04 October 2020

The Circle Trail

Arden and I finished the Prescott Circle Trail this morning.  The last segment isn’t particularly stunning by any measure, but it does have some great vistas of the city and the surrounding mountains.  When we’d originally set out to do this, it was a clear goal to distract us during the pandemic when we felt cooped up and bored.  It definitely has been a bonding experience for us and one that I will reflect upon with gratitude throughout her senior year.


As we hiked today, she was in a bit of a hurry due to other plans later today, and so I was alone with my thoughts for much of the morning.  I hiked as fast as I could to keep up with her pace, mindful of my steps on the rocky trail.  When we first began, back in July, I thought we’d finish long before October arrived.  But with school starting in early August and the energy and effort that required of me to begin my classes and convert them to a digital format, there was little left for hiking.  Now our school has gone to a modified hybrid schedule with the vast majority of our students attending school in person part time and from home the remaining days.


I thought of so many things as we wound up and down over the hills leading back to our neighborhood.  Covid, of course, was an intrusive thought, as it has been this past half year or so, thinking of friends who have lost a loved one or been sick and have not recovered fully still.  I thought of the election and the uncertainty and chaos that surround it, and of the important educational issues on the ballot in Arizona (Please vote YES on 208!).  I thought about George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many others, and their families and wondered how they are doing this morning.  I thought about Dan and I becoming empty nesters next year and how we will adjust to that.  I thought about our ongoing drought and the haze from the smoke of the wildfires all over the West, and how climate change is already impacting our lives in ways we might not have expected.  I thought of all the trips we’ve taken as a family and the opportunities we’ve had together in beautiful spaces outdoors, and I am so grateful.  I wondered how long it might be until the pandemic ends and our lives become adjusted to whatever that new normal might be.


Completing the Circle Trail has been on my actual bucket list – yes – for about seven or eight years now.  I wondered, as I hiked, how it would feel to complete an item on my list.  And it felt good.  I feel accomplished, and simultaneously energized and tired.  I’m grateful for this time with Arden and the fact that we could do this task together.  On one of our breaks this morning, I asked which segment was her favorite, and hers was the same as mine – the portion from Copper Basin to White Spar.  This portion is beautiful and contains the literal high point of the trail at 6660 feet – ponderosas stretching tall into the sky and where we happened upon a garter snake with its mouth impossibly clamped upon a horned toad.   And now, with this circle complete, I wonder what’s next.

11 April 2020

The Great Pause

I suppose it’s been about a month now since we’ve been making the effort to stay home because of Covid-19, including four weeks of school closure.  It’s tough to know without referring to the calendar, because most days morph into the next with little distinction.  Really, though, for me it seems longer because I made a conscious decision – not related to Covid-19 – to hibernate over my spring break. This has been a tough school year for me, teaching four different classes, with one of them totally new to me and beyond my area of expertise (AP Psychology).  So I’ve spent the past twenty-seven weeks of school trying to stay one step ahead of my students.  It’s not been easy because even though psychology is considered by many to be a social science, it’s pretty darn science-y, requiring knowledge of brain anatomy, how each of our senses relay information to the brain, and the processes of intricate mechanisms like how neurons work, among other things.  

So by the time Spring Break came along, I was pretty damn tired. 

These weeks since, with worrisome headlines about deaths, grocery shortages, and continuous announcements of closures, have been pretty anxiety-inducing.  I have tried to carry on with my Spring Break activities, which fill me up.  My daily activities have included hiking, yoga, gardening, and reading.  And I’ve been sleeping a lot.  

Like many of you, I’ve been using this time to reflect.

I’m grateful that I am still working, even if from afar, and still receiving a paycheck.  What I like about online education:  I can set my own hours.  What I miss about the old way of teaching:  interacting with my students.  Sure, we can email and have virtual meetings, but it’s not the same as seeing their faces in person and knowing that they understand or need more assistance.  Some of them are facing really tough times at home, with parents losing jobs, or working way more hours than usual, and in the past week, a couple of them have gotten reminders that other diseases, like cancer, do not take holidays during a pandemic.

I’m grateful for these extra hours with my daughters, especially.  They’re both at ages where they would likely be spending far more hours away from home than they currently are.  Having all four of us in the house is not always easy, especially with the added stress of quarantine life, but it’s a gift of time together that we will likely never have again.  

I’m grateful for enough time in my days to prepare dinners.  I’m a pretty lazy cook, always looking for shortcuts and meals that might leave enough leftovers for a second night.  But during these days, I’ve made meals requiring more effort than normal. And while we’ve certainly done our fair share of take-out, trying to keep our favorite sandwich shop and Mexican hole-in-the-wall solvent, it’s been almost meditative, spending time in the kitchen preparing food for those I love.   

I’m grateful that, for once, I’m spending enough time in the garden in these early spring days to actually have some things planted.  Typically, the fourth quarter of school is also one of the busiest, and so all my gardening aspirations continually got pushed back, and pushed back, until suddenly, it was the end of May by the time I had time to plant.  Robust wildflower seedlings are appearing, and I’m enjoying watching the incremental bloom occurring on my redbud and crabapple. The pear tree is already leafed out after its most spectacular bloom in memory.  

I’m grateful that I’m getting around to tackling small jobs around the house that have been pushed aside for more time than I’d willingly admit.  I made a list of tasks and cut the paper into strips.  On days when I feel as if I have enough energy to draw one from the bowl, I do.  And sometimes I let that task sit a few days until I feel like doing it.  I’m being productive, but not to a fault.  I have been giving myself permission to choose not to do whatever task it is, and sometimes, I’ll draw one and put it back.

In spite of all this gratitude, though, there have been days when I’ve felt so bluesy.  There is so much grief.  I easily get teary-eyed and don’t have as much patience as I would like. I am so sad for this year’s senior class, including my niece, who will be foregoing traditional rituals that they’ve anticipated their entire school career.  Madeleine’s graduation from Yavapai College was cancelled.  Arden had applied for a summer exchange program that was cancelled.  My nephew’s wedding celebration was called off.  All of these things pale in comparison to those losing loved ones to Covid-19, certainly.  But grief is grief, and it is hard work to work through it, harder still when you can't physically be comforted by friends and extended family.

And yet, what a time to be alive.  Thanks to technology, I can FaceTime my octogenarian parents and see and hear them and know they are well.  I can find materials to share with my students that have authentic French-speakers, or ready made test-prep materials for my AP Psychology students – who are still scheduled to take a high-stakes test in a month’s time.  I can travel the world in the social media photos of friends living all over this planet.  I can reminisce about last summer in PerĂº, scrolling through my photos and words on this blog.  And I know that I am not alone in this strange time, knowing that this Great Pause, as I saw it referred to today, is happening to all of us earthlings.  When else have we suffered together across borders and it wasn't caused by ideology or greed?  I am not sure I have ever felt so connected to my fellow humans, in spite of our physical distance from one another.  

What will we learn from this?  What will we shed?  And what will we cultivate, having been thrust into this Great Pause, those of us who have been given the time to hop off of our hamster wheels?  What nuggets of wisdom and truth are you planting in your gardens?

19 March 2020

How's it Going to End?

Yesterday I drove through the fog and rain to Phoenix to see my breast cancer surgeon.  Due to a series of mildly unfortunate events, I couldn’t play music or even listen to the radio, which left me alone in my thoughts. As I drove, I thought of other doctor appointments I’d had.  A couple years before my cancer diagnosis, I’d had a weird mammogram, which led to a biopsy.  The results of that test were delivered to me by phone.  Good news often is.  And so when I was told to come see the doctor whose office had ordered a second biopsy, a couple years later, I already knew that the results were not good.  Even so, when that doctor delivered my results to me, his face buried in my file, without a greeting or even eye contact, I felt like I was drowning.  I found another doctor, the one I was on my way to see now.  I remember how, at my first appointment, she hugged me and Dan, such a contrast to the previous doctor.  

For this current appointment, though, there were no hugs, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  She stood at a distance and “air hugged” me.  After my examination, she asked if I was comfortable with this being my last appointment with her.  With no further evidence of cancer these past seven years, she felt that my primary care physician was more than capable; that her specialized skills weren’t required.  I agreed. We chatted a bit more, mostly about Covid-19 and how it’s affecting her patients.  We both wondered aloud about when it would end and how it would end. And then we “air hugged” one last time and I left her office.

Leaving her office for the last time, I felt a strong sense of gratitude, like I’ve felt over the last several years.  Usually, I’ve treated myself to a lunch with my sister or my cousin afterwards, or a long hike in the desert mountains.  But this time was different.  I drove home in the silence, thinking about my own experiences with illness and wellness, and about the lives affected by this pandemic.

I thought of the patients of my doctor, who have surgeries scheduled for today, but who probably won’t be admitted to the hospital because their last chemo date was less than four weeks ago.

I thought of my students, who are in various stages of coping, trying to make sense of this new normal we’ve been thrust into.

I wondered about how I will be able to deliver content to my students online without them having too much screen time.

I thought of exchange students who were in my classes who are being sent home, without being able to say goodbye to the friends they’ve made.

I thought of all the people around the world whose incomes are suddenly zero because their jobs are on hold.  

I thought of friends and family who are medical professionals and the stress and challenges that they will meet in the coming days and weeks.

Madeleine asked me the other day if 9/11 had a similar sense of palpable fear.  It’s been interesting to think about these two events, but they are so different from one another.  Yes, there was so much fear with 9/11 – and remember the anthrax mailings – but there was also a strong sense of unity as a nation.  This time, there is no one to direct our anger at, regardless of how much the president tries.  This time, there is less sense of community because some of us are not doing the right things, like hoarding toilet paper.  

But there is also such beauty and kindness and generosity.

I thought of videos I’ve seen of Spanish and Italian communities sharing music – which might be humankind’s most beautiful creation – on their balconies during this time of lockdown.

I’ve been the very grateful recipient of countless other teachers’ generous sharing of lesson plans, platforms, and ideas on ways to connect with our students.

I thought of people sharing recipes, games, and silly activities to do while we are stuck at home.

I thought about all the humor that is being shared and all the appreciation for medical professionals, teachers, first responders.

I keep thinking of The Truman Show, and the question on everyone’s minds:

How’s it going to end?