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.


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


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.
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?