Send Help!

No, I’m not dead. I’ve just been busy. And right now I have to type really fast because I’m writing from my mom’s hospital room, and their internet policy is no personal websites. Although Facebook and Twitter are okay? I don’t know. Medicine doesn’t make much sense to me in general.

Remember when I went hiking a few weeks ago? It was an eleven mile adventure, and it was fabulous. Unfortunately, I slipped a couple of times and did a little damage to my knee. One slip sent me tumbling onto my back, holding onto the cable embedded in the rock for dear life. Actually, probably literally for dear life, or at the very least dear not-broken-into-a-thousand-pieces. I hurt my knee, but it was cool.

I had my hiking poles, so I managed to drag my sad, sorry carcass off the mountain complete the hike. I was a little sore the next day, but nothing unexpected. The muscles were tight, but I stretched them out. No biggie.

Of course, a couple of days later, I noticed that I could no longer go down hills without my knee locking up. Or stairs. Or get out of bed. It hurt a little. I just kept a little heat on it via my rice sock, and I stayed limber enough to keep from screaming every time I stood up get around okay.

Turns out, my threshold of stubborn is about two weeks. On day thirteen of the countdown, I was sitting on a high stool in a local restaurant getting a little wi-fi and breakfast. When I tried to get down, I nearly dropped the “f” bomb in the middle of Chic-Fil-A had a little more trouble than expected. I decided at that moment that if I could ever bend my leg again, I would head to the doctor’s office immediately. Considering that my only other option was to stay on that stool for the rest of my natural life, I limped my way to my car to get it checked out.

It turns out there’s nothing too serious. I strained my lateral/collateral ligament. A few weeks of rest should get me on the road to recovery. Rest. Wait. I think I know that word. It involves walking my son to school every day and standing up in front of a class and teaching, doesn’t it? No, wait. It doesn’t.

My activities have been sharply curtailed, so I’ve thrown myself headlong into my NaNoWriMo project, and I’m having the time of my life. My book this go-round can best be summed up as a splash of personal narrative that has spent time in a hyperbolic chamber. It’s not a memoir. I’m not sure there’s a verifiable fact in the whole thing, but it has been great fun putting a creative spin on some memories. Wait. There is one fact. I did use my real name, and my sister’s. I’ll post a little excerpt here sometime, maybe.

I knew I had more words to say than just 50K this time, so I set my goal for 80K for the month. I turned out a 50K project last year in only 12 days, so I thought I could make it to 80 in a month. Leg propped up in bed, I made it to 80K this afternoon.

Hello, my name is Heather, and I’m a bar graph addict. On my page, it shows me a little graph with a bar that indicates how close I’m getting to my next goal. The goals are set in increments of 20K, and I am completely addicted to seeing my little word count bar climbing. Someone needs to stage an intervention. I’m not sure my kids have seen me for three days, and the only one who still loves me is my cat. Because I’m her heat source.

Someone send help.

Anyone else doing NaNo this month? How’s it going? It’s the most fun I have all year, and I think I’m going to do it again in January!

Taming the Mountain

We’ve talked about it for years. We both wanted to do it. We would do it. Someday we would pack our gear and get it done. On Saturday, someday arrived. We hiked to the peak of Mt LeConte.

For weeks prior, I was plagued by doubts. LeConte is the third highest peak in the Smoky Mountains. We’ve done the Alum Cave Bluff portion a year and a half ago, and I remember it being a real challenge. This time around, we would be in the company of the Padawan’s Webelos den. Would I be able to keep up with the kids? Would I be that mom who slowed the whole group down? I didn’t want to ruin it for my husband or my son, especially since our den leader had planned the whole trip so he could award the boys their Webelos rank at the top of the mountain. It was a big deal.

Husband and I had some disagreements prior to stepping off the trail. I let him win on both counts, but I still resent it a little. He talked me out of taking my “real” camera, and I had to settle for my daughter’s point-and-shoot. He also balked when I packed my book in my backpack. “You’re not going to have time to read, and you’ll be sorry for the extra weight.” Yeah. I did, and I wouldn’t have. But whatever.

On the way up, I couldn’t stop smiling. It’s not every day I get to cross something off The Dream List. The trail was so much easier than I remembered, maybe because I didn’t have a thirty pound preschooler dangling off my back this time. We got to Alum Cave much faster than I expected, and it was actually fun. It wasn’t a fear of heights that made our last trip so terrifying, it was a fear of Squish plummeting off the side of the mountain. No Squish, no worries.

Yes, it's as steep as it looks.

Yes, it’s as steep as it looks.

 

We tagged about 1/10th of a mile behind the Padawan’s group, well ahead of the middle-of-the-pack. My husband and I hiked essentially in solitude. We talked. We are at our most honest on the trail. Being in the moment brings the things that matter into clearer focus. We can solve the world’s problems at 6,000 feet. As the path grew more difficult, the talking stopped, and our thoughts turned inward.

We hit the top after just under three hours of hiking. Actually, we hit it sooner than that, but we missed the trail to the lodge and kept hiking another 1/4 mile before I realized our mistake and we got turned around. While we waited for the last group, we took a side trip to the actual peak.

Please ignore the cheesy grin. Please?

Please ignore the cheesy grin. Please?

I must have framed a thousand shots that I did not take. The breathtaking peaks and valleys; tiny deer mice scurrying across the trail; tangles of tree roots spilling downhill like so much water; my husband, rosy-cheeked and smiling, mist hanging over the hills; my son grinning with the triumph of 11 conquered miles.  I carry those images in my heart.

old_glory

Barefoot Re-Writes

There are benefits to having a blog as a pet. They are there when you need them, but they can go without feeding for weeks on end if necessary. While it hasn’t been exactly weeks, it has been a while. I’ve been volunteering at a school and setting up their computer lab. Three weeks, thirty computers, seventy separate accounts to set up. I’ve felt a little lot like this guy:

Photo credit: https://www.robsimdb250challenge.blogspot.com  I found this image when I searched "Jurassic park computer dude." I kid you not.

Photo credit: https://www.robsimdb250challenge.blogspot.com I found this image when I searched “Jurassic park computer dude.” I love the internet.

Not in the super-smart, intimidating kind of way. In the talking-to-himself, never-leaves-the-computer kind of way. And minus the killer dinosaurs and the candy (there will be NO eating around the new computers! Any questions? *insert psychotic death stare here*). By the time I got home at the end of the day, the last thing I wanted to do was sit at my own computer to do anything at all.

On Friday, except for a couple of minor adjustments, I finished my project. To celebrate, my family and I went to the mountains to hike. Let’s just say it was a treat to be free of error codes and captchas.

We were about twenty minutes in when Girl-child decided your garden-variety trail hike was too easy. She challenged me to take the rest of it barefoot. I’m pretty sure it was a double-or-triple-dog dare, and the honor of my entire family was at stake.  Or maybe she just said “Hey, wanna go barefoot?” I can’t remember. I ate a lot of paint as a kid. On a dare. There might be a lesson there somewhere. Anyway, the next thing I know, I’m stumbling over rock and bramble, my shoes swinging cheerfully from my husband’s backpack a mile ahead of me down the trail.

Alone in the woods with nothing but the sounds of my own cursing the birds and kamikaze gnats, I had a little time to think. It came to me that barefoot hiking has a lot in common with the process of rewriting.

I can’t cover as much ground as I am used to. Chacos securely on feet, I can trot down the trail at a respectable clip. The hike we did would take an hour, plus any time we spent playing in the stream.I can’t do that barefoot. Each step matters.  Writing that first draft, I don’t watch where I put my proverbial feet. I just go, laying down the pages as fast as my imagination will let me. Rewriting means slowing down, carefully picking out that next step.

I will see things I may have otherwise missed. A slower pace has its advantages. By checking out the scenery around me on the trail, I may discover things.

This critter was about 1/2 inch long.

This caterpillar was about 1/2 inch long. The guys missed it because they were moving too fast. I don’t know what species it is. A Google image search tells me it’s sushi or a quiche. Oh, well. Win some, lose some.

Rewrites force me to slow down and look at the details. Is that bit of dialogue lame? Was that scene in keeping with my characters personality? Are my descriptions adequate without going overboard?

I get the opportunity to pull back and look at the big picture, too.

scene

Sometimes it’s good to look at the plot as a whole. Is the path clear? Is it taking my reader where I want them to go, or is it leading them straight off a cliff? Are there too many side trails where they’re going to get lost?

Sometimes I find hidden treasures. 

It's a pile of leaves, right? Of course not. Do you see it?

It’s a pile of leaves, right? Of course not. Do you see it?

Look again. It took about 5 minutes for me to find it, even though I KNEW it was there.

See him now? Or her.

See him now? Or her.

Another view.

I'm pretty sure this is a juvenile American toad.

I’m pretty sure this is a juvenile American toad.

There’s no better feeling than re-reading something I have written and coming across a passage that makes me so proud that I can’t even believe I wrote it. Those little gems make the effort worthwhile.

And finally, it hurts a whole lot more. I ended my barefoot stint aching in muscles I don’t ordinarily use, feet filthy and bruised. Rewrites can bruise my heart. That precious scene in the diner that made me laugh out loud as I wrote it? Yeah, it was superfluous. It’s gone. Sometimes a whole character that I fell in love with the moment I birthed them has to go, or at least has to be stripped down to the bones and rebuilt into someone different, someone that better fits with what I’m trying to say.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that I’m not in a hurry to repeat Saturday’s hike. To quote Patrick Henry, “Give me shoes, or give me a piggyback ride and a foot massage.” Rewrites aren’t my favorite thing, either, but I’ll buckle down and do them.They’re necessary to get to the next step. By January, I want to have the manuscript whipped into good enough shape to begin querying agents. Go ahead. Double-dog dare me. See what happens.

I Didn’t See That Coming.

My husband took me hiking on Mother’s Day. The big kids opted to stay home and watch Squish. Mostly so that they didn’t have to go. My Mother’s Day didn’t involve any actual children. I’ll unpack that guilt later. They bought me MoonPies and Junior Mints, so I know they love me. Back to the tale.

As we were hiking, I found a prickly pear cactus that had been squashed nearly flat by the bulldozer that blazed the trail. I never take anything from a park, but prickly pear, a favorite food of many tortoises, is non-native and invasive, so I didn’t feel the least bit guilty for breaking off a small section to take home.

Let me explain a little about me. Spring is in the air, and I have a physiological need to plant as many things as I can. I need to see things growing. If the seeds I planted yesterday aren’t growing yet, I’ll just plant some more. This sad little plant needed me. My hope was to get a bit of it into soil to see if I could get it rooted. It was the ultimate challenge.

Prickly pear. Look at those awesome spines. I wonder if it would keep the neighbors' dogs from pooping in my flower bed.

Prickly pear. Look at those awesome spines. I wonder if it would keep the neighbors’ dogs from pooping in my flower bed.

2:00 pm Choose the piece with no large spines and put it in my pocket. Wonder if a little rooting hormone might give me a better chance at starting this plant.

2:01 pm  Begin to feel stinging in my leg. Whoa. I forgot I am wearing my Columbia switchbacks. My pocket is mesh. No worries .The spines are so small as to be nearly invisible. How much damage can they do? Wonder if big spines need to be removed before offering to tortoises at Zoo.

2:05 pm Stinging becomes rather uncomfortable. Remove it from my pocket, wrap it in a leaf, and slip it into an outside pocket. I can’t wait to get it home.

2:06 pm My finger is stinging. I can barely see the tiny spine embedded in my fingertip. Wow, this plant is good at defense! I scrape the spine away with a fingernail.

2:06:10 om Spine becomes embedded in the other finger. Good grief! I remove it and carefully wipe it on the ground.

2:08 pm Calf begins to sting as tiny spines are dislodged and work their way through my pants and down my leg. Feel like I am being eaten by fire ants. Check to make sure cactus bit is still nestled in its leaf wrapping.

2:09 pm Dislodge spines from my finger tips with more energy than is absolutely necessary. High-tail it back to car.

2:30 pm Remove cactus bit from pocket and look for something, anything, to wrap it in to get it home. Find box to throw it in. That should keep it safe.

2:31 pm Attempt to scrape spines from fingers and from legs. I vaguely wonder if any of these will penetrate my skin, travel through my bloodstream, and kill me dead. That would be bad.

3:00 pm Arrive home, carefully unwrap cactus bit without touching it and dump it in a pot of soil. Warn kids not to even look in its direction for the rest of their lives. Wash hands in hopes of removing remaining spines. Wonder why I didn’t just buy a potted prickly pear.

10:30 pm Undress for shower and realize that my left leg is still riddled with spines. Remove them to the best of my ability. Leg now looks like a golf course for bedbugs. Throw pants in wash to get rid of any remaining spines.

10:40 pm Remove spines that have relodged in fingertips.

7:00 am Take clean pair of jeans from closet and put them on.

7:01 am Remove pants to dislodge new spines that have somehow become embedded in my leg. When will this end?

Stupid cactus. It is the work of the devil. I hope it dies.

Missing the Forest Completely. And Finding It Again.

We went to the mountains this weekend. Peak leaf season has passed, but it was still incredibly beautiful. Peaceful, no. We were in the company of about 10,000 other people, all trying to take advantage of what may be the last warm day of fall.

But while other folks were captivated by this:

A world so big

my heart was captured by this:

So tiny. So precious.

We discovered this very tiny white footed mouse at a very tiny church, which makes him a church mouse, I suppose. His back left foot is injured and useless. He wasn’t as fast as he should be, or as coordinated. But he was giving it a go. And people were rooting for him. Dozens of people who had previously been driving in their own private little bubbles, honking their horns at one another, blocking the entire road for minutes at a time so they could take the perfect picture, came together for this little mouse.

I attempted to herd the little guy under a ledge where he would be safe from a misplaced step. As he scampered away from me, a woman noticed my efforts. He  paused for a moment in the grass, and she squatted beside him to safeguard his rest. He dashed toward another patch of grass out in the open, and someone else gently encouraged him back to safety. Each person whose awareness he touched became a part of the dance.

We’re not fools. None of us believed for a moment that he would even survive the day. He was too injured, too inexperienced to even be afraid of people, and his natural curiosity was bound to lead him in the path of an unsuspecting boot. His insistence on staying in the open made him easy pickings for any predator. We all knew the eventual end. But not on our watch, friends. As long as there were people to stand guard for him, we would.

When it was time for my family to leave the area, there was a new team in place, sharing a common goal, if only for a few minutes.

For a size comparison, that’s the Padawan’s sneaker.

Sometimes I miss the little things. I didn’t this time, and I am glad. Sometimes the little stuff is but a small reflection of a much, much bigger picture. In a world where I sometimes struggle with my significance in the grand scheme, Matthew 10:29-31 takes on a whole new meaning.

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Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows (Matthew 10:29-31)

Nearly Wordless Wednesday: Do You See What I See?

Very nice, Heather. A picture of trees. Good girl. *pat, pat* Um, why did you save this photo?

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No, really! There’s something cool there! Look harder. Do you see it?

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I bet you see it now! Still no?

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Luna moth. They only live about four days We had one at the zoo that lived for over a week. It’s name was Methuselah.

I’m hoping for some camouflage for Christmas, maybe a nice floral chintz or chenille. The kids would never find me. I’d blend right in with the bedspread.

It’s like a cloak of invisibility! But cuddlier.

At the Trailhead: Alum Caves Bluff

We’re not ones to sit around the house while the sun shines. There are too many trails out there just waiting to be explored, so when my husband and kids had a week off, the first thing we did was plan some hikes. One of my goals this year is to hike at least four trails that are new to me, even if the rest of the world has already been there. Twice. And Alum Caves Bluff trail seems to fit into both categories.

The Smoky Mountains are a bit of a drive for us, so we made sure to get an early start. According to the map, the trailhead was close by the Sugarlands Visitor Center. This well-staffed visitor center is a destination in itself, containing a fascinating 25 minute film on the history of the area, a museum with taxidermied native species, and short nature trails with guided tours.

After a quick visit (read: pee break) at the center, we headed to our final ultimate destination, the Alum Caves trail. It’s apparently a very popular trail, as both parking lots at the trailhead were full. We don’t actually know where all those people went, however, since we saw almost nobody on the trail itself. Not that we were complaining.

The trail is only 2.5 miles long. After more than a mile of hiking, I asked my husband if I should be getting worried that we were gaining almost no altitude. The answer was yes. Shortly thereafter, we hit Arch Rock, a narrow pass up a rock staircase, and it was all hard uphill from there.

Straight up, and hang on tight! The cable handrail was much appreciated!

There were a number of water crossings, all over wooden suspension bridges.

Just one of the many foot bridges along the trail

The trail got steep. Very steep. We gained most of the 1300ft elevation in the last mile of the hike, but we are made of stern stuff (read: we did a little whining) and we pressed onward.

Everything seems to spill downhill like water. Even the roots of the trees.

After what felt like an eternity, we heard voices. Friendly ones. And they weren’t inside our heads, so we knew that we were close to our destination. Another steep, rocky path with a cable hand-hold, and we got our first view.

Yep. That's it. For scale, note the tiny little handrail in the center of the photo. I

View from the top of the bluff. Note the delightful 45 degree angle. We're overjoyed that we didn't die here.

We discovered that the footing under the bluff is basically course sand. One wrong move, and we’d plummet to a painful death. What’s not to like?

This one gives a little better idea of the angle. It's incredibly steep. My advice: bring hiking poles and stay low to the ground!

I have an irrational fear of heights (more accurately a fear of falling from great heights), so we didn’t stay long. The descent was terrifying, but I am proud to say that no pants were pooped in the hiking of this trail. But it was close a couple of times.

Due to my irrational (or in this particular case, perfectly justified) fears, Squish remained in the Ergo for the entire trip. But he was okay with it. He got cookie cake.

If you enjoy hiking and are in the Smokies, I do recommend trying this trail. It’s short and scenic, and there are some views you just can’t catch anywhere else. But it’s not a trail for the faint of heart.

Trail Ratings

Difficulty: on a scale from 1-10, I’d give this one a 7. The first part is very, very easy. The last half, not so much!  It’s better suited to people who are in good shape.

Length: 2.5 miles. 3-5 hours, depending on how fast you move and how long you stay at the bluff.

Kid friendliness: I’d recommend it for ages seven and up. There are some very tricky spots, and when it gets steep, it’s a challenge even for those who hike regularly.

Scenery: It’s simply beautiful up there. We’ll go again, but maybe not with the kids next time. We’d like to continue the trail up to Mount Le Conte, but doing so means gaining another 1500 ft in under a mile.

Tips: Bring hiking poles if you have them. If the weather is rainy and you are bringing kids, skip it altogether. The path would be dangerous in several spots in inclement weather. Pack a picnic lunch to eat under the bluff if you are brave!

And a parting shot

There were a number of waterfalls on this hike, but this one is my favorite. It's a little thing - no more than 30 inches tall, but it thinks it's Niagara Falls.