The Lioness

I got a new tattoo the other day.  It’s my fourth, but the first I’ve had in 8 years, and the first that is in a highly visible area (on the underside of my right forearm.)  All of my body art has deep meaning to me, and this one is no exception.

This lioness has a story.  Last summer I was hiking the Pacific Northwest Trail,a 1,200 mile trail that goes from Glacier National Park to Olympic National Park.  I made it 800 miles before I suffered hike-ending shin splints.  I’ll go back next summer to finish the last 400 miles.  But I digress…

The trail travels through some very remote sections of the Pacific Northwest, along old trails, some maintained and some disappearing into the forest, some areas with no trails at all, paved and dirt roads, and along old class 4 roads.  It was on one of these old jeep roads, steep as hell and not made for hiking, that I encountered a mountain lion.  I was walking uphill, just trying to get to the top of the climb.  There was meadow on each side of the road.  At the exact time I looked up, a mountain lion, known as a cougar in those parts, leapt into the middle of the road from my right.  She was only about 50 feet in front of me.  We both stopped dead in our tracks, and unbelievably made eye contact.  Amazingly, I felt not fear, but kinship with this majestic animal.  We gazed at each other for several long seconds, neither sure what should happen next.  As I started to reach for my camera, she bounded across the road into the adjacent meadow, ran up into a tree, down the tree again, and continued downhill away from me.  Judging from the squirrel sounds coming from the tree, she missed her mark.  I had always wondered what my spirit animal was, and here, in bold relief, was my answer.  I continued on, looking behind me a few times, but did not see her again.

Interestingly enough, my trail name is Pounce.  Trail names are nicknames that are (usually) bestowed upon a person by the hiker community when hiking long distances.  My trail name is a play on my real first name, Cathe, which was being shortened to Cat by some lazy hiker friends who apparently thought that two syllables was one too many.  The significance between the cougar encounter and my trail name has not escaped me.

Then there’s my spectacular friend The Bobcat, who’s approach to life is no less than absolutely inspiring.
Let us not forget my amazing cat Rocky, who, at 18 years old, is still going strong.  Anyone who has met Rocky – even those self-professed cat haters – has remarked on his special nature.  He’s been my primary caregiver during these weeks of being laid up with a back injury, cuddling up and purring in an effort to heal me.

There are apparently many feline influences in my life.  This tattoo is for my lioness friend in eastern Washington.  It is for my trail name and the friends who named me.  It is for my very special feline companion.  But most of all, it is a reminder of the bond between all animals and humans, wild and domesticated, imaginary and real.  (And yes, that applies to the humans as well as the animals.)  May we all live in harmony, peace, and love.


Take a breath, or count to 4.7.

Take a Breath

“Take a Breath.”

That’s what the card says, and how appropriate.  I have these little cards, about 1” x 3” in size, brightly colored, with little sayings/reminders printed on one side.  I fail to recall how I acquired these cards, but it was most likely a present from a friend after completion of my yoga teacher training back in 2006.  I started practicing in 2001.  Although I no longer instruct, and my practice has changed and matured since my training, I still use these reminder cards.  I keep them in a bowl on my altar, choosing one at random every day to be used as food for thought.  It never ceases to amaze me how I always pick just the right one for my perceived troubles at the moment.  (As an aside, my practice of yoga is not just the western idea of exercise, but an all-encompassing path which also includes breathing, meditation, mindfulness, reading/study, etc.)

At any rate…”Take a Breath.”  Or, as a good friend has recently recommended, count to 4.7.  “4.7?”  “Yes, 4.7.”  Uhhhhh, ok.  It sounded rather strange at first, but I chose to consider it for a while.  I employ a method of STOP whenever I feel myself becoming overwhelmed or upset.  Stop what I am doing.  Take 3 breaths.  Observe my feelings.  Then proceed.  This helps me to respond to whatever stimulus has tweaked me, instead of reacting and then possibly regretting that reaction.  (No, I’m not so awesome that I remember to do this every time, but when I do remember it is infinitely helpful.)  Counting to 4.7 isn’t so different.  He clarified the method, “One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand, four one thousand, 4.7.”  So, when thinking about it, I realized that 4.7 isn’t so different than STOP.  The addition of 4.7 at the end is so dramatically different than counting slowly, using whole numbers, that it gives one pause.  And that is exactly what STOP does.  It helps one to suspend time, to gain perspective, to break the cycle of madness.

And so you might wonder, “Well, why is 4.7 so appropriate for Cathe today?”  And so I will tell you.  The short story is that I am currently nursing a herniated lumbar disc.  This has put me out of my normal routine since December 3.  Since my normal routine pretty much includes exercising for work (ski patrol) and exercising either before or after work and on my days off (backcountry skiing,) this has been a HUGE departure from my regular life.  Exercise?  Not a chance.  As a consequence I have gained 10 pounds and am starting to lose my sanity, despite employing every meditation technique in my arsenal.  There are also other items in my life that are particularly challenging right now, no different than most people.  Most of the time I’m well-adjusted, because there are so many amazing and awesome people and things in my life for which to be thankful.  But I’m only human, and I sometimes lose sight of what is important.  So, when that happens…well…4.7.  Try it sometime.  I triple dog dare you.

Well…isn’t that interesting.

I think it all started when I was about 10.  I was introduced to backpacking through my summer camp in Maine, where I would spend a week at a time on the Appalachian Trail.  On one such trip we hiked the Mahoosucs, the crowning glory of which is the Mahoosuc Notch, a 1 mile jumble of house and car sized boulders arranged in such a way that climbing up around, through, and under them is necessary.  It was the most exciting jungle gym in the world!  When I hiked through there again a couple of decades later, it was just as grand.  Back in my childhood, I met two thru-hikers whose names I remember to this day: Woody and Ant.  They took some time to explain to our camp group that thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail was a six month endeavor, following a trail through forest and mountains that covered 2,175 miles from Georgia to Maine.  It was then that the adventure seed was planted in my impressionable brain.

Mahoosuc Notch 2008

These are my stories: the blood, sweat, tears, and smiles; my adventures, misadventures, and just simply navigating this lifetime.  This blog is the story of me experiencing life and seeing the world through my [usually] open heart, sometimes gracefully…sometimes not so much.

But with all of it, as one of my adulthood teachers will deliberately say, “Well…isn’t that interesting.”