March 31, 2008


Skater Boy was pretty young, maybe three or four, when he started coming over to our house. He lived, in those days, just next door which meant he didn't have to cross a street to go from his house to ours. He'd just show up. A tiny kid with a crewcut, he rarely said a word to me, but joined in with whatever the gang of kids in the house were doing. In late afternoon, when it was time for my kids to do their chores, I'd assign stuff to our extra kids, especially the ones old enough to actually do something helpful. I'd tell Skater Boy that his chore was to pet the cats.

He took this chore very seriously. When I'd walk from the kitchen to the living room, looking to see if Boy in Black was picking up the blocks or Croaky Voice was putting away the traintracks, I'd see Skater Boy sitting cross-legged on the floor with a cat on his lap. I'd ask, "Is everyone cleaning?" and he'd look up at me with serious eyes, "I'm petting a cat."

Skater Boy is sixteen now. He's still part of our household, even though he doesn't live next door. He comes snowboarding with us on Sundays in the winter, and on Saturday nights, you can find him in our living room sitting at the drum set or playing the guitar. His crewcut has been replaced by a mop of shaggy brown hair. But he still remembers the chore I assigned to him many years ago. Amidst all the noise and confusion in the house, which often includes me yelling at the teenagers to clean the kitchen or pick up their stuff, he'll sit for long minutes on the couch, patiently and gently petting a cat.

Boy and cat

March 30, 2008

Amongst the stones

and it makes me wonder

Usually, while Shaggy Hair Boy and With-a-Why are at their music lessons, I read a book, write in my journal, or compose a blog post. Normally, I welcome this time to sit still. But I've spent too much time recently in waiting rooms, and on Friday, the thought of sitting in a chair did not appeal to me. Since the music center is in the city, I couldn't go for a hike in the woods, so instead I took a walk in a nearby cemetery.

Built in the 1880s, this cemetery is what landscape architects call a lawn-park cemetery, designed with carefully placed trees, rolling lawns, and roads that follow the contour of the land. This kind of cemetery contains the naturalistic features that made Olmsted's urban parks so famous. Lawn-park cemeteries were designed for a dual purpose, a place to bury the dead, but also a park where people could go for picnics or walks. But on this snowy day in March, my car was the only one in the parking lot.

Since I've lived in Snowstorm Region my whole life, I have family and friends buried in local cemeteries, but I am not in the habit of visiting individual graves. I do like walking through cemeteries, though, looking at random stones or finding a bench where I can sit in the sun. Dead people don't talk, they only listen, and I find the silence companionable as I wander around. My mother used to say that her father liked to explore cemeteries, and I wonder if I've inherited that trait from him. He died the year I was born.

In my own woods, trees grow close together, so I tend to notice canopy rather than individual trees. In the cemetery, the trees have less competition and each tree can spread its branches into sky without interference, making lovely curving patterns. Spring warmth was melting the snow on the sides of the mausoleums, and I could hear the dripping as I walked. I followed the curving paths and stopped to read the inscriptions on stones so old that I could barely make out the dates.

I walked past crosses and urns and statues, stepping carefully between the stones. In this sacred place, I felt as translucent as the clouds above me. Melt drops from tree branches had formed patterns in the snow, and when the sun came from behind the clouds, the tombstones cast shadows. I'd been feeling so invisible that when I turned to walk back to my car, I was surprised to see my own shadow, and the line of my own footprints in the snow.

as we wind down on the road

When she gets there she knows

when she gets there she knows

March 29, 2008

Sugar snow

Sugar snow

We almost always get some heavy, wet snow in late March. Some farmers call it a sugar snow because these cold nights and sunny days make for a longer run of maple sap. In some groves, farmers still hang buckets from the taps on maple trees, collecting gallons of maple sap to boil into sweet syrup. On other farms, plastic tubes, less romantic but more efficient, snake from the taps into a bigger container. In late March, the sugar houses are busy, frantically making a year's worth of syrup that will get poured over pancakes and ice cream.

When we talking in class about the sugar snow, one student shook her head and said, "Sugar snow? I'm calling it bullshit snow. As in .... why is it still snowing when it's supposed to be spring?"

March 28, 2008

Slowly healing

Many thanks to all the bloggers who have been saying prayers for my husband's health, leaving supportive comments, and sending me sympathetic emails. He's still uncomfortable, but no longer in severe pain, and he seems to be healing. Yesterday brought another round of doctor's visits and tests, but we hope to have a peaceful weekend that will include some much-needed sleep. He goes back to the urologist on Tuesday, and I am hoping that will be the last of the pain, the medications, the complications, and the tubes in places where tubes should never go.

March 26, 2008

They even brought me treats

During the Week of the Kidney Stone Surgery (a week I am hoping will soon be over — please keep those prayers coming), I have spent almost every minute of the day and night with my husband who has been, for the most part, in excruciating pain. We've been at the hospital, at the urologist's office, in laboratories, and waiting rooms — or here at home, in a quiet empty house. We have both been so sleep-deprived that it all became a blur; the days and nights sliding together. My laptop computer, which I used mostly for looking up information about the kidney stone surgery, and his cell phone have been our main contacts with the outside world.

My younger two kids became nomads during this time. I didn't want them staying home alone while my husband and I were overnight at the hospital, and my husband didn't think it was good for them to be in the house when he was writhing in pain. But there were any number of places where they could stay: my mother's house, my sister's house, my daughter's off-campus apartment, Neighbor Family's house, Quick's house. Boy in Black came home and spent the night with them the first time we went to the emergency room; my daughter came the next night and stayed with them while we were still in the hospital and then chauffeured them from place to place.

My sister-in-law, who is a nurse, helped translate medical jargon. My daughter and Sailor Boy went grocery shopping so that we'd have food in the house. My father and brother-in-law offered to drive the kids anywhere they needed to go, or run errands. Blonde Sister, who is especially close to my youngest two because she was their babysitter for years, invited the boys to come to her house. When my husband said that the one food he felt he could eat would be a strawberry milkshake, my daughter drove to a place that makes them and brought him one. My mother-in-law, who has a host of health problems including untreated depression and anxiety, lives in an assisted-living home, and usually my husband and I pick her up for holidays, but Red-haired Sister, who was in town for Easter, came to our rescue and took care of her completely, including picking her up and bringing her to dinner at my mother's. It was a relief not to have to worry about her. My mother fed all my kids and sent me Easter dinner, on a plate covered with tin foil.

As exhausted as I have felt during the last week — sleep deprivation took its toll — I didn't have to worry about anything except taking care of my husband. I'd check in with my youngest son and hear that he was playing happily with his cousin at my mother's house. I'd feel hungry, and someone would appear at the door with food. I'd call Shaggy Hair to see where they were staying that night, and he'd tell me that they were having a ping pong tournament at Neighbor Family's house, that With-a-Why and Philosophical Boy were in the midst of a game. I had a whole list of people I could call if I needed someone to run an errand. And a whole group of online friends, too, who sent prayers and emails and comments and Easter greetings.

I can't help but think about some of the other patients I saw that first night in the emergency room: people who seemed to be completely, totally alone. I can't imagine what it must be like to go through any kind of medical emergency or health problem without a network of supportive friends and families to pick up the slack. So as difficult this last week was, it also made me feel very lucky.

And it was vegan

Beautiful Smart Wonderful Daughter even brought me a vegan dessert from a downtown coffeehouse.

March 25, 2008

End of tunnel

I've spent the last week in hospital rooms, doctors' offices, and laboratory waiting rooms. My husband's kidney stone is gone, but he's still recovering from the invasive surgery that was done to remove it, and some complications that seem to be a result of the surgery. Even though I'm not in any pain myself, I am drained from a lack of sleep and from the frustration of dealing with medical staff who say contradictory things. My husband and I have both been very assertive about asking questions, asking for choices, and getting information, but the process is exhausting. We're both hoping that we are almost at the end of this episode. Here's the only bit of sunlight I've seen, on my walk from a medical facility to the parking garage.

End of tunnel

March 23, 2008

How I spent Easter Weekend


Three days ago, a stubborn kidney stone sent my husband to the emergency room, where he was given pain medication that made him vomit repeatedly. After 48 hours of intense pain for him and no sleep for either of us, the urologist announced that the stone was wedged in a bad place and probably wasn't going to come out on its own. Several hours later, he did a surgical procedure that involved breaking the stone into smaller pieces and inserting a stent. The stent is supposed to stay in place for a few days, but unfortunately, his body seems to be rejecting it. We're home now, but he's still in pain despite the drugs. He hasn't slept in three days — and I haven't slept much either, unless you count dozing off in a hospital chair. We go back for more tests, and hopefully the removal of the stent, in the morning.

Trying to sleep

That's me, trying to sleep in a chair wedged between two hospital beds.

March 20, 2008

Return home

Coming home from our trip to the southwest took forever. We'd spent the week driving across the State That Terry Tempest Williams Writes About, and on the last day of the trip, we drove several hundred miles through the desert to get to Obnoxious City Where Even the Airport Has Slot Machines. We had planned to take a red-eye flight that would get us back home the next morning.

I wasn't looking forward to the flight. When I fly, my ears hurt and my stomach feels queasy. I can feel the pressure changing inside my head, just threatening to trigger a migraine, I'm very claustrophic, and half the time, I would actually welcome a crash just to put me out of my misery. To say that I'm not fun to fly with would be an understatement. The only person who has ever said he likes to fly with me is my father, and that's only because he has all these same traits, and it cheers him up to know that I am feeling even more miserable than he is.

Going through security, I was chosen for a random check, which meant the nice security guard got to see all the crap that had accumulated in my backpack for the last week. "Were you hiking?" he asked nicely through big puffs of rock dust as he emptied the plastic bags of half-eaten food, crumpled paper bags, and wrinkled trail maps out onto the table. "Yes, " I said. "We were -- TWO HANDS! HOLD THE LAPTOP WITH TWO HANDS!" It's probably bad form to yell at airport security guards, but it drove me crazy to watch this nice young man pick up my laptop with one hand as casually as if it were a trashy paperback novel that could be replaced for a couple of dollars and not a precious instrument that holds everything I've ever written.

Unfortunately, the city we were supposed to fly through, Southern City Where I Always Get Stuck for Hours Every Time I Go Anywhere, was having what the cheerful woman at the counter called "weather." Thanks to the televisions hung in every corner of the airport, televisions that blared noisily over the sound of the clanging slot machines, making quiet reading impossible for stranded travelers, we found out that "weather" meant a tornado had come through Southern City Where the Phoenix is a Standard Cliche. Our flight was cancelled but she put us on standby for a later flight. Sadly, I had already taken my dramamine, which tends to reduce me to a zombie state, especially after a long day, so I spent the next few hours in a sort of drugged haze, blurrily checking blogs to make sure all my southern blogging friends were still alive, half trying to sleep propped against my backpack, and partly trying to make conversation with my husband, who was equally tired but not so drugged.

Somewhere in the middle of the night, Cheerful Woman said that she had one seat left on a flight to Southern City That Was Hopefully Done with the Tornado. Her plan was for me to go ahead to the Southern City That is Nowhere Near Where I Live. She said all the flights out of that city were already overbooked or cancelled which meant I'd be still stranded someplace far from home. I could see no advantage to this plan except that I'd be back in my own time zone, and I could spend the next 24 hours in an airport that had no slot machines while my husband would have to take a million connecting flights that would maybe get him home eventually. The advantage to my husband, of course, would be that he would no longer have to listen to me complain about how tired I was, but he loyally tried to pretend he wanted to travel with me.

We gave the seat to the third passenger on the stand-by list, and my husband began looking up flights on my laptop computer to find a better route home. Eventually, he talked Cheerful Woman into giving us vouchers for a hotel, a place that turned out to be nicer than anyplace we'd stayed all week. My happiness at getting a chance to sleep in a real bed, with nice plump pillows, was marred when I saw my husband setting the alarm clock. We could only sleep for a few hours, because we had to return to the airport to catch an early flight. And of course, our luggage had already gone onto Snowstorm City, which meant that we were once again stranded without clean clothes. Had I learned my lesson and packed anything useful in my carry-on? Of course not.

After three glorious hours of sleep, the dreadful alarm clock woke us up. It was still dark. At least we didn't have to pack. That's the advantage of having no luggage. We returned to the airport, got into a long security line, and were rewarded by getting chosen once again for a random search, this time by a nice young woman who talked cheerfully about her favorite hiking spots as she patted me down and went through useless items in my carry-on. Three hours of sleep had not done anything miraculous to wake me from my zombie state, and I just stood there in a stupor while security guards swiped at my laptop with what looked like baby wipes. Had I gotten around to throwing away the accumulated junk in the backpack? Of course not. A security guard young enough to be my son carefully sorted through crumpled national park brochures, broken pens, and half-opened rolls of lifesavers.

A dose of dramamine reduced me to stumbling about like I was drunk, and I stopped even pretending to make cheerful conversation with my husband, who was busy anyhow trying to get us on a flight to ... well, to anywhere. Soon we were on a plane to Famous City With Big Lake and Lots of Mormons, back in State that Gave Us Donny Osmond. The irony is that we had spent the week driving across that very state. Yes, after 24 hours of traveling, we were back to where we had started. Apparently the midwestern city that serves as the other hub for the airline, the place where it would be logical to fly through, was having an ice storm.

By then I had lost track of what time it was, what day it was, or which part of the country we were in. Airports all look alike after a while. And they all seem to have televisions now, constantly blaring images and noise, with story after story about how the governor of my state had been having sex with a prostitute, a constantly barrage of information and speculation and way more than I ever wanted to know. Really a short paragraph in a newspaper about Scandalous Ex-governor would have been enough for me. We flew this time to City Where They Make Cars, far away from ice storms and tornados. I forgot to add that we did get bumped for one of these flights, which means we get vouchers towards our next trip. The vouchers cheered my husband up considerably, since he loves to travel, but by then, I was exhausted, reduced to a half-asleep creature sitting on the airport floor, using her coat as a pillow and vowing never to set foot in an airport again. Really, I am not fun to travel with.

Eventually we finally ended up on a plane that was headed to Snowstorm City. When we got off the plane, it was still dark. Or rather, a whole day had gone by, and we'd missed it. I put on the winter coat that I'd carried through several airports and walk out into the cold fresh air. We were home.

One foot in front of the other

The air temperature most days on our southwest trip was in the 60s, which was wonderful for hiking. The last time I'd been hiking in the desert was during August, when it was about 40 degrees hotter. What a difference 40 degrees can make! Of course, the dry air still made me thirsty. I carried a quart of water on every hike and usually drank it all.

Of course, the disadvantage of coming so early in the season is that some of the trails at the upper elevations were crusted with snow and ice. When we got to Heavenly National Park, we were disappointed to see that the signs at the visitors' center warned hikers to stay away from some of the trails we had intended to hike. After spending a day hiking some of the lower trails, which led to some lovely waterfalls and such, we decided to second-guess the information at the visitors' center by talking to anyone we saw at a trailhead, trying to find hikers who had actually been on some of the high elevation trails.

We did find two young men who had hiked to the Landing Named After a Celestial Being, the trail we had been looking forward to. They were kind of low-key about the whole thing. They said things like, "Yeah, there's a bit of snow, " and "Uh, a few tricky spots but it's do-able." Encouraged by this news, we decided that maybe we'd try the trail that very day. Then we talked to a another young man who had just come off the trail. He was by himself.

"Did you go all the way to the top?" my husband asked.

He nodded, with a wide-eyed look. "It's the most dangerous thing I've ever done."

My husband laughed, but the young man was completely serious. "It's not that there's that much snow. It's just that it's in all the wrong places."

We gave the snow two more days to melt. We came back to the trailhead to Celestial Landing on our last day in the park. We knew we could always turn back if we ran into too much ice. We didn't have crampons or anything like that. In fact, my husband hikes in sneakers instead of hiking boots with tread. He's had trouble with plantar fasciitis before so when he find footwear that works for him, he sticks to it loyally. But sneakers are not ideal for hiking on narrow paths of ice, where one slip could send you to your death. I kept reminding him of this.

The first part of the trail to Celestial Landing was just a path, with switchbacks that took us up the mountain. The trail was steep in places, but not dangerous or icy or even the least bit scary. When I'd turn to look out across the valley, I could see the cliffs rising on the other side, and the muddy river zig-zagging through. We were in full sun, and I kept looking for shady places where I could stop to drink some water.

But then we came to the high part. The trail changed abruptly for the last half mile, turning suddenly into a very narrow path that followed a rocky spine, with steep drop-offs on BOTH sides of the trail. Imagine walking on a sidewalk, and knowing that if you stepped off either side, you would fall to your death. Now make that sidewalk sort of crooked and lumpy with rocks. My youngest sister, Urban Sophisticate, would no doubt trot along a trail like this without a care in the world. But for someone who has a fear of heights, this kind of trail can be terrifying.

The park service, helpfully, had chains installed in some places along the path, but those turned out to be the easiest parts. The hard parts were the sections that didn't have chains. They were covered with ice and snow. And I know from experience that you can't ever trust your footing on ice. A patch of ice can make a common sidewalk treacherous. It takes me huge effort to suppress my fear of heights enough to hike along narrow ledges in high places; seeing narrow ledges covered with patches of ice was almost too much.

But the ice did come in patches, and we took the patches one at time, figuring out ways to have at least one foot on rock or one hand on rock, moving slowly and carefully, gradually making our way up the trail.

When I'm on a hike like that, I have so much adrenaline going through my blood stream that I feel just incredibly wide awake. I have no time for obsessive thoughts, for any kind of thinking, for anything other than the present moment. I am thinking only of survival, of where to put each foot, where to hang on with my hands. "Right foot here. Left foot here. Here's a handhold. Don't look down!" When I meditate, I often have trouble pushing away thoughts, keeping my mind clear. When I'm rock climbing, I have no trouble at all. I thought of nothing else for the next hour, but how to keep myself on the trail. "Left foot here. Grab that chain. Don't look down!"

Several times we did stop, when we'd reach a slightly wider area. Only when I was safely sitting on a rock, solidly in place, would I let myself look down and see how high we were, how incredible the view was. And at the very top, on an outcropping of rock with views in all directions, I did feel euphoric, as if all those minutes of concentration and all that adrenaline in my bloodstream had allowed me to climb up over any emotional baggage and into some higher plane of being.

And then, of course, it was time to hike back down.

The path ahead

The path we hiked went along this rocky spine and up over the top.

March 19, 2008

The mystery of the dead cattle


Doesn't that sound like a Hardy Boys book? Or perhaps something for the X Bar X Boys to solve? For those readers who want to try to figure out a puzzle for which I have no answer, here is the context for the dead cattle we saw. This photograph was taken in the same spot. The bodies of the dead cattle were not close enough to the road to be roadkill, and they were hundreds of yards apart from each other. They were in a high field, not a wash, not a place where water could have carried them. I have no idea what killed them.

March 18, 2008

In the open

During our week in the southwest, we came across wildlife, mostly during our long drives. We saw herds of mule deer, sometimes as many as forty or fifty at once, flocks of wild turkey that looked much like the ones we have at home, bighorn sheep wandering on rock, and lizards scampering across bare ground. We had to stop on the road sometimes for cattle that were wandering without fences.

But we also saw carcasses — several in a row in the low canyonlands, lying in the middle of open land, with nothing to explain why the animals had died.


In case of fire

In case of fire



When I was a little kid, and we'd take trips, I'd spend hours just staring out the window, daydreaming and watching the world flash by. I'd see trees, houses, farmland, trees, mailboxes, trees, traffic lights, towns, wildflowers, and trees. I live in a lush and crowded landscape. Branches of trees hang over the roads, weeds and wildflowers and cattails crowd the edges, vacant lots burst with lilac bushes and overgrown maples, and green leaves dangle everywhere, obscuring buildings.

During our trip to the southwest, we hiked every day, but we also put about 1400 miles on the rental car. It is still amazing to me to drive for mile after mile through rocks and dirt and .... not much else. Miles and miles of land without trees or buildings, with just rock and sun and the creatures of the desert.

March 17, 2008


End of the trail

My husband's favorite hikes lead to high points, usually the top of a mountain with a view of a canyon. (For some bizarre reason, he has no fear of heights.) My favorite hikes are the ones that end at a waterfall. I like the security of following a creek, of knowing that I can always find my way back even if I miss the little rock cairns that mark obscure trails. I love the sound that rushing water makes, keeping me company as I walk, inviting me to stop and rest on a rock, to drink some water and eat some trail mix. In very hot weather, I'll stop to dip my whole head into the stream, and my long wet hair will keep me cool for a while. And there's something satisfying about a hike that ends at a waterfall: the crashing rhythm, the coolness of the spray, and just the sight of all that energy.

(Yes, that's me in the photo.)

Over there

Over there

We hiked through canyons just wide enough for our bodies to pass through — and canyons big enough to hold all of Snowstorm City. We walked on level paths where we saw families with young kids and old people; we hiked on steep trails where the only other hikers were college students. We walked through rocks of fantastic shapes and colours, a landscape that always makes me think I'm in a Dr. Seuss book. More than anything, though, it's the sheer size of the landscape that is incredible. The rocks, the canyons, the cliffs seem to go on forever.

And the sudden changes in altitude in canyons create such different microclimates. How strange it seemed to stand on a rock ledge with the sun on my face and bare arms, the warm breeze catching the sweat on my hair, and look across at mountains covered in snow. As we drove or hiked, it felt like we were constantly crossing the seasons, moving from summer back through spring into winter and back again.

March 16, 2008

Into the canyon

Into the canyon

"So where is the naked photo of your husband?" a reader asked.

There are some things in the world you can depend on. Spring will come, the sun will set, and my husband will never pose naked for my blog. It's not that he doesn't look good naked: he's actually in great shape. But he's far more reserved than I am, an introvert by nature, and he is quite happy not to appear on my blog, with or without clothes. So all I can offer my readers is this glimpse of a faceless figure with a backpack strapped onto his shoulders. He was hiking in a black t-shirt and dark grey zip-off pants, the same outfit our oldest son always wears, and in every photo I took, I was struck by how much he looked like Boy in Black. They have the same build, the same walk, the same quiet manner. And Boy in Black would never pose naked for the blog either. Like father, like son.

Bit of green

Bit of green in the desert

The landscape we hiked was mostly rock and sand, all brown and red and grey. But in a crevice watered by snowmelt, I found moss, bright green and resilient.

Familiar muddy water

Far below

One morning we stopped at Dead Equine Point for a view of the canyon, and I saw far below me, Famous Muddy River. Just a few years ago, I spend 16 days on that river. We rafted miles every day, going through rapids that soaked us and long stretches of sun that heated us through. We hiked the side canyons, often to a waterfall that fed into the river. Several times each day, I'd duck my whole head into the icy muddy water so that my wet hair could keep me cool. And at night, I slept on the bank, letting the sound of the river into my dreams. Looking down to catch a glimpse of the brown water rushing between reddish cliffs was like getting to hug an old friend I hadn't seen in a few years.

March 12, 2008



A few years ago during a two-week raft trip on the River That Runs Through the Grand Canyon, our hikes through the side canyons sometimes led us to petroglyphs, pictures carved into rock hundreds of years ago. As we'd sit in the shade of the cliffs, staring at these old images, I'd try to come up with a narrative that matched the pictures.

The boatman who led the hikes would often scoff at my stories, as if only an expert could possibly figure out what images meant. But the teenage boy on the trip, whom I had befriended, would listen to my narrative and nod. I don't think human narratives have changed all that much in hundreds of years, and the stories were about the same things humans have always talked about: love, sex, relationships. I looked at the images and saw hunting trips, parties, community events, war.

One figure, an image we saw repeatedly, looked to me like a woman dancing, with her hands above her head and her right leg kicked out. I felt sure it was announcing a party, a celebration. The boatman would tease me whenever we saw the figure on a cliff, "Look! A wild dancing figure! Another party invitation!" In response, I'd point out what a great place we were in for a big community celebration. One spot, for example, had these huge centuries-old firepits and a fantastic view.

So now, when I'm in the southwest, hiking through the desert, and I come to places where ancient people once lived, loved, ate, and celebrated, I sometimes feel like I have to dance at the edge of a cliff, in solidarity with the ancient women who danced wildly once in the very same spot.

March 11, 2008

That's what she said

More rocks

One hike took us through a landscape of fantastically shaped rocks and natural arches, white and red and orange brown. I couldn't help but think of my teenagers back at home, and the comments they would make about the phallic rocks, some the size of skyscrapers. I think Shaggy Hair Boy could have set a new record for inappropriate jokes.


For miles

For miles


After years of camping with all the kids and going on hikes with my big extended family, it's still strange for my husband and me to go on a long hike with just the two of us. The third afternoon of our trip, we took a five-hour hike through fantastic rock shapes and sheer cliffs, following a path marked by little rock cairns, and only three times did we see any other humans.

After many years of hiking while carrying a child in a sling and stopping to breastfeed or to feed toddlers, I have adapted to a leisurely pace of walking, stopping to take photographs or sometimes just sitting on a rock to stare at the view and memorize the scene. I'm used to hiking with friends who are naturalists and photographers, who stop often to point out little things they've noticed. My husband walks faster than I do, partly because his legs are way longer, partly because he has no fear of heights, and mostly because he is more intent on getting to the summit or the waterfall or whatever it is we are hiking to.

Eventually, my husband and I fell into a rhythm. Some of the time, we'd hike along together, talking and pointing to things, or taking time to sit in the shade and drink water while we talked. But some of the time, he'd go ahead alone, exploring the trail and I'd meander along at my own pace, knowing that eventually I'd find him waiting for me at the next scenic stopping point.

I like those moments of being alone in the landscape, of looking around at the huge rocks, the cliffs, the red-brown walls towering above me, and feeling so tiny in the hugeness of it all. On one hike, the trail took me through these huge slabs of red rock the size of the Stonehenge rocks, all leaning against each other in a pile as if some giant had been building a house of cards. I stepped from the harsh sun into deep shade as I entered, and the rock under my feet gave way to soft red sand, an entire dune drifted against the rocks.

Just a sprinkling of afternoon sun came streaming down between the cracks where the rocks leaned against each other. My footsteps on the sand made no noise. I sat down in the sand and looked around me to fully absorb the moment. I was surrounded by rock, surrounded by silence. I stayed for a few minutes, just breathing in the energy of that sacred place, before brushing the sand off my clothes and continuing on the trail.

View from the trail

View from the trail

March 09, 2008


I live in a landscape dominated by trees. When I look out the window of my house, I see trees in every direction. When I walk in my woods in spring or summer, the foliage is so thick that I can't see more than twenty feet in any direction. At my parents' camp, we live in the deep shade of tall oak trees, whose branches spread over and tangle with the branches of smaller trees. When we hike in my part of the country, we see mostly trees in every directions, getting a longer view only at a rare rock ledge or the summit of a mountain.

The southwest landscape, without the trees I am used to, is dominated by sun, by sky that stretches over rocks and cliffs. No matter where I go or which way I turn, some kind of scenic vista stretches before me. Whether hiking along a trail or driving in the car to our next destination, I can see for miles. When I close my eyes at night, I can still see this view.


The Saga of the Missing Suitcases

Yes, I am wearing clean underwear.

I sought internet access today just to make that announcement. I know that's too much information for some of my readers, but at least one person reading my blog (that is, my mother) has been wondering about those lost suitcases.

You'd think, since my luggage was lost the last time I was traveled, I would be prepared for such a situation, and that I would have thought carefully about what I put in my carry-on bag. But the reality is that when my husband and I sat down to look at what we had with us after getting off the plane, we came up with an impressive amount of technology (his cell phone, my laptop, my digital camera, plus cords and chargers), some books and journals and writing utensils, and several plastic bags of food, but not a single item of clothing, unless you count the mittens shoved in the bottom of my bag, which would no doubt come in very handy when hiking in the southwest desert.

Once we had filled out the forms in the airport and climbed into the rental car, I gave the suitcases up as lost, with the idea that we'd get them back eventually in Snowstorm City. I was wearing jeans, a t-shirt, a fleece, and light hiking boots, and I figured that I could make the outfit last all week. But my husband saw the lost suitcases as a challenge.

Throughout the day, while we were driving southwest, he made phone calls to a series of incompetent airline employees, who all kept contradicting each other. One person would say, "Oh, the bags are still in Midwestern City," and another person would say, in a deeply sincere tone, "The bags are definitely on the 4:20 flight to Sky High City," and then another person would say, "My records show the bags are still in Snowstorm City." They all claimed to be getting this information from a computer screen.

My husband, who has way more patience than I do, just kept calling airports and saying in a calm voice, "I need to talk to someone who is actually looking at our suitcases." Near the end of the day, he talked to a young woman who verified that the suitcases had finally arrived in Sky High City. She had actually seen them and tagged them. This would have been happy news if we were still in Sky High City, but we had been driving for a good part of the day, and that meant we were hundreds of miles away from the suitcases.

By then my husband was on a first-name basis with several of the employees of the airline; they had come to see him in charge of the situation, since clearly no one else was, and were pretty much doing whatever he told them. "Just put the bags on the 6:40 flight to Little Airport in the Middle of Nowhere," I heard him say. He was still using the same calm, rational tone he'd used on the first twenty phone calls, while simultaneously driving the rental car at the edge of a cliff that had no guard rails whatsoever.

The next morning, just after dawn, we pulled up to Little Airport in the Middle of Nowhere, and my husband returned moments later, triumphantly, with our suitcases. How extravagant it seemed to have clean shirts, clean underwear, and clean socks. We could use toothbrushes again — and hairbrushes. Our lives seemed suddenly luxurious.



That's me in the photo. After a long drive, we'd just arrived in a national park famous for natural arches.

March 08, 2008

Soaking off the dramamine

Mountains around us

Our trip began in the mountains, where the air was still chilly. The road curved in and around snow-covered mountains, and we kept coming to tunnels drilled right into rock. Our luggage hadn't arrived with us, but we decided to keep driving southwest as planned and just hope that the suitcases would follow. My husband is over six feet tall, with long limbs that don't fit nicely into a cramped airplane space, and he had planned a soothing way to recover from the long flight: a late afternoon swim in mineral waters from a hot spring.

The loss of our luggage meant renting bathing suits. My husband was given a pair of black shorts that looked exactly like every bathing suit he has ever owned. I was given a floral-print swimsuit made for someone considerably more flat-chested than I am, with elastic that had long since lost any ability to hold in body parts. I was careful not to look into a mirror as I put the suit on.

How strange it felt to walk out into the cold air, look around at the mountains of snow, and then sink into hot water that smelled of minerals. Every time the wind blew across the pool of water, steam would rise, a warm thick haze of fog. I yanked at the straps of my swimsuit in an attempt at decency as I waded into the pool, but I needn't have bothered. The other people in the pool — just a few young women and some elderly couples — were mostly sitting at the edges, their bodies floating in the hot water, faces turned toward the afternoon sun, and eyes blissfully closed. I was tempted to just remove the bathing suit with the stretched-out straps and toss it aside, soaking naked in the spring water the way native people must have thousands of years ago.

My husband stretched out in the shallow water in such a good imitation of a dead fish that I felt obliged a few times to go over and see if he was still alive. I wandered about, marveling at the way the steam rose from the heated water, staring at the mountains, and squinting into the afternoon sun. At the far edge of the pool, I began a lazy conversation with an elderly couple who had lived in the mountains their whole lives, who had come to the hot springs as kids and now sometimes brought their grandchildren.

Cheerful Old Woman told me places we should be sure to see, and she was sympathetic about the lost luggage. Our itinerary meant that we were already a few hundred miles from the airport we had flown into, but I was confident that the luggage would catch up with us eventually. My husband had been making phone calls about it while we driving, and he's very good at managing that kind of thing. In the meantime, we were going to just have to spend a whole lot of time naked.

Wrinkled Old Man, who had to be in his nineties at least, grinned at his wife and winked at me. "Oh, there's lots of fun things you can do naked."

Swimming in the mist

Through the mist

March 05, 2008

March 04, 2008

Healing energy

The kitchen counter was filled with dirty dishes, the table covered with books and papers and random junk, and the chairs piled with coats and backpacks. Shaggy Hair Boy and With-a-Why were at the piano, playing something loud and jazzy, and arguing as they played, and the cats were skulking about hissing at each other the way they do when the weather is too cold for them to go outside. I was trying to get up some enthusiasm for cleaning the kitchen area when Blonde Niece said that her hip hurt and that she'd like some reiki.

Happy for a reason not to do housework, I shoved the random junk off the oak bench that serves as a coffee table so that I could set up for reiki. Candles are always near by; we keep them on every window sill. Blonde Niece looked through my box of essential oils. We both especially love ylang ylang because it reminds us of my friend Reiki Woman, who wears it as perfume.

In candlelight, the house looked cleaner. The kitchen area, with its piles of bowls and cups, faded into the darkness. I rubbed fragrant oil on my wrists and forearms, on Blonde Niece's neck and hip, until the warm air in the house smelled of tangerine, orange, ylang ylang, patchouly, and blue tansy. Blonde Niece snuggled into the comfy couch. I began as I always do, by first rinsing my hands with the flame of the candle and taking a few minutes to say a prayer and quiet myself.

As the energy flowed through my palms onto Blonde Niece's silky hair, the creatures around me began to settle down. Shaggy Hair and With-a-Why left the piano to begin homework. The cats retreated to comfy places where they could nap. Candlelight flickered in the dark window as I worked. By the time I had moved my palms to Blonde Niece's hip, the house was so quiet that I could hear the winter wind blowing though the wind chimes that hang over my back step.

After reiki

March 03, 2008

Sky gone weird

"Hey, Mom," Shaggy Hair Boy said as he came through the front door, stamping snow off his boots. "Com'ere and look. The sky's gone weird."

It was Thursday night and fairly late. I'd returned from reading poetry to a wonderfully receptive audience in a small local coffeehouse, and I was sitting in the comfy chair by the fireplace, chatting with a friend on my laptop computer, letting the adrenaline from the poetry reading slowly recede through quiet conversation. My husband had gone upstairs gone upstairs to read comic books with With-a-Why before bed, but the voice of Thor had long since died away, and I suspected from the silence that they had both fallen asleep.

Shaggy Hair had been to my daughter's off-campus apartment to watch the weekly installment of a television show that is like Gilligan's Island, except with more drama. (It's tradition for my older kids to watch this show together.) Boy in Black and my daughter had already headed to the kitchen area of the house to rummage through the cupboards for food, in the manner of college students everywhere, but Shaggy Hair walked through the living area to the sliding glass doors and opened them. "It's like these columns of light. Everywhere."

Setting down my laptop computer, I pulled on boots, grabbed a winter coat hanging on the back of a kitchen chair, and stepped out into cold winter air.

We live in a rural area with no streetlights and few houses. Glittering snow stretched in front of me, edged with dark trees, and above the woods, stars hung in crazy, familiar patterns. But something was different, dramatically different. To the east and to the north, bluish-green pillars of light shone out of the trees, reaching far into the sky above our heads. In a science fiction movie, these lights would have been an alien attack, for sure. Or something mysterious.

The northern lights. Or some call it the aurora borealis. We don't get to see them that often, and we are too far south for the kind of spectacular displays that get photographed for museum exhibits. But still, these columns were pretty amazing, reaching straight into sky with enough brilliance to erase stars. When my friend Reiki Woman leads guided meditations, she talks about standing inside a column of light, and these columns looked just like the pillars of brightness that always keep me safe during meditation.

We stared for a few minutes and then returned to the house, where Boy in Black and Wonderful Smart Beautiful Daughter were joking in the kitchen area. I settled back into the comfy chair, feeling safe and warm, surrounded by family and brilliant beams of light.

March 01, 2008

Raised in song

We met her 16 years ago at her kindergarten birthday party. Back then, she was Little Girl With Shirley Temple Curls. Because my own kindergarten daughter was shy, I volunteered to stay and help out at the birthday party, which is how I got to know with her mother, who was divorced and raising two kids on her own. Her mother and I became friends. We'd linger to chat when we'd drop a child off at one house or the other. We saw each other at school functions, we'd talk on the phone about parenting issues, we'd pull our carts over in the grocery store to chat. Little Girl With Curls and my daughter stayed friends all through elementary school.

Little Girl With Curls had a dramatic voice and an adult way of talking. She was mature for her age: she had to be. Her mother had a chronic illness. And in the fall of sixth grade, her mother died.

Girl With Curls moved a few blocks away to live with her grandmother. She wasn't alone. She had aunts and uncles and an older sister. She had neighbors and friends. I can remember when she came trick-or-treating with us that first Halloween; at many houses, people came out to hug her and ask how she was doing. She was an extra in my household, her outgoing nature a contrast to my shy kids. When she came to camp with us, she fit right in with the family. She was not at all shy about singing solos at the campfire.

By high school, Girl With Curls had become Young Woman with Terrific Singing Voice. Her dramatic personality shone in musicals and at choir concerts. She and my daughter graduated from high school together, and then both went to Snowstorm University. They will both graduate this May.

Last night, my daughter and I walked across snowy sidewalks to a castle-like building with an auditorium filled with carved wood and took seats for Young Singing Woman's senior voice recital. She walked out slowly, to the applause of family and friends, looking beautiful in a sparkling floor-length green dress that looked like something that Cinderella might wear to a ball. I listened in awe as she sang — song after song — for a full hour.

She sang pieces composed by Mozart, Schubert, Mendelssohn, and Vivaldi. She stood on the stage, alone, poised and serious, and did things with her voice that I didn't know were possible. Then for the second half, she sang songs that were in English, including one I recognized from a Broadway musical. I thought her rendition of "Someone to Watch Over Me" was especially touching. Her performance was amazing.

I couldn't help but think, the whole time, how proud her mother would have been.

Canoe in winter

Canoe in winter