This happened six years ago today! And remains one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. When the chips are well and truly down, that’s when you find out what you (and your dog) are capable of! Anyway, my mama was talking about this with my aunt the other day and asked if I’d written about it (which, of course, I had). So here it is, enjoy!
This past Sunday, I decided to go kayaking at Lucky Peak Reservoir and since no one wanted to go with me, my ever faithful Why?lee was conscripted into service as first mate. As always, I checked the weather on my phone several times prior to putting in and it was supposed to be 88 degrees with partial clouds, then a storm at 9pm. Others must have seen the same report I did, because there were lots of people still putting their (motor) boats in when I arrived. There were clouds, and it rained for a moment, but the sun was shining brightly and it looked to be a lovely afternoon.
Here is a photo taken right when we pulled up on a little beach about 200 yards or so from Turner Gulch:
But, as promising as things looked when I first arrived, the clouds behind me were darkening up fairly quickly and after only five minutes on the beach, I made the decision to pack up and paddle back before things got worse. I screwed the cap back on my coke, rolled up my chips and put them into the back hatch of my kayak. Then I turned to get my life-jacket (which I had been sitting on) and my dog (whom I had been sitting with). While my dog was still there, my life jacket had blown away. Not good.
I found it hung up in some sage brush and trekked after it only to turn around when I felt a strong gust of wind and see my kayak (which was half in the water, half out) blown completely out of the water and dropped onto the beach. Now, my little kayak is only about 10’6″ inches long but it still weighs in at a solid 45 lbs. Not good.
I took a moment to put the life jacket on and tighten the straps while thinking over my options. Obviously, the weather app on my phone LIED to me and the question became, do I make a break for the dock where I put in or do I try and wait it out? Had it been earlier in the day, had I not known it was going to be worse in another hour, and had I not really, really thought I could make it, I might have tried to wait it out. But as things stood, it seemed to me I had a good chance to make the boat ramps before things got out of hand, so I went for it.
I put in and paddled about ten yards off the shore before another gust of wind literally blew me all the way back to the beach. I gave it a moment, the wind died down and we struck out yet again. This time, I made it much further before another gust came through and spun the boat in a couple of 360’s all while continuing to push us back toward the shore we’d just left. I tried to stop the spinning using my paddle and the wind tried to rip it out of my hands. Water was coming in over the front of the boat, it started raining again, only this time the stinging your face kind of rain, and in the midst of that terrifying chaos I went into survival mode.
Everyone was trying to get off the water asap, yet another indicator to me that I was not the only one caught off-guard by the sudden arrival of gale-force winds. I no longer expected to be able to paddle all the way back to the dock, instead, my plan morphed into getting the attention of one of the motor boats passing me and hitch a ride for Why?lee and myself. I was confident that if we could just keep from tipping, and flag someone down, we’d be fine.
However, after three boats passed us by as I frantically waved my arms and paddle in the air while screaming “HELP!” my confidence in my plan began to slip. The wind wasn’t letting up, my kayak had three inches of water in the bottom just from waves breaking over the front and we were as far away from the shore we left as we were from the shore we needed. A wonderful calm came over me, I stopped feeling tired, cold and scared and resumed paddling for our lives.
I felt like a paper doll in a paper boat trying to paddle in a storm drain. I could feel my incredible, amazing, wonderful Why?lee (who was sitting between my knees, facing forward into the wind and completely unable to lay down due to lack of space) shifting his weight to prevent us from tipping. Every time a gust hit, he would lower his head over the bow of the kayak and brace himself. I am confident that had I had Orion with me instead of Why?lee, we would have been in the water, boat and paddle gone, swimming for our lives.
When I was nearly halfway there, I saw a boat coming back in my direction from the boat ramps and thought it was coming for me, but as he got closer, he wasn’t slowing down so I screamed “HELP!” and waved my arms. He cut the boat engine, lifted the hood of his poncho and looked around. When he saw me, I yelled, “Can you help me?” And he yelled back that he was going out to get the rest of his family, but promised he would come for us after he picked them up.
This was both wonderful and awful news, but it gave me hope and as he pulled away, I went right back to paddle, paddle, lean in and wait it out, paddle, paddle, lean in and wait it out. After what seemed like an hour, but was probably closer to seven or eight minutes, I heard something behind me, and when I turned to look, the boat was back, now with three men and two women on board. One of the guys smiled at me and said, “Ready for a break?”
Sweeter words were never spoken.
They hauled me into their boat, which had pretty tall sides and no easy way in from the water, then they looked at Why?lee and said, “Um, we can just tow him and the boat the rest of the way.” I could appreciate their fear, Why?lee looks like a wolf and they didn’t know him, but no, no we can’t do that I thought, my dog is with me, he didn’t have a life jacket and I was no longer in the boat to hold him tight with my knees and make sure he didn’t fall out.
All of this ran through my mind in a matter of seconds as I grabbed one of the rope handles on the lip of the boat and leaned down, gripping his harness with only my right hand and hauling him into the boat by myself. Looking back, adrenaline is a powerful thing because I cannot imagine how I lifted all 85 or so pounds (more than half my own body weight) of dog roughly four feet with one arm while leaning over the side of a boat. But there you have it.
So Why?lee and I sat on the floor while our rescuers held the kayak on the side and we motored the rest of the way to the dock. I hopped out, they helped me haul Why?lee out and then set my kayak on the dock. I ran it up to the end, right where the pavement begins and just headed for my truck before remembering my keys were still in the kayak. When I turned to go get them, Why?lee just sat down and looked at me with his ears laid back and an “OH HELL NO” expression on his face. I laughed, a little hysterically, and drug him back to get the keys. I am fairly certain it will take an act of God to get him in a kayak ever again.
Here is a photo I snapped just before we got in the truck:
After taking a minute to chill out, I pulled down to the boat ramp and before I could even get out, my rescuers were loading up the kayak for me. Yet another blessing, as my arms were still trembling and generally useless. Once I had it tied down I started to head home but quickly pulled over, shaky and just not focused enough to feel safe driving. I got out, grabbed my coke and chips out of the boat, got back in and took this photo of the water we’d just been on (Note: Why?lee would not look at me for the photo, even though I offered him a honey BBQ Frito): Then I saw I had a text. It was from my dad and said, “Get home now. It’s too scary out.”
I text him back, “You have no idea . . .”
Why?lee wasn’t speaking to or looking at me all the way home. We were both in a bit of shock, I think. But once we were home safe, I made him a very special dinner which included an entire can of tuna fish. He earned it and I’m not above bribing my dog for his forgiveness. : )
I also included each one of my rescuers in my prayers because no one has to stop. No one has to do anything, but some people do and because they did, I never had to find out if I was strong enough to make that last hundred yards on my own.
The storm raged all night with gusting winds, lightning and thunder. And after my hot shower, I went to bed glad I had decided to go for it and wasn’t still huddled on the beach with Why?lee praying for the storm to pass.
When I woke up the next day, I was covered in bruises and felt like I’d drank a fifth of vodka by myself and been hit by a Mack truck. But I was also safe in my warm bed next to my also safe Why?lee bear, listening to my coffee make itself, and feeling pretty good about being alive.
So I suppose Lucky Peak Reservoir can still be considered lucky, indeed. : )
You cannot value wisdom without equally valuing mistakes.
What you think someone else is thinking is still just what you think until you verify.
Like I love Idaho’s mountains and lakes, like I love the white sand and blue-green waters of Pensacola Beach, so have I come to love the dark forests teeming with life and long, wild winters of Massachusetts.
Shifting gears again, not quite, but almost back up to speed.
I’m beginning to understand how much death is part of the rhythm of life. I’m not okay with it and my losses hurt no less, but I see the wisdom in getting to know Grief–who will visit me many times and again should I live long enough and keep on falling in love with people and animals and life as it is in a given moment that cannot stay.
Like their Lego towers and magnet block houses, my children break my heart and put it back together over and over and over again.
Bare Minerals’ “Honesty” is the color I’ve chosen to start with because what better place to begin a journey than honesty? It’s a beautiful shade of pink and I will definitely be wearing a lot of it this summer. I will say that I enjoy this brand, but I won’t be reviewing the lipstick because I am no make-up artist! In fact, it’s rare that I wear make-up at all, but I love lipstick and it’s one of several things from before kids that I am bringing back into my life for the sheer joy of it. : )
Alright, let’s get honest . . .
After several years of hard-hitting losses and beautiful, exhausting additions to my life, I’ve been trying to make small changes here and there to jump-start a much bigger shift in how I’ve been thinking and feeling. Just little things like buying clothes that actually fit after years of being pregnant and nursing, making a conscious effort to shower and get ready for the day, spending more time with my horses, and working on eating less processed foods. Which, strangely at first, brings me to bread. (Bear with me, I swear this will be a Lipstick Letter by the end! lol)
I love bread. I love mixing it, kneading it, watching it rise and rise again, baking it, sharing it with people I care about, and most especially, I love eating it. Bread is my favorite and I have had exactly zero luck making good, whole grain or seed breads that I actually want to eat. So I went looking for help in book-form, eventually choosing Peter Reinhardt’s Whole Grain Breads. On the day it arrived, I began to read and there at the end of the first chapter, the absolute last place I would have expected, I found the words I needed:
“Though you may recognize some of the steps, this method is unlike any that you have tried before. It cannot be mastered by simply reading instructions and recipes. You will have to make adjustments for your particular flour; you will have to develop a feeling for the dough so that it, rather than the words on the page, can tell you what it needs and when to move on to the next stage. You will be required to make a commitment to the process and to the mystery itself. We have taken apart conventional bread making and put it back together in a totally new and different way . . .”
Reinhardt may be a master baker, but he’s got a poet’s soul.
Over the past five years, my world has been taken apart piece by piece and I’ve been afraid to put it back together. There’s no comprehensive recipe for our best life. We’ve all got to get a feel for it as we go and, as we go, it keeps on changing and needing new adjustments if we want it to continue being good. We’re all working with our own set of ingredients and utensils, some of which come and go when we least expect it and aren’t ready. I haven’t wanted to commit to the process and I’ve been so angry with and resentful of the mystery, particularly death, that I’ve behaved as if I’m stuck, when lately, I’ve just been refusing to move.
And honestly? I’m ready to stop that now.
To be fair to myself and to anyone reading this who isn’t quite ready to stop doing the thing that you will eventually need to stop doing, I cannot fathom writing this at any other point over the past five years. Grief is a process and I don’t think anyone wakes up one day, has a good shower, puts on some lipstick and says, “Cool, I’m not sad anymore!”
I’ve been grieving since I left Idaho. One loss just rolled into another and another until I couldn’t face them all standing. I’ve been on my knees in the dark, eyes closed, bracing for the next terrible thing to happen. And I’ve been avoiding old and new connections because the pain of loss has been ever-present in my life, my heart, and the forefront of my mind.
For all that it’s taken, the pandemic did give me one thing–time to grieve. When I would have been prepping the diaper bag for adventures, taking the kids for play dates, deep-cleaning for visitors, etc, I’ve taken that time to just feel sad–to cry, to be angry, to be scared, to contemplate my future without so many of the incredible people and animals I had hoped to have more time with, and to open my eyes to all the beauty still here, right in front of me.
So here I am.
And the hardest part of getting here was being honest with myself–there’s nothing wrong with my life, it’s the way I’ve been choosing to live it that needs to change. I had excellent reasons for not putting more energy into cultivating it sooner, but with too much time, excellent reasons tend to crumble into excuses. And, at this point, my reasons are running like sand through an hourglass.
Thank you all for coming along on my adventures. Life is wild and sometimes nearly unbearably sad, but if you stop to think about it, the nearly unbearable kind of sadness always comes from the deepest, most abiding love, which is also what brings us our greatest joy and most satisfying contentment. A lesson I first learned when I was eighteen and my Aunt Shirley (forever my favorite aunt for too many reasons to list here today) passed away far too young: One way or another, the ultimate cost of truly loving is always loss and it’s always worth it.
Yesterday, one of my precious, nearly two year old boys, fell off of and hit his face on the toy box he’d climbed. He fell so hard, his teeth went right through his upper lip and gouged the wood. Luckily, the cut is completely inside his mouth, the teeth involved seem fine, and he didn’t meet criteria for stitches. That said, his swollen upper lip looks like black and red hamburger meat inside and every time I look at his sweet face, my heart hurts.
One of the choices I’ve made for my children is to give them a great deal of freedom to explore their world, make mistakes, and learn. This often results in awesome photos of messy, happy kids running wild in the woods and fields around our home. They ride horses, play with our giant dog, pick up bugs, paddle board and kayak with us, and while they aren’t fearless, they are all quite independent for their respective ages. Most of the time, I feel confident in my approach.
Then something like this happens and that confidence crumbles a little more every time I conjure the image of my child sitting on the floor sobbing with blood covering his hands and running down his chin. I hold him close, I clean him up, and thoroughly investigate the injury. But even after determining a good rinse, some ice, and time will heal the wound, I know that another little piece of my heart is wounded in a way that won’t ever heal. This is motherhood. And I finally understand how my mama can so quickly recall and describe in excruciating detail every one of my own and my three brothers’ injuries throughout our childhood.
It’s a process, but after working my way over mountains of guilt and fear, I eventually find myself back where I started. Whenever possible, I want to give them more tools to successfully navigate the world. Only as a last resort do I want to make more rules or restrictions to prevent them from being hurt. Now is the time for them to take risks and experience the results. Now, while I’m here to scoop them up and make it okay. Now, while I’m able to create spaces for them to learn where even when they fail spectacularly, the ultimate risk is relatively low.
One day, my sweet, wild girl and boys will go out into the world without me or their dad there to kiss knees, rush them to urgent care, talk them through their options and possible outcomes, tell them no, cook for them, wash their clothes, and the list goes on. Motherhood is fun, painful, beautiful, terrifying, and exhilarating . . . but it’s also a job. And navigating the delicate balance between keeping my babies safe and preparing them to take on the world on their own is one of the hardest parts that job.
My husband bought me fifteen shades of lipstick for Christmas. FIFTEEN SHADES. Just opening the box gave me such a rush of happiness and inspiration!
Some of you may remember an old blog series I started and let languish almost ten years ago. It was about beauty and confidence and the things we think about ourselves that we come to realize aren’t true. It was based on how badly I wanted to be a woman who could wear red lipstick. I’d tried a few different shades but it always looked terrible and I was sure it was because my lips were too small or the wrong shape or that I just didn’t have the personality to carry it off.
Thankfully, I mentioned it to my best friend from high school who also happened to be a brilliant make-up artist for M.A.C. A few weeks later, I went to visit her and she surprised me with an amazing bagful of lipstick, gloss, and liner in every shade you can imagine! But, best of all, she took the time to teach me how to apply it. This is a photo I took on my birthday that same year:
Turns out, I was always a woman who could wear red lipstick. And I love this photo because you can literally see my newfound confidence shining in my expression.
Anyway, that was then and this is now and these fifteen shades of opportunity are calling me to do something fun. Over the past five years I’ve struggled with so much loss, grief, and depression on top of new babies and a pandemic, its been a challenge finding the time and energy to work through the losses and all the shifts in my identity. I initially intended to revive the Lipstick Letters as they were and write about body image as a mother of three, but nothing sounded right so I held off.
Then, I had an enlightening moment while scrolling through Instagram, where several of my incredibly talented friends were doing their thing and sharing the results. There were home-cooked meals with food they grew themselves, woven rugs, quilts in progress, redecorated rooms, you name it! And as I scrolled, a feeling of envy grew and grew until I realized it, set my phone down, and asked myself what that was all about. After a short moment of reflection, I had to laugh; I wasn’t jealous of WHAT these lovely humans were doing, I was jealous THAT they were doing at all! Successfully devoting a portion of their time and resources to things that are important to them.
My jealousy evaporated in an instant and, in it’s place, I found new curiosity and determination. Aside from being a mama and a wife, what am I doing? It’s been several dark and busy years since I felt it last, but I still recognize this particular kind of restlessness–it’s boredom. God love my beautiful, amazing children who are so fun and satisfying to raise; they absolutely do not challenge and fulfill every element of my being. Nor should they.
So I’m setting only one rule for this reboot: I can’t write about my kids here. This series is about me taking an intentional step outside my beloved role as mama to delve into other much-loved and missed parts of who I am. We’re going further than skin deep where it’s less about the lipstick on my lips (though there will still be plenty of that) and more about what puts lipstick on my soul. Many thanks to Scarlet for that perfect turn of phrase.
Going forward, each new post will feature a different shade, but for this first one, here I am in my messy living room with no make up at all. Just me, feeling hopeful about life, and excited to drag all of you along with me while I figure out what to do with myself.
Love may have pulled us together with want and adventure. Love may crackle between us–beautiful, fun, exciting, and powerful. But we both know that you can love someone and not have or give what you need because that’s how we loved each other as teenagers. And that kind of love doesn’t last. Thankfully, we made better use of our second chance than our first and the longer our love goes on, the more I realize all that it isn’t.
It isn’t love that deepens, that’s respect.
It isn’t love that gets stronger, that’s trust.
It isn’t love that brings an end to insecurity, that’s intimacy.
It isn’t love that apologizes, that’s humility.
And it isn’t love that forgives mistakes, that’s grace.
Sixteen years and my love for you is still burning as bright and hot as when it first began but so much stronger and steadier now because of all those other things.
It’s those things that have sustained us through our life’s lowest lows and brought us up to our highest highs. And it’s not just that I can rely on you for them, but also that you’re a man I want to give them to, that keeps your ring on my finger and my heart in your hands. Of course, I love you, darlin’, but that’s not nearly all. : )
I have spent countless, late-night hours nursing babies at the top of these stairs. It’s quiet and peaceful, if not the most comfortable place to sit. When my sweet Sunshine (my first baby) was born, I set up a whole nursing station with a cozy chair, books I was reading, phone charger, snacks, water . . . but with the boys, we were so far behind before we even got started, nothing like that ever came together. I used to bring them into our bed to nurse, but once we moved them out of our room, it felt like more trouble than it was worth. More and more often, I found myself stopping just outside their door and sitting down on this top step.
Sometimes, I think about what I need to get done that week or words I’d like to write. Sometimes, I think about the kids’ antics that day and make plans for fun and interesting things we can do later. I make grocery lists, budget, and sometimes read . . .
But on nights like this one, and there have been many, I just stare at the top of their heads and think about them–their whole lives from the moment I met them to this one: noting how much their hair has grown and how long they’re getting, mapping the feel of their weight in my arms, measuring their feet with my palms, pressing kisses into their soft hands, and watching them slowly-slowly drift back to sleep against my chest.
Then I sit here, much longer than necessary, the words from a book I loved as a child but didn’t understand at all echoing through my mind:
“I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.”
I really don’t like conflict. I like for everyone to feel good and be comfortable. So much so that I’ve had my head in a hole for months to avoid the anxiety of sorting through the logistics of relationships in a particularly controversial time. Now, I’ve put on my big girl pants and I’m dusting off my copy of Difficult Conversations.
That said, I plan to continue keeping my social media mostly all about kids, dogs, horses, writing, and all that brings me peace or joy. That’s the best reflection of me and I prefer to scream into the actual void over the electronic one.
I am deeply skeptical of being on a team when it comes to politics and I’ve never been more confident in my choice to be a registered independent.
I will never choose politics over the people I care about.
This doesn’t mean I don’t have opinions or that I’m unwilling to discuss them.
Whenever there are millions on both sides of a given issue, the term “sheep” doesn’t really fit, does it? Or perhaps it fits everyone, just with different shepherds?
I wish I still didn’t know how many people in my life and the world at large think I’m stupid, naive, content to be ruled by my government overlords, and happy to throw away my own and others’ freedom.
I imagine there are lots of other people wishing they didn’t know how many people in their lives and in the world at large think they’re stupid, racist, fascist, and happy to murder their countrymen.
I still believe that most of us are pretty much the same–just acting and speaking on differently prioritized fears. Which is not a reason to ignore issues or quit fighting for what you believe in, but might be a better place to start.
There’s always a way forward and you can’t legislate a person’s heart.
When Tristan died, I lost my best and closest friend. I’ll never have all the right words together at once to describe how I feel about him, so I’m going to leave it at that. Besides, this post isn’t actually about Tristan. It’s about my other precious horses–Daisy and SoCo.
We were all devastated when he died. And when I should have been out there with them, grieving and showing them how much I love them, showing them we were all going to be okay, I was hiding in the house. For the first few months, I couldn’t even look at them, it hurt so much.
When I did finally make my way out to the barn, it was just to take care of chores–feeding, watering, mucking. A year after he passed, I finally went back into the tack room only to find that my tack was moldy. MOLDY. Even as I type this, I haven’t been back in his stall, I haven’t used my saddle (although I did thoroughly clean and condition it), and I haven’t thrown out the rest of the bag of beet pulp we were using to help him put on weight. I have a lot of work to do.
But what I have done over the past year, is reconnect to my loves who are still here. It hurt at first–going out there and not just taking care of business, but breathing them in and loving them, letting them love me back. And they do. Despite my pulling away in fear, knowing how much it hurts to lose those I love so much, they held back nothing. And how silly to pull away when I still loved them just the same all along. Pulling away doesn’t make it hurt less to lose who you love, it just leads to regret and wasted time.