Hurricane Ellen

I know you wonder why you haven’t heard from me. I know you’ve  been worried about me. So let me assure you that I have lost neither life nor limb. But I have experienced a powerful natural phenomenon that  one doesn’t encounter every day : Hurricane Ellen.

I volunteered to experience the effects of this powerful little swirling force. I invited her. I flew  her here in fact! You may have heard of her last year if you read my post Extra Extra, Read All About It, which details my lovely girls getaway with Hurricane Ellen. I referred to her in that post as The Little General, but I have been informed NOT to call her that any more.  So for now it is Hurricane Ellen. She’s not going to like that either, but my brain is in too much of a whirl to come up with a   title that describes her in more superlative terms.

I do owe Hurricane Ellen a better moniker, and the flattering description she so richly deserves. In print right here I promise to do it. But not right now. I am packing to go out of town for the weekend, and my force of nature house guest just left this morning. For now I just want to tell you I am still here, not harmed,  but actually much improved from having my wonderful sister here for almost a week.

In parting I will say that if you know someone you long to spend the week with, go ahead and make it happen. Don’t wait to have the time of your life. You may not experience it as a Hurricane, but any force of nature brings its own rewards. I must stop here because my husband is clearing his throat and giving me those “hurry up” looks.  I will give the full Hurricane report when I return!

O! Solitude!

Solitude is for  me a gift of midlife. Growing up, I went from  busy house to  crowded dorm, to  apartments overflowing with visitors, to career, marriage and children. The only place I could go without someone else was to the inside of a book. I don’t think I knew what solitude was, but I got my first taste of it when I went to graduate school at age 36.

Early in graduate school, before having to complete internships, I would have one day a week when I had no classes. After the children went to school I would make my way to the medical school library we were allowed to use. Once inside I would take up residence in an isolated study carrel. Surreptitiously I would remove a forbidden thermos of coffee and a bagel from my school bag. For at least four hours I was in a place where no one knew me or expected anything from me. With books, pen and paper, coffee, bagel, and privacy I had everything I needed for productive reverie.

School did get busier, so the luxurious library days did not last. In time, however, my parenting duties became less hands on. I graduated from school and eventually was able to go into  private practice. It would probably be important to say here that for my work I am required to focus intently on encouraging my clients to be aware of their own thoughts and feelings and to follow their dreams. To do my work I must be aware of myself, yet the work is not about me. My own self actualizing must take place outside of the office.

I have been fortunate enough to be able to limit my practice  to  three days a week. The purpose is of course  is to give me time to recharge myself – essentially, to take the advice I so often give to my own clients. Having two work days to myself ,though,  often seems  to exist only on paper. The time gets taken up. Obligations intervene. And sometimes I just don’t use the time well.

Nonetheless, having these two  work-free days has changed me. I know now that I must have time alone in order to feel connected to myself. I have “things to do” which take me deeply inside myself and lead to a sense of peace and well being. Without my solitude I am vulnerable to professional burnout, to becoming numb to the world around me, or to being just plain cranky.

I didn’t want to mention it but since the holidays I’ve noticed all three manifestations listed above. I was feeling  little enthusiasm for the activities I usually enjoyed. Wanting to want to do something but not having the energy to do so is very melancholy.  Since I now had this blog, my lack of magpie-ness was disconcerting. How long would this last?

Clearly I would have to take some action. I started by having a nice heart to heart with myself. I was feeling out of balance because, with all the festivities, I had gotten out of the habit of finding daily solitude. Then I got sick, but had to carry on anyway. Then my husband got sick and did not carry on anyway. He stayed home for several days. I was finding it hard, post holiday, to return to the routines which keep me in sync.

So on my  most recent  day off,  Friday, I made as few plans as possible. I closed the computer and the Ipad, reached for my trusty composition notebook, and wrote and wrote. What did I write? Nothing of significance to anyone but myself. I whined, I felt sorry for myself, I prattled, and vented my frustrations about feeling so stuck.

My angst began to clear. I found myself flipping back through my notebook to where I had left off in my most recent letter to my sister. I had abandoned it earlier in the week because it was so deadly boring. Upon rereading I decided it wasn’t so bad after all. So I added a few pages before turning to my knitting and adding to the poor pitiful sock I’ve been working on for some time. I stopped in time to whip up some chorizo and brussels sprouts for the book club. It was a new recipe, so I wasn’t too sure of it, but almost all of it was eaten.

A sock is born.

A sock is born.

Saturday dawned damp and chilly. I contemplated a photo shoot, but the weather was most unwelcoming. I still had my unfinished letter and sock to work on in the morning. But what would I  to do in the afternoon? Draw, I told myself. I got to work on a sketch of my niece Mary Hannah, who has waited patiently for me to paint her portrait. My fingers were delighted to once again feel the circular needles and the pencil.

The portrait begins.

The portrait begins.

As the sun went down my husband and I contemplated our plans for the evening. We opted to go to a local coffee shop and hear an acoustic music group The Stray Birds. As we settled in at the standing room only event, I marveled that only one week earlier I probably would have talked myself out of going. Knowing that just made the fiddles, banjoes, bass, guitars and elegant harmonies all the  more sweet.

The Stray Birds

The Stray Birds

Now it is Monday. Part of my day to myself has been taken up with two routine medical tests, but I’ve rallied. Except for this blog post, I’m not wasting time on the computer. In a few hours I  will have to leave for yoga. I am savoring the fact that after just a short time of solitude my creative energies  returned to the point that I could write, knit, draw, cook, and listen to live music. It’s a miracle!

My preference is long stretches of uninterrupted solitude. In my perfect world I would be free to stay in my pajamas for days, sipping coffee as I moved from one activity to the next. Read awhile. Write awhile. Check out the sewing machine. Document everything by taking a few photos. But if I can’t have my perfect world, I will take the world I have. I can still connect  with myself in a shorter length of time as long as I am consistent. I can add a few sock rows while watching The Battle Of Britain. The sock may not be finished today, but knowing I did one thing gives me the energy to go to the next.

Of course the real gifts of solitude are not any finished projects that may come from it. No, the important parts are the self knowledge, the being with self, and the life affirming energy,  all seemingly emerging at once. The time invested in solitude repays itself many times over. To quote May Sarton:

“Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is the richness of self.”

Here’s wishing you a week full of richness.

Extra! Extra! Read All About It!

“It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No! It’s a Magpie!”

Special To Hot Springs N.C. Times: Rumors of a Magpie sighting in Hot Springs N.C. have now been verified by many sources including this writer. After rumors that a Magpie, driving with an unidentified woman in a black Volkswagen Jetta had been seen going up and down Road 209 on Sunday August 05, this writer went to the cabin  on August 06 where they were said to have lodged the previous evening.

The Magpie and her companion were seen to leave the premises early on August 06. This writer, observing at a  discreet distance, was able to definitively identify the Magpie. Through sheer persistence and keen journalistic skills this reporter now brings you an exclusive interview  with the Magpie herself , and her sister, widely renowned as The Little General,  or L. G. as she will be called in this report. The interview took place at an undisclosed location. The Magpie was attired in colorful sequined shoes with casual togs. Her rapport with the also casually dressed L.G. was easy, the conversation sparkling and urbane. The women wore no makeup, yet seemed unconcerned by this.

R: May I say how flattered we in Hot Springs are, Magpie, that a shininess lover such as yourself has chosen our town as your vacation spot?

M: Actually, Rod, our cabin was more closely connected to Luck, North Carolina, just on the other side of Trust, North Carolina. But we won’t split hairs.

R:   Magpie, can you tell us why you picked the Hot Springs area to visit?

M: Sure, Rod. My sister and I wanted a girls’ getaway that was not too far a driving distance from L.G.’s home, that afforded us with refreshing mountain views, opportunities for adventure, and no responsibilities whatsoever. I  searched on VRBO  because I felt a cabin would offer us what we needed for less than the cost of a hotel. We chose our current cabin because it was NOT a mobile home, where I found myself last year, and because it  had the right amount of space for us.  It didn’t hurt that the Appalachian Trail, with which I have long been infatuated, runs right through downtown Hot Springs.

R: And why L.G. as your companion?

M: Rod, you have clearly never traveled with L.G. If you had, you would know that no one ever spends time with L.G. without knowing they have been with an adventurous madcap woman who makes even the simplest things fun.  She could rub two sticks together and make a party out of it. Also we like to do the same things. Such as read.

L.G. Thanks for your kind words, Magpie. I would like to say that on my part I knew we  would have fun having a few days with no set schedule, and no written- in- stone. rigid  goals. In other words, with no testosterone in the vicinity.

L.G.’s car is also a female. Her name is Zula.

M:  Good point. L.G. Another important point is that L.G. would help me keep a low profile. Celebrities need their privacy too.

R: But you were noticed immediately after going up and down Road 209 so many times.

L.G.  Ahem. Things were not very clearly marked on that road,  we didn’t think.

R: Good enough. Could you talk about some of the highlights of your trip? For example, you were seen going up and down the Max Patch Bald Mountain numerous times on the 6th.

M: Yes, we wanted to hike the Max Patch Bald. We had a printout of directions. And although we got lost  the day before on our way to the cabin, could not figure out how to work the keypad to get in the cabin for some time, and we did need to use the ladies’ room, plus we couldn’t figure out the many remotes on the Direct TV and VCR, I still had complete confidence in L.G. to navigate us.

L.G. The TV and key pad directions were poorly written. And the signs on the Max Patch road were poorly marked.

R: You hiked which loop of the Max Patch Bald?

L.G. We’re not sure. We both looked at the map at the parking lot but when we got up there we both remembered the map differently. I would say we hiked a short part.

L.G. reading about invasive flora instead of reading the map.

The view on the way up.

At the top!

Authenticated Magpie photo.

R: A short part. Good. According to my notes you then drove around several other local roads, stopped, turned around and drove some of the same roads again.

L.G.: And your point is? I think we have said we were in a no testosterone zone, so no more questions about where we were when and where we thought we were going and what the signs said.

Hadn’t we already passed this?

And this?

And this?

M: Rod, the scenery was outstanding. And in my sister’s defense, things really were not well marked. All we had to do was get to the Hot Springs Spa by around 3:00 P.M., and we made it.

R: Yes. There is a man in town who waves at everyone who passes him on Main Street. He waved at your car fourteen times. But, the spa experience?

L.G.: It was the best money we’ve ever spent. A lady we call Precious, because she called us Precious, led us to our  hot mineral water  soak in a secluded little cabana along the Spring Creek. It was just what we needed after our rigorous car riding.

Here’s Precious!

View from the tub!

L.G. in the tub with the misters spraying.

M: Afterwards we walked past the ruins of former hotels on the same location up to the Spa for our deep tissue massage. That was just the massage I wanted. When I get a massage I want to know someone’s been working on me. Our two masseuses were very skilled and knowledgeable. I listened closely to my sister as she  discussed all her physical frailties with her masseuse. I had no physical frailties. After the bath and the massage we were two copacetically inclined  ladies.

L.G.: We were able to remember which road to take back to our cabin, meaning that the way back was more clearly marked. Then we were able to chill on the deck and grill out some goodies for dinner.

The more clearly marked road.

R: Could you share some of your recipes?

M: Yes. L.G. brought some lovely peppers from her garden which we stuffed with an assortment of cheeses we had on hand. You can’t mess this up.

L.G.: I also marinated some meat and put it on skewers, along with tomatoes from my garden. You may have guessed that my garden is more prolific than the Magpie’s.

M: Anyway the evenings were relaxing and peaceful. The last night we walked some of the trails on the property. One crossed a little spring. I don’t know which trail that was. We couldn’t seem to match the shape of the map to the shape of the property.

It was very quiet up there.

L.G. in a fit of stubbornness refused to pose coming out the door of the outhouse.

R: Are there other special aspects of your trip?

M: But of course. It is refreshing to travel with people who let you have a chance to use words which don’t come up in everyday conversation. Such as sobriquet. And nonce. And read. And discuss books.

Remember to serve refreshments at your book discussions.

L.G. Yes, Rod. Never would it behoove us, in the behemothian responsibilities  to which we subscribe but need not detail,  to insinuate  that you may yet harbor some refractory intransigent iota within the labyrinthine recesses of your bald yet indefaitgble pate which may indicate an opposing tableaux.

R: Whut?

M: She means she can’t believe you don’t already know that. Another important point is that when we get to be together we don’t spend it in an intellectual vacuum. We discuss lofty subjects, such as how those Scottish characters in our mystery shows say” maird – thur” instead of “murder.” We introduce one another to vitally enduring aspects of culture. For example L.G. had never seen “The Big Lebowski”. Now thanks to me she has, and can now more fully participate in the life of “The Dude.”

R: Right. How were you treated by the natives of Hot Springs?

M: Really, Rod they were all so kind and down to earth, you would have thought they had no idea they were talking with celebrities.

L.G.: Speak for yourself. They knew I was a celebrity!

R: We know you went rafting, so that is one local business you patronized. Were there others?

M: Yes, Rod. We rafted with the Huck Finn Rafting Company. They were very professional. It was my first time to raft you know.  I don’t think they took it personally that I was too afraid to jump off a big rock into the French Broad River.

L.G. Yes but I had told you specifically that if you climb the rock you have to jump!

M:  Rod, I’ve told L.G. that my feelings about not wanting to jump were quite strong and could not be ignored. As you know I must stay in touch with my feelings because of the work I do.

L.G.: Guffaws loudly.

R: That’s actually pretty ridiculous, Magpie.

M:  This AGGRESSION, man, it won’t stand!  Anyway, after rafting we lunched at the  Spring Creek Tavern where we had a view of the Spring Creek and a chance to taste  regional beers. L.G. prefers wine but after rafting I think she was ready to take whatever she could get.

L.G: On Tuesday many places were closed, so we motored over to Mars Hill because we just had to spend some time inside a bookstore. We  also tried Marshall NC but   many places,  especially meaning the bookstore, were closed there as well.

Definitely closed.

Also closed.

Closed in Hot Springs!

We would have liked to be able to visit every establishment in Hot Springs  but the days got away from us. We were, however,  able to visit a very nice place  on our way out of town. Yes, I know that through town is not the way we came. We did that on purpose.

R: OK so you knew where you were going on your way out of town. What was the establishment you visited?

M: Rod, it was The Black Horse Consignment Shop. This little shop has only been open for eight weeks, but it is full of shininess. I immediately saw these beauties

These chandeliers wanted us!

which I knew we must have. The owner was very friendly and accommodating. We must have browsed in there for an hour. As the owner of a small business I like to patronize other small businesses.

Inside the Black Horse

L.G.: Based on her inventory and prices I would say she is off to a good start. We both admired many more things than we bought. The prices were very reasonable, but it just wouldn’t be sporting to buy the poor woman’s entire stock   after she worked so hard to open the place.

Some of our goodies from the Black Horse.

The gracious proprietor of the the Black Horse.

M: The owner gave me permission to take pictures even though she has no idea of the quality of my photos. And she said I could mention her shop on my blog. And I’m grateful because  I HAVE to show the new chandeliers. One is for me and one is for L.G.

R: Magpie,  is there any chance of your mentioning this interview on your blog? And could you keep me apprised of any more trips you plan to make to the area? I want to stay on top of this story.

M: Rod, yes and yes. I am all about encouraging creativity wherever it may be found.

R:  And just one last question. Do you ladies know how to find your way out of this undisclosed location?

L.G. Oh certainly. Just as long as the way is clearly marked!