Wilderness — A Meditation

Tuesday, May 19, 2020


            We have been together for 20 years as of July 2000. Life has changed dramatically in these twenty years and in an act of remembrance I look back at my journals of my first trip to Australia, a journey of discovery with the “Man from Snowy River”.

Dec 28 2000
            Fourteen hours with United as we cross the International Date Line and the Equator – not bad, I’d say! Relatively comfortable.  Read that sleep time.
            Sweet Aussie bloke, I am on my way to you!  Sweaty, flushed and eager to greet you in the land of storm clouds and ever-present evocation of life. Have you ever met a Brizzie male who needed Viagra?  Somehow, I doubt it.

Dec 30 200
            Saturday - the evening and the morning of the third day!  Can you believe that I missed writing on that long languorous day!
            Not today, though. Today the sun shines and upon my awakening I confess happiness, a word I seldom use. But Australian crows, butcher bird choruses and a pleasing bed mate start this last Saturday of the old millennium with warm desire.
            Even though the summer sun has broken through yesterday’s low riding cloud banks, the temperature remains comfortable.  My hair frizzes to my shoulders, a filigree through which I smile on a day of comfort and pleasant companionship in a world which seems quite ‘right side up in the ‘down under.’

Dec 31, 2000
At the end of an age, New Years Eve afternoon, a thin black pencil lead leach takes advantage of my innocence. I first see him as he somersaults from my shoe laces to the top of my white sock.  He and I are rescued just in the nick by the tall, handsome Aussie bloke as we pause on the tracks of Lamington National Park amongst the primeval forest of Binna Burra on a walk with lyrebirds and rosetta parrots near cliffs overlooking lonely pastoral valleys and gum tree forests stretching almost to the horizon.  Beyond them, the beaches of the Gold Coast in the distant cloud banks demark the eastern edge of the continent.
            Moderate warmth and humidity replace intermittent showers and over cast skies. The rain forest creates a fecundity, a reminder that life without humans is entirely possible. Filigree pines prevail, a reminiscent variety with thin supple branches like lithe digger pines of the San Joaquin/Sierra foothills of California.
            Red earth mixes with myriad eucalyptus leaves to create slippery trails surrounded by bottle brush trees and stay-a-while vines. The canopy protects us from rain while the whip bird entertains. The high-pressure winds create a symphony to accompany the dancing tendrils of eucalyptus branches. 
            Dinner begins at 6:30 after time to shower and snooze with the sweetest of Aussie guides.
            After luxurious champagne, long before midnight we sleep soundly, happily wound around warm covers in the midst of a wind storm of dancing branches. With a kiss the Aussie prince awakens she who turns into a tantalizingly happy visitor to the Down Under in all its various guises.

January 1, 2001
            The New Year’s gift is companionship with a fruit cake loving incredible mountain man.

January 2, 2001
            The Rosella breakfasts with us again and then we’re off to find a wizard, my trusty guide and I. We walk rather level tracks through the country of the little black leeches who manage to cartwheel off the forest floor onto whatever warm body passes.
            Round we go past two poisonous red bellied black snakes, venomous sun devils. If bitten one would have to wait for a stretcher although this time languid sunning fellows allow us passage through their territory. After a slip and slide in laughter as I clip my Aussie with a mud-sliding foot, we photograph elusive Lamington Crays on slick stream banks and head home after six hours of hiking - about twenty-two kilometres.
            I creep up on a sweet kookaburra, who is perched on a road-post watching for a snake or two to slither by. What a wide fellow he is.  Looks more furry than feathery atop his head.
            This night we creep in the dark breeze to find the wallabies, but some curious driver shoots headlights onto their pasture lawn and the little jumpers flee. We will try a bit earlier tomorrow tonight to find the graziers on their home turf.
            Our after dinner entertainment - “1950 Ascento f Annapurna”, a bed time story.  I think you can keep that mountain, unless your equipment is much improved.
            We sleep deeply in the gentle rain forest. Unconsciousness leads to a good night’s rest.

January 3, 2001
            Breakfast at 7:30. Ready to hike.
            A glorious morning full of birdsong and tender loving, sunshine filters the jewels of Lamington sunshine.
            Binna Burra is a small paradise infiltrated by tiny black leeches, the real world in all its fecundity ever growing and expanding.  Our last morning here.

January 4, 2001
            This day will forever be known as the $11.50 an hour day - downtown Brisbane underground parking. Went to the post office to buy some postcard stamps and thence to weight watchers. An inner-city lunch starts and finishes with fish, fish, fish and sorbet by the bucket for dessert. The Aussie enjoys a coffee macadamia sundae.
            Loving the humidity, my skin is amazing here. Almost don’t want to use conditioners but am being good about sun protection and am bitten into a strange pattern of red bruises from insects. They like my foreign blood, partial to it, in fact.
            All is well. We watched a little “Mr. Bean” before bedtime – and fall asleep late only to awaken to lorikeets and butcher bird song at 6:30.
            This foreign person is very happy today.

January 6, 2001
            Cat Stevens and a road map. What could be better companions? We find our way around Brisbane and see the lay of the land in two dimensions. Yesterday we walked the river, waded in the white sand pool of the South bank swimming pool, and admired the climbing walls of Kangaroo Cliffs, 100 routes to climb.
            Carrot juice, boysenberry/macadamia gelato, being covered in sun protection.
This city is lovely. There seems to be a place to celebrate individuality everywhere.

January 8, 2001
            Today after happy interludes Graham bikes at 5:30. I sleep til 7:30 and then travel in the light carriage (The Gaffers Truck) into town to pick up equipment for Monday’s movie set. We shop at Woolies after a glance at Michaels Cherry Charger. Flowers, native blooms, decorate the table.  Ginger fills the pantry and the cool breeze wafts over the veranda table top.
            We visit Lone Pine Sanctuary to see kangaroos, wallabies in pouch as well as out, kolas wander everywhere, dingo, wombats, flying fox all wrapped up in daytime wear. Tasmanian devils asleep – Australian fauna are mostly nocturnal beasties.
It has been a wonderful day concluded with a talk of running records and pleasure in one another’s companionship.

January 9, 2001
            Fourteen hours spent with United – the long trek home.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

We Are Coming Home!

"When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes, I all alone beweep myoutcast state....."

Yep, Shakespeare understood.  When the world is too much with us, when optimism seems far away, the green high mountain places on the planet call us.

On Friday we begin our journey home, our attempt to return to Flagstaff, to the cul-de-sac above Coconino National Forest.

Patience may win the moment. But, it may not be enough. 

It is at times like this that I realize I am American. I love the land of my birth. I hunger for the particular beauty of the mountains that stretch across North America, the forests whose green pine fragrance spews forth an energy to which I adopted long ago when as a child in Michigan, I walked the sub-alpine forests of the upper/lower peninsula surrounded by the Great Lakes carved from the earth by glaciers in the long distant past. Those forests grew upon the sparse soils left behind by ancient glaciers and created more top soil so that other plants could survive.

In Flagstaff, the pine duff protects what is left after ancient volcanoes blew apart and raised the peaks upon which miraculous Ponderosa thrive today, creating a holy place for the indigenous peoples of the Plateau.

With the help of many Aussies and a good many Americans our flight hopefully will be unexceptional, our arrival a relief.  Death may be upon the land, but to die at home is preferable to dying on a foreign continent.

We are coming home!

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Social Distance in New South Wales

So, here we are...enjoying the sunshine in Brunswick Heads along the northern New South Wales eastern coastline.  A beautiful end of summer morning with Eggs Benedict - soft boiled eggs, salmon and whole grain toast covered in hollandaise sauce  - before we proceed along the Brunswick River foreshore..not quite to the spot where the river enters the Tasman Sea.

How strange it is o travel 8000 miles and not be able to have our regular Aussie flat whites with friends.  I had hoped to invite four or twelve women to join us for an afternoon hen's party..a get together over a bottle of Hunter Valley Red or some vague and cool Australian combination of spirits to entice storytelling, sharing of the events of the past year.

But..such an opportunity will be foregone on behalf of keeping the continent's population free of Covid-19.  Who knows which one of us is an asymptomatic carrier of this nasty little droplet carried virus? None of us. Keeping six feet apart, we could have shouted endearments back and forth, tossed a satirical remark or six into the sunshine with the hope that the breeze would blow whatever spittle came from our mouths in the direction of no one at all.

Indeed, this is the most unusual journey I have made in my 79 years of travel across the globe..All real discussion, private little sharings, and loud exclamations will simply have to wait til our next visit down under.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Tasmania - The Hostess with the Mostest

A Toast to Tasie and Her Intrepid Denizens

It's been a while since I last entered a post. However, the planet has continued her turning. In the northern hemisphere winter has metamorphosed  into spring.  Here in Australia autumn brings winter rains to douse the horrendous fires that torched 30% of the continent's forests. 
And we have returned to celebrate the southern hemisphere's hospitality, her noisy and colorful aviary, and family including a new grandson (Harry) whom we have not yet met. 
It is a quiet time as we re-establish relationships, sip quintessential 'flat-whites', sup on the fresh veggies and brilliant orange yolked eggs, and enjoy the lovely wines of this region of the globe.  
It is a time of celebration. 
Indeed, thanks to a virulent virus spreading across the globe, the Prime Minister of Oz just ordered that all incoming passengers arriving by air or sea (the only way to enter this island nation) must serve a 14 day self-isolation period upon disembarking. 
In Australia there are some 260 known cases of covid-19.  Ten days ago there were 60. Certainly a  graph of increased cases similar to those from other western countries will be visible on tonight's news.
We are due to fly back to the USA on 16 April.  Will we be allowed to enter the country?  No one knows.  There is a perk, however. We are currently in one of the most beautiful and hospitable countries in the world.  Indeed we will survive. 

A toast to uncertainty, friendship, family, and the medical professionals who will save us in this crisis. 

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

M.R.S.A .— A Story of Courage and Longevity

The phone rang. Bert stopped reading the newspaper article on yesterday’s weather aloud as Eve set her breakfast bowl of oatmeal to the side and rose to answer.

 “It’ll be Kate,” he said. “I’ll finish later. Gonna go check the pumps.” He rinsed his cereal bowl and left the house as Eve picked up the phone.

" Good morning."

“You sound cheerful,” said the frail voice on the other end of the line.

“How are you today? You sound a tad subdued.”

“Me subdued?  What else would you expect from somebody who’s been lying flat on her back for the last two months?”

Eve carried the phone to her own bed at the opposite end of the living area in the tiny prairie house and stretched out full length with a pillow bent double beneath her head. 

The sun streamed through the front window warming the scene. All was still in the little town five miles from the Canadian border.  The morning had dawned cool but clear, one of her favorite kinds of prairie days.

She responded to her friend, “I suppose, Kate.  But, you’ve had positive reports from the doctors. I thought you might be playing with ideas for the next stage of your recovery.”

“You suppose.  How could you possibly suppose? You have no idea how difficult this has been.  Jamela, my primary nurse, and I were talking about just that yesterday.  Everyone seems to think they can put themselves in my position, that they all know how it feels to be incapacitated. None of you do. None of you. I hate it when people suggest how they think they would act if they were me.”

“Of course. You are right.  None of us knows.  But all of us care. So, how’s your morning?”

“Oh, I’m so confused about what comes next. Doctors don’t know how things will progress. Dr. Hager’s been in this morning and he tells me that tomorrow they will transfer me to St Georges for the operation on my back.”

“So soon?”

“What do you mean, ‘so soon’? I’ve been lying flat on my back for two months. How could anyone see that as soon?”

“Ok, you did call me so that you could vent? What’s up?”

More softly, Kate responded, “Yes, I suppose I did.  You are the only one I can pick a fight with. I don’t dare do that with anyone else.  Every time I talk with you, I seem to end up with adrenalin running through my system.  I haven’t felt this way since the last time I talked with Simon.”

“Not precisely a compliment. What do Simon and I have in common that sets you off?”

“Nothing.  I have to stop this. He said practically the same thing when I told him that both of you upset me way too much. I get myself all riled up, angry. 

If you had to lie here for over sixty days with no one to visit you, you might end up looking for someone to harass, too.  Neither of you, my bright and brilliant partner nor my best friend, have yet traveled to Bismarck to visit me. ”

“I might. Bert and I were just checking the weather, trying to decide which day would be best for us to head 200 miles south for a few days.  I was going to call and see which days would be best for you and then make motel reservations. Kate, you weren’t ready to have visitors immediately. After a whole week of being in an induced coma, you needed to do some serious recovery.  MERSA isn’t something to treat lightly.”

“And, you think you need to remind me? I almost died, Eve!”

“Usually, patients who almost died but were saved by an amazing emergency room physician are thankful, rather than pissed off at the world.”

“Usually?  There you go generalizing again. I wish you’d stop that.  You say stuff like all North Dakotans do this or usually…”

“Yep, that’s me.  The great generalizer.  As it happens, enough of you North Dakotans do act as born-again conservatives. It isn’t too difficult to generalize about your political positions. Nevertheless, you have so much to be grateful for.  You are alive.”

“My dad was a progressive Democrat.  I’m a progressive.  What are you talking about?”

“Let’s avoid politics.  My fault.  Just teasing and you obviously aren’t in the mood to be teased. Do you think your mood is a result of your feeling especially lonely?”

“How can you ask such a silly question?  Of course, I’m lonely.  Here I am 200 miles away from everyone I know. None of you come to visit.  I spend most of my days all by myself and you want to know if I’m lonely?”

“I just want you to say so.  Sometimes you seem so strong, you have it all together so beautifully.  Identifying how you feel out loud somehow makes a difference.”

“I live with my feelings 24/7.  Why should I have to identify them to you?”

“Because you are my friend and you need someone to whom you can say what you are deeply feeling.”

“And you think you are that person?”

“Perhaps not today.  I think we ought to talk again later, Kate. I wish you were feeling a bit better about your recovery. Talk with you tomorrow. Bye.” Eve hung up.

Every conversation was tough.  She didn’t seem to be able to find any topic that was acceptable; one of the reasons she didn’t call. She allowed Kate to phone whenever she needed someone to harass or to vent to.  That had become the pattern in the last month of hospital incarceration for her friend of fifty years.

Eve almost felt guilty for being pain and prescription free. Not quite. Usually she talked with Bert about the conversations.  He was able to sort through  Kate’s angst and explain away some of the bitterness that seeped through the phone.

Kate exuded a definite sense of entitlement.  Illness seemed to give her a sense of being owed, as though this illness was in no way a circumstance over which she had any responsibility.

Indeed, the initial breast cancer was not her fault. However, her Tucson doctor’s treatment which Kate  had followed since early December of the past year advanced her physical decline beyond anyone’s expectation.

MERSA had been introduced into her cancer drug shunt sometime in January.  Suddenly the circumstances were life threatening as Kate found herself in the infectious diseases ward of the University of Arizona Medical School.  Drug treatment for cancer was discontinued and the next two weeks were spent attempting to eradicate the existence of MERSA in her blood stream.

You’d think the nasty anti-biotic resistant bacteria would be killed by the same drugs that were busily killing the cancer cells but apparently not.  Kate’s immune system had been destroyed by the cancer killing potion, leaving her immune system unable to defeat MERSA, the  staph-infection that snuck into her system.

In February the doctor ordered radiation on Kate’s lymph nodes and she was dismissed from the infectious disease ward, sent home to take intravenous meds to kill the staff infection.  A home nursing staff visited three times a week.  Her partner, Simon, cooked, cleaned, and cared for Kate.

The entire scene was finally simply too much for both of them.  A month into her new treatment, Kate decided to fly home to North Dakota from Tucson.  Simon was relieved to let her go.

Bert and I picked her up at the airport. She had traveled with her sister, Jeanette.  A flight on her own was out of the question as she could no longer walk the length of the airplane let alone hike up the stairs or along the boarding skywalk.  While dealing with her home-recovery program, she slept in a chair, unable to stretch out flat in a bed. Jeanette pushed Kate’s wheel chair as she came down the companionway from the airplane.

After our eighty mile journey from the airport, we attempted to support Kate’s entry into the farm house that had been her home since she was born. It was necessary for her to climb four steps to reach the back door.  A solid railing had been erected by Bert to give her purchase for what ended up being a daunting task.

As Kate stepped away from her walker, she collapsed. She fell to her knees and then into a difficult painful squat.  She could not move.  Her legs ,which she had used so little for the previous three months, would not hold her weight.  Her grandson, Alec, who was waiting our arrival, and Bert, each on a side, lifted her to the top of the stairs where she was able to stand by holding onto the railing. She used a walker to move through the doorway and settled into a recliner facing the television in the west room of the farm house.

Once returned to her childhood home, Kate slept in the recliner-chair, walked hunched like a woman with osteo-disease, never standing upright, and stood only as often as was necessary to shower or use the toilet or walk to the kitchen table for dinner.

Together her grandson and her sister Jeanette, Bert and I attempted to provide her needs.  On a daily basis, we spent two or three hours in conversation as she took her prescribed medications, drank her vitamin concoction, and allowed her remaining immune system to work on the MERSA.

Jeanette, Bert, and I fixed meals to share with one another; we watched our favorite television shows together; we prayed for her to be healthy enough to leave the recliner and join us in the world outside the farmhouse.

Eventually, it was necessary for Jeanette to return to her job as a high school English teacher in Tucson.

It was our turn to do the best we could to keep spirits high, encourage Kate’s activity, and share the angst of this once proud, tall, energetic woman.

And every now and again, Kate and I reminisced about how our relationship had started fifty years earlier. 

(to be continued)