Continuity

Several years ago I was invited to a fire circle led by Chief Beavertail. His goal was to bring people together through story and song. As we arrived he welcomed us and all our ancestors who came with us and stood behind us.

That image has stayed with me all these years. That image of connection to the millions of ancestors stretching out behind us.

In the 1970s I took a course on how to do bobbin lace because I’d heard it was a dying art. Bobbin lace has a fascinating history if you’re interested, and I feel connected to that long history as I weave the bobbins.

Growing up, we sisters helped mom can and put up food. We hated it. Now I can willingly, following the traditions of generations. Putting up, stocking up, preparing for winter.

Continuity, tradition, ties to the past. To family. I love that feeling of connection to land and people. But not all ties are so easy to talk about.

Last night I watched a movie called The Last Full Measure. Being honest here, I watched it because Sebastian Stan was in it and because I like a good action film. But this wasn’t an action film, as I quickly found out. I’m glad my husband, ex-Army, elected to not watch it because these kinds of movies deeply bother him.

The husband

If you haven’t heard of the movie, it’s about William H. Pitsenbarger, a US Air Force Pararescueman who, during the Vietnam War, chose to stay behind to help soldiers on the ground. Before dying in battle, he saved over sixty men. He chose to stay. He was twenty-two years old. Younger than my son. Thirty-two years after his death he was awarded the medal of honor.

Where is my continuity here? As a child, I was oblivious to the Vietnam War. The news didn’t come on the television until 11:00 pm, well past our bedtimes. But still, I’ve wondered before how such a huge thing, that impacted countless lives, wasn’t even a blip in my little-kid-world.

But I do have an uncle. And one of the things I see in his poetry is how the time spent fighting in Vietnam bored so deeply into his heart and soul.

My uncle. Before.

I have ancestors and relatives who have fought in wars, including my father who was in the Korean War. But dad didn’t see what my uncle did. And dad didn’t live long enough to tell us kids war stories or choose to keep silent. So I don’t know what impact that war had on him.

Dad on the right

This uncle, though, this man tied to me by DNA and family and generations of ancestors, walked through hell, and I only see the briefest, tiniest, glimpses of what that did to him through his words.

I cried during the movie last night, and I’m not one who cries during movies. But those tears were more for what my uncle went through than for the story itself.

Those tears were for the paths many still walk and the stories that can’t be told, but that still bind us.

Fearing A Walk In The Woods

I have long been drawn to the idea of a long hike in the woods. The Pacific Crest Trail is so close to my home. My older sister used to ask me to hike it with her, as I’ve mentioned before. I have a friend who plots out a solitary hike into the back country every summer, figuring out where she wants to go and getting the needed permit. And then off she goes, with all she needs on her back, up into places like the Alpine Lakes wilderness. I asked her once if she wasn’t afraid, out there alone, and this petite woman looked at me as if she didn’t understand the question.

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There are a lot of books about people who have gone off on long treks and I read many of them. Some, that are so popular movies have been made from them, like Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, I didn’t like at all. Some make me laugh, like Bill Bryson’s A Walk In The Woods, although there is a lot in that book that isn’t funny. And then there are some, like Walking Home, by Lynn Schooler, where every page is a story that resonates with me, even though it starts out with a terrifying bear encounter.

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Another friend of mine recently told me about a hike she went on. Two women, packs on their backs, take off on for a few days on their own, into the wilderness, like it’s just another jaunt around the block.

I even follow a group on Facebook called ‘Fat Lady Takes a Hike’. I thought it would be inspiring. But then I look at photos and think ‘Fat? Her?!?’

And so, like I’ve written briefly about before, I daydream about striding forth, life on my back, to daydream in the forest and find stories in the trees.

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Then reality steps in.

I remember the horrible story in the news a few years ago about a mother and daughter murdered on a hiking trail. Experienced hikers, but someone found them out there alone. The murder is still unsolved.

I think about gear. When we go camping we need a big truck. How would I fit all that into a backpack? Clearly I’d have to go shopping for equipment based on weight. I know many people base their needs on how many ounces that cook stove will add to the pack. And I wonder how many ounces my bottle of blood pressure meds weigh, or the pad of paper and pens. The camera. The extra pair of eye glasses.

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And what about the pillow? And the thick pad of memory foam?

I think about being old and definitely not the lean hiking type. Aching knees and hips. Sore lower back.

Then my thoughts wander down the path of fear. That would be easily solved by taking along the husband. He knows how to read maps and compasses. He knows how to orienteer. He knows how to tie a multitude of knots. He knows how to cook over a fire. He knows how to fix everything. I’m always, always safe when he’s around. And I’m never ashamed of my limitations around him. I wouldn’t worry about lagging behind or slowing him down or being a hindrance.

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But I don’t think he’s ever had any desire to, shall we say, shit in the woods.

Am I afraid to walk in the woods? Not as long as I leave my imagination at home. I love being out in the woods. But I do have an active imagination. What if a bear comes along? What if a cougar stalks me? What if I fall out there and break a leg? What if I got lost?They couldn’t use my cell phone to ping my location and find me because I have a little old flip phone.

What if I got out there and gave up and turned around and disappointed my companion and let myself down?

What if I learned my dream was just that?

What if I failed?

What if I was too afraid to take one more step?

What if I was too afraid to take the first step?

I think I’ll just go reread Walking Home and continue dreaming.

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The husband’s office

 

Let’s Talk About Age

I’m nineteen. I working at Edie Adam’s Cut ‘n Curl. I’ve had my hairdressing license one year and already I hate it. I’m about to leave for a trip to Scotland. Me, naive, a girl who has never even traveled to Seattle by herself (an hour away). Still living at home, kind of envious of friends getting apartments of their own. But not so envious I’m brave enough to do the same. Seeing friends fall in love and marry, but no envy there because I know better. A girl with frizzy hair and freckles and glasses.

Lisa 7th grade 1972

Writing secretly. Because I’m not good enough.

I’m twenty-one. Taking Scottish dance classes and for my big birthday, that milestone of age, they give me a giant cardboard key because girls get the key to the house when they turn twenty-one. Still doing hair and still hating it. Still living at home. About to leave for my third trip to Scotland. A little braver now, about traveling. A friend of my parents comes to the house one night when they are gone, when he knew they were gone. Because, after all, looking at me, it’s obvious I must be desperate, right? Luckily nothing happened because a dog foiled him.

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Still writing secretly. Still not good enough.

I’m twenty-eight and have found my home in the woods. The parents have retired and we made a deal where I would live with them and pay their bills and eventually inherit. I’ve made my plans. It’s obvious to everyone, including me, and I’m looking forward to that future of being a spinster in the woods. I have it all planned out. I’ll be the eccentric aunt the nieces and nephews will love to visit. I’ll have all the dogs I want. I’ll write whenever I want and it won’t be secretly. I’m looking forward to that future.

Lisa with white Bear & chickens

I’m thirty-four and I’ve been talked into joining a fire department – so far out of my realm, so far out of my vision of my future. And a guy joins the fire department, with a dog that likes to go for walks. I don’t see what’s happening until he takes my hand one night. I don’t understand because, obviously, thirty-four years of never attracting male attention. Remember, frizzy hair, freckles, glasses.

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I’m forty-eight and diagnosed with lymphoma and getting radiation and a wife and a mother of a twelve-year-old boy, and both males in my life think I’m a writer and they love me and they see me. Even when I don’t.

Art and Arthur Vegas

I’m sixty and have books with my name on them. I am a wife and he’s the most perfect person (honestly, he is) and there’s a twenty-four year old male in my life that used to be a fat baby. I go to the doctor for an annual test and find out I no longer have to have them because I’m sixty. I guess at that arbitrary benchmark you are no longer at risk for female cancers so you can just quit worrying about those annual tests.

But wait. Sixty? Really? Have I spent sixty years not seeing myself? Sixty years self-conscious? Sixty years being less-than, never-will-be, not good enough for those who love me? Sixty years not looking in mirrors?

Fuck that. I’m done with that woman.

I don’t know what that means.

But it means something.

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