If You Don’t Weaken
If You Don’t Weaken
I am running with the wolves………………Karl, Rusty, Chris Prins (The wind in my hair….). It wasn’t until today I realized that in reading that book, in the giving of the book, there was always a perception it was a bad thing. When my friend Marcella gave it to me I was flattered and thought she was offering me a gift, which she was but it was also meant as a kindly warning. As she told me years later when our perceived friendship crumbled, “It is not a good thing to be incorrigible!” I had taken the comment as a compliment and I still do. I guess this truly makes me my father’s daughter and if we sometimes resent being able to see ourselves just a bit too clearly in our parents it is also a gift. I have always held some resentment against my father’s selfishness but it has also allowed him that same spontaneity which I myself have so treasured. If I had not battled the constraints of my upbringing and kicked over the traces I would not be who I am or have had the adventures I have witnessed. Neither would he and that too would be regrettable.
But I didn’t set out to write about my dad, it is my mother I have been thinking about, she who sits quietly in the nursing home waiting for someone to take care of her. Though I love my mother I also resent her selfishness, her failings, her weakness, I wanted and needed her to be strong also, but she is not and never has been. Not for long anyway though as a girl I thought she was. These are emotions I can express but not admit to, relay them in some covert fashion as I speak of my regret her life is what it is but I can also summon the fear it has ingrained in me. Just as the ranchers on the San Agustin Plains will point out that their survival depends on their strengths, mine does as well. When I think of my mother, or when I am saddled with my own doubts, I remind myself to be strong. I am unwilling to fail, to relinquish my power over my own life and direction, I want to be free and able to do as I choose. I also go to great lengths to assure that I don’t fail in the effort. My dad is still alive and well for the same reasons, he will never give up!
Karl is cutting wood on the hillside. I can’t quite recall how we got started on this cutting wood thing but it is working, for all of us. This is September in the mountains, the hot dry days of summer behind us and we are working now in a late and most unusual monsoon season. It has been raining for days in Mescalero, and all across New Mexico, which is unusual but good, we need the moisture. It is also colder and instinct stirs our blood, it is time to get wood and for those of us who like comfort as well as having a desire for a purpose in our lives, wood cutting is good. I myself have always thrived on it and Karl, who has worked as a sawyer for the Forest Service for years, also likes the roar of the saw. Sadly it has been more than a year, since last fall, that he has been called out on a fire or ran a saw and he barely cut any wood for his mom last winter, she bought it all. He would be angry to read this but it is true, he preferred to drink or complain about everyone else’s inertia than to make any effort towards that end. Something has changed now, he is cutting wood, finding some purpose for himself, and it is good.
I have learned a new lesson today, one about those wolves and one for myself. Karl texted me at lunch time and said he needed a six pack. He has been drinking again, for the last four or five days, and needs to keep a little alcohol in his blood or he will be sick. He is in fact about half sick, which makes him somewhat delirious, but he is wildly focused also. He can stay on a task and maintain a rapid banter of talk but he is wild eyed with the sickness that drinking puts upon him, the delirium tremens are alive and well in this part of the woods. If not for his physical strength and great intelligence he would be dead or close but instead he thrives. I bought a six pack of beer and then walked up a steep mountainside to deliver it to him, a thirty minute hike up the equivalent of what, 30 flights of steps perhaps? More maybe? Steep, slippery, as it has been raining for days, thrilling, exhilarating, challenging………….a power walk for lunch if you will, my heart pounding with the effort, unswaying and grateful I can do it with such ease, in spite of sitting too much at work. I am fifty six years old and pray I am so fit when I get older. I am thankful for the encouragement I receive from Karl, that he has given me a reason to make the hike; we have done the same three days in a row. I am enabling him, yes, to stay there and cut wood rather than give in to his sickness and go to the bar. He is punishing himself for drinking by pushing his body to its limit, something no one else I know would be capable of! It is a vicious cycle but he is making progress, this is the most work he has done in a year and we are doing it together.
When I arrived on the hilltop I found Tristin, who is Karl’s nephew and his brother Allen there along with Karl, him lecturing one on the way to run the chainsaw and the other on rolling wood off the hillside. Ever the alpha male, his chest swelled with muscle and the work, he was covered with sawdust and commanding everyone’s attention. Such an ego he has that he interrupted everything I was saying, while also listening with one ear, resenting my need for sharing my thoughts as much as he prided in my ability to do so. He had me bring the beer as much to show the others I would, including climbing the hill, as he did out of the need for a drink. He won’t hardly thank me for the things I do but brags on me behind my back and teases me into an argument just to show his companions how well I can stand up to him. He is a bully and until now I have sometimes overlooked the obvious, he needs me to counter that, as much as he wants me to flatter him.
Here’s my point. I learned a very valuable lesson today, in keeping with my desire to make everything a positive, to justify and to affirm my actions. I am running with the wolves. We are so often warned against too much spontaneity, too much adventure, too little constraint. I have never capered well to that and have always resisted the obvious boundaries. I need more than that, I need challenge, I need grace, I need to rise above my own weaknesses, my own failings and to have a purpose in my life. So does Karl, even if it is for different reasons, he has that same desire I do and we are so very much alike! This is not always an easy thing to do and worse, there seems to be so few people who can understand and acknowledge that. I thrive on my strengths and fear my failings; it is what defines me as a person. I have a quick mind and a need for adversity to keep it on its toes. I also have a very difficult time finding others of equal wit, insight and strength, let alone one who also desires my company. Karl is one of those rare individuals who bring all of that and more to my life. Though he won’t tell me to my face I do the same for him. Our friendship endures because of that and we are both better people because of it.
Karl is a wolf and makes no effort to disguise it. He is the alpha male and throws it in everyone’s face, daring them, wanting them to challenge him. Too often they back down and he walks over the top of them. If the cubs challenge him he thrashes them, but perhaps secretly priding himself in instilling some strength in them also. He challenges me too, and tests the limits of my strength, but he also waits for me. He has treated me unkindly, and not always fairly, yet he somehow always repays me with kindness, especially when I resist him and offer to fight back. I’ve been missing this but somehow of late he has chosen to be more generous and I am reaping the rewards of that. Tristin pointed it out to us both when he laughed at our role changing and the ensuing arguments we presented to each other for his benefit. He saw the humor in it and said out loud, “Now I see what it is you do for each other and it is good.” It seems that he, like everyone else, my own self included, has questioned the alliance. It took someone else to point it out for me to see it, and I am thankful for the reminder.
We draw closer when I am strong, and it strengthens him also. He has been watching me for my strength just as I have relied on him to sharpen mine and it seems we have found some common ground. Winter looms close and we all need wood, we have been gathering it together. Karl has his saw in hand again and the roar of the chain biting deep into the wood has given him some purpose. He hasn’t stopped drinking yet, and perhaps he may not, but he is trying. I, on the other hand, am finding some greater strength in the face of adversity, and with his steady encouragement I am realigning myself and finding the purpose I require to leap forward. Somehow I think it will enable us both to stay on task, to focus our energies on building and maintaining our much needed strengths. We are reminding each other of that most precious lesson, that life is good and can be lived well, “If you don’t weaken.”