Category Archives: Hiking

2016: A Spaced Elegy

So many low points.

So many illnesses, deaths, heartaches, heartbreaks and stabs to my soul. So many slaps across the face, tears in their wake, shouts thrown into the night. A few bad decisions, a few good ones that turned out to be bad, and a few too many days alone… that was 2016.

Eff off, 2016.

Eff off, 2016.

But I don’t want to talk about those, as I’m not even close to alone on that. Most people appear to have had a shite 2016. Most people were so glad that the calendar turned to 2017 that they expected some sort of magic moment on Jan. 1, like they’d turn on their phones and all the pains and woes of the world would have been eradicated by Prince and David Bowie, who came back to fix the world aboard the Resurrectium Falcon piloted by Carrie Fisher with Leon Russell riding shotgun.

They expected Donald Trump to tweet something benevolent on New Year’s Day. WRONG.

They expected all 25 pounds they’ve gained to just magically shake off Sunday morning.

They expected their wishes — people to grow a soul and do the right thing – would come true.

Reminds me of that horrible phrase my stepdad used (may he rest in peace… thanks 2016) – “wish in one hand and shit in the other, and see which one fills up fastest.”

So yeah, let’s leave the wishes in the dust. Let’s leave 2016 in the dust too, but first, the miracles of 2016… yes, they were there, just fewer and far between.

mountaopI climbed this mountain this year. My heart was broken, wrung out, on the 60-day DL for repeated fractures. I wanted to see Dr. James Andrews and have him put me on the exempt list. (Sports humor, y’all…)

It was the first warmish day of an incredibly long, warm , beautiful Connecticut summer, and I climbed this mountain. Me, who used to weigh 315 pounds. Me, who had never shown much interest in hiking before… me, who found that it was life-saving.

Me, who a few months before was in “the best relationship of my life” only to have it disappear in a few short months. Me, who had it “all together.” I was not OK on that mountain that day, not on the inside.

But I was much better when I left. After I had gotten to the top, laid down and spaced out for an hour or so, listening to the world teach me lesson after lesson, dripping with the time-honed wisdom of the trees and breeze.

I had a staredown with a buck, keeping my quiet while he and a fawn behind him traipsed through low underbrush.

buckstaredownI watched as tender new June leaves danced in the intense mountaintop wind, and as the sun beat down on glittering quartz-filled rocks. I heard crows everywhere – Connecticut is home to enormous, beautiful crows – and the warblers were out at every treetop. Mountain laurel was blooming and the forest floor carpeted with moss and new grass. But the higher I got up the mountain, the quieter it got and the flora and fauna more scarce. It also got more peaceful. A peace I’d never really felt.

I lay on that mountainside and felt the elements underneath me and around me. I felt the heat of the rocks below me. I gazed into the abyss and realized how close I could be to violent death should I amble too far and tumble off. I nearly fell asleep in the peace, though my heart was racing. I looked up at the brilliant sky and I cried out at the top of my lungs, saying aloud to everything that could hear: “THANK YOU.” I meant it. I still do.

ontopofoldsmokyThe mountaintop brings gratefulness. I had to climb it to find that out. And though I’m not anywhere near fitness perfection, I’ve climbed two mountains in my short hiking career, and multiple trails have welcomed me for their miles of glory. I have come to find solace and strength in the quiet brilliance of a mountain trail, and I don’t question anymore why that is – especially after that day.

I was broken. Broken by a man who I still don’t understand, and probably never will. Broken by life and its many foibles. Broken by death, grief and misunderstanding. I was fixed when I came down the mountain. I’d be dinged again later, but at that moment, I was OK. I spent the weekend camping and the rest of the summer planning to do what would make me happy.

Maddie. My heart.

Maddie. My heart.

Part of that happiness, I didn’t realize, would be adding to my family in the form of Maddie, my senior citizen Golden Retriever who makes me so very happy. Going to get her was an adventure – a first date (and there would be no second) in the car to gather her up from Maryland. Once she was in the car, it’s like the guy didn’t exist. Kevin Durant left the Thunder the next day and all I could think about was the joyful red girl lying on my living room floor. She’s been about the best thing to happen to me in a long time. And her owners wanted her to be put down. How lucky can I be?

So a few months later, I moved to a place that’s not far from the mountain I hiked that day – Washington, Ct. – to be closer to nature and the people who appreciate it. I am a mile from hiking now, living in a tiny village with real people who do real things and make real memories.  There are family farms out here that are 300 years old. There are places I can walk in, pick up fresh produce and leave cash in an “honesty basket” without ever seeing the farmers. There are memories to be made here by the boatload, and I will make them, I can tell. It was a whim that I moved here, but it was rooted in a need to be where the peace is. I felt something, and I don’t think I’ll be leaving here anytime soon.

I went to LA to hang with Renae for her 40th birthday. We also went to the first Rams preseason game... or should I say, the first DAK PRESCOTT GAME!

I went to LA to hang with Renae for her 40th birthday. We also went to the first Rams preseason game… or should I say, the first DAK PRESCOTT GAME!

I traveled a ton this year as well… and realized that city life is just what I have to tolerate when I travel. I spent a few days in Nashville (sick) to cover the SEC Tournament in March, and then spent several at Disney World (sick) with people I love. I took two trips to Oklahoma and Texas (sick), went to Los Angeles (healthy, but exhausted) to celebrate my BFF’s birthday, and finally moved out to where I really wanted to be (and got sick almost immediately. For two weeks.) Since I’ve moved out here, traveling is about the last thing I want to do. Long weekends at home are spent, with me hardly ever leaving, and not feeling like I’ve missed out.

I spent quality time with family and friends, and have already had my parental figures, one sister and one brother over to the new house. Considering I live far away from everyone, that’s a big thing. This year, I’ll spend more time with friends, if I can pull myself away from my haven out here.

Oh, and I should mention — my career, bracing for all the change of the coming wave of technology — is ever-changing, as usual,but still one of the most important things ever for me. I’m just glad that I now have something that can shut off the work voice on my way home — my new scenery. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t still count my lucky stars and pinch myself every now and again. FIVE YEARS AT ESPN. What the hell.

So yeah, the year that started off beautifully quickly landed in a heap on the ground — wings broken off, smoke and ash blocking the fresh air and taking hunks of my humanity with it. But I rebounded. I made some mistakes along the way, I said some things I shouldn’t have, and I spent a few months in a dark place. But it went away. And now there is light. There may be no answers for why it went the way it did, but I’m not going to worry about that anymore. Not everything has a reason. Sometimes, life is just bullshit.

But you gotta find a trail to get over the mountain of bullshit to get to the mountain of peace. It’s there. Just look.

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Filed under Birds!, Connecticut, Hiking, Kevin Durant, Love, Moving, NBA, Personal musings, Politics?, Relationships, Sports, Thunder, Women

My new happy home: (Slowly) sowing on the mountain

It is Oct. 1, and I live in New England.

That means the tapestry is unfolding – red and yellow leaves dot my new surroundings, still a minority to the green, and that’s good. I want this to move slowly.

Something within me has slowed down these last few months. Not in an unhealthy, geriatric sort of way – I turned 42 last week, not 92 – but I’ve felt myself walking slower, moving slower, being more deliberate, thinking more. I’m not sure where it’s coming from, but I like it.

So many things have changed in the last year. Hell, so many things have changed in the last five years, but the last year has been a doozy. There are days I don’t understand how I got here. After a long week of the routine of work (which has changed a ton too), adding in my new commute (42 minutes on a normal day, closer to 50 when following behind an ever-present farm or trash truck), my weekends are spent in my house, puttering around at my own pace, feeling out the place, getting used to it. Driving to “town” for groceries. Working in the yard. Walking Miss Maddie. It’s new, but it oddly feels more like home than I’ve felt since I moved to New England.

Home, of course, is Muskogee, Oklahoma. Also Tahlequah, Oklahoma, where I spent a decade of some of the best times of my life. But this place… how did I get here? It’s heaven, it’s soul-satisfying, and it feels like forever. I drive with the windows down even when it’s cold because it smells like rural Oklahoma mixed with the damp, autumnal glory of Connecticut. This place where I’ve only lived a month but can’t wait to come home to each night? This place where my dear, dear stepmother said, “It’s like you’re on vacation every weekend.” How did I get here?

Well, here’s the short answer. I had my heart broken earlier this year and I kind of went on a “finding myself again” mission. How did I allow this to happen? Why did I react so meanly when it abruptly ended? Why was I missing him when I knew he wasn’t right for me? Why did it take so long for me to recover? Why was he so awful to me and how did I let that happen in the first place?

I sought out answers by going on a few dates. And again, I found nothing. I was interested in a guy who, again, said all the right things, but disappointed me. I also met a nice guy who wanted to change me – No. I don’t think so. Rather than wallow and wish for the best, I cut it all short. I wasn’t heartbroken at all, just frustrated and glad I hadn’t formed any real connections. Dating sucks, and as it turns out, I wasn’t lonely. Just in need of a change. I had to remember that I am fine single – that romance, while desired and lovely, isn’t what made me who I am.

So I redeployed the “finding myself” mission, but in overdrive. I very quickly evaluated my life and the one thing I was missing in this super-blessed, super-fruitful life of mine was tranquility. I had been seeking serenity on the weekends, leaving behind bustling Bristol for mountainous Western CT, where I would hike, drive or just daydream about living there. I realized I wanted to return to something like where I grew up, in rural Muskogee. Somewhere where, as my mom used to say, “You don’t have to put on a prom dress to get the mail.” Somewhere I could start over. Again.

The timing was there. My brother and his now-fiancee were moving back to Oklahoma, so one day, tired of all the bullshit and seeking some sort of break, I looked at Craigslist for rent houses in the area where I like to hike. It’s pretty fancy out here, so I wasn’t optimistic about finding a rental.

But I did. I found a house about 15 minutes from the hiking routes that gave me solace and comfort when I was getting over a heartbreak coupled with the death of a family member. A place where I could lie on my back after climbing a mountain and forget all the pain, all the questions, all the regrets. Somehow, I got the place. And in a matter of weeks, I was on the road to my new home.

Turns out this house is also less than five minutes from some pretty great hiking grounds, and it’s a town that has a community of people who seem to like each other and appreciate life. I will make new memories. I will hike new grounds. Ones where, hopefully, I won’t have to go to get over sadness, but where I can go to feel the sun on my face, listen to the birds and overcome obstacles just for fun, like when I first started hiking. A place I can memorize and forget, a place that will always be new and magical.

This is such a far cry from where I was when I moved to Connecticut from Oklahoma. I don’t bemoan anything from my past, and I have few regrets, but I just don’t understand how I was basically an indoors person who became an outdoors person. The lack of Oklahoma heat has a lot to do with it, I’m sure. But that joy I feel when I go outside – that “The hills are alive with the sound of music” moment I experience every time I’m in the woods—where did it come from?

I’ve also been living differently since I moved here. I go to bed early and get up early, which, for those who know me well, is SHOCKING. I get my chores done. I am more organized, while still living by the seat of my pants. I cook dinner nearly every night and take my lunch every day. Fast food dinners are a thing of the past, though I do enjoy a good Taco Bell run every once in a while.

I don’t know where this all is coming from, and I’m not going to question it anymore. I’m just going to enjoy it. I also am no longer questioning why my past romances have failed, why I haven’t met “the one” yet and why I am still alone. I used to say I wouldn’t do this or that until I was in a good relationship, because I wanted someone to share it with. That seems so silly to me now. I am no longer waiting for something to happen. I will go it alone – and maybe that’s the plan that was picked for me. Maybe I should just really live a day at a time, and if I meet someone, great. If not, I’m still happy.

Yeah, that’s what I’m going to do.

In the meantime, I’ve got the best golden retriever on the planet, the best job a person could ask for – with bosses and co-workers who (mostly) get me — a wonderful house surrounded by a community of interesting people, and all of life’s necessities. I have family and friends who I cannot believe put up with me. I have satisfaction in my soul, a smile on my face, food in my belly and a joy I didn’t know I could find.

I am happy. I could have saved a lot of words and led with that, but that’s not my writing style. I am moving more slowly – not because of age or pain, but because I don’t want to miss anything. I don’t feel like I’m running to something anymore.

I feel like I’m here.

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