i don’t know why i started this hike thinking of death and dying and my own mortality. maybe it has something to do with trying to plan some challenging hikes out in the gorge. i really wanted to go up table mountain or mt. hamilton. but i just couldn’t bring myself out to the gorge. in fact, i am often talking myself out of hikes in our spectacular columbia river gorge.
not all hikes are created equally. sometimes i go out for a solid workout. to get high on the adrenaline. to see if i can summit a 14,000 + pass or peak. to connect with nature, or some force. to see wildlife. to feel something besides my everyday stuff. to breathe clean air and drink clean water. to have a nice chat with a friend…. or an ancestor no longer of this world. today i was going out searching for some guidance, some logistics to my life that has few logistics… you know, kinda like getting my bearings and triangulating my inner compass. i’m not so much feeling lost as excited about what’s next.
so, as i considered some of the hikes on my list, i looked down the gorge and my initial thought was i can’t go down the columbia river. its a dead river. damn me!(pun intended) it is not a dead river. its close to being on life support, but its not dead. its in an abusive relationship with humans and it needs to escape. if i am going out searching for something, i can not go down the columbia; i leave sad, much like going to a zoo. the river is being held captive with damns and river barges and recreational water transportation devises. i’ll go when i can feed it; give to it. when friends are visiting and want to see waterfalls that define beauty and grandeur, or local friends want to go on a quick and wonderful get away. however, when i get a day to get out and be in the woods, to pick an adventure that inspires and guides me, i am more likely to choose the clackamas river or the salmon river or the sandy river…. i go up towards the mountain.
so this day, i went back to my go-to trail, the clackamas river trail, but i decided to start it from the end. so i meandered my way back into the woods and parked. changed into the “get wet get muddy cloths”. i was the only vehicle in the lot until a forest service truck pulled in. when they got out of their truck we had a little chat about how wonderful the day was to be working or walking. they told me they had cleared the trail just a couple of weeks ago, but couldn’t guarantee that it was still clear. its been windy and supposedly winter after all. i responded with something about the risks one takes when hiking in february. they nodded as we wished one another fun adventures… me with my little day pack and them with their ginormous chainsaw!
as i started out, my mind just cleared as i took in the day: the sound of the river below, the wind in the trees, the birds giving warning of an approaching human, the smell of forest, the shades of green and brown…. senses are on… lets walk.
it didn’t take long for me to get to the heart of what has been on my mind. i’m deep in the heart of menopause. i’m actually excited about this transition. being raised in amerika, i’ve been told how horrible it is to age, to grow old, that its not for the faint of heart…. blahblahblah! that is bullshit! this moment is for the adventurous! it is for those that don’t buy into any of that crap that our best years are behind us. that from now on it’s just pain and loss of dignity. agian. bullshit!
maybe i got super lucky. when i was young, my mom was in nursing school and took classes on death and dying. i learned about living wills probably before i knew what a regular who gets what when will. i knew that there were ways of dying that held the wishes of the person going through the process instead of the fears of the family members and friends feeling left behind. i haven’t been afraid of dying for as long as i can remember. i am afraid of being in an institution of any kind. in fact sometimes a university setting scares me almost as much as a church, hospital, mental health ward, etc, these days.
don’t misunderstand. i am not anxious to die. i am not suicidal. i am not excited to experience great amounts of pain, i don’t really want to drown or be burned alive. but being eaten by a bear or other animal doesn’t seem so bad, again, except for the pain… maybe i get knocked unconscious first. its no mistake i live in a right to die state (though i am confused on why this even needs to be a thing… don’t we all have as much of a right to die as we do to live? capitalism continues to confuse me)
so these are my thoughts as i enter this amazing forest and see these amazing little sprouts of dug fir trees growing out of stumps of old ones (death giving life), as i have to duck under the first fallen tree i come to.
then i circle back to my thoughts on menopause and what a great adventure it has been for me so far. well ok. not all of it has been great.
maybe 4 years ago, i realized i was in the periamenapuase stage. my emotions were all over the place. i was verbally fighting with the person i was dating at the time (i don’t typically fight in any fashion… usually just walk away), my energy was all kinds of erratic. i couldn’t sleep. i was a mess. i went to a naturopath who took some blood work (gave me a snoopy band-aid, yay), and we figured out what was going on. sweet! i had some answers and we had a game plan. i took a compound progesterone for 2 months to balance stuff out, a b-complex, iron, and adrenal support for being stressed the fuck out (i wasn’t the only one being emotional and challenging)!
about a year ago, i transitioned into full on menopause. hot flashes, missing periods (ok i don’t really miss them that much when they go away for several months at a time), changes in how much i bleed and the viscosity of it, my sleep patterns, my fluid levels of all kind, libido, and emotions (yes, it seems that i do have them from time to time). now, going into this moment of my life, i am channeling my grandmother. i can remember sitting in the living room, listening to my aunts complain about menopause, comparing what drugs they were taking and how horrible it was for them. my grandma walks through, and says something like, “i don’t know what you all are complaining about, in my day we just went through it.” there she was, true to form and to the point. its just another fact of life, and we just get through it…. kinda like puberty. a horribly awkward and embarrassing time, but many of us got through it.
now i know it is different for everyone. my cycles were always fairly painless, quick, and easy compared to some people i know, and menopause hasn’t been that different for me. hot flashes? so far they don’t really last that long for me; 45 seconds? maybe a minute? sure i can feel it coming from the inside out, i break into a sweat, i kick all my covers off or unzip my hoodie, roll up my sleeves… then its over and slowly i do it all in reverse, or if i’m sleeping i get the sudden chill of a breeze on my sweaty back and quickly cover back up and the house cat is deeply confused. if i am sleeping with someone else, well the heat and sweat can be a plus or a challenge. i’ve also always run a little warm; maybe i’m just use to it.
so, i don’t feel any need to control these with pharmaceuticals. i cut back on how much coffee i drink, but only a little. i only drink it at like brunch or going out specifically for coffee. i don’t really drink it at home (unless it’s a brunch pot-luck). alcohol doesn’t seem to affect me too much in this realm so i haven’t changed that much.
my sleep patterns have always been erratic, so this is just something i keep an eye on anyway. if i need to stay up and ride the wave, i do it. if i need to call it a night early i do that too. up early? ok, here we go. its just about going with whatever i seem to need to do in the moment. it can be complicated if i am not the only one in the same bed, or working nights, but hey, i don’t really have to work that late, so really…. just pay attention and roll with it. i do wonder, and believe, that being vegan helps a great deal (as does being a physically active vegan). i don’t eat extra hormones that are in animal products. i don’t consume extra estrogen that throws things out of whack. of all the people i personally know going through this transition,i am the only vegan, and i am also have the easiest time of it. for at least 20 years, there is no extra estrogen built up in my fat cells… maybe i’ll talk about this more in a separate post. as for being active, i don’t belong to a gym. i bike for transportation, my job is physical, i go for an occasional run, and i love to walk around the city. being physically active does not have to mean hitting the gym 5 times a week. just keep moving and breathing heavy.
sex. that is a question i get asked a lot but not in so many words. do i have a favorite lube for dryness? how do i feed my libido. ok, well. i have always (ok not always, but as long as i have allowed myself, or more to the point, have fought for myself, the pleasure of embracing my sexual appetit) had a fairly healthy libido. i like sex. i like good healthy sex with other people who also like good healthy sex. i long ago stopped feeling bad about the number of sexual partners i’ve had, though people have tried to shame me for this. anyway, this isn’t about the past, it’s about the present. and the libido is as strong as ever, maybe stronger. as for lube, a nice water-base, vegan/no animal testing, maybe some aloe added… use what works for you. go to she bop, smitten kitten, etc. experiment with self or others.
we live in a culture that puts so many constraints on women. as women get older, there are even more ideas about what they are capable of. maybe they could run for president, or be on the supreme court… cool. but they are not sexual. not sexy. not adventurous. not physically active. not creative. i’m calling it… bullshit!
so as i walk next to this roaring winter river, full of life and death. full of clean water that i will drink when i stop. full of colors that fill my vision with ideas. full of these little birds that dive down deep and swim to feed and bathe. full of my feet feeling the smooth pebbles and rocks. i’m captured by the idea that we are what we need to be when we need to be where we need to be…. rivers are as wide as they need to be or as narrow to make it to their destination. they speed up or slow down as needed. deep or shallow. rolling waves that crash and break down boulders or lap gently at the sandy shore. there are times we need to roar, times to whisper, times to be silent. times to spin around in circles, times to spill over the banks, and times to dry up and go underground. but we never lose our life-giving ability to nourish and nurture.
i eventually stopped, had a happy hour snack on a boulder in the river. thought some thoughts. i even thought how nice it would be to have someone next to me who, well lets just say it would have been nice to explore someone’s deeper nature. see, even when i really lust after my alone time, i still acknowledge and celebrate wanting to share these moments with others.
as i walked back, i climbed over a fallen tree. walked under another, but the third was freshly cut. i walked right through the new passage with the dust of the tree mixed into the trail and the middle piece pushed down the way and rolled to the side. still visible still a part of the environment but just with a different perspective and slightly removed. i can relate.