Bob and Joy’s Epic Road Trip Adventures
We had thought we’d have to cancel our plans for the second time in a row, but there we sat under a thick canopy of multi-hued green, listening to the wind sweep through the leaves. We had finally made it. Back at the end of March we had planned our first getaway in a year and had reservations at Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia. Three days before we were due to leave I had my heart attack/opening and we had to cancel. Fast-forward 3 months, and we were ready for another try. Bob once again made our reservations (highly recommended, by the way) and we were really looking forward to a long weekend away, especially to tent camping together for the first time. A week before our departure date, our 21 year old cat Isaac began a rapid deterioration in his health and once again we wondered if we’d need to put our plans on hold.
But now, we were here. And here was beautiful.
Grayson Highlands State Park, Mouth of Wilson, Virginia. Mouth of Wilson! I love that name! TripAdvisor.com lists 2 things to do and 1 restaurant for MOW. It is TINY! The park’s campground is about 12 miles further down the road with only one store/grill in-between, so if you need any food or other supplies, make sure to stop on your way in. (The campground does have a camp store that is surprisingly well stocked with decent prices, too.) The Log House Trading Post and Restaurant has a fairly good supply of basics, their food is good for the price and they serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. Do not plan to buy your gas there, though…they were charging $2.87 per gallon while other gas stations in the area were between $1.99 and $2.19. A bit further down the road toward the campground is the Grayson Highlands General Store and Inn, which surprised us with its huge selection of gourmet and gluten free foods. It also has a grill/restaurant , which we did not get to try but did see one of the park rangers getting her lunch there, so that is a good sign of good food…I always like to find out where the locals eat. (I don’t know why it’s not listed on TripAdvisor…I would review it, but since we didn’t eat there, don’t feel qualified. We did get a cup of coffee to go, which was very fresh and tasty.)
Note: If you are a smoker, stock up on your cigarettes before you get into the area…we didn’t see anywhere that sold any for miles around…
On to the campground!
The Virginia State Parks System has been voted #1 in the country, (so say the signs posted here and there…) and I can understand why if Grayson Highlands is typical of their offerings. I found its facilities and services to be very comparable to its not too far neighbor, Shenandoah National Park. The campsites were well placed with adequate space in-between so you didn’t feel like you were right on top of your neighbors, the bathrooms/showers were always clean and I never had to wait for either, the camp store was handy dandy for little things we might have forgotten, the camp host came around to welcome us and offer us wood AND ICE for sale ($5.00 per wood bundle which included great kindling, $2.50 for ice) and the campground itself was QUIET!
We needed that quiet after the week we had just had. To lay there at night and hear only the wind in the trees was literally Heaven. (I guess the elevation is too high for crickets and tree frogs…we heard not a peep or chirp the whole time we were there!)
The first evening we got our campsite set up …
(There’s my honey ♥ )
…and we prepared and ate our first ever together tent camping meal!
Everything really does taste better when you are outside in nature!
The next day we began exploring, beginning with the park’s Visitor Center
The wildflowers outside were spectacular!
Inside, we found a treasure trove! A combination museum, gift shop and information desk.
The old pictures give a fascinating glimpse of how life used to be in these hills. The gift shop was wonderfully stocked with a combination of hand-made items and other souvenirs, which gave me a dilemma… which to pick as my material memory of our time spent there. I carefully looked over everything and finally made my selection on our last day there…
What better memento to remember the wild ponies (and my time with my honey) than a heart made of horse-shoes! (Although I don’t think the wild ponies actually wear shoes!)
The wild ponies! The ponies are how Bob sold me on Grayson Highlands, in the very beginning! But, we’ll get to them in just a bit!
After visiting the visitor’s center, we headed out to find the “Old Homestead”. And, we got lost. Wonderfully, beautifully, lost.
We ended up taking a trail that we mistook for another. We thought it was going to be 3/10ths of a mile…it ended up being quite a bit more. We kept walking and walking. We saw no-one. We heard no sounds, other than nature. No engine noise, no voices, no nothing but birdsong and our breath. It was awesome!
Here we are…loving being lost…together
We finally came to the end of the trail and found the “Old Homestead”, a collection of preserved old buildings along with a picnic shelter (a wedding was setting up at the time.)
We headed back to our campsite for some quiet and reading time (I started and completed Stephen King’s newest “End of Watch” over the weekend) and resumed our explorations the next day with…
The Wild Ponies of Grayson Highlands!
Or, rather, our search for said ponies! We had been told and read that the best trail to see them on was the Rhododendron Trail, also known as Massie Gap. We set out around 10:30 that morning and at the trail head, we found what I call a “teaser” pony. He was all by his lonesome but he was enough of an appetizer for us to want to see more, for sure!
So, we hiked on!
Up and up…
We registered…with a bit of reservation…what were we getting ourselves into? We are absolutely NOT experienced hikers and this was telling us they needed to know who and how many were in our party…just in case…
We saw signs of ponies…
but still no ponies. THEN THIS HAPPENED…
No one told us Grayson Highlands had long horned cattle! They came, one at a time at first, then they were all around us!
Mama’s, babies and this magnificent beauty…
He was about 3 feet away from me and I have to admit, I scooted myself behind a tree for possible safety!
Onward and upward we continued…
All the way to the top!
I can’t begin to tell you how amazing it felt to stand up there on the top of that mountain! I felt stronger and more connected to my body than I had in years…possibly my whole life. Not once did I think about my heart and how, not too many months ago, it tried to stop on me. Not once did I think I couldn’t make it to the top. I felt powerful and confident, sure and balanced. Thinking back on it, I realized this…I felt this way because I was with my husband, my beloved Bob. It was being in his calm, centered, loving presence that lent me that invincible feeling of being able to do anything. Thank you, honey. You ROCK! (pun intended!…see the pic? see the ROCK?!)
Then, it was down, down, down the mountain. Going down was much easier, by the way 🙂
We were almost to the trail head and had given up on seeing any of the wild ponies that are such a draw to this state park. Bob was a bit ahead of me, as usual…I tend to stop and take a ton of pictures, then run to catch up…
I heard him shout at me and then THIS!
AND THIS & THIS & THIS!
They were literally close enough to touch! In fact, some people did. Which, they weren’t supposed to (see sign above). There are reasons for the no-touching/petting/feeding the ponies, folks. I know it’s hard not to…believe me, I had to struggle to keep my own hands to myself…the temptation was HUGE. But, really, if you let your kids touch the ponies, what are you teaching them? That it’s OK to indulge their impulses and break the rules that are there to protect not only the ponies but the humans, as well (the ponies DO kick and DO bite.) Not a really great way to help your child to learn respect for nature, is it? Bob did get his own little close encounter, however…as he was standing on the trail watching the ponies go by, he felt something and looking down, saw a tiny baby pony walk right between his legs! I wish I had a picture of THAT!
The next day we headed out for an afternoon in Damascus, Virginia, “Trail Town, USA.”
It was a good little drive…about 26 miles of twisty, turny mountain roads…which took about 45 minutes.
Damascus is a scenic little town (population 814) and is the home of the annual Trail Days Festival. The Trail Days Festival began in 1987 with just a few hundred people and has grown to host over 20,000 hikers and nature lovers each May.
The town is known as Trail Town USA due to the meeting of several picturesque trails in the town, including the Appalachian Trail, U.S. Bicycle Route 76, The Iron Mountain Trail, the Virginia Creeper Trail, the Daniel Boone Wilderness Trail (a driving route) and the Crooked Road Musical Heritage Trail (another driving route.)
The Virginia Creeper Trail is a 34 mile long mountain biking trail and a good part of the businesses in Damascus seem to be dedicated to renting bikes and shuttling folks from one point to another along the trail. We didn’t have time to participate, but from what we saw, a lot of others did, and it looked like they were having a great time.
We walked around the park for a while…
…drove around town and admired the beautiful homes…
…found a place to eat (I had the chicken wings…they were yummy!)…
…and finished up with some awesome ice cream!
We definitely want to return to Damascus to continue exploring all it has to offer…I want to check out the horseback riding, and an antique and vintage store by the name of Missing Pieces, Hippy Chick Recycled Art, and Mojo’s Trailside Cafe, which looks absolutely amazing and has awesome reviews on Trip Advisor! I’ve got to admit, I did not do my due diligence before we headed out for Damascus by checking Trip Advisor, and look at all we missed!
We’ll also be returning to camp at Grayson Highlands. There are so many more trails to hike and we missed driving to the top of Whitetop Mountain, which is famous for it’s vistas and sunsets. Maybe we’ll go in May, when the Mt. Rogers Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad puts on its annual Ramp Festival, offering a day of fun-filled activities, arts and crafts, food and music to the community. They also have a Maple Festival in April and a Molasses Festival in October!
I’m glad we decided to take our grief over Isaac to the mountains. Getting away together, away from the home Isaac had been born in and lived for 21 years, away from the place where he was now buried was exactly what we needed and the Highlands was perfect for our healing.
I bruise extremely easily these days. In fact, due to the blood thinners I now take, (post Heart Opening/Attack) I am literally covered in black and blue. We’ve even had fun taking Sharpie’s to them, creating temporary little works of art. I’m not self-conscious about them at all, so it surprised me the other day when a friend asked me, totally not joking, if my husband was beating me.
Of course not! In fact, most often, I don’t even remember how I got them. I’ve frequently thought, after finding a new one, “You can look at me the wrong way and I’ll bruise.” This is exactly what I said to my friend when explaining why I looked like I’d been abused.
Which reminded me that I had been musing over writing this piece, and had not yet done it.
This piece about what we, humanity, would look like if words could bruise.
And then, as I so often do, I let the thought slip away to join all of the other ideas uselessly floating around in the ethers of my mind that I have not put into writing.
Fast-forward a few days and my procrastination slapped me…and someone I love…in the face. You see, when I want to remember something, I really do need to write it down. Names, shopping items, phone numbers, epiphanies, life lessons, thoughts …my memory benefits from seeing whatever it is in print. I guess, whatever it is, becomes im-PRINTED on my brain.
But, I didn’t write them down. They thus slipped my mind and I ended up allowing unconscious words to exit my mouth and one of the people I love most in this world ended up getting hurt.
Words do bruise. Like real bruises, they often linger for a while…reminders of the actual injury. And sometimes, they are more painful than the injury itself.
I did not intend for my words to hurt. I actually had no intentions for my words, at all. They were an unconscious, knee-jerk reaction, lubricated by an irritable mood and most importantly, NOT protected by my proven prophylactic practice, Khooba/Rakmah.
Basically…VERY basically…Khooba and Rakmah are filters that you put into place over your intentions and perceptions, kind of like safety nets. Think of what a filter can do: It can remove something unwanted (think fish tank)…or, it can enhance something, as used in photography.
Even more simply, these filters Khooba and Rakmah are LOVE.
To tap into the power of these words, we use them as an intention, a chosen mind-set, to set a “love filter” over all that we perceive, including all of our perceptual memories, (Khooba) as well as one over all of our words and actions, (Rakmah).
Here’s how I do it:
When I catch myself in any mind-set other than loving, I stop for a minute or two…in fact, even a few seconds will suffice in most instances…and on my in-breath, I breathe in “Khooba”. On my exhale, I breathe out “Rakmah”.
It’s that easy.
And, honestly, it works. It works so well, in fact, I think that if this were my only spiritual practice, it would be quite enough.
Try it and let me know how it works for you!
(For a more in-depth explanation of these two powerful filters and how they can positively affect our realities, read this: www.whyagain.com/FAQ/Rakhma_Khooba.pdf ) (Or, check out Dale Allen Hoffman’s work here: https://www.daleallenhoffman.com/, as he is the one who gave me the gift of this amazing practice. Also take a look at this interpretation from “Enlightenment” by the Yonan Codex Foundation in which the Khabouris (or Khaboris) Manuscript is translated from its original Aramaic into English.
How my mind works…
Have you ever taken a look at your internet search history?
Mine is a sort of map of how my mind works. Lately, both my search history and my mind have been filled with death.
It started with mortality definition which led to mor spirit…to mor definition to prefix to prefix mor to creator etymology to prefix im to immortal etymology to In & Im – English to mortality song to Top 10 Songs about Death
this immediately followed by a totally different tangent prompted by the prefix Im…
Image definition, reflection etymology, what light can do, properties of light, reflect etymology, image etymology and then
alternatives to cat litter, chicken scratch as cat litter and purina laying crumbles (it works!) (talk about tangents!)
over the next few days, the following…
black and white spotted moth
what is flash fiction?
measurement of juice of one lime
what to do for a toothache
ibuprofen for heart patients ok?
cat clock with twitching tail
how to teach your puppy or dog to stop chewing
graham cooke crafted prayer
dale allen hoffman
A few days and a few hundred searches later…
cat hospice care
death doula pet
International End of Life Doula Association
Broth for cats
how to help your cat die peacefully
letting pets die at home
what is the dying behavior of cats
is it inhumane to allow your cat to die naturally?
Name meaning Isaac
“Here’s Your Sign!”
Our animals communicate with us in many ways.
The decision was hard…but it wasn’t. We had had almost a week of preparation and we spent it wisely. We loved on Isaac. Even more than usual. In so many ways. Mostly, we celebrated him and thanked him for his life. We also let him know that even though we wanted him to stay with us forever, it was OK for him to let go if he was ready. We asked him to please, please let us know…somehow…some way.
And, he did.
We had put everything on hold as we attended to Isaac that week, including our plans for a long weekend in the mountains, our first get away together in over a year. Although Megan would have been home to watch and care for him most of our time away, we wanted to be with Isaac through his transition, if he was going to transition (remember, he had experienced these episodes multiple times previously, and had come back from what we had thought was the brink of death, so we were actually hopeful…) no matter how it played out. We had cancelled this trip before (I had my heart attack/opening the week we were supposed to go) and would do it again.
Our hope was that, if he was going to go, he would simply slip away peacefully in his sleep. He was comfortable, his breathing was not labored and when awake (he slept…a lot) he showed no signs of fear or anxiety.
Here is a very good article on the ABC’s of letting your pet die at home, from The Daily Vet Blog
So we waited. And we watched. And, we loved. Out loud.
“Isaac.” “Isaac.” “Isaac.” “We love you.”
He (and all pets, really…all the time…) loved hearing his name.
Wednesday night, the night before the day we would need to cancel our campsite reservations if we decided not to go, Isaac gave us our first sign that he was ready. I was laying in bed with him cuddled on my chest, scratching his head and chin as he enjoyed so much…running my hand gently down his suddenly bony back and sides. Suddenly, I felt a warm wetness and carefully setting him aside, I saw that he had lost control of his bladder. I almost cried. He was such a proud and majestic cat…he would “rather have died” than to let that happen.
Later that evening, after we cleaned up the bed and placed protective coverings on it, Bob had Isaac on his chest…doing their usual pre-bed-time snuggling, and I took this picture of them:
Until I saw the picture that night, I (and, I think Bob, too), literally did not have the eyes to see with how … depleted … Isaac had become. I saw the picture and instantly thought of a heart-breaking thread I had read when researching pet death. The young woman had refused for 8 months to see what was so obvious to everyone else…that her beloved companion had become little more than skin and bones…wasted away from a life-long disorder which she had nursed him through for years…even to the point of carrying him everywhere he had to go for over a year. It wasn’t until she saw a picture of him taken on the day that he died that she realized how “selfish” (her words) had been by putting his comfort second to her desire to have him stay with her for as long as possible.
That was our second sign. Even though Isaac was still jumping on and off furniture, and would still eat a bit (sometimes even a lot) every few hours, and was still drinking well, the picture was proof that we could not deny. His body wasn’t processing nutrients and he was wasting away. Our loving eyes just had not perceived what was fact.
A Good Death
- euthanasia (n.)
- 1640s, “a gentle and easy death,” from Greek euthanasia “an easy or happy death,” from eu- “good” (see eu-) + thanatos “death” (see thanatology) + abstract noun ending -ia. Slightly earlier in Englished form euthanasy (1630s). Sense of “legally sanctioned mercy killing” is recorded in English by 1869.
Isaac gave us our third, and final sign deep in the middle of that night. I laid awake, watching over Bob and Isaac as they slept. Around 2:30, Isaac awoke and before I could stop him, jumped off of the bed and began staggering down the hallway then went into a seizure. Thankfully, it didn’t last long and besides weakening and making him a bit confused, he shortly seemed pretty much the same as pre-seizure. But for me, I knew it was him putting punctuation marks on his previous two signs. We had hoped we could give him the gift of passing from this existence to the next at home, where he was familiar with, where he was most loved and where we could alone with him in our grief, but not at the expense of his comfort.
Isaac and I got back into bed and he slept while I waited for morning.
- comfort (v.)
- late 13c., conforten “to cheer up, console,” from Old French conforter “to comfort, to solace; to help, strengthen,” from Late Latin confortare “to strengthen much” (used in Vulgate), from Latin com-, intensive prefix (see com-), + fortis “strong” (see fort). Change of -n- to -m- began in English 14c. Related: Comforted; comforting.
- comfort (n.)
- c. 1200, “feeling of relief” (as still in to take comfort in something); also “source of alleviation or relief;” from Old French confort (see comfort (v.)). Replaced Old English frofor. Comforts (as opposed to necessities and luxuries) is from 1650s.
The decision was obvious in my mind and heart, but Isaac was Bob’s baby…they had been together for over 21 years and I knew Bob needed to have the final say. When he woke that morning, I told him about the seizure and we agreed that we did not want to risk Isaac going into another, possibly longer, scarier and more painful seizure, or any number of other difficulties that can occur as animals pass naturally.
Isaac’s last morning was filled with sunlight, kitty companionship and lots and lots of human love. At one point my intuition guided me to offer to Bob to take Isaac for his last visit alone. I had initially been so relieved that he was off of work…that I would not have to face this by myself, but all of a sudden realized that it was too painful for Bob to face and that I could gift him this solice.
It wasn’t easy. It never is. But it was the right thing to do for Isaac, and although I am an advocate for and prefer natural home death for both pets and humans, I would do it again.
If you are struggling to make “The Decision”, please know that if you follow your heart, there is no “right” or “wrong” and most importantly, that your beloved fur child knows you love them…and love you right back.
And, that doesn’t end.
1995 – 2016
“One who laughs”
Death came to visit last week and decided to stay awhile.
Our Isaac is dying. We know that. Last night I jokingly told Megan I thought he pulled this trick every few months so he could get the special treats he loves so well…Kentucky Fried Chicken, grilled salmon, sardines and the like. But, unlike previous times, he’s not perking back up. He’s twenty-one-and-a half-years old and has pulled through these spells before with wonderful vet care, frequent feedings and most importantly, tons of LOVE, but this time is different.
We’ve been caring for and watching him closely since last week. Of course we don’t want him to die. He’s a part of our family. He is especially Bob’s baby. He’s seen us through the most painful of times as well as the most joyful. He is a part of us…he is our hearts. And, of course, we don’t want him to suffer. We are at that oh so difficult stage of our relationship with this most awesome cat…The Decision.
Making The Decision.
Death has become a familiar guest in our home these past few years. We lost Bob’s mom Pauline and not too long after her passing, his father Robert died peacefully in our home after extended hospice care. During this time our dogs Ozzie and Max both passed away after long happy lives, as did our cats Hallie and Jackson. Rose, Cypher, Mouse, two un-named feral kittens and their mother were all taken from us by Feline Leukemia. I’ve also tended to a couple of injured baby squirrels as they made their transitions. It’s never easy. But, it is always sacred.
As pet owners, it is part of our sacred contract with these gifts from God, to care for them the best we know how and are capable of, and sometimes that includes making “The Decision.” Out of all of the pets named above, we’ve only had to do that once. All of the others either peacefully slipped away in our loving arms, or unexpectedly while we were sleeping.
“The Decision” sucks. It really does. And, the thing about it…is that until you know, you don’t. You really don’t know that you can actually make that decision until a moment arrives and you understand it is the right and only thing to do. And, even then, it still sucks. But, until that moment arrives, death has come to visit and you have become a death doula for your beloved pet.
Being a Death Doula.
From the New York Times: “The word doula, Greek for “woman who serves,” is usually associated with those who assist in childbirth. But increasingly, doulas are helping people with leaving the world as well.” http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/24/your-money/death-doulas-help-the-terminally-ill-and-their-families-cope.html?_r=0
You do what you can to make your pet’s last days and minutes as comfortable…even enjoyable…as you can. For us, that includes offering Isaac frequent, tempting foods, water and cream (he is one of few cats that not only tolerates cream, but thrives on it), holding the bowl up to his mouth for easy access and not forcing him if he’s not interested. It entails frequent monitoring to make sure he is not in pain or suffering in any way. He sleeps in our bed and we wake ourselves to check on him. We make sure our other pets are not pestering him. Most importantly, we hold him and love him and celebrate his life…out loud.
“Isaac! The proud and noble!”
“Isaac! The devoted and wise!”
“Isaac! You have loved so well!”
“Isaac! We love you so much!”
Always using his name. Always in LOVE…
Until he leaves us, his way eased by the most powerful force in existence…or another possibility that LOVE presents…he recovers, which as I mentioned, has happened before, or we come to that moment when we know what we didn’t before…that the decision is no longer a decision, but a reality.
LOVE will let us know. It always does.
Until then, we will entertain Death as we do all guests…with LOVE.
Meet Ruby, the newest addition to our family. She actually joined us back in February, but back then I was hesitant to share her with you because I honestly didn’t know if she was going to “make it” with us.
You see, Ruby was found abandoned in someone’s back yard, along with another dog, who was dead. Ruby was in such bad shape that she required two months of intensive medical care and rehabilitation before she could be put up for adoption. And, then she was adopted, but her new “forever” family only kept her for 4 days before returning her to the shelter for “bad behavior” and “nerves.” (The first day after they adopted her, they left her alone in a bedroom for 9 hours and she ate the mattress!)
When our daughter Megan called and informed us that she’d fallen in love with this puppy, and told us about her history, of course my heart went out to her and I said “bring her home,” all the while questioning my judgement (it’s not like we don’t already have a houseful of four-legged family members!) as well as whether it was wise to adopt a Pit Bull Terrier mix. I tried to keep in mind all of the positive stories I had heard of this breed…how loyal and smart, responsive, eager to please and more…and decided to do my best to give her a chance.
Believe me, those first few days I watched her like a hawk. I was most nervous that she had not been raised around cats and didn’t know how she would react, especially since she was still officially a puppy whose play could be overly enthusiastic at times.
Ruby soon proved that she, too, was a cat lover and we all enjoyed watching her interact with our “herd”, especially with one of our youngest, Faith. Ruby would tease Faith and Faith would tease Ruby, back and forth, forth and back…Ruby gently mouthing Faith’s whole head and Faith pedaling Ruby’s face with her back feet, claws sheathed.
So, I relaxed about that.
On the other hand, spending the majority of her first year outside and then in a shelter, Ruby had some other issues which I found myself having difficulty dealing with.
She chewed. Everything. Furniture. The carpet. The door jamb. Toys. Whatever she could get her mouth on.
She also seemed to be totally disinterested in learning to “go” outside.
And, she definitely had a case of “the nerves.” Loud noises, (especially metal on metal) and sudden movements freaked her out. She had to be approached from her front, and preferably underneath her chin…if we went to pat the back of her head she would cringe and shy away.
Although I’ve done my best to be patient and loving with her, there have been many days when I really didn’t know whether we were the right family for Ruby.
Until this week.
We were out walking the dogs when Ruby got away from us. Now, let me tell you…Ruby is FAST. When she’s off leash at the dog park, she can eat up some ground like I don’t know what. But, this time she didn’t take off. With us trailing her, calling her name, she started heading down the street…never letting us out of her sight…slowing down and even stopping until we got close enough for her liking…then starting off again.
Nervously, we followed her…the highway was only a short block away and that was the direction she was heading, but then she turned…
and, crossing a field, went straight to our house, curling herself up on the doormat, patiently awaiting our tardy (and sweaty) arrival.
It was then that my heart fully opened to our Ruby. I saw a beautiful, young dog that knew where she belonged…who knew where she was loved and treasured…who knew what HOME is meant to mean and who had found hers…forever.
So, I am pleased to introduce you to our Ruby…a new way to love.