Hot!!

Hmmm…was it only a couple of weeks ago I was complaining about being chilly in July? Well, change of states, change of complaints! Let me tell you, Arizona and Nevada, which we’ve just driven through, are ovens! Not that this is a news flash to anyone…I just forget the impact of this heat until I’m experiencing it again.

We flew down to Phoenix last week and shuttled to Prescott, where the RV and Rob’s little pick-up have been stored. After almost a year of sitting, there were a few things to take care of. In spite of our best efforts to leave both vehicles travel ready…we even left solar panels plugged in to the batteries to keep those charged…we had two days of maintenance to deal with. Turned out that the RV batteries and the truck battery had to be replaced, and we had some other minor repairs. Got the oil changed in both vehicles, and made a run to the grocery. This is a house on wheels, you know, so it has to be stocked.

We have a class C RV, which Rob drives…I think I’ve driven a total of about 10 miles, on a straight stretch, and that will be my first and last…I’ve told him if anything happens to him, the RV is a goner…I won’t be driving myself around the country, thank you very much! I’m driving the little pick-up. These vehicles traveled down from Alaska separately, and we’ve never traveled extensively using them together. After taking a good look at the cost to add a towing package to the RV and the truck, we decided it is more practical to caravan. Not ideal, but worth it to have a separate vehicle for exploring when the RV is set up at a campsite.

So…we are driving, in July, through the desert Southwest. Our goal is northern California, southern Oregon. We want to do some exploring in those regions. But first, we have to get there. As long as we are driving with the AC on, there is the illusion that the weather is pleasant, the sun is just a nice accent to the day. But stop for a few moments, get out and feel the absolute roasting heat and the almost physical impact of the sun, and I wonder, again, how anyone managed to settle this country. How does anyone who has to work outdoors do it? Is there anyone who lives here without air conditioning? And if so, how?  I have a pretty high tolerance for heat, and I rarely sweat. Let’s just say in this heat I need a little more antiperspirant than usual. So if I’m feeling it, I know it’s bad.

Hoover Dam Overlook, Nevada

The views are spectacular. The terrain varies so much…it’s mostly desert, but there are stretches that have more vegetation, more mountains. There are areas that look like moonscape. But it’s all big, huge, massive. No doubt about it, this is an astonishing land. Photos don’t do it justice, not by a long shot.

Driving through, I’m filled with admiration. Sometimes for the scenery, but mostly for the people who made it here. I always come back to the same thought: I would have been a failure as a pioneer. I would have been a cautionary tale with a marker along the wagon trail.

But there were obviously many people who were successful, and it is thanks to them that we can drive through now and find roads, restaurants, gas stations (although there are some stretches that have signs posted…the next gas is 70 miles, 100 miles, etc.). On one lonely stretch in Nevada, we missed a turn and had to decide…go on to the next opportunity for gas, or turn around and try to get back to the last one? I was beginning to see the buzzards circling…And this was in an area that my phone discouragingly said “no service.” Hard to believe there are places where cell phones don’t work, in 2012!

Happily for us, we made it to the next town, the next gas. No need for dramatic rescue. But it does make you realize the heat and isolation are real, and not to be taken lightly.

I had a similar epiphany when we lived in the Arctic…amazing that people survived, and even flourished. I have talents, but I don’t think mine extend to outsmarting the cold, or the heat. So I’m just grateful to have come along at a time when these challenges were already conquered, and be thankful for heaters in Alaska, and in the desert, thrilled to have air conditioning.

Mono Lake, Lee Vining, CA

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Ah, Sedona!

Snoopy Rock

This is beautiful red rock country, mountainous, with elevations ranging 4,800 and above. This is also a mecca for hikers, rock climbers, mountain bikers, and outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds. The communities of this area…Sedona, Oak Creek, and Jerome, are all a bit different, as you would expect, and each capitalizes on the sun, Native American art, pioneer spirit, the magnificent scenery, and shopping, shopping, shopping!

Sunday afternoon we went to a state park just out of town called “Slide Rock,” and joined others who were out for a cool and natural version of a water park. Slide Rock has natural rock formations in a shallow creek that allow you to slide through the water, just like you would at a water park. Only this slide has surroundings of beautiful red rock cliffs and rock formations all around it. It’s a popular kid destination, and a lot of families were there for the day with coolers, water floats, and assorted members of multi-generations gathered to enjoy a sunny Arizona afternoon.

Stephanie, Matt & Riley at Slide Rock

Sedona has a plethora of spiritual and psychic centers, and there are “vortex” points where there is a concentration of energy. You can seek counsel or guidance if that’s your interest, and with the variety of places offering these services in town, you shouldn’t have to stand in line too long.

There are “Pink Jeep” tours that take you on different sight-seeing rounds, looking at the rock formations that have inspired names like “Snoopy Rock” or “Coffee-Pot” or “Castle Rock.” You can rent bikes if you don’t have your own, go on horseback rides, or do it the old-fashioned way and hike the canyons.

Yesterday we stopped at the Chamber of Commerce to pick up some info on bike trails, and a gully-washer rain, the likes of which I hadn’t seen before, came down while we were inside. So we waited it out, watching as huge drops of rain and hail beat down, and literally created a white-out so that the magnificent views were obliterated. Let me tell you, Ketchikan rain has nothing on a true Arizona monsoon storm! Fortunately we weren’t prisoners too long. These storms are short and sweet, and keep the temps in a manageable range of low 90s…not bad for August in the high desert.

Tomorrow we’re going on a bike ride. We’ve hauled bikes all over this country, and I’m sorry to say don’t use them as much as we should. But in such a setting as this, it seems essential to get out and see nature in a more personal way.

Ah, vacation…the time of slow pace, discovery, adventure…the sweet life!

Reality check

I went for a little ride yesterday. No, I wasn’t at Disneyland or driving some stretch of highway. I was lying on a table in the ultrasound room of the Women’s Imaging Center, waiting for the results of a breast exam. It was a long half hour.

I had a mammogram a few weeks ago, just a routine screening. I got a call on my cell from my gynecologist’s office while I was in Arizona for Riley’s birthday. I needed to come back for a follow up. The radiologist had requested “more views.”

“This happens all the time,” the woman on the phone said. “They just like to be sure they haven’t missed anything.” Well, I was in baby mode, birthday mode, and it was comforting to accept that opinion. I didn’t lose any sleep over it, but I did make an appointment to have the second screening when I got back to Ketchikan.

I went downstairs for the second mammogram yesterday morning. Fortunately for my peace of mind, the radiologist read the images right away. She was still not quite satisfied, and recommended the next step, a breast ultrasound. I agreed; better to be safe than sorry. Since I work in the hospital, I asked the person scheduling to work me in whenever she had an opening. It might be a few days, but she assured me she would do that.

Two hours later I got a call. Could I come down at 2:30? Yes, I was happy to get this done, get it out of the way. A little voice in my head wondered if this was really just a sudden opening, or if there was something the radiologist had seen that pushed me up in the urgent queue? I hadn’t picked up on any concern. But isn’t that the job of professionals? Don’t alarm the patient. Remain calm. And after all, they do this every day. I’m the novice. I can still count on one hand the number of mammograms I’ve had.

The staff in the imaging clinic is extremely nice. I am polite and calm as I check in. The gowns are warmed. The lighting is soft.  No one is excited here, we all know this is just routine. If they don’t seem alarmed, why should I? I could have taken a nap during the ultrasound, except that it’s a bit difficult to relax with gel on your breasts and questions going through your mind every time the tech lingers over a specific spot. What does she see? Why is she slowing down? I know it’s not appropriate to ask the technician to tell me what she thinks. Although I’m sure anyone in that role has enough knowledge to recognize an abnormal tissue mass, it is not the tech’s responsibility to discuss findings with the patient. So I resist the urge to pepper her with questions. I’m a model patient, shifting and adjusting as she completes the test.

Again, the radiologist will read the views right away. And again I wonder: is that normal, or do they seem something that requires urgency? The tech steps out of the room to confer with the doctor, and I’m left to stare at the ceiling and question.

I think the things that I assume most women think: this will be fine. Nothing to see here. I comfort myself. I don’t have a family history of breast cancer. I feel fine. I’m only 50! (Cliché alert: as they say, it looks younger every day!)

Then, for just a moment, I allow myself to imagine. This is how it starts sometimes. Just a routine exam, a little question, another test. And then, something definite. A diagnosis is made. Suddenly the lists are not about errands or chores, they are about appointments, tests, surgery, follow up, treatment. I watched my dad go down this path with colon cancer. I’ve seen others go through this. Why do I think I’m immune from this possibility? Why do any of us think the age old “it won’t happen to me?” I already know the end of the story. I know someday I’ll die of something. But I’m only 50! And that eventual reality is comfortably distant, isn’t it?

I think about the times in life that have focused me: the birth of my children, the loss of a loved one. Or on rare occasions, the poignant moments that stand out, that are frozen in my memory: the good stuff. Why, I ask myself, why can’t I keep the truly important things at the top of the list? Why do they always slip down below the urgent? Why is so much of life about keeping milk in the house?

Maybe we aren’t built to stand the intensity of the deepest emotion, the pinnacle experiences, on a 24/7 basis. They’re intense, these times of insight. They’re beautiful, magical. But intense. Who could live at that level all the time? And maybe, the very fact of routine in life is what keeps the magic in the other moments.

It seemed like a long time the tech was out of the room. Maybe it wasn’t. I was just rounding the corner of all of this in my mind when the door opened. “Ok, just keep up with your scheduled screenings. Looks good.” She smiled and opened the door for me. I went back to the dressing room to change, reassured and feeling vindicated that I had known I was fine all along. Nothing to see here.

Yes, it was all routine. Except for those few minutes on the exam table. They were a sharp reminder of what’s important in life. Funny how the extremes, good or bad, wonderful or frightening, can have the same effect. I left the clinic and walked back to my office, smiling, thankful that this wasn’t the day to switch out my lists. I have to remember to pick up milk on the way home, and the dry cleaning, not schedule a surgery.

Springtime

Yellow daffodils - floriade canberra

It’s mid-March, and with the time change, the light lingers into the evening. It’s 7:00 pm and I can still look out and see the Tongass Narrows outside my window. Nice to welcome the softer seasons back after a snowier-than-usual stretch.

And with the return of spring months and lengthening days come other signs of rebirth. There are daffodils pushing up through the soil in the flower bed outside my house. The spring clothing catalogs have made their appearance in my mailbox. I’m beginning to think about Easter presents to send my kids. I look at dates to fly down to Arizona to celebrate Riley’s first birthday in late April. And I begin to think of summer plans. All good, all reward for getting through the winter months once more.

I love seasons. I love the change of mood that each season brings. Spring is about awakening. Summer is inherently a more relaxed time. Is that programmed into the American psyche from all the years of the school/summer cycle? First by your own school schedule as a child, then for anyone who has children, by their years in that rhythm. But even beyond the calendar, there is something about the long days that demands a slower pace and a celebration of all things summer: beaches, picnics, road trips, ball games, fireworks, watermelon and burgers.

Fall is the first season of “new year” to me. I always think there should be two re-sets of the year. Also tied to the academic calendar, September (or now August, as classes begin earlier each year) is the beginning of another school year, for so long a way of defining and staging each person: “What grade are you in this year?” And the excitement of fall harvest, Halloween, Thanksgiving…each event is a beloved marker of family and communal sharing that punctuates the months.

The peak of the year for many people, “the holidays,” is both the best and the worst of the annual cycle. I am better than I once was at enjoying the people and not stressing so much about the events. It is a magical time: for children waiting for gifts; for adults, touched by reminders of what is real and good in life. And when the real new year comes, we each have the chance, once more, to reset ourselves by the calendar. To resolve again to be “good,” however we define that for ourselves: diet, money, exercise, goals…it’s going to be different this year!

So, springtime, the second season, is upon us. I look at my spring decor, knicknacks that I am sorting through as I box things in my basement. I have a collection of blown Easter eggs that my kids and I made over the years. I have ceramic bunnies and an egg tree, an assortment of spring wreaths and linens that I’ll pull out for an Easter lunch. The brighter colors and lighter fabrics imitate the outdoors on sunny days, and remind me that many things in life are worth waiting for. Spring is one of them. Then summer. Then fall. Then winter. It’s all good, and fortunately, just as we’re weary of one, the next arrives, in perfect timing. Just as we need the next cycle to begin, it does.