torrential rainfall and the disputed kingdom Protista


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.

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.




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.

tuesday and rain and a blog post, after alot of time without them.

Today I cut myself, for the first time. Slicing cucumbers, or red onions, or beets, and the knife slipped and cut my thumb instead, right above the nail. I put a band-aid on and tried to not get it wet, gave up while plunging the spinach in the cold water. Spinach has so much dirt, did you know? It comes from the earth covered in mud, like it was born there. Everything comes covered in dirt. I had to change the water three times, there was so much sand. And a ladybug, too. The roots of trees. Mycelium. Warblers. The whole living world. The spinach was interconnected with the whole living world, and I washed it away in the stainless steel sink, added olives from greece and too much lemon juice. Parsley from I don’t know where. I almost kept crying into the dammed spinach, grateful I was facing away, at the screen window that overlooks the gravel drive and the forest. My own little corner. A damp wooden countertop that collects water in the places where it’s warped. Made from trees that are part of the whole living world.

Somehow I fucked everything up today. I put too much lemon juice on everything. I bled through my bandaid. My stomach hurt. I saw the deer that sleep in the meadow next to my tent. They are waiting there for the tiny strawberries. They are only a little bit afraid of me. They make no noises when they walk, their big rectangular bodies taper down into tiny points, four of them, and the points make no sound. They twist their necks around and look at me. They don’t try and understand me. They don’t understand the universe. They’re just bewildered, looking for grass. Everything startles them. I wonder if it feels nice to be a deer. Maybe it is the same.

I realized that I can’t be angry about working so much and not being able to write. I can’t be angry at capitalism, or even civilization. I can’t be angry because last night in bed, reading Guns, Germs & Steel by headlamp in my tent, I learned that in order to support non food-producing specialists such as candle-stick makers, boat-builders and writers, a people must have excess food and the ability to store it. And to have these things, a people must have agriculture. And historically, the people who had agriculture were also the people who developed hierarchical social structures, colonialist appetites, and war. The more-or-less egalitarian peoples were always the hunter-gatherers, and they rarely had specialists. That is, everyone was more or less full-time employed with hunting and food gathering. So I can’t romanticize hunter-gatherers and wish I could just write full time at the same time. It’s because of hierarchical, colonialist douche-bags and agriculture that we have a written language at all.

It was sunny for a week, and now it is rainy again. Oh, this damp cloud-bubble that is the very edge of oregon. Why do I live here? Why not somewhere else? Why do the people I love live here? Why does anything happen the way it does? I am trying! I am trying hard to love this three-legged life. Sometimes I can’t believe that I exist, or how lucky I am. Other times all I can see is the enormous improbability of my own existence and the irreparably broken nature of this life and all life, even though we are all here, living. I am a wicked mortal, a human, impossibly flawed. I am ungrateful, I cannot appreciate anything. I want to transcend my own skin. I think I am better than everything.

Thoreau, bring me your woodshed. I want to be ready.


“I am a frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world, and I am getting along. I am aging and eaten and have done my share of eating too. I am not washed and beautiful, in control of a shining world in which everything fits, but instead am wandering awed about on a splintered wreck I’ve come to care for, whose gnawed trees breathe a delicate air, whose bloodied and scarred creatures are my dearest companions, and whose beauty beats and shines not in its imperfections but overwhelmingly in spite of them, under the wind-rent clouds, upstream and down. Simon Weil says simply, “Let us love the country of here below. It is real; it offers resistance to love.””

-Annie Dillard, from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Readers! I imagine you have almost all gone by now. I am working full time until september, I do not have time to write. It is kitchen work, which suits me. I chop alot of things. It’s in the woods. There is solitude, for better or worse. Summer has been slow coming, and that frustrates me. I’m afraid I’ll miss everything. I make minimum wage. I read stacks of books. I walk in the woods alot. Life does not seem hard or easy. This season is not for asking questions- it is for trading labor for capital, and for acceptance. I accept that I do not have time to write. I accept that capitalism exists. I accept it all. I accept I accept I accept.

the sun and time

This week is our last week in Idaho. Corinne is at the cave cabin tonight, to think in the fire-warmed dark and have epiphanies about her path in life, while the stars wink on over the salmon river and the goats, once tamed for milk and now gone wild again, bed down in the clumps of trees that cap the dark hills. The cave cabin is a small room carved out of the stone mountain and framed inside with logs. The front wall is made of mud and old car windshields, everything is fitted together with clever bits of wood, and the window opens on leather hinges. There is a woodstove made from an old steel drum, set into the rock at the back of the cave. There are a few shelves, two oil lamps, and a teapot. There is a shitter at the end of a little path that runs along the hill, it is made of recycled planks. Last time we were there, there was a frozen tower of turds in the hole where you shat into. Turds stacked one on top of the other, all winter long. But the weather has been warm, and I imagine the tower is now melted and collapsed.

Inside the cabin there is a rough board that serves as a desk, fastened just below the windows that look out at the river and the sunset and the stars. There is a chair pulled up to the desk, and some paper and old national geographics. I imagine Corinne sitting there, mapping out her life, burning beeswax candles and playing with her tarot cards. I sent some mung-bean patties with her, for dinner, and some split pea soup and rice. She took a big glass jug of spring water, the good spring water that comes from the tap here, and has so many minerals the glasses are never clean. It gets cold at night, still, but she has plenty of wood and blankets and though the vent on the stove at the cave-cabin is busted open and the fire burns too fast, she’ll get up at night to feed it, and build it up again in the morning to heat water in the teapot for her tea.

Here at the house I’ve been having my own sort of ritual, the kind where I read in bed for six hours, oddly cold and then too hot, and wait for my period to come. While the sun was out today I sat next to the river and read there, the wind blowing my blanket and the dog, the ugly wiry-haired brown dog with the weird yellow eyes, came up and sat next to me, next to the rock labyrinth that has just as much horse-shit in it as stones. The yellow grass bent in the wind, and the horse chewed at the ground and moved around, and I wished I knew how to ride horses, and I was strangely content, and I wished I never had to leave. There is so much to do, besides sitting in the sun and reading, and working on writing projects that may never be finished but grow larger anyway, foolishly, and surprise me every day- there is walking in the hills and collecting crystals, which Corinne can see better than I can, because I need glasses, but there are still enough that I find plenty- and back at the house we break the big rocks open with hammers to find the geodes inside, the geodes that we think might be inside, and get glittering bits of crystal all over the cement deck and laugh, like children, and feel like children, and I watch Corinne grow younger, and her freckles come out, in the desert, like magic spots, the nicest color brown, and her eyes flash like gemstones, and her lips are the color of amethyst, and she is happy-

It makes a person trust in the future. And there is no reason to trust in the future, and so it makes a person try and figure out how the future will happen, so that it might seem reasonable to trust in it- but there is no reason in trust, and trust, in a sense, is the opposite of hope- it is acceptance instead- this trust- the belief that Everything will be ok is not a belief that everything will, indeed, be ok, but a declaration that Whatever happens, I accept it, and then of course you can let go of the fear, and you are just where you are, and your shirt is full of crystals that you have carried home from the desert, where you were almost lost in a ravine choked with brush, but you helped each other find the animal trail, for cows and deer and wise beasts, and you climbed down the rock and crumbling earth to home, and everything smelled of sage, and it was the new moon. And you were happy, and you trusted.

I don’t want to go back to the city. Can you tell? But Corinne has to, and if I was out here alone it would be like my oxygen had been taken away. I am going to try and come back, to this land where there are no dance parties or potlucks or readings or buildings full of books or unique ingredients for cooking or really any kale, but still, there is so much to do- we haven’t even ridden the four-wheeler to the secret lake, yet, where in spring the fish are so thick you can grab them up with your hands, nor have we ridden the horse, or had our photo shoot in the good sun at the abandoned log farmhouse in the tall golden grasses, wearing the ridiculous clothing we got from the thrift store in town, holding a BB gun or a length of rope or teacups. One of us was going to be the cowboy and one of us was going to be little house on the prairie in a bright neon Technicolor muumuu, with a wicker hat with a big length of ribbon, blowing in the wind. And the shirt for the cowboy is thick cotton with turquoise feathers on it and geometric designs. And Frannie wants a bit of the wallpaper.

And there is so much else! I haven’t learned the constellations yet, for example. And I haven’t done my howling-wolves cross stitch and I haven’t built a miniature log cabin out of twigs that I fell with a tiny, imaginary chainsaw as imaginary winter comes quickly and notch and fit together just in the nick of time. And I haven’t found any roadkill, and I haven’t made a potroast. And I haven’t had a garden. The days pass so fast, and I thought they would go so slow. But when do the days ever go slow? It seems that time is speeding up, that life is a spiral into nothingness, faster and faster, and only youth have the slow smooth arch of the outside circle, where for a moment there is immortality and unspeakable wealth, as if there will always be enough of everything, and the minutes run through you and make you larger, and so little happens that you see it all and take it all in and there is still some of you left over at the end of eac day. I am not old yet but already, time is going too fast, and there is not enough of me.

And what of you, dear reader? No doubt you live in a building surrounded by other buildings, in a great glowing stretch of lit-up buildings, where weather doesn’t matter and all the crystals have long ago been picked from the earth or paved over. It’s where humans live, these days, nearly completely all of them, some crazy percent of the world’s population, now residing is cities. More than every before in the history of anything. We are living right this ten minutes in a way that has never been lived before. Everything looks different, if you are a tree or someone who has lived long enough to be able to notice it, than it did for most all of time, and no-one knows why, or where this train is headed. But it doesn’t matter because the train is headed nowhere, it is just the feeling of moving, this vibration, the earth through space. And I wonder- if time passes because we are on the earth and the earth is moving around the sun, and that is a day and night, then what is time on the sun? I imagine that there is no time on the sun. There is only one moment, and that moment is the moment of burning. And we are small burnings, children of the sun, small heat factories, tiny combustion engines, making energy. So is there time for us, or just this one moment, the moment of burning? And what gives it shape and color? And why are there feelings?

Who knows the answer to my questions? The trees know, but they are not telling. They are made of sun and water, they are indifferent to both time and space. They do not mind me asking, though, foolish mortal that I am, vibrating like a hummingbird, no roots to prove that I exist. They humor my need to see shape and color and space and time, my need to feel their curled white bark and think bark, to lean my forehead against their furrowed trunks, to ask the simplest, and largest questions, to get pine pitch stuck in my hair and think pine pitch. They cannot make existence small enough for me to understand, but if I turn off my brain, they can help me to almost feel it- and it is like a wind, a warm wind, the sort of wind that comes from sun, from water, from movement. And that is all it is.

d e e p t h o u g h t s i n b e a u t i f u l i d a h o

Rural Idaho is big, rural idaho is lonely. Being in rural idaho with one other person does not keep the loneliness away- it holds it back, for hours at a time, the way a campfire holds back the dark- but then, walking in the mountains, the feeling returns- and it is not even loneliness, really, but a feeling of inadequacy- a feeling that I do not even exist, a feeling that I am tethered to nothing, adrift, alone in space- it is a hunger for a validation that the universe can not, does not provide. And really, isn’t that the point? That no-one asks us to live and yet we do it anyway, that we wake each morning, determined, in spite of our stark solitude in this cold and endless universe, that we work towards some uncertain future, and we do it without thanks or encouragement. Making art, in particular, setting aside a month of time to just make art, seems to make one feel this way. You must come to terms, each day, when the stars pale and the sun rises, with the fact that you are small, so infinitesimally small as to be insignificant, and yet it is enormously important that you continue to exist. And it is the great joke of the universe that no-one can tell you why.

But! I am writing again, and it feels easy again, and such is the mystery of making art. And Idaho is beautiful, and here are the pictures to prove it. They are all of myself, Corinne, or Nature, because it is just the three of us out here, alone in the promised land.

the wildz



the good life #1: gluten-free fried chicken






corinne outside the junkshop in town



the good life #2: our breakfasts are even better than our dinners



an abandoned farmhouse from 1911- newspaper and cloth insulation (photo by corinne)



fancy wallpaper over log walls (photo by corinne)



beautiful grass and sunshine. so beautiful! (photo by corinne)



newspaper on the logs- good times stories, june 1911 (corinne’s photo)



scrabble in the cave-cabin (it may look like my hands are moving fast, but I am actually the slowest scrabble player this side of the Columbia) (corinne took this photo)



corinne in the cave cabin






corinne and mighty-man, the resident pony






corinne in our backyard



corinne and Hallie, the sweetest pitbull in the world, cuddling in front of the woodstove



the good life #3: these hotsprings are three miles from the house



the good life #4: eating buffalo jerky in the hotsprings



the good life #5: getting buff in the sunshine



yours truly, having deep thoughts on a mountaintop

loneliness and the wisdom of birch trees

This evening I went walking with the dogs in the hills beyond the house. They start out as hills, brown and gentle and covered in sagebrush, and then rise up into brown mountains, and then beyond that there are higher mountains still, topped with snow and jagged white rock edges and cold blowing clouds. I took the dogs and went walking in these hills, just before dark. We saw a herd of deer here, when we went walking the other day. And now we climbed up to where the deer had been, trampling the lamb’s ear and working our way up the soft, exposed earth to a pile of rock high up the hillside. Then I sat. It was a nice place to sit. I could see the river, and the valley, and all the mountains beyond it. I could see a little house with a red roof, I could see a bit of the road. And down below me, the brown snake of the path we walked on, that ran along the creek.

I sat there, and took off my wool hat, and listened to the silence crush against my ears. I felt the cold good air, full of dampness today, from the snow. I poked the mud from the bottom of my hiking boots. I imagined myself a little house made of logs, with a goat picketed outside. I imagined myself a dog that followed me everywhere, and slept with me in the little house at night so I wouldn’t be lonely. I wondered why I couldn’t write. I imagined myself never writing again. I imagined myself growing old and bitter. FUCK THIS BULLSHIT, I wanted to scream at the mountains. But they were too nice, and I liked them too much. They never asked anything of me, and they listened patiently to my empty promises, and they always took me back.

It started to get dark, and I picked my way back down the mountain, and along the path by the creek towards home. The dogs ran in and out of the creek, bounded through the brush, scrabbled at holes in the dirt. I thought of my trailer, dusty and cold. I thought of all of the things I had never written because I was waiting for the right time to do it. I had been saving them up, but really it was just that I couldn’t write them at all, not even if I tried. And I knew that now because I was trying, in my little trailer, and I was failing. I wished I had a friend to talk to. I wished I had a whole community of support. But there was just me, and my own demons, and my own hopes and dreams and failures, and the now-dark sky.

Passing a birch tree that leaned over the creek, I stopped and put my hands against it. It had two trunks, and lovely white bark, and no leaves yet to speak of. Feeling it under my hands, I asked it about all the things that I thought mattered. My loneliness and despair, the drama of the human heart, my inability to be patient or good in the ways that I wanted to be. I like to ask trees hard questions. They answer me in feelings, deep feelings that come from the earth’s intuitive core, and I try to make these feelings into sentences in the English language, for my brain to understand. The trees are never wrong, although sometimes they give impractical advice. The ocean will answer questions as well, if you stick your fingers into it. And probably the mountains and the stars, although I have never tried. Sometimes if I am too angry or upset, the trees will not answer me at all. Tonight, tho, they did.

Why do you care about this stuff? Said the birch tree. Why do you give a fuck about any of it? Why?

The birch tree was asking a rhetorical question. And of course it was right. I stepped away from the tree, and followed the dim path, made of mud that had dried fast in the sun the day before. I am not human drama, I am not capitalism, I am not the struggles of the human heart. I am none of these things. I am the dirt path, headed home. I am the dogs, rooting around in the brush. I am the creek, mumbling over the rocks, its water cold, its intentions clear. I am the night sky, high and dark, and the stars, millions of years old. I am millions of years old.

I like trees, but I’m still lonely. Such is the irreconcilable nature of life.

happily forever

———————–a   s t o r y——————————–

———- H A P P I L Y     F O R E V E R  —————————

The lake is ringed in gravel, and sits on the outskirts of town. It smells of soaked leaves and phosphorus, and above it, the sky is empty and blue.

I park my van next to the lake, and roll down all the windows. I fling open the side doors, letting in a big rectangle of sun. The sun goes over the beige carpet, and comes to rest on the wooden cabinet that holds my dry goods. On top of the cabinet is a cast-iron skillet. I found the skillet at the dump.

I climb into the rectangle of sun and sink into the captain’s chair next to the cabinet. The captain’s chair is like a recliner. I put my bare feet up on the back of the passenger seat. I am wearing sweatpants. The sun is in my lap. I feel as though I could sit this way forever, my muscles popping like steel cables. I work as a gardener, and my work is hard. At the end of the day I am tired. It’s summer in Alaska, and the sun doesn’t ever set. I can’t sleep very much.

I look at my arms. My arms are getting tan. So are the backs of my feet. At work, I wear cheap flipflops from the drugstore. The flipflops get wet in the water that dribbles from my watering can and slide around on the soles of my feet, chafing the spot between my first and second toes. Today, my feet are tan in the shape of the flipflops. My calves are tan too. I wear rugged shorts at work, men’s work shorts that come to the knee and have a hammer loop and a cellphone pocket. They’re hot and thick. I steal them from sears.

If I sit any longer I am going to fall asleep. I get up and walk through the trees at the edge of the lake. I take off all my clothes and wade in. The water is the color of broth. Through it, I can see every rock and bit of grass. As I wade in deeper, long leafy plants brush my legs. The lake is cold today. There was rain a few days this week. The rain cools the lake down. I drop all the way in, and rise up, and wave my arms and legs around. I lay back in the water. I am weightless. The lakesmell is on my face. I am not tired anymore. I splash my hands in the water. The water is all around me, holding me up with its million tiny hands. I kick my legs along the shore, pretending I am a small boat. There is a mallard in the grasses along the shore. She retreats as I come close, and keeps her ducklings out of reach. There are barn swallows, they fly over me, just above the water. I can see their soft white undersides. And on the lake’s elastic surface, right where my nose rests, there is another layer- the parasols of dandelions, small beetles, spiders.

I swim the whole circumference of the lake. I finish in an hour. I take two breaks- one on a little shore strewn with rusted engine parts, where the lake floor is mucky and green, and the other on a rocky beach full in the sun. On this beach I squat, my arms around my calves, and catch my breath. I pile warm rocks onto the tops of my feet. The last ten minutes of my swim, the sun has clouded over. The wind makes little wavelets, they slap my face. They try to drown me.

Climbing out of the lake, I put the bricks back on my feet. I put the bricks back on my arms, back on my chest, back on my legs. I am still made of bricks but now I am cooler, and cleansed by the lake. The tannins of decomposing forest, fallen into the lake. Duck shit. Fish. Small clear worms that work like snakes through the impossibly thick water. With my bricks back on, the small shore rocks hurt the soles of my feet. Now I have to be a land mammal again. I tired land mammal. I feel like I’m dying. I feel like I’m old.

I take the towel from the backseat of my van and wrap myself in it, and sit in the rectangle of sun, head back, in the captain’s chair. I take a deep breath. I close my eyes. I feel contentment. And hunger! There is the hunger that comes with exercise. There is that. So I’ll eat eggs for dinner, poached in an inch of curried soup. I’ll cook them in my cast-iron skillet. There is a cooler under the seat, it fits perfectly there. I pull it out to make a table, and set up my propane stove. I pull the eggs from the cabinet. I store my eggs in the cabinet instead of the cooler, because eggs do not need refrigeration. I learned this a long time ago, when I scored most of my food from dumspters. I lived in a house where there were always too many dumpstered eggs, and no room in the fridge, what with all the dumpstered vegetables we found. So we stored the eggs in a big ceramic bowl on top of the fridge. They never went bad. But we always ate them fast. I think that is the secret.

The curried soup sputters, and I crack the eggs into it. They cook, but slowly. I spoon hot soup over the yolks to make them cook faster. I flip them in the soup. Cooking eggs is not like anything else, I think. The food smells good. I switch off the stove and put the skillet on the cutting board, which is on my lap, where I sit in the sun of the open door, in the captain’s chair, where I could stay forever. I cut my food on one side of the board, the other is a trivet, and has the dark rings of skillet-burns. I eat the soup with a spoon. I dip cold, stiff slices of rice bread into it. The soup is salty and hot and sweet. The egg yolks run everywhere. When the soup is gone I pour water in the pan from my gallon jugs and put the pan back on the stove. I click the stove on. With a fork I scrape at the bottom until all the food is loose. I pull the skillet off the flame and fling the water outside, into the gravel. Once more on the stove to dry, and the skillet is ready to go back on top of the cabinet.

The sun is lower now and the shadows are long, the way they’ll stay for the rest of the night. I’m tired. I climb into the front passenger seat and put my feet up on the dash. I check my cellphone. No-one has called. My phone is expensive, prepaid. Ten cents a minute. My friends are all far away. I think of going to the library and checking my email. I could read celebrity gossip. Bits of plant matter float in my open window, carried by the air. I pull a book off the dash. It’s covered in dust from the road. The Devil Wears Prada. It is the exact opposite of Alaska.


On Thursday there is a show at the Sea Otter saloon- Girl Haggard, an all-girl Merle Haggard cover band. There’s a wedding on the grounds at work that night- I have to set up the big canvas tents, lug a hundred plastic chairs across the grass, hand out Costco mushrooms stuffed with breadcrumbs and tiny glass flutes of champagne. The bride is beautiful. At the end of the night I carry the demolished cake back to the kitchen and set it on the stainless steel counter. The rich chocolate edges are left, the buttercream fluting. The heel of a slice. It is chocolate cake, and each crumb glistens. I eat the leftover slice. It tastes incredible. The buttercream fluting, not so much. I throw away all the cake-stained paper doilies. I wash the crystal champagne glasses. I feel ill. There is a muslin bag of jelly beans, knotted with a ribbon that says happily forever. I put these in my pocket for later.

At ten the sunlight is long, and filled with dust from the road. Wedding guests, driving up and back. I edge between them in my van, the happily forever jelly beans on my dash. It feels good to drive the long road back into town. There are three country stations and a top forty station, and I switch between them. I like Taylor Swift, and she is on all four. I roll the window down. A good wind comes in, and stirs the dust that coats everything. As I round the last bend I can see town spread out before me. And beyond it the Tanana river valley, stretching all the way to infinity or the Alaska range, whichever comes first. There is the curving flat Tanana river, there are the lakes that shine like coins. There is the short, needly forest. No roads. And Denali. Denali is so big it appears on the horizon in different spots depending on the angle of the light. A trick of space. Denali is so big it’s an illusion. It makes its own gravity, like a planet.

That’s not true. I pass the Sea Otter Saloon. I need food in my stomach besides cake. I go to the store and buy a package of sushi with my foodstamps, then park in the lot next to the Sea Otter to eat. The show has started and there are folks milling about outside, smoking cigarettes. They are gathered around a man selling hotdogs. They are young and have beards. They watch me, in my van. I’ve never been to this bar before. I don’t like to drink, but I am trying to make some friends tonight. The men are pointing at me and saying something. I furrow my brow and eat sushi. I squeeze some wasabi on my sushi. Tamari is everywhere. CLANG! there is a noise like a chain against the metal of my van. I put down my sushi, confused. Suddenly, my van lurches backwards.

I open the door and jump out. My van is moving backwards. There is a tow truck behind it, the kind with the big flat bed that lowers to make a ramp. My van is being pulled onto the ramp. Hey! I shout, above the noisy rumbling of the truck. HEY! The man standing next to the truck looks over at me. The winching motion stops. There is a winching motion in my guts.

“I was in there!” I shout. “I had just parked.” I laugh, ridiculously.

“You’re on private property,” shouts the man. He’s my age, wearing a crass t-shirt with the sleeves cut off. His upper arms are soft, he has tattoos. The side of the truck says Fairbanks I tow. “You want your van back, it’s a hundred dollars.”

“I just parked!” I say. “There aren’t any signs! I hadn’t even gone inside!” I think of my cell pone, inside my van. I think of my paycheck, of all my worldly belongings.

The man shrugs, blank-faced, and points to a concrete barrier, two-feet high, that sits at the end of the row. Beaver Sports, it says, in stencil spray-paint. Lot closed 10 pm to 6 am. Unauthorized vehicles will be towed at owner’s expense.

It’s ten thirty. I look over at the bar. The men outside are laughing loudly, slapping their pantlegs. Raising their glasses of beer in the air. Shouting. They’re laughing at the tow-truck driver. They’re laughing at me.

“I don’t have a hundred dollars!” I shout. “Why can’t you put my van back down?”

“Hundred dollars.” says the man. His partner steps down from the cab and joins him. The truck rumbles. “More if we have to wait.”

There is no strength inside of me. I do not understand why everyone is laughing at me.

“You’re not taking my van! What is this, some sort of scam?” against my will, water comes out of my eyeballs and fucks up my vision, ruins my voice. Now I can hardly speak.

“A hundred dollars or we take the van.” The tow-truck drivers look at each other. “You want us to call the trooper?”

“Yes! Call the fucking trooper!” I am shameless now, screaming through my snot, pacing along the concrete. One of the men gets on his cellphone. He is bearded and wears dirty carharts. They could be brothers. I imagine them in their house in the woods. It is cluttered and has no siding, only tyvek.

A few minutes later, the trooper appears. He greets the tow truck drivers by name, and nods at each of them in turn. My cheeks are flushed, and I can’t stop crying.

“I had just parked and was eating sushi in my van and had only been here four minutes-”

“ID.” he says.

I had him my ID. He looks it over and hands it back.

“This is private property,” he says. “you got an issue, you take it up with the beaver sports.”

He tips his hat at the drivers, gets in his car and leaves. The men stand sideways, watching him go. They do not look at me.

“It’s a hundred fifty now, for the wait.” they say.

The thing winches tighter in my guts. It is a taut rope, pulling my insides too close together. I walk away, and then I turn and screech at them, through my snot- “Is this fun for you? Is this what you do? Wait for the lot to close at ten, then circle around, looking for people still parked here, who have no idea they can’t park here? I have never even been to this bar before!”

They say nothing. They are being strong. It is good money for them, predatory towing. And beaver sports allows it. Not every business will allow it.

“You can pick up your van from the impound lot tomorrow,” says the one with the Crass t-shirt. He looks down at the black pavement. “It’s three-fifty. You want a receipt?”

“No!” I shriek. My voice warbles. I am frantic, inconsolable. I want to kill them. I want to take out a knife and gouge their eyes out. I want to steal their tow truck. The chain clinks, the truck rumbles, and my van begins to move onto the bed again. I do not have my cellphone. I do not have my money, hidden under the cutting board. I do not have a blanket. I do not have a place to stay or a way to get to work tomorrow.

“Ok! I’ll pay you the hundred and fifty dollars!” The van stops moving. I jump onto the truck bed and climb inside, find the money, a small stack of twenties. It is my first paycheck. So insurance will be late again this month.

The man hands me a receipt on yellow paper. He still cannot look at me. Hostility wafts off of him like cologne. Things are spelled wrong. Bever sports, says the receipt. My van comes back down slowly on the chain.

“You’re a fucking douchebag,” I say, as he lowers my van. I am cursing him. I am Durga, the goddess of vengeance. A plague upon his household. Unhappiness forever.

He looks straight ahead. “I don’t care what you think of me.” he says. “I don’t care what you think of me.” I want to shoot him with a paintball gun. I want to chase him through the woods. It doesn’t do any good. He is already unhappy, I can tell. The whole world is unhappy. Nothing does any good.

I am shaking. I get in my van, circle the lot, and, laughing hysterically, park on the opposite side. The drivers look at me and jump into their truck, rumbling to life and peeling out across the lot, trying to tow me again. I scream and pull into traffic. I am insane. I am insane.

I drive east out of town. The sun is low, the sky glows golden, like fire. The dust glows golden. Everything. This week I am house-sitting for my boss’s next-door neighbor. They are leaving on a fishing trip in the morning. “Park in our driveway tonight,” they had said. “We’ll be gone when you get up. You can let the dogs out then.” I am headed to their house, driving fast. It is a nice two-story place in the woods. They have a big garden, a greenhouse. Three dogs.

The sun is in my rearview mirror, the clear blue of the sky. I grip my steering wheel and scream as loud as I possibly can. My body shudders. I have no tears left. I open my mouth and scream again, as loud as I possibly can. It is a perfect summer night. I scream again, and the noise terrorizes the empty space around me, bounces off the wind from my open window. I keep screaming, all the way to the house. I pull in the gravel driveway, and park next to the trees. It is around midnight. I step out and pee in the grass. Outside, the air has gone grey. A gentle dusk has settled.

Pulling the van’s mini-blinds down against the light, I crawl carefully under the mosquito netting and curl up on the bed in back. I lay on my side, my knees pulled up to my chest. I make myself as small as possible. I hardly breathe. I shake. I have brought my cellphone with me into bed and I push the buttons, look at its gently glowing face. I scroll through the contacts. I count forward. In Oregon it is three a.m. There is no-one I can call. I shudder. I try to breathe. I am hyperventilating now. I have an ache inside of me. It eats my bone marrow. It is a sort of scurvy made from missing. All of Alaska hates me. And the hate is attacking me. There is no-one who wants me to live, and so I am dying. I am hyperventilating. I am dying. My bones are hollow gourds, my stomach is bottomless, my lungs are echo chambers. There is no-one in the world to talk to, so I am dying. My only friends are the petunias and the bumble bees, so I am dying. My boss is a grumpy lush and I have spoken aloud to no-one but her and the bank teller in the last three weeks, so I am dying. I have no-one. It makes perfect sense. I have ceased to exist. I am dying.

I die until five a.m. The horror of dying makes me shake and sob and hyperventilate. At five a.m. I turn on my phone and dial 1 800 suicide. I do not know if it will work, but suicide has seven letters.

“I need to talk to someone and I don’t have anyone to talk to,” I say to the man who answers the phone. His voice is quiet and flat, like the voice of someone watching television. Uh-huh, he says.

“I live in my van and I don’t have any money.” I say. “I am small.” I say. “I am helpless. I am barely alive.”


I tell him everything that happened and everything I am afraid of, my voice squeaking higher and higher like a cartoon mouse. When I am finished talking I don’t know what to say so I hang up the phone. The man doesn’t offer any solutions. There aren’t any solutions. There was only the pressure of my own existence, cracking the heart in two. Now this man has it. He has grown special pockets so that it does not crush him. He carries pieces of many people, in special compartments. The pieces are heavy, but he carries them just-so, so that they cannot hurt him.


In the morning when I wake, the world is empty. They world has gone and left me with its house, and three dogs. A small terrier and two springer-spaniels. A big house, with big, empty rooms. Antique couches, sad lamps. Still walls. Little light. There is a wrap-around deck with wooden chairs. I sit there after work and watch the light move across the grass. In the kitchen I open all the cupboards and rifle through the snacks. Fat-free potato chips, boxes of jell-o. Fat-free mayonnaise. There are lots of prescription medicines. I take them out and line them up on the counter, one by one. For the heart, for the blood pressure, for the joints, for things I do not know and cannot imagine. I open the fridge and eat slices of fat-free american cheese.

I am reading a book on the deck. The book cannot hold me. The potted flowers need watering. There is a wilting sun, and a bucket of miracle grow. The afternoon is silent. The terrier is tied on his lead and he bites at the grass where I peed next to the steps, he bites and tears and rips at it, swallowing the grass.

I unleash the dogs and herd them into the woods. I chase after them. We go running down the leafy path, sticks and plants swiping at our ankles. The sun comes through in bars and patches, the air rushes past us. The little terrier carries a stick larger than his own body, joyously, like an ant. The springer-spaniels bound stupidly, afraid of nothing. We run down a hill, through the woods. I trip and stumble over fallen logs. The mud of decomposition smears my calves. We run fast, to keep ahead of the mosquitoes. The mosquitoes hide on the backsides of leaves, in pockets of shade. We have to run fast to keep the damp away, the coming evening.

At the bottom of the hill is a meadow. A mud path, a clutter of raspberry canes. The ground is sponge and blueberry bushes. Moose tracks are everywhere. We keep running, through the meadow, through the grass, into the woods again. I cannot see it, but below us is the valley. There is the river, the horizon to infinity, the silence of the huge blue sky. I urge the dogs on. The sun or rain falls down on us. It doesn’t matter.

the woods and what I thought about

woodz 049

I got a craigslist ride down I-5 and from there I hitched on a road that ran wide, narrow, wet, and then dry past a couple little towns and through some bottle-brush doug-firs to get to Paula, who’s living in the woods. The people who picked me up hitch-hiking were number one, a retired plumber with kidney failure and number two, a fourth-generation mill city logger and his handsome sons. The retired plumber with kidney failure drove an old, old oldsmobile and held a blond chihuahua on his lap that was as fat as a two-liter bottle and had a snout like a hedgehog. The old, old Oldsmobile smelled the way old, old, oldsmobiles ought to, like stale cigarettes and freezer burn, and the back seat was full of groceries, melting ice-cream and pizzas and such. The man had diabetes and all the medications he took for diabetes had made his kidneys fail, he said, and then shrugged like, oh well, one thing for another, I suppose. He’d moved to the area from California, because California had so much crime and was really like the end of the world, and in this area the air was fresh and green and you could pretend that the end of the world wasn’t happening yet. The road we drove in the oldsmobile traversed the fat cleft between two mountains, where the river had been dammed and the trees had been cut over and over again since before anyone could remember.

That man dropped me off and I waited awhile and watched the sun sink before the logger man and his handsome sons picked me up. I had to wait for them to get off work. But then they came, right at the strike of almosttoodarktohitchhike, Dude In A Pickup Truck and his sons who did not, yet, have their own pickup trucks, but worked extra hours at the window finishing factory to save up money. Dude eyed me warily through the car window and his little wife, Roxy, rolled it down. I got in the extended cab with his handsome sons who smelled of youth and wore their dirt-biking baseball caps low over their eyes, and pulled their cellphones from some crevice of their clothing now and then to text their girlfriends. The man told me that he and his wife had thirteen kids, eleven adopted, only two girls, and I listened hard to his dialect, noticed how he and his sons said “seen” instead of “saw”, “was” instead of “were”. Just like the people in rural Alaska. He even said “warsh”, like my grandpa. “My great-grandfather homesteaded just up that hill,” said Dude, pointing a big red finger across the road, “and that makes my son fifth-generation Mill City.” We turned off the road and he took me on a little tour through the three-street town, pointed out the boy scouts taking down the flag at city hall, waved at everyone. He cut logs, he said, his father cut logs, they had always cut logs…

He was going to drop me off at the gas station to await my fate in the gathering dark, but like they always do he said no, I’ll take you all the way. “I was an EMT here for seventeen years,” he said, “you wouldn’t believe the times I’ve had to scrape people up off this highway. We got drugs, we got… we got all kinds of things. It used to be safe here. I lived here forty-two years, all my life. There didn’t used to be so much crime. Salem told people that they couldn’t get assistance unless they lived so far from the city so they moved out here. It didn’t used to be like this.”

“I bet there aren’t jobs out here,” I said.

“Oh no,” said Dude, laughing and shaking his big red face. His sons laughed, as if I’d told a really good joke. I laughed too. “But you shouldn’t be out here hitchhiking. I don’t want to get a call in the middle of the night to come scrape you off the road.”

“I appreciate you concern,” I said, staring vaguely out the side window at the rain. “But most violence is contextual, it happens between people who know each other, and in families. I don’t believe in monsters, out cruzing the streets, looking to victimize somebody random. And anyway, the good news is that it’s almost always people like you that pick up hitch-hikers.” I think the man liked to hear that, but I couldn’t really tell. His wife was silent, sitting low in the seat in front of me. She swung her hand over, and offered us in back a plastic bag of cinnamon rolls. I said no thanks. They also offered me a diet pepsi, “had a whole cooler of them in the back,” and I said no, although afterwards I though I maybe should’ve said yes. One trick I’ve learned over the years is that although I don’t drink that shit, strangers are often greatly put at ease when you accept a gift of beverage from them, and you can always tuck a soda or a can of beer into your backpack “for later” and then ditch it somewhere after you get dropped off. As the road shrank into a ribbon of wet asphalt between walls of thick conifers I sent a few text messages and eavesdropped on the conversation between son and dad.

“I want to fish that stretch of river on so-and-so’s of property. Will you put in a good word for me?”

“Hmph. Put in a good word for you. You can fish it, isn’t nobody gonna care. He’s got twenty acres.”

“Well put in a good word for me.” (to me) “Great thing about tubing this river, you can find all the little spots where the fish hide.”

(dad)“It’s too late to tube the river.”

(me) “Water’s cold, huh?”

(son)“Water’s always cold. We get the bottom water from the dam. It’s the cold water from the bottom. You could do it in a full-body wetsuit! Or a dry suit!”

“Sounds fun.”

We got to the hippie hot springs resort where Paula works and Dude’s face was blank as he pulled down the darkened gravel road to the gate. I couldn’t tell what he was thinking, but I wondered. This place had been here, had been a hippie hot springs resort since before he was born, it went back and back and back and he said he didn’t know the story of it, but I wondered. I wanted to ask him outright, ask him how he felt about the hippies and their hot springs, how he felt as a hunter, as a logger, as a rider of snow-machines (They won’t let us ride snow machines up this road, it’s too noisy, at least that’s what they say), as a Dude in a Pickup Truck, as a forth-generation mill-city resident. But instead I heaved my backpack out of the truck bed and said thank you and waved goodbye, wishing that I’d at least accepted the pepsi.

The mountains were cold. And black, like the very inside of the night. Amazing there are any pockets left, anywhere, without the pollution of electric light. A wrinkle in the earth, a gutter for the water to run through, a great river. Salmon. I carried my things across the footbridge into the hippie village, mist gathering around my ears, beading off the tip of my nose. In the dark all around was a lace of even darker, the lattice fingers of the doug-firs and cedars, hanging overhead and shaking, dripping, giving form and substance to the night. Paula’s cabin was a little A-frame way back in the woods, backed up against the ink-black dark, held close inside the moonless morning of the night. I found it arms out in front of me, stumbling over the wet matted alder leaves and through vague fallen fences whose borders I discerned by watching the way lighter black shadows made prison bars along the ground. The moon, I thought, was surely rising.

Paula’s A-frame was a dear wooden triangle with a small narrow porch, like a short hobbit’s house in the deep, dripping woods. I fumbled in the dark, found the lamp on the wall, cast a ring of yellow light, and fired up the propane heater the way she’d told me- turn on the valve on bottom, pump a few times, flick the pilot light. A blue flame leapt up and the pale window-curtain fluttered in the warm draft. I sat down on the futon and spread out my things, pulling out my book of stories that was new. Paula was working in the kitchen till eight, making gluten-free muffins and lentil soup, and massive steel carafes of cinnamon tea. Outside the trees dripped, and inside the air was still and quiet. Heat poured from the heater. Like the underside of the world, a forgotten fold… I felt the rubberband around my skull snap, and fall to the floor. I made a mound of pillows and leaned back, turning a page in my book. There was no longer anything but this.

When Paula got off work she fed me leftovers (cauliflower in almond sauce, gluten-free pot pie) and we sat on her futon and talked, and pulled books from her shelf, and put them back, and Paula had an old copy of the new york times spread on the floor that she was reading cover-to-cover, and I read a national geographic article in the yellow lamplight- it was about army ants. (ants are blind, did you know? as they walk their tidy routes, they rely entirely on scents and pheromones for communication. [I thought of you, of all the ways there were of talking that didn’t use words. Of when language fails me…])

Paula had a yoga class at seven a.m. and work after so she rose early and disappeared. I had no plans but to be a vessel for the quiet peace of the forest and so I burrowed deeper into the woolen blankets and slept for eleven hours, letting it fill and fill and fill me. When I rose the cabin was dim, and outside bars of yellow light cut through the clearing and burned up the shaking edges of the trees. The sun! The glorious sun! And the lichen! Swinging like mint-green Christmas tinsel. And the moss! A damp carpet, fresh on the bare soles of my feet. And the chanterelles! Gone slimy now and pumpkin-orange along the edges of the path. And the steam! Rising from rotted logs, hollow, mossed-over, sprouting frail alders- the steam! Rising up to meet the sun. Shot through with glory and morningtime, I put on my shoes and set off into the forest, eating the last of the cold leftovers first.

I walked all day in the forest, and it swept the city from my brain. The forest, forest, forest, said my feet. I picked up strands of false-usnea and pulled them apart. I hopped on top of steaming logs, I marveled at the light that bounced off stones in the bottom of the stream. Every other step I thought of you, a strand of golden thread, but the ones in between were mine. Boundaries! I thought, Imagine it! Focus! I thought. The cold clear waters of the morning! Oh if this was my life!

I got back as Paula was getting done in the kitchen, running teacups through the dishwasher, pressure-washing pots. We stripped and climbed into the hot springs, water like a smooth hot stone that you swallow, that warms your insides, the hidden crevasses of your bones. I dunked down to my chin, paddled my arms around, and thought of you. Paula is crazy so after we soaked we jumped into the freezing river, even though she has an ear infection. Then I got back in the tub while Paula stood watching the sunset, dripping naked in the cold evening air, as the light draped cherry-red and sweet orange in the cleft between the mountains. Who needs clothes, I thought, when you have this pie-shaped slice of sunset? A secret hollow all to yourself? Who needs anything but this…

For dinner we cooked beefalo and chard and spread it on corn tortillas, and had a salad of massaged kale, and a pomegranate split open, dripping red like blood on little plates. Various older hetero hippie men cycled in and out of the kitchen during our meal, talking with us about such subjects as crab fishing and electromagnetic radiation. One of them offered us wine and we offered him beefalo, and he settled down at the table, the three of us and an old copy of Joy of Cooking, from which I read post-dinner digestion stories titled How To Fill Thirty-Four Glasses Of Champagne At Once By Stacking Them In A Pyramid Shape and The Effects Of Hard Vs. Soft Water On Yeasted Breads, respectively.

After dinner we retired to the A-frame to explore, once again, the world of printed matter that was Paula’s bookshelf, which, this dark and windless night, and in the light of my new-found focus, seemed an impossible treasure-trove of wealth and which held books that, suddenly, rang like bells to us, stories from far away and narratives that clipped along like galloping horses and poetry- Poetry! As if I had never imagined it before! A shelf of books, a shelf of books in which to fall…

We read, and Paula told me about her life. Up at dawn, yoga, maybe a run to the mountain-top if she has time, then to work in the kitchen, chopping carrots, kneading bread, stirring pots of steaming things with great wooden spoons. And after work, her little home, the yellow lamp-light, her art materials spread out across the floor, a rumpled yoga mat, books to read- so many books to read! And soaking! And then to bed, to sleep like a dark rock’s underside, a sleep to heal the weary soul, a sleep that builds, that calcifies, that grows solid as a stone.

Paula was reading Julie of the Wolves, my favorite book from childhood. We talked about befriending packs of wolves, whether or not we thought that was something that could really happen. Paula missed Pearl, suddenly. A few minutes later the book dropped from her hand and she was asleep. I switched out the light. The forest was still silent, the air still vastly dark. The world was not ending. I lay in the dark for a few moments and thought about my friends, our focus or lack thereof, our thoughts that fly like skittish birds, that refuse to touch down, feet that don’t believe in solid ground. I thought of how much was possible and where, and how to make it all fit together like Lincoln logs. I knew I was just sifting things, waiting for them to fall into some sort of pattern that made sense. I thought of the golden ratio, which is tattooed on my forearm and which guides me, like a magical sort of compass. One of the men in the kitchen during dinner had told us that our emotions, apparently, do, or maybe should, follow that ratio- which is approximately three-fifths. As in, three-fifths of our time should, in the end, be used up exalting over the magic and the beauty of the world, confounded at its brilliance, laughing uncontrollably in wonder at a single, inexplicable ray of light on the mossy forest floor- and the other two-fifths of our time should be used thinking about and attempting to process the really heavy shit- war, genocide, unrequited love, housemate drama. This made sense to me, and I clung to it in the dark, imagining the spiral turning round and round, time spinning off like a ball of string flung into the air. So much was unformed, and so much was already over- and here I was. Was I the spiral’s eye? Were we, each of us, the spiral’s eye? And was that history, falling below us into nothing- our tailings- and when we come around again, everything, every single thing, is different.



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how the woodz make me feel



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steaming log



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colloidial silver



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headstand at the portal to infinity



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