Monday, June 30, 2014

The Art of Decompression

June 30, 2014 – The Art of Decompression

It’s early summer in Oregon. The garden spiders are still infants, the clouds only break after two or three days of steadfastness, and the nights cool themselves off with light, chill breezes. I’ve been here twice before. Once in the fall, and then again last summer. It’s a place where time seems to stand still and sleep comes easy. A natural transition point from wilderness isolation to peopled places.

That’s what I’d thought when planning my summer. But after nearly nine weeks of being a city of one, I’ve come to a town of 58,000 and the shock of that contrast throws my adaptation gears into high motion. I had no memory of it being so loud. The place I’d remembered as quiet after leaving the bustle of international travel and then Dallas, suddenly roars with noise. Traffic, the airline flight paths tracing through the sky, the helicopters, the long, drawn out horn of the trains, human voices, sirens, slamming doors, the whir of passing cyclists. All the background sound that humanity creates is a far cry from the noise I’d so recently lived with. The rushing of the river, the creek’s chirping, the shrill warning call of the ground squirrels, the rustling wind in the trees.

I feel a little like a deep sea diver stopping along the rope to decompress on my way up to the surface. If I go too fast I’ll get the bends. If I go too slowly I’ll run out of air. What I wonder is, can I stay in the depths? Or, in this case, go back to the wilderness? Would more solitude aid or disease my already reclusive soul? Henry Thoreau made it work.

It’s not that I’m anthropophobic. I’m not. But I’ve found that I crave the loudness of nature over the silence of cities. That I understand the eat or be eaten mentality of animals more than the money-driven aspirations of people. That I like being alone.

This is all true. It’s also only one aspect of a complex personality. My own. For additionally, I want to observe people, behavior, actions, passions, and motivations. I want to visit new places and make new (human) friends. I want to eavesdrop on conversations and spy on interactions. I want to spend time with the people I love. All these things become difficult when I’m living by myself in an isolated valley.

I go up to the next knot on the decompression rope and glance at my watch as I wait for the inert gas in my blood to dissipate. It’s now late June in Oregon. The spiders are perfecting web design. The clouds give way to blue sky and sun more often than not. The nights are playing with temperature control. I spend a lot of my time in the backyard, as I’ve always done when I’m here. It’s a world filled with insects, plants, the occasional cat, and the sound of wind chimes. Maybe not so far removed from the wilderness. Just beyond the fence, is that other world. The world where I can walk to the library and bring home stacks of books to research an idea I have. The world where fresh fruits and vegetables are only a mile or two away (though having to pay for them is a bit more painful than simply walking back to the Lodge from the root cellar with a bag filled with food). The world where it’s easy to make or receive phone calls. The world that’s the stepping off point for my next adventure. 
I go up one more knot. 

I wait. 

The art of decompression is the art of going back and forth between two different worlds and not being destroyed by either one.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

PTSD - Post Time in Solitude Disorder

June 17, 2014 – PTSD - Post Time in Solitude Disorder

Semi drunk dude sits next to me on the bus. He talks practically without breath for three hours straight. For the past two months my conversation has been limited to the occasional phone call and to my exchanges with the cat (and/or the ground squirrels). Semi drunk’s stream of consciousness stream is almost too much for me. I need something more gradual to reintroduce me into society. But this is not to be. My subtle attempts to quiet him go unheeded. So I listen with one ear to my music and one ear to the conversation, keeping my gaze focused out the window on Montana (the reason I’ve taken the bus in the first place), and interjecting a timely “uh huh” or a repeating of his last words to show that I’m paying some sort of attention as needed.

“The world is changing,” he says. “The mountains aren’t the same.”  He points out the windows at the mountains. “They’ve changed over the past twenty years. I’ve seen it happen. I think that in the next fifteen years we’ll be in another freeze.”

“An ice age?” I ask.

“An ice age. The whole world is going to freeze up into an ice age.”

“Better buy a warm coat,” I say.

He laughs then turns to look at me, his face serious again. “But it’s really going to happen. Science proves it. Science is cool.” He pauses.

“Science is cool,” I repeat his words under my breath.

He’s beyond that now. He’s blasted on to a new item and jumps right in without preamble. “The church and God are real,” he says. He looks over at me. I feel this out of the corner of my eye. But I’m watching the sky, the layers of mountains tucked one after the other, the shifting colors of light, the storm rolling in from some place far ahead of us. “They’re real. You just have to believe. Those people who don’t believe. Those atheists. They’re just fucked up in the head.” 

He proselytizes for miles, using obscenity for emphasis until he’s exhausted his line of thought. There’s no altar call when he’s finished, and he’s on to the next topic, shifting from subject to subject seamlessly, as if all things are connected. “I take the bus because I don’t like to fly. I have before, but I don’t like to be off the ground. Some people let fear keep them from trying new things or moving to new places. But not me. I do what I want. Sometimes I just leave without telling anyone anything. My friends try to find me and they all say, ‘Man, you’re different.’ My parents raised me to be like that. They let me figure things out on my own. I mean, they made sure I had things that I needed but when it came down to it they always said, ‘You figure it out on your own.’ That’s the way to learn, by doing things on your own.”

The bus rolls on. I miss a thread of thought, he’s on to something else. I’m thinking about human needs and human kindness. His need for connection is overwhelming my need for silence. Maybe long stretches of solitude are bad for an introvert like me, they put me at a disadvantage when I’m placed back in a position to interact. Here and now, when what I want is to watch the scenery pass by and think my own thoughts, I’m not inclined to be solicitous, considerate. This barrage of conversation works like a stressor on my system and I have to remind myself to relax, to be, to calm down. How does a person talk this much anyway? He must say every thought that comes into his head. I’m almost impressed.

A few miles later, he pulls a card from his back pocket and shows it to me. It’s his Cheyenne Indian identification card. “I’ve been married twice and been to twenty-eight states,” he says. This confession with the presentation of the card comes across like a catalog of his successes or of his charms. Are marriage and state to state travel analogous achievements?

I wonder how many states I’ve been to.

More than once he lifts a bottle out from under his shirt and takes a swig. I can smell the alcohol like forsaken dreams in the air between us. The driver had told us alcohol was not allowed. I want to ask him not to drink on the bus. I want to ask him not to talk any more. But I don’t. “I’ve been thrown off the bus before,” he confides. The bottle’s vanished once again under his shirt. “One time there were a bunch of us in the back and I got us all fucked up. We were partying in the back. We all got thrown off.”

I don’t ask about the consequences of that, of where he ended up, or how he got to the place he’d been going. I don’t ask anything, my curiosity for The Story is drowned by the flood of words. I’m drowning in noise. He touches my arm to get my attention then he points at the range of mountains up ahead of us. “Those are the…” he thinks. “I can’t remember their name, but they’re different than they were even five years ago. If it doesn’t become an ice age then the whole place will become dry.”

“A worldwide desert?” I ask.

“Everything completely dry.”

And I’d thought his conviction about the impending ice age had been so certain.

The moments pass, the miles add up, we drive through the rain, and then soon enough back into the sun. With semi drunk dude in the seat next to me, I’m thinking that humans are unpredictable, dangerous, and scary. They’re needy and complex and strange. They’re noisy and boisterous and sometimes drunken. I’m thinking that the wildlife I’ve just left behind in the Wyoming wilderness is easier to live around. Civilization alarms me. I’m stuck in this bus with all these humans. I’m stuck in this window seat with nowhere to go. I don’t even have my own thoughts to hide myself inside. A surge of panic forms deep, takes on cyclonic shape.This ride was a bad idea. I want the easy terror of bears back. I want the emptiness of the sky and the promise of a geese and ducks and the occasional coyote sighting. I want grass in place of concrete. I want the smell of pine and sudden storms. I want the shrill warning whistle of the ground squirrels. These things I understand. The cyclone gathers force. Stop it. Seriously, I tell myself, Stop. Your fear is irrational. You know how to behave around humans too. Oh yeah. I do. I settle into my seat and the panic evaporates.

All the while, semi drunk dude talks on and on. “Have you heard of The Secret?” he asks without waiting for a response. “If you want something you think about it, you believe it, you create it.” He talks of portals in the ocean. “There are Ariel portals in the sea,” he says. Ariel the Disney mermaid portals? “Because how else would the mermaids get around?” He talks of biology, the history of gold mining, how the look in his children’s eyes is more powerful than anything else in the world.

Just at the moment that I’ve decided to say, “Sorry, nothing personal, but I need to zone out for a while,” he says, “Thanks so much for talking to me.” And I bite my words away and sit there beside him and listen.

Only twenty-four more hours to go.

It’s enough to drive me to drink.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Last Days

Caretaker’s Log, Sunday, June 8, 2014

There’s a spattering of rain on the skylights. It’s my last day at the Darwin. Coffee is my morning priority. Karen brought me some cans of coconut milk and that makes me happy and the coffee extra delightful.

I see two deer in the west field. I comment about them so long that Loring gets up to look through the binoculars at them as well.

It’s leftover oatmeal for breakfast. I get the dishes cleaned up then go say goodbye to the cat. She wants me to stay with her all day out in the barn so I can scratch her ears. I fill up her food dish and give her some cat treats.

I recharge all the batteries for the electronic devices I’ll want on the road. I collect my coat and jackets and put them upstairs in preparation to pack them.

At noon I take a cleaning bucket over to the Willow cabin and start in on the kitchen. 
It rains.

It hails.

The sun comes out.

We have lunch. I finish up the cleaning at 3:15. I’m exhausted.

I go sit on the porch with Boss at my feet and try to ease the cricks out of my neck and shoulders.

I’ve spent hardly anytime outside today until this moment. I was feeling disconnected. To remedy this and to get some late afternoon sunshine, I go to the sauna porch and listen to the river. The swans rise up off their pond and take a three lap constitutional, flying right over me at times. They honk like geese and the sound of their wings is a heavy, thick treading of air. They fly with their long white necks stuck out far in front of them. This is a good place to be in the afternoon.

Caretaker’s Log, Monday, June 9, 2014

Up early. I change the sheets one last time. Straighten the last minute things up. Prepare the room for the summer cook who will be the next loft resident. Put my bags on the front porch. Breakfast is yogurt and fruit and pan cooked potatoes.

I go out to the barn and give the cat a final ear scratch. She’s happy.

I wash up the breakfast dishes.

Around 10:00, Karen, Boss, and I get in the suburban and head away from the Darwin. “You can cry if you want,” Karen tells me. I’d told her that I was feeling oddly nostalgic, especially about leaving the cat. “That’s what happens when you get older,” she’d said.

I don’t cry.

We see some herds of antelope along the way.
Boss wants to sit in my lap. Karen pulls over and arranges his bed in the back. Puts him in it.

Goodbye, Darwin.

Down the road we go. Then. In the distance the wheel stirred dust of the road rises like a cloud. Another truck. Oh my god, the traffic! One truck is not traffic, I tell myself. You are going to freak out when there’s really traffic. You are in for a shock any second now. Wow. I calm myself down. I know this vehicular life too. I know how this works.

It’s 330 miles, a 7 hour drive from the Darwin to the Ishawooa Ranch. Karen tells stories of past caretakers, her family, their ranch hands. We stop twice for food, once for bottled water. I get over the shock of traffic, housing developments, towns.

Wyoming is amazing country. I’m reminded of Colorado and of the Sacred Valley in Peru.

We arrive to the other ranch around 6:00. Just in time for dinner at the lodge. It’s a strange assortment of people, crew, and Karen’s family. A nice group. A good dinner.

After dinner, at Karen’s suggestion, I take a walk to see the river. The mountains are walls around me. The moon a decoration in the dusk sky.

My phone is once again in service. I use it to call my grandmother. It’s so easy to communicate now.

I wash all my clothes, all at once, not by hand. I dry them in the dryer. It’ll be nice to smell fresh and clean. It’ll be nice to be all fresh and clean.

I pack my clean things up and get set to go to sleep in the wrangler cabin Karen has put me in for the night.

I sit on the bed and think. I’ll be on a bus headed to Oregon tomorrow. I’ll finally get to see Montana. I’ve got my summer schedule to arrange. I’m no longer a caretaker. My caretaker logs are concluded for now.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Solitude Interrupted

Caretaker’s Log, Thursday, June 5, 2014

I get up at 7:00. First thing I change the linens on the bed. That’s my hardest task for the day. The rest of my prep work for the soon to arrive people will be just little pick up things. The Lodge is ready for company.

Out of habit, I glance out the window as I walk by and see the moose in the east pasture. Hurrying into the front room, I grab my camera and the binoculars and hope she’s still there. I watch her from the front porch as she makes her way along the field. The cat hears me and comes to try and steal my attention. “Not now, Cat,” I tell her. The moose begins to trot out of the sage and, to my great delight, a little baby moose emerges out of the sage behind her. I watch them until they vanish up the east hill and out of sight—blending into the dark green shadows, shielded into invisibility by the morning light.

With that excitement out of the way, I take my coffee and go sit in the sun and listen to Loggins & Messina. “I want to get away and live my life, In the rivers and trees, I want to spend the days making wine and be free, Be free (be free, be free).” L & M and I have a lot in common with wants.

This moment, sipping coffee, listening to Danny’s Song, and feeling the sun, is perfect. A perfect moment to add to my growing collection of perfect moments. This is good living. This is the good life.

I bring in some wood. I take some of my things upstairs to pack. I call my grandmother and tell her about the moose and moose baby. I clean the front windows again to wipe off the rain marks.

Karen and Kathy are supposed to arrive around 3:00. At 2:30, for the first time in two months, I put on a bra. It’s pretty awful.

I wait on the front porch listening for sounds of people. Then it comes. I hear the whine of a chainsaw from up the road. Once, then again. Then once more at the tree I knew had fallen across the road and warned Karen about. I take a breath. “Okay, Cat,” I say. “Your life is about to change too.” Karen, Kathy, Laura, and Loring arrive around 4:00.They each come in their own vehicle. We spend the next hours unpacking things. Boxes, and food, and fresh fruits, and veggies, and more boxes.

Kathy makes collard greens, wild caught salmon, and potatoes for dinner. “It smells like real food,” I tell her. She’s brought me a bottle of wine to make up for the wine lost in the great airdrop tragedy.

The Lodge is no longer mine to keep up with.

They all choose a cabin to sleep in and let me keep the loft.

The fridge is filled to the brim. The smell of fresh strawberries is like heaven. There are fresh greens. Bananas.
The cat is royally pissed that Boss the dog is here.

When Laura goes for a walk, early in the evening, I see a deer bounding into the woods, flushed out of the field.

All the doors that have been shut all winter long are now open.

Caretaker’s Log, Friday, June 6, 2014

Karen is an early bird. There are sounds in the kitchen below me before 6:00 AM. Breakfast is over and the dishes done by 9:00. Up and at ‘em.

Karen, Kathy, and Loring begin their training. Loring, the previous owner, is giving Kathy, the new owner, and Karen, the manager, the lowdown on all the systems and the switchover from winter to summer. Laura, the summer crew manager, goes to do her work. She’s been here before. She knows what needs to be done.

At 10:00 I check the systems as usual. Not sure when I’ll stop being responsible for these tasks. Probably as soon as they get the Tame Hydro running. Then someone else will record the weather too. Soon, I won’t be cycled around the times of 10:00, noon, and 7:00.

For me, every wildlife sighting, bird or beast, is an event. For these guys it’s common place. They don’t even look when I say, “There goes the bald eagle!” or “Wow! There’s a deer bounding into the woods.”

There’s evidence that there’s a mouse hiding in the kitchen. This unseen creature has nibbled into a few packages. The cat has fallen down on the job.

The bald eagle (which I am still excited about) is back to sit on its favorite tree.

We have breakfast and lunch and dinner all together at the table in the front room. The recharge time I need after social interaction is going to be longer—at least for a while. I can see I’ll have to readjust to this.

I go for a (maybe) final walk up to the dam. Boss comes with me. He finds a bone and drags it along back toward the ranch. He’s very proud. But he forgets about it in the east pasture when he’s distracted by the ground squirrels.

Back at the ranch, I go sit on the sauna porch for an hour. I laugh at a precocious ground squirrel, watch the birds, listen to the river, see the clouds go by, close my eyes.

I take a quick bath.

After that it’s back to being part of the human herd. I read through a manual Loring has written to explain the Charge Control Module and give him some feedback. “I’m surprised you understood it,” he tells me.

Caretaker’s Log, Saturday, June 7, 2014

Ranchers get up early. I stay up in the loft until 7:00. Then I go down to get my coffee. We have oatmeal for breakfast. The fresh fruit is. It’s superb.

I take the cat’s food and water out to her new hideout in the barn. She hisses at me then comes down when I call her. She winds around my legs and lets me scratch behind her ears.

Breakfast dishes. More coffee.

I’m volunteered by Loring to do the battery equalize while the rest of the gang goes up to the dam to get the Tame Hydro set up and running. After I refill the battery water level and the EQ is running, I go clean the Willow cabin bathroom. Two and a half hours later, Kathy says they’re back and it’s time for lunch.

At the table we’re all a bit subdued. Dazed from all the work.

I do the washing up with the help of a few fingers of whisky and Coldplay. The gang goes to do something with the irrigation system.

When Kathy comes back I show her how to chart the weather. I have to hand that task off to someone before Monday.

Kathy makes soup for dinner. She sets me aside a bowlful before adding some unidentified fish (that’s been in the deep freezer all winter long) into their portion.

At 7:00 I do the weather.

Everyone is worn out. It’s been a busy day. After dinner and a little visiting Laura, Loring, and Karen go to their cabins. Kathy finishes checking emails. She invites me to come work at the end of the summer session if I’d like. I tell her that I’m booked up through that time frame. I ask her if they’ve already scheduled next year’s winter caretaking stints. She’s says they’d love to have me back for that.