big cat leaves strange tracks

When Lou and I made our usual walk to the gate yesterday morning, just before we got to the stream, (about half the third of a mile walk), I began to see odd horizontal cuts in the asphalt millings road bed.

They continued all the way to the gate, where I saw the source of these symmetrical tiger paws.

It was a D4 CAT bulldozer, brought in by a subcontractor to a subcontractor to the engineering company hired by our county to clear a path for a drilling rig to obtain core samples for storm-water pond sites.

This is all preparatory to a road cutting through the middle of Longleaf to straighten out the dangerous, crooked, substandard road we have all lived with so long. It’s both a good thing and a disturbing thing.

Regarding the D4 CAT, we thought the operator would bring his trailer to an offload point that didn’t require walking the CAT down our driveway road.

When one of our grown granddaughters was a tow-headed tot, she famously said, “Oops happens, Mommy.” Sure does, kid. Just about every damn day. Sure does.

suicide is slow

Created for Kasia Avery’s Everything-Art Day by Day Art Journal – Autumn 2019.

I first wrote these words in 2009, when a troubled person very close to me learned he had been diagnosed with bladder cancer. But sometimes the will to live surprises even the suicidal and this person lives on today to greet the sunrise each morning by walking to the the river that has sustained his spirit for so many years.

one who (maybe) writes (again)

It was January of 2009 when a brief true story I wrote, Tenderness, was published in Brevity: A Concise Journal of Literary Nonfiction. For roughly five happy years, I viewed myself as a writer. Not one who writes. An honest-to-God writer.

During those years of immersion into what I began to think of as a writing life, I was interested in everything and wrote every day — blog posts, essays, and flash fiction. I took on-line writing classes, submitted my work to a variety of small publications and got enough acceptances and encouragement to make me feel thrilled that I had at last found what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

Then, in the summer of 2013, my husband, Buck, noticed a pea-sized lump on the side of his neck. It felt soft and moved around under my touch. Over the next several weeks it didn’t seem to grow, but it didn’t go away.

In an unrelated visit to Buck’s dermatologist, Buck asked Kevin to take a look at the lump. “Huh,” he said. “How long has that been there?”

“I think I first noticed it a couple of months ago.”

“Have you had a cold or anything? Been sick?”

“No.”

“Hmm, well, we generally expect lymph node swelling to resolve within about three weeks. You ought to have your regular doc check it out.”

“Okay, will do.”

“Don’t wait.”

I was in the room. When Kevin said, “Don’t wait,” I felt something slip in my comfortable world. It wasn’t what he said so much as the way he said it. He put space before the sentence, brought his face closer to Buck’s, and laid a hand on his shoulder.

The men continued their otherwise routine exam. I pulled out my cell phone and made an appointment with our local internist for the next day, August 8th.

We saw the young doctor, who felt the lump and reassured us that it didn’t feel like anything worrisome and would probably resolve in a few more weeks. Nonetheless, he scheduled Buck for a cervical lymph node CT scan on August 14 and referred him to a local general surgeon for possible biopsy.

At our September 3rd visit, the surgeon said, “Good news, I believe you have a reactive lymph node — no need for a biopsy or other measures. Watch it and call me if there are any changes or if you have concerns.”

So that’s what we did. But the weeks rolled by, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s came and went. We made another appointment with the surgeon and saw him January 8, 2014. He remained sanguine about the lump, said that cancerous lumps are usually fixed and hard, but this one was a “roly poly rascal.” I guess Buck and I just kind of sat there looking at him, so he rambled a bit about statistics, how he felt sure that there was less than a ten percent likelihood that this was anything to be concerned about. When we didn’t exactly jump for joy over that speculation, he suggested we give it a little more time and then if it hadn’t resolved, he would schedule another ultrasound. We agreed, and left.

It seemed to us the lump was getting a little bigger. In fact, maybe now there were two. March 3 I called the surgeon’s office to ask them to schedule another ultrasound. It was done on March 11. Two days later I called the doc’s office to get the results, but had to leave a voice message. After growing frustrated with no returned calls, Buck and I went to the doc’s office and asked for a copy of the ultrasound. Reading it on our way back to the car, I felt a rift in my life open.

Findings: Ultrasound is performed of the left posterior neck. Patient has palpable abnormality and multiple nodules are present. These may represent lymph nodes, but they lack the normal fatty hilum. One of the largest lymph nodes has a longitudinal dimension of 2.2 cm and a short axis of 0.7 cm and 1.3 cm.”

Impressions: Numerous nodules in the left neck, likely to be lymph nodes, but all lacking normal fatty hilum. Recommend CT soft tissue of the neck with IV contrast.”

The surgeon was on vacation in Hawaii. We saw him next on April 23. He began to sing the same lullaby until Buck asked him about the lymph nodes missing part of their structure. He jumped up to go look at the ultrasound (which it was nakedly obvious he had not seen). He frowned now and declared maybe it would be wise to schedule a biopsy and see what’s going on.

Uh, yeah. So we scheduled it, but then decided we would rather have it done at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville where we’d been going for close to twenty years for our annual physicals as part of their executive health program.

And then we were off to the races. By the first week in June, Buck was in chemo , eventually followed by a 15 day course of radiation for a rare type of lymphoma called Mantle Cell. It was months before I realized I wasn’t writing anymore.

The sensational news is that it actually was caught much earlier than usual, at an early B category, and had not spread to his bone marrow. The best news of all is that he remains in complete remission more than five years post-treatment. We continue to trek over to Mayo every six months for PET/CT scans to be sure if it comes back they are ON it to knock it back.

Buck turns 82 in about three weeks. This is sobering for us both. And his recent so-called “minor surgery” for hernia repair in late September had complications that haven’t completely resolved yet. It’s led us to conclude that the idea we’ve toyed with to sell Longleaf (our home and 90 acres) and move to Jacksonville near Mayo is an idea whose time has come.

I’ll try to tell the story of our “Great Upheaval” which I’m halfway laughing about as I type. That sounds suitably medieval! Actually, we’re up for the challenge. I told Buck earlier this week that my “word” for 2020 is READY. He smiled as though I might have gone slightly daft, then decided to play along. “Mine,” he said, “is MOVE!”

This was the short version of a long story. What I really want to say is this: I don’t know if I can write again. But I am humbly here and am going to just show up as often as I can and try my best.

Dream Journal: Lost and Wandering

It’s become a theme. I’m in some crowded environment, often in a big city, sometimes another country. The dreams are always complicated, noisy, full of people and traffic. The setting changes but several things stay the same. Buck and I get separated. I either lose my phone or, more often, lose my understanding of how to use it (scary). I walk for miles. I wake up out of breath. I’ve dreamed variations of this scenario at least three times in the past year.

Day by Day Art Journal

A couple of generous art souls are encouraging me with bite-sized art challenges and short courses, which I find suits my creativity-seeking starts and stops method perfectly.

One such individual is Kasia Avery, a kind and marvelous teacher whose Everything Art website offers classes which vary in length from a few days to an entire year. She offered a free art-journal style Advent Calendar short course last year that was one of my best on-line experiences ever. Kasia’s firm but gentle coaxing was effective. I wound up with a bundle of new skills and a small journal that re-inspires me every time I pull it from the shelf. In January, I enrolled in Wanderlust 2019, a year-long class featuring not only herself but a panoply of gifted artist-teachers. In only a few weeks, I was completely overwhelmed and hopeless behind. (That said, once enrolled, participants have continuing access to the classes and all-important videos, so I have a treasure-trove yet to explore.)

A few days ago, Kasia started a 15-day course called Day by Day Art Journaling. I signed up and am enjoying it immensely. These short time periods work well with my Restless Head Syndrome!

Another fun, massively creative teacher is Marieke Blokland, whose Bloknotes Art School, “raw and quirky,” is so clever and feeds my love of the abstract. Marieke recently offered a 5-day art challenge. It was a blast and oh by the way, an amazing learning experience.

I took an old blank 5×7 mixed media journal and covered the front with a card stock copy of some ancient Japanese wave art downloaded from the Internet Archives, then decorated it. Actually, I’m pretty sure I went at least three steps beyond where I should have stopped.

I’m adding in whatever suits my fancy, along with the exercises from Marieke’s art challenge and Kasia’s Day by Day prompts.

No better way for a writer to quiet that still, small, destructive, voice of her internal editor than to get a little dirty playing with paints. It’s helping me learn what I really think.

Restless Head Syndrome

If only I could snooze like Lou. A few days ago in the wee hours, I got one of those leg cramps that levitates you off the bed. The only remedy I know of is to get out of bed and walk it off, so Lou and I left Buck warm and cozy. Once the cramp settled down, I took one sofa and Lou took the other. It was still false dawn, with a weak light from the wall of windows, but my brain had already shifted gear from sleep to mental furniture moving mode, also known as Restless Head Syndrome.