Reflections on Time Well Spent
“You should go.”
Mike had been preparing for this year’s elk hunt, and I had naturally assumed I’d be tagging along behind him, whispering haiku poems into my voice memo app and praying he wouldn’t bag a big one miles from civilization. A bull elk weighs in anywhere from 700-1,100 pounds. We may be strong for our age, and I’m about to turn pro on the speed bag Mike bought for me (there will be videos), but that’s just too much weight to haul from the wilderness.
“But . . . hunting,” I said. I didn’t want to appear too enthusiastic about his suggestion that I attend a gathering of West Point women on the Outer Banks of North Carolina that happened to coincide with his hunting week.
And now I offer great praise and thanks to my husband’s friend since childhood, Gene Dixon-Anderson, who, after reading my book “Hunt for Red Meat (love stories),” flew in from the East Coast to experience a Colorado elk hunt.
So off I went on an adventure I’d never intended, pandemic be damned, and the night before my flight out, knew the trip would offer plenty to ponder.
To say I have generous and merciful friends would be an understatement. It was Mimi Finch who told me about the OBX event at our classmate Bonnie Schweppe’s beach house, and I spent the night before our early morning flight with Mimi’s family in Denver. They were still moving into a new home, and the guest bathroom had what I recognized as a bidet arrangement on the toilet.
Well . . . I may be on the downslope of the proverbial hill, but I’ve never “experienced” the workings of a bidet. Curious about how it might work—I wasn’t about to use it without knowing what to expect—I stood in front of it, reached down, and pushed what appeared to be a typical flush handle.
The powerful jet of water nearly knocked me over, and in a state of startled confusion—why wouldn’t it stop? I only pushed it down once!—I stepped from the torrent and watched in horror as it splashed against the opposite wall.
“Help! Helllllllp!” I shouted, closing the seat cover—that would surely shut if off!—and watching as water cascaded over the edges and onto the floor. “HELLLLP!”
Mimi and her sister finally came to my rescue—I wonder what they were thinking when they heard my call—and I learned a bidet lever is not like a flush handle. I’m telling myself I merely christened their new home, and I’m not sure I’ll ever personally experience this contraption as it’s intended to be experienced, but the incident certainly set the tone for the rest of my trip.
When Mimi and I landed, our “hostess with the mostess” met us at the airport and chauffeured us to a great outdoor restaurant where we met several other weekend adventurers, and by the time we all got to the beach house, despite the late hour, we established the unspoken rules—there would be late nights with enough M&Ms and music to keep us awake, and early mornings with sunrises no one would want to miss. Bonnie ordered ideal weather for us, and the gods complied.
Now I’ll share the memories that will stick with me until those particular brain cells hibernate.
- Champagne breakfast at sunrise on the beach. One of the youngsters, my king-bedmate, brought the champagne and crystal flutes, and Bonnie arranged the picnic basket. Soft sand, candles, and curious crabs greeted us, and we oooed and ahhhed as the blood-orange sky announced the rising sun, which soon silhouetted sleepy-eyed dancers and yoga posers in the ebbing surf.
- Strolling on the beach after sunset, and range-walking (that’s speed walking, for you non-Army folks) back to the house when the sky turned black and rain pelted our backs.
- Diving through and being lifted by ocean waves, and the mandatory peeing in the sea. Absolutely glorious, all of it.
- Ten women belting out Helen Reddy’s iconic song and being startled when I tear-choked over the words “Oh yes I am wise, But it’s wisdom born of pain.” I still choke up thinking about it. Ten entirely different women bonding over experiences shared decades ago, and each with distinctive memories of those events.
- Along those lines, getting to know women from Proud to Be ’83, Best of the Corps ‘84, and For Excellence We Strive ’85, and being saddened by stories of rape and assault, discrimination and abuse, gross injustices that still somehow prevail in our society.
- Writing my 250-word nycmidnight challenge story with a glass of bourbon while others shopped—being dubbed Laurel Hemmingway McHargue, if only!—and then sharing the story with the group over dinner. No one wanted to sleep with me that night—but several of them chipped in with ideas for a fairy tale that had to include drinking milk and the word heart. “Magical unicorn milk” . . . “the people who drink it get the power to eat the hearts of others” . . . and several other suggestions that would have required far more than 250 words to complete. I’ll read it to you after my reflections.
- Winning a game of Scrabble because I got to put my “Z” for “zapped” on a triple letter score.
- Three former “Rabble Rousers” going through their routine as we all sang “On, Brave Old Army Team,” the USMA fight song. Sadly, it didn’t help our Black Knights win that night.
- So much dancing with wild abandon late into every night, fueled by M&Ms, wine, and joy.
- The long walk over the boardwalk and through the woods—another mandatory peeing in the trees—and back along the beach.
- And who will ever forget the discussion of glass dildos and butt plugs? It had to happen in a group lucky enough to include a sex therapist.
It dawned on me as I traveled back to my Colorado mountain home that although each of us in that magical gathering has overcome hardships many cannot imagine, age-old insecurities still linger. Words like “not enough” or “if only” or “I’m too (fill in the blank)” or “I should” or worse—“I should have” . . . still plague us. And we have far fewer years remaining than those we’ve already lived. Will we ever believe that we are enough?
Mike always starts his morning with quiet reading time and hot coffee, and although I was slow to adopt this habit, I now relish this gentle way of reengaging with the new day. We read a passage from The Daily Stoic and then as many pages as seems right in whichever book we’ve chosen. Mike sets a timer, but that’s because he still works to keep me in the manner to which I’ve grown accustomed. I’ll never be that disciplined, but that’s a topic for another day.
Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations is always nearby too, and I’m drawn to his idea that “The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.” I often struggle with rumination over past and future events, neither of which I can control, but I also often prompt myself to remember how I felt when I first read Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now.
And I remembered it throughout my time in the beach house and on the beach this past weekend. I remembered to be present for every moment, for every dance, for every sip of bourbon, for every confession, for every song, every tear, every hug, every wave, every crab, every M&M.
In addition to my short story, I left a haiku in Bonnie’s guest book:
Tribulations all endured
Mimi’s husband, Ed, picked us up at the airport and her sister, Betsy, had late-night quiches waiting for us upon our return. I smiled the entire drive home the next morning after spending another night there, no more bidet incidents, and I felt—as I have been feeling lately—like the luckiest gal on the planet. With a husband who supports and encourages me to dance on the peak of Maslow’s hierarchy and friends whose generosity knows no bounds, how could I feel any other way?
“I am so, so happy I went,” I told Mike when I returned.
There was no fresh elk meat to process, but Mike and Gene made their own man memories over miles and miles of mountainous terrain . . . while I danced in the sand and embraced a sisterhood of extraordinary women.
And now, my story. The title (offered by another contributor to my creation): Sour Milk. The challenge required a story of no more than 250 words in the fairy tale or fantasy genre, with an action of drinking milk and use of the word ‘heart.’
I’ll tell you a story that’ll have you think twice before smiling when someone says unicorns are sweet and magical. I know the real deal about those one-horned freaks. Seen ’em in action, and it ain’t pretty. It all started, once upon a time, with the first “blessing”—hahaha!—of those pompous beasts.* Don’t get me wrong—we hyenas might’ve done the same had two-leggers tried to capture us—but misunderstood is our middle name. We’re born with enough of a bum rap.
I watched in horror, tried not to laugh—really, I did—when they lured that first dude into their midst. Mesmerized by their seductive scent, he dropped his weapon, nestled down among them, and proceeded to drink the milk from one who’d just birthed another foul foal. Disgusting, but that wasn’t the worst of it.
Full-bellied and drowsy, he was, when they crept around him in an ever-smaller circle. I appreciated their tactics. Must’ve learned that maneuver from us, and I suppressed another chuckle. Dude never saw it coming, though, probably thinking about his forthcoming good luck, but as soon as he lay back against the momma’s milk-soaked belly, her stud sprang forward, spearing him through the heart with his horn.
His blood made me giggle and drool, but they made quick work of the cleanup. Not a chunk of him left for me. Explains why no two-leggers ever report seeing a unicorn. Magical creatures, my ass. Selfish charlatans, more like it. Milk ain’t always heart-healthy. Hahahahaha!
* A group of unicorns is called a “blessing”!
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