First solo journey

Daily Prompt: Journey

Tell us about a journey — whether a physical trip you took, or an emotional one.

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I’ve been following Daily Prompt with that gut-churning feeling, a bit like the 11-year-old version of me sitting on the highest diving board at our local swimming pool. I did eventually dive in, surfacing with a feeling of triumph, and water burning in the back of my throat. Only to go straight up the ladder again for the next dive.

I just couldn’t pass today’s dangling carrot: “Tell us about a journey”.

There are so many. Even my daily commute is a journey. I can easily do it in total silence, because in my head I’m somewhere else, perhaps an open plain, in the middle of the night, with the motionless air heavy and full of promise, the stars within picking distance.

So I picked my journey home from school. My parents lived in Oshakati, northern Namibia, and from the age of 12 I attended boarding school in Malmesbury, Western Cape. They drove down to South Africa during the longer school holidays, and I had to get up home during the shorter breaks. So from about the age 12 to 16 I made that journey twice a year.

The first year I took the overnight coach from Paarl to Windhoek. It trundled up the nearly 1500 km in around 20 hours, with only 2 comfort stops, no toilets on board. The driver had only one tape on the cassette player which blared out all night. It was Abba, and up to this day the song “Fernando”, will transport me right back to the front left seat of the old school bus, my first experience of purgatory. My dad collected me in his pickup truck, and we set off on the next leg home, another 716 km. That bit was great, with the thick aroma of autumn savannah pouring into the cab, me and my dad stopping halfway for lunch. I felt so grown up.

The return leg of the journey 10 days later was memorable for another reason. I think our first pit stop was at Keetmanshoop. It was near midnight, fairly chilly, and I didn’t take long to get back into the bus to claim my seat. Something just didn’t feel right. You know that awful feeling when you realise you’re in the wrong bus? They were filling up with diesel, and our bus had moved to make room for the other one at the pump. How to get up calmly, grateful for the darkness and nonchalantly saunter out to your own bus, just as the engines fired up.

This was the night when between stops the urge to “go” was getting so overwhelming that it was physical agony. When we finally pulled up at the next garage the queue at the toilets snaked endlessly into the distance. And when it was finally my turn I was overcome with “stage fright” at the crib, with big boys shuffling impatiently behind me. How do you turn on a rusty old tap which had been overtightened for half a century?

Well that journey stays with me, and all others are measured by it. The following year I took a domestic flight from Cape Town to Windhoek, and then had the privilege to fly in a single prop Beechcraft to Ondangwa, passing over the Etosha pans.

But that story is for another day.

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Strings

I’m in a contemplative mood. This has been brought about by a day spent mostly away from the office, catching up with a few people, running a few errands, and tonight, reading some blogs. I recently discovered a fellow veterinarian who was preparing to walk the Camino, and have been following his blog. He is currently walking the Camino and what a moving experience this is proving to be! This man suffered a great personal tragedy about a year ago, and yet, his blog speaks of hope and steadfast faith. This is truly inspirational.

Then my thoughts turn to my own life, and my own blog. I suppose, at the moment, this blog is a tiny glimpse into my story, but I’m not pouring many words into it. Mostly the words churn over in my head, but they never gather the momentum to spill over into the light of day. And I think it is better that way.

A little while ago a friend introduced me to the book “Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking.” by Susan Cain. This has been a quite significant book for me. Most notably it gave me insight in how my mind is put together, and gave me permission to be who I am. A bit of an introvert. Not a hermit though. I really enjoy the company of friends and like-minded people. I even enjoy crowds. But there has to be that secret place to recharge batteries, to process thoughts, to allow the strings on my guitar to be tuned again.

There are quite a few strings, and generally the vibrations are harmonious. Funny how when you’re a teenager you think you’re steady, unshakeable, even possibly phlegmatic. Then as life happens, and you really grow up, you discover so much discord, dissonance, even cacophony inside your own mind.

I crave harmony. I love the sound of it. Close harmony singing is my number one musical treat. I love harmony in relationships, in my workplace, in the world. Yet so often there is nothing but clattering and crashing noise.

Good, then, to retreat, not into a cave somewhere, just into a quiet café with a cup of coffee. And my own thoughts.

Who knows, some of those thoughts may find their way onto this diary. I take great comfort and strength from seeing someone with whom I share a profession on a pilgrimage not too dissimilar from my own, and I hope we’ll meet some day.

http://caminowithcullen.wordpress.com/

http://www.thepowerofintroverts.com/about-the-book/

Stalemate

A couple of feathers on the patio, greasy smudges on the window pane, several more feathers and a streak of blood on the kitchen sink tell the story.

Down in the blue corner the aggressor, haunches pressed down on the tiles, angry tail tip flicking rhythmically, low continuous moan emitting between snarling lips.

Over in the red corner a mightily miffed larger than average rock pigeon, left wing drooping slightly, eyes ablaze, neck feathers puffed up. With head bobbing, he pushes out a defiant “oooorrrrrhhhhh”.

-oo00oo-

It seems Orion the hunter (Tiddles* to you and me) initially got the upper hand, surprising Mr Coo* near the back door where he snacked on some breadcrumbs. His momentum carried him halfway up the steps and with a mighty leap he landed on the windowsill. The stunned old codger started regaining his senses as he was dragged headlong through the open kitchen window and on the draining board he frantically flapped his wings, boxing the feline around the ears. The startled tabby momentarily lost his grip and as they tumbled down to the floor in an untidy heap they took up battle stations. The wily old bird was used to ruling the roost, and he knew a whippersnapper when he saw one. He pulled himself up to his full height and strutted around (albeit at a safe distance) while he turned a suspicious eye this side then the other side towards the cat.

The young pretender gathered himself together, his neck low slung between shoulders, thigh muscles recoiling for the pounce. The pigeon fluttered clumsily up onto the chair back, that wing clearly not functioning properly. Down below the cat hit the empty floor with a thud and skidded up against the kick board. Exasperated he flopped over on his side, stretched, and proceeded to lick his ruffled fur. The bird pecked at the glass. He could clearly see sky (and freedom), and was more than a little perplexed with his inability to get away.

Tiddles sauntered over to his water bowl and lapped up the cool liquid. The old bird on the windowsill found a few more breadcrumbs. And that’s where I found the pair in an unhappy stalemate.

*Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Note: I wrote this little story in 2010 and blogged it here:

http://blogs.litnet.co.za/vetweet/2010/03/24/stalemate/

Musher

His career peaked in the 70s and early 80s. Back then he won every sled race worth winning, home and abroad.

He turned up a few weeks ago with his white van. Says he lives in Scotland at the moment, but his accent puts him somewhere in the Southern Counties. A wizened, smallish man sporting a three-day stubble. I have a vague uneasy feeling that he may have spent the night in a dog kennel. A distinctive musty smell permeates the room.

“I’m actually on my way to France with the dogs”. He points to each in turn and strokes them affectionately: “This one was a winner just last year. That one produced a few top runners in her day.” Each of them is a sinewy athlete, a world apart from the usual pampered pooch that comes through the doors every day. They have eyes only for their master.

They’re sitting tight for a few weeks while we sort out their pet passports for the trip. During this period I saw them quite a few times. Last week I had to staple up a gaping wound under local anaesthetic, whilst the dog stood there like a statue. You can’t help but admire them; no slobbering smiles here, but a zest for life just the same. They move like a single organism, in their eyes the same desire to run when given half the chance.

The oldest one is 9 years old. She still runs in harness with the rest of them. In Scotland there was enough snow for a sled, but down here they have to pull a cart through the woods.

“Where are you staying over, sir?” I asked the last time I saw him. “I’m parked up at a friend’s place”, he said.

Today he’s here with one of the older dogs in his arms. “It’s the mother of that one over there”, he says. “He’s also a champion.”

But she’s got cancer, and she can’t go to France with the others. Her tumours are spread throughout her body.

An old man with an old dog in his arms, forlorn.

-o0o-

Afterwards, we carry her on a stretcher round the back of the building where his van is parked out of sight, our feet crunching on the gravel. The next minute he stumbles and falls awkwardly on his back, the dog half on top of him. He lay there stunned for several seconds. Then we manage to get up again and reach the white van. He slides open the side door. On the front seat is a young dog, effusive in her welcome. In the back of the van are several cages with about 7 more dogs.

On the far wall a mattress, kettle, backpack and harness, a loaf of bread.

The old dog won’t be joining them in France next week.

Tonight he’ll bury her in the woods where they used to run together.

I am blessed

During our confirmation service each one of us was given a Scripture passage, as a blessing for our lives. I was about 16 years old, and recognised these as beautiful words, but I don’t think I could grasp the significance back then. Now, 33 years later, some of the wonders of this blessing are much clearer to me.

I can look back and see how, step by step, these words have been fulfilled in my life.
I can look around me and see them in action.
And I am looking forward to see God working them out in my life till the end.

I am truly blessed.

Psalm 128

A song of ascents.

1 Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in obedience to him.

2 You will eat the fruit of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours.

3 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table.

4 Yes, this will be the blessing for the man who fears the Lord.

5 May the Lord bless you from Zion; may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life.

6 May you live to see your children’s children – peace be on Israel.

New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

First Gear

That waterlogged sign marking my first blog post has been haunting me lately. Oh, there are many excuses, mainly related to “nothing much to write about”. But this is a journey, and one has to get out of neutral and engage first gear to get anywhere. In fact, the better analogy is to get off the couch in the nice warm living room, put on some sturdy walking boots and take the first few tentative steps outside the front door. Into the cold, lonely, frightening. Unknown.

There! One paragraph down, and we’re flying now. Ok, maybe not, but we’re mobile.

Which reminds me of an old dream. To walk the Camino de Santiago. It’s good to nail the colours to the mast. Now it’s out there. It’s got to be done. Sometime soon. Well, not this year, that’s already spoken for. Next year I’m reaching a milestone birthday. Then it’s got to happen. It won’t be the whole route, not even half. It will be first gear all over again, slipping away from work for a week or two.

There’s a new sleeping partner. Not my wife.  Nevertheless, a legitimate one. It’s a shiny CPAP machine courtesy of the National Health Service, parked on my bedside table. Sleep apnoea has ruined my rest for more than a decade, so this has to be seen as a blessing. And so it is. Funny how something so restrictive, uncomfortable, suffocating even, can also be so liberating at the same time.

This is how I see it. There’s much to accomplish, a new year ahead. Challenges. Making new year’s resolutions is not what this is about. I’m not making any. This is just announcing my participation. I don’t know what 2013 brings, but I’ll be there at the end, God willing.

Are you with me?

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