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Archive for September, 2008

simple solo meals

This photo, to me, is the picture of bliss: a yummy, simple meal, a good book, and the solitude of my garden patio. My favorite part of eating alone is how simple the meals can be. When I’m cooking for someone else I always feel this obligation to do more, make multiple dishes, do something “nice.” When I’m eating alone, I can and will still make good, gourmet food – when I’m not exercising my right to eat cereal or popcorn for dinner which is truly one of the greatest joys of living and eating alone – but I’m free to just whip up something quick and simple if that’s all I feel like doing — something like a simple salad with some bread, and nothing more. And I can eat ice cream for dessert straight out of the container and no one will complain about it. In QuirkyAlone, Sasha Cagen cites eating peas out of the can as one of the great, secret joys of living and eating alone.

I love making beautiful food. I love eating beautiful food. I love photographing beautiful food. It doesn’t have to be fancy to be beautiful.

  an apricot tart

 

bean & avocado tostadas with cherry tomatoes from the garden

 

  chocolate souffles

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For the seven years that I stayed in a shitty relationship with Jon, every time I considered breaking up with him, which was, oh, once a week, I stopped myself with the question,  “But who will take me adventuring in the wilds?” The underlying belief, of course, was that I couldn’t do it alone. There was some truth in that, given that I was less than fabulous at map reading and navigation, hadn’t taken any wilderness survival courses, didn’t have the right vehicle to get to the kind of remote places I seek, or all the necessary gear….all of which is easily fixable, but these were the things that, at the time, led me to feel that if I wanted to go camping or backpacking in the backcountry, I needed to do so with a man who had the skills, knowledge or gear that I lacked. Frankly, it had been so easy to do it that way all my life, to rely on my man for those things, that I could get away with being tragically female in that area. I justified it with the fact that there were many areas in my relationships, especially with Jon, where he depended on me, where he was tragically male.

 

I’ve now sold my little Honda and bought a 4wd truck so that I can get into the backcountry sans Man-With-Truck, and I’ve finally started camping alone. As with most things, it isn’t nearly as scary as I imagined it would be. My anxieties were much worse than the reality. And as it turns out, when I have only myself on which to rely, I can read a map just fine thank you. If and when I get lost, I can get unlost, all by my little self. I’m not as clueless as I thought; I’ve learned a thing or two in all the years of backcountry adventuring with Jon or whoever else. I would still benefit from a wilderness survival course and maybe a First Responder course, but in the meantime I’m learning the joy, peacefulness and freedom of camping with just my dogs.

 

 

My first time was about a month after Jon and I had finally broken up. I found an amazing spot outside of Moab, the dead end of a dirt road on BLM land where if you kept driving you’d go off a 1500 foot cliff. With the incredible views and isolation, it made for a perfect spot for what I wanted to do: just sit and write and meditate for a few days. My dogs were accustomed to all day hikes and I knew they’d be expecting that, wanting that, and antsy and annoying when they didn’t get it. So to distract and occupy them, I took along some beef bones. They forget all about going somewhere when there’s a beef bone put before them. As I was pulling the plastic wrapper off the bones I realized: the smell of dead, raw meat is going to draw in any predator that is out here, most likely during the night, most likely coyotes, but perhaps mountain lions, oh and bears and wolves and tigers and black rhinos too. Dumb girl mistake. Just putting the bones “away” would do no good. Away meant in the truck somewhere, and it would still be detectable to a predator with a predator’s sense of smell. So I went ahead and gave the dogs the bones and prepared for the herds and hordes of wild woman-eating beasts to start showing up at dusk. My solution, at bedtime, was to put the dogs in the bed of the truck (to keep them from chasing things in the night and possibly fighting with whatever they were chasing and getting injured or running off too far to find their way back to camp) and I put my sleeping pad and bag on the roof of the camper shell – because everyone knows black rhinos and bears can’t reach that high. (It’s too cramped and the dogs are too smelly for me to sleep with them in the bed of the truck and I don’t want them laying their dirty, stinky bodies on my schmancy, expensive down sleeping bag which is what they’d be trying to do all night. They also fart and snort and snarf and generally make it impossible to sleep.) To sleep on the roof of the camper shell, I programmed my brain, the way you can program yourself to wake up from a nap in 15 minutes without an alarm, to be aware of the width, or lack thereof, of the area on which I was laying so that I wouldn’t roll off in my sleep.

 

The second time ever that I camped alone was on a road trip out to Yosemite to stay with my friend Molly in her cabin for a week. One of the downsides to believing that I had to travel with a man in order to travel was that I never did any vacations/adventures with girlfriends. Now that I don’t have a boyfriend I am free to plan trips with, for example, Molly. On the drive out, I camped alone out in the dry, grey Nevada desert on BLM land outside of some little run-down trailer-park town. I chose a spot that couldn’t be seen from the paved road; I parked my truck facing toward the dirt road I drove in on so that if some truck full of yahoo rednecks managed to stumble upon me and wanted to harass me, I could just climb from the truck bed where I was sleeping through the sliding windows into the cab, and drive away. This wasn’t done in a state of great fear; I was simply being cautious and mindful. While bears or mountain lions are the things we picture in the night every time we hear a twig snap, it’s really truckfuls of drunken shit kickers that we need to be wary of.

 

 

My third solo camping trip was, once again, just an overnight on a drive to meet my friend Molly for a week together in Santa Fe. I drove up a 4wd road bordering the Great Sand Dunes national park and camped next to Medano Creek. I got stuck three times in deep sand, despite being in 4wd, but I got out each time on my own, without the help of a man, without needing to be rescued. This was also my first time of camping without my dogs. There is a difference, to be sure, between camping alone as a woman with two or three dogs in your company, and camping truly solo, with no dogs. Even if they wouldn’t actually fend off some sort of attacker, they do deter many people from even approaching you, especially if you let them growl or bark and act like you don’t have the ability to control them – easy to do with my big, 90-pound, block-headed boy who does believe he needs to protect me. I can walk him at night and groups of men will cross the street to avoid us.

 

 

I’ve just now returned from my fourth solo camping adventure, a weekend of camping combined with culture, where I camped up in the mountains and drove down into a nearby town to go to a couple of plays at the town’s repertory theater – one of the best in the country, it is said. I spent the first afternoon bumping up and down dirt roads looking for a camp spot – a specific meadow I vaguely remembered from a camping trip with Jon many years before. Not able to find that, I settled for another great little spot at the end of a dirt road next to a creek so that I could hear the rushing of the water as I went to sleep, and my dogs could entertain themselves endlessly in the water. The next day, after a peaceful camp breakfast, I cleaned up in the creek, drove down into town, was able to see a matinee at 2pm, grab some to-go dinner around 5pm and eat it creek-side while my dogs frolicked and splashed about in the creek just outside of town, catch another play that night at 7pm, drive back up to my camp spot for the night, and drive home the next day. The first time I did this it was more about going to a play alone than camping alone. That was another one of my “single girl fears:” going to a play or movie alone. I know many people do it all the time and will scoff at my fear of it, but having never done it before, it was a hurdle for me. I felt more comfortable jumping that hurdle out of town where I wasn’t likely to see anyone I knew in the audience who I just knew would be whispering to each other, “Oh look, there’s [me] and she can’t get a date.” I had such a nice time the first year I did it that I’ve decided to make it an annual cultural mecca. Next year I’m going for three days and three plays, solo of course.

 

 

 

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I don’t know how many hours I have left. Dave called from Reno at 8:00 last night, left a message that he’s coming home. How many hours is Reno from here? I knew he would do this. I freaking knew it. He went to Burning Man, was originally planning on coming back Tuesday, but before he left he cried and told me he had been thinking of canceling his trip, this trip that he has made every year for the last five years, because he didn’t want to be away from me for that long. I knew he would come home early, somehow find a way – drive through the night, sleep in the car for only short stints during the drive, risk everything, falling asleep at the wheel, a car crash, death, all to get back to me, making a heroic, caffeine-charged marathon quest to return as quickly as humanly possible to my side, whatever it took, with the utter desperation with which he has, from the beginning, approached me, his time with me, my attention, and whatever you’d call this relationship we’ve started up. When I saw in the paper that someone had lit the man on fire ahead of schedule, on Thursday or Wednesday, when it normally isn’t burned until Sunday night, I knew instantly that he’d use that as his excuse to come home four or five days early. As it is, he is cutting my reprieve short by a day, only one day, but each hour of peace and solitude lost makes me feel all the more smothered and irritated and disgusted with his puppy-dog-ness, his watching me like a dog watches you when you have food, waiting for handouts of approval and affection, and oh, the coveted golden bone: love.

 

In The Female Brain it is explained that men have 10 times the brain space devoted to sex, sexual thoughts, and arousal that women have. When a group of men and a group of women were shown a picture of two people, a man and a woman, talking, it triggered activity in the brain’s sexual center for the men in the study; they saw it as an opportunity for sex. The women in the study were stimulated in the communication center of the brain; they saw it as two people talking. I guess this explains why, when I am stretching at the beach, him sitting beside me – I told him in advance to bring a book or something to entertain himself because I’d need half an hour to stretch while we were there – he can’t or doesn’t keep his hands off me. He strokes my arms, strokes my legs, has to readjust how he strokes me because I keep moving, changing positions. I am stretching, after all. and when I do the stretch where I am laying on my back and I pull one knee up to my chest and then across my body, he uses this opportunity to lean over and kiss me right on the twot. Me stretching isn’t about sex; it’s about me stretching, I don’t say. And when we’re mushroom hunting and we run into two of his friends who have beaten us to the stash, and we’re standing in the meadow talking to them, and I bend down to tie my shoe, he later says, “It’s a good thing they’re gay because when you bend down like that, people can look down your shirt.” Me bending down to tie my shoe isn’t about showing you a little glimpse of my little cleavage; it’s about me tying my shoe, I don’t say. And when I’m gardening, dressed in an appropriately ratty, stained and full-of-holes t-shirt, baggy and loose, mind you, and with a tank top under it so that no naughty, tempting bits are visible through the holes, he interprets the shirt as an invitation because the holes make him all the more aware of what is underneath. Me wearing a ratty, holey t-shirt isn’t about sex; it’s about wearing clothing appropriate to the task at hand, I don’t say.

 

This is uncomfortably close to him, as a man, believing that I, as a woman, based on what I wear, how I look, how desirable or tempting he thinks I am, am responsible for his desires, impulses and behavior. Or maybe it is much more than just close; maybe it simply is that, completely and totally; he thinks that I, being female, am directing, controlling and eliciting his sexual impulses as a male. I suppose he can’t help it.

 

In my early 20s when my parents were having a really bad time in their marriage, they were both confiding in me, quite inappropriately, about their relationship. This was shortly after my mom’s boob job and she was complaining to me that suddenly the only use my dad had for her was sex and my dad was complaining to me that he couldn’t help it; that when he touched her or hugged her he got an erection, that he just couldn’t help it.

 

Now, if I don’t want this, my last day of solitude and peace, to be invaded by Dave’s early return, I have to find somewhere to go, somewhere where he won’t find me, because he will be at my front gate the second he gets home, wanting to be together, fused, enmeshed, entangled, inseparable for all the remaining hours of the day and evening, until I forcibly send him home. I was stupid enough to start dating a man who lives two houses down from me, so he can see when I’m home — except that, because I often ride my bike or walk places, the fact that my truck is here doesn’t necessarily mean I am here. So I can hide out, be very quiet, not answer the door, pretend I’m not here, not play any music, not shush dogs’ barking when he knocks. Leaving would be simpler. I can go to Barnes & Noble, sit in the café and read; I can go do errands. I don’t know really when he will be arriving so I don’t know when and for how long I need to stay gone. I could go to my island, my secret special place where I never ever see any other humans, but he knows where it is because I was stupid enough to take him there with me one afternoon, to share my secret special place with him. He did say that day that he recognized the fact that it is a special get-away place for me and that he would never come seek me out there. But I bet that under special circumstances, such as these, having been deprived of my company, attention and affections for a whole week, he would make an exception.

 

Did I mention that Dave is my neighbor? His living two houses away, across the back alley from me, means that he can, and does, listen for my garage door to open, which signals a coming or going via bike on my part, on which cue he can coincidentally pop out into the alley to put something in his garbage can and OH! look! here you are, coming or going from your garage right when I had something to throw away! How amazing, running into you like this in the alley! His living across the back alley means that he can, and does, listen for my courtyard/alley gate to open and/or close which signals that I’m taking something out to the garbage can or compost bin, on which cue he can, again coincidentally, pop out into the alley and  wander down, just to see what I’m up to, just to say hi, just to see me, oh so casually, because he heard, was listening for, watching for, signs of movement upon which he could pounce. His living across the back alley means that he can, and does, see the skylight in my bedroom from his back yard and comment the next day on what time it was when I finally turned out the lights and went to bed last night.

 

My alley gate opens into my courtyard, walled by 6 feet of stucco, nice and private, private enough to have an outdoor clawfoot tub and not need to worry about peeping toms. Contrary to Dave’s assumptions, my outdoor tub is not about sex; it’s about the luxury, the solitary, peaceful luxury, of bathing in the open air.

 

One Sunday morning he came knocking on the courtyard door, bright and early enough that I was still wandering around in my pajamas, still only partway into my second cup of coffee. I had (very briefly) stood on the edge of the bathtub to tie a straggling vine to its trellis, making my arm (very briefly) visible above the courtyard wall. Seconds later he was at my gate: “I saw your red sleeve stick up so I thought I’d come say hi.”

 

Okay. okay, okay, okay, okay. (Read that a la Danny DeVito. Or is it Martin Short?) I just looked it up on Mapquest. Reno to here is just over 11 hours. If he left at, say, 4am, since he is an insomniac and would most likely decide to make use of those early morning hours when he isn’t able to sleep anyway, he could be here as early as 4:00 this afternoon. Earlier if he decided to drive through the night. Shit, if he slept for only a few hours and started driving at midnight he could be here as early as noon.

 

Obviously I need to deal with this situation. I need to stop seeing him. I realized this during this week that he’s been gone, when, instead of missing him, I was struck by the sense of relief that I felt in not having him coming at me every day with his neediness, with what Byron Katie calls the “I want you to like me” stamp, trying so hard that I feel exhausted in his company, trying to say and do all the things he thinks I would want him to say and do, trying, essentially, to extort  love from me. I’m sure to many people I sound like an unappreciative, cold hearted bitch. Here I have this sweet, attentive, affectionate man who adores (needs) me (someone, anyone) and wants to be with me (someone, anyone) and who, knowingly, proudly,  wears his heart on his sleeve and I am not happy with it. The problem, you see, is that I don’t want to be with a man who relies on me wholly and solely to supply him with his sense of self worth, to stroke his ego, tell him he’s wonderful, tell him he’s my hero, lift him up and buoy him because he is entirely dependent on another person to do so, because he doesn’t know how to stand on his own two feet, because he doesn’t feel he’s ok unless I’m telling him I think he is so. And I want a man who can handle leaving me alone for two, three days at a time to do my own thing, to read, putter in my garden, sit and watch my vegetables grow, eat popcorn for dinner if I want to, be alone, peacefully, with my dogs, or do whatever else I feel like doing, and not watch me the entire time from two houses away and call that giving me space.

 

You don’t have to ask it; I already have, a hundred thousand times: What the hell was I thinking dating my flippin’ neighbor?!

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For this gregarious introvert (increasing emphasis on introvert, less so on gregarious as I age) the search for solitude, for unpopulated places, quiet, remote places, unknown-to-others places where I can play with my dogs or sit on my arse and read while my dogs entertain themselves, is never-ending. I have a handful of local spots to choose from depending on the season – some places we only go in winter, some are only accessible in summer, some are no good on weekends because all the drunk yahoos in town are there with their various kinds of motorized (loud, smelly) vehicles, be it JetSkis, motorboats, ATVs or dirt bikes and boom boxes blasting classic rock – where I take my pack after work every day. Far and away the best spot, the most remote while still being really close to town, is my secret island.

It’s a wonderful, secret spot that I stumbled upon a few summers ago. I was checking out a stretch of riverbank where I had seen, from my kayak as I floated downriver, some guys fishing. “Where are you guys? What road do you take to get there?” I had asked as I floated by. I waved my thanks when they told me; they raised their beer cans in farewell as I disappeared around a bend.

Fishing spots and boat launches are some of the only places where the riverbank is actually accessible, most of it being either private or choked by impenetrable stands of tamarisk. This particular fishing spot is not really the kind of place a solo, small-in-stature woman wants to be hanging out for any length of time, especially on a weekend evening. A popular park-and-drink, or park-and-smoke-pot, or park-and-sleep-in-the-car-for-the-night spot, it’s down a little-traveled dead-end road and is littered with beer cans and liquor bottles, old fishing line and hooks tangled in the tamarisk and what little bit of willow remains, empty bait containers, cigarette butts, and wadded up pieces of clothing. It always makes you curious when you see someone’s underwear lying on the ground.

… even more so when also nearby is this combination of artifacts (below). Apparently someone was lucid enough to get his underwear off but too drunk to operate a condom.

Taking all of this in the first time I investigated this location, I was quickly, incrementally scratching the location off of my mental list of potential dogs-playing-in-the-river spots. Then I noticed the island, or what looked to be an island – I couldn’t see the entire thing from where I stood — in the middle of the river a little bit downstream. My Chessie apparently noticed it too as he plunged into the river and started swimming out to it. Naturally, I stepped in to follow him, felt around for footing and discovered that the water was only crotch-deep at river’s edge, then a mere thigh-deep for the rest of the way across. What I found when we got to the island is what I like to believe is a previously uncharted, never before trodden by humans, heretofore completely unknown secret island, a belief that it turns out is pretty easy to maintain since in the three summers that I’ve now been going there I have yet to run into another person. Ever. It’s perfect.

It’s also perfect because there’s plenty to occupy the dogs – a little sandy beach where they can dig (and where I can sit with a book), sticks to chew and chase when I am coerced into relinquishing said book to serve as Thrower-of-Sticks, and an eddy at the downriver end of the island where the dogs can swim and frolic safely without being swept downstream. They also can’t take off as the island naturally contains their wanderings and is small enough that I can keep track of their whereabouts without much focus at all, freeing me to relax and read or write while they occupy themselves with important dog matters.

I should explain at this point that my discovery was actually of two secret islands, one smaller and more secret than the other. The bigger island is what I could see from the icky fishing spot; in walking its perimeter I saw the second, smaller island which can’t be seen at all from the fishing spot, and which I liked much more. It has the aforementioned sandy beach, almost no tamarisk, and its being smaller means that while on it, I am completely, closely surrounded by water, a particularly isolated kind of solitude. The proximity of the water on all sides defines my little private world with a wonderful sound barrier, drowning out the noises of the amusement park that lurks just across the river (on the bank opposite from the fishing spot.) On rare occasions, when the wind is right (or wrong, as it were) I can hear bumper cars and screeching children. 99% of the time the wind is not wrong and the noise of the water rushing over rocks on all sides of me is usually loud enough to effectively eliminate the amusement park from my awareness. In a sense, when I am on this island, I could be anywhere and I am nowhere. You can’t get much more secluded than that.

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