Friday, December 21, 2012

Breaking Up with my Bank

Dear Bank of America,

I'm sorry to deliver this bad news during the holiday season, but I felt it was time to tell you that I'm breaking up with you. Sure, it's been a good 6 years. You treated me well, and I have no complaints about my service. Your website and phone app are very user friendly, and I always felt like you had my back in case my security or identity were potentially compromised. And you seem to care about the environmental sustainability of your operations, which is admirable, although I sometimes suspect it's just for the good PR.

But you have treated many other people very poorly, people whose dreams of owning a home were at first unrealistically realized and then dashed because of your eagerness to make a quick buck. People who trusted you with their money, which you then misused or squandered. My idea of a worthy partner is someone who treats me with respect and also treats others with respect. Someone who shares my values of a thriving, healthy community where everyone has a chance of living a life free of financial worry. And you have turned your back on that community. So I am moving on, to be with someone who shares my values. I would have broken up with you sooner, but the hassle of moving my affairs seemed daunting. Now I know that it's worth the effort.

You should know that I have joined a credit union. I have already moved some of my money over to my new account, and I'll slowly come for the rest of it as I notify the utilities and other relevant parties of the change. This credit union might be less flashy, their website and phone app less advanced, but they offer all of the same services you offer, for free, and they even gave me a better rate on a new credit card. They're part of my community, and I know they're looking out for me, at least partly because I own a share of the business as a member of the credit union.

I'm proud of my decision to take a stand against your deceptive and unfair business practices, Bank of America, and I will encourage others to make the same move I have made, at least until I truly believe that you have made amends for your despicable actions. The American people deserve better. Surely the actions of one person won't make a dent in your bottom line, but at least I'll know that my money isn't supporting what you do, and that's enough for now.

Thank you for a good 6 years together. I hope that the new year brings to you a new sense of responsibility to do what's right. After all, your name says that you are the bank of America, so please take this opportunity to give back to the people of this country, and to represent what we as a nation represent.

Good day.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Oh, mother

It's fall again, December, really, and I am so grateful for each day and the new challenges they bring. As I get older, more friends start families, and my life has felt so carefree. I have been fortunate to have so many opportunities to take adventures, to change my life so drastically, to pick up and go on a whim. The longer my life stretches on like this, and the more of my friends who have children, the farther apart we seem to grow. Lately, this has begun to sink in more because my special someone shares equal custody of his two children with his ex-wife. I met the boys early on in the relationship, but only now, after a number of months, have we all gotten to know each other more. I would never deign to replace their mother, but playing in that role during the weeks they're with their dad has reinforced the point that having kids is a lot of work but also brings such great reward. The weeks my beau is childless, we have some great adventures, enjoying the careless feeling of freedom, limited only by our minds and budgets. When he is dad, the afternoons and evenings are filled with Nerf gun shoot-outs, art and cooking projects, battles to finish dinner and complete homework and chores, cheesy kids' shows, and snuggles on the couch. He reads aloud while I clean the kitchen and make snacks. The kids now request my attention - I must watch their funny online clips, listen to their stories, play games with them, help get things from tall shelves, and duck as they ambush me upon my arrival. My brother wasn't a "typical" boy with guns and sports, so it has taken me a while to get my sea legs with these boys who seem so typical sometimes but not others. The weeks with children are noisy and hectic and allow little time to think or look inward.

Life with children does not allow space for selfishness. They need attention and care, balanced with a long leash and trust to let them discover, succeed, and fail. It's almost never obvious what length the leash should be. I think that more people would be better parents, and more people would choose to delay or completely avoid parenthood - if they had to co-parent for a certain length of time. Not just babysit, but actually attempt to live their own lives while simultaneously caring for children who believe that their parents' sole role in life is to give them whatever they need, at any cost. I get it now, why parenting is so wonderful and yet so completely exhausting in every way.

I've lived a selfish life so long - caring for a cat is on a different plane - that the learning curve has been steep. I've realized that I am probably beyond the point of being able to give up enough of myself for my own full-time kids, but that I also can't imagine dating someone without kids, because they add so much meaning to life. Before this experience, I had a hard time understanding why people have kids - they're great and all, but I wondered whether they're really worth the work. Now I'm beginning to understand that there's more to it than that. It's not so black-and-white, but it's still difficult to imagine compromising my lifestyle to be a full-time parent. Being a part-time parent sounds just right. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Ask a Grown Person

When I was a teenager, I read Sassy magazine. Oh, how I wish I would have grown up in the Age of the Internet. Rookie magazine, what Sassy would have been as an online 'zine if written by the readers instead of adults, would have made me a much more well-adjusted teenager, because I would have known that there were other people out there who thought differently, and I wouldn't have felt so out of place. And guess what: I follow Rookie on Facebook and often read their pieces, including Ask a Grown Man and Ask a Grown Woman, because I may be a grown woman myself, but I think we all still have insecure teenage selves hidden deep inside, and that makes Rookie relevant no matter how old we get. If you have young people in your life, share Rookie with them and let them know that you're never too old to watch Ira Glass make balloon animals while giving love advice. The rest of the content is also superb and shows just how far we have come as a society that teenagers not only talk about previously taboo topics but also accept everyone's gender/racial/sexual/cultural identity differences without question. Women of my mother's generation set the gender equity bar such that although women may still struggle in some areas, those in my generation never questioned whether women could do anything that men can do. I like to think that my generation is setting the cultural bar such that the next generation (i.e., Rookie readers) will never question their worthiness or capabilities across gender, sexual, racial, or any other lines. That's encouraging.

Monday, October 08, 2012

One year later

My Boiseversary was last week. One year since pulling into this cowtown, unhappy kitty in tow (Dear Kitty hates riding in cars, especially after four 10-hour days on the road). I was scared shitless, unsure of what I was getting myself into, knowing only that I had been overdue for a drastic change and in desperate need of a way to shake off that feeling that I was still a kid. So I paid my first month's rent and collected my house key from the landlord, pulled into my garage, and plopped Dear Kitty on the green carpeting in the empty living room, where she sat down and looked at me as if to say, "This is my last stop. You can keep driving but I am going nowhere." We both knew we were home. I celebrated that night with delivery pizza and a bottle of wine from a local winery, and the next day, got to work unpacking.

A year later, the rooms are full. Art is on the walls and curtains are hung. The garage and spare bedroom are collecting various items to outfit various adventures. The porch has been sat on, grilled on, and partied on. The pathetic garden has been tended and the sad lawn has been mowed. I have seen the mountains and the desert, though there is still much more to see. Some things around here could use some work, but the point is that I have spent the year taking it all in, learning what each season looks like, and now I know how to do it better in the coming year.

I hardly recognize the person I was in DC. That world now feels so foreign, and it has been replaced with a world in which I awaken every morning, hardly believing that is isn't just a fantasy. This is the life that I am supposed to be living. There are some kinks yet to work out, but what would life be without something to strive for?

“You know you're in love when you can't fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.” - Dr. Seuss

Friday, September 28, 2012

Changing of the Feathered Guard

It's been nearly a year since I moved here, but this time, as autumn moves in, I know what to look for as the seasons change. The hummingbirds are long gone, as are the lazuli buntings. For a while, the house finch fledglings ate all the seeds in the feeders almost as soon as I refilled them, but this week, things seem quieter. Instead, the robin fledglings are poking around the yard, fully grown though dusty in color, picking through the regreening grass. A dark-eyed junco or two have been spotted, returning from Canada to their southern winter home. More red-breasted nuthatches and mountain chickadee-dee-dees have been hanging around, hopping back and forth between the trees and the feeders. Today a pair of northern flickers came down from the canopy and have been picking through the fallen leaves and berries from the Russian olive trees. House sparrows were pulling at the juniper bark and some kind of wood warbler peeked between the Russian olive leaves.

These are normal comings and goings, but I wonder what will be different this year now that word has gotten out about the bounty to be found here. What's different this week is the Steller's jay that has been sharing the feeders and hopping brazenly around the porch. It seems to have lost its way, since although I live in the foothills, my neighborhood is hardly like the higher elevation forests it usually calls home. Could all of the forest fires this year have chased it away, caused it to seek temporary shelter in an area with trees and guaranteed food? I wonder if it's here to stay, or whether it will return home when rain and snow extinguish the fires for good.

Monday, September 17, 2012

5773

I went to synagogue today. I hadn't been to a religious service in seven years. Being immersed in a Jewish community had burned me out on the whole thing, and anyway, I decided a while ago that the words found in a prayer book don't express my heartfelt views. I believe in the existence of something bigger out there, which I call God because I don't know what else to call it, but I worship no supreme being. The nail in that coffin came when I stood at the base of some mountains here in Idaho and stared up at their peaks, towering above wildflowers I had never seen and creeks so unbelievably clear, I thought for sure I was in another world. When I need to feel grateful, to cower beneath grandeur and beg for the chance to spend another day on this planet, I go to the mountains. When I need to feel grounded, to seek out meaning and to understand life's big questions, I go to the rivers. When I seek out my purpose, a way to leave this world a little bit better, I look inward for the answers. I thought I had no use for religion, and so I gave it up.

But now I have a special person in my life, three months and counting, and he is actively practicing another faith. Our spiritual views are mostly aligned, so we can spend lovely nights on a small mountain beneath the setting sun and talk about what that means to us. But because he cares too, and because he shares that with his children, I feel the need to balance his religion with mine. To teach him ha-motzi lechem min ha'aretz to say sometimes when he says grace and to explain the holidays to him, even if I don't observe them. To understand better what I do believe so that we can have more meaningful conversations about what keeps us going during the darker moments of our lives. While researching some tidbits about the Jewish New Year to share with my special someone, I came across videos of people blowing the shofar, a ram's horn played with four different notes to inspire us to consider our lives and vow to live better in the coming year. It moved me deeply, like it always did, one of the few things I loved about the high holidays as a kid.

So I went to synagogue for Rosh Hashanah in this small town populated mostly by Mormons and Christians and everything that isn't Jewish. The hall was filled with people, many more than I had expected. The service was some of what I remembered, peppered with new tunes for old prayers and new ways of saying things. The rabbi quoted Wendell Berry and Terry Tempest Williams, and the people called to chant the prayers and read from the Torah were all women, in recognition of the 40th anniversary of the first woman ordained as a rabbi. The West may be very different from what I grew up with, but Jews in all places are mostly the same, and I felt at home in this foreign land.

I still don't believe most of what's in that prayer book, but I'm glad I went to services today. I'm glad I challenged myself to think about the traditions in which I find meaning, to question why I still cling to them, and to appreciate the spiritual road I have consciously headed down. I don't rule out going back to synagogue some day, but I'm glad to know that here in Boise, I can bring the mountains and the rivers with me if I do.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Unintended Bounty

My garden was pretty much a flop this year. I'm chocking it up to poor soil, wrong placement, and bad timing. Next year, I think I will do a mixture of container gardening and some raised beds. In the meantime, there's a small tree in my yard, on the hill by the sidewalk, beneath the conifers, that has provided excellent shade for the cheatgrass. The tree produced little green fuzzy knobs that I suspected were apricots, but over the whole summer, they never ripened. Until now. Except that they are peaches. Tiny, but ripe. The tree is small enough that the tiny peaches cause the branches to bow and bend under their weight. So I am off to relieve the tree of its burden. When life gives you tiny peaches, make tiny peach pies.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Down, But Not Out

The outpouring of support for my friends recovering from the terrible attack last month has been so encouraging, and based on his wife's updates, every day brings new hope that TC will pull through this with the same vigor he approaches everything he does in life. If you want to follow his recovery through the eyes of his wife, read her touching, inspiring blog posts at Love for the Maslins (this is different from the fundraising site I mentioned before). I can't even begin to imagine the range of emotions she goes through every day, watching the love of her life struggle to heal, knowing that she can only do so much to help him. Please cheer them on - every little bit counts. In the meantime, the police have video of someone trying to use TC's credit card at a gas station, so maybe they'll get some good leads and eventually catch the person or people who assaulted him. Watch this video, pass it around, and let the police know if you see or hear anything.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Violence in the streets

I was going to write about the fantastic backpacking trip I did last weekend in the Sawtooth Mountains. But then I came home to find that a friend from grad school had been brutally attacked in the Eastern Market area of DC. Washington DC is a weird place - even the good neighborhoods are still susceptible to crimes like robbery, assault, and rape. It's been heartening to see the incredible support, much of it from people who only peripherally know TC and/or Abby, and I send healing thoughts to them and their family every day. It's an awful thing that happened to some great people (not that anyone deserves harm), and even though TC is making progress, he still has a long way to go. Some friends set up a site where people can make a donation to help the Maslins pay for medical care and child care - I wish I could have donated more, but where my finances fail, the opportunity to engage others in the cause can take over. If you can spare even a little bit, please consider donating through this Simple Registry site: Love for the Maslins. Simple Registry was started by some of my friends, who are also TC and Abby's friends, so I know it's a reputable site run by great people. Your donation will get there, safe and sound.

News of TC's attack has been all over Washington Post and the local TV stations, and some trolls have pointed out that if TC were black, his attack wouldn't be getting this kind of coverage. A sad but possibly true point, since plenty of crimes happen all over DC, in fact, all over the nation, and they get swept under the rug. Violence in Chicago has been escalating, much to the detriment of communities all over the city. Unless you have a connection to Chicago, you probably don't know anything about it. This weekend's shootings warranted a simple bulleted list of victims in the Chicago Tribune; whether any of the victims get more coverage is doubtful. We hear about the individuals who shoot up army bases, political rallies, movie theaters, religious centers, and office buildings, but the mass crimes that happen on a daily basis get little or no attention, perhaps because thoroughly covering each assault would fill the pages of the newspaper each day. It's all we would see on the local news programs or splashed across the media websites. But failing to properly acknowledge the victims makes it easier to ignore the problems that led the perpetrators to turn to violence, and the violence continues. This is not just a matter of gun control or mental illness, although addressing those issues would go a long way toward ensuring that people who should not have deadly weapons cannot acquire deadly weapons. People turn to crime because they feel they have no other options. In America, the Land of Opportunity, crime should not be the avenue anyone takes in an attempt to solve their problems. We work so hard around the world to get food, clean water, shelter, and medical care to the disadvantaged. We should be doing better by the residents of our own country. I don't know what the answers are, but failing to talk about the problems takes us backward, not forward.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

I met the mountain


I brushed my teeth beneath the crescent moon
Acknowledged the mountain and the multitude of stars
Gave thanks to heavens that put me here
That gave me the chance to show the world what I'm made of
For it's no small thing to have two working legs, two working arms, capable lungs and a pounding heart
So I stepped onto the steep trail, along the dusty path, over tree roots, past pine skeletons twisted like ghouls. Birds chirped and flies buzzed. 
I had high hopes. But the higher I got, the more they dissolved.
Finally, I met the mountain. 
Climbing to a 12,662-foot peak is a hearty physical endeavour. I had prepared physically and felt ready. Borah may be meager compared to some of the great mountains of the Earth, but it requires tremendous courage. The mountain sized me up and found me wanting. The previous week had drained whatever I was prepared to give mentally. At the base of the ridge, the dam broke. I hadn't been aware that floodwaters were collecting, but now they came rushing forth. The mountain told me that today was not my day. 
My rational mind wonders abut God, but watching the sun rise just above the ridge, I felt certain I was staring God in the face. Some people climb mountains to feel that they have conquered something. Others want to stand a little closer to God. I just wanted to see what I could see, but standing in the shadow, confronting scrambles and climbs and slides, I realized I had no right to challenge the spirit in the rock. We humans don't belong in this place, scrambling like ants in the thin air. The view from that point is spectacular, but there are some things we mortals will never see. Struggling to be humble, I accepted defeat by something bigger than me and returned from whence I came. 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Dreary

It needs to rain. The sky needs to open up and let fall big drops of wet rain. All day long. Or at least for a few hours. I don't remember the last time it rained here. Occasionally a storm will blow through, big clouds that come in fast from the Owyhees to the south, but the precipitation barely hits the ground, and then it's gone as fast as it came. I miss the summer thunderstorms of the Midwest and East Coast. There, the humidity builds oppressively until KABOOM! the sky can no longer hold all that moisture and hot drops pound the ground and collect in puddles everywhere. One summer during college in Missouri, it felt like it rained every single Friday, from morning until mid-afternoon. Then the clouds would slowly thin and the sun would peek out, and then the air would get sticky hot again but the land would feel clean.

It doesn't rain like that here in the deserts of the Intermountain region or the Great Basin, except for maybe occasionally in the fall or winter. But now, in the heat of summer, it is just sun sun sun and dry heat. Clouds tease but never release their contents. It's amazing that anything is still green in these parts, a feat attributable to the snowmelt trickling down from the mountains and the irrigation systems that feed this parched land. Sunny is wonderful, but it is tiring. There's no good excuse for not playing outside (too hot? just go to the mountains or the river) and the almost-10 pm sunset forces you to stay up too late to fill the long day with as much as possible before winter renews its grip. This is the time of year when I look forward to autumn, with its days of reasonable length, comfortable weather, occasionally cool and rainy moments, and a chance to catch my breath. Right now, I'm dreaming of chilly, foggy days along the Oregon coast, damp sweater weather and cappuccinos, curling up in a big chair with a book and a blanket. A break from the unrelenting heat and sun. But there's just a month left of real summer, and suddenly it feels like I haven't done nearly enough, and there's so much left to do. Come September, summer will have felt way too short, the little time spent lounging in front of the television or in bed will have seemed a waste. Rainy days absolve that guilt, which is why we need a couple out here in this dry land. But with none in sight, all we can do is push on. 

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Exhausted

May and June were the months of boundless stamina. The sun stayed out longer, the air was finally warm. The energy of emerging spring brought countless opportunities for exertion: long hikes, long runs, strength training and yoga, day after day of activity. A yearning to avoid being alone, coupled with the satisfaction of nature at my fingertips, kept me going everyday. Occasionally, internal doubts would examine my ability to press on and find it sufficient. Don't stop now - as long as I have the energy, let's keep going. I survived on fish and bread, turkey sandwiches and unappetizing salads, chicken sausage with pasta, all with a strange distaste for most vegetables.

Now, it's July. Those lazy days of summer. The promised 100+ degree temps have arrived, and with them, my ability to press on is waning. I have that heavy feeling in my sternum that drags me back into bed or flattens me on the couch. Play time is over, temporarily. The trails can wait. Watching movies in the cool AC sounds about right. Low-intensity workouts at the gym. Cooking real food, vegetables included. Rolling on the carpet with the cat at dusk. Taking time to notice the little things, to process what I've seen, to start something new and special. Nesting. 


With the arrival of spring, I sprinted out of the gate, daring life to bring it on. At 32 years old, I'm in the best shape ever. It was just May, and suddenly now it's the second week in July, and every weekend from now until Labor Day has a plan. Summers are too short; to keep up that frenetic pace would mean a season come and gone in a blink and winter arriving too soon after it just ended. The sun has arrived at the northernmost point in the sky for the year, and as it starts to head south again, I'm ready to let go of the reins a bit. Ready to be a little lazier, to embrace some quiet times, to look back inward again. To enjoy the romance of the season in all its sweaty, short-shorts, lounging-by-the-water glory. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Why it was too much

A few weeks ago, I lamented here the deaths of a beautiful bird and a character in a foreign movie. Perhaps I'm overly empathetic, but at that point, I had also just had too much of death for a while. A couple weeks before that, my mom made the difficult decision to euthanize our aging family dog, the sweet pup we just couldn't stay mad at when she peed in the house or escaped down the street or barked incessantly, because she also did funny things and licked our faces and always had a smile on that cute pointed muzzle. But she was heading toward the light, and it was just time. She'd been with the family for so long that I have felt her absence despite living far away for many years. Then, one morning about a week before that post, the local news announced the death of two airplane pilots who had crashed the day before while delivering assistance to firefighters in the Utah mountains. And I knew one of the men. Not well - I had only met him once, on an awkward date back in November, after exchanging messages through a dating site - but still, I knew him. He seemed like a nice enough guy. Any death is sad, but when it's someone you have met, it hits a little closer to home. That one felt weird for quite a few days, especially since, when we had started talking and I found out what he did, I thought "Gee, flying small planes like that sounds dangerous." So by the time the bird and the man in the movie had perished, I had had enough of death. I guess I was crying not just for them but also for the pup and the pilot. I hope the mourning doves cooed extra hard that day.  

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Brushfire

It's summer. The air is warm, and it sticks to your skin. Scents of food and flowers, chlorine and sunscreen, waft through the air, through the windows, through the countenance of the season. The hot winds blow hair into whorls as sweat beads on the temples and neck and clavicle. Magic happens now, scandalous things that make you blush and tingle beneath raised eyebrows and wide eyes. The energy of something about to happen crackles like the moment just before lighting strikes. Fires are set. They burn everything that has worn out its welcome, that has come and gone and since dried up, which feeds all that is poised to emerge from the ash-laden soil. Fed by those hot winds, the scene is set for new possibilities, the likes of which we can hardly imagine.

Friday, June 15, 2012

How not to hike up to Stack Rock

Last weekend, my friend and I embarked on a trek up to Stack Rock, an impressive rock formation near Bogus Basin. Except that there's very little information on how to actually get up to Stack Rock, despite the fact that the trail was dedicated a few years ago. The connecting trails from Bogus Basin create a 17-mile round-trip hike, something we didn't feel up for attempting. As it turns out, our final mileage didn't fall too short of that. We trusted this guy, assuming that even though the trailhead is unmarked, after starting on the trail the path would be obvious. It was not. Compare Stueby's 9.5-mile trail outline with ours: 

In order to avoid this 15.7-mile debacle, do not:
  • Take the high trail along the ridgeline. You will just have to backtrack. Instead, take the trail that curls down and along to the right, crisscrossing over a small stream through some gorgeous, cool forest in the valley. 
  • When you reach the intersection of trails 120 and 122, don't turn right on #120. You will just run into a woman and her 10-year-old son training for Half Dome by hiking the 17-mile trail you and your friend shunned, and they will persuade you to turn around and backtrack to the intersection. Showoffs. Instead, turn left onto #120, crossing the creek once again.
  • When you reach another intersection where the main trail curves to the right, away from Stack Rock (which you can now see in the distance), don't freak out and wonder where the trail to the left goes. Just follow the main trail to the right, even though it looks wrong.
    The lunch spot. Don't take the trail behind that log.
  • When you finally reach the marked trailhead for Stack Rock (#125), don't walk past the open area on the left. Sit and have lunch there; listen to the sky and the breeze and the birds. This is one of the few things we did right. Don't choose an unsheltered spot for a pit stop, unless you're okay with being buzzed by a prop plane while your bare ass is out in the open. 

  • When you've made your way around the Stack Rock loop, having marveled at the looming granite above you, don't decide to find out where the trail behind the trail 125 marker goes. It's not a short-cut. It's a long-cut. It will switchback through the open meadows of the foothills and dead-end at Bogus Basin Road. From there, it's 2.75 miles along Bogus Basin Road back to the car. Uphill. In the sun. With cars whooshing past you, none of them even giving you a funny look. As if two thirty-something women wearing hiking clothes and day packs walk along the winding mountain road all the time. If you walk up this road and you'd like a ride back to the car but have too much pride to thumb it, don't look healthy and capable. Do exaggerate a limp or rest woefully against the concrete barrier. 
  • Don't get upset when your best-laid plans go astray. It may be a long-ass haul, but with the right company, an appreciation for some gorgeous scenery and a sense of adventure, it'll be a great day that you can brag to your friends about. This, we also got right. It was worth it:

Stack Rock: worth the trouble it takes to get there

The view from behind Stack Rock

Friday, June 08, 2012

Too much

Today, a bird flew into my sliding glass door and died. I came home to find it lying motionless on its side on the porch. A few ants had already gotten to it - big, fat ants, the kind that can be picked up and taken back outside when they sneak their way into the house. They were crawling on the bird's beak, its eye squinting as if in pain. There was no blood, no gore, just a body on the red wood in the warm sun. I dug a hole in the corner of the yard and buried it there, beneath the pine needles, where it will return to the earth.

Other birds have flown into the door before, but they flew away unharmed. This one didn't make it. And I was so sad. I would have been sad if it were any of the many house finches that hang around the feeder all day, or the robins that fend off the squirrels in the trees, or the mourning doves that tiptoe across the roof. But this bird was a western tanager, with its deep black wing weathers and golden yellow head, an orange crown spreading. I had never seen one before moving here, and its bright feathers made my little wooded yard feel so magical. Birds fly into windows all the time, all over the world. I knew that they flew into mine and I didn't do anything to make sure it didn't happen again. I did nothing to prevent this beautiful bird from flying into my door, and now it is dead.

This evening I watched a movie in which one of the main characters reveals that he has a disease and that he is dying. In one dramatic scene, he screams and writhes in pain, not from the disease, but because he doesn't want to die. And I cried for him, because I know that's how I'll go someday, kicking and screaming in protest, and I cried for the bird, this beautiful bird, because I feel responsible for its death. The man in the movie was a billionaire, but he died, just like everyone else. In this magical yard where life teems, this poor bird died. One can have it all, and still, death comes knocking at the door. Right away, I covered my door with stripes of white, yellow, and green electrical tape, the only thing I could find that would prove to the birds that something solid marks the boundary between the porch and the house, so that no more magic will be lost. At least, not if I have anything to say about it.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Now I've gone and done it

I said I would write more. That I would flex my creative muscle and make something worth sharing with the world. I thought originally that I would do it here, but if I want people to take notice, the people who can give me a writing or editing gig some day, it should be in a more elegant format. Not something that screams MeMeMe. Instead, something that gives thanks to the here and now, to the place we came from and the place we're heading, from the spot where we stand to the greatest span of the cosmos. No matter how we believe this all came to exist, we can all agree that it is incredible and inspiring, beyond comprehension. This digital space will still be all about MeMeMe with some other stuff thrown in, but please visit This Wondrous Place for something a little different, inspired partly by Radiolab, partly by Ken Burns' The National Parks series, and partly by the creative endeavors of some fabulously talented writer friends who dare to bare their souls. This Wondrous Place is where my soul lives. Please respect it.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Turn it out

Yesterday I ran the Famous Idaho Potato Marathon. Except I ran the 10K race (6.2 miles). Two friends and I had decided to run the 5K race, but the more I thought about it, the more of an itch I got to run the 10K instead. I ran a 5K race last summer, and I regularly run about 3 miles at lunchtime. Running a 5K race would not be a particular challenge, unless I tried to improve my time by running faster. I wanted something more. I haven't run 6 miles in a really long time, and although I was fairly sure I could do it, I wanted to push myself. I wanted to find my limit. I envisioned a struggle in both mind and body, a combination of zipping ahead and pulling back, a need to push through a desire to walk, just for a minute.  I just wanted to see if I could do it, no matter how long it took. My kind friends were accepting of my need for this challenge, so I switched my registration. We three would run together for the first mile, after which I would veer left while they would veer right. We would meet at the finish line - I envisioned limping through the final stretch, drained but satisfied.

I awoke on race day around 4am, hungry because I hadn't eaten enough the night before, excited fot the race, nervous that I would bonk because my blood sugar was too low before breakfast. After a big bowl of cereal with a banana and some walnuts, a piece of toast with jam, and a Gu, we lined up at the starting line. I plugged in my marathon mix, fired up the app that would track my speed and trail, and hit the road. We three weaved through the slow runners, the walkers, the kids, the strollers, along the road and over the river, where we got snagged in the bottleneck on the bridge. Then, they went one way along the greenbelt and I went the other. We had jetted off the starting line thanks to a burst of adrenaline, and I kept waiting for that to wear off so I could settle into my 5.5-mph average speed for the long haul. But the adrenaline never wore off. I never felt the need to slow. I glanced at my app, which showed an average speed of 5.71 mph, with a current speed of 6.35 mph. And I just kept going. I decided that if I kept up that pace maybe I could finish the race in under an hour. I have run for short intervals at 6+ mph, but never before as a sustained pace, and this felt good. With each new song, I felt re-energized, exclaiming "yeah, yeah!" and "turn it out! turn it out!" in my mind as I went. My chest never felt too tight, although I knew I was breathing bigger than my lungs had before, and my legs never felt tired. Reaching Mile 3, the almost-halfway point, felt like a warm-up. Three miles already? That was fast! Mile 4 felt fine - I could definitely keep going. Then I started to feel the burn, but as the trail entered Julia Davis Park, I pushed on. Yeah, yeah! Turn it out! Turn it out! I reached mile 5 as "Galvanize" by The Chemical Brothers punched in my ears.

Don't hold back
'Cuz you woke up in the morning
With initiative to move
So why make it harder

The world is holding back
The time has come to Galvanize

And I did. I turned it out. I pushed harder. Shoulders back and down. Lead with the legs, not with the chest. Settle into it. Push it. As I crossed back over the river, the finish line in sight, I tried to stretch my legs farther and sprint the last bit, but my knees protested and my lungs cringed. Sustained faster pace, I could do, but sprinting was not in the cards for me on this day. So I waved to my friends clapping and shouting from the sidelines, gave high-fives to the kids cheering on the crowd, and pulled it out. I crossed the finish line at 01:01:44. One hour, one minute, forty-four seconds. Average speed: 6.04 mph. Not too bad for a curvy girl with asthma, and definitely a personal best. I blame the heart-pounding, pavement-shredding hustle on the Gu (tastes good, weird consistency), the 6-mile hike on the Polecat Loop a few days prior, and the incline intervals I ran on the treadmill earlier in the week. I blame the extra 1:44 on the bottleneck over the bridge.

I should be satisfied with this race. I should be thrilled that I ran farther than I ever had before, and faster than I imagined, and I felt okay afterward. But the truth is that I want more. That race was fun, and it was a good workout, but it was not the challenge I had anticipated. It was not a struggle, physically or mentally. It didn't show me my limit, nor force me to push past it. So there will be more training in the coming months. Sure, I could enter some more 10K races, try to run them faster. But speed has never been my goal. It's about going farther, testing my courage, conquering something new and different. For many years, I shied away from such challenges, hesitant to push myself in order to avoid overexertion. But I am not my best in a complacent state. I am someone to be proud of when fear motivates me to do better, when I commit to something that scares me. So I signed up to hike Lucky Peak Summit (3,600-ft elevation gain, 12 miles round-trip) and Borah Peak (aka Mt. Borah, the tallest peak in Idaho, 5,262-ft elevation gain, 7 miles round-trip) this summer. Next spring, I will seek out a longer race - maybe a half-marathon? That race or Borah may prove too much for me, but I have to find out for sure.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Evening

It's muggy outside, like a Midwestern evening. Were the sky clear, the sun would be blasting through the west-facing windows, but instead, thin grey clouds obscure the hot rays, dissipating them across the dispersed water droplets and thickening the air. A tree somewhere is blooming and the sweet fragrance permeates every inch of space, except for under the ponderosas, where the piney sap and dry needles keep things fresh. Small birds hide in the trees, tweet-tweeting and chirp-chirping messages about who has the most colorful feathers, where the tastiest food is, and in the case of the mourning doves, who has just died the saddest death. The mourning doves are pretty birds, and they often visit in pairs, but they really do emanate an air of sadness. What if their call were not so morose? If they tweeted like robins or cooed like their pigeon cousins, would they seem like better party guests? Our pregnant squirrely friend chatters at us from the tree above, daring Dear Kitty to come and get her, or maybe inviting us up for a snack. Dear Kitty prefers to lie in the grass, growing less scared each day of the noisy world.

This here is the default setting. The place to go when nothing else nearby seems satisfactory and everything else is too far away. The groaning lawn mowers and shuddering air conditioners are drowned out by the backyard cacophony. One tree is growing fuzzy fruit the size of cherries, but cherries aren't fuzzy, so perhaps they will be peaches or apricots instead. A self-sufficient yard that feeds all of the senses, with plenty left over to share. This is why people move to places like this. When they purchase a house or pay to rent it, they are getting more than brick and mortar, more than central AC, more than good schools in the district. They are getting a symphony that never ends, pesticide-free fruit at 2am, and friendly neighbors who live in the trees and provide constant entertainment, unobtrusive company, and plenty of gossip about whose nest is positively impeccable and who let that riffraff redbreast show his face in these these parts. When you put it that way, we're getting a real bargain. Don't tell the landlord what this place is really worth. I'd be out on the street in no time.

Friday, May 11, 2012

If there was a better way to go, then it would find me

I certainly haven't been shopping for any new shoes, and
I certainly haven't been spreading myself around.
I still only travel by foot, and by foot it's a slow climb
but I'm good at being uncomfortable so I can't stop changing all the time.

I notice that my opponent is always on the go, and
Won't go slow so's not to focus
and I notice
He'll hitch a ride with any guide,
as long as they go fast
from whence he came
But he's no good at being uncomfortable so he can't stop staying
Exactly the same.

--Fiona Apple, "Extraordinary Machine"

If ever there were a master wordsmith, Fiona Apple is it.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Blogiversary

Seven years ago this month, I starting this old rag (that's what they used to call newspapers, except that blogs are the new newspapers). My third post, on May 6, 2005, was about the beating that our national forests were taking under the Bush administration's attempts to revert to the olden days of natural resource management. I'm delighted to see that our country's natural resources are faring at least a little better under Obama's watch, although perhaps these days the problem is more about what we're not doing.

But maybe we're just getting more creative about it. On Saturday, I went to an Unplug and Explore the Outdoors event at the Idaho Shakespeare Theater. It was a family-friendly activity intended to encourage everyone to appreciate the outdoors. Lots of kids were there, learning about bees and birdwatching and kayaking and growing your own food. The Peregrine Fund brought an American kestrel, a short-eared owl, and a Swainson's hawk for display. I've never been that close to a live owl before, and it was delightful. I have a soft spot in my heart for owls, not sure why. I also saw a pair of American coots in the river, a bunch of red-winged blackbirds, and (I believe) a pair of yellow-rumped warblers.  

Anyway, the best part of the event was the presentations by a bunch of local high schoolers who had worked with designers from the American Society for Landscape Architects to develop ideas for the new educational trail in the Barber Pool Conservation Area, located near the theater in southeast Boise. Their designs reflected all of the values that natural areas encompass - conservation, responsible land and natural resource use, aesthetics, recreation, education, and equal access for all. We're certainly failing our planet in many ways, but at least we're thinking outside the box about how to communicate the importance of nature to the next generation in ways that help them understand that we can incorporate nature into our daily lives. Going out into the wilderness is certainly special, and kids should experience that too, but bringing it closer to home, giving nature a regular presence, and making it seem less wild can be an important door-opener for more people. Designing a trail for the masses is a neat way to get kids thinking about why we should both protect these areas and share them with others at the same time.
---
On the subject of the blogiversary, I'm feeling the seven-year itch. I started this site to engage others in discussions about current events and other random interests and concerns. Over time, it has morphed into something that isn't actually interactive and is now more about personal expression. As if anyone out there is at all interested in what I have to say, but then again, it's what we all do these days. (I'll be honest: I turned off the comments long ago because the only one who ever commented was my mother. And the spammers.) This has also been my experiment in letting people in, allowing them to see the deeper parts of me that lie beneath the curls. It's something I've struggled with for so long, so thank you for indulging me. All along, this blog has been about bringing into my life the things I felt were lacking. But I yearn to write something more meaningful, to craft pieces that really do say something, now that I'm in touch with my world and with myself. I'll never be a journalist (too timid for investigation), nor a current events blogger (everyone else has already said everything there is to say), nor a novelist (not creative), but I'm toying with the idea of essays. Perhaps that's kind of what I do here already, but most of what lies on this screen isn't...good. It's sufficient for communicating to my friends what's going on in my life and my mind, because we don't actually stay in touch by phone or email anymore. We read each others' blogs and social media feeds and feel sufficiently informed about each other. But I want to write more, with prose and insight, and bigger words. Something that someone might deem publishable someday. So please bear with me as I play with some ideas out here, make some rough sketches or piece together some digital scribbles. After all, "essay" means "try" or "attempt". Allons-y.  

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A foodie post

Some random food-related thoughts of late:
1. Making something savory? When in doubt, add some fresh lemon thyme. It will rock your world, I promise. No need to use a lot - a couple of sprigs goes a long way because the flavor is very distinct.
2. My turkey meatloaf kind of rocks. I make it differently every time, without a recipe, and it always comes out moist and flavorful. It never gets old. I usually use a mix of 1 lb ground turkey and 1 lb ground chicken, plus an egg, some whole wheat bread crumbs, yellow mustard, sauteed vegetables, other random wet ingredients (ketchup/BBQ sauce/salsa/canned tomatoes/milk/whatever might taste good), and a mix of dried and fresh herbs. Last time, I added some lemon thyme and it rocked my world. See? Told ya.
3. Last time I made meatloaf, I also made this mushroom kale noodle kugel as a side dish, in my one nod to Passover. Guess what I added. Yeah. It was perfect.
4. Now that the weather is warmer, I take all my meals out on the porch. It makes everything taste even better. Just wait until I invest in a grill - then, there will be no reason to go inside, ever.
5. Although my new favorite beer type is the black lager (aka Schwarzbier - try the Kostritzer), I'm totally digging the Widmer W'12 Dark Saison. Fruity and floral like a farmhouse ale but balanced by some maltiness.
6. Flavored bread, olive tapenade, canned sardines in mustard or tomato sauce, and an orange make an excellent hot-weather meal.
7. Fresh lilacs from the backyard brighten up any table.

Monday, April 23, 2012

We, Earth

My ode to the Earth is a day late, but I have a good excuse. I was appreciating the Earth with a hike in the foothills and up to Table Rock, then down through my neighborhood, which is aglitter with flowers and foliage. It was hot though, 91 degrees, a record for the day and for the earliest 90-degree day in the year. An appropriate milestone to remind us of both the fickleness of the weather systems that have shaped our planet, as well as the impacts we have on the planet by slowly altering those systems over time. Just as we should show each other love every day, not just on Valentine's Day, we should also show our planet love every day, not just on Earth Day. And it deserves a lot of love. I am often in disbelief that such beautiful places exist at all, and I feel so fortunate to be experiencing them. When it comes to the existence of a Higher Being, I am agnostic, meaning undecided, because not being sure about how this all came to be adds an extra level of magic, makes it even more special. Because how can our feeble brains possibly conceive of the full force of energy that made any of these miracles possible?

I feel at a loss of words for how to describe the deep blue of the sky, the soaring clouds riding atop the stratosphere, the daintiest of wild flowers, the trill of birds communicating across the air waves, in a way that fully captures the grandeur and immensity of it all existing in one place at the same time, not just parts but a swirling whole. How does one explain the feeling of being at once a part of the land, like a tree anchored in roots, stretching up to the heavens? Of living not upon the earth's skin but instead wearing it beneath our skin? We should honor the earth not just because we rely on it for our subsistence, but because of all the possible combinations of molecules and elements, billions of years ago the right combination occurred enough times to bring forth life unto this orb hurling through space. Somehow this mass of rock and gas went from the utter absence of life to the mind-blowing abundance of life we know of today, which is only a fraction of the abundance we know was once found in every corner of the globe. With all of the high-powered equipment we can muster, we have scanned the universe for other examples of such potent swirling masses and have come up empty. We are it, and look what we have done. Both good and bad have come from these collective hands, the hands that are so unlikely to exist in the first place. This connection to Earth that we all have, that we should all feel, isn't just about appreciating the clouds and the trees and the birds. It's about recognizing the ancient innate knowledge of a place we may never actually see, where we are the clouds and the trees and the birds.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Cow country


This is sheep and cow country, out in the Owyhees in southwestern Idaho. This area was seeded with bunchgrasses following a fire ten years ago, and ideally, eventually sagebrush will fill in the spaces. The rainforests of Washington and Oregon may be primitive and primordial and unreal, but the soaring clouds and wide-open skies out here make you feel alive.


Mini-vacation

Last weekend, I skedaddled out of town up I-84 a ways to the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area along the Oregon/Washington border. It had been a few months since I'd been out of town and I needed a change of scenery, and even though spring is really coming on strong here in Boise, I needed that scenery to be thoroughly lush and green. I just couldn't imagine spending another weekend at home pulling weeds and running mundane errands. A friend had mentioned a visit to Skamania Lodge and the beauty of the surrounding area, which sounded like the perfect kind of long-weekend getaway. Except that Skamania Lodge is a little pricey for my tight budget, and not the kind of vacation I was looking for anyway, and during the planning stage of the trip, I came across the Cascade Locks Portland E KOA right across the river, and just down the road from the Bridge of the Gods. Kamping kabin + majestic bridge = exactly what I was looking for.
Home away from home
Bridge of the Gods, looking west along the Columbia River from Cascade Locks, Oregon
My mom and I had stayed in kamping kabins (hey, it's the KOA's spelling, not mine) in North Carolina and Virginia, and although there's nothing like waking up in a tent in the middle of nowhere, these kabins provide an adequate camping experience when you need something a little more civilized. It's still just a little too cool at night for me to tent-camp, and as a young female traveling alone, I appreciate the security of being able to lock a door at night. The basic kabins have bunkbeds on one side and a queen-size bed on the other side (think summer camp) with a small built-in table and chair, ceiling lights and fan, and two electrical outlets. This one had a small space heater as well. There's a fire pit and picnic table outside each kabin, so you can still feel like you're actually living outdoors. There's a central bathroom facility with showers, a sink to wash dishes, a soda machine, and a laundry facility - now with wi-fi. Don't worry, I did not avail myself of the wi-fi, soda machine, or laundry room. I unplugged, as instructed.

Meow
On my way out west on Friday, just after coming down off the Blue Mountains, I stopped in at the Prodigal Son Brewery in Pendleton, Oregon, for a tasty lunch and wandered around town a bit. The downtown seems lovely - a hopping main street, a river walk, even a tattoo parlor.

Pendleton is home to a huge rodeo in the fall, which explains why this town seems so hopping when other towns along this stretch of I-84 seem smaller and quieter. An hour or so later, the road slinks up close to the Columbia River, where gently sloping banks feature whirring wind turbines. Another hour later, I was at the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center and Wasco County Historical Museum, which explains the natural history of the gorge and how it was formed, features artifacts from the Native American tribes who have lived along the Columbia River for thousands of years, and takes visitors back in time to the early settlements along the river where people fished, panned for gold and shipped goods up and down the banks via boat and railroad.

This is where the scenery really gets good. I expected sheer cliffs along the river, with bare weathered rock in all directions. Instead, the cliffs reminded me of an Andes mint - chocolate brown rock dusted with the early shoots of bright green grasses and other plants. And it only got greener as I approached my destination. I've seen plenty of photos and movies that feature this part of the world, but they really don't do it justice. The dramatic skies, the twists and turns of the river through the gorge, the waterfalls that can be seen right from the highway, Mount Hood looming overhead. It was definitely a change in scenery from the brownness of the bunchgrasses and sagebrush in the areas just outside Boise.

After checking in at the KOA, I paid my dollar toll to cross the Bridge of the Gods and pulled into downtown Stevenson, Washington, where I dined at the Walking Man Brewery. As I sat on the porch and sipped my beer in the cool, damp air, a man standing in the lot next door began playing the bagpipes. Ah, vacation.
Random sculpture in Stevenson
Saturday, I again crossed the Bridge of the Gods and hit the Hamilton Mountain trail, an 8-mile loop past some gushing waterfalls, to the summit overlooking Bonneville Dam, across a saddle, and down an old fire road. Clouds hung low in the sky and obscured the view of the area, and the damp wind gusted heartily, so I didn't linger long at the summit. 

Of course, it had cleared up by the time I made it back down the mountain, but by then lots of people were on the trail, and I was thankful for the relative solitude on the mountain. I had planned to do two hikes that day, at the suggestion of a coworker who knows the area well, but the first hike wore me out so much that instead I stumbled back into Stevenson for tea and a homemade cinnamon roll, then forced myself to stay awake by wandering along the locks back on the Oregon side. Following an overpriced dinner in Troutdale 20 miles west (I should have eaten at Skamania Lodge!), I built a campfire back at home base and sipped hot cocoa while reading by the light of the headlamp. I had been enjoying the solitude of my trip, not having to really talk to anyone, taking my time and doing whatever I pleased, but the weariness of the long hike got to me, and a touch of loneliness set in. I vowed to hit the road early in the morning and spend some quality time at Home Sweet Home, having done enough to fulfill my wanderlust for the moment. But I awoke refreshed on Sunday morning and decided instead to drive back east and stop at the Rowena Crest trailhead for a shorter, less strenuous hike. 


It was a good decision. I was hoping to hike the Tom McCall trail up to another peak, hoping to catch a glimpse of the other nearby peaks in the clear morning air, but the trail is closed until May 1st to prevent erosion on the wet trails. Instead, I wandered around the Rowena Plateau, marveling at the tender wildflowers popping up all over, the swallows darting along the cliffs, the turkey vultures and other raptors soaring the rising thermals, and the mint-chocolate greenness of the gorge itself. 
The hike was restorative, and after seeing both rainforest and mountain plateau, I felt that I had sampled a sufficient variety of scenery for such a short trip. This is the third vacation I've taken alone, and the first one in which I've had to feed and entertain myself for more than 24 hours. I liked living in my little cabin, building a fire first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening. It felt like I was surviving, taking care of myself without any real chance of not surviving. The modern-day vision quest, just far enough away from civilization to feel the escape, but close enough to feel safe and not alone. Next time, there will be more waterfalls, more peaks, more campfire cooking, and more traveling companions. 


Sunday, April 08, 2012

Gardening update

The vegetable plants have been in the ground for two weeks now, and although it appears that someone had a bit of a snack on the bell pepper leaves, they're all still alive. The sugar snap peas are struggling though - I suspect that it's still a little too cool for them - and the rest of the plants, while still alive, don't appear to be growing yet. So, perhaps I was a little hasty in planting them outside, but all is not lost yet. The weather will be decidedly spring-like for the next few days, sunny and into the 70s, so maybe that will help. I bought a packet of wildflower seeds, which I'll sprinkle in the questionable area on the side of the house once it warms up a little more, just to see what blooms. I'm slowly making a dent in the dandelion population in the yard, starting with the ones currently blooming and getting as many others in sight as I can handle before my hand turns into a claw from gripping the weeding tool. There's something so satisfying and cathartic about digging the metal fork into the soil next to the weed, angling the handle back, and popping the plant up. Some of the root still remains, which means the weed will likely be back eventually, but at least if I get it before it blooms, it doesn't spread more seeds. The yard is a funny patchwork of dry grass, newly green grass, and tall, lush grass. It's not worth mowing the whole thing, and the idea of bringing in a couple of goats for a weekend seems amusing. Unfortunately because goats are not terribly discriminating eaters, that would likely be the end of the garden as well...The other sugar snap peas and the herbs in my window seem happy, but it's been so dry that I've had to water every day, inside and outside. I spread some pine needles around all but the broccoli outside (maybe they need it too) and that has helped keep the soil damp and the critters away.

Speaking of critters, I'm trying a new tack with the squirrels that have been raiding my bird feeder. I was going to try to keep them out, but when that seemed like a futile effort, and when I learned that one of the squirrels is a mama (or a mama-to-be), with six or eight swollen nipples, I figured it was time to welcome them into the family. The house finches seem to prefer the house-shaped feeder - they sit in the tray, rather than perching on the edge - so I filled that one with regular bird seed. The feeder that is advertised as squirrel-proof has, ironically, become the squirrel feeder. I filled it with sunflower seeds, and they climb up, grasp the bars toward the top with their hind feet, hang upside down and pull seeds out with their paws and eat them. I worry whether the mama squirrel should be attempting such acrobatics in her condition, but perhaps she knows best. In any case, I hope that the everyone will be satisfied with this set-up and the deck will once again be peaceful. The cat seems curious about the squirrels but doesn't seem motivated enough to go after them. Not that she could catch them, and since they're not much smaller than her, she must recognize that's a battle not worth fighting.

And speaking of the cat, last weekend some pine sap got stuck and hardened in the fur between the toe pads of her back left foot. She offered some very hateful words in my face while I tried to pick some of it out. I tried peanut butter, then vegetable oil, both of which mostly just made a mess. Then I tried soap and warm water, which softened the sap enough to pull some of it off. In the end, I just left it alone, and she's been pulling it off on her own. Unfortunately the fur comes with it, so her poor little paw looks naked between her toes. She's not limping though and still insists on playing outside during the day, so it looks like she'll be fine.

As spring moves in, the wildlife population seems to have shifted in the neighborhood. Mourning doves often pick at the seeds on the deck, more robins are nesting in the trees, and yesterday I heard some kind of raptor's screech echoing among the houses and the hills. The dark-eyed juncos, which winter in the lower 48 states, have all left for the cooler summer in Canada and Alaska. A coyote (?) was spotted crossing the road late one night, and a great blue heron has been hanging out in the little pond at the end of my street. I suspect that a pair of mallards has made a nest in the yard of a house across the street from the pond, because they often waddle across the road between the pond and the house. Must keep an eye out for ducklings.

This is the first time in my life that I've really noticed how nature changes with the seasons. I grew up in the suburbs but never paid much attention, and in bigger cities, the animals that live there mostly stay year-round. As mentioned in a previous post, in other places, the seasons change more abruptly, especially spring, and my allergies back east keep me indoors until summer is really upon us. Here, so far, there have been no allergic reactions, and it's nice to feel more connected to the natural world around me.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Seasonal affective disorder

Spring is slowly emerging here in the valley. Butterflies flit about, and it seems that every week, another bird species arrives back in town from its southern wintering spot. The trees and shrubs are greening up or flowering, bright bursts of yellow, pink, white, and green among the still-bare branches of those waiting for more sun and warmer temps to dress in their summer foliage. It rains a lot here, although partial clearings almost every afternoon keep the days from feeling like total washouts. The rivers flow full with threats of floods, and thick snowpacks in the mountains will keep water levels high for months.

This is a different spring than I'm used to. In the Missouri, North Carolina, and DC, everything explodes at once. The tree -lined streets flower early and heavy green pollen coats everything in sight. Those of us with allergies shun the outdoors at all times except right after a rain, the only time the air is free from this assault on our eyes, skin, and sinuses. The world there goes from brown to green seemingly overnight. In Chicago, it is brown for much longer, but the city springs to life quickly when it finally gets around to it. Here in Boise, with our mild, almost snowless winters, spring kicks in over time, piece by piece. You almost don't notice it because you don't really look for it, don't yearn for it. But still, every year when spring rolls around, I feel utterly inspired by it. I feel my heart and soul come to life, full and strong and ready to take on the world. The doldrums of December are long forgotten as the chirping birds signal another season of new beginnings. Spring is a reminder that anything is possible.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

New gardening adventures

The garden is planted, small as it may be. I decided that I was being overly ambitious for my first garden, especially in a new place, so for this summer, the garden is limited to the strip along the south side of the house, below my bedroom window. The soil is dry and rocky there, so on Sunday, I mixed in a full bag each of compost and potting soil and watered it thoroughly. Then it rained Sunday night and all day yesterday, so it seemed to be in good condition for planting. Today, the plants went into the ground: a chocolate cherry tomato, a sweet red bell pepper, two sugar snap peas and four broccoli. The other two sugar snap peas reside in a pot in my kitchen window, accompanied by lemon thyme, catnip, and lavender. 

That's the fun part of gardening. The not-fun part is the dandelions that have sprung up all over my yard. I could weed for days and days, plunging the forked metal into the soil, breaking the root, and yanking the plant out, but it seems to barely make a dent. Perhaps when the weather turns to hot and dry, the weeds will go away. In the meantime, weeding seems like a good way to unwind after work each day.

All attempts to thwart the squirrel from raiding the bird feeder were unsuccessful, and once I realized that she's a momma (and decent entertainment for the cat as well), I gave in, bought two feeders for the birds, and squirrel food for her. As long as everyone stays out of the garden, peace will prevail around here.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Community music from the music community

This weekend was the inaugural Treefort Music Fest, four days of live music featuring bands mostly from this neck of the woods, plus performance art, The Boise Rock School students, food trucks, local brews, and all the hipster fun you can manage. It felt like Portland had taken over, with all the bikes, skinny jeans and giant glasses and flowy high-waisted skirts, but I didn't mind. Inspired by the community radio station that opened last year, which received all of the net proceeds from Treefort, more than 130 bands played in venues around town. The main stage featured some of the bigger acts, as well as some of the smaller ones, and food trucks fed the masses. A friend and I plotted our music binge, armed with the smart phone app that illustrated the schedule in brightly colored rectangles against a black background (each color representing a different venue) and a hand-drawn map of the route we would take from venue to venue, the distances measured to estimate the amount of time it would take to get there. We looked upon our marathon plans with excitement and exhaustion at the thought of just how much energy we would be consuming. As other friends joined in, we all dug in. But it was worth it. Not a single show was disappointing, the bands were all different and special and interesting, and the venues were comfortably crowded. As soon as one show ended, our thoughts were on the next show we would head to, sometimes revising plans and making it up as we went along. In all, we saw 13 bands in three evenings (the fourth day was just too much), danced our asses off, consumed too much alcohol, and participated with the community of music fans in celebrating the welcome presence of a small festival to rival the big ones, to prove that even a small town in this conservative state knows how to rock. And rock, we did:

Thursday: The Ascetic Junkies, Buster Blue, Pickwick, and Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside
Friday: K. Flay, The Parson Red Heads, The Maldives, Blitzen Trapper, The Soft White Sixties
Saturday: Lemolo, Shades, Flashlights, araabMUZIK

It was all made better by the company of some devoted music-loving folks, because live music is just not right unless it's enjoyed with friends. Thanks, Treefort, for the most fun I've had in a really long time. You rocked my world. Stay small but mighty. See you next year.

Fear

I've been in Boise almost six months. When I made the decision to accept this job and leave everything familiar behind, I knew I would be doing the scariest thing I had ever done. I was fulfilling a promise I had made to myself when I started a new journal back in June: to do some things that scared me. I used to think I wasn't scared of anything, but it was just because I hadn't encountered anything worth being scared of. Moving across the country, going into the wilderness, on your own, now that is scary. Because it's unknown. I deflected my family's insistence on helping, I wouldn't let them come along for the ride. This was my journey. Sometimes you just have to do something alone to know for sure that you can do it alone again if you have to. I remember pulling into Rawlins, Wyoming, in late afternoon, on the drive out here. Just a few hours before, the land had opened up and strange things emerged. Until that point, I had been on lands like the ones I knew - prairie, corn fields, the Midwest. But Wyoming is vast. There is so much space between the road and the sky, and storms on the horizon appear as though they're about to overtake you, because there's just nothing at all between you and the slanting rain. There is no cover out there, nothing to protect you or comfort you. As I pulled into town, the wet roads smelled like oil and my car struggled to acclimate to the elevation. The hotel I stayed at seemed so quaint online, but in person, it was grey cinder blocks outside, old furnishings inside. I was in a new land, by myself, and I laid in bed watching TV at dinnertime with the storm pounding the window, afraid of something I couldn't describe, lonely on the road alone.

That was the toughest point of my trip. I rolled into Boise a day later, ready to embrace whatever this place would throw at me, though still fearing the world beyond the city boundary. I used to avoid the things I feared, placed a wall between me and that which was wholly unknown or challenging for my soul. But somehow, being afraid tastes good now. Wanting to cry and recoil seems soothing, like the warmth of the fire before you dive into it. I remember when my car broke down in rural Iowa on a cold February night, back before I had a cell phone. I coaxed my limping Stratus off the highway and into the driveway of the house right at the exit. I stood at the door, pleading with the universe to please don't let them stick a gun in my face. They didn't - it was just a couple my parents' age, with a daughter my age, watching the Miss America pageant on TV. They let me use their phone, my friends picked me up, the car got fixed. I still remember that fear, that pleading with God to please just get me through it safely. My life wasn't in danger, but I didn't know what the night held for me. The fear I felt that night is still so satisfying, because I got through it.

So, now I'm saying, Let's Do This. Let's feel afraid again. Let's go into the unknown. I want to feel my heart quiver, to be alert, on edge, to force myself forward because that's the only direction to go. Because I want so badly whatever is on the other side.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Gardening

It's starting to feel more like spring here in Boise. In the past week, the temperature has reached at least 60 degrees perhaps four or five times, but then again, it snowed on Tuesday. Thus is high-desert living, I guess. I'm itching to start a garden here, but I'm not sure where to place it or how to grow anything. My feeble attempts at container gardening left me excited to have grown anything at all worth eating, yet discouraged because they could hardly be called a bountiful harvest. Much of my yard is hilly, so it would be challenging to garden on it unless I do some terraces - a lovely idea, but maybe I should stick with the basics for my first attempt at real gardening. Plus, I'm just renting, so I don't want to push it on what the owners will allow me to do. There's a flat spot on the side of the house that looks perfect, but nothing is growing there right now except for some weeds. Does that mean nothing would grow there, or is it just bare because it doesn't get much direct sunlight in the winter? If we're still getting snow here, then there's still a danger of frost. Should I start my seedlings now, even if I can't plant them until May? Plus, here in Bambi's Forest, I have to keep out the critters - rabbits, deer, birds, squirrels, and foxes (would they eat from my garden too?) all looking for a juicy morsel of pepper, green bean, carrot, lettuce, and the likes. This means investing in some indestructible structures to keep them out. Oh, the pressure! I may just have to go into a garden center (maybe the North End Organic Nursery) or take a class through the Botanic Gardens and pick the brains of some experts. More to come as this adventure evolves.
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On a similar but separate note, yesterday I volunteered with Idaho Fish and Game to plant some year-old sagebrush and bitterbrush seedlings on a burned hillside in the Boise Wildlife Management Area off Highway 21. It was a team effort: some folks went through with a planter bar, creating holes for the seedlings, and the rest of us followed with bundles of seedlings wrapped in wet burlap. The holes were placed near the skeletons of burned shrubs, which would protect the seedlings a bit from erosion and from the elements. A seedling was placed in each hole, then the hole was filled in completely and the soil packed down. This would help protect the seedlings from the deer that would surely come through later that day and nibble the fresh greenery. As long as the roots and stems are protected, the leaves will resprout and the plant will grow. It was hard work climbing up and down the hills, and the frozen ground got squishy and slippery as the rising sun thawed the soil. It can take up to 10 years for sagebrush and bitterbrush plants to become full-sized adults, but in the meantime, it's exciting to think about how the burned landscape will return to life as the shrubs fill in. Fire is a natural part of the ecosystem here, but it can take a long time after stand-replacing fires in a dry place like this to reestablish native vegetation, so restoration like this is necessary to prevent invasive plants like cheatgrass to take over before the shrubs have a chance to fill in.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

So beautiful

What is it about music that makes everything so much more moving and beautiful? Think about your typical day, and then think about it with a soundtrack. Way better, right? Suddenly, the mundane things become purposeful. Meaningful, even.

I feel like the past week has been filled with moments made more beautiful. Something has been knocked loose inside, and it's been addicting. I don't want it to go away. It started innocently enough, with a low-key Friday night at home watching Beginners (don't believe them - it's not a comedy, although there are amusing parts), which is a lovely enough movie that makes you feel all squishy inside but didn't change my world outright. It's the aftermath that got to me - more on that in a minute. Saturday, a friend showed me some YouTube videos of people in wingsuits BASE jumping, set to either beautiful or high-energy music. Here's an example, the famous (and freakin' crazy) Jeb Corliss.

Without music, it's just someone flying through the air, and the only sounds would be the wind, the flapping of the wingsuit material, and the whoosh as he flies by. Granted, soaring through the mountains like a bird must be incredibly exhilarating, but how much more exciting is it with music?!

Then, Monday night, I had a dream. It was one of those dreams that you wake from, relieved that it was just a dream because the emotions you felt in the dream were so real and so awful, but it sticks with you all the same. I dreamed that I was dying of cancer (thanks to Beginners for planting that seed), sitting in a room, like in an aquarium exhibit, that was dark so that the plants and animals in the floor-to-ceiling fish tank were fully visible, without any glare. Except there were no plants or animals in the tank, and the sadness, loneliness, and hopelessness of the situation was amplified by the green glow of the water, where algae had started to grow from lack of use. (Guess who's afraid of dying alone?) I had never felt anything like what I felt in that dream, and it was so sad, yet somehow so beautiful. I told a different friend about the dream, and he sent me this:

Kuroshio Sea - 2nd largest aquarium tank in the world - (song is Please don't go by Barcelona) from Jon Rawlinson on Vimeo.

That aquarium is incredibly beautiful, awe-inspiring and moving on its own, but the music put me over the edge and the dream came rushing back. The beauty in life itself, both heart-wrenching and inspiring at the same time, is made so much better with music. I spent today doing data entry, the most boring work there could possibly be, with a soundtrack by Mogwai, Bonobo, and Damien Jurado, to keep that feeling around a little longer. The BASE jumping and the music and the dream melted something within me, and I don't want it to freeze back up.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Mo(u)rning meal

I'm eating scrambled eggs and homemade scones, thinking about how I've done things all wrong. How I chose to move on rather than invest in something that I thought wasn't quite right enough. Over and over again. But then, what's enough? How do you know when to say, "This isn't perfect, but nothing will ever be, and this makes me happy, and so, it is enough"? What is the proper amount of striving for goodness, for seeking something extraordinary, because that's how life should be? What if you want these things yet fear that you, yourself, are not extraordinary? How does one get from good to good enough?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

New year, new perspectives

I believe that the days right before and after a birthday should contain surreal moments in which we say, "Did that just happen? What the heck was that?" Not in a bad way - not tragedy - just something we didn't expect, have few previous experiences to which we can compare it, and which make us wonder what it means for the coming year. It's life's gift to us, something to give us pause and inspire us to think about life in a slightly different way. Because this year will be different. It always is.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Number 32

Saturday is the sixth anniversary of my 26th birthday. That's about how old I feel. I always thought I would age gracefully, embracing my ever-more mature and wiser state. But even at this young age, I can sense that I'll go kicking and screaming into old age. I examine my scalp for grey hairs, wince at the darkening circles under my eyes, and pretend to ignore the one small smile line on the right side of my face. I still battle acne all the time, and yet my skin seems slightly more creased, a little bit weary, not quite as smooth and fresh as it used to be. And things are starting to sag, just a little. Just enough to remind me that they didn't sag before. In this college town, nubile college girls are everywhere, and I am beginning to envy them. I see them scampering between bars in the cold in their tiny dresses and tall heels, and I think Perky bitches. I squandered my youth so. I used to wear semi-revealing clothing to bars, all the time worrying about maintaining my self-respect. I tried to be older than I was, tried to maintain an adult-like aura of responsibility and decorum, and hoped that others would take me as seriously as I took myself. I should have taken advantage of my youth and tried to get away with as much as I could have as a bright young thing. I don't mean sleeping around or showing off the goods to anyone who would look. I mean that I should have been young and fresh and new. Had fewer cares. Thrown more caution to the wind.

Thirty-two is still young. I still have two-thirds of my life ahead of me (yes, I fully intend to live to be 96, at least). There are many good things about 32, like more stability, more money, less drama, the wisdom to know how to make the best use of my talents. But you can't get away with as much in your 30s. If you are single at 23, you are told to go out and make a life for yourself and don't follow convention and don't settle. At 30, if you have done as you are told and are still single, suddenly you are a sad case. Suddenly, you are the old maid who must have something wrong with you, because otherwise you would have settled down by now. That message gets worse every year after 30 that you are still single, and your prospects dwindle by the day. If I had known at 23 that I would be in this predicament now, I would have settled, just a little bit. I would have worked a little harder to find someone to share my life with. Life is better and fuller now than it was at 25, but it don't mean nothing if you're still floating around in the ether, looking for your match.

Bambi's forest

It's a warmish, sunny day in early February - the first weekend in February is often springlike, and the weather on the following weekend (my birthday weekend) is usually lousy, no matter where I live. So, live in the moment! And what a moment it is. I hung my bird feeder from a nail in the porch overhang and filled it with seeds that supposedly appeal to birds that inhabit the western United States. The dark-eyed juncos were the first to arrive, but they've been bullied about by a male-female pair of house finches that sit in the tray and hog all of the food. So, the juncos sit on the porch and rail just below the feeder and catch what the finches drop. A couple of red-breasted nuthatches visit often, as does a precocious red squirrel that teases Dear Kitty with a crazy dance and a tail flick, then jumps up and knocks the seeds from the feeder, since it can't climb up into the feeder. A male-female pair of northern flickers (probably the same ones who rap-tap-tapped on my house) hang out in the yard and have been hopping through the trees in the back all afternoon. Dear Kitty sits in the window and quietly titters at the birds and the squirrel, defending her territory. The California quail pop and squeak and coo in the bushes nearby.

As if the birds and squirrels weren't enough wildlife around here, the white-tailed deer visit frequently, the foxes prowl the neighborhood, often trotting down the street around dawn, and an owl hoot-hoots in the distance sometimes. Skunks have been seen, and more often smelled (and sometimes squished) along the main road. It feels like I live in Bambi's forest, all of these animals going about their business, trying to stay out of the way of humans but benefitting from our presence. All of these birds would likely find food somewhere, but they're certainly well-fed thanks to my feeder. By the end of the week, it's empty again.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Winter winds

Every year, it's the same thing. November and December in the northern hemisphere feel so cold and dark. The pressure is on to celebrate the holidays with all of the festiveness we can muster. Everyone complains, but we all need it. Otherwise we'd spend the days with the covers pulled over our heads, hiding beneath wool and turtlenecks and down. Even if the weather isn't so bad, the expectation of a white Christmas makes this time feel like the winds are whipping around outside and the warm hearth calls to us. As a cruel joke nature plays, the shortest day of the year comes not in the middle of winter but at the beginning. The days begin to get lighter as the new year rings in, but there is still more cold and snow to come, for many months in some places. We're ready to get moving, start planning spring break, emerge from the blanketed beds and throw open the windows, and instead blows in a struggle to overcome expectations of spring when winter is in full force.

Whoever planned the holidays at this time knew what they were doing. They knew that without the cozy festiveness, dread of winter would drive us further into hiding, and without the promise of new things to come after an arbitrarily set day to mark a new year, we would all succumb to the reality of winter. As the days get lighter, we transition from stews to salads with the hope that when the wools and downs are finally shaken off, a newer person will be revealed. What is this experience like for those in the southern hemisphere, where summer abounds right now, and where their winter will be met not with festivities and yearly milestones but just a stretch of months in the middle of the year? How do they get through their cold, dark months without something to look forward to? We are lucky here, where the clouds roll in and the gales whip the snow and rain. We have much to anticipate as time marches on toward the long warm and sunny days.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Now it's real

I have a real home now. With the assembly and set-up of the desk and chair in the spare bedroom, I have a home office for the first time in my adult life. All of the indoor furniture has been purchased and moved in. Some pictures have been hung on the walls, with more to come. Curtains with tie-backs grace the windows. I live in a house, and it is home.

Last summer, I started a new journal, after filling the previous one with all kinds of thoughts. It helped me process a lot of things that happened in my life, those three short years in DC. Every time I start a new journal, I make a list on the first page with hopes for the coming years. This new journal included a promise to find a place, make it home, and stay there for a while. I need to break the pattern of setting up shop and immediately looking for a new adventure somewhere else. Why do I start running again as soon as I arrive wherever I was heading? It's time to stop doing that. Resist the urge to seek out greener pastures elsewhere, and instead make my home pasture as green as can be.