Posts Tagged ‘Bears’

lemon meringue pie

tarte aux fruits

Though I sometimes call myself Violette the Bearess, “she” is, in fact, the same person as “I” am, just slightly more adventurous and adroit than the quiet self behind her. (You see, I started the sentence saying “I call myself” rather than “I call her.”) I am not, in fact, a bearess but a young lady who might pretend to be a bear sometimes, and I can assure you that pretending is not the same thing as actually believing oneself to be a bear, no matter how vivid one’s imagination may be, no matter how deep into the forest I may wander. Though I was born gemini (and on the cusp to further complicate matters) and may, sometimes blame a phantom twin for my transgressions and fickleness, those are are metaphors rather than physical renderings. (Even if I do look over my shoulder sometimes – I wasn’t nicknamed “Angel-Dickens” for nothin’!) I may not have had the most steadfast of careers, though however many hats I have haberdashed, this head (hairless though it was at first) is the same that pushed itself through my mother’s womb (and what a topsy-turvy that journey was), and these arms, these legs are the same that pushed and kicked and patted and parted her body. And this belly is the same I always had.

a smidgeon (scale)

Except it isn’t. I have two hearts, but I am not The Doctor (nor a Time Lord, alas). I have two stomachs, but I am not half-bovine (though I certainly feel that way at times). I have four arms, and four legs but am not an octopus, nor a horse nor a bear. But if you were to tell me that there was an octopus or a bear or a horse inside of me, I would believe you because she, “she” that the world insists on calling “baby,” swims fluidly and ponderously, then rides a circus bicycle in circles around my belly, then gallops with extravagant flexing of flank and foreleg . I am myself, living inside of this body, with a new small tenant: ferocious, floating, fragile, fierce and fiercely loved (and imagined!). She has a personality completely independent of mine. She will have (indeed, has – however tiny!)  different eyes, hair, differently shaped elbows and toes, a heart that beats quicker than mine. She will adore different animals and trees, different books, different horizons, but many of the same people though in her own, independent way.

a macaron

Already she will turn over or push up again her father’s hand on my belly (if I can call it mine) or when he talks to her. From the way she moves (“kicking” really can’t be the proper term – she somersaults, she swims, she does yoga, then patters upside down on my belly button) I can almost imagine her playing peek-a-boo, or, in other moments, studiously re-arranging my organs like books in a library for a more comfortable spot to languish (though she never languishes for long).

fleur de sel

One thing I cannot, however, imagine is her as a kumquat. Or an ear of corn. Or a cabbage. (Really? a cabbage?) When I first found out that there was a baby inside of me, I learned that she was, at the time (no longer!) the size of a poppy seed. Happy happy imagination: amazing! And then she was a pea. And then an almond, then a peach, etc. and it just seemed all wrong. When I went from having a navel orange one week to an avocado the next I was befuddled and bemused. Aren’t navel oranges bigger than avocados? (I eat both nearly every day!) And why fruits? Why not furry animals, or birds (a chickadee, a sparrow, an oriole)? Or why not something that (I can’t help it!) is going into the building of this child? like… pastries?

a cupcake

( I do crave oranges (is it the “navel”?) – oh but clementines, too! and Cara Cara oranges and satsumas and, Oh, California, I miss you!) but the orange was only one week’s worth of size! She is NOT a cabbage! No way no how will I allow my little girl to be a cabbage.)  So I decided to make a chart of my own that I could, well, relate to a little bit better. What happened, in fact, was that I related to the chart so well that I found myself crossing the street to our lovely french bakery for, um, reference materials… And it is a little bit silly, and a little bit whimsical and not very scientific, but this is what I came up with.

The First Twenty Weeks

The First Twenty Weeks

The Second Twenty Weeks

The Second Twenty Weeks

Now I can be a mama bear and a petit four, or an angel food cake and a mama haberdasher, or a tiny little circus bear and a proper circus tent (at least, thats how I feel!) Either way, this is a double life I will gladly lead until she decides to become her own, independent little person who can choose her own cakes and breads and she can show us who, exactly, she will be.

angel food cake

a petit fours


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Hide and Seek

It’s been four months since I got married, and they have been the best four months I can remember, in so very many ways. But it makes me bit wistful to think of the life I lived in the the mountains when here I am, quite warm at my own desk, with a delivery menu in the kitchen, netflix that streams, mail that comes to my door, my car in a heated garage, a home without mice, (…or chipmunks or bats!) trash pick-up, sidewalks with street lamps, museums, concerts, baseball and then art stores and salons and paved roads, glowing windows to look into as couples prepare dinner, fashionable girls in stylish winter coats, and handsome, clean-scrubbed boys in their cold weather blazers, with ruddy, snow-brave cheeks, all within walking distance… But when I start to think about how civilized it all is, and, oh, where are my beasties and bears and hawks! there is still something quite wild to be seen on these streets.

The dogs. (and oh yes, I do mean even the sweetest.)

My pup was just groomed at a doggie style place with “urban” in the name. He is looking quite handsome, and has the strut to prove it. When he lived in California, grooming was a regular habit, thanks to grandma, but when he lived in the mountains… well, he sported a more Bohemian look. I did, too, perhaps – the water came from the well, on the property, and though it did go through pipes, and was (sometimes) heated, it often went out.  Two (thankfully) separate weeks are particularly memorable… but enough of that. Lets just say that snow baths are not just an option for dogs.  And no matter how well behaved, and no matter how much maltese he may have in him, and no matter how much he sleeps on your lap (or bed), your dog is wild.

Many of the dogs I see here are rescued dogs, most of them are mixes, many are mutts – and then there are the Bernese, the St. Bernards, the Poodles and the Yorkies. And I think most of them, if they had lived in the mountains, would have been much like Osha, a husky who played hide and seek with my pup, dashing behind snowbanks and popping up again when my pup went searching in the snow, and then running off again to the next place to hide, so quick that we often lost track of him on our walks for minutes at a time. And my closest neighbors on the mountain have a bouvier, and he told me about reading one day, looking out the window to see a bear (yes, a bear) amble by. He went back to his book but looked up again, to see his dog racing after the bear into the woods. Then he spotted the bear again, going the other way, and fast, with the Bouvier on his heels. I think my pup might have been a bit on the small side for that particular game (stop, snack, resume?) but he held his own on hikes and huskies’ games and wild horse encounters in the woods.


Bears and Bouviers

The city dogs get lots of play time, and I think are no less happy – one of the wonderful things about dogs is how much they need their friend-beasts (thanks to matthew inman for that phrase!) But, like us, dogs are wild creatures that have learned to love the sidewalks and parks and pathways and grassy spots…. just like we love the brick-wall bars, the wood fenced gardens, and the copper rooftops of the city. Are we less wild for living here?

Differently wild, perhaps. I still have dreams where I am a woodland creature, burrowing into soft grassy spots, drinking from streams, eating flowers and berries, following the tracks of another animal. A human woodland creature? Perhaps. A wild one? Yes. Listening for wolves, thrilling and terrifying, just like my own pup listens, small as he is, polite and domesticated and cultivated as we are. Sophisticated, wild, and in love with unpredictable animals and trees and mountains, wind and snow and sun. Isn’t it wildness that teaches us how to remember to play? Isn’t is wildness that drives us out into the mountains? And isn’t it wildness that lets us fall in love – today of all days – with a mountain boy, a pup, or an unexpected snowfall.


Street lamps in the City

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Par Avion

This morning I walked out my front door and a young bird nearly careened into me. He had a top knot and gangly wings, but still… some baby fat, too. In a last-ditch effort at self-preservation (I certainly had to duck… oh hush, of course he has the quicker reflexes, but let me pretend I’ve got more instinct – I’ve lived longer, even if I am, sniff, human…) he swerved into a tree at the very last second. Swerving into the Aspens is a good thing for a teenage bird – he wasn’t driving a Camaro, after all. So we had a moment to observe each other, cocking heads. He had a sort of James Dean pompadour going on – pretty darn handsome.  Me? I was tucking these odd little bits of hair back into place that the cute girl at the salon cut for me, promising not to let me go into the city with a “country bumpkin” haircut… but  that I haven’t figured out what to do with it yet – they look pretty funny to pretty much everyone else, I think, now that she can’t put them into place for me anymore – hummingbirds and moths seem particularly interested – goats, donkeys, raindrops, they’ve all taken a nibble or a gander or a peck at these foreign little bits, strands, flyaways, curls, waves, wisps, or just, mid-day, earlymorning, post-shower, bed-head… Anyway. I did have to wonder about this self-assured, albeit-badly-directed, pomaded bird – I couldn’t begin to guess what kind – a sparrow, perhaps? backlit by early morning Aspen light (a shivery white gold green – it probably belongs to fantasy novels, but I do get to behold it every morning) but where was I? Oh yes, little James Dean sparrow… careening nearly into me, Camaro style… No mail in his beak, but it seemed nearly as if it could be so, because, the way he looked at me was like a morning delivery of  “hello,” or, “dear, mountain girl…” – that is what it is like when you live alone.

And, I was on my way to the mailbox – rather, Post Office Box (no mail service up here on the mountain), anyway.  So very much of my quiet little Mountain Girl life is about the mail. (And just ask the pup, he checks doggy mail every day, too – snuffle, snuffle – all along the walk, each sniff a different dog letter.)

Likes and Loves, Letterpress for Letters

I ought to admit, I check my email first (I’d love to pretend this is a typewriter. I love that this is WordPress. And that so many elements look like letterpress.)  Email has it’s charms as well, but this is about the post. (The old fashioned kind, not what I’m doing at the moment…)

You see, in a small town, we rely very much on the mail. It may be slow. It may be manipulative even. The postmistress, I am sure, withholds mail on purpose in a power play over the rest of us – that bend of road is hers alone. The pony of our pony express stops at every green patch (and the rain in this part of the country is sporadic – the long vistas show us where it rains -“walking rain” – many miles away sometimes – and that is where the pony lingers I think – having his drink, a long, long drink….)

You see, this town has Wal-Mart, and… not much else. I would love to boycott Wal-Mart for all of the right reasons. And many of them are good. But it is a little more personal… I had a panic attack in Wal-Mart. Not your little-girl “OMG” panick attack, but the real kind where you actually can’t breathe and everything goes black and you begin to slide down the wall of Princess Ariel beach towels and the beards of the strangers start to slither down the aisles and the snake skin boots become real snakes and all of a sudden you know if you are in the store one second longer you will die. It is not a question but is of the utmost certainty – flourescent lights burn your skin like the Serengeti without any SPF. You literally drop everything you have in your hands and thank goodness your purse is over your shoulder and you are covered in sticky strange Wal-Mart unique sweat or that would be gone too, because you don’t know what you are doing anymore.  Wal-Mart is out of the question your first week in town. You and your best friend make a pact that the Target in the city two hours away (and Whole Foods, Hallelujah!) is the only option for necessities- and the postal service! life lines of small town mountain life. I even ordered a trash can (a beautiful one with a foot pedal that opens the lid) through the mail.

But you don’t have to rely solely on the mail. The nursery has charm- to grow little plants you didn’t know about. And the hardware store? Oh, the unplundered depths and your arms grow stronger – what a girl! – and the art store, incredibly useful, particularly for miniature projects… But the post office, with toothless vagabonds that haunt the parking lots hoping for a repeat of some miracle they once found in their mailbox – the post office holds so many expected, and sometimes unexpected (especially now that so many bills are paid online) joys.

Mit Luftpost

When I went to boarding school in Switzerland – this was the mid 90s –  it was prescient that envelopes be marked – in three languages – “BY AIR MAIL!” “PAR AVION!” “MIT LUFTPOST!” (where was the Italian?) with the blue, red and white stripes around the corners.  I’m not sure if this was a hold-over from when mail really would be carried by boat vs. air, (I’m assuming because of the ocean? not once it hit land…. pony vs. train?) certainly a discrepancy in speed at some point in time – or if it still mattered. I think, perhaps, it still mattered, even then, in the nineties. Certainly, it seemed possible as I dined with suits of medieval armor watching over me, and milk delivered onto the doorstep of the dining hall not once refrigerated but still cool, the cowbells echoing through back through the mountains and sheep to be heard as we would look through our morning missives from America, Lithuania, Japan, Brazil, Oaxaca, Saudi Arabia… I wonder how many ways mail, letters, packages, are still delivered? It seems, here, that sometimes things do come by pony express, and not just because it is the wild west… and not just because I get notices for packages written in handwriting on a piece of long paper – never never an official slip of paper. But that is ok, they seem to arrive, eventually.

And I have to say. Expeditions and Mail are two of my favorite things in the World. They are different…. and because this is the mail post – I will save Expeditions for another time, because they deserve, yes, exploration. So, in brief, it was on an Expedition that I won the Golden Ticket. I bought a CD by Little Scream, and inside, there it was.  And I had no idea! but I won a pendant, painted by the artist/musician, and it was sent to me, in the mail, from Canada.

Petit Paquet

I love mail, and international mail is something else indeed. Livining in Switzerland, Luftpost was quite baffling, but a lusty, lovely, endeavor that my parents, friends and I took on with tariffs on batteries and CD’s and even my favorite stuffed animal (unless he just happened to be a casualty of the battery package). One of my dearest friends is, well, a brilliant botanist in Australia (I’m so modest when it comes to my friends, no?) and I received a package from her just yesterday. Little Scream (a musician) sent me, as I mentioned – my wonderful, beautiful, and oh so perfect prize, from Canada, and my birthday present from my best friend here was from England, packaged so whimsically – and one of my other dearest friends just returned to the states from the British Isles where she managed to live in both Wales and London where she got her doctorate….  (having international best friends – they were, of course, here by me once.  So their absence is, truly, sometimes excruciating – until their letters come, which is exhilarating, and then heartbreaking… when you realizing that they traveled, somehow, slow, slow in a red, blinking, cold, cold space…. with their lovely, lovely handwriting… to your hands, now…. and now, you hold them, this pretty, tiny, beautiful, ephemeral flight. You hold something that flew the Atlantic, or the Pacific, in a tiny paper envelope. And then, when you dream of flight, is it such a different kind of flight? Like Little Scream’s Song, the HERON and the FOX)…

“Oh that magic curtained canyon where lovers dreams can lie is like a drive in movie screen that is pressed against the sky. All those pictures float there happy just for a little while before they’re swallowed up in the vastness of… the open night.

Oh I’ll give you all the colors that are left here in my box, if you would draw a picture into which we could both drop. And you would be the heron and I would be the fox, and you would fly above me… Hoorah!”

Lovely Present Via England, by Hidden Eloise

But how far away is far? When I moved to Ohio to start graduate school, my mom came out, just a few days after I got there to help me settle in, and we were having dinner at an Italian restaurant. Right there, in a huge restaurant with pretty, robust blonde servers all around- boys and girls, any number of which were probably about to be my students, I decided to re-enact the moment I’d had in Switzerland eleven years earlier. Except, I’d been practically a child then, I hadn’t really even realized she was leaving… in fact, it wasn’t until she’d walked away that I had broken into those tears- a foreign country, and I was heartbreakingly young when I think back on it. But now. Now she was across the table from me, and I was. I was an adult. Oh lord, and I had a glass of wine in front of me. In my hand. It didn’t look good. I don’t cry in public. I can think of one other instance, and it won me a plate of truffles on a dark and stormy night in a castle in France…. true story.

But this was not going to win me any truffles. It was starting to get concerned stares – well, the wine and the fact that I was, well, a grown up.  It was Switzerland though, coming back to me, the homesickness, how I had to wait outside a tiny little booth to use the telephone once, maybe twice a week if the letters somehow weren’t enough…. and Ohio, it truly seemed every bit as foreign and far away – the people, the architecture, the cornfields – so much flatness? it was, and I say this truly, to me – and maybe I was just off kilter – but to a West Coast girl, it was this small town was every bit as strange as Switzerland, as strange, even, as Japan. Geologically at least, it was more foreign. I spoke the language, but I didn’t know a soul, and I didn’t know tractor pulling, and I had never even heard of PBR, much less Natty Light, not to mention corn hole…  Sushi I knew, cassoulet I knew, but pierogis? I really did want to crawl under the table and cling to my mother’s legs.

She Forgot Me Not

She, gentle, sweet soul talked me through my tears. And I did start school – I finished my MFA in small town Ohio, (and, shh, loved it) and made beautiful friends (who write the best letters!). But I don’t think I could have done it without her packages. Sometimes they were silly. Sometimes they were just articles from the newspaper. But they were tender. And my sister got in on the “keep-her” well, what, exactly? alive? happy? in school, perhaps? The result was, I felt loved. My sister and I still mail one of those boxes back and forth, covered with stickers, both silly, and with multiple address stickers pasted over and over and over- and over. And, then there is my father – he didn’t initiate many mailings yet -t here is a, um, chicken that makes an appearance every so often, not just in random packages, but in shoes, watering cans, sugar canisters, under pillows (a certain young man was once frightened out of my bed by my father’s – rather – that chicken’s

Postal Interloper

endeavors) – but the sick chicken has had a mostly postal life.

I suppose letters come naturally for writers. I dated a poet when I lived in Ohio. After our relationship ended, and we stayed friends in that same small town, still seeing each other nearly every day and talking often, I sometimes found letters in my mailbox from him. They said things we wouldn’t have thought to say to each other, but not things we would have had to say in a relationship either- nothing fraught, nothing anxiety ridden, nothing strange. Just the simple pleasure of a letter, in my mailbox, from a nearby, and dear person. It is hard to image getting a letter – a real letter – from a neighbor now, but it was simply a time and a place.

I order things, I order books, I order clothes (oh, Anthropologie, I do adore you) – but yes, oh yes, a petit paquet from Canada, a letter from a lovely girl in Ohio, a package from my mother (even if my dad has slipped in some rubber poultry) or my sister – or a surprise letter from New Jersey, or Michigan, or Australia – these things happen even in our unpredictable (and oh so very slow) Pony Express.

And just to close. The night that I wrote the post about my disappointment that the bear hadn’t shown up for my anniversary. He did, two hours after posting. And he spent quite a bit of time looking at the papel picado strung up outside. In fact. It was almost as if he was reading….

A love letter.

Dearest Bear,

I know our love is forbidden, and for this I promise I will never touch you, as you must never touch me. We will pass in the night, and you and I may take pleasure in the fright we give each other – the kind of passion where fear can make our breath quicken, and for you – on these nights, your fur might feel the air change, and for me, my skin will tense, and then soften, in your presence. But no, I will never touch you though only a shiver of glass passes between us as you move, and we can hear, and feel the same night so present in its – our – own hour. And you, you won’t ever look at me the way I look at you, but your nose is keen and I wonder what it is you smell -and do you wonder what I see, as you smell?

And no, do not come nearer, the danger is too great though I long for you, long to touch the flank of your fur and see what it is as you move through the mountain, feel power for the sake of power as you rise in a tree, and over rocks – not power for words or even wisdom as another species would ask.

This night through your fur, a night raw on my skin, and tree bark and stars on both of us, it touches us each on paws and palms that we can’t touch to one another. Anon, dear bear.

Yours truly,

Violette the Bearess

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Hidden Eloise on how to make… love!

<a title=”Hidden Eloise” href=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/mjMU-fY_a-o“>

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Bear Claw marks below my window

Last night midnight, give or take thirty minutes, marked my one year anniversary of living in the mountains. And it was just about midnight… that I spotted a fox in the back yard.

I use the term “back yard” loosely because there are no fences to hold it in, no squares, no borders – an acequia runs haphazardly along one side of the property and far far to the back there is a skewed fence that sort of marks where the cattle and sheep farmers have their farms. But there are many trees and I couldn’t see the fence unless I took a walk through tall grass and pines, (and burdock – yikes!) then crossed the acequia.  The animals, undomestic that is – don’t seem to mind it either.  There is nothing that demarks the side yard from front from back except a general idea of what this might be – (a suburban yard I once visited somewhere? The opening scenes from Weeds? ) some gravel for a driveway, a porch here, a porch there… and, alongside the house, a bear trudging his way through the trees. Perhaps it was the apples, or the lure of mountain lilac, perhaps the idea of a reunion, but he was there and I was listening to him and thinking I might see him if I looked from the (relative) safety of the top porch.

My one year anniversary in these mountains also marks my one year anniversary of coming face to face and hand to paw with my bear – luckily, with a pane of glass between us, but I thought perhaps, hearing him, that he’d come to celebrate (with some exotic high altitude wildflowers? A gift of honey?) But instead, as I waited, and listened,  he trudged off unromantically the other way (was I supposed to keep the lights dim, my dear one?) and I saw a little gray fox -he scampered up close to the house. How quickly he moves! And his big gray tail, the size of his body! How enchanting a fox can be, and how hard to see, dashing this way and that, in and out of the grass – thankfully, the moon was nearly full, and his fur gray, the right color for moon.

My little gray fox

A few nights ago, before the fox, I heard a sound outside my window that I thought might be the bear, too.  It makes sense to be highly attentive to bears, coyotes, mountain lions… I have a small pup that would make a good snack for any of these, but even a mountain lion wouldn’t blush at a girl like me for a meal. I might be small (smaller than those big cats) but I think they’d find some pretty juicy bits to enjoy, if I gave them a chance… and after lying awake one night this winter, listening to one cry, I do not want to be a part of the body or throat of one of those animals. They cry like a human, and I hope you never hear the sound, it sounds like La Llorona…. http://www.legendsofamerica.com/gh-lallorona.html But. Back to the would-be-bear that wasn’t. I crawled out of bed, that I had just gotten into, and flipped on the outside light. Just at my window, a raccoon!


Twice the size of my pup, maybe half the size of me. Alright, maybe not half the size of me, but big. My first instinct was to bang on the window to make it go away – It frightened me. I did. It did not go away. It came closer. I crouched down. It came right up towards me. It sidled along the glass. It was taunting me! I felt like I was the one in a zoo. Raccoons can be pretty vicious, they killed one of my friend’s parrots. Both. They kill backyard chickens (for which I have a great fondness). But as I watched I became fascinated. I have never never watched a feral animal so closely. He stretched, the bands of his fur expanded and contracted, bristly fur reaching outward flinching only so slightly when I hit the glass again, with less enthusiasm this time, less frightened. His stomach was leaner than I expected as he extended his back along the stairs, shoulders towards the windows. His tiny hands grasped about for bird seed, and seemed nothing like paws. He looked at me, and I don’t want to anthropomorphize, but what else can I do? I sensed a wicked little laugh, and some wisdom too, some quiet. Crouched down at the window, we were face to face, the bandit and I, and stayed like that for a few long moments. Eventually, he turned and left, and I stayed.

A friend from Australia told me finds raccoons  exotic, and at first, I couldn’t imagine – they tear up compost piles, eat eggs, they kill baby chickens, they are rather evil – but then, yes, I thought if I ever saw a koala bear, it would be pure magic. So I took that moment I had with the raccoon, his stripes, his face, his curiosity, and put it into my cabinet of wonders.

On the more diminutive animal scale, I have been battling flies. This cabin once had llamas ‘in the back yard’…but…the previous owners loved their llamas so very much that, occasionally, the llamas were allowed, well. Inside. And though that was fifteen years ago, and the ceilings are gloriously high – to accommodate long, pretty llama necks, perhaps – the flies haven’t left. I’ve been a swattin’ and a fly paperin’ and a dust bustin’ — and I’ve got pumpkins growing in the window which I’m pollinating by hand with a Q-tip…. in hopes that my fly battles will soon subside and the flies won’t need to do the work for me. (Too many chipmunks to put the pumpkins and tomatoes outside. Ideas?) The flies. are. unromantic. My unhappy animal story.

And, though I am a little in love with the bear, do as I say, not as I do. Don’t fall in love with a bear. Don’t play with bears. Don’t accept flowers from bears.  Probably, it is best not to play with four cubs and your pup in your cabin in your dream while the mother stomps outside your door. In reality, I take bear spray on walks, I sleep with it by my bed, and I don’t go out at night more than a few feet from the house.  My friend told me that bears will skin their prey and eat nearly all the animal. Coyotes eat only the head. Mountain lions eat the heart and lungs.

On my walks, mostly what I see are butterflies. Some birds, an occasional hawk, a bunny. Lots of dappled light and green leaves. And then, my pup with his tail and head held high. A cloud, occasionally, in the shape of an animal, a heart, or just a cloud, and then a sky so blue that all I can do is throw my arms up up up. And I can’t imagine how it is we all live together, and then again, I can imagine.

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Floating Hearts

Part I. Submersion

I’ve only just returned from California, but since I have, I’ve found myself looking for my bear every dawn and dusk with much more eagerness than I should.  Not that she is my bear, in fact, I rather hope that she has cubs, and if she has those cubs, she most certainly belongs only to her cubs and will want nothing to do with me.  But in half sleep, I imagine myself small, clinging to her fur as she runs through the mountain woods, up rock faces, places I cannot myself go, burying my face in her long slept-in cave of warmth and hunger and focus, bones beneath the oil and strangeness of her hibernation backbone, a raw desire to grip the dirt briefly with each step, drying finally from snow melt in the fierce spring wind. But these are the mountains, and I have to remind myself, coming home, that there is no holding tight to the mountains, only letting go to be here.

In California, it rained, and rained and then rained some more. It rained in the way that blurs the lines between sky and sea, the waves crashing up onto the highway, the wind blowing the rain down towards the water, with all of us in between, a new kind of river, stone and sand, leaves, camellias, avocadoes, tomatoes, ripe and wet and soft in the surge.

Castle of Moss

But this is how California often feels, like somewhere else – never the idea of what it could, or should be. The pass between Paso Robles and San Luis Obisbo seemed a wilderness like an ancient German forest, nearly too wild in its fallen trees for even my “Forester.” So many of my memories of the area are of vineyards, green and gold pastures with horses and ribbons of sun ready to wind into my hair and lay across my skin, swimming holes with warmed stones. And my parents’ house seems sometimes to drift on a haze of sunlight of blue and purple like a yacht, windows open to the Mediterranean whitewash and red geranium landscape. But this time it was caught in a storm, nearly two weeks of storm, making me feel like a hundred years of seawood were wearing thin like old shipboards, tired and drenched, the porch flooding so we had to bail the water off of it like deckhands, soaked, wet, cold in our galoshes, the old oak trees dark and heavy. Wood ought to float but everything seemed the opposite of floating in that rain, clothes clinging, wood clinging, even I was clutching the warmth of my puppy, the hot shower, the couch, the wine, lentils, towels, my hair a mess of curls pressed to my neck and cheeks, the only part of my skin that stayed warm.


Then I started to wonder what else I was holding onto to closely?  My dog, and my mom’s dog were happy to be held, but soon enough they crawled off my lap towards some other pleasure, a bone, another person to rub their tummies, dinner, a ball to chase. I wanted to hold onto the love that my mom and dad gave me, crawl into the bed they offered, climb up into the wisteria outside my doorway every night, cling to everything I had there, and the mountain boy back home, too, hold him too close on the phone pressed to my ear, all of it at the same time, read all of my books together on my bed confused with pillows, make all of the dinners at the same moment, everything soaking wet and lovely damp and piled around me- nothing like floating, which water can do, water can offer. Something was off-kilter, off balance, too heavy with fog and wet dark hills and homesickness, even right there in my parents’ arms, I clung too close to what I had, I wanted exactly what I had too badly to possess it.

Part II. Homesickness

When I went to Ohio for graduate school, nearly three years ago now, I felt as much, or more, culture shock than I’d felt going to boarding school in Switzerland twelve years earlier. A tractor pull was going on, and the houses were tall and beautiful and square – wood with siding, and many floors were carpeted, highways were ramblings and empty, people drove differenty. The green was different and infused with damp violet and cornflowers grew in the dusty places. The air hummed with cicadas, and thunderstorms and tornadoes made the atmosphere electric and strange. But the weirdest thing to me was the flatness, cornfields, soybeans, alfalfa – the flatness created  the strangest kind of claustrophobia that made me spin in sleepless circles every night and cover my mouth and stomach together to keep from howling for home, for my hills, for my mother, my father, my sister, my California colors and dust and haze and fog – I couldn’t bear the cold, the ice storm that hit one night out of nowhere, a clear night that began with stars and the morning that dawned unwalkable, car doors unopenable, the world sounding like it was going to crack open into a thousand pieces, beautiful and fragile and untouchable. I wasn’t floating, but I did a lot of sliding that day, and in the months to come.

It took time for me to come to terms with the flatness of Ohio. To see the pale clear eyed beauty of a northern boy, the whispering sweetness of my kindred girls, the way I can still hear their voices when I listen for them, writing late at night. It was late spring of my first year when I first walked into Wintergarden, a small park that is forest, meadow, then deep forest, only twenty minutes to walk through though I often walked it three or four times just to feel the cold mystery of the tall dark trees at the far end where it seemed they could go on forever. I always looked for new birds, and was rarely disappointed (though I was never followed by a flock of bluebirds like one magical girl) but the deer taught me to love Ohio – they taught me to float.

I was walking just where the meadow met the forest with my pup one day when, without a sound – no sound at all – a huge buck suddenly stepped in front of us and looked down, not three feet away.  For a full thirty seconds we just looked at each other, and a doe dashed, silent also, behind him, from the forest into the meadow. I watched the tall grass move, but neither she nor the grass made a sound. Birds rustled the leaves, called to each other, owls called, and once I nearly stepped on a snake and it, too made a sound as it slithered away, but the deer were completely silent. The buck turned and  followed his mate into the meadow. My pup and I waited a long time before we could go on, but I felt different after that, I felt like I had just fallen in love, but with what? A soundless animal that was half apparition? A weightlessness gathered at my waist, an absence that felt like something, an ability to go home and look at my letters without sobs, to receive the box my sister and I sent back and forth, covered with stickers with silly gifts tucked inside with a smile, instead of tears, my mom’s emails and and funny stories of California and return them with my own stories, like the exploits of my murderous tomato plant – Senor ‘Mato, the size of a car and growing…

Senor 'Mato

Peas in a Pod

The garden made me feel lighter too though I got dirty and grimy and muddy and often rained on, finding toads under every stone. Writing and walking and putting my hands in the earth, holding onto the immediate world that surrounded me instead of drifting between the fog of California and clinging to the ephemeral idea of what I was supposed to be doing somewhere else in some other time zone made me feel lighter, lifting up with every breath of nature and every word from California and every word from an Ohio friend. I was learning to float and cling to nothing by putting my feet in the leaves and my hands in the dirt – animals taught me, plants guided me, but it was my friends that guided me more than anything, and eventually, I had to let them, too, go.

Drifting Out to Sea

Part III. Floating

Ohio I learned to love, though, of course, it was only a temporary home. California is my parents’ home, but the mountains are my true home. Sometimes, I want to cleave to my mother and father, and my beautiful sister, because they are the truest life I’ve known, but my home is the mountains. Yes, I want to hold a bear, I want to hold the top of a pine tree, I want to clean my skin and hair with wind, but these are, strangely, the same moments I’ve learned to recognize as those in which I want to fold myself up close and cling to shadows, crawl into a dark space within myself that is isolated and alone – clinging to the ideas of the people is not the same as loving them openly and the way they change in moments and shift with days and new joys.

There are stretches of light that cannot be held, but can be beheld, there is wind that goes through the pines and I can listen, there is a bear in the woods, and perhaps she has cubs, but she needs her own space, and my perhaps my imagination, but certainly not my pursuit. Foxes can be seen, but are skittish. Birds can be watched, but are best when they surprise you. There are shadows to watch, even touch, and even lie down to sleep in, and rest to be had, and a morning to wake in, to rise up to. There is floating to be done, if I wait, and don’t cling too hard to the dark.

Rainbow floating at Sunset my first Night at Home

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Living in the mountains sometimes requires a little bit of reigning in of the imagination. The bird chirps sound a little too much like words and when I’ve been alone too long I sometimes start to string chirp-words together…

So perhaps it is healthy that I am still interested in dolls? I mean, at least when I play with Emily Marten’s paper dolls http://www.theblackapple.typepad.com/ I’m not thinking that the birds are speaking…

This video is wonderful,as is pretty much everything that Ms. Emily Apple does. When Violette spied this handsome bear, she fell a little bit in love.

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