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Pull up a chair, my tribe, and I’ll tell you a story, of the Before Times, which I rarely speak of – of my life before illness, which was an unusual one by anyone’s standards. It is a bitterly cold night here on the Mountain, 8 degrees and snowy, and gazing at that snow, so incredibly fine due to the very cold air, I see it sparkle in the deck lights, and am reminded of another snowy night, so long ago, almost half a lifetime now…

I remember…
…being a single mom living with my 7 year-old daughter in a very poorly-built log cabin, with no running water, in Ohio. I hadn’t planned to be there on my own… a marriage had recently ended badly, leaving me broken-hearted and financially-ruined. I found myself enrolled in college, learning to be a naturalist or forest ranger by day, and returning home in the evenings to a great deal of responsibility… “living rough” had seemed a fine idea when I was married to someone who people compared to the “Marlboro man,” but it was a daunting prospect for a woman alone…

After a long day of college classes that involved much hiking, near sunset on a bitterly cold Winter evening, I wearily climb the steep hill to the cabin, my daughter at my side. It is cold inside, too – the cabin is heated only by a woodstove, and, being incredibly drafty, requires a constant, roaring, fire, but the fire has been banked all day, down to a slow burn. I pile on wood and get it warming up, then move outside to chores as the daylight fades.

I break the ice in my rain barrels, and tend to my two horses, and feed far too many wolves. With what little energy I have left, I scrape together dinner for my daughter, and try to be there for her. I don’t do a very good job. My situation is overwhelming, is desperate, and I don’t know how I will get through it. I am deeply depressed, but trying not to show it.

But after she is tucked in bed, I pull my boots, coat and warmest gloves back on, and go back out into the biting cold to split wood. I have just used up all the already split wood to warm the house for the evening. Cutting and splitting the wood by myself is a never-ending chore, and I cannot get caught up.

The Moon is full and bright overhead, reflecting off the snow, and I can see my way clearly. I have no outside lights, so I glance up, thankful of the Moon’s brilliance. The snow crunches and squeeks under my boots, as it only does when it is so cold. I struggle to put a snow-covered log up on my chopping block. The splitting maul is lifted and brought down on the log with a well-practiced, if exhausted, stroke, and that moment is when the Magick happens, when everything changes…

The snow and ice on the top of the log suddenly explodes up around me in a powder-fine cloud, and every single flake, every single speck, sparkles in the moonlight with glittering rainbows, as it flies up around me and ever, ever, so slowly falls.

It is as if I have been showered with finely ground diamonds, or fairy dust, each speck shimmering with all the shades of the rainbow – deep blue, purple, scarlet red, fire orange – and the bright white of the Moon as they fall.

It is perhaps the most beautiful thing I have ever seen, and all because we were out of wood on a cold winter night.

I stand there in astonishment, as the cloud of glimmering diamond snowdust settles on and around me, and then gaze up at the bright Moon above me.

If I had needed a sign that even in one’s darkest hour there is Beauty, there is Hope, then I had surely been gifted with one, and I had, indeed, needed just such a sign.

It seems it is a fine and beautiful night for chopping wood after all, and I split enough for several days, laughing like a child as the rainbow-sparkling snowdust falls all around me and the glorious Moon shines down from above.

The memory of the unexpected and breathtaking Beauty of that night is a treasured one, and one I think of often. It holds and sustains me through the dark hours, and helps me find the Beauty, Inspiration, and Hope, to keep going… just as it did then.

The Moon is Magick and Mystery,
yes, and so are many other things.
If we but look,
there are signs and guideposts
all around us, pointing the way…
We have only to open our Hearts and truly See.
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My Dad, Feb., ’06

Today my father, Joseph L. Collins, passed away, but just moments before he did, I had a great and rare blessing, and I would like to share it with you.

My father was 84, and had been in the hospital a week, before being moved to rehab. However, he took a sudden turn for the worse early yesterday morning, with pneumonia and organ failure.

I spoke to him yesterday, and told him goodbye, and that I loved him, over the phone. I could hear him trying to reply, thru his oxygen mask.

My brother, Clay, flew down yesterday to be with our father, in Tampa, and hold vigil.

I spoke to my brother about 10am this morning, and he said that my dad wasn’t really conscious, but the nurses said that my dad was aware of those around him, and to keep talking to him.

I asked my brother to hold the phone to my father’s ear, intending to tell him that it was okay to move on, and that I loved him. The arrival of doctors & nurses interrupted this, and my brother said he would call me back.

The minutes turned to hours, and I heard nothing.

But, I felt a strong call to the porch, to sit & rock & survey the Woods.

Almost immediately, I very strongly felt my father’s presence.  I didn’t know if he had passed away already or not, but I could feel him standing there in front of me, and that there was a Divine Presence there with him, as if it was behind him. He was just radiating great Love.

I could not exactly see my dad… it was as if he stood in front of a very brilliant Light, so I could only see my father’s silhouette. That Light, I knew with absolute certainty, was the Light of God, and it was so bright I could not look upon it. But it was much more than Light… it was tremendous Love, Joy, and Peace.

My father spoke to me, then. I could hear his words, in his own voice. He said he loved me, and then he gave me an incredible hug: he enveloped me in Love; he wrapped me in Love like a warm blanket on a freezing cold night. It was such an amazing feeling, and really, there aren’t words for it.

We often say, “God is Love,” and the few times I have been so touched in this way, it has brought tears, as it did today… but they were not tears of sadness at the realization that my father was passing away, but tears of overwhelming Joy & overflowing Love. My heart was so full of Love that the extra Love came out as silent, effortless, tears, and I found myself smiling, to see my father with the Divine. I believe, and my experience has been, that God, or the Divine Presence, is Love, is Joy, is Peace… it is all those, and much more, and those were with my father, because God was with my father, when he came to say goodbye to me.

I told my dad I loved him, and always had, no matter the distance that had been between us. He asked for my forgiveness, and I told him he’d had that long ago. He said he was sorry for the past, and I said I was, too. He asked what I’d done to my shoulder, and I told him, and he said I lived in a beautiful place. I told him he was welcome anytime.

Then he scolded me a little, noticing how very ill I am, and saying I hadn’t told him just how sick I am. I asked for his help then, explaining that my work here is not finished yet.

“God is with you now,” I said, and I asked him to touch me with healing & strength. I closed my eyes, and felt him touch me, touch my heart, and my heart & soul overflowed with radiant Love & Joy again. Tears streamed down my cheeks, and I felt myself smiling what I know must have been the most transcendent smile of my life, because when my dad touched me, I felt God touch me, too.

We both said that we’d always Love each other, and that Love never dies.

I could feel him being pulled away then. It was time for him to go Home, to go with God, and I could only feel peace and joy to feel him go.

I was still filled with the “afterglow” of this experience, when, within just a minute or two, my brother called. Our father was still alive, but just barely, and my brother was going to hold the phone up to his ear as he’d said he would.

I hesitantly explained that I no longer needed to talk to our dad, as I already had, and a bit of what I had experienced. I explained that I’ve had other experiences like this, since I was a child, starting with my grandma’s passing.

Within a few minutes, my father passed away. The nurses said they’d never seen anyone go so very peacefully.

My heart aches now for my brother & sister-in-law, my niece & nephew, and all those who will be mourning his passing.

But, because he stopped by here on his way, I got a rare glimpse of the Loving Arms of the Divine that are now holding my father tight. I know that he is now wrapped in that same Love and Joy that brushed me briefly, and he is experiencing it in a much, much deeper way than I did. I cannot be sad for him.
He has gone Home.

– This post is dedicated with great Love to my nephew, Clay, Jr., and my niece, Erin, who are mourning their Pa-Pa very deeply. He will always be watching out for you, and he will never, ever, stop Loving you. Neither will your Aunt Kelly.

My Dad & I, Feb. 2006

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There are some moments that stay frozen in time, frozen in my memory. Moments when everything changed, in the space of a heartbeat:


Virginia Beach, 1999. Rhiannon was 4. We were playing in the waves, standing in hip deep water; I was holding her while the waves came in and broke on us. Laughing, giggling. My back to the ocean, braced for the next wave. I didn’t see it coming. A huge rogue wave broke over us, over my head.

In the space of a heartbeat, everything changed. I was swept off my feet, struggling in the churning surf and sand. Rhiannon was yanked out of my arms by the force of the wave, and as it washed back out, I caught her tiny foot. The most frightening moment of my life. I struggled not to let the tiny, slippery, foot go. The water was impenetrable: filled with sand, bubbles, murky, foaming waves. I could see nothing of her, knew her head was underwater, and she couldn’t swim. If I lost the little foot, she would be swept away, out into the churning tide and I’d never find her in time.

She remembers opening her eyes underwater, seeing the sand swirling around her, and having the feeling she was breathing underwater.

My knees suddenly slammed into the bottom, scraping off skin in an explosion of sensation. I finally knew which way was sky, light, and air; struggled up, gasping and spluttering, one hand still holding the tiny foot. I pulled hard against the current sucking her away, and dragged her into my arms. We staggered to shore, her arms & legs wrapped tight as a vise around me. I laid her down in the sand as she and I both coughed up water.

Never. Ever. Turn your back on the tide, on the waves, if you are holding a child.


 

I remembered that moment as I watched the images of today’s tsunami hitting Japan, watched the cars, the houses, all swept away. How many mothers fought desperately to hold onto their child as the relentless ocean tugged them away?

I grieve for them.


Another moment, frozen in time:

Ohio, 1994. I was 3 months pregnant with Rhiannon. I took Abraham, our Haflinger stallion, for a ride. It was the first time I’d ridden him, and the first time anyone had ridden him beyond the barnyard in a long, long time. We walked through the tall grass along the creek, in the narrow space between the creek and the electric fence that bordered the pasture. A fallen tree appeared ahead of us, and he danced, uncertain, while I urged him forward. Then, movement: a snake slithered out from under the log.

In the space of a heartbeat, everything changed. He tried to bolt, I tried to hold him. He fought me, then reared. Time slowed to a crawl. I grabbed his lush mane, and hung on, saw he had half turned; saw the electric fence wire, nearly invisible in the tall, dry, rustling grass, resting against his chest. Fought to get him to back up as I waited for the inevitable: the fence pulsed with electricity every 5 seconds. I heard the ZAP!, and he  sucked in air in a huge grunt of shock, a sound I’ll never forget. At the second ZAP!, he reared again, leaving me still on him, but slid sideways in the saddle, barely clinging on. His front legs came down on the opposite side of the  electric fence, and I saw with horror the wire now under his belly, resting against his sheath.

Every second strung out, seemed to last forever. Another ZAP!, and that was all he could take: bucking furiously, he fought to escape from the wire.  I came flying off, my only thought to curl tightly around my pregnant belly. I hit the ground hard; rolled into a ball. Time almost stopped entirely. I had time, plenty of time, to see everything that was happening. The fence wire broke, and it coiled around his legs. Every five seconds another ZAP!, another gasp from his huge chest, even more frantic bucking. Looking up, I saw his belly above me. 1,200 pounds of berserk horse. The panicked stallion’s  hooves crashed around my body.  One thudded down a few inches in front of my face. I saw every hair on his fetlock in the instant before his hoof disappeared from view, and the soft earth showered down on my face. I think I was screaming at him, I don’t know what, just screaming so he would know where exactly I was.

I closed my eyes, curled up tightly, and waited for the hoof that would end my life, or the life of the baby I was protecting as well as I could.

An eternity later, he was finally free of the electric fence wire, and bolted back to the barn. I got up slowly, waited for pain, felt it in head, in back, in knee. But not belly. All dull pain; nothing sharp that would indicate something broken. I followed him slowly, so slowly, back to the barn.

All the way, I gave thanks to the Creator for Abraham’s remarkable determination not to step on me. I can’t imagine how he did it, in a full panic, fighting,  in his mind, a snake that was attacking him. Instinct-driven fear is an amazing thing; even more amazing was his unwillingness to crush the life out of me. A small miracle? or a big one?


We live our lives, go about our days, never wanting to acknowledge how fragile life really is. Just how quickly it can all change.

In the space of a heartbeat.


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Me & Cherokee, about 1988

This is Cherokee. She was a Standardbred mare, tried on the track but too slow. One of the lucky ones – sold rather than simply put down for the “crime” of being too slow. This is my favorite picture of her she & I, even though she doesn’t look terribly attractive in it.

No, it’s a favorite because she & I had just been galloping, flat out running, across my pasture several times. Bareback. The bareback part makes a huge difference to the experience, lemme tell you. I am hugging her in happy exhaustion after a day of working with her. That was one of the happiest moments in my life. I felt so… connected to her. I barely needed to think what I wanted and she responded. It wasn’t just a physical thing, it was much, much more than that. We were connected on a spiritual level from the very start, and most of the time I was the only one who she would accept as a rider.  I had several horses through my life, and worked running a stable a while, so there are lot’s of horses in my history, but only one Cherokee.

I saw her yesterday. Really saw her. Saw & touched her mane which was always softer & finer than a horse’s mane ought to be, more like human hair than horse hair. Saw & touched her nose, so soft & silky. I forgot how soft a horse’s nose could be. Ran my hands down her back, over her high withers, and felt the contours I used to know so well.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen her. There was a terrible, terrible night, many years ago… probably 20 years ago now. Cherokee and I had been through a lot. She was the second horse I bought. I hadn’t had her long when the vet came out to stitch up her hoof after she’d torn it in the fence, and gave her an injection that was supposed to go in the vein, but went into the artery instead, and Cherokee went kind of nuts. I nursed her through it.

Then, a few years later, Cherokee got an illness, I can’t remember what it was called now, but usually it causes respiratory issues. In Cherokee, it went to her brain, and caused a rare form of encephalitis. It was horrible. She was out of her mind, running into things, falling down, struggling back up, walking like a drunk. The vet said put her down. But I couldn’t do that, not when she was getting up every time she fell down. If she wasn’t giving up, I couldn’t give up. I managed to haul her the hour-plus drive to the vet’s, and literally lived in the stall with her for a week while we tried everything, and then some. I learned to open my heart and let the power and grace of healing flow through me, and she made an amazing recovery. So amazing that she was written up in a vet journal, the only horse to survive this illness and be rideable afterward, and only 3 others had ever survived it at all but were stable-bound, brain damaged.

I remember how proud I was to ride her in the annual town parade the following year.

Years passed. Cherokee aged. She ran into a branch one stormy night and blinded herself in one eye, but she trusted me, and let me continue to ride her. Then she developed cataracts and went totally blind. By then she was 16 years old. She knew the pasture, so for a little while, she lived on. Because she never gave up.

Then one terrible night, it was snowing, terribly cold, the wind howling… I knew something was wrong, because that was the bond we had. I bundled up and went out to find her down, and this time, she wasn’t trying to get back up. She was shivering. She was suffering. So I woke up my then-husband, loaded the rifle, and sent him out to do the only thing we could do.

She and I, we went through a lot. Many changes. Both inner changes, and outer changes.

I cried for weeks.

So it was with a lot of surprise that I saw her yesterday. Yes, I was journeying shamanically. But this was different. Not just saw her, in the ghostly form so many spirits take when I journey, but saw her clearly, saw the dandruff she always had but that I’d forgotten about. Saw the particular shape to her spine and ribs that I had long ago forgotten. Felt her sweet breath against my hand. Ran my hands over the back I’d ridden so many times. Every detail was there. Every hair. As real as anything I’ve ever felt. And yet, I was not asleep. It was not a dream. It was a journey, a conscious, step out of the meditating body, journey.

Shunka’s great lesson continued. We do not die. Nothing that bears the spark of life ever dies. For that spark comes from the Creator, the Source, and that is a flame that can never, ever, go out.

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Bet you’re wondering “Now why don’t she write?” (obscure reference to Dances with Wolves…)

Well, because it’s been a really excruciatingly painful, odd, weird, interesting, frightening, and ultimately enlightening, month.

I managed not to die of an aneurysm. Not to have a stroke. And not to have a heart attack.

I figured out what was causing most of my headache/migraine pain – after seeing three doctors who couldn’t figure it out, and likely in the nick of time right before I did have an aneurysm, stroke, or heart attack.

I’m not sure if there’s permanent heart damage yet.

As brief an explanation as I can come up with:

I started taking a little bitty yellow pill called florinef after being diagnosed with Neurally Mediated Hypotension, which is now apparently called POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome) in about 1999, at John Hopkins. And I’ve been taking the little innocuous looking pill ever since.

POTS is essentially a situation where the body does not make enough blood, so you have low blood volume. The heart is supposed to respond when you stand up from a laying or sitting down position by increasing the circulation so it doesn’t pool in your lower body. If you don’t have enough blood, the body can’t respond fast enough, and you get dizzy, light headed, or can even pass out when you get up, or if you have to stand for a long time. It also contributes to fatigue, and is common in folks like me who have CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome).

Florinef fixes the problem by making the body hold onto sodium (salt) at the expense of losing potassium, so you also have to take a potassium supplement. Florinef is officially a corticosteroid, but does not work like other steroids that reduce inflammation.

Apparently, at some point in the last year or so, when the migraines & bad headaches became first a couple days a week, then every day, then pretty much constant, I went into “remission” of the POTS. In other words, my body started to make enough blood, or possibly, as part of the aging process I started developing high blood pressure, so the POTS no longer mattered.

My docs put me on meds for high BP, but I continued to take the florinef. No, that doesn’t make much sense, but the florinef was to increase blood volume, not blood pressure. My BP usually measured over the last six months in the good to a little high range. But, as I decreased the amount of methadone I take (at 5mg and lowering it to 2.5mg right now!),  things started to get wacky, because methadone, like all narcotics, lowers the blood pressure.

So, two things happened at the same time, I think – I went into remission of the POTS, and the methadone stopped keeping my BP under control.

As a result, the headaches got worse… and worse… and worse… until one Saturday a couple weeks ago, when I was laying in bed trying not to scream because it felt simultaneously like someone was hammering nails into my head, and like my head was going to explode. The blood was pounding in my ears, and in the occipital groove in the back of the head. Suddenly it came to me that the problem was the florinef, and I staggered into the office to look up florinef online.

I found that florinef can cause “increased intercranial pressure” as well as headaches, and the “professional” version of the prescribing info stated that “severe headaches” could be a medical emergency, and it could also cause an enlarged heart due to the heart, being a muscle, having to work so damn hard if there’s too much blood, and muscles get bigger the harder they work.

I stopped the florinef. Immediately. And, slowly, the headaches have gotten better… and better… and better…

However, it’s not recommended to stop florinef suddenly, so I have been taking about a quarter of one every few days.

I’m pretty sure, given what I’ve learned about the body in the last two weeks, how it regulates blood pressure, etc., that I was very, very close to getting an aneurysm, or having a stroke.

Now the question is… do I have an enlarged heart?

It feels like I do. Because when I lay on my left side, I can feel the action of my heart like never before – feel each chamber as it contracts, feel the blood flowing through the big arteries in my chest. And you are not supposed to be able to feel that. It’s also hurt a little, mostly right after I stopped the florinef, but occasionally still, it’ll be a bit uncomfortable with every beat, for a while.

I have learned that an enlarged heart will go back to normal once the conditions causing it to enlarge are taken care of. And my BP and pulse rate are good now, in the low to perfect range, and I’m still taking my high BP meds.

I’ve also learned that it takes time – weeks, sometimes months – for blood pressure to stabilize. And sometimes years for an enlarged heart to return to normal.

Should I go to my cardiologist, who I haven’t seen in almost ten years?

Probably. But I’ve lost a lot of my faith in doctors. My doctors didn’t know that methadone causes your periods to stop, so for five years I worried about why I wasn’t having periods. The didn’t know that both Lyrica and Neurontin can cause incontinence when taken in higher doses. And apparently, they didn’t know florinef can kill you if you take it when you don’t need it. Granted, florinef is not something that’s prescribed very much, and they really don’t know too much about how it does what it does, but still… severe headaches and increased intercranial pressure and enlarged heart as side effects and no one, not my rheumatologist, neurologist, or PCP thought of that when I started with these migraines and told them I’d had a headache constantly since January?

I do plan on seeing my PCP (primary care practitioner)  soon, and explaining all this to her. She’s very open to learning new things. And I think she’ll likely order some heart tests. And, I also am scheduled to see my neurologist, who is really the one who should have known this, and she’s going to do some nerve blocks to see if we can get the remaining headache gone. And maybe some trigger point injections.

But my plan, come what may, is to get off as much of everything as I can.

If one little bitty yellow pill can come that close to killing me, what’s the rest doing that I don’t know about?

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That’s what it is – a rollercoaster. Even slow, deliberate, willing narcotic withdrawal is a rollercoaster.

Sleep for days, then insomnia every night all night. Awake until dawn.

Hungry at 5 am, this morning I made food. You don’t know how profound a statement that is. It was only a sandwich. But I can’t remember the last time I did more than make a cup of tea, then grab a carton of yogurt, or a cold bagel. I was actually hungry and I made food. You don’t understand but it was a small miracle.

Sleep the daylight away, then as the afternoon ends I wake up, and the jitters start. I am jumpy, tense, shaking, crawling out of my skin.

And this is a slow deliberate and willing withdrawal.

I pity the addicts. The ones for whom its not slow or deliberate, much less willing. I pray for them. And I understand so much more about this drug riddled world of ours.

And because I know you want to know…no, I don’t crave it. At all.

Because while I’m physically dependent, I am not addicted.

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Kasha made it to the Vet today, tail wagging the entire way – this is one happy pup when she gets to go out. With Shunka, I was always afraid he was going to eat somebody when he was at home, but when he went to the vet, he became a sniveling lapdog – hated the vet, hated the visit, terrified.

Not so, Kasha. Maybe because she spent so much time in a shelter, and it reminds her of there, and nothing too bad happened to her there. She got used to meeting lots of new people. Properly socialized, as Mr Milan would say.

So, the vet has put her on four more weeks of antibiotics. Hopefully this will get those nasty Lyme. They are usually easier to treat in dogs than in people.

Thank the Goddess for small miracles. Like the beautiful sunrise in the WEST this morning. I can’t see the east horizon – too many trees – but the west is easy. I guess the sun was very red as it rose, because as I watched, the mountains emerged from the darkness and were soon bathed in deep rose light at the horizon, fading upwards through shades of purple and deep blues. It got brighter and more intensely colored as I watched, amazed. Thankful.

Now I think about it, I should have taken a picture. But you don’t necessarily think about such things at 7 in the morning, when you aren’t a morning kind of person. But I’d been asleep since 5pm the day before…

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