Navigation Lessons: 5-6-2020

When asked if he’d ever been lost Daniel Boone replied, “I’ve never been lost, but I was mighty turned around for three days once.” I’ve been turned around myself – might have even called it lost:

  • Ended up in the parking lot after hiking six miles in a hail storm. Had a map. Needed a compass.
  • Went up the wrong chute on Lucy’s Foot Pass last summer and couldn’t get over to the other side. Had to bail and hike back down.
  • Hiked around Red Devil Lake instead of directly to it inciting panic in my husband when he found me missing.
  • Followed a creek eastward for about a mile alone on an after dinner saunter only to look up and face the western setting sun. My first thought: God moved the sun, not that the creek curved.

Other times to prevent getting lost I’ve gotten hints of intel from others, like the time a ranger atop Kearsarge Pass told us which side of the creek was easier to bushwhack through in Gardiner Basin. I’ve used Secor’s book, High Sierra Peaks, Passes, and Trails to plot many a cross-country Sierra adventure. Other times I’ve wandered lost in a dense mountain forest following others I’ve trusted. (Thanks Rolland for introducing me to cross-country hiking.)

I’ve even taught map and compass lessons to my clients. My most valuable lessons: Stay found. Know where you are. Know where the trail goes. Know where the water is (it’s in the low places just like in the bottom of your water glass). Keep an eye on what to expect and note it as you pass. Know which general direction your car is (baseline), so you can get back to it. Know your drainages (handrails). Like Muir said, “The creeks and rivers are the streets of the Sierra.”

But I’ve never stepped onto a tail or path or into the wild with neither a map OR compass, an idea of where I would be going, what to expect, or without friends for support and to argue our way toward the correct route.

This path through cancer is new territory and I have no map OR compass. Even though this is a recurrence of the original invasion from twenty years ago, which was also uncharted territory, metastatic cancer (I hate to even be associated with the words) is a whole different animal. You can’t just cut out the tumor, radiate the lymph nodes, and fry the rest of your body with chemo and hope you got it all. (Been there. Done that.) It’s all over. It has to be managed like a smelly tent-mate you can’t get rid of and you hope he doesn’t stab you through the heart in the middle of the night.

Afraid of the information I’ll find, I try to stay away from the internet. I’ve even told my doc that I’m too scared to know some of the statistics. I don’t want to know how steep and rocky the passes will be, how terrifying the stream crossings, how harsh the dry spells, or how this trip will end. What I do have are the creeks and rivers of my heart that I follow with confidence and friends and family to support me as I bumble my way along. (Thank you all for the cards, emails, texts, phone calls, food shopping, and surprise watermelons!)

Where does one learn how to navigate the landscape of their life? I don’t know. I suppose there are those who are taught by loving parents. In my late thirties I found myself as a blob of mud on the riverbank – formless, rootless, and more than a might turned around. Over time I fashioned myself with hands of love and compassion into the shape I was meant to be. I found myself most comfortable without a roof. I discovered that more than anything, I wanted to wander the Sierra. I found that being myself was my greatest gift (who knew!?), that friends were gold, that being gentle with myself was my path, and that my heart was my northern star.

I did not learn this from my mother.

My mother, always the martyr, would tell me things like, “Yah, I was in the hospital six months ago with a heart problem.” I’d respond in shock, “Why didn’t you tell me!?” her answer, “Well, there was nothing you could do.” In her eighties at the time, I knew my mother. I knew she muscled through her heart adventure alone and afraid, no map, no support, and saved up the telling for just the right moment, when she was guaranteed the biggest reaction. I was aware that this was a dance. I was tired of it AND I was hurt that my presence and support would mean nothing, that my shocked response was more important, was the attention she craved. The more shocked I was, the more she felt she mattered.

I have since wondered what neglect my mother suffered as a child that made her come to believe that shocking people with news of past drama was the closest she could feel to connection. Of course, in me it only created a momentary reaction that quickly turned into hurt, anger, and despair at my impotence over past and future events – probably everything she felt as a neglected child growing up as the “surprise gift” to older immigrant parents, over-worked and overwhelmed managers of a nineteen twenties speak easy in the Midwest. And no map provided except for what the nuns taught her: fear, shame, and suffering. If she survived by manipulating people into making her feel that she mattered, well, one does what one needs to in this big scary world to feel found.

9 thoughts on “Navigation Lessons: 5-6-2020

  1. Another lovely reflection, Karen! I am sorry for your pain growing up, and sorry that you now have this new terrain to hike. But I love your line, “I found that being myself was my greatest gift (who knew!?), that friends were gold, that being gentle with myself was my path, and that my heart was my northern star.” Good for you!!

  2. as always you raise up everyone who reads your blog. I’ve been lost before but next time I want you a a partner!

  3. You have such a beautiful way with word, of describing your travels, both outside and inside. It’s wonderful that your words and experiences will reach so many minds and hearts. Some may need your thoughts and insights now, others may need them later and still others will never travel the trails and paths you are following but will be richer and more understanding for having read your blog. Thank-you for being you and for so generously sharing your life with us.

  4. As all good navigators know it is all about the journey getting there not the arrival. So enjoy the adventure as best you can.

  5. I hope you will continue to share your process and will do it often; it is engaging and compelling. We are with you encouraging and cheering you on, lifting whatever form of supplication we each have to offer (from whatever spiritual place we happen to live in) in an effort to lift you. We will be your companions as you walk down this path, whether you meander to smell (and photograph) the flowers or move forth with purpose to arrive somewhere important. We will all see where it goes together.

  6. Hi Karen,It’s been a week since you sent this and I still don’t know what to say–but here I am trying! I’m struck by the openness/vulnerability expressed. Understandable given the situation–why do we normally hide so much of our uncertainty and so many of our fears? I guess hiding any weakness was an important strategy back when we were cave dwellers, and I guess many still feel that showing uncertainty diminishes them in some way (like wearing a mask shows weakness!), but keeping our real feelings tucked away sure gets in the way of establishing real relationships.  Anyway, I’m happy that you are getting lots of cards and emails–and a watermelon in the spring! Beautiful that you are taking increasingly long walks–I hope that goes well.  Weird that it just started to sprinkle here–in May of all things! Take care and keep sharing!Hugs,Susan

    Susandalcorn.comMember: American Pilgrims on the Camino (APOC), Bay Area Travel Writers, IBPA Author and publisher: Healing Miles: Gifts from the Caminos Norte and Primitivo; Patagonia Chronicle: On Foot in Torres del Paine; Camino Chronicle: Walking to Santiago and We’re in the Mountains Not over the Hill: Tales and Tips from Seasoned Women Backpackers.Shepherd Canyon Books, Oakland, CA 

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