Thursday, December 07, 2017

Sifting through the layers

I've been sifting through the layers
Of dusty books and faded papers
They tell a story I used to know
It was one that happened, so long ago
-Kate Wolf, "Across the Great Divide"

A lot has happened since my last post. Actually, that is an understatement. My life has taken an amazing, unexpected, and positive turn. I can't wait to share more details, but first I need to go back and work through some of the stuff I thought I was going to have so much solo time to reflect upon. Because, that context is necessary to begin to comprehend the present. And if I am going to move forward with blogging, I need to address some parts of the story that were never told. Part of why I have not blogged consistently in the past few years can be summed up in these words from a post in January 2015:
So maybe my lack of blogging frequency in recent years has been due to a feeling that I am not completely expressing the truth about my existence. I'm not telling outright lies, nor do I have the need to, but there are truths out there that I am not comfortable putting in words for everyone to see. Is there anyone who can't say that? 

For example, when I started this blog, I (rather pompously) considered myself a "homesteader"--you know, the self sufficient lifestyle, to various degrees. I even included the term in my blog description. But over the years, the term has lost its meaning to me and I no longer identify with it. To tell the ongoing story, of how we built our own house and all that, means leaving out some truths that don't fit that "homesteader" image. The human fallibility. The stuff I don't want others to see, mostly.
 When you are married to a person for 25 years, naturally you know that person in ways no one else can. You are not the child, the sibling, the coworker, the friend, the neighbor. You are the spouse, and your knowledge of this person is more intimate than anyone else's can be. That can be a good thing, or a bad thing. Or maybe there's no good and bad. It just is.

I thought long and hard about what I was going to say at the memorial service. In the end, I decided to play Minnesota Nice and talk about the good times. Because there were some, and some of the musical events we shared together probably opened up the door to being where I am today. Memorials are not exactly about honesty; we are all feeling a bit vulnerable and needing to protect each other's feelings. So it's "He was such a nice guy" rather than "That sonofabitch still owes me money!" But now that time is over and it is no longer my job to protect anyone's feelings. I need to be true to myself.

My happy little eulogy did not include much from the last 15 years. Because, we did not come here to Sand Creek out of some grand dream to live closer to the land. We came here because we were broke and had no other options. We had spent the last few years moving from state to state, chasing jobs. Just after my daughter was born, we left Minnesota and the home we had made for seven years, so he could accept a job with a conservation organization in Missouri. I left my job, my family, my friends, and a landscape I loved to be a stay at home mom to two toddlers in a strange city. With a touch of postpartum depression to boot. That did not go so well, so we moved back to Minnesota so I could work, but it somehow wasn't good a couple moves later, we were high on a hill overlooking Anderson Valley in Mendocino County, this time with me being a stay at home mom to three young kids, while he worked for a "sustainable living" center. Oh the irony...I could see so clearly that this was definitely unsustainable, while he talked about what a wonderful place that was.

So it was, in early November 2002, we arrived back to our 40 acres and cabin, still on contract for deed. No electricity, no running water, three kids, one just starting kindergarten, in a tiny cabin with winter setting in. I was exhausted, and looking back, probably suffering from PTSD. Definitely not feeling in control of my life, or that I even had a say. We survived, and just over two years later I began this blog in the winter of the owl irruption. I believe the owls had a message for me: Wake up and start using your voice. This blog may have been a life saver for me; I found my voice, found some friends who shared my love of nature and the outdoors, and realized just how lonely and isolated I had been...

This blog tells the story of how a house was built. And I am grateful for the foundation that was laid, the walls and timbers and blue steel roof, sturdy and warm. But somewhere along the way, his motivation slowed down, the ability to take small steps each day to get something done diminished. Medical issues had a lot to do with it; diabetes takes its toll mentally and physically. Emotionally, he was not the same man I once thought I knew. If that ever existed. And, I found it harder and harder to keep blogging about our life here, with so many parts of the story I could not tell. As my blogging diminished, I immersed myself in the busyness of work, kids' activities, and eventually, running, yoga, and music. Which all have saved me.

In the last couple of years, our marriage could be best described as a "peaceful coexistence". We were in much better shape financially, the kids were more independent, and I think we both moved beyond any bitterness from the past. We went to concerts, or just drove around looking at wildlife. We talked about going fishing some time. But a peaceful coexistence can be lonely, and it leaves so much unfulfilled. For the sake of my peace of mind, it was probably better that I did not know how much that even was.

Now you know the rest of the story...but not all of it. Some things will remain unwritten.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A new journey

It has been a little over a year since I declared "this blog is not over". And I had not posted since then. I guess I had been a bit unsure about what the "new direction" was going to be.

Sometimes, life events make that decision for you when you least expect it. My husband of 25 years, whom I referred to as "The Hermit" on this blog, died suddenly in his sleep in the early hours of Thursday, September 7. He was 62 years old.

The events of the night still feel as if it were a dream. Waking up, not to snoring, but to strange gasps and gurgling, then nothing. Knowing unquestionably that something was not right. Tapping and then hitting him. Calling 911. Attempting CPR on him in bed. Yelling for Joe to drive out to the end of the driveway to let responders know this was the place. Feeling a bit surprised at how calm I was. Sitting on the floor holding a confused Labrador while paramedics worked. Knowing, before they told me, that he was gone. They said he was probably already gone when I first noticed him unresponsive.

One of the fire department first responders happened to be a friend of mine. She sat with me while we waited for the funeral director to show up. I poured myself a glass of wine, then another. The funeral director happened to be one of Vinny and Joe's baseball coaches. Small town life, I would find out in the next few days, is pretty amazing.

The days between then and the memorial service on the 12th are a blur. Neighbors bringing food. My brother driving up from Minneapolis to talk, perhaps our first talk alone in years. Nina, who had just moved to North Dakota, coming home. Vinny taking time from his job to come home. My dad, aunt, and uncle hunkering down in Palm Coast, Florida for Hurricane Irma. My friend in Duluth asked if I would like to go to a Charlie Parr concert Thursday night. I did. The next night, a friend was playing at the coffeehouse where I play occasionally. I was surrounded by friends there. And Saturday night I already had bought tickets to see a Swedish music group, Jaerv, in Minneapolis. Nina went with me. Music is powerfully healing. In between music, family, and friends, I found myself sleeping late, walking around the house not knowing what to do and not really feeling like doing anything, making lists. And starting to write. Many hours thinking about what I was going to say.

The service was more well attended than I thought it would be. It was very informal, as Russ would have wanted it. His older daughter and his sister shared memories, and in between a friend of mine played songs we had chosen, by Greg Brown and Townes Van Zandt. Then I got up, still not knowing exactly what it was I was going to say. But the words flowed from nowhere, stories of how we met, his passion for the environment, and our trips to music festivals--how he gave me the gift of music when I may not have done it on my own.

After the service and all the people, I needed to be alone for a while. I drove down to a park on the banks of the Kettle River. My musician friend from the service was there. So were some other friends who had been at the service, I found out later. We all needed the peace of the river I guess. I found a secluded picnic table, drank a beer or two, and started writing the next chapter of my life.