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,
I’m leaving for elk hunting tomorrow. It’s all still a little surreal, how my life has expanded to include stalking a large mammal with a firearm. Last weekend we went apple picking and then did a little shopping for the week. You know, toilet paper and copper bullets. For months I’ve been jogging, guzzling bone broth, target-shooting and reviewing lethal shot placements. And soon I’ll be in it, where all that prep is theoretical; where the aperture of my focus becomes exquisitely narrowed; where for five days everything that isn’t relevant to the hunt is suspended: the knocked up foster dog, the election, the children (whose schedule is a 4-page, multi-caregiver puzzle including daily single-serve yogurt, a concession which makes it all doable for Rosie. “It helps to have something to look forward to,” she explains).
It’s been a little nutty here as I dash around whipping up uber–caloric food, teaching creative writing to ten children out of my home, throwing down for a round of push-ups, and palpating the dog for contractions. Never one to quietly and unobtrusively stand by, Rosie’s need for connection ramps up in direct relationship to my busyness. She shadows me as I pull apple muffins out of the oven. “Last night at Col’s soccer practice when I scored a goal?” she begins, “the boys were all surprised because they under-doubted me.” She explains which parts of our 5 days away brings up the most nervousment and how she’d like Col’s bed to be no more than one foot away from hers on sleepovers. And then she kicks up into three handstands, whomps back down and reminds herself aloud that it’s normal for some puppies to die. This too, I tell myself, uncranking my shoulders. There is room for this too.
Shit’s getting real here on the maternity ward.
Sunny’s birthing tub has been installed in the living room. Rosie set it up with the thrift store blankets and waterproof bed liners that our mentor Erin brought over. Later when I climbed into Rosie’s top bunk to snuggle with her I noticed she had placed a waterproof bed liner in her own bed. Well that makes sense, I thought, being that she’s not one to miss out on anything ever. Col’s been singing the Daft Punk song, Get Lucky with adapted lyrics: We’re up all night ’til the sun / We’re up all night to get some / We’re up all night for good fun / We’re up all night to
get lucky HAVE PUPPIES!
The doula is in.
(If the puppy muffins come while we’re away, we have Kathryn, former garden apprentice and best housesitter in the universe, standing by).
Last week was Banned Books Week at the library and I picked up The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton for Col and Rose, which I must have read 35 times when I was 13 years old. Reading it to them is like having my teenaged self momentarily intertwined with their emerging tween selves, all of us mired in the literary self-conscious angst of wanting to belong. The kids are loving it, partially because the characters drink endless Cokes, smoke a pack a day and eat chocolate cake for breakfast, which is as debaucherous a life as they can imagine, let alone the prevalent rumbles and switchblades.
Well here I go out into the (hopefully) elky woods, surrendering to the wild, unknowable elements. See you on the flip side.
Last week I put up a new post which never went out to e-mail subscribers. Because I totally understand the medium upon which I work, I
did a lot of technical troubleshooting, just decided to cross my fingers and repost.
Go here (last week’s post) to find out why there is an extremely pregnant dog living in our house, see if you can find the biblical verse applied to chard and kale, and read why I get so excited when Rose announces that she’s feeling jealous of a friend. And longtime readers, thank you for your kind and reassuring comments on that last post. My heart felt full of gratitude and connection hearing from you.
p.s. Stay tuned! Another post coming THIS WEEK. Like old times. :)
Thank you for your patience with my showing up here. I am wistfully nostalgic (and a little baffled) that I used to post here three times a week (and then two, and then one…). So much recording of the daily now. However, being such a traditional family—different than traditional family values (meaning, how Dan’s been boiling down hooves and hide scraps on the stove for three days straight to make hide glue again)—in some ways, I feel like I’ve written it all before.
Right? I mean, here we are again, caricatures of our own seasonally habitual lives. I’m blindsided by the flared up beauty of fall. Rose announces she’s not so hungry for dinner, while peach and plum pits are confettied around the house, in her hair. Col’s been gleefully shooting frost-killed tomatoes with his BB gun. And Dan’s been drying various things in the October sun: peaches, pears, deer and elk hooves.
The children pulse on. Col stumbled into my room late one night while Dan was gone hunting.I offered up my little nighttime prayer, which goes something like: if I must be woken up please let the issue be clear and solvable.
Col said in his smallest voice, “I’m feeling a little nervous about all the interests I’ve given up.”
“You mean like airplanes?” I asked.
“Yes,” he sniffled, burrowing his head into my chest. “And I used to be really into archery.”
“Right. And before that, rocks. And before rocks, trains.”
He nestled into me, teary and nostalgic for all the versions of himself that had already come and gone, the naming of each bringing on fresh waves of sadness. We snuggled for a long time; Col has a beautifully efficient way of absorbing physical affection, metabolizing it into something useful. At midnight I made him some crackers and peanut butter, his small body like a hopeful buoy floating at the big ocean of our table.
The first thing Rose told me when I picked her up from shared school yesterday was that she felt jealous because her friend just got new shoes and pants. And I may have been a little overzealous. “Jealousy? We can work with that!” I told her. We may be a little fuzzy on fractions, but we’re really comfortable with feelings around here. We’ve learned that they blow in like an extreme weather event, rumbling around colonizing your mind and body, then vanish. It helps to give those feelings space, to not crowd them with solutions, judgments, diagnosis or reassurance. It helps to lavish understanding upon painful feelings. I can understand how new clothes are so fun and exciting. It’s hard to see your friends get things you want. We spent the whole 1/2 mile walk home allowing and caring for the jealousy, and by the time we hit the trampoline in the front yard, the storm had blown out.
We had our first hard frost last night and as Dan’s mother and I scrambled around the garden picking half-blushed tomatoes and adolescent tomatillos, I had this feeling of completion, of the comfort and familiarity of returning to the steady and enduring greens that started this growing season, the chard, kale, lettuce, arugula. And as it was in the beginning so shall it be in the end.
In other fall happenings, we are fostering a small, lovely, heeler mix we call Sunny. Her life purpose is to bring love and peace to the people, while unearthing every bone that has ever come through the Tupperware Heights bone channels. (The life of a bone: first, the butchering table and then simmered down into bone broth, then tossed, denuded of minerals, into the chicken coop, where it is raked up and put in the compost and then resurrected under an elderberry bush or grape vine, then dragged out by Sunny).
Also, she’s pregnant with five little puppy muffins, and will be delivering sometime in mid-late October at the Turiel/Hinds home for unwed foster heelers. We have no idea what we’re getting into, which is good. Rose mused the other day, “I wonder who her husband was?” Indeed. Hoping there weren’t many St. Bernards on the Navajo reservation.
Yesterday Col spent the afternoon zooming a balsa wood airplane around the house. I smiled watching him, knowing that as the law of entropy states, nothing is ever lost, just transformed.
:: The canine love dispenser.
:: Dan shot a bull elk with his homemade bow! He worked so hard for it. His friend Ben spent three days hunting with him and came home saying, “I kind of knew Dan went all out, but now I really know.” We had a family celebration recently and Dan said about this elk, “I’ll be celebrating all year.” Here, Sunny’s going, “Dat’s so cool how we kilt dat big elk together!”
:: Our amazing public library held a Young Author’s Showcase last weekend. Rose submitted her very suspenseful story about a snow leopard hunting. An excerpt: “I lunged to grapple with the meat. I ripped open the belly to get to the heart and liver. Blood sprayed everywhere, soaking my muzzle. The snow looked like red and white fireworks.”
Thank you for continuing to come here!
If I had just one more arm I could read to the kids while pitting plums. Or, make this while sweeping soccer mud off the floor. The grapes are purpling, the tomatoes are juicing up, the apricots are conducting their own middle school biology fruit-fly experiment. (I recently taught a canning class in which I explained that if you opened an apricot and found a little white worm, just discard it with the pit; the apricot is fine. Later—like 2 seconds later—I wondered if that’s the sort of advice that keeps me from rising like a star in my field. Just kidding, I don’t really have a field.)
New September chores are inventing themselves, like: clip spent cosmos flowers daily to prevent the deposit of billions of seeds, while swooning over the pinkness of those in bloom. Or, teach Rosie to actually bring green beans, cherry tomatoes and grapes inside rather than simply raccooning around the yard (just kidding, I love how she grazes at the backyard buffet). Dan says,”it’s that season when you have a sneaking suspicion that there’s something lurking in the fridge or garden that you should be eating.” Indeed. I am haunted by a 5-pound turnip.
We’ve started homeschooling again, meaning another year of experimentation and prayer. However, we walked out of the library recently, and Col said about his teetering stack of self-chosen books, “I can’t wait to get started on these.” Later that same day, walking a Humane Society dog, Col reached up on the river trail and grabbed a shiny brown acorn, shelled it and popped it in his mouth. And I thought, well, my work here seems to be complete.
September is the month of Dan bow-hunting, which is so traditional it seems to be encoded into our DNA. The familiarity of slipping skins off green chiles, or salting cucumbers into pickles while the house is bright and loud with children is terribly reassuring. These days solo-parenting is less about swooping around with a rag in hand (ready to wipe butts, faces, chins, floor) and more about connecting with these increasingly independent children.
Without another parent on which to deflect responsibility (Maybe Dan will make dinner, I think lazily from my Facebook haze), we become this small, rag-tag team, this 3-person pod conducting our own little nurture-fest. I become so available! They lap it up! I feel so fulfilled! We break out the same 700-piece puzzle that vexes us every hunting season (still vexing). We bike to the farmers market, play boardgames with grandmas at the UU Church on Friday night, lounge around the house utterly plan-less, choreographing the day in real time. I consent to my annual game of Monopoly, bored out of my skull, yet filled with the joy of being a mother who will play Monopoly with her kids. The September weather is endlessly perfect regardless of sun or rain; and even in the midst of whatever sibling nano-crisis is occuring, we are rich with the blessings of this season.
:: We got to have Chica for a two week sleepover, and I swear, we all became kinder, gentler humans in her presence. If anyone knows of a small, fun, kid-friendly dog who likes to take morning runs and give kisses, please don’t tell me about it.
The moment where life has a distinct before and after: Chica discovers elk liver.
Also, we loved this book, in which a rescue dog, much like Chica, brings people together.
:: Dan, “I can’t believe we live on an earth with this sort of bounty.”
Gorgeous Boletus edulis.
:: Boletes, when sauteed, taste like bacon cake.
:: Do you see how I can get a little distracted when Dan’s around? Holy moly! The fruit, the fruit! Just talking about all that fruit.
And Rose, for her bouquet titled “fruit fireworks” which included apricots, chokecherries, rose hips and crab apples.
:: Just in case you have a few sneaker zukes around, recipe for zucchini sliders:
:: Don’t forget to eat your broccoli leaves, and freeze copious greens to slip in your children’s mac and cheese.
:: For the historic 2016 Southwest fruit bonanza, my Fruit leather recipe:
Sending ALL the love, wishing for you ALL the blessings, and that maybe you will find yourself playing your least favorite board game with your most favorite people, and finding the hidden wealth therein.
We’re backpacking through stunted trees and out into the green alpine where late season wildflowers flare in a last stand of fertility. The sky is forever blue, making the threat of thunderstorms seem as menacing as a fictional villain. A pika squeaks its raspy warning bark while a pair of peregrine falcons swoop overhead.
We stop to fill water bottles at a spring and everything feels so poignant and peaceful. Perhaps this is because Dan and I have left the children back in town.
We’ve been steadily trying to indoctrinate the children into the family culture, which can be loosely summed up in slogans like: Follow your heart! Celebrate the bounty of the earth! In practicality it looks something like: Let’s spend the weekend scouting for mushrooms in the woods, throw a roadkill deer in the Subaru and head home for leftover elk goulash accompanied by a salad-like assemblage of every toothy, edible green leaf in the garden.
And honestly, the kids are a little skeptical. Col is happy to snap legos together in the dark opium den of his room while the sun rises and sets on another day. Rose’s current greatest adventure is walking with a friend to the Rec Center pool with a backpack full of store-bought snacks, “without any parents checking on me.”
And for Dan and me, walking in the lush mountains during the brief blaze of summer feels actually, well, ecstatic. And at our age, this may be our best bet for an altered state. There’s something about moving my feet on the wildly gorgeous earth, where every living thing has everything it needs, where the complexities and artifices of human culture haven’t infiltrated, and choices shrink to the elemental: set up tarp here or here? that I remember my best self, which is to say, my simple and ordinary self. And at this stage of life, that is ecstasy.
I have no doubt that someday the kids will forge their own meaningful relationships with the wild world. Someday Rose will yank her car—full of raucous, singing girlfriends—to the shoulder and knife out the prized backstraps from a roadkill deer all without bloodying her fabulous outfit. And Col, with his keen skills of observation plus big heart for wild animals (not excluding “cute” skunks) will be called to his own nature path.
“It’s looking good for our future,” Dan says as we’re eating goulash by an evening fire.
We’ve had wonderful family hikes and camping trips, in which we hike one whole mile each way, stop for hundreds of snack-calories, and make tremendous amounts of noise. Recently, getting us all to the top of Olga Little Mountain required recounting the abridged, semi-accurate life story of Michael Jackson, while the kids bushwhacked uphill, listening, utterly distracted and rapt.
It’s easy enough to hustle sleepovers for the kids and zoom out on one-night backpacking trips, which is like speed-dating for couples already in love. Or like a discovery, like realizing that limbs that had been pruned to accommodate the intense needs of young children are growing back. Or maybe like being born again, as yourself. We come home refreshed and inspired. And this seems as much a gift to the children as it does to myself.
A place where orchids congregate like cliquish middle schoolers under seepy cliffs; and the larkspur sing a song called purple. (With senecio hitting the high yellow notes.)
A place where weather is an animal that will never be tamed.
Here, being human feels like just the right size, appropriately small amongst the stout spruce and fir trees, and the ancient, storytelling rocks. For a brief, wondrous time you may find your desires shrink into something manageable, a small parcel that you can put in your pocket and examine later.
You may be led by your own curiosity, like honeybee to pollen.
What about the columbine, which manufactures its own nectar in its elegant spurs?
It’s hard to remember that wildflowers and pollinators have signed their own covenant – no humans required. And yet, walking in the wild garden, you may learn something new about humanity.
Here, the flavors of happiness may begin to look different, less about accomplishments and acquisitions, and more about the privilege of walking this beloved earth. You may allow yourself to be schooled by the resident teachers, the living things who seek only what they need. Maybe life need not be so complicated.
If you feel tension unravel, or the deft brush of clarity sweep away what is no longer necessary, trust it. Who’s to say this is not the real world. Beyond.