Archive for the ‘Healing’ Category

Mark has a game he likes to play recently, that goes like this:

“Mom (or Dad), I have a really interesting question. How do wolves (giraffes, bears, snakes, whales, dogs, worms … you get the picture) protect themselves?”

Then we try to think of good, comprehensive answers. We love this game. Really, it’s so fun. I’ve impressed myself several times with my own knowledge of the defense mechanisms of a lot of different animals. Also with the amazingly varied ways that animals protect themselves.

He hasn’t yet asked how people protect themselves, thank goodness. I’m not ready to tackle that one yet, but I’ve started thinking about it anyway. Thinking about my own actions. How much of what I do is at bottom a way of protecting myself? Is there a higher good than self-protection, when it comes to humans? Do we expend more energy protecting ourselves from real dangers, or attempting to protect ourselves from imagined dangers? What interesting questions.

Until recently I would have said that I was afraid of sharks. Not afraid enough to keep me out of the water when we’re at the beach, but afraid enough to be thinking about them a lot, and to shriek every time something bumps into my leg. Did I have a plan for what to do if the thing bumping into my leg were really a shark? Nope. Don’t actually talk to me about whether or not it is a real danger. La la la, I don’t want to know! But maybe it was not a real fear. A few days ago in a sea kayak I had a close encounter with a few bonnet-head sharks. Think hammer-head, but with bonnets instead of hammers – suddenly sweet, right? And I was so NOT afraid. First of all, they were not very big. And then there’s the fact that they are beautiful. I mean, I couldn’t see the whole sharks – just the fins! – but what lovely pearly pinkish-grey fins they were. So maybe I can cross sharks off my list of things to be afraid of. Even if I am still afraid of them, this is my magical defense mechanism: collecting shark’s teeth.

Yes, I am addicted to hunting for shark’s teeth. Fossilized shark’s teeth, to be exact. They are SO old! You can’t pick up anything else off the ground that is that old, except rocks. (And hey, I collect those too.) Strewn about in the sand – teeth that belonged to sharks millions of years ago! I’m not kidding! Not having been to the beach too many times as a kid (mountain childhood instead), I never knew you could beach-comb for anything but shells, or maybe sea glass, until I married Seth and started coming to Beaufort. But from the first time my mother-in-law picked up a little black triangle from the sand and showed it to me, I was hooked. I wanted to find my own so badly. Eventually I found one. And then another. And then a lot. Today I came back from the Sands with more than twenty, including the biggest one I’ve ever found. (We met a guy who told us where you have to look to find the really big ones. He’s found Megalodon teeth!) If you haven’t done it, you just don’t know how exiting it is. But here, I’ll simulate the experience. Take a look at this picture, and see if you can find the tooth:

Here’s another one:


One more, with my foot for perspective:


Did you find them all? If you did, you’ve probably done this before. If you found them all within a few seconds, you’re probably my mother-in-law. (Hi Mimi!) And are you hooked yet? If so, you should come and look for some.

A few years ago, shortly after Mark was born, I took a class in translating poetry led by an Hungarian poet and translator. Lovely, dear man. Incredible poet. He wrote beautifully about visiting Tybee Island on a previous trip to the states. It was clear that the seaside was important to him. So at the end of the semester, before he left, I sewed a small bag and filled it with some of my precious shark’s teeth and gave it to him. At first he was mystified. “What are they?” he asked. “Shark’s teeth,” I said, but it took a while for him to believe that I was not being metaphorical, or that they were not some kind of seed that was called “shark’s teeth.” Then he asked, with perfect innocence, “What will they do?” I said I didn’t know. “Perhaps they will protect me from evil spirits,” he said and, looking at me seriously, “there are evil spirits.”

I believed him. I still do. Some times more than others I feel the evil spirits closing in. Fear, despair, anger, regret. That’s my own personal crowd. And if anything could protect me from them, I believe it would be these ancient remnants of powerful creatures that I am, still, kind of afraid of. I’m not quite at the point of sewing them into all Mark’s clothing, but obviously the idea occurred to me, so I’m not far off. Would that be crazy? Something important to know about humans, as well as other animals, is that we don’t only try to protect ourselves.

*Kudos to you if you know what song this is from. And that’s got to be what he’s talking about, right? Today Mark kept going between me and Seth and saying, “Hey Mom (or Dad), are you finding any luck?” Which was so cute.


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I don’t know! Clearly it was a bad decision. Stop trying to cross roads, armadillos! You’ve been around since the dinosaurs – stick around a while longer. Same goes for snakes and turtles. (Sob.)

That’s my road trip wisdom. Also, the Oklahoma Panhandle is one of the most desolate and sad places to drive through. Nothing moves but the wind, and it seems to have blown all the color away. You would not even notice the wind except that it blows your car around, and what trees there are are fixed in a position of permanent strain. I feel sad for them, with no rest.

So I was very happy that before entering the Panhandle I impulsively stopped in this place:

Gloss Mountains State Park. It was still early, and there was nobody there. (I don’t know if that had anything to do with it being early. Maybe no one goes there at all. It seemed pretty un-visited.) I climbed up the path with its rickety stairways, and at the top of the “mountain” – more like what I would call a mesa – I sat and had an apply with peanut butter. Hawks were wheeling overhead. A rosy-winged bird flew over me and straight out over the edge of the mesa, which made me wish I was a bird, and then feel very nervous for some reason. There were so many flowers I didn’t know the names of. Like this:

And this:

The mesa was striated with a kind of stone that a sign told me was selenite gypsum. This is what it looks like:

I took some pieces of it. And then I climbed down. And drove and drove, and then got to Denver. I had a lovely dinner with my Mom, slept, switched cars with Mom (the point of the trip), ate cake for breakfast at this amazing German/Japanese bakery where they make cakes that look like the cross-sections of trees. Went to the Cherry Creek Mall to get a phone charger and on the way out I swear I was hypnotized by a a silver-tongued Israeli flat-iron saleswoman. Left the mall half an hour later with very silky hair, and a ceramic hair-straightener. Wow, that was crazy.

Headed south on I-25, planning to stop for the night in Trinidad, CO, but I was lured off the highway by a sign pointing to the Great Sand Dunes. It’s true, they really are Great. Just look at this:

What are giant heaps of sand doing in the eaves of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains? I don’t know why, because I haven’t read the information they gave me yet. And why did I decide I had to climb up them? I think it’s because it was really out of my way, my footwear was utterly inappropriate, and I did not need to do it at all. Actually, it’s the most frivolous very difficult thing I’ve done in recent memory. I guess I’m craving altitude right now. Anyway, I climbed to what looked like the to, from the bottom, and then when I got there it became clear that there was so much more, but my knees were screaming at me, so I sat for a minute, drank some water, and went back down. Here’s me at the windy not-top:

See, my hair! It’s straight! Behind me is the rest of the dunes – not the part I climbed. Because it’s my solitary road trip, I had to take a solitary route instead of the way everyone else was going. I don’t know if that was easier or harder. What I do know is that I have blisters on the bottoms of my toes (yay for driving eight hours tomorrow with blistered toes) because I climbed the dunes barefoot, and I’m so glad I did. I’m in an Inn now in La Veta – I really meant to drive to Trinidad still, but this place called out to me to stop. It’s so quiet. So quiet.

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People who know things about bugs – don’t judge me. I’m about to write about ants and anthills without actually knowing if what I want to write about is true at all. It feels true.

I’m not a person who has ever destroyed an anthill on purpose, and that’s partly why I don’t know if this thing that feels true is true. But this is it:

My feeling is that if you destroy an anthill, the ants immediately start rebuilding it, or rather start building a new anthill. That makes me so uncomfortable. I don’t know what I would want them to do instead. Stand around? All move somewhere else? Give up on having an anthill at all? Of course they need a place to… do what ants do in anthills. I don’t know. I’m just troubled by the idea that work would never stop. It’s weird.

The last few weeks have been like that. Something devastating happened. Things were bent, broken, crushed, shattered. Real physical things. Many bones belonging to someone I love. Also a helmet, a phone, a pink bicycle. Also my sense of safety (fragile anyway), my son’s sense of safely (stronger, originally, I hope, but then much more precious), our home life, an idea of our future. Ideas, expectations, dreams.

But things don’t stop. Some force of life that is stronger than I could have ever imagined begins immediately to rebuild. Even too quickly. Blood clots to stop its own flow. Bones knit back together any which way. (By the way, that is a very inappropriate word for what bones do, even if it is the accepted word – if anything, they splice, but they do not knit. Any knitter would recognize that.) A body can work so fast to heal itself.

So fast, my feelings, thoughts, ideas, expectations can’t keep up. I’m grateful, of course, for the healing. In awe of it. I’ve never seen anything like it. But part of me is still back there, grieving for the old anthill. Life wasn’t perfect before. I was unhappy about a lot of things. But now here we are racing furiously into the unknown. I know the future is always unknown. But this is such a different unknown from the unknown I thought it would be. I just want to slow down and get used to it. Sit down and figure out what I’m doing. Just for a little while.

Then I’ll get back to work.

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