Monday, May 30, 2011


May 28, 2011

Dear Andrea,

I am waiting for the grass to dry.  It rained all night.  Now, the sun is flirting with this day.  It remains to be seen if she wins the clouds over, bleaches the gray from their edges with the radiance of her smile, leaving white cotton threadbare sheets floating on wind currents.

Baba Maal is playing on the stereo.  I love listening to this singer from Senegal whose destiny was to become a fisherman like his father.  I am pretty sure you would like him too.  His music lends itself to making up your own dance, gliding and twirling on the maple hardwood floor.  We used to make up our own dances until you got to be a teenager.  Then, when I would try to entice you, you would roll your eyes at me and sigh “Oh Mommm.” 

I cannot understand the words Baba Maal is singing.  They are in his native language, Pular.  On this Nomad Album, that is full of vocals carried along on complicated, strings, percussion, and wind instruments, is my song—the one Steve dedicated to me.  The words in English, the ones I understand are “…cherie, cherie, you’re like the sun that shines on in the night…”  This is the first song anyone has dedicated to me, except My Cherie Amour, which is not very original since it is a pretty common song.  There’s been one too many asshole who has begun singing it like he was the first to ever think of it after I introduced myself.  But then, Steve is an original, himself.  That is why I am with him.  “you’re like the sun that shines on in the night, my love, my lover, you’re like the sun that shines on through the night…”  I sing along.  Steve is in the kitchen humming in the background.

Waiting for the grass to dry, I open my computer.  It starts to whir.  The dark screen lightens and I click the MSN icon.  I get most of my news from there and my Facebook page.  Once in awhile, I read a newspaper.  On Facebook, Michelle, a cousin you never met, has written “tons of police are heading towards the Green River.  A two year old fell into the river.” 

I cannot read any further.  I am frozen on those two sentences.  I not only see, I feel the two year old’s parents.  Looking up from her post, I am confronted by a ghost on the right hand side of the web page under the heading People You Know.  There you are.  A white silhouette in a baby blue box.  Andrea Peterson.  1 mutual friend.  Add as a friend.  I cannot add you as a friend.  There is no one who can accept my friending.

                                    i become
                                    pillar of salt
                                    willow weeping
                                    pay homage
                                    to this sorrow.

I sit waiting for my heart to return to my chest.  For it to sit like Phoebe, the hummingbird hatching eggs I watched for thirty minutes last night on my computer on Nest Cam. 

Mouse clicking my way through text and images on my computer screen, like a mad woman blinded, lost in a thicket, I find Phoebe again.  I can breathe. 

But Phoebe is restless this morning, like me.  She’s on her nest, ruffling her feathers, twitching her tail.  The sun is shining on a Channel Island, where she lives.  There is a gentle breeze rocking her and her babies in the home she built for them from lichen, moss, the filament of spider webs and fluff from plants she has collected on a rosebush stem.  Phoebe and her nest blend in perfectly with their surroundings.  This reminds me of one of my children’s books I used to read to you before bed at night.  The Best Nest.  “I love my house, I love my nest, in all the world, my nest is best.” 

I get up.  Pull a mason jar of iced tea from the refrigerator.  I am becoming like the kids that go to Evergreen.  They all drink and eat from mason jars.  I sit back down.  I startle when Phoebe flies from her nest as I am watching, waiting for something to happen.  There are two unhatched eggs the size of jelly beans.  They are so pale there is hardly color, but I detect pink, apricot.  As quickly as she left, she returns, her needle long beak holding white fluff.  She felts the fluff inside the nest, seems to dance as she shuffles her eggs.  A male hatchling, recently flown from the nest, hovers by for a momentary visit.  If I had blinked, in that moment, I would have missed it.

Yesterday, I went in for a colonoscopy.  I floated in and out of consciousness.  I awoke enough to see blood as Dr. Heap removed a polyp.  There were three.  I don’t know what this means—that I have polyps and there were three.  Later, at home, I Google “polyps”.  “Flat polyps are more likely to be cancerous.”  I read aloud to Steve.  I look at the photos of the polyps in my colon Dr. Heap gave me. I show them to Steve.

“Those polyps in the photos look pretty flat to me.”  He comments.

I promise myself I will not worry.  I don’t know how I will keep that promise. 

I am feeling like a nomad soul.  “Let’s go for a drive.”  I suggest.

“Where?”  Steve asks.

“Nowhere in particular. Anywhere.”

“How about lunch at the Olympia Farmer’s Market?”  he suggests.

“Great.”  I answer.

Except I am not hungry.  But, there, I buy three kinds of apples.  I eat one right away.  Two d’Anjou pears for later with cottage cheese.  Some zucchini, hubbard squash, spaghetti squash starts.  I grab a napkin from one of the food vendor places and eat my apple.  It is tart and crisp, though it was harvested last fall. 

Steve asks, “Have you ever been to an apple storage warehouse?” 

“No.”  I answer.

“Places are amazing.  They cool them to right around 32 degrees, just above freezing.  Then they suck all the oxygen out of the room so there is just nitrogen.  Prevents oxidation.  The apples stay fresh.”

I am grateful someone has figured out how to do that so I can eat this Washington Pink Lady in May, at least four months before the apple harvest happens again.

“Do you mind if we take a little side trip?”  he wants to know.

“I don’t mind.”

“I want to drive along
West Bay Drive
.  I need to see if I can find some knotweed for my presentation tomorrow.”

“I have not been out there in awhile.  It sounds like fun.”

As we get in his truck, it starts to rain.  Then it hails.  “I did not bring shoes for tromping in the woods.”  I show Steve my sandled feet. 

There are no shoulders to park along
West Bay Drive
.  The truck moves slowly as he scans the hillside on the driver’s side.  I have no idea what we are looking for.  I watch Mud Bay from the passenger window. 

“I see some.”  He says.  “Stuffs all over here.” 

I can’t tell what he is looking at.  It is all just green to me.

“Knotweed is an invasive species.”  He tells me.  Once it is planted it just takes over.  Nothing else can grow.  Stuff grows 3 inches in a day.  Root systems 45 feet wide and bigger.  Busts right through concrete.  One small piece of rhizome and the stuff gets started.”  Later he shows me a video of it on YouTube.  It reminds me of the horror movies I used to watch late at night as a kid.  A scientist finds tissue entrapped in ice, brings it to the lab, thaws it out, it grows and eats everything.  Nobody can figure out how to kill it. 

He turns the truck around at the parking lot to Tugboat Annie’s.  There is a marina there.  Someone has a garage door to a storage unit open.  Two men are welding, working on a race car.

Driving back he slows down, finds a place to park in what used to be a gravel driveway.  I get out with him, though I have to stay on gravel.  I can’t follow him into the brush, not with my sandals. He does not go far.  “See that?” he asks me. 

I look to where he is pointing.  “That tall stand with big leaves and the dead stalks in front of it?”

“Yep.  That’s knotweed.  It is kind of hard to get to though.”

“Let’s drive along
Deschutes Parkway
.”  I suggest.  “I bet we find some there.  And we can stop and pick those nettles we saw the other day, just past the Interpretive Center, before they flower.  I want to dry some for tea.”

Deschutes Parkway
I spot the stand of knotweed first.  But I am tentative in my new found role of plant identifier. Steve is so much better at this than I am.  “Is that some over there?”  I ask pointing to the railroad tracks across from Capital Lake. 

“Sure is.”  Steve says.  “And it looks much easier to get to.”

Now, I see knotweed everywhere. 

Back at the dining room table this morning, still waiting to mow the lawn, wandering around on my computer, Steve is doing the same across the table from me, on his.  I am thinking I should create a clever email, send it to him.  Or post something on his Facebook page. 

“Oh. My. God.”  Tears fill his eyes. 

“What?”  I ask.  I am having my own crisis--trying not to worry about three polyps, avoiding the emotions of Michelle’s post, and having seen a ghost of you.  And trying not to show it.

“Two year old…”

I don’t let him finish.  “I know.”  I tell him.  “Drowned.  Swept up in a river. What site are you on?”

“King5, PI, Seattle Times.  It’s on all of them.”

I know better.  I should watch Phoebe as she warms her eggs, waiting for the chicks to hatch.  I type in King5 and there it is.  Headline news.  Mom and her two year old son were camping with friends.  Dad was on his way to join them.  She put the little guy in a chair near the campfire, turned her back to fix him lunch.  She turned around, the chair was empty.  The rivers are high this weekend.  When the two year old got too close, the river claimed him as her own.  Took him, tossed him, stole his breath and filled his lungs with water.

I immediately go back to Nest Cam.  The wind is blowing harder on the Channel Islands.  Phoebe sinks lower in her nest.  Ruffles her feathers.  Settles in.  Her body pulses with her beating heart.  Her head turns back and forth.  Tail quivers.  Eyes blink.  She is alert.  I have watched her leave for just a few minutes to eat, to gather more fluff to tuck in the nest around the eggs.  Anything could have happened then.

Our last stop yesterday was Heritage Park.  There was a huge healthy patch of nettles by the river. Steve pulled a plastic bag and a pair of gloves from behind the seat of his truck.  “You tell me which ones you want.” He told me.  “I will pick them for you. 

“Ashley, my classmate who studies herbs and harvests them said to only take one out of every ten.  That way you leave some for others who might want to pick them.”  I look to find the ones with the healthiest leaves.  Under the shade of the cottonwoods, along a stream feeding the Deschutes, the nettles are tall.  A few more days, they will flower.  We have come just in time.  It is not long before we have a pile.  It won’t fit in the bag, so we put them in the bed of the truck. 

“We should look for knotweed in the marsh across the wooden bridge that leads to a view of the delta.”

Two mallard drakes are walking around like two batchelor best fishing buddies.  One catches my eye. They both do their best at jog waddeling.  Steve and I are walking slow.  The pair start following us around expectantly.  They waddle alongside us with their big orange web feet.  We walk purposely slow so, having caught up with us, they can keep up.  Their yellow bills are pointed at the unpeeled banana in my right hand.  “Quack, Quack, Quack.”  They entreat. 

“They want you feed them.”  Steve interprets for them.

“The banana?”  I laugh at him.  “Ducks don’t eat bananas.”

“Let me see the banana.”  His arm is outstretched.  He is motioning with all four fingers for me to give him my trail snack.  I hand it to him, he peels it, breaks off a piece, crouches down, offers it to the drakes.  They eat it from his hand.    Their metallic green heads and necks sparkle in the sunlight spotlighting them through the heavily leaved trees. 

Steve hands me back my banana.  “You try.” He says. 

I separate a small piece of it, crouch down.  One of the drakes hangs back.  The other approaches me with confidence, maintaining eye contact even as he picks the piece of banana up from the palm of my hand.  The movement of his bill against my skin is barely perceptible.  After he has taken what I have offered, he moves back.  Waits to see if I will offer more.  It seems it is the same for males in any species.  They take what is offered and wait to see if they will be offered more. 

I look over to my right and see a sign that says “DO NOT FEED THE DUCKS” in big red letters.  I look at the drake sitting there and point to the sign.  “You!” I said, pointing at him accusingly.  “You tricked me.  You knew I was not supposed to feed you.  You knew about this sign.  You are a scoundrel.  You know that, Mr. Drake.  A scoundrel, I say.  First you escorted me, then you flattered and cajoled me with your handsome presence, drew me in just so you could get what you wanted.  And all the while you knew about this.”  I sweep my right hand up and point dramatically at the incriminating evidence—the sign.  My left hand is on my hip.  My left elbow forms a pivot point triangulating my upper arm, my forearm, the side of my ribcage.

Mr. Drake looks down at the grass.  Steve is laughing at my outburst.  He takes my hand and we walk to the bridge that will take us back behind the marsh where we can see the Delta.  We can watch the Deschutes empty into Capital Lake, which empties into Budd Inlet and out into Puget Sound. Mr. Drake follows us for about 10 feet, realizes he’s been had and walks back to his bachelor buddy.

The hens are all hanging out at on a small arch of bare soil jutting out farther that the rest of the shoreline.  It turns to grass and gently slopes up from the river.  Some hens are sitting in the grass.  Others float or wade in front of them.  This looks like a women’s only party.  Perhaps they are having a big day of pampering themselves at the beach without the guys where they can put their beaks in the air and let their feathers blow one last time before the ducklings hatch. 

Steve reads my mind.  “There should be ducklings soon.”  He comments.

“I hope so.”  I answer.  I saw a raccoon here, sneaky as a thief tiptoeing from one brush clump to another, two weeks ago.  I tell Steve this. 

We follow the gravel trail to the wood bridge.  Crossing the bridge, we walk into an arch of trees.  Steve has not been here before.  I am excited to show him this path edged in miner’s lettuce out to the cat tail marshes, to the view of the delta, of the Deschute’s emptying itself, becoming part of something bigger.  There is movement in the cat tails.  Perched on the tip of one is a red winged blackbird.  He is announcing to all who are interested, and any who might accept his offer, that he is available for mating.  We watch him for awhile.  We did not witness any takers. 

At the end of the trail, I point to the delta.  One bird is walking along the shore.  “What is that?” 

“I don’t know.  You’ll have to look it up in your Bird Book when we get home.”  I did.  It was a plover.

Taking the trail back to the truck, I hear birds calling.  Each has its own sound.  I look up.  I put my arm out stopping Steve.  I point.  “Look.” I whisper, “What kind of birds are those?”  There are two birds close to one another in the tree limbs right in front of us. 

He ponders for a moment, “We’ll have to look that one up too.  Remember the gold band at the end of his tail.” It was a mated pair of Cedar Wax Wings. They mate for life.

Some bird was in hysterics on the left side of the trail.  Steve spotted the nest built in the saddle of a tree.  “That must be the mother close by.  She is protecting her nest.”

I search the branches one by one following her sound until I see her.  I try to memorize what she looks like. I point to her hoping Steve sees her too.  He can’t.  She was yellow with black and an orangey, apricot coloring on her neck and chest. 

These birds were beautiful.  How many times had I been out in the woods, oblivious to everything around me, focused on the trail in front of me.  That will not happen any more. 

I look away in time to see two drakes gliding just above the Deschutes preparing themselves for a soft water landing.  I catch my breath and point, seeing the rear wing assembly.  Only an exceptionally gifted artist could have designed such beauty with such precision.  The broad white border that ends abruptly at a blinding blue spectrum of color hidden when the wings are folded. 

The Cedar Wax Wing couple and the bird I do not know the name of fly off.  Steve never sees the nameless bird.

Here now, on the computer screen, Phoebe has just left her nest again.  The grass is dry.  It is time for me to mow.

I promise myself I will not worry.  It is a promise I break, even as I make it.  I will wait quietly through Memorial Day for the results of the biopsy.

A child died today in a river.

Phoebe sits on her nest on a Channel Island waiting for her eggs to hatch.

When I turn off the computer, this particular ghost of you will disappear into cyberspace.

When I finish mowing the yard, I will grab my binoculars and Sadie.  I will let her run in Heritage Park, then she and I will walk the trail to the delta and see what birds we see today.

                                                                           I Love You,

Monday, May 23, 2011


May 23, 2011

Dear Andrea,

Fatigue has set up permanent housekeeping in my bones.  Sits on the sofa, turns on the television, and watches talk shows and reality tv all day and all night.  Fatigue is heavy.  It feeds on itself.

Though really, I am beyond fatigue.

I am purposeful in pursuit of that condition.  Total immersion in constant activity that engages my brain—that is what I strive for.  If my brain is full of everything else, there is no room for memory.  I trick myself into peace then.  I ignore your death as if it did not happen.  As if it were not the core of me.

Even though I have a full time job and already have two degrees, I enrolled in a class at Evergreen winter quarter.  It has been something I have wanted to do for a long time.  I was in such a hurry when I was going through college with you two girls, I never got a chance to study what I wanted to.  I always had to take classes towards my major.  I saw there was a class called “Autobiography”.  I had to take it.  I have always wanted to be a writer.  And writing about my life--I had plenty of material.  Taking that class was the best thing I have done for myself in years. I found writing just for the joy of it releases me.  There is space to let you in. 

This quarter I am taking a class called “Writing in the Wild.”  Wednesday (my birthday) is the last class.  I am trying to get the last of the reading and analytical responses to them done.  I have one more to go.  But first, I am still ruminating on the reading assignment for our seventh week.  I was so taken with Leslie Marmon Silko’s essay Landscape, History and Pueblo Imagination I read it three times to myself.  I was not just reading though, I was absorbing her words.  Something in clusters of cells subtly awakened to the elemental truths held in the sentences and paragraphs typed on paper. 

It was as if my brain went to the cells “Ah Ha! I hear you now.  I understand.”  

After reading the essay three times to myself, I asked Steve if I could read it to him.  He looked up from the computer, where he was working and said “Sure.”

Conscious of this opportunity to perform the work as well as read it, I carefully enunciated every word and found the poet’s voice in every string of sentences.  I did not look up as I read.  I was aware of Steve’s attention.  He was listening carefully.  At the end of the sixth paragraph I stopped, kept my head bowed over the page, closed my eyes and took in a deep breath.  I could hear Steve take in a big breath too. 

“Wow.”  He said.

I looked at him.  He had tears in his eyes. 

“I know.”  I said.

I wanted to call you.  I always sent you books I’d read—and you always loved them.  Then you started bringing me books.  We talked about the characters like they were family.  Sometimes, when we were together, we would read to one another.  I wanted to read the passages I chose from Silko's essay to focus on in my assignment to you.   I wanted to see what you thought.  After I wrote my paper for class, I decided to send it with this letter.
I am going to bed early tonight.  Perhaps we can meet in a dream?  You can let me know what you think.

Response Paper 7

            Leslie Marmon Silko,  Landscape, History and the Pueblo Imagination

            I am so moved by Silko’s Essays I do not know what to say.  I wish I had taken more time to learn about indigenous peoples, their beliefs and traditions.  I wish I had a spirit guide, a medicine man, that I could turn to for guidance.  I wish that I was a part of a community of tribal women.  I know that they would cover me with pine branches and sing me out of the wilderness when I got lost there.  I am lost a lot these days.  They would tell me stories of forest animals and celestial beings that comforted the wounded animal searching for a quiet place to heal in my veins.      
            Through the Stories We Hear Who We Are.  I pondered the title before reading the text below it.  It is one of those sentences that bears reading over and over. 
“..the ancient people perceived the world and themselves within that world as a part of an ancient continuous story composed of innumerable bundles of stories.”  From this, I am formulating the answer to my own question—what is the universe, where does it all come from?  Where does it end?  Lately I have been spending a great deal of time thinking about that. 
The universe is self contained.  It does not end.  Nature is the great recycler.  Ashes to ashes.  Dust to dust.  When my body can no longer contain me, I will return to the earth.
            But my energy, where does that go?  The thoughts, the images I have stored, the stories carried inside--where will all that end up?  There is something I feel in the rustle of a curtain, a flicker of a candle, the shrill notes of the teakettle.  There is energy all around us.
           Then I read From a High Arid Plateau in New Mexico.. 
            “The dead become dust, and in this becoming they are once more joined with the Mother.”
            I am stunned by that sentence.  Right now you are sitting in a corner of my closet.  Bone and ashes in an urn.  Stored inside a velvet bag.  Wrapped in the blanket that covered you as a baby.
            Refusing to give you back to the Mother Earth, I have selfishly kept you for myself.  She can have you when she gets me.  Not one minute before.
            Surrender.  I have to surrender to this. 
            I hear a whisper.
            Mt. Rainer.  The meadow above Paradise.  Where dark gingerbread colored bears dig for the corms of glacier lilies. Where purple lupine, magenta Indian paintbrush and avalanche lilies bloom.  Where marmots sing to one another across the valley, and deer seek the new green leaves of trees fattening themselves for winter. Where streams flow from headlands like breast milk when a baby cries.  There is where I will welcome and embrace her.”
              Mother Earth, she knows how hard this is for me. 
            “I cannot do this yet.  I cannot acknowledge this.”
            “I am patient.” She answers.  “Take your time.”
                                                                                            Catch you later,

Mt. Rainier

Sunday, May 22, 2011


May 22, 2011

Hey Andrea,

Still here on planet earth and checking in.  Harold Camping prophesied May 21, 2011, yesterday, was going to be the Apocalypse.  200 million people were going to vanish suddenly from the face of the earth.  They were the chose ones.  They would be spared the thundering hooves of thousands of white horses, the earth turned to a smoking pile of rubble.  I wasn’t quite sure of this 89 year old Rapture prophet and his mathematical scientific approach to the text in Revelations.  He claimed to have science and mathematics behind him.  Who can question science?  Though, science questions spirituality all the time.  Anyway, when I got dressed in the morning, I made sure I put on clean underwear.  It never hurts to be prepared.

He and his wife are hiding out in motel somewhere as I write this.  Mr. Camping claims he miscalculated.  Really the end of the world as we know it will end on October 21, 2011.  But then he predicted the Rapture in 1994.   

I am back in school.  This is my second quarter.  My dad makes fun of me for being a “Greener” now.  He doesn’t say much more than that to me, though I know he wants to.  He thinks this is a hippy school.  Evergreen has a reputation.  It is not deserved.  I have learned more in two classes here than I learned at the UW and at law school in six and a half years.  My younger classmates have a passion for learning, and more, they also have a capacity to question.  I think of how much different my life would have been, if I’d had the opportunity to go to college, they have now.

I want to tell them, “Do not waste this.”  I want to hug every one of them and whisper in their ear, “You are the change we need for the future.”  To be with them is invigorating.   I listen to their stories, their music, their poetry.  I am changed by it.  I read to them.  I tell them stories about you.

Struck with the beauty and limitations of this life, writing lets me express those images.  Writing soothes me.  These letters--I feel you with me when I write them.

Yesterday, I went on a field trip.  Ha Ha.  I am 56 years old on Wednesday, and I went with my class to Mt. Rainier.  The instructor let me be the driver--even though she, and my classmates, had some concern I might be Raptured, and there they would be in a runaway van.  That shows how much they know me. 

What ingenious planning on the instructors’ parts!  To take us up to Paradise on the day the world is to end.  I cannot think of a more fitting place to be.

But first, a stop at Longmire.  There were two hikes to choose from—one I was pretty sure would kill me, the other was less challenging than a trip to the mall.  After being in hibernation for the winter, I opted for the easier hike.  With a fully loaded backpack, carrying enough supplies to sustain me for three full days, I set out on the .7 mile hike across from the Longmire Lodge with my hiking poles.  A gray haired couple was just finishing the hike.  I met kids carrying Granola bars, running ahead of their parents, and squealing.  The birds all took flight catching currents carrying them away from the noise.  It was the first hike I have been on since you died. 

Walking on the brown path, carpeted with dead evergreen needles and crushed cedar cones, my feet recalled keeping step with yours on other paths.  We shared a love for water falling over rock and deadfall, shallow streams, river rocks and alpine flowers.  This mountain reminds me how quickly things can change.  Nothing is constant.  Nothing can be taken for granted.  I am left, now, with all your hiking gear.  I cannot find it in myself to part with it.  Today I wore your hiking boots and the wool cap I gave you on our last Christmas together. 

All along the trail, the skunk cabbage raised it startling yellow spathes from a bog.  Its four lobed, yellow bracket, enshrined a greenish yellow fleshy flower stalk. I turned to a classmate and said, “I never knew skunk cabbage was so beautiful.”

“It is.” She said “It just smells bad.”

A fat doe hid on the edge of the meadow.  Stellar jays saw backpacks and stalked us, waited for any sign of food.  I watched a flock of birds I think were quail.  They were far away, it was hard to tell.  It was enough to watch them.  I did not need to name them.

I saw a stump, lying by a stream, with room enough for two to sit.  I sat.  I listened.  The falling water muted everything.  I closed my eyes until there was just the sound, the sense of being, and a memory of you and me, sharing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and sips of water from a Nalgene bottle.  We did not need to speak.  In the stream music, in the cool wet air we breathed together, we connected.  Your cells coded by mine.   A mother and her child.

After the hike, we all drove up the mountain to Paradise.  A convention of ghosts revealed them selves halfway up, descending on the mountain.  Through the crowd of them, visibility was negligible.  I drove like a ninety-eight year old woman too short to find the gas pedal.  Even I finally said, “Oh my Gosh. Are we there yet?” (And I did say gosh, not God, out of respect for religious classmates and frankly, I was not still quite sure of the whole Rapture thing.)

My classmates were sweet.  Someone said, “I am glad we have a careful driver.”

At the top, the only view was the 15 foot wall of snow leading to the lodge.  Four feet in front of me my classmates vanished into the fog.  It was other worldly.  Alongside me, practicing mountaineers scaled the wall, tethered to ropes, their packs hanging behind them. 

Entering the lodge, the popping orange yellow flame filled fireplace in the lobby had great visibility.  It was warm.  People sat in chairs reading books, or doing nothing.  Groups sat at three out of the five great, slab of timber tables playing cribbage or scrabble.  One group brought out crackers, grapes, apples, cheeses and dips, from a Metropolitan Market shopping bag.  Everyone spoke in hushed tones, respecting the majesty of the timbered interior.  I visited the gift shop, then, settled in with my thermos of coffee, a peanut butter apple, a notebook and a pen.  I wrote nothing. 

I passed the time and filled myself with Paradise for later, when I could be by myself looking out into my backyard watching for Goldfinches and the quail couple.   Later, unlocking the van, I saw my classmates watching something.  Nobody moved.  I walked up behind them.  “What is it?” I half whispered. 

One of the girls pointed, “I think it is a fox.” 

Three of the girls had cameras, and took pictures of the fox sitting in front of the wall of snow, in a corner of the parking lot.  And they were all trying to get closer.  The fox just sat there, ears perked up, watching as the group approached.

“Careful.” Someone said.  “We do not want him to feel trapped.”

We froze.  The fox sat there, unblinking.  Then it stood, walked parallel to us, never took his eyes and ears away from us.  I turned the camera on my phone on and took a picture.  I wanted to send it to you.  You are not on the contact list, though, on this new Droid phone I got last October. 

I have never seen a fox before.  Though, this was a red fox, it was black and had silver tips on its fur.  It had a long bushy black tail.  It looked hungry and confused.   I wanted to give it one of my granola bars, hold it, pet it.  I have learned, you cannot interfere with nature.  This was the foxes home, I was the guest.  It was forgetting how to feed itself.  Despite the signs all over the park, people still feed the animals. 

As I sat in the lodge at Paradise, a thick blanket of fog blocking my view of everything outside, I am forced to turn my attention to what is inside.  Inside these walls, inside of me.  I think of all my friends I have met in the last year.  Todd, Ami and her daughter Sahara, Steve and his daughter Steffie, AJ and his daughter Suzi.  I think of my sisters, Linda and Karen who are more than sisters.  I think of my niece Lisa, her daughters Annalise and Alicia.  I think of my friend JoAnn and her daughter Edwina.  Of my midwife friend Laura and her children and grandchildren.  Of Nolana and her children.  I am a teacher even when I am not aware I am teaching.  In your absence, I am becoming an elder woman.  I want to be elegant in that role.  I want to be fearless.

And my classmates, I want to tell these other mother’s children, follow your heart, be fearless, believe in yourself.  But most of all, I want for them to know they can.  They are the change our world needs.  It all starts with one person, one idea and the courage pursue it.  And a day on a mountain.

You, Andrea, were a woman of great courage.  I do not think I told you enough, how much I admired you.  As I sat on the log by the stream across from the lodge at Longmire remembering you I gave thanks for you. 
                                                                    Love You,

Saturday, May 21, 2011


May 21, 2011

Dear Andrea, 
“Major anxiety attack. Stopping to catch breath.”  I text Steve. I am on my way back to Olympia from Tacoma.

Gray clouds are rolling in, banking from the Southwest. It will rain soon. It is almost noon.

I have hummingbird brain again.

I stop at the Starbucks at Barksdale Station.  At Barksdale Station there is also a Subway, Happy Teriyaki, dental office, a chiropractor and the Better Business Bureau. All of this is across I-5 from the south entrance to Fort Lewis.  

If I had turned left, instead of right, when I took this exit off the freeway, I would have driven onto the base.  There, I could find the house I spent most of my childhood in on Idaho Street.  I do not have time for that today.  I do not have the energy.

The school I attended from seventh grade to eleventh sat on this very spot Barksdale Station sits on now. As I look out the window from where I sit, I think about the girls I shared study hall with every morning for 4 ½ years—Donna, Sharon, Roberta.  I wonder what they are doing now. I remember the summer I rode in the parade through the streets of DuPont waving from the back of a convertible. I was a Pow Wow Princess. That weekend I danced in the streets, I almost drowned in a swimming pool, and my sister told on me for something I can't remember. I do remember being pulled out of the bathroom by my hair. The pummeling of fists against my head, my neck, my shoulders, being thrown against the wall, and trying to escape falling down the stairs.

Fort Lewis, Tacoma are the epicenter of my being.  When I am there tectonic plates shift inside me.  Some are driven under.  Others split in half.

Driving for an hour through the streets of Tacoma this morning, I took a tour of my youth and young adulthood.  These are things I never talked about with you.  I wanted your childhood to be free of the influence of mine. 

The house on North 42nd and Ferdinand, Holy Cross School, and church where I attended grade school to the fifth grade, made my first confession, and received my first communion--where I walked home from school thinking “if Jesus could endure the cross I could survive the beatings with the belt”--wishing I were Huckleberry Finn, that I could make a home for myself in the two block vacant lot wild with alder trees.

Past Sixth Avenue splitting the well kept historic North End from the working class South Neighborhoods.  Past Remann Hall, I took a taxi there three weeks before Christmas in 1970. It was either that or suicide. Sixteen years old, covered in bruises, I was strip searched, given prison garb, and deloused. Then put in solitary confinement for a week where I howled and cried until I could barely open my eyes as Bye Bye Miss American Pie played over and over through the stereo speaker in the ceiling until I was ready to drown myself in the metal toilet in the middle of the room. I ate from a metal tray passed through a metal slot in the door.  I was my only company.  My crime was that I could not take the beatings anymore--I ran away from home.

On a snowy night between Christmas and the New Year, my caseworker drove me through the dark snowy streets lit by the orange glow of street lamps down Sixth Avenue, onto Highway 18, Interstate 5 exiting on South 56th St. The final destination was St. Ann’s, a Catholic Children's Home on Alaska Street between South 56th and South 72nd.  The back of the property was the freeway.  In the front of the property was Wapato Lake and Wapato Park. I shared a room with a girl my age who had been a prostitute, and who had a baby that was killed by her boyfriend. I was safer there. 

Steve texts me back. “Bummer. No Sadie to help. Close eyes and focus on breath. Start at those and work your way up slowly making sure every muscle along the way is relaxed.”

I text back.  “Lorazepam. It will kick in soon.”

In the meantime I sit here and drink coffee. It is not safe for me to drive. I take every exit absent mindedly. I cannot keep track of where I am in any given moment.

For now, I continue to sit in this Starbucks in this leather overstuffed chair sipping a grande soy, 3 pumps of sugar free hazelnut syrup, with no foam latte. I will let my memories take me where they will until they find an exit and I feel safe enough to drive again.

From St. Ann’s Home I moved to a foster home by the University of Puget Sound, back to the North End. I stayed there until the day I graduated from high school one year later. The night of graduation I packed my clothes, John Denver albums, and my record player. The next morning I moved into an apartment three blocks from there.  It took three trips on foot to move all my possessions.  

The apartment was behind the Dairy Queen that fronted Sixth Avenue. The only furniture was a wooden chair, a table, and a brown sofa the former tenants left behind. I was happy there eating Top Ramen and scrambled eggs. The bus stop was just a block away, though I seldom had the change to take it. Just 18, I often hitchhiked to my job downtown at Woolworth's in the ladies’ underwear department where I tidied up the lacy panty displays.   I wanted to go to college then.  I had no idea how to make that happen.

Within six months I was married to a man I barely knew. After we were introduced, he showed up on my doorstep at my little apartment carrying bouquets of sweet peas he had stopped to pick between his house and mine.  He had a job, a house, a car. That fall I moved into his home on South 54th and Cushman. I sewed my wedding dress of white dotted Swiss while sitting on a portable Singer Sewing machine at his dining room table. I cut it from dotted Swiss using a Simplicity pattern.  John Denver sang Annie’s Song from a cassette player for our wedding.

My husband’s house was six blocks from Bob's Market where I bought Oreos and milk. Two blocks from Gil’s Pizza and Delicatessen where I could buy 12 inch pepperoni pizzas with black olives and extra cheese that I would bake at home. I soothed myself with food and hated myself as I outgrew each pair of pants. My husband only worked sporadically, then I had your sister to feed and clothe. We moved onto 5 acres we rented on Fox Island. I got chickens and a cow and planted a garden. When even the cow was starving I packed up what I could, took $10 in rolled pennies I'd been saving, your three year old sister and moved out. I was pregnant again, though I did not know it then. One month later, I had a miscarriage.  There was seven years behind me. 

I left Fox Island then and moved to Kent.  Thus started the years I filled out welfare forms, and paid for groceries with food stamps while the people in line behind me and the grocery clerk monitored the contents of my basket. Those were the years I stood in line at the food bank thinking there had to be a better life. Those were the years Mt. St. Helens erupted, and you were born. Thinking I had nowhere else to turn, finding dead ends everywhere, trying to find schooling – secretarial, fashion merchandising, searching for a way to get ahead. I spent eight years on welfare and tried every program they offered me until I finally came up with one of my own.

I applied to the University of Washington. I knew education would be my salvation and hopefully, yours. It was.

With no college credits behind me I finished at the University of Washington in 3 1/2 years.  I feared someone would find me there—tell me I did not belong. I sat in the back of a lecture hall with you in your stroller because I could not afford daycare. You learned how to sit quietly and entertain yourself with crayons, puzzles, Legos, and children’s brightly illustrated books. On days it was not raining, I took you out of the stroller and let you run through the lawns on campus, pick roses from the carefully pruned and tended gardens. 

Graduating in the top 10% of my class I was encouraged to apply to Harvard Law School. Thinking, why not? You'll never know unless you try, I applied. The first sentence of the essay I sent in with my application read “I am a single mother on welfare.”  I waited for an answer. 

While you were watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles one Saturday morning in January 1987 the letter came from Harvard.  The postman pushed it into the mail slot in our front door with the weekly grocery flyers and the Puget Power bill where it then dropped onto the entry way floor.  There it lay until I padded over in my robe and slippers and picked it up.  My hands shook feeling the weight of the envelope, its contents yet unrevealed.  I found an opening for my index finger under the front flap, tore it open, unfolded the letter.

“You’ve been accepted to the Class of 1990.”

I miss those years taking you to class with me, first in a stroller at the University of Washington, then walking with your hand in mine through Harvard Square to class at the law school. You were a part of the class of 1990. At graduation you and your sister wore caps and tassels like mine, you walked across the podium. “Sherry Parsons Clark and her two daughters.” The announcer said as the Dean handed me my degree.  You put your hand in mine and smiled as we walked down the steps of Langdell Hall and the library.

The week after graduation we packed our couch, bed, clothing, toys in a 17 foot U-Haul truck. You and your sister sat on the bench seat beside me. The pet hamster sat on your sister's lap. On the drive home from Cambridge to Tacoma we stopped at Niagara Falls, Chicago, Wall Drug, Mount Rushmore, Bear Country. Climbing up over Snoqualmie Pass on I-90 from the flat irrigated farmlands of Eastern Washington then dropping back down to the lush forests at North Bend, Tiger Mountain on the other side I started to sing.  My heart was full.  You and your sister sang with me.  We were home again.  Trees that pierced the sky like arrows, falling water over rock alongside I-90, the last remnants of winter white clinging to the shoulders and the hilltops. Reaching Tacoma we pulled up to our new home at 6118 S. G Street. It was the first house I ever purchased on my own.  This would be our home.

I tried to settle in there.  I was restless in my new role of Harvard Law School graduate, lawyer.  Til then, I had been poor and powerless.  There was a lot to overcome.  I became a great actress—improvising that new life as it unfolded before me.  Terror had brought its own U-Haul—had taken up residence inside of me.  I believed peace could only be found outside of me. 

For 10 years I was single. On my own, I provided for you and your sister with no help from either of your fathers.  Harvard came with a big price tag.  There is no such thing as a free ride.  Student loans were coming due.  And though I recently graduated from Harvard Law School, I felt like I was nothing without a husband.  I didn’t really want to be a lawyer.  I wanted to be a wife and mother.  I only went to school because I needed to be able to support myself—and you and your sister. 

We lived in that house on G St. that I loved at first sight for less than a year.  Then I married Dean.  We moved to his home in Federal Way.
“I am okay now.” I text Steve.

I am lying. I do not want him to worry. I am lost in the rooms of our house I bought for us in Tacoma. The swing on the front porch, the front yard neatly tended. The three bedrooms upstairs, mine in the middle of yours and your sister's. Your space faced the street and had a little room under the eaves with bookshelves and a child sized table with two chairs. It was a place an imagination could run wild, where magic could happen at tea parties with a cabbage patch doll and a stuffed rabbit and your mother reading you a story.

My favorite place in that house was the sunroom downstairs. It looked out onto the mountain ash in the backyard. I put my office there, the desk in front of the windows, thinking I would write great stories and poetry in that space I created for myself.  I wrote nothing. 

I drove by the G Street house today. I parked on the street across from it. There is a chain-link fence where white picket used to be. The front porch swing hangs tilted from one rusted chain. The yard, the flowering quince I planted in the corner, is overgrown. There is moss on the roof. There are no curtains on the room that used to be yours. A sheet is carelessly tacked up there. I drove around to the back to see the mountain ash, the sunroom that I loved. The mountain ash is gone. The sunroom looks out on a dilapidated garage, a chain-link dog kennel, and an overgrown backyard.  Everything has changed.  There is no going back.

Everywhere in this town there are memories. Red Lobster, Red Robin, Dairy Queen, Safeway, Tacoma Mall, Fugate Ford, Point Defiance, the ferry to Vashon Island. Too many places to name that we have shared.   I am spent.

And the clouds have moved on. I can see blue sky. I have finished my latte.

I can drive again now.
                                                                                     Love you,