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Kasha

“Veterinarians deal with death the most out of any medical profession.”

“Does it ever really get any easier, euthanization?” asked the first year student.

“Every euthanization is difficult, but some hit harder than others…”
– from “Vet School” (TV show, NatGeo Wild)

Is there any such thing as a good death? A beautiful, peaceful, passing?

Is there a right way and a wrong way for the owners, scratch that, the human family of a beloved companion animal to act, when they have to free a well loved furry family member from life, because of illness or injury? When the vet is there, administering the fatal meds, is there a proper or expected or normal way to act? Or do they see a whole range of responses?

Strange questions to ask, I know, but you ought to be used to strange questions from me by now.

Our vet cried, along with Rhiannon and I, when we put dear Kasha to sleep, on Nov 2. I’m pretty sure it was my actions that caused that.

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In her prime...

Let me back up, and set the scene… Kasha was 12 or 13 years old, quite old for a giant of a dog, weighing over 100#. She was a shelter dog, rescued from the ASPCA when less than a year old. She had been a member of the family a long, long, time.

Kasha had developed multiple issues, including deafness, a heart condition, gallbladder problems, and then, canine degenerative disc disease began taking a huge toll on her, worsening dramatically in August. She had muscle spasms in her rear thighs and legs, and stiffness, then finally started having a hard time getting her rear legs up, standing or walking. She just couldn’t coordinate her back legs properly.

I watched her those last two weeks with her spinal issues weighing heavily on my mind. I had just been told that my own back pain wasn’t just scoliosis or a slipped disc.

No, nothing is ever that simple with me. Instead, I have “severe multilevel degenerative disc disease” of pretty much my whole spine. And Kasha had the canine equivalent.

So the question on my mind that last few weeks was, “is she in as much pain as I am?” Because I was in a lot of pain, with sharp pains in my spine, feeling discs moving around, sciatica in my hips making it hard to get comfortable, no matter what position I tried.

Did she feel that way? I don’t think so, at least not until the last few days, and I dosed her with pain meds then, while we waited for it to be Monday, and the vet able to come…

Books on grieving pet loss all say when you have to be the one to make the call, that so-dreaded and very final decision, that everyone feels guilty to some extent.

I didn’t. It couldn’t have been any clearer, watching this beautiful, still so-very-loving, old friend, drag herself around with her front legs, unable to stand her rear up without assistance. How affectionate she was those last few weeks, relishing all the extra attention she was getting…

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A young Kasha, right after her adoption...

We were lucky, and a local vet has just started doing house calls. She had known we were almost there, and was waiting to get the call… and then it was clearly, so clearly, time.

The vet was running late that day, but it turned out to be for the best, I think. We had moved Kasha out into the yard, and as the sun fell and the light began to die, we brought candles, many candles, outside.

For an hour or so, Rhiannon and I sat beside Kasha, lavishing her with Love, expensive treats, and cheese. We told her how much she meant to us, swapped stories about what a good dog she’d been, shared the funny stories, and commemorated her life.

We were ready, when the vet arrived. She quietly asked questions, to understand the situation better. We managed to stop crying long enough to answer them. I suspect our tear-streaked faces told her more than enough.

The vet was gentle and patient, and Kasha was soon sedated, nearly asleep, her head in my lap… the vet waited until we were ready, to give that final injection.

My forehead rested on Kasha’s, one hand cradling her head, the other in Rhiannon’s tight grip, as tears streamed like a river over Kasha’s head. I whispered to her that it was okay, that she should fly free, my beautiful girl, away from the pain, and that we’d be okay.

Kasha’s nose against my leg told me when her breathing slowed, and stopped.

I don’t know how it is for other people in the same situation.

But as deaths go, this one was peaceful, reverential, sacred. An act of mercy, a setting free, done with so very much Love. I can only hope my own passing, when it comes, is such a gentle one.

And maybe that’s why the vet cried. I don’t suppose it’s every day she sees a sacred passing, a silently sobbing owner, forehead to forehead, eye to eye, with her beloved companion, as their soul takes flight.
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You’re in the arms of the angels, now, Kasha.
We Love you.
Now, forever, and always.


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Awake, yet again, in the deep of the night,
I listen to the breeze sigh through the forest leaves,
Sounding like the gentle caress of waves on the shore.
My ever present companion, Kodi,
Lays watchful at the end of the deck,
As I turn to go sit in my porch swing.

A loud snort breaks the silence of the Mountain,
Echoing all around us,
And Kodi is instantly alert and by my side.
A gentle woof escapes his throat.
“We don’t bark at the deer,” I remind him,
But they snort so seldom,
He has forgotten the sound.

We move as one,
My hand resting on his broad back,
To the screened porch,
And I hear the hesitant footfalls of our visitor.
In silence, I illuminate the big doe with my flashlight,
And Kodi and I watch her, together.

She is uncommonly pale,
The color of the deer we call Brazen,
But too skittish to be her.
Perhaps her daughter or sister, I muse.
I see the lines of the old Matriarch,
The biggest doe I’d ever seen,
In this one – the sheer size, large ears.
As she moves off, slowly,
I see she is limping slightly,
As she was a few days ago,
When last I saw her.

Is that why she is alone?
I ask Kodi, who looks at me quizzically,
And sits, faithfully, beside me,
In the dark, quiet, night.
I am never alone.

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I was afraid.

Not the kind of rational, in-my-head, calculating-the-risk, type of afraid.

No.

In-my-gut afraid.

Primally,
animal-instinctually,
go-inside-and-hide,

afraid.

Because of a sound coming up the Mountain, one I’d never heard.

It wasn’t a feeling I’d had in a long time; in fact, I can’t remember when. Certainly never here, at my home on the Mountain.

It was the night of Superstorm Sandy.

The wind had been steadily increasing all day, and had been raging and roaring for hours.

Late in the evening, we noticed a change in the sound. There was a strange vibration, too. Rhiannon, huddled in the dark with me, the dogs & cats, on my bed, was leaning against the wall, and said the whole house was vibrating.

In the kitchen, we both heard a strange wailing sound, as if a woman were keening. It is the season of Samhain, the Celtic New Year, which is the time when the doors between the worlds – this world and the realms of spirit – are most open. “Banshee,” or, in Gaelic, “Bean Sidhe” (Fairy Wife), came instantly to mind. Legend says the Banshee is the harbinger of death.

We stepped out onto our screened-in porch, only to be greeted by stinging, wind-driven, sleet, no matter how sheltered a position we took. Rhiannon only lasted a few moments in the raging wind.

But I stayed. Something felt decidedly different. Decidedly off.

I listened to the roaring winds, as I have countless times in the 11 years we have lived here. I wanted to understand what they were telling me.

They rage hard on our Mountain, at our home, when any storm front comes through – it’s the downside of living high on a west-facing ridge. The storms march across the wide Shenandoah Valley, spread out below, and run smack into us. Winds at our house are usually 10 to 20mph higher than down below, or even than they are on the other side of the Mountain.

As I listened, a deep rumble started in the Valley, and as it moved closer, grew in intensity.

For a moment, I thought of the sound that the occasional, low-flying, military helicopters on maneuvers make – there was the same thrumming, rumbling, vibration, with this new roar on top of the roar already raging.

But there could be no helicopters that night. The winds had to have been 70, maybe 80mph or more. They can’t fly in that.

As it got closer, it sounded, too, like a dozen freight trains were headed up the Mountain, the way their wheels rumble over the tracks, and the vibration, so low…

It washed over our ridge like a wave, this rumbling roar of wind, and the trees thrashed as never before.

Fear exploded in my belly, and my gut said to go inside immediately.

But I wanted to understand what was happening, so I stayed put, and lasted one more wave.

I listened to it build in the Valley below, rushing up through the trees as it made its way to us, and felt the vibration in my bones as the deafening roar & rumble washed over us.

Raw, naked, fear gripped me, filled my belly, and I bolted through the door, hearing the wailing cry of the Banshee as I did. I could not help myself.

I have never been afraid here like that before.

The screened-in porch is my domain, whether Spring, Summer, Fall or Winter, and in all weather. I visit it many times every day, work on carving there as energy allows, watch the seasons turn, and observe Mother Earth around me, day and night.

I have watched hundreds of thunderstorms march over our Mountain in the Summer, delighting in the play of lightning in the sky and the way the trees move with the wind.

I have sat for hours, well bundled, watching the play of thrashing trees against dark Winter nights when the winds raged around me.

Other North’easters and other hurricanes have come and gone and this Summer brought the startlement of the derecho winds.

And while others may be afraid of the woods at night, I delight in walking barefoot through them under the bright Full Moon.

But always, I have been in-my-head, calculating the risk, rationally deciding when it was time to go inside, for safety’s sake.

Never, in-my-gut afraid.
Never, primally, animal-instinctually, go-inside-and-hide, afraid.

This storm was different, “…stitched together from elements natural and unnatural.” as author & founder of 350.org Bill McKibben put it (you can also read a transcript rather than the video at the first link).

Rationally, I think what I heard was the cold front coming in from the West and merging with Sandy’s rotation. That would explain the layers of wind, the differing directions they seemed to come from. And the Banshee’s cry was the wind whistling through the leaves.

But irrationally, all I can think of is those moments of primal, animal, instinctual, fear.

I’m not used to being afraid of Nature.

Nature is my everything, my element, despite the illness that keeps me confined to the house. Nature is what keeps me going.

I am constantly aware of what is happening outside, looking out through the large sliding glass doors in my bedroom, or in one of my many ventures onto the screened-in porch.

We live in an untended and wild Forest.

The trees I know well, in all seasons. I see them sway gently or thrash in the wind; bask in the golden glow of Fall color; watch for the first green tips to appear in Spring; thank them for their shade in Summer’s heat.

I love the giant and ancient Oak that lives on the North side of the house well – it lost many limbs in last Halloween’s freak snowstorm.

From my bed or from the porch, I observe the sky: the clouds, the many beautiful sunsets, and at night, the Moon & stars. I smile as the snow swirls and falls, and the mists & fogs close in. I listen to the birds, track their migrations, and follow the lives of the many deer and other wildlife.

While Sandy left our home undamaged, for which we are extremely grateful, she did leave a mark.

Our Forest, filled with trees that are tough, strong, and resiliant, tempered as they are by the many high winds we get from storms, shows Sandy’s mark here & there in twisted, dangling branches, and a few downed trees & branches. My favorite Fall-color tree, an Ash, lost a large primary branch. The beautiful Fall leaves have been largely stripped from the trees, a bit early, and carpet the Forest floor.

Yesterday, I saw one of the many deer who I have watched through the Summer, a youngster, appears to have a seriously injured ankle – swollen & with a bloody ring around it, as if it was trapped in something. I wonder if she ran in fear of the storm, and caught it between stones.

But it could have been so much worse.

Sandy has left her mark on me, as well.

I will not forget those moments of animal, instinctual, fear. They have renewed my sense of awe and respect for the force and power inherent in Mother Earth.

She is not to be taken lightly.

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So Brazen! Inside our dog yard! (Photo taken thru screen.)

She is so brazen.

She looked up at me, startled, but unafraid, when I came out onto our screened in porch yesterday morning.

There she was, standing inside our fenced-in dog yard, stems and leaves dangling from her mouth. She looked guilty, like a kid who got caught with their hand in the cookie jar.

We’ve lived here 11 years, and this is the first time this has happened.

I gazed back at her from less than 15 feet away. She has beautiful eyes, I thought, watching her watching me, as she casually chewed her mouthful of weeds.

I’ve known her, this one particular doe, since she was a striking little fawn. There are many deer, but both she and her mother are different.

Her mother is the grand matriarch of this section of Woods, the biggest doe I’ve ever seen (with the biggest ears to match), the leader of the rest of the “girls,” many of whom are her offspring. Now she is the “old doe,” slowing down with age, and instead of twins, having single fawns.

But this daughter of hers looks ready to take her mother’s place. She was clearly different from the beginning, her coat several shades lighter than that of her twin brother and the rest of the deer. It still is, and in Winter, it is the palest silver-gray. Now she is two years old, and has twin fawns of her own.

She has always been brazen, this one.

Once, I started the car up, in the evening, flipped on the headlights, and there she was, standing right in front of the car. I waited for her to move, as her companions had.

But instead, she looked at me, and stamped her hoof imperiously, before ever so slowly turning around. Her tail went up, and the headlights lit it up. I watched as the hairs spread out; it reminded me somehow of a peacock’s tail. I didn’t know they could do that – control the spread of the white hairs, and she spread them like a fan for me to see. It was beautiful, the hairs shimmering, crystalline white, in the light.

This doe reminds me of a goat I used to have, named Molly, who was just that color. She has as much personality as a goat, that much is for certain, and in case you’ve never had goats, well, they have nearly as much personality & intelligence as a dog.

As I gazed at the doe in my dog yard, my newly awakened brain surveyed the fence running around it. That fence would hold a goat, I thought, unless it climbed over it. I began pondering how she was going to get out of there – and how she got in.

I needn’t have worried.

When she finished chewing her mouthful, staring at me the whole time, but with her body calm, her white tail relaxed, she nonchalantly ambled over to the fence, nibbling as she went. With one graceful leap, from a standstill, she was over the 42″ high fence, and began nibbling away on the other side.

So graceful. So beautiful. So easy.

She continued her grazing around the outside of the dog yard, and I watched her a long time.

Suddenly she alerted, her eyes staring intently off into the Woods on the other side of the house. If I didn’t bother her, and Kodi’s careful surveillance of her didn’t bother her, then what did?

I walked across the deck to see, and standing in a very green patch, lit by the sun, was a beautiful big stag, with a gleaming rusty red coat, and a heavy rack on his head. The bucks are banding together now, and he had several with him, of all ages.

I regretted I hadn’t had my phone, and therefor my camera, with me, to get a picture of the doe in the dog yard, and the beautiful bucks.

But I shouldn’t have worried about that, either.

Grazing Outside the Jungle… err… Dog Yard…

The brazen girl came back in the afternoon, saw me on the porch swinging in my hammock chair, and, looking me in the eye, jumped the fence again, in a different place. She almost, just almost, looked like a teenager, daring me to tell her she couldn’t be in there.

She didn’t like having her picture taken, though, and was further away from the house than she’d been earlier. But it was nice of her to let me get one decent shot, the one at top.

I love the deer, especially this brazen girl, who has walked so frequently through our “yard” with her fawns in tow.

I love these Woods, and I love these mountains, the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

My heart has always called them home.

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Yesterday started with barking.

It ended with a bear on our front porch.

I rather think the two are related.

At 7am, my peaceful sleep was interrupted by Kasha-dog barking like a mad thing, along with, apparently, every other dog on this side of the Mountain. Kodi, curled up in bed next to me, let out a growl that would have made a tiger proud – low and deep and very menacing.

There was some yelling, I must admit, from Rhiannon and I both, telling the dogs to stop barking. It worked for a few minutes, and then the frantic barking started again. This went on for perhaps 15 minutes, and then, finally, we all got back to sleep.

There was a lot of barking from the neighborhood dogs all day long, with Kasha & Kodi joining in, which was quite unusual – it’s usually pretty quiet up here, and there was a strange tone to their barking.

Last night, I went to bed early, and was sound asleep when the barking started again, as it approached midnight. This time, it was Kodi and Kasha together, standing in our living room and barking at our front door. They were definitely barking the “intruder alert” bark this time. Many other neighboring dogs could be heard joining in.

Rhiannon was on the phone to Ben, and I heard her say how scared she was, as I emerged from my room, pulling on clothes along the way.

“There was something on the porch!” she told me, continuing with, “There was a lot of noise!”

I looked to Kasha, the wise old girl of our house, who had finally stopped barking. The motion-activated light on the porch was not on.

I tiptoed to the door and looked out, shining a flashlight through the glass, half expecting a raccoon or something to look back, but instead saw that a full trashcan was knocked over.

I thought it had moved on, whatever it was that was large enough to knock a trashcan over. I started to open the door, telling Rhiannon to hold Kodi, who does not recall yet.

Kasha I trusted to come back, and to protect me if whatever-it-was was still there. She was going out first!

I straightened the trashcan as Kasha ran into the yard, and began barking again, although, oddly, not as urgently as before.

Shining my light on her, I saw that what I first took for simple darkness was not darkness at all – it seems black bears are hard to see in the dark! Kasha was close to it, and I ordered her back and into the house.

A bag of trash was spilled onto the grass a good 20 feet from our cabin.

The bear was moving off, and I called Rhiannon out to see it, and we watched it stroll into the bright outside lights of our neighbor’s house. The golden and brown leaves crunched under it’s feet as it moved away.

It was a quiet night after that, and today has been quiet, too.

We’ve been here over 10 years, and this was the first time I’ve seen a bear at our house. I count it a blessing, this which I know terrifies others.

It has been a lean year for mast – the acorns, hazelnuts and other forest products that the deer and the bear need to fatten up on. From what I’ve heard, bears have been living on our mountain for years, and I even saw one a couple years ago, when it crossed the road in front of my car on the way up the mountain. So I have known they were around.

But I think seeing one is a blessing, just as seeing the elusive fox is, and just as watching the fawns grow up is. There is something very special about seeing animals in the wild, rather than locked up in zoos.

We are all neighbors here on one mountain, one planet, one Earth. We are all related… mitakuye oyasin.

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Sometimes, the truth hurts. But better the truth, and understanding, than living in confusion & conflict, imposing your values on someone else. For those that this hurts, I’m truly sorry. You’ll just have to believe me that it was as hard for me to write, as it will be for you to read.

I’ve spent much of my life looking for a place to call home. There have been many houses & farms, but I always knew they were temporary, the best we could find at the time, or the best we could afford. But until I found my humble cabin the woods, in my beloved Blue Ridge Mountains, 11 years ago, there weren’t any that were really, truly, home.

I had started to think maybe I would never really understand what it was to love a place so much that it was your heart’s home, that maybe I’d always be a gypsy, staying a few years here, a few years there.  But I’ve lived here longer than I have ever lived anyplace else, and don’t ever want to leave.

I’ve finally set down roots.

Even when I was growing up, where we lived was just a house, though, of course, I would say things like, “Let’s go home,” but it wasn’t home, not in my heart.

I have some vague memories of the house I lived in from 7 to 16 – a large, suburban house, backing up onto a swampy patch of woods. I had everything I could seemingly want: loving parents, clothes, nice furniture, more toys than any kid needs…  but still, it wasn’t my home.

My home was the Woods behind the house.

My spirit-sister, Daphna, and I ran those woods, usually barefoot in all sorts of weather, lest our shoes show we’d been into the “forbidden zone” – the area around the creek we loved, or elsewhere in that muddy patch of forest. We’d stash our shoes under a bush, and take off.

We knew every inch, every corner, every tree. We tracked the raccoons and other critters that lived there. We learned about wild plants; built rafts that always seemed to sink; caught tadpoles; found beautiful stones.

We ran like the wind, or the deer, as only a child can run, with utter freedom and abandon, leaping from rock to rock, and walked fallen tree-bridges, in total confidence, without fear.

But we weren’t supposed to be there. We were under orders to only follow the path that led to the small park, to play on the equipment there. I distinctly remember my mother telling us that if we went to the area of the creek, we might get bitten by a snake, or a rabid raccoon. That didn’t stop us. We went anyway.

I remember very clearly, standing one day on the path that led back to the house, as it started to get dark, when we were due back. Looking up at the house up the hill, I saw not a home, but a box; a prison; confinement; misunderstanding.

I was a round peg being forced into a square hole, and I hated it.

I dreamed of running away, to live in the mountains. Several times a year, we would drive the hour out to the Skyline Drive, which runs atop the Blue Ridge Mountains, and there, that, was my heart’s desire: woods that stretched for miles; babbling creeks; great weathered rocks; the glory of the Fall leaves; the beauty of the Spring flowers; breathtaking sunsets.

I remember being in the back seat of the car, looking out the back window, tears running silently down my cheeks as we would drive back to our house in suburbia.

Without Daphna, and the Woods, I think I would have gone crazy, and when she moved away, when I was 12 (?), it absolutely devastated me. The Woods were totally forbidden to me now – without a friend to go with me, I wasn’t allowed back there.

You can blame it on the Asperger’s if you want. But it was – and is – much more than that. It’s feeling things other people don’t. Remembering lives that happened before this life.

It’s valuing things other people don’t, and not caring at all about what they do.

It’s wanting something totally different from the people around me.

It’s still that way, with a very few exceptions.

After a lifetime of being a gypsy, moving from house to house to house, I finally found my heart’s home, here in my beloved Blue Ridge Mountains. It is only a humble cabin in the Woods, small by many people’s standards, always disastrously messy & cluttered, and often actually quite dirty (in the real dirt sense of the word – my beloved dogs track it in, and without energy to clean…).

But it’s my home, finally, a place I’ve set my roots down, after so many years of searching. A place I’ve set my heart and spirit to rest. And I love it.

Living here isn’t easy, especially for a chronically ill person. The driveway is rough by anyone’s standards, nearly vertical, and impassable in heavy snow. The house is not well insulated, if it’s insulated at all. It was built to be a weekend retreat for suburbanites from DC, not a full time residence. The kitchen is smaller than most bathrooms, which makes cooking in there rather difficult. The paint is peeling, and the siding could use replacing, and the floors could stand to be sanded and re-stained.

But what makes it home is it’s location, in my beloved mountains; the 3 sliding glass doors that open onto the screened in porch and large deck with the breathtaking beauty of the mountains beyond; the open floor-plan & soaring ceilings; the way it sits back from the road, so we have  privacy; the screened in porch that I use for carving my beads, all year long, protected from all but the hardest rains and fiercest winds; the yard the dogs, so absolutely necessary to my life, have easy access to.

It’s the quiet seclusion, so necessary when the almost ever-present migraines strike; the silence, away from sirens, with little traffic, no noisy neighbors.

And even more, it’s the trees in all their Autumn glory; the radiant sunsets that light the whole sky; the deer than amble, unafraid, through the yard; the great weathered stones that are everywhere; the trilliums, lilys, and daffodils we discover in unexpected places;  the violets that blanket the “yard” in Spring; the raspberries that fill our bodies with their all natural goodness; the well water that cleanses and purifies us, and runs through my veins.

What we have here nourishes my soul, feeds my restless spirit.

I wouldn’t trade my home, this land, and these mountains, for all the money in the world, or a million dollar house, or what you may think is an “easier” way to live.

You may not understand, and you may not value what I do.

All I ask is that you accept that I do value this life, here on the Mountain. And that without it, I see little point in going on.

Unless you are as sick as I am, you cannot know what it’s like to live every day, so sick, so tired, in so much pain.

You cannot know how it sucks the soul out of you.

Autumn Sky

Here, I have the chance for the only joy I will ever again experience.

Here, I can turn my head, from my big bed, and look out into the trees, the sky, the sunsets.

Here, the moon shines on me as I sleep; the stars light the sky overhead in a way they never can in the city; the meteors streak through the night and can actually be seen.

Here, I can spend my few minutes out of bed each day watching the ever changing world around me; see the many wild things we share the world with: the spotted fawns, the graceful bucks,  the elusive fox, and thrill at the flight of a hawk high overhead.

Here, I can sit in my hanging chair, on my porch, and rock for as long as I want, totally absorbed in watching the incredible beauty of the world around me.

Here, finally, is the place I call home.

Winter Sunset

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Some people live their lives ruled by fear: fear of strangers; fear of stalkers; fear of burglers; fear of illness; or simply fear of the unknown. But despite the fact my mother has done her best to instill fear & mistrust of unknown people into me, I refuse to live a life ruled by fear. I’d rather trust that there are more good people in the world than bad.

When I was growing up, I remember being taught over & over to park as close to a store as possible, and under a light if I had to be out at night. My mother still worries about me if I have to go shopping at night, or if I’m driving home from someplace at night. At almost-48 (!!!) I still have to call & tell her when I got home. She still sends me emails about being  safe in parking lots, and the latest way bad people – kidnappers & rapists – are luring women in order to snare them. Some of these stories circulate on the internet for years.

The news is indeed filled with stories about good people being hurt by very bad people. Sometimes I think watching the news is a bad idea, since they sensationalize the  bad stories & tell them over & over & over, without regard for what  percentage of people out there are really bad versus what percentage are really good, decent folks. When you hear the horror stories over & over, it’s easy to forget that most people are at least okay.

Despite being raised to fear strangers, I still would rather assume the best of folks rather than the worst. I know that as an Aspie (person with Asperger’s), I don’t have quite the ability to detect nuances of deception as the rest of the “normal” population does. And as an Aspie, I simply am who I am; I don’t “do” deception well.

But I still refuse to live a life bound by fear, which is why yesterday, I gave a ride to a stranger (*gasp*).

His name turned out to be Josh. I happened across him as I left our little local general store at the foot of the mountain. The Appalachian Trail (AT) runs over the top of our mountain & comes down & crosses the main road a mile or two east. Periodically, mostly in the warm months, we will see a few hikers as they pick up supplies at the local post office, or come into our little store for something, or even all the way (8 miles) in town as they hit the grocery store. Usually they’ll be in pairs or groups. They are  pretty easy to distinguish, what with the big packs & all.

Josh was leaning on something, pack at feet, trekking poles in hand, thumbing through the  AT guide as I came out of the store. We’re having our first serious heat wave, and it was 90 degrees on the mountain, but closer to 100 down below, hot & humid. Decked in lycra shorts & matching top, he was deeply flushed & very sweaty, but as well groomed as they come. I guessed his age as late 20’s.

My “Hi,” as I passed him by was returned politely, and then he said, “Excuse me…” and asked how far it was to a local touristy restaurant, and if they had burgers there. I told him it was a mile or two, and yes they did. His face fell when I told him how far it was. He thanked me for the help, and then, without thinking about it, or my mother & her advice about strangers, I offered him a ride. He seemed shocked that I would offer, but very grateful.

Maybe it was that he looked like he would be more at home in a gym, or maybe that he was well groomed, or maybe my first aid training from long ago had me concerned he was at risk of heat stroke.

Or maybe it was just because I’d rather assume the best of folks. Whatever it was that sparked the decision to offer a ride to a stranger, I’m glad I did, because in my heart, I know it was the right thing to do.

Josh was from New York, and had been on the Trail for two months, with two more months to go. He was unhappy with his job, re-evaluating what he wanted  do with his life, so he just decided to do it. Alone – not a decision many people make. But I hope that out in nature, despite the timber rattlers & copperheads he’d encountered the day before, despite the heat which he clearly wasn’t dealing with well, he’ll find the answers he was seeking.

Maybe, just maybe, the simple kindness of a stranger – and a lone woman at that – offering him a short ride will help him re-evaluate the fear-driven world we live in.

When I was a buxom young girl of 16, I drove down alone  to visit my brother at college, and got a flat tire along the way. There were no cell phones then for me to call for help, so I set about trying to fix it myself. I was jumping up & down on the lug wrench, trying to get the lug nuts off, when I saw a pick-up pull a U-turn & head my way. I had the lug wrench in hand – and was ready to use it – by the time he got to me.

The passing stranger, a lone man, had stopped to help me, not hurt me. He went way out of his way, taking me & my tire to a gas station for a repair when we found my spare was also flat. He brought me back to my car, and together we put the tire back on.

I told him, as I was about to be back on my way, that I was really scared when he drove up, and he said he knew that. He said he stopped to help me because he had a sister,  and he hoped that if something similar happened to her that there would be someone to help her.

Maybe, if we all chose kindness over fear, we’d be living in a better world.

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