Thursday, March 31, 2011


I've often contemplated the function of beauty.  In my past musings, I have dreamed beauty away as inconsequential, a passing fancy, a temporary state that exists simply as a basis of initial attraction. I didn't want to believe in the meaning of beauty, because to say that it has purpose, and then to admit that it has gone, is to say that the motivation fades as well.  I want my love to be like Shakespeare envisioned, one whose strength does not diminish, though "rosy lips and cheeks within [Time's] compass come".  If love, and our motivation to both give and receive it, is based mostly on aesthetics, then it can't stand the test of time.
I had this friend who was an artist to some degree.  He talked about the perfect girl as being someone who might not be exactly perfect, but who would be so beautiful that any of her imperfections could be forgiven.  I am not sure if that is too tall of an order to fill.  Our debate on this led to no agreed upon conclusions, and when our friendship took a walk, I wanted to continue to stand on my side of the fence about it.
That was some years ago, and I was still convinced of my stance, up until the other night.  I was running at night in my new neighborhood, something I have been doing regularly now, although not nearly enough to stop the midlife growth of girth.  I looked up from the sidewalk and a sight caught my breath in my throat, and caused a feeling inside me.  A want, a desire, an exultant joy, an imagined bliss.  It was no mere mortal that turned my eye, but the sight of the water falling across the water from the fountain in the middle of a lake across the street, the little bridge that crossed into a neighborhood with landscape lights shining on well designed front yard gardens and smartly painted front doors.
This bridge leads to a place I call "Seventh Heaven", a name based on one of the main streets there.  I have been getting to know that area in nighttime explorations, and I know that inside those streets, there is a little misty hill that has a strange path leading up to a sundial with uniquely carved stones in it; that halfway through, there is an ivory colored curvy line of a water structure in which glacier cold water flows in a tunnel parallel to the street.  That one of the walking paths leads into a wood in which a hand crafted cart bridge crosses a little creek before the path randomly ends in a field bordered with white fences.  I love to go to this place, but I only allow myself the pleasure as a reward for working really hard on my tedious little two mile route around the house.  Mostly because when I go out there, I lose track of time, and spend longer than I have on a weeknight wandering past the huge houses in the dark, houses with art delicately balanced on high vaulted walls that can be seen from tall windows from the street.
And I know now, I know when I see this view of the lake and the bridge from this vantage point on my weekday route, I know the true function of beauty.  And I see and hear examples to fit my new theory all over the place.
It is to inspire.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Come to the edge, he said. They said:
We are afraid. Come to the edge, he
said. They came. He pushed them,
And they flew..."
- Guillaume Apollinaire 


I've always been an adoring fan of the two principles of self preservation in relationships: independence and individualism.  In the past in this blog, I have talked about my struggle to preserve my Self, to be true to who I was.  I have talked about how I did not understand women who lost themselves to relationships with family and their spouse.  I've invested my emotional energy in developing a safety net of good girlfriends, because of perhaps some residual anger and mistrust of men from either my youth or my upbringing.
At the same time, over the past years, I've been developing a deeper understanding of God and what He wants from us. To that end, I found myself this past Sunday sitting in a pew of a church I have been regularly attending.  There was a different minister leading this week's sermon, and at first it was really hard to settle in.  I really enjoy Jim Leggett's preaching, and this new guy was a lot more high strung and animated.  I am not even sure I agree with all the things he said, but it has made me think a lot since then on the meaning of this week's message.
The basic point of the sermon was centered around Galatians 3, where Paul is arguing with the people of that area about some perceptions.  The essence of the scripture, and the sermon regarding it, is that salvation is available through grace alone, and not through good works.  Paul challenges the people to ask themselves if their righteousness originates from obedience to the Law, or to belief in the Spirit.  The concepts both Paul and this minister expanded upon are enough to chew on for a bit.  However, it was certain key phrases the minister used that caused my mind to compare what he was saying about our relationship with God to our relationships with other people.
Specifically, it was the mention of the fear of losing one's individuality as they enter deeper into a relationship with God, that this fear was a common human feeling, that crossed mental hairs with a similar thought I had been rolling around in my noggin.  This one has to do with my relationship with the one I love, and how it impacts my relationships with those fore-mentioned girlfriends that previously I depended on for my emotional security.
My friends and I talk a lot less than we used to.  Mostly this is because they are busy - they were always busy.  I was used to being the one doing most of the calling, but lately I haven't been calling as much.  I've come to depend on my man for being my best friend, the one I turn to with the daily ups and downs and examinations from every angle of each thought that comes to me.
A few weeks ago, I was having dinner with one of these girlfriends, catching up, and she, although supportive, questioned some aspects of my compatibility with my mate.  Mostly this was in regards to sort of a freedom from constraints kind of vein..  Basically, she questioned if my wild spirit could be satisfied with the subdued lifestyle of the morally upright.  I felt a bit like she was pointing out our differences as a reason it might not work, or also suggesting that in order for it to, I would have to give up some of my identity.
And yet, I see myself doing that very thing, or feel it, feel us moving from being two separate individuals into a unified One.  It is that feeling of a loss of distinction between bodies and souls, and the beginning of true intimacy, when the other starts to feel like an extension of one's physical self, and when words become less important because you already know what the other one is thinking.  It is the time in a relationship when you go from sharing in each other's individual pursuits to forming your own together.
Take, for instance, the birds.  I have always been scared of birds, particularly of being close to them, touching them, holding them.  Either they are small and fragile enough that I can hurt them, even by accident, or they are big and fierce enough to hurt me.  I had no use for birds.  This man, though, he spoke of the birds with awe, and points them out all the time, and because of him, I started to look for them.  I started to watch the sky.  And then over time, I got more curious, and more trusting, and more ambitious about it.  We got the binoculars, and the camera out, and we watch for them and try to identify them.  Then I started to find places we could go check them out at, and different ways we could interact with them, and it became like our thing that we do.  In the past month, I have held on my hand one of the heaviest birds, the Great Horned Owl, and one of the smallest, the hummingbird.  Because of his encouragement, I volunteered to hold the small birds in my hand after a bird banding, before they realized they were free and took off in flight.  This was an act of courage on my part, but I have faith that this man would not lead me into danger, and therefore when he says, go ahead, hold the bird, it will be okay, I was willing to trust that.  And I think about the vanilla sky, about jumping off the edge because I have that much trust that this love will hold me up.
And I see myself changing in this, developing, losing some of me to some of us and it's scary, so I relate to what the minister is saying about how it feels to give yourself completely to God.  He talks about how it is possible through faith to close our eyes to this fear and wholly succumb our talents to the glory of God in pursuit of this relationship, how faith the size of a mustard seed can bloom into this complete trust that God has got us covered.  It is having faith in the sanctification of sin through Christ's sacrifice and not trying to create our safety nets of good works that gets us the golden ticket in the end.  It's letting go of those wilder parts of ourselves, not because we have to be good and perfect to be with God, but because when we do, the better parts of ourselves have room to grow.
That morning on the way to church, this man of mine had dropped me and the children off at the youth building, then gone to park the car.  We agreed on our plan to meet up on our way into the church.  As I left the youth building, I was scouting around in the parking lot for him.  I did not see him, but I saw a bench in the shade under the tree in my path to the church that would be a perfect place to meet.  The only problem was, there was a man on it, a stranger.  I worried about texting my man and telling him to meet me there, I worried over sitting next to this strange man in the meanwhile, I worried that I had already passed him or that somehow we would be lost to each other.  As I neared the bench, though, I was startled and amused to realize that the man on the bench was no stranger, but this love of mine.  He was already there waiting.
And I think maybe this is what the minister was saying, what Paul was telling the Galatians.  We don't need to worry ourselves with the details on how to be exactly like God wants us, to follow the exact formula for how to be in His graces.  When we get closer, we will realize He is there already, just waiting for us to catch up.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

So, it's been awhile since I have written about geocaching.  Not that I haven't been doing it - in fact, I've found 641 caches since the last time I wrote an actual entry about geocaching.  Apparently I needed my outlet to explore my feelings about my failing marriage, subsequent divorce and beginning of a new relationship instead.  So...back to our regularly scheduled program....
We've been anticipating this year's Texas Challenge for a long time now.  Last year was my brother's first time to participate in this type of format for geocaching, and it fed right into his competitive nature.  His local region did not have a team of their own last year, so he played for our team, SouthEast Texas.  Since then, the cachers in the Corpus Christi area united under the banner of the South Texas team and made it their mission to come back this year and be a serious contendor in the field against North and Central Texas, as well as our team and possibly West Texas, if they decided to show up this year.
Our team was still wound up over our victory in San Angelo last year, and we also wanted to win, although we had sort of gotten used to losing.  Plus, we were the hosts this year, which meant a lot of planning from those who normally would be involved in the hunting process.  You can't do both.  This time, it was on our home turf so to speak, and hosted in the town of my brother's alma mater, so he was excited about the logistics.  Several text messages and emails were exchanged making plans, which curiously did no good because we weren't organized until up to the last month, even with a year to prepare.
During the midst of all this planning, my father's probably-terminal illness had been getting progressively worse.  The medication does not have the same effects that it used to. With my mother's prodding I am sure, he had begun to take the steps to having an operation on his brain that has a good chance of slowing down the progression of symptoms.  Somewhere along the way in discussions, he was invited to camp with us for the evening, and attend the Challenge with us.  The original plan was for him to join my brother in the competition on their bikes.  In the last minute strategy meetings before the event, though, on both the South and SE region sides, the terrain was discussed, and how it would play out in biking.  My brother and I both thought at this point the biking portion sounded too tough for my father, whose primary symptom is a loss of muscle coordination, so in a series of texts to follow, it was determined that my dad would hike with me, and this would free my brother up to bike more rugged terrain.
So it was that Friday night, the company around our campsite included my brother, my dad, my children, my handsome darling boyfriend, another couple we have been spending some time geocaching with lately (Chris and Shelley), their teenage daughter, and this friend of my brother's that helped us last year and then helped him form their own team, David.  We brought some wood - the origin of the firewood is a story for another day, really- and made a fire this evening, and we all roasted some marshmellows, made smores, and stayed up too late talking, some with beers to keep them company as well.
My brother and J had actually gotten up here the night before, as well as David.  We had made the camping reservation, and yet when J left to go pick up the kids and I from another fellow geocacher's house who  graciously allowed us to park our extra car at her house close to the park, my brother and David had hung up their South Texas banner across our picnic shelter, claiming our camp as belonging to their team.  Things got a little more interesting when our hunt team leader asked if we could use our camping shelter as home base to prepare our team and act as headquarters during the competition.  Turns out South Texas had the same idea.  So, we decided to share.  And that is how in the morning of the competition, we had about one hundred and fifty cachers, give or take, wandering in, most wearing pink bandanas to signify they were with the SouthEast team, and a smaller number wearing yellow banners advertising their allegiance to the South region.
If the Texas Challenge is foreign to you, this is how it works.  Numerous temporary geocaches have been hidden all over the designated park, and the different teams have four hours to find as many as they can.  Each one holds a certain point value, based on the difficulty of the find and the terrain it is located in.  Each cache has a corresponding number on a paper scorecard which is punched with a hole punch that you find in the cache itself, each one bearing a different design for verification purposes.  The cards HAVE to be turned in before the event officially ends, at which point the scores are tallied, and then averaged among the number of cachers competing to determine the winning region.  There are three ammo boxes given to the top three teams, each being painted either gold, silver, or bronze.  The team that wins the coveted golden ammo can gets bragging rights for the next year.  This contest is in its ninth year of existence, and this is my fourth time to attend.
Because my dad was potentially going to slow down the hiking, and because J wanted to get out there and try to score as much as possible, we had decided to split up and for him to go by bike.  Also, we had my dad's canoe with us, which was a competitive advantage, but only two adults could ride in the canoe at once.
When the contest begins, the team leader is given the thumb drive with the file on it that has the locations of the caches and the first aid stations.  Then there is the tedious process of loading those waypoints on to everyone's GPS units.  J always gets roped into being actively involved in this process, being that he is like the technology expert.  This day, my dad and I left on our canoe when the contest started, right after getting our waypoints, but J was held up for almost the whole first hour of the competition dealing with a particularly tricky GPS unit that no one had software for.
Close the 4/5 cache hide site
My dad and I's strategy of taking the canoe originally panned out for us very well, because we were able to get a cache find on the water, which was a high terrain and therefore high scored cache.  However, once we beached the canoe and got out on land, my plans for us to excel this day began to unravel.  We wasted about 45 minutes of the first hour looking for three caches we could not find (granted one of them is what they call an "evil hide" and the other was a 4/5 on Difficulty/Terrain, which may as well be called an evil hide).  We also had to cross the spillway that I show in this first picture.  After that, we began hiking down the Chinquapin trail, we started actually making some finds, getting about a dozen in about two hours or so of hiking around.  The last hour, regettably, we wasted a lot of time just trying to get back to the lodge from where we were, and walking along the road, find just a couple of caches in that time.  I think we could have gotten more if I had thought to call home base and have someone come get us and take us to another trailhead to get to another cluster, but I was not thinking too well at this point about where we could go next to maximize our finds.  We were really tired and wore out by that point.
After the scorecards are turned in, there is typically a bbq lunch and then later on a casual party.  We had decided to skip the bbq and bring our own lunch, and our afternoon was spent kind of traipsing back and forth from our campsite to the lodge to make appearances at the events, let the kids play on the playground, and visit with our friends. We were there at the lodge for the official announcement of the winners.  South Tx claimed the golden ammo can in a triumph of victory, having a small but dedicated team desirous of winning this year.  North got the silver, Cen-Tex the bronze, and our team got nothing this year but pats on the back for hosting.  Next year we'll have to make a comeback.
The highlights of my weekend were some of the casual moments spent in this day, before and after the competition:  laughing over breakfast with J over some conversation we have been having since the origin of our relationship over a year ago, some musings I had while the kids were playing on the playground as I looked out over Lake Raven and watched the wind make the tops of the trees dance, and of course the revealing of Texas DreamWeaver's ingenious stunt during the evening event, which involved a Bingo game where everyone was a winner.  Later there was another campfire, more smores and marshmellows, roasting weenies, and then snuggling into our double sleeping bag that I got J for Christmas (so we could sleep together in the same bag when we go camping, something we have done four times already this year and hopefully many more to come).
The morning after the Challenge typically begins with a pancake breakfast and ends with a CITO event.  If you aren't familiar, a CITO event is where we gather to pick up trash and make sure we leave a place better than how we found it.  I had decided to do our CITO much like we did the Challenge, but substitute the company of my boys for that of my dad.  This idea was born from K's requests for a canoe ride, and because I highly suspected my father had chunked a plastic bottle into the woods during the Challenge the day before.  So we rowed the canoe across the water, beached it, hiked the Chinquapin trail, then rowed back.  We could not find the bottle of my dad's that had mysteriously disappeared from his hands, but we did find several other plastic bottles and about half a bag of trash or less by the time we were done, including the stuff we found along the way in the parking lot.
Now, we made it all the way across the water and back,  a one mile round trip, without capsizing the canoe, so I was pretty happy about that.  However, as we pulled up to the boat launch, I realized my camera was missing.  It was a cheap disposable camera that I had, but I wanted the pictures I had been taking off of it all weekend.  I had just had it in my hands before we prepared to beach the canoe, and so it had fallen out of my pocket not too far out.  I looked around, and then saw it not six feet out in the water, resting on some swampy lilypad area.  I gave my cellphone to my son and took off my shoes, preparing to wade to it, but the water was too deep for wading.  So I took the canoe out by myself, and as soon as I reached for the camera, I realized it was off balance and, poof!, I was in the water.
So, I got my camera back, but I was soaking wet now. The boys were on the shore laughing hysterically as I swam back, pulling the canoe with me.  This explains why my pictures look psychedelic - they did turn out, luckily, but the film had gotten wet and warped.
Then I had to change clothes.  I had one clean shirt but I had to wear two day old dirty jeans, and no underwear, for the rest of our journey.  We cached our way out of the park, then did a little bit of caching around the Sam Houston statue, running into fellow geocachers at every stop.  After a misguided lunch in Huntsville, we set out for home, with stops for dogs along the way back.  We were pretty tired and it took us a while to get back in gear after this, but luckily I had taken the next day off work to help with that.
Next year my oldest boy says he wants to do the Challenge with us, and not stay back at the Camp Lil Cacher program they put on every year to watch the children while their parents participate in the event.   Last year was J and I's first challenge together, but we were just starting out together and were somewhat distracted by infatuation.  I am hoping next year the two of us will get a chance to work together and score up some high points, so AJ might be in for a tougher ride than he thinks, but we will just have to see!