Col is skiing with a buddy, turned loose on the slopes without an adult. Rose is cruising downtown Durango with a friend, “window-shopping,” their hair swept into high ponytails, ears weighted down with hoop earrings, conflating perhaps, tweenhood with the 1980’s. I am at the grocery store, alone.
The woman in front of me in the check out line is simultaneously cradling a baby, loading groceries onto the conveyor belt, and putting down her toddler’s small revolt over bunny-shaped gummies. She apologizes for the chaos, for the extra time she’s requiring, but I am 100% charmed and have to refrain from advising her to enjoy this fast-moving stream of early childhood, because soon that bundled baby-daughter may be cavorting with her cronies, unsupervised, like an extra from a Cyndi Lauper video.
Col and Rose, ages 12 and 9 1/2, are inching ever farther from the home base of us parents, seeking their identity in the world, in their peers. They’re muddling around in popular culture, in dystopian novels, in PG-13 movies, trailed by the slightest whiff of hormones.
It’s wonderful, this growing up, watching the kids develop autonomy (neither Dan nor I alpine ski nor do we, er, window shop). And it’s terrifying, letting them slip into the stream of society, vulnerable to every passing marketing fad; trusting them with their cabinet of tween advisors, each with similarly undeveloped pre-frontal cortexes.
Last Friday night the kids picked up spontaneous sleepovers and Dan and I found ourselves unexpectedly alone in the house. It was lovely to spend time together (Scrabble, wine, etc, etc…) and also the house echoed strangely, loudly, with the absence of the children.
“I guess we’ll be getting used to this,” I said.
“Right, because it’s not like it’s going the other direction,” he replied.
So, we stand on the precipice of something new. There’s freedom and risk. The kids, like all of us, have a tremendous need for belonging, but will mistake ‘fitting in’ for true belonging several hundred times before it all comes clear. Their choices won’t be my choices. Rose’s lovely lashes have been coated in something dark and clumpy lately. If I get to drop Col and his friend at the rec center to play pool while I take a glorious, solo run on the river trail, then I may return to them snarfing something with 55 lab-made ingredients, dropped from the exotic mechanical arm of a vending machine. And I will say nothing, because autonomy is a like a bird; cage it and it withers.
Sometimes I picture handing the kids the baton of their own life and cheering them on as they run. But wait – there I am showing up a mile down the track with a refreshing drink and some protein. Because this separating is not exactly a flipped switch, but a certain forward motion. Or a dance. In which the children take two steps—sometimes graceful, sometimes stumbling—out into the world, and one step back towards home.
Everyone’s back from their adventures. We reunite with hugs, then the kids zoom into their shared room and crank the pop radio station. I make dinner, gliding around to my Pandora station, about 40 years behind the times. Rose comes out as Joni Mitchell sings: I remember that time that you told me, you said/“Love is touching souls”/Surely you touched mine ’cause/Part of you pours out of me/In these lines from time to time. Her words goes up my spine, into my heart and out my throat. Rose and I swoon over Joni’s holy magical voice; we dance together, and then she funnels like a retreating tide into the tween-den, called back by Rhianna, Justin Bieber.
This is the way of all things. Larvae to pupa to butterfly. Change and growth. Leaving, returning, and leaving again. You trade in the intoxicating feeling of being the very sun that your children’s planets orbit to something a little more, well, sustainable. Something like each family member harnessing their own planet, always in and out of each others’ gravitational pull.
I’ve been trying to explain to Col and Rose what’s been happening in the past week and a half of our new administration, you know, simple stuff like how climate science has been removed from the EPA website, or how the appointee to head the EPA has sued the very same organization 14 times, which, I don’t know, could be just the tiniest conflict of interest.
Former Mayor Michael Rendon, our keynote speaker at RESPOND, which was amazing; most classrooms were jam-packed, standing room only. Biggest event in Durango, ever! Man, SOMEONE’S taken all the fun out of boasting.
It’s all a little surreal, right? DAPL has been revived. Myron Ebell, head of the EPA transition team says (about our warming planet), “warm is good, as long as we have air conditioning.” (Wait – air conditioning is now public policy?) The president put out a statement on Friday in remembrance of the Holocaust. It failed to mention Jews. Sally Yates, our Attorney General (who was confirmed with 82 Senate votes and encouraged by Senator Jeff Sessions to resist unlawful orders) was just fired for um, resisting unlawful orders.
My goal from a mother/daughter new moon gathering. Can someone please take me out for a beer and make me have some fun.
All of which to say, times is crazy right now. And I honor what this is bringing out in Americans. Back, like a whole 14 days ago, my congressional representatives seemed surrounded by an air of impenetrability; now I like to call Senator Gardner before breakfast. I understand terms (green card, single payer, DACA, #Russianhackedelection) that I didn’t before. Dan and I have a meeting scheduled to discuss pledging monthly donations to a few organizations. As my mom says, “We all woke up on November 9th.”
I’m not interested in stirring up hatred, and I hope people feel empowered to stand up for their values without resorting to mockery or personal judgments, which simply throws more fuel on this American bonfire. If you have different values than me, I invite you to share. Seriously. Let’s meet in person. We might not change each others’ minds, but I believe we can develop respect and understanding for our differences.
In the meantime, feed yourself (emotionally, spiritually and calorically). It’s gonna be a long haul.
One way to feed yourself: books and animals. Who is letting Col select books from the teen section of the library?
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RAW COOKIE BALLS, Grain free and not.
Here are recipes for two raw cookie balls, one with grains and one without. We’ve been making these a lot, because, well, quick sustenance. I make the oatmeal cookies for the kids, and the grain-free ones for me, and everyone is very, very happy.
Oatmeal cookie balls
makes approx 20 cookie balls
Prep time: fifteen minutes
1 1/2 cups oats
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
3/4 cups peanut butter (or almond butter, sunbutter)
1/2 cups chocolate chips
1/2 cups raisins
2 TBSP melted/soft coconut oil
1 1/2 – 2 TBSP honey
salt to taste
Put in a bowl and mix thoroughly with a spoon. Chill. Form into balls. Store in fridge or freezer. Even frozen you can bite right into them.
Ingredients mingled. Stir with a spoon:
Form into balls (if you refrigerate “dough” first, for at least 20 minutes, it’s less sticky and easier to work with: (the dough in this photo was not chilled)
Grain-free cookie balls
makes approximately 20 cookie balls
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1 cup almond butter
3/4 cup cocoa nibs
3/4 cups raisins
2 TBSP soft coconut oil
4 dates (mashed) or 1 TBSP honey
salt to taste
Put all ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly with a spoon. Chill “dough” if you have time for easier handling. Form into balls. Store in fridge or freezer. Even frozen you can bite right into them.
I love these so much.
FYI: If you missed my nonviolent communication class at RESPOND and want to check it out, I’ll be teaching it again at the UU Church, 419 San Juan Dr. Tuesday February 7th. 5:30 – 7pm. Free. Please RSVP to me.
Also, if you’re subscribed to 6512 and growing and haven’t been getting e-mail notification, my tech guru Marybeth says, “Add this email address to contacts or whitelist it.”
And, check out the line up of the moon, mars and venus in the western sky.
With love. Feed yourself well,
So, it turns out that between making batches of deer tallow soap and trying to discern the needs, nvc-style, behind Rose’s fierce desire for the packets of hot chocolate at the Nordic Ski Center (despite the nice little travel mug of homemade hot chocolate in her backpack), I’ve been doing a little community organizing.
Poster may be hard to read, go to RESPOND website here
The over 60 crowd are calling it a Teach In, which works for me. There will be 9 different classes addressing social, environmental and economic justice and what we can do in our own communities to peacefully bring about change. And there are 4 movement classes to keep the emotions flowing and offer balance to all the big thinking.
This is an entirely grassroots, volunteer-powered event, from the teachers, organizers, the beautiful flyer made by gaiacreative, the website made by busy high school teacher Sara Price, the classrooms donated by Smiley studio-holders, flyer-hangers, the “room liaisons” who will be making the day smooth, and the hula flash mob performing in the Smiley Cafe at 10:10 and 4:10. Yes, hula flash mob.
My friend Kati is my event co-partner, and it’s all a little hilarious and odd because we’re both passionate about making our community a better place, and we both really like to stay home and read novels. Neither of us has any extra time, and we’re both managing this whole event with our dinosauric flip phones. We went to speak with the staff for our Colorado senators last week and her baby had a little poopy blow out in the middle of a very serious discussion on climate change; the next day I was photographed by one of our local papers wearing, whoops!, my $13.99 rubber boots. Which is to say, we’re keeping it real. (Article here, boots cropped).
Hope you can come to RESPOND on Saturday. It’s free and open to all. There will be an opportunity to make donations to Durango’s Planned Parenthood, Companeros, and The Rainbow Youth Center.
Here I am apparently talking about RESPOND in front of many, many fired up ladies and not spontaneously combusting, despite my fear of public speaking. Footnote: I told Melissa Stacy, who is standing next to me talking about the Standing on the Side of Love March, that if I don’t end up making any sounds, to just grab my poster and talk for me and make it all look normal.
Yes we can.
This holiday season has unfurled a little like how I imagine those encounter groups went in the 1970s – everyone getting empowered to air their uncensored feelings. So much honesty! So much raw emotion! Dan and I have been standing by like volunteers on a 1-800 hotline, taking shifts, soothing and empathizing and being available to the young callers.
The kids felt some disappointment about our Christmas festivities. When Rose opened, as one of her bigger presents, a beautiful, pristine winter jacket and said with breathtaking diplomacy and politeness, “Oh. This is Iris’ old jacket,” I realized we had failed to provide a spangly, America-approved Christmas. When Col tore the wrapping off his most toy-like gift: a 1000 piece puzzle, you could almost hear the gong sounding in the distance.
This is no surprise really. In the hierarchy of my time and resources, shopping and holiday decorating thud right to the bottom. Also, not having grown up celebrating Christmas, I admit, I’m still a little unclear on the concept. Kids make a list of what they want and we provide? We skip the list, surprising them with the toy of their dreams? We buy a pile of stuff no one needs because a man with pioneering kindness was born?
Special holiday visitor.
Even if the next new shiny thingy isn’t cherished in our house, empathy is. And bless them, the kids know this. Once Col understood that he wasn’t going to hurt our feelings he told us about his jealousy imagining his friends’ big lego sets and electronic devices; he shared his embarrassment thinking about reuniting with his cronies and having little more to report in Christmas dividends than a puzzle, a game, and some long underwear.
Painful feelings need care. Being able to sit with discomfort rather than seek the quick fix of entertainment, sugar, or some temporary hit of pleasure is a skill I want my children to get really good at. So we model this for them, allowing expression without judgment, providing understanding for their positions, letting their unpleasant feelings dry on the line of our support and presence. Col noticed that with no balm other than empathy, his feelings began to transform.
First night of Hanukkah: a Mediterranean feast to honor my Spanish and Greek roots.
With empathy washing over the children’s brains, the encounter group switched to full blown gratitude. (And back to disappointment…and back again to gratitude, multiple times) Col burrowed in close for snuggles, announcing how much he loved us. Rose made me and Dan a spontaneous card listing nine things she appreciated about us, including “you are great at helping me and Col solve conflict,” “you play games, do puzzles and sword fight with us,” and “you guys save money for fun trips and cool adventures.”
Behind the attraction towards quick hits of happiness is the deeper human need to belong, to connect, to be seen and heard. Much of the rest of our holiday was spent satisfying these needs. We sat on the couch, the kids leaning into me like two protective bulwarks as I read the Hobbit. We spent six completely absorbed and giddy hours putting Col’s 1000 piece puzzle together. We celebrated Hanukkah in a frenzy of greased up latkes with dear friends. We sledded and made soap with deer tallow. We hosted gatherings of Col and Rose’s buddies at our house where we played board games, made art and food together.
Child powered greeting cards: take catalogues, magazines and coloring books, cardstock, glue sticks and scissors. 40 cards for $2.00
Jan 1st. Back to the festivities I can understand: roadkill, scrabble and coffee.
It is not my job to provide the next hit of short-lived happiness for my children, but it’s my great honor and privilege to attend to their needs for joy, belonging, community and connection.
The days have shrunk into these tiny blips that blur past while the dark time stretches on forever. Col and Rose start indoor soccer at 7:05 am, slamming the ball against our kitchen cabinets while I talk my nervous system down from the ledge. Give them ten hours of sleep and they rise like a sled dog team aching to run. Rose guards her goal in a velveteen ball gown (2nd costume change of the morning) and Col is in the same clothes he’s been wearing for the past century.
7:33: sword fights with pool noodles.
Breakfast is elk sausage, winter squash and kale. So apparently is lunch. Entertainment is watching robins bobbing for crab apples. We fervently root for the red breasted birds, whose score is nab one, drop two.
Then we have a family pool to guess “When will the first magpies arrive for roadkill scraps on the shed roof?” Rose wins with 7:48 am on the dot. And at 7:53 am the sun crawls over Raider Ridge. We watch the chickens run indignantly through the snow to the compost pile. This is all the big news.
Next, Col and Rose are on the couch wrestling, limbs and grunts flying. Then like a retreating tide, they funnel back into their shared room and crank the radio up to 11. They’ve found the teenager station and they love it with a ferocity that amuses and scares me. Nothing makes me feel more elderly than the thoughts I have trying to decipher lyrics of the latest pop phenomenon.
Dan has purchased 30 raw deer hides from a local processor (Dan’s work is either carpentry or hide tanning, depending on who’s asking) and left this text on my phone recently, driving home from a window-installation job, “Got a doe in the back of the car. Stopping for a few groceries. Home by 5pm.” You know, the usual. Yesterday he chased a rogue black dog for 5 blocks who had snuck into our yard and pilfered some scraps of that very doe. Dan’s pretty sure its the same dog who stole a whole buck hide from him several years ago. Which is to say, the war is on.
Board game side events.
Despite all the other things that lately seem like really big news, apparently Christmas is still happening. Though I’m still waiting for my kids to renounce all material goods for the sake of true happiness, Col caresses the Lego catalogue and Rose delivers soliloquies which start at 6am on why she’d love a particular new sweater she spied downtown.
“What if instead of that one sweater that you’ve seen, you could have three sweaters which would each be a surprise?” I ask her with thrift store stars in my eyes. She acquiesces with one caveat, “no yellow.”
Baby Therapy: cheap and highly effective:
The lipstick has something to do with the teenager station.
Besides indoor soccer, repetitive breakfasts, and teenage radio, we’re reading. I read Cannery Row for the first time and am still reeling over John Steinbeck’s literary genius. I read a lot of the funny parts to Col. The book is mostly about some hobos who want to throw a party for the town doctor. On page 31 is the most gorgeous and horrifying description of an anenome catching its prey.
The Meadow by James Galvin is another book without a ton of plot, but filled with characters who are so wedded to their land on the Colorado/Wyoming border, their lives are inextricable from it. I’ve loved this book all three times I’ve read it.
I’m reading The Hobbit to the kids and we are all loving it so much. I think we all feel a little like Bilbo Baggins right now, whisked off on this political journey, divesting from our corporate banks and trying to understand how to communicate with the trolls and orcs, when maybe part of us is wishing we could just stay home and watch the robins and magpies all day.
With Big Love to you all,
It is 2am. I am on the living room couch with Rosie, who ghosted up to my bedside whisper-whimpering, “My ankle hurts and I can’t sleep.”
I rub arnica salve into her right leg, this startlingly lanky appendage snaking across my lap. Even in the dark I can sense she is forlorn. “Do you feel that bump?” she asks, drawing the word “bump” into two of the saddest syllables ever uttered. “That’s where Col pushed me down,” she sniffs. I refrain from a lawyerly objection to this middle of the night testimony, although last I remember Rose was kicking up into vigorous handstands a millimeter from Col’s pillow-shielded face and everyone was shrieking with laughter.
“Oh honey,” I murmur, while trying to harness my mind back from the full catastrophe of nighttime parenting. Those irrepressibly sunny daytime hours shine light into the mysterious folds of my brain, illuminating the neural centers of rational thinking, hope, and solutions. You can practically see the mental window-washers, whistling while keeping the storefronts clean and clear. But at night, when unable to sleep, the wolf of anxiety howls inside my cramped mind and the thorns of my minuscule problems become deeply, painfully embedded.
I realize that this is exactly what’s happening with Rosie. She wakes at night, alone in the precarious dark, where stuffed animals shapeshift and the shadowy darkness presses in. It’s alarming to be wide awake in the long, lonely night when everyone else in the house is safely, obliviously cocooned in the balm of sleep. So she lowers her pajamaed feet down the ladder of her top bunk to find some reassurance and comfort.
“I feel that bump,” I tell Rosie, “It feels like a bruise is forming. I’m glad you woke me up. Getting this arnica on there will help.” She leans her pony-weight into me and maybe for the first time I understand the task of nighttime parenting. I don’t need to fix her ankle pain, or tummy ache or whatever the current 2am malady is. I just need to offer her comfort, reassurance, presence. She needs the soothing tones of a parent whispering that she is safe from whatever simmers in her own 9-year old mind alone in the flat, inky night.
I feel my own nervous system unclench and I sense Rosie relaxing too. I know that we will both be back asleep soon, and that a groggy day tomorrow isn’t a real problem. In fact, I feel strangely grateful to be here with her on our long-suffering couch in the darkened house, as if tonight the nighttime has activated not my usual neurotic murmurings but the pure sweetness of being able to comfort and reassure a child who won’t be a child forever.
She thanks me for the arnica rub and tells me that her ankle is feeling much better. I carry her back to bed, the solid heft of her like a hay bale with limbs. She’s almost asleep by the time I lay her back down.
It seems to be a time of accelerated, painful growth. Not like the growth that may or may not happen while sitting contemplatively on the beach in Kauai, but more like the growth that happens when you realize that you’ve been obliviously insulated by your own white, heterosexual privilege; or when trying to truly understand (rather than only rally against) some of the forces that create racism, sexism and mistrust of “the other.” As head of the Anti-Defamation league said in an interview yesterday, “This is a wake up call.”
I am reading this.
This helps too.
I’m finding more questions than answers. Like, how to listen even when someone’s words make you flinch. How to seek news from sources other than what you consider to be gospel (and then noticing the accelerated flinching this causes). How to act without contributing to the divide. How to hear the needs behind someone’s opinions, even those opinions launched like a smoking grenade into the crowded spaces of social media.
Let me know when you’ve got it figured out, ok?
Until then, we’re doing what we can. Like, hosting a community letter writing campaign so we can let our lawmakers know our values. Followed by some fierce potlucking and soccer.
We’re also engaging in the ever effective dog therapy, which may be the shortest, cheapest route to glimpses of inner peace.
Also, I cut Col’s hair, feel free to compliment him on it!
Yesterday we crammed our house with children, and I would have never known when Col and Rose were babies, that a houseful of sweet kids playing a ruthless game of Monopoly was all I ever wanted. Later, they played a round of Quiddler while drinking tea. Can we just skip the rebellion part of adolescence and stick with this track? I’ll provide the tea and boardgames.
Dan and I climbed up the shale hills behind our house to watch the spectacular moonrise, discussing how we wanted to devote part of the kids’ Christmas break to contributing to the well-being of others. And then we butchered a roadkill deer and traded half of it to a farmer for 20 pounds of onions. Which, I don’t know, somehow seems connected.
I would have loved Col’s new cartoon creation even if they were cigarettes, but thankfully, these are “crayon guys:” Mike and Bob.
Rose’s cartoon character is called a “twid.” The boy twids have two horns, the girls have bows and when Rosie casually announced that there is a third gender: unitwids, which have one horn, I wanted to leap into the openness of her mind while giving her a standing ovation. Instead I said, “Oh unitwids? With one horn? Cool.” Because this is the kind of thinking that is going to change our world.
Girl twid with unitwid friend.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I so hope you are gathering with people who contribute to your well being. Here’s a little something I wrote about gathering and thankfulness, two things which feel a little holy right now.
p.s. How’s your learning curve in this post-election season? Please do share.
p.p.s. If you subscribe to get e-mail notifications of new 6512 blog posts and haven’t been, things seem to have been a little wonked-up in that dept. My blog goddess Mary Beth is helping me work things out. We’re trying MailChimp as a new way to e-mail subscribers. If you were previously subscribed and are not getting new notifications, consider signing up on upper right. Right, Mary Beth?
It’s the morning after the election and everything appears normal.
The magpies arrive at first light, skidding on our iced-over shed roof to nab the elk scraps that Dan routinely tosses up for them.
Rose has just saved up—through walking a sweet though curmudgeonly black Scottie who sighs in exasperation when she arrives to take him out—enough money to put a streak of purple dye in her hair and is kicking into victorious handstands.
Col is whistling while working on a lego biplane, taking breaks only to eat, calculate homeschool fractions, sleep, and “snugoo,” which is the enfolding of a small boy into the arms of a parent until his battery of nourishment is recharged.
And Dan is watching a YouTube video on how to reset a toilet on a new seal, and sidling up to me wondering what sort of compensation he might get for his work.
Late on Tuesday the four of us drove home from an election night event. Outside it was dark and cold; inside, quiet and sober. Unthinkable truths circulated like another presence in the car. The kids begged to know: Could it really true? Rosie, her 9-year old voice earnest and quavery, asked, “But will our neighborhood change?” Fair enough little one. This neighborhood is the beloved backdrop for all of Rosie’s community organizing, most of which occurs on the trampoline out front.
It’s a little like going through the five stages of grief: denial, dismay, horror, Halloween candy, beer.
And then, hugs. There’s been so much more hugging lately. I went to the Smiley Cafe yesterday (which is my fave, with their solar-powered espresso, gluten-free treats, community piano and dogs ambling through) and exchanged hugs that were a balm to my emotionally drained soul.
Extra big hugs to everyone who worked hard for this election. Our little 11-year friend Mariah spent days calling Democrats to make sure they knew the location of their polling place and were going to vote. She could have been at the mall obsessing over the size of her thighs, as the machine of advertising would hope, but she found something outside of herself to work for and is one of my true heroes. (And, can Rosie come over and apprentice with you, Mariah?) Another friend is organizing a women’s political action group, to meet in her living room. Everywhere, people are mobilizing, which is the fertility that arises from the composting of anger.
After the grief you remember how much you love this one wild and precious life. There’s so much we can do. We can empower ourselves by spreading joy and generosity, which really is code for boosting our own happiness quotient (which allows us to spread more joy and generosity, which…). We can foster dogs and snuggle cats at the humane society, in the room Rosie calls, “The Cateteria.” We can welcome someone to our Thanksgiving table even though his/her Facebook posts have given us a slight case of hives this past month.
We can notice that when we blame others we’re likely covering up our own pain which could use the light of illumination and care. We can listen to our children even if it seems they’re only talking about hair dye and legos, again, because feeling seen and heard is a basic human need.
We can take walks on the earth and notice that the oak trees and scrub jays have found a way to live harmoniously, reciprocally, neither taking nor giving too much, and we can celebrate that. We can pass out authentic gratitude to others like candy on Halloween. We can continue (or start) dedicating time to doing what we love, so that we’re refreshed and inspired enough to be a light for others. Like Dan, who told me that when the kids and I will be out on our own adventures this Sunday he’ll be “going straight hog wild on some stinky deer hides,” his eyes sparkling with excitement.
All the love,
There is reason for me to believe that the internet furies have relented (which is the best I can understand technical issues) and are now notifying e-mail subscribers of new posts, like this one, in which a foster dog has puppies and your intrepid narrator goes hunting.
Goodness. Did I leave you hanging? Pregnant dogs, elk hunting and banned books?
The night before we left for hunting, after reading to the kids and turning off their light, I lifted Sunny out of Col’s bed and noticed a translucent sac bulging out of her. Holy Game On. It was like rewinding a movie – the lights flipped on, the kids jumped out of bed, and we all gathered on the couch in the living room whispering like a semi-deaf family, “HEY – WHAT’S HAPPENING NOW?” as Sunny panted and heaved in the cave of her kennel.
The first baby was born immediately. Within minutes Sunny had vanished its amniotic sac, placenta and umbilical cord. “She’s stimulizing it!” Rosie cried proudly about how Sunny was scrubbing that white furry bean vigorously with her tongue. But that didn’t wake her baby up. It had been born dead.
By morning—after broken snatches of sleep, Dan and I meeting in the night-blackened living room with head lamps trying to make sense of things, Dan reporting groggily, “I removed the third puppy, around 1am, born dead,” and my hope sinking, noting, “the second baby hasn’t nursed yet and I’m worried,”—there were two living puppies, two dead puppies, and one yet to be born.
Four hours later, after a whirlwind of packing, decision-making, puppy-snuggling, puppy-fretting, vet-consulting, child-soothing and coffee-dosing, Dan and I drove into the mountains for our hunting trip, leaving Sunny in the care of Erin, who runs the rescue program from where Sunny came.
One of my favorite parts of hunting is walking up the steep road in the pre-dawn. The full moon shines a spotlight on the rock-jumbled path. The rifle doesn’t yet feel as heavy as it will become five hours later. I am filled with the irrepressible hope of a new day, of new effort, of new possibilities (and the fervent wish that someone would develop a bifurcated camelback, one side for water, one for coffee). The moon fades and for a brief moment the stars are thrown like glitter into the sky. Next, the sunrise pinks up the horizon, and it’s like every celestial being is contributing its particular sound to the canvas of the sky.
Then we’re at the top of the pass and the first light of morning pours over gulches and ridges and the view is terrifying and beautiful and everything becomes very real. Real, as in, I’m here to kill an elk, and part of me is horrified to do this, while another part of me is horrified not to.
Here is where I feel for Dan as my partner and coach. There must be a more uncomplicated, stalwart way to approach hunting. Last year I cried because I killed an elk and was heartbroken about duping this wild animal with our human cunning and high-powered weapon. This year I cried because I felt impotent pitted against the super-flexed senses of these same animals whose instincts—whose very existence—is inextricable from the steep gulches and high ridges they haunt. I will always just be a visitor.
From what we call “the phone booth”—where you can look down on town from 10,700 feet and ponder that while you’ve been following the musky scent of elk pee, the rest of your community is continuing on as per usual—I received texts letting me know that Sunny had lost all but one puppy, a boy who was nursing like it was his profession.
Life as per usual.
I didn’t kill an animal. I took the safety off the rifle twice. Once, hide and antlers tornadoed past my scope, my own heartbeat surging. The other time, the sun turned the perfect view of a broadside cow elk to a nebulous glare in my scope.
I was attached to the story that if you put in enough effort you will reach your goal, which is romantic, uplifting and makes for great motivational quotes. But between huffing up to the pass at first light and returning to camp empty-handed save for the cumbersome rifle, I learned something else.
I learned to love the effort, the setting out at dark, the composting of yesterday’s loss into today’s willingness, the outrageous plans we hatched to follow the elk there, the exertion of my own 44-year old body, the spying of coyotes and the sounds of owls, the quest itself.
Ghandi says “Satisfaction lies in the effort, not the attainment. Full victory is full effort.”
Our last morning’s breakfast, a leisurely feast, rather than the gulping of granola in the rushed dark.
There is the gift of meat, and there are other gifts, too. I got to spend three days walking on this wild earth focused on a quest so elemental, stripped of my usual human complexities. And as I packed up on the last morning, wishing I was hefting an elk leg on my back, I thought, “Well, there’s always next year.”
Beni is Sunny’s remaining puppy, which means blessed in French. The duo has been living with Erin, who runs the animal rescue program and stepped in graciously while we were hunting. They’re both doing fabulously.
All the love,