much. But she knew it, which only made her even more genuine and enduring. Sometimes she was a bit sassy, “I like the silverfoxes” she giggled, referring to her second husbands 17 year age difference.  Sometimes she was a bit political,  poking fun at good ole Sarah Palin, as so many of us like to do. She refered to her as “Bible Spice” or “Moosealini” and begged unashamedly of  us to help take “Going Rogue” off the top of the bestseller list by purchasing as many copies of Committed as we could afford.   Then other time she was very realistic and matter of fact, offering her view that “Marriage gives us certain rights in society, to privacy, tax breaks, and health care. But that privacy and protection comes at a price. It comes by entering a contract with the state”.

She opened the night by reading a passage from her book that explained its origin. A story of how she unexpectedly feel in love with Felipe, a gentleman from Bali, whom had also suffered a recent and very devastating divorce.  A story of how their love evolved with travels around the country including frequent visits in and out of the United States.  Upon one of these return trips to the United States the Department of Homeland Security informed her that Felipe could no longer enter the United States unless they were married and  that is where her story begins. A woman and man  deeply committed to each other, but who have pledged never to get married again find themselves with little other option if they want to remain together.

Committed is a book about what it means to be married. It is a book filled with the history of marriage, statistical break downs of marriage success and failure and how marriage fits into our society and our ideas of romance.  It encourages those seeking marriage to analyze their choice honestly. “I hope it is book that will strike fear in the hearts of 20 year olds and hope in the hearts of 40 year olds,” Gilbert proudly stated.

Gilbert’s book promises to be an interesting one that will generate lots of discussions, hopefully well needed and healthy ones, looking at the decision to marry and coming to terms with what it really means. Personally I am ready to be committed to a weekend with this intriguing book developing a deeper understanding about what I already know personally to be a wonderful experience, the institution of marriage.

The Tiniest Bright Spot

January, the darkest time of winter combined with the quietness of the post holiday season. All the leaves have vanished from the trees as well as the ground, all the Christmas lights have come down and the only sounds in the early morning are the sound of the winter wind whipping through the barren trees and shrubs.

It was early on an ordinary Thursday morning and I found myself pleasantly surprised by the unexpected break in winter dreariness. I was excited by the lack of resistance in the air as I began a comfortable rhythm. Crossing the Willamette Railroad Bridge I found a clear view of the river and its banks. All winter I had been commuting  through the  bitter darkness  and continuous rain blindly hitting the multiplying potholes. But this day the pavement was partially dry and allowed me to easily see my roadway obstacles. Gaining some motivation, not usual to my morning commutes, I playfully stood up on my pedals and increased my cadence. The air rushed passed my cheeks with a springtime quality that I relished. It was still cool, it was still moist but the air was noticeably a few degrees warmer than previous January days.

As I passed along my usual route, I realized that exactly enough light was present to safely ride through Grant Park, part of my regular summer route, but completely unridable on the darkest of winter mornings.  In the park I recognized that I wasn’t the only one enjoying this tiny shift in the weather, songbirds  were chirping, students were walking to school and dogs were bounding through the grass in pursuit of their balls. Come July this would become the standard scene, but in mid January it was definitely a unique one. The northwest’s consistent drizzle lasts from about November to March and is pretty limiting to urban outdoor recreation, so Oregonians do not miss a chance to play when the rain breaks.

As I neared the end of my ride, I felt ready to start work for the first time in a long while. The tiniest bright spot in the winter struggle had let up for this morning. The storms had stopped just for a moment and allowed me to rejuvenate and remember the reason I ride to work.  Of course I new it was too early for spring, we had at least 6 more weeks of winter, but as far as I knew this morning spring was on its way.

Finding Common Comfort

After almost 2 years I was finally getting started toward my dream. I was taking one step closer to so many things I had been envisioning for so long. One step closer to freeing the creativity that my regular 9-5 job consistently forced me to suppress. That much closer to pursuing a second career and closer to following my childhood dream of becoming a writer……..

It was the first night of “Jump start your writing”. Essentially beginning writing 101 for adults held through the local community college. I had been nervous to join a writing group fearing that I would somehow not be up to par with my classmates.  While I constantly longed to become a writer and I frequently shared my dream with my closest friends and family I seldom actually sat down to write anything. For some reason there was always something holding me back. Some task more pressing, an appointment to keep, weekly housework to do or just the business of my professional career. But sometimes it was more than these obligations that stopped me, it was something inside of me, trepidation. I was fearful of my dream not coming true, anxious of discovering that I had no talent to write and nervous about failing before I even started.

That is silly, I kept saying. How could I dream of writing, something I held so important, but yet something that I could not make a part of my regular life.  I was beginning to think that I was either crazy or just very lazy. Neither of which I really believed. Maybe this dream to write was just an type of infatuation, similar to my obsession with Ryan Rafferty in the 4th grade. He was the blond haired blued eye boy that sat in front of me in english class, otherwise known to me as the cutest boy in the world. Turns out he was just a spoiled rich kid that liked to stab me in the leg with pencils that he sharpened during class. My infatuation with him only amounted to a lot of embarrassment and sore shins. Could my dream to be a writer end up to be as silly and painful?

As the class started we went around the room and shared our names and why we were taking the class. As each student gave their reasons for coming, a warm and relaxed feeling of comfort came over me. I realized I was not alone in my struggle. In one way or another all the students in the class had been dealing with similar obstacles in finding a consistent way to put the pen to the paper with purpose and regularity. First there was the event coordinator looking for a way to channel her writing creativity outside of an email genre. Then a legal assistant tired of writing other peoples stories without any artistic license. There was both a young woman and an older retired woman both looking for ways to develop their writing to communicate with distant friends and relatives. There was a literary major with no outlet for her talent and expertise. There were folks who used to write but now were overwhelmed with how to start back up. They were intimidated by changes in the modern writing scene such as internet journalism and the popularity of blogging. All of us came from different professional and educational backgrounds but all shared the loss of direction in reaching our writing goals. We were all craving the support, motivation and structure of a community class. In each other we were hoping to find a common comfort and springboard to reaching our goals.

How the weeks will change us I do not yet know. As we shared our first writing samples I was in awe of the range of wit, comedy and passion present in our writings. Admittedly I was a little intimidated again. However this time my uneasiness felt more like a challenge vs. an opportunity to fail. Just knowing that with these other 20 students I held a collective dream to become a writer soothed my personal anxieties of inadequacy. As class ended and we pack up our notepads and pens I felt pride for all of us for taking one small step towards our dreams.

Welcome to my Blog (weblog)

Hope you enjoy reading what I am calling “the miles of my life”, this is my way to share my latest writing adventures! The longer pieces have only been posted in part, so if you are interested in hearing the full story please contact me. Also as a writer I am constantly learning and editing so if you have comments please post them, they are appreciated!