That Time I was Naked in the Woods

When I woke up that sunny, summer morning I didn’t know that at some point that day I’d be naked in the middle of nowhere, covered in bug bites and trying not to drown in a muddy river.

24 HOURS BEFORE NAKED DRAMA

I was dealing with relationship problems which were getting worse. (Don’t worry, I’m better now and I’m happy with someone else who is super awesome!) I kept needing time away from the situation. If it had been possible, I would have spent time away from myself. One thing life doesn’t let us do, right? Funny that we are eternally stuck in our own company. A friend saw my need to get out and about, inviting me out to a park of wilderness and natural springs.
In Florida, especially where I was, it’s all about water. It’s everywhere. Every type of H2O form there can be, it’s there. Swamps, bayous, pools, ponds, lakes, creeks, gulf, brackish, hurricanes, water funnels, torrential rainfall…I swear, there’s water lingering in the air. The humidity is so high that I could straightened my hair and step outside for instant curls. Fruit rotted by the time I got home. Mold is a real issue for everyone. Spiders swim. Side note: going from there to Canada was a shock to my skin. I’m basically bathing in lotion everyday.
The most interesting form of water there were the natural spring waters. Fresh, cold, clean water from deep, deep underground eventually finds the surface and bubbles up, making lovely springs to swim in. We decided to visit one in the middle of nowhere, because nothing could possibly go wrong.

MORNING OF NAKED SITUATION

My friend, her toddler, and I packed into a truck with snacks, drinks, towels, and a map, The first leg of the trip was driving for a bit on normal roads. I don’t remember how long, perhaps an hour…I think more like a couple of hours. Later events take over my memory collection of that day, so who knows.
We spent time talking and laughing and reflecting on life. Our friendship is non-existent these days, but at the time we were close. A couple of years later I would fade out of her life, bearing no ill will to her, but deciding for myself that I can’t be a part of her life. She’s awesome and it’s difficult to explain. I miss her. She’s a great listener and great at being with someone in the moment. She was being a great friend for me. This adventure was supposed to be a fun, relaxed time for all three of us.

T-MINUS ZERO TO NAKED

We get a little confused trying to find the spring and are driving pretty deep into woods and mud paths. We were close to the spring when we drive past prison-workers without a guard. Several men were working on something in the middle of the woods with only a port-a-potty and tools. Neither of us are the judging type, but we’d rather not be in the woods alone with strangers. We both decide to not care unless it becomes an issue. Little did I know, it was foreshadowing to the tone of the day: surprise!
The spring was tucked away in a large, group camping area with a picnic bench deep in pine tree forest. The shade was cool, but the air was still hot from new summer sun. It smelled like trees and dirt; I was in heaven. The spring was larger than I had imagined. It was probably more than 20 feet wide in some places and several feet deep in a few spots.
We had forgotten about the rain from days before.
For those who are more city-folk than country-folk, rain changes bodies of water. They can get super muddy and even dangerous. The spring was so muddy it was impossible to see into the water. The current was swift and strong.
“We’re strong swimmers!” we said. None of us brought swimsuits, but being women alone in the woods just means swimming in the skinny. This is when things turn for the crazy. Keep in mind, I’m white as the moon. Seriously, I glow in the dark. The Florida sun was shining off my white skin like a reflector. Perhaps that’s how the demons found me.
Standing in the nude several feet from the water I was attacked by a swarm of mosquitoes. For those who don’t know what a mosquito is…it’s the devil spawn of hell. Mosquitoes activate my darkside, turning me into a lord of darkness bent on world domination and complete annihilation of all things mosquitoes. Think Kylo Ren from Star Wars. If I was a bard retelling the story to drunk warriors by a hearth, I’d say 10,000 demon blood suckers swarmed us and we fled to the water for our lives.
You know how sometimes you enter natural water with caution because it’s so cold? You stand in it waist-deep for a minute and wait until you’re more comfortable? You giggle about how cold it is and splash your friends because you all are making funny faces?
I ran into the cold water and dived in like a polar bear who’d been living in the Sahara for ten years. Fear of cold was silenced by blood-sucking biters. My thought was, “ArrrRRrrggGgGGghhHhHH!

IT GETS WORSE

Now, two adult women and a small child are in underworld cold water bear butt and covered in bites. Don’t worry…the ice muddy water blunted the pain at that point…but we’re moving…? I tilt my head as I notice the shore is moving away.
The current is strong. At least, both of us being optimists, we smile and say things like, “Oh, the current is fast” and “it’s been awhile since I swam last”. Then panic sets in as we’re trying to swim. I try to swim across the spring to no avail. Keep in mind I’m a natural swimmer. I don’t have amazing form or anything like that. I can’t dive right most of the time, but I feel at home in the water. A good current though and I’m helpless. I’m only part-mermaid. My Viking learned that in the gulf last year…that’s another story.
Anyway, I try to swim across the spring to the other shore. Nope. I lower my standards to a large branch sticking out in the water. Nope. I lower my standards more, aiming for a root. Nope. Okay, perhaps just not get swept away? Nope. Every muscle is working to just not float away. The toddler is climbing unto her mother’s head. I hadn’t thought about how her work was even harder and I move to help. The child now goes back and forth between us as we try to stay afloat.
We’re fighting the current in cold water, naked and afraid of biting demons. We try to make the best of it and are eventually like…This is not what I imagined or hoped. I am not relaxed.
 
There was actually a moment I started to worry. Legitimate fear crept in and started to imagine myself on a shore miles down the spring with no clothes.
After a long struggle, we managed to grab roots and pull back onto shore, climbing up a muddy curve into demon biter land again. We rushed to the car, put on the clothes quick as wit, and sat in the truck. I felt gross, tired, winded, wet, and itchy. I had hoped for a relaxing, meditative day in the water and I’m sure my friend did, too. I wasn’t angry or sad, just thinking, Well, that just happened.

POST DEMON LORD WATER TORTURE SITUATION

The outing still helped my mental state, as I was dreaming often about drowning. That’s yet another story for another day, but this unexpected event taught me something. That day and over the span of two years I learned something weird about me that I still don’t understand fully. For some reason, no matter how grim the situation is, I don’t quit. Sometimes to a fault, so it’s a not brag. There are times I should quit and be swept away. I’m still learning, but I’m glad to know I have grit. Swimming in muddy water in the woods isn’t an example of my grit, but it was a tiny moment of my stubbornness.

I SAY ALL THAT TO SAY THIS

I used a funny story that happened to me to mention something else…
 
Depression is like drowning. We don’t expect a drowning person to save their own life, why do we expect someone suffering from depression to save their own life alone? Change my story…what if it had been the small child alone? Or just the mother and child without me to help? Or just me, plus lost in the woods and injured? Also, telling someone to “suck it up and deal with it” is like telling a naked, injured person drowning in a river to help himself. Uh, not possible.
When someone is suffering from depression, their brain cells are releasing chemicals (summed up in layman terms) that affect their whole body. In some cases, the brain cells are doing this without reason – as in there’s a natural chemical imbalance in the body and it’s not that person’s fault. Even if the depression is caused by an outside force, like something horrible happening to the person, we should reach out like a root in the river for them to hold on to, help them back to the shore.
People don’t walk into depression willing, just like I didn’t walk into a mosquito swarm and fast river with the intent to suffer. Sure, people could try to argue that I should have brought insect repellent or a swimsuit or just not gotten into the water…
Some people don’t have access to mental health care. We don’t choose our life, our body, or our brain. Besides that, people make mistakes. Should they suffer endlessly because we feel better just standing there and not helping? Why wouldn’t you want to help someone?
Spin off from some of my favorite quotes…if you’re not helping people, what are you doing? I’m not wanting anyone to feel guilty, just understand that depression is real and we all can help.
If you see someone fighting the current, reach out.
If you’re having a bad day, just picture a nerdy girl glowing white in the pine forest running from a swarm of bugs into ice cold water. I may or may not have been screaming.
SOME SOURCES
 
If you have any problems with these sources or have better suggestions, let me know!
 
purple

Weeds

Dandelions, the bane of the master lawn keeper. Tiny balls of yellow peeking from rough, pointy leaves dotted across the once neat tidy field of grass. The yard is a battleground and homeowners arm themselves with chemicals to destroy their enemy. The bees don’t mind the mess though. The yellow petals turn into tiny, white puffs; seeds with wings that children use to make wishes.

I grew up learning that there are annoying no-good plants called weeds and that everyone hated them. No one wanted weeds, they wanted roses and carpets of grass. But when I started to study local plants, urban gardening, and gardening from the middle ages, I was informed that many if not all weeds were actually useful. In some cases, the weeds were uninvited guests brought to the land by the very people who grew to hate them, known as invasive species. Some weeds are the natives, and the landscape we try to force onto our lawns is actually unnatural. We created the war against weeds. Check out the next natural field you see and note how the grass is only part of the equation. Dandelions, in particular, were once known as a “common herb”. When consumed they provide nutrients like protein, calcium, iron, and vitamins A and C. The petals can be turned into tea, jelly, balm, and wine. Their leaves can be harvested when young to use in salads. You don’t have to believe me, learn more here: Taraxacum Wiki.

The lawn devil is actually food. This unwanted even hated thing, I learned, is actually useful. I think they are beautiful, too. There are even pink ones.

Learning all this changed my perspective not only about plants I didn’t invite but also how I see myself and others. Some of us are weird. I’d dare say most of us are weird. Most of my life I’ve felt like an outsider for one reason or another, meaning I can relate to the feeling a weed might have if they could think as we do – I’m not welcome, I don’t belong here, and I’m odd. Yet, plants labeled as weeds are often viewed that way because they are in the wrong place at the wrong time or colliding with the desired norm. This acknowledgment that weeds are not evil, just a point that shows what context the viewer is living in, help me accept the part of me that is often the outsider. In a sense, I’m a weed. From the outside, I may appear like a bright yellow ball of what-are-you-doing-here, but I still bring something to the table, liked or not. Now, I love dandelions and what they symbolize in my personal story. Surely I’m not the only person who has ever felt like a weed or outsider or weird. We “weeds” should be proud, not ashamed. We symbolize freedom, self-expression, and individuality.

Do you still hate weeds or could you change your perspective and how you interact with them? Do you ever feel like a weed? What are common non-native plants in your area and what could you do about them? Are there common plants that we should learn to utilize in a different way?

Are you a proud weed?

candle

When You Change Your Art Changes

A topic discussed briefly over coffee at a local gamer stop: painting in colors you hate. It happens. That’s why judging an artist by their art is challenging, the art could reflecting a rare part of them. The science of what is happening behind the scenes when an artist creates is still outside our understanding, but it doesn’t stop me from studying it in myself and others.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve experienced outrageous changes (love to my friends and family sticking with me through it). I found myself doing things without knowing why. The changes have caught up to my artwork. I’ve been trying to paint on my numerous acrylic canvases but hating the results. I’ve gone through two buckets of gesso covering things and starting over. Only, I kept hating it.

I’m painting with colors I do not like. Half way through a large piece I asked myself: if I had unlimited resources, what would I make art with and what would I make? That’s when my answer revealed the changes in me.

I wouldn’t grab the tubes of acrylics I’ve grown to know so well. I wouldn’t paint bright colors and messages of joy. I want to bleed watercolor into paper, I want to cut into lino blocks and press ink into thick paper. I want to etch weird, curving, disturbing lines with a pen onto a faded color background. I want to draw pictures about things that haunt my mind. I’ve experienced trauma. I’ve witnessed pain. I know suffering. I want to make art about that. I want to share my insides, not a fake outside. Sure, I wish I could make colorful, pastel, happy flowers on an inspirational quote, but I’d be forcing it. That is not me. Sure, I make “happy” art sometimes, but it’s when the mood strikes me and still with a hint of darkness. Even when I do use bright or pastel colors, they represent a rebellion in me. Using pink is my feminine side pushing back at the irony of binary gender-obsessed society. The first time I read “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” I wanted to stab my own eyes out. (FYI the differences between men and women are so minute they only really matter to scientists and medical professionals.)

It wasn’t until World War I that pink was associated with girls, and after that, the aesthetic become hard fast to the point that many modern men will refuse to wear pink. Pink is for girls. In my early “fuck the patriarchy” years I refused to wear pink because I thought showing any so-called feminine traits would make me appear weak. I wanted to appear strong, something that society had decided was a masculine trait. My brain operates from a completely different space now. I use pink as defiance. “Look, I’m wearing bows and delicate pink and glitter and STILL being strong!” Of course, I’ve also learned the true meanings of strength and power as well; they have nothing to do with physical strength, dominance, or assertiveness. The Buddhists and Pagans helped me learn that part. I digress. The point is pink is just a color and I’ve been using pink along with other colors I didn’t like growing up in giant art paintings.

Still, I want to explore the other changes inside my mind that I do not understand yet. I’ve been drawing weird, ugly, or alien people. I’ve been wanting to make some weird ass art. I love memento mori art, vanitas, Celtic and Norse, mythology inspired, fairy stories, and all things strange. I’ve spent so long hiding those parts of myself, showing them only to certain people in ideal scenarios.

Then I asked, why not? What stops me from doing what I want? Fear. Fear of rejection. Fear of how people will react. Fear that people will judge me, unfriend or unfollow me, fear that people will think I’m a sick, twisted, or disturbed person inside. It will happen, I’m sure, though I wish people were more understanding. I’ve accepted my own darkness and my own weirdness, but other people have not. It’s trying to force it’s way out. My soul wants to be authentic and I’m trying to water it down with pastels and some sunshine. Light needs a dark backdrop and shadows to be fully real. I’m that shadow. I want to explore my ancestry tree and the art that ancient Europeans made that inspires me so much. I need to wrestle with my people’s demons and the hell we’ve created. I want to make art from nature and dwell in it.

On the cusp of accepting this part of myself, my art will change. My body will change. My voice, language, movement, music, and what I wear. That’s one thing that art does: it empowers people. Empowerment manifests in different ways, but as I form my new life and live authenticly I will look and feel different. I will change because I have power over my own choices. I’m living my life, not someone else’s…for that reason my art will be mine, not some else’s.

To avoid being wasteful, I will fill what canvases I have felt with paint, but I’m moving on to new territories.

Have you ever found yourself suddenly not liking something you used to like? Has your taste in art, music, or even food changed over the last 5 years? Do you make art that is authentic to you, or do you make art that you’re told to make?

Hygge

Serendipity…searching for how to survive winter I learned what I was missing in my daily life.

I stood in soggy boots, the north wind blew at me sideways, my face was red, my fingers were numb, my nose was running, and my hair was a hot mess. It was my first winter in Canada. I was not prepared.

Then came the second winter and I was still a mess.

Come 2017 I ignored the idea of winter until November came and went leaving me in December. The winter wind is roaring back and I’ll need more than waterproof boots to get through this one.

I lived in Florida for years and they don’t have winters. I lived in Texas a bit and their winters are just cold air. Texas is just sky and flat land. Summer there is hell’s breath, but winter is survivable. I grew up in Tennessee, where winter is mild with the occasional blizzard. I did get stuck in a blizzard in Colorado once; had to drive for 24 hours to get away from it. That’s another story.

I’m trying to make a home in Canada so I need to adapt. I got a giant cup of coffee and googled countries with serious winters and how they survive it, which lead me to Scandinavian cultures which lead me to the word hygge. The word hit me like a wool sweater in the face. (That joke will make more sense later.)

It sounds a bit like “hoo-ga” (do not say “higgy”) and the word belongs to the Danish with no English equivalent. It has siblings in other languages, however. The Dutch have gezelligheid. The Norwegians have koselig. The Swedish have mysig. The Germans have gemütlichkeit. The Finnish have kalsarikännit, which is sitting alone at home in your underwear drinking with no intention of going outside. Close enough. (If I got the words wrong, correct me.)

In a gist, it is a feeling…the feeling you get when you’re safe, cozy, and enjoying things. The opposite feeling I get in the winter. The word is a notable cultural aspect of Denmark. The word is used as a noun or verb. Meeting a friend over coffee can be hygge. Sitting by the fire can be hygge. Having a piece of cake with family can be hygge. People hygge all the time and don’t realize it. Talking about politics, playing on your phone, or being rude is not hygge.

There were some clever people who saw the opportunity of wrapping hygge in a bow and selling it to the masses. The feeling cannot be bought or sold or forced; you don’t have to spend a dime to feel hygge. It’s marketed as sitting by the fireplace wearing socks drinking hot cocoa, but you can feel it by the campfire in the summer with friends.

The dark side of moving to a new country (or even a new city) is that hygge is lost. As a psychology nerd, I see a connection between hygge and the familiar. Being an expat means re-creating a home in a new, strange place. Hygge becomes a rare and special feeling. Though hygge cannot be forced it can be invited or encouraged, so my game plan is to survive enjoy winter, like practicing old traditions from home, making new traditions, candlelight dinners, time with friends, making and sharing comfort food. Time will pass and life in Canada will settle in, being less foreign and more familiar.

I can’t visit family or friends back home and I’m still getting to know this country. I was fortunate to move in with my boyfriend. His family and friends are welcoming. Many expats move alone and must struggle without support in their new home. I can’t imagine that.

No one likes having their snot freeze, but I’m thankful for the chance to experience winter and have excuses to do things only suited for cold weather.

Now, pardon me while I go put on a second pair of socks. That’s right…double socks.

***

Hygge may be used as a commerce tool to sell things, but don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Behind the Instagram aesthetics of pie and coffee mug cozies, there’s a real feeling. Here’s your permission to take a break.

Danes Explaining Hygge 2014

Danish Man explaining Hygge in Detail

VisitDenmark Explaining Hygge 2013

More Reading

Gezelligheid vs Hygge < Dutch vs Danish differences in coziness.

9 Ways to be Gezellig < The Dutch hygge

Is Hygge real, or just hype? < Danish answer the question.

Dutch Tell Ya How to Gezellig < Features lots of cool Dutch words.

Norway: koselig

Koselig to get through the Winter

Kalsarikännit < Finnish

Hygge Conspiracy