Cookie's Bliss Walkaholic

How a Few Trees Kept Me From Spinning Out of Control

When disaster strikes, we reach for the familiar — something sturdy like the trunk of a tree — and hold on.

I began loading photos for this post in February. Before Valentine’s Day, before Bob’s heart attack, and before we were sucked into the Health Care Vortex.

On February 22nd we found ourselves at Reid Heart Center in Pinehurst, a forty-five minute drive south, awaiting open heart surgery. It would be two weeks before we returned to Moncure and started putting our lives back together.

I stayed in Pinehurst during this time. When I wasn’t loitering near Bob’s hospital bed, I paced the corridors with my flip phone pressed against my head. I slept on a vinyl chair that stretched into a bed if certain parts were pulled in a particular sequence. The long nights felt like slumber parties with their whispered blood draws and dark conversations, Bob and I laughing with the nurses as if we were in on the joke.

After daylight I walked big loops through the sprawling FirstHealth parking lots, confused and bereft. The old Bob was dead and no one knew who would emerge in his place. I distracted myself by searching for a migration of robins that swung through the pines as noisily as a troop of monkeys.

Sandy track at Pinehurst Greenway

I started walking the Pinehurst Greenway and it became my path to enlightenment, my lifeline, my escape and solace. It was the next best thing to being home in “our” woods.

On February 26, I walked the greenway for hours, ringer on high to receive nurse Steve’s operating room updates. They’ve made the incision,” he said at 8:55 AM. At 9:29 he told me, “They’re having trouble. The heparin isn’t working, so they’re trying something else.” And later, after they got Bob hooked up to the heart/lung pump, he called to tell me the snipping and stitching had begun.

Pinehurst Greenway Overstory

I watched the sun light up the pines, and rather than return to Reid Heart Center to wait in the lobby, I lay on a trailside bench and talked on the phone.

We left the safety of ICU on March 5th and began the slow process of recovery. Lucky for us, Bob’s three daughters flew in to ease our transition.

Rewind to December. This is Bob before the bottom fell out of our lives. He was no longer up to walking the mile down to Stinking Creek, so we were enjoying a minor expedition slightly beyond our back acre. “I’m getting old,” he would say, unaware that his heart was starving for blood.

I was trying to recreate MC Escher’s Three Worlds with this photo of a stream that I cross on my way to the creek.

Three Worlds, lithograph, 1955

Sometimes I look up and see the moon and am reminded of an after-dinner walk with Haruka. We took note of how the moon followed us through the woods, sometimes disappearing, but always reappearing — a comforting constant.

I called Haruka from Pinehurst and let her absorb my fear and exhaustion. “I am always with you,” she says. “Like the moon. Remember that night?”

Strong Beech roots, reaching out to support another tree on The Beeches trail.

I didn’t see any beech trees on the Pinehurst Greenway and realize how much I miss the Queens of the Forest after we get home. I love how their roots climb over the leaves to ascend their smooth trunks.

Winter tutu at Jordan Lake Park – photo by Bob Armantrout

Beech trees wear their leaves like tutus long after all the other trees have dropped theirs.

Their marcescent amber leaves brighten the winter landscape.

Cookie in repose – photo by Amy Armantrout

I named my favorite beech tree Carl, and our friends built me a cedar bench for my 62nd birthday so I could sit beside my favorite tree in comfort.

When I come across a broken tree, I wonder how I might have felt had I been standing here when the wind swooped down to rip it in half. I marvel at the surrounding trees, still straight and intact, and going about their business.

These two trees are locked in an angry embrace.

When the wind stirs, they groan and whine. I stand and listen until their sonorous torment pushes me down the trail.

Shortly after we got home, I hiked to Stinking Creek to look for signs of spring. I watched the waters flow past the turtle-shaped rock that I have stood upon so many times.

I searched the flood plain until I found some Trout Lilies, a tiny plant that only blooms a few short weeks in April.

When I saw that first yellow talisman, I knew that everything was going to be all right. Delighted, I walked home renewed, springing off the balls of my feet, ready for anything, ready for more.

By Camille Armantrout

Camille lives with her soul mate Bob in the back woods of central North Carolina where she hikes, gardens, cooks, and writes.

4 replies on “How a Few Trees Kept Me From Spinning Out of Control”

I love this post! Especially the optimistic ending. I’m in a hospital bed now (appendicitis), and was feeling a bit down. This cheered my day.

Thank you, Lyle and Kathy! One of these days I’ll catch a fish and really have something.

Glad I helped cheer you up, brother James. I wish our old body parts were better at warning us before they burn out. There’s nothing as existentially unnerving as a surprise trip to the hospital. Not to mention humiliating what with all that poking and prodding. Try and stay out of there from now on, okay?

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