Reminders

            Friday afternoon on my lunch break I drove to Bishop’s Beach. Lucky for me a car was pulling out of my favorite parking spot just as I arrived. Sometimes, especially on a sunny day, I like to sit beside the ocean and eat my lunch and listen to podcasts on my break. This time I had trouble getting the app to work on my phone, so I ate my burrito in silence and watched the beach scene unfold around me.

             A mom and her son scoured the trail that led from the beach to the parking lot for something they’d lost. A man in a wetsuit loaded his surfboard into the back of his truck and beside him three kids in matching jackets with their arms spread into imagined wings chased seagulls. A couple navigated their way over the rocky part of the beach with walking sticks.

            Behind the parking lot, on one side of the public pavilion a group huddled close to a fire. On the other side a man I know from the library juggled setting up his barbecue grill with shooing away crows and one bold and persistent bald eagle.

            When I finished eating I ventured out into the cold. My jacket was warm enough and I had good boots, but my hat didn’t fully cover my ears.

            I walked east from the parking lot until I reached the part of the beach where the water flows through on the high tide to fill Beluga Slough. I kept my eyes peeled for rocks as I went. I know there are people who don’t look for rocks when they go to the beach, but for me it’s automatic. The way one of our dogs has to howl whenever she hears howling, I have to look for rocks whenever I walk the shoreline.

            I found a good rock, a candidate for keeping, and carried it with me for a while until I found another. And I did this a few more times, having to make a choice about which one to keep with each new find. Finally I found the rock I wanted to bring home with me. It wasn’t the most beautiful rock of the day, but I chose it because it’s got an amber hue to it, like the pegs on my fiddle.

            Satisfied with my beach gift, I plunked myself down on a driftwood log for while. I lined up the rocks from my pockets beside me and sorted them by size. For a few minutes I was just a person with rocks on a driftwood log on a beach on a breezy, brilliant Friday afternoon in March. For a while I wasn’t striving for anything. I wasn’t scheming about what to write or how to write it. I wasn’t planning anything for the future. I wasn’t considering all the ways Dean and I need to make our lives run more efficiently so we can fit in all the things we want to do.

            Ambition is a fine thing to have, but it can make for a noisy headspace: so many problems to solve, so many ideas to consider, so many pros and cons to weigh. It was good to let it all go away for a time and let myself be taken by the sound of the waves, the cold air on my exposed skin, the brilliant light, the sea of sand and rocks and seaweed at my feet, the enormity of it all.

            Soon enough I could no longer ignore my cold ears, but before I packed up my rocks and headed back to my car, a friend walked by and we talked for a few minutes. She and I used to attend fiddle camp for a week every August. There we learned the same tunes and made the same friends and we sipped whiskey together around a few all night campfires. She loved old-time music the way I loved old-time music and seeing her reminded me of those fiddling days and of the old violin that hangs on my wall and how for me it has what the ocean has, which is the ability to make all the chatter in my brain quiet down for a while, but only when I give it my attention.

            The car was warm when I returned, and quiet too, away from the roar of the breakers and the gulls and the wind. I examined my haul of rocks one more time. I sipped what was left of my coffee. The mom who’d been searching for something with her son strode past my car carrying a toy dinosaur, which must’ve been the object they’d been looking for.

            Just outside my car other beach goers came and went, dogs retrieved sticks and parents tucked their children into puffy jackets. The birds that’d been scavenging on the ground earlier were now creatures of the wind. The crows dipped and dived, allowing the gusts to knock them every which way. Further above, three eagles found a current to ride and they circled higher and higher. I admired their effortlessness and the ease with which they climbed.

Balancing Act

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            Today’s the Spring Equinox and here in Homer the sun rose at 8:07am and will set at 8:21pm which, in terms of daylight, is about as balanced as we’ll be until September. From here until the summer solstice it’s power up time. Each day will be a little longer than the previous one. There’s a sense of anticipation and a readying for summer’s intensity. We’re not there yet, but we know it’s coming.

            Spring isn’t really the right word for this time of year in Alaska. We’ve made it through the dark days but it’s still winter. Our garden beds are buried under four feet of snow and the nighttime temperatures are still dipping down into the single digits. And we still have to get through April.

            There’s very little about April that is pleasant: The snow melts. Our driveway turns to mush. All of the things strewn about our yard that were buried under snow emerge and remind us of all the unfinished projects we still need to attend to. In April my reserves of inner fortitude that have thus far gotten me through winter are nearly depleted. It’s a good time of year for deep cleaning the house, for starting a daily yoga routine to get in shape for gardening, and for getting creative with using what’s left in the freezer and pantry.

            Last year’s expanded garden brought us through winter nicely. There’s scarcely been a day this winter when we haven’t consumed something that we grew, foraged, or harvested ourselves. My younger self wouldn’t have thought that such things would be cause for delight, but they are. Joy for me is closely tied to the satisfaction in seeing something through from start to finish. Whether it’s a cabbage started from seed, transplanted, tended, harvested, and fermented into sauerkraut, or a piece of writing that starts as a vague idea and is wrestled with, rearranged, pruned down, and then finally presented. 

            Now we’re down to the last package of frozen kale in our freezer, and two small winter squash, a handful of garlic bulbs, a few varieties of potatoes that are beginning to sprout, and four jars of kraut in our pantry. We’ve still got several packages of halibut that my step-dad caught for us last summer when we were too busy to get our boat in the water, salmon that is unfortunately starting to show early signs of freezer burn, three chickens that our neighbors raised, and beef that we bought from Otto Kilcher that was nourished from grasses at the head of Kachemak Bay. We have berries too—red and black currants, blueberries, raspberries, and lingonberries—that we use primarily for flavoring kombucha or adding to smoothies.

            There’s a cycle, an art, a rhythm to food and herb preservation and storage that I’m just beginning to understand. My compulsion is to hold on to things, but food doesn’t last forever and it’s meant to be eaten. Having a nearly empty freezer at the beginning of summer is a good thing but it requires a bit of faith that we’ll be able to get what we need to fill it up once more before winter rolls around. Having relied on grocery stores for most of my life, this is a new way of thinking about food. It seems that culturally we’re nervous about anything being depleted, whether it’s our bank accounts, our freezers, or our energy. There’s a balance though, between adequate storage and hoarding. And there’s something to the idea of letting energy, in whatever form it takes, flow.

            My husband and I talk frequently about how fortunate we are. Unlike people from the not-too-distant past, we get to enjoy the literal fruits of our labor for fun. If we decided to take a break from gardening for a year we’d be just fine. We can and still do go to the grocery store. We even buy produce from other local growers to fill in the gaps of our own harvest. But we choose to make growing, harvesting, foraging, processing and storing food a major focus of our lives because we find it meaningful. It demands that we pay attention to the seasons, the soil, and the patterns of nature. It requires flexibility, as no two seasons are exactly alike. It provides us a constant sense of wonder. Sometimes, when time runs out before we get everything done or if something fails to grow, we have to surrender.

           On a small, close-to-home, and affordable scale, providing food and herbs for ourselves gives us what climbing mountains and rafting rivers used to give us in the earlier days of our marriage. In this way, we’ve moved into a new season. While there’s still a desire for wilderness adventure, we’re finding this intimacy with our five-acres fulfilling and awe-inspiring in its own way. The more we recognize the abundance we have here, the more abundance is revealed to us. We’re sometimes overwhelmed.

            Of course we still have to get through late winter. We have to be patient while the snow melts. We’ll likely have to endure a few more snow storms, and then rain, and then the season of not being able to drive to the house while we’re waiting for our driveway to dry up.

             It’s not surprising that this is the time of year when my writing is most prolific. My energy is growing but I can’t quite put that energy into the outside endeavors yet. Once summer is here, after breakup, I’ll be busy. I’ll be picking wild herbs. I’ll be raking dried grass for mulching the garden beds. I’ll be transplanting the starts that are beginning to take over all the available window space in our house. I’ll be sowing the carrot, beet, radish, turnip, and parsnip seeds. I’ll be watering, weeding, tending the chickens and working with Dean to repair and build the infrastructure that will give our gardens long-term sustainability. I’ll be going full speed until September.

            Until that descent back toward winter, there will scarcely be any time for actual writing. I’ll still be gathering ideas though, and jotting them down in my journal. While I’m immersed in the physical labor that will fill our pantry and freezer for another year, I’ll have hours of quiet, contemplative time to connect those ideas into something coherent.

            I don’t consider myself a food writer, but writing and the work of growing, gathering, and putting food aside for winter are closely intertwined for me. They support, inform, and compliment each other. They feed my body and my soul in similar ways. One gives me the opportunity to dig in the dirt and immerse myself in this beautiful place that I live. The other allows me the opportunity to take what I’ve been given and turn it, tend it, and condense it into something I can share.

            And now after writing this, I realize that I can even think of April as a gift. It’s that last big inhale before the race. It’s my last burst of writing for a while. It’s a time to start recharging my internal batteries.

            Balance is a difficult thing to achieve. It’s different for every person and it’s different in Alaska than it is in other places. Here the vernal equinox can be a challenging time for sure, but the energy it offers is palpable. Tune into it. Find a way to use it to your creative advantage. And hang in there for a couple more months. Soon enough we’ll be waist deep in green.

Oceanside

            Last Monday I had a half hour to spare after I dropped my husband off at work and before I had to start my workday at the library. The air was calm and the light was breaking so I decided to go for a walk on the beach. There’s a long list of reasons why I love living here, but one of them is that there might be four feet of snow at our house, but a twenty-five minute drive into town can deliver me to a snowless, sandy beach.

            I don’t go to the beach as often as I should. When I’m in town I’m usually focused on my job or running errands, but when I do take the time to go I never regret it. Living near the ocean is a gift, and every time I spend time walking its shores I see something or find something or feel something that gives me spark. Some of the offerings are physical objects: rocks, driftwood, fossils, beach glass, or some trinket that’s rolled ashore from someplace far away.

            Some of the sea’s offerings are physical but not in the form of objects. Growing up in the Rocky Mountain West, it wasn’t until I moved to a coastal community that I experienced the salty sea air and the way the ocean, even a cold, northern ocean, stores heat and exudes it ever so slightly. When I’m near it, I feel the moisture on my face. It’s nourishing and enlivening, and it holds an essence that cosmetic companies have been trying to replicate and bottle but can’t in reality even come close to.

            Other gifts go deeper, beyond the physical realm. On a calm day, the sound of the lapping waves can lull me into a tranquil state. On a stormy day, the rolling water reminds me of my smallness, my vulnerability, my dependence on dry land and shelter. The ocean, whether calm or rough, offers perspective.  

            When I walked the beach on Monday morning before work, it felt something like waking up after a deep sleep. In this part of Alaska we’re emerging from winter’s darkness now, gaining several minutes of daylight each day and I’m sure that was a part of it. But the feeling of emergence I felt and carried with me throughout the day is one I’m trying to hold on to, and study, and remember.

            When I left the beach on Monday morning my jacket pockets were full of rocks, my lungs and my skin felt nourished by the salty sea air, but my soul had been given a gift as well. I left feeling like I’d connected to something magnificent, and that magnificence reminded me that we have it within us to emerge from whatever it is that keeps us stifled, unfeeling, and afraid. We have the right to feel hopeful about the future of our planet. We are capable of creating a better existence for ourselves and for each other.

             It was a lot to take away from a walk on the beach.

            For reasons I don’t entirely understand we’ve made truth a difficult thing to grab ahold of lately. We can pick and choose our news to fit just about any belief we want to hold. But even though it seems slippery at times, truth is a gift that nature can give us. We just have to look for it in places we’ve become unaccustomed to looking. We have to listen in ways we’ve forgotten how to listen. And we have to expand our imaginations through a lens of renewal rather than exhaustion.

            Thirty minutes at Bishop’s Beach on a Monday morning reminded me of all of that. When the chatter of media and a busy life are sure to distract me, I’ll try to remember the gifts I found there, the truths the ocean revealed. The rocks in my coat pocket can act as a physical reminder, like a rosary to bring me back into focus. A slow, deep breath can bring me back to the stillness of that morning’s slack tide. I’ll try to take inward the jolt of gratitude and expansiveness I felt beside the water’s edge. As within so without, as above so below. 

            I’ll write it down to remember the experience, to cement it into my existence. And I share a fragment of it here, hoping it will inspire you to step into a place or a state of being that reminds you of life’s gifts and of what love feels like, and that there is more for us, always more, for as long as we’re here.  

Lost Words, Found Meaning, and an Autumn Equinox Journal Series

A few months ago, in a moment of mindlessness, I left my 2020 journal on the side of the road. On my way to work one morning I stopped to take a photo of something. I was already running late, and in my hurried state I grabbed my pack from the back seat of my car and set it outside on the ground so I could dig out my phone. I snapped the photo I was hoping to get and jumped back in my car and drove away without remembering my pack sitting there. It had my lunch in it, a pair of reading glasses, and my journal. 

I’ve lost a good number of things in my life, but never anything as personal as my journal. For a few weeks I obsessed over it. In my mind I replayed the whole scenario as if I could undo what I’d done. I scanned the side of the road each time I drove to and from town and I put the word out about my lost pack on social media and the local radio station, and contacted the police department in hopes that it would return to me. 

Journaling is a private affair, and so my first thought was one of deep embarrassment. Who had my journal and what must they think of me after reading my writing? I wracked my brain trying to remember all the things I’d written about, and goodness knows I’d written about all kinds of things, the most significant among them being my attempt to figure out what I’m capable of doing in a world that’s in need of so much healing. The thought of those words being out there, at large, outside of my control, kept gnawing at me.   

Over time I took comfort in imagining a few different things that might have happened, the first one being that the person who found my backpack needed a good meal, ate my lunch and then tossed the remaining contents of my pack into a dumpster somewhere. The next scenario involved the person reading my journal and laughing maniacally over all of the weird, esoteric ramblings that it contained. After a while I imagined a person reading my writing and finding some bit of comfort or insight in it. In reality, I’ll probably never know who found my journal or whether or not they bothered reading its contents. All I know is that it’s gone. The physical manifestation of all the hours of writing, exploring, and digging deeper into my own thoughts and questions is out of my hands. Still though, I like to imagine that in some kind of miraculous way it will find its way back to me. 

But because I am a person who tries to make meaning out of things, and because I believe there is always something to be learned from the things that happen in my life, I have decided to use the lost journal incident as something of a turning point in my writing life. I’m still trying to sort out exactly what I’m turning toward, but I’ve identified a few important truths that are helping me move forward. 

The first and most important truth is that in my life the act of journaling matters more than the physical journal. Yes, my physical journal is gone, but the hours I spent in the creative, contemplative space of filling the empty pages have served me well. I know myself and my convictions more completely because I have taken the time and made the space for journaling in my life. I continue to grow as a critical thinker, as a more compassionate human, and as a person who’s engaged with living because I question and examine my thoughts through journaling. This is true even if the words that I write are not available for me to read again. My old journals can serve as a record of my personal evolution, but the evolution has taken place, even if the journal is gone. 

The next thing I gleaned from the incident is that while journaling is useful, it can be limiting if its only purpose is to serve as a repository for ideas, dreams, and desires that are never acted upon. As I mourned the loss of my journal and all that it contained, I sensed that I was being challenged to do something, to start something, to create something. This is how the Autumn Equinox Journal Series came into existence.

The invitation that follows is a melding of my belief in journaling as a transformational activity and my determination to do something with it beyond myself. It’s an idea that grew into being on the pages of my lost journal, and by offering it now, I’m answering a calling I felt to do something rather than just write about it. 

So, I’d like to formally invite you to sign up for the Autumn Equionox Journal Series: Recentering in Times of Uncertainty. It will start on the fall equinox, which is  Tuesday, Sept. 22, and run through Saturday, Oct. 3.

Everyone is welcome to participate, but when designing the prompts I made them specifically for people who are feeling the need to garner some strength as we move toward winter during these eventful and uncertain times. All of them are written as an invitation to examine your life from a slightly different perspective, to go a bit deeper than what our day-to-day lives typically allow for, and to engage the imagination.  

While the act of journaling is private and potentially impactful on an interpersonal level, my hope is that a community of journal writers engaging together for twelve days will have meaning that reaches beyond the personal. 

If you have questions or would like to sign up to receive the prompts, send me an email at tsundmark@protonmail.com. I’ll add you to the list and send an introductory email in return.

There is no cost for participation, but there will be an opportunity to offer a gift payment if you feel so inclined. I encourage you to join, regardless of whether or not you feel you can afford to offer a monetary gift. 

I hope you’ll consider journaling alongside me for twelve days and sharing this post in order to help me spread the word to a wider community of people. Together we can center ourselves and support each other as we navigate the months ahead. 

Thank you,

Teresa Sundmark

Somewhere in Time

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I grew up hearing stories about my family, and somewhere along the line I thought I’d heard that two of my grandparents had siblings that died of the Spanish Flu. I wanted details, and needed a distraction, so I took this on as a mission, which led to several hours on Ancestry.com and a few story gathering conversations with relatives.

My Granddad Acree did indeed lose an infant brother in the early part of 1921 to illness. His name was Virgil Lee and he only lived to be three months old. From what I’ve read of the 1918 flu pandemic, it ended in December 1920. So maybe it was the Spanish Flu or maybe it was something else that killed Virgil Lee. What I do know is that the loss stayed with my Granddad even though he was only four years old at the time. He took my mom to the gravesite once when he was an old man and told her what he could remember.

My Grandma Ross did not have a sibling that died from the Spanish Flu as far as I can tell, but looking at the census information from 1910 and 1920 I began to put together a story that could explain where the notion came from. In 1910 my grandmother lived with her family on Wilson Mesa, which is just a few miles outside of Telluride, Colorado. At the time she was eleven years old and a number of other siblings, some older and some younger, still lived at home. One of them was Gladys, just a couple years older than my grandma.

By the time the 1920 census rolled around, my grandmother had married and was no longer listed with her family of origin. Gladys was there though, but her last name had changed from Campbell to Anderson. (I would later find out that it was Sanderson, but the census taker got it wrong in 1920.) Her marital status was widowed. Also in the family were two more Sanderson’s. Barbara, age 4 and Frank, age 2.

I have a vague memory of my Aunt Gladys as an old woman. She looked a bit like my Grandma Ross, but seemed very different from her in demeanor. I found her obituary from 1986 and it says she enjoyed crafts and attended the Assemblies of God Church. She was survived by four children and preceded in death by two husbands. Her first, Frank Sanderson, died in 1918.

I dug around for an obituary of Frank Sanderson, but couldn’t find one. I did learn that when he registered for the draft the year before he died, he was 23 years old. He was tall and slender with light brown hair and blue eyes. He was employed by the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad Company. I discovered that his son, also named Frank Christian Sanderson, was born six months after he died.

I found historical records and newspaper articles about the Spanish Flu in Colorado and learned that many of the small mountain towns had a much higher death rate than other communities. Mining camps were hit especially hard, probably due to close living quarters and possibly because of compromised lungs. Frank Sanderson died in 1918, but I found nothing definitively that says he died from the flu.

An estimated 8000 people died in Colorado in 1918 from the pandemic, but of course people died of other things too. Even young healthy people. Not knowing the cause of my great aunt’s husband’s death bothered me more than it should have. I wanted to know for the sake of the story I was determined to write.

My little bit of research led to pieces of other tragic stories that took place on Wilson Mesa, like the one about an infant that suffocated while sleeping between his or her parents on an especially cold night. And like the doozy of a story about the son of one of my grandparent’s neighbors who tried to castrate himself. And the tale of how three-year-old Sherma Campbell died by ingesting poison from the midwife’s medicine bag while her mother was in labor.

I dove into this genealogical vortex hoping to find a story that’s relevant to what we’re experiencing now, a century later, with the coronavirus. But I did not find what I was looking for. Instead I found names and dates of births, deaths, marriages, and draft registries.

Still it was time well spent. For hours I got lost imagining the possibilities of who those people were, and what their stories might have been. In the end though, the specifics didn’t matter. What mattered is that something of what they went through a hundred years ago carried through to now.

The experience allowed me to consider that compassion might penetrate time and space in ways we don’t fully understand. And on the chance that it does, I sent a little of it back to those whose time here was much more difficult than our own. And I sent a little of it forward to those who’ll be trying to make sense of our stories one day. It’s important, I think, to remember that it’s not all about us.

 

 

 

Twenty-four more thoughts. 3/22/20

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  1. Just a few months ago, during Advent, I read WH Auden’s long poem “For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio” for the first time. He wrote it during the Second World War. In it there is one line that I haven’t been able to shake. Here it is, out of context:
  2. “Nothing can save us that is possible.”
  3. I copied the line down in my journal and I’ve read it again and again.
  4. Like so many of us, I am home now. I’ve got my husband and my dogs. Plenty of firewood and food plus lots of extras: books, Netflix, internet, running water, music, heavy cream for my coffee, salmon and halibut in the freezer. I’m still working, but without the commute. I’m still getting up at six and going to bed at ten. I still have chickens to feed and meals to cook and dishes to wash. There are still bills to pay.
  5. We ordered our seeds last weekend. Not hoards of them, just the ones we need. Carrots, beets, salad greens, peas, onions, zucchini, squash and a variety of tomato that will hopefully ripen before freeze up. We still have a couple feet of snow on the ground but the days are warming and it’s beginning to melt. Tomorrow we’ll plant seeds and from now until we’re able to transplant them into our garden beds our house will be cluttered with trays of green.
  6. We’d planned for a smaller garden this season with a June wedding and a July party taking priority this time around. Now, along with most everyone else we know, we don’t know what to expect or how to plan.
  7. Our lives have been predictable for a long time. Our work weeks and weekends, our planned vacations and our holiday breaks. There is comfort in predictability, but a kind of complacency has sneaked in along side it. Now my days are still predictable for the most part, but I feel a type of vigilance I haven’t felt for a while.
  8. Our daughter and soon-to-be daughter-in-law are in Atlanta, Georgia. They’ve got shelter and stable employment and family close by. They’ve added Ryder, a foster dog, to their pack while they’re holed up at home. He’s a good distraction while they’re waiting it out.
  9. We’re all waiting.
  10. Our son is in Canada. What was originally a three-week long trip to Ottawa has turned into something entirely unknown. He’s good with not knowing what comes next and he has a kind of faith that carries him from moment to moment with a remarkable absence of fear. And he’s figuring it out with a close friend for company.
  11. In a pandemic, it’s good to be stuck with a person you want to spend time with. My pack is lucky that way.
  12. I had a hard time concentrating this week. My mind is always prone to wandering but it was even more off course than usual. On more than a few occasions I found myself completely checked out in the middle of important conversations. Reading anything more than short articles was completely out of the question.
  13. Some people snap to it in times of crisis. I unfortunately drift off. I think of lines of poetry. I’m hyper-aware of small details like the clock ticking louder than usual, the ever-present smell of disinfectant. I want to stand at the sink for an hour with hot water pouring over my hands. The chocolate melting on my tongue requires all of my focus.
  14. One time when our children were young, we returned from an excursion across the bay. While we were unloading the skiff, our daughter fell into the harbor without her life jacket. I saw the whole thing happen but it was like my brain slipped into slow motion. Before I’d even processed the gravity of the situation my husband leapt out of our boat, jumped over me, and yanked her out of the water. I was there to dry her off and soothe her after the fact. But I was not the one to save her life.
  15. I’m lucky to be stuck with someone who snaps to.
  16. Our son called from a grocery store in Ottawa last week to ask for the ingredients for miso soup. Carrots, mushrooms, onions, garlic, ginger, celery, tofu, miso, cayenne, tamari, pepper.
  17. In the recipe description it says, “miso is said to have special healing properties.” Whether it’s true or not we’ve been serving it to our family like medicine for over twenty years.
  18. We’ve got twenty years of anecdotal evidence now, and I can say with certainty that it works, at least in our family. It helps with colds. It helps with hurt feelings. It helps get the blood flowing when the house is cold. And it helps with homesickness.
  19. I made some last night, and I’m counting on it to help improve my concentration.
  20. I guess it makes sense that many of us are feeling out of sorts right now. Just two and a half weeks ago a person from the public health office told our staff that it seemed unlikely that the library would have to cancel any programs or close. Now the building’s doors are locked and we’re working from home. The news is grim with stories of unemployment, financial stress, hospitals under-equipped, and of course the daily tally of new cases.
  21. It’s a lot to process. I wish I could serve up some of that miso soup to the whole world.
  22. I also wish I had a tally of all the good deeds I’ve heard about this week. They reaffirm my faith in humanity and they’ve acted as a counterbalance to the bigness of Covid-19.
  23. We’ve got other big things that we’re going to need to deal with soon.
  24. Maybe Covid-19 will be the thing that convinces us that we can do impossible things when we have to.

 

Twenty-four thoughts: March 15, 2020

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  1. It seems like we’ve been waiting for something like this, anticipating it, expecting it, but it doesn’t look like what we thought it would look like. We still have running water and electricity. Most everyone we know is healthy.
  2. A few people I know have been shouting for a few weeks now about covid-19, and in retrospect they are the ones who’ve understood the potential gravity of the situation. In the Bible, Noah was an alarmist, and as the story goes, he saved his family. Maybe if more people had listened to him he wouldn’t have ended up drunk and depressed and alone on the planet with just his kin.
  3. I don’t feel lonely at home, but I know that’s not true for lots of people. The extroverts I know are struggling with this. They are devastated by the closures, by having to stay isolated, by not being able to attend the events they’d been looking forward to. The introverts seem to feel a sense of relief. Finally, we don’t have to push ourselves to go out and do things when what we really want is to stay at home where our lives are rich and full and where we are never bored.
  4. I wonder how long I’d have to stay home before boredom set in. There’s a part of me that would like to find out.
  5. The library where I work is now closed to the public. I think about a few of our patrons who don’t have homes to putter around, who don’t have a stocked pantry or a wood stove. I think about the kiddos who use the library as more than just a place to play video games and hang out with their friends.
  6. I think about my friends who are trying to get home from France right now. They have dogs and chickens and jobs to get back to, but will they first have to go through a gauntlet of crowded airport terminals and testing upon their arrival?
  7. Speaking of chickens, I wonder how the supply of chicken feed at Save-U-More is holding up. I wonder if it’s another one of those things that people bought up in the great shopping frenzy of Friday the 13th. I was going to stop by on my lunch break on Friday for some Rugged English Cheddar and canned tomatoes, but the parking lot was full of people loading up their trucks with bottled water and bags of flour. If all the chicken pellets are gone I guess I’ll have to get creative.
  8. Creativity might just be the thing that saves us. Our lives are largely run on autopilot and this might be one of those times when we’re called on to be more resilient, more imaginative, more willing to try new things. Under the surface of all of this, there is some serious potential.
  9. The thing about potential is that it is run by free will. We have the potential to make this a time that we look back on with awe and wonder at how well we cooperated with one another.
  10. I might look back on it as the time I created my own chicken feed out of decades-old pasta and dried nettles. It would be inconvenient, but I could manage to keep my eleven hens and one rooster alive until the ground thaws.
  11. It’s inconvenient for all the nations of world to have to deal with a singular crisis at the same time. Usually catastrophes are parceled out. A hurricane here, an earthquake there. Famines and refugees in faraway lands while we go on with our day-to-day lives. There’s something humbling about an indiscriminate virus that’s making its way around the globe.
  12. Speaking of viral, I tried to give up Twitter and Facebook for Lent. I gave them up for myself rather than for God and so I’ve granted myself forgiveness for logging on to the social media platforms before Holy Saturday. These are unusual times and I wanted to see what other people had to say about what’s going on in the world.
  13. Most of the people I’m connected with are dealing with this virus, with the closures, with the social distancing (had I even heard of that term before last week?) just like I am. They’re trying to figure out how to respond to something that most of us have never had to deal with. I find that sense of camaraderie heartening.
  14. A few of the people I’m connected with seem unconcerned and unbothered. They think that those of us who are concerned are being duped.
  15. And I get it. When we think we’re under attack, it’s easy to let fear guide our choices. So instead of believing there is something to be afraid of, these people believe that we’re being made to feel fearful.
  16. If all goes well and we’re able to flatten the curve and minimize the immediate crisis that this virus has the potential to cause, we’ll have done our job. Sometimes a job well done is hard to measure.
  17. When it’s all over, how will we measure how many people didn’t die? Will the folks who think we’re being duped look at the low numbers of the deceased and say, “See, it wasn’t so bad!”
  18. We’ll have financial fallout to contend with when all of this is over and as it always goes, money is easier to measure than life. How will we measure the collective three, five, fifteen years of extra life that will be granted to those who are able to get the medical care they need to survive this virus? How will we measure all that they still have to offer? Their humor, their insight, their wisdom? What about all the love they have to give and receive?
  19. And so it comes down to time. We’re putting the extended life of potentially millions of people in the bank by trying to slow down Covid-19.
  20. Remember that saying about money and time? If you have one you don’t have the other.
  21. If the cruise ships don’t come to Alaska this summer, if the tourists decide not to travel here, if the restaurants and stores stay closed, the budget that determines my paycheck will certainly be impacted.
  22. I could get caught up in the worry about what lies ahead as far as my family’s finances are concerned. We all could.
  23. But instead I can focus on this beautiful, unprecedented, unexpected thing that seems to be happening.
  24. We’re closing up shop around the globe because we believe humans are worth saving, and we’re being given an opportunity to prove to each other that it was the right choice.

I Believe

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When my daughter was a baby, I got sick. It seemed that every bug that was going around Homer that year clung to me. Months of hacking and sneezing and feeling feverish culminated with a painful and persistent sinus infection. Since I was breast-feeding I didn’t want to take antibiotics, so I suffered along and took care of myself as best I could in hopes that my immune system would kick into action. It seemed stuck though, and I was about to give up on my no antibiotics resolve altogether when I decided to try one last thing. That’s when I called Sara.

I’d taken a community schools class with Sara about classical homeopathy, and while I was intrigued about it, I was not convinced it would heal my sinus infection. Still though, I made the appointment with the hope that it might help in some way, and I desperately needed some relief.

At the time I lived in town and Sara’s home office was several miles out East End Road. I packed up my baby and made the trek to her place and sat in her cozy office for what seemed like a very long time while she asked me hundreds of questions. To my surprise the questions she asked weren’t about my condition, instead they were strangely specific and methodical. I don’t remember most of them, but I recall being asked if I preferred sweet apples or tart apples. And another question that ended up being an important part of the puzzle. Did I have any recurring dreams? At the time I said no. Not because I was trying to lie, but because I just didn’t remember them.

After all of the questioning, Sara took some time to do her thing, which as far as I could tell involved looking at my answers and poring through the books and notes that she’d collected throughout the years of her practice. Out of all the homeopathic remedies that are available, Sara narrowed it down to two different ones that she thought might be able to help me. She gave me one of the two and sent me on my way with a promise from me that I’d let her know whether or not it worked.

In two hours time, the headache I’d had for three weeks was gone. For a while that evening I had some relief from the relentless pounding in my head, but just before going to bed it started to creep back. After getting the kids to bed, and crying over the fact that the homeopathic remedy worked temporarily but not permanently, I remembered my recurring dream. It was a dream I tried to forget about, not because it was scary or bad, but because it involved a past love. It makes sense that I wanted to suppress that dream. It was completely incompatible with my real life.

The next morning I called Sara back and told her about the few hours of relief I’d had, and I told her that I’d answered her question about recurring dreams incorrectly. She said that settled it, the remedy that she’d given me was not the right one and that I should go back and get the correct one from her. I followed her suggestion and went back to receive the little white sugary pill that the greater scientific community says does nothing, and my sinus infection went away for good. I haven’t had another one in the twenty-three years since then. And as a bonus, like magic, the recurring dream went away as well. None of it makes any sense according to the way we know things work and don’t work, but in my case the homeopathic remedy worked, and the experience made me a believer.

Many of the people reading this know Sara. She’s a long-time Homer resident married to another long-time Homer resident, Ed, and together they are a powerhouse of knowledge and hospitality and goodness. But recently they’ve suffered the worst imaginable thing. You see, Sara is the mother of Anesha Murnane, or Duffy as she was more widely known, and Duffy went missing back in September. She left her apartment in broad daylight on a Thursday afternoon to walk to an appointment, but she never made it.

Something happened to her that somebody must be able to explain, but so far none of the answers have made their way back to Sara and Ed. And Sara and Ed know about asking questions. They’ve been asking and asking, following every idea and potential lead that comes their way. There have been news stories locally and statewide; there have been search parties around the Kenai Peninsula. There have been public vigils and private prayer circles, but still Duffy’s whereabouts are unknown. None of it makes sense, and the unlikelihood of her disappearance makes it all so much more upsetting. Duffy wasn’t a risky person. She had a close relationship with her parents. Her days were made up of routines and familiar comforts. She had things to look forward to.

There is nothing good that has come of Duffy’s disappearance. A shadow of uncertainty looms over town as we wonder what terrible thing happened to her. Her parents are having to come to terms not with just the fact that they’ll likely never see their daughter again, but that they may never have the answers they’re seeking. There’s a sense that someone’s done something horrible and that if that person is not found something horrible could happen again. There is nothing good that has come from Duffy’s disappearance.

And yet, goodness can still be found.

I visited Sara and Ed on New Year’s Eve as the temperature outside was dropping and a blizzard was moving in. They shared their lunch and some of Ed’s homemade kombucha with me. We talked about Duffy and the ways they’re coping. Their kitty, Louisa May Allycat, popped up on my lap as we ate lunch and Sara joked about the books the cat has written…. Little Bats, Little Shrews, Little Mice. We looked through their wedding album and saw the twenty-years younger versions of so many of the beautiful people who celebrated that day with them. Sara shared a piece of writing with me about grief. I went there hoping that I could give them a little bit of support, a little bit of relief. I wasn’t expecting to get it in return, but I did.

Spending time with them in their comfortable home reminded me of when I was a young mother, desperate for some relief and seeking some healing. Sara made me feel at home and asked me questions and administered a remedy that worked. I wish I could offer her the same now, but I know the kind of healing she and Ed needs doesn’t work like that. Still though, I believe in healing, even in the most unlikely of circumstances. I believe it’s what we’re here for. To heal each other and our world in whatever ways we can.

 

 

 

 

 

Epiphany

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For a while I have been writing and my writing has been fraught with trouble. Trouble over who will read it or who will not. Was it written smartly, will I offend anyone, am I even right? I’ve been writing but I’ve been afraid of my own words. Who will comment? Who will dispute me? Am I sharing too much? And the ever-present question, am I writing for the right reasons?

Why do I really want to write? To instruct? No. To start an argument? No. To prove my point? No. I want my reasons for writing to be bigger and better than they’ve been in the past. I want my writing to bring people together rather than divide them. I want my writing to feel warm and welcoming. I want my writing to resonate. I want my writing to accomplish more than what seems possible. I want to make music with my words. It all sounds very lofty, and it’s what I’ve wanted all along, since back in the day when I first started this blog. But I’ve been distracted by so many issues. I’ve been caught up in perfection and numbers and trying to figure out what it means to be a real writer.

The temptation is to take down all of my old posts and start from scratch. Clean slate this Lofty Minded in Alaska blog and move forward without looking back. But looking back I can see my own growth. I can see how I was processing the things around me. I’m embarrassed by some of my old posts. So much of my past decade is represented on this blog but it’s a testament to my own personal growth, my own maturation. I’ve floundered about publicly. And I’ll continue to flounder about publicly. But right now on this Epiphany Sunday I’m making the effort to move this blog in a new direction.

We’re living in a most exciting time. Our President’s behavior is unlike anything we’ve seen before in this country. Our planet is warming. Our access to information is unprecedented. Our technological advances are happening faster than most of us can truly comprehend. It’s no wonder that anxiety and hopelessness are at an all time high.

All of these huge, global things are on our minds. But so are our everyday, mundane, and seemingly small lives. We’ve got bills to pay, marriages to celebrate, gardens to plant, chores to attend to, jobs to perform. We’ve got the heavy weight of the world and we’ve got the small joys that make this life worth living. The juxtaposition of the two is overwhelming and sometimes it seems like we have to give one up for the other. We have to give up on watching the news and trying to bring about global change in order to live joyful lives. Or we have to give up our small successes, our moments of beauty, and our personal goals for a better future in order to fight the big fight.

I’m here to tell you that it’s all connected. The small and the big. The mundane and the meaningful. No action, no thought, no hope for a better existence is lost in the enormity of it all. Your life matters. How you live it matters. Your desires, your aspirations, your pursuit of happiness matters. Aligning your own life to fit with what would make the world a more prosperous, happier place for all of humanity is the ticket to bringing the big and the small together. It’s about love and compassion, first and foremost for yourself. If you can forgive yourself for mistakes you’ve made in the past, then you can forgive the president for the mistakes he’s making right now. If you can forgive yourself for your old ways of doing things, you can forgive humanity for its mistakes in harming Earth and its inhabitants. There is still time for correction, but first we have to correct ourselves.

Here is how I am working to correct myself:

  1. I’m trying to understand that everything and every person is infinitely more complicated than what comes across on the surface. Each person comes with a history that determines their fears, their health, and their outlook on life. Each person is working with what they’ve got, and if they want to grow and change all they have to do is open themselves up to the possibility of growth and change.
  2. I’m choosing to grow. Learning comes in so many different forms. It’s physical, it’s spiritual, it’s intellectual. A person can only stay stagnant by choosing to stay stagnant. Choosing to change with a changing world is survival, it’s adaptability, it’s the only thing that makes sense. Stagnation is a losing strategy, and I’m opening myself up to possibilities that are beyond my imagination. I’m doing it consciously, because I see it as my only hope.
  3. I’m giving up on trying to sound smart or artsy or clever. I’m letting my heart lead me forward, and trusting that it will direct my mind.
  4. I’m submitting to something that is much bigger than myself. I don’t know best how to define it, and the definition of what it is doesn’t really matter. It’s the submission to it that matters. I know that my mind cannot comprehend the vast universe and everything that is beyond my own experience. There is great comfort in this submission.
  5. I’m finding my sense of purpose. I don’t know what I need to do to move the trajectory of life in a more positive direction, but I know I need to align myself with what’s right. What’s right is Peace. Love. Forgiveness. Kindness. Compassion. What’s right is protecting the planet that nourishes our bodies and our souls. What’s right is trying to see the good or the potential good in every person. Every. Person. Even the ones that are not currently aligned with what’s right.
  6. I’m asking for grace. I’m making myself vulnerable and I’m taking a tremendous risk in how I write and what I write. I’m asking in advance for grace and I’ll offer it to you in return.

I know this all sounds vague, but I’m putting this out there in order to take a step that I’ve needed to take. Stay tuned for posts that are less vague and in the meantime know that we are not doomed. Not individually, not collectively. Love will guide us and give us the energy we need to move forward. Say you believe it, even if you don’t.

 

Rooting for Alaska.

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Our three bedroom, ranch-style home was built in the 70s and even though it’s structurally sound, it’s time for some upgrades. It needs some insulation and several coats of paint. The foundation has shifted a bit and now there is daylight in our crawl space where there oughtn’t be daylight.

In addition to the repair and upgrade list, we have a lot of stuff. When we bought the house two decades ago, the previous owner left everything but his microwave and a suitcase full of clothes. Now we have some of his stuff, plus all of our stuff, and we’re stuffed to the gills. Our garages are full of outdated outdoor equipment, boxes of books and all the other odds and ends that we didn’t have room for in the house. Our closets are bulging with clothes we don’t wear and shoes and boots and jackets from winters past. In the last two years we’ve accumulated four freezers, and a host of other treasures (a coffee table, a 2.5’ x 6’ framed poster of Kachemak Bay, a stack of pallets and a set of french doors) we’ve brought home from the the transfer station we drive past twice a day, every day. Yeah, we’re Alaskan.

We know it’s time to clean up. We know it’s time to haul some of our treasures back up the road. Our house needs upgrades and fixes and we need to make it all run more efficiently, especially if we want to grow old here. The scope of it all is overwhelming. Somedays it feels like it would be easier to bulldoze the place or burn it to the ground. Somedays, especially when I’m tired or particularly discouraged, I have to ask myself if all the work is really worth it.

It would be easy to sell this place as is and let the next family that comes along fix it up, and we’ve considered that option. But for now we keep coming back to the fact that this house we’ve raised our kids in, these five acres that we’ve called home for twenty years, this life that we’ve created for ourselves on the edge of the Alaskan wilderness is something we treasure. Yes, it’s cluttered with stuff we’ve accumulated. Yes, it’s time to pay attention to the things that have been neglected. But there’s no question as to whether or not it’s worth our effort. This is our home.

 

There’s a part of me, the overwhelmed part, the small part that sometimes wants to walk away and start fresh, that understands where Governor Dunleavy and those who support his budget must be coming from. Alaska isn’t as flush as it once was, and the hard job of maintaining the standard of living Alaskans have become accustomed to is not an easy task. At times it must feel like balancing the budget and taking care of Alaskans is more than what’s possible. So maybe hiring someone to come in and ignore the people side of the equation seemed like the easiest, fastest solution to the state’s budget crisis.

Alaska is not a business though, and our governor should not try to solve its budgetary woes without taking its people into consideration. Governor Dunleavy is treating Alaska as though he’s the CEO of a corporation rather than the governor of our state. He’s balancing the budget to keep the interests of the oil companies ahead of the interests of the people.

Imagine our university system shuttering several of its campuses. Imagine not being able to take the ferry from one coastal community to the next. Imagine schools closing and teachers having to manage 35 or more students in a classroom. Imagine state social workers with double their caseloads. Imagine the hundreds of people who would lose their healthcare. Imagine the damage that could be done to fisheries without adequate environmental oversight. Imagine prisoners being sent to private facilities thousands of miles from their families. Imagine towns losing their emergency services. Imagine a great migration of Alaskans to the lower forty-eight because their prospects in Alaska have dried up. This is what Governor Dunleavy has to offer Alaskans. And he wants to do is as fast as possible.

“We’ll build up from zero,” he says, as if all the infrastructure and investment of the last fifty years of statehood aren’t worth considering. “I’ll veto any new taxes,” he says, in an effort to keep Alaska’s economy completely dependent on oil.

Slow down, I want to tell him. Let’s recognize that there’s more to living in Alaska than getting a check in the mail every October. Let’s consider all our revenue options before destroying this place that so many of us love. It may require restructuring the way we tax oil companies. It might mean a return to the pre-oil days when residents paid a state income tax. It may take some time.

We know we’re in trouble. The price of oil isn’t what it used to be and production is down. We know it’s time to pay attention to the expenditures that our formerly robust economy let us ignore. But it’s possible to create budgetary solutions that take all Alaskans into consideration–it has to be because the role of government is to serve the people. And it’s possible to move into the future while respecting our unique history and honoring the pioneers who made this state a modern, livable place. We’d be foolish not to.

If enacted, Governor Dunleavy’s proposal to zero out the budget and start from scratch would leave an unnecessary wake of collateral damage that could only be measured in losses for Alaskans. Five thousand fewer jobs, a skeleton university system, underfunded schools — all of which will lead to other disastrous outcomes. I hear there are a few elected officials in Juneau who have decided to work off of the 2019 base budget and disregard Dunleavy’s plan. I hope it’s true. I’ll be rooting for them and a three-quarters majority. A lot depends on that three-quarters majority.