Angel on the Wing

July 2015

The unabashed writer Gail Storey, whose funny-horrendous-heroic memoir I Promise Not to Suffer: A Fool for Love Hikes the Pacific Crest Trail won her the National Outdoor Book Award, recently blew through my town—but not without a good visit. (Just before she arrived, I howled through her book for the third time and have now settled on the idea to read it every year—rereading, something I never do!) Gail is currently serving as Trail Angel for her husband Porter who began hiking the Continental Divide Trail at the Mexican border in March. Presently, he’s trekking the Anaconda-Pintler stretch here in Montana with a trail friend called Problem Bear, and Gail is stationed in Butte for her next rendezvous as the supply train . . . her version of the love train.

To learn more about Porter’s hike and their sometimes wild attempts to locate each other in the tall, wide country of the Divide, to enjoy spectacular CDT photos, and to meet crazy Amber with the pink hair, red shoes, and brazen nature, visit Gail’s Blog. You can catch it from the beginning by starting in her March ARCHIVES. For the next several weeks, as they head for the Canadian border, they’ll pound up and down the Scapegoat Wilderness, the Bob Marshall Wilderness, the Great Bear Wilderness, and, if wildfires permit, Glacier National Park. Sign up to receive Gail’s blog announcements and follow them along the way. It’s a great trip from the easy chair—no frozen toes, no surprise grizzly bears, no ouchie burrs in your britches!

♩♫♪ . . .


December 2015

As the saying goes, sometimes this “getting old is for the birds”—though I’d just as soon be one of our wild winged ones, and deciphering the metaphor completely escapes me. In our household, which contains the two of us, we’ve been overly preoccupied in the last five months, so this will be news for many of you. Patrick, of all people, has a new bovine aortic heart valve and his breast bone is gradually knitting together from open heart surgery. His latest proclamation is “I’m rethinking my opinions of cows!”

The surgery went extremely well at the International Heart Institute in St. Patrick Hospital. Western Montana doctors are compassionate geniuses, the nurses all angels. We couldn’t have been in better hands or had kinder attention and support.

Patrick’s spirit—although this siege clobbered him, long and hard—is strong and remains wrapped in his unique humor. Yet the recovery has been tough. It all started at Willow Mountain Lookout where he spent the summer on fire watch. Our best guess is that within a few weeks the altitude kicked him into a severe sleep apnea, keeping him from getting more than one to two hours of sleep a night, with zero success at the shortest of afternoon naps, even while sitting upright, because his breathing would just plain stop. Sleep deprivation is, after all, a form of torture that can generate effects anywhere from headaches and memory loss to impaired motor and cognitive ability, incredibly dark hallucinations, and heart disease. Patrick’s led to atrial fibrillation and a state of overwhelming panic. He is still coming out of feeling spooked.

Our gratitude is great, and it begins with this horrible episode itself, which pushed Patrick into cardiac symptoms that illuminated a hereditary aortic problem. When Patrick quizzed the surgeon on what would have happened if the echocardiogram hadn’t caught the aortic valve’s calcification and stenosis, the first answer was “sudden death”—with other possibilities perhaps worse.

Our thankfulness extends to all our dear friends, near and far, who have stood by us in so many ways. Bless you all. Patrick and I are, right now, looking forward to the winter solstice and the returning of the light. May the increasing rays and a new bright awareness of life sail us all into a year of exceptional goodness, round the world.

Myself, I can’t help pondering a bit just how far Patrick will go to upstage me. I was steering for a little ol’ hip replacement when suddenly he was rolling into heart surgery. Holy cow!