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Monday, November 17, 2014

Joel's day

As long as I kept moving, my grief streamed out behind me 
like a swimmer's long hair in water. 
I knew the weight was there but it didn't touch me. 
Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible

Most people take stock of their year each new year’s day- what worked, what didn't, whom they loved, where they went, what they bought, whether weight was lost, if a treadmill was used, and so on.

My new year’s day arrives a bit earlier, on November 18, to be exact.  November 18 was the day Joel’s life was cut short, the day his heart stopped. The autopsy showed a mild structural abnormality in the atrioventricular artery, a weakness in the vasculature that can go unnoticed for a lifetime but, in an instant, can collapse in on itself and stop blood supply to the heart.  Many people have said that they cannot imagine anything worse than losing a child, especially a single parent losing their only child.  While it’s true that’s as bad as my life gets, I can imagine a myriad of scenarios in which his ending could have been worse.  I don’t have to live with any of them.  Joel died quickly, relatively painlessly, and well-loved by many.  He was the best thing I ever did and if I could have traded places, I would have.  I offered to.  I begged a god I didn't believe in to undo it all, to take me instead. 
Amanda lit candles
at Baker St.

And now 11 years have passed.  He would be 30 next May.
A magnificent kid, his life cut short.  So, this is the day that I examine mine.  I got another 365 days.  I review.  In no way could I do anything over the course of 365 days that would match the magnitude of the loss of him. Nothing I might do would compensate for the adventures he didn't get.  But since his death, I have lived my life in a way that would allow me to extract some of the juiciness of living or would allow me to give back, to achieve some reciprocity for the extra time I have been given.

This year, I did nothing to help others, a major shift from the past 10 years.  I did not want to become a disaster-chaser, bouncing from one crisis to the next.  I had to stop running. And, by standing still, I managed to create adequate disaster in my own life. 

So, what were my key accomplishments from the last year?  Three very spectacular things:

1. I went to Alaska to seek the Northern Lights.  With the rabbit. The only time we caught a glimpse of what should have been an epic season for the aurora borealis was on the ride into Chena Hot Springs, where we stayed for several days in a quintessential winter wonderland so pretty it could have come right out of a storybook.  
About 60 miles from Fairbanks, in the middle of nowhere, I floated on my back in the natural hot springs, suspended at the interface between the searing water beneath me and the icy air above.  The rabbit’s hands kept me afloat as he gently guided me across the still surface of the water.  I stared up into the dark sky, only slightly obscured by the mist rising off the pool.  I lack descriptive words here. As I stared up into the dark abyss, the moment seemed quite profound; however, I cannot say exactly why. Beyond that, it gives me no joy to remember our time together there.  What we had, what we shared, was as ephemeral as the steam escaping the heat of the springs, as fleeting as our footprints in the snow.

Mt Cook
2. I biked the south island of New Zealand.  An epic adventure at its best.  I started in the north island, expecting to bike both; however, several spills on a 27 km loose gravel road (that, according to the Kennett Bros book, should have been 5 km) resulted in a detached retina, emergency surgery, and about 3 weeks in Auckland living in a hostel and eating cheap Chinese food.  Once the eye was sufficiently healed, I hit the south island running.  Well, biking. 

Cycling New Zealand was tough.  We have a lot of hills here in Bisbee and we’re at a mile high, but I don’t ride around carrying about 40 lbs of gear.  Nor will I.  Between the bike and the gear, I was moving more than half my body weight up impossibly steep hills and on narrow highways frequented by fast moving, indifferent logging trucks. 

The north of New Zealand, with all its pasture land, cows, and sheep, looked remarkably like Sonoma County, California, where I lived for a number of years. The scenery was lovely on the first day and maybe the second; however, the endless rolling hills dotted with livestock quickly dulls the senses.
The notable exception to the soporific scenery in the north was the thermal area around Rotorua, where I spent a few days and got the bike ready for the south.

1500 km, 36 days, 2 cyclones,
and one badass little bike.
Nugget Point
I took the ferry across to Picton and started riding.  I rode through spectacular gorges to get to the ocean. 
Once there, I stayed close to the coastline until the time came to veer inland and view the glaciers and Mt. Cook.  I flew past Lake Wanaka and Queenstown, down to Lake Manapouri where I spent the day on a ship touring Doubtful sound, one of the highlights of my trip and my first sight of penguins- the fiordland crested.  I biked down to the Catlins at the southern tip, where I found yellow-eye penguins, and around to the Otago Peninsula, with its abundance of wildlife- to include the Royal Albatross, seals, sea lions, and the sweet little blue penguins.  All of this I will detail in another blog at another time.

3. I loved a man.  

And adventure awaits just around the corner.  Chile will be a more demanding ride.  Fewer amenities, rougher roads, and hand gestures as the only shared language. However, what it may lack in conveniences, it should compensate for in the chance for a new perspective, an opportunity to heal.

godspeed joel


  1. Oh Alyson how I love your depth of articulation that goes beyond your words. Thank you for sharing in this crazy beautiful life. May all beings benefit and suffering decrease as we bear witness.

  2. Alyson, thanks for being you. From Paula G.