Monthly Archives: June 2016

A Mountain By Any Other Name Is Still Steep

Last Saturday I hiked Mount Lafayette in the Presidential Range of the White Mountains in New Hampshire. I was with two friends who were training for a more ambitious goal: they are leaving in a few days to hike in the Rockies. I wish them good luck. I’m more of an old rounded mountain, under 6,000 footer kind of hiker myself.

I’ve had other bouts of hiking in the past. I was introduced to the Whites as a teenager with a youth volunteer group and spent many euphorically exhausting weekends on the mountains and staying in the Appalachian Mountain Club system of huts. If you haven’t hiked to and stayed in one of the huts, they are either your idea of heaven or hell. On the plus side you can hike up a mountain with just the clothes and snack food you need. You get to stay overnight on the mountain in a building, with a delicious home cooked dinner and breakfast, a toilet, a dry bed, and delightful entertainment from the hut crew members. The downside is that you sleep in a large dormitory style room with anywhere from 4 to 30 other sweaty hikers, some of whom may have eaten beans on the way up. I’m of the thank-god-someone-made-me-food-after-I-hiked-my-ass-off school, so I think it’s heaven. Also you get a solid overnight rest before you have to get your ass back down. That’s worth considering and key to my story.

For me there is also something cool about pushing your physical limits and reaching a modest goal. I don’t need Kilimanjaro or Everest to feel accomplishment. I have spent many a happy, peaceful, spiritual moment at the top of a mountain in the Whites, even though many of the hikes were often in the rain or fog or required all three layers of fleece and rain repellent jacket. Even though it was 75 and sunny at the bottom of the mountain. Even though I spent the last half of the hike down cursing the hike, the trail, my legs, any hapless hiker near me, and swearing I would never do it again. Until the next time.

I stopped hiking when I went away to college in Boston, and did not get back to it until my mid to late 20s. I rediscovered it with friends and then introduced my then-husband to it. He liked the hiking OK; the dorm of smelly hikers, not so much. It was another round of hiking up in wet weather, enjoying the spiritual epiphanies, eating the great food, cursing the hike down. On one trip to a hut, I even found the journal entry I had made as a teenager many years before. This is the magic that captivates me.

Then I had my son, and as I’m one of those people who isn’t hardy enough to hike and backpack with a small child, I let hiking go again in favor of trips to the beach and the science museum and the children’s museum.

And kids take a lot of time and energy, so I didn’t really think about hiking (OK, fine remember hiking) until this winter. Maybe it’s because I had such a great 50th year last year and have been rediscovering parts of myself I have not seen in a very long time. I decided to drive up on New Year’s weekend to see the White Mountains. It was like coming home to an old friend. Even in the cold, the mountains were beautiful, maybe even more so because of the snow. Also, I knew I didn’t have to hike them in the snow, so that was good. Nothing like being able to see them and be among them and then go sleep in a nice hotel to make the heart grow fonder. But the trip brought back all the memories of the highs, the lows, the farting, and the swearing. And how very much I am my best self when I am in these mountains.

And so I took advantage of my friends’ training hike for the Rockies, and we hiked up Mount Lafayette. It’s definitely a difficult hike — 8 miles round trip, with a height of 5,249 feet. It was a beautiful, hot, sunny day, which is something I have rarely encountered in the Whites, and the trail was packed with people. I still felt the sheer joy of being on the trail. The trail starts off fairly easily, and the fact that I was huffing and puffing was expected. I have been doing that since my teens. Even though I had not really trained much except for walking up and down Beacon Hills streets to break in my brand-new boots, I felt pretty confident. It’s been about 20 years since my last hike in the Whites, but I’ve been doing yoga and going to the gym regularly, which I had not done in my 20s. OK, so by “regularly” I mean once a week, but still. I never did that in my 20s.

I was pretty confident I’d be OK, and I was for pretty much the first two-thirds of the trail. The hiking poles my friend gave me helped a lot. I had never used them before, and I honestly don’t think I would’ve made it down without them. At the two-thirds mark I was experiencing a euphoric high from the hike, but I was also starting to tire, and I can blame some of my fatigue on the completely unfamiliar sensation of actually being overheated, as opposed to generating heat to stave of hypothermia.

Hot or no,though, there’s a certain rhythm to hiking a White Mountain mountain. It usually involves being OK at the beginning, and then at some point, you hit the super steep, rocky places, and you’re sometimes climbing hand-over-hand. At that point, you get to the top of a steep pitch and go around a slight bend, only to discover there’s yet another steep incline, and you want to poke your eyes out. Until you emerge from the trees and when it’s sunny you get those amazing views that take your breath away; well, more than it already has been taken away by the sheer exertion. And then it’s all good.

I was following this pattern, but the odd thing was this time the heat was actually getting to me. I can honestly say that most of the other times I’ve hiked the White Mountains, I have never been overheated. I’ve gotten warm because of the exertion, which helps keep hypothermia at bay, but I don’t remember being so hot before. Even when we were well above tree line, the temperature should have dropped, but I was still sweating and huffing and puffing. Not so odd was the story I heard from a fellow hiker that merely a week before two hikers had been rescued from hypothermia by a through hiker. In this sun-beating-down spot where I was sweating and swooning, a week before people had nearly perished from the cold. And that is the fascination of the Whites.

I got to the mountain top. I rested a bit, ate a bit, drank a bit, took in the sites, posted the I’m-on-top-of-the-mountain photos on Facebook (I was amazed that I could get a signal–that has changed over the years).

And then it was time to go down.

Many people will say that going down is much harder than going up. I had never been of that opinion. For me going up was always harder because of the exertion, and my body seems to prefer to hold back my movements rather than having to push against gravity. I was pretty tired, but I wasn’t worried about the hike down. My body likes going down.

Or at least it used to. Within the first five or 10 minutes down, I knew I was in trouble. My legs were beyond jelly tired, which in the past had often happened towards the bottom when I just basically kicked my legs out in front of me and it was all I could do to keep myself from careening down. This fatigue  was more like an all out-and-out strike. My legs were pretty much saying, “We don’t really want to do what the brain is saying, and god help you if you think we’re going to hold your weight.”

Um, say what, now?

My arms were picking up the slack, but after a while they started complaining too. Great. My legs refused to pay any attention to me at all, and a couple of times I put my leg down and started to lower myself, and my legs just said, “Fuck you, lady,” and I sat on my ass.

It became a game of matching wits with my body. All I could do was just shuffle like a granny because I was afraid if I took a bigger step my legs would really crap out on me. They seemed to barely tolerate the little grandma steps. As a result, I kept having to pull over on the trail because people needed to pass me.That turned out to be to be a blessing, because it gave me time to rest, say, every five minutes.

Yoga has taught me when you’re trying to do something hard, you bring in all your other body parts, For example, I struggled with tree and only achieved it by gripping with my foot, ankle, shin. But once I engaged my core, my toes no longer needed to have a death grip on the mat for me to stay upright. So I asked all my other body parts to kick in anything they had. My arms were already working to capacity and were also on the verge of a strike, so no help there. My core was busy huffing and puffing, so all I had left was yoga breath. It kept me going and it kept me calm, but I was definitely breathing like a mofo. It also didn’t help  when I knew I had to be close to the end, but every turn of the path revealed another long stretch of wooded trail in front of me. So I stuck to tradition and I cursed and swore and texted my friends, “Where the hell is the end of this fucking thing?” They had made it out a lot sooner .

I kept breathing, and shuffling, and I made it out. I have to say overall it was a grand success. I did not hurt myself, and I did not have any thoughts about how I could break a leg to get helicoptered out, like I did when I was crawling out of the Grand Canyon many years ago. And two days later, I could barely navigate stairs without looking like a spaz.

But that is all as it should be, as has been since I was a teenager. Sure things have changed a little, but the pattern has remained to the same. And now that I can climb stairs without thinking, the next step is, when can I go again?


Happy Man Day

In the past I wrote about my dad and mentioned how growing up with him wasn’t exactly a picnic. The cool thing, though, is that he went from being an unhappy man who yelled a lot to a man who sent an email to his kids saying this: “The unity and bond in this so diverse family is exceptional [read more about how god played a big joke on us] and mirrors to me the beauty of the timeless, indescribable Unity of the Life Principle which is the foundation of all living things, and what is most important, it goes beyond the differences of individuality! So, thank you all for that wonderful family gift.” Sweet, right? Plus, I can still tease him about the difficult childhood—win-win.

This year in addition to wishing my son’s dad and all the dads a happy day, I’d also like to send a shout out to all the non-dads who are just as important to families as parents are. Raising a kid really does take a village and the Village People, and it helps no one when our culture celebrates individual independence, which is the exact opposite of what parents need. Believe me, being alone with a toddler having a full-on meltdown tantrum is akin to dropping off a lone soldier in enemy territory. In fact, I’d probably choose the enemy territory. At least I’d have a chance of being captured. Toddlers take no prisoners.

As a society we have been doing a better job of making sure there are enough female role models for girls, and that’s great. Kids need male role models too, and need to see men doing all kinds of interesting things and defining success in different ways. Hell, we all need to see it! Seeing other ways of being, I hope encourages us to be our authentic selves. So thanks to all the teachers, uncles, nephews, brothers, cousins, in-laws, out-laws, friends, mentors, next door neighbors, kind strangers, coworkers, and many others who have engaged in some way in a kid’s life. Handing back a runaway ball with a smile, playing a fun game on a long plane ride, playing dress up, sending entertaining snail mail as a novelty, sharing a passion, being a full-on caretaker. Thank you, and never underestimate your impact on a kid (or the parent), even if it’s just a few minutes. Kids are the original receptacle for downloading content, and for better or worse, you have been scanned.

And I also want to say thank you to diverse group of non-dads who have been a part of my son’s life, and made us richer for it. And if he takes a bad turn, I’ll do the right thing and drag you all down with me and blog about it.

If this seems familiar to you, I posted this last year and have made a few revisions.

Dancing Should Not Be an Act of Courage

Hi everyone. I really tried to find something lighthearted and funny to say today, because we need it, but I couldn’t. The Pulse night club shooting is disgusting and horrifying, and another shooting in a long, exhausting list of shootings. I’m bone tired of it. If shooters don’t care about killing kids in schools and people in theaters, why should we be surprised that someone wants to kill gay dancers of color at a club?  And yet most of us are surprised, so that’s something. The minute we become desensitized to these shootings is the moment we are lost. But we are becoming numb and overwhelmed. It feels hopeless sometimes. Have any gun laws changed since Sandy Hook? Has the conversation between responsible gun owners and people who are horrified by guns advanced? It doesn’t feel like it. It just feels like many dispersed organizations are working on different aspects of this madness. Maybe we are moving the needle, but it doesn’t feel like it’s nearly enough. Well, actually it isn’t enough because this shit keeps happening.

Most of my best times dancing have been in gay clubs. The thing is, I like to actually dance, and when I went to straight dance clubs in my 20s, I could dance the way I wanted to until about 1 am. Then the straight boys who had been hugging the walls and were previously too sober to cut loose and dance were very drunk and looking to score before the 2 am deadline. So there was a lot of slobbering and grabbing in that last hour, and most of my dance moves were deployed to avoid them. If they had actually danced with me–really danced with me earlier –they might have had a shot. There is nothing sexier than a man who can dance and be comfortable in his own skin. The straight men of previous generations who could only legitimately be close to a woman by dancing with her got that. Or they were at least forced to learn how to dance if they wanted to meet women. I don’t mourn all the sexism back then, but I do miss a straight man who can dance and enjoy himself .

So where’s a dancing girl to go? The gay clubs of course. There I learned so much about gay culture and history. Back in the day the clubs were often unmarked and you could only get in with a password. They were and are hallowed and safe places for people who are often reviled for just being themselves. I came along after the password era, but some of the clubs I went to were still unmarked.

Then and now, once I enter a gay club, I am among men and women who can dance. Who are enjoying themselves. Who are dancing like there is no tomorrow. My kind of people. I spend many Sunday nights at a gay club, Club Cafe at what they call a tea dance, one that starts in the afternoon, rather than at 10 pm. Here’s the history from the Back2Stonewall website:

“By the late 60s, gay men had established the Fire Island Cherry Grove and also the more subdued and “closeted” Pines (off of Long Island, in New York) as a summer resort of sorts. It was illegal at that time for bars to ‘knowingly sell alcohol to homosexuals’ and besides many of the venues there were not licensed as ‘night clubs’ or to sell alcohol. To avoid attracting attention, afternoon tea dances were promoted. Holding them in the afternoon also allowed those who needed to catch the last ferry back to the mainland to attend.”

And now some gun-owning person stunted with hate has made going dancing a courageous act. And going to school, and going to a movie theater. It’s bullshit, ridiculous, and tragic. I’m sorry, responsible gun owners. You have to step up. You have to help figure out the solution to this. I’d ban every effing gun in the country, but the NRA and many of you find that unacceptable. So what is the answer? You’re the one with the gun, with the passion. Tell me. How do we keep guns in the hands of people like you and out of the hands of stunted people who hate? Tell me. I’m going to go dancing looking over my shoulder, looking for the man who is not dancing, is not comfortable in his skin. So you tell me. What is the answer? Tell me.

Girlie Adventures: The One That Got Way

Occasionally I write about my forays into the world of girlie girlness. It took me a while to get here, having been a pants-preferring feminist for a long time. I used to equate girlie girlness with weakness, which is really the opposite of feminism, but I was  young, passionate, and convinced I was right. How adorably clueless is that? Lately I’ve come to the conclusion that I can be a strong woman in a cute dress; leaving any of my talents on the table is not what living my fullest life is all about. So when my brains and brawn need a little help, I’m learning to not be afraid of bringing in the girlie girl.

Which is what I was practicing on a recent walk around Jamaica Pond in Boston. I was feeling full of vim and vigor and decided to power walk around the pond. I went right from work, and in my cute, black dress, tall black boots, and well-chosen accessories, I was a vision of girlie power. I walked fast and sure, not unlike Carrie Bradshaw in the opening credits of Sex and the City. She’s walking in NYC, in her weird, yet fetching girlie outfit, flirtatiously raising her eyebrows and smirking confidently. That was me, smirking at strangers and swinging my arms. I was killing it. Up ahead I saw I guy casting his fishing rod, so I slowed a bit. When the rod pointed in the direction of the water, I sped up and surged confidently past him. When I was directly behind him, I felt a gentle thwack on the front of my thigh. With my kickass boots thumping, all my brain had time to formulate was that the fisherman had thwacked me accidentally with the tip of his fishing pole. That had to be true because I was walking confidently in a cute dress like Carrie Bradshaw.

On I walked, once, twice around the pond, going strong. Because I was busy looking outward and facing the world with my amazing girlie girl self-possession, I dismissed the shiny thing near the bottom of my dress as being the zipper of my open coat. You know, as one does.

I would have been better off remembering Carrie’s bus splash.

As I started to slow down, I got a good look at the “zipper.” Lo, I had been walking around the pond with a shiny, flashing fishing lure hooked to my dress. My brain was flooded with endorphins from all that walking, so I laughed at myself and sat down to pull it out. I had a vague notion that these lures could be expensive, plus, how cute and flirty would it be to hand it back to him with a little toss of my head and witty remark about being the one who got away?

And then I noticed the sucker had three hooks, and they were all embedded in my dress. What the hell did this guy think he was going to catch in this little pond? Jaws? I worked at it for a bit, but the damn thing was like a fishing hook Rubik’s cube. I’d get one hook free, but as I triumphantly released the second one, the first one would dig back into the dress. The third one was just permanently attached and laughing at me.

The sun was starting to set and I was hungry and needed to get home. Sadly, there wasn’t going to be any flirty exchange or little toss of the head. Of course, I was also clear across the pond from my car. But I scraped together my brains, brawn, and girlie girlness and power walked back, acting for all the world like I’d invented a new dress accessory: the triple hooked shiner.

Back at my house, I started the Rubik’s cube game in earnest. But since I was only ever able to solve one side of that thing,  I wasn’t really getting anyhere. Brawn wanted to rip the hooks out and sew up the holes, but the tears would be right on the front of my favorite dress and girlie girl was having none of that. Brain finally realized that the fabric was stretchy, so, at least in theory, I might be able to use braun to strategically stretch the fabric over the nasty hooks with out ripping anything. It took most of the evening, considerable patience, and the phone support of a friend who actually had solved Rubik’s cube, but I did it. And that is the true power of not letting any of your talents get away.