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,