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Tuesday, July 18, 2006


Last night, after half a bottle of wine, I had an epiphany. So enthralled was I by my genuis, that I got out of bed to jot down notes so that I wouldn't forget my thoughts overnight.

Those notes are on my bathroom counter. I don't need them. I didn't forget.

For years I have longed and yearned for tangible proof of the existence of the God I have long sought after. He, in His infinite mercy and omnipotence, has seen fit not to grant me my wish in the way I expected.

But after a few glasses last night, my guard was down. It was late. My mind started to wander.

A commonly curious question arose: what most separates humans from other creatures?

Language? No. Lots of other creatures communicate with each other.

Tools? No. Lots of other creatures use tools.

Our houses, cars, and computers? No. Other creatures build dwellings. Cars and computers are just tools.

So, what then? What makes us so unique and different from other creatures?


Yes, books.

The devouring of language; the subsequent symbolizing of it; the records of experience passed down over many generations. The wall paintings, the scrolls, the papyrus, the tablets, the manuscripts, the books, etc., etc., etc.

Name me one other creature on this planet that has books or their equivalent?

Because of books, we have a sense of history is being linear rather than cyclical. Because of books, we can emotionally connect with the experiences of those who lived millenia before us. Because of books, if we choose, we can see ourselves with painful clarity.

Something compels us to tell stories and pour out ourselves. Something compels us to read.
Books are my life. They are what I am unwaveringly passionate about; what I breathe and eat and never tire of.

Books are made of pages, paragraphs, sentences, and words.

The Word was first,
the Word present to God,
God present to the Word.
The Word was God,
in readiness for God from day one.

Don't you see it? Isn't it perfectly clear?

I love books because they are proof of God; the God I love.
And this explains another ultimate question: why I love books so much.

"...the Word was God."

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Elegant Universe

For the first time since his death six years ago, I cried over my father. Six years is a long time to hold onto tears, but I always figured someday grief would catch up.

It wasn't that my heart was hard or insensitive to losing my dad, but I had already done a share of grieving. He had been on supplemental oxygen for nine years until he died; every time we spoke or saw each other, I wondered if it would be the last time. During those nine years, as it got progressively harder for him to breathe and move around, concluding a visit was always wrenching.

Two weeks before he was hospitalized with fatal pneumonia, I dreamed of his death. In the dream, I panicked and cried, and asked myself the eternal question: has everything that I need to say been said? The answer was "yes", and after that point in my dream, I was at peace. So, when the actual event happened, I felt as though I had already sort of been through it, and so was better equipped to support my mom and brother.

I remember thinking: How could you guys not have seen this coming? But they hadn't, so I appointed myself the official "grief carrier" of my family, stoically sitting beside them as much as I could. By the time their grief had ebbed, my own grief seemed stuck in suppression-mode.

So, what recent trigger finally set me off? Well, it was an email exchange between myself and my good friend Gillian, who lives down in the Seattle-area. She had been telling me about her upcoming visit to Lummi Island at the beach cabin of a family friend.

Now, it just so happens that the beach-front cabin Gillian is staying at on Lummi Island is right next door to the beach-front cabin that my parents bought way back in 1980, when I was 10-years-old. For years, all our weekends and summers were spent on Lummi Island. Though much of this time I was a sullen and emotional teenager, those times on Lummi are the best memories I have of my childhood. They are the most vivid. My parents owned that cabin until 1992, when, because of my dad's health, they were finally forced to move to the mainland, where medical care was more accessible.

I begged my parents not to sell. By then I was 21. I had a fantasy of the place staying in our family as either a home or vacation property. I was just a few years to young to be heard and taken seriously, and so it was sold. The loss of that place, for some inexplicable reason, still causes an ache inside of me - for what might, and maybe even should have, been.

The first time I ever saw the Northern Lights was from the beach on Lummi Island. My dad woke me up to show them to me. Little did I know that some day I would live in the place from which they are borne. My dad taught me to catch and cook crab and fish. There, I developed my love of solitude, and did the first real writing of my life. There, I did jigsaw puzzles, and hunkered under a mountain of blankets during vicious storms. There, I stole and smoked the cigarettes that destroyed my dad's lungs. There, I walked the mile to the island store and bought trashy novels. I rode a few horses, tried to waterski (a failure), and slept a great deal.

It is there my dad's ashes were scattered upon the water, where they sank down to mix with the sand and the salt and the remnants of many other once-living things; where they probably are still.

So, now, 13-years later, I live in Alaska with my husband and kids. And it is my dear friend Gillian, and her wonderful family, who continue to visit Lummi Island in our stead. Instead of me continuing to laze one the beach with a book, it is Gillian who does so. Instead of my own kids flying kites in the front yard, or digging in the sand, building forts from driftwood, or roasting marshmallows over a beachfire, it is Gillian and her kids who do so.

And it was all these memories taken together, and elegance of continuity, not by my own participation, but in the presence of people I love, that finally unleashed a torrent of tears and gratifying grief.

I do not believe in coincidences. I believe in design, even in things such as childhood memories and enduring friendships. If one only looks, there is a pattern, a tapestry, and it is strange and beautiful.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Tattoo Dreams

Did I mention I want a tattoo? It's something I've been thinking over for the last 18-months or so.

One afternoon last summer, while working at the gallery, a man came in who had just come from the tattoo parlour. I had never seen a "fresh" tattoo before, and it was so bloody and disgusting looking that I completely freaked out. Suddenly choosing a body part - any body part - seemed a lot less pressing. Despite the tempting offer of several friends getting tattoos at the same time (friends who, at their request, will remain anonymous), I backed off. (Its what we do for fun in Alaska: group tattoos.)
Last Saturday, I bought a new stud for my nose, and while I was at the body art studio, I studied the tattoo catalogue. I was getting ideas again. I asked the body-piercing-specialist if the tattoo artists can help design the image. Emphatically yes.
So here I am, ready for pain and blood.
I even know where I want it.

I want to be able to see it without using a mirror, so that leaves out my whole backside. I considered my upper arm, but was warned that upper arms - like many other body parts - tend to change size as the years progress, thus "altering" the image. So I gave up on that idea as well. (Additionally, an upper arm tattoo is a lot more difficult to hide, which might be necessary the next time I interview with a Fortune-500 company.)

Ankle tattoos look really cool. Originally, this was my first choice. Then someone told me that because ankles have so little body fat, tattooing them is very painful. And since I can't be drunk while getting the tattoo (and thus numbed), ankles quickly lost their appeal.

(Incidentally, before having the first of my four kids, I would often try to imagine the pain of childbirth, wondering, How bad can it be? Really? Having learned the hard way that this is a mortifyingly stupid question, I did not want to duplicate this pattern with a tattoo. However, habits die hard. Hence my recent musings while reading Jon Krakauer's book "Into Thin Air": Come on. How hard can climbing Mt. Everest really be? See how I am?)

With all this in mind, it has become very clear to me that the perfect place for my tattoo is the front, lower part of my shoulder, a la bra-strap-region (as long as it stays well-above those areas which will some day inevitably creep in a more southerly direction).

I have also chosen what to get tattooed with. But I'm not going to tell you.

Choosing a tattoo image is a lot like naming a baby: if I tell you, I know I'll get the inevitable "Huh", plus all sorts of unsolicited input. Let's face it: getting branded with something I'm going to have look at several times a day until I die is a fairly personal thing. You, on the other hand, may never see it. It's not about whether to buy the Captain Crunch or the Cocoa Pebbles. (Duh, by the way.) But I can assure you it will be G-rated - no gory, half-mutilated, naked-people hiding under my bra strap, thanks. (Neither will it feature Disney Princes and Princesses.)

Bruce is urging me to get it done sooner rather than later. I'm not sure what this says about him - that he wants his wife tattooed - but I told him it won't be any sooner than this fall, when the weather cools and I'm less likely to expose that particular part of my anatomy to the sun (which I've been told is a no-no for a little while afterward).

I may very well think of another reason to chicken out between now and then. We shall see. We shall see.

Just about my favorite crazy web-photo of all time, called "Free Kitty." Somehow I identify with it. Posted by Picasa

The cloud painting by Tom Missell. A very typical Alaska cloudscape. Posted by Picasa

Cloud Gazers

John works at the Hotel Captain Cook as a wine steward, and when he wandered into the gallery tonight he was truly baffled that in my year with Stephan’s he’d never seen me before.

That was how our dialogue began. With disbelief.

In answer to my question of which painting was his favorite, John indicated an original oil by Tom Missell, the subject matter of which is clouds. I concurred, citing it as my personal favorite. But then, I apologetically explained, I am a cloud-gazer.

He turned to me, startled. “You too? Ah, she’s a poet. Have you seen tonight’s clouds? Sunset is going to be a doozy.”

Ah, a fellow cloud-gazer. I met another one recently, also at the gallery over the very same Tom Missell painting.

Then he pointed to “Turnagain Treasure” by Charles Gause and said this was a painting he must have before he moves this fall. I replied that it is so far the only painting of Gause I’ve collected. Again, a weird moment of symbiosis.

It is sometimes scary to meet someone with whom you so totally, instantly connect. I made very sure to talk-up my children and marriage.

It turns out John has four children too. Two are in their twenties, two are teens.

Having just finished reading “Into Thin Air” by Krakauer, I felt compelled to blurt the question/comment: “So, you’re a climber.”

He again looked startled. “How did you know?”

“You look like one.”

He didn’t require further clarification, but took for granted that we both agreed it was true. John is very tall and very thin and very tan and his short hair sticks straight up in the air. He wears rumpled clothes, but they are clearly of the highest quality (Carhartts, North Face, etc.) with real-life wear and tear. He’s also got raccoon eyes from then-absent sunglasses. A dead giveaway. If you’ve ever drank beer in Talkeetna in mid-summer, next to a table full of climbers fresh (and I do mean FRESH) off Denali, then you’ll know what I mean.

John admitted he doesn’t do more than day hikes anymore. The days of invincibility are over. As he’s gotten older (40’s, maybe? – I never asked) he admitted to increased fearfulness about life.

“You are fearful,” I said, “for the same reason you stare at the clouds.”

He looked at me quizzically.

I further explained: “Cloud gazers have vivid imaginations.”

Boy, is THAT ever an understatement. But after a moment’s thought, he agreed.

It turns out John is also a book reader. He threw down the gauntlet when he suggested he is a more maniacal reader than I am.

“Well,” I bragged, as only I can, “I have bought over 200 books in the past six weeks.”

He was shaken. What? Where? How?

“Library book sale, as a jumping-off point.”

He asked me my favorite author, and the most profoundly affecting book I’d read recently. I was blank. Where is my book journal when I need it? I am helpless without it. It is both a weapon and an elixir. I failed that challenge miserably.

John wanted to recommend a couple of titles to me, specifically from Robertson Davies and William Boyd.

“Oh,” I said, “I have some books from them.”

“You have books from them that you haven’t read?” John couldn’t seem to grasp this concept. Clearly he needed a bit more clarification.

“John, I have over 1,000 books I haven’t read yet.”

John laughed and said, “You are crazy. That’s great.” He seemed genuinely pleased.

I win!
So that was one of the interesting experiences I had tonight at work. One I don’t want to forget. And, on the drive home, I got to enjoy the most beautiful sunset of my life.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Waxing About Waning

Fireweed is here. This lovely, magenta-colored indigenous bloom, which commonly shows its face in July, is starting to pop up everywhere. It begins blooming from the bottom of its blossom upward. For Alaskans, fireweed is a harbinger of things to come; a reminder that summer's waning is imminent. The legend, as I understand it, is that once fireweed goes to seed, coating the city in a second "summer snow" (second to that of the cottonwoods), the first winter snow is only six weeks away. So when I see the fireweed, it is a bit like a first golden maple leaf, or a first frost, or a first pumpkin of autumn. Fireweed is as distinct a flower as a daisy, and its vibrant fushia color makes it impossible to ignore.

I feel both melancholy and cozy when I see fireweed, torn between toasting my skin in the summer sun, and curling on the couch watching termination dust creep down the mountains. So, here is the fireweed, and I'm only just beginning to realize that summer is upon us.

In other news: We just concluded a 12-day visit from Bruce's sister's family. Liz, Steve, and their two boys, Brendan (9) and Patrick (4), melded with our family, and together we had various adventures, the details of which I'm already having a hard time remembering. Fortunately, Steve played the role of photojournalist for the trip using his fancy new camera, so at least we have some still lifes with which to jog collective memories.

Based on the pictures, there seems to have been some fishing, a birthday party, a little bit of sight-seeing, the zoo, a bear, a couple glaciers, a few moose, camping on a lake with some other people, a parade, several restaurants, and what seemed like many bottles of wine.

Of course, Steve did such a great job taking pictures there are almost too many to choose from. (Actually, for some reason, at themoment I am having issues uploading pics. I'll try tomorrow when it is a more reasonable hour and when I don't have an Ellie-girl on lap.) At least this is a start.

With the major event of our summer now behind us (yes you guys, for better or worse, you count as a "major event"), we hardly know what to do with ourselves. Well, at any rate, I don't know. Bruce has three weekend fishing trips to look forward to, plus his birthday. Shortly thereafter, it will be back to school for the kids. Their first day is August 22nd.

I imagine at that point my eyes will begin to drift back toward the mountains, but instead of the expectation of summer's upward-spreading green, I will instead seek signs of a downward-blanketing white; that icy canopy beneath which a most fertile and colorful world will again return to sleep .

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