torrential rainfall and the disputed kingdom Protista

radiolaria

It’s been raining torrentially all day- this morning we took the dogs to kelly point park, the superfund site where the metallic Columbia meets the sewage-filled Willamette, and big cold drops began to pelt us as soon as we stepped from the car. We walked along the path through the woods, throwing Emy’s ball before us. The poplar trees, huge overhead, swayed ominously in the wind from the oncoming storm, and we watched in wonder as limbs broke off, now and then, and fell in slow motion to the ground. Let’s go to the beach? I said. A tree might fall on us? But the beach was too exposed, the wind beating us like a newspaper and the rain splatting us and the lights from the grain barges on the river. Back in the forest, we watched the trees. Woo woo, they said. The air was grey with condensation. Along the trail nettles grew hopefully, taking up nuclear waste from the soil.

Now I’m in my trailer with the space heater up too high, and it’s still raining torrentially. Earlier I tried to study, laying in bed with my big floppy biology book, watching the water run in rivulets down the little trailer-window, but I fell asleep instead. Before I fell asleep I’d been trying to focus on the disputed kingdom Protista, but instead I was thinking indulgently about summertime, and houses I used to live in, and meadows I have known.

I’ve been feeling a lot of nostalgia lately. Maybe because it is the wet end of the wintertime, maybe because I have been in the city too long with only crowded backyards and superfund sites to retreat to. And it’s funny, because when you finally let a thing go, sometimes years after you first realize that you should be done with it, you never think that it will come back all draped in the soft colors of nostalgia. But that is how I feel today, tonight, about all sorts of things- and I am thinking of them longingly, here in my little driveway-house full of warmth with the rain pounding on the aluminum roof.

Where do they go, these things that happen? Our experiences, our disembodied stories? Apparently there is a compost heap in my brain where they are recycled into magic treasures, more whole then they ever actually were.

I think of North Dakota often, it is one of my muses, if I am using muse in the correct sense, if a muse can be a thing other than a person. Also my friends are muses, people I have known, mostly old friends who cannot get their shit together, who are propelled helplessly through life by their own irreconcilable contradictions, who are moved about as if by mystery. Who do not use logic. Who are painfully beautiful. Who always seem more alive than other people but also more ungrounded. Which is maybe the same thing.

And North Dakota. North Dakota from a freight train- the train goes fast, because north Dakota is wide open. The train could be said to hurtle. On both sides of the train, the soft gold grass. Bent at the tops, like an ocean. The native prairie that grew back after people fled to the cities. Just the grass and the train and above you, the glass observatory of the sky. Now and then a broken down barn, melting into the grass. A stone fence, half-finished, built from stones fished from the ground. A shiny ribbon in the prairie is a stream, flat and clear, like you could float down it on your back. Wind, and sometimes clouds, charging from the east. Lightning.

I used to do whatever I wanted. Travel all the time, move back and forth. I ate dumpstered birthday cake and slept outside under forgotten clumps of trees and that was ok, because I was young and needed nothing. I thought that everything was too fucked up to invest in anything, but then investing in nothing made me feel like I was already dead, and that made me wish that I was, and that feeling was confusing because I had no reason to want to be dead. It was like I wanted to be free so bad but then when I was free I realized that there was nothing else. Like when I was little and I would try and play the video games my brother liked so much but all I cared about was finding the edge of the world, moving my little man into all the corners of the screen to try and find some place beyond what you could see. But there’s nothing else, there’s just the tunnel or whatever, and it’s all set up for you, you’re supposed to jump and get the coin and stomp the mushroom and it’s supposed to make you feel good.

When I was younger, I never thought about what would happen. I figured that the world would just end soon so there was no point in thinking about it. The world felt old, tense, used up, on the brink of something. Everything felt so extremely precarious, like if I touched it it would fall over. It didn’t make any sense to me to put my efforts into something that would just end anyway. I didn’t know then that things that fall over build themselves up again, over and over like magic. It took me a long time to see that.

I used to not need anything- not money, not a home, not any specific food. But there’s a lot of stress in that lifestyle, and loneliness, and eventually your adrenals get worn out and you wake up one day and your body hurts and you can’t do it anymore and you need things. Or you throw yourself off a bridge, because the world hasn’t ended yet and you can’t keep bluffing.

I’ve been in Portland for a year and a half straight. I used to leave for about half of every year. Also notable- I’ve had my dog for a year and a half, I’m starting my second year of undergrad next term, and March 18th is my one-year anniversary with Seamus. I turn thirty this year, and I’m so grateful that this shit is getting easier. And it feels sweet, this nostalgia for the way I lived for so long, tonight, sitting in my trailer with the rain coming down- memories, dreams, popping up like treasures from underwater. Sometimes I feel anxiety about it- like I’ll never be able to travel again, because I won’t have the money, and my body can’t handle the way I used to travel, for free. Waking up on the freight train, sided somewhere in Minnesota, watching the dawn bleed into the sky. Shoplifting grapefruit and sardines. Spending days in a bramble thicket, reading Steinbeck. Walking for miles in the dead of night, looking for water. So many moments of feeling so alive- stacking up on top of each other, making the universe hum like an electrical current. Like it was just me and the universe. The universe moving through me, like I wasn’t even there. Have you ever felt that way? Like you can actually forget yourself enough for the universe to go about its business right in front of you. Like in any Farley Mowat book, when he’s been in his canvas tent in the snow for long enough and the wolves decide he’s just a bunch of lichen, and they start playing with each other and acting out all their wolfy dramas in front of him. Like he’s found the secret place at the edge of everything, where there’s something else that no-one knew was there.

I haven’t been working on my book for a while. I took too many credits this term, and I moved, so I haven’t had time to write. And I hate being really busy. It gives me big fluffy piles of anxiety. Too much of my brain is devoted to thinking about stuff like colors and shapes and patterns of light and very little is devoted to time management and schedule planning. So I sort of freeze up if my life gets too complicated and then I can’t do anything. I need large blocks of time to stare out the window and think about sea creatures. I need to be able to accidentally fall asleep while studying. I need to be able to be ten minutes late for everything. I may not actually be ten minutes late for everything, but I need that to be ok.

I wish I had another three month stretch to work on my book. It’s my ladder to the moon- I need it to climb out of here. But you need a really strong ladder to climb out of one way of life and into another one, and it takes a long time to build a ladder that strong. Right now I’m doing undergrad to prepare to go to school for my master’s in Chinese medicine, because that’s my other dream, besides writing. But when I look down that road I see full-time school for the next five years and then after that, working full time to pay off my student loans, and then working forever until I die. And there’s no time for writing in that anywhere.

How do you do it? How do you be an adult. How do you want things hard enough to make them real. It’s like I woke up one day and all the rules had changed. Or I woke up one day and realized where I was- in this body, on this ground, with this rain coming down everywhere. There’s no place at the edge of everything, and yet there is. And I can want both worlds, but so far, I haven’t figured out how to have them both at once. And that’s painful, but pain can be good. A motivator. Soothing, even. I feel pain, therefore I exist. This sucks and I want something else, therefore I exist. This sucks this sucks this sucks, I exist I exist I exist.

the sugar-cone ghost and the freedom of not having possesions

I’m moving. I’m leaving my one-bedroom apartment (which was never really mine, which was, in retrospect, just a beautiful, palatial hole in which to dump wheelbarrow-loads of money that I will never see again) and I’m moving into a sixteen-foot travel trailer that I bought off the internet.

I am poor again, and also recently nostalgic for the days when I had next to no possessions and lived in small, ramshackle domiciles and so it didn’t really matter, at all, that I was poor, and it didn’t feel stressful. So I looked on craigslist a few weeks ago and in 24 hours I had bought an ugly, sixteen-foot travel trailer from 1975 for the price of one month’s rent in my one bedroom apartment. Afterwards, after handing my envelope of money to the young mason on Sauvie’s island, I was stunned. One month’s rent! I had lived in my apartment for one year. I imagined twelve little travel trailers, all lined up. On the drive back to my apartment, title to my new trailer tucked safely in my backpack, I told myself that I would try to no longer spend very much money on things that were intangible, things like time and the ability to exist. Things that should be free.

So I am moving. I am leaving this block where I live (have lived! For a whole year!) and I am moving a little bit south and east. I am moving my new travel-trailer from Sauvie’s island to a driveway where I will pay a little bit of rent to run my extension cord through someone’s kitchen window and siphon water from their garden hose. My trailer has a little kitchen with a little three-burner propane stove and a pot-roast sized oven and a tiny fridge that needs defrosting. It has little windows with little curtains and I know that my tiny dog and I will be very, very happy there. But I am sad and suddenly, overwhelmingly nostalgic, because I am leaving this street where I have walked my dog, in the last year, approximately six hundred times. I am leaving this place that I have gotten to know better and more thoroughly than any single place, in all my ten years in Portland.

I have walked my dog here. A lot. I know this neighborhood, this half-mile radius. I have walked by the hoarder’s house, with its growing bamboo barricades and broke-down camper vans stuffed with trash. I have peered in the windows of all the vacant houses, imagining what it would be like to live there. I know the corners where ragged german shepherds, activated by the jingling of my dog’s collar, explode behind too-short chain link fences.  I know the crowded thoroughfare on the other side of the houses, with its KFC, popeye’s chicken, seasonal Christmas tree lot, and impossible crosswalks. I know the broken sidewalk, the (un)dead ends, the places where the concrete stops and there are raspberry bushes, broken benches, loose chickens. I know where the freeboxes are, saturated from the rain, contents spilling making still-lifes on the ground. I know the blackened creosote pole which someone, before I came to this block, knit a brightly-colored cozy for. I know the grassy medians of the busy street just north of here, where I once walked my dog in the bitter cold to Walgreens, angry for some reason I cannot remember. I know the cold blue glow of the streetlights at the corner that stay on all night, I know the way the mist at midnight hangs over the vacant lot where I take my dog to pee. I see my neighbor’s habits, the way they come and go, the way they are never home or are always home, the way they make constant noise or no noise at all, the way their window blinds are always closed save for a single broken slat.

And the places I walk- to the co-op, to the dog park with its chip trail that turns to mud in the rain, to the post office where the only place to tie up my dog is the aluminum bike rack that is the old kind, the kind that was designed by someone who had never seen a bicycle. North, to where there’s a mural in the street to try and make people drive slower, and still north, to where the neighborhood turns to angles. The coffee shop that closes early, the daycare that used to be a pot café. The pink clouds in the west, the dripping wet everything, standing alone in the dusk, breathing the quiet air of the neighborhood.

The brownie ghost. The waffle-cone ghost. The smells that come from the sugar factory out by kelly point park, drifted all the way over here on the air. The wet air, the cold air, the warm air, summertime when I would walk, slow, in the heat, in my Birkenstocks and cutoff jean shorts, my dog roasting like a little wheat field. Those six weeks of real summer heat.

And my apartment- empty white shell that it is, beneath all this stuff I’ve accumulated since moving in. So novel to have a whole apartment all to myself, I was so excited and apprehensive about the effort it would take to decorate and furnish the place. When I moved in I had a couple pieces of furniture and I think three houseplants, one of which, the succulent that was like cartoon fingers, died immediately. The others, a string-of-pearls that reminds me of my grandmother and a jade plant that is a cutting of Corinne’s jade plant that is a cutting of Corinne’s grandmother’s jade plant- the grandmother who died, and who Corinne loves very much- have lived, albeit reluctantly- the string-of-pearls being impossible to please and the jade plant being very slowly suffocated by a faint white fungus. Since moving in, I’ve adopted a dozen other plants- a succulent with fat, furry leaves, a green plant with brown spots, a hanging leafy reddish creeping creature with a hunger for world domination. A vigorous variegated plant that makes boring little flowers, a plant that grew a huge amount and then stopped growing at all, an extremely optimistic cactus that is always blooming. A three foot tall ficus tree, four or so air plants that live in brass candlestick holders, a madenhair fern that I am constantly disappointing. And the lily that Seamus gave me for Christmas, in its pretty little pot, making pretty little upside-down lily flowers. All in my living room.

When I first moved into this apartment, I did not have a couch. I found one for free on the internet, had it delivered to my apartment sight unseen, and discovered that it was, in fact, the couch that I was looking for. Square and short, shiny seventies velour, covered all over in dusty blue flowers. It was, as it turned out, also saturated in a half-century’s worth of cigarette smoke, and one could not even sit on it without being overcome by waves of nausea. But the internet told me to dump boxes of baking soda all over it, and I did, and the smell, after a period of time (and lots of boxes of baking soda), went away.

I decorated the rest of my apartment to match my couch. I sewed curtains from a few yards of fabric I found at the thrift store near my house- beige with crazy red flowers exploding like fireworks all over it. And then, the best thing at all- three giant, dilapidated fake landscape paintings in ornate wooden frames, found with Seamus at the goodwill bins. Two of the ocean, and one of the forest. The larger of the ocean paintings I put in my bedroom. It looks like the Oregon coast, and I stare at it when I am sad. Also, the luxury of having a bedroom that is just a bedroom, as opposed to living with friends and having your bedroom be a study area and a hangout room as well, because it is all the personal space that you have. A bedroom that is just a bedroom and nothing more. A magic sacred sleeping space. Sparsely decorated and with a huge, extremely comfortable bed, good diffused light collected on the walls and the sound of the neighbor’s goats. And the ocean there with you too.

I am worried that there will not be room for all my houseplants, when I move into my tiny new house. And my landscape paintings will have to go into storage, or on Seamus’ wall, because he likes them. There is no surface, in my tiny new house, that is large enough for the ocean. But that doesn’t matter because I am a fool for wanting to keep something like an ocean in the first place. The ocean is a free being, it cannot be kept. It resists captivity, and I am a fool with foolish desires, and if I was not forced, constantly, to shovel them overboard like wild, flying eels swamping an inflatable boat, I would be crushed beneath the weight of them.

If I called up the ocean and said that I was sad because I wouldn’t have any place to put my ocean painting, the ocean would say shut the fuck up, and then it would bash me against some rocks until I stopped resisting and became one with the great big everything.

So I am moving. I am leaving this warm, safe little nest that I love, and if anything proves that I am alive, that my heart is beating in this world where everything, constantly, is changing, it is that.

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The brief wondrous life of Sonny Riccobono

It was march, and Seamus and I had just started dating. The rain clouds, while still black-grey and flinging down torrents of water, were broken, now, in moments, by patches of glorious, syrupy yellow light- the steamy northwest sun, emerging naked from its long, introspective sauna.

Seamus and I decided to go to Olympia for the weekend, with our dogs. In Olympia, two hours north and much closer to the ocean, the grass was greener and more feral, the dandelions more yellow, the sunlight more syrupy. We found the people of Olympia blinking against this new spring light, moving snail-like through the still-cool hours, and shaking mildew from their clothing. Seamus and I, overjoyed at being out of the city and so close to the large, damp forest, set up our tent in Otis’ backyard and then went to a potluck, where there were chocolate truffles made from nettles and everyone’s dogs played nicely in the grass overlooking some water that was, somehow, part of the ocean, and in which groups of people rowed small, narrow boats in unison. After the potluck we loaded the dogs into the truck- Kinnikinnick, bloated from drinking her weight in dishwater, and Emy, the calmer and more reasonable of the two- and set out to find Seamus his afternoon cup of very strong coffee.

I do not know Olympia very well, but it was on some unremarkable corner, with a small, economically depressed-looking strip-mall and maybe a law firm that was inside of an old house, that we found the dog. The dog was running down the sidewalk, and it was Seamus who spotted him first. Seamus pulled the truck next to the curb.

Get that dog, he said to me.

The dog was trotting down the sidewalk in a general sort of non-direction, somewhat frantically, but losing steam. I jumped out of the truck and walked behind him, briskly but not too fast, as if I was just walking somewhere random, as if the dog and I were just fellow pedestrians, thrown together by chance, on our joint journey towards the crosswalk of a very busy intersection. The dog continued to trot and at the corner he turned left. I followed, continuing to look straight ahead, as if his affairs were no business of mine and it was just coincidence that I, in fact, happened to be going left as well. The dog walked for half a block, slowed, and stopped. This sidewalk square, he seemed to be saying, was as good as any. I stopped next to him and picked him up. He weighed practically nothing. He was the smallest dog I had ever seen.

Back in the truck, Seamus and I had no idea what to do. It was thrilling to find a stray dog (that was in imminent danger!) but what to do next? Call the humane society? Animal control? Drive around and look for the owner? (This we did, half-heartedly, for about five minutes.) Should we put up fliers? One thing was for certain- the dog had no tags, and he looked hungry.

Let’s get him some food, I said. And a leash. I laid the dog on the front seat of the truck, between me and Seamus. A sunbeam fell on him from the open window, and his massive, marble-like brown eyes glinted wetly. He began to lick my forearm with his small, pink tongue.

HE’S SO CUTE! Said Seamus. Kinnikinnick clung, gecko-like, to the top of the front seat, and eyed the new dog suspiciously. Emy slept in the back, unalarmed. I touched the dog’s fur, looked at his small white teeth. The truth was, he wasn’t cute. Kinnikinnick was cute- small and brown and alert. Emy was cute- with her half-moon ears and good-smelling fur. This dog, however, was something else entirely- if there was a word to describe this dog, it did not exist in English.

Seamus and I had no idea what kind of dog it was.

Maybe it’s a long-haired chihuahua? The dog’s face looked kind of like Kinnikinnick’s- only more bulbous, and they were both small. But that’s where the similarities ended.

While Kinnikinnick was brown and sleek, like a little fox, there was no animal I could compare this dog to. This dog was white with patches of different colors, like a calico cat, and huge tufts of fur stuck out from his ears. His tail was long, plumed, and magnificent, and it curled, rooster-like, up over his back. I had never seen such a fancy dog. This dog was ridiculously overdone, like a like wedding cake or a catholic cathedral. Ridiculously overdone and then shrunk down really, really small. This dog was not just “cute”, this dog was a fucking Japanese animation. I ran my hands over the dog’s small body. His hair was long in some places, short in others, and on his underside it was matted with urine and what was probably poop. And beneath his fancy plumage you could feel his tiny, emaciated body, like the body of a bird. And he still had his balls- like huge brown chestnuts, lined up parallel between his back legs, as if there was no other way that they would fit on his body.
We bought a leash and a small can of dog food, and took the dog to Mae’s house.

We found this dog, we said to Mae.

No way, said Mae.

We put the dog on the floor with the food, and the dog began to eat. Not eat but snorfle, as if his face was a vacuum. Mae stood watching us, stirring almond milk into a bowl of oatmeal. Good light came through the windows and fell upon the tangles of tree branches that had been tacked in the corners. We offered the dog a small glass dish of water, and he consumed that as well.

Why is this dog so hungry? I asked.

Why is this dog so thirsty?

This dog is obviously neglected.

Feel his ribs, we said to Mae. She dutifully poked his matted fur, felt his tiny, prominent hip bones.

See his urine-covered belly, we said to Mae. She dutifully observed his stinky, tangled underside.

I Think We Should Keep This Dog, I said.

No way, said Mae. She was still eating her bowl of oatmeal.

Seamus’ eyes were glazed over in excitement.

Let’s keep the dog, said Seamus.

I took a picture of Seamus holding the dog, on the grass in front of Mae’s house.

Naomi, our friend in Portland, is a hairdresser and a fancy lady, and had been (somewhat quietly) wanting a little dog for some time, although her housemates were, at least at the moment, against it. Seamus and I had just found the best looking, most fantastical little dog ever.

I felt that this was Naomi’s dog.

I felt that Naomi’s dog had fallen from the sky. Naomi’s dog had escaped from a neglectful situation and run free, on the streets of Olympia, so that we could find it, and bring it to Naomi.

I sent Naomi the picture of Seamus with the dog.

Do you want this dog? It said.

Do you want this dog?

Seamus and I took the dog back to Otis’ house, and put him in the tent in the backyard. We hadn’t found any coffee so we climbed in as well, onto the airbed, and curled beneath the blankets for a nap. Good Olympia air moved through the mesh walls of the tent, bringing with it the smell of cedar trees, and far off was the sound of windchimes. It was cold out, still spring, but the three of us made a pocket of warmth, and I felt immensely contented.

When we woke, we couldn’t find the dog. He wasn’t between any of the blankets, or at the foot of the bed. Finally we found him, wedged beneath the airbed and the wall of the tent, in a little nest of blanket-corners. I lifted him up by his little bird-body and he blinked at me, his brown eyes watering endearingly. So easy, I thought, to lose such a little dog. He’s so tiny, you can lose him in a tent! Such a little scrap of fur, such a tiny spark of life!

What fire, I thought, as I looked into his too-big eyeballs, burns inside your tiny ribcage? What magical machinations make your existence possible? How small, your little organs?!

Back in Portland, I introduced the dog to my apartment. He immediately urinated everywhere, confirming my suspicions that he was not housetrained and had, in fact, been kept (so cruel!) in someone’s backyard. Kinnikinnick, while initially friendly, became much more guarded when she learned that all the new dog wanted to do was hump. His balls, still fastened so firmly to his undercarriage, were likely larger than his brain, and once hydrated and fed, it became apparent that he was driven by them to the exclusion of almost everything else. And Kinnikinnick, this fancy, rooster-like dog was certain, was destined to be his wife. But she, having been fixed, was firmly against this idea, and so they engaged in the elaborate small-dog acrobatics of the wrestle/hump deflection/snarly face/gremlin noises, much to the delight and entertainment of anyone who stopped by.

Naomi did some research.

“He’s a papillon,” she said.

I read the wikipedia page about papillons.

“They’re from the 13th century!” I said. “In France! Mary Antoinette had one! She clutched it as she walked to the guillotine!!

Naomi took the dog to the vet, and had him weighed. Four pounds exactly. He wasn’t just a papillon, he was a teacup papillon. He was, said the vet, a year and a half old. The vet cut off his balls. Naomi took the dog to the groomer’s, and they trimmed his matted fur. She fed the dog as much as he could eat, and he began to fill out, an ounce at a time. She named him Sonny.

As Sonny settled into Naomi’s house, with its collection of humans, its comings and goings, and its one other dog, his personality began to unfold. And, at least for the time being, he was a bit of a monster. Unhousetrained, he would poop in corners, the basement, the hallway. He would not come when called, would not respond to any sounds at all- so much so that for a time, Naomi worried that he was deaf. On a typical afternoon you would enter the living room to find him crouched, lion-like, above his rawhide bone, eyes blazing defiantly, a tiny, chain-saw like growl percolating from his insides. He would snarl and snap at the feet of strangers, and hop away like a ping-pong ball when you bent down to pick him up. He didn’t like to be held, and would wriggle like a fish in your hands when you finally caught him. He was like an optical illusion- so tiny, fluffy and kitten-like, so seemingly loveable- but on the inside, he was a maniacal sociopath- seemingly incapable of bonding with anyone.

But Naomi had patience.

Naomi didn’t have a car. Luckily, Sonny was portable. Naomi got a cute bag for him and stuffed him down into it, and carried him everywhere on her bicycle. Since he looked more like a toy than a real animal, she was able to sneak him into coffee shops, restaurants and shows. At night, in an attempt to make him cuddle, she stuffed him under the covers, but he popped out like a helium balloon and bounced to the foot of the bed where he curled up, just out of reach.

Still, Naomi had patience.

Boundaries were put into place for Sonny- no growling, no snapping, no attacking other dogs and humans. When he was being aggressive he could be flipped, using one hand, onto his tiny back, and held in place until he relaxed. He could also be picked up, at the scruff of his neck, much like the kitten that he was, and spoken to in a very authoritative voice- at which point the fight would lift off of him like mist, and his wet brown eyes would grow wet, and he might even- if you were lucky- lick your nose.


As the months went by, Sonny began, imperceptibly at first, to soften. He followed Naomi around like a wee shadow, and when she came home from work he would lift his front legs off the ground and clap his paws together like a tiny, animated toy. He would sometimes, now, allow others to pick him up, and he would even, on occasion, display something that was similar to affection. To reach this soft place in Sonny, however, to get him to do something like recline, casual-like, on your lap, as if that was no big deal, it was often necessary to wear him out physically first- and this was a challenge, as the fire that burned within him, in spite of his small size, was monstrously large.

In July I went backpacking with Kinnikinnick, Sonny, and Naomi’s partner, Finn. We picked a trail with lots of lakes, and there were such insane mosquitoes that we were forced to run, every second that we were out of the tent, to avoid being suffocated. (Exaggeration.) We didn’t want to run with our big backpacks on, so instead of carrying the packs for three days we hiked in four miles, pitched our tent, and the next day set out to jog the remainder of the trail. As long as we were running, the mosquitoes couldn’t get us, and as long as we wanted to be out of the tent, we had to be running. The night before, Sonny had been so hyper in the tent that Finn had barely been able to sleep- Sonny had thought that he was Outside, and that had made him feel Excited, and he had decided that he didn’t need to sleep, that he needed only to bounce like a flea back and forth across our sleeping bags, pawing excitedly at the nylon of the tent.

The next day we set out bright and early on our Epic Trail Run, hyper, sleepless dogs in tow. And it turned out that the trail, which passed by so many small lakes, was flooded in places, and in other places it was covered in patches of snow or blocked by fallen trees. The dogs, though, were not perturbed, and they vaulted over the puddles and slid over the snow patches like fearless, inexhaustible insects. The only humans we saw that day, on our long overland journey, were a pair of mysterious forest rangers, who would appear on the trail and then disappear, back into the foliage, as if by magic. We jogged sort of stumblingly through the forest from mid-morning to bedtime, our improvised backpacks bouncing against our shoulders, food and a water filter inside. We stopped at lakes to swim and eat chocolate and salmon jerky, and then we ran some more. Kinnikinnick and Sonny followed tirelessly along behind us, now and again darting ahead, ears up, to see what might be coming. Kinnikinnick, being the larger of the two, was able to leap, fox-like, over the fallen logs, but Sonny was too short and needed to be lifted, and he would wait, patiently, his eyes squinted softly in the forest light, for Finn to act as his hydraulic lift.

friendz

We returned to our campsite late in the evening, lowered our sore bodies into the flooded, broth-colored stream, and then put on every item of clothing we had brought so that we could crouch, for a few moments, in the thick, mosquito-filled air, and stir the gluten-free noodles in our camping pot. The mosquitoes enveloped Kinnikinnick and she bit at them, twitching and shaking her small body, but Sonny’s coat was long enough that he was impenetrable, and he watched us quietly in a rectangle of evening light, his small paws crossed contentedly. As we ate our salty noodles on the grass, the mosquitoes frantically biting at the backs of our hands, we saw that Sonny was, at last, tired. And that night he slept like the sweet, lovely little being that we had always imagined him to be- cuddled up in Finn’s sleeping bag or on top of mine, his little rooster-tail curled blanket-like around his torso, eyelids stretched peacefully over his huge, bulbous eyes. The next day we hiked the four miles out, and Sonny was so contented that he was sweet and agreeable for the rest of the trip, sleeping or letting himself be pet, squinting up at one or the other of us with his big, wet-brown eyes as if he was the most gentle dog in the world. And, when we returned to Portland, we were only admonished slightly for letting him run until his paws bled.

Sonny and Kinnikinnick, sleeping peacefully on the drive home.

As the summer waned, wee Sonny became consistently more agreeable and relaxed, and he began to bond with people more quickly, and allow himself to be captured and petted more easily. He was, as Naomi said, finally learning how to open his heart to love. He clapped his hands now for me, when he saw me, and when I lifted him up he licked my nose with his small, baloney-scented tongue. I would hold him in my two hands and bury my face in his thick, good-smelling fur, and in his small ribcage I could feel his tiny, beating heart. At first, he had been reluctant, and in time, he had grown softer. And like all wary little dogs (my own included) who are finicky and particular with their affections, when the narrow beam of Sonny’s love fell, at last, on my own heart, I was almost blinded by the caliber of its pure, uncontaminated goodness.

Two weeks ago, Sonny was attacked in a friend’s house by a larger, more aggressive dog. The attack was supposedly over a treat that had been dropped beneath the kitchen table, and in seconds it was over. Sonny died moments later, in the car on the way to the hospital. He had been in our lives for eight months.

Sonny’s death was a total shock not only to the people who had witnessed it, but to everyone who had been in Sonny’s life. Sonny, so seemingly alive, so full of fire and energy, was now, somehow, gone, blinked away, disappeared. It made no sense at all- like if you said an entire block had disappeared, or like the pacific ocean was now gone. Sonny was real. Sonny existed. Like how flowers exist, or trees exist, or rivers exist. There was the sky, the maple trees, the park, and there was Sonny. Just like how there was Kinnikinnick, and Seamus, and our friends, and school, and Emy, and our lives, our routines, our small dramas, our hopes and dreams and fears. In all of that, was Sonny. Firmly real. In the flesh. We had assimilated him into the fabric of our lives, and the tentacles of his existence were wound into the minutes and hours of our days- he was a three-dimensional object that we had manifested, running free on the streets of Olympia, and then subsumed, until there was no boundary between us and him, between our realities and his.

As yet, as quickly and bizarrely as Sonny had appeared, he was gone. I had never seen a dog like him, and there would never be one again. He had been created, the mold had been broken, and then, less than three years later, he had died. It made me question, suddenly, my assumptions about the existence of all living things- all of these animals, humans, objects that I assume to exist, that I trust to continue to exist, that I wake up each morning assuming will still exist. All of the things that I take for granted to be real, all of the trees and blades of grass, the walls of my apartment, my strange, grumpy neighbors, my small brown dog, the ground beneath my feel. All these things that feel so solidly REAL, so rooted on this side of the divide between existence and non-existence- when it seems obvious, now, that anything, at any time, could slip through to the other side, without a moment’s notice. Like a crack can open up in this current moment, this experience of reality that I assume, foolishly, to be somehow solid, and whatever is closest to the crack will just be gone.

How do you live, then, when everything you love can suddenly be gone? How do you make choices when what seems so real, today, on Sunday, can shift like loose gravel and be so different, after a period of time, as to be totally unrecognizable? How do you hold on, or not hold on, to what you love- how do you hold on and let go simultaneously, how do you stay present, constantly, in the moment, while making the assumption, still, that the sun will rise tomorrow?

Sonny did not exist, and then he did. He was not in our lives, and then he was. We did not know him, and then we loved him, we shoved some random clutter off the folding card-table of our hearts to make room for him. And there is always room, an extra corner, a few square inches of love. There is always room for everyone, there is always enough space. And then, after Sonny is gone, there is a small, Sonny-shaped hole. And the wind blows through it, and it has the feel of an old, abandoned house. And it’s lonely.

Sonny is gone, and if I learned anything at all from Sonny, it’s that we exist right now. Tomorrow, then, is anyone’s guess, but for the moment we are solidly, firmly here, so real that it’s nearly incomprehensible, so big and complex and infinite and alive that I can barely fit the idea of us into the field of vision of my heart. Because when we are real, we are almost bafflingly so- the realness of us spills out, all over everything, as if there is too much of it, an infinite amount, like there will always be enough, like we could never possibly run out. Our realness, not guaranteed to spill forward in time, spreads around us, instead, into space- shooting like energy light-rays into the worlds that we inhabit, vibrating every other physical thing in our existence on a scale of which it is impossible to comprehend.

My brain is small, and I cannot begin to understand the complexity of our realness, the size of our existence. I settle, instead, for a stumbling sort of impression, like fumbling in a dark attic, feeling objects with the palms of my hands. I tell myself that I am learning, through careful observation, the shape and texture of our universe, when in reality, by looking, I only grow more and more disoriented. I can only assume that this puzzle, like so many mysteries, is a thing that cannot be looked at or thought about directly but only felt, sort of obtusely, with the larger, blunter muscles of the heart. Not a shape but a rhythm, a feeling- not the object itself but its tangled, colored fringe.

Sonny is gone, and I’m starting to wonder if he ever existed at all. Did I make him up? What is more real, my feeling for him or his actual self? And what now? Do we let the clutter build up, until the card table is covered over again?

And what of the gaping, Sonny-shaped hole in the paper wall of reality, where the lonely breeze blows through?

Sonny was buried in forest park, in the soft, black earth beneath some big-leaf maples. It’s November and the air is cold, and rain falls nearly every day. A few weeks before Sonny’s death, Naomi had bought him a tiny, expensive jacket- shiny, black, and stuffed with down, it kept him warm as damp winter settled down upon the city. Naomi kept the jacket after his death and I know that now, in his new forest home, Sonny no longer needs it. Because the forest, crowded, tangled organism that it is, is arguably more real than nearly any city block. There is more life, more living, more movement, happening both above and below ground, in the forest, than I can possibly understand- and in this way the forest is like Sonny himself. And if it’s true that consciousness is a sort of trap, and death is freedom, then Sonny is home, his energies gone twenty-five different ways, to join the riotous cacophony of the rainforest- and he is neither cold nor alone, but sort of infinite- for as long as it lasts, and after that, will be something else-

And we love him, and we miss him, and that’s ok/is not ok, and that irreconcilable contradiction, whatever comfort that it is, will have to be enough.

backpacking

Summer was cancelled west of the cascade mountains, so we drove east into the desert, to where ponderosa pines stood tall in the yellow sunlight and clear rivers, flat and deep, wound their way through the soft ground. But thunderstorms followed us over the hills, and we camped in a torrential downpour the first night, next to a wet, cold lake that, when seen on brighter days, is breathtaking. In the morning we waited for the rain to stop but it would not, so we drove into the town of white rock-climbers and ate strange combinations of things at the wholefoods deli. Soon the clouds thinned, and grew paler, and the water ceased to fall, and the trusty sun peeked through, beating the already beaten ground. So we drove back into the mountain, the same route that you and I once biked, now wet, and with all the snow melted. Up and up and then down and over, to a lake so large it made its own tiny waves, where we filled up our water, folded our things, and set off into the forest for good.

The evening light was pure and good, the air was cool, and the forest was rolling and deep. Flooded, broth-colored streams made their lazy way through meadows that turned out, on closer observation, to be lakes. Sunlight criss-crossed everything. We camped on a damp patch of grass next to the trail, and as soon as we stopped moving the mosquitoes, overcome with joy, attempted to suffocate us with their small, eyelash-like bodies. Panicked, we threw up the tent and tumbled inside. We made dinner in the tent (sans rain fly), and ate. Rice pasta, sea vegetables, and an expensive can of salmon. We washed the dishes and then crawled back into the tent. Mosquitoes congealed on the tent walls and whined at us, tapping themselves uselessly against the mesh. We stared out at them in silence as the forest dimmed around us. Time thickened like cold honey, and then stopped. The dogs, small and mighty, burrowed into our sleeping bags. We fell in and out of sleep.

In the morning we removed the top sections from our packs and, using the straps from Finn’s sleeping pad, fashioned shoulder bags. In the bags we put dried pears, salmon jerky, rox chox, and a salami. We wore running shoes and our brightly colored, low-tech city clothes and set out, small dogs bounding in our wake, to walk/run to a lake seven miles distant. The trail was flooded, had become bog in some sections, had turned into shapeless, ambiguous water that gathered sunlight and harbored choking clouds of ravenous mosquitoes. Downed trees, stuck all over with pointed sticks, crossed the path at awkward angles. Sunlight fell in triangles. Beautiful grasses ringed everything. We ran, leapt over logs, lifted the dogs over logs, lost the path, found it again. Suddenly, a man appeared. He wore a beard and carried an axe. He stopped us in a friendly, if aggressive manner, and pulled a wilderness permit and a pencil from his hip pouch. We filled in the scan-tron like sheet while the mosquitoes gleefully attacked our faces.

“Do you have any mosquito repellent, by chance?” Asked Finn.

“I just have a little bit. Just enough for me.” Said the forest ranger.

We handed him our permit and he took a few steps and was gone- not on the path, not to either side of it, but just gone- as if he had melted, seamlessly, back into the forest.

“Where the fuck did he go?” Asked Finn.

“I don’t know.” I said, looking out at the tangled bog, the clotted forest, the empty trail.

We climbed a few hundred feet and the forest, sandy now, wrung itself out and became dry. The trees grew tall and they rustled a little in the breeze. Then we were upon Mink Lake, sprawling and clear. It was set like a garnet into the mountaintop. We stood looking, out of breath, feeling as if we could go forever. The mosquitoes, suddenly, were absent.

There was an outcropping of rock with a camp on it, but the camp was empty. There was a tent there, two cooking pots, and a dog, but no person. A small crank radio sat in the sun. We had found two oranges on the trail, split, but not rotten, and we sat with our backs against the rock and ate them. Presently a man appeared, paddling towards us in an inflatable raft, across the great expanse of the lake. Hallooo! We called to him. He reached the rock and climbed up to us, carrying his fishing pole. He was sunburnt and smiling, and wore only a pair of swim trunks.

“Name’s John.” He said. “Dog’s name is Daisy.”

He had walked in from another direction, was staying for several days. To fish. We bothered him for a little while and then I absconded to a small stretch of beach, where I took off all my clothes and walked bravely into the water. The water was cold. I swam out until I felt as though I might hyperventilate and then I returned to the shore and lay in the sun, the dirt soft and warm beneath me. Sonny, the five-pound papillon, curled like a fox in the shade of some pine boughs. Kinnikinnick, the eight-pound chihuahua, scratched a bed in the dirt and lay sprawled, wheat-colored sides rising and falling in the sunlight.

Time passed, somehow, even in the silence, even with the sunlight golden in the cloudless sky, even with the still, clear water. We gathered up our things, our stomachs full of chocolate and salmon jerky, and began the long walk back to camp. We walked quickly, and still we could not keep ahead of the mosquitoes. Finally we had to run, bounding through the forest like antelope. Back in camp, we threw ourselves into the stream, and let the cold water soothe us. Dinner was thick split pea soup with freeze dried vegetables and bits of salmon, and then in and out of sleep until dawn.

The last day we walked out, the sky a brilliant blue, the limbs of the trees baked white. We drove into town and ate vegetables, pork, tamales. The dogs were exhausted, sprawled like corpses in the backseat, the papillon’s paw pads raw and bloody from the walking. We ate the last of our chocolate and drove, reluctantly, west into the rain cloud. The skies clotted, the forest thickened, the ground became lush. Rain fell, splattering the windshield.

Now I am back in my apartment, my wonderful, beautiful apartment, with my noisy neighbors and the shady, forest-like dog park down the street. Kinnikinnick, exhausted, sleeps in a tight little ball on the couch, and dreams her small chihuahua dreams. Before backpacking I was doing other things, and had been away from my apartment for a month. But it feels as though I have been gone forever, for a hundred years. Now, at last, all the things that I have are falling in place around me, like debri settling after a tornado. Mornings are thrilling, days are hot and good. Magic, nature, and possibility are everywhere. Life is a huge, unpolished chunk of rose quartz, roughly the size of my heart.

s u n d a y

Overcast, warm unless the air is moving, reading Anne Carson,
I went running in the forest, in my old running shoes, that need replacing, on the narrow dirt path, squishy with mud. Finn and I, and the small dogs, like squirrels, out of place, which would wink out of existence, immediately, if western civilization were to collapse-
at least the Papillon, the chihuahua would survive, would dig a burrow in the dusty earth, eat mice, insects, grasshoppers, chicken bones, the dried stool of other animals, buts of hair, earthworms, clods of mud, grass, birdshit, discarded hamburger buns, would survive, would procreate, would carry on for all of us.
The forest was beautiful, cool and damp in all the right ways, like a breathing animal, without urgency, an animal who does not feel excited, anxious, who is infinitely calm, an animal like a grandmother, as old as a grandmother, the world’s grandmother. I’m finally bleeding, the storm clouds have broken, my heart is a wheatfield in the sunshine. I ran and ran through the forest, high on advil and the euphoria of baseless optimism, or rather clumsily jogged, although in my imagination I am an antelope, and nik nik is a squirrel, and our spirits are birds, and we will live forever.
For breakfast afterward I had happiness, contentment, bacon, greens, brown rice, eggs scrambled with fresh herbs, and a chocolate muffin that I had baked without sugar, at first had though was awful, had frozen, and now think is particularly delicious, like flourless chocolate cake, only with coconut milk in there, and mashed bananas.
I am going to try to blog more, unless I do not. I am going to the forest for a month, (I think), unless I do not. I do not particularly believe in things happening, in the future, (or continuing to happen), but I go through the motions, so as not to seem insane, and am constantly pleasantly surprised when the earth continues to turn, the sun continues to rise, I continue to find pleasure in affection, my dog does not leave me, only snuggles closer, while I sleep, spreading herself along my ribcage, resting her small snout on my armpit, breathing her small, good-smelling dog breaths on my face.
I have no hope, but I am grateful, and I will not curse this life by declaring that anything I love will continue to exist, and I will attempt, instead, to write its creation myth, so that we can somehow understand it, without looking directly at it, like the most distant stars, which exist, and do not exist, and show us the shape and depth of space-time, everything happening all at once, all piled up, there and not there.
Life is a feral dog, and by avoiding eye contact I hope to gain its trust.

light bulbs, chihuahuas, and writing about myself

My new apartment is two square rooms, a yellow kitchen counter, and the hum of the fridge. It is the click-click of the baseboard heaters and the cold blue light of the stark-white walls. I have not hung artwork yet. I just moved yesterday from a one-room cottage with a woodstove to this land of carpet, neighbors, and window blinds. But I had to share a kitchen when I lived in the cottage and I don’t want to share a kitchen anymore. I have some money and I want to live alone. I have never lived alone in Portland. I have lived alone in plastic, drafty yurts, I have lived alone in dark cabins made of logs. I have slept alone beneath mosquito netting in a camper van, I have lived alone in a two-person tent that I pitched, surreptitiously, in a patch of woods next to the highway, while I waited for salmon season to start. I have lived alone on the freight train, and always I have lived alone in the copse of trees on the outskirts of town, lying on my back on my foam sleeping pad, watching the birch leaves flip like coins in the wind. But I have not lived alone in Portland and now here I am, in the City, in my very own Apartment. I must be grown up, or I must be anti-social. I am highly efficient, or I am a capitalist tool, unwilling to do the work it takes to share space with others, and so ultimately responsible for the current breakdown of human community, and all of our resulting cultural alienation and existential despair.

In my apartment, now, there are No Distractions To Keep Me From Writing, and it is raining heavily, so even my dog needs nothing. She is a chihuahua, from the desert, and she does not like the rain. If I try and walk her when there is water falling from the sky she will turn, face home, and plant her feet. Sometimes if I stand motionless, the leash taught, and wait a long moment, her peanut brain will reset and she’ll forget why she’s pulling so hard. She’ll trot merrily for another half-block, before she remembers, again, that she doesn’t like the rain.

Today it is raining and dark, I am tired, and I do not know what I need. I am tired today of my small dinners, my cabbage-and-onion browned in a cast iron skillet, my half-a-lemon, my leftover-chicken. I am tired of reading periodicals and watching the rain in the courtyard. I am weary of the way I overthink my relationship with my dog, the way I look at her and try to puzzle out her emotions, the way I project my own negative feelings onto her (Kinnikinnick doesn’t love me, Kinnikinnick thinks that I am a failure) in a way that I do not do with any human relationship.

I am Tired, I have Fatigue, I cannot Concentrate, and so instead of working on my novel here I am, writing about myself, which is what I specialize in anyway, since it is what I have done the most.

Yesterday I was at Fred Meyer buying a can opener and I found myself lingering in the light bulb aisle, picking up the long fluorescent tubes that said things like “sunshine!” and “full spectrum”. I’ve thought, before, about buying a full-spectrum light box, in front of which I could sit, in the mornings, until I became energized. But full-spectrum light boxes are expensive, and what with my solo apartment in the city and all the money I’m spending on healthcare each month and how much Corinne and I like to eat at Chaba Thai, I wasn’t sure that I could afford it. Then, in Fred Meyer, I saw that you could buy the “full spectrum” tubes individually, and that they were the same price as any other florescent bulb. So theoretically I could just get a fixture and put one of these bulbs in it, and then I’d be all set to get jacked each morning on pseudo-sunlight and slowly turn my sad face upside down.

But then, I didn’t know if the ones at the hardware store were really the same as the ones in the light boxes, and I just looked on the internet and the light boxes were on sale, so I bought one.

We shall see, when it gets here, how it makes me feel. We shall see if it can replace the forest, if it can replace the drip of rain in the fir boughs, if it can replace the infinite peace that nature brings. If it can prop up my chi enough for me to write.

In the meantime, dear steadfast reader, I have a question for you- have you ever used a full-spectrum light box, and how did it make you feel. Was it as nice as cross-country skiing? Did it make you feel generous towards your chihuahua? Were you less prone to eat snack chips instead of meals? Did you feel like running in the rain?

 

Look! I wrote something!

My chemistry homework makes an appearance, as does North Dakota.

—————————–

S A D

———

It has gotten cold here, sometimes
sometimes it is not cold, but the air is filled with water like someone is misting us
like we are fragile plants that need misting
It has gotten sometimes cold but dark
dark, dark, dark
I do not know where I am
that it is so dark out
where have the trees gone? the sky? the road?
my eyes hurt from non-light
six o’clock feels like ten p.m.
I do not know what to do with this.
I have gone to the gym,
I watched TV on the elliptical trainer.
I do not like the gym.
when I was younger, I rode my bike through the dark, mist stinging my face, grimacing in pain.
I was fearless and brave.
when the ride was over I do not remember how I felt. Transcendent, like I had gone through the oracles and not been shot with laser eyes,
or just cold and wet and miserable, reminded that life is suffering.
My ears painfully red
the leather of my shoes damp
my bicycle rusted.
Now it is dark and I research light-therapy lamps on the internet
with 10,000 Kelvin bulbs
and it doesn’t make me feel any better.
I want to fold up into myself, I want to go blind. I want to find a giant puppy, eviscerate it, and climb inside for heat. I want to drop out of college and go somewhere colder but brighter, like North Dakota. I would have no friends. Friends and light frequently shift on the antique brass scales of my heart.
The country is like a periodic table, light increasing as you go east. I am the element Lithium. I am Oregon. North Dakota is a transition metal and Alaska is a noble gas. I want to go to one of the places that has not been discovered yet, Sunny Ununtrium where the ecosystems are still intact and no-one believes in science. The people who live there talk with their hands and use their voices only for singing. They live in huts thatched with palm fronds and eat coconuts and raw sea-beast. There are giant spiders. But would that really be any different than riding the lightrail downtown, bathed in fluorescent lights and off-gassing plastic? And off-gassing people, who don’t eat any vegetables, who wear too many layers and live in dark, moldy houses. These people have nothing but at least there are cats for them, cats they can feed dry kibble made from the bodies of euthanized shelter animals. Mostly euthanized pit bulls.

I want something exciting to happen. Something really big, like an explosion. Maybe the earth will crash into the sun and all of our molecular bits will dissolve into everything, heat and light and then infinite, infinite cold. I’m not sure if that is better than the park outside my school, where the pumpkin-orange of the maples clashes so well with the grey, grey, sky, and the mist that makes an infinite continuum of the sky. The sky falling down all around us, sifting down, permeating matter and dissolving the trampled leaves. There is beauty here, but there is not light. It is so still it makes me tired. I want to freeze in place on the bricks where I sit until I become a stone and can talk with the trees. We’ll look down at all the people and the bright white glass of the buildings and we won’t think anything.

Tea tree oil to treat infection in impacted wisdom teeth until a dentist can be seen- a fable

Today was busy, and devoid of nature, and I ate several random, stupid things, and now as I sit at the end of it with my healthy, well-balanced dinner, I have a cautionary tale for you.

Allopathic doctors do not have your best interests in mind.

They are a product of the pharmaceutical industry and they do not care about you. They think you are stupid, and that you have no original thoughts, and that you are incapable of critical thinking. They do not trust you to take care of your own body. I do not trust them, and so it is a mutual trustlessness. We circle each other, the doctor with her big red dusty book, and me in my paper dress. I want to claw them like a feral, cornered cat, when they will not give me the exact drug that my naturopath recommended (but cannot prescribe), when they tell me that something new and abnormal “Is just part of my anatomy”, when they constantly interrupt me and roll their eyes and then charge me hundreds of dollars. I want to yowl and claw them and tear their eyes out and then run away and hide in the woods where I am safe and no-one can ever find me. I’ll start a militia with the Barefoot bandit and we’ll live off huckleberries and make clothes out of cedar. We’ll grow our own herbs and stage raids on hospitals for medical supplies and set up clandestine clinics where treatment is free. We’ll write catchy songs with anti-pharmaceutical industry lyrics and spread our propaganda on the internet until everyone is free, and then we’ll break the internet.

I saw the dentist today. My left bottom wisdom tooth has been impacted for about a hundred years, and yesterday it finally decided to become infected. This is amazing because as of three weeks ago, for the first time in my life, I have health insurance, on account of starting school. So today I called the dental clinic and they gave me an appointment right away, so that I could be seen before the infection spread to my neck and suffocated me. So I rushed through breakfast (fried eggs and corn tortillas rolled into tacos, dripping yolk all over my fingers) and biked to school as fast as I could. In the dentist’s office the assistant put a lead apron on me and x-rayed my head and made me bite on pieces of sharp plastic and then left me in the chair, looking out the nice window at the nice tree with its nice leaves turning orange-ish. The dentist came clacking in her heels and smiled gently at me while she washed her hands. She had a soft thin face and her jewelry glimmered modestly. She stuck her metal scraper in my mouth and tapped at each one of my precious, steadfast teeth.

“There are so many cavities.” She said. “You have cavities all around your fillings and bigger cavities on the other side where you don’t have fillings. We can go ahead and set up a treatment plan to get all of these cavities filled.”

There was a picture of a tree on the ceiling. This is why my university is called “the greenest university”, I thought. Because, in the dentist’s office, there is a picture of a tree on the ceiling.

“No,” I said. “I just want to get the wisdom tooth out.” Then I told her that in January, when I have money, I plan on paying someone almost all of it to remove the amalgam fillings that I already have.

Her dainty metal pick stopped in mid-air.

“Why would you want to do that?” she asked.

“Because,” I said, “exposure to mercury, even in small amounts, contributes to long-term chronic digestive problems, and I have long-term chronic digestive problems, and the number one source of mercury exposure is amalgam fillings, which begin to wear slightly as they age.”

Her mouth scrunched up, wrinkling her pale lipstick, as if she had smelled something bad. Fear crept through me as I realized that I had broken one of the most ancient taboos of western medicine- Thou shalt not challenge thy medical professional.

“Then, after that, I’m going to get composite fillings,” I said. “the white ones. That don’t have metal.”

“Well,” she said, as she set down her pick. “as long as you’re well informed of the drawbacks to those fillings…”

“I know that they don’t last as long,” I said. “I know that having your mercury fillings removed can expose you to more mercury than if you just left them in, if you don’t go to a dentist who specializes in that sort of thing. I’ve done lots of research.”

The dentist grimaced, but just barely. I was obviously insane, ranting about nothing. Another lunatic who thinks they know something, just because they read it on the internet, or heard it from lots of other people who had the same experience, when everyone knows that all fact about the human body comes shooting people full of chemicals in giant, pharmaceutical-backed clinical studies. The dentist frowned absurdly and returned the pick to my mouth. She was no longer cheerily ushering me into the land of oral health. She was enduring.

After confirming that my mouth was riddled with cavities, the dentist handed me an antibiotic prescription for the inflammation in my wisdom tooth.

“This will help with the pain until your extraction.” she said.

“I don’t think I’ll take that.” I said. “The extraction is on Saturday, I think I can make it three days without needing an antibiotic.”

The dentist set her jaw and looked at me strangely.

“Infection in lower wisdom teeth can spread very rapidly.” She said gently. “Infection can enlarge the glands and interfere with swallowing and, ultimately, breathing.” The dentist swung the tray away and removed my paper bib. I thought of the time, two and half years ago, when my other lower wisdom tooth had become infected. At the time I was living in a yurt on the Olympic peninsula and I had no money. The tooth was swollen and painful, I could barely chew, and when I squeezed the gum, yellow puss came out. I mixed a few drops of tea tree oil in a glass of water, on advice from Allie, my land-mate, who’d done it once on a bike trip, and gargled with the mixture twice a day. The puss disappeared, and then the swelling and the pain. I kept the infection entirely at bay for six months, until I finally had the money to see a dentist.

I didn’t tell the dentist this.

The rest of the day was unremarkable. I hadn’t packed a lunch and so ate underwhelming, expensive foods from around my school- a weird food bar that was made from oats and raisins mashed up, bland sushi, beans and rice with an anti-climactic scoop of guacamole. When I finally got home at eight I made dinner, green beans sautéed in bacon fat (YUM) and pinto beans and risotto rice, and I made up a tea-tree mixture, and I swished it around in my mouth. Now it is night and cold and I am going to make a fire in my woodstove, again, from the pile of scrap wood outside my cottage, and then I am going to sit next to it, and listen to it crackle. And while I sit there I am going to think of people, of humans, of how wonderful and smart and clever and good we are. And I am going to think about all of the knowledge that we have, knowledge that goes back thousands and thousands of years. And it is knowledge that is written down and passed down from one person to the next but it is also knowledge that is inside of us, that we have with us always, that is stronger than anything. And if there is one thing that we can trust, it should be that.

Experiment

I am going to try and write what I eat every day

for a week

for an experiment

Today was sunny

and cold

Corinne was here for breakfast and we ate what we always do- love. We also had eggs with the yolks runny (cause corinne made them and she is good at not breaking them- I always break the yolks- after hundreds of pairs of eggs over many years I still break them- it is impatience, I think). With the eggs we had kale from the backyard (the backyard is a kale forest! a tangled jungle of kale!) that was cooked in browned onions in the cast iron and corn tortillas, three for me (softened on top of the greens) and two for corinne (made crispy in a little oil). This breakfast requires three cast iron pans. My new house has nine cast iron pans, so there are always plenty. We could melt them down and make a meteor, or a ship’s anchor.

While Corinne was making breakfast she was simultaneously making our lunch, because I was shuffling around in a fret, trying to finish my chemistry lab report that I wasn’t sure, exactly, how to do, before fifteen minutes was up and I had to get on my bike and ride to school, in the cold clear fall air, with the yellow leafs on the concrete and the wind that smells like sugar cookies. (There is a cookie ghost in our neighborhood, when the air is clear and cool it smells like sugar cookies.) For our lunch Corinne browned more onions in a pan with carrots and a little cabbage from the backyard brassica forest, and added ground beef and some risotto rice I’d made by cooking rice with some oregano and bay leaf and a square of bullion in a pot. She put this into my little lunch container for me, and sent me out the door to my bicycle and the Mississippi street hill and skool. I am in school now, my school has twenty-seven THOUSAND students and each one of them is a bright and shining individual, and they are all clamoring for education, or the bureaucratic shadow of it, and the institution is filled with alien-bright florescent light and stale blowing too hot/too cold air and everything is free/not free.

I ate my lunch in a big room with little tables and people hunched over computers and other lunches. The beef and rice tasted fantastically delicious, and I stared at the other people eating. I also ate a salad from the dining hall, young leafs in a brown to-go box with red wine vinegar and some sort of indiscriminate salad oil. I ate it mixing bites of leafs with bites of beefy rice, stabbing the leafs with my potato fork and kicking my legs happily under the table.

I met Corinne for a walk in the afternoon because she goes to school downtown too and the sun was out. We went to the expensive overpriced natural foodstore where the only thing I can afford is cooked brown rice, and Corinne got me a little container of raspberries. Berry season is waning, and I am already mourning. I love the berries. Soon I will have to break into my stash of frozen blackberries at Corinne’s house, and eat an entire pie to consol myself.

Corinne and I also shared a strange chocolate health-food bar that had sprouted buckwheat in it. We sat on the sidewalk in the sun against a building and held hands. Corinne’s eyes looked nice and faded in the sun and she has freckles in her ears.

I biked home in the good air of evening and made a manchego quesadilla before leaving to get my hair cut by Naomi. I had risotto rice and leftover pinto beans on my quesadilla. The pinto beans needed salt. Naomi cut my hair in her living room, and then showed me some shoes she’d bought on the internet. They looked like if an architect and a stripper designed doll shoes for a museum, only better. They looked like salmon could use them to get up waterfalls, if they had enough money.

After my haircut I went to the store and wandered, dazed, among all the overpriced packaged health food goods, wondering what I liked to get for groceries. I got another small package of raspberries and the staples, carrots and onions and corn tortillas and such. I also got a hanging plant called string-of-pearls at the last minute for my new cottage (which has a woodstove! and good light!) and put it in my bike pannier to carry home. At home I ate the raspberries and wrote emails and felt pleasure. I think I will go build a fire in my woodstove and read Xeroxed articles for class and feel happiness. And then sleep.

r o o t s

My father lives on Crataegus lane in Alaska. Crataegus is the latin name for Hawthorne, according to a dusty book I found in the library. There are three types of Hawthorne in the book, which catalogs a section of Pennsylvania representative of “all of the trees from Virginia northward into Canada and westward to the Mississippi Valley.” The kinds of Hawthorne in the book are Scarlet Hawthorne, Cockspur Hawthorne, and Dotted Hawthorne. In pre-columbian times, the Hawthorne trees were understory plants in the virgin forests. Now, in Pennsylvania, they form impenetrable thickets. According to the dusty tree book, the members of this genus are typically “low, bushy trees” with “strong, tortuous, spreading branches armed with stiff, sharp-pointed thorns”.

In Pennsylvania, the showy flowers appear in April or early May. The five petals are “usually white”. The fruits are like small apples, dry and mealy, with large, bony seeds. They are an important winter food of the ruffed grouse.

Most Hawthornes will thrive in the poorest of soils. There are an infinite number of different kinds of Hawthorne, on account of the fact that they are “very unstable, and hybrids are apparently very numerous”. This frustrates taxonomists, who cannot agree on what kinds of Hawthorne exist, since they are always hybridizing and changing, and looking like each other. In Portland there is a Hawthorne with small, red fruits, like berries. You can make jelly from these, although I have never done it.

When I return to Portland in September, there will be fruit on all the trees. The blackberries will be over but the apples and pears, both members of the rose family, will be clustered and heavy above the sidewalks. The light through the branches will be yellow, hazy and humid. Green walnut husks will pepper the ground. Time will go faster than it does in the woods, and days will blink by in an instant. I’ll ride my bike in the evenings when the shadows are long and let all the nostalgia wash over me, all the emotional memory of the season, of last year and the year before and every September that has ever happened, until it washes all away and instead becomes what is happening now, in this moment.

My birthday is in September. I don’t ever know what to do on my birthday, I feel bewildered and confused and can’t ever think of things I’d like to eat or what I do for fun. What do I do for fun? Read, laugh, have sex. Eat ice cream and blueberries. Swim. Sit in the forest and watch the ants wear paths in the dirt and wait for animals to come walking up. Make up stories in my head.

I think that, this year, all of September will be my birthday. It’ll be like a birthday present to myself, September. I’ll be back in Portland and getting ready for school and moving and I won’t be working my kitchen job anymore. I won’t be washing dishes and peeling cucumbers and cooking soup in the heavy-bottomed ten-gallon pot. I won’t be kneading bread and punching bread and baking loaves of bread in the oven that hums ferociously and whose hot sheet-pans burn your upper arms in stripes, called “earning your stripes”. I have one stripe and one half-stripe. I have been here five months. If I lived hear a year or two years I would have more stripes, the way the other cooks do.

I like to cook. I cannot think of many things more satisfying than preparing food for one hundred sixty people in four hours from scratch, with one helper, making the big pot of soup and cutting the crusty new bread and roasting the zucchini for spread and slicing the onions and snapping the ends off the green beans and then sitting and watching the people eat, your black apron dusty with flour, a mason jar of water in your hand. It is satisfying and I give everything to it and in the evenings I feel restless and empty. I run in the woods on the dry trail until I am hot and sticky with sweat and then I take off my clothes and lay down in the stream and then jump up sputtering in the icy water, new again like I have just woken up.

When I am not working or running I spend a lot of time on the phone with Corinne. She is always very far away. We tell each other about the worlds where we live, like writing letters home. I ask her what she eats. Sausage, she tells me. Avocado. Eggs. I tell her that after running I ate raspberries and sheep’s cheese and coconut ice cream. I tell her that it was all I thought I ever wanted to eat, but then after a few hours I was hungry again, so I ate sautéed green beans and split pea soup and wild rice and romaine. And then later I ate some orange chocolate. After we get off the phone I eat some chocolate peanut butter cups. The sugar is not good for me but lack of good company sometimes drives me to it. It will be easier in September, when I am not in the woods anymore. Unless, of course, for my birthday I want an icecream cake or an icecream sundae made of coconut icecream and melted dark chocolate and berries, in layers, icecream first and then chocolate and then icecream and then berries and then icecream and then chocolate and so on, like an enchilada. I would like to eat that in a stemmed glass, so I could see all the layers. The chocolate would be mixed with coconut cream to make it softer, although it would solidify just-so in the cold icecream. And then while I was eating my beautiful, infinite sundae that was like the wanting of icecream and the memory of icecream and the having of icecream and the icecream you are saving for later, I would pull the beautiful wrapping, made from 1970s national geographics, from a small square box, and inside would be a brand new pancreas. The note card would read- “love, from the trees.” And I would gasp in delight and try out my new pancreas immediately. It would fit exactly, and I would put my old pancreas in the freebox on the porch, where someone will find it and make it into a costume.

And that would be the Very Best Birthday. An infinite icecream sundae, and long life from the trees. Or maybe instead of a sundae it would be an icecream cake. Or maybe instead of icecream I will have sex instead, because I don’t need a new pancreas for that. I would like to be able to have sex Right Now, in the woods. I would like to open the freezer and find Sex in there, instead of gelato and cold peanut butter cups that someone had the foresight to put in there. But there is no sex in the woods. Sex is in the city, because that is where the gay people are. Only straight people live in the woods, and deer. And a few shy bears I have never seen. And the steller’s jays with their screaming alarm-clock voices. And the soft-bellied squirrels. And tiny, svelte chipmunks. And the crows that live on the compost heap. And the odd bunny rabbit. And low-flying bats, who criss-cross the paths at dusk. And fantastical cougars, who make no sound and who I imagine always watching, from the rhododendrons. And a strange family of creatures, perhaps raccoons, who break sticks for fun around my tent at night and chortle softly to each other in small, congested voices. And various other stick-breakers, too shy to be seen, who run errands in the woods after dark. Some of them walk carefully, tensing each muscle and startling and the smallest movement, and some of them are clumsy, tumbling through the undergrowth as if drunk, lost and looking for the path. None of them bother me, tho, no matter how flimsy my nylon walls and how elaborate my imagination, or how often I leave beef jerky in my tent, and so I have grown to trust them.

Now it’s late. It’s dark and all the stars are out, the big dipper and the milky way, which is like melted icecream in the sky. Corinne wrote a poem today for her grandmother, who was there one day and then was not there, while Corinne was up in the sky in a plane, crossing the country to get to her. It had been eight months since Corinne saw her grandmother last, and she lost another three hours going east in a plane, against the setting sun. Corinne’s grandmother was there and then she was not there, the way things happen, mysteriously. Also, besides grandmothers dying, babies are born. Babies are not there and then they are there. I cannot make heads or tales of any of it, birth and death. The stuff in the middle makes sense to me, the Being. It is the transition in and out of Being that seems so inexplicable. Corinne was Being, in the sky, and her grandmother was Being, on the east coast, in a hospital, and then immediately she was Not. She waited until all her five children were clustered around her, and then she was Not. Corinne visited her body, the next day, on a table in the funeral home, in a room with candles. Corinne looked for her behind the heavy drapes, but she was gone. She told me about it on the phone, while I sat at the picnic table beneath the incense-cedars, methodically dismantling the fleur-de-lis seedpods that had gathered there. A thing like a tree, I thought, ceases to be much differently than a grandmother. A tree is made of wood, half dead, and surrounded by other wood in various states of decay. It pulls water hundreds of feet up its pithy core, and throws down cones in the summertime. When a tree “dies” it simply stops drawing water, stops dropping cones, and becomes, instead, part of the trees around it, who use its wood to grow helpful fungus and more small, new trees, and as a bridge over streams for deer, and as a place for small, bumbling stick-breakers to live. And the “dead” tree sort of melts into the spongy forest floor, and continues to “Be”, in a great mat of things that “Are”, whose borders are fluid and indefinite and yet unarguably alive.

The first rule of thermodynamics is that energy cannot be created or destroyed. If this is true, where do “people” go after they die? Is it because we do not have visible roots, like a tree, and so it seems as though we are tethered to nothing, and we are incapable of comprehending the ways in which we actually exist? Because if we could see our existence, all twisted up with everything, the way I can see the trees’ existence in a forest, which eats itself and lives forever, then maybe we would understand more clearly what happens when we die, and what happens before we are born, instead of just the middle part, which seems to us like a spark from a campfire, flying away into the dark and then going out, for no reason whatsoever.

We are different from trees, but if you draw us in a chart the chart will look like a tree, the family tree. A family tree does not have stray bits, broken pieces, sparks that fly off into the dark and go out. A family tree is like a friendship bracelet or a braided river, coming apart and going together again, forever and ever, all the way back, way back hundreds and thousands of years, to thatched cottages and lean-tos, to Europe and Asia and Africa, to when we were early hominids, to apes, to single-celled organisms floating in the briny warm sea. And trees came from the sea, too, and stumbling stick-breakers, and bats at dusk, and eavesdropping cougars. And all the creatures braided together and came apart, and braided together and came apart, forever and ever and ever, and a branch from the family tree never broke and fell off and sputtered out alone or appeared spontaneously from the ether, not even once, not even one single time. And the beginning was in the briny sea or it was somewhere even farther back, farther back than we can comprehend because we are small and because we are made from it. We are made from the friendship bracelet of the creatures, and just because we walk on two legs and do not have roots does not mean that we ever begin or that we ever end- because we, like the great mat of plants called the forest, cannot be created or destroyed, only moved and branched and shifted like a river in its bed. And so Corinne’s grandmother never really stopped being, because there is Corinne, and Corinne will never stop being, as long as there are cougars, and soft-bellied squirrels, and owls that call out at night, mysterious and low, with immense wisdom and patience. I want to go into the forest and I want to stand abreast of the biggest oldest tree, and I want to put my fingers in its bark and say that I do not want immortality, I only want patience. Because my roots go back in time instead of down into the ground, and my heart beats like a hummingbird, and I want everything. And the wind whispers and the trees say that I can have everything, in time. In time.