Monday, December 7, 2009

Tympanic membrane, anvil, hammer

I am squatting like an Indian, holding a tepid mug of tea in my two hands, rocking forward onto my toes, back on my heels, bouncing off the cushion beneath me, rocking back to my toes… In a flash, my writer’s block is relieved.

Rocking is medicine. Sometime over the summer I learned that any kind of mental congestion, overheat, can be resolved by swinging in a hammock. A lazy push is necessary, simply laying in the hammock isn’t enough.


Most every massage session I’ve ever given began with my rocking my client on the table. It is a convenient way to introduce my body to theirs, an on-again, off-again touch, not an intrusive, immediate laying-on-of-hands. I think it is such an unusual movement for them after a full day of sitting stiff in an office chair, that it breaks their mental tunnel vision and allows them to be present once again in their bodies. It makes my job easier – rather than mowing down ranks of rigid muscles with lethal elbows, I can cajole a body to let go of its own accord.

There’s some science here. I tell my massage students about it, in hopes that they will employ compassionate techniques like these, saving their clients’ and their own bodies from agony. But is there any need, really, to dissect what every mother has known since the her first child drew breath - that gentle movement is grounding, and brings even the most recalcitrant child back to the safe haven of its body?


I would gather and rock in my arms Tony, who slipped from a bridge weighted by deep and inexplicable sadness. I would rock the water from his ears and warm his body, pressed close to mine.

I would gather and rock my mom, with too many maladies to count, in hopes of healing cognitive connections, in prayer for miracles.

I would gather and rock my old friend Erin, rock until all her pieces came back together, sifted into their places, and made her whole again.

I would gather and rock all the people for whom there is nothing else I can do, but give of my body.


In the depths of despair over losing my mother’s mind, I was saved by the love of my boyfriend. The rhythms of our heartbeats, the rise and fall of our breaths, were enough.

In college I sat one night in meditation with some dear friends. In the silence, listening to my heartbeat, I felt a slight rocking caused by the pulse of blood through my body. I was pleased to feel my own rhythm, permeating my entire being.


We are outrageously out of touch with ourselves. In what other place and time have we so skewed the balance between body and mind, thudding heart and intellect, such that our bodies are merely the vehicle for our brains? Asses slung in office chairs, we touch just with the tips of our fingers, while our minds whir away about nothing to do with our being. Our bodies whisk our minds home at the end of the day. The car radio is blasting; maybe we don’t even use our ears – tympanic membrane, anvil, hammer – to hear it.

Or perhaps the music is unexpectedly moving – a holy choir chorusing out into a dark night – and one cannot help but listen, reverberation of another’s throat in ear – and what is that ache in my chest, suddenly, at beauty? The crash backwards into my body is painful. Where have I been? What have I missed, oh body?


A violin string plucked will cause the instrument’s body to resonate for 24, and then 48 hours. After an hour of practice, the instrument will continue its steady, warm hum for two days, before falling silent, growing cold.

What if we are similar? Must we plow the furrows of each others’ fingertips to maintain a healthy resonance? Do we fall silent when we do not rub up against one and other?


I know this – when I do not touch, when all is done for me, I lose the groundedness of being. Shivering in my skin, pouring morning tea, steam billowing toward my face… holy, holy, I am alive.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Whychus Creek Hike, September 2009

(Dear readers - Sorry for my absence, but as you'll see, I was writing... for an amazing group of women writers whose presence in my life feels like throwing open a door to an entirely new landscape. I'll be back more often, now. The following piece is a bit rough, but may lead to a larger project.)

When you reach Alder Spring in the Whychus Creek canyon, you have to sit down amongst the grasses and take off your shoes for the 20 foot wade across the river bed. Had you done this just last year, you might have been puzzled by a strange sight – Alder Spring emerging from the bank to fill a rocky creek bed that upstream of the spring is completely dry.

For decades, Whychus Creek has run dry in the summer. It’s an all-too-common example of a water resource being sucked dry by too much need, without concern for the wider ecological impact within its watershed.

But the Whychus, with the minutest bit of encouragement, is back.

In 2007, the Deschutes River Conservancy bought 1.5 cubic feet of Whychus Creek water right from a previous holder. That’s barely enough to fill the creek bed, and in September, when I visited, the creek was warm from a long, shallow passage through dry desert. It’s not really enough water to guarantee the success of the steelhead that so many agencies are trying to encourage to spawn in their former grounds, high up on the Whychus, after a challenging tour up the rocky Deschutes. Still, I’m buoyed by the return of a creek, however piddling, as it seems so radically the reverse of most of the environmental news we hear, daily.

“Lynn, how cold’s the water?” I call, though I was the first of our party to step in, and I’m still shin deep in the confluence of the waters of Alder Spring and Whychus Creek.

“Suck my ass!” Lynn yells back to me, scurrying toward the opposite side as best she can on rocks slick with algae. Apparently she is no aficionado of slimy rocks. Despite this momentary tiff, Jim, my partner, Lynn, one of my favorite people ever, Siri, my nature dog, and I are having a pretty fabulous day on the weekend that I’m celebrating my 33rd birthday. I’d hiked down to Whychus Creek once before, just a few weeks previous, and promised both Lynn and Jim that I’d take them there. When Lynn showed up as the best kind of surprise birthday present, it was a given that we’d go together.

I was so taken with the canyon and all its miraculous springs, emerging from riverbanks, canyon walls, percolating straight up from the ground. There are a million tiny worlds in that very condensed space between the two walls of the canyon. The dusty high desert descends to a riparian corridor along the banks of the creeks. After the aforementioned crossing, you find yourself on an island crisscrossed by a hundred tiny springs, each tickling the roots of water-loving trees that provide unusual shady oases. Continuing on you ascend a dry cliff, and coming down again you clap your hands among thick reeds, in hopes of scaring off the rattlesnakes. And finally, under towering Ponderosas is the rocky outcropping that marks the cathedral of the confluence of the Whychus with the Deschutes, both rivers having regained their strength since leaving civilization through the contributions of those thousand little tributaries.

What I’m really excited about though, is the renaissance of Whychus Creek. I can’t help but conflate its history with my own. Just a year previous, I had been living in Portland, dreading another rainy fall. I’d reached my outer limit with my massage practice, so overwhelmed by my clients’ energies that I had no energy for myself. I was entering the dark days of recovering from gluten intolerance – a pervasive fatigue and ennui that no amount of coffee could shake. And for many years, I’d felt like there was a layer of plastic between me and the world, probably the result of two separate but terrifyingly similar losses many years before.

On the first day of rain in the city that fall, I’d looked at my partner Jim with such despair that in that instant, he acquiesced to my stated desire to escape Portland, as soon as possible. A few months later, we moved to Tumalo. Now eight months have gone by, and I am so overjoyed to be hiking, to be taking photos with my new camera, and to be sharing this amazing place with my favorite people, that it’s nearly painful.

I’m sure that there appears to be an inherent risk in our abrupt leave-taking of a city that had been our home for nearly ten years, but we had done our homework – we had friends here, brought our respective businesses with us, and knew we’d remain productively tethered to Portland. The greatest risk I’ve encountered in these months? Opening myself up to all the beauty that surround us, letting it percolate like those thousand tiny springs through what had become my personal, inner drought. The dust yields reluctantly to the rivulet, and then is rent by a cautious sprout…

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

New Toy

My boyfriend finds an infinity of ways to distract me.  Lucky me, this is the latest:

 Canon Powershot SX20 IS

As much as I hate to admit it, he's right about how having a camera such as this, with a ridiculous amount of macro and zoom, makes the user actually see what they're photographing, instead of merely clicking away.  I would add that its presence around one's neck turns the carrier into a better observer - noting the quality of the light, seeking the miraculous in both the mundane and the minute, astonished into action by eye-popping color.

 Looking like this makes a moment, an afternoon, a life... so that's what creative outlets are for!

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Birthday Blog

I'll apologize ahead of time for being distracted while writing by Pandora playing the greatest hits of my junior and senior hits (see?) years in high school. How does it do that?

So, yup, another year gone by. I'm perversely pleased to inhabit a year that's divisible by 11, but haunted for probably the first time by the perception that I might really be getting old. Heck.

An infinitely cuter period of my life.

 I do my best to over-celebrate my birthday, extending the events (and presents!) throughout at least the month of September, and if I feel like it, all the way through the 25th of the next month.  (Forgot to send me a present?  There's still time!  No hard feelings!)  I like to think of this as a magnanimous gesture to folks like my dad who has yet to call me, on my birthday, since I moved out of the house. 

Anyway, and slightly more seriously...  While I might be feeling a bit more sympathetic these days to the folks who cringe at the mention of an(other) upcoming birthday, I like to think of the day (or month, in my case) as a more personalized occasion than say New Year's to contemplate this particular moment of my little chunk of existence.  More specifically, what do I want for myself, for my birthday this year?  Despite my penchant for presents, that's not what this is about. 

This year I made a list while sunning myself at Breitenbush:
  • To be more honest with others. And with myself, when I can see it.
  • To expend less energy in tension.
  • To be kinder still to my body, and better anticipate its needs.
  • To allow myself to enjoy and experience a moment, instead of perpetually imagining how it could be better.
  • To recognize the value of spending time by myself, and find ways to be so.
  • To invest in things I've always wanted to do, or envisioned for myself.
So much of my time in Bend has been a gradual unwinding, a taffy-like untangling of my high-strungness.  Only now, 8 months in, can I realize and release some of the poverty mentality that led me to living the above's opposites.  I hope you all are smarter/more enlightened than I.  (If not, take heart.  It only took me 33 years to get to this place.  A mere third of a lifetime!)

In any case, I'm kind of excited for myself.  Writing these things down makes it my job to do them, and has often worked in the past.  It's rewarding to plot my own evolution.  Right now, I'm researching writing workshops and programs.  Imagine!  Something I've wanted to do since I was 8!

Happy Evolution to Me!

Friday, September 11, 2009

The next step.

Perhaps there's something to be said for unbridled idleness.

I went down to the park to float our little section of the Deschutes and had a wonderful experience of empty-headedness. I think I tend to run from such a thing, into pseudo-productivity on the web or elsewhere, because I feel guilty or lazy, or because I think I should be wisely using the time/space continuum of my mental real estate.

Today I didn't direct my little craft, but let the swift riffles and eddies take me where they would. I saw a water snake resting on the river bed, and noted which of the many pools is the deepest. I drifted back upstream in an eddy and became a captive of river-time; then I was amused that the tiniest of whorls set me free again.

It was when I was becalmed on a boulder that I thought - this is the next step of my healing. Allowing myself a lack of movement, mental quiet, in which to become observant and wholly present to the present of the moment.

I'd been looking outside myself for an answer to the congestion in my head. Somehow, though, it makes sense that mental nourishment would come in the form of undirected thoughts, and the occasional quiet space between them.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Trail running

Suffice it to say that we had a lot of visitors, and I became obsessed with school. Oh yes, and my computer crashed. Moving on...

Jim and I recently decided to start trail running. I'd been inspired by a poster advertising a women's trail running group, which I of course saw about 2 months after the group started running together. Given that I'm nowhere near my normal fitness level, and that we've moved to a place where altitude is indeed a factor in oxygen-suckage while working out, I wasn't willing to drop in on this group and ask them to wait for my slow ass.

I wanted to bolster my cardio fitness in a way only running (and rowing) can, and the 'trail' part? Ah yes. Someone's fasciitis-prone feet appreciate not running on pavement. Besides, it's prettier.

We took ourselves down to Shevlin Park and (accidentally) ran such a long portion of the loop trail that it necessitated our walking part of the way back. What's this? Walking in a post about trail running, in Bend?!

Here's the thing. My fitness Weltanschauung has shifted greatly in the months since we've moved here. I was so aware of this the other morning, my feet and breathing on cruise control, listening to birdies and the creek below, and wait, what's that! A little bit of endorphin? Yum! We weren't out to beat anyone, achieve a particular heart rate, or push through the wall, man! We carried water, and when we got tired, we walked. I wasn't in desperate need of a nap the moment we finished. That little endorphin rush fueled the rest of my day, and I was perfectly pleased with myself.

Somewhere along the line it's occured to me that working out is about building up, not breaking down. (I'll leave the speculation about how I could have ever come to the opposite conclusion to another post.) During that run, I enjoyed the act of running. I felt strong. I can't wait to do it again.

Perhaps the magic is in this - we were mindful about our run. We didn't run too fast or too long, we chatted throughout, we adjusted our pace as necessary, we took care of our bodies in the aftermath with a good stretch and breakfast. We were fully within our bodies as we ran, and afterward.

Recently our local tai chi instructor provided some background on one of the many purposes of tai chi. Apparently the ancients considered that each of us has a given amount of chi, and that most anything we do reduces our chi. The focused, graceful movements of body and energy while practicing are intended to rebuild chi.

I don't know how those fellows would feel about running as a means of rebuilding chi, but I hope that they'd agree that any activity undertaken with a modicum of mindfulness can be nourishing, even if it requires an expenditure of sweat.

Perhaps many of our problems, personally and otherwise, arise from a failure to approach our lives mindfully. We run too fast, carry inadequate water, flail headlong into the bitterbrush...

I'm going to keep trail running as long as the weather holds out, increasing time and pace as it feels right. And perhaps, from this new vantage point, I'll again let the lessons of my workouts inform my life.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Ms. Grouchy Pants

I'm sitting on the deck in the dark, head to toe in wool. It's a cool Central Oregon night. Until an hour ago, I was reading up on hydrotherapy, in preparation for putting lesson plans together for my Wednesday class. So often this semester, my first teaching a class such as this, I've had my head buried in a textbook, or been hunched over my computer, fiercely emailing the colleage who also teaches hydro.

I think I'm supposed to be having fun. I like long-term projects. I'm excited when my students get excited, and running my own show in front of the class appeals to me. Hydrotherapy is such a great, natural treatment that nicely fits how I think healing should happen. By teaching, I'm also not having to massage so many bodies that house broken spirits. But it's not really working.

There's an inordinate amount of frustration in the massage (read: drama) department at the moment, both for students and faculty. My pay is laughable, given how many hours I spend planning for a four hour class. I don't really have a mentor at this crucial point in my nascent teaching career. I don't know how to balance the enormous quantity of information in the book with the pressing need to demonstrate a variety of treatments in the short time I have available each week.

And I'm just unhappy that I'm not living the life I want in this place I chose, even though I have the job I aimed for.


Today I wanted to wander aimlessly across the hilltop field that stretches to the Sisters in the distance, wearing a full and dramatic skirt, bending occasionally to study the flowers or a dead bug, reveling in how gorgeous the light is a few hours before dusk. I wanted to hop on my bike and explore some new, quiet roads. I wanted to call my nana and talk with her about her newfound fascination with plate tectonics. I wanted to read lots of well-written blogs and be inspired by them, I wanted to take a friend's recommendation for a great book.

I didn't move all the way out here to be frustrated, to notice in the mirror this afternoon that the lines around my mouth have taken a distinctly downward turn. I don't want our deck to become a facsimile of outdoor-ness, because I can't really take the time to be outdoors.

It's easy to blame my seeming entrapment on a horrible economy, my Puritan practicality, my guilt over giving up on a new job, the overwhelmingness of trying to start a new life... But really? What's holding me back is that I just don't know what the heck I'm supposed to be doing with my life. I may have ended up where I wanted to be, but I have no idea what to do.

Ugh. Anyone have any good stories about finding your purpose in life, or maybe just some satisfaction with your work? Please share!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Hammocking in Central Oregon

Bend has a bit of a reputation for its obnoxious quantity of 'elites' - elite bikers, elite skiers, elite climbers, elite kayakers, elitists... etc.

When we first moved here, we were really concerned about how to find our place. We didn't want to have to keep up with the seeming everyone who owns 27 bikes and 16 pairs of skis, and uses at least one (set) of each on any given day.

And really, what about all the other wondrous things available to us out here, beyond the well travelled roads and ski trails? Do we always have to be moving, and quickly, to enjoy Central Oregon?

At one time, I would have clamored to be part of that elite. Unfortunately or otherwise, the most persistent feature of my gluten intolerance has been fatigue, and so the psycho schedule I used to keep - rowing at 5 am 4 days a week, bike commuting back and forth to my massage office 4 or 5 days a week, doing 4 hours plus of massage a day, going for big rides at least once a week, and managing the rest of my life in my spare time - isn't currently an option.

(However, I have inadvertently become one of the best rowers in Central Oregon by virtue of being one of only about four rowers out here. Hello, Bethanne, Doug, and Doug's girlfriend!)

...Or otherwise, gluten intolerance has given me my life back. Yep, sometimes I'm tired, and more often than not I just don't have the endurance I used to. So I head out in my boat, perhaps, and spend a lot of time watching the breeze on the surface of the lake. Or we go to the river and float down it in cheap pink inflatables from Target (definitely not elitist gear). Or maybe we go nowhere at all, and hang out in our new hammock, under the whispering branches of a big juniper and within sighting distance of the Spotted Towhee on our bird feeder.

Wouldn't it be great if all of our humble backyards became destination vacation spots, because the hammocking is just so top notch? We can all be elite hammockers with just a lazy push...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

An exhortation to a magical life

How Would You Live Then?

What if a hundred rose-breasted grosbeaks
flew in circles around your head? What if
the mockingbird came into the house with you and
became your advisor? What if
the bees filled your walls with honey and all
you needed to do was ask them and they would fill
the bowl? What if the brook slid downhill just
past your bedroom window so you could listen
to its slow prayers as you fell asleep? What if
the stars began to shout their names, or to run
this way and that way above the clouds? What if
you painted a picture of a tree, and the leaves
began to rustle, and a bird cheerfully sang
from its painted branches? What if you suddenly saw
that the silver of water was brighter than the silver
of money? What if you finally saw
that the sunflowers, turning toward the sun all day
and every day -- who knows how, but they do it -- were
more precious, more meaningful than gold?

~ Mary Oliver ~

Many thanks to Mary Oliver for providing solace and meaning in the flurry.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Vegetable Magnetism

We bought these yesterday at the Produce Patch in Bend. Could they possibly be any more beautiful?

On the advice of PP's proprietor, we broiled them for 5 minutes, coated only in a thin layer of olive oil, and then garnished them with a bit of herbed sea salt.

This is flavor that goes beyond flavor. Garlic spears have a deep, pungent mysteriousness that infiltrates taste bud, sinus, alveoli, neuron... Few times in my life have I held something in my mouth that so permeated my entire being. My cells and I can only moan in response.


In the store, these strange stalks called to me. I didn't know what they were but I was irresistibly attracted to them, the compass needles in all my cells marking true north by their presence. This has happened to me a number of times, always in the presence of immensely fresh produce, and almost always I've been drawn to something with which I was unfamiliar. My kale kick started this way, back on a beautiful day in November at the Portland Farmer's Market. Gigantic, warty, purple veined leaf - I couldn't walk away without buying a bundle, and when I steamed some for myself, for breakfast! of all things, my body threw open all the gates and sucked in some nutrient I'd clearly been missing all my life. And now, any breakfast without a bodacious leafy green just isn't.

I'm grateful for these strange moments of vegetable-oriented intuition, where my body knows what it needs without any help from my bumbling, energy-sucking brain. I feel lucky to have this... nutritional sensitivity? And yet, I wonder if my interpretation of these events isn't too anthropocentric.

Michael Pollan, of The Botany of Desire fame, might wonder whether my attraction to the garlic spears is a function of the stalks benefiting themselves in some self-perpetuating way. I'd like to take that one step further. What if these moments are the universe's way of inviting me to partake in all of its scrumptious brilliance?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Getting better all the time

These days I am always aware that I'm healing from something, but I don't always know from what.

Gluten intolerance pretty seriously kicked my ass before I knew what was going on; perhaps the process of becoming aware of all the ways my body needed to heal led me to an awareness of the other ways in which I was wounded.

Some are fairly intense - my mom's multiple medical and psychological diagnoses run me (and my sis) through the gamut on a fairly frequent basis. A sense of abandonment is the biggie, there.

Some are pretty trivial, on the outside: the traffic in Portland regularly turned me into a candidate for Tourette's syndrome - somewhat comical to any passenger who knew me more as an empathetic massage therapist than a Type A driver.

And some are old, and so much a part of the fabric of my life that I have no idea who I'd be without them.

Perhaps other gluten intolerant and celiac folks can identify with the feeling that once you'd been off gluten long enough, the mental light bulb clicked back on, and the path back to the life you remembered was illuminated. My body started healing 10 months ago in August. By December, my spirit/psyche/animus reared up and announced that it was leaving Portland, getting the heck out of the city, and going back to a beautiful, slower paced place where it belonged.

And so here we are. I left my massage practice, and now I'm working a very part time job. We live on a small piece of property where the wind and the occasional coyote are all we hear at night. We're 2 miles from the nearest coffee shop, 7 miles from downtown. Sometimes there's nothing to do, so we sit on the porch in the sun, read books, maybe play badminton.

I'm protective of the peace that has descended. In the quiet, I'm aware of the shifting tides of experience, memory, emotion. Floating along I can gently examine parts my life, set them aright. Little bits of healing occur, all the time.

Today I went for a row on Suttle Lake. There were thunderclouds building up in the east, but the lake was calm, glacial green-blue, and quiet. Once I'd packed up and dried off, Siri and I stretched out on a short dock. The lake is so beautiful it's almost shocking. I'm so pleased to now have a life in which I notice these things, and can be filled by them. I'm no longer just a tourist, a dilettante in a life I wish I had. Some part of me that had crinkled and contracted thanks to living in a big city where every view is compromised by buildings, noise, dirt, cracks open and begins to refill with wonder.

Wonder feels so expansive, like it makes more space in me for all of what is and feels good in life. So unlike cynicism...

What would a critical mass of wonder look like?