Hunting in Colorado: Day 3


Once again we chose to ignore my hunting tip #8 and arrived at our pull-off below Weston Pass even earlier than on Day 2. As it was pitch black and I was uncertain of my footing, Mike carried my rifle in his pack for the steepest section of our approach until dawn broke and it was time to chamber a round. He’s the awesomest husband I know.

Dawn breaks over the snow-tipped clearing above tree line on Weston Pass.

Dawn breaks over the snow-tipped clearing above tree line on Weston Pass.

KIND bars have been our snack of choice for a few years now, and although Mike has never been an early morning breakfast eater (I must eat in the morning or I become an ogre), he snarfed a couple down before our ascent. The resultant gastric consequences provided hilarity soon thereafter.

“Did you hear something?” he whispered to me with a big smile halfway up the hill. “It sounded like bugling!”

I rolled my eyes as I did numerous times over the next hour while the nutritious bars wreaked havoc with his digestion. So much bugling. But I don’t blame him for scaring away our potential dinner.

I blamed the monkey crow. I wish I’d thought to tap “record” on my iPhone when we heard him. Snow flurries were soft in the tree line, and because my ankle was feeling pretty good, I decided to stay with Mike as he traversed the higher grounds rather than loll about in the meadow where our elk really should have been.

We know the elk are hiding behind the trees, chuckling at our persistence, sneaking away when I pull out my camera-phone.

We know the elk are hiding behind the trees, chuckling at our persistence, sneaking away when I pull out my camera-phone.

The crow’s laughter was an even closer imitation of monkey chatter than Mike can make, and we stopped to enjoy the merriment for a moment before continuing our stealthy trudge through and over thick and downed pines. Soft little Christmas trees with snow-sprinkled new growth sprouted where the old had fallen long ago, and well into our ascent, Mike stopped for a break. He’s always thinking of me, but I could tell he was also beginning to get discouraged.

Within moments of hitting the trail again, I paused for a familiar routine. I knew he’d spotted a sign. Sure enough, there it was. Fudge-brownie-fresh poop.

Fudge-brownie-fresh elk poop! A sure sign that elk are no longer in the area ;)

Fudge-brownie-fresh elk poop! A sure sign that elk are no longer in the area ;)

We had already traversed too far for my comfort. My ankle was beginning to ache (I’ve been telling myself that hunting is good physical therapy after surgery, but at that point I was questioning myself) and I started praying to Diana, Artemis, Orion, all of the hunting deities, to hide the poopers.

Because “they” listened to me, we hiked and hiked, and hiked and hiked, until we came to another huge clearing far beyond and above the meadow I suddenly wished I had stayed in.

“Look. Classic elk terrain,” Mike whispered. “This is where it says they should be.” We’ve repeated this same message to one another in several locations already. It’s become a joke.

“I know, but elk don’t read,” I whispered back.

“Racist,” he replied. Muffled giggling ensued.

Rambo Mike, in a place where our elk "should have been"!

Rambo Mike, in a place where our elk “should have been”!

We crept around the enormous open space and I realized that not only were there no signs of elk anymore, but my ankle was seriously unhappy. And we were seriously far and high above where we’d parked. And we’d been out for hours and hours and I was ready to become a pescatarian. I like to fish. I like to eat fish. Fishing is easy. I can sit down while I fish. Fishing rods aren’t that heavy. I can drive really close to where I want to fish.

“You stay here and rest. I’m going back into the trees over there and if I don’t see anything, we’ll head back.”

Last smile during elk hunting day 3 before our wicked descent from Weston Pass.

Last smile during elk hunting day 3 before our wicked descent from Weston Pass.

I was all about the heading back, but also truly concerned about the terrain. From where I stood, I couldn’t see over the edge of the field. I had no idea how steep our descent would be. So after having him take the last photo in which I could smile that day, I leaned against a downed tree with my feet uphill and did my best to remain optimistic. And that’s when I had a most unexpected visitor.

An elk? Not a chance. But at the spot where I landed in the acres and acres of terrain we’d covered that day was one little ladybug. For the next half hour as Mike searched for our elusive prey, she and I visited. I marveled at her resolve to stay with me, figuring it was because my body was far warmer than anything in that wind-whipped field. She made me smile, and by the time I had to set her free, I had steeled my mind for the final trudge.

Ladybug ladybug, fly away home . . . and take me with you!

Ladybug ladybug, fly away home . . . and take me with you!

Without going into great detail, suffice it to say that my husband once again was my hero. He took my weapon from me and found a hiking stick to assist with the worst downhill journey of my life so far. I had to do several sections on my butt, so instead of crying (which I almost did several times), I gave thanks for the up-and-downstairs-butt-technique I had mastered in our house while on crutches just weeks before. (see crutches)

Mike found a stick to assist with my mile-long 60ish-degree downward slope back to the 4-Runner.

Mike found a stick to assist with my mile-long 60ish-degree downward slope back to the 4-Runner.

The descent was grueling, but the day was filled with beauty. And I had spent it with my man. We had no elk for all our efforts, but we were still together, still able to smile at the beauty of our surroundings, and still confident that . . . Day 4 would be “the day.”

Hunting in Colorado: Day 2


We heard that Weston Pass was the place to go to find our wily elk for sure. So instead of heeding my tip #8 for Day 1 prep (See tip 8), we drove up to a spot on the road below Weston Pass way before the sun rose.

The hike up to where we knew the elk would be was arduous (for someone like me with a gimpy ankle), but we made good time and got to enjoy the sight of dawn breaking over the cold Rocky Mountains. After a while, we hunkered down in some pine trees. We’d wait a while and watch the herds pass by. We’d have our pick of tasty future meals.

Dawn in the Rocky Mountains, hunting day 2 up Weston Pass.

Dawn in the Rocky Mountains, hunting day 2 up Weston Pass.

After about ½ hour, Mike decided to move farther up the hill. I stayed below. We’d have different vantage points of the same open area through which the elk would meander…at any minute. I drilled myself on the gutless method of removing the tenderloins. Dinner.

Suddenly I saw wild gesticulations from above, and when I followed Mike’s pointed finger, THERE THEY WERE! Although difficult to see from my position, a cow, two calves and a spike were walking through a small clearing between thick pines on the far, far side of the meadow. Mike gestured for me to come up to where he was already in a firing position, but I think we both knew that the tiny window of opportunity and the distance were too challenging to overcome in the split second between seeing them and watching them disappear.

“I should’ve taken the shot,” he said, “but by the time I had the elevation adjusted, it was too late.”

“You did the right thing. You want a clean shot.” I told him what he already knew.

“You stay here. I’m going over to see if I can pick up the trail.”

Meadow grass up Weston Pass, hunting day 2.

Meadow grass up Weston Pass, hunting day 2.

For the next 90 minutes, Mike hiked and I lay prone in the meadow grass by a large, dead tree trunk. Maybe he’d scare them out and I’d get my shot. Instead, I waited and lounged and peered through the grass, remembering my 5th grade teacher at Archie T. Morrison Elementary School in Braintree who had us do something quite similar during our poetry unit, but without rifles. I think she might have been the one who sparked my interest in writing.

Hunting glamour shot. Weston Pass. Waiting and waiting for Mike.

Hunting glamour shot. Weston Pass. Waiting and waiting for Mike.

While Mike hiked, I shot photos, something my friends tell me I should be doing rather than shooting “poor innocent animals.” I took my hunting glamour shot and visited for a while with a nosy lark bunting. I really do like shooting photos, but I’d like to know I could feed myself during the zombie apocalypse too.

By the time Mike returned, he was beat and I was ready to head home.

“There are tons of signs over there. It’s like an elk highway. We’ll come back tomorrow, okay?”

I would have agreed to anything at that point. We were silent as we drove home, tired and hungry, and our reward for our efforts on Day 2 was a glorious rainbow embracing our little Leadville.

Rainbow over Leadville. End of hunting day 2.

Rainbow over Leadville. End of hunting day 2.

Clearly, Day 3 would be “the day.”

Hunting in Colorado: Day 1

Here are some tips on what to do before charging out on Day 1 of your hunting season:

  1. Read last year’s hunting blog and laugh about how inexperienced you were.
  2. Tell yourself, “This will be the year!”
  3. Review videos on the gutless method of harvesting your kill, preferably while you’re eating something. This is my favorite one: Gutless method
  4. Tell yourself, “I can do that in 10 minutes, 15 minutes max.”
  5. Don’t worry about losing sleep the night before Day 1. You won’t have any trouble sleeping after 8 hours of moving, sweating, waiting, and shivering.
  6. Assure your non-hunting friends you do realize you’re stopping a beating heart when you shoot an animal.
  7. Practice whispering with your hunting partner. Start with little messages like, “They’re waiting for us.”
  8. Ask everyone where they bagged their elk. When they tell you, go somewhere else.

Mike and I started our Day 1 hunt before sunrise on Mt. Zion because we heard that’s

Hunting day 1, morning break. Still feeling pumped!

Hunting day 1, morning break. Still feeling pumped!

where our next meal would be hanging out. Despite my initial dread of spending a day beating the brush after re-reading my post from last year’s hunting adventures (Hunting with my Hubby), I geared up and we got to our parking spot before sunrise. Mike knew my mobility was limited since I just ditched the crutches a week ago from ankle surgery six weeks prior and convinced me we’d move at my speed.

It didn’t take long before we found our hunting rhythm, which truly illustrated “a snail’s pace.” Although we saw some signs (signs=poop) of elk having been there, we were not convinced they were still hanging

Pee break. "Stack... arms!" (that's an Army command)

Pee break. “Stack… arms!” (that’s an Army command)

around. I don’t know what it is about constantly scanning the ground and surroundings for signs and movement, and perhaps it’s just our own constant movement at high altitudes, but the need to pee is far more frequent while hunting. I’ve said if before and I’ll say it again: There’s nothing quite like peeing in the wild. Anyway, after many hours and much hiking (and peeing) and discovering beautiful places where they “should have been,” we returned home at midday. We knew when we went back out that evening, we’d find them.

Driving back to a different starting spot on the mountain, still full of adrenaline and eager to fill our tags on Day 1, we discussed what would happen if we came across a “twofer.” Mike has a cow tag and I have a bull tag, same season, so the idea of walking into a pasture and catching a little bull-on-cow action was just too funny not to consider.

"They SHOULD be here!"

“They SHOULD be here!”

Alas, our anticipation adrenaline wore off as the sun set, and we returned home again home again, jiggity-jig, to a dinner of mac&cheese and early to bed. Clearly, Day 2 would be “the day.”

Here’s a link to my hunting epilogue from 2014 and there are several other daily posts before it. Just search “hunting” for more:

2014 hunting epilogue

My Hair Piece

I got this silly idea a few months ago that every girl should grow her hair down to her butt at least once in her lifetime, and since I never had, it became a goal. I’ve tried this several times in past years, never with success. The longest my hair has ever been was during sophomore year at Smith College. I was really cool then. I wore my wavy locks in braids and sashayed around campus with my patchwork skirts and my art portfolio.

"Senior dinner" at Smith College. French theme. Freshmen had to serve the dinner.

“Senior dinner” at Smith College. French theme. Freshmen had to serve the dinner.

I had lusted after Sheila’s hair in high school. A gymnast with thick red hair well past her butt, she represented everything I believed to be sexy. She was even smart and not too stuck up, so I had no reason to hate her. But I knew I’d never get the attention she got wherever she happened to be with her gorgeous locks swaying as she walked, lifting in a breeze, glowing in the sunshine. I also knew I was not built for backflips on a balance beam. For those petty pretty things, I envied her.

School hair never got much longer than this.

School photos…my hair never got much longer than this.

The “pixie” cut was Mum’s choice for me throughout my childhood years, and although I can’t remember ever complaining about the choice, I also coveted my baby sister’s long, golden strands. For school picture day, the best I could do was try to keep a ribbon-clip in my hair. Girls with long hair could do ever so much more. Even as a youngster I sensed the glamor symbolized by long hair, so after growing my own to shoulder-length in high school, I determined never to cut it again in college.

And then I joined the Army.

Cadets at West Point in 1979 had no access to hair stylists or salons, and my first butchering by the high-and-tight-hungry barber in the basement of a cold, stone building left me horrified—and convinced I could do a far better job myself. Fortunately, aside from ensuring my shoes shined like mirrors and my shirts were tucked just right into my starched pants, I had little time to think about my appearance, and the uniform hat hid much of my face beneath it, and my hair.

Me and my tent roomie Kelly.

Me and my tent roomie Kelly. No time–at all–to worry about hair.

I think I could probably take a few trips around the world with the money I’ve saved over the years by cutting and coloring my own hair and cutting my husband’s and sons’ hair. My horror at the cash register each of the few times I treated myself to a professional cut and color rivaled the horror I felt leaving that barber’s chair decades earlier. Two hundred dollars? Are you kidding me? And that’s without a tip? Do you have any idea how many bags of clothes I could fill at Goodwill with two hundred dollars?

For a few years we lived in a place where $200 was pocket change and hair extensions were as commonplace as Tupperware, so I convinced myself I deserved the occasional splurge. But I always felt guilty after handing over the credit card and hopping into my car, and when I checked myself out in the rear view mirror, I never felt 200+ dollars prettier. For $8.95 and about one hour in the privacy of my bathroom I could emerge with a color and cut that was “me.”

I laugh at myself now for my most recent attempt at long locks because this attempt marked the fourth time I’ve repeated this sequence:

  1. Decide to push past the awkward not-short-not-long phase.
  2. Camouflage the transition as best as I can.
  3. Start to feel good about my progress as my hair reaches my shoulders.
  4. Chastise myself for compulsive hair twirling.
  5. Enjoy the hair twirling because that means it’s growing longer.
  6. Buy all manner of hair adornments and accessories.
  7. Realize I’m spending lots of time keeping my hair out of my face.
  8. Wake up one morning with a mouthful of hair.
  9. Spit it out, walk to the bathroom, find the scissors, and cut it all off.
  10. Tell myself I’ll never grow my hair again.

Last week’s hair-in-the-mouth will be my last. The liberation I felt from all things “hair” inspired me to lighten up in other areas, too, and I filled bags with clothes and shoes from my stuffed drawers and closet. How did I get so many pairs of socks?

Waking with a mouthful of hair = time for a haircut!

Waking with a mouthful of hair = time for a haircut!

As I pondered the decision to embrace my inner pixie, the whole idea of hair consumed my thoughts for several days. I asked a long-haired friend why she would never cut her hair and she confessed to having an emotional attachment to it. She plays with it and it is a comfort to her, although she told me she woke up nearly strangled by it one morning. When she returned to her studies, I watched surreptitiously as she absentmindedly twirled and occasionally chewed on the ends of her lovely locks.

Every time I see someone who’s lost their hair to cancer treatment, the foolishness of my own vanity becomes clearer. It is vanity, after all, and it affects some more than others. Hair is something we adorn, hide behind, deceive others with (“Only her hairdresser knows for sure”), perm, tease, spray, braid, extend (so much deception!), feather, spike, dreadlock (Eek!) . . . the hair care industry will never die.

But I don’t want to be a slave to my hair anymore. I want to believe I’m at a stage in my life in which I’ll spend far more time on my inner development than my outer appearance. It’s not like I’m mature enough to shave it all off, though, and I’m still going to buy my $8.95 Clairol every six weeks, so I’m not walking away from all expressions of vanity.

“I like it. It’s cute,” my husband told me when he returned from work.

I’ll never be a Lady Godiva, and I’m finally okay with that.

I’ll settle for cute.


A friend recently suggested I read this article about hair. The author’s research extends beyond her personal experience, and she too was a pixie at one point! Siri Hustvedt’s article in New Republic.

Kayaking With(out) Crutches


Something about being in a kayak on a crystal clear Colorado lake or on a river through a canyon in Utah just makes me smile the smile of a goofball. I love it. I love the splashy-gurgly sound of a paddle through water, the aroma of clean, cool air, and the reflection of land and sky on ripples.

Mike is now a pro at getting me in and out of kayaks safely as I’ve been banned from weight-bearing on my right foot for most of the summer. I’m expecting to be told I can resume life as a bipod in eleven days. It will be a glorious day, but until then, I’m being a good girl and doing what I’m told. Fortunately, the way I kayak, foot pressure isn’t necessary.

We decided to paddle upstream yesterday on the Colorado River from a launch site not far from our campground in Moab. The idea was that we’d paddle as long and hard as we wanted, and then enjoy a more leisurely trip with the river doing most of the work on the way back. The not-yet-sweltering morning temperatures and the cool water, moving downstream steadily, made for perfect conditions.

Beautiful day on the Colorado River in Moab

Beautiful day on the Colorado River in Moab

As soon as Mike pushed me away from shore, the reality of paddling against the flow hit me, but I was going to be a good sport. Forty-five minutes into our adventure my arm muscles burned and my palms, already callused from over a month of crutching, showed me where there were still some soft spots. I headed for some branches by the shore.

“What are you doing?” Mike paddled over to where I clung to a clump of dead twigs and spun his kayak around easily, paddling backwards for a while to hold his ground (because holding his water just sounds wrong) while we chatted.

“Oh, you know, just checking out the local flora.” The water threatened to pull me from the thicket, but I hung tight. Mike knew the truth, though.

“I think I’ll recon up a little further and check out the conditions, okay?” He was very gracious.

“Okay. I’ll join you in a bit,” I tried to convince him. And myself.

Mike leaves me in my safety thicket...if I let go, I'll be whisked back to shore in no time!

Mike leaves me in my safety thicket…if I let go, I’ll be whisked back to the dock in no time!

After Mike disappeared up river, it was time to get back out there myself. With renewed energy I continued my struggle against the current, making fairly good progress until Mike returned.

“It gets a little trickier up near that narrow place, but it’s doable.” His words did little to encourage me, but I had already told Mike how much I loved being on the water and we had barely been out an hour. So I followed him.

I followed him until I reached a place where my paddling turnover could not compensate for the volume of water working against me. I felt like I was in one of those Endless pools, working and working and getting nowhere.

“I think I’m done!” I called to my endless-energy husband, and despite the fact that he could have paddled all the way back to Colorado, backwards, he agreed it was time to head back for lunch. We had the kayaks for the whole day. We could bring them out again in the afternoon. Oh joy! I thought.

And back out we went after lunch for another up-river assault.

This time, although I did not get as far as I had in the morning, I knew where I could sneak out of the big flow areas and “study flora” in several places I had missed earlier.

“You go on ahead and I’ll hang here,” I told Mike when I knew I was spent, and while he completed another awesome workout, I watched with amusement some mating rituals along shallow shoreline. And no, I’m not talking about the trailer people.

A pairs of dragonflies did it right on the edge of my kayak before taking flight, stuck together in what seemed an endless dance. For well over 10 minutes they clung and danced and I never saw them part. And juxtaposed to their ceaseless airborne ritual, dozens of water striders darted over the flowing surface in a seemingly random pattern. They occasional bumped into one another before dashing away, all the while maintaining their position relative to shore atop the moving water. It looked like some Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom video game. I could not imagine the brusque bump was procreative, but I also had no idea what the purpose of this bizarre, confused dance could be. I also wondered how long it would be before their legs, like my arms, would say “Enough!”

Mike WAY up river from me!

Mike WAY up river from me!

I paddled upstream a bit more after marveling at how much I do not know about the world, and saw that Mike was on his way back. He pulled his boat alongside mine and the two of us floated together with the current back to our launch site where our truck, and my crutches, awaited.


Kudos for Camping

I used to love camping because the trip would end and I’d be deliriously happy to be back in my own bed again in a home with all its comforts. That was back in the days when camping meant backpack tents and packs and sleeping bags and Therm-a-Rests and bulky coolers and portable Coleman cooking stoves and mosquitos and wet wipes and . . . the adventure was always memorable, but heading home was even more exciting. I’m anticipating Mike will groan when he reads this. He’ll call me a baby, and I’ll smile.

Now I don’t want to go home.

When we made the transition from tent to truck camper, I knew my perspective on camping would improve significantly, and although it felt like fibbing to say we “camped” in our micro-truck-bed-home, we still experienced elements of roughing it. Since loading the camper into the truck bed took precision and patience, lots of patience, we rarely offloaded it, so getting in and out required the finesse of a pole vaulter. The bed, though more comfortable than the one in our home, was up over the truck cab. I won’t elaborate on the difficulty of certain things in that confined space.

With just the two of us, we could scooch around each other in the one-person-wide walking area between the 2-burner stove and the scrunched table, but when our two grown sons came along—one curled up in the table-bed area and one stretched out on the floor between our bed and the door at night—well, then it became absurd. We eventually traded in our two sons for an 89-pound German Shepherd, and somehow, Ranger took up even more space than our boys.

Plenty of head room over the bed, and storage space under it!

Plenty of head room over the bed, and storage space under it!

So when Mike suggested trading in the camper for a trailer with a walk-around bed, a dining area bump-out providing ample room for the two of us and the dog to do a little jig on the exposed floor, a 3-burner stove, a shower separate from the *porcelain* toilet (you should all be hearing the Celestial Angels singing now), a kitchen sink large enough to bathe a baby in (up to 3 months, perhaps) and . . . I’m going to hate myself for exposing this . . . a flat screen television, well, how could I say no?

I’m writing this from a trailer park in Moab, Utah, where Mike and Ranger and I have set up for a week. It’s been unseasonably warm here, in the 90s this last week of September, but I’m savoring the sweat. It’s 30 degrees cooler in Leadville and new snow already frosts our mountaintops. I might be ready to return to our winter paradise by the end of the week, but each trip we’ve taken since upgrading our camping experience has left me less inclined to hurry home.

With no schedule, no meetings, no news (we only occasionally watch movies on our TV), no mail, no alarms, no saving lost tourists in the middle of the night, no lots of things, sleep approaches a magical quality. We wake from dreams we can recall with surprise at the hour of our waking. We sip our coffee leisurely while considering options for the day. Shall we hike? (not for me until I’m rid of these crutches, but Mike and Ranger can go for hours). Shall we kayak? I can do that. Shall we swim? That, too. How about a nap? Always. We’ve learned that from Ranger. Let’s read for a couple of hours. Yeah. And okay, Mike, I know you want to drive one of

Supermoon, Blood moon eclipse through my iPhone.

Supermoon, Blood moon eclipse through my iPhone.

those off-road big-wheels for big boys, so let’s rent one for a day while we’re here.

After dinner last night we loaded Ranger into the truck and drove out to Gold Bar Camp to watch the Supermoon-Blood moon eclipse for over an hour. Without a smidge of light pollution, the enormous sky—sparkled with stars and streaked with galaxies—struck us with awe. Well, Ranger was unimpressed, but we’re pretty sure he was happy to be with us. I captured a few fuzzy

John Stewart's Supermoon Blood moon eclipse photo from Leadville.

John Stewart’s Supermoon Blood moon eclipse photo from Leadville.

photos with my iPhone before receiving a message from a friend back in Leadville who should win a prize for the photo he sent to me. We eventually returned to our camp site to breathe in the balmy night air while watching the eclipse’s slow progress until we yawned ourselves to bed.

We’ll head home in five days and I’m sure I’ll be happy to be back in our beautiful old home again, but not the deliriously happy I used to be in days past. I’ve come to love the simplicity of life on the road, life without too much baggage, life with a little bit of unknown each day. I know I’ll want to give away more “stuff” when I return to our wheel-less home, and I’ll do it. I know I’ll return to a routine that’s pretty darned nice, and Mike will return to one far more burdensome. And we’ll start to plan our next great escape.

Call me a baby if you’d like, but camping with conveniences is the shit.

Ranger remained unimpressed by things in the sky.

Ranger remained unimpressed by things in the sky.


It was too late by the time I realized I hadn’t asked the most crucial question: “What do I do if I actually catch something?”

My husband and I had agreed to go camping and fishing with some friends, and I was really excited about finally learning how to catch and prepare my own meal. Having spent years in the army—during which time I had travelled the world, jumped out of airplanes, and fired many types of weapons—it was a source of embarrassment that by the age of 53 I had never actually gone fishing

So I posted a “Gone Fishing” status update on my Facebook page, packed up the camper for a two day adventure and headed south with my man and dreams of landing the big one. 

Day One was all about learning how to string the rod, place the bait and cast. After opening the bale without having my finger on the line a couple times, I was able to practice the art of patience required to untangle and re-reel the explosions of silky filament. Although I felt a surge of hopeful excitement while reeling in a small branch (it sure felt like something fighting at the end of my line!), none of us caught more than clumps of moss that day. 

Nevertheless, we basked in the sun and were happy to be away from the responsibilities of home, and I felt a Zen-like satisfaction in watching the line arch away from me before hearing the satisfying “plunk” of the lure as it disappeared in the river. 

I woke on Day Two, elated, from a dream of catching a huge fish. In my dream there were four enormous tunas, all different colors, lined up sardine-style in a swimming pool. I cast my line into the pool and instantly pulled dinner for fifty out of the water. It was simple! And what a way to start my second day of fishing—with a prophetic vision! 

The morning was considerably colder than the previous day and the clouds were ominous, but I knew what I had to do. Our new location looked much more promising; there were about seven others already downstream from the spot we selected and at least one line had action. I selected my spot to the far right of the group because with only one day of casting under my belt, I was not yet feeling like a pro. My location choice also had me standing on a steeply angled embankment, but it felt nice to dig my heels into the spongy sand. 

Within five minutes of launching my first fat worm into the river, I let out a loud “OOOOOH!”—much louder than I should have, because now I had the attention of every fisherperson down river from me. This was no branch. I started reeling in my catch with vociferous encouragement from hubby, who told me to reel it in faster. How I wish I had had the presence of mind to send him up the hill for a camera, because the sight which ensued could very well have launched my career as a comedic actor. 

I marveled at the beauty of my rainbow trout as it neared shore; it was the size of a

It was THIS big!

It was THIS big!

football, and my dream of feeding the masses was about to come true. “Hurry up! Get it out of the water!” my husband directed. He was as excited as I was about my first catch. In a scene that would have inspired Hemingway, I pulled my treasure from the river…and then wasn’t quite sure what to do next. 

All eyes on me now, I responded to shouts of “Bring it up here!” by swiveling to my left away from the water with my fish swinging like a tetherball at the end of the line, and then I promptly slipped on the sand in my attempt to run up the slope. My three pounds of prime fish-fry smacked into the sandy hill, the impact releasing it from the hook and freeing it to roll back down the hill and into the water to safety. 

But he wasn’t going to get away that easily. Dropping my rod, I dove on top of the flopping fish, determined to catch it and carry it up to my now anxious husband and friends. In my frenzy to win this battle (remember the slippery slope upon which I once stood?), I ended up rolling ass-over-teakettle into the cold river, all the while wrestling with my wily rival. Up to the armpits of my fleece jacket in the cold current, arms flailing wildly as my slippery supper sought his escape, I did everything I could to re-capture my catch…but to no avail; “Charlie” was in his element now, and his enthusiasm to live another day thwarted my best efforts to wrangle him back to shore. 

I crawled from the water, empty-handed and giddy with the exertion of my unconventional fishing technique, and was the first one to start laughing. Soon, all of the stunned spectators were giggling, and it took quite a while before they returned to their own pursuits. I insisted on staying and continuing to try my luck at another catch, shivering uncontrollably for about another hour before we all returned to our campground to fry up our friend’s smaller catch. 

Some of my friends squealed, “Oh! That poor fish!” when they heard my tale…but I know the truth. When my little Houdini got back to his school, his story of the 130-pound Great White that he had let escape that day made him King of the Sea, if only for a moment. Thanks, little guy, for the thrill, but watch your tail…I now know what to do should our paths cross again!

SuperMum: Part 2

“I’ve made the decision to move in with Carol and Michael.”

Mum’s words, measured and gently delivered, put a knot in my throat. Several moments passed before I was able to tell her why her decision on September 10th was making me cry.

“I’m not stupid, you know,” she continued, “but I am proud.” She confessed that her pride kept her living alone in the beautiful home she and Dad enjoyed for their last 15 years together. “And I miss the sound of other feet in the house.”

Mum reading my novel a few weeks ago.

Mum reading my novel a few weeks ago.

Despite her wonderful neighbors and friends who checked in on her and took her to lunch and expected to see her at McDonald’s for oatmeal on Saturday mornings, Mum was lonely.

“And I know you’re crying because you see this as my last transition.”

Mum has always joked that the two of us are twins separated by years, but I’ll be damned if she wasn’t reading my mind as I sniffled at my end of the phone.

“But this makes me really happy, too,” I told her.

I spent a couple of weeks with Mum after Dad’s death just shortly before their 65th wedding anniversary and was blown away by her strength. I’m not sure why I should have been surprised. She managed our estrogen-filled household like a CEO of a Fortune 500 Company until all five of us “little chickens” flew off to build our own nests, and was there to help ensure each new nest was decorated and arranged tastefully.

The Bernier family a few years ago.

The Bernier family a few years ago.

I’ll never forget my husband’s response while living in one of our houses when he learned of an upcoming visit from Mum and Dad. “Just keep her out of my underwear drawer, okay?” Mike tolerated her proclivity toward rearranging things when she visited, but he had to draw the line somewhere. In each of our houses over the years, Mum has derived great pleasure in rearranging things, always with an eye toward efficiency, and I have always appreciated her talent.

Dad used to joke about being afraid to get up to pee in the middle of the night because the bed might be in a different location when he returned. I miss Dad’s jokes, and Mum misses so much more.

Dad never put Mum on a pedestal. He didn’t need to. They were partners. Anyone spending any time with the two of them would walk away knowing how much he adored her. And she loved, respected and defended him unwaveringly. We five girls knew the futility of trying to play one off the other if we wanted something. They were a united front.

Mom and Dad were always a team.

Mom and Dad were always a team.

Sure, they had squabbles. Sure, he could be brusque and she could interrupt his stories. And I don’t know how many years Mum hid sweets in the house knowing he would find them when she went to the store.

“Just give me a nickel’s worth!” is still Mum’s response to any offer of dessert or treats, and it has me baffled to this day because I inherited Dad’s sweet tooth. To me, “a nickel’s worth” is just a tease, and certainly does nothing to satisfy a craving. But I think Dad understood Mum’s desire to keep her man healthy, he being genetically predisposed toward heaviness, and I’m pretty sure Mum “hid” things as a compromise. I guess I should ask her about that. It amuses me to think they both understood the game.

After 65 years together, I’m certain the games they played were plentiful, and I loved the way Dad’s joke—about why they had so many children—always made her laugh.

“It’s because your mother was hard of hearing,” he would say.

“What do you mean?” someone would ask.

“Well, if she was busy, I’d ask her if she wanted to watch TV or what, and she’d say, ‘What?’ ”

They joked together, teased one another, laughed with, kissed and held one another until

Hugging. Always hugging.

Hugging. Always hugging.

the very end, and Mum remained stoic at his funeral service because she knew he would have wanted her to be the pillar she had been for him his whole life. She was not about to fall apart in the presence of all who came to honor my Dad.

So her decision to accept my sister and brother-in-law’s request that she move in with them almost two years later startled me only because I had just visited her a few weeks ago at her home. We had the most relaxing, wonderful time together, though I did bring up a few concerns I had.

Mum always does something with my hair when we visit. I love it.

Mum always does something with my hair when we visit. I love it.

A tad taller than I am, she weighs a mere 101 pounds despite allowing herself to enjoy more than a nickel’s worth of dessert now and then. And her driving, which once could have rivalled Mario Andretti’s, has become overly cautious. I’ve been worried about her, as have my other sisters, so I finally choked back my tears to tell her we all believe she’s making the right decision.

And by the end of our conversation, I could finally take a deep breath knowing that this move does not mean the end for her, but rather a new beginning, one she will accept with the grace and dignity she has modelled for her ever-growing family for over half a century now.

I have ever-so-much more to say about Mum, and Mum and Dad, but for now I’ll leave you with thoughts of your own transitions. Will you share?

We're a family of huggers.

We’re a family of huggers.

Laurel McHargue / Laurel’s email / Leadville Laurel Facebook page / Laurel’s Twitter


I jotted notes about my Mum’s major life transition shortly after Dad died just two years ago, but never got around to finishing my story. After my phone call with her on September 10th, however, I knew it was time to brush off and finish what I started.

Patricia and Charles "Pat and Charlie" Bernier

Patricia and Charles–“Pat and Charlie” Bernier

I don’t believe Mum ever made the transition into retirement when Dad hit the magic number most men in his generation aimed for and stopped working. Theirs was a different generation, one in which women were transitioning into the workplace more frequently, though they were never treated as equals with their male peers. I don’t think it’s particularly funny that we’re still debating the merits of equal pay for equal work in 2015, but I’m certain it was never an issue Mum complained about.

She worked as a Main Office secretary at my high school, and from what I can gather, she was the best. She could type 120 accurate words per minute on a clickity-clackity typewriter and didn’t need to be told how to punctuate. She was home by 4 p.m. and never failed to put a scrumptious dinner on the table for her five daughters.

Susan, Laurel, Charlene, Carol, and Christine

Susan, Laurel, Charlene, Carol, and Christine, the Bernier 5! Too bad we didn’t sing…

Dad worked for AT&T and was home by 5:30 p.m., ready for his scotch and newspaper.

LTC Charles Bernier

LTC Charles Bernier

He and Mum would sit in the living room together, Mum with her glass of Sherry, Dad with his Dewars, and they would catch up, I suppose, on their day’s events. I say “I suppose” because we kids either knew enough to respect their time together, or we were likely more interested in ourselves. In any case, it was their routine.

After 40 years of working both in the corporate world and in the Army Reserves—retiring as a full Colonel—Dad officially retired, a word that doesn’t mean the same thing today as it did then. And Mum finally retired from her still-full bottle of Wite-Out. But while Dad transitioned into a life of leisure, spending more time watching news and completing crossword puzzles, Mum transitioned from taking care of the school’s principal to taking care of Dad.

Mum is a nurturer and thrives on being needed. Dad had no reason to complain about his status as numero uno in the household once they married off daughter #5, so a new routine was established quickly.

From my perspective, Dad got the better end of the deal, he being the one who would be cared for and pampered—willing and lovingly by Mum—until his last day, over 20 years after his retirement from the workplace. When Dad died, Mum was faced with reevaluating her decades-long routine.

Theirs was a love and devotion that spanned 65 years.

Theirs was a love and devotion that spanned 65 years.

Watching her as she has transitioned over the past two years as a widow has taught me much about this woman, 30 years my elder, who is as much a part of me as my own sagging skin.

I will share more observations, and the phone call, in my next post.

Laurel McHargue / Laurel’s email / Leadville Laurel Facebook page / Laurel’s Twitter

Showering with Laurel: A Tell-All

Although I could have had a friend sleep over for the two nights Mike was away for training, I was happy to discover I could do everything by myself. After having another dagnabbit moment when I figured out how to balance on one foot long enough to pick up Ranger’s poop out back, I knew anything was possible.

This injury has made me contemplate the Wounded Warriors who compete in ultra-races, a friend who’s lived with one leg and crutches for over 20 years, and another friend who bow hunts with his teeth because he had an arm amputated after a horrible ski accident. I am humbled by these amazing people and realize I cannot utter a single complaint about my silly little 6-week recovery.

I remember deciding the first marathon I’d run would be the Bataan Memorial Death March Marathon for the same reason (read about my experience here: Surviving the Death March). I would not be able to snivel around survivors of that brutal march in the Philippines in 1942 and the Wounded Warriors who participated in the race with me in 2011.

So today I took my first shower since surgery last week. Big effing deal, I know, but it felt like a huge step in reclaiming my mobility. And my social acceptability.

I’ve taken a “hummingbird flutter” each day of course (my Mum’s expression for a sink bath), but there’s nothing quite like the deluge of steamy, soaking water from a shower head. It was calling me from the sink.

Faux duct tape. Don't use it on anything you want to stay stuck.

Faux duct tape. Don’t use it on anything you want to stay stuck.

My sister Charlene shared her experience with cast wrapping and warned against using tape that would rip my skin off, so I tossed the lawn bag and a roll of faux duct tape into my backpack and performed my expert crabwalk backwards up the stairs. The deck steps out back and the ones at the front door are wide and I have no fear of crutching up and down them, but the ones that twist to the upstairs inside our 120-year-old Victorian are another story. No amount of confidence will get me to ascend/descend those any other way than crustacean-like.

I know I’d eventually gather the courage if this were a rest-of-my-life setback, but it’s not, so I’ve allowed my tip-over fear to dictate my actions.

Faux duct tape wrap

Faux duct tape wrap

Perched on the toilet (and yes, it’s a leopard print seat…to go with all the other animals in the bathroom), I wrapped my leg and secured it with the duct tape. I knew the faux product did not adhere like the legit kind, so I figured it would last at least long enough to keep out water for a quick shower and would not be like a wax treatment on my hairy knee when I removed it.

Fortunately, our shower has a shelf to hold onto and a hand-held shower nozzle attachment (need I explain why this little item is such a gem?), so with one crutch positioned outside the curtain, I was in and out in no time. I briefly considered shaving my left leg, but it was already tiring from my extra-vigilant soapy balancing act, and hey, we live in Leadville. Even I don’t see my legs 10 months out of the year, and snow is already falling in the mountains behind our house. I’ll soon be happy for the extra insulation.

A "new woman"!

A “new woman”!

I felt like a new woman—although I don’t really know what that means—when I finally hopped out, and was happy that my tape job neither ripped my skin off nor allowed water in. The little padded stool I’d positioned by the sink was a perfect place for post-shower activities like drying off and combing out and even washing my exposed toes. I’m glad to say my progress with exercises in the book

STRETCH for those toes. And think about where you leave your crutches because their goal is to fall to the floor.

STRETCH for those toes. And think about where you leave your crutches because their goal is to fall to the floor.

“Real Men Do Yoga” is paying off. Stay flexible, America!

And vain though it may sound, I even went so far as to apply a bit of face paint. Mum always says, “Don’t leave home without putting on

Putting on my "eyebrowns"

Putting on my “eyebrowns”

your eyebrowns (sic),” so my secret is out. L’Oréal or Feria or Clairol help me deceive the world about my true hair color, and a bit of brown eye shadow helps cover up the spikey-grey-Einsteinesque eyebrows that started sprouting several years ago. I swear, I can pluck at night and wake up with twirled, inch-long hairs sticking straight out from my eyebrows in the morning.

So there you have it, some real first-world struggles and small successes of a woman with one flat tire. I am reminded of how much I take for granted every day, and I know how insignificant this setback is.

Hope you enjoyed showering with me today. Maybe you’ll join me fishing this weekend. Look along the shoreline for a crazy lady talking to the face on her foot!

hat to cover toes sticking out of cast

Meet Hattie Le’Green!

Laurel McHargue / Laurel’s email / Leadville Laurel Facebook page / Laurel’s Twitter