Tag Archives: writing

Mercy Kill

Friday always punctuates the end of our work week. We always get plenty of time on the farm during the weekend, and these days rarely even leave the farm, but Friday is special because we take our weekly poultry delivery to Eugene.

Last Friday, after our delivery, I pulled up our long gravel drive, parked next to the white Dodge truck that never leaves the farm, and noticed a duckling lying outside of its poultry tractor out on the pasture. Although it is rare, I immediately figured it must have died inside of the tractor somehow, maybe suffered a trampling from other ducklings last night, and Steve had placed it outside the tractor before heading to work in the morning. He must have forgotten to go and chuck it in the blackberry bushes on the edge of the property, our standard way of handling the rogue dead duckling or chick. That way a coyote, or whoever eats those things, could get it. Back to nature.  

I helped Autumn out of her car seat and started unpacking some of the groceries. I hollered to Autumn from our back door, when I noticed she had neared the poultry tractor. She was standing, staring down at the duckling.

“I’m just looking at the duck, mama,” she told me.

 “Okay…” I responded wearily, and approached. “Honey that duck die—” just as I was about to finish saying “died,” the duck blinked.

I looked at its body: pale-yellow, stiff, big, blue veins. I looked at the sky: gray, wet, big droplets of rain. The other ducklings were moving around inside the tractor, they were dry, but this guy. This guy had gotten wet. He was freezing. He was barely alive.

And by default, I knew we were to blame. I just wish these things didn’t have to happen, ever.

I didn’t have time to wonder what went wrong. The duck hadn’t blinked again. He was not visibly breathing. He was barely hanging on. My mind began to grip on to what I knew was in store for me…a mercy kill.

I took one or two breaths, devising a plan, and then grabbed Autumn’s rubber chore gloves from the mudroom. I handed them to her. I knew the task of putting those rubber gloves over every single one of her eight fingers and two thumbs would take enough of her attention—and time—that I could sever the ducklings head on the chopping block, or near it, with an ax before she noticed.

Why?

Because I hate suffering more than death. I’d had to do this before, mind you. Not only here on our farm, but when I worked on a larger poultry farm for a season. (The more ducks, the more death. And ducklings, actually, tend to fair better than baby chicks do. Mercy kills? It all just comes with the territory.)

Based on the ducklings visible paralysis, and the fact that its beady black eyeballs were a notch closer to gray than black, I had confidence that I was making the right decision—though I could not know for sure.

Nonetheless, I carefully carried the duckling in my gloved hands over to a grassy area near the chopping block. I was already chanting the Mahamantra. As a kid with one foot in the Hare Krishna Movement, old habits die hard.

I remembered a time when I was eight years old and my dad was called on by a neighbor to put a kitten who’d snapped their neck out of its misery. I have no doubt that as he placed the writhing kitten on the chopping block, he was saying the same thing under his breath: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

There is something about how when you say that, God has their hand in carrying the soul over to be reincarnated. Or something like that.

“If you’re ever dying,” Dad told me. “Just think of God.”

If you’re ever killing. Just think of God.

A couple of minutes later, though, the conviction in my choice to kill the duckling (rather than try to resuscitate him) was brought into question again as I rounded the corner of the poultry tractor to find three more ducklings, two splayed out, and one barely holding upright, in the rain. I eyed the heat lamps that were inside the tractor, unplugged. I would plug them in, even though we usually only kept the lights on at night. It was still early in the season. The real problem wasn’t the heat lamps, though. It was how these four Pekin ducklings got out from under cover in the first place, and into the rain. That’s what had gotten them.

Wet duck. Wet duck meant that I had to take two more stiff, nonresponsive ducklings to the chopping block, defeated. They must have wriggled their way through a small gap in the chicken wire. They were out in the rain the entire day while we were out running errands. I identified the hole, then wrapped the wire around a small nail a few times, hoping to secure it temporarily. Though it didn’t look like any more ducklings were trying to get out.

“Honey, I want you to go inside and get your rain jacket,” I said as I carefully handled the ducklings, placing them in an empty rubber tub to carry over near the chopping block.

Should I have dried them with a blowdryer? I knew placing them under the heat lamps they would just get trampled on. The one duckling, the upright one I was trying to save, was holding court under a lamp in the north corner of the tractor and the other ducklings seemed, more or less, to be leaving him alone. (Eventually he would die, too.)

The other two were mostly muerto, however. To give you some sense of the scale, these ducklings were from a group of one hundred and fifty ducklings. I just wanted to get the business done and go get started on dinner.

“I’m so sorry buddy,” I said to the ducklings, breaking my habitual, under-the-breath chanting. (Clearly a coping mechanism.)

I repeated what I did with the first duckling: placing it down in the grass, instead of directly on the chopping block. I thought that it might have some semblance of habitat as it crossed over. I wasn’t sure if I was making the right choice, but I was making a choice, which, sometimes, is the best one can do.

Later, Googling “hypothermia in ducklings,” I learned that one thing I could have tried was filling the sink with warm water, then gently placing the duckling, holding it’s head above water, into the sink. Had I done that times four, I might have saved the day. I’m not saying I was happy with my choice to cull them outright. And now that the experience has resulted in me gaining more knowledge about what to do next time, I feel good about that. As good as a farm mama can feel just having put baby things “out of their misery.”

“Did you use the ax on the ducks in the grass?” Autumn asked me, having retrieved her purple rain jacket with the rabbit ears in good time.

It was a literal observation that I didn’t have a good answer to. “Honey, sometimes animals die, okay?” I tried, and then we went to toss their carcasses to the coyotes (kie-yotes) and finish bringing in the groceries.

Something Was Missing. It Wasn’t Social Media…Was it?

A few months ago, I deactivated my social media accounts. I posted an index card on my bulletin board that read, “No Social Media. No Corporations. No Amazon. More creativity & blogging” next to a poster I clipped out of a magazine that reads “Keep Calm & Save Money” in bold red lettering.

Three clear thumb tacks lined up neatly below the messages—reinforcing one thing that was resounding through my mind and soul lately: minimalism.

Minimalism: a style or technique, that can be applied to a lifestyle, characterized by extreme sparseness and simplicity.

Deactivating my social media accounts was my way of extending the concept of minimalism even further. Everything felt so cluttered.

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It started out okay, as I explained in this blog post from September. Gone were the feelings of embarrassment I’d felt during those rare but inevitable moments of “oversharing.” Gone were the unnecessary hours spent scrolling, or “managing” my various accounts—I have two personal accounts, and three business ones. Gone was the feeling that I needed to “capture” everything: a good meal, Autumn collecting eggs from the chicken coop, an innocent walk to the creek.

All the time the world offered came tumbling back in, and I began to experience more productivity at work, and creatively too. Things were happening. Actually happening. I became a more productive team member at work, a more present mother, and more conscious partner to my fiancé. I even took the final steps toward completing a huge creative project.

The days turned into weeks turned into months. During this time, I posted several times on my blog—a significant increase from previous months (years, really). But I could tell that my creative social network had gotten really, really small.

There was my small handful of loyal readers who reached out to me via text or by responding directly to my posts. I am grateful for these folks with a capital G, but I began to wonder if I could get through the rest of the pandemic, and election year, with my “capsule” of friends. I was starting to feel a little lonely.

Late one night, after a productive day of freelancing from home, I found myself borderline distraught. I lay in our bed, without the glow of my cell phone, and I said dramatically into the dark room, “I just feel like something is missing.”

In the silence that followed my—for lack of a better term—wail, I thought of my vow against social media…it wasn’t that, was it?

Was it?!?

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Not jumping to conclusions, I continued to wake, live and sleep every day without the companionship of social media. A few people reached out, but where were my other 538 friends? I realized, as I’m sure we all have, the predicament these social platforms present: they are an instant doorway to our families, and some relationships that are quite important to us. So why would we want to give up that? Honestly, especially now in a pandemic, how else are we going to get to know our new cousin’s baby, Jaxon? Or even remember his name? It’s all there, on Facebook. We understand that the heart emoji doesn’t convey all we want to say, but it does convey something.

In addition to working more intentionally—both personally and professionally—I toyed with the idea of letter-writing. I wrote a letter to Elizabeth, my longtime pen pal who resides in the Yosemite Valley. She wrote me back, as did our mutual friend, David. But David’s letter was so long and rich, I wondered how my response could even compare, or come close to being as meaningful as his letter had been, as he described the terror of wildfires looming near his home on Caves Highway this summer. If social media was intimidating, trying exchanging letters with intellectuals. Maybe I wasn’t cut out for this, either. Anyway, I knew I couldn’t exchange letters with as many people as I loved. (I love a lot of people!)

I don’t remember the exact day I reinstalled the apps on my phone. Only the approximate number of people who interacted with the photo I posted. Warily, I “liked” all of their responses. But where were these folks when I sat at home for four months? Autumn and I had both celebrated our birthdays—her 2nd, my 35th. Was it me who’d left them or they who’d left me? In this day and age, I’m honestly not sure.

In the meantime, I began to value my work relationships more, and my relationships with my family members who don’t use social media, my blog readers, and my neighbors began to deepen—it was as if I could suddenly see that they’d needed attention, too.

I am on social media now, and I do feel more connected to those that I’d lost touch with. I at least like knowing that such-and-such person is there if I need them, even if we’re not interacting every day.

But friendship can’t survive solely that way, and neither can a creative or professional dream. The inspiration—the ideas and conversations and plans—they need to lead somewhere. I’ve learned that “breaking the spell,” ie taking a break, is the perfect antidote for that. So just one question remains: can I take what I’ve learned and apply it? Can I use social media as a tool, to share my art and give and receive love from my friends, while still setting a healthy boundary with these websites and apps? It is hard to know for sure, but I have hope. Hope that I can either find the balance, or at least recognize when my “real” life needs more attention.

Love,

Mama Bird

Rhythms

“Nobody can counsel and help you, nobody. There is only one single way. Go into yourself.” -Rainer Maria Rilke

I’m trying to get them all to live together. Farming and writing. Parenting and writing. The truth is: the adventure is real and I want to tell you about it. But through the years, I’ve separated the two (particularly farming and writing) in my mind. I’ve always had a tendency to do that when it comes to work…concerned that it takes away from my real job of writing.

But farming is our lifestyle. We live on a farm. We live on a farm we are growing. We are business owners—after four years in business, I can finally see that. I feel it. I have hope in it. So when I recently rebranded my blog “Mama Bird,” it’s because I know that my identity–as a mama and a farmer–is at the root of my story now. I can’t outrun it, I’ve tried.

There’s a whole lot I am figuring out, internally, about becoming a mama and farm wife and owner. There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle. It isn’t simple. It’s typically idyllic, but not always. As a farm wife and parent, I have a lot of domestic responsibilities. But does that pay? This feminist wants to know. The balancing act is sure to be at the heart of my writing.

It’s a season of trust for me, and has been since I’ve undergone such seismic changes: becoming a parent, getting engaged, starting a farm, coping with an ageing parent. I am 35 now (as of yesterday!) and my life barely resembles what it did ten years ago. An immature part of me clings to the idea of who she was and the vision of the life she has lost…but a larger part of me can see my life clearly as one that I’ve built with intention and now am at the center of. How do I articulate that feeling? What do I write about when I used to write about longing…for the life I now have? Do I still write about longing…or do I write about something else now? Do I write about maintaining?

Is maintaining as provocative as longing?

Writing doesn’t just make order of my feelings, it contains all of my life’s experiences—yoked. Or it should.

I enjoy raising animals: the monotonous, physical work, the rhythm of chick pick-up, chick-to-pasture, chicken-to-processor, our sustainable model of raising livestock, watching the rotation of poultry and ruminant out on the pasture, the changing of the seasons in the hollow, the nature of business ownership, the people.

I don’t enjoy mercy kills. When you raise thousands of animals in a year the reality of death, for every living being, becomes a starker picture. It brings to mind metaphor and regularly makes me want to grab my pen and write about it. I never thought I’d have to make the call to decapitate a baby chick or duckling, but it’s a semi-common occurrence, when an animal just isn’t thriving. I place Autumn out of sight of the chopping block whenever I raise my ax. I feel good that I can end the animal’s suffering. But I sometimes wonder if the chick might have made it had I left it alone (though I know intuitively that isn’t likely, and that I made the right choice).

I guess if I were to write about Now, it would be less about longing and more about building. And then rebuilding. Because if that isn’t at the heart of parenting, marriage and farming, I don’t know what is.

Love,

Mama Bird

Now and Then: The Making of Mama Bird

July 2010. The month and year I began this blog.

I can place myself squarely in her shoes: the 25-year old who worked for the National Park Service, in a cave in Southern Oregon, dating, hiking, staring down the past, one handwritten page at a time. Thirsting for a domestic life in the woods, with a love and a child.

And now: the 35-year old part-time nonprofit worker, fulltime mama, committed in love, still hiking, staring down the past, one handwritten page at a time…living a domestic life in the woods, and (unexpected twist) on a farm, with a love and a child.

I used to write about longing. Longing for love. Longing for a child. The theme crept into all my poetry, and it embarrassed me. But it was the truth, and as a memoirist, it was all I had. But my essays about domesticity ran counter to my feminist frame-of-mind. I was sometimes surprised at what came out on the page: scribbles about sweeping, cooking, and romantic ideas. And after becoming a mother, I realized that it was family that I was always after. (If you’ve read any of my memoir, you know I was raised by a single parent.) So I just had to experience what I’d never had: A complete home. A triangle, not a line.

And now here I am. My dream-turned-reality. Reporting from the field.

That’s why I’ve given my blog a new name, to reflect where I am now, ten years down the road…and 195 miles up Interstate-5. Mama Bird will continue to be where I share my stories of domesticity, parenting, farming, and anything else that sparks my soul.

Thanks for reading,

Mama Bird

Breaking the Spell of Social Media

Testing, testing. Is this thing on? October 2020 finds me fatigued–not unlike the rest of the world, I am sure–for me personally I am fed up with the artificiality and lack of priorities in our culture and our lifestyles, of which I am an active part. Though lately my mantras have echoed simplicity: “Make your world small,” and “Be here now.”

This morning, I sat at the kitchen table, ate a scrambled egg on toast, and listened to the radio. A former mantra came to mind: “The universe is a friendly place.” A mantra that ended up not being true, because it was then that Autumn choked on the head of grass, and someone’s child got swept out to sea on the Oregon Coast, and a friend told me she was getting pushed around in her house, and my Grandmother lost her mobility, eyesight, and independence, and a pandemic came, and then the wildfires “ravaged the west,” and who knows what else is in store for us.

So I took a bite of my egg sandwich, Autumn drawing with Crayola marker on my bare leg, and I thought “Make your world small,” and “Be here now;” which really means to me: Eat your sandwich and listen to the radio without trying to simultaneously email/text/scroll/make a phone call/a to-do list/pay a bill.

So. Much. Multitasking.

In line with my quest to simplify, my obsession with time (I want more of it), and to unconvolute my mind, I’ve taken a dramatic step back from social media.

My accounts are still there, in fact my Instagram can be viewed from this very page on my blog, but I am no longer making time for social media in my life. The documentary “The Social Dilemma” aired on Netflix recently and I watched it, confirming what I’d suspected all along: Social media is not a tool, as tools can be put down and used only when needed. Elegant, simple and functional social media is not.

I’m not saying I’m not going to use the platform. But it’s been days, a week, maybe more since I’ve been on there and, mentally, I am still waiting for the chatter and glitter to settle.

On an index card pinned to my bulletin board in my office are the words “More Blogging. More Creativity.”

Mantras of sorts. Intentions.

But honestly I’m still waiting for the creative vigor to come rushing back in. It’s hard, in a sense, not being propped up by the snappy gratification that comes from curating a portrayal of my #writerslife on Instagram. But I’m banking on finding more meaning in my work, nailing down some real time to write, and seeing my creative projects through to publication.

I am hopeful about the shifts happening organically within myself. Even before viewing the documentary, I’d deactivated my Facebook due to–frankly–emotional drainage. I am hopeful that my departure from social media does not impact my family and friend relationships–and keeping one foot in still will help insure that I do not lose track of them completely.

This rusty ol’ blog has been my soapbox since its conception in 2010. By its nature, the reader spends more time with a single piece. With me. Though I am admittedly missing some of Instagram’s features, my long form was suffering…dare I say on its way to being lost completely..due to social media. Perhaps this is just the beginning of me becoming a blogger again, now that the spell has been broken.

Why Social Distancing Feels Right For Me

Social distancing restricts gatherings in an attempt to stop or slow the spread of infectious diseases, in this case I’m talking about COVID-19…who isn’t? Social distancing may include canceling events, slowing or stopping business, and requires just staying put. It has a long list of social and economic repercussions that I know nothing about—yet. As of today, I sense that I am taking this COVID-19 thing more seriously than other Oregonians, a fact that probably just boils down to my being able to stay put more than anything. As a freelancer who works from home, I have this luxury amidst a crisis. But I’m beginning to think it’s the most practical step for everyone.

I see social distancing (specifically self-isolation) as temporary. It requires a huge sacrifice upfront. Here in Oregon, we seem to be waiting to get a pass from our employers, school districts, universities and state officials on when to stay home. I’m not exactly waiting for that pass, but rather I’m thinking for myself as I watch the uptick of cases of COVID-19 world and state-wide.

Really, I’m self-isolating because I’m sick. So I am taking public health advice on that: stay home if you don’t feel well. But probably even if my daughter and I didn’t have runny noses and coughs, I wouldn’t be heading out to do shopping or work or anything else. In the past 18 days, we’ve stayed home 13 of them. This seems to be a logical approach to me, given everything that’s been happening with COVID-19 and the fact that we still have these stubborn colds!

Yesterday I left the house to go to the bank. Wearing a pair of large ski mittens, I cashed my check through the drive-in window. There was a shiny slate of glass positioned comfortably between the checker and me. Then I drove home, taking the long way by a winding creek. I didn’t see one soul in sight, and I didn’t have any bumping-into-anyone-guilt.

This week, I’ve had to reschedule three engagements. Even with all the infections happening worldwide and in the state of Oregon, I get a knot of anxiety inside my belly cancelling things. I feel the pressure to perform. Don’t we all? I also feel a glob of snot travelling down the inside of my right nostril. So this is not just precaution and I am not just paranoid. I’m being realistic and considerate. Autumn and I got back-to-back colds this spring with the second one hitting us on February 25th, five days after returning from our trip from Arizona. We flew and had layovers both ways, one in Seattle and one in Salt Lake City. So contraction of COVID-19 was possible, though not necessarily plausible. I am being extra mindful anyway. (Note: a Lane County public health official informed me that only those who had traveled to China, South Korea, Italy or Iran are currently being tested for COVID-19, as of the publication of this blog.)

I am fortunate that I can finagle social distancing, professionally and lifestyle-wise. I get that most people don’t have the option of staying home, and I empathize with them. But maybe they should draw a thicker line, and think about the long-term repercussions of this disease: the impact on our elders and the fact that it’s now a world-wide crisis.

I feel I am making the right choice for me, but the thing is: we’re all in this together. In fact my partner Steve breaks quarantine daily, bringing in and taking out whatever germs, however benign, we are carrying. To his credit, he is limiting his lifestyle too, and doing only the absolutely necessary engagements. As our primary earner, he doesn’t feel like he can just stop going to work.

As of Tuesday afternoon there are 15 positive cases in Oregon, across seven counties. The state of Washington, just north of us, has more than that number in sheer deaths. Some experts believe the numbers are projected to rise thousands, and that the virus has already been circulating regionally for well over six weeks.

As I reach for my handkerchief to blow my nose, I wonder if ingesting as much news as I have—listening to NPR, reading The New York Times and The Washington Post—has literally kept me snotty and coughing for the past two weeks. It can’t be helping.

Despite that, I know we are slowly getting better. I am hoping when we do recover from our colds, the threat of community-spread COVID-19 will be over.

My choice to semi-self-quarantine—to quarantine to the very best of my ability (I can’t make the same decision for Steve)—coincided with a 50% increase in Oregon cases on Sunday, March 8th. That’s double the number of cases overnight. So I am relying on my own judgement on this one, not just heeding the public opinion. If hypothetically we were infected, my conscience couldn’t handle infecting others!

I trust that everyone is doing the same and thinking for themselves. The good news is, we can all share different opinions. The bad news is that we will all be affected equally by the outcome of this disease.

COVID-19 or not, Autumn and I deserve to get better from our colds. So for this week I will be working exclusively from home, staying close to NPR and OPB news coverage, and praying for the health of our state, nation and world. I will also be drinking lots of mint tea, eating chicken soup, and wondering—as I see cars flying by on the highway—what everyone else is doing to stay healthy out there.

 

 

Dear Daughter,

Dear Daughter,

-You will always have more to offer than the shape of your body or the red of your lips. So reach deep within yourself for something substantial to contribute to the world.

-Moments are for living, not for capturing. When you realize that, you hang onto the sacred. The scared is slipping into the darkness of vanity. Don’t let it. Bow, caress, whisper your wishes into the wind. Do things just for the sake of doing them. Not for showing off. For so many centuries, this was how it was done. There is something lacking as we slip into vanity. The sacred is worth hanging onto, I promise.

-There was a time when humans cared about way more than likes and follows. I was there. I remember that time. Laughs were laughed louder then. Breakfasts were enjoyed more fully. When you looked into someone’s eyes, it really meant something. It mattered.  When you looked into the sunset, and really focused, prayers were answered. And if you got to know someone, you really got to know them, not with some device between you.  In junior high, a girlfriend of mine and I sat in a grassy median staring into each others eyes for a full five minutes. Let’s try it sometime. This is called peering in to another’s soul and there’s something to it. Discomfort is a natural part of living. Our addictions try to cover up that discomfort, that natural discord.

-I want you to practice getting up in the morning, making your breakfast, brushing your hair, reading a book, and setting your goals…all without the nagging of your phone and social media. If you watch me, I will show you. I will let my phone get buried in my purse and go dead and I will not worry. I will relish the sound of the natural world buzzing on around me. I will do this for the whole of the weekend until, for work, I must emerge and “connect” with the world again. I will do this and I will fail but I will reset and do it again. Phone dead and buried at the bottom of my purse.

-Take a trip to the sea or mountains or museum…without your device on you. Let’s do it together. Let’s stop and notice what is being offered, what is happening around us. Really noticing this time. Let’s witness some miracle and have it be our little secret.

-Skills like building things and growing things and poetry even and communicating respectfully through eye contact and spontaneous conversation…these things are being lost. I want you to preserve them. I will teach you skills that you will pass down to children, or people older than you or younger than you, it does not matter. Just share them. In real life. Learn to cook. Learn to love to cook.

-If all of your friends jump off bridge, don’t.

-Sparrow recently published a piece in The Sun Magazine stating that meditating is like playing the guitar, except without the guitar. I’d never meditated regularly until I read this, and his bit about meditating four minutes per day, instead of five. Four minutes per day isn’t too torturous in exchange for heightened long-term bliss and contentment, right?

-They call it a feed because it’s taking away our appetite for everything else.

-The people you should be working at impressing are the people around you, through kindness and respect. I vow to do this with you. We will do it together, dear daughter.

Water Signs

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Dad nearly drowned in the mouth of the river in Fort Bragg, California, but that was before I was born. He spent the rest of the summer in the hospital. That didn’t stop him from loving the ocean and water. You can’t trust it, he said. You can’t help but love it either.

Dad was in a coma for most of one month. When he came to he had to learn to talk again. He had to learn to walk again. He was just nine years old at the time. Somehow, though, Dad still knew how to swim. A photo of him and his parents posed alongside the doctor was published in the Fort Bragg newspaper. He was the boy whose life was almost taken by the river at Van Damme State Park. “Miracle Boy” the headline read.

I came thirteen years later. The daughter of Miracle Boy and Moonbeam.

When I was six years old and he was twenty-eight, Dad took us sea-kayaking off the coast of California. If I remember correctly he was trying to impress a woman who wasn’t my mother. We almost got pulled out to sea and I remember being frightened. Or maybe my memory doesn’t serve me right…maybe we did have fun. But the waves, they were so large and I was so little, how could I have? I just remember fearing for my life, I think the girlfriend did too.

I was around one years old when Moonbeam left us (I’m not looking for pity, those are just the facts). Some man I never learned the name of had lured Moonbeam away. I’ll never know the things he promised her. I’ll never know what tempted her. All I know is she took the Ford Pinto when she left. She didn’t go far—just down the road to Eureka. She wasn’t far, no, but she was gone.

Dad took to doing the dishes by hand, very slowly, with hot soapy water. But this wasn’t so strange because Dad did the dishes before she left too. I think he just liked being in the water.

As a toddler, I crawled around on the sticky linoleum floor. I remember looking up at Dad doing my mother’s job. He was in his work clothes and it was after dark. I saw a flash of myself in the kitchen sink before Moonbeam left. I could almost see her standing there washing my body—a dishwater blond with no face, just legs and shoes like the moms in those old cartoons. Comfort just for the fact that they were there. Dish-doers and diaper-changers and dinner-makers and ice-tray-fillers. An essential tool: missing.

Several years later I had my birthday party at the beach. I invited my entire sixth grade class and to my shock everybody showed up. Dad embarrassed me by bannering long streams of white toilet paper from the driftwood poles on the beach, a marker of where the party was. A store-bought stream of purple tissue paper had not been considered.

A couple of the mothers who dropped off their daughters off looked warily around for signs of my mother. But they found none. I just wanted them to go away. I did not even want them to stay because their judgement and misunderstanding was palpable. They finally left, not quite sure what to think. These are the ones who returned first for their daughters.

Dad warmed hot dogs on driftwood sticks over the campfire and we all ran around like we were still kids, which we were, but barely. My peers brought gifts, tons of gifts, each one of them. Dad bought me the expensive black and white Adidas jacket I had wanted so much. The ocean was lapping at the whole scene, father and daughter, fire and friends. The sun went down while we were still out running and playing up and down the beach. And even though I didn’t have a mother…well I thought life was just about perfect.

I had been so excited about my abundance of gifts but was so busy running and playing that I didn’t notice when tide came in and took my birthday booty— piece by piece into the setting sun. It was all gobbled up by the great inhale-exhale of the Pacific Ocean. And there would be no getting any of it back. It wasn’t far, no, but it was gone.

When Dad was a boy that same beach was at least 70 feet under water. The tsunami of 1964 picked up dive bars and fish n’ chip shacks and set them back down, upside down, right on top of Highway 101. To this day Crescent City, California is the only town in the continental United States where a tsunami has killed people. True story. Eleven people died. You can’t trust the ocean, Dad said. You can’t help but love it either.

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Water Signs is an essay from Earthside and Other Everyday Miracles which I am publishing through Groundwaters this spring. I will keep you updated on all the details here on my blog, and also over on my Instagram page! (See sidebar to follow me there.) Thank you, faithful readers!

Nourishment

I didn’t get published in The Sun Magazine’s “Reader’s Write” section as I had hoped, but I will share my reflection from the January 2020 “Nourishment” prompt below.

“The Sun is an independent, ad-free magazine that for more than forty years has used words and photographs to evoke the splendor and heartache of being human.”

NOURISHMENT:

Dad sat me down and told me two things: one, we were now vegetarians and two, we would sing the Mahamantra morning, noon, and night. That was part of being a Hare Krishna. So that’s what we did. No more Kentucky Fried Chicken. No McDonalds. Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Hare Rama, Hare Rama. Morning, noon, and night. Every summer we took our epic road trip to the temple in the Bay Area. At the temple we were surrounded by other Hare Krishnas instead of being the only ones in town. At the temple, we rose at four a.m. to shower, which was required. At the temple, brown-skinned women with large, sagging breasts painted red Bindi dots on my forehead and brushed and braided my hair. I felt comforted by the touch of a woman, even though they didn’t speak to me. It was almost like having a mother. Almost. At the temple, I wore my pea-colored sari with little flowers on it every day. I felt so free as I danced with my father in the ballroom before the deities. At the temple, we were sometimes required to fast all day long but come night there was a massive feast with scrumptious vegetarian food—samosas, curried cauliflower, pineapple chutney—all piled high and sufficiently blessed.

Steps to Honoring Your Path

Hold your dreams up to the light. Natural light works best. So hold them up to your window in the morning. Or under a desk lamp, or full moon, at night. Take a few minutes to inspect the foundation: what is it built on, these expectations?  Brick? Loam? Are they your wishes or others wishes for you? How many children are stacked upon the thing? Remember: the children go on top.

Now that you have identified its strengths and abilities, decide what tools you’ll need, and use them with intention.  Fix any weak spots. If writing is your goal, grab a pen and paper and S P E L L I T O U T. One letter at a time. Get real specific. It is a brand-new decade, we haven’t got the time to waste. Yesterday’s gone. What’s done is done. Keep your toolbelt close, you’ll be needing it.

Be rigid. All that gray-area crap is just bs. For some the opposite is true. For you it is not. You need all the stability and predictability and tough love that was withheld from you in childhood. Black. White. Life. Death. Yin. Yang. It’s been twenty years now since you’ve see your mother. Twenty years since you were 14. Since Y2K. A natural rebel, reign yourself in. For even when you wake and say light, light, light, be the light, you cannot shake the darkness at the root of you. Scorpio sun, Aries moon. Befriend routine, the sister to stability. Come to like them. Come to love them. Routine. Stability. Come to understand how much you depend on them. Day. Night. Repeat. Stop stepping into the worn, predictable trail of chaos. You are a parent now. Be sure to act like one. This is your one chance and you won’t get another.

This life is all you ever wanted—a sentiment that’s ringing truer and truer.

Husband. Marriage. Scary.

Know how you feel and know who you are by examining your truths in the light.

Husband. Marriage. Means trusting someone with my heart.

Husband. Marriage. Likely someday, certainly with him. But I want to make sure I can love and trust fully first. Humbly, I am still learning how to do all of that.

Like your child, grow everyday. Grow taller, grow better posture. Study the letters and shapes. Practice your walking: walking into situations that will encourage you to blossom. Walking out of situations that make you feel like you are wasting your precious time.

Do not let others distract you. Even those you lie next to in the night. They have your path and you have yours. Respect your differences. Laugh/brush them off. Your future depends on it. You do you. Sparkle. Shine. Let him laugh when you talk like that. Come back to him in your heart. Only a fool would not. He is your touching stone in this world. Stone. Rock.

Focus on finding your voice through your fingertips. Remember what you care about. Keep coming back to it. Remember: the children go on top. But do take advantage of naptime by writing. Spell it out.

If needed, refer to quotes from your Yogi Tea bag: Appreciate yourself and honor your soul.

If needed, shake off comments and ridicule from others: those who don’t really know you, your past, the unique combination of circumstances that make you tick. For better, for worse. Shoot. You’re here and kickin’. To you, sometimes, that feels like a miracle. If needed, tell yourself you are loved, even if you don’t always feel supported by the world outside your door. You. Are Love(d).

Make art. You always did. You always have. Except for those few times you slipped back into the gray mundane. Make art of the clothes you put on in the morning. Go ahead and wear that yellow dress. Make art of parenting. When you’re throwing the frisbee for the dog on a rainy day, draw flowers in the mud with the toe of your boot.

Do not forget the lessons of your ancestors: Be bold. Be bizarre. Begin again. Begin anew everyday if you must. Queen of the comeback, kid.

Do not forget your longtime mantra: Focus and follow-through.

And this one: Don’t start anything you can’t finish yourself.

Rigid. Bold. Brazen. Independent.

Most people say ask for help when you need it. But you know better. You know the world will poke at your weak spots so burrow down inside yourself and emerge with your wisdom and insights. Do what you know works. Stick with what you’ve learned. Imagine you are a caterpillar, now visualize the miracle of the butterfly, and emerge. Now fly.

Hold your dreams up to the light. Natural light works best. The moon will do.

Now that you’ve spelled it out, what does it say? (For example, mine reads: “I want to be a writer when I grow up. Or a dancer. It was an old thing I’d written on a scrap of paper as a kid.)

Hold space for that little dreamer. Hold the scrap of paper you scribbled on as a child in your hand. Whether metaphorically or physically. Whether your dreams have morphed into something more realistic or not.

Notice all the steps you took to get here. Literally hundreds of miles walked, circling as if you were walking a labyrinth. Notice when space was not honored for your dreams and you had to fight hard for them. Literally gallons of tears cried, remember all the swimming you did to get out of there.

Say this out loud, “This is my space. These are my dreams. Mother, wife, or not.”

Say, “Yes, my dreams. They take up space and they take up time.”

Say, “Now or never. Here to stay or gone forever.”

Hold your dreams up to the light. See how they glisten and shine.

One billion bursts of color, uniquely yours for the taking.