Hide and Seek

I found ginseng the other day.

IMG_5298

Panax quinquefolius

I spend an inordinate amount of time in the woods, and almost all of that time is spent looking for, and/or looking at, stuff. I’ve looked for and found someone’s lost keys, a specific pregnant porcupine, my cell phone, the dog’s toy, several patches of orchids, the ‘one way’ sign on the west side of the mountain, chicken of the woods, golden chanterelles, bear dens, porcupine dens, and human “dens” (hunting blinds). I’ve found 50 year old whiskey bottles, and 5 day old ‘congratulations on graduating’ balloons. I’ve found the best view on the 1200+ acre parcel, the best tasting blackberries, and the secret caves.

 

I’ve run into bears (plural – Mama plus 2 cubs once, and teenage boys several times), fishers, deer, and coyotes, and spotted bald eagles and indigo buntings. None of these are particularly rare, but they all give me a thrill.

There’s what you’re looking for and then there’s what you find. I’m always looking, but rarely seeking. Some days I go out to find something specific, and my track record is only fair. The pregnant porky was amazing, but there were a few trips looking for Steve’s keys before I actually came up with them. Sometimes (e.g., the cell phone) failure is not an option. But every day I look at everything, expecting nothing/anything.

Finding ginseng was eagerly anticipated. I knew the chances of finding it were so-so. But I also knew that I saw some last year and got shot down – one expert “wasn’t sure” and another said “nope, lookalike plant.” I thought I was right and they were wrong and I was bound and determined to show them. So it’s been a solid year of seeking, not every day, but often enough. Tenacity rewarded.

This time I waypointed the find on my GPS and my plan is to keep looking for more. But in the meantime, there’s plenty to look for and even more to marvel at. Maybe one day I’ll join the ranks of those who believe they’ve seen a cougar. In the meantime, I’ll be happy to keep finding plump sweet blackberries and other forest edibles.

 

Image | Posted on by | Leave a comment

The Notion of Promotion

Despite the time-wasting, short-attention span nature of scrolling through my Facebook feed, I did stumble upon an article about hiking that I not only read, but read closely. Well written and full of useful tips, long enough to be a decent treatment of the topic but not in the TL;DR category, I should be extolling its virtues, but I’m not going to do that. I’m going to tear the whole thing apart. Come on, you’d expect nothing less from me. Here’s the link: http://hubpages.com/sports/Tips-for-Hiking-Trails

The article does a nice job of promoting and encouraging new, out of shape, and inexperienced hikers to stay with it and bag those peaks. The tips pass muster and the tone is positive and upbeat. But — why can’t we be ok with the fact that some folks don’t like hiking, don’t want to hike, or CAN’T hike back country trails? Why do we have to promote, encourage, heck – browbeat – nonhikers into joining us in our endeavor? If we need to promote the activity to people who find it stressful (first paragraph, hiking is described as “incredibly challenging” and in the second paragraph – “stressful”), maybe we’re on the wrong trail.

I completely agree with efforts to encourage “unplugging” from devices and the internet. I completely agree with promotion of being outdoors. But you can do that while you pick apples, go for a swim, sit and read a book, or doze in a hammock. Promotion of outdoor recreation doesn’t have to mean the back country. In the Catskills, we can enjoy the benefits of being outdoors “in nature” on rail trails, village sidewalks, and our own front porches. Speaking of the benefits of nature, I’ve seen a few articles about the so-called benefits of being in nature – mental health benefits, “spiritual” benefits, etc. In every single study, when you look at the specifics, the benefits gained could have been gained in one’s own back yard, a town park, or similar nonbackcountry outdoor area. The notion of nature walks somehow being a jumpstart to human spirituality is fodder for another blog post, but all I’ll say here is nope. Visit a few gorgeous places that are littered with beer cans, broken glass, used condoms and diapers (yes, that’s what I picked up in the woods at a litter picking event at the Blue Hole, formerly one of the most pristine and sublime places in the entire Catskills) to understand that folks are gonna do what they do. Being out “in nature” isn’t going to take anyone to Spirituality Central unless they were already on that bus.

P1020771

I completely agree with promoting and encouraging children to get outside and play, and adults can find their version of outdoor recreation (grown up play) that works for them. Unstructured free play outdoors is something I think all kids can find a way to enjoy. Some will be incredibly athletic and run around, build jumps and ride bikes, skateboards, go karts, etc. over them, climb trees, and explore their own kinetic extremes. Some kids will sit still on a stream bank and daydream, listening to the brook sing. Some kids will be in that brook, on their hands and knees, catching crayfish and marveling at caddisfly larvae. [Confession – more than one child was forbidden from playing with me because they came home too dirty. I was perpetually covered in mud. Still am.] All forms of enjoying time outdoors, unplugged, and away from adult “supervision” (i.e. control) are good for kids. Letting kids choose what works for them is by far the best way to build enjoyment and help kids develop a strong positive association with being outdoors that can last a lifetime. Similarly, letting adults gravitate to the activity that resonates for them just makes sense. When I read the encouragement provided by the article referenced above I felt like this is all about trying to fit square pegs into round holes.

Why push hiking? There are so many different ways to enjoy being outdoors, why herd folks onto the hiking trails and then coach them on how to enjoy it? Seems like wasted effort to me. And, dare I say it – potentially dangerous, both to the hikers but also to the fragile mountain ecosystems. Inexperienced people are innocently ignorant and do ill-advised things (like cutting down trees and branches for all kinds of weird reasons). They also tend to get lost, ill, or injured. They trespass and make for problematic relationships with adjacent land owners — here in the Catskills this has resulted in loss of access in several places. But to me the single most important reason to NOT encourage people to enter the back country? They don’t have fun. They endure it, survive it, damage themselves and the nature they are supposed to be inspired by, and all too often require rescue. All of that could be avoided if folks didn’t hike unless they actually love hiking. Why not follow your bliss (yeah, I hate that phrase too) and do something that you enjoy? Yes, climbing mountains offers some great rewards for those who love doing so, but that cost-benefit analysis has to make sense.

Ultimately, the article made me uncomfortable. I don’t want to encourage people to push themselves. I want to encourage people to be happy (and yes, some people take great delight in pushing themselves. Those folks need no encouragement and they sure don’t need an article telling them how to push past discomfort. They do it all the time.). I want to encourage people to feel good about themselves and embrace who they are. We are not all the same. Yeah, hiking is popular. It’s trending (I just threw up in my mouth a little). But really, it isn’t for everyone. Hauling your mass up a mountain is just not comfortable, period. Not everyone enjoys being uncomfortable. And that’s ok. Miles of trail are boringly similar, and the viewspot is a blip in an otherwise endless sea of sameness. There are ticks carrying Lyme disease and other debilitating diseases, there are gnats, mosquitoes, blackflies, and no-see-ums, and they all bite. There are amazing amounts of stinging nettles and blackberry canes. There are bears and coyotes, which seem to scare the sense out of most people. There is no latte at the summit, no frozen snickers bar, no craft-brewed IPA. You need to go into the villages for those things.

Sometimes there is no view at the viewspot.

Sometimes there is no view at the viewspot.

If we care about economic development, we need to stop promoting the wilderness and start promoting the villages. If we care about environmental protection, we need to stop promoting the wilderness and start putting our money where our mouths are in terms of protecting it. And we need to figure out how we’re going to deal with the ever increasing numbers of people who do come visit and hike the back country – because parking areas are full, the back country is littered and chopped, and the reports of rescues clearly demonstrate that at least some of the folks coming out here and getting into trouble are neither prepared for nor enjoying a back country experience. I don’t know what the answers are, but I worry that the right questions are just not getting asked anywhere near often enough or loudly enough. The din of promotion, no matter how well written and kindly the form it takes, is shouting over what I believe is common sense.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Welcome to #Wellness

I’ve toyed with writing a wellness blog for years. I’ve actually dipped my toes into this corner of the blogosphere a couple of times in the past, my recipe for green beans being one of my all-time favorite pieces of blog-blather. But to kick off an honest-to-goodness foray into telling people what to eat, how to eat, how to exercise, how to live their lives, how to think, how to act, and generally how to structure their inner and outer worlds, I thought I’d offer a recipe. People love recipes, right?

I wish I could share with you Bunmi Laditan’s recipe for her chicken tenders, but she didn’t publish the recipe. Read her description, though, and you’ll understand why I want to marry her. I may just settle for buying her book and stalking her online.

The recipe I’m about to share is for raw oats. Raw oats with some stuff on them. Mostly sugar, because sugar makes things taste good. There’s some sticky stuff (mostly sugar) that glues the raw oats together and makes them something you can hold in your hand. There’s plenty of room for customizing this recipe and it is fast and simple to make. And raw. Well, sort of raw – the oats are raw but the sugary stuff is warmed up to make it pourable.

NotClif Bars
4 cups rolled oats
1 cup nut butter (I used a chocolate almond butter I got from the health food store because just plain peanut or almond butter is too slippery and the bars don’t become bars… they are more like crumbles.)
1 cup honey
1 cup chocolate chips
1/3 cup (or so – don’t be anal and measure) coconut oil
Salt

Prep a 9×12 pyrex baking dish by spraying with canola oil or wiping with something else – butter? Veg oil of some sort? Or just line it with parchment paper?
Put the oats and chocolate chips in a big bowl.
Melt the coconut oil with the nut butter and honey over low heat in a saucepan. Once all melted, remove from heat and pour over oats. Mix thoroughly.
Dump and spread into the prepared 9×12 pan. Press into an evenly spread and distributed layer fills the whole thing.
Refrigerate the whole shebang. Cut pieces into rectangles (or any freaking shape you want) and store refrigerated.

Now I’m hungry…

 

IMG_9501

Posted in food | Leave a comment

Iske

The man with the full basket gestured for me to step ahead of him in the supermarket checkout line. I glanced at his fresh veggies and artisanal cheeses as I placed my six pack of beer and Klondike bars on the belt. I caught his eye and said “healthy lunch,” nodding towards my purchases. “Looks great,” he replied. I think he meant it.

What I wanted to say was, “I just put my dog to sleep at the vet’s down the road.” And I wanted to start crying again, right there in Freshtown, with a stranger who makes healthy choices. But I didn’t.

P1410206

I could say that losing Iske is losing a part of myself but that’s a) obvious, b) maudlin, and c) kind of hyperbolic. All the same, I’m thinking it even while I’m not saying it out loud to random strangers in Freshtown. She and I had something that transcended normal pet-owner dynamics. She and I were soul-spliced, and linked in ways that make no sense. You just have to trust me on this. I think every crazy dog person has that one dog – the one that is a deeper bond than any other. Iske was that one.

ancient history 006

She was crazy. I guess that appealed to me. She threw herself into everything she did with that malinois intensity that made me laugh and gasp and duck and cover. She wasn’t a nice dog – she was wound way too tightly for that. She was a neurotic, sharp, competitive, airborne nutcase. The first time I saw her she was in an outdoor enclosure losing her mind because I had driven up her driveway. She was jumping up and down – all four feet off the ground, from a standstill, and her head was bashing the roof of her run. Her foster mom, Lyn, got her under control and beckoned me to enter the run to meet her. Lyn released her from her sit stay. Iske hit me full in the chest and her tongue was up my nose instantly. I sat on the ground so that she would stop jumping up. She placed her paws on my shoulders and held me down while she licked the insides of my skull. And that was pretty much that.

She was loving, and incredibly affectionate, but allowing her to cuddle always ended badly. Iske would get overstimulated by closeness and end up escalating the affection until someone got hurt. No hugging, no faces, no running … we all learned how to manage Iske so that she was as sane and safe as possible. Those first few years involved a lot of “oooh, that took a nasty turn.”

She was the patron saint of hiking disasters. She had a run-in with barbed wire that resulted in a 6 mile walk out with her chest torn open. She grunted “it’s only a flesh wound.” She bounced on broken glass and severed a toe. She got kicked in the head by a white-tailed deer and lost consciousness. I had to carry her out that time. She fell backwards off a cliff and tumbled about 30 feet, landing on her back. She got up, shook it off, and assumed we’d continue (we didn’t). She got quilled by porcupines three times and stoically stood still while we plucked those quills out of her gums and the base of her tongue (of course she’d gotten them everywhere. She was thorough.).

slide from neversink 052

She completed more rounds of the Catskill 35 than I can count, and hiked up Bramley Mountain a cool thousand times, the last of which was just a few days before she died. She was as crazy and intense as Hawk when she was young, as stick-obsessed and as enthusiastic about everything. The huge difference was that for Iske, the ultimate goal and joy in life was to obey me. She just wanted to do my bidding… all the fucking time. She was at the ready — “send me in, coach!” — 24/7/365. She was a ball of fire, at 50 lbs, and nothing was too much for her. Back in those days when it was just me, Maya, and Iske we had some crazy fun times – swimming in the Housatonic, hiking the AT in Connecticut, and mountain biking when I fractured my leg and couldn’t hike or run. She got me evicted from the house I rented, so I bought a house… and she adapted to living right in a village. She learned to lie in the front yard and let the world go by.

She never said no. She just did everything I asked, the first time I asked it.

ancient history 005

When we adopted Lily, Iske established herself as dominant. She only ever used as much force as it took – no more. When we fostered Red Cloud, Iske taught him the ropes and occasionally even deigned to play with him. But not often and not much. Then we got Cinder who loved and respected Iske immediately. Then Jack, who was just so happy to have a decent meal and a safe place to sleep, he barely noticed we had other dogs. Then Mica. Then Hawkitt. And then Peeka. Through every transition, Iske was increasing serene. Ok, Iske seemed to think, my mom is a crazy dog lady. So be it. Iss just moved over, shared the dog beds and food bowls as if she’d been doing it all her life. She washed a lot of dirty ears, and snarked at a lot of foolish puppies.

P1150841

All this describing her just doesn’t even come close to touching what she and I shared. She was a hoot, an athletic maniac, but she was also so fucking present to me through whatever I was experiencing. Iske was there, with me, truly with me. She came on almost all my dates. She witnessed a dysfunctional relationship – beginning, middle, and godawful end. She was not a sweet affectionate supportive little face licker, but she demanded I function. She anchored me in reality, and handed me a stick or ball every time I turned inward and shut down. No, she said. Here. Take this and throw it.

She was an equal to me, not a dog or a pet, but a being that shared my home and helped me raise my child. She witnessed my life and held me in her heart and soul. I did the same for her.

Suddenly last week she began to struggle to pee. She spent a day at the vet’s, getting xrays and ultrasounds, blood tests and treatments. We picked her up with no real answers, but her vet taught me how to express her bladder. For a long weekend, we peed for her. She accepted this intervention with grace and dignity. She let us help her and if anything, seemed grateful. Day and night, from Saturday to Tuesday, we peed her every pee with her. She stopped eating. She trembled in pain. She stopped drinking. She was mostly blind, mostly deaf, and now seemingly ready. We made the call.

I take so much comfort in the outpouring of support from the dog friends and malinois people I’ve come to know over the years. But ultimately grief is a solo journey, and what I had with Iske is mine alone. What I’ve lost is mine to figure out – how to be with that loss, how to honor what we had, and how to move forward with the pack members that remain. I couldn’t bring myself to exercise them yesterday – the wind and driving rain was the excuse, but the truth was that I couldn’t share myself with them. I ate a Klondike bar, drank the beer (two of them, the second one powerfully regretted), wallowed in tortilla chips and tipsy tears, and talked Tom’s ear off sharing memories of Iske.

P1010520

Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments

2015 – The Holiday Letter

2015 was the year I discovered how much I like beer. Not just any beer, but the particular style of beer brewed to withstand the journey by sea to India: the India Pale Ale. Balanced but bitter, strong, full-bodied, and hoppy as all hell, I have joined the ranks of the IPA lovers, although I certainly wouldn’t throw a nice sweet brown ale out of bed, and extra special bitters = completely delicious. 2015 was also the year I began making homemade mayonnaise (big thank you to Amy Jackson of Amy’s Takeaway for the lesson, conversation, and lunch in the garden – that afternoon easily makes the short list of loveliest moments of the year). My husband, who would gladly eat homemade mayo on a slab of cardboard, is eternally grateful. Not surprisingly, 2015 is also the year I’ve seen my weight creep up to a new “normal.” I blame menopause.

I write this on a dark Sunday morning, El Nino-inspired rain drippinIMG_7270g onto the tin roof with irritating familiarity. It’s been a rainy December that brought us the one year anniversary of Mica’s death, and the discovery of a dead coyote in the woods… on the same day. Looking back at my records, that also happens to be the same day, 12 years ago, that I drove to central Massachusetts to pick up Iske. She still hikes and plays fetch, despite her ridiculous age. A collection of coincidences held together by a date. Tom and I and all 5 dogs released Mica’s ashes on a date I didn’t mark, sometime over the fall. We buried the coyote on Christmas day.

2015 was by all counts a great year: dominated by the completion of The Mica Movie (it even has an IMDb page), it was also the year I won the Freeditorial Long Short Story Contest, and saw the publication of my essay in the anthology Being Biracial. I’m discovering that I adore the short story format with a newbie’s passion. Since Queen of the Catskills, I’ve written Wolf Heart and Fresh Oil, Loose Stone. I think I have a few more stories in me, and at least one of them will be a sequel, prequel or side-quel to Queen. I have to admit, writing that story might have been the most fun I ever had at the keyboard.

During the first half of 2015 I also worked (yes, a job, with a paycheck and everything) outside the home. That came to a surprising and sad end over the summer, which I liken to a bad divorce – and they got to keep the kid. I have visitation, but it’s just not the same.

The second half of the year was dominated by the construction of our new house, the shell of which went up in September. “When will you move in?” is the question of the hour – not unlike the pregnant belly begging the question “when are you due?” You’ve heard the old adage “you lose a tooth for every baby you carry”? Well, with a house, it feels more like a few internal organs and a chunk of your brain. Tom has had his first construction-related trip to the ER. He’s fine: it was only a flesh wound.

The other thing I do (besides drinking beer, writing, hiking, and not having a job) is make jewelry. And the big news in that department is that my business, Malaprop Designs, is changing its name to haliagrace. Why? In part because it is time for a website, and in seeking to obtain my domain name, I realized that Malaprop Designs isn’t unique – another crafter uses the same moniker and has the web address to go with it. It was time – time to take the next step with the business, design a logo, create a website, and rebrand myself. I’m working with John Virga of Bovina Brown Bats to come up with the perfect design – and rest assured, it will be badass, kickass, and wiseass. It will be utterly haliagrace, passionately Catskills, and 100% gluten free.

The backdrop to all this is the dogs. Isn’t it always? I measure time in dogs. Not 2 months after Mica died, word reached us via Facebook (goddamn Facebook!) of malinois puppies dumped nearby. On Friday February 13th (I should have known!!! Who picks up a dog on Friday the 13th?!?!), with Christine at my side, we made the trip to the shelter and wrapped a very stinky, very sick and sad, striped puppy in a fleece blanket. Christine gets best friend status forever for holding that mess on her lap for an hour, enduring the smell and risking bringing ringworm into her home. I spent those first few nights sleeping with the pup, and she slept all night curled in the hollow of my belly. I spent the first few weeks administering medications, supplements, and bandages, trying to get her wounds to heal. And I spent the first few months worrying about her like only a Jewish grandma could – fretting over every meal, every poop, every demented dingo breath she took. She rallied, healed as best she could, and is my squeaky wheel. She is a bit of an oddball, but I have fallen deeply, profoundly in love with her.

11998884_1010337192319866_4847715116809586835_n

Photo by Beth Adams, Candid Canine Photography

And now the year turns over again, and I’m knee deep in all manner of “stuff.” There’s the perennial dog stuff, as I watch pack dynamics shift and change. Iske grows truly ancient and Peeka comes of age, Hawkitt matures (a tiny bit) and Cinder and Lily remain steadfastly middle children. There’s hiking stuff, house stuff, and just life stuff. Maya is in Thailand until April, and as much as I am delighted for her, and so excited by this adventure, I’m also acutely aware of the distance and the largeness of this world. When your offspring is on the other side of the planet, you start to grasp the bigness of it all.

IMG_6903

It’s been one hell of a year the world over, but somehow, for no good reason, in my little mountain corner I feel hopeful. If I can figure out how to live in a cramped muddy shack with five dogs without killing Tom, I think there’s a lesson in that. A lesson in love and tolerance and commitment. A lesser man and a lesser marriage would have crumbled under the weight of all this dog hair. We just keep laughing and making it one more day.

 

Posted in writer's life | Leave a comment

Hot Hiking: Yoga Pants Trail Runners Style

Hot yoga is silly. But at least it’s over in an hour or two. Hot hiking – say, for example, taking on 24+ mile trail on the hottest and most humid day so far this summer (temps above 90 in the valley, I think) lasts a whole lot longer. But this was the day I had dog care lined up and could go do a hike that is so long and arduous, my dogs cannot hack it. At age 49, and not exactly in the best shape of my life, I didn’t know if I could hack it either, but I really wanted to try.

I'm ready! I can do it! Put me in, Coach!

I’m ready! I can do it! Put me in, Coach!

I didn’t wear yoga pants. Too hot. I wore hiking pants and zipped the legs off. I have NEVER done that before. I have never hiked in shorts before. That’s how hot it was. I didn’t wear hiking boots either. Too hot. I wore these low trail runner shoes that were super light and very ventilated. They performed well, although I did change socks at about mile 20. Fresh socks helped my toes survive those last few miles.

Some of those last miles really required extra cushioning!

Some of those last miles really required extra cushioning!

Why? Why hike a 24 mile trail end to end in a day? Bragging rights, mostly. And knocking off a rather large section of trail right smack in the middle of that 24 miles that I need to complete my “All Trails” effort. And that fascination with my own ability – I guess I have a need to prove myself and this was a test. I passed.

I went alone. I would have gone with other people but that would have meant advanced planning and communication. My favorite hiking buddy won’t do this kind of insane hiking. She has good sense. My next favorite hiking partners were either busy or a little under the weather… and quite frankly I didn’t want to wait. I have 2 more long hikes I want to accomplish this summer so I have to strike while the iron is hot. It definitely was hot yesterday.

Whew!

Whew!

For those detail-oriented numbers types: I hit the trail at 7:20 a.m., at Schutt/Scutt Road. I sat down at the Route 23 Parking Area in Windham, NY, 24.7 miles later, at 6:50 p.m. The extra mileage is from hiking down the Dutcher Notch trail to the spring.

The ascents were hard – it was like I never got my “sea legs” and was out of breath and struggling for air (quite possibly because of the humidity, there really wasn’t enough air!), feeling exhausted and dragged out the whole way up every single one. But the downhills were much more punishing – on knees and toes mostly. I fell twice, and banged up my hand pretty thoroughly. I hiked the next 10 + miles with my hand elevated over my head to help minimize swelling.

The deer flies were maddening. The entire second half of the hike was a biathlon – hiking plus swatting. Deer flies, house flies, mosquitoes – I am amazingly not very bitten up at all, considering their fervor.

Also in the amazing category – I did not get dehydrated. Given the sauna-like conditions, this is pretty impressive. I drank about 6 liters of water, one of them spiked with a Nuun electrolyte replacement tablet. I ate food, drank water, and moved steadily. I completed the hike with an average speed of just over 2 mph. In hiking, that’s pretty good.

cool fungus

cool fungus

hey, mama deer!

hey, mama deer!

I saw a bear, a broad-winged hawk, a doe, and a ton of fungus. I saw almost no people; no one on all of the popular lookout ledges near the campground, no one on North point, and no one on the summit of Blackhead. It was a full day of solitude. One exception – I stopped in the campground to use the facilities and chatted with a staff member there. I can’t say enough good about the North/South Lake experience: the place is clean as a whistle, the staff friendly and helpful, and what a fabulous resource: flush toilets, running water, a beach with a lifeguard for swimming, TONS of picnic tables and pavilions… the place is a freaking gem. If I had young kids, I’d probably be there every day.

2015-07-19 10.28.56

Sometimes the trail looked like this.

Sometimes the trail looked like this.

And sometimes the trail looked like this.

It never rained. I was kind of counting on a good downpour to rinse me off so I could go have a beer in public after the hike. Since that didn’t happen, the hubby just poured water on me in the parking area. Best idea ever – an impromptu post-hike shower and towel-dry and a change of clothes. My hubby is a good man. My daughter went with him to get my car from the Scutt/Schutt Road parking area so that I wouldn’t have to drive home. She’s a damn good egg too.

We hit Cave Mountain Brewery in Windham for a beer and a meal on the way home. This place has a great vibe and a tried and true formula for success – decent homebrew, nice quality pub food, TV with the game on, and loud music. My one complaint about Cave Mountain is that it’s too loud in there. But that’s part of the charm.

the celebratory IPA

the celebratory IPA

It was a real thrill and also an honor and privilege of sorts to complete this hike. It required the hubby’s driving and sluicing and dog babysitting involvement, and also his supreme toleration of distress. He hates it when I hike alone. He double dog hates it when I hike alone on such a long and challenging adventure. But he gets it. He understands my competitive spirit and nurtures it. He gets why it’s a need and a thrill and he supports me, despite the pain and suffering it causes him. I know I’ve said this before but it bears repeating: back when I was with a Bad Boyfriend, I used to wonder what I would be like if I didn’t expend so much energy on anguish. All that time and effort spent being miserable – what would I be like if I could have that time for me, to do with as I pleased? My husband has helped me to answer that question: I have never been more successful, triumphant, fulfilled, or happy than I am now. And I feel like the sky’s the limit.

 

Posted in Catskilliana, food, Hiking | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

On Winning

P1470961

I won. “I never win anything” is a refrain I’m going to have to stop singing because I won. I won the Long Short Story Contest on Freeditorial’s website. And boy oh boy does winning kick up a bunch of complicated feelings.

Jubilation and a decent bit of astonished delight – the first prize is a hefty sum of $15,000 – is definitely where I start this emotional journey. I woke up this morning and said to the hubby, “We have $15,000 more than we did yesterday. Pretty sure I’ve never been able to say that ever before.” That’s a lot of cash to win. I know I’m repeating myself. It’s still sinking in.

But that damn imposter syndrome creeps in and spits in my solo cup of Celebration Punch. Anyone who’s ever been recognized as successful at anything knows this bastard – the snide voice of naysaying that sits upon your shoulder and murmurs in your ear lovely gems such as “guess there wasn’t really any competition, eh?” or “wait til someone who actually knows something about literature reads it…” or the classic “you only won because ________________” and talent or skill are not contenders for filling in that blank.
Self-doubt is part of writing. Being self-critical and comparing oneself to The Greats (whoever your personal Greats might be) and then wanting to stab yourself in the eye with your pen when you realize that you actually suck in comparison is pretty normal.
Writing, like everything else – dog training, bread baking, basket weaving – is a journey of self discovery, and it has its ups and downs. Winning, you’d think, is a major up. Losing, it follows, would be a pretty significant down. But the truth is that losing is familiar and safe. Winning is a little scary. It’s uncharted territory. And among the losers you have tons of company, but winners… well, there’s only one. And everyone has all manner of mixed feelings about you – envy, admiration, the desire to emulate (or just plain copy)… and pure unmitigated hatred. Everyone hates the winner, at least a little. It’s a weird place to be.

P1470956
I entered this contest on a whim – my sister gave me the heads up about it when she asked me to vote for her, and I thought – what the hell, it’s a fabulous opportunity to indulge in writing fiction. This year has been a good year for me as a writer – I had a piece published in a Chicken Soup book, and another piece is coming out in an anthology this fall. Several folks read my articles in the Catskill Mountain Guide, and have sent me feedback about my work, which is so freaking awesome you have no idea. Despite no longer working as a writer as my main paying gig, I seem to be writing pretty consistently and getting paid to do so.
But fiction is different. Fiction is a luxury. Fiction is so much fun, and yet so challenging for me – I feel much more confident about my nonfiction work. Fiction is a place to stretch and push and spread my wings and leap off cliffs…
This time, when I leapt into this contest, a community of readers caught me. I am, in my long-winded way, at a loss for words. How do you say thank you for something of this magnitude? I don’t know how to convey the profundity of my gratitude, and lots of big words don’t quite do it. I wish I could bake you all brownies, or brush your dogs for you – doing something concrete, real, and helpful would feel more appropriate than clicking away over here using more and more words but saying very little. Thank you. Thank you for reading. Thank you for supporting me. Thank you for supporting the American Belgian Malinois Rescue and the North American Dutch Shepherd Rescue – these two groups will each receive a $1000 donation, as I pledged when I took up the challenge.

What’s next? I wrote another story! Inspired by the genre (long-short story is definitely a bit weird but fun – longer than short and shorter than a novella), I wrote a story about a dog. I know, big shocker there. I tried hard to channel Jean Craighead George – one of my idols – and my goal was to write as un-anthropomorphically as possible. It is a fantasy story, not intended to be zoologically accurate, but intended to be close enough to keep a reasonably well informed lay reader from rolling his or her eyes. For the wildlife biologists out there, my apologies. The technical inaccuracies will probably annoy the living daylights out of you. The story is called Wolf Heart (sounds like a teenage werewolf bodice ripper, but I promise, it ain’t!), and I am still editing it. If you’d like to preview it and provide feedback, please send me your email address and I’d be happy to zip you a copy. I really want it to be luscious and perfect. And I need help getting it there.

The Freeditorial website is running another contest in the fall. I’m still deciding whether or not I’ll enter again, but if I do, you will be the first to hear about it. Keep reading, and keep having fun.

10013496_10203247386477858_992919902121449457_n

P.S. If you didn’t download Queen of the Catskills as part of the contest, that’s ok. You can download it now, for free. Click here for a free download.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments