Longing: The South West Coast Trail

Totally opposed to my notion, nay my resolution–to use my time more wisely in the mornings, I once again found myself browsing at random by way of Google Earth. This is  a lens on the planet through which I could gaze–and learn–for entire days if I (or she) let myself.

Thankfully then I suppose  it was a good thing that my old computer was sluggish touring the world through Google Earth. Unfortunately then I suppose it is not to my advantage that the new iMac with much more internal memory and much faster video card makes Google Earth seem a spontaneous extension of my hand – – as if I were in real time traveling along one of the world’s great rivers or over its highest mountain peaks.

The latest exploration this early morning arose out of my curiosity about the filming location for a Netflix series we have been watching called Broadchurch. [Rated 8.4 on IMDB.] I was able to find out that Dorset on the coast of  Great Britain was one of the filming locations, and that is what I plugged into the location bar in Google Earth. The experience of traveling the Dorset and adjacent coast has been strangely bittersweet.

The bitter bit of this experience is acknowledging that I will never be on the ground to explore the territory, and only know it from the map. Walter Mitty experiences remorse on accepting as real the fact that he has been pretending. In particular, it is the South West Coast Path that has caught and held my attention this early cold morning, and created a feeling I can only describe as longing.

[I’d be shocked if anybody did, but just as a starting point for exploring this trail, you can input into Google Earth the following:  Start Point Lighthouse, Dartmouth, United Kingdom. ]

Of course you know if you have visited this blog many times at all over the past 13 years that I am very happy to be where I am. And yet, there is a part of me that grieves and regrets that it is so very difficult to avoid ugly, busy, overbuilt and artificial in eastern half of this country. Frankly, I’m ashamed and disappointed in what we’ve done to both natural and built environments. No wonder we are held in low regard by so many in other places that have honored their history and the land. But that’s another riff.

I hold no illusions that the southern coast of Great Britain is pure and devoid of such things. And yet, the very fact that this footpath courses through mostly small villages across 630 miles of countryside, close enough in most places to see the sea, often from the very bluff’s edge–this is quite different, you likely agree,  from east-coastal America–which is for the most part rather newly “developed” and ugly, busy, overbuilt and artificial. I know there are exceptions, but you’ll be hard pressed to travel two miles on the eastern seaboard south of Maine without asphalt, neon and traffic. Except in remnant snatches, we gave that kind of coast away a century ago.

I guess I always imagined that the time would come when I would travel. Now would be that time of life I imagined. There will not be the hiking and climbing and sleeping on the ground I found no challenge at all long years ago when I was imagining knowing the world upon retirement. We could still be tourists somewhere I suppose, but that does not conform to Mr. Mitty’s travels into his future. Imagination’s current abode is in a different chassis with worn wheels and shocks, and small gas tank.

I realize every day some new “never again.” The fact that I have just discovered but will never set foot on the South West Coast Path is, oddly, just one newly-plucked item fallen through the wide wicker of my bucket list.

But you, dear reader who has stumbled here by accident just to find this post–check it out. Maybe this is one you can both imagine and do. Tell me about it when you return, won’t you?

Down in the Mouth

As a blogger over the years, I’ve generally avoided sharing  the nuances of bodily state or machinations of marital war and peace. (If there are regular readers out there, even on a Friday, you’ll have already nailed me as a liar on both counts. There are even several pieces about the spousal unit in Slow Road and What We Hold in Our Hands. So sue me.)

I don’t think, however, with the exception of the selfie from the dentist chair in the nitrous oxide clown mask (which I would have linked here but cannot locate), I’ve not  talked teeth very much. Thankfully, the choppers have held up pretty well to the daily grind. This morning however, we have an Oral Code Red Alert.

And as you are certainly aware, such emergencies unfailingly happen while out of town on a weekend over a holiday while expected for an important meeting. Or some combination of two or more of these ingredients. Today’s crisis qualifies, so in my own mind at least, this is a big deal:

My upper incisor (that would the front toof to you lay-persons) calved the entire back side like a melting Arctic glacier. The face of the tooth remains, fragile as gramma’s crystal gravy bowl, and with one vertical edge gone black, just enough to suggest a hint of Jethro Bodine.

The sleep-robbing part of this just-before-bedtime  breakdown in the status quo of my personal body is the inconvenience and “unexpected” expense here in the early months of fixed income. I can’t say I didn’t see the threat on the horizon. Let me quote myself from less than a week ago, where I failed to acknowledge the looming threat of Dental Disaster:

“But the unexpected, inevitable death of major appliances, of vehicles or for home repairs–all live inside a black hole. And of course we face the increasing probability of medical expenses over and above what the best combination of SS plus Supplemental will cover. We’re quite healthy at the moment. But…

These leaks, the Great Flushing, can happen as quickly as the Titanic hitting an iceberg–and so it makes those of us in the Jacuzzi of the Golden Years necessarily cautious about what would once have been significant but not sleep-depriving decisions.”

Yes, I could just have the stump of the tooth pulled and be content to  lose the ability to whistle ever again. At the same time, I would gain status as featured personality in town with some of the tourists of a Friday night who may have come to see stereotypical Appalachian edentulous half-wits.

But no. I’ll pay the thousands out of retirement-shallow pockets (and in the absence of any dental version of Medicare) over the course of who knows how many 4 hour visits to Blacksburg. This is what it will cost to return to cosmetic integrity–an imagined personal state of rugged good looks whose ship has sailed if indeed it ever docked.  At this stage of life, self-image and ego whimper from under the front porch and a body learns humility, with daily lessons and homework.

So folks, the Titanic has hit the iceberg–on a day the dentist office is closed, while we are six hours from home, herding cats. I will be meeting numerous organizational associates at an important meeting. Without smiling. Or whistling. And all I want for Christmas is…well, I don’t generally blog about such personal matters.

Old Dog, New Budget

So here we go, entering the Wonderful Water Park of Later Life, splashing and giggling down the slippery slope into the years of total immersion in Blessed Retirement.

The faucet by which the hot tub of spendable dollars will fill is pretty much a known trickle in the absence of the monthly salary stream. The volume of outflows– the leaks, the sudden catastrophic emptying–OTOH is both a known and an unknown figure.

We can calculate what we usually spend and what we usually owe in regularly-occurring bills each year, divide that by twelve and approximate a monthly budget.  Fine and dandy.

But the unexpected, inevitable death of major appliances, of vehicles or for home repairs–all live inside  a black hole. And of course we face the increasing probability of medical expenses over and above what the best combination of SS plus Supplemental will cover. We’re quite healthy at the moment. But…

These leaks, the Great Flushing, can happen as quickly as the Titanic hitting an iceberg–and so it makes those of us in the Jacuzi of the Golden Years necessarily cautious about what would once have been significant but not sleep-depriving decisions.

And yet, there may be no serious leaks at all. Being fearful of ever taking a dipper out of the pool for travel, for desirable but non-critical extras, for “fun” because we cant be sure if there will be enough left after the iceberg: that’s the conundrum of new reality. And there have already been a couple of challenges to float this dilemma to bubbly surface along with the rubber duckies.

A month ago, my old beat-up 1997 Dodge Dakota truck seemed doomed to become scrap metal. What would we do about replacing it? Could we live without a truck while we still collect maybe 30% of our winter firewood with the truck and haul mulch, and do country-living kinds of things that can’t be done with a Subaru? Long story short: a friend, bless his heart, worked miracles and resurrected the old girl. Our dreaded expense is deferred at least until spring.

Then, in the past two weeks, my main computer, an early 2008 MacPro, has been making the death rattle. So I am in mid-angst about what to do about this, given the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns of fixed income.

The new Retina-display iMacs would be the logical, cost-is-no-object  move from the ancient MacPro. Beautiful machine. But Ouch!

So I figure, against that kind of leakage, I need to go back to work–me, a great catch at 66. Got my own teeth and some hair left. So I have been practicing for some while now, knowing this moment would come. I don’t know where yet, but I’m ready to re-enter the workforce!

Do I want a little hat and a hairnet; a long white apron; or a blue vest and hushpuppies? It will be a tough decision. But that iMac will be mine in just three years of full-time work! Practice! Practice!

“You want fries with that?”

“Paper or plastic?”

“Thank you for shopping at Walmart!”

Refugium

Refugiuman area where conditions have enabled a species or a community of species to survive after extinction in surrounding areas. An area in which a population of organisms can survive through a period of unfavorable conditions;  an area of relatively unaltered climate that is inhabited by plants and animals during a period of continental climatic change (as a glaciation) and remains as a center of relict forms from which a new dispersion and speciation may take place after climatic readjustment.

As a few of you know, we traveled again, far south–perhaps for the last time, as the passing of the patriarch and his interment there this month marks the likely end of a geographical chapter in our lives.

IMG_3382bayhouse480The Mississippi gulf coast was part of our growing up as young marrieds, then with small children who fished from the pier.  Out the back door, we wandered hundreds of unmanaged acres along the bayou within easy sight of the runway at Keesler Air Force Base, and crossed the quiet road to hunt squirrels or “buttercups” or bog buttons or swamp rabbits, mucking up over our ankles in tea-colored water and black mud.

IMG_3392pocosin240And so, in a similar way to seeing for the first time after long absence a good friend, things are the same, but different. Mostly different with this once-familiar quiet bay enclave, which has been encroached on all sides by “progress” of one kind or another.

There is very little left of the once-common estuarine mudflats along whose margins we gigged flounder by johnboat at night and threw the net for “sardines” or shrimp. The MacMansions have invaded on all sides, and a family holdout where we gathered recently is all that remains of the way things were, tucked back in what live oaks Katrina left there.

Behind our Marriott, a ten acre strip of more-or-less natural pine pocosin hosted hundreds of pitcher plants that were as welcome to see again as old classmates.  I dropped to my knees to greet them. They will not last long, there in sight of Interstate 10. The bulldozers were already leveling the adjacent acreage for yet another toss-up motel or strip mall.

And so, from that remnant of old bay life, human and other, we returned at last to Floyd County, then down the slow road to Goose Creek–to our refugium: an enclave in the eddie of time where glacial change presses in from all sides.

We will remain in our refugium, our storm home, as long as we can before others  will come to belong here–relict forms from which, perhaps a new dispersion might take place on the other side of a cultural readjustment not far ahead.

 

 

Maple, Dreaming

There lives this one tree to which I have bonded, this maple–outside the window over my desk, just beyond the green mailbox. It is deeply rooted in my life.

It stands for all the trees in all the world, an object lesson I can see, smell and taste: we make syrup in the early spring from its sap. Its constancy is reassuring in a world of change.

This always will not always be. The maple will remain–only for a time; I will move on before.

And so I made a point not long ago to pull up a chair at the edge of the dirt road and be in the cool quiet of its space for a settled hour.

This likeness, perhaps, some day, will bring me back to that shady spot, into maple dreaming.

Click here for larger image at Flickr.