I don’t need rescuing, thank you very much please

Today I walked a long way into the National Forest that surrounds my home in the mountains of Northern Arizona. I was following a dirt road along the top of a ridge where I seldom encounter other people – that’s why I go there. I have a favorite spot close to this road where I sit on the ground, leaning against a rock, to watch the slow setting of the sun as it appears and disappears and appears again through the thick crowns of the ponderosa pines, until it is gone. Once the sun has set, there is just enough time to walk back to my truck before it gets dark.

ATV in forest 2 450While sitting there today, a man on an ATV passed on the road. He didn’t appear to notice me although I was sitting quite close to the road. Of course, on an ATV, at any speed on your attention needs to be on the road in front of you.

The man disappeared over a rise that is the summit of a long grade down to a junction with another road that leads out of the forest. The sound of his engine grew more faint and finally disappeared altogether. But about five minutes later, perhaps even longer, I heard an engine again, faint at first, coming closer and closer, and soon it was clear the vehicle was coming up that same long grade. Soon the same man on his ATV appeared at the top of the rise but stopped when he came abreast of where I was sitting.

“I drove all the way to the edge of the forest and I didn’t see a car. I couldn’t figure out where you came from. Are you all right? Did you need any help?”

“I’m fine,” I said. “Just sitting, enjoying the sun.”

There was a moment of silence while the man looked mildly troubled and seemed at a loss for something to say.

I thought of saying, “Haven’t you ever seen an 80-year-old woman, miles from anywhere, in the middle of the forest, sitting all by herself and having a perfectly swell time?” But I didn’t. I said “Thank you for coming back to check.” I was almost laughing at my secret answer as I said this but the man still looked a bit troubled. Finally he smiled weakly, turned his ATV around, and headed back from whence he came.

I’m 79, not 80, but I thought 80 was a better line; 80 sounds a lot older than 79.

Dancing in the rain…

We have an astonishing prediction of rain likely every day this week, after June had no measurable precipitation at all – more confirmation of the severity of drought this year. There have been only 22 dry Junes in Northern Arizona since record-keeping started in 1906. The first rain yesterday and the prediction of rain all week is a sudden and dramatic start to the monsoon season. Time to celebrate. The first of my celebrations will be: when (if) it starts raining today, I will play Gene Kelly’s “Singing in the Rain” on YouTube and all the way through it I’ll grin til my face hurts and then perhaps I’ll go out and do my own dance.

In the long distant past I have danced naked in a warm rain and I think it’s time to do it again. For sure I’ll have plenty of privacy – I’ve never seen anybody but me in the forest when it rains. There’s always a chance someone will surprise me, but hell, if they never before saw a 79-year-old woman dancing naked in the rain, it’s time they did.


4:12 am – the exact moment of Winter Solstice. 3 degrees above zero, I’m outside in the snow, laughing, naked except for shoes. . .

…because no way am I gonna stand on the ice in my bare feet. Every year, greeting the return of the sun naked is my way of starting over, of shedding baggage, of meeting the world and life bare, stark, uncluttered, no disguises, no sham, no pretense – which is what clothes are, what they represent to me. At the same time understanding very well that the sun, the world, the cosmos, not even my neighbors give a shit or even notice. That’s the beauty of it, you see: the futility.

I expected the cold to be painful – it’s never been this close to zero degrees when I’ve done this ceremony in the past. But it’s not painful at all. Perhaps I don’t feel it because I’m too jazzed, too happy to know that at last the days will get start to get longer and there will be more sun, even though the worst of the winter weather is still to come. The short days beat me down every year and I anticipate Winter Solstice, the true beginning of the year, like the coming of a new world – a friend of mine claims that I run on solar panels in the top of my head. So I count the minutes of light gained from now on: one minute by the 23rd, two minutes by the 28th, and by the 31st, the end of the arbitrary calendar year most of us live by, three blessed minutes of sun. If you think three minutes are too insignificant to even notice, perhaps you are right, but to me they are the sip that makes me want to chug-a-lug the goblet.

So I’m celebrating the return. I raise my arms to the brilliant black sky, and stretching as high as I can, I take a deep breath and sing to the crackling stars, as loud as I can

               Here comes the sun!
                 Here comes the sun! 

                    and I say...
                       It's alright!*   

My delight in this ceremony is enhanced by the fact that I am 81 years old this year, and fairly sure that there is no one my age within many many miles who is celebrating the Solstice in precisely this way or anything close it. Perhaps no one of my age anywhere in the world, mostly especially a woman. There is something perverse in my nature that takes delight in knowing that. Even as a child I delighted in defiance, and in shocking people. I’ve never purged that from my psyche, nor even tried to. Now, at 81, I can no longer take the physical chances I used to take, nor the psychic risks either. But in defying stereotypes, in doing what an old woman is not supposed to, I still get off.

I mentioned that I understand the futility of my ritual – I will continue to carry the same old baggage and after 81 years of this I know it. Nevertheless some part of me believes in the efficacy of ceremony, and I’m always trying hard to start over. The ceremony reminds me that regardless of how many times I fail, to give up the effort is to die in spirit if not in body.

*The Beatles

Winter sun