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Twilight at 10:30am on Monday.

I drove into the path of totality on Monday, to experience the much-advertised total solar eclipse. The eclipse was remarkable in that it passed from the west coast of the US to the east coast, though the fervor of the buildup to Eclipse Day 2017 was unparalleled to any space/stars/meteor shower I  have yet seen. The result of said fervor is that everybody and their dog was headed either south, or north, on Interstate-5, to get to the area around Salem, the capitol city of the state of Oregon. Salem was smack in middle of the path of totality, and one of the first places on the continent to see the eclipse.

Thus, I chose a different route.

I gauged that central Oregon – typically some of the most desolate landscape of the country – would be less of a destination. I was right to some degree, having to share that part of the world only with other people who had chosen it for the same reason. Because let’s face it: people were everywhere within the path of totality on Monday.

A Canadian eclipse-viewer stops for gas and cleans the windshield. His pup was along for the ride.

I passed through vast areas of wind farms. These things always make me think of a science fiction story.

As I have told you a hundred times, I’m a very busy person. The result in this case was that I had not made time to plan other than to get approval to take the day off from work. I had no eclipse glasses, no hotel or campground reservations, no destination in mind, and only a rough idea of where the path of totality would be.

Friday before the eclipse, as my workday was winding down, I started searching on the Internet for where to get those coveted glasses. And they were nowhere!! Everyone sold out & Ebay filled with $200 glasses that their owners had purchased for $12 a month earlier. I gave up and decided just being in the area would be wonderful enough. Fortunately, a friend was thinking of me, and while he couldn’t find eclipse glasses either, bought welding glass for himself and his friends.

Sunday morning I was delighted to find that traffic was a breeze. I was expecting Eclipsageddon on the highways. As I drew closer to the path of totality, the traffic picked up enough that I was certain it was eclipse-related. I could not stop myself from thinking that every time I had been in this region before, I felt like I was the only person in the world. It is that desolate. But that weekend was different.

Heading south. Clearly we all have the same thing in mind. I giggled to myself about the famous Oregon driver politeness. Look at how courteous we all are here, giving plenty of space between each vehicle. This behavior makes East Coast visitors go friggin mad with frustration.

Further south the views became more beautiful to me.

Oregon’s path of totality. (image courtesy NASA) The star is where I live. The arrow points to my campsite.

OK, quick refresher for anyone who wants it: the “path of totality” is the path in which the eclipse is total. That means the moon fits perfectly in front of the sun for at least a few seconds. I guess the path is 70-80 miles across. At the center of that swath, the length of totality was 2 1/2 minutes long, and shorter as you moved toward the outside edge of it. I snagged a map (shown above) from the NASA website, and chose a place to head for.

I stopped in the adorable town of Condon, just outside the path, and I relaxed. It’s amusing in retrospect, but after a month of run-for-your-lives! warnings on every media source, including my employer’s mandate that all employees must work at home on Monday, to avoid driving, I was filled with anxiety. In reality, I made it with no hiccups whatsoever. I chalk it up to 1) heading for a typically desolate area, 2) heading in Sunday instead of Monday, and 3) the fact that eclipse viewers had been trickling in for the past week, so the full population was not impacting the highways on the way in.

Mainstreet of Condon, Oregon

Museum inside the Veteran’s building in Condon

Condon was well-prepared for the eclipse tourists. The tiny town looked like it had been scrubbed from top to bottom. Buildings painted, streets swept, flower baskets out, windows washed, colorful banners up and welcome signs everywhere. I pulled to a stop across from a Veterans Memorial building, and thought I would stretch my legs in there, and see what was inside. To my delight, the space was being used as an art museum, displaying works from local painters and photographers. It was quiet and cool and had a bathroom! I lingered in front of one collection from a single artist, and the woman managing the place came up behind me and asked if I had ever been there: the canyon depicted in the paintings. I had not. She introduced herself as the artist and said that Blue Basin, within the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument was her favourite place in the region. As long as I was there anyway, she insisted I try to walk the trails there. Just as I was about to ask about potential for camping, she noted that all the public trails would be closed for the eclipse.

I went directly south, through Fossil, Oregon and then east. I discovered that I had left the Internet and cell service behind in Condon, so I was on my own out there in the wild. Remarkably, my GPS sort of worked, and I found a National Forest nearby. I thought, “I’m a taxpayer; it’s my forest too!” And drove up into the hills and found a flat spot and pitched my tent. Throughout the evening, more people trickled in, clearly others as brilliant (and procrastinating) as myself!

Some entrepreneurs thought to rent out space in their fields after getting the hay in. This farm was charging people to set up tents and trailers. If you click the image, you’ll be able to see them in the distance.

Closer shot. There were already hundreds of campers by mid-afternoon. I’ll bet the population was enormous by midnight. I hope the ranchers made a mint!!

National Forests are for everyone!

Watching the sun go down from inside my tent. The murky skies eventually turned into a spectacular sunset.

All day long the skies were worrisome. We’ve had a record-breaking wildfire season (every new summer breaks a new record…sigh.) and smoke was blowing in from fires in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. The orange-brown particles obscured the views in every direction. Even more distressing were the cirrus clouds that heralded a change in weather (remember I was a forecaster in my former life). As evening drew nigh, low-level grey clouds thickened and spread across the sky. It began to look like rain.

Miraculously, the sky was spotless blue in the morning. Even the smoke from the fires had cooled and settled into the valleys, leaving the sky above as perfect as any of us could have wished for.

On the way in I had spied a promising high point along the road, with views in all directions. Wide open, beautiful, accessible. In the morning, I packed everything up, and headed back the way I had come, in order to put myself at that spot at about 9:30am. I worried about police coming along and telling me not to park on the side of the road, but I was determined to do it anyway. Imagine my surprise when I found dozens of vehicles already parked where I was headed. I merely found a spot in the midst of the crowd. Again, my bewildered brain recalled that I had been on this road before, and it was not unusual to drive an hour and not see another vehicle.

Eclipse-gazers line both sides of the highway on this curve in the road. If I showed you the view to my right, you would see an equal number of cars in that direction. The hills you see are where I camped.

I walked around taking photos to kill time. I met a photographer who had drool-worthy equipment and had thought to purchase a sun filter so she could photograph the sun safely. I met families with bouncy squealing children, and aging hippies, and science nerds and adventurous twenty-somethings. We all loved each other for being excited about the same event. We were all instantly friendly, trusting, generous. No vehicles were locked, and many doors were wide open with expensive camera equipment and wallets and sunglasses on the seats, available for the taking if any of us wasn’t so filled with joy and love. One family asked if I had eclipse glasses, and I said I did not, and they instantly brought me a spare pair from the truck.

“What were you going to do without glasses?” they asked with genuine concern.

“I have welding glass. Shade 13. It’ll be just fine.” I said to their skeptical faces.

To back up my confident statement, I pulled out my glass and held it in front of my eyes and turned to the sun. And gasped! There was a black disc obscuring 1/4 of the sun. “IT’S ALREADY STARTED!!!!” I yelped. And others, who had calmly discovered this before me, smiled and agreed that it had already started.

Totality was scheduled to begin at 10:22 am, and until then we kept our bubbling enthusiasm under control. I was wearing a Brandeis T-shirt, and was approached by multiple people with affiliations with the school, or who were alumni. That was fun. A couple from Rhode Island complained about the slow and polite Oregon drivers. I spent most of my time with one family from Seattle. Mom chatting with me and Dad constantly hollering at his little girls to put their eclipse glasses back on. They had a white sheet on the ground to capture some mystical phenomena they had heard about. The photographer lady from earlier discovered that she could make a pinhole viewer with her hand, and came over to ask if she and her husband could use the sheet. Once the kids spotted that, everyone wanted to make tiny eclipses with their hands. All the adults tried it too. A woman passing by saw what we were doing and said that she had just passed a tree, and there were a thousand tiny pinhole eclipses cast across the ground by the leaf shadows.

The gorgeous farm next to where I parked.

Playing with different views of thistles and fields. You can see the wildfire smoke beginning to rise with the heat of the day, in the background.

Seattle dad and one of the kids on her back – yes, with her glasses in place.

Making pinhole eclipse-viewers on a sheet.

Here, this one is easier to see. Cool, huh?

And then it became evident that something was happening. The temperature dropped and the light became….odd. It felt like sunset, but my body and brain knew it was morning. I didn’t notice any changes in animals, but had not noticed any animals earlier either. There were no cows or horses close enough to watch, and no crickets. So all we had to notice was the light. And each other. We constantly looked at the sun, then looked at the land. It is truly astonishing how bright it is outside with only a sliver of sun left. All it takes is one tiny bit of that orb to light up our entire world. I snapped a few photos.

Almost totality. What a curious light.

Photographer and her husband.

And then, blam! A distinct change in light and temperature. One man said he was hoping to watch the shadow fly across the land, and I think that would have been cool to see. But it happened too fast. In an instant, we were in totality.

The place we stood probably afforded us only 1 1/2 minutes of the darkest skies. I have to admit: I was envisioning complete blackness; the Milky Way and everything. But no it was not that. It got dark though. We saw stars – or more likely, planets – but only the brightest of them. The light was indescribable, and my photos do not capture it, as my camera is brilliant at sucking in all available light and making things show up better in the photo than in real life.

I think this photo best shows the quality of the light. It was darker than this, but I think you can tell by looking at this that it was an odd light.

My only heartbreak of the day: I did not know you could look at the sun during totality. No one had said this in any of the videos or articles I read beforehand. During totality, the light was too dim to show up through the glass or the eclipse glasses, so with nothing to look at, I dropped my gaze to the ground, and pretty much stared at the ground for the entire period, trying to protect my eyes from instant vaporization – or whatever the fanatical warnings were all about. NEVER NEVER LOOK AT THE SUN DURING AN ECLIPSE! OR YOU WILL DIE! Thankfully, as I moved my gaze away, I accidentally caught a split-second glimpse of it. And it was AWESOME. It was everything you could ever imagine. So unreal, and even in that brief amount of time, burned into my memory clearly.

As the period of darkness ended, and the world lit up again, all the people cheered and clapped. That was fun. The kids squealed about the waves of light shimmering across the sheet, as we had also seen at the very beginning of totality. I was still exhaling and letting some of the awe and astonishment fade, when a couple of cars zoomed off along the highway. They were getting out ahead of the crowds.

I had the opposite plan. My plan was to dally. Rather than head north like everyone else, I decided to head south and see if I could find that canyon that the museum lady talked about.

{This got really long. Sorry about that. I’ll post a part II so I can tell you about Blue Basin and the trip home.}

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The rain was gushing today, but the ample front porch keeps the front of the house dry.

The rain was gushing today, but the ample front porch keeps the front of the house dry.

Bandaged toe.

Bandaged toe.

This weekend I was recovering from a procedure I had on my foot on Friday. Had to keep the foot elevated, but had I been as mobile as usual, the weather was not exactly encouraging to do chores or to do fun stuff. So I guess it’s time for a blog.

I moved to this house in the summer, but thoughtful housewarming gifts keep showing up unpredictably. This post is to highlight the ones I thought of today. I hope I don’t forget any, but if I do, I’ll just add them later.

I’ve got a few friends from the earliest of days, and I love that. One of them has been among my best friends since I was 16 and he was 17. He sent me my very first housewarming gift, a steel fish. I think it’s gorgeous and it was the very first thing I hung on my walls in this big place.

This beauty is perfectly suited for my plum walls.

This beauty is perfectly suited for my plum walls.

Another metal gift is one I have needed for ages! After the woodstove was installed, I found a nice-sized stick that I used as a fire poker. In its early life it was about four feet long. It kept accidentally catching on fire. I can’t tell you how many times I would have to run from the fire to the kitchen, to douse the smoking stick. One night I didn’t realize a tiny ember had remained on the stick and it smoldered and burned down about four inches while I slept. Yikes. Anyway, after a few months, my poker stick was only about 18 inches long. I complained about it constantly, but never found time to go shopping for one of those metal fireplace sets. You know, the ones with the broom and the poker that hang from a gaudy rack that sits beside the fireplace? I was complaining to my step-father while Tara and I were in Idaho the last time, and he jumped into action. He dug around in the shed and came up with a steel rod that had a few nuts on one end. It was too long, so he heated it with a torch and cut it, then bent and tapered the end. He heated the nuts into place, then filed them down smooth. I tell you: I was thrilled! This is a perfect fire stick. I never have to run to the kitchen blowing out flames anymore.

Metal pokers are best. Can you see it, leaning against the bricks?

Metal pokers are best. Can you see it, leaning against the bricks?

In the way that happens so often in the blogging world, it was my turn to be blessed with a gift from a blogger. Marlene, whose unceasing accomplishments astound us all who know her at insearchofitall, made this kitchen towel for me. She said it wasn’t just for show, and I was free to use it as a towel, but for now I like it hanging up. I washed it first, to make it look a little used. This gift is one that brings love into my world and makes home feel that much more like home, you know?

Close up of the kitchen towel that Marlene made for me as a housewarming gift.

Close up of the kitchen towel that Marlene made for me as a housewarming gift.

My beautiful kitchen towel tells the truth: lots of love here.

My beautiful kitchen towel tells the truth: lots of love here.

My Tara is in love with bees, you may recall from the brand new bee tattoo. Anything bee-related is good, so I recently received two beeswax candles that please their tastes as well as mine. From what I am told, beeswax candles are superior. I haven’t had the heart to light either one yet, but they smell divine. It’s like what honey would be if it were a gas. Omigosh sweet goodness.

A bees wax squirrel candle. Can't get more perfect for me!

A bees wax squirrel candle. Can’t get more perfect for me!

The sweetest-smelling dragon

The sweetest-smelling dragon

My Pa said during one of our phone calls, “You know, I am sure I have a book about ponds around here somewhere….” Lo and behold, one day these pond books showed up. I am so excited to get what I can from them. Both are written for people who want to build a pond from scratch, so much text is dedicated to planning and engineering. However, I am sure that if I read them both, I will find reasons for the engineering, and that will give me an education. I really want to know how to take care of my pond. It is important to me to be a good steward to this land.

Pond books that I can hardly wait to read.

Pond books that I can hardly wait to read.

Another long time friend is one I met in college in northern California, before I transferred to Brandeis University. I took an honors Anthropology class, just because I was trying to take all the honors classes, and what a great decision it was because within a few weeks I had decided to major in Anthropology. I loved that class, the beautiful and intelligent professor, and this awesome chick who sat next to me every day. She and I even did a part-performance from the Vagina Monologues in that class, and I was in awe of her bravery for tackling the skit she chose. We have been friends ever since. Anyway, my friend now lives in Sante Fe, and sent a care package filled with wonderful things carefully selected from town, including a little burlap bag of garlic, canned roasted peppers, a sage smudge she wrapped herself, and a bag filled with pine nuts still in the shells. She also sent a two-page letter explaining the significance of each thing, and how she might come across them in a typical day. I have eaten everything that’s edible, but I still have some of the nuts left. They are good to munch on at work.

Empty garlic bag and mostly empty nut bag.

Empty garlic bag and mostly empty nut bag.

My last gift has to come with a story, so you can understand why I love it so much.

Out of the blue, I got a box from another friend from the early early days. I went to school with this kid starting back in 1980 and we graduated together in 1988. His dad owned “the” lumber/hardware store in our tiny Idaho town, called C&M Lumber Company. It was absolutely the only place to go for tools, for 2x4s, for paint, for glass, you name it. “C&M” we called it, was a hub, and I was like a kid in a candy store there. I belong to that quirky group that loves hardware stores (I know you’re out there!). Anyway, I have these beautiful, sweet, childhood memories of bemused adults interacting with me as a 14-year old customer, and treating me with more consideration than I’ll bet the adults got. For example, I wanted to paint my bedroom once, and my dad said it was ok. He wouldn’t buy me any paint, but I could use anything in the garage that I found. I found about five containers of mostly-empty, close-to-white paint, from different brands, who knows what it all was. It hadn’t occurred to me to tell my dad that I planned to paint with coloured paint. One of the containers was a 5-gallon bucket, and I dumped them all (plus a pale yellow one) into the big one, and stirred. Then I lugged that thing (it wasn’t full, of course) across blocks and blocks of dirt roads, all the way to C&M Lumber Company. Without any concept of how it was usually done, I explained to the person working that I was there to get it coloured. “We don’t usually do it that way…” the salesman began. But in no time, he had agreed to try to make it a shade of dusty rose I liked, and it was like a little chemical experiment, as he dumped in some of this, and some of that,  stirred it, and then painted a bit of it, to see what it looked like as it dried. All totally FASCINATING to me, as I watched eagerly. I had money, and was ready to pay, but at the end I was released without spending a penny. I was oblivious. But what a great place, to put that much effort into a kid’s project. I ended up painting my room dusty rose with dark grey trim and proudly showed my Pa, who flipped out because it was a forest service house, and residents needed to get permission to paint any colour but white, pale yellow, or pale Forest Service green. After a few days, he relaxed, and decided that no one would find out till after we moved, since I had an attic bedroom.

If I wear this hat, I'll fit right in among the locals in Rainier. But I'll be the only one with the gorgeous goose embroidered on the side. Look at that!

If I wear this C&M Lumber hat, I’ll fit right in among the locals in Rainier. But I’ll be the only one with the gorgeous duck embroidered on the side. Look at that!

There was also the time when I was into a kick of etching artwork into glass. I had found a thick, tinted, and huge mirror at the dump, that had broken into about six unwieldy pieces. I carried these carefully to C&M to get the sharper points cut off and cut in half so they would be easier for me to play with. This time it was the owner himself, my friend’s dad. He began the same way as the paint guy. “Well, we don’t usually…” and before I knew it, he had cut all the pieces for me. Then he took all of them to a power sanding machine and ground down the edges of every mirror piece so I wouldn’t cut myself. Again, my parents had no idea I was there. Again, I tried to pay and was shooed out the door. For years I understood hardware stores as places where you did not spend much. Funny, that’s no longer the case for me.

Today, my school friend runs the place. I haven’t been inside since I was a teenager, but I have been through town, and I have seen the brand new big building outside of town. It must still be as vital today as then. In the country, the hardware/lumber/tool/garden store is critical.

I did my friend’s son a favor a few years ago, and he promised to make it up to me. Viola! Favor returned:

Look at all these shirts! I am so excited to get them!

Look at all these shirts! I am so excited to get them!

In closing, I am including this short video of my woodstove. I tried twenty times to get a photo to show what I was seeing, but I couldn’t do it. I had to use video. What you see is not flames, but smoke, lit up orange from the coals in the back. Cooooooolll.

 

This was the hand-written message at the bottom of a Christmas letter from my Great-Aunt. It brought tears of gratitude to my eyes.

This was the hand-written message at the bottom of a Christmas letter from my Great-Aunt. Look how she first wrote “her,” then used white-out and wrote “them” instead. It brought tears of gratitude to my eyes.

Being transgender does not mean what I thought it meant. It doesn’t mean today what it meant when my kid first taught me. In fact, the definition is probably changing right now as I write this, incorporating more ideas, sharpening the concept. I’m going to share with you my rough understanding of it, from my perspective as a parent.

The media coverage I’ve seen on the challenges transgender people face did not prepare me for the challenges their parents face. That process has been an ordeal. It’s a swim through an emotional stew, dipping into and out of the murky grey sea of sex and gender, pride and shame, loss and reward. I have to face all of the hard and icky feelings to get at the good stuff that comes with it.

Thank the gods I became a parent. The best, best, best thing I ever did to help my own education as a human being was to have a child. I’m sure I would have learned more if I had more children, but this only child has helped me grow much closer to the person I always wanted to be.

Tara is the one who is teaching me what it means to be transgender, and how to treat a transgender person. It is one of the hardest things I’ve ever learned in life. I was raised by a religious mother and a conservative father in tiny, rural communities. This type of upbringing around the world tends not to be supportive of alternate definitions of love, family, sex, and gender. And while my people are good people, I did not have the opportunity to learn about these topics. I am deeply ashamed to admit that when I was 18, as Tara is now, I was outspoken about how homosexuality didn’t make sense in nature, and so shouldn’t be taken seriously. I had never even heard of transgender people then, and I’m certain I would not have been accepting of them.

The most common questions I get when I say that my child is transgender, are “Female to male, or male to female?” and “Has your child had an operation yet?”

Just like them, I yearn to place people into simple categories, binary if possible, and assign distinct characteristics to them, so I can know where I stand and then move on to the next category. Categorizing people was probably really handy 3 million years ago on the African savanna when humans were only recently upright and spent most of the day surviving. But in the 21st century it gets in the way. It got in the way when Tara finally told me they are transgender.

Strangely, rather than the day when we talked about what it means to be lesbian, it was the day Tara talked to me about being transgender that finally forced me to consider that this was not a phase. Instead of exploring the idea of homosexuality for a couple of years, then drifting back to heterosexuality as I expected, Tara just kept going farther from the norm. Not that I was actively insisting that my kid was heterosexual, I just hadn’t given it any serious thought. I had decided everything would ‘work out’ in the end to something that would make sense to me, and in the meantime it wasn’t important enough to dwell upon.

About two years before our talk about being transgender, middle-schooler Tara had asked, in tears, in an apprehensive voice, “What if I’m a lesbian, Mom? What does that mean about me?” This question didn’t scare me because the categories were easy: females and love. Those are two words I am used to defining. I told Tara to stay away from a label like “lesbian,” and just stick with the facts. “You like girls, that’s all it means about you. And liking girls doesn’t change who you are.” The girl-crush thing persisted, and I wondered whether it was my fault for making my kid that way, because I can never seem to find the right man for myself.

But see what I was doing there? I was judging Tara, doing exactly what I had done as a teenager: dismissing the preposterous idea, assuming it was a phase, assuming it was not important, assuming it was something I could have caused, waiting for Tara to turn out ‘normal.’ What kind of subconscious unsupportive messages was I sending to my own child? I am appalled at my own behavior.

The day of The Talk, I sat on Tara’s bed while they explained that a dictionary definition of “transgender” is a person whose gender identity does not correspond to that person’s biological sex assigned at birth. It can mean a person born a boy feels like a girl, or vice versa, but does not necessarily mean that.

Gender is a person’s individual awareness or identity or role that they fill. Sex is a person’s physical anatomy. Tara was born with female anatomy, but explained they did not feel female. And the startling part: they do not feel male either. Tara asked me on that day to stop using the pronouns “she” and “her,” and to use “they” and “their” instead. They do not even feel as though their gender is fixed, but that it moves from day to day.

“Think of a spectrum in the shape of a triangle,” Tara told me with wisdom, clarity, and calm that belied their 16 years of life. “On one point is a concentration of female qualities, one is male, and one is no gender. As you go toward the middle of the triangle, you move away from one gender and take up parts of the others. I am somewhere in the middle, and on some days I feel more female, some days more male, and some days I don’t feel either. I cannot predict how I’m going to feel, but usually I can tell when I wake up in the morning.”

I asked how this is different from what everyone feels. Doesn’t every person feel a little female some days, a little male some days? Tara was certain that it is not the same thing, but had a hard time clearly explaining the difference. For a time we settled on this concept of change, of “fluid gender,” and later we used “gender neutral.” I asked if they thought their gender would always be in a state of flux, or if the changes are a part of trying to figure out who they are. Tara said they didn’t know yet. There was a period where Tara got completely fed up with both male and female, and began identifying as “agendered,” meaning neither male nor female. Even within the very tolerant community that Tara has built around themself, there was pushback. People simply hate vagueness.

Tara’s current preference is “non-binary gender,” to emphasize the fact that gender is not either-or. But I still struggle to grasp the real meaning of Tara’s identity. They say that it is hurtful to be thought of as female or male. “Each time a person calls me ‘she’ isn’t that bad, but what happens is that after a series of people thinking of me as a girl, all day long, it becomes very painful. So uncomfortable that it hurts.” I asked, “How is it different from when, for example, people make incorrect assumptions of me because they see me as female,” I asked. “They think I am not smart enough or strong enough to handle something. How is what you feel different from that kind of pain?” Tara answered that they can’t really explain the difference, except that when it happens, they feel two distinct reactions. One is that the person wrongly assumes they are female, and two is that the person wrongly assumes they aren’t smart enough or strong enough. “They aren’t the same reaction, they aren’t the same kind of hurt.”

It was over two years ago, The Talk, and the trauma of it lingers. I won’t kid you: I was stunned. I was so confused that I couldn’t even begin to respond to Tara. My questions along the lines of “Aren’t you simply giving a high-falutin’ name to what everybody feels?” were based not in love, but in denial. I was trying to flush out the proof that it was not real. I was mostly in shock, but at least able to recognize that this was a pivotal moment in my child’s life. The only thing I could do was to help Tara get it out and to feel safe talking to me. I said,  “Tell me more about that,” when I wasn’t sure I could handle hearing much more. The more Tara talked, the more I felt part of my world breaking apart and falling out from under my feet. Out of loss.

I don’t know if I can explain it, but my love, respect, and appreciation for Tara never wavered. In fact, I was a bit in awe of the kid for having the presence of mind to initiate this conversation with me, and to stick with it while I was so obviously gobsmacked. But I was flooded with a profound sense of loss. It felt like I lost my child that day. I lost my daughter. The one I had constructed in my mind because…well, how was I supposed to know I had to keep my mind open to something else? I just assigned “girl category,” and filled in all the rest.

For the next few days I was in a deep depression and I experienced a very real grieving process. I felt sorry for myself. I cried and cried. It was so hard to explain it to friends, “I have to give up who I thought my child was, and give up the future dreams, like marriage and children. There will be no giggling over boyfriends, not ever. Well, of course Tara can still get married and raise children, but every bit of it will be different than what I had imagined.  Not that it’s bad…it’s just…confusing. And unexpected.” My friends, bless their hearts, gave me hugs and didn’t quite understand what I believed I was giving up.

My own child was not who I thought. Sixteen years of a relationship based on misconceptions. It really, really hurt to face that.

“I can be physically attracted to just about anyone,” Tara corrects me today. “I could easily have a boyfriend one day and children. It’s just another vagueness of my future I am not sure of. My non-traditional identification stems from gender and sex, and also how I choose to appear and how I define my romantic relationships.” Just for context, Tara’s been in a relationship with another transgender person for three years, so the boyfriend comment is more to make a point. “Brynnen are you Tara’s boyfriend?” I asked, “Yes,” they answered without hesitation. And it was a relief to laugh.

Two years later, we are the same tight team we have always been, and – get this! – I am actually not assigning Tara into a gender category in my mind so much anymore. I didn’t realize it was possible, but with time, I am able to give up “female.” I am getting much better at using the difficult pronouns, which for a somewhat OCD grammar-freak, is extremely difficult when I’m constantly using a plural pronoun to describe an individual person. I am doing better at using “them/they” at work and with relatives and acquaintances. Without exasperation or anxiety, I can respond to their confused questions, calmly explaining that I am only talking about one person, and Tara prefers that I use those pronouns.

I am not over it. I hate it that I am not. Who knew I would so stubbornly cling to my traditional upbringing when I have made it a point most of my life to be as open-minded and tolerant as I can possibly be?

But I am not sorry for myself anymore, which allows me to give more of the emotional validation that my kid needs from me. I’m on board, and I actually get irritated when I fill out forms and have to check a box to identify myself as male or for female. These days, I often check male, to be difficult, because I’m finally starting to understand how frustrating it could be to live in a binary world. And I’m done thinking of it as a phase. This person who has been right next to me all these years, is actually way more genuine and brave than the one I gave up.

Spectacular view of Mt. Adams from our tent, which you see on the left.

Spectacular view of Mt. Adams from our tent, which you see on the right.

Arno and I have been dating two years and never once had been backpacking together. Until last weekend.

Lupine and Bear Grass

Lupine and Bear Grass

He’s crazy about the outdoors. Hiking, cycling, rock climbing, cross country skiing– you get the picture. I am crazy about camping and backpacking. We’ve been saying to each other, “One of these days…” for too long. In May we planned our summer calendar (yes, we have to coordinate calendars! It was not superfluous because –>), only to find we had only two available weekends from May through September when we would both be uncommitted. As it was, I made the weekend available by canceling plans to go to Eugene for the Cherokee celebration of culture, highlighted by a visit from our Chief John Baker, out from the Nation. I swear, my life is just so dang full…

We pulled out maps, nearly salivating at all the possibilities. Arno and I have this tendency to look for places we’ve never visited before. We want to do things for the first time together. Is that sappy? Yes, I think it is. He suggested Mt. St. Helens, but I told him I feel a little disloyal going there because I’ve already promised a Seattle friend I’ll do St. Helens with him someday. East of Mt. St. Helens is the Goat Rocks Wilderness. The guidebooks say it’s really popular, which typically we try to avoid. We did some Internet searches and it seemed rather pretty. We found a perfect length loop (which is hard to find), that had a side trail connecting to the PCT and perhaps the opportunity to scale a peak. Done deal!

Aaaaand a pretty cool view of the blown top of Mt. St. Helens above our tent, too.

Aaaaand a pretty cool view of the blown top of Mt. St. Helens above our tent, too.

North on I-5 and east on Hwy 12 takes you out to the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Take a right turn onto a Forest Service road, drive a very long time to a very -very- large parking area for a trailhead. The largest parking site at a trailhead I can remember is the Canyon Creek Lakes Trailhead in the Trinity Alps Wilderness. Snowgrass Flats Trailhead may have it beat. I estimated around 50 vehicles parked when we eeked out a spot on the side of the road. At least this one doesn’t have the same bear problem. And if that’s not enough parking, Berry Patch Trailhead is right next to it, best suited for stock animal parking. Well, not the animals; their trailers.

We got a very late start. It was a compromise due to aforementioned busy schedule: I did nothing Thursday night except wind down and try to disconnect from the work week. Friday morning we slept in and then had a home cooked breakfast. Ahhhh…. THEN we got ready to go backpacking. So, we arrived at the trailhead around 3:30pm. Yikes! We were worried there would be no campsites available.

The pack was heavy. I am not conditioned. But the mountains!  This was the opposite of my High Lake hike in June, which had no views. This was amazing!! Pack weight sitting awkwardly?  Shoulders pulled back, feet hurt, damned biting flies eating you alive? – whatever. Just LOOK at that! And that!

The Money Shot. This is TOO DIE FOR. Taken a few steps away from our tent. I can't even say enough about this wilderness area, because no words can even, possibly... Just... LOOK at this.

The Money Shot. This is TO DIE FOR. Taken a few steps away from our tent. I can’t even say enough about this wilderness area, because no words can even, possibly… Just… LOOK at this.

Me in a field of lupine. Tired and delighted.

Me in a field of lupine. Tired and delighted.

Bird in a stunted tree near our camp

Bird in a stunted tree near our camp

The views opened up almost as soon as we began. We started the hike at 4650′ so perhaps that helped us get us up to treeline sooner. It’s so alpine here that treeline is where 35-year-old pine trees are 10 feet high, because their roots can only go as far as the ground thaws, or as far as the topsoil goes down until it’s only rock.

There were fields of wildflowers in every direction. The colours were stunning. The perfume of all those lupine in bloom was purely intoxicating. I can hardly do it justice, the sweetest honeyed blue smells wafting every time the wind picked up.

Five miles in, we came to what we guessed (correctly, it turned out) was the actual Snowgrass Flats area. We passed the Lily Flats Trail, because we didn’t recognize the name and wanted to go to Goat Lake. We continued directly ahead, as we had been heading. Another mile in, and I was close to wiped out. It was evening, and there were campsites.

Surprisingly, with the jam-packed trailhead, and people everywhere on the trail, there were many many campsites to be had. Lots of nice fire pits and cleared and level spots with views. The one we selected ended up at 6400 feet. We had traveled about six miles and climbed 1700 feet. (Compare that to High Lake, when I climbed 2000 feet in 3.75 miles.)

Sunset on the mountains. Old Snowy is on the left.

Sunset on the mountains. Old Snowy is on the left.

Arno and I split camp tasks really well. We’re both used to doing everything ourselves (single parent mode), so it’s a joy to launch into any task, knowing your work is half done already – by the other person! He began sauteing onion and garlic for his bacon carbonara, and I began putting up the fabulous new tent he just purchased. The zipper failed on my old tent, so he loaned me one of his for my last hike. I subsequently griped about how heavy it was. So he purchased a tent for backpacking, and this one is spacious and weighs hardly anything! (Big Agnes Copper Spur, for those of you who want to know.)

Arno and me in the mountains

Arno and me in the mountains

Overnight we were BLASTED with thunderstorms. From the photos you see the weather was lovely during the day. In the evening, clouds gathered, but it was still warm, and relatively calm, dry, and nice. I had become familiar with the NOAA site forecast for the weekend (I was a forecaster for the National Weather Service for 11 years, and just can’t use any other weather website.). We both knew that thunderstorms were forecast and we had the rain flap up. But nothing prepared us for KA-BLAM! Just like in Batman comics. POW! The lightning glare burnt through our closed eyelids, the thunder cracked, wind gusts yanked at the guy lines, and rain simply gushed from the heavens. For. Hours. And. Hours. And…. we stayed dry. And when everything settled the heck down, we slept in late.

{click here for Part II}

Marcus and me last month in Portland

Marcus and me July 10, 2013 in Portland

When someone is in love they want everyone else to share that love. Indulge me while I rave about some extraordinary music that I am crazy about, and the story of how I met the man who makes it.

When I heard Marcus Eaton’s music for the first time, I became instantly and forever devoted. Yes, I confess. It’s not a relationship with a person I’m talking about, but a love affair with sound.

In 2006 Marcus Eaton had been making a profound impact on audiences for several years, but I had never heard of him. While I visited my Pa at his oasis on the Snake River in southern Idaho, the nearby Ste. Chapelle Winery had cleverly invited father and son, Steve and Marcus Eaton, to play their Father’s Day concert.

It was a splendid day with my family. We picnicked, drank wine, and danced in the shade. Steve Eaton’s music was a perfect choice for the event. His son played a few solo tunes and KNOCKED ME FLAT. With a studio perfect voice, flashing his guitar as his pass into my soul , Marcus Eaton’s melodies spiraled together world beat, singer songwriter, Latin rhythms, jazz and rock. After the show I stared at this young guy hanging around the stage, and he saw me. I’ll never forget his face at that moment. Looking expectantly at me through his glasses. I was dumbstruck with pure fan paralysis, and eventually ducked behind something and escaped.

At the Father's Day concert at Ste. Chapelle winery in Caldwell, Idaho in 2006

The Father’s Day concert at Ste. Chapelle winery in Caldwell, Idaho June 28, 2006. That’s Steve Eaton on stage. I didn’t take any photos of Marcus that day. How could I have known?

I scratched his name onto a napkin and carried it home to Massachusetts, and eventually bought The Day the World Awoke by Marcus Eaton and the Lobby. I played the CD till my 10 year old daughter had it memorized.  That CD has the brilliant Fiona, which never fails to win converts.  In fact, l want you to hear Fiona. The following video begins with a short intro in the midst of an interview, so if you’re bored with my blog post already, please just skip to 5:40 and maybe you’ll decide to read more.

In 2008 I was compelled to write a review of the CD on Amazon. It was an amateur review I grant you, but borne of genuine admiration. That was the best thing I could have done!

I got a friend request on facebook shortly after; from a person I didn’t know. I checked her page and couldn’t find a single thing in common except that her page mentioned Marcus Eaton. I asked Kitty, prior to accepting the friend request, “Why did you friend me? Is it because I adore Marcus Eaton?” The answer was yes, and that is how I became friends with Marcus’ manager at that time. When I tried to purchase The Story of Now, it had been sold out, so Kitty sent me a personal copy instead, plus the CDs Live at the Gorge, and Live at Larkspur 2007.

In the meantime, I had seen him at a couple of concerts. Marcus is one of those artists who – live on stage – can explode your expectations. Here you were, expecting to be musically entertained, and instead your aural world is turned inside out for two hours. At one show he said, “I’ve been playing around with loops…” and he was not kidding. These days, incorporated into every show as though looping his own background tracks at a live show is as natural as announcing the next song, Marcus almost effortlessly builds in a whole percussion and vocal ensemble behind himself in solo performances.

Wanna see him looping?

I was always the bumbling fool after his shows, trying to make words come out of my mouth that would give him the impression that I loved the music. I wasn’t new to music: I was authentically impressed. My dad plays guitar, and I grew up with summertime bands (in the basement to hide from the heat), whiskey-laden, smoke-infused strains of mandolin, drums, bass, and my dad playing slide on his pedal steel guitar drifting upstairs to the rest of the house. I played guitar in a bar in Tamarack, Idaho for a few months when I was  10 years old, my timid voice attempting Kenny Roger’s hits while bearded loggers  shouted at me, “Louder!” I have always been drawn to stunning fingerwork, and was drooling in front of Michael Hedges in little theatres in Boulder, CO and Burlington, VT when I had barely hit my twenties. In retrospect, I imagine the deer-in-headlights look must have given Marcus a clue that I was an incorrigible fan. Or, in need of sympathy, heh.

Kitty invited me to a backyard party prior to the annual Gorge show in George, Washington in September 2009. By then I was living in Portland, so my daughter and I made the drive up to Seattle suburb and joined the party. Stopped in my tracks, I spotted Marcus at the food table. “Hi, it’s great to see you!” he said, and came toward me with a big smile and arms out for a hug. “You can’t possibly know me,” I said doubtfully. “Of course I do. I recognize you from the shows,” he insisted. I told him my name, and we chatted a little. I told him about the Father’s Day concert at the winery. He said it was almost an annual event for him and his dad.

Marcus at a backyard show outside of Seattle, September 3, 2009

Marcus at a backyard show outside of Seattle, September 3, 2009

This is how intimate it was. So many of these people turned into friends that night.

This is how intimate it was. So many of these people turned into friends that night. They now make up my ME family.

It adds to the beauty of the music that he’s a beautiful person. Listen to the stuff he writes; it’s all about finding peace in this world, finding the best ways to love, recover from pain or judgement, and to value what’s important. He sings about growth and about childlike joy. Listen, just listen to him!

The rest, as they say…

Marcus met my mother at Jimmy Mak’s in Portland one December night in 2008. He sent me a facebook message the next day, “Nice to meet tu madre.” Our girls’ night out, when I finally got to share with her such a Crystal-ly favourite part of my life, is a truly precious memory. When I think of Marcus, he keeps her alive for me in a special tiny way, because he reminds me of that night. My mother died in December 2010.

I was at The Roxy in Kennewick the night somebody brought in a case of his newly released CD, and cut it open right there. I bought two copies of As If You Had Wings: one for me and one for another friend of mine with a guitar in the family.

Miss Tara (right) finally gets to see a real Marcus Eaton show!

Miss Tara (right) finally gets to see a real Marcus Eaton show!

When it was my daughter’s turn to catch a show at Jimmy Mak’s in February 2012, she embarrassed me by knowing the words to the songs better than I did. Marcus’s hug for her was as huge as for his other friends.  Last month I caught him at the White Eagle in Portland, and Marcus asked about her. “Is your daughter old enough to get into shows yet?” He commiserated with Tara, who couldn’t come because she is still too young to get into bars, talking about the time when he drove like a mad man to get to a Tim Reynolds show only to be turned away for being under age.

My love affair with the music continues, and I want more all the time. Lucky for me, he’s making new songs like crazy. He’s played a couple of music festivals in Italy, and I can HEAR it in his new music. He’s been collaborating on an album with David Crosby (Yes. THAT David Crosby.) and the experience of working with such a respected and experienced musician has polished up Marcus too. Now that his project with David Crosby is wrapping up, Marcus is dying to make his next album.

And I want your help!

Drummer Kevin Rogers, me, Marcus at the

Drummer Kevin Rogers, me, Marcus at the Aladdin Theatre with Tim Reynolds April 9, 2010

More to the point, Marcus wants your help. His next batch of astonishing finger acrobatics and vocal rollercoaster rides are hidden from me until he gets funding for his next album. Marcus Eaton has put together a great little video to advertise his Kickstarter campaign to earn enough to be able to begin recording.  You should watch it.

He has invented 20 creative ways to pay you back for any donation. For only $5, you can back him. For the price of a grande double caramel soy latte, you can get new music and give a handsome guy a chance to fulfill a dream. If you can give more, there are so many awesome incentives available. Would you want to visit the studio during production, have help guitar shopping, get a copy of a personalized recording, or have an original painting by the artist? Do you like David Crosby? Want him to play a concert with Marcus at your house? Just asking…

There are 10 days left to make it happen. I’ve already pledged and I WANT that money to be pulled out of my account, but Marcus doesn’t get a penny unless he meets his goal. You have to help him reach the goal so that I get this chance to pay Marcus back for all the memories, and for his beautiful beautiful music. Watch the video, please. For me?

If you are willing to watch the 3 minute video, please CLICK HERE.

Mom at Christmastime in Coer d'Alene

Mom at Christmastime in Coer d’Alene

I miss my mom.

It’s been almost a year now since she died of cancer. The nasty black insidious mold creeping through her tiny body and taking hold everywhere before anyone knew what was going on.

I still have her last text messages on my phone. I finally found the strength to read through them today. Well, almost. I read through most of it, absorbing the awful meaning of the fumbled letters from her shaky fingers. I was at work and had to stop when the tears blurred the screen. I’ll share this desperately poignant and personal lingering bit of my mother with you.

December 1, 2011

Mom: I am thrilled with the Rosewater. (I bought some of her favourite perfume for her) Also I shake so bas in the morn I can hardly txt

Me: I was wondering about that – the texts.

Mom: sorry

Me: Pa sent the kindest email about how you need to know what a Legacy you’ve created. I will send it to you.

Me: Grandma Freda’s brother Dwight is a pastor, and he has been praying for you. He’s got an inside track to God, ha ha!!

December 2, 2011

Me: I had a great talk w your brother last night. He is perfect up there right now. (Mike parked his RV at a park in Bonners Ferry.) I am so glad he’s going to stay in Bonners for awhile.

December 3, 2011

Me: Good morning, Moma. I love you. Scrambling eggs and leftover ham for T before ballet.

Me: Are you available for a phone call?

Mom: Not yet.we R just loading laundry.I’ll call

Me: ok

December 4, 2011

Me: Good morning, my Moma!!

Mom: Gettingalot sicker.I may needU sooner. I’m trying to ignore but igs getter harder.I have to tons of xmascards, I already cant evenwrite tons of mistaaks

Me: Moma!! I can write cards for you!! I am so eager to help. Thank you for letting me know, i will talk to my boss.

Mom: Bruv (She called her twin brother Mike “Bruv”) will be livin in town,bet we can work out a plan!

Me: Yes, but you have no wireless Internet, so I may disintegrate with despair! Ha ha

Me: Is life possible without Internet?

Mom: Bruv is hooked to RVERTHING at motel!

Me: Ha ha! I’m sure. I can go visit him and check my email.

Mom: Boys here next week end,so mayby anyday after that

December 5, 2011

Me: Good morning, Moma. Miss T (my daughter) slept with me last night. She is the sweetest girl. We are so lucky to have her.

Mom: She is something that gets richer every year

Me: Yes, that’s true

Me: We dropped to 28 last night. 30 deg now

Mom: We R15. Di d U loose a maroony jacket?I found it in my closet

Me: I can’t think of any jacket I’m missing.

Mom: ok

Me: I have been thinking about how awesome your visit in June was. The food carts, naked bikers, clothes shopping, graduation dress.

Me: It was probably one of our best visits ever. How lucky we are.

Mom: Wow. That was such a suupper great time we had. amazng gift

December 6, 2011

Me: Just talked with my supervisor’s boss about leaving. I will come up there Saturday. I have enough vacation time to go through Jan 20.

Mom: I     was qoin t  o

December 7, 2011

Me: I put up the website today, and people have already donated $265 toward your medical bills! People are wonderful. 🙂

December 9, 2011

Me: I get to see you tomorrow, Moma! And you get to see your boys tonight.

And that’s it. As you can see, she lost the ability to text, and so I stopped trying. I sent two more messages in case she could look at her phone and read it.

I arrived December 10th and she was gone December 15th. She couldn’t really talk, but for a couple of days, she could tell what was going on, and I was able to make her smile once or twice.

Still can’t bring myself to clear my text messages. In fact, I still pull my phone out to send her texts. She’s that much a part of my life still. There are some moments when I can’t believe she’s gone. I know it’s a cliche. But this woman was so full of LIFE! How can she not be alive? And she was intermingled in my life in every way. I get angry sometimes that I don’t get any more of her. But mostly, I’m sad.

I don’t, apparently, do relationships like others. Or like I’m supposed to. The feedback I agonize over comes mainly from my family. My mother may be gone, but her voice is still clear in my head, “Sissy, a woman’s role is to support her husband.” Or, any number of other countless admonishments I received from her for my entire life. My father says he doesn’t want to meet my current love because it’s too painful for him to open up to another man, and then have that person leave my life, and thus his. He doesn’t have the emotional constitution to deal with “another future ex-boyfriend or future ex-husband” as he puts it. My Grandma Trulove, bless her heart, I love her to death, said once, “Now what’s his name again? There are so many I can’t keep track.”

Ugh. It makes me feel wretched.

Why do I feel wretched? Because my society (and many societies around the world) teaches that a woman needs to pick one partner and stick to that person. Forever. Period. Deal with it! If you have loved more than one man, you are a bad woman. What governing power usually directs societal pressure? Religion.

I began life pretty dumb about relationships, and I have spent decades learning how to put healthy people into my life. Maybe *you* found an excellent, caring, respectful person to fall in love with, the very first time you tried. But I did not. Maybe you had some reliable relationship skills when you were 19, and knew just how to respect your partner and make that person feel valued and cherished. I did not have these skills. I had to learn by trial and error. I blew it. I got damaged and I caused damage. Often.

I was swimming out at sea in religion the whole time I was growing up, and that was getting in the way of my learning. Religious rules are often about absolutes: “Do this because it’s right,” but those rules don’t accommodate my questions. I had no foundation to stand on from which to launch my life; just criticism and reminders from those around me that I was probably sinning in some way. I don’t recall solid modeling of good relationship behavior, or helpful tricks and tools. Mom reminded me that (very soon) I needed find a cute guy, get married, start popping out babies, and stay married to that person for the rest of our lives no matter what. Because that is what good Christians do. There is all that accountability in Heaven. There is St. Peter to reckon with at the gates, there are all my ancestors who will certainly judge me and every decision I ever made on Earth, and there will be the community of other judgmental Christians while I live. Talk about pressure!

Skipping all the details, at about age 30 I came to terms with being an atheist. I really have tried (trust me) to believe. It would simply make everything easier. I have tried since my youth group leader, Hoby, assigned me to the debate to team to argue the truth of God’s existence. I tried when my father decided to live his life true to his faith, and that faith turned out to be startlingly conservative. I tried when my mother had me at church four times a week trying to beat religion into me. I tried when my Grandfather, Capn. John, actually took my hands and bawled his eyes out, begging me to give my life to my Father. Sorry everyone. I can’t do it. I can’t lie.

Ok. So, atheism established, it changes my perspective on things. WHY on Earth would anyone want to stay in a bad relationship if there is no such thing as Heaven? If when I die, I’m dead?

If I was a stupid 19 year old, and dated a jerk, why would I stay with that person? If I was a stupid 22 year old, and married a selfish spoiled arrogant man, why would I stay with that person? If I unexpectedly got myself in waaay too deep at age 25 and discovered the next man I had married was using methamphetamines, why would I stay with that person? If I am 37 and have a daughter, watching me, trying to figure out how to grow up, why wouldn’t I try to teach her empowerment?

I believe that my life ends the day I stop breathing, and thus what I do with my brief life becomes desperately, excruciatingly important. What society or religion thinks of me becomes pathetically unimportant. I must do this right, even if that means to stop what I started, and to try again. An atheist can be motivated by time, rather than by guilt, which is a much more positive form of energy. And if she is naïve, and lacks skills, then she is obviously going to make poor choices. And I did. And I learned. I am 42 now and I don’t know it all, but I am learning every day, and always getting better.

Maybe my Arno is my future ex-husband. It could happen. I am no longer naïve. But no matter how things end up between us, he is the best man I’ve ever loved. My skills to put healthy people in my life have improved with time. I do relationships my way, and that doesn’t look like the way everyone else does it. In the whole scheme of things, what I am responsible for boils down to me and my short life, which, when all is said and done, is done.

{On an unrelated topic, the photo at the top was taken by my daughter, of random people at Mt. Tabor, in Portland. I like the shot.}

Snowy mountains and frost-covered fields of northern Idaho

Before the year is out, I want to lament the loss of my mother once again. Maybe I can find a way to process my grief in 2012 and stop spinning around like a leaf  in a pool.

Today, after working 5 hours of overtime on a Saturday – New Year’s Eve no less – I returned to my house and realized with astonishment that I can see it! Yes, and I can see the back yard too! What does this mean? Quick calculations revealed that I have not seen my property in daylight since December 21st, which is entirely too long ago for this Earth sign girl. I work long days, and spent Christmas weekend away from home, so that explains it. And, drat these long dark winter days.

A train pulls into Sandpoint across Lake Pend Oreille under a full moon.

In any case, I recharge sometimes by catching up on my virtual world. Today it means uploading photos. I haven’t posted to flickr for two months and now I am reminded of all the things that happened in life while I fell apart. I guess even when there is dark on every side, I can still see the light. I still find the beauty. Maybe, just maybe, this quality of mine means I’ll be able to die as beautifully as my mother did.

Occupy Portland! under the splendid canopy of Chapman Square

There was Occupy Portland! And three trips to North Idaho, and Canada with the boys, my knight, stunning Lake Pend Oreille, my brothers, my cousin Debbie, my Uncle Mike, my step-dad Jim. And look how long my hair is now!

Anyway, it strikes me that our world is stunning, and I have been supremely honored by being able to live where I can walk freely and gasp in wonder at it all. So go out there, and surround yourself with beauty.

Looking south from Mom's cabin across golden Tamarack trees

Canadian flag in the bordertown of Porthill, Idaho

Tamaracks changing colour in front of the Selkirk Mountains

My brother Ian

the kids and a bonfire

Me at the Idaho/Canada border

 

 

 

 
 

Yes, I love the Tamaracks

  

 
 

 

 

 
 

 

 

My Arno

tracks in the snow

Arno and I are getting to know each other still. And we will continue to, of course, for years to come. He has seen that deeply personal messages sent originally to him will sometimes end up in a public forum. He said he’s realizing that <in his words> I am a writer, and a writer is going to write.</in his words> And the fact that it ends up posted on the Internet for all the world to see does not cheapen the intimate moments we have shared.

So yesterday at lunch when he told me my last email to him about my mother’s death was so passionate that it made him cry, I told him “Well, I just typed and then clicked Send. But if it’s that good, honey, it will probably end up on my blog.” Well, here is a part of my email to Arno. Only slightly edited.

***

snow rabbit

I stopped for the night at a hotel in Ritzville. I need to write Mom’s obituary. I was going to do that today, but got interrupted by packing up her things. It was hard, and upset me. Jim feels bad now, and I know he didn’t realize what a difficult thing he was asking of me. I don’t want him to feel bad about it. There is enough pain without adding more.

This morning when I woke up, I heard Mom’s ragged breathing. I had to look over to reassure myself that the hospital bed was gone, and Mom was not there, suffering. I knew I couldn’t bear another night there. I guess we probably all have a limited amount of tolerance for trauma. People who suffer with trauma for extended periods of time must go half crazy and get sick too. In the moments of her death, I thanked Mom for making it so easy on us. The quick journey through her dying was a gift for us and for her. Gramilda (Mom’s mom) said she thinks Mom did that on purpose, to make it easier on us. Ha, I can’t help but think she’s probably right. If Mom could find a way to take care of us while she was dying, I’m sure that’s what she did.

whose little feet made these?

So anyway, I may linger here alongside the freeway and take care of my last critical task. I can send the obit to the paper via email. My car is packed full of her stuff, and I may or may not get to it in a timely manner. Being away from the cabin makes it easier for me to fall into my old pattern of avoidance. I wish that trauma didn’t make me want to run. I went for a walk in the snow today (when I saw all those great tracks and sent you pictures from my phone), and I thought “I just can’t walk far enough.” No amount of running fixes anything. Today the walk didn’t even make me feel better. But being away from the cabin helps. I was still trying to take care of everybody. Maybe they didn’t need it. Maybe they didn’t even want it. But I can’t help but try to shoulder responsibility and boost everyone else’s feelings. It just sucks my energy out. I am not good at moderation. I seem to want to do things fully or not at all.

Man, I’m so glad I went to north Idaho when I did. The whole thing was so much quicker than I ever expected, or was mentally prepared for. But I’m tremendously glad I was there. When she died, it was such a relief to hear her quiet and at rest. Finally. I just wrapped my arms around her and held on to her and cried and cried. I felt greedy for the last bit of her life. Her body was warm, and I remember thinking I wanted to have her warmth, because that was all that was left. I held her until I realized it was my own body still keeping her warm in the cold room.

When I was finally able to leave the room, it was my biggest step toward letting her go. I did not look at her again. I did not watch when they took her away.

Driving away from the mountain, everything I saw was her. It was like the essence of my mother was in the air. Those mountains, the valleys, the river, the town of Bonners Ferry – they are all my mother. All I ever knew of those places is because of her. I was always with her there. I would never have gone there but for her. I know it all so well, and it’s always been flavoured with her perspective, her stories, her spirit and influence, her friends, her dreams, her thoughts.

I think the next time I go back will be another step of letting her go, if I can learn what life is like without her, then go back. If I can look at that part of Idaho in a world without my mother, I can re-frame what I see with new definitions. What will the snowy peaks look like without Mom? The yellow fields of cut hay and wooden fences and horses? They will still have her face and her voice when I stand there. The birds will sing in the trees the way that they do because of her. The squirrels will scold with all their boldness in the world she polished up for them. But how will that world change when she’s not here anymore?

And when I get home, what will my world look like without her? Her artistry is behind my world too. What is the next chapter of my life, where I am the mother now, and I look behind me at Tara instead of in front of me at my Mother? I don’t even want to know. But I guess I will find out.

one of my fave graffiti shots downtown

When I went for a run Wednesday morning, I passed the sweetest sight. A man was carefully removing falling leaves from a chalk message on the sidewalk. I couldn’t read the name written there (I was too close to the sidewalk to see the giant letters well). It said, “[NAME] I love U!” The word love was actually a heart.

It’s a ritual on this block: people send chalk messages to inmates held in the jail across the street from where I work. Apparently, they must be able to see the message from the jail and pass it on to whomever is named. Messages show up on both sides of my building, kitty corner on the sidewalk intersections, silently sending love up to the people in the towering building.

A couple hours later, I left my desk on the third floor and walked over to the windows to see if I could read the chalk name with a better angle. I looked out the window and felt like I was socked in the gut. All I could see on the sidewalk corner was a wide wet area, where the chalk had been scrubbed off. No, it wasn’t that the whole sidewalk had been sprayed. Just the message. Washed off.

I don’t know why it hit me so hard. I suddenly thought of oppression. I thought of a stifling work environment, and a totalitarian regime. I thought how easy it is for those in power to take tiny steps to squash the people. The people who scrubbed the message off probably weren’t even directed to do it by anyone related to the jail. The slightest details, perfectly, hegemonically aligned, will have devastating effects. And yet, no one can point a finger and legitimately make it stop.

“Take a stand! We must FIGHT the scrubbing of chalk messages!” See? That wouldn’t go anywhere. And yet, think of how devastating it could be to someone who has been waiting for a love message, to keep up hope while waiting for the court date or something. What does it mean to that person, who was assured by a loved one: “It will be there. Wednesday morning. You look out that window. I promise.”

Arno suggests that I could look at it with an entirely different perspective. “It’s a very positive idea, though,” he said, “that there is a means of getting messages to the people in the jail. They have a way to send their love.”

Arrggh. Pandora you wicked one.

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