As children we’re taught that our planet spins on an axis as it orbits the sun. That’s why we have seasons; winter when the place you live tilts more away from the sun, summer when it tilts more toward the sun.
But the earth also wobbles. I didn’t know that. Mostly the wobbles are caused by ocean-bottom pressure fluctuations resulting from changes in ocean circulation which in turn are caused by changes in temperature, salinity, and wind. Fluctuations in the atmosphere are also at play.
Lately, with the coronavirus pandemic and related wild market fluctuations, I feel like I’ve got a personal, permanent case of the wobbles. After a wild, day-long ride on an out-of-control roller coaster that shakes and vibrates as it climbs, drops and turns with whiplash-inducing, breathtaking speed, I finally stumble away each evening, trying to regain some sense of equilibrium, some rest, only to repeat the vomit-inducing ride again the next day.
I bet you can relate. The pandemic doesn’t play favorites.
Earth’s wobble – called the Chandler wobble – is a mostly invisible push and pull of natural elements. Similarly, in chaos theory, there’s the Butterfly Effect, the idea that something as tiny as a butterfly’s wing flapping against the air on one side of the planet could impact the path a faraway tornado takes weeks later. We know that everything is interconnected, but this novel coronavirus makes it harshly clear that something we can’t even see with the naked eye can ripple outward and provide an impulse to the system (illness, panic) that pushes a normal wobble (worldwide social and economic systems) toward a dangerous flutter, making an entire system oscillate toward collapse.
It’s possible to dampen the impulse to the system (our collective panic reaction) so that the flutter naturally dissipates with time.
We need to dampen our flight (panic) instinct, and hone our fight (logic) instinct.
That’s where we’re at today. We can each, individually, follow health and social guidelines (fighting logically) while refusing to engage in any irrational (panic, flight) reactions. Those individual efforts will have a real, positive impact on everyone’s well-being. It might take some time to see those benefits, but that’s okay, keep fighting.
We do, in fact, each have some control over the outcome of this pandemic by choosing how we react to events, big and small.
That’s the good news.
My Own Week from Hell
Following the news lately (I’m a life-long news junky so it’s really hard to kick the habit) has been a lesson in stoicism. There’s the novel coronavirus overtaking the globe, governments reacting too slowly to the threat, no planning or safety nets in place, the most vulnerable succumbing in alarming numbers, critical care centers unable to keep up with demand, all in the news with bold headlines meant to terrify so we’ll keep reading. On top of that, world economies and markets are panicking as badly as the toilet paper hoarders. Accurate information is hard to find, there’s no sense of leadership, thus no ability to calm the populace, and that fosters more panic.
When I feel my blood pressure rising while reading about current events, I remind myself of stoic philosophy: I can’t control events; I can only control my reaction to them, and I must choose to react calmly and logically.
But on top of all the disturbing news, which is affecting everyone, the past several days turned into my own little private week from hell, testing my resolve and ability to remain calm.
Tuesday, March 10, 2020
I had a root canal, necessary after an infection bloomed in my jaw ten days ago, causing significant swelling. The root canal would be an all-day event, requiring asking a friend to drive me (three hours, each way) so that I could have an oral sedative. I don’t remember the 90-minute procedure itself. That was the goal of the sedative. But when I got home, I saw that my tongue had two cuts and was bleeding, and my left lower lip – they worked on a lower left molar – had been pinched and was horribly swollen. I looked like I’d taken a right uppercut in a fight. Since this was my first root canal, I did a check with friends on Facebook. None of them had any similar wounds post-root canal; all suggested that mine was botched. I feel like I was assaulted and couldn’t even defend myself.
Wednesday, March 11, 2020
Late in the afternoon Conall began acting a little off. He was clingy, seeking attention. He was having trouble pooping, getting into position but nothing happening, several times. Yet he was eating normally and his energy level was great. Both dogs and I had enjoyed a wonderful run on the snow in the forest that morning.
I worried he might have an obstruction. We’re three hours away from the nearest veterinary ER. I imagined more dollars flying into the ether, following savings I’d already lost in the stock market’s recent upheavals. I watched Conall closely the rest of the day. I remembered one of my previous Malamutes having impacted anal sacs at about the same age, and after the vet cleared them, she was good to go (pun intended) for the rest of her life. I hoped that would be the case with Conall. He eventually settled down, but he never did poop.
I didn’t sleep well. My mind kept spinning, my body tossing.
Thursday, March 12, 2020
After an early morning walk in the forest with the dogs, I made an appointment for our local vet to see Conall mid-afternoon. Conall still wants to eat and play, both good signs. During our walk, though, Conall tried to poop twice without success. Back home, while I was in my office, I heard him howl briefly in pain. I dashed outside to find him trying to poop again. No success. About an hour later, he finally succeeded. Yes! At least now I know it isn’t an obstruction. (This is the level of stress-crazy I reached: cheering when my dog leaves an enormous pile in the yard and there’s no blood in it.)
During that morning walk in the forest I reflected on my emotional reaction to all this non-stop stress: brain fog. Memory problems, a lack of mental clarity, an inability to focus. I remember feeling like this right after 9-11. Not only did I watch the second plane hit one of the towers on live TV, then the fires destroying both buildings with people trying desperately to escape as the buildings collapsed, but I obsessively followed the news for days thereafter. I remember driving on the freeway, wondering if the cargo truck next to me was going to explode, another terrorist act. Danger seemed all around, invisible.
As I walked on crusty old snow, watching my dogs follow critter tracks with their noses, it occurred to me that I’m experiencing an eerily similar sense of living through a trauma that’s outside my control while absorbing all the negative emotions engendered by it. In the case of the coronavirus, it’s helplessness and hopelessness over something that’s invisible and outside anyone’s control (at least until a vaccine is developed). Leaders/politicians scramble to reassure us, to address it, try to contain it, in short, to attempt to lead and inspire calm but are failing miserably, too little too late. After 9-11 my brain fog and sense of hopelessness remained for several weeks, so unusual for me that for the first time in my life I sought the help of a therapist. He told me my reaction was normal, to be patient.
I’m using that advice again, now, as a management tool.
Conall’s vet visit in the afternoon is excruciating, more for him than for me. I held Conall’s head while the vet tech held his trunk and the vet worked the anal sacs. He expressed one sac, but then Conall started struggling mightily and screaming with pain. The vet muttered that Conall had every reason to do so before finally ending the procedure. The vet stood, took off his latex gloves, and said there was a large mass in the one sac, making it hard and painful for Conall to poop. It was either an infection, or a tumor. All I hear is “TUMOR.” The vet says it’s best to treat as if an infection first. I press him about a tumor, thinking if it is one, I don’t want to waste any time treating or removing it. The vet says the chances it’s an infection are far higher than that of a tumor, that given Conall’s age, it’s very unlikely it’s a tumor.
I decide to trust him. I hope that proves the wise choice. But you see, that’s part of the collateral damage of the social craziness going on around us now, and my own brain fog: I don’t know who to trust anymore, including myself.
The vet sends us home with antibiotics and an anti-inflammatory/pain med. Antibiotics for dogs – especially one who weighs 101 pounds – are pricey. The total bill is $260. I’m feeling economically vulnerable lately, but dammit, my dogs come first.
Driving home that beautiful sunny afternoon, I admired the mountains surrounding this neighboring valley to mine. The vistas are stunning, with bright white snow on the ground, green forest trees on the mountain sides, blue sky above. I’m thankful for my dogs and the nearby forest in which we play most every day, a resource that’s free for me to use thanks to the foresight of environmentalists and politicians long ago. That forest smooths the wobbles for me, helping restore my equilibrium, even if for just short bursts of time.
On the way home I stop at the grocery store. The general shopping panic seen in the news hasn’t arrived here yet; shelves are still full. After buying some chicken so Conall can eat a bland diet for a couple days, I stock up on what is one of my essentials: 2-liter bottles of diet Dr. Pepper.
My chronic headache condition responds to only two things: caffeine, and horizontal resting position. I’ve never liked coffee, never developed a taste for it. So, pop is my caffeine delivery system, and diet Dr. Pepper of my pop of choice. I drink a lot, usually two liters a day, so stockpiling is part of my social distancing strategy. I know the virus will come to Idaho. In fact, I’m certain it’s already here, even if there have yet to be any confirmed cases.
My other purchases, however, are totally a stress response: chips, ice cream, and several bags of pretzel rods.
I eat extra snacks when I’m stressed, and don’t when I’m happy. I gain weight when I’m stressed, lose it when I’m happy.
I’m putting on weight.
I’m looking forward to being happy again.
Friday, March 13, 2020
I awake to a morning that’s clear and cold. Perfect conditions for a foray into the forest. I take the boys up a nearby wildlife trail (packed – illegally – by snowmobiles), then we run along forest service roads until returning to the car at a snowmobile parking lot. I’m happy to see Conall behaving normally again. He left a big pile of poop on the snow well off the trail on the way up and I silently applauded the antibiotic gods for making him feel better so quickly.
While in the forest I listen to the songs of newly-arriving birds, harbingers of spring, songs I haven’t heard in a long while. The forest is becoming noisier with birdsong each week, even the honks of Canada geese flying overhead. Sandhill cranes and snow geese can’t be far behind.
I’m grateful that nature’s rhythms don’t pay attention to the stock market or the social impacts of the spread of coronavirus. I appreciate the ability of nature to anchor me when seas are stormy. Even the dogs seem inordinately happy this morning.
Later, I try to nap to reduce my chronic headache and recharge my weary batteries. No luck.
The sun’s shining, though, so I get out of bed and haul a chair out onto the deck – almost all the snow there has melted away now – and read magazines while soaking up vitamin D from the afternoon sun. I listen to red-winged blackbirds, killdeer, and tree swallows nearby. The pair of swallows that inhabit the nest box on my fence rail have just returned, checking to make sure their usual summer home it safe before disappearing into the trees higher up while waiting for snow to leave the field and provide them with new grass to line their nest. The boys lounge on the snow in the yard.
I admire the beautiful snow-capped peaks to the west, beyond the forested hillsides surrounding my valley, and feel calmed. I’m so lucky to live here. So lucky. I need to focus on that.
I get up and toss toys for the boys in the yard, part of our post-dinner ritual. I shovel their shit over the fence into the field. Conall’s doing much better after a third dose of antibiotic; he no longer struggles to poop. A huge relief.
After several weeks of wild swings up and down, by end of Friday the stock market had a one-day gain of nearly 2,000 points. But will it last? Being Friday the 13th, notoriously unlucky, and knowing human nature, I’m unwilling to be optimistic. I always knew this bear market wasn’t going to last. Easy come, easy go, as they say. As much as I enjoyed watching the numbers go up, up, up, including my 401k, my gut said it was too good to be true. I just didn’t think it would falter so badly so soon. I failed to factor in a world-wide pandemic arriving in the first quarter. Nor did I anticipate the extent of the world’s panicked and too-slow reaction to said pandemic.
Panic is, in my view, a selfish response. It puts “Me” (or maybe, “Me, and mine”) before the collective good. It’s irrational at a time when logic and calm are required. And it can be dangerously contagious. Panic explains the irrational reactions to the pandemic (toilet paper hoarding) and wild fluctuations in stock markets.
The last person you want nearby when things go south is someone who panics – they divert attention away from solving problems, saving lives, and turn it toward themselves, making matters worse.
Yet now, some days, it seems everyone is panicking.
That makes me mad, then sad, fueling my sense of hopelessness.
Every evening I’ve been soothing my weary mind with wine while catching up on social media and WordPress blogs before bed. I’m noticing lots of humorous memes about the pandemic, more every day. I take that as a sign that the panic response is lessening, people are starting to deal with their stress via humor rather than hoarding.
I’m drinking too much wine.
I should be working on writing the book I want to put out into the world. But instead I read, and read. Then, instead of going to bed, I end up playing solitaire on the computer while listening to soothing music until my mind stops roaming, stops trying to problem-solve. It’s not totally wasted time, but…all the while I’m sipping red wine.
I am, at least, working on this (very long) blog post, pieces at a time.
These are troubled and challenging times, for all. If this pandemic teaches us nothing else, we should learn that life is uncertain, it can change in an instant, things we take for granted can be removed, restricted or prohibited, so we must embrace and live each day fully, as if it is our last.
There’s that stoicism again.
Saturday, March 14, 2020
I can’t sleep. My mind flits through worrisome topics. I read, chick lit novels meant to distract, from 1:00 am until 4:30 am, my back and neck aching from the awkward position, longing for sleep. Finally, around 5:00 am, sleep reclaims me. When I awake at 8:00 am (thanks, doggos, for letting me sleep in), there’s fresh snow on the deck and yard.
I love snow. Thank you, nature, for your small but substantial and calming gifts.
I take the boys for a quick walk along a country road before running errands.
After our weekly trip to the landfill, I stop by the Dollar Store in my tiny town (population ~300). I need razors so if I wind up in an ER at least my leg hair won’t be braidable. As I enter the store, I bump into a neighbor. But I can’t for the life of me remember his name. I say “Hi!” then pause, wordless, as he returns my hello and waits for me to say something. After an interminable struggle I manage to say something like “I’m sorry, I’m blanking on your name…” and he provides it.
Brain fog. It’s getting worse. My brain is mush, moving at about a tenth of its normal speed. Stress and lack of sleep impact the body and mind in tangible ways.
We chat a bit about the greenhouse he and his wife have built. As we step inside the store (to make the automatic doors stop opening and closing; we were standing between the two sets) I see his wife, whom I’ve met once, briefly. He says, “Honey, you remember Rebecca.” I’m thinking, shit, her name’s not Honey, I think it’s Marion or Mariam but I’m not sure. She approaches with hand out, out of habit, and we both withdraw our hands while laughing awkwardly. “Elbow bump?” I say and she laughs.
Our new reality.
My neighbors leave, I find my razors and get in the checkout line. The woman ahead of me asks about buying toilet paper and is told by the clerk that until they get another shipment, everyone is restricted to one package.
So, hoarding and panic buying has finally arrived to my little rural valley in the middle of nowhere, even though until yesterday (Friday the 13th) Idaho didn’t have any confirmed cases.
It occurs to me that the market downturn may be a good thing, for me anyway. Just the sort of kick in the butt I need to get working on that book I’ve been trying to write for some time. I need an income stream. People assume that at age 63, I’m “retired” and financially secure, but I’m not. I need to produce income to meet my monthly expenses, and my other work – court-appointed mediator and guardian ad litem – is sporadic and unpredictable. Sales of my first book still provide a small bit of income every month, six years after publication. What if a second book is more successful? Financial insecurity was what finally got me to focus on writing and completing my first book over the course of a summer. Perhaps the same insecurity will work for me again this summer.
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, right? Besides, with social distancing and even quarantine the catchwords of the day, it looks like I’ll have lots of time on my hands in the coming weeks and months, and a computer ready to welcome me.
Late in the afternoon I take Conall xc skiing. I need exercise and fresh air, and Conall enjoys greeting people and dogs on the trails, which in turn makes me happy, observing his joy. I need happy distractions, and nature and Conall always deliver.
When we arrive, there are only two cars in the parking lot, despite a bit of new snow and perfect spring skiing weather. Where is everyone? Surely the concept of social distancing hasn’t reach here yet? I’ve barely seen any cancellations of local meetings or events on social media and the ski resorts are still operating. This remote mountain area is living in its own oblivious bubble.
After skiing nearly an hour, bumping into no one, Conall spies a tiny dog up ahead, followed by its human. Tiniest dog I’ve ever seen out here. A Doxie (Dachshund), with typical long body, short legs and long floppy ears. (The dogs are allowed off-leash here; it’s a major attraction, for which we pay an extra $25 for a dog ski-area pass. In a flip from the more typical scenario, it’s the rare leashed dogs that cause issues.)
He’s shy, and nervous. Conall’s huge compared to him. I don’t blame him for being cautious.
“Mine is very gentle and loves small dogs,” I call ahead, knowing that many dog owners have a moment of anxiety when they first see Conall. (Some will actually say something like He looks like a wolf!)
“What is your dog’s name?” the woman skier asks as Conall turns on his charm, circling her, hoping to kiss her. She bends over to say hello and he takes the opportunity to lick her chin as I smile, watching.
“His name is Conall.”
“Conall?” she asks, not sure she heard me correctly. “Can you spell it?”
I instantly like her. She wants to get his name right.
“C-o-n-a-l-l. It’s Gaelic, means strong wolf.”
We admire each other’s dog, but hers is very shy, reluctant to let me touch him.
“And your dog’s name?” We – like all true dog nuts – don’t ask each other’s names; we only care about the dogs.
“His name is Charlie. He’s just a year old. He got run over in November, pins in his hip, but this seems to be good therapy for him. I’m having to work with him to not be afraid of people and dogs again, after so much time in recovery.”
“Can I give him a treat?”
I toss one treat toward Charlie, who won’t come close enough to take it from my hand. It lands on his human’s ski and he quickly gobbles it up, wary of Conall who is used to me giving other dogs treats and hardly notices.
“How old is Conall?”
“He’s beautiful. So fluffy. What is he?”
“An Alaskan Malamute. A wooly Malamute, which is why his fur is so thick.”
This is actually a very typical conversation when Conall and I meet new people on trails, but it always makes me smile.
I get down on one knee – easily done on xc skis as only the toe of the boot is attached to the ski, allowing the heel to rise – and try to entice Charlie to come closer. Conall immediately comes up to me so I give him a treat. Then I hold another in my fingertips and call Charlie’s name. Cautiously, stretching his very long body full length, Charlie takes a quick sniff of the treat and gently takes it from my fingers before retreating behind his human again.
“Enjoy the rest of your ski!” I say to the woman as I stand up and strap my poles back on my wrists, ready to continue on our way.
Thank dog for dogs.
Sunday, March 15, 2020 – The Ides of March (when debts are settled)
It snowed again overnight and is still snowing when I awake. Winter is not going to give way spring easily. A good two inches this time. While the fresh snow makes the landscape appear fresh and pure again, it’s the wet, sticky type that clings to dog feet and fur. Plus, there’s fog enveloping our valley and with the still-falling snow, it’s a whiteout, visibility close to zero. I opt to stay inside rather than head out on our planned morning foray into the forest.
Once again, I slept poorly, reading much of the night. At 2:00 am I remembered that I forgot to send an email birthday card to a friend whose birthday is today, so I got up, turned the computer on and got that task accomplished. Then back to bed to read until sleepy enough to try again for some dreamtime around 5:00 am.
Mid-morning I try to ride my stationary bike, to at least get some exercise, but my legs feel tired and my brain isn’t into it so I quit after five minutes. I eat (i.e. stress-eat snacks like pretzels and chips), spend some time on social media, then go back to bed, hoping to nap, but fail yet again to sleep.
NPR had a story about playlists to calm us during turbulent times. One artist mentioned and sampled: Max Richter, and his Sleep albums. (I found him on Amazon Prime Music and am now listening as I write.) Very soothing. Atmospheric, sometimes haunting. Calming. Give it a try when the day’s stresses get to you. Unfortunately, I can’t fall asleep to music, so it doesn’t help me with that issue.
Amazon is one company that will do just fine through this pandemic and general economic turndown.
I get up and decide to take Conall xc skiing again. The sun is shining; why let such a pretty afternoon go to waste? I feel bad leaving Finn home – he hasn’t gotten any time in the forest today – but he’s no longer reliable around strange dogs so it’s best, for him and for me, that he stay home. He doesn’t complain much, but gives me sad eyes as I leave.
This time, there are no cars in the parking lot of the xc ski area when we arrive on an even nicer afternoon than yesterday. Maybe social distancing really has come to these mountains (although there were plenty of cars parked at a nearby lift-assisted ski area holding an end-of-season event).
As Conall and I are skiing, I frame a photo of him that includes the red handles of my very old ski poles. They’re Rossignols. From the early ‘80s, when I was fresh out of law school. A friend gave me an old set of skis and these poles; I bought some boots. In the ensuing years, those poles and I went on to poke at snow in Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks, Banff Provincial Park, ski areas in British Columbia, and too many places to count all over Washington’s Cascades and now Idaho’s Salmon River Mountains. They have been sturdy and reliable, unlike the poles that came with a cheap package of skis, boots & poles I purchased online in late 2014. One of those poles broke two years later. I got what I paid for.
They don’t make ‘em like they used to, I think as Conall and I make our way through the forest.
I’m trying to emulate my Rossignol poles, endeavoring to be strong and steady, no matter the challenges I face.
In that same photo, in the distance, are some cumulonimbus clouds. As we ski, I admire them, floating all around the valley or hovering above the surrounding peaks, tall, white and fluffy against a deep blue late-winter sky. The sun is starting its evening descent, hanging just above the trees to the west, casting long shadows across the snow.
Cumulonimbus clouds always make me think of my father.
“Hi, Dad,” I say internally as I push myself along the set xc ski tracks, following Conall’s happy bouncing tail.
I wonder what Dad would make of current events. I imagine he would argue for calm and taking the long view. A test pilot, he was an expert at calm. He had little patience for those who panic; they can get you killed. He passed that sentiment on to me.
Skiing along, my thoughts jump from pleasant (clouds and my father) to something darker, maybe because my father was alive when the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 and he and I discussed those events often. It occurs to me that the coronavirus pandemic makes all too vivid why biological warfare has always been such a frightening prospect. Remember Iraq’s supposed stockpile of weapons of mass destruction? Biological weapons, including anthrax, were thought to be part of their stockpile. It was easy for Bush to whip up general panic and translate that into approval for his desire to invade Iraq. Can you imagine the level of panic if this coronavirus was created and/or delivered by terrorists bent on creating utter chaos?
Or is this new and deadly virus simply nature’s way of reminding us how utterly selfish, vulnerable and stupid we humans are. Maybe nature is tired of watching us destroy the very planet she gives us, the one we rely upon for life. Is she calling in our debt to her?
I need to stop letting my mind wander to such dark places.
Almost immediately the perfect antidote to those dark thoughts appears. Conall notices a skier up ahead, just over a small knoll. Conall’s initially confused because the person isn’t moving; skiers move. He goes from happy (moving forward, tail wagging), to worried (standing still and watching the person, tail dropped), to happy, to worried, until I say, “It’s okay, Conall” and he moves forward. Then we both spot Charlie, so short we couldn’t initially see him! Conall runs ahead to say hello to his new pals.
Charlie barks at us, acting as though he’s never met us before.
“Do you have brain damage? Don’t you remember Conall?” the woman says to Charlie. Then to me, “He may well have, from when he was run over.”
Conall ignores barking Charlie and goes to the woman for a greeting. She bends over and Conall gives her a nice kiss. “Awwww.”
“I laughed to myself after meeting you yesterday that we exchanged dog names but not our own,” I say. “A sign of true dog nuts.”
She laughs. “I know, right? I’m Autumn.”
I offer Charlie a treat but he won’t take it. He keeps barking, wanting Autumn to keep moving.
Autumn’s phone is in her hand. She tries to take Conall’s photo, but he’s too close and moving about. “I want his photo; I was telling my daughter about him yesterday.”
“Well, you and Charlie were on my Facebook page yesterday,” I say, and she laughs again. I encourage Conall to look at her, and finally she gets a good shot.
Autumn and Charlie follow us back to the parking lot. After putting Conall in my car, I offer Charlie a treat. He takes it, even lets me pet him briefly.
Thank dog social distancing doesn’t include dogs.
Silly as it sounds, these random encounters with dogs and dog-loving people in the forest or on the xc ski trails make me forget all the bad stuff weighing on my mind and keeping me awake at night, at least for a few precious minutes. All I’m thinking about is the dog and the person, watching Conall interact with them, their smiles, feeling proud of what a good boy Conall is, thankful to be healthy and alive in the moment. I relax.
It’s all about the moment.
Be like dogs. They don’t invite worry. They don’t stress over imaginary things. The enjoy each and every moment as they encounter it.
Monday, March 16, 2020
I wake up to read the stock market opened with a 2,000-point drop. [By end of day, it would be a 3,000-point drop.] Why do I torture myself? My gut tells me to ignore conventional wisdom (don’t “panic” sell) and pull out what I’ve still got left before it’s all gone.
I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know.
“Boys, we’re going for a run.”
I shut down the computer and its access to the internet, that bearer of bad news and stress. The boys and I head outside to our happy place.
The forest gods smile on us. A thin fog hovers over the forest, keeping things quiet and close, our little bubble of natural beauty and calm. The rising sun works to break through fog and trees, adding a mystical feel to the scene. A woodpecker attacks a tree – rat-a-tat-tat – high above us. A raven caws while flying overhead. Thankfully, no snowmobilers are about. All is good in our world, at least right now. It’s hard to resist moving ever higher and away from “civilization,” but we must turn back toward the car and, eventually, the weight of the world on my shoulders.
As the boys and I head back, running down the steep wildlife trail with snow packed by (illegal) snowmobiles, I see litter beside the track. A can of Bud Light and another of something called Monaco Tequila Lime Twist. I often find empties out here, usually Kokanee brand beer (cheapest crap one can buy, apparently). But these were unopened. They must have fallen off a snowmobile over the weekend. I put them in my running pack and carry them down the mountain. Back home, I pour the Bud Light down the sink and into the septic tank where it belongs. The Monaco mixed drink now resides in the back of my ‘fridge, in case my supply of wine runs out as we ride out the pandemic, sheltering at home.
Don’t judge me.
Coping Strategies + Some Stoicism
For what it’s worth, the following are some life lessons that help me get through tough times.
In the early 1990s I started racing trail ultramarathons (any race longer than a marathon, but typically 50K, 50 miles, 100K or 100 miles).
I learned so much from my years of long-distance trail running. I had no idea what an education they would provide.
It all boils down to:
One foot in front of the other.
Relentless forward motion, no matter the obstacles.
Along the route, you’ll experience mental highs and lows, physical pain and unexpected challenges. It’s all part of the journey. Fuel your body with food and fluids, keep your attitude positive. The goal is to reach the finish line, and the best way to accomplish that is to keep moving, relentlessly, until you arrive. No matter how long it takes. Eyes on the prize.
All you can control is your reaction to the things that happen to you on your journey. Everything else is outside your control, extraneous, an unnecessary burden slowing you down.
Pain is optional. Embrace the suck.
You’ll make mistakes along the way. Don’t panic. Learn from your mistakes (and those of others), then let them go; they reside in the past.
Focus on what you can control, what choices you can make right now to improve your chances of reaching your goal.
Accept help when needed. That’s a sign of strength, not weakness.
“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own…” — Epictetus, Discourses, 2.5.4–5
I can’t control how the earth spins on its axis or how it wobbles in response to fluctuations in the currents of oceans and winds. I can’t control this pandemic, nor the illogical panicked responses some have to it. I can only control how I chose to respond to events, planning each footstep, one relentlessly in front of the other, however unsteady, in response to life’s inevitable spins and wobbles.
With dogs by my side, of course. Thank dog for dogs. They keep me optimistic.
A Parting Note: Songbirds
Ending on a soothing and hopeful note, let me share the peaceful, natural sounds of my valley, recorded this morning while walking my dogs along a rural road. First, at about ten seconds in, a red-winged blackbird sings, quickly followed at 11 seconds by a pileated woodpecker; then the red-wing again at 19 seconds followed at 21 seconds by what I believe was a flicker (another type of woodpecker) announcing its search for a mate by pecking on the metal chimney cover of the only house within a mile; and finishing with the red-wing and woodpecker trading songs.
(I’m so grateful this pandemic doesn’t harm our pets or wildlife.)
Feature photo: fog-enshrouded forest on our morning run, March 16, 2020.