A Review of “Where the Crawdads Sing” from a Naturalist and Psychotherapist’s Perspective

I just finished reading this novel yesterday, and I would name it the best nature-focused novel I have ever read, this from a reviewer who idealized Jane Goodall as a teenager and wanted to grow up to study animal behavior just like her, in nature’s most beautiful and wild places. The author, Delia Owens, shows such sensitivity and intelligence in describing the natural setting as well as her main character, Kya.

where the crawdads sing

Kya was left to raise herself in the swamp country of South Carolina, to fill her days with survival skills as well as precise observations of the natural world around her. She loves her animal friends like the gulls. They are her only companions. We slowly see how Kya is uniquely qualified for this vocation as a natural loner who lives to be encapsulated in pure nature. As she grows and spends time with only a few other people, she learns to read and then she learns more and more about animal behavior.

Chimpanzee 2012 filmOne aspect of Kya’s life I found easy to relate to, was how she observed or read about animal behavior to inform her about human behavior. This comes through clearly as she describes the behavior of the lawyers during her trial. Ever since I saw the short nature documentary film Chimpanzee in 2012, released by Disneynature, I see most human behavior through that lens. Most human behavior can be understood by observing chimps in the wild, where they can truly be who they are. Males are naturally more aggressive, females protective of their young. Try watching a football game sometime through this lens and you will see that we are not so different as we think!

After decades of city living, I moved to a home in rural Colorado five years ago, where I find myself quite close to nature. Here I so enjoy the experience of observing changes in myself and how I see and feel the world around me. The best part is the complete silence here and with less reason for fear and daily vigilance, the natural world has unfolded before me, showing that we were made to live close to nature, not close together in cities. I have learned that city life can literally drive us mad. The perceived threats are everywhere in cities so we naturally keep our guard up at all times, not a healthy or natural way to exist.

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Now that I live out in the country, I feel like I have finally begun to live in harmony with each sunrise and sunset. Now I notice the birds’ songs as spring arrives, free from tension and anxiety, a feeling I have never felt before. That often unconscious and yet ever present stress felt in cities is simply gone.

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How we steal the bright side from ourselves everyday: Try some cognitive reframing

reframing your life

The most fortunate are those who have a wonderful capacity to appreciate again and again, freshly and naively, the basic goods of life, with awe, pleasure, wonder and even ecstasy. — ABRAHAM MASLOW

Although I learned this psychological tool decades ago, I am always re-learning its usefulness in my own life. What is cognitive reframing? Here’s a definition from an article by social worker Amy Morin:

“Reframing is a technique used in therapy to help create a different way of looking at a situation, person, or relationship by changing its meaning. Also referred to as cognitive reframing, it’s a strategy therapists often use to help clients look at situations from a slightly different perspective.”

I have found that choosing a “different perspective” can also be the opposite of what I automatically go to in my own mind.

The point is that we can and do choose how we see ourselves and our lives everyday. 

If we were raised with a critical or negative view of ourselves and how the world works, the way we will see our lives may be destined to be critical or negative, but that is not the only way to see ourselves. That is not the only reality behind our circumstances.

Here is an example from my own life:

In my present life I may tend to focus on all of the difficult challenges Mike and I have faced since we decided that we needed to leave Fort Collins behind for many good reasons. I may choose to focus on how much money we left on the table by selling our Fort Collins home before prices went way up up there, how expensive and stressful it was to build down here in a rural area, etc, making me critical of our past decisions. Or, I may choose to see exactly how fortunate I have been in spite of many tough misfortunes in the past few decades; to be here now, retired comfortably and happily, and most importantly together!

In addition there are the greater misfortunes of Mike’s horrible experience with CFS for decades, my inability to find another job in libraries at age 49, my traumatic head injury at age 53, and many more difficulties that just come up as we age. Considering all of these factors, we are more than fortunate. How can we be anything but filled with GRATITUDE that we made it to this soft place to fall in this beautiful place?

That is how reframing works, and it can be used in all parts of your life on a daily basis…

laura and rasta on insulation 2014 (2)

leading to overwhelming feelings of gratitude, a feeling we could all use more of!

Colorado Rocky Mountain High!

Do you have four really good friends?

Laura standing at build site before slab 2014

The topic of the lead story on today’s CBS Sunday Morning, “Going It Alone”, is one of my favorite life-long lines of research: loneliness. There we meet a man who, at age 27, chose to not speak to a single human being for 17 years! He eventually concluded, at age 72, that if you have four really good friends, who understand and appreciate your authentic self, you are truly lucky.

According to a recent Cigna study, loneliness is at epidemic levels in our country.

Their 2018 survey of more than 20,000 U.S. adults revealed some alarming findings:

  • Nearly half of Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone (46 percent) or left out (47 percent).
  • One in four Americans (27 percent) rarely or never feel as though there are people who really understand them.
  • Two in five Americans sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful (43 percent) and that they are isolated from others (43 percent).
  • One in five people report they rarely or never feel close to people (20 percent) or feel like there are people they can talk to (18 percent).
  • Americans who live with others are less likely to be lonely (average loneliness score of 43.5) compared to those who live alone (46.4). However, this does not apply to single parents/guardians (average loneliness score of 48.2) – even though they live with children, they are more likely to be lonely.
  • Only around half of Americans (53 percent) have meaningful in-person social interactions, such as having an extended conversation with a friend or spending quality time with family, on a daily basis.
  • Generation Z (adults ages 18-22) is the loneliest generation and claims to be in worse health than older generations.

How much do YOU need quality connections?

This all brings back my own gradual transition in my 30s and 40s from a true loner, who didn’t trust anyone completely, to a happily married woman in my 60s. After a traumatic betrayal in my 20s I also gave up on people. I did allow a few acquaintances in after counseling in my early 30s, but trust was not my best quality.

My first marriage was a lonely tangle of struggle, criticism and disempowerment. I gradually realized that I would probably be spending the rest of my life alone unless something changed. What changed was a divorce in 2001 and then job/career loss in 2004. Living on severance with only two good friends I saw maybe once a month plus my dogs, I faced loneliness most of the time, providing ample opportunity to consider my options for my future.

At age 49 I decided loneliness was my worst problem and I did not want to live the rest of my life if it was going to be this lonely indefinitely.

Mike snuggling with Rasta 2013

My solution? Since I could not find another job in libraries, I started my own offline dating service where I interviewed local midlifers who were also looking for love after widowhood or divorce. In that way I studied our group problem and decided it wasn’t just me. Then when I found many more cool single women looking for partners, I joined Match.com to attract more cool men for my women. Yep, the first man I met this way was my future husband and partner in crime, Mike. We have been joyfully married fourteen years now.

How to Believe in Love Again! blog sizeMike supported me in a way I have never experienced before, with unconditional loyalty, affection and appreciation. He offered full support to my dream of becoming a professional writer at age 50, back in 2005. This I did with enthusiasm, first as a freelance writer, then as a blogger and finally as an author. In fact, his support led to my second book: How To Believe In Love Again: Opening to Forgiveness, Trust, and Your Own Inner Wisdom, the story of how I transitioned from a sad, miserable loner to a trusting, loving person who admits to a need for support from others. 

Since then I am rarely lonely, but moving to this rural area in 2014 has been a challenge in that department. I so rarely meet someone here I can truly relate to, partially because of differences in upbringing and education levels. In the past I made friends at work and in my exercise classes. I still miss a few good friends I made at the Senior Center in Fort Collins.

I’m now retired so I have tried to make friends in my La Veta yoga class, which I attended for a few years, but to no avail. I have also tried a few other groups like writing groups, support groups, etc. No friendships have emerged. Quality connections are hard for me to find in this environment, but I will continue my efforts. Afterall, I just need one or two more friends to have “four really good friends!”

Gratitude, Pure and Simple!

As I prepare to pen this final post of the year 2018, I would have to say my heart is filled with gratitude. My life has been blessed with a wonderful family who all still live. My Dad, at almost 90, is as healthy as I might hope for, and my Mom, although she struggles everyday for clarity, is as generous and loving as ever.

My brother who lives in the woods in a lean-to, loves his life at age 65. He knows exactly what it means to live “wild and free.” Talks with him always remind me of Henry David Thoreau. He shares his own version of genius with the rest of us.

My sister is an international star in the field of long-term care, who else to manage my parents’ many health concerns? Diane knows what she’s talking about when it comes to end-of-life issues. She teaches us all what she knows.

great Mike photo of snow and Spanish Peaks

And finally, as I look out over our majestic fields of snow, I love where I live with my favorite people and pets. The sun struggles to come out and warm our passive solar home today, reminding me everyday how dependent we are on its power and warmth.

every day is the best day of the year

I am forced to ask everyday: How did I ever get so lucky? 

An abundance of LOVE is felt…

Local Talk by Me!

Mike on old tree up at build site 2014

MIKE NEXT TO ONE OF OUR FAVORITE TREES!

I would like to invite any of you who live here locally, to my presentation at the La Veta Public Library this Thursday at 2PM. My theme is “What’s it like to move here?” We can discuss the ins and outs of moving to rural Colorado, how passive solar works, and anything else that comes up!

Midlife: Begin To Trust Your Crazy Ideas and Then Expand Your Comfort Zone!

Now for something completely different!

Lately I have been observing how generational our belief systems can be. For example, as a middle boomer, born in 1955, most of my life I have taken a narrow view of what a good work ethic looks like. Most of us were raised to believe that being busy each day and having something to show for your efforts, especially MONEY, is a job well-done.

writing and moneyThat is exactly how I approached my new writing career back in 2005, when I began freelancing. How much I made each year was my measure of success, and I fought very hard to make some bucks. But in the long run, this way of thinking wore me out. As I learned more about the history and importance of this marvelous time called “midlife,” I wanted to teach others how life changing it can be. What I was learning was more important than money, it was life saving for some who struggle with self-respect and self-doubt as they age.

This is what I learned from changing my perspective on the ways we choose to spend our time as we age:

Midlife and especially retirement is your time to learn something just because you have always wanted to. It’s time to follow your fantasies and dreams for once in your life, while releasing expectations and, of course, guilt.

Be grateful each day that you now have the time and money to do something completely different! How many individuals in the history of mankind have had this privilege? Very few. Most previous generations didn’t live past 60!

After taking my writer fantasy for a spin for ten years, we decided it was time for my husband Mike to experiment with one of his childhood fantasies. He had always wanted to construct a passive solar home positioned just right for fantastic views of the mountains. In the process of planning this new adventure, I found a great cartoon in New Yorker Magazine that shows a man visiting a guru at the top of the Himalayas.

IMGP7536The guru’s punch line? “The meaning of life is having a  spectacular view.” 

After we created our new passive solar home, I was then able to construct another lifetime fantasy of mine, a foothills garden full of xeric plants that love this high, dry landscape as much as we do. As I wrote this, we got our first snow fall! Yippee!

Because of what I have learned about midlife and the amazing experiences we have had in the past 15 years, I can highly recommend that you ask yourself today:

What perhaps irresponsible, but joyful dream or activity have you been fantasizing about forever? Time’s a wasting! Do it TODAY!

Life is too short to wait!

What does following what may seem to some like one crazy dream feel like?

I share all of that in my latest book: A Memoir of Retirement!

Louis L’Amour and Golden Aspen, Autumn in Southern Colorado!

I’ve been enjoying a Louis L’Amour novel this fall, while also indulging myself in some amazing quaking aspens.

aspen 2018 near Blanca Peak

Up above Cuchara near Cordova Pass…

back of Blanca Peak with golden aspen 2018

and up by Blanca Peak! Now is the BEST TIME to see these beauties!

Have you ever read the novel Conagher? A friend bought me a copy and said I had to read it, so I did. She said it reminded her of her dilemma since she moved here a few years ago. She loves the silence and isolation of her new life in the mountains, but sometimes craves companionship with someone special.

Conagher book

I thought Mr. L’Amour only wrote about the men of the West, but this novel is about a lonely female settler in rural New Mexico in the late 1800s who finds an ingenious way to connect with lonely cowboys. She even finally finds love way out in the middle of nowhere and just by chance. I love Mr. L’Amour’s descriptions of the beautiful but lonely West. Here’s a few lines from the main character Evie:

“She never tired of the morning and evenings here, the soft lights, the changing colors of sunlight and cloud upon the hills, the stirring of wind in the grass. Out here there was no escaping the sky or the plains, and Evie knew that until she came west she had never really known distance.”

I find it interesting how this character somehow captures my own feelings after just a year or so of living here, giving a marvelous explanation of how one adjusts to the silence and beauty of this powerful and yet desolate landscape:

Sunrise through snowy trees January 2018

“Evie Teale suddenly became aware of something else. For the first time she was at peace here, really at peace. She had believed the land was her enemy, and she had struggled against it, but you could not make war against a land any more than you could against the sea. One had to learn to live with it, to belong to it, to fit into its seasons and its ways…”