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Summer Mother

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I wrote this 20 years ago one summer evening, after a day of hiking in the mountains of Montana with my brand new baby. It’s all about letting go– something I am learning all over again as she enters her senior year in college and my son, his junior year in high school.  Deep breaths to all mothers out there who are facing empty nests…

It is summer in Montana and it is past our collective bedtime, but we are driving into a sky glowing burnt orange, steel green mountains not yet silhouettes. The days are full here, too full, maybe. There is a three month panic to be scantily clothed and to wave the limbs around in hot air, in water, on a sweaty horse’s back. Suddenly there is so much sun after so much snow and grey matte sky and it’s a drug we agree to take in overdose. I don’t wear sunblock. Neither does my husband. We slather our baby in it, but let the undersides of our arms rest on the hot black paint of the car door while the tops– all the way to our fingers– in-between our fingers, bake in high-noon sun; then on our foreheads and backs at the lake in sparkling water, on hot rose rocks, on alpine trails, in meadows of lupine, Indian paintbrush, yarrow, huckleberries. With red and purple-stained skin pulsing sweet dried sweat over the throb of cooling highway, we cover our tracks back, turning off fourteen dead, fifty injured in a bombing today in an Israeli market; hold hands, try to find the moon.

Look. A star, I say, letting go of his hand, pointing. Yeah, he says. Two of them. That one’s bright. I wonder if it’s a planet. Wondering, I reach back for my baby’s hand without looking, craving a little loose bundle of fingers. There is a soft sigh from the back seat and I get my offering. Everything to her is this kind of sky. A chirping squirrel is still as full of wonder for her as the stars popping out over the blue Jewel Basin one way, the pale orange still hanging over the Canadian Rockies, the other. I close my eyes a moment; a small prayer in honor of squirrels. I want wonder.rbk-little-gitl-0513-1-mdn

There is heartbreak in all this. I fight to be there, under the gaining stars, not to consider the end of this day’s light a misfortune. It doesn’t have to be a death. It doesn’t have to make me think about tomorrow. I flirt with the story of the market bombing– picture a mother handling tomatoes, her son slipping an orange into his pants– fight the image of their bleeding bodies lying splayed and still in the dirt, covered in blown-up tomato pulp. No. I hold my baby’s hand tighter and weave a few of her fingers into mine. They’re sticky with huckleberry juice. I feel the stinging of sunburn on my back, minus an X. I mouth, I am here…I am here. The wonder does not have to be scary. She’s not scared. She is singing. I peek back to see what she is doing with this closing darkness. She is fingering the window. Counting stars. Feeling glass. Drawing pictures with her saliva. She is where I want to be.

I look at my husband’s face. It is the color of the Whitefish range: the last coal. He likes the window down halfway. He likes total silence. He is driving. He is where I want to be. Earlier, in the hardware store parking lot, I wait in the car with my daughter asleep in her car-seat, checking to see that the seatbelt is not cutting off her breathing. How can she breathe slumped over like that, her head to her belly? But she does– I can see her shoulders rising and falling. In-between checks, I stare at puddle mirages in the hot pavement, at women in passenger seats on the diagonal, all lined up; babies sleeping behind them. They are checking too, staring at mirages. One by one they click into ready position, their husbands walking proud and purposeful with a new hammer, a bag of fertilizer, dandelion killer. I am waiting for bear mace– red pepper spray, as if that would do anything, a grizzly bear bounding at us, our baby in the backpack singing to the bear, a cliff behind us, my husband reaching to his belt for his pathetic weapon. Play dead…play dead…play that woman and her son with tomatoes all over them in Israel, frozen, watching paw over paw hurl toward me over lupine and Indian paintbrush and yarrow, huckleberries. But I don’t know about the market bombing yet. And there is no bear. But I don’t know that yet either, sitting in the car in the hardware store parking lot.gnp_4

The day is done. Pepper spray– check. Pants and a sweater for later– check. Teva’s for the beach– check. Sunblock for the baby, three extra diapers, wipes, baby food, sun hat, a change of clothes for her, life vest– check check check check check check check. Back pack, fanny pack, water bottles, trail mix, sunglasses, camera– all checks. Bathing suits, towels, beach-blanket, rafts– yep. A cooler full of cold beer, sandwiches and whole milk in baby bottles– done. Gas– we’ll get some. Where are my sunglasses? Have you seen my sunglasses? Oops, forgot the keys. Where the hell are my sunglasses? On top of your head. Oh. We need bear mace. That stuff costs forty bucks…you have a better chance being killed in a car wreck than by a griz, anyway. Put your seatbelt on…we’re getting bear mace– we have a kid now. All right all right all right.

The day is done. We used everything but the pepper spray. I look at my husband, still losing light at the same rate as the Whitefish range, and feel safe and in love with him for carrying the baby in the backpack, the mace on his belt, pumping the gas– little things he wouldn’t want to know I loved him for. Little things that free me up to think about breathing and seat belts and bleeding bodies covered in tomatoes, and grizzly bears. I let go of my baby’s hand and reach for his again. He is where I want to be.

It’s all stars now. They call it big sky and they’re right. What are you thinking about? I whisper. Nothing, he says. I sit there and try to think of nothing, watching headlights come at us at seventy miles per hour on my baby’s side, pull at my seatbelt quietly to see if it would really stop me, nothing…nothing… I look back to see if she’s asleep. She is. I reach my hand back and rest it on her chest. She is breathing. Nothing…nothing… I put the same hand on my shoulder and feel the hot from the sunburn. My mother has had five melanomas removed from not wearing sunblock. Nothing…IMG_0804

I am left with my breathing. Check. My heart beat. Check. A raven sky. Countless lights twinkling…God, they really do twinkle. Twinkle twinkle little star– I figure out that it’s the same tune as the alphabet song. And then I am left without songs, because one of the stars loses itself in dust and falls right in front of us, right on the highway. We pass where I think it has fallen and look for stardust and leftover glow, but there is just an old cracked double yellow linesee that? I say. The star? he says. And I look for another; pick one and stare at it, ready to see it go down. But the longer I stare at one, the more I see all around it, and none fall, and it doesn’t matter, because I’m going deeper and deeper into the biggest sky I have ever seen, and I have lived here for years now, and I’m not thinking about that either. I am lost, in star after star after star after star…after star. After star. And I am there, wherever that is.

If you would like to take a break this fall and live the writer’s life in the woods of Montana, find community, find your voice, and maybe even find yourself…check out this video and info, and email the Haven Writing Retreat Team asap to set up a phone call!

September 6-10 (FULL)
September 20-24 (a few spaces left)
October 4-8 (FULL)
October 18-22 (a few spaces left)

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NOT a Cancer Victim

As some of you may have noticed, I’ve recently welcomed advertisers onto my blog.  While it makes it possible for me to continue THESE HERE HILLS, it’s also a result of how so many of you have inspired ME with what you’ve created in your lives.  How you’ve turned your dreams into business realities.  I’d like to introduce you to Draper Therapies.  It’s a business that is particularly inspiring to me.  Their technology has created a textile which takes the body’s energy and re-oxygenates the blood,  thereby helping to alleviate pain.  I admit to being a bit of  a skeptic when it comes to heal-alls.  I’ve tried a whole range of ways to take away my back pain– acupuncture, chiropractic, magnets…and usually just end up popping the Advil in the end which seems to do the trick, although I don’t like taking pills.  The folks at Draper sent me a shirt and a pair of socks to see if I got results, and I must say…in the week that I’ve worn them…I haven’t been in pain.  I love that their products aren’t just for humans.  Horses and dogs too.  I’m honored to have them at THESE HERE HILLS, and to be speaking at their event in Wellington, Florida.

Here is Kat Wojtylak– one of Draper’s key employees, and dedicated to spreading the word about their great work in the field of  healing and wellness.  Kat knows all about healing– mind, body, soul.  Here is her story.

Getting Out of Your Own Way:  What It Means to Me. A guest post by Kat Wojtylak

The last three years of my life have been the happiest by far.  I’ve become a fundamental part of a company whose products are set to revolutionize the equine market. I’ve found an amazing man who has given me a foundation for an exciting and stable future.  And I’ve found a complete sense of happiness in myself (which borderlines on annoying to people who aren’t in a similar mindset, but oh well.)

This is not a post to share all my accomplishments at twenty-six, but to share my hardships and how they’ve become blessings.  They’ve given me the gifts I have today and made me into the woman I am by inspiring me to learn how to get out of my own way.

In 2006, my doctors started taking notice of a cyst in my neck.  I referred to it as my little Adam’s apple. Tests deducted that it was more of a blemish than anything else. I took medication to help make it shrink– but it didn’t.  It started to  grow and I got concerned. I decided to have it removed, even though my surgeon said it wasn’t necessary, given the normal test results and size.  But my nagging suspicion pushed me to take the next step.

A day before Thanksgiving, and two weeks before my twenty-third birthday, my family came to see me through the surgery. It was relatively uneventful and they left shortly after, once I was able to care for myself. A week later, everything changed.

My surgeon called.  My biopsy results had come in.  I had papillary and follicular thyroid cancer.

I had another surgery in February of 2007 to remove the rest of my thyroid and eventually went through radioactive iodine treatment just a few months later. As everything came to an end, I went into a depression and true to the saying “when it rains, it pours,” it started to pour.

The job that had secured the last year of my life was now gone, and even though I had just beat cancer, I played the poor me card.  The truth was that I just didn’t know what to do or who to turn to for help. I made the “simple” decision that I needed to be back in New England where I grew up– to be as far away from these wretched memories and start anew.  That I was in my own way, and needed to move out of it.  Emotionally, and physically.

In May of 2007, I moved to Massachusetts. It was my chance to start over.  Albeit rash, I’d finally taken a stand for myself. I needed to move outside of blame and take control of my life– to leave all the pettiness behind and start to focus on what I wanted and needed, in order to get better.  I needed to choose my health over everything else that I used to assign power.

And then I learned about Spencer Bell.  He was an artist I found in looking for a cancer support group. Spencer Bell is a phenomenal lyricist and musician that even after death brought so many people together in a place that is now a haven for many. Spencer died of adrenal cancer, a very rare and at the moment, incurable disease.  Because of the rarity of the cancer, it hardly ever shows up on the average person’s radar, but can wreak havoc on those families who sadly come into its path.   Through the efforts of his friends and family continuing his artistic legacy, I found support in a way I never thought possible.

These ties eventually brought me into the path of Dr. Gary Hammer who is the head of the University of Michigan’s Comprehensive Cancer Center Endocrine Oncology Program. Dr. Hammer is not only a wonderfully humble man, but his passion, combined with those in the Spencer Bell Memorial community, drove me to push past my inhibitions and make the conscious choice to give back. His enthusiasm for opportunities also introduced me to Laura Munson, whose sister-in-law died of adrenal cancer and had participated in his clinical trial.  Laura and I made an instant connection in our shared love for horses and our commitment to creating happiness in our lives…and forged yet another bond in an ever growing adventure of self responsibility.

Draper Therapies, the company I work for and love, recently launched a philanthropic project to give back to adrenal cancer research in the Spencer Bell Endowment Fund. The philanthropic efforts at our company, combined with a push for further education and our philosophy of health and wellness, stretches into giving everyone the tools to a better life, starting from the inside out.

My transformation came from the bottom up, and inside out. It all started from taking myself out of the toxic environment that had become my home and allowing myself the opportunity to really look at the person I had become. I slowly began to chip away at all the things I was unhappy with and eventually came to a point where I was content and accepting of the woman inside me. I learned that I  could face any situation with patience and love, even if I was smack dab in the middle of chaos.  It was a simple mind trick.

The greatest lesson I’ve learned is that we need to take care of ourselves, whether it’s our health, our mental status, or our souls. And if the going gets tough, don’t give your power away– gain control over who is in charge, so that you can combat even the greatest hardships in life with the greatest of ease. Practice makes perfect, but you’re definitely not human if you don’t make a few mistakes along the way.  Be kind to yourself.  Ask for help.  Find what inspires you.

Kat Wojtylak is Product Manager for Draper Therapies®, a growing therapeutic company using the technology Celliant®. Celliant is a revolutionary technology that harnesses the body’s natural energy through the use of minerals and fibers. The proprietary blend of microscopic optically responsive particles works with the energy released from the body and is designed to recycle energy back to the body to improve health and overall well-being of the wearer. Products containing Celliant have been clinically proven to increase blood flow and blood oxygen levels in the body and help balance body temperature. Increased blood oxygen levels have been clinically proven to relieve pain, promote quicker healing, improve sleep quality, heighten athletic performance and improve overall wellness. To learn more, visit http://www.drapertherapies.com or http://www.celliant.com .

Here is information on how to make a donation to Laura’s sister-in-law’s foundation:

The Sandra Kobelt Hau Memorial Foundation: Committed to enhancing the lives of others in the spirit of Sandy’s passion for youth sports, the arts and healthy living.

Contact: Timothy Gilmore tgilmore@bhfs.com

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A Life in Balance


Click here to read my article, “A Life in Balance,” on the Parelli Natural Horsemanship Blog.

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Filed under My Posts, Parelli Natural Horsemanship Blog Pieces