Monday, June 30, 2014

From parched to water-logged and back again

This tree in Killarney National Park was the
most alive thing I've been near  in a long time.
Worth the trip!
For much of this year my life has been all about the drought in California, whether live tweeting it at work, or trying to understand my own experience living with it. Somewhere in the middle of the worst of it, when it seemed it might never rain again, I wrote about trying to stay sane, at the last minute adding a line about needing a vacation, which upon further reflection seemed like a message from my subconscious. Being the type to take those kinds of messages seriously, in April I quickly decided to take a trip, and ended up in one of the wettest places I've been in a good long while: Ireland. Which was *spectacularly* wet, and very green, following several months of heavy rains and floods that were basically at the opposite end of the weather spectrum from what we were experiencing in California.

I spent a lot of time marveling at The Great Greenness and exploring the boggy bogs of Macgillycuddy's Reeks in the southwestern corner of the country - tromping around with the sheep, just me, my camera, and my sopping wet shoes, barely seeing any other people. I was ridiculously fascinated by the bog; it's not an ecosystem I am accustomed to. Although the landscape of Ireland is well worked over, the bog still feels very wild simply because it's so inhospitable. There was. Water. Running. Everywhere. Like, out of every available crack in the earth. Like the good freshwater ecologist that I am, I loved it. So much so that I'm pretty sure I brought some part of it back with me - literally. Indeed, within a couple days at home I ended up in the ER in the middle of the night with an extremely painful, complicated stomach infection - talk about embodiment! I don't want to get into details, but it was one of those times when everything goes from good to bad so quickly that it takes a long while to even figure out what is happening. I still don't know - I might not ever.

What I do know at this point is that being unwell can be a deeply liminal experience. I've been working at getting better for months, and it has not been a straightforward process at all. How tricky it is to believe that you will get better, or that you will learn how to live with being unwell -- even the concept of being well becomes a slippery slope. I had a friend who had lived with HIV for over 20 years and he once told me that the way he dealt with it was to know that everything was transitory (not surprisingly he was a Buddhist). Depending on your temperament, circumstances, and history that can be an either a deeply disturbing or deeply comforting thought.

Mostly what I find is that I more and more frequently experience things that feel mysterious, confusing, and at best only partially "knowable." Is it a coincidence that I went from a parched to a saturated landscape and succumbed to what was likely some form of waterborne illness? Probably not. Though I do feel like I now have a much more personal understanding of the potential public health implications of climate change, will I ever "really" know how those things are related? Probably not.

So often we are called upon to know what we think, how we feel, where we stand - especially in academic settings. It can be hard to just not know, for both ourselves and for other people. Are things falling apart? Are they coming together? I certainly don't know. Even as I grasp at straws, wanting to return to "normal," I can still see that the beauty of liminal space is that just floating in it for a bit can offer a bit of respite from having to have answers, a remembrance of all that we don't know and aren't in control of, which is actually comforting... sometimes.

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  1. Beautifully written Faith. And I am glad you are on the mend!

    1. Thanks Deb - although I write a lot of personal things, writing about illness feels more personal than usual, but it's also just a fact of life and seeing how isolating it can be, I have started to feel like it's an important thing to be real about.