Celebration aka how the f#@k did I turn 50

Not only how the fuck did I turn 50? Seems odd that I made it through some situations that maybe I shouldn’t have.

To be honest, I’ve been thinking about this since I decided to leave portland last spring. I hoped to be out on the trail or at least in a tent in Mexico somewhere when this time was marked. But things shifted and changed. And then I was looking forward to being with friends and family on this occasion, but that plan also took a different turn. So here I was in a little mountain town.

I actually worked the day of my birth. No big deal really. Work a bit (that is why I am here) then off the next couple of days to celebrate and go a little nutty in planning and reflection. My co-workers welcomed me to work with a rousing mixed language version of happy birthday and a bottle of whiskey…these are some great folks. I was doing great.

Then I got off work

I decided to treat myself to dinner and a beverage and was going to head home. At a beverage station, I sat down to write and it hit me, when I wake up in the morning, I will be 50 fucking years old. Not that old to some, really old to others, just another day to most. I’ve never freaked out over a birthday before and didn’t really know how to do it so I just rode it out. My decision was to not go to sleep…then I won’t wake up and then I won’t be 50. I was very rational about the whole thing.

I wasn’t ready

Not yet

But

I’m not really open to the alternative

Not yet

I was headed to one of my usual hop-water spots, but at the last minute I went up the stairs instead of down and found a new place where I wouldn’t know someone…yet

The bartender asked what I was having.

When I wake up I turn 50 what should I have tonight

A local whiskey its on me. Happy birthday

Soon I was chatting it up with the band that was about to play: guitar, bass, banjo (mountain music)

And I headed home

I did sleep

I did wake

Everything was a o k

Mostly

I had things I needed to get done that day before I could get into celebration mode, but first, breakfast….remember those vegan rancheros I had a few weeks ago? Yup, I went back for more.

Soon I was caffeinated and fed and the day just took off. And I was into the swing of things.

Then I would get a text

Or a call

Or an email

All fantastic and loving and amazing

Meanwhile, I just kept trying to work out what this all means.

Nothing really. It all means nothing

Not in that nihilistic way of nothing, but really

I have been fortunate enough to “hike my own hike”

I have danced to my own songs in my head/feet in my own way. (I like to think emma would be proud)

Every day since I drove the hell out of that town I grew up in. Each day since has been a lesson in how to do that. And how have I been inspired to do that? People. Strangers. Friends….

ART. Art has inspired me.

Music

Photography

Writers: journalism, fiction, non-fiction, the uncategorizable

This song helped me understand myself (thank goodness it came out while i was still in my 20s)

Anyway, back to the celebration, celebration

It took me to the next day to go out and actually celebrate.

I made a great breakfast and started the day slow and easy

I went to the hot springs that  bubble up in the middle of town and had a nice soak and some good chats

Went to get a snack and some beverages

And the people I’ve gotten to casually know at my favorite spots bought my drinks as I told them I was celebrating my day. I had so many lovely conversations with so many great people

So here is what I have learned about myself in the last year…last year I spent my day with my great pals…pals who are like brothers to me

I was having a tough time trying to deal with so much from the co-op I worked at and making plans to take off to the unknown

Trying to make sense of it all. I really couldn’t have done it without them and all the pals that inspire and instigated with me (p.s. if I know you, you are one of them)

I actually did it

I took off

I set myself free from all of it

Well actually I traded one kind of stress for another

Stressors I couldn’t and can’t understand for ones I can

Makes one hell of a difference

It’s a journey that I hope does not end anytime soon

I don’t know what is ahead, but I relish the mystery

I yearn for the mystery

What and who is around the corner? I look forward to finding out

I am 50 years old

If my genes tell me anything, I am likely to live much longer depending on speeding trucks and texting drivers and rising seas and burning lands and toxic air and nuclear button pushing nut heads

I don’t want to settle down

But I do like going slower and looking and listening and smelling and tasting and touching and feeling

A reminder that home, for me, is a verb: a place in motion and I am just trying to not fall off

 

vacation interlude

leaving heart mountain antelope refuge (on the first day of hunting season) the deep quiet had settled into my whole being, yet i was so tense waiting all morning for the sound of shotguns. i kept my eyes out and kept repeating a little antalope mantra for them to be safe, hide… then i noticed the signs that said no hunting. my breathing returned and i hoped that these beautiful beings found safe grazing. soon i found something in the middle of the road.img_1916

i got out of the car and watched the pair continue grazing and watching me, the quiet and solitude sinking deeper still in me. would this sinking have no end?

eventually i turned onto paved road and came to the town of frenchglenn. i read about some of the history of this place and wasn’t sure what i would find this day…friend or shotgun. i pulled into the little market next to the hotel to get some gas. “we” are not supposed to pump our own gas here in oregon, so i went in to ask how i was to go about filling up. the person was a little gruff with “get your gas your self and tell me how much it came to”. i did not expect to get a bit excited about the prospect of using this old analog style of pump and getting to do it myself. when went i went back in to pay for it and a bag of chips the person was super nice as i paid with cash! wow! we all got a little happy with a return to simple cash and gas pumping. the pace of this land and lack of electronic devices or even a signal to use a device was settling deep in my conscience. with the exception of being in a car, i felt like i had shrugged off the pace of a city folk.

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i tried to hang out at malheur national wildlife refuge, but it felt kinda funny and i had to turn around and leave as quickly as i entered the area. yes this is where the big stand-off was early this year. (i found out after returning to portland that there had been a bomb threat the timeframe i was there). so i headed straight for my next hot springs with only a couple of detours in burns and crane and readied myself for meeting up with my friends and having a little adventure in the high country.

i spent most of my time at crystal crane hot springs sorting food and organizing my main pack for backpacking…well between soaks in the little hot spring of a lake. this is a funny little place, but so worth the venture, even if its to knock the desert dust off and actually cook a meal in the camp kitchen.

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in the morning i met some funny folks around the coffee pot and pep talked myself for a stint on the freeway. as i moved through this shifting ecology, i noticed something in me shifting and breaking loose. i teared up as i took the bends in the road and witnessed the expanse of land, or river, or colors. i felt so open and vulnerable and alive…and i hadn’t even put on the pack yet!

as i moved closer to meeting my friends in enterprise, specifically terminal gravity brewing, i wondered if i was fit for company, fit to do this hike (all of which is considered strenuous). would i even be able to form complete sentences with my super amazing friends.

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i arrived a bit before them. had a beer in the warm sunshine, put my feet in the little creek that runs through the picnic table area, and quickly fell in love with this brewery. it is my all time favorite so far in my life (and i have been to a great many breweries). it’s not just the really good beer that they craft, nor the friendly folks working there, the food was better than average (brewery food is not always the best unless you trying to reload calories), the running water in the middle of the seating is a huge perk, but mostly it is the feeling of sitting on the front porch of a friend’s house while sharing a good moment. and the views of the wallowas….well i hope to go back very soon when the peaks are snow-covered and the sunny air is crisp and sharp. enterprise and joseph are 2 oregon towns that helped fill that small mountain town feeling that i have been searching for all year. already i was looking at the map and trying to figure out how i was going to be able to walk here.

my friends showed up right on time.aka, i had my senses gathered and was excited to see them; two of the most beautiful humans i know and i get to backpack with one while the other goes on a bike adventure on their own.

soon enough, i follow them to the campgrounds at the far end of wallowa lake. we set up camp, make a fire, and watch the stars come out all while catching up and thinking about all our options (also, a little of trying to convince the biking friend to hike with us).

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after toasting some vegan marshmallows (i’ve learned the secret is to let them get just a little stale, and then they roast up perfect!), they wander off to their tent while i bask in the glow of what is left of the fire mixed with the warmth of good friends. i snuggle into my tent and sleeping bag, excited to, finally, get the legs stretched out on the trail.

finding peace in the desert

it was so hard to figure out where i wanted to go on my vacation. so many options. i wanted to see some people and also experience so many different wilderness spots that to fit as much in without feeling rushed or unable to be present with the people and places i would be able to see…well it was a tough decision.

luckily one of the people i was hoping to catch up with had limited availability before they left for their own amazing adventure, so a direction was chosen. i headed off to bend to meet them for some beers and dinner.

i should back up just a bit. because i work in customer service, i usually try to make my vacations after labor day. but some of the places i wanted to go are in the direct route of folks returning from burning man (many hot springs are often closed due to e-coli outbreaks after burners stop by on their way back from their weekend at burning man), i made some strategic moves and decided to go to some places that i was sure they would not hit (i also received wonderful advice from a friend who spends a great amount of time in the desert hot springs and i have enormous amounts of gratitude for their sharing of info). so i skipped summer lake, bagby, paulina, and cougar hot springs, and decided on a couple a little more remote…so worth it! not a single burner at any of the places i went once i got past bend.

the journey over mt. hood and into the desert was beautiful. the portland morning was cool and cloudy, so the blue skies and warm sun on the other side of the pass was a wonderful welcome. i pulled over at a little spot by the deschutes river before i entered bend. it was refreshing to splash in this beautiful river for a minute before going back into a city.

i arrived at our meeting place a little early and was able to have a moment to relax into being away from portland, work, and some other stressors. we had a nice visit, drove into sisters,  picked up some more conversation inspirational snacks and stayed up late talking.

the morning arrived and i headed out after a stop for an amazing brunch back in bend, grabbed some growlers of exceptional beers from boneyard brewery and headed off to heart mountain. the drive was very cathartic. i was able to listen to some of my favorite tunes and sing (loudly) along. yet, the closer i got to heart mountain and the deeper i got into the desert, the more the sunshine penetrated my being, the more i felt the quiet and the peacefulness come over me….i turned off the music and podcasts and embraced the silence, well i actually embraced the way the air moved through the open windows of the car.

i set up camp, poured a cold beer and went for a walk. there were a number of people at the camp grounds, but no one seemed to really be heading to the hot springs. i was a little confused. as the evening turned to dusk, i walked over to the main hot springs, spotting a few antelope watching me as they grazed, and found out what everyone else was doing there.

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i met a guy from australia who was riding his motorcycle from canada to l.a. he was camping down where more people were (i chose the loner site kind of up on a hill where i could see what was happening around me…alone). he said that they were mostly hunters and that antelope season was starting in a couple of days (the day i was scheduled to leave). i am still baffled that here, an antelope refuge, there would be hunting….to control the population. i’m sorry, but i don’t understand why an agency would protect some wildlife so that they could be killed. anyway, soon i was alone in the spring and enjoyed a wonderful soak.

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the next day i went and had another soak to warm up a bit. the night had gotten fairly cold, especially since i didn’t put the fly on my tent so that i could watch the moon pass and the stars twinkle – one of the many reasons i enjoy my times in deserts. it got cold enough that the water in my water bottle froze, but i slept great in my warm sleeping bag.

after a soak and some breakfast, i headed out for a hike. i decided to follow the path that leads to the camp sites over the bridge. lots of campers and r.vs. and lots of american flags….right i’m in central oregon! anyway, i had a peaceful walk up to the top of a ridgeline where i had an amazing view of the landscape and saw some wonderful wildlife.

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there were views that could just as easily have been in the flint hills of kansas and it got me to thinking about how lush that land in kansas can be and how it has become more and more arid, looking more like this desert and less like farmland or tall grass prairie.

i ran into some of the hunters while i was out here walking. i had forgotten that the t-shirt i was wearing was from food fight with a bunch of lab animals attacking a guy that looks a great deal like a hunter.ha!  these men couldn’t believe i was out walking let alone walking alone. most of them were on 4-wheelers scoping out places to hunt the next day. one guy said it was good to see someone walking “you don’t see that much any more”.  if he only knew my plan! when i stopped to have a snack, i watched some eagles soaring overhead, some deer came down to graze, and antelope roaming around. when i looked down, i spotted an eagle feather by my shoe. i just stared at it for the longest time, not sure what would happen if i touched such a sacred item. turns out, i won’t spontaneously implode, but it was a spectacular feeling as i held it for just a second before putting it back right where i found it.

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my days here went like this: soaking, eating, walking, soaking…. until i could finally feel the city fall away from me as the desert dust entered every pore on my body and the water filled my cells. when i was finally able to pull myself away to begin the next segment of my trip, i could feel the silence vibrate threw me and i began to feel at peace….maybe that is why i was moved to tears so much on my way to meet my friends in enterprise, and again through out our hike. i was at peace for the first time in a very long time. this is why i love it out “here”.