Archive for the ‘traveling alone’ Category
Last night marked five years since Don’s death. I worked on this post for quite awhile, but the right words did not happen, so I finally gave up and got some sleep with the hope that I would know what to write this morning.
These annual posts are difficult for me. What to say?
Of course, I like to begin by choosing a few photos of Don that help me to remember him as the strong, healthy, man that he was for most of his life. Those days far outnumber the brief period of his illness. I don’t like to think of those last few months, but unfortunately, I cannot shake those memories and find them difficult to push away in spite of my best efforts. Anyhow, I thought this group of photos was particularly nice because they were taken along some of the many trails we hiked with Sabrina. We hiked, snowshoed, and paddled on trails, lakes and rivers all over eastern Canada. They were the best of times.
So, what to say this year – that hasn’t already been said before?
As might be expected, I still miss Don very much. He is in my thoughts each day as various situations trigger some recollection or cause me to wonder what he would have done or said if he’d been here. But, you know how it is – life goes on with or without you. And so I carry on, although there have been times when I’ve become very tired of everything and ready to throw in the towel. But I am still here. I keep the promise that I made – that I would carry on.
What else might be said?
Without any doubt, I know that Don’s death has changed me. Life is about change and we are all in the process of transformation from the time of our birth to that of death. However, certain events can precipitate radical change whether we like it or not. Being left to carry on alone has provoked me to become a person I barely know. For example, I am, by nature, a very shy and reclusive person. If I had my druthers, I would have spent the remainder of my life with Don, working and then doing the things we liked to do – hiking and traveling together when not just putzing around our own place, gardening, building things, or whatever. I do still do these things, but have had to force myself to interact far beyond anything that is within my comfort zone, especially when traveling on my own.
It may not be apparent to others, but all of this muddling on alone has been difficult in the extreme and has taken its toll over these five years of traveling, selling the farm, buying an old house to work on, moving, figuring out what to do, managing finances, trying to keep the dogs and me well, sort out the endless crap that we all have to deal with in life. Those tasks or problems that were once discussed and dealt with by the two of us, still had to be done. Many times, I have felt absolutely sick inside about having to deal with yet one more problem, but one way or another, in the end, I do – because I must. The proverbial buck stops here. The good thing in all of this is that it usually seems that I’m doing just about what Don and I would have decided upon together. It seems that a good part of his thinking rubbed off on me during our thirty-four years together. I used to feel like I was half a person after he died, but maybe it is more like being one-and-a-half in his absence. In any case, whatever is going on, it seems to be working and I manage in spite of myself.
So, what else can be said about these past five long years?
I guess I have learned a thing or two about life (and death). In truth, I knew most of this already – gleaned during the time while I was caring for my father during his terminal illness. However, repeating the process a second time while caring for Don served to reinforce these lessons.
* Be kind to others. It costs very little to be kind – to speak kindly to others – to reach out and help someone when they need a hand – to give something to someone when it will make a big (or even a small) difference to their existence. It is true about paying it forward. Everything you do for the good or bad, will eventually be returned to you – so try to make it all good.
* Treat others as if it may be the last time you see them. That might just be the case. If you love someone, tell them. It’s not sissy stuff. It means a lot. I am so glad that, in the finally weeks of my dad’s and Don’s lives, I told them how I felt. It meant a great deal to them and to me.
* Objects are just things and don’t really mean a hell of a lot. Our society puts great emphasis on material stuff, but it’s true about not being able to take it with you when you go. Worrying about your stuff is a real pain in the ass (just ask George Carlin). It’s also true that leaving a bunch of stuff behind for someone else to deal with isn’t a good thing. But more importantly, after you lose someone, or maybe two or more someones, you begin to twig onto the fact that stuff is sort of dumb. It’s relationships and experiences that are what count. These last few years, I’ve lost, given up, given away or had so much stuff broken, but it’s all seemed virtually meaningless compared to losing the people I love.
* Try to leave the world as a better place than when you arrived. Most of us may be feeling like what’s happening around us is beyond our control. That’s probably quite true. However, maybe this is just the right time to push back. The time to make the greatest difference is often that moment when it feels like things can’t get any worse. Believe me – I’m kind of an expert at recognizing those moments. Think of all the good that we humans could be doing here on this planet – but what are we doing instead? We have so much potential. Why are we squandering it on stupid shit? Why can’t we put all our considerable intellect, effort and resources into solving real problems – like curing cancer and other diseases, ending poverty and starvation around the world, lessening our impact on the environment. Can we not choose right over wrong?
Well, that is all for this year’s reflections.
To Don: I miss you and will love you – always.
I haven’t written a post here in almost three months. Sometimes I contemplate over whether to continue on with the blog, but it seems worthwhile to be able to go back and look at what was happening in my life on a certain day. One thing that blogging has made me particularly aware of is how quickly time passes. For example, today is the fourteenth anniversary of my father’s death. In my mind, it seems like it could have been last week that I was sitting in his room talking with and caring for him on his last day. However, several times over the years, I’ve written a blog post about him on March 17th, so that’s a concrete reminder of how much time has passed.
I’ve addressed the topic of time and memory occasionally over these years of blogging. Now more than ever, I find that the distance between one event and another often seems very short even though many years may have passed. A blog is useful as it reminds me that a lot has happened in the spaces between some of the major turning points in my life – Don’s death, my father’s death, living on our farm, selling the farm, five continent-wide meandering journeys over five winters, the buying of the old place in Nova Scotia, the seasonal work on the house, the annual changes to the new gardens I’ve been putting in, the death of Sabrina, the getting to feel part of several different regions of the world where I started over not knowing even one person. I can’t really convey to others how it feels to have had so much of my past obliterated through losses, then to travel alone with my dogs for five years, and then gradually rebuild a life that seems foreign and peculiar – even to me. It has been quite a solitary journey. Without meaning to be too maudlin, I often think of how well the line from the Grateful Dead’s “Truckin'” seems to apply to the past few years of my life:
Well, anyhow, moving on to today’s post. If you know me on Facebook, you are probably already aware that I’ve been playing a lot of music over the past couple of years. Music isn’t a new thing for me – I played a lot of guitar and 5-string banjo when I was young. However, I let it slip away to the back burner for about thirty-five years while working and also caring of all the different livestock that we had on our farm. Recreation time was mostly spent hiking, snowshoeing or canoeing with Don. Sometimes my guitar would sit in its case under the bed for more than a year before being dragged out to pick a few tunes some evening, then stashed away for another year. Then, about two years ago, while casting about for something to interest me in my solitary life, I purchased a fiddle, a guitar and a very cheap mandolin with the proceeds of a photograph that was licensed for a company’s packaging. I worked on the fiddle a bit that winter, but mostly played guitar and picked at the mandolin a bit. That has changed over time – I do play more fiddle now – not exactly wonderful, but probably somewhat better than a lot of the other bow-scratchers out there. However, it seems that it has been the mandolin that has captured my interest. I’ve always wanted to play one, and in fact, I have owned one since I was a teenager and there’s kind of a funny story about that. My parents knew that I wanted a mandolin and during one of their trips down to the U.S. they saw one for sale in a music shop down in Syracuse, NY. It was originally a decent model, but was reduced to a very cheap price as the neck was split just back of the nut where it goes up to the tuners. My dad, always being a fixer-upper kind of guy, decided to buy it and fix it up to give to me as a xmas present when I was about sixteen. He did a pretty decent repair, but unfortunately, it just didn’t hold that well and the mandolin constantly slipped out of tune within a minute or so of tuning up. Eventually I got too frustrated and put it away. I still have it – stashed at the old house in Round Hill. The funny thing about having the damaged instrument was that it kept me from buying a new one for so many years. I would always think, “Oh, I should get that mandolin fixed” but never did. Then there was that photograph licensing and it was like found money falling from the sky, so I spent it on instruments – including the cheap asian-made mandolin.
Flash forward to this year and things have changed some more. I became increasingly interested in playing the mandolin and ended up purchasing the two vintage flatbacks in the photo at the beginning of this post. The one on the left is an old 1920s Harmony that came to me from Jake Wildwood at Antebellum Instruments in Rochester, Vermont. You can read more about this mandolin here where he wrote a blog post about it. Shortly after, a 1920s Stella (the one on the right) came to me from Claude Bernier at Guitar/Lézar in Rimouski, Quebec. This winter, a c.1925 Weymann tenor banjo (photo below) joined the other instruments – it too came from Jake at Antebellum Instruments, and you can read more about it here if you’re interested in vintage instruments. Just recently, I arranged to purchase a c. 1930 Regal tenor guitar from Claude at Guitar/Lézar. That will probably round out my collection of stringed instruments, at least for awhile – I think.
So, you may be wondering about this sudden interest in music. Sometimes it even surprises me. I’ve had a lot of interests in my life and have always enjoyed learning new things. I suppose that playing music is just another avenue that I’m wandering down at the moment. Perhaps the interest will fizzle out in time. I don’t really know. My guess is that I needed something new in my life as I have not really been much interested in anything since Don’s death. I used to shoot several hundred photos of insects a week, and now it’s really just moths at night. Don and I used to hike or canoe many miles each week, and now that burning desire to find every new trail and navigate even the most tortuous backwater creek has almost dissipated. Yes, I still enjoy going for walks in wild places, but not in the obsessive way that he and I once did. Sometimes I think that doing the things I used to enjoy are just attached to too many memories, making them too painful to experience more than occasionally. For me, playing music doesn’t have so many associations with my past life and so I can seem to do it without dredging up some memory or another.
The other thing about music is that, if you want to jam with others, then it gradually brings new people into your life. That’s probably been a good thing for me as I’ve spent so much of the past five years alone. One thing I know is that it doesn’t take long to make friends when you’re making music.
Making music has become an integral part of my life — at least for now. Who knows whether it will continue or where it will go — but then that’s just how life is in general. I’ve been through enough of life’s twists and turns to know that you can’t predict where any path will lead and whether you’ll still be walking it in a year, a month, or even a week.
Well, as mentioned up above, today is the fourteenth anniversary of my dad’s death. I have about the same things to say today as I did here on this date last year. This year, I’ll be spending the evening playing celtic music with friends at a St. Patrick’s Day jam session here in Bisbee. Somehow, that seems like a fitting way of celebrating his memory.
If you’re curious about the music, I’ve begun making little videos to put on Youtube. They are for Mandolin Cafe’s “Song-A-Week” group where a tune is chosen each week. You learn it – usually rather quickly – make a video recording and put it up online. For me, it’s just a fun thing – I don’t put as much work into making recordings as most people. This is my latest attempt. I played both the tenor banjo and the bodhran drum as a backing track before recording the mandolin (see video below).
A couple of weeks from today, I’ll be on my way back north – I suppose I could say I’ll be on my way home, but I rarely use that word these days. Where is home to a nomad? I suppose it is wherever I am at any given moment — in which case, I’m already there.