Running the Rapids

These photos are of my darling, mad boy, bouncing over the rapids of either the Wolf or the Flambeau River in Wisconsin in 1980. That was the year before we became parents, not that fatherhood ever interfered with Michael’s love of rapids, or scuba diving in the warm Caribbean or the freezing depths of Lake Superior. How about jumping off a tall cliff into a body of water, depth unknown? Twirling across wakes on his slalom waterski, doing crazy unnerving tricks with a huge grin plastered on his face? Maybe a twelve hour day riding rollercoasters, particularly the ones that spun upside down a few times? No problem. Of course there was the hot rod with the big engine. And the motorcycles. He never wore a helmet until a few months before he died so he could finally silence my nagging protests over his dangerous, irresponsible behavior.

I must’ve been standing behind a rock when the thrill-seeking, daredevil genes were handed out. Michael certainly got his share and maybe mine too. We were always so different in that way. On the physical level I was and am a very careful person. But when the mental and emotional rapids of life come roiling in, I’m your person. I always been more likely to plunge into metaphorical than he was, who was standing back on the shore until, reluctantly, he’d have to wade in. His physical speed rushes were matched by my mental ones. Although to be frank, there are some times when I get tired of rushing along inside, trying to keep up with life’s intermittently fast-paced demands. Running the rapids.

Trump’s Attempts to Overturn the Election Are Unparalleled in U.S. History – New York Times

The waters around me have been relentlessly raging lately, as many of my fellow citizens can also attest to as we drag ourselves through the daily double threat. The past few weeks have been really trying. First there is the rising tide of the pandemic. Waking up every morning to new terrifying statistics, trying to behave normally in a time that demands constant awareness while doing even the most basic daily chores reminds me of trying to keep a boat between the channel markers on a rough day. One bad move and you run aground, aground in this case meaning accidentally acquiring Covid which may or may not kill you. All these months and the turbulence rages everywhere. An unmitigated disaster. And then there are the shifting undertows of the post-election nightmare. Here we thought that one way or another, there would be a final decision, a result. That ambiguity would end. But no. Not with this uncontrollable madman plotting away to steal back his office because being a loser is a personal vision he cannot abide. I can’t get through a day without rage about Donald Trump’s democracy-trashing response to this election. Every minute, there’s a new angle of reality-denying, coupled with an attempt to turn his failure into success. And his party loyalists’ complicit behavior is even worse. To me they are all traitors to democracy. Try them all and lock them away. I’m mad all the time. I can’t see how a recovery from this four year assault on what admittedly, were not always satisfying norms for me. But despite my lifetime opposition and frustration at many national level policies, at least life wasn’t constantly feeling inexplicable and dystopian. I’ve thought longingly of the Watergate hearings, when despite the disparate viewpoints of opposing parties, tolerance was still allowed for civil discourse and truth. Not any more. Those days are gone.

I miss talking politics and history with Michael. A chunk of our life was enveloped by the fact that he was an elected public official for a long time. Ironically he ran for office because of our buffoon-like city council representative, who made no attempt to disguise himself as anyone but a self-interested businessman. Reminds me of Trump. I was the campaign manager. Michael lost his first race against against this incumbent by two votes. Two votes. That election was an unforgettably rough night. I left the courthouse after the tallying to run home to tell Michael that he’d lost before the media did. He was so confident and buoyant until I arrived and crushed him with the news. We huddled together thinking. Should we get a recount? Was there an error?

Eventually we swallowed the proverbial bitter pill and let it go. Four years later after we figured out how to get out the vote, Michael was elected and never looked back until he decided to serve the public differently, through teaching and volunteer positions. Granted, we were small potatoes compared to big national figures. But principles should be the same on every political level. I can’t imagine what Michael think of this political farce wreaking havoc on democracy. So there’s that issue which feels endless. Maybe on January 20th, this will end when our new president is sworn in at last. But I doubt it. There’s so much dissension and toxicity in this culture. Not the type of discord that diminishes quickly.

Meanwhile, as the two big national issues elicit feelings of frustration and a sense of being suspended in time, life and time inexorably ripple forward. Major and minor events tumble over each other. In recent weeks, I’ve received phone calls informing me of the deaths of two young people, children of friends I’ve known for decades. The stress of the lockdown is exacting harsh tolls from many families, aside from the actual virus-related illness and death. People I know are still dealing with their cancers and other chronic conditions. I have friends who are mourning the loss of partners. Depression and anxiety afflict many in my personal sphere. I feel helpless and worried that I might say the wrong thing at the wrong time. I’ve known more suicides in my life than I ever dreamed possible. I offer what help I can and try to check in with people who might be having trouble. I think about the long-range mental health problems ahead for so many people. The ripple effects of this time will go on for years to come. And I have to deal with myself. I’m trying to maintain a reasonable perspective when sometimes I just don’t feel reasonable at all. I know the difference between the small stuff and the big stuff. But in these strange times, sometimes everything feels equally important.

This past week was pretty ridiculous. November weather has been mild and extremely windy. For the second time in a few months, big gusts blew through my community and in my personal space, took down some fencing sections in my yard. After my lengthy siding job of earlier this year, I found that brand new aluminum slats have already blown off different parts of the house. I scrambled around, trying to make temporary fixes while calling contractors who either never answer, or don’t return calls. The virus has affected them too. Fewer people working, minor jobs unimportant compared to their bigger money-makers. And some are just overwhelmed or rude. My patchwork efforts failed. Luckily, I found a sympathetic handyperson who showed up within a few days and made the repairs. His crew left a lot of debris in the yard which he said he would return for – when being the operative question. As my son comments frequently on my outdoor work, somewhat sardonically, but also with admiration, I am lucky enough to be “hardcore,” despite my age. I moved all of the fencing leftovers into the driveway, only throwing away the unsalvageable bits. Hardcore indeed.

The next minor/major problem involved an invasive pest I thought I’d routed – the camel or cave cricket. I still remember the first time I spotted them in the ancient basement of this house. I photographed them because they looked interesting. Little did I know how fast they would reproduce while managing to evade environmentally safe insecticides.

Although they’re not dangerous, they’re creepy. They hop pretty high and move fast. When they made it from the basement to the first floor, I got done with them. There’s nothing like flipping on a light and see an insect party leap into the air and scatter. These guys are a common problem in my area. A good friend of mine told me that buying sticky strips that lie on the floor eventually trap the population. Just throw away the full ones, he said. Eventually, they’ll disappear. I got supplied and placed those strips in strategic locations until at last, weeks went by without a cricket in sight. I made peace with my internal dualism – yeah, I’m all about loving nature, but sometimes not. About two weeks ago, I was down in the basement and found that cooler outside temperatures had driven the not-so-little beasts back inside. I laid out more traps to start the elimination process again. I went downstairs to check things out a few days later and saw an ominous shadow on the sticky yellow strip. I thought, maybe a mouse, as they too periodically turn up at this time of year. But it wasn’t a rodent.

One of the beautiful Carolina wrens who live behind the lattice under my back porch had flown downstairs to investigate the ready food supply. I neglected to mention that this house, built in 1893, only has basement access from the outside, through two old-fashioned cellar doors.

When the contractors sided the porch, they removed the hooks that held those doors up and never came back to replace them. I’ve been propping one up with a heavy cinder block to make my life running up and down those steep stairs a bit easier. Hence the wren having access to flying downstairs. I was so heartbroken to see that beautiful little bird, dead in its quest for food because of my choices. I know it wasn’t the only one around because I’ve since seen more at my feeders. But still… During these strange times, my deep attachments to the birds, bees and butterflies with whom I share space has gotten a little out of hand. I know I’m going to pay an emotional price for indulging myself in a personal relationship with wild creatures. But just like anyone else you love, attachment is expensive. The risk of love is knowing how much its absence will hurt when it’s gone.

Turbulent times from the macrocosm to the microcosm. Don’t gather with anyone but people who live with, a tall order for those who live alone. Skip this year’s holidays so you don’t kill yourself or someone you love. Fix everything that breaks around your house. Ignore the ravings of the defeated president and his blind minions. Stay healthy. Exercise. Keep your perspective every day. Basically, don’t drown even if you feel like you’re barely keeping your head above water.

My old house is my challenge and my refuge. These days, most people don’t live in the same place for 42 years and counting. What was once three apartments is now more space than an older person needs. But my kids and grandkids live across the street. When my adult son comes home he has private space and room for visitors. Michael and I had four different bedrooms in this place before settling into the one we occupied for the bulk of our time here.

We started out sleeping in the blue room which changed to the computer room and eventually the music room. Ultimately, it was the room where Michael died. We lounged our way through the orange room which was once the music room, then the front room, then my mother’s room and finally, its current iteration, the parlor. No orange any more except for a tiny stripe tucked above the doorway entrance. It’s so bright and beautiful. I do my art work in there.

This is my mother ship. All that went before this moment, mostly good times, is packed into these walls, washing over me as I move from room to room, buoying me up, surging mysterious energy from its excellent bones into the core of me. I can’t explain the dynamics of this house which restores me daily and gives me the energy to keep navigating the crazy life. Coupled with the enduring magic of my relationship with Michael, I’m managing to get by. Small miracles in challenging times as I bump along, riding the rapids, hanging on like everyone else trying to get by. Waiting for the way future life is and hoping it arrives sooner rather than later.

Leave a Reply