Fort Collins versus life outside of two small Colorado towns

Yesterday, while waiting for Mike in the car at the Big R store in La Veta, I started thinking about how our lives would be different if we still lived in Fort Collins. We only go into Walsenburg or La Veta Colorado every few days when we need to do something or buy something. We generally go to Walsenburg for groceries and La Veta for the library, the great bakery, yoga or to see my one friend there.

It seems funny that after over five years I still compare in my mind how my life has changed by moving to rural Colorado. If we were still in Fort Collins we would be spending a lot more time standing in line in traffic. That’s for sure! And that is what I so wanted to leave behind. Of course I rarely had trouble breathing in Fort Collins, but I was breathing in lots more toxins everyday there.

Mainly I remember standing in line for just about everything in cities. Sure there are lots more choices of placing to go to buy things, but there were almost always lines at the grocery store or anywhere else. I have had to get used to NOT HAVING crowds and lines here. I still sometimes think, “We better hurry. There might be trouble parking or lines…” But then I remind myself that there never are lines, even at the two stoplights in Walsenburg, which we can generally avoid by going a different way.

Mike and I talked about it on the way home from La Veta yesterday. We agreed that the only time this rural area gets “busy” is in the summer. That is when the city people come down to escape the city. Then things do change a bit. The summer busyness sometimes reminds me of cities, because city people are so pushy and anxious all the time. Their life back home does that to them. How do I know this? Because I used to feel this way myself.

Especially with the difficult changes in my health in the past few years, I feel I belong in a place where things move much slower and the people I meet are more likely to help me when I need it. It is definitely less of a ‘dog eat dog’ world down here. It’s like when we still lived in Fort Collins and we would drive down here for a few days. I always noticed when the traffic on I-25 switched from “Get the f*** out of my way!” to a more relaxed, non-judgmental style of traffic. I still notice that now when I need to go up north. I truly dread the traffic up there now.

That is one of the many reasons I LOVE coming back home.

None of us get out of this alive…

“America is the only country in the world that looks upon death as some kind of personal failure.”

As we age, it is natural to contemplate more often the inevitable consequence of life, our own death. I know that since I experienced a serious brain injury at age 53, with hours of spontaneously moving in and out of consciousness, death has become a fascinating topic for me. I often wonder if unconsciousness is what death feels like. If so, it may not be so bad.

Then as I entered my 60s and personally experienced too many new ailments and disabilities, I wondered again when and of what I would die. I also learned something important about our culture: Even if we Americans don’t see death as a personal failure, we most certainly see illness as one. Ever since I moved from the healthy column to the older, not so healthy column, I have noticed many treat me quite differently. But aren’t I the same person with equal potential?

This all reminds me of a patient I treated in my counseling internship in a rehab hospital. When this elderly woman became ill and ended up in the hospital, the only question on her lips was,

“What did I do to deserve this?”

Do we all “deserve” illness and death? Of course not. We are no better or worse than all the others organisms in our world. We are born by no choice of our own. We live the best we can, and then we die. Then, regardless of the “death industry’s” best efforts, we all become dust in the wind eventually. Big surprise. No secrets here, and yet most of us walk around thinking this simply CANNOT be true!

How can this all mean nothing in the long run?

That has been the realm of religious leaders and philosophers forever. How do we make sense of this thing called life and death? That must be where our judgment of those “failures” who have the indecency to die comes from. When we are still among the living and healthy, it rarely seems likely that we will die someday.

I am reminded of a very cynical MD I met once in Boulder decades ago. I remember him telling a story about one of his healthy patients. The doc was given the unenviable task of telling this person that they had cancer. The patient’s response?

“I can’t have cancer! I run ten miles a day!”

If you like to play the odds game, here are our nation’s death stats:

Top 10 causes of death in the US.: https://www.mdlinx.com/internal-medicine/article/3848

Please note number ten on this list, the rate of suicides among Americans. This rate has risen since these statistics came out in 2017. And speaking of suicide, let’s give Camus the final word on this topic:

“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy…These are facts the heart can feel; yet they call for careful study before they become clear to the intellect.” -Albert Camus

Why NOT to write a book these days!

I have to say this list is my best reason NOT to write anymore books:

The best-selling books of the past decade:

1. E. L. James, Fifty Shades of Grey (2011) – 15.2 million copies
2. E. L. James, Fifty Shades Darker (2011) – 10.4 million copies
3. E. L. James, Fifty Shades Freed (2012) – 9.3 million copies
4. Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games (2008) – 8.7 million copies
5. Kathryn Stockett, The Help (2009) – 8.7 million copies
6. Paula Hawkins, The Girl on The Train (2015) – 8.2 million copies
7. Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl (2012) – 8.1 million copies
8. John Green, The Fault in Our Stars (2012) – 8 million copies
9. Stieg Larsson, The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo (2008) – 7.9 million copies
10. Veronica Roth, Divergent (2011) – 6.6 million copies

The American appetite for intelligent, well-researched literature is small and getting smaller. Almost no one reads actual books anymore, except for soft porn with a little S & M thrown in, or futuristic action thrillers. The only two books I enjoyed from this list were “The Help” and “The Fault in our Stars.”

According to the article “Reading habits in the U.S. – Statistics & Facts” “On average, Americans aged 20 to 34 spend less than seven minutes per day reading. Although the time spent reading increases in the older generations, the general trend is worrying…While more modern forms of entertainment such as watching television, browsing the internet, and video gaming have all become major pastimes for Americans, traditional forms of entertainment such as reading books or magazines seem to be on the decline.”

Being an academic librarian for 25 years I find I am so “old school” on this topic. I assumed that Americans read to improve their minds and learn about the lives of others, not to find something fun to masturbate to. As usual, I came to the “party” too late to write books that some would read to improve their understanding of midlife change, or how one might use psychology to live a better life past age 50. Silly me.

My last book is a memoir about the breakdowns and breakthroughs of searching for a whole new life in rural Colorado in a solar home:

“Finding the perfect perch for solar exposure was a top priority, but finding a place with pristine mountain views was also essential. In 2014 they sold their nice suburban home in Fort Collins, Colorado and headed south to build on their lot with spectacular views of the Spanish Peaks in the foothills west of Walsenburg. Here I share our unique experience, building passive solar from the footers up.”

To be honest, I had my doubts about writing all of my books. I wasn’t so out of touch as to doubt the interest of Americans in reading anything anymore except their own ratings on social media and posting more selfies! I now see that our interest in only following the websites that don’t require much reading or critical thinking and support our own personal biases, have brought us to this sad state of American politics.

I’m not afraid to admit our future scares me if alternative facts, outright lies, ignorance is bliss, and anti-intelligent rhetoric has become the American way. I appreciate my excellent education everyday. At one point I was a scholar of Chinese history, so I have seen how attacks on the best minds of our country can destroy ALL OF OUR FREEDOMS.

Go check out the “Cultural Revolution” in modern Chinese history if you want to learn how that worked out!

Believe me, we don’t want to go there!

Restoring our lost intimacy with nature

As many of you know, I have been struggling to understand and express here how living close to nature changes you. Since moving into big sky country over four years ago, I have changed tremendously, to the point where living with a brain injury does not effect me half as much. Why is this? Because nature is slow and deliberate. Nature is in no hurry to explain or understand itself. Nature is so not like the predominantly human world.

This week I read an amazing interview with writer Barry Lopez in the December issue of “The Sun.” Here he explains myself to me well. As someone who grew up in small to medium-sized cities, I rarely experienced the wonder or intimacy of living close to nature. I experienced instead the loneliness and lack of opportunities for true intimacy in the human-made world. I did not even appreciate my own need to reconnect with the natural world completely until my husband Mike talked me into moving to a wide-open space in the high desert of southern Colorado.

As soon as we moved here I felt different. I felt myself slowing down and appreciating each moment much more completely. Each astounding new view took my breathe away. Slowly I began naturally letting go of my past and my future, feeling less alone than I ever have. Nature is deliberate and can be trusted unlike most experiences in wholly human culture. The beautiful silence outside my door each morning provided me with authentic contact with the harmony in a world outside of human existence. Living in such beauty awakens a sense of gratitude for all there is to experience in the natural world. There so much here that most will never experience directly.

Barry Lopez believes that if you asked anyone walking down a sidewalk in a city, “What is it that you really want?” Many would say intimacy. But “you can’t gain intimacy without vulnerability, and you can’t have vulnerability without trust.” Barry finds this lack of intimacy and vulnerability in human culture to be manifested by our lack of intimacy with the land itself. Cities create a kind of competition and divisiveness that can not be found outside of them in the natural world.

Sometimes I think about the darkest moments in my past, moments of depression and hopelessness. I now realize that if I had known enough to escape from cities at those times, I would have found the kind of meaning and peace I needed to find new hope for meeting my next future.

But then we are all on schedule to learn what we must to discover our best life. Trust in that!

Feeling the losses & the gratitude

This fall I am feeling my losses fully. My recent tumble in my garden surprised and confused me. My balance is so not what it used to be and I must accept this fact gracefully. In fact I am now realizing that I can no longer do more than one thing at once, and that includes breathing! I have always been one to take off in a rush to get things done. This has only gotten worse because I now feel I must do something before I forget what I’m doing! But this simply will not do for me anymore. My damaged brain (one TBI and three concussions) and my inability to breathe deeply now creates a situation where I MUST TAKE THINGS MORE SLOWLY.

I know. I’m not the first person to discover this limitation of injury and aging, but I see now I am taking things too far to my own detriment. I need to move slower and do less even when I’m anxious to do more. I get angry with this situation, but this is my reality now. As always I come back to my own truth:

Acceptance releases everything to be what it already is.

I have always pressured myself partially because I was taught to be more and contribute. I now also see the flaw in that way of thinking. I am merely another human trying to find some truth and meaning in this life of mine. I am not worse or better than the rest, because in the end most of what we do does not matter. That is why I now laugh when I see this:

So I am letting go like so many do as they age, and as strange as it may seem, I sometimes see the benefits of my present circumstances. My head injuries have caused me to slow down, something I needed to do so I can appreciate each moment more. For example, I have loved Stephen Levine’s “Meditation on Letting Go” for decades, ever since I met him back in the 1980s in Boulder. But it is only now that I can fully appreciate its meaning.

So this Thanksgiving I give thanks for the life I have right now and can finally slow down enough to fully appreciate.

My Own Experience With WildFires and Snow Storms

Imagine if this were your town…

My heart goes out to those who lost loved ones in the California Paradise Fire last November. I hope you were able to see Frontline last night, Fire in Paradise. I think it is important that the rest of us understand what some Americans have gone through and what they lost. In less than 4 hours a small fire that started 8 miles from Paradise engulfed the entire town from all directions. Many of the 40,000 residents simply did not believe the speed of this fire. Others tried to get out, but the roads were too jammed up to escape. Eighty-five Americans, most over age 65, died in this wildfire.

I felt a strong need to watch this episode of Frontline because we had our own wildfire here last July, and if not for our wonderful and amazing local firefighters, that town could have easily been La Veta, population 8-900.

The Spring Fire on the evening of June 28th 2018

The night that fire started, I sat in my bed and watched the fire jump from mountaintop to mountaintop across a couple valleys behind us. I could also see our local firefighters out there giving their all to contain that fire. The next day the National Guard was called in along with the Hot Shots and firefighters from around our nation. We were evacuated the next day for a week, as the fire jumped Highway 160 and came towards our new home. Our fire burned a total of 108,045 acres, and was the third-largest wildfire in Colorado history.

The residents of Paradise where not so lucky. They basically had no warning. The fire came flying into their town so fast and only half were warned properly by Code Red. But even then their roads were inadequate to evacuate the entire town in less than an hour. Imagine the fear and anguish.

The weather outside may be frightful, but not like a firestorm!

Like most disasters, news reporters flash on a big story for a day or two and then we all forget, but not me. Every report from California and every single day of our latest series of three snowstorms here in southern Colorado remind me of how lucky we are to still be receiving large amounts of moisture. Yep. Fifteen inches of snow is fine with me!