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A Day in Dunsmuir

(Text and all photos by Cynthia Greb)
Dunsmuir is this quaint little town in the metaphoric shadow of majestic Mt. Shasta in northern California.  The more well-known towns at the base of the mountain are Mt. Shasta (city) and Weed, named after a lumberman.  McCloud is another sweet Shasta town. But I really love Dunsmuir ten miles to the south.

With a population of only 1500, Dunsmuir definitely qualifies as a small town, but it’s very accessible as it is situated adjacent to Route 5 (the interstate that runs from the southern tip of California up through southern Oregon) and it is also home to one of the few Amtrak stations in the region.

As a river valley town on the outskirts of Mt. Shasta, both the beautiful forested slopes that surround it and the beautiful river that flows through it are omnipresent.  And streets with a north-south orientation will often have a view of snow-capped Mt. Shasta.

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The above is what it looked like as I was approaching Dunsmuir.

Dunsmuir dubs itself  “Home of the best water on Earth” and in 2014, water bottled from Dunsmuir springs did indeed win best tasting water in an international competition against entries from such places as New Zealand, Tanzania, China, Greece and Colorado. (Colorado and Greece tied for second place.)  http://www.mtshastanews.com/article/20140227/NEWS/140229645

I love pure, great tasting water.  It’s an increasingly rare commodity in this world.  And it’s only one of the great things about Dunsmuir.  Here are a few others:

“A River Runs through It.”  The beautiful Sacramento River, born from inside sacred Mt. Shasta, runs right through Dunsmuir.   In fact, it is said that the water travels through the lava tubes of the volcano (yes, Mt. Shasta is a volcano) for fifty years.  Quite a filtering system!  The upper Sacramento is a clear, gorgeous, often fast-running stream and is an ideal habitat for trout. Fisherman flock to Dunsmuir, but locals love to fish, too.  golden vertical

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This latter photo was taken through the dirty windshield of my car as I was driving on an extremely narrow serpentine road which ran along one section of the river.  On the one hand, it was an idyllic scene watching this man teach the little boy how to fish. (The idyll was marred only slightly by the woman fixated on her phone.)  On the other hand, I felt somewhat terrified that a fast-moving car could hit any or all of them.

Waterfalls.  There are a couple waterfalls in the Dunsmuir area, but Mossbrae Waterfalls are my favorite.  They are gorgeous springfed rivulets of water falling in a hundred places through the ferns and mosses of the verdant canyon directly into the Sacramento (which feels more like a shallow stream at this point.)  The visible waterfalls are about 50’ in height, but the width of the accumulated falls is about 150’. My first time there took my breath away; it felt so magical, like a fairyland. Currently it is very difficult to get to, requiring a long hike along active railroad tracks, which can be a little frightening at times.  But the good news is this challenging route cuts down on the numbers of people there at any given time.

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(Unfortunately, my little phone camera was unable to capture the vibrancy of the incredible green color that pervaded the space.  So, imagine much, much brighter emerald greens.)

Roses galore!  Because Dunsmuir is well over 1000′ lower in elevation than the town of Mt. Shasta, it is warmer and flowers bloom in abundance.  I especially love all the roses. There are so many!  Whenever this East Coast girl makes her way to this little town, her spirits lift.  It’s so exhilarating to stop and smell the roses!

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Here is an interesting aside for those who are interested in esoterica.  Roses are associated with both Mother Mary and the planet Venus. (No accident then that roses are also associated with Love!)  In recent years, astronomers discovered, via computer, the exquisite rose-like mandala that Venus forms over an eight-year period in sidereal space. (It’s hard to explain.  Go to the following website.) http://www.skyscript.co.uk/venusrose.html

On this particular day trip to Dunsmuir, I did the following:

  1. Ate at one of Dunsmuir’s lovely cafes.  For such a small town, there are quite a few eating establishments.  My favorites are The Wheelhouse, outside of which the rushing water of the Sacramento on the other side of the railroad tracks can be heard, and The Cornerstone Bakery, right on the main street (on which there never seems to be too much traffic.)  Both offer excellent food with vegetarian and gluten-free options.  There is both indoor and outdoor seating at both. At the Wheelhouse, one can sit inside at large old wooden tables with scores of games on nearby shelves from which one can choose to play if so inclined.
  2. Sat alongside the river, which is more like a crystal clear mountain brook at this point.  Beautiful! On this particular day in early June, the sweet peas were in bloom.  Lovely. I sat beneath a tree and greeted the river, trees, flowers, sky, earth, and air.  I sent out blessings to the water. It didn’t take long to begin to feel the euphoria of such peace and beauty.  As many of you know, waterfalls and oceans are rife with negative ions which enhance well-being, relieve depression, boost the immune system, and elevate one’s mood.  Even medical doctors tout the benefits of negative ions: https://www.webmd.com/balance/features/negative-ions-create-positive-vibes#120180604_124647
  3. Picked up a hitchhiker.  On the way back home to my current residence near iconic Black Butte, I found myself pulling onto the shoulder of Route 5 to pick up a young man walking with a huge backpack and a little dog.  (In retrospect, it wasn’t the safest place to pick up a hitchhiker.) The guy’s name was Pan. This was his given name! Pan just happens to be my favorite Greek god. If Pan is the ‘god of mountain wilds,” then surely he must abide in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.  Pan (the hitchhiker, not the god) had a cute dog named Tinkerbell. They were hitching their way up to Oregon for the Rainbow gathering.

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All in all, it was a lovely day.  I most heartily recommend Dunsmuir in early June!

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Dad’s Last Day

Once again, there is a part of me that would rather avoid writing about a day that is painful to remember.  But I’m beginning to learn that I need to acknowledge how I feel, even when it’s not  pleasant.  Otherwise these things get stuffed into the subconscious corners of my mind and hidden in my body’s cellular memory.  It’s healthier for me to remember, acknowledge, feel, and heal.  Also, I believe this could be helpful for others who are witnessing the decline of a loved one. There aren’t always professional people around to help guide us through these tough times.

So, two and a half months ago, my father died.

I was with him the morning before, as I was almost every day for three consecutive months.  I obviously knew him well and when I touched him that day, I had the feeling he had a fever.  I reported my concern to the nurse on duty and my intuition was validated.  This was the second time in three months I noticed him having a fever.   The nursing home staff missed it.  Both times.  I also noticed his breathing seemed compromised.  I heard some rattling in his throat.

Now, I have to confess that I have worked for two different hospices.   Thus I was quite familiar with the term “death rattle.”  It happens to many patients as they get close to the time of their death.  I knew this, and yet I was in complete denial that he was close to death.  I rationalized that rattling sound.  I thought, ‘Well, he seems to have a cold or the flu.  Some people probably make this sound when they have a cold and can’t breathe well, right?’

He’d had a bad fever before – maybe 40 days or so prior to this.  At that time, he was so weak he couldn’t eat, swallow liquids, or talk.  We thought he might die at that point, but miraculously, he came through.  After about three days he got more energy and was able to eat and talk again.  I foolishly assumed this fever would follow the same pattern.

I didn’t really think he was unconscious.  True, he was no longer verbally communicating, nor was he opening his eyes, but this, too, he had done before.  He was just resting.  That’s what I told myself.  He was tired and weak from the fever and he was resting.

He was still inputting and outputting.  He’d had food the day before.  He was still urinating and defecating.   Don’t the digestive systems of people nearing death shut down?

There were so many reasons I thought he “just had a fever.”  And although I was very worried about his comfort level, I certainly wasn’t worried about him dying.  Not right then.  (Although I confess I found myself thinking of that phrase “death rattle” over and over again that day.   I remember mentioning the rattling sound to a  nurse, but I guess I was too scared to specifically ask someone about the significance of it.)

After about four hours, Dad seemed more comfortable.  He seemed to be resting.  And so I allowed myself to go home, making sure to first tell the nurse to call me if he anything changed.   Allowing myself to go home was something I had learned over the past few months.  I had discovered that if I visited for more than  four hours or so at a time, I started to crash energetically.  So I had finally begun to be more gentle with myself.  I generally stayed for two to four hours at a time with Dad.  And then I also visited for a few hours with Mom, who lived on a different floor.

“Home” at that point was my parents’ home, although neither parent lived there any longer.  Due to financial considerations, they were both now in the nursing home.  So the family home was now empty of humans except for me.  I was back in Pennsylvania for an extended period of time  trying to support both parents as they adjusted to a new living environment.  I was also supposed to be sorting through and dealing with all the family possessions at the house so that it could be transferred to the bank.  (We’d had to get a reverse mortgage.)

Anyway, after this long and exhausting day monitoring and constantly trying to fine-tune Dad’s environment so he could be more comfortable, then spending time with Mom, and then going home to be with my two sisters for a bit, I crawled into bed at about 9:30.  As always, out of habit, I turned off my cell phone before going to bed.  There just weren’t enough emergencies in my life to warrant keeping the phone on.  I’d come to value my sleep.

I slept soundly that night until about 1 a.m. at which time I woke to go to the bathroom.  I glanced at my phone before climbing back into bed and saw that I’d received a text from my sister, Karen.  She reported that she was with Dad and that he was on oxygen and morphine.

Amazingly, I was still in denial.  I still didn’t really think he was dying!  But thank goodness, I went in.  I also checked my other phone message and discovered it was the weekend nurse reporting to me that Dad had taken a turn.  I had missed her call, too!  It was by the grace of God that any of us got those calls from the nursing home because my sister seldom looks at her phone at night either.  But uncharacteristically she was up;  she was babysitting her new grandson while her daughter and son-in-law were at a going-away party.  I will be eternally grateful for this divine timing.  If Karen hadn’t been awake, she might never have gotten that call.  If I hadn’t had to pee, I might never have seen Karen’s text.  I can’t even imagine how I’d feel if none of us had received these messages and Dad had died all alone.

So there my sister and I were, at his bedside, watching him as he lay there very still and breathing very rapidly.   We held his hand.  We whispered to one another.  We walked out into the hall to make calls to family members.  We prayed.

Finally at  about 4:00, my sister tried to catch a couple winks.  She hadn’t had any sleep at all that night.  Unfortunately or fortunately, there was no comfortable furniture for her to try to relax in and so she was still half awake when Dad’s breathing suddenly and unexpectedly slowed.  Karen, a registered nurse, became alert immediately.  We watched him for a minute or two and then she said, “I think I better go get Mom.”

Karen left the room, caught the elevator, woke Mom up, quickly talked with her, got her dressed, got her in the wheelchair, caught the elevator again, and brought Mom into Dad’s room in record time.

Like me, Mom was slow to realize how very, very close to death Dad was.  We wheeled Mom next to his bed and she held his hand.  Karen left the room to call her husband and at that time I saw Dad stop breathing.  I looked again, of course, checking to make sure it wasn’t simply a case of apnea.  No, he’d stopped breathing.  I was surprisingly calm.  Whether it was to protect Mom or because there was some relief that his long struggle was finally over, I don’t know, but when Karen came back in, I simply mouthed, ‘I think he’s gone.’

My sister wisely said to Mom, “Why don’t you give Dad a kiss?”  We both helped Mom to stand so she could lean over and give him a kiss.  And a minute later Karen told Mom that he was gone.

Dad waited for Mom.  He had timed it perfectly.  Also, amazingly, the  whole entire family, save one son-in-law, was in town.  My youngest sister and niece were visiting from Georgia, Karen’s son happened to be visiting from Alaska, my niece Sarah had just had her first baby and her husband had not yet left for basic training.  I was there, of course, visiting from Colorado, and both my brothers and my one brother’s family all lived nearby.  Except for my one disabled brother-in-law, everyone in the family “just happened” to be in town.   Dad’s wife, all five children, all six grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.  We were all there.  We’d all be able to say goodbye.  What a blessing.

I am convinced that somehow Dad “knew” this.   I believe at some level his spirit knew the appropriate time to leave.  I believe all of this was divinely orchestrated.

Dad chose how to live and he chose when to die.

He was a model for us all.