I’m in a different period now. Different from the time I wore that striped bikini and frequented the hot springs bubbling greenly out of rock just inside Yellowstone Park. I would undress beside the van. In front of God and bighorn sheep, we used to say. Different from the time four girlfriends with their bikes in the back of a pickup sipped akvavit from a silver flask. Once we ate LSD and went hiking in the dunes on the Oregon coast, and we all took off our shirts and bras and—so free and stupid—we forgot the way light bounces and magnifies off the sand. That was one hell of a sunburn. I’m in a different period now. Different from the time my ex and I—when we were still together—hoisted forty-pound packs on our backs and took off skiing on New Year’s Eve. Chris McBride was there. That was before he moved to Alaska to build log houses. We danced around the fire we called a Billy Blazer—a scouting term—and sang “Hey, Good Lookin’” to keep warm. We dug a snow cave and my ex and Chris and I crawled into the cave together. Windless and snug. We played cards in the cave. We drank Drambuie from a bota bag. I remember I said that I’d learned more about myself that year than I really wanted to know. Something about the possibility of freezing to death brought out the penitent in me. We were always packing or unpacking. We were special, we were tough. There were designated foods for this outdoor life. Freeze-dried bits of this and that. Plenty of chocolate. Smoky lapsang souchong tea.

The period I’m in now is solitary. Like a path in the high country wide enough for only one person. Last year I spent a winter month in Seattle. The Asian District, with its street signs in Vietnamese. I walked with no effort up a long hill and down another to catch the ferry. I walked to Elliott Bay Books where once long ago I gave a reading. A man came up to me at that reading with his wife. In 1970, in Baltimore, I’d had a crush on him. Sometimes the world feels too small. Tacky but cheerful colored lanterns surrounded the bookcase in the guesthouse I rented. A miniature bamboo forest pressed like protection against the kitchen window. It rained the whole month, one kind of rain or another. Mist. Light rain. Downpours. I put my face up to it. My boots were waterproof. I have always trusted my feet to get me where I wanted to go. That was last year.

I’m in a different period now. Sciatic nerve pain cripples me. It requires consideration of how often to heat my spine or ice my spine. Today a handsome photo of Joni Mitchell and David Hockney popped up on Facebook. As they are now, holding hands, Hockney in his eighties, Joni seventy-five. She uses a red cane to get around and how I covet that red cane. My male dog leaves the room if I cough, somehow offended. Or maybe he thinks I’m scolding him. It’s all about him. I suppress my cough to get him to stay. But the female does not mind. I can cough my fool head off and she snores through it. Her little snore is not unpleasant. It shows me she’s still alive. A girl after my own heart.

Patricia Henley is the author of four collections of stories, two chapbooks of poetry, and two novels. Her first novel Hummingbird House was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1999. Haywire Press will publish a 20th anniversary edition of Hummingbird House in November 2019. Her most recent collection of stories is  Other Heartbreaks (Engine Books, 2011). “The Red Cane” is part of a nearly-completed collection of micro-memoirs about embracing aging and living solo. Patricia lives in Western Maryland. More about her work may be found at www.patriciahenleyauthor.com.

Photo by Paul Bilger