Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Unwelcome Visitor

We have a mouse. Not a welcome mouse. Not a cheerful friend who squeaks adorably and nibbles cheese in a charming fashion. This one gnaws at the corners of things and leaves droppings in the cabinets. I am not pleased. I am, in fact, embarrassed. As if my house is unclean. Which it is, but not pest-level unclean. Or so I thought.

Our guest is a lovely shade of brown. I know this because last night when I returned home it was on the counter; I watched as it scurried into an oven vent. Not long after, the oven was on for several very, very hot hours. Coincidence? You decide.
The turkey was delicious. There was no mousearoma in our supper. I was a tad disappointed.

Demon Dog remains aloof from the excitement of mouse hunting. I am disappointed. He has terrier blood; he should be intent on defeating this unwelcome addition to our family. Instead he drapes himself before the kitchen's heating vent, or claims the entire floor in front of the woodstove, basking in warmth. I need a cat. Bonus? A cat would leave room for me to warm my toes.

The rodent -- or, more realistically, rodents, because they multiply and scrabble inside walls and the noises, oh, the noises and imaginings of wee beasts test-tasting the niblet-like toes of my children -- has thus far ignored the peanut-butter baited traps. I've escalated to raisin bread. Who can resist raisin bread?

In the meantime I wash and wipe and sweep the neglected corners of my home. The children are being trained ever more enthusiastically how to clean up spills and put food away. I check the traps and sweep again. I obsessively empty the crumb tray of the toaster, denying cruel and sinister thoughts that liken a simple household appliance to the electric chair.

Scrubbing and fuming gives me time to ponder boundaries. The summer place in Vermont is rife with mice, but I do not mind them so much. We visit only every other summer, while they make it their home year-round. We are the invaders there. They disappear at our noisesome tromping. Some nights they take advantage of my carelessness -- striated tooth marks in an apple on the counter, a missing corner from the loaf of bread atop the refrigerator. They cannot be excluded, anyway. There are gaps and openings in walls and at corners. It is a camp, a transitory place. Here, in this house? The presence of a mouse disrupts the sense of solidity and security of my home. It is an unwelcome reminder that I do not truly control my little world. Perhaps I should be grateful. Maybe I will -- after the traps do their vile work, and I claim my home again.

Friday, October 24, 2014

A Day In the Life of a Handyman

Rise early. Sometimes you gotta get to a person's house before they leave for work; if you're lucky, they trusted you enough to give you a key last time. You’ve been there twice already. The first time was officially so they could tell you what needs done, but really so they could size you up. “Is this a guy we want in our home?” You went back a week later — on the weekend, or maybe after supper, ’cause that’s easiest for them — to go over the estimate line-by-line. You had to justify why it costs so damn much to do something so simple.

It’s on that second visit that you size them up. Can you work with the wife? (Always the wife. Stereotypes exist for a reason.) Sometimes, talking to the customer, you just know they’re gonna lose it in the middle of the project and nothing is worth that particular headache. If they’re picky but not real bad you might tack on a fifteen percent PITA charge to cover all the change-orders or “little things” you know are coming. Thing is, nobody ever knows what they really want. “Fix the bathroom doorknob” could mean the toilet's running and the light fixture flickers and the door sometimes sticks. It's a mystery. But you'll do your best. It’s their home, after all. And if it's a little old lady, you might do a little bit more because hell, you're there, and her kids aren't doing it for her.

Quick breakfast while you make phone calls to line up subs and your crew, then load tools for the day. They're in the basement or the garage, locked up because some punks like to steal tools -- they're easy to pawn -- and tool insurance gives shit compared to what they’re worth. Make sure you get everything, especially if the job's across town. Work close to home is best ‘cause of that. If there's more than one job, make sure you cover ’em all. Time is money, and you can't be coming home every time you need a different tool. This is why you spend hours every night figuring out the scheduling. It's a jigsaw puzzle, fitting when this customer is going to be home with when that other customer is available, and if you’re doing wiring it sure is nice to get all those jobs done in the same week because it's easier to leave the electrical toolbox in the van instead of switching it out for plumbing every other day. If some other company’s involved? Make sure you get the timing right. You can't tile if the mud is wet. Two puzzles glancing off each other. You make it work, though. Gotta keep all the balls in the air.

Before you head to the job you need to run to Home Depot, or maybe Lowe's if they've got a better price. Your probably have most of what you need somewhere in the garage or the basement, or that storage place you rent. Hard to keep it all straight. You get your tools at yard sales and from friends who go out of business, and even pawn shops sometimes. Same for materials. Sometimes you find a treasure trove of custom moulding at a dead guy’s garage sale. Like gold, because there's only one lumber yard in town that can get that anymore. Maybe you have a custom jig and can make your own, but it's not usually worth it. The customer doesn't know the difference, anyway. So you stop by the home improvement store for this and that, and hope the customer already called in the order for the special tile they wanted. You'll buy it at contractor pricing and charge them retail, and that mark up right there might be the margin that gets you through the holiday season when folks have visitors and don't want the house all torn up, or strangers tromping through.

At the house you're friendly, respectful. There are specific demands -- don't use this doorway, make sure the cats stay locked in the basement. The worst are the women who don't really want you in the house. Those ones ask you not to use their bathrooms. Like you're dirty. Well, you are — sawdust and plaster dust, drywall mud and paint on you — but what the hell are you supposed to do? The neighbors get twitchy when you pee in the alley. Forget about taking a shit. So you take a break, hoping they don't raise an eyebrow at your slacking, and run to the corner store to use the bathroom. Sometimes you come back with a cup of coffee, but not always.

The work. Oh, you sing if it goes well. The pride of craftsmanship. The best are the unusual jobs, the ones that take a little thinking, some good planning. Hanging curtains and repairing ceiling fans is all well and good, and it pays the bills, but the big ones? The one where you had to tuck a bathroom somewhere on the main floor so the old lady didn't have to climb up and down the stairs all day? That was fun. You like making window boxes. Driving past the house a couple months later, seeing the geraniums all in bloom? That's good. That's making a house into a home. You did that.

At lunch you and the crew take a strange pride in walking into a sandwich shop together, catching the glances from the white-collar types who look sour at you, like they need to wash after you pass. Maybe you step back outside to dust off the fiberglass or plaster or whatever shit is all over. You're never really clean, even after a shower. Your calloused hands snag your worn t-shirt, grate across the canvas of your work pants. The guys inside are laughing, ordering huge meals justified by hard work. You join them. After some storytelling there’s figuring out who does what next: maybe some guys are gonna move on to the next job while you wrap up, or somebody’s making a quick run to the hardware store. There's a camaraderie that comes from physical labor that you don't see in the suits.
You're glad you don't have to wear one of those every day.

Back to work. Hope to get it done by the end of the day. Maybe stay an hour late, just to finish. There's a sweet satisfaction in the completion of a project, no matter how small. If you're good you might finish early and have time for a beer before heading home. That’s if you're charging by the project. Time and materials it doesn't make such a difference. 

Clean up really well. Better than you'd do at home. Dust all vacuumed up, everything put back just so, make it look like you were never there. That's the goal. You're meant to be invisible the second you leave. Even if it's a two day job you clean up, no matter that you'll be making a mess again. It's respectful. Takes a little extra time, but when you live by word-of-mouth, your reputation is on the line. Keep ’em happy and you might be able to send the kids to college. One bad customer and you might not work for a year. It's all about salesmanship. 

At home you unload the tools and start the phone calls. Think your way through all the jobs you’re managing: mind the customer's vacation; track who wanted you next; shoehorn in that emergency plumbing job that came up today and just has to be done tomorrow. Talk to that other contractor, see if his crew will be working at the house tomorrow — can you overlap? Fit another piece into the jigsaw puzzle. Say hi to the kids and check their homework. Maybe a quick hug for the wife, then sit down and write up bills. If you focus you might have time to sit on your ass and watch an hour of TV before bed. Not that you’ll see any of it. Exhaustion will have your head back on the sofa pillow and you’ll doze your way to the credits.

It's a living. A good one. You might even like it. But you're dirty and tired at the end of the day, boots heavy and hair filled with crap. As you get older you ache a little more. The ladders get a little steeper, the lumber more awkward. Still, a hundred years from now people won't know your name, but they'll love that house. The one with the window boxes full of flowers. The one you made into a home.

Sunday, October 12, 2014


I’ve been thinking about intimacy, lately. Not sex. They are not the same thing. 
My pondering did start with musings about sex and intimacy and power and relationships, but in my usual tangential way I wound up also considering something entirely else: social media.

Recently a number of people I know joined the new social media site Ello and exclaimed with joy: “It’s so different!” and “There’s so much interaction!” I’ve been told they feel less restricted in what they say. They wondered why exactly, Ello feels so special? I joined, too, in part to see what all the hoopla is about.

After a couple of days of dabbling, my take is that the structure and presentation of Ello isn’t really different. It’s a social network, just like Facebook and G+ and Tumblr and Twitter. I have a theory about Ello, but honestly? I see them all as dating sites where the users seek some sort of match. Not looking for sex. Seeking connection. Validation. A response to barbaric yawps and howls in the wilderness. 

You disagree? A riddle for you: what do Facebook, a church basement, and the sidelines of a children’s soccer game have in common? 

My answer: they are places where communities form. If you think about it, that’s all social media is – an online substitute for the in-person interaction that used to come naturally (if not voluntarily) in church-basement suppers and sideline commiseration. Human beings have a primal need to create social groups. Some of us aren’t church or soccer types. Instead we find electronic contacts who share our experiences or have common interests. 

I’m not judging. Hell, my “virtual” relationships have restored my sanity, propped up my marriage, and probably saved my life once when I was in a really desperate place. I spent years feeling alone and isolated, until I built my tribe online. Here I share fandoms and post my real writing as well as drivel about my day, and people respond with care. They are my friends.

The question of why Ello feels so different is linked to all of this.

In the real world, we advertise our personalities externally: we choose how we dress, style our hair, even how we smell. Online we cannot put on our best Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes; instead we carefully select avatars and make sure the wallpaper on the "about" page is meant to convey something about ourselves. I used the term “dating site,” but we’re not here to hook up. We want longer term. We want friendship. We want shared experience. We seek connection. That doesn’t come easily, though, either in person or online. We stand in our own way with first impressions and crafted personas. Moreover, we cannot interact online without words, which means everything we do online is a calculated reveal. Some people are deliberately provocative and even obnoxious. Others lurk. Some people might never mention a spouse – the electronic equivalent of removing a wedding ring in a bar. Others (like me) say far too much.

But if we do find our place, our tribe, our online community – then we can share our quirky humor. Announce our triumphs. And sometimes, if we trust enough, if we have enough commonalities and interactions, if we feel safe, we share our bad days or our wretched pasts. That? That is intimacy.

The thing is, it’s just as easy to get lost in a sea of bits as it is in a sea of faces. I’m unusual in that my Facebook friends list is fewer than 175 and although I’ve circled just under 500 people on G+ my “important people” list has 28. That’s not very much. Many folks with whom I interact regularly have followers in the tens of thousands. When they “share privately” the message may go out to a thousand people. On just one site. Some people have different identities on Tumblr and Instagram than they do on Facebook and Twitter. I get that. I wonder, though, how one can have any intimacy with one's contacts at that volume. My approach has been to keep my list of connections small and my posts similar (if not the same) across platforms. This saves me from feeling the need to switch hats depending on my audience, and to recognize the people who, by being responsive, fulfill my need for emotional connection – what I consider the intimacy of friendship. 

Circling once again to the question of why Ello feels different, I posit that the difference is simply a matter of size. Small towns are curious places. When you run into someone on the street, familiarity allows you to bypass the pleasantries and jump to the more intimate inquiries of health and wellbeing. In a small online community the same thing happens. Ello is young and has relatively few users. People who bounce to that platform have an opportunity to build a fresh persona and develop intimate connections with folks who share common experiences and interests. Ello is doing exactly what users want in a social media network – providing a space where people can build a community. 

I’ll keep my profile, although I probably won’t shift to Ello as my primary online home. I am very fortunate to already have thought-provoking, supportive, amusing, intimate communities already both on Facebook and G+. I have shouted over the rooftops and my voice has been heard. I just hope Ello becomes a place where those who seek the same can find it.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

First Date

His pinkie was startlingly warm when it brushed hers. He was gracefully, deliberately, accidental in every touch; the kindness both thrilled and confused her. The men — boys — she normally dated were crafty and obtrusive, grasping her shoulder and rubbing her arm roughly, drawing her whole body in like prey to be devoured. He was unhurried. At the restaurant he sat back, eyes intent but leaving enough space that she, for once, was the one to lean in, to lay her hand on the cloth in an open - and ultimately unanswered - invitation. At the movie theater they shared a popcorn and rather than manufacturing an opportunity he waited for her to withdraw before plunging his own hand in to the buttery mess.

She invited him in as soon as he parked in front of her house. She was curious, and attracted, and a little bit nervous that he didn’t feel the same. His sudden grin was reassuring. Of course he’d love to walk her to the door, but he didn’t dare come in. Too tempting, he said with a slow, hot, smile. Something deep inside fluttered, and she had trouble drawing the next breath. Could they just sit together for a while on her porch swing?

So they sat, and his pinkie brushed hers, and then their hands were resting next to each other. All her attention was on that single line of heat where skin met skin, so she only barely felt the wind pick up, only absently heard the clanking of the wooden wind chimes. Which is why his yelp seemed so very loud, and the sudden leap to his feet was so unnerving. 

He was pale. His eyes were fixed on the corner of the porch where the wind chimes swung erratically into the light shining from the kitchen. He stepped forward, raising a trembling hand, then dropped it again. “They’re, they’re dolls!” he gasped. He turned and stared at her, then took a step backward. “What? Why would you do that?” he didn’t wait for an answer, but stepped to the stairs. “They looked like hollow children, in the darkness.” He said nothing further as he walked to his car. She rubbed her hand where they had touched, then walked over to the chimes — wooden baby dolls, unstuffed and strung up by their necks to blow and knock in the wind. She stilled the bodies, and listened in the silence as he drove away.

Written in response to a prompt by Bliss

Thursday, September 4, 2014


He was the only reason I survived. At least, that’s the story we built together, him and me. I was so boy-crazy then that I spent my attention on him rather than physics. He absorbed my adoration in trade for morsels of knowledge, just enough to get me through that week’s class, just enough that I’d come back close to tears, begging for help with the next formula. That’s how it worked. I’d sit on his bed eating shards of dry ramen and he’d pace – the room only allowed four steps each way – using his hands to sketch invisible diagrams of falling rocks and flying balls and how mass and distance would predict where they’d land. He was like a wizard, you know? He could wave his arms and conjure up the laws that made our world spin.

Nothing changed in five years, except maybe I wasn’t so boy crazy anymore. But he still gave me only just enough to bring me back on my knees. Just enough time. Just enough attention. Then he’d get up on his soap box and make my world spin all over again. Sure, it was a little slower, and the whole thing seemed less magical, but we were getting older.

That day? No, we didn’t fight. We never fought. That was one of his laws. He gave me everything. I only survived because of him. Who was I to argue? He was my world. So yeah. He told me I had to come right home after work. Huh? Yeah, I asked if I could go to Emmy’s farewell party. She was important to me. I think he knew that. I think he maybe could hear something in my voice. He didn’t like me talking about her. He said she was uppity, and when I talked to her I got uppity. I don’t know about that. All I know is she asked me questions, and didn’t really want to hear about him. She wanted me to have ideas. She’s the one who said I was smart. She said I could have passed that first class by myself. That I didn’t need him.

You ever turn the map upside down? I mean, put Antarctica at the top? I read somewhere that the regular map – the one with us at the top, you know, like they have in schools and on the news – is totally arbitrary. Hm? Oh, it means randomly chosen. Gosh, thanks. I’ve always had a good vocabulary. He takes pride in that. Says I’m well-spoken for a dumb girl. Anyway, you ever look at a map upside down? It’s the same thing, but it looks totally weird. That’s what Emmy did. She turned my map. Got me thinking. 

What? Oh, yeah. That day. No, he told me to come right home. Oh gosh no! He would never go out with my friends. Said he had no time for hen parties. But I really wanted to go. I called and told him I was working late. I did that sometimes. He was okay with it. The overtime, you know. He didn’t believe that day, though. He knew it was Emmy’s last day and that there were plans. He was really mad. I was packing up to go home when Emmy hijacked me. Really. She grabbed my bag and my keys and ran out of the office. I was laughing, but it was scary, thinking about what he’d do. I never expected, well, you know.

No, I got it, thanks. 

This hankie belonged to my grandma. Can you tell? I’ve washed it probably a thousand times. She always told me to use it like it was meant to be used. She wasn’t real fond of tissues. She’d lick a corner to scrub our faces and the paper would dissolve. A handkerchief, though. She could really attack a messy face with one of her hankies. Oh. Sorry. Yeah, that day.

So we were at the bar and Emmy talked me into trying some fancy drink I’d never had before. I don’t remember what it was called, but it had vodka and pineapple juice and something red. It looked like a sunset. So pretty. Oh, man did that thing get to me, though. I’m not much of a drinker. He said I got even dumber when I drank, and told me I shouldn’t have more than one of anything. I only had one of those sunset drinks, but it must have been like five glasses of wine. Emmy told me I laughed a lot. She likes it when I laugh. 

I should have gone home but I wasn’t thinking straight. I believe that’s why Harold offered his couch. If I’d been thinking right I never would have agreed. I had to get home. I was in enough trouble already! But Harold took me back to his place and -- oh God no! He’s a married man! His wife was there and everything! No he just, well, I don’t know why he’s the one who took me home. I think all the arranging was done without me. I was trying to call home. Trying to explain myself. I was crying by then, I think. But he wasn’t answering. Emmy said she thought he was being petulant, not answering my calls. Huh? She told me later. I don’t remember that night so well. I’m kind of embarrassed now, you know. That’s not like me. So, um that’s why I didn’t know until the next day. I called, and someone answered his phone, and told me to come right away to the hospital. 

You know, I never asked why you’re going over this. I understand the life insurance people – they’re protecting their assets and all – but why the police? Do you investigate everyone who drives off a cliff? I mean, you guys said it was an accident. That's what the insurance company said. Death certificate says accidental trauma. They wouldn't have paid otherwise, you know. If they thought it wasn't an accident.

He was an awful driver. My mom won’t even ride in the car with him anymore. And I'm sure he was mad. Really mad. I know sometimes that makes people drive stupid, too. He told me that. Defensive driving, he called it, but I don’t know how you can drive like that and be defensive. But I don’t drive much, so what do I know. Oh. Sorry. I guess I’m still not thinking straight, that’s why I’m talking so much. But why are you asking?

Brakes? I don’t know. I’m sure they were fine. He was in charge of the car. Didn’t trust me to get it serviced “in a timely fashion” he said. Told me I never did what I was supposed to do, or at least, not when it needed done. He has the records at home. I mean, I do, I guess. I can dig them out if you’d like. 

Can you ask that again? I’m not sure I understand. 

No! No I didn’t “plan to draw him out of the house.” What do you think I am? I just wanted to say goodbye to Emmy. We’ve worked together for a long time and she’s my friend. My only friend, really. That’s why I went out. I don’t know anything about the accident. You’re the police. You figure it out.

I need to go home.  Emmy’s waiting for me. She’s a good friend. 

Yes, thank you, I will. Good night, officer.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Coal Train

Diesels bay at 3 a.m.
as they prowl railyards
on the north end of town

A screen lights the kitchen
half-cleaned, still
fragrant with cumin and onions

an update chimes:
the rodeo queen has shared
another picture of her boys

Facebook maps a diaspora 
coal-dusted children

poured like mine tailings
from the Valley down the 
slopes of the Rocky Mountains

Goodbyes trace like fireworks
the explosion at the mine
blew out the heart of our town

Iron wheels clatter in time
with breakfast pans. Men
descend into the seam
the whistle of the coal train

Poets of G+ Challenge: write a  poem the starts at the end and moves toward the beginning

A List

Things that hollowed me out
today, a list for
no good reason

Casual jazz under red
string lights
a gift from a man who
will never be my friend

The moment a little
girl rested her head
butterfly gentle
against my shoulder
before flitting off to play

The elusive scent
of lilacs

Two chattering women speed
walking past
as I untangled
The dog’s leash from
my legs

The wobbling path
of my son’s bicycle
as he rode away

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Swan from the Start

The other day, I read a parenting post stating decisively that people shouldn't tell a little girl how pretty she is. Physical attributes, the thinking goes, are neither a good measure of a person nor permanent. The unstated judgement is that valuing appearance is shallow and leads to irreparable vanity. Instead we should praise her strength and intelligence and sense of humor and other more "laudable" traits. The goal is to teach self-worth based on character, not her body.

That sounds really good. I almost bought into it, until I looked into the mirror.

It's so easy for a child to latch on to the most ridiculous of ideas. For me it was the understanding that I'm not pretty. I never thought of myself as ugly, just unremarkable. I don't know the genesis of this thinking. It was probably a generic criticism, mixed in with the other flotsam of girlish competition. Unfortunately this one became entangled in all the other insecurities native to a young girl and fell to the floor of my consciousness, slowly seeping its particular poison through the years.

Looking back I can see subtle ways my behavior was shaped by this one idea. I ached to be pretty and found myself drawn to beautiful people, hoping their magic would dust off onto me. When it didn't, I withdrew into my mind and distanced myself from the disappointment that was my body. I neglected to value myself, and as a consequence didn't care for myself. Exercise was pointless. Beautiful clothes and jewelry were for beautiful people. I would just have to make do. Still, in my secret heart-of-hearts, I longed to be a princess, if only for one Cinderella night.

This doesn't mean I lacked all faith in myself. I took pride in my strength and determination and smarts. I was determined to make a difference in the world. But on the occasions that a man did -- miraculously, I thought -- notice me, I was careless with my body and my heart. I once asked a lover if he thought I was beautiful. He  prevaricated until finally admitting that he didn't. Despite my shredded heart I stayed. 

Over time I've learned to admire my parts. My college roommate taught me that every girl deserves pretty lingerie. My sister-from-another-mother has taken me shopping and shown me how to flatter my curvy figure. I've been given lessons in makeup, and compliments on my eyes. Sometimes, when I least expect it, I look in the mirror and find beauty there, wrinkles and dimples and spots and all. I am grateful for those moments.

To be honest, I don't know if thinking myself pretty would truly have changed anything. Still, I will tell my daughter every step of the way that she is smart and funny and strong and, yes, beautiful. I will tell her until she knows in every cell that both her mind and her body are to be cherished and respected and cared for. I will declare her beauty to the world and I will not be satisfied until she can do the same. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

On Thursday

"This must be Thursday. I could never get the hang of Thursdays." - Douglas Adams, Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy

In Hungarian "On Thursday" is csütörtökön. This is one of my favorite words. I love the precision required to say it correctly. How foreign it feels in my mouth. I've forgotten most of what I learned, but this particular phrase has stuck. I have a treasured collection of linguistic oddments that are part of my internal vernacular. Sometimes I say them out loud to myself, like a child playing with her toys. Once I had to do so in empty rooms, lest people fret. The rise of earpieces and cell phones has done wonders for my perceived sanity.

It's a lovely morning for sleeping in -- overcast, damp, and 63 degrees. The dogs believe it to be a perfect day for a walk. We're agreeing to disagree. The house is quiet, except for occasional song from the more ambitious robins in our neighborhood. The oven is ticking as it preheats -- cinnamon rolls should get us all moving, although I'm tempted to abandon responsibility and leave the kids abed. I take comfort in standing guard over my slumbering sweetlings. 

I was reminded this morning that one of my two superpowers is rescuing trapped insects and small mammals. This morning we saved a Very Large Dragonfly from the bag of apricots on the kitchen counter. I have no idea how it got in there. I couldn't catch it with a container, but at the offer of a fingertip it gingerly stepped aboard for the ride outside, even allowing some photos before hurtling into the brightening sky.

The other is the appearance that I always know where I am and where I'm going. I have been approached around the world by strangers needing directions, sometimes in their own country where I am a visitor.

For the record, my sidekick power is making animal noises. Really. I can imitate most domesticated animals (including livestock). Comes in handy when distracting the villain.

Text copied from Facebook at my mother's request

Friday, June 27, 2014

From the Dusty Corners of My Hard Drive

Just ran across this, er, salute to Poe which I wrote in response to a Poets of G+ Community prompt for National Poetry Month. It is silly and made me laugh, so I thought I'd share it. 

The Dogs
See the puppies with their tails
Wagging tails!
With furry smiles and joyful leaps they happily regale
How they wiggle, wiggle, wiggle
With obvious delight
While tiny children giggle
And even grownups sniggle
And everything about them seems just perfectly alright
Barking: ruff ruff ruff ruff ruff
Pretending to be tough
Running laps around the living room like tiny springtime gales
Wagging tails, tails, tails, tails, tails, tails
The whirling and the spinning fluffy tails.

See the doggies with their paws
Giant paws!
What muddy tracks and messes these beloved pups can cause
How they scurry, scurry, scurry
With evident delight
To greet another furry
or guard against all worry
Always ready to defend against a stranger in the night
Drinking: lap, lap, lap, lap, lap
before a twitching nap
Pacing ‘round the house with clickety-tapping claws
Giant paws paws paws paws paws paws paws
The scratching and the thumping massive paws.

See the canines with their teeth
Pointed teeth!
So sharp and white and perilously unsheathed
How they glisten, glisten, glisten
With pendulous saliva
A shiver comes, a frisson
of tension. Be still, listen
Pray a fearless warrior does in time arrive
Clasp your hands upon your laps
Hope for werewolf traps
Strongly made of iron but in hammered silver wreathed
Lest beasts eat, eat, eat, eat, eat
Feast upon the mortals, flesh between their teeth.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Rational rationale

I have thought about guns a great deal since my father committed suicide by handgun when I was in ninth grade.

I say that not to elicit sympathy, but as a starting point for this essay. A little background: my parents were divorced when I was an infant; I had little contact with my father before he died; and my mother provided such a rich community of elders that his absence seemed incidental. Nonetheless, his death has affected me in ways I am still discovering.

All of this is by way of explaining the very personal relationship I have with gun control efforts, especially those around handguns. Not long before my father died, the "Brady Bill" brought national attention to gun control efforts. I supported the movement then; my conviction was deepened by my father's death and has been cemented over time.

That said, as distasteful as I find them, I am not against gun ownership. My husband has rifles and uses them. My son has practiced marksmanship with his Scout pack. A number of my friends enjoy a day at the shooting range. I respect that. I have even surprised people in the past -- those who have heard (or read) me rant about gun control -- with my ardent support of hunters, albeit from the perspective that they play a vital role in wildlife management.

I am aware that the basic regulations for which I advocate would not have saved my father's life. He owned his weapons legally and had a permit. I know also that his suicide was really a symptom of a lifetime of alcohol abuse. If he was truly intent on ending his life, he would have found a way.

The thing is, with suicide by gun there is very little margin of error. There are plenty of statistics (yes, yes, I know -- lies, damn lies, and statistics) tallying gun deaths. What many people don't realize is that two-thirds of those are suicides. Having a gun vastly increases the odds of someone attempting and succeeding in trying to kill themselves. Especially, unfortunately, people under the age of 18. It is so easy. 

As for other deaths? Looser laws in any one state vastly increases the homocide rate there as well. Locations with regulations around gun storage (locked up and unloaded) see far fewer accidental fatalities. I'm not going to turn this into a numbers game -- there are plenty of much better researched and dedicated pages for that. What I am going to say, after nearly 30 years of thinking about it, is that I truly believe that most of these deaths -- suicide, homocide, accidental -- were preventable with simple, common sense measures. I don't intend to strip guns away from people. I do believe that we can ask them to be responsible -- much as I am required to prove a certain level of responsibility before owning or operating a vehicle. Growing up in my little valley, getting a hunting license and going on your first hunt was a rite of passage. I remember all the kids excitedly talking about signing up for the hunter safety courses their parents required before going into the woods. That step was part and parcel of growing up and being a "good" -- as in moral and ethical -- hunter. I don't know why that has changed.

I have heard at length (from my husband, among others) the argument that people rely too much on the government to keep them safe, and that it's a "nanny state". You know what? We as a nation have proven that necessary. After struggling to keep eight-year olds calm and quiet through lockdown drills, after mourning too many mass shootings, after seeing pictures of men and women carrying firearms through Target, I don't trust my fellow citizens to act in our collective best interest. The roughly 32,000 gun deaths last year are my measure of why I believe the following basics should be implemented:
  • Require all gun owners to take a use and safety course. I'd encourage them to go further and go through some simulation training. This would be for everyone's safety. I have been in enough mildly emergency situations that I don't trust people to behave well under stress, let alone a situation where gunfire might be needed. I really, really, really don't want an untrained, panicking person trying to use a gun.
  • Require background checks for ALL sales. Period.
  • Restrict large capacity ammunition clips.
  • Restrict multi-weapon sales, especially through unlicensed dealers. This is where many of the weapons used unlawfully come from.
I'm sure there are more, but I didn't start this post with the intent to list out my solutions. As I said, there are better and more passionate sites for that. All I wanted to do was tie the political back to the personal. So many folks cry out for RKBA (the Right to Keep and Bear Arms). I think, sometimes, they forget the people behind the calls for regulation.

I was not close to my father. I may never have been, even if he had lived. Nonetheless, his death affected me profoundly. Most immediately came the knowledge that I was "half an orphan". My mother's mortality was highlighted by my father's death, deepening a sense of the fragility of family which had been instilled three years prior with the death of my maternal grandmother.

The longer-lasting, more complicated impact came from my imagination. Here's what I think I know: as a result of his alcoholic behavior, his third wife left him. She found him when she returned to the house sometime during the week. 

From there my vivid imagination takes over, filling in the gaps. I can see him angrily drinking while watching the Broncos lose. I smell the oil as he breaks down the gun, wiping it clean, reassembling. Repeating, maybe, as he drinks more. Easing toward tears, frustration melting into an overwhelming sense of failure. Walking to his bedroom. Lying down on the pastel bedspread. The shot, and a fan of chunky blood on the wall. 

I have carried those images in my head for more than twenty years now. I have no idea if they are even vaguely accurate. I don't care to find out.

All I want, really, is that no one else have to live with their version of this sorrow.

Sunday, June 15, 2014


In my first memory of my father, we are assembling a two-wheel bicycle together. I must have been six or seven, and he'd come to visit for the first time. I was blessedly oblivious of the grown-up politics of divorce, and took to heart the promise he made to come back and remove the training wheels when I was ready. He never did.

I'm sure there was more contact somewhere in there, but my next memory is of crossing a frozen parking lot from my mother's car to his -- like a prisoner in an exchange between countries -- when I went to stay with him for the first time. I played video games (Donkey Kong) for the first time in my life.

On the third -- and final -- visit that I remember, his wife and I baked an apple pie for his birthday. I met a half-sister whose existence was previously unknown to me, got my period, and wound up in a fight with him.

Needless to say, Father's Day held little meaning for me for many years. I didn't mourn the absence of a father because I never had one.

Two marriages changed that: my mother's, and my own. 

The man my mother married has become a father to me. He is constant and kind. He is loving, and forgiving. He sends me cards when I am blue and offers gentle guidance when I feel lost. Sometimes, now, I get flashes of jealousy for people who grew up with a father. The feeling passes quickly, but is a reminder of just how fortunate I am now.

For my husband, fatherhood is a challenge. I believe he was abused, although the family mythos is that the boys "deserved" the treatment they got. He told me once, "I don't want to be like my dad." He isn't, although it's a struggle. We work hard to find a path together, and don't always succeed. Still, he loves our children with depth and desperation, and they know it. He is great for wrestling and board games. He is instilling in them a tremendous work ethic. The kids are unaware of how much knowledge they have absorbed from his lectures, but I hear and see it in their school lessons. He tries, over and over and over again to give them what he never had -- support and unconditional love and an awareness of just how very proud he is of their efforts and accomplishments.

I know now what I never had, and am grateful for what I do have: a man who has become my dad, and the man who fights every day to be a good father to our children. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Women of a Certain Age

I woke sobbing this morning, the voice of a newly dead man echoing in my head.

I always thought that becoming a woman of a certain age meant something joyful -- being no longer burdened by other peoples' judgements, and free to have adventures.

Instead it seems to mean saying goodbye. One friend has lost her mother. Another buried her father. Two friends have stood by as their mothers endured terrible complications from awful surgeries. My own mother has some health concerns. And the dead man? I don't know that I could have called him a friend, but he was kind to me when I was a child. When visiting my hometown I looked forward to running into him and catching up.

Remember being desperate to grow up? To understand the ripple of laughter that went around the room full of adults? As if being taller was the ticket to entering a special carnival full of shiny lights and amusements. Now I look around and ask: when does the fun start?

This gloom will pass. A good shamble this morning already has put me in a better mood. Still, I feel diminished by this, and so many other, deaths.

However my still-amorphous beliefs resolve themselves, I do believe I'll see again those I've lost, and become whole. Until then, a toast to those who have gone before.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

War No More, or A Small Triumph

The tiny boy slipped between the fence posts of the bakery patio. His mother called him back, but a mischievous giggle told me he was headed for trouble. I've had toddlers. They're ornery beings. Rising to let her pass (I was closer to the gateway), I did a quick calculation and instead sprinted to the street corner just in time. Well, maybe not just in time. He had 15 feet to go, and it's a quiet neighborhood. I blocked his path then herded him back to his mother. She thanked me and I finished my cinnamon roll while basking in a tiny sense of triumph. Not for intervening -- there were enough people around that someone would have stepped in -- but for how I did it. I sprinted. I ran full tilt, legs long and stretching, down the sidewalk, and when finished I wasn't even breathing hard.

That may not sound like much, but it is a big change. Until fairly recently my body was a meatsuit only good for carrying my brain around. Sometime in the past year, that ended. It's not a truce. It's a peace. I've finally come to appreciate my whole self. Most surprisingly, I don't hate any of my parts. I am, shall we say, unfashionably lumpy. My belly will only be flat if someone takes a scalpel to it. I have granny wings. Exercising makes my breasts shrink and my thighs grow. My personal best is a 17 minute mile. But underneath it all I have rock-hard muscles, and a brain to match. I am a creature of the mind and the body. I can climb mountains and write. I can bicycle to a picnic in the park and do kitchen science with my kids.

Last week was tough. I didn't walk at all. The dogs stared at me in particularly guilt-inducing ways. I was sleep deprived and work stressed and there were a couple of authoritative articles about weight loss that made me feel helpless. My pedometer refused to budge, mostly because I wasn't. My scale was just as stubborn. For this first time, however, I didn't hate myself, or rampage through the cupboards trying to find solace in a bag of chips. I told myself that it was an off week and I'd get back on track.

Which is why Miss Awesome, the dogs, and I geared up and headed to the bakery in the first place. Oh, sure, the cinnamon roll was a delicious motivator. But really, I wanted a good walk to clear my head and strengthen my heart.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Wink of an Eye

Wires hung limply from the headlight socket, ends lightly scratching the concrete driveway as they twitched in the breeze. The otherwise pristine Beetle slouched in a vaguely lopsided way. The effect was distressingly like a medieval torture victim whose freedom cost an eye. The lamp itself was gone, spirited away without scratches or broken glass.

Lyss groaned and gave a satisfyingly loud kick to the metal trash can beside the garage. She felt violated. A glance at her cell phone showed there was no time to deal with this, so she gently tucked the wires in as far as they would go and headed to work.

Much later — after calls to the police and the insurance company and the repair shop — Lyss headed to the pub where her friends were waiting. She flagged the waiter, ordered a bottle of beer, and dropped into a chair.

“Fucking Monday. Some asshole stole Lady’s headlight this morning. Or last night. I don’t know.” She rubbed her face with both hands. 

“Oh no! It's like your happy beetle has a black eye!” Shelley frowned sweetly.

“What?!” Evan set his elbows on the tabletop. “Who the hell steals a headlight?”

“Dunno.” The waiter placed a napkin on the table and started to set down the beer, but Lyss intercepted and took a gulp. After a relieved sigh she continued, “Insurance is gonna pay for it, but covering the deductible means extra hours at work, or cutting something out this summer.”

“Fucker.” That word always sounded funny in Shelley’s gentle Appalachian accent. 

Lyss giggled and lifted her beer. “You can say that again.” She waited. “No, really!”

“FUCKER!” Shelley smiled at her friend’s second chuckle. “Why a headlight? That can’t be easy to remove, and nobody’s going to buy it, are they?”

Lyss frowned. “The cops say it’s not uncommon. ‘High-end accessory’ they called it. Volvo side mirrors get stolen a lot, too. Something about the high cost of O.M.E. parts.”

Shelley rolled her eyes. “O.E.M.! Original equipment. Not knock-offs.”

“Whatever. Anyway, it’s a quick and easy repair, so she won’t be in the shop for long.”

Evan nodded. “That’s good.”

They all relaxed back into their chairs and sipped their drinks quietly for a moment, enjoying a friendship that didn’t always require words.

“Hey Lyss?” Shelley glanced sideways. “Do you want me to track them down and destroy them?” 

Lyss met Shelley’s eyes and replied fiercely, “Yes! Please destroy them. My poor baby.”

“Okay then.” Shelley reached for their hands and nodded at them to complete the circle. Evan grinned and reached for Lyss’s hand. Shelley closed her eyes a moment, then snapped them open. She slowly intoned
     Thief in the night
     Stealer of light
     May your evil be returned
     A hundredfold!
A reflection of light crossed the room and paused momentarily on Shelley. A glass broke in the kitchen and they all — even Shelley — jumped. Laughing, she reclaimed her hands and pronounced “Evil mojo sent. Beware, evildoers!”

Chuckling and shaking his head, Evan ordered another round as the conversation turned to more cheerful topics.

* * *

The vehicle — technically a Volkswagon Beetle, but an embarrassment to that name — was a Frankencar, with parts “acquired” from front yards and junk yards. Fenders from the seventies had been forced into compliance with doorjambs from newer models using appallingly liberal amounts of Bondo and sheet metal screws. Nothing quite matched. Nothing actually fit. It was uncomfortable to look at — there were no lines, no harmony of purpose. The overall effect was made worse by intermittent rust patches and a spastic application of remaindered house paint the color and consistency of vomit. Still, it ran. Frances was enchanted by the reedy cricket chirp of the engine. He had found what remained of the frame and engine in a junk yard and “liberated” it, along with a first round of parts. He added more as the reanimation project progressed. He took great pride in his creation. Everyone agreed that it was unique, even if they didn’t appreciate the artfulness with which he had stitched the thing together.

Frances tugged the driver’s side door open and, leaning in, fumbled the key into the ignition. The starter groaned into action and he laughed with delight as the little engine burred. It had taken most of an hour, some wire nuts, and almost an entire roll of duct tape, but he finally had two working headlights. The new one bulged hugely from the much-smaller socket and was partially obscured by the tape which held it in place. A passerby might get the impression of a defeated boxer whose eye had swollen from abuse. Nonetheless, what was not blocked glowed with a brightness that made the first light almost unnecessary.

He turned off the car and went inside to wash. 

* * *

Pollen rained from clear skies. The nightly news ignored stories of earthbound mayhem in favor of extensive weather reports. Meteorologists, shell-shocked by the sudden interest in their craft, drew giant colorful diagrams of wind patterns and tried repeatedly to explain the drifts of yellow. There was no scientific explanation. Shelley knew, though. While others wiped streaming eyes with handkerchiefs and took allergy pills in double-doses, her eyes were clear. The wind bore the deep green scent of hollows and the dust of grassy balds. It smelled of home. There was magic in the pollen, borne up through ancient granite, charged by seams of coal, and thrust skyward by oak and pine. She had called it with her simple rhyme. Called, but not tamed it. Something had been loosed, and was hunting.

* * *

Frances paced the sweltering kitchen while he ate a random collection of leftovers. The pollen had finally abated enough to leave the house. It wasn’t all gone, but several storms had blown through and washed most of the wretched stuff into meandering outlines in the gutter. His car, however, hadn’t come clean. Yellow motes were embedded in every brush mark. He tried sweeping and wiping and even washing, but the paint peeled off in giant scabs that left it looking diseased. He’d have to paint it again. The car still ran, though, and he was restless. 

Stalking out of the house, Frances didn’t bother to lock the door. He yanked the car open and wedged himself in. Throwing it into gear he swerved into the street and gunned it down the block, barely glancing at the cross street as he barreled past the stop sign. Fast. He needed to go fast. He leaned over and rolled down the passenger window, angling the fly window to catch as much tepid air as possible. The sun would be down soon, and everything would cool off. Four-forty a/c, he told himself. Four windows at forty miles an hour. The joke brought a small smile to his face.

Every stop light was against him: turning red as he approached, taking forever to go green. The bloody sunset reflected from windows all around, blinding him. The city was unbearable. He turned on to Highway 6 and lurched his way toward the interstate. He pulled a death metal cassette from the pile on the passenger seat and shoved it brutally into the tape deck he’d found — still in its car, of course — over in the hoity-toity part of town. He cranked the volume and shouted along vaguely with the German he didn’t understand. 

Slowly the lights fell away and the road opened up. He stomped on the accelerator, shifting through the gears, ignoring a metallic cry from the little engine. Fresh air flowed in, tickling his arm and ruffling his hair. His sweat dried. He overtook other cars and swerved around them, cutting as close as possible, laughing at the terrified expressions highlighted by their dashboard lights. 

The road began to climb. He downshifted, car bucking as he ground into third. The engine screamed into the red as he forced the little car to race up the hill. Tall pines loomed over the road now, moon flickering between, until the road narrowed and they closed over him. He leaned into the curves and accelerated out of them like a shot, disregarding the weathered center lines. Still holding the pedal to the floor Frances was cresting the hill, exhilarating in a moment of flight, in the sensation of the car falling away from him, when both headlights winked out.

* * *


“Yeah. Guy musta been going, well, shit, a hundred? One twenty?” 

The two policemen skittered several yards down the embankment to where the mangled frame of a car lay at the base of a gigantic oak tree. The bark was scattered, heart wood splintered and bare almost eight feet off the ground. More parts were scattered down the hill like the tail of a meteor. It was as if the car had dramatically fallen apart at the seams. No two pieces were still connected.

“The hell is this stuff?” The first officer scraped at the ground with the toe of his boot. Yellow powder dusted the entire debris field. “Looks like some clown came by and poured cornmeal everywhere. Who the hell would do that?”

“No fucking clue. Hey there!” The second officer waved at an investigator who was leaning over the largest chunk of wreckage. “Whatcha got?”

“Weirdest fucking thing I’ve ever seen. No skid marks on the road,” he waved up the hill they’d just come down, “and it looks like the car fucking flew into this tree. I have no clue how fast he had to been going for that to happen. And here’s the weird bit. He should be hamburger. I mean, look at this shit.” The investigator toed a piece of metal which might have been a door panel, but was too misshapen to tell. “But he’s not. Looks like he just got out of the shower.” The others leaned in and nodded in bemused agreement. 

“What the fuck is that powder all over everything?” 

“That? That shit is pollen. Came in through the busted windshield. Tell you the truth, I was kinda freaked out by it, until someone figured it got shaken out of the tree when he hit.”

“Makes sense, I guess, specially after the past coupla weeks. Still, it’s kinda weird, being only here and all.”

“Yep. But I’m not gonna worry about it. Dumbass had it coming. At least no one else was hurt.” They all nodded in silent agreement. The investigator clicked his pen and jotted down another note. 

The two officers turned and walked down the hill, glancing deliberately at the bits and pieces lying everywhere. Seeing nothing of note, they eventually turned and climbed back toward the road. They stopped once when a flash of light caught them by surprise. A moment’s investigation proved it was just a shiny new headlight, winking in the sun.

Inspired by a couple of truly awesome women I'm fortunate enough to count as friends.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

What comes next

I filled out an application yesterday for the Metropolitan State University of Denver. Assuming I get in (perhaps it's hubris, but I'm operating on that assumption), I will start classes at the end of August.

I didn't get in to the first program -- the Teacher in Residency -- on which I had my hopes and heart set. I didn't even apply to the second and third and fourth programs I looked at. I fell into despair and spent a black month feeling wasted and old and useless.

I colored my hair crimson.

I pulled on my big girl panties and did some research and figured out that totally changing directions at age 41 is hard, but not impossible. If I want to teach science, I can teach science, but the powers-that-be are not going to simply accept my assurance that I know enough. I need proof that I have knowledge to share. So I'm going back to college to get what will essentially be a second bachelor's degree in Science (with an emphasis in Chemistry). Once I've fulfilled about 2 years worth of requirements, I'll apply to the Teacher's Ed program and move forward. I'm calling it a four year plan. I can do this.

My husband is sceptical. He, too, is feeling old, mostly because he's been working more than full time all along. He recently started using the word "retirement" and talking about how we'll have an empty nest in nine years. I believe he has visions of the two of us travelling and just hanging out together after the kids have gone off to college. The idea of me starting a career right now messes with his plans. 

Relaxing into the ease of that life -- my current life -- is tempting. No struggling to learn calculus. No dealing with fractious parents who are offended by my teaching style. Traveling and adventuring without concern for the calendar. Those are gifts he's offering me. 

I can't accept them. 

I need to contribute, somehow. I've waited a long time to get to this point. There's been a whole behind-the-scenes process of self rediscovery that had to happen before I could even start the application process. I've fought to get to this point, and I know I want to teach. I always have. 

Besides, what else would I do? A friend recently posited that I could write, not just for my blog or occasional online prompts, but really write, for publication. I'd never considered that. Honestly? I've never believed enough in myself. Lately I've been reading a lot of other peoples' work, and I can truthfully say that some of my writing is better. And I have my friend's assurance that I really do write well enough to maybe even sell some of my words. So that will be my fallback. It's good to have a back up plan. In the meantime I'll be studying algebra on Khan Academy this summer, and in the fall I'm signing up for Chemistry, Geography, and Biology. 

I'm looking forward to it.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Anything, but

You can do anything
I tell my girl
corralling my sadness
for another place-time

Who wants to tell
a child she is limited 
by her physiognomy
to a lifetime of
servitude and struggle?

You’ll go far
though in every place she will be
a vessel
for someone else’s idealized interpretation 
of a few scraps
parchment, bound
by tradition into
inescapable expectations 

Looks don’t matter
though breasts will be
the first and last 
of her that some men
Notice. Not
how brilliantly her mind

You are fierce and strong
which of course means
she’s a bitch, though
didja get a look at that ass?

I will protect you
as best I can, but
my needle and thread
cannot mend a
broken dream
Poets of G+ prompt: write a poem in which everything is lies
for National Poetry Month

Friday, April 11, 2014

My Morning

a play in one act, for your amusement

Setting: 5 a.m. Friday. The sun has not yet risen. A cool spring breeze flows gently through my bedroom, where Darling Husband and I sleep to the melody of robin-song.

Smoke Detector 1: Let me sing you the song of my people

Smoke detectors 2-infinity: We will sing with you, brother

I rise and stumble downstairs to listen to the glorious chirping

Unfortunate Puddle: Let me bathe your feet in cold dog urine. All the girls are doing it.

I fumble for the mop and spray bottle and clean a bazillion square feet of wood floor

Unfortunate Puddle: I shall return!

Smoke Detectors (all): Chirpety chirp squeak squeal!

I take matters into hand

Smoke Detector Eleventy: I weep for for your ignorance as you tear me from my hearth and home. SDE screams in mighty agony

All the other smoke detectors wail in disbelief. The children wake and begin to cry. I mercilessly storm through the house, pulling down smoke detectors and gently stacking them for later battery replacement

Smoke Detector The Last: I will sing intermittently and at random, in mourning for my family. You.Will.Not find me.

I spend 20 minutes searching for the last smoke detector and finally find it in the unfinished basement

Me: AHA! Gotchu, fucker!

Unfortunate Puddle: I'm ALLIIIIVVVEEEE! Let me shower your hand and arm with dog urine, filtered through the floorboards above. All the girls are doing it.

I throw the soaked detector in the trash and mop myself with paper towels as I head to the shower

On-Demand Hot Water Heater: Poor girl, let me shower you with delightful hot water. Better?

Me: mmmm.

ODHWH: PRANK! switches instantly to ice water


Alarm Clock: Wakey, wakey rise and shine! Are we ready for another GREAT day?

*The End*

Monday, April 7, 2014

Spring Break

We are on vacation. Usually we start with simple plans that become distended and unwieldy with nearby opportunities and potential adventures. This time, though, I refused. I declared unscheduled hours not gaps to be filled, but breathing spaces. No add-ons. No supplemental adventures. My husband pounded at my resolve, wheedling with promises of family memories to be made. I stood firm. No racing against an agenda of reservations and schedules. Therefore this year’s journey isn’t an epic story to be told with rueful laughter, but a series of small moments.

I read aloud, alternating between a young adult dystopia and a children’s fantasy about mermaids. For once there are no distractions — we are driving, only driving. I lose track of time and distance. I pause. The children prompt me: more, please. At home they are pulled away by friends and electronics, obligations and activities. Here, now, I have them in their entirety. Though my voice is raw I continue, silently delighted in their attention.

The dog and I walk the perimeter of my parent’s town. There are more birds here than at home. More wildlife. The leash protects hidden deer from the jubilation of a city dog. Bird song rises, pulling crocuses and tulips from the freshening earth. Their gaiety is contagious. It snowed in the night. Normally staid trees — elms, cottonwoods — are dressed in icy finery, dollops of snow on their branches mimicking the coming floral frippery of plums and cherries.

On the final run I abandon my husband to the role of instructor, arcing around the Ski Patrol’s mop-up crew and reveling in a moment’s freedom. After a day of snowplowing and slow, wide turns, it is a relief to head straight down. I’ve stopped fighting my skis. My turns are light and quick and I feel as if I am floating. Only the sound of metal edges scraping across thin patches of snow belies the sensation. I crest and pause, waiting for my son, arching to glimpse the bright jackets of my husband and daughter. I see nothing. The sky has grayed with an impending storm and I cannot distinguish the peak from the clouds. Leftover leaves clatter across the snow. The people have all gone. Columns of aspens rise like smoke, waving in the rising wind. Branches creak without rhythm. Our family is the last down the mountain, which rises massive and icily indifferent. The wind blows. I close my eyes to listen, as if sight hampers my hearing. I come to wonder if there has been an accident and begin to imagine digging the toes of my stiff boots into the snow, carving five hundred steps upward in search of a broken child. Red flashes between the trunks and “They’re coming” breezes back to me from a ski patroller rushing to an end-of-season party. Again I am alone. I dismiss the vestige of responsibility that holds me in place and fling myself down the mountain, catching up to the wind and passing it, flying down, flying alone, flying through the rushing air until I run out of mountain.

The sky darkens red an hour early. Mud drips from dust-sodden clouds, leaving random red-brown circles on sidewalks, roofs, windows. Three years ago the wind picked up sheets of Mongolian soil and dropped them halfway across North America. I walk to the car, draw a line across the window with my finger, and bring it to my mouth, imagining I can taste the colorful geometry of the Gobi desert.

Our supper guests have gone. My mother and I step easily around each other, putting away leftovers, wiping counters. Chores done, I sit at the kitchen counter with my book as my mother sits in an armchair with her crocheting. The dishwasher groans and swishes quietly. Voices drift down from upstairs where my family is working on a puzzle. I turn a page with a papery whisper. Mom counts stitches under her breath. We do not need words to take comfort in each other.

The splashing of fountains and the water slide are so loud I cannot hear their made-up rules. The ball is tossed and thrown with joyous desperation between watery attacks on opponents. I rush between my husband and children, leaping to grasp the beach ball and falling laughing into the water. They wade toward me until I pop up and toss the ball away. My son shakes water from his hair and throws it back — over his sister’s head — right into his father’s arms. We grin and he throws the ball again.

The hike is up and up and up. We walk along a fin of rock six feet wide which falls to sand and scrub below. Sheer walls rise just out of reach to left and right, black varnish pocked with red where weather has taken bites. Farther and higher and we are above the walls, perched atop our slice of sandstone hundreds of feet above the brown gray valley where golden sun pours across the floor, mirroring the clouds above. Rain falls in intermittent curtains, parting and closing to obscure the La Sal range rising at some incalculable distance. Storms dance all around us as we scramble toward the arch at the end of our path. Dry balls of snow fall. Wind paints my arms with cold. Ravens hop and caw, opening their wings like sails in corvid mockery of the earth-bound. When we find the arch my family is underwhelmed. I answer my son’s gripes by saying that the important part was the journey, not the destination. For once the aphorism is not a cliche.

I am layered to inflexibility to fight the chill. Supper is an exercise in creative cookery since one of the stove burners doesn’t work. I slowly remember the rhythm of camp cooking, warming hot dogs in the macaroni water, heating broccoli on the lid. We huddle companionably around the table to eat and savor the last hour of daylight with card games. Somehow, without walls, our family is more intimate. Despite the cold I linger, urging another round, until it is too dark.

I wake, nose icy, huddled in my sleeping bag. I hear cars on a distant highway and gaze at the tent roof, unsure if it is time to wake. Both children have drawn close in their sleep. My son, who treasures his lone bed at home, has his back to mine. I am curled around my daughter, who has snuggled into the curve of my belly. Their warmth soothes me. I close my eyes and wake much later to the dawn.