Hi. I’m Maery, a writer in the Twin Cities. Although I no longer have the body for extreme adventures, I love to bicycle, go horse trail riding and take hikes with my dogs.  

One thing you should know before you join me on my quest -- I don’t have a map. And I’ve been known to wander off course and stop to listen to birds and look for agates. I also have a few issues with fear and anxiety. In other words, I’m not a good role model or adventure guide. But in this time of uncertainty and polarization, I'm not sure anyone has a reliable map. We'll just figure it out as we go.

dog fur

dog fur

It seems like so many people are doing 30 days of something. I’ve done my own stints of 30 days of yoga, 30 days of bicycling, 30 days of meditation, 30 days of poetry, and so on. 30 days sounds doable. And if you can hang in there for 30 days, there’s a promise, implied or explicit, that you’ll come out of the exercise with a new and healthy habit.

Usually there is a hash tag involved. You post a photo, a little blurb about how you are doing and this creates a community of people working together on the same thing. With a group comes encouragement and accountability — that extra push of not wanting to be the “one” who did not stick to it for the full 30 days.

But there doesn’t seem to be a 30 days of mental health thing — something to turn a muddy rutted road into a solid path away from anxiety, depression or whatever it is you feel yourself slipping too deeply into.

petting dog

You know how there are highly functioning alcoholics? Well, I am a highly functioning depressive, which merely means that this is a low grade, under the radar depression. It is a level of the illness that is bad enough so you irritate and frustrate people but not so bad that you are rocking back and forth in the corner of your closet.

I have asked myself over and over, what is this about? Beyond the obvious that there is something wrong with my brain.

Some of these things sound really silly as I write them down, like this one:

  • I thought I was going to get onto this health and wellness committee at work that would have been an outlet for my interest in promoting bicycling and participating in a group activity.

It didn’t happen.

I felt huge, out-of-proportion disappointment over this. Perhaps that shows how desperate I am to be a part of something and have an outlet for the ideas rattling around in my head.

This one is maybe a bit more like conventional disappointment:

  • I thought I was going to get a job that would have put me into a position of working on something I enjoy, with people I enjoy working with, plus learning new things and having new challenges. And the best benefit — feeling useful and like I’m helping people.

It didn’t happen.

petting dog

Loneliness and losing people through distance or death is a common trigger for depression:

  • I haven’t seen my son for over two years and I miss him — a lot. Pulling together travel plans, making flight and hotel reservations, and figuring out all the logistics is something I can’t wrap my head around right now.
  • And my birth mother died. This hasn’t been the kind of losing your mother experience many people my age go through. I barely knew my birth mother. She was difficult to get to know. Whether she had always been that way or not, I don’t know.

I’ll never know.

When she died, I lost possibilities I didn’t even know I longed for. And I don’t know how to process what I’m feeling…

I wish I could be one of those people who when they’ve lost confidence in themselves, take off across country on their bicycle or hike the Pacific Trail, or eat, pray and love their way across several countries and finish their journey with a whole new outlook on life (and possibly a best selling book). But there’s too much that I couldn’t take with me (like dogs and a horse) to go be that kind of person.

All I can be is myself. And right now, I don’t know if being myself is very helpful.

driving car

I’ve read studies and know from experience that the physical act of smiling can make you feel happy. It’s a temporary fix. If you tried to fake smile to feel better all the time, it would come off as pretty, frickin’ creepy.

I made a weird discovery on my own while working through some training games with my dogs. The games require that you get your dog all revved up so they will enthusiastically run to you when you call them. This revving up requires jumping up and down, running across the yard and using that crazy, excited voice you hear parents use with their kids a lot. Strangely, all that goofiness makes me laugh and feel, well, goofy and weird, which is way better than feeling weighed down and sad.

I may feel stupid, bouncing around and sing songing, “Get the toy! Good puppy! Whoo! Whoo! Get it! Get it! Get it! Good puppy!” But it’s a good kind of stupid.

My dogs jump around me and look at me with those expectant eyes that say, “That was fun! What’s next?”

“Good question,” I answer.

I don’t know what’s next. But I am working on a series of photos in the month of August — photos of hands doing what they do in day-to-day life. I believe hands are as individual and expressive as faces.  You can follow my photo experiment in my Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter feeds. If you have any catchy or silly hashtag suggestions for the series, send them my way.

Creating something is usually healing (or at least distracting) for me, so here we go…

coffee mug

Highland Cattle

Highland Cattle

I took this series of photos, trying to capture just the right water drippage as this cow (or is it a steer?) drank water out of an automatic waterer. I was on a local farm tour so there were other people in my way, a fence limited my angles and how close I could get, the sun was too bright, there was background stuff that I knew would be difficult to cut out, and I was using my camera’s manual mode as the auto-mode was over exposing the shot. Did I mention I’m no expert on the best ISO, aperture, shutter speed, white balance, auto-focus versus continuous-focus combination to use in a given situation?

Highland Cattle FarmTour2016-26-5 FarmTour2016-27-6

I was disappointed with the sharpness and detail when I downloaded the photos onto my computer. As I scrolled through the shots with a critical eye, I forgot about all the things I’d seen that day.

I forgot about the exploration and experimentation I’d done.


I forgot the ideas that were prompted as I looked at how other people were housing their chickens and what herbs they were growing.


I forgot about how I had spent the day trying different camera setting combinations and purposely overexposing or moving the camera to create blur. It’d been a long time since I’d spent so much time playing with my camera.

But I forgot all that.

At the end of the day, what it came down to was the result. Did any of the photos contain what I had tried to capture? Were they different than my usual shots? Were there any photos that I was actually proud of?

Trying to get to “good” (preferably “excellent”) is something I struggle to approach with any form of patience.

Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, “No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.” It’s going to bed at night thinking, “yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am brave and worthy of love and belonging.” ~ Brene Brown, “Rising Strong”

This is one of those statements that I respond to with a resounding “YES!” and yet I continue with the habit of being very hard on myself. I’m even being hard on myself about being hard on myself! Good grief!

I feel like so much of what I write here is about struggling. I’m sure you are tired of it, as am I. But am I alone in this? I doubt it.

It’s hard to believe that the woman writing the above and the woman floating around laughing below are the same person. And yet they are.


Take note of this contradiction next time you compare yourself to all those confident, happy people on Facebook and Instagram.

We’re all struggling in some way. OK, maybe there is someone out there who isn’t but most of us have “stuff.”

What I’m learning, though, is to be grateful for the moments when I am not performing. The times when I’ve dropped my guard and am not worried about how good of an impression I’m making.

Such moments are not always the happy, laughing kind but they are authentically real and alive.

It’s the mix of the sweet and the salty that creates a beautiful, imperfect life.

floating in pond

horse trail riding

horse trail riding

“The Feeding of the Muse then, seems to me to be the continual running after loves, the checking of these loves against one’s present and future needs, the moving on from simple textures to more complex ones, from naïve ones to more informed ones, from non intellectual ones to intellectual ones.” ~ Ray Bradbury

I believe to write well, you need to live well. How else can you describe a scene with all of its smells, sounds and textures? You have to pay attention. You have to run after loves.

Not all the things I’ve come to love started out that way. Bike riding didn’t. But I’m a curious soul. I read about something or hear someone talk about it, and I want to see for myself what this “thing” is like.

But there’s more than curiosity and wanting to live well that drive me to run after loves. I’ve also found that having as much in my life that I love, that challenges me and, at the same time, makes me feel at home in my own skin helps me to deal with the anxiety and fear that shadows my days.

Life is pretty good right now. So why would I feel anxious, overwhelmed and afraid? This is a question I’ve asked myself throughout my life. Sometimes there’s been a good reason for these feelings but more often lately, there is not.

And who knows why… Genetics. Environment. Trauma. Habit – a groove dug so deep in my brain that it would take more than a bump of a hand to send the needle sliding to a different beat. Hmmm, a record metaphor. I think I just dated myself.

Finding the why is futile and meaningless, at least that’s what I’ve come to believe. I’m not willing to waste any more time on it. Anyway, finding out why has been for other people’s sake, not mine. To explain and justify. To find understanding. To stop people from telling me to “Get over it.” Or accuse me of not trying. Or of doing this to myself.

In other words, this undetermined, unreasonable anxiety is a character defect that some weakness and flaw in me refuses to overcome.

I know the things I love doing — the things that get me outside in nature and engage me physically and mentally. The things where I feel connected to the bigger, natural world and its occupants.  I also know that some of the things I love doing mean facing fear, which generally comes from doubt in myself. Take horseback riding.

horse trail riding

Yesterday I went trail riding on my own. I’ve gone out alone once since I moved Luke to his new home. There were points during that ride and during many previous rides when I would see Luke’s head shoot up, feel his back drop and his muscles tense. Sometimes he will stop or he might start to nervously gait. If something really blows his mind, he might spin around to head back towards where we came from at a dead run.

These things don’t happen often, but they have happened. I’ve never gotten hurt by Luke through any of his panics. But as a I age, I’m not as confident in my physical strength and ability to ride out a storm, should one occur.

Riding past my fear means putting what I’ve learned from my meditation practice into play — deep breathing and relaxing my muscles from head to toe — not just for my own relaxation but so Luke doesn’t pick up any trepidation on my part.

To make an already long story shorter, Luke and I are both still alive. There were a few tense moments from the sound of a dirt bike on the other side of the river and, as we approached the trail head, we ran into a whole lot of horses, people,  and trailers. Luke heard them before we could actually see them, which was a big part of the problem.

Since we’ve been riding in arenas for the past four years, Luke is no longer used to so much commotion. But once we came out into the open, where he could see everything plainly, Luke relaxed and we calmly rode the rest of the way back to the barn.

After the ride, I felt happy, light, and kind of proud of myself and of Luke. I realized that what frightened Luke on the trail was not what he saw. It was what was out of site and unknown.

It’s the same for me. Which may be why I want to know and experience so many things. The broader I can make my view of the world, the less there is to fear.

prairie restoration

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