Hard Times in Babylon

2024-04-03T15:45:39-07:00Categories: creative aging, family, featured posts, journalism, memoir, Seattle, writing|Tags: , , , , , |

Bangladesh, 1987. A few months after the Haiti trip. Photo by Hilda Bryant. Thirty-seven years ago, I said yes to this guy. It was April Fool’s Day, but he wasn’t kidding, and neither was I. We were in Haiti at the time, on assignment for the TV station where we both worked, full of hope for our shared future and for Haiti’s too: Haitians had just held their first free elections in the republic’s history. Such hope seems quaint in 2024. Haiti is at the mercy of violent gangs; dreams of any future that resembles democracy are currently barely plausible. And democracy is being tested and threatened and tested again here too. Right here in these United States, in ways we could not have imagined. Just as we could not have imagined, 30-plus years ago, that we would someday be engulfed by a worldwide pandemic. That more than seven million people would die (1.2 million in the U.S.), and countless others be permanently affected by their run-in with the microscopic virus. Who wants to dwell on any of this? Or read about it? Let alone write about it? Turns out that guy I said yes to wanted to dwell on it, to observe it, and to write about it. Turns out writing a novel, starring real people not unlike ourselves, made the most sense to him. There would be plenty of scholars and epidemiologists who could weigh in on the pandemic from their positions of expertise. There would be plenty of famous and glamorous [...]

The Poets and the Helpers

2024-01-26T07:43:43-08:00Categories: arts, Creative, featured posts, featured posts, nature, politics|Tags: , , |

We were practicing small talk. “What is your favorite season?” was one of the questions on our worksheet. When the teacher asked me—her once-a-week classroom helper—what I  wanted to say was “all the seasons, every one of them,” but for the sake of demonstrating to English language learners how small talk typically goes, I said “Summer.” And smiled. And on this cold, gray January morning, everyone in the classroom sighed, because just by saying the word out loud—summer­­—I had brought summer into all of our minds for about one second. I felt like a poet, who had just recited a one-word poem. Short though it was, it needed no other words. I felt like a helper, who had just taken a classroom of refugees, exhausted by the daunting task of learning English, on a one-second vacation. As we plunge into this fraught year, I’ve been thinking about Mr. Rogers’ oft-quoted advice—“Look for the helpers”—and pondering why this simple phrase has had such a comforting, calming effect on so many millions of people, myself included. I came across a 2018 essay in the Atlantic by Ian Bogost in which he chastised adults like myself who have clung naïvely to this advice intended for children. “Ironically,” Bogost wrote, “when adults cite ‘Look for the helpers,’ they are saying something tragic, not hopeful: Grown-ups now feel so disenfranchised that they implicitly self-identify as young children.” But I disagree. Adults understand nuance. We know the helpers can’t make everything better. But we also understand that it is essential to know they [...]

Still

2023-09-25T07:35:20-07:00Categories: creative aging, featured posts, memoir, Seattle, Uncategorized, writing|Tags: , , , |

   The nectarine blush of evening on Mt. Rainier still makes me shake my head in wonder. A stroll through the Pike Place Market still cheers me up, no matter how crowded it is, because the presence of lots of happy tourists means our city’s beloved market is still thriving. The Chinook salmon are still thronging up the ladder at the Ballard Locks, a fact I’m happy to report after my first visit in about twenty years. And I’m still a fan of the word still. Some people think it’s a negative word, that it implies that the opposite is more likely. Still running, at your age? Good for you!  But more often, for me, it’s a word that connotes a moment of savoring. Marveling. At something that happens night after night (sunset glow on Rainier) and is still worth stopping to take in. At something that is still true (the Market is a mood-lifter) no matter how much downtown Seattle has changed, or I have changed, since my last meander through the stalls.  At something that brilliant engineers built long ago (the fish ladder at the Locks), that is still getting salmon back to their streams to spawn. Salmon know the power of home. And so do we. This year, I feel like my connection to my hometown—Seattle—is not just still strong, it’s stronger. Maybe because I’ve been doing a bit of roots research and learning fun facts such as this one: Turns out my Norwegian great-grandfather lived out his final decade or two in [...]

Uncanny

2023-08-25T07:59:26-07:00Categories: arts, Creative, featured posts, hiking, nature, reading, Uncategorized, writing|Tags: , , , , , |

I have never written a ghost story. I’ve never wanted to write a ghost story. So what uncanny wind was it that blew through my brain and compelled me to sign up for a week-long workshop titled “The Ghost Story: A Guide to Writing Compelling Prose?” Baker City, Oregon It all began on a slushy March evening in Enterprise, Oregon. My husband and I were just beginning a two-week road trip, meandering our way through places where he could film small-town cinemas of the West for a documentary project. We were off to a wintry start, on this first day of Spring, here at the edge of the Wallowa Mountains. I’d spotted a poster for a talk that evening hosted by Fishtrap, a nonprofit known for its annual Summer Gathering of Writers at nearby Wallowa Lake. Why not go, on this chilly night? The speaker was Molly Gloss, author of The Jump-off Creek, The Hearts of Horses, and other books and stories about women in the homestead-era West. Her knowledge of writing about and by western women is wide and deep. I scribbled notes like “...the real and changing West of Model-T Fords, movies and Prohibition” and “...the shadow of violence.” That night, I began reading The Jump-off Creek, a book steeped in cold hard daily life on a hardscrabble farm. No ghosts in sight. By the time we left Enterprise, I knew what I wanted to do: I wanted to go to the Fishtrap Summer Gathering and meet other western writers and get [...]

Soft Target

2023-05-08T15:56:46-07:00Categories: featured posts, featured posts, gun control, nature|Tags: , , , , , |

Soft target. Am I a soft target? Are you? And what exactly is a soft target, as opposed to a hard target? Does a soft target mean someone who is not carrying a gun? Does it mean someone who is not wearing body armor? Does “soft” mean expendable? And what does “hard” mean? Does “hard” mean Important? Must be Defended? One recent morning, after the latest somber news, I listened to the band Cowboy Nation’s mournful rendition of “Shenandoah.” I had always thought the song was about a traveler making his way west, across the wide Missouri, as he pined for the river valley he left behind in Virginia. But no: turns out he may have been pining for the daughter of Shenandoah, the great Oneida Chief. Legend has it the Shenandoah River was named in honor of Chief Shenandoah by George Washington, in gratitude for the support of Shenandoah and his hundreds of warriors who fought alongside Washington’s troops on the frontier and who sent corn to the starving Colonial soldiers during the brutal winter at Valley Forge. “Shenandoah” was a song that went down the Missouri and the Mississippi and around the world in the 19th Century, sung by voyageurs and river boatmen and ocean-going sailors from the South Pacific to Scotland, but known to all as an American tune, a story of American-style craving and longing. Away, we’re bound away. We crave adventure. But we long, we pine, for home and family. And safety. It’s the American dream, right? Or more accurately, the [...]

English Class

2023-03-19T16:22:12-07:00Categories: education, featured posts, immigration, writing|Tags: , , , , , , , |

One recent Tuesday morning, I held up two laminated photos: one of hot dogs, drizzled artfully with mustard and catsup; the other of pepperoni pizza. “Which do you like better?” I asked C, a new student from Eritrea, who is learning English at a galloping pace. “Hot dogs, or pizza?” We were practicing phrases like, “I prefer hot dogs,” and “I like pizza more than hot dogs.” C pointed at the hot dog. “What?” he said. “Hot? Dog?” He sounded the words out slowly. Incredulously. And then he started laughing. I nodded. “Yes. Hot. Dog. It’s a… a sausage. In a bun.” C laughed even louder. “Hot dog? Dog?” He made a barking noise. “Yes.” I laughed too. “That is the word. Dog.” Now C looked horrified, and I realized why. “But it is not the meat of a dog!” I shook my head vigorously. “Not dog! It is beef, or pork. Cow or pig.” I turned to M, an even newer student from Ukraine. “M, do you have hot dogs in Ukraine?” I asked. “Yes,” M said. “Hot dogs. In my country. We say—hot dogs.” He smiled, for the first time that morning. It was his second day in class. C burst out laughing again. He could not get over it. What next, in this nutty country? M and I started laughing too. So did the other students. A week has passed, and I keep thinking about that moment. All I have to do is say to myself, hot dog, and I smile. I don’t [...]

Sixty-six

2023-02-14T16:33:28-08:00Categories: brain, creative aging, dementia, featured posts, health & medicine, memoir, Uncategorized|Tags: , , , , , , |

“Good evening,” said a silver-haired woman in creamy linen, as she floated past me with her dapper husband towards the veranda of the El Mirador restaurant. They had a dinner reservation; several waiters hurried to greet and seat them. Another waiter, just as gracious, seated my husband and me with the slightly reduced amount of pomp accorded to the drinks-only crowd. But every table at El Mirador was positioned to take in the show: sunset over the Pacific Ocean, high above the curvaceous Baja coast, backed by a chorus line of frilly clouds and kicked off by a surprise opening act: one  spouting whale. We sipped our drinks and savored our appetizer, a burrata and roasted tomato mélange almost too pretty to eat. We snapped photos, along with everyone else, and marveled that this elegant place existed, at the end of a dusty, bumpy, unpaved road. Sunset. How we humans love it! The young woman in satin pants and an off-the-shoulder, pink maribou sweater, the mom in shorts with a wiggly seven-year-old, the glamorous  older couple, the table full of young men who looked like they might’ve flown in that day from Silicon Valley. We gasp at the sun’s grand finale, we toast it, we take photos and then sigh that they don’t do it justice. And yet: if our lives were a day, sunset is not where we would choose to be. And yet: wouldn’t you rather dwell in the sunset, than go right from noon to midnight? Am I really embarking on “an old [...]

Fallow

2022-09-02T12:03:58-07:00Categories: brain, creative aging, featured posts, memoir, Uncategorized, writing|Tags: , , , , , , , |

The trick, we both knew, was not to think too hard. My husband and I dropped our towels. We ran right in, like five-year-olds, and dunked under the waves, like clumsy grownups. We stumbled out, wet and cold and laughing.  One plunge was enough. This was the Washington coast, out where the Pacific Ocean rolls in all the way from Japan and smashes the sand so hard an intact seashell is hard to find, where the snowy rivers of the Olympic Mountains pour right into the surf. One plunge was enough to make me feel—newborn. Like the ocean had just washed away all the bullshit I’d allowed to build up in my mind and body and self and soul over the past two and a half years. All the piling on of the world’s problems, the ones none of us can solve though we know we have to try because some progress is better than none. All the sorrows, universal and personal, that Covid has brought. And, for me, all the anguish of feeling frozen, as a writer, after I hit pause on the Book That Apparently Wasn’t Working and then realized I hadn’t hoarded quite enough confidence to get going on my next project. We plunged into the ocean again the next day. Later that week, my daughter and I took a plunge in the coldest part of Hood Canal. Since we got back to Seattle, I’ve gone swimming six times. Every time, I relive that baptismal moment on the Washington coast. Every time, I feel [...]

You Who Know

2022-05-17T17:05:32-07:00Categories: arts, creative aging, family, featured posts, feminism, health & medicine, human rights, parenting, Seattle, women's rights|Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Who knew that one of the central themes of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro is droit du seigneur, the feudal “lord’s right” granting the lord of a medieval European manor “sexual relations with servant brides on their wedding night?” Since I am a kindergarten-level opera fan, I am grateful to Seattle Opera General Director Christina Scheppelmann for stating it so clearly in her program notes. Because who knew I’d be watching The Marriage of Figaro—the first performance I’ve seen in Seattle’s McCaw Hall since before the pandemic—just days after the leaking of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s medieval memo detailing his lordly belief in a woman’s lack of rights over her own body? On the morning of Mother’s Day, I googled “senior rush tickets Seattle Opera.” Yes, the Opera’s rush ticket program was alive and well and yes, I now qualified! So off I went to McCaw Hall, where I bought my ticket at 12:30, which gave me plenty of time for a long walk. The sun was out at last, and the lovingly tended gardens of nearby Queen Anne Hill sparkled as they shook off the rain. By 2 p.m. I was back at McCaw, happily settled in my seat in Row P on the main floor, just off the aisle. Forty-five dollars felt like both a splurge—so self-indulgent!—and a bargain: only $45 for such a fabulous seat! And what a delightful, self-indulgent bargain of a splurge it was. To hear and see, in person, in all the immersive, sensory beauty that the word “live” [...]

About Ecstasy

2022-03-30T14:20:36-07:00Categories: featured posts|Tags: |

I-90 Tunnel, Seattle “You have to love the writing process,” people say, and that is true. But what has always made me chafe against that statement is the implication that the process should be enough. Having readers, being published—those goals should be secondary, or perhaps not goals at all. I do want readers. I do want to share what I write with the world. Just as songwriters want their songs to be heard. And painters want their paintings to be seen. And fashion designers want their clothes to be worn. And designers of canoes and skis and chairs want to see people paddling and skiing and sitting. It’s the sharing of what you made with other humans—which is both terrifying, at first, but also wonderful—that completes the terror and wonder of the actual process of creating. I-90 tunnel, Seattle However. Sometimes what you thought was ready to be shared turns out not to be. And that, I have come to believe, is the case with my second memoir, After Ecstasy. It’s a book about faith and doubt, and after more than two years of rejections, I have lost faith in its readiness. Thank God it occurred to me, finally, to ask for some human help. You can read the whole story here, on the page I'm now calling In Progress. Meanwhile, life has been rich and poignant in equal measure. We are all moved by, but terrified for, the people of Ukraine. Many of us continue to suffer the consequences of the [...]

Battle Scars

2022-01-04T07:39:07-08:00Categories: creative aging, family, featured posts, hiking, nature, travel|Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

One month shy of the middle of 2021, I came across a faded sign tacked to a post in front of a ridiculously tall tree. “BATTLE SCARS,” it said at the top. Then, this: “In 1974, I was nearly 300 years old. I’ve seen lots of change in this Forest. See that scar twisting up my trunk. The savage fires of 1888 did that. I’m getting old now, but I still do my share around here. I produce about one ton of oxygen a day. Why, you could breathe for nearly a week on that much. In many ways I am the strength and character of the Forest.” After 15 months of cloistered Covid life, my husband and I were on a glorious June road trip through the West. We met this old tree in Idaho’s Sawtooth National Forest. We’re not young either, but we sure were feeling young at the time—on the road, fully vaccinated, confident that the best of 2021 was yet to come. We hadn’t yet heard much about Delta, let alone Omicron. We didn’t yet know what a “heat dome” was. We were nervous about summer wildfires, as always, but didn’t yet know that by the end of year, more than seven million acres of these United States would burn. Now, as a new year begins, I don’t feel so young anymore. I think I might be about 300 years old. I’m feeling my battle scars. Some of them are so fresh it’s too soon to pull the stitches out. You might [...]

What Will Be Our New Normal?

2021-11-18T08:23:42-08:00Categories: creative aging, featured posts, health & medicine, Uncategorized|Tags: , , , |

This fall, 3rd Act Magazine gave me an interesting assignment: to write about what might really be our new normal, as we enter our second pandemic winter and ponder plans for the new year. This time, we have vaccines. But there are plenty of ways in which life is still nothing like whatever our "old normal" used to be. I invite you to read the article, and let me know what you think. How is your new normal taking shape? Until then: Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving. Yours from the Restless Nest, Ann

Honesty: Good or Bad?

2021-08-30T07:51:38-07:00Categories: faith and doubt, featured posts, health & medicine, hiking, nature, politics, Uncategorized, women's rights, writing|Tags: , , , |

“DISARM!” declares the pink post-it in the back of my journal. It’s been there for a few weeks now, and I can’t seem to throw it away. The note dates from a getaway spent with friends at a borrowed beach cottage. We thought we might be expected to set the alarm at night, and I thought I might be the first one to open the door in the morning. So I put post-its on the door, the coffeepot, and my journal. But then we didn’t set the alarm. We opted instead for open windows and fresh marine air. The word, however, stayed with me. Because I am badly in need of dis-arming. This summer, I have set all kinds of alarms against, well, feeling. Because there’s just too damn much to feel. And for me, along with feeling goes writing anywhere except in my journal. Because when I sit down to write with intent to share, as I am right now, I come up against that timeworn question that is the title of this post. Honesty: good or bad? I’m not talking here about truth versus lies. I’m talking about being honest about how you feel.  About expressing your real feelings versus repressing them. Honesty is good, when I write about how sweet it has felt this summer to be at the beach or in the mountains or forests with family or with friends. Is honesty bad when I write about how worried I am about every place I love, as temperatures spike and wildfires rage [...]

Into the Dome

2021-07-01T15:45:00-07:00Categories: family, featured posts, hiking, nature, travel, urban life|Tags: , , , , , , , |

     “I don’t want to go home,” I said to my husband on the last morning of our nine-state road trip. I loved sleeping in the tent, most of the time, really I did. And swimming in a cold lake in lieu of a shower. And hadn’t I gotten so much better at not caring when there was no cell signal? We had logged 4,733 miles. But I was not over my pandemic cabin fever. Usually, after such a long trip, I would be eager to get home. But this time was different. And the reason, so simple I’d been blind to it, was this: after so many months of not crossing a state line, it was downright exhilarating to be seeing places I’d never seen. I was insatiable. The painted hills of the John Day Fossil Beds? Stunning! The Sawtooth Mountains, Craters of the Moon, the Mountain Man Museum? Give me more! I had not realized how much I had missed newness. Like most of us, I appreciated how the confines of the pandemic had sharpened my powers of close observation. Look at those warblers with the orange heads, fluttering in the tree outside my window. Look at those new leaves sprouting on my Dr. Seussian Jade plant. But all my life, I have loved the excitement of arriving in a place I’ve never been, whether it was one whose name I’d long known—Ketchum; East Glacier—or one whose name I’d never heard until we got there: Priest Hole; Popo Agie. Arriving. Getting out of the [...]

April Come

2021-04-28T14:18:16-07:00Categories: creative aging, faith and doubt, family, featured posts, hiking, memoir, nature, parenting, quiet, Seattle, Uncategorized, urban life, writing|Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

“April come!” our daughter Claire used to plead at bedtime. Her favorite lullaby was Simon & Garfunkel’s classic, “April Come She Will.” But the pleading was play-acting: she knew her father loved nothing more than to sing that song to her and her baby brother Nick. This morning, my husband teared up as he read Robin Wall Kimmerer’s poignant account in Braiding Sweetgrass of taking her daughter off to college. He and I laughed as we recalled our own last manic trip from Claire’s dorm room to Target for hangers—the only remaining little something we could think of to do before we would have to say goodbye. Three years later, we did it all again when it was Nick's turn. I read Kimmerer’s book a few months ago, and loved it, and so it made me happy that Rustin was loving it too. And remembering that long-ago college move-in day—can it really be nearly 14 years?!—was a moment of April sweetness, one of so many in this showery, sunny month, when streams are ripe and swelled with rain; this moment of the year that is bursting with newborn life every which way you look. On one morning walk in the scrap of forest that backs my urban neighborhood, I saw this. And this. And this.  And yet. I am still so quick to brood (that editor hasn’t gotten back to me) and fuss (why is my stupid Zoom suddenly going choppy?!) and whine (wish I could… wish I could… wish I could…) And yet. I got [...]

Pandemic Patience

2021-03-29T14:48:19-07:00Categories: featured posts, gun control, health & medicine, human rights, journalism, midlife, politics, Seattle, urban life|Tags: , , , , , , , |

“Patience,” wrote an early master of social media, is “a minor form of despair, disguised as a virtue.” How absolutely true, I thought. Despair. But minor. Disguised—but poorly, in my own case—as a virtue. This timely quip dates back more than a century, to when the dashing Civil War veteran and writer Ambrose Bierce published his “Devil’s Dictionary,” a collection of satiric definitions he had penned, over several decades, for newspapers and magazines. I was rummaging on Google for a bit of standard etymology for the word “patience” (“from the Latin patientia, the quality of suffering or enduring”) when Bierce’s one-liner popped up. So very descriptive of where many of us are right now, isn’t it? In the past year, there has been unbelievable suffering. And endurance. But in November, we learned two huge things about 2021: 1) We would soon have a new president (although we didn’t yet know how many people were in deep denial about that) and 2) We would all be vaccinated. Eventually. But definitely in 2021. Ever since, the worldwide call to action has been for patience. Sadly, I do not have a great track record when it comes to patience. But surely that won’t be a problem, I thought, back in December. Because I’m turning 64 in January! And then when the initial vaccination phases were broadly outlined, and the number “65” was in bold type everywhere, I thought: That’s okay. I can be patient. Because after they vaccinate all the 65-year-olds, they’ll give me a call, right? My big, [...]

365 Days

2021-01-18T18:12:50-08:00Categories: creative aging, featured posts, feminism, human rights, midlife, politics, Seattle, travel, Uncategorized, urban life, women's rights|Tags: , , , , , , |

365 days ago, I celebrated my 63rd birthday in California with close friends. We marched in the 2020 Oakland women’s march, shouting with and talking to many total strangers, and admiring everyone’s signs. We dined out at a brewpub for lunch and an Italian restaurant for dinner. There was a stop for oysters somewhere in there too. In case we might still be hungry, my friends had hidden a selection of fancy birthday desserts in the back of the fridge. Wow. Though I had just returned from a long trip to Mexico, I thought nothing of hopping a flight from Seattle to Oakland for that weekend. My husband had been sick with a strange and  terrible flu through the last several days of the trip. There were a few days he couldn’t get out of bed. Not like him, at all. There were other days he couldn’t stop coughing. He was finally on the mend, but we had both been shocked by how hard this illness hit him. I know what you’re thinking. And… we’ll never know, though he recently donated blood and the Covid-19 antibody test came back negative. But back to my 2020 birthday weekend. I’d really like to dwell on it some more. There was a long afternoon at the SF MoMA. There was another afternoon of walking all over the UC Berkeley Campus. There was talk, so much talk: my friends and I worried together about whether Trump could be defeated, and if so, which candidate had the best chance. Harris? Warren? [...]

Hello, Ceiling

2022-01-15T14:02:26-08:00Categories: arts, brain, Creative, creative aging, dementia, faith and doubt, family, featured posts, health & medicine, memoir, midlife, Seattle, writing|Tags: , , , , , , |

“Mom is trying to see a bug on the ceiling using binoculars,” my husband texted our grownup children recently. “Should we be concerned?” “The pandemic has altered everyone’s perspectives in different ways,” my daughter responded. “Or is she just delirious from her reading??” Among the many first-ever virtual experiences I had this year was to participate in an online literary reading hosted by About Place Journal. I was thrilled that they had published my essay, "Regeneration," and equally thrilled to be part of the reading. Alas, we had technical problems. The show did go on, but it was stressful. Remember Willie Nelson’s classic breakup song, “Hello, Walls?” --In which he talks to the walls, and the window (“is that a teardrop in the corner of your pane?”) and, finally, the ceiling? (“I’m gonna stare at you awhile.”) In the final verse, he addresses them all: “We gotta all stick together or else I’ll lose my mind.” Pandemic Winter: it’s a little cozier than Pandemic Summer, isn’t it? Me. My laptop. My walls, windows and ceiling. After the tech-trauma of our reading, I guess I just wanted to figure out something in my tiny world, like: what the heck is that winged insect on our ceiling? Instead, it became kind of a Lucy Lucy Lucy moment of hilarity, which really was much more cathartic than actually figuring out what the creature was. (A moth?) And I learned something: binoculars don’t really work very well for indoor wildlife viewing. As I wrote about in my last post, six whole [...]

Birds, Ballots, Barrett

2021-03-31T11:06:16-07:00Categories: faith and doubt, featured posts, feminism, hiking, memoir, nature, politics, reading, Uncategorized, women's rights|Tags: , , , , , |

I once visited a bird hide (or blind, as we call them in North America) in the wet, windswept fens of East Anglia, far to the northeast of London. That is all. Please forgive me, birders of the world; I remember nothing, at least nothing that has to do with birds. I was 19, and a newly arrived exchange student at the University of East Anglia, whose concrete, mid-1960s buildings resemble oversized bird hides. UEA is on the outskirts of Norwich, which is still the lively market town it was when William the Conqueror built his castle there a thousand years ago. I loved Norwich, but I was always game for an excursion. Bird-watching: why not? That faded memory tugged at me through all 458 pages of Helen Macdonald’s book of essays, Vesper Flights. My acquaintance with the young man who invited me to the bird hide was so fleeting that I can only remember a bit of what he looked like: droopy mustache, watch cap, wellies. A sweet smile. Not actually a UEA student; I met him at a party. When I told my cross-the-hall friend Bridget about his invitation, she decided she and her boyfriend Chris would go birding too. They would drive me, and we would meet my new friend there. So off we went in Chris’ Morris Mini, across the low-slung fens, to a long, equally low-slung wooden shack that blended right into the landscape, which of course was the point. My birder friend waved at us. “Hi!” I shouted happily. He [...]

A Kind of September

2020-10-01T15:35:06-07:00Categories: featured posts, hiking, politics, quiet, urban life|Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

On the first day of September, 2020, I turned my head at just the right moment and saw an owl, still as a portrait, on a branch over a teardrop of a pond in the Arboretum. It was noon. The owl was enjoying the shade, and did not care to move, even after a whispering clutch of onlookers gathered to snap photos on their phones. We were mesmerized by the owl’s patient gaze; by its obliviousness to our restless human need to marvel at its composure. It seemed a good omen of a kind of September: when we could try to remember, as in the old song, when life was slow and oh, so mellow. But no: if the owl was an omen, that was not its message. Seems to me a screaming blue-jay would have been a better harbinger of the fires, floods, pestilence, grief, corruption and mud-slinging that lay in store for us, way back on September 1. On the other hand: maybe the owl in the Arboretum was the right omen for the job. Maybe the owl’s message was: Don’t flail. Find your branch, and stay still like me. We’ll ride this month out, together. Easy for me to say. I did not have to evacuate a home that was about to burn or flood. I did not have to rush to the ER, short of breath. I do not anticipate having my vote rejected. In September 2020, my job turned out to be an owl’s job after all: stay still. Shut out the [...]

Pandemic Mountain

2020-08-30T16:45:22-07:00Categories: featured posts, hiking, politics, Uncategorized|Tags: , , , , |

In the middle of this pandemic summer, in a tent on a ridge just a stone’s throw from Mt. Baker, my husband and I woke in the wee hours to the sound of two young voices, chatting away, getting closer and louder every second. We could see their headlamps bobbing like a pair of fireflies as they hiked towards us, up the steep trail known as the Railroad Grade route to the Mt. Baker climbers’ basecamp. Our tent was just a few feet off the trail. We’d left the rainfly off: on this silky July night, we needed nothing between us and the starry sky but the tent’s inner mosquito-net shell. We hadn’t seen anyone else for hours. But here they came at 1:40 a.m., these two young men, hiking with headlamps, ready to climb Mt. Baker. They must’ve left the trailhead around midnight. They were nearly on top of us when they finally saw our tent and lowered their voices a little. We pretended to be asleep. They walked on by. We watched their lights bob out of sight. It took us both a while to get back to sleep. But there had been something so happy and cozy about their camaraderie, in the wee hours, that I felt lucky to have heard it. I don’t remember a word they said, only that they were animated and buoyant, as if their packs full of climbing gear weighed nothing. As if they were waterskiing uphill. It was like hearing voices from the past: from that innocent [...]

Pandemic Mirror

2020-06-30T16:28:53-07:00Categories: brain, creative aging, family, featured posts, health & medicine, memoir, midlife, quiet, Uncategorized|Tags: , , , , , |

“When did my hair get so long?” I ask myself, as I look in the mirror. “And I look so  OLD!” I am 63. We are winding up Month Four of the pandemic. No. I’m not 63. I am seven, and I am winding up two weeks of being home sick with the mumps. I’m standing in front of the full-length mirror that hangs inside my parents’ bedroom closet door. When the door is open, there is plenty of light on the mirror, so it’s ideal for getting a good look at yourself, which I haven’t done in many days. One of my cheeks is puffed out like a popover. But almost more fascinating to seven-year-old me is how long my hair looks. Can it have grown so much since I last took a look at myself? I am also admiring my new pale blue, pearl-buttoned bathrobe, with its fake-fur collar. How did I, the third of six children (five at the time), acquire such a fancy robe? Was it a gift from my elegant grandmother, given to me because I had the mumps? Was I the only one of us who had the mumps? I don’t remember. What I do remember is what a novelty it was to look in the mirror and see only me: my brother and sisters were at school; my baby brother was taking a nap, or maybe he was with Grandma. And I didn’t look like me, pre-mumps. Never mind the puffy cheek: this was the second one to pop [...]

After the Blast

2020-05-18T11:21:30-07:00Categories: featured posts, health & medicine, hiking, journalism, nature, reading|Tags: , , , , |

In early February, aka one million years ago, I requested an advance copy of After the Blast: The Ecological Recovery of Mount St. Helens by Eric Wagner, published in April by University of Washington Press. I had been thinking about the upcoming 40th anniversary of Mount St. Helens’ May 18, 1980 eruption—an event which loomed large over my early years as a journalist, even though I had missed the main event—so I was thrilled to see Wagner’s book on the UW Press website. Wagner, who earned a PhD in biology from the University of Washington, has built a career as a science writer for magazines like The Atlantic, High Country News, Orion and Smithsonian. He has authored a book about penguins and co-authored a book about the Duwamish River. I feared I might not be the right kind of reader for his kind of writing. Turns out, I’m exactly the right kind of reader: an English major who loves to read about science in language that is both comprehensible and confident. “The summit rippled, churned, and then collapsed as more than two billion tons of rock, snow, and glacial ice fell away in the largest landslide recorded in human history,” Wagner writes, of the eruption that began at 8:32 a.m. on Sunday, May 18, 1980, lasted nine hours, and caused the deaths of 57 people. The fact that it happened on a Sunday morning is nearly always noted in the recounting of the Mount St. Helens story, because, as Wagner later tells us, “At 8:30 on a Monday [...]

Pandemic Road

2020-04-28T09:16:00-07:00Categories: family, featured posts, health & medicine, memoir, writing|Tags: , , , , |

The taste of blood mixed with gravel is metallic, it’s gritty, but most of all, it is surprising. I hadn’t opened my mouth on purpose; the taste was just suddenly there. Remembering, I can taste it now. Just as I can hear the big kids yelling: “Go get her mom! She’s bleeding!” I remember lying in the gravel, squinting in the bright sun. And, before she dropped me, how it felt to be carried by the neighbor girl: sweaty and awkward, our limbs criss-crossing in the wrong places; but so worth it, because I felt important. I felt like a princess. When she let go of me in the middle of the street, it was like being dropped into a swimming pool—there was that one whooshing instant in the air—except that where I landed, chin-first, was not in water but in gravel. And what I tasted was not chlorine, but my own blood. Sitting here on a pandemic afternoon, this is the scene from my early childhood I find myself trying to recall. I don’t remember much more. I was only about three years old. We lived just north of Seattle, on a no-sidewalk block of modest ranch homes. My big sister had lost interest in carrying me, because we now had a new baby sister, but the neighbor girl was willing to give it a try. In this way, she explained, we could cross from my house to her house without breaking my mother’s rule that I must never walk across the street without asking [...]

Use Your Fear

2020-03-31T09:28:21-07:00Categories: faith and doubt, family, featured posts, health & medicine, nature, Seattle, Uncategorized|Tags: , , , , , , |

“Want to hear what our resident coyotes sound like?” read the headline in our south Seattle neighborhood’s Nextdoor Digest email. You bet I do, I thought. Anything to distract me from the latest coronavirus news. I clicked play. Do you know the sound? It’s not haunting in an old Western movie way; it’s more like something out of a horror film; like the screeches that slice along with the killer’s kitchen knife in Psycho. I want to play it again right now, so I can do a better job of describing it, but actually I… don’t want to. What I’ve heard from neighbors is that we have exactly two resident coyotes in our local greenbelt. But the noise they make sounds like a screaming chorus of two dozen starving dogs, ready to hunt now. And here’s what I didn’t think about when I pressed play and the coyotes started howling from my computer speakers: our cat was in the room. The second he heard that noise, he leaped straight up from a sound sleep into his maximum-alert posture, which he maintained for several minutes as he scanned the neighborhood from our upstairs window, his eyes darting like an air traffic controller’s. I tried to soothe him, but he would have none of it. Did I not understand that his life was at stake?! Finally, satisfied that the danger was past, he curled up and went right back to sleep. He knows how to use his fear, I thought. Danger at hand? Be maximum-alert. Get an immediate [...]

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