Wednesday, August 29, 2012

# 334 - Country Solitude

To have close friends is to know a bit about how Heaven operates. The woman furthest from the camera in the shot below has been a best-friend of mine for about twenty years, since Stefie was a toddler. Julia and I have been through a lot together as friends, good and bad.

Julia is the kind of friend who you can be raw with and not worry about saying the right things or wrong thing...we just accept each other for who we are in this world.

In 2000, Julia lost her 16 year old daughter to a tragic car accident right around the corner from home. Her daughter had been a big part of my life as well, like one of my own kids. If she was running late to school, she knew to call me and I would go get her. For years, we lived next door to each other. Jeannie even lived with us for about three months when her house next door caught fire. Julia and I had a true open door policy to each other and to our children; we shared homes and the mothering. Everyone should have such a beautiful best-friend and next door neighbor!

In fact, for years, while our husbands were always off and away doing their own thing on a regular basis, every weekend and weekday they could fit it for their fun, Julia and I hung out and handled the raising of our children, as a team. So many weekends we would drive one child here, another there, this one to that place, and pick up the next...and we always had a blast together.

This past week, at my house...Julia, Scott, Heather, Kelly and my Sissy!
Julia is from Spain; she has the most adorable accent. However, when Jeannie died in the car accident, Julia tried to return to a "normal" life without her daughter, but it was not possible. After several months of trying and still feeling as if her world were disintegrating, she felt compelled to return to her home in Spain, actually, the Canary Islands. The hardest part of all of this is that the Lord had given her a baby girl who was only five months old when Jeannie, the big sister, died from the car accident. On top of mourning a horrendous loss, she was still trying to be a mom to this new baby, and I can tell you that severe grief can interfere with your most basic functions. Together, for months after Jeannie's death, we both raised Marisa, her new baby daughter until Julia could take no more of being in her same surroundings and she left for the Canary Islands with Marisa for the next several months.
A change in scenery did help in some ways. In the Canary Islands, she was able to let her child be loved by other family members in her moments of numb grief and Marisa learned very young to experience life on the island as Julia had while growing up. Marisa, her second daughter, loved being on the beach. At just under one year old, Marisa found herself exploring sand and surf on the wide open beach instead of searching for it from a fenced-in backyard of suburbia. I believe that time-frame of living several months in the Canary Islands made a nature lover out of that girl...she's now on the cusp of being a teenager with a love for her horses and all things outdoors. Even though Julia prefers the city life, the beach gave Marisa a chance to be in nature.
But, there is no doubt that Julia is a city girl at heart. She loves being in Downtown Houston. She loves shopping at Houston's multi-level Galleria. She goes into the inner city for her groceries. The best restaurants, in her opinion, are downtown and require you to parallel park. We are like water and oil, but that's the beauty of our relationship. We are so different, but then, we are so very alike.
Regardless, Julia tries to do the nature thing for Marisa, but Julia is still a city girl to her core.
This is why she cannot understand my need to live in the country. Julia knows I have spent much of my life in the country, one way or another. I grew up with much of my summers spent with my grandmother at one of her two country homes. I took the trash out and burned it. I would help re-level the gravel driveway. I rode the motorscooter down the dusty streets at neck-break speeds while screaming with delight. I would fall asleep on a blanket beneath the trees and hear screams to get my butt inside the house as night fell.

I loved being in the country, for as far back as my memories will take me, I have memories of being in the country and of being at "home" in the middle of the Piney Woods and the Big Thicket of Texas.
Julia's family moved about four years ago to a big house on a couple acres of land in a ritzy part of town outside of Houston. This is what I would call a "Designer Ranches" neighborhood. It is beautiful, but it is not what I am wanting for my own country experience. I want rustic, peaceful, no competing with the Jones' lifestyle, but I am thoughtful toward having a master-planned residence that caters to multiple desires that cannot be met in a city space; I want privacy, and I want plenty of room for the gatherings that will continue to take place in my life and to have space for my current friends and for new friends to come stay for a spell.
Here I am with Stefie and Julia.
After talking about our country connections, Julia admitted that she hates being on the ranch, even though it is very small, she feels isolated. She is ready to move back into a more congested neighborhood and eager to say goodbye to the barn that is waiting to be assembled in the pasture. She thinks I'm crazy for wanting to live in the country, but we laugh about it because she knows, deep down, that it's best for me.

The truth is...Julia and I would be happy as two peas in a pod if we were to live next door to each other again, but that's not going to happen. So, I can keep moving forward.
For Julia, in the Canary Islands, she grew up as an only child and her home was a high-rise apartment building overlooking the ocean. The beach was her frontyard. So, she had a good mix of nature with city-life. The town was below her and everyone would meet, every day, to sit and talk over coffee. Her upbringing had been extremely social and interactive with town's people, neighbors, family and friends on a daily level. Even here in America, Julia's door is always open to company passing by...I love this about her. However, I believe this is the reason she cannot live happily away from social congestion and that is understandable, it's not the best environment for her personality. She is at her best when in the middle of socializing and residing in close living quarters because she is a people person to her core. However, even Julia has her moments of needing solitude, but her need is not as demanding in that area as is mine. She demands a tiny piece of it with verocity, but I demand longer periods of it with calmness and will take the stretches when they come available for me.
Julia and I having a riot at a female impersonator show in Louisiana.
I believe this was Liza Minnelli performing.
Therefore, it is difficult for Julia to understand that I can indeed be happy during prolonged stretches of solitude in the woods. I tried to explain that I have so many friends and family that it will be a rare weekend to find myself alone, and that I will become entrenched into town life in Livingston because I do feel as if it will truly be my HOME. I will feel comfortable firmly planting roots in that area. I will open myself to new friends, but the time in between, when I am alone, those are times I will always cherish because I'm never really alone...I feel God's presence in the gentle bending of the trees as the wind blows.
When alone, I draw, I write, I read, I enjoy the scenery and my sharing the space with God; I am truly at peace and have no fear of being alone. It is sometimes difficult for others to understand how I feel about being comfortable with solitude.
I learned that I am never alone when I was 33 years of age and my body coded while being monitored in the hospital...I had an experience that permeated every cell of my being and stuck with me afterward like a beautiful virus that you never want to go away. I am infected with the powerful presence of God, so I am never afraid to be alone. I nearly went on my final journey out of this world, going from 0 to 60 in a blink of an eye to find that my paralyzing fear of being by myself during the Code Blue was suddenly blanketed by a comforting presence that made no promises other than the thick message of, "No matter what happens, everything will be okay."

And, the presence was so powerful and absolute that I did not need any further prodding or convincing, I accepted the opportunity to receive His comfort to my core; I relaxed, and all fear of being alone immediately evaporated from the room, far from me.
That is a gift. At a young age, I was given an incredible gift during a moment of battling for my life. And ever since that moment, I've desperately tried to move myself to an environment that offers more of that feeling that I had in the hospital room on that night when I went from being terrified and alone to being comforted and realizing my space is always being shared with The One who is greater than all of us.
Soon after that Code Blue night, I was led to this acreage. I originally found it on the Internet. It was not listed by regular means for public consumption, it is as if it had been waiting for me, sitting on the market for over two years. Still so sick and fragile, I could barely take a few steps to get a peek at its glory. But, I knew it was the place on this earth that had been waiting for me and me for it.
Oh, if only everyone could have this connection to a physical address on this level. It is the reason I am willing to live in a shack to be on that land. Life is experienced on a different level when I am on my acreage and it is near-impossible to try to communicate the spiritual link I have with this little speck on the earth.
Regardless, there is a tender balance of being able to fully enjoy moments with company and then to be able to fully savor moments of solitude in a treasured spot that nurtures the soul. For me, the Piney Woods and Big Thicket help me fulfill the rich, goodness of my highest dreams. As long as my peaceful moments are mostly on a front porch or walking in the woods with my dogs while knowing that my next visit with my children, family and friends is just around the corner, then I am living a dream come true.
I know it is difficult for peoplewho are too city-connected to understand my perspective. All I can hope is that once Julia sees my life in the country, full-time, she will know what I am talking about, at least from my own perspective. I tried to explain to her that if I were in the city and surrounded by congestion all the time with unlimited steel and concrete at every glance...I'd feel overwhelmed, kind of like the feeling others get during an attack of claustrophobia, it is not for me.
Julia and I in Louisiana, in the late 1990's.
Geez, that sounds ancient!
The great thing that has strengthened my resolve is to look back over my grandmother's life. My grandmother and I have always been extremely close. Most of her life, she has been on her own and that meant she needed to develop of way of life that she could afford and maintain. When I was about nine years old, she purchased about an acre of land in the country, off a back-road made of gravel and she went to work to make that place her kingdom. The land came with one trailer house that was rather run down, but she had a newer trailer house delivered on site with the Hollywood bathroom that I had never even seen in a normal house. She worked like a dog to make her home a beautiful place.
She put a skirt up around the double-wide trailer and planted ferns to mask any man-made parts and her gardens soon became a tropical oasis and it made her place look like something out of a magazine. Trailing vines and blooming flowers with stepping stones leading from her front door to her garden shed...all of it came together and created a place for me to enjoy visiting until my thirties. An outdoors woman herself, this land nurtured her spirit and helped her recover from multiple strokes that would start at 52 years of age. Each time, doctors would not think she would survive, she had brain stem strokes...after a bit of rehabilitation, she would insist on going back home to the country and she'd just want to be left alone for healing. And it worked. She had good friends and family checking on her and bringing her things, but she remained independent. It was a long road, she couldn't go home until her body relearned how to climb steps, but she did it. She did it.
Even though she was far from town, in an isolated area and off the beaten path, she was happier than most any person I knew. It did not take much to make her happy, but I am realizing that she too needed nature around her. I guess I did not get my burning passion to be in the woods from thin air. But, looking back, I realized that my grandmother led a beautiful life on her own terms and she's now in her mid 80's and still misses her place that she ended up selling in her 70's.  
Hopefully, like my grandmother, I will have a good 30+ years in front of me to enjoy in the forest. I feel fortified in my desire to get moved to the acreage. Not having to share walls of an apartment will suit me just fine. Not having to worry about backing up my vehicle and having to watch for jam-packed cars parked along the curb behind me will be even nicer. Getting to smell fresh country air every day will be a hoot. Being able to stand beneath towering trees will be incredible; to lay in a hammock and snooze with the breeze blowing all around me will be unspeakably relaxing. Throwing the dogs a game of ball while sitting on my front porch will bring lots of laughs.
What part of living in the country will be so awful as to make me shun the entire experience? The potential black bear that might be migrating my direction? No, I won't let those scare me away and my dogs will help in that area. The country criminal element? Nope, I will always be prepared, besides, I live in Harris County right now and am surrounded by the worst criminal element HERE. Snakes? No, those are not my fear...if I can tackle snakes in my house by myself, I can handle them sharing the forest with me. Acreage upkeep? That is not a problem because I will only worry about the zone immediately around the house and the floor of pine needles will keep my maintenance duties to a minimum; I like nature's carpeting. Other areas of lawn can be taken care of with a meditating ride on the lawnmower.

For other more pressing matters, if I live out there full-time, I can almost guarantee that my brother will be out there more often. He loves that land as much as I do. But, he'll probably be in the far back recesses of the land, covered in camo-paint and getting in touch with his inner Marine and practicing his survivalist skills. Fine with me.
Here I am, driving and taking photographs again.
For other areas...I will just have to keep back enough funds to call out an electrician or a plumber that is well known by others around town. Since I take good care of things, my need for help should remain minimal; besides, there is a lot I can do on my own. A lot. If I don't know how to do something, I can be pretty insistent with learning and doing it myself.
I guess Julia will be one of my first visitors and she will just have to see how I am surviving while being surrounded by incredible beauty. Since she loves Livingston, it is one of her family's most favorite places to visit, I guess she will no longer have to stay at the State Park or in a hotel...she'll have a close friend with room to spare. I'm very thankful that this area is truly one of their favored travel spots and that I'll have room on my land for Marisa's horse with a horse trail right down the road from me that goes through the Big Thicket Preserve. It can't get better than that!

When Julia is sick of the congestion in her life, she can come walk with me through the woods, breathe some fresh air, regain her perspective and we will enjoy sharing every moment from the past, as we savor the present and we will continue to look forward to more good times together down the road. What are friends for but to share the ups and downs of life?


mary i said...

This is a lovely thoughtful well written post. I feel as if I know your friend. I am betting that when you two are in the room there is Light and Laughter and Realness.. I must agree with your need for "the-land". You are a Blessed woman in many ways.You are also inspiration to me.Thank You for sharing with me/us.Have a Great Day :)

LindaG said...

I want rustic, peaceful, no competing with the Jones' lifestyle,
Thank goodness some people prefer the city, otherwise the country might get crowded. ;o)

Have a blessed weekend, Lana!

Michelle said...

Great friends are truly a gift from God. said...

Mary - You are picturing the scene accurately! My times with Julia bring us a full spectrum of feelings, but mostly connecting and making each other laugh. We are so brutally honest with each other that it is refreshing. Thank you for all the kind words...I'm not always inspiring, but I'm hard at work just being myself! If it works out that my life is inspiring, then I am grateful and humbled.

Linda -- Excellent point. If everyone loved the country, we'd solitude-seekers would be having our privacy crashed in a big way.

Michelle --- I have many beautiful gifts from God -- but it requires an investment of your time, energy, emotion and support to have such life-long friends, it's been worth every sacrifice because I always gain more than I give. It comes back to me friends are percious to me.