Monday, November 30, 2015

The Wind's Epic

For those of you who watch national news, you may be surprised to learn that our region had an apparently not national-news-worthy and yet historic wind storm. I suspect we did not make your evening corporate news because wind storms don't get names and aren't things with any kind of understanding of what they are and how much they are to be feared. But it was indeed a thing that kept my kids out of school for the past 12 days (wind + Thanksgiving) and screwed up every schedule of every person.

You may imagine that we here in Spokane are wimps of the highest order: Wind? School closures? Pull it together people! But the truth is that hundreds if not thousands of giant trees fell in this wind. We don't have wind-friendly trees here. We don't have bendy palms built to withstand sustained gusts of 71 mph. Our deciduous trees fared fairly well, simply letting go of their last few kite-leaves. But our pines and spruces flew through our skies like maces of war. Spruces are thick with needles like sailcloth. And they have shallow, wimpy root systems. They remind me the Tonka trucks people drive around, all jacked up and tough lookin', but it's all show, all compensation. I felt bad about it later, but I actually laughed when I saw their spindly spaghetti like roots upended and exposed. I'd never imagined that such stout trees had so little in the ground. Meanwhile, the pines snapped like uncooked spaghetti noodles.  These huge, ancient trees propelled through power lines that went out with fireworks and rainbow explosions. All over town. Every street and every corner. 198,000 customers (and by that they don't mean individuals, they mean points of service) were without power, the foundation of our civilization. The threads woven above our heads, the crocheted electricity upon which we now depend for every bit of our basic survival needs, dissolved upon our heads.

Touring the damage this past week, it seemed that the trees tried hard to not hurt anyone. I saw 60 foot pines that seemed to thread themselves between houses. Garages were smashed over and over, but only a few houses. Only a few people died. The roads are clear now, but for days no one could go anywhere. The road to our church, through a graveyard, had no less than 6 pines plaited across just one block. Huck drove home that way on that Tuesday night because all other routes were blocked. Only two trees were down at the time, a Subaru trapped between them. Huck and others left their cars to help the man out. Four fell there after they left. Although the logs have been sawed off and removed, the road is still draped in a festive garland of power-lines and pine bows. Closer to home, Huck detoured several times around downed trees and power-lines trapping a woman in her car (emergency responders were able to make it to this one).

I picked up the kids at what was predicted to be the height of the storm, but turned out to be only the initial stages, around 3pm that day, Tuesday, November 17th. Three years to the day of my head injury. On my way to their schools, crossing the I-90 bridge over Latah Creek canyon, my car felt like it would flutter off like a leaf, and land like meteorite 100 feet below.  

It was garbage day and I'd bemoaned on Facebook that our prevailing winds would yet again upend the collected cans at the end of our road, on the corner of our property and bring us fabulously gross gifts that I would then have to gather like candy tossed during a parade, just like candy, yes. But the winds giveth and the winds taketh away. Whatever landed in our yard that day, aside from a metal sign, was quickly whisked away to someone else's.

The kids and I headed up South Hill to run a few errands I'd planned days before, but as we drove up Stevens Street a garbage can toppled and was pushed up the hill, on it's side, next to us. It got it's own lane, a bus following it, and kept pace with us. That was when I knew we were in for something special.

Sunflower stalks survived the windstorm wa-ay better than spruces
At Target, the electricity went out, briefly. When it returned, the registers all had to be rebooted and the line was extensive. We huddled with a group of employees as we listened to the loud crashing above us, like dumpsters skipping across the roof. Killing time, we picked up a few more pants for Coyote, who like most boys, burns through pants like matches. When things started moving again, we checked out and just as the cashier handed me the receipt, the lights went out again.

Most of the stores went down then. And with that, all of the milk and cheese and eggs and meat and tofu  and every single frozen thing from ice cream to fish to frozen entrees in Spokane was gone and had to be thrown out and it would be days before we got anything like it again. My chicory coffee would be cut with evaporated milk that week. It was so so sad. Facebook became a beacon of information. We turned to it for the list of a handful of stores that were open, running on generators or using flashlights and taking cash only. One needed a guide to open gas stations so as to not run out of gas in searching for it. The lines were long. This went on for a modernly improbable number of days.

We headed home down Hatch Road, a veritable gauntlet of listing pines. The crumbling thoroughfare, built on a sandy slope and a piece of roadwork with will never be anything but an arterial of potholes, winds along a western hillside and was receiving the brunt of weatherly blows. At that point, no trees had yet crushed it and the tumble weeds were using it as a highway of mass migration. I love driving over tumble weeds, especially in the dark. They explode in my headlights like supernovas. I aim for them. But then that's probably because my car is 10 years old. The BMW in front of me would not engage in any such revelry and insisted on passing them as if they were cars. This meant that we also were compelled to stop for tumble weeds and wait behind the BMW to pass them, like fucking cars. And so we waited, vulnerable, as the pines menaced us from above.

Apple rose prep
Our electricity only went out for a moment, just long enough to screw up all the household clocks. Out here, on Paradise Prairie, we suffer chronic scouring winds. What was going to give way to them, would have done so long ago. It's a winnowing of years that leaves only the toughest. Or alternatively, just loosened them up for the final "blow" as was the case with some old barns which came undone, their bones scattering across the prairie. But otherwise, our few trees withstood it all. Our house was one of three in our area to retain power. I felt part guilt, part gloat that our house, not quite as fancy as the others around here, was good enough to keep the lights on. We lost maybe 20 shingles. Some other, more expensive houses, lost a lot more.

The next morning all was quiet, calm, sunny, perfect. The wind did not return for a long time, as if we'd used up all our allotted invisible-miles-per-hour in just one evening. The 300,000 people without power needed to keep warm and the smoke from their wood stoves settled over the region and that is what we breathed.

In the city, there was looting. The police also complained of a tripling of accidents. Standard routes were blocked. People had to go around only to find that route blocked too. They started to speed around every closed option. People suddenly forgot how to navigate intersections without streetlights. They forgot how to drive. Everything was confused. Schedules out of whack. Neighbors banded together. They went tribal. There were bonfires in the streets guarded by machete wielding vigilantes, unwilling to let thieves take the block (eyewitnesses: Blue and Huck).

Our freezer and electric juice were opened up to all who needed it. And they did.

Coyote taste tested his lemon bars by cutting a circle out of the middle and filling the hole with lemon slices, oh so decorative!
We did not lose electricity, but we did lose internet. It was Mario Kart for hours. And I kicked everyone's asses at Farm-opoly, a gleeful compensation for my failures in real life. Friends got hotels and we swam in their pool. Hotel occupancy November 16 was around 50%. Hotel occupancy November 18 was 99%. And every night we would hear the news, still no school. The trees had crushed some schools. Many had no power. Most children could not walk to school without threading their way through downed lines like some messed up spy movie. Many roads were still closed. Meanwhile, on Lucky Farm, our greatest hardship was running out of phone data and having to buy more. I wonder if my homeowners insurance will cover $30 in extra Verizon charges? While school was out and the internet down, our kids rekindled hobbies. Coyote actually read a giant book and made lemon bars. Blue knitted a scarf and baked elaborate apple roses.

Today was the first day they returned to school. With some amount of senior-itis, I skipped church yesterday, shoving them all out the door without me, beyond desperate for some alone time and unable to wait even one more day.

We discovered this morning that lunch boxes with half-eaten lunches were left in back packs for nearly two weeks. We also discovered forgotten homework assignments. And now things will get back to boring and bleak normal. At least for the three weeks until Christmas break.

The scarf

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Calculating the Half-Life

Decades ago. Decades. I was 20, almost 21. My first husband left and I became a feminist. I had married so early, months after turning 18. It's what our parents had done. It was part of our religion, no sex until marriage, and 18 was as long as I could wait. Plus I needed to know, have it in writing, who was going to love me forever. And after a shocking and deep heartbreak, the answer became, hopefully: me. As part of my re-education, I'd read Feminism: The Essential Historical Writings, and was moving on to some essential second wave feminist novel that I understood was required reading for the newly converted. I wish I could remember the title. Maybe some reader will recognize it and I'll be roundly chastised for never having gotten past the 20th page. This is because at 20 pages in we were still on the opening scene: a woman, (a homemaker, I think), gazing at herself in a mirror, analyzing her wrinkles and gray hair, wondering how the hell she got where she was. "Holy Fuck!" 20-year-old Sarajoy exclaimed, "Who gives a shit!? That is waaay more self-pity and navel gazing than anyone should ever have time for!"

This is to say: Sorry about this post!

Middle aged Zinnia
If you don't want to read about a disabled homemaker turning 40, not even this one, then I highly suggest you stop reading two paragraphs ago. But for me, today, I occupy that space, I take that baton for my lap in this relay. I am that 40 yo SAHM with no career prospects, a life I never intended, a life paused and the remote's batteries are missing. We are unsure how to un-pause from here.

I myself am as horrified as anyone that this birthday is affecting me so horribly. It's cliche. It's boring. It's pathetic. But it's real. Huck's trying to get me to birthday party, but I can't. Although I am eating cake for every meal this week.

Someone recently summarized the state of affairs in my life right now by surmising, "that time in your life." That cliche 40 time. That time where the practicing ends and the business begins. It's that point in Yahtzee where you stop "going for" your four of a kind and your sixes and start accepting your bullshit rolls, you take a 12 for your sixes and just forget about the 35 point bonus. You plop a goose egg on the large straight. You laugh at yourself, did you ever really believe you'd roll a large straight! HAHA!

But I don't want to feel like a statistic, that my feelings are all just part of the ride, a predetermined nadir on the roller coaster. But it's true. Forty IS statistically the trough of happiness in the average life and average life span. And as every second wave feminist novel will tell you, it's part of the patriarchal ride. Plus, I've gotten really in to Joni Mitchell lately and that's puts me solidly, undeniably, in to the 40 year old box.

Don't worry, I won't be cataloging wrinkles and bulges. I take pride in my grey streaked hair. I have long since made peace with the probability that, if I am very lucky, I will be an adorable, wrinkled, weathered and stooped old lady. I will have a belt buckle burrowed deep between a round belly and saggy boobs. And this will not happen over night (at least I hope not). Best case scenario is that I get there bit by bit, day by day, mile by mile. I have a regal and distinguished destination. As I traverse from sea to shining sea, I will transform from the pert Rocky mountains to the old, slumped Appalachians. And I accept the necessity of every mile carved onto my corporeal being. Would it be too much to reference South Dakota's Mt. Rushmore here? too Woody Guthrie? But I am in the South Dakota of life, and even here, there are wonderful natural formations: The Bad Lands. No, I am not miffed by the years seeping in to my face. Nope, I've got a handful of face-cream helpers to smooth that transition.

I tried squirming away from these uncomfortable feelings using logic and anthropology. The only reason 40 is a big deal is because we live in a culture that 1) celebrates birthdays. We don't just say, "Yeah, I've been around for 39 winters." We have a date, a point in time that comes with cake and pointy hats and annoying expectations. 2) We live long enough to celebrate 40th birthdays, and long enough to celebrate them as a half way point. 3) We have a base ten number system. 40 would be nothing to a Mayan. The Mayans had a base 16 system where the numbers go up to 16 before there's anything in the "tens" column. So if I were Mayan (and what with my Mayan tattoos given to me by Mayans, I'm practically 100% Mayan already), my big birthdays (I'm unsure if ancient Mayans kept track of that stuff) would've been 16 and 32. And that means that it's no biggy until I'm 48. The problems isn't 40, it's the base ten number system of modern times. But the unavoidable truth is that these are the times I live in, with the numbers I have.  Fourty is a mile marker here, now, and I am not ancient Mayan, not even a little bit. And modern Mayans use the same number system I do.
The problem is where I AM at my supposed midpoint. It's the view, or rather lack thereof, that bothers me. It's that things still aren't going my way at this check point. It's the terrifying and yet reassuring understanding that life and I have come to at this point: I'm not very much in control of any of it.

Middle-aged Zinnia: beautiful as it dies
Poor me. I'm half way done, or so the narrative goes. It's all downhill from here. Honestly, I could use a little down hill coasting at this point. But is it really half way? If genetics gets a say, I'm either 2/3 done or half way will actually be at age 46. Of course there's always the random meteorite, e. coli and car accident. I could be 99% done and we won't know until the close of business tomorrow.

Not only am I a homemaker turning 40, I'm also still unable to work thanks to my TBI. I screw shit up all the time. I lose important papers. I forget to return phone calls. I lose time. I lose conversation threads. People start talking to me like we're best friends and I can't even place where I've seen them before. I'm constantly reminding the world that I don't function "normally" (and I'm not sure I ever did) so please stop expecting me to. I'd hate to screw up someone's business, or be constantly worried that I would. So, not only am I unemployed, I'm unemployable. I would not hire me, as is.

I could maybe work part time right now, but I'd have 0 energy for my kids at the end of a short day. Plus, I'm unsure what part time work I'd be suited to. It would need to be work that if I screwed it up, it wouldn't be a big deal. I'm not sure that I could psychologically handle any work simple enough for me to mentally handle. I do not think that would be any solution to my existential crisis. I don't think a bullshit job would add meaning to, or a sense of control over, my life.

Someone recently used the '80's term "Displaced Homemaker," to describe me and I almost threw up. Someone suggested I go back to community college and I've been having community college nightmares ever since. I actually loved my community college experience, but I don't want to go back. In my nightmares I'm stuck in community college, and I know I don't belong there anymore. I run around trying to tell people that I don't belong there, to let me out, that I've already done all of this; I've done my time, dammit! My locker won't open, I can't remember the combination and I yell that community college doesn't have lockers and dammit this IS NOT even going to be high school in this dream. I graduated from a University, top of my class. Please, please let me out. Eventually I realize that it's college, not prison, and I run, run, run away, eating handfuls of hallucinogenic Oregon grapes and salal as I go. I will not go back! I will not enroll in displaced homemaker kindergarten, not unless there are naps!

Maybe there is some career or work for me. Maybe. I'm trying to keep an open mind. So I took some personality and career tests. The career tests showed that I have absolutely no overlap with known gainful employment. It literally said, "Nothing."

At Level 3 training, it said "Stone Carver." I can't imagine anyone wants me using power tools or carving things in to stone. I would be comfortable with the concept of headstones, but I doubt anyone else would be comfortable with my execution, with the typos on their loved one's graves.

At Level 4 training, I got "Writer," and "Poet." I'm not understanding why these were included in a test for gainful employment.

At the level of jobs requiring a PhD (Level 5), I was directed to become a therapist, art therapist, or neuropsychologist. After nearly three years of hard work, including a year of speech therapy, I've maxed out the amount of time I can read and comprehend at 45 minutes on a good day. One wonders what would become of me while taking the graduated school entrance exams, much less doing actual graduate work.

I then discovered that my Meyers-Briggs personality has changed, several letters are different; I think there used to be a J and a T in there. According to this revered yet "cocktail-party trick" of a personality test, I am now: Introvert, Intuitive, Feeling, and Perceptive. A veritable Deanna Troi, with a smaller rack. And just as employable outside of the Enterprise. I have the least employment prone personality set. According to the assessment, it wouldn't even occur to INFP's to succeed in business, or try. It's not that we're lazy. We're just fundamentally impractical and we can't see our way to being practical. When a percentage of us do find our way to careers, we are typically miserable in them. We are interesting. We are creative. We are sensitive. We are hard workers. We long to be practical, useful. But alas, we are not built for today's world. We are doomed to live out our accomplishment-free lives gazing forlornly across the fence to the literally greener grasses (because they can afford lawn care) of others. It was kinda relieving to know that it's not that I should just try harder. I'm already consistently working at the outer edges of my abilities, pushing, always, on the boundaries what I can do now and the idea that I should try harder seems rude and ridiculous. It's that I'm a square peg, by nature. It's not a moral failing, it's a structural one. I'm just not built to career. And careers are not built for me.

Echinacea: Age on the edges
I sometimes masochistically read articles like "7 Things Successful People Do", "Ten reasons you're not successful", et al. The first thing I'd like to note is that none of the things Successful People do is read or write such internet filler. I would be "Exhibit A" in that department. The second thing is that I've learned to rephrase these statements: "7 Traits that are currently being financially rewarded," and "Ten things you could be if you had a personality transplant" If one personality-set were successful in every day and every age of humanity, that would be very stupid. We all have different sets of skills and methods and each set is suited to thrive in some situation humans might find themselves in. My set does not appear to be a necessary part of modern day workings right now. I am the "This Page Intentionally Left Blank" of humanity during this era. We can admit that this is not the environment my personality niche is suited to. I am the humming bird who's flower I co-evolved with no longer exists.

I also take issue with the term "Successful People." What the fuck does that even mean? Gainfully employed? Slave wages employment? Bullshit jobs that ad no value to our collective experience? These articles never include a working definition of "successful."

Charlie Chaplin was one of my favorite "Seems Successful" people. Funny, creative, intelligent, bold. I've been in love with him since middle school. Unfortunately, I just read a more comprehensive biography of him (one 30-45 minute session at a time!) and he was a fucking mess. His mother was a prostitute who went insane. His dad didn't feel like it, so he dropped his two boys off at a workhouse. He finally makes it to America and Hollywood and makes it big BIG. But the funnier and more successful he gets, the crueler he becomes in real life. He was a fucking asshole. He seems to have so much insight, but he was an asshole in all his personal dealings. Acknowledging his Dickensian rough start was likely detrimental, no matter how commercially successful he was, he never became a successfully whole person.

I also read a biography on Lord Byron, writer of the syrupiest love poetry ever known to man. You don't even need to have an object of affection to fall in love by way of his work. You just fall in love with love. But as a person, he was a very cruel douche-sack to every one of his lovers. He fucked everything and everyone. He was vicious and predatory and incapable of any real love.

This is what I think of as a bifurcation process. Perhaps that's not the official word, but it's the one I use. I imagine that the effort that goes in to putting up a front prevents one from actually being the thing one is fronting. Charlie Chaplin had exactly zero "Little Tramp" lightness in his real life. Lord Byron wrote incredible love poems, but he never loved, he never went beyond the tumultuous surface of falling in love, to the quiet depths below, the actual loving. He gave his only child a Chaplin-esc childhood, of which she died.

And I see it everywhere. Now more than ever, with our curated social media personas. The person who talks incessantly about yoga never actually does it. The one who's always posting about compassion, has none, face to face. The person who brags about leaps and bounds of personal growth does so while lying about what's really going on her life. Active wear used for netflix binges. The blogger-personas that we're all told are key to successful blogging (whatever that even is.) Bloggers are told to adopt a sale-able identity, to be the recipe lady, or the canning woman, or the mom. But I just can't. Down that road they tell me lies success, but I only see madness. Maybe it's the success-phobic INFP's need for authenticity talking. But truly, I am not one thing. I am not going to "seem" in order to be "seen". And I'm not going to adopt a simple, marketable identity.  Complexity doesn't sell, they say. Just "being" doesn't sell. I'm supposed to tell you that I'm one thing, I'm a product. I am the person who writes love poems or I am the SAHM "Little Tramp." But I can't do it. Even for mere bloggers there's the danger of bifurcation, of false fronts, of rotten insides. Big Money doesn't have to be at the end of the bifurcation rainbow in order for "presentation" to destroy the interior.

I can't imagine every successful person is thus bifurcated. But presenting a facade to the world must take it's toll. And in this I am lucky. Forty years old, unemployable, disabled, home"making" (haha!) mother that I am, I am free to pursue a complete integration of myself. My ugly shadows and my elegant light are both welcome in this unsuccessful place, or rather, that is what I strive for. And someday, perhaps that could become the prevailing definition of a "Successful Person." It is to me. And it's what I can do. And it's how I can contribute to this world right now, by being as much myself, as fully, as integrated, as I can be, day by day.

Chocolate mint
What exactly have I done for 40 years? What do I have to show for it? No career, but let me tell you: I've grown from scratch. I've learned to read twice! I've learned to walk and talk one-and-a-half times! I've done all my schooling, even college. I got married, twice! I've owned two houses, or perhaps I've owned one and been own by the other, but that's a different blog post. I've traveled all over the world and the memories are Wordsworth's daffodils. I grew humans from scratch, twice! And really what is more trippy and biologically successful than bringing life in to the world. I know it's not for everyone, and not everyone can have that experience, but for me, it's really been a capstone experience. I taught them to walk and read and ride bikes and camp and cook and love, hopefully. I've been fortunate in many ways. I may not have an income or a career, but looking at it this way, I've been very simply a successful biological being, a human, learning and re-learning how to live in this place, in this time. And that's all. Is that enough? It must be. It's all I've got.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A Crappy Secret

My sedan is full of boys, ten and eleven year olds. They’re telling stories and they’ve stumbled upon their perfect topic combo: tattling on siblings meets toilet humor. We hear about pooh smears and a two year old eating a log like a candy bar, tales any sane child would keep to himself and every sibling delights in telling.

I hear my son pipe up. His voice sends up an entire drill team of red flags in my gut. He says, “My mom ate poo once, didn’t you mom!!” The car erupts in groans and howls.  “I was five!” I yell over the din. “And I want a new mouth now. Maybe a new son too,” I mutter as I take our exit, swooping over the freeway.

“What? How?!” They clamber.

The neighbor girl Debbi and I are five. One of us poops in the toilet. One of us wonders if it would taste as bad as it smells. Dares are levied. I wager no one will ever find out. Debbi and I would keep the secret forever. And so I reach down through the cold toilet water and… and… and I break that taboo, that utterly sensible taboo. I scooped a dab onto my pointer finger and quickly … It tasted like you’d imagine it would, like shit. And the secret kept until my son was three.

When he was three, he wondered aloud what poo would taste like. As any good mother would, I flung myself between my child and imminent health danger with an embarrassing memory on the side. I told him it tasted like it smelled, but slightly less flavorful than you’d imagine. And he wanted to know how I knew for sure.

I’m wishing just now, however, that I’d kept my cautionary tale to myself and my son had earned his own secret, one he’d be much more likely to keep. But how could I blame him? The tale is one of daring and courage and disgust and by someone’s mother no less! To a car full of boys, it was the grossest tale ever told, and to them gross is a synonym for great. 

And now all the pre-adolescent boys I know are sitting in the back seat in a hushed and hallowed awe of my son’s mother.

We arrive finally at the warehouse of trampolines. They all leap from the car and I realize my secret’s out now, well and truly out, exuberantly out, and bouncing off the walls.

Coyote got "new" records for his birthday
I imagine his story goes like this: It’s my birthday. Actually my birthday was last week. I’m 11 now. We are on the way to Sky High, my favorite trampoline place. Actually, it’s the only trampoline place I know. 

We pick up Bishop and Silas (but not in that order) and we’re all joking and laughing about everything. Someone, maybe it’s Bishop, he starts talking about his little brothers. He’s talking about them and about poop. We’ve all got stories about poop.

And I told mine. It’s not actually my story – it’s my mom’s. But it feels like mine. I can’t remember ever NOT knowing the story. I love this story. My mom ate poop, straight out of the toilet, on a dare, a dare she maybe even started herself. She was little, so it’s a little okay.

The boys love it. They can’t believe it. Of course nobody even believes their parents were kids, not just kids, but really stupid and weird kids. I think she must’ve grown out of it. God, I hope she did. What if my mom still eats poo?! I’m pretty sure no one else’s mom tried poo. Girls don’t try poo. Moms don’t try poo. It’s crazy is what it is. We’re laughing – we can’t believe it. Mom. Girl. Poo!
I can’t ever forget it. And I don’t think my friends will either. I’m the kid with the mom that was gross once and that makes me cool, forever.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Summer of Satisfaction

It's the first day of school in these parts and this means that I am 1) crying as my firstborn trots off to highschool and 2) happy to have use of my computer again. Logging on today, I notice a home page full of new games and a desk cluttered with Coyote's new PlayStation paraphernalia... And then I apparently needed a few weeks before I came back to my computer.
West Thumb Geyser Basin, a super hot spring on Yellowstone Lake

Coyote saved up his money from several years of birthdays and Christmases and ordered the step-up from his Wii. I worried that the only reason he wanted the PS4 was so that he could play the grittier games.  He was no longer was satisfied with Wii's Lego Batman and MarioKart (although who could possibly tire of MarioKart?! Not me! Never!) But Coyote assured me that there were plenty of great, non-first-person-shooter games available, namely Little Big Planet which he mastered in 3 weeks. He inevitably longed for a new challenge, a better game. There weren't any. There was only a horror game called Dying Light and if I didn't let him get it then the whole P$4 endeavor was wasted and he might as well throw the machine out.

So we let him buy Grand Theft Auto 5. Yes. We did that. Turns out the name is the most salacious part of the game. And kids have been playing cops and robbers, prey and predator, chase, whatever you want to call it, for centuries. Video games, like all games of all times and media, can be a way to play and pretend at things we would never want to act on. They can be a way to see an imagined situation through to its end without the risks of real life. And all his friends already have it. Or so I thought. One mom got all up in my face about it. It's okay to forbid the game, different parents, different kids and all that, and that you don't want your kid playing it at our house. Fine. No big deal. But the big deal comes in when I'm not even allowed to say that I do allow it. The "forbid" opinion is not the only right one. And if you get to tell me you forbid it, I get to tell you that I don't. And frankly, it's a really fun game. Silly and hilarious, I enjoy playing it with Coyote, although I hate looking my character in the face because he scares me and when the police show up I always scream and drop the controls. Playing it with Coyote allows for conversations about the things that come up in the game. We had no screens in this house for many many years, but now that the kids are of discussion age, if find it much better to allow and discuss rather than forbid and never speak of such things. The former is more complicated and takes more time, that latter is easier and apparently allows for the adrenaline shot of self-righteousness.

Just a peek at the Grand Teitons
More than vetting the video game itself, the extensive discussions we had before letting him buy it made it clear that we care about him, about what he's doing with his time and about his well-being.  This is the most important message we can ever give him about anything. Also, we do trust that he knows the difference between real life and imaginary. My kids have always been blessedly clear on the differences between real and imaginary things. In addition to being an atheist since she could speak (neither Huck nor I are), I once found Blue, who's always loved babies, bashing her doll against the wall. "Oh no! We don't want to do that to our babies!" At two years old, she looked at me with great concern, put her hand on my arm consolingly, looked deep in my eyes and said, "Mom, it's just a doll. It's not real."

Mammoth Hot Springs
Coyote also used this illuminating article to argue his pro-Grand Theft Auto points. Although, when sass becomes an issue, he knows the game is the first item of confiscation. Research, he's learned, is key to getting what he wants. Last year he wanted a game called Prison Break, where you design prisons and let inmates loose in them and that's how you discover your design flaws. It's actually a smart, problem-solving, auto-cad-teaching game but before I let him download it, he had to give me a well-researched report about the prison-industrial complex and the school-to-prison pipeline that disproportionately affects kids of color.

Meanwhile, Blue and I were nursing our addiction to West Wing. It's what we call a "pact show" which means we can't watch it without the other person. So I'm sitting here by myself now, fully aware that 10,000 episodes are available just over there. She'd never know right?

Yellowstone's Grand Canyon
Unfortunately much of our summer was spent inside due to a record-breaking number of days over 100 degrees. 100+ isn't even good beach or pool weather as the second you leave the water, you're screwed. Blue has passed out in heat before and I am also a wilty little pansy. Huck loved the heat as his reconstructed titanium knee feels heavenly in it. I predict we will be retiring in very different places. Although, at this point, I'm unsure what I would retire from.

On those hottest of days, I got up at 5 and worked in the garden for an hour. But I quickly tired of being grumpy and sleep deprived. During the hottest days, all of the garden grew at an astonishing rate, especially the weeds. I took a few days off of my 5 am risings and when I returned, the weeds were so large that removing them would have uprooted my plants as well. No matter, I still had tomatoes a month early. My determinant tomato plants actually produced through an entire life-cycle and died a natural, non-frost death. I have never seen it before.  Everything produced well and it was a miracle if I could find the fruits of my labor among the 5 foot tall grasses and weeds.

But even the 5am weedings had to stop when the month of smoke rolled in. Last year's smoke season brought me adult onset asthma. So much of this August was spent inside nursing on my inhaler and staying close to the air purifier.

But the highlight of summer was the un-plugged camping trip to Yellowstone, the first of it's kind since my head injury. Huck planned everything: menu, packing, itinerary. This all used to be my jurisdiction and I was happy to hand it over. I was simply along for the ride. And it was amazing. I forgot how incredibly much I love camping and exploring. My third time at Yellowstone, and I still can't even grok its marvels.The kids were in awe and wondered why anyone would go to Disneyland before Yellowstone. 10,000 thermal features, 2/3 of the world's supply, all in this little corner of Wyoming. Geysers, faithful and muddy. Steam vents named "Dragon's Lair." Rainbow colored hot springs and bacterial mats. The "standing dead" trees that don't decay. A million bison causing hours long traffic jams. Coyote suggested "Grand Theft Auto: Yellowstone." We found a warm-ish swimming hole through steep rocks, a hidden gem with parking and toilets but not featured in guide books. The kids jumped cliffs into a 70 degree river. We hiked and forded a river to get to the remote and gross worm-filled Huckleberry Hot Springs. When it rained, we played poker (butterscotch and Hi-Chew ante) and ate dinner in our tents. The kids had their own tent which was also reserved for anyone who's camp-food farts became unbearable. Yes, the park was crowded. Yes, it was exhausting. But we kept the itinerary at a pace I could handle and even at that, I couldn't handle much. Our first attempt at Old Faithful's crowds had me overwhelmed-sobbing and we had to leave. We returned days later and well-rested for an awesome bike ride through trails of hot springs and marmots. We rented a boat and let the kids cruise us around Yellowstone Lake. That afternoon I was too tired for the Elephant Back trail, circled in my guide book, and instead we headed to the Gatsby-esc Lake hotel for drinks. The next day, as it would happen, a park veteran was half devoured and half cached-for-later by a bear on that same Elephant Back trail.

Returning home, we stopped by Virginia and Nevada Cities, ghost towns that have lovingly haunted me since a family road trip when I was 11. It was as worthwhile as ever. The nickel arcade kept us occupied for hours for only $2. We watched 1905 porn which involved women in large flouncy knee-length nightgowns in a series of photographs that flipped through like a slow film. We visited Butte's Berkeley Pit superfund site because that's what you do when you vacation with an environmental engineer.
Mammoth hot springs

When we returned home, we found our garage freezer had quit and was full of ick and goop created by a week of 100 degree days. And we discovered Captain Jack on the back porch with a filleted and infected leg. He needed emergency surgery that night (which cost as much as our entire vacation) with three layers of stitches to sew the flesh back on to the bone. He's fine now, but it was a frightening moment and exhausting on top of it all.

Every day that was not smokey or 100+, we filled with friends and lakes and short hikes and bike rides and tomatoes and summer squash and I feel full of summer, topped off. The last two summers have left me mourning my inability to properly summer. But this one has been real and right, even with it's unbearable heat or hazardous air quality from this ring of fire in which we appear to now be living. I might finally be ready for the season's change.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Last Chicken

In the beginning, my chickens were to be free range, but they pooped everywhere which was incompatible with my barefoot prone family. And they ate every little shoot, every seedling, every seed. Nothing good could grow with chickens on the loose. So we clipped their wings and fenced them in.

Huck and I clipped their wings at night. Without light, chickens sleep, a stupor-y, paralyzed sleep. This is why they need latched coops. They are defenseless in the night. Plus, in the dark, I could half-heartedly lunge at them and no one, not even I, could see my chicken-shit farmeress-ness. I hated handling chickens.

Coyote was our go-to chicken-rustler. His preferred, if unconventional, method was a leaf blower we’ve never needed as we have no leaves out here. But Coyote found a use for it. He’d bluster the chickens back to their barn. At first it seemed cruel. But it was so darn effective that the chickens would run to the barn as soon as they saw Coyote with his uzi of air.

Sometimes they ran towards me, goddess of kitchen scraps that I am. They’d squat down, a submissive posture which means “fuck me, oh great rooster!” But I’d just scratch their backs instead. They never did that when it was time for clipping wings. Their empty little heads were full of instinct.

In six years we’d never had a predator. Early on, we found a mink winding around their coop. And once, after one died, an owl ate its head. We moved the coop in to the barn, out of the weather and further removed from claws, beaks and teeth. We secured the entrances to the barn. I don’t know when we stopped shutting the coop altogether.  

Six years in, their rickety little coop was falling to pieces. If you jostled the chicken-filled coop like a maraca for long enough, you could get the door closed but the locks wouldn’t line up. And what good would locks do when the chicken wire was coming off? Staple and nail. Staple and nail and still, corners popped up here and there, now and again. So we’d just shut the barn door instead of the coop. Only a few still slept in the coop anyway.

Ninja (or Dragon, we had two indistinguishable black chickens) sleeps on a high high shelf. No one knows how she gets up there, but the dismount is a bitch. Every morning, she throws herself off the ledge, bounces on her chest across the barn floor, rests for a disturbing moment, and then resumes her day. 

Meanwhile her twin was constantly brooding in the hay. After four years she was still convinced that an egg would hatch, some day. As she grew older, she grew broodier and broodier and I gave up trying to convince her to leave her faux clutch for the coop.

At six and four years old, their best egg laying days were behind them. There were only a few eggs a week, and that was during prime laying times. Yet we continued to feed them, not quite sure when to call it quits, or how. 

When we bought this place, I was thrilled to live out my farmish fantasies. Cows and chickens and a 5000 square foot garden!! My dreams were big and I had the energy and enthusiasm to match. After over two years of head injury, it doesn’t fit any more. Even if we had somehow known all that wasn’t coming back, all that I had to let go of, that this whole enterprise was actually over two years ago, who had the energy, the wherewithal to close up shop? We just kept doing what we could to keep what we had going. 

Slowly now, we are bringing the property to a state the matches what our lives look like now. Fences are being pulled out, large swaths of overly needy plants are in hospice care, their final days a looming certainty.  I don’t have the energy and desire for doing this dismantling work either, but it’s too depressing to look out the windows at Falling Apart Farm, Not Quite Able to Keep Up Enterprises, and The Garden of Dead Dreams. So each day, a little bit of farm gets folded up and put away. No one knew how to dis-assemble the chicken-husbandry.

That morning, I slid the broad, white, barn door aside and there, at my flip-flops, lay Sri Racha, a black and white speckled beauty, headless, her neck bleeding into the water jug, feathers everywhere. 

That was all I wanted to see. I did not want to step around her, deal with her, with this.  I didn’t like touching the chickens when they were alive, certainly dead would be no better. I dashed back to the house and asked Huck to bury the beautiful bird before he left for work.  By the time I realized he’d forgotten, the day was on its way to record-breaking heat.

And then, it slowly occurred to me that I hadn’t seen the other chickens emerge from the barn yet either. In retrospect, I seem like a dimwitted ninny, but it’s the slowness of the unsuspecting, I hope.
I sent my chicken rustler, my gross-chore go-to guy out to the barn for a reconnaissance mission. He returned with wild tales of blood and feathers and severed heads. If it wasn’t the work of Ozzie Osbourne, it was a mink or a new-to-the-hood raccoon. Coyote reported that the white one still had her head. Half of it. And she needed to be killed. 

Photos courtesy Blue Palmer: this was her favorite
I traded my flipflops for my barn shoes and went to witness the grizzly scene myself. I stepped over the corpse of Sri Racha and found the brooder’s body still on the nest, a testament to motherly instinct. The walls around it were covered in blood and her head lay nearby. Priscilla cowered just behind the door, her lower beak missing along with half her neck. I hoped she was dead, but she waddled a few steps. Ninja wandered through, dazed and silent, yet whole. The floor seemed to move and breathe with a layer of feathers. 

Priscilla was the original chicken. I picked her specifically to help me with my fear of chickens. She was the white one, the look alike to the headless chicken that attacked me in my youth. I did not want to kill a chicken; I did not want to kill Priscilla. I didn't want it to be final; could she pull through? Alternately, she seemed so close to death anyway, why bother with the final severance? But Coyote insisted. 

Despite my discomfort in asking for help, in the implication that I was in over my head farming-wise, I called the Russian neighbor, Sergei, the one who botched the killing of Beignet. They’d just lost nine chickens under similar circumstances. He quickly entered the barn, assessed the damage, and took Priscilla into his arms. He told me that I should run back to the house and prepare a large vat of just boiled water. I would dip the chicken (although his English is not great so he called it a dog) in to the vat, the feathers would fall off easily and then this incision and that and soon I’d be on my way to a wonderful cauldron of chicken soup, presumably to sooth my no-kill farmer-ette soul. 

I returned to the house and began filling a large pot with water, but then remembered his wife telling me to never ever eat laying hens because they are gross. A six year old laying hen would be even grosser. Chickens, like cows, were genetically separated long ago for their specific uses. A milk cow will give no meat and a meat cow will give little milk. A laying hen in her prime will lay daily but her muscles are jute twine and taste like chicken shit. A meat chicken will live 6 months and never lay an egg.

I wasn’t going to eat this ancient hen. I abandoned my cauldron and returned to the barn, realizing it’d just been a ruse anyway. While I’d remembered the shot between Beignet’s eyes not being immediately successful, Sergei likely remembered me passing out in his field and probably hoped to avoid an encore performance. Sergei’s “look over there!” ploy got me out of the barn long enough for him to slit Priscilla’s throat the rest of the way. When I returned, she was flopping and hopping about the barn, blood silently squirting from her neck. It was the same scene from when I was 7. The white bird. The red pulsing arc of life. She flung her large body against the hay, the walls, the coop. Meanwhile, Sergei tried to make small talk. I responded to his questions, one eye on the old bird, the one white bird, the memory, the dream, not gently dying, but raging, raging. It seemed she could go on forever that way. Here we are old girl. It’s over now. 

Priscilla was a great chicken, really, as chickens go. I’m not just saying that because she’s dead. If I loved any chicken, it was her. She never let me touch her. She was the first to try any new food, any dinner scraps I tossed over the fence. The others would wave their beaks over it and wait until she tried it first. I thought that would be the death of her, that she’d adventuresomely try a poisonous plant someday. But her instincts were right, always, and the others were smart (if that’s even a word that belongs to a chicken) to trust her lead.  She was the explorer, the adventurer. She was never the bottom of the pecking order, but seemed outside of it: sometimes not worth pecking, and other times their non-pecking leader. She seemed bothered by none of it, oblivious to the ever shifting chicken politics.

I didn’t really love my chickens, not in the emotional way, not the way I loved my cows. They were an experiment, a challenge, a desire to know where my food comes from and a way to face a childhood fear. If I never quite loved them, I did learn to care for their well-being, to not wish them ill, to not be terrified of them as I was when I was a child, or rather not as much. Priscilla was the closest I came to an emotional bond with these little dinosaurs. She was my childhood fear. And I made friends with her and in that way she was transformed from fear to friend. The poppy-red blood on white wings, once a macabre emblem of childhood drama, now felt like just another turn on our wheel of fortune, the end of another era.

Sergei piled the chickens like wood and I thanked him with a deep gratitude. I stood over Priscilla, my emotions held at bay for now with the practical issues of a hot day and a barn full of dead bodies.
At first, I tried digging a plot in the dry ground, hard as granite this time of year. I tried commandeering a gopher hole, but realized 25 pounds of chicken would not go easily or deeply into it. 

I donned my yellow kitchen gloves and haltingly reached towards Priscilla. My gloves matched her yellow claws. She was heavier than I imagined, her old body resting deeply into the dirt of the barn floor. I plopped her body into the black plastic bag. I plopped her head in to it. I plopped the brooder’s body in, her head too, and Sri Racha’s body, head still unaccounted for. The yard waste bag sagged and threatened to split open. I could barely lift it up into the garbage can. Luckily, pick-up was the next day and my girls would soon be cremated at the Waste-to-Energy plant. I placed my yellow kitchen gloves, like a rose, atop of the black bag inside the garbage can turned coffin. 

It turns out that Ninja was our sole layer as the trickle of eggs has not slowed since that Monday. She is truly free-range now as one chicken’s shits are easily avoided. She hasn’t quite figure out what to eat, except the grasshoppers. She dodges wildly back and forth, aiming for one specific victim in a sea of what seems like thousands around here this year. One can’t walk in flipflops across the lawn without making a little grasshopper pesto in one’s flipflops. (Even as I type, a grasshopper just flung itself at my computer screen...I think I left a window open)

Crunch all ya want! We'll make more!
Ninja, a dark shadow of my farmy dreams, is utterly alone now. Chickens are nothing if not social, despite their vicious pecking order. They are like middle school girls that way. One lonely chicken is so horrible that even the factory chick farms won’t sell them as singles. They need to know where they stand in order to survive. Even if it’s at the bottom. Even if they’re hen-pecked to death. They would prefer a death by peers to no peers at all. Ninja Dragon faces such a fate, poor dear. It might be more merciful to bring Sergei in, to finish off this farm once and for all.


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