PCT Mile 2321.3 (Day 8)
Hiking Washington State’s Pacific Crest Trail
Chinook Pass to 2390.6-Snoqualmie Pass
-69.3 miles going NOBO

The highway weaves in and out far below, snaking around the mountain and the trail we hike on. I know it continues through the canyon in a roundabout path that bypasses White Pass, eventually falling out of the mountains and into the dry, rolling hills of high desert. When that happens it will be a long way from here. The truck is out of sight, somewhere in the middle of all that. Backpack, Roots, and The Man in Charge are on their way home. We will see them again in three days.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” The Man in Charge had asked four hours earlier. It was a reasonable question. We were both concerned about the forest fires that continued to grow in number and size all over the state. Smoke had been the color of the sky for several weeks. Add in the thunder storm forecasted for the Cascades over the weekend, it was fair to question the safety of continuing the hike at this time.

I looked out the window and up at the sky often as we drove towards Chinook Pass. The air was clearly still a chunky-ash mess and we were heading straight toward a forest fire that was burning two miles out of White Pass. The possibility of lightning had me spooked and this was to be our longest stretch hiking without any support. The Man in Charge started grilling me on what to do if we found ourselves caught in a fire while out in the middle of Cascade nowhere. I couldn’t deny the apprehension I had along with the excitement as we started driving into the mountains, the trail getting closer. I told him I was sure…

“We are BACK on the PCT!” Bugles chants. He is happy. His backpack is slightly crooked as usual, and he keeps taking his hat on and off. I am impressed. He has yet to drop it in the dirt of the trail. Shortcut, now Braveheart, replies, “Let’s do this… “ He is wearing his usual smile and is confident after completing the sixty-nine mile stretch south from Forest Road 24 to the Bridge of Gods several weeks ago.

Behind us the parking lot of Chinook pass is already far enough away to look small in the distance. Ahead, the trail leads straight as far as I can see, sliced flat into the side of the mountain. I know it won’t be long before we will be climbing up, over, and into the back country of the Cascades. For the first time this summer, we go north, instead of south. We are on our way to Snoqualmie Pass.

The trail is busy. A man followed by a woman in a dress and flip flops, holding the hand of a small boy step off the path to allow us to pass. We say thank you as we hike by. An older couple with a dog trotting at their feet, move off to the side, making room so that we do not have to stop for them. We pass several more groups of people who follow the same pattern. There seems to be a level of respect for hikers carrying backpacks such as ours. They look at us curiously. I wonder if they believe we are genuine, PCT thru-hikers.

We hike the trail cut into the steep side of the slope. The trees are sparse, though there is enough scrub that I think it would certainly break a fall if one of us slips off trail. If not, than it might be a long way to roll down because I cannot see where the fall would end. It’s a surprise when the trail bends inward and we are in a forest. Our path now spirals through tall trees. Somebody is calling out for a lost friend. His voice echoes on and off until finally, we no longer hear him. We pass two young men, day-hikers from the looks of it. Their packs look more like school backpacks which sling sloppy from the back of their shoulders. We hike on and than there are two more men and a woman. They are swinging water bottles in their hands. They do not carry packs and look like they are out for a Sunday walk. The parking lot at Chinook Pass had been full of cars, so the trail being busy was to be expected. Still it was strange to see so many. For up until today, meeting other hikers had been few and far between.

The trail leads us to a bowl-shaped clearing surrounded almost all the way around by razor-sharp mountain peaks towering above us. I think how we might have to climb over them soon. There is a small but pretty lake in the middle of the clearing. “Good place to filter water,” I comment to Braveheart who agrees with me. We pass a thru-hiker who has the same idea. Kneeling with his back to us, he makes his Sawyer Squeeze bag glide through the lake’s surface with a sweeping motion of his hand and arm. It is the way to fill the bag with enough water so one can filter easily. We continue along the trail as it curves to the right and than around the lake. From here, we can still see the thru-hiker. In the distance he looks very small, the mountains that much bigger, and I’m back to thinking about when and how it is, we will hike over them.

Bugles announces that he has to go to the bathroom. HIs loud manner attracts the attention of a large gathering of young people sitting by the water. They stare at us. I wonder why it is they do not have the same manner of acceptance that we have experienced with the thru-hikers we have met so far. I shrug my pack off and Braveheart does the same. We get busy filtering water and are almost done by the time Bugles wanders happily back.

“Great camping spot,” I point out to Braveheart. There is a flat area at the bottom of a small hillside by the water’s edge, straight in front of us. Three or four colorful tents are pitched among trees limbed high. Campers sit in chairs and the sound of their laughter floats our way. Behind us, on a small knoll up high, there is a tent and a hammock is strung. We don’t see anyone there but we can hear their voices. A glance at my map to note that we are at Sheep Lake. A short hike from the parking lot and yet secluded in the wilderness, it is beautiful here. It is easy to understand how and why this would be a popular place to camp in the summer. We move on…

The trail begins to climb. We pass several more groups of day hikers before there are no more. The last two we pass stop to brief us on how long it will take to get to the top. “I’m Bugles and Cream and I am a PCT hiker,” Bugles exclaims. I can tell these hikers are not as impressed about Bugles’ claim to fame as the thru-hikers we have met so far on the trail. But Bugles doesn’t notice and happily rambles on, busy discussing with himself how awesome it is to be a PCT hiker.

We keep hiking on rocky switchbacks that zig zag up one of the sharp-edged mountain peaks. Below us, Sheep Lake now looks little and we pass an older woman on a section hike that tells us that her brother thru-hiked the entire PCT a couple of years prior. The trees are once more sparse but there are wildflowers spraying the mountainside purple, blue, and velvety-red. The granite gray and white of the mountain ridges blends with the blue-gray smoke color of the sky. We finish our zig-zags as the trail pops up and over a saddleback cutting into the jagged peak we are on.

Bugles, Braveheart and I stop here. There is a enough room to sit on a rocky ledge overlooking the bowl-shaped clearing far below. We can look the razor-sharp mountain peaks that towered above us when we were at the lake, almost in the eye. Far to the south, the mountains unroll, layer after layer of green, blue, and than purple. There are two thru-hikers, a young man and young woman, sitting with their backs to us. They take in the view and somehow I know their hike takes them south, not north. I snap a picture. It’s not until much later that I see a photo on Instagram. It is of the same couple in the same pose with their backs to the camera. Their picture on Instagram will be taken several days or more from now, somewhere near Goat Rocks, south of White Pass.

I turn around because there is so much more to see. There is a grooved path cut in the ledge of red rock that is this cliff. We stand there and face east, looking in the direction that the Man in Charge would have been traveling on his way home. The highway is invisible from here but one can see the canyon and layers upon layers of more mountains. This time different shades of blue and gray define where one mountain begins and another leaves off. Braveheart ventures out on the ledge to take a look. I think it is safe for the amount of rock that rises up almost like a natural bannister from where he is standing. To fall off the other side would be a sheer drop-off down a granite-red and pink cliff that faces north.

I am nervous and am glad when Braveheart steps back down to where Bugles and I are standing. The older woman on a section hike appears. She takes off her backpack to rest a while. I ask if she would mind taking a picture of Braveheart, Bugles, and myself. She fumbles with my phone and than hands it back to me. I do not have the heart to tell her that she has captured Bugles frozen-in-time. One of his many facial expressions when he has tics is now immortalized. It is not a picture that will one day end up framed and on the wall. But it still means something…

I look at the tilted, slightly skewed photo more closely. A middle-aged mother slash grandma with a hippie-braid and hair in her eyes, a grown son, his smile turned smirk with the tics he cannot control, and the teenage son, who up to a couple of weeks ago, had no interest in hiking. We are bigger in the picture than the pointed mountains painted in swirls of chocolate chip and mint colors behind us. There is no doubt we are a motley bunch. But there’s a look about us. We stand with ease, smiles on our faces. It makes me think we are exactly where we are supposed to be.

“We’d better get going,” Braveheart says. He puts his arm around me to take a better look at the picture on my phone. I know he is right. We have a long way to go. Together we make sure Bugles’ backpack is on correctly. Shouldering our own packs, we wave goodbye to the woman and are on our way.

The trail cuts the slope in half. It is so as far as I can see. Rugged rocks drape the top of the mountain that shadows where we walk. I believe the trail will roll over the gap in the distance that this mountain makes with the next. I am wrong. Instead we descend on hair-pin turns and downward straights to another bowl-shaped valley. Before we can get to the bottom, the trail goes up again. A long time goes by. Than over a ridge, and from across the canyon, views of the other sides of the jagged mountain peaks we have seen all afternoon

“See…way over there? That is were we stopped to take the picture,” I point out the saddleback that we had been at earlier. It is very far away. Looking across the immenseness of the canyon makes Braveheart and Bugles feel good. It tricks them into thinking they have already hiked a lot of miles. The wind is strong here where we stand. There is a flat area to camp in the middle of trees facing the canyon and the mountains. “This would be a great place to camp,” says Braveheart. It’s become a game, to point out the best camp spots along the way. The ones we know we will not stop at. Braveheart is right. It is a perfect spot. But there is still a lot of daylight and we move on.

We hike to another ridge and stop to eat. It is cold and the wind is blowing. There are no trees here and we can see for miles in a 360 degree view around us. I shiver as I rummage through my backpack to find my down jacket. I look through Bugles’ packsack to find his as well. Braveheart takes care of himself.

I grab one of the dinner meals that I had packed for Bugles.’ It was one of the MRE’s that the Man in Charge had insisted we use. Braveheart and Bugles laugh as they open each mystery package of food. Spicy cheese for a pair of crackers. BBQ sauce to put on beef ribs that are, god only knows, how old. Mashed potatoes, hot chocolate that I mix cold, and a chocolate chip cookie that Bugles declares he has dibs on. I tell him it’s only fair to share if he’s expecting to eat some of the M&M’s that I packed in Braveheart’s dinner. Neither Braveheart nor Bugles wants the MRE Vanilla Latte drink mix which is just fine with me. I’m happy to drink it as I scoop out chunks of my meat stick with a spoon, my pocket knife being too dull to cut anything.

“Is that smoke?” I ask as we hike up and to the left side of another ridge. To the north I can see what looks like smoke clouds rising up and spilling over a much higher mountain slope. “No, it’s only clouds,” Braveheart reassures me. But I am not sure. “I think that’s smoke,” I mutter to myself. I go over what the Man in Charge told me about knowing where my escape routes are. I look back behind us, wondering if we should turn around and hike the ten miles or so back to the parking lot. My imagination runs wild. I am not excited about the prospects of outrunning fire. Bugles is oblivious to my concern, happy as he talks how much he loves this hike to himself.

We keep going as the trail rounds the mountain we are on and heads north towards the clouds. There is a canyon below us with miles and miles of blue mountains to the southeast. An army of more clouds march towards us in the sky. “Are you sure that’s not smoke,” I ask. My heart thumps crazy in my chest. “Mom… I know what smoke looks like. Those are just clouds,” says Braveheart. He is confident. I am not. I use my Garmin to message the Man in Charge. I ask if there are any new fires in the Cascades. The reply I get is no. “I told you mom,” Braveheart say. “We are going to be ok.”

I am uneasy but we hike on. The trail winds it’s way into a forest that is no more. Tall and darkened gnarls of what used to be trees lurk still, their trunks swallowed down low, into powder smooth, charcoal dirt. The clouds that I still am leery into believing are smoke, curl white tendrils up the mountainside we are on and tangle within the tops of the very dead trees. Forest fire has already lived and died here.

The forest fire must have felt that it couldn’t decide where it wanted to burn. After a few miles the trail hairpins 180 and takes us around an ultra-thin slice of another ridge. We hike in green forest where the grass is tall. I look a long way down to where the hillside of grass meets a line of trees. It makes me uncomfortable hiking on steep, dangerous sections like this. I’ve developed a weird habit of wondering what would happen if one of us accidentally falls. This time, I’m comforted to imagine that the tall grass would easily break almost anybody’s fall. It’s not an idea I’d like to test. But it helps me move on without being afraid.

We hike and hike some more. We see two lakes far below and for a while everything with all it’s green growth reminds me of Switzerland. The mountains like giants loom high above us and gleam red and pink with the setting sun. Another ridge and we hike down off a mountain. The sun is gone now. Bugles says it is time to camp. We pass four young men going the opposite way. They are not carrying backpacks and I wonder how they plan to spend the night without gear. They stare at Bugles when he loudly announces four times and again it is time to camp. I tell Braveheart that this would be a really good time to speed up our hike.

The valley is semi-flat with rolling little hills. The tops of the Cascades slice the sky in sawtooth patterns above. We pass by a lime-yellow colored tent set close to the trail between a tree or two. Bugles is getting louder demanding in a never-ending mantra that we must stop and camp. I let him know that we most likely just woke up whoever is in the tent that we just hiked by. This does not register with Bugles. He just keeps getting louder.

The little hills dip into a downward slope. There is a curious circle of thick fir trees, another perfect place to camp. Except that a large group of people have already figured that out. The red, orange, yellow, and blue colors of their tents make it look like they’ve decorated for a party. Laughter and conversation echo up from where they are to where we are on the trail. Bugles is insistent that we camp with the random group of strangers. There is no use explaining that inviting ourselves into their space and setting up camp is beyond awkward so I simply say, “Not going to happen…”

But we need to camp soon. It is still light but the sun has set and a breeze is quick to carry a chill. According to my map, water in the form of a seasonal stream is near. We stop to look for it. Bugles shrugs off his pack and dumps it into the dust cloud that puffs out of the trail where it falls. Braveheart and I hear running water and scramble down the hill and below the trail to find it. Tucked into a nook of earth, water pours out of the ground and through a curved leaf spout. It looks like something out of a make-believe world. We shiver with cold as we hurry to fill our water bottles. “I want to camp HERE!” Bugles’ announces loudly and several of the campers below begin to stare at us. I promise him if he just puts his backpack back on and starts walking, the very next camping spot we find is ours.

We hike around a bend in the hillside and than into another clearing. To the right of us are more brightly-colored tents, hiker-colonized in a cluster of trees. Clothes dangle from branches. For sure hung to air out for the night. All is silent and I think it is probably because these hikers, unlike the party of people camped in the trees below the water and the curved leaf spout, are thru-hikers and are already asleep for the night. Bugles is determined to camp amongst this group of tents but I say, “No, not going to happen” one more time.

“Over there,” Braveheart points to the left. I can tell fire burned through this area some time ago. Most likely the same one that created the blackened, gnarled trees that we had hiked through earlier. It is strange how the fire’s path has burnt miles of mountains and valleys, yet leaves so much untouched. The thick wedge of lush-green, forest trees that the hikers camp in on one side of the trail is in complete contrast to the twisted blackness of burnt trees that we see before us. Bugles breaks into a run to get there.

“I WANT to camp HERE! Say, can we put our tent up HERE?” Bugles is in overload mode as he asks me the same question again and again. I can see that he is trying to keep quiet. But his whisper is getting louder as he speaks. He is also shivering and that is unusual. He rarely feels the cold. I go through his backpack and find his down jacket again because he had taken it off earlier. I make sure he puts it on.

Braveheart has the tent laid out, and is getting the poles ready. “Here, let me do it,” Bugles says. Surprised, I look into Bugles’ earnest blue eyes. “It’s my tent, I want to help,” he continues, and picks up the stakes. I step back out of the way. Braveheart grins as he jokes with Bugles as they work together. I am grateful for whatever it is in this second, that Bugles is free of his OCD and tics. It is easy to see that he is pleased with himself when they are done. It is good to see him ‘be so.

Our tent stands in the midst of eerie beauty, skeleton trees surround us. Stars are growing bright in the sky. The ground is soft, dark-charcoal ash mixed with earth. When we take off our shoes, the still-warm dirt clings to our toes. It is cold now and we scramble to get inside and are quick to warm in our sleeping bags. Braveheart is asleep almost at once. Bugles surprises me by quieting down and than he too is asleep. Alone with my thoughts, I am deeply aware that being back on the trail brings me peace. I hear a howl in the distance. I imagine it might be a wolf. It is more likely to be a coyote. I am not afraid…

-Chris…

“Do You Want to See my Dragon…?”

For as long as I can remember, John has loved dragons. Toy dragons, lego dragons, dragons in books, he loves them all. But the ones he loves the most are the dragons that for some magical reason, become real…

When he was five or so, we would use our hands to fly toy dragons through the air. He spoke very few words but in the imagination of our play, we both understood that the toy dragons were much more than what they seemed to be…

Maybe a couple of years later, we would search for little bits of lost lego fire. John had two lego dragons, a green one and a black one. Once the fires were found, he would carefully place the tiny lego pieces into the mouths of the two dragons. His words were limited to a few simple sentences but seeing the mighty dragons breath fire again, in our world, we knew to agree that the lego dragons had an extraordinary life of their own..

John was older when I read a book to him about a boy who became a dragon rider. Maybe it was that story that inspired him years later and not so long ago, to create an idea for a future book about a different boy named Navi and a dragon named Bree. His very own story that has yet to be written and illustrated but often sparks loops of conversation from John as together we imagine his very own storybook dragon coming to life…

Today, John is spending time with a new dragon. “Do you want to see my dragon?” He asks, and I sit down beside him. We’re mostly silent but smile-worthy excited as we look at his drawing of a magical sand dragon that has mysteriously appeared on the beach of Seaside, Oregon. The dragon is pretend of course and it really isn’t in Seaside. However one thing is clear to both of us. In the story of “Sandman of Seaside,” the sand dragon that I wrote of, the one that John has illustrated, like all of the dragons of our life that have come before, is thoughtfully being sketched from our imaginations into something very  real…

“Sandman of Seaside,” by Chris Fraser, illustrated by John Fraser, (author and illustrator of “Bean and Pocket, The Story of the Hummingbird Elixir,”), to be published soon.

Chris…

 

We were nearing the top of the pass, the trail winding up and through an earth bowl carved into the jagged peaks of the Northern Cascades. Clouds a quarter full of autumn snow swirled above, sometimes spilling white sprinkles around us. All the while, wind danced around the mountains’ majestic crown, shredding white clouds from gray, random splashes of the sky’s blue pouring through.

I could hardly catch my breath. It was clear that fall was preparing to depart the Pacific Northwest soon. Meanwhile winter was busy moving in. Together they were gracious in sharing the beauty of which they had created. The colors of the sky, like pastel chalks, were shades of soft baby blues, turquoises, and purples. The dark greens of the thick forest below had thinned to alpines turned chartreuse glowing with leftover sunlight. A few more upward trail switchbacks, the chartreuse alpines would climb no more, leaving the last few trees brave enough to live in a place called Cutthroat Pass, now dressed in coats of furry grayish-maroon and white…

We could have easily missed this. The make believe Battlefield of the Land of A story* that had begun four days earlier had ended. However as what sometimes happens in the Land of A, the battle had taken a turn for the worse on day three, despite my optimistic belief that a ceasefire had been called. Autism’s OCD over-and-over verbal warfare with demands to recite back word-for-word coded responses while stooping over to yell instructions in my ear finally did me in. My patience gone, I had strung my pretend bow with arrows of my lost temper, letting them rain down fast and furious onto the other side.

It must have something to do with the laws of the land but fighting never works here. Soon enough, disgusted with myself, I had thrown down my bow, breaking in two the rest of my pretend arrows. In the mysterious ways things happen in the Land of A, the battle died down and a truce was finally called. Both sides agreed to the terms of the latest peace treaty and I was left to redirect my efforts to heal fresh soul wounds that had been layered upon old ones.

I knew of a place that existed on the fringe of the Land of A. To get there, a road trip followed by a two thousand feet or so upward trek. On the top of a mountain pass, shards of light and in the peace that the light brings, there was a promise of healing for our battle weary scars.

A decision made and we were on our way. One-of-my-Own was mostly content to play Minecraft after making sure I bought him a special treat at Starbucks. He even shared his game at 10:30, the time he had allotted during departure, with his sister sibling who had joined us on our journey. No matter that he was so impressed with the time slot he had arranged, he made sure to remind us over and over again. And that was OK.

Too fascinated to move beyond the subject, One-of-my-Own’s conversation fixated on the Magic School Bus reboot. I think he felt I should know how it was that Ms. Frizzle had acquired a sister named Fiona who was the class’s new teacher for he asked why at least a hundred times throughout the morning The reality of the long drive must have begun to way on his mind as well. He presented the idea that it would be best to run halfway instead of to the top of the mountain that was our destination for that day. And maybe it was the memory of the ten miles we were to run that triggered thoughts of dinner because I was next obligated to answer over-and-over a question that went a little something like this, “How about that pizza that was my idea to eat for dinner?”

For all the need to revisit this Dialogue of Three, I didn’t mind. The urgent demand to have perfectly recited answers that he dictated to complete his questions a hundred times or more, was simmering on low. Real exchanges of conversation which had been silenced lately by Autism’s OCD and TICS appeared like a promise of a miracle and were celebrated by myself, his sister sibling, but most importantly… by One-of-my-Own…

There is a point on the trail, cradled by the King’s of the mountains all around, where I always look up. I know the saddle of the top of the pass is there in the steep slope of alpine hill sliding down. It awes and confuses me in my perception of how far away it is and yet really it is so very close. I stop to take a picture because for every other time I have been in this spot before, I have had to keep on running because of the race I am compelled to sign up for every year. One-of-my-Own consents to the photo as does his sister sibling. The camera freezes time and the memory of below is in the past. The present is climbing to the top and when we reach it, we wait in the middle of something incredibly profound. Everything is changing in split seconds. Blue sky disappears and than sneaks back, clouds erase the mountains only to draw them jagged again. Wind plays around and hides under the mountain pass, mischievously creeping up from behind, to whoop it up in circles and wild whirls. When the snow comes down sideways, we stand in the shards of light we find there, peace quietly filling our hearts in the middle of nature’s panoramic view of what our life is. And I imagine that we have found for a brief second of time, what it is we started this journey looking for in the first place…

chris….
*Battle of the Land of A story…
http://chrisfraser.org/the-battlefield/

It’s make believe here in the Land of A. I’m hiding
out in my pretend foxhole, hat pulled down low over my eyes. It’s a little past nine and there’s really no reason for the hat. But I’m wearing it because it makes me feel cool and not so old, tired, and Autism battle weary.

Friendly fire has been heavy the past two days. I’m in survivor mode, and have been extremely stealthy in dodging Autism’s artillery of OCD shells and the constant Loop rockets that have been fired my way. I don’t drink but I’ve got a Corona half-gone sitting by my side. I’ve whipped my computer out and my fingers are flying in an effort to stitch up the minor mental fatigue wound that shot me in the head.

I think I’m winning this particular battle. In an effort to reduce casualties and avoid any further injury, I drew from my arsenal of music that makes me feel bad-ass and a little bit closer to whatever comes in the after life. Two very handy beliefs to have as my shields from possible defeat, with one of our fellow soldiers, I’ve been busy dancing off-beat swinging my way through the outskirts of the A-battle.

It’s relatively quiet now. There’s a lull as both sides fall asleep in the exhaustion of it all. The Lone Survivor Soundtrack which seems a fitting anthem for this particular battle silently fades away. I’ve put a bandaid on my wound. I’m going to get some sleep as a ceasefire has been called…

“I love you Mom. Tomorrow’s another day,” shouted out the other side. Gladiator Soundtrack’s “Now we are Free” is playing over the dark and empty battlefield.

“I love you too…” I answered back….

-chris….

PTASD*’ing a day in the Land of A*…

I’m not sure why there is very little discussion on PTASD outside the Land of A but I do know nobody is really talking about it. Perhaps it hasn’t been discovered yet. Or maybe it’s something that professionals would say has no basis in fact since there is no scientific data to substantiate it. I guess it’s a reasonable to assume that PTASD is just a figment of my imagination. But here in the Land of A, sometimes, maybe just a lot of times, PTASD feels very, very real.

If PTASD is real, I wonder if it is like an illness that one can recover from. Perhaps it is like an allergy that crops up seasonally or an illness such as a cold or flu that heals after a couple of days. Maybe it mirrors a chronic ailment with good and bad days but something that never quite goes away. Or maybe PTASD is simply my way of explaining the sometimes feeling of being bone weary tired from exposure to everyday events that are normal only in the Land of A.

My imagined or real PTASD started out simple enough. This morning barely awake, enough to do some plank exercises to work out the stiffness in my back, I was greeted by One-of-my-own’s bugle cry, “CAN WE HAVE A GOOD MORNING?!” Genuinely considerate of making sure I heard what he had to say, he had leaned over to position himself three inches from my ear. “I… S*A*I*D*…CAN WE HAVE A GOOD MORNING?”

It is appropriate to speak when one is spoken to and in this case, I have it easy. These days One-of-my-own will meticulously formulate a fitting scrip in which I am to answer. “Now you say…. (insert mom voice), Yes, let’s have a good day,” What’s really cool is that if I don’t exactly recite the script correctly, One-of-my-own will happily correct me until I’ve got it right. Even if that is a hundred times or more throughout the day. I think I couldn’t have a better teacher.

I explained calmly to One-of-my-own that we had a very busy day. His younger sister had Cross Country practice at 9:00 AM. In the middle of my morning workout, breakfast still needed to be made, several summer school lessons were to be finished, along with making time for an important meeting at 11:00 AM in which the person that I was to meet was coming to the house. In addition, I also had six or more items on my to-do list that needed my attention, of which I hoped to check off at least a couple of them as being completed.

“SAY, can we have a good day?!… Mom, can you answer my question? Mom, just say yes. (Insert mom voice), Yes, One-of-my-own, we can have a good day. Do you want me to take a shower? Just say yes, I want you to take a shower. MAN…. ! I FEEL CALMER today. Mom…I said.. Mom, what time is Mr. A coming over? HEY MOM! CAN WE HAVE A GOOD DAY TODAY?!!!! WHAT TIME IS SO-AND-SO COMING OVER!!!!??? This is the last time I’m going to say it….MOM, C*A*N W*E H*A*V*E A GOOD DAY?!!! …… *

How can I complain about the conversation that One-of-my-own is having? After all, his words are a mantra of positivity. He’s got a smile on his face, and his voice is booming with enthusiasm. So enthusiastic is his mantra, that two hours later, the mantra is still being verbally over and over’ed, has progressively gotten louder, and I’ve been graciously asked to take a bigger part in reciting the responses that he has prepared for me. So involved is his mantra, essentially grinding to a halt any forward motion of our daily routine, I’m starting to think One-of-my-own would do well as a film director in the way he is scrutinizing each and every word coming out of my mouth to make sure I say exactly what is on the script. I close my eyes imagining him holding up a clapperboard, adding in the verbal loops of “CUT!” or “TAKE 2017… Action, ok now let’s replay that scene… C*A*N WE HAVE A GOOD DAY!

For whatever the reason, I simply didn’t want to play by the rules of today’s version of normal events that happen only in the Land of A.  I didn’t want to join in the over-and-over that One-of-my-own yelled from the other side of the bathroom door while I was taking a shower. My brain was overloaded by the constant input of non-stop dialogue, volume on ultra-loud, when he followed me around every second of my workout verbally repeating the day’s mantra. I didn’t want to loop again and again with him as I walked to my car, he running to catch up with me, leaning over to carefully roar into my ear so I would be sure to hear him. Most definitely, I didn’t want to play along when Mr. A arrived for our meeting and One-of-my-own wanted to join in our meeting by asking if we could have a good day, and than asking if we could replay the morning by going over a varied version of his conversation of earlier. “Can we have a good day? What time is Mr. A coming over? M*A*N, I FEEL calm today!”

Slumping in my chair after the meeting that didn’t really get beyond the “Can we have a good day” loop with Mr. A, I thought of all the things I still needed to do. After being coached for hours by One-of-my-own on how to reply to the conversation over and over’s and in my imagined PTASD state, I was at a loss for how I was going to complete the rest of what I had to do that day. Meanwhile as One-of-my-own leaned over the table, still engaging me in his positivity mantra, I came to the conclusion that PTASD was definitely real and promptly self-diagnosed myself with it.

I gathered everybody together and we went out, the younger siblings on their bikes, while I ran with One-of-my-own. Surely this would get rid of my newly self-diagnosis of PTASD. However, that which happens often when running, One-of-my-own’s over-and-overing continued, not making for any, by this time, much needed down time. Amazingly talented, he is able to talk the whole way through our run, never once running out of breath. His exuberance at vocalizing during the run went a little bit like this. “MAN… CAN WE HAVE A GOOD DAY? What’s for breakfast? Mom, I said, what’s for breakfast? I need to retrace my steps. What time is Mr. A coming over? Let’s refresh this day and have the rest of the day a GOOD day! How come you’re not answering me? Ok, I’ll answer for you…(interjects mom voice), Yes One-of-my-own, let’s have a good day…”

Throughout the duration of the run and into late afternoon, I refused to play the over-and-overing game. I gloomily contemplated my self-diagnosis of PTASD. By this time I was one hundred percent sure I had it, there could be no mistake. Three fourths of my day had been a swirl of never-ending loops of verbalization ringing in my ears. I couldn’t make myself attend to anymore tasks I had planned for that day. Something was definitely wrong with me.

“Mom, can I talk to you in private?” My thoughts were interrupted by the voice of my younger son and all my attention was suddenly focused on the earnestness of his expression, an ageless wisdom in his eyes. “Let me hang with my Bro,” he said. “He’ll be fine, you’ll see. We will have fun together. He’s my Bro, I love him and I will watch over him.”

Everything spiraled from slow motion to a grinding stop and time momentarily ceased in the Land of A. I considered the greatness in my younger son who had unwavering faith in the greatness in his older Bro, despite witnessing my intolerance for his need to over-and-over all day. I marveled at my younger son’s lack of judgment, the level of acceptance during the moments of his big Bro’s intense OCD verbal loops, and the unconditional love that he offered instead.

In the Land of A, where one’s career is basically 24/7, on-call for life, with little to none retirement benefits, breaks are rare. The evening breeze floated down the hillside cooling the warm summer air as it circled through the swaying tops of the pine trees in the forest all around the yard. Enough of a quiet moment in the summer night, it was the break I wish had been written as mandatory into my Land of A contract.

It fed my soul like the recent visit I had had with a friend visiting from Texas. Not a resident of the Land of A, she and I have common ground in a completely different and unrelated life journey that we both are on, that of being parents of children born to us through adoption. Listening to her story gave me validation that what I’m living is not always easy. That there are others who share similar or different life paths and that most of the times, when life gets tough, they are simply doing the best that they can, with what they’ve got in the very seconds that the tough happens.

Listening to the peaceful way the cool summer breeze made the trees move and talk in their own secret language, I realized how important it was to have that break.  Like a night that happens several days in the future when I unexpectedly find myself out on an evening run on my own. When I’m able to run in solitude and silence, alone with my thoughts, able to plug into the summer night sunset, like a battery on empty, desperately needing to be recharged.

My recently self-diagnosed PTASD melted away. Not completely but enough. The conversation with my younger son was the trigger that allowed me to mentally step back from my frustration in navigating the cyclone of One-of-my-own’s verbal loops that had swirled like a storm around me all day. The bone weariness I had been feeling had been fueled by a lack of acceptance and feeling of being uncomfortable with the latest never-ending rounds in which I was required to say or answer exactly what I was told to say or answer a thousand times a day.

It’s true that there seems to be nowhere in my house or even in the Land of A to punch a timecard, job done for the day. There are also no regulations in the Land of A that call for simply receiving a break. In such circumstances, it seems I must learn to outsmart the system. Twenty plus years, I’m still figuring out how to do that. For now, it’s the short amount of time that I sit on my front steps, my two golden retrievers flanking me on each side.

Somehow the rest of the evening will smooth out. A video game party will be arranged between One-of-my-Own and his siblings, followed by a giant family slumber party. “MOM, CAN WE HAVE A GREAT DAY? LET’S HAVE A GREAT DAY! CAN WE HAVE A GREAT DAY? WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO TOMORROW? M*A*N I FEEL CALM TODAY! Eventually everyone will be asleep and in the rare quiet I will pick up where I had left off on my latest writing project…

Sitting on the steps, not yet aware that the night will end as it does, I make a decision. I may or may not have PTASD and yes, there are many times I am bone weary. But my younger son’s actions reminded me of what I’ve forgotten this day, to be loving and non-judgmental towards One-of-my-Own. I hear the sounds of laughter from the siblings inside the house. I’m going to make a choice. I’m going to end this day great…

Break over, I get up, open the front door and walk back inside….

-Chris….

*PTASD- (definition- Post Traumatic Autism Syndrome)

*Land of A* (A stands for Autism)

Moviestar’in Costco

One-of-my-Own usually wears sunglasses when we stop into Costco. It helps to keep the other customers from being distracted from his near movie star status. This way they can keep on with their shopping without having to stop to ask for autographs. It also helps them to not run into other shoppers with their carts when they recognize his familiar crowd-stopping, amazingly strong and clear voice and turn around to stare.

Today however, it couldn’t be helped. One-of-my-Own was recognized.  It happened as I was rounding the corner of the refrigerator section and he was flying to the baked goods section looking for hoagie bread all the while talking his way through it. “Where is the hoagie bread? Are you sure we are going to have meatball sandwiches? But what about the pizza? Why can’t we have pizza? What? I’ve eaten it for the last two nights? What did you say again? Why can’t we have pizza? Where did you say the hoagie bread was again?”

“I just LOVE when you bring him in…”

In my mission of finding the Tillamook cheese that we are out of at home, the words catch my attention. Yes, somebody had spotted him. I was sure of it when I look up to see one of the Sample Ladies smiling at me.

“Thank you. Always good to hear when somebody says such kind words,” I smile back at her and roll my cart on. It’s best that way, I don’t want to draw too much attention or more of a crowd than was already starting to form, hoping to get a glimpse of One-of-my-Own.

He catches up with me on my way to the aisle that I’m sure contains the organic sweet and sour sauce I am looking for. In his exuberance, he takes giant strides to catch up, catapulting me frozen in mid-stride as he steps on the back of my flip-flop.

My flip-flop is stuck to the cement of Costco’s floor but my foot is not. Pain shoots through my foot as the front part of my flip-flop rips into my toes. I’m caught in mid-air, silently screaming all sorts of my go-to cuss words in times of stress. I’m pretty sure I’ve become famous in my own right as more people stop to stare.

“I CAN’T FIND THE HOAGIES! Mom, are you alright? I am so sorry. Hey, let’s have pizza instead. Why can’t I have pizza again? i’ve only asked three times, can you answer me now?”

I’m able to choke out that I’m ok, it wasn’t One-of-my-Own’s fault and point him in another direction. As he flies off once more, i park my cart and put my head in my hands, waiting for my foot to stop hurting.

“Hi…”

I look up. A lady stands in front of me. Her face mirrors my own, her expression full of understanding, I get that we must be souls sisters somehow.

“I’m one of those moms,” she says to me. I don’t want them too but my eyes well up with tears and I take a deep breath and grab her hands. She goes on to explain that she knows how it is, that’s she is having one of those days. The kind where it takes one to the edge and one looks off into the abyss of the Land of A. She points over to her daughter, age 27, holding onto a cart nearby. We sit there in sisterhood, holding hands for a moment. As she walks away, I’m thankful she took the time to connect.

My foot is still hurting but I march on, collecting the rest of what’s on my to-buy list and make my way to the checker lines to pay. One-of-my-Own is still missing, looking for the hoagies, but I know he will find me. I can only hope he won’t be mobbed by his fans.

He appears as I get in line, flinging a bag of bagels into the cart, happy with his substitute choice since he can’t find any hoagie bread. “YOU WANT ME TO BUY YOU A MOCHA FREEZE? Sure mom, I will buy you a mocha freeze. Do you want me to get in line? Do you want me to get in line? What did you say? Ok, mom, I’m going to go get in line.”

He flies off, oblivious as the adoring crowd of shoppers watch him in wonder. They stare in envy at me, maybe because they can’t believe I am lucky to be a part of his life. I keep my cool, because sometimes it is hard to attract so much attention. With a smile I joke with one of my favorite checkers as he hands me the pen he knows I’m going to ask for.  I pay for my things, than head toward the food court, giving a friendly wave to those who are still looking One-of-my-Own’s way.

He finds me as I’m almost to the door. “MOM, HERE’S YOUR MOCHA FREEZE!. HERE take your change…” He shoves it at me but I ask if he could just hold onto it as I’ve got my hands full with the cart. It’s easy now. The crowd parts in a way that for some reason reminds me of the final scene out of Titanic (the movie). The one where Rose is young again and walking up the ship’s stairs to meet young Jack and all the fellow passengers are lined up watching with smiles on their faces.

For a busy Sunday at Costco, certainly a blessing as we walk out easily without having to dodge other customers and make our way back to the car. One-of-my-own happily helps me place the groceries in the back, hands me the mocha freeze before sitting down in the passengers seat. As I back out of the parking spot, I was glad to see that crowds haven’t gathered around the car. I’d been afraid that might happen. I glance over at One-of-my-Own who was still wearing the sunglasses, a smile on his face, content in the treasured moments when he is at peace in the Land of A.

His smile was enough,
I smiled as well….

-Chris…

For most people who do not happen to live in the *Land of A there may be a “Take for Granted” life style of seemingly easy to navigate days in which ordinary family events are enjoyed with little strife..

Take for example, a family hike planned on a weekend morning. All will cheerfully or not, wake up, take a shower, and brush their teeth. They will complete household chores such as making sure the dogs are fed, dishes done, and breakfast served. Any complaints, disagreements or mild temper tantrums may be normal but resolved sometime in the near future. Maybe they all will go about filling their water bottles instead of forgetting, than grab for their backpacks and shoes and head out to the family truckster, ready for the morning of adventure.

In the *Land of A, a vortex usually reigns supreme. Steps must be strictly adhered to in order not to slip right on over into the chaos of the abyss that unless one has mountain climbing skills, can barely manage the climb out of.

So it is that in this vortex leading to the abyss, maybe a hundred times or more one must verbally circle and do laps with one-of-my-own. Sort of like the trail race last weekend that had a mile or two, of six to twelve inches of heavy clay mud that one had to muck, not run through.

The first verbal laps may include the phrases, “Do you want me to take a shower?” and “Just say yes.” Shower and bathroom time will usually take three to ten times that of any sort of normal time and effort. One must also consider negotiating a daily peace treaty on the whole roll of toilet paper that will inevitably be used. Please don’t do it but if so, “I”m begging,”…. Please flush often as to not chronically clog the toilet or trigger that overflow that is destined to happen.

Everybody else is ready. But here’s the tricky part. One-of-my-own has not eaten. I’ve got it all figured out. Yes I do. Because I’ve lived a long time in the *Land of A and have plan A, plan B, and plan C always on my mind. Breakfast is going to be served “to go”, so we can get on our way. Right?…. hmmm..

Plan A today doesn’t really avoid the verbal circles and laps that must be completed before one-of-my-own can walk out the door. “What’s for breakfast?” “I SAID…. what’s for breakfast?” “MAN, I feel calm today!” “Can we have a good day?” “Let’s have a good day.” Add in a couple more similar phrases and we may spin in circles for another twenty minutes or more before one-of-my-own can jump off the verbal lap of loops and move on with his day.

Sprinting for the family truckster doesn’t work in the efforts to get on with the adventure. Defeated, one sinks into the seat, with head down on the wheel as another verbal loop erupts. “Can we have a good day guys?” “What’s for breakfast?” “Do you want me to take a shower?” This could potentially be the theme song of the ride up the mountain.

Maybe this wouldn’t be a bad thing. For sure, everyone wants to have a good day. But have I mentioned that in the *Land of A, one-of-my-own has a strong and vibrant voice with a volume only of extra loud? It may be that passing the family truckster in the *Land of A, one may think the whole family is rocking out, the volume is that loud. One might also wonder that sometimes a passenger or two may be wearing headphones to muffle the theme song. All I’ve got to say is, that unless one’s lived in the *Land of A, what looks strange may not be as strange as it seems.

The family hike happened. There is something to be said for finding perspective and peace on a mountain somewhere in the *Land of A. There was a cool breeze with the scent of fir trees and summer flowers. Blue skies framed the bright sun as it grew warmer. The trail was overgrown in spots, with trees to crawl underneath and the remnants of dying spring streams to hop over. All that and more with the sounds of birds flying overhead and the wind blowing in the trees, nature created opportunity for healing.

I found myself listening to one-of-my-own with an element of presence that eludes me in the everyday life in the *Land of A. As we hiked the trail uphill to the fire lookout tower, the verbal loops ceased to be an issue of stress even though one-of-my-own kept at it. “How long are we going to be gone?” “Where are we going?” “MAN, it’s hot out here…” “Can we have a good day?”

Somewhere in the chaos of the abyss I found myself climbing out. Looking into the clear blue eyes of one-of-my-own, I know to be true that in the vortex of it all, it is my level of presence, love and understanding with him that needs to be addressed.

Again…

 

 

 

And Again…

It is the toughest lesson I have ever had to learn and I flunk way more than I get it right.

The *Land of A will forever be the one of the hardest places I have ever lived in. I don’t think that can be changed. But if I could ever master that lesson of being present, it might get just a little bit easier.

I hear one-of-my-own say, “I love you Mom. Can we get chocolate chip cookies for Dad today. I want to do something for him…. I love him.”

“Can we have a good day?”

                   

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

-Chris                                                        

*A stands for Autism)

 

It would seem I’ve been living in the *Land of A forever or at least since that very real day many years ago, in a doctor’s office examination room when a doctor who will remain nameless verbally punched me in the gut with the words, “YEEEEEEP… your son DEFINITELY has AUTISM!” The rest of what he said was a blur, “bla bla bla…. nothing you can do about it…. AIT? No no, no that doesn’t work, blah blah blah, join a support group….. You want to try a gluten casein diet, well no that doesn’t work…. blah blah blah… you know….you’re going to be lucky if you can teach him to pull his pants up…. blah blah blah, eventually you will have to be thinking of a group home…………………………blah blah blah….”

That day…. well, it felt like someone had just shoved my son and I out of a flying airplane and we fell unprotected and all alone, to the ground… HARD… Crash, boom, bang, down to the ground we did hit, and with no point to lay there, I got up and started running… and I’ve never stopped yet…

Fast forward or not… 20 odd years later. when one finds themselves a permanent resident in the Land of A, it does no good to imagine the what if’s… I wouldn’t dare. I’ve a mind to be realistic. so trudging through the day to day in the Land of A where I have long since found at a eyes’s blink each second can potentially be the good, the bad, and the ugly, I celebrate the sometimes, the ever so small moments of brilliance, the wonder, the joy, the good times.

Today… my amazing and ever so loving younger one-of-my-own makes a simple comment. He and I are talking about a space camp he is to attend in a couple of weeks. how exciting, how he will get there, what will he do, and that he has to have a parent or guardian escort him since it is an over and back trip to Seattle. Very thoughtfully he says to me ever so innocently. “You know, if my brother didn’t have autism, he would be able to drive me over. or maybe by now he would have a girlfriend (because after all he is almost 23), and he and his girlfriend could drive me over. and oh what fun we would have….”

I’m ashamed because right than and there a huge belly sob rumbled from me, tears boiled out of my eyes, and my hands started to shake. and I imagined the what if….

Through my tears, and when I could finally catch my breath, I told my younger one-of-my-own, that of course how wonderful that would be and how his big bro would have done just that because he loves his little bro so… I imagined the what if….

20 minutes later, and to be honest, really the whole time I wrote this out… i sobbed at times, tears still rolling, hands still shaking…

……But i’m done now, and what needed to get out, escaped for a bit, in a way reminding me of the clouds of hot steam that explode up into the air from the paper mill a couple of miles a way. a patch has been placed back on the invisible wound that most of the times, I forget I still must have. I’m still living in the Land of A and it’s time to get back to running.

….Yet i’m still thinking
Can’t seem to help it right now….
—-What if…..?

-Chris,

(*Jan 16, 2017 Facebook status update)

 

“With Whom am I Speaking….”

I knew who it was. Many years had gone by since Maura had been John’s Occupational Therapist. More years had passed since we’ve spoken on the phone. But every so often, as in maybe once a year, we will run into Maura and catch up on each other’s life adventures.

Today was that day…

She was hesitant on the phone wondering if she had our number correct. I wondered why she was calling and smiled when her soft spoken voice asked if John might do her a favor. Would he please autograph her copy of “Bean and Pocket?”

Yes, he’d love to…

Maura shared with us that her daughter Olivia, who grew up to be a schoolteacher recently read “Bean and Pocket” to her class. Olivia explained to her class how she has known John since they were young children. Maybe she told them a little about Autism and what that means to a child or the families of children who live with it. Maybe there was class discussion on the sometimes insurmountable difficulties and the sometimes rare but terribly precious moments of celebration that Autism brings to life.

I hope so…

Today brought with it a visit from an old friend. More than that, a chance to celebrate John’s illustrations with somebody that was there during a time when John lived almost exclusively in the *Land of A. Nervous and yet so excited, John sat down to autograph his “Bean and Pocket.” Proudly John showed the person who had worked so hard to help him use his hands and find his voice, his new illustrations that he is currently working on for our new book, “Sandman of Seaside.”

Thank you….

Chris….

(“Bean and Pocket” can be purchased on Amazon)

*(”A” stands for Autism)