Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Building Resilience through Gratitude

I’m cold … and it’s not even winter.

(Truth in blogging requires that I reveal this photo is from outside Reno (where I moved from) not from here, the place I'm whining about.)

 However, I am cold and believe the Universe is saying something to the effect of: “Your resilience muscles are flabby … time to toughen up.”

Of course, I didn’t know this when I made a sudden, spontaneous (is that redundant?) decision to uproot my just-recently-settled life in Reno and move to an RV in the mountains east of San Diego. You might think that meant I owned an RV and knew what winters were like in the Julian area. Not a chance on either count.

The Universe tricked me. I had a wild-hair idea and she kept making it easy to take the next step. I thought each step was a miracle that meant I was supposed to do this. I landed here seven weeks ago, and now know that somewhere there’s a devil-goddess doubled over in side-splitting laughter.

This is where I really am
Just so you have a more complete picture, I’m living in a lovely, ten year-old 37-foot fifth wheel with ALL the conveniences of a tiny home in a stunningly beautiful RV park surrounded with trees that I’ve fallen in love with. 
Should be paradise, huh? I’ve written earlier about some of the issues of a mechanically-challenged woman trying to swim through a mechanical world. So far, I haven’t drowned, thanks to dozens of YouTube videos, the advice of some kind neighbors and a gosh-awful plumbing bill … and was only without a toilet for a week. Fortunately, this park has some of the cleanest facilities I’ve seen, it’s just a bit chilly to get to them.

Anyway, there’s a point to all this rambling. As it’s gotten colder, I’ve begun to balance what I love about being here with the uncertainties of dealing with weather and mechanical mysteries. Heating an RV can be budget-challenging. Trying to live within that budget resulted in waking up this morning to a 46 degree house with a reluctance to use the gold-plated furnace or space heater. Extra layers of clothing help, but it’s not like sitting in front of a roaring fireplace. At some point, I had an epiphany in the form of a question … 

Who ever guaranteed that you’d always be toasty warm?

I began to think about indigenous women and pioneer women … how did they cope with winter? How did they keep their babies warm? I thought about Jeremiah Johnson (movie of same name) who wanted to be a mountain man and suffered through his own harsh learning curve of cold and hunger and being chased by people who wanted him dead. I even got around to wondering how prison camp survivors lasted sometimes for years under soul crushing conditions.

All of those people had few choices. They had to cope with what they were given, or die. Maybe that’s part of my issue: I do have choices. I could call this a mistake and go back to Reno, although there's no furniture left in that house. But, I really want to stay here and also need to respect my budget, so I get into this push-pull cycle, slogging through my own insecurities. 

In the midst of this vacillation, a friend called me and started reading to me … from my own book: Gratitude Miracles. It is a gratitude journal organized around thirteen four-week cycles focused on the benefits of practicing gratitude. 
Barbara said: “Listen to this … it’s from page 161 ...          

Robert Emmons, the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude says that, in troubling times, “not only will a grateful attitude help — it is essential. In fact, it is precisely under crisis conditions when we have the most to gain by a grateful perspective on life. In the face of demoralization, gratitude has the power to energize. In the face of brokenness, gratitude has the power to heal. In the face of despair, gratitude has the power to bring hope. In other words words, gratitude can help us cope with hard times.” 
She went on to insist that I should get the book out into the world because people needed to be practicing gratitude, especially in this time of a pandemic and so much political turmoil. (Actually, the journal is available on amazon.com)
I agreed and thought I needed to be the first person in line for it. While I’ve developed an attitude of gratitude, I haven’t been officially practicing it, so I brought out a copy and turned to page 161, which is part of the benefit cycle of Resilience. What I read launched my third journey through this journal, starting with Week 1 of Cycle 10: Gratitude Strengthens Resilience.

Already, I feel gratitude shifting my mind. I recognize that I have slipped into a mindset of not having enough, not being enough. This morning when I opened the door of my RV, I felt warm sunshine. It was still chilly but as I walked through the park, my spirit soared and I thought: I can solve these issues. I can stay warm enough (although maybe not my preferred 70-degrees); I can learn to deal with my RV issues and be smart about how I use my resources. 
All of this stuff is just falling leaves, changing of seasons. I can stay in this place that feeds my spirit ... or I can decide to do something else. It's my choice and I will be grateful for whatever comes, including the lessons that build my resilience. 
You can learn more about the Gratitude Miracles journal and resilience here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Love Letter to my life #29: The Granary Tree

by Joyce Wycoff

(We know the day we were born, but most of us do not know the day we will die. This love letter to my life is written on the day I've designated as my death day, the 17th of every month, and reminds me to be grateful for my incredible life.)   
A project called me to move to the Cuyamaca Mountains in east San Diego County ... a vague, blobby kind of idea about creating something around wildflowers and nature, focused on California, all of California, all 800 miles north to south and 400 miles east to west. 
As I went about learning how to live in an RV and began exploring the land around me, I cycled through a lot of project possibilities. Most lasted no more than a day or two.

The work I did about this time last year … which at the time I called my 5-Year Plan (because the idea of a 74 year-old woman making a 5-year plan tickled me) … clarified my intention to live the rest of my life in Delight. Out of that thinking, came four action words that I wanted to be the bedrock of all my doings: Learn - Create - Connect - Share. They became the criteria for all project possibilities, with the overarching mission being to create delight for myself and others. Most projects quietly went away under that spotlight. 

I was beginning to wonder if any project would survive that scrutiny when a new book showed up on my Kindle. Since I'm living in the midst of an oak forest, it startled me with a sense that it was written just for me. The first chapter focused on acorns and woodpeckers. Shortly thereafter, I knew I had found my project.

The story that began to haunt me was about granary trees. Oaks are keystone plants supporting a diverse habitat by producing an abundance of acorns that feed the neighborhood. One of the main inhabitants of oak woodlands are woodpeckers whose main diet is acorns. To store their precious food supply, they create communal store houses … granary trees. These trees may hold 50,000 acorns and take eight years to drill the holes and store the acorns.

Woodpeckers don’t “own” their store houses. Other woodpeckers eat freely from them, and, because the acorns shrink as they dry, squirrels, blue jays and other forest dwellers help themselves to the bounty. However, to outwit the thieves, woodpeckers move as many as five hundred acorns every week!
Soon after I arrived, I started walking through the woods in the surrounding woodland and thought “wouldn’t it be nice if I could actually see a granary tree?”

I practically ran into it … a huge Ponderosa pine. Within a couple of weeks I had found three inside the park where I live and a few outside the park. I can touch the acorns packed into the holes: some are loose enough to pull out with my fingers; some so tight I would need pliers to remove them.

Granary trees are a wonder as baffling to me as the great pyramids. They are unique in the animal world and require an enormous amount of work … drilling the holes, gathering the acorns one acorn at a time from surrounding trees, and then pounding them into the holes. And they are made by generous beings who share the bounty with the neighborhood.
Detail of one of the granary trees.

What’s coming? … The Granary Tree ... on November 30, 2020, under the full Acorn Moon.

Here's a description of the new project ... a periodic, online “magazine” (or as they are sometimes called “flip books”), filled with acorns (or wonders) about what I learn and whatever captures my attention, focusing on beauty and nature, art and generosity, wandering and wondering along the way.
To be sure to receive your copy, simply add your email address in the Follow by Email box on the right side of this post and press submit.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

To RV or not to RV ...

Some of you may be thinking about living in an RV or heading out for the open road. I highly endorse the idea, with a few caveats about the learning curve that, for me, is part of this adventure.

I lived for 7 months in what was an RV bubble and thought I had a sense of what I was doing when I decided to live full-time in an RV. Now I think of that decision as being somewhat like deciding to eat only what you can grow yourself. Sounds wholesome, self-reliant, and fun ... until hunger sets in.
Perhaps the best way to share my thoughts is to describe the past three days.
Weather will be a constant companion whether you’re on the road or parked. Several days ago, I noticed that we were in for a week of wind, rain, and freezing temperatures; so I started making plans.
Two days ago, I decided to stabilize the RV with a tripod stabilizer and to wrap my water hose to prevent freezing. Buying and installing the stabilizer was easy. Wrapping my 100’ of hose was simple but time consuming. Two jobs well done and satisfying.

Yesterday, since the night temps were touching freezing, I started thinking about my furnace and the propane tanks that keep the warm air flowing. A friend suggested they might need insulating. Sounded reasonable, so I was off to YouTube (the repository for multiple answers to all questions, some actually helpful.)
After several videos by guys who all want to be my new best friend, the answer to why you should NOT insulate propane tanks began to make sense … boils down to: they work better when full and insulation hinders the evaporation (you have to watch the videos yourself if you want to know why that’s important.) Anyway, scratch “insulate the propane tanks” off my growing to do list.
However, the idea that they work better when full was troublesome. Are my tanks full? Who knows? Back to YouTube. Apparently, “How full is my propane tank?” is one of the mysteries of the Universe. Some guys thump ‘em, some pour hot water down the side and wait for a frost line, some buy a profusion of gauges which half the reviewers swear didn’t work.
I’ve been here six weeks and had to assume that it was likely that my tank was empty. Well, that and the fact that my furnace didn’t seem to do much other than keep the frost out of the air. So I’m off to take my tank to the park office where they fill them … after watching several videos about just how to take them out of their compartments, of course.

I have a “split-bottle” system with an “automatic changeover.” That's good because the law of propane tanks is that they run out at 2 am. (Of course, none of that was spelled out in the large stack of manuals I inherited with this RV.)

As I looked into the cabinets that held the bottles, I saw more questions than answers. (Do remember that propane is dangerous … one wrong move and I could blow up half the county. My imagination painted graphic pictures.)  
Finally, in something of a state of panic, I took photos of both tanks and their respective valves, (this is not what I want to take pictures of), then photoshopped a page of appropriate photos and was headed out to the RV store 20 miles away, when a neighbor and his wife pulled into their space.

I almost gave him time to get out of his car before I was groveling at his feet, begging him to help me figure out what to do. Being a nice man, he gently took me over to my unit and revealed the mysterious workings of propane tanks. 
I felt saved until we took the first one out of its cabinet. Definitely empty, but the sucker was anything but light. My neighbor decided the other one was probably empty also and took it out. It still had some propane left, but I took both to the office to be filled.
My neighbor made me promise I’d let him help me reload them when I got back. I demurred for half a second; I am trying to be self-reliant.
It didn’t take long when I picked up the full-bottles to realize there was definitely an issue. Research has since revealed that a 30# tank weighs 55#. (It’s a little ridiculous to ask Google how much a 30# tank weighs. Like who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb? only in this case it would have been Grant and all the little Grants.)
However, with my neighbor doing all the heavy lifting, the full tanks were soon in place and the furnace ran at a near-toasty level. Another check mark on my to do list.
Today began well: nothing froze, water is still running. I knew I needed a system for loading and unloading the propane tanks and that made me wonder how long they would last. Google proceeded to tell me that a full 30# propane tank should keep a furnace running consistently for 25 hours. Since I have two tanks, I had 50 hours of furnace time … however, I had just used up 12 hours in one night! 
Drat! That’s not going to work for a 3-month winter. Small space heaters work well in small spaces though, so I was just getting ready to head to the city to buy another space heater when I decided to dump the tanks: black water and gray water.
Easy-peasy, just pull a knob and a valve opens and lets all the icky stuff from the black tank run into the septic tank. Close that valve and open the gray water valve and it further cleans the line. Close that valve and you’re basically done. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.
However, after dumping, the black water tank wouldn’t close all the way, no matter how hard I tried, no matter how much WD-40 I sprayed on it, no matter how much I begged Ganesha. Back to YouTube and I now know more than I ever wanted to know about waste systems, paper clogs, and poop build-ups.
There’s more to the story, more Googling, more YouTubing, more crying on a friend’s shoulder, and one trip to the hardware store to buy tools that I don’t know how to use to try to fix something I can’t see.
Now, I sit here writing in a frosty room because I’m not about to use that precious propane, hoping I never have to go to the bathroom again, and wondering if I will ever feel competent and truly self-reliant.
However, on the way to the hardware store, I saw buffalo and a barn quilt. That almost makes up for all of these challenges. Here are the buffalo. Quilt next time when I figure out how to pull off the narrow, two-lane road.

Monday, November 2, 2020

A gift that dispelled despair

 Today has been hard and I’m sure many of you understand. Seeing Washington, D.C. boarded up as if a category-5 hurricane were about to land, struck a blow. I was overwhelmed by what might happen if we lose tomorrow.

Then, a gift arrived … unexpectedly as most great gifts do. Looking for distraction, I stumbled on an hour-and-a-half video of a panel discussion. I’m a 3-minute attention span person, but it was with three of my favorite authors: Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, Terry Tempest Williams, “Refuge, Erosion and many others, and Richard Powers, Overstory, which I'm just now reading for the second time

Richard Powers, Terry Tempest Williams, and Robin Wall Kimmerer

Terry opened the discussion with a story. (Forgive the first-name familiarity with these respected people. I have cried with them for the past hour and a half and feel a level of connectedness with them.) 

The story was of the impending removal of the Divinity Tree, a hundred-year-old Red Oak on Harvard campus. The tree was failing … and also in the way of some planned renovations. Clearly, Terry, who is a professor in the Harvard Divinity School was feeling grief and anger and her emotion opened a vulnerable and sharing conversation. (The opening photo is of the stump of this storied tree.)

For some reason, as I watched these three wise and kind leaders talk about how they are navigating this world and how we are being helped by plant beings, the despair that I have been feeling began to heal. Tomorrow might not take us where we want to be ... nevertheless, we shall persist! 

In recent days and months, I've seen a lot of unimaginable hatred and violence from my fellow countrymen ... but I've also seen amazing generosity and engagement. Our democracy and our ideals may not survive this particular challenge, but we will continue to fight for what we know is right.

The presence of Robin Wall Kimmerer on this panel reminded me of the huge losses of the indigenous people, and yet they persist in relearning their languages, reconstructing their cultures, sharing the wisdom they’ve gathered over millennia, living in gratitude for the plant beings who make every breath we breathe.

We might lose tomorrow and life as we know it might change. But, life goes on, and changes, and so will we.