I was thinking about the ordinary today and realized that my days are not the languid, unstructured, and undisciplined days I spent when we moved here to Nova Scotia. They have some sort of routine now, leaving less time for things that I used to …
This morning I took transit to work since it has been super cold and somewhat snowy and there are still icy patches here and there on the roads. At one point the train passed a forest, and it was just in an instance my mind went away from reality as I got caught up in imagination–the forest was dark and cold and just coming to bare light beneath a slowly bluing sky, where a dark silky indigo hovered above while in the forest itself stood tall bare trees with snow heaving to their lower trunks, but only for an instance. I had wanted it to go on forever, which no forest does now. Then I was back in the world of high rises twinkling with lights under the ancient and near black sky. I went back to reading on my Kindle, which happens to be The Very Best of Caitlín R. Kiernan.
The year has been bittersweet so far. I don’t like to post very private things here, but of course some things are super sweet. The move to Halifax is getting real. We have a broker, a realtor, and I’ve put in my notice at work and have 30 more working days after today. We’ve begun giving away clothes and doing some deep “spring” cleaning. We have an auction date set and a tentative timeline and appointment to ship our car out there. This busyness is also why I have been quieter on social media and on the blog. Meanwhile, the cold winter settles and creaks around the house. At first the new year came in with warmer temperatures and a ton of rain. I thought we’d flood. I hadn’t even had a dry day to go sweep out the multiple leaves gathered on the back deck. Looking out the door reminds me of lost ruins. Then the snows came, and now it is so cold it reminds me of when I lived in Chicago.
The bitter side: my family is experiencing a profound loss that came as a surprise on Christmas day. Separate from that is the health of my one living parent, and it seems like it may be similar to a repeat of what we went through with Dad. Then if I pan out to the world, Australia is burning. Climate change isn’t just a future thing. It’s already here, and we are living through it, and people in the mainstream are generally just tired of talking about it or are in some kind of denial and don’t talk about it. My colleagues out in Australia, who I’ve worked with for a while now in the literary world, and who run Stormbird Press (an affiliate that’s acquiring several of my old books from Moon Willow), posted the other day on Facebook:
It is with great sadness that I share the fate of Stormbird Press. The office building, Margi and Geoff Prideaux’s home (the founders of Stormbird who have spent almost three decades working on the front lines of wildlife conservation) and their large property which has served as an important wildlife habitat has been lost to the fires ravaging Kangaroo Island.
Margi and Geoff as well as all Stormbird staff are exhausted but safe. After weeks of helping to fight fires across the island they are now recovering in the homes of friends and community members or evacuation centres. All are humbled by the strength of community support. They join the CFS, farmers, the Army, the Red Cross and a host of veterinarians and wildlife carers and conservation groups who are working tirelessly to protect properties and livelihoods, most importantly keep people safe, and help injured wildlife.
The fire season is not over. This is the new normal—unpredictable and unprecedented fires, floods, heatwaves and devastating species loss.
A huge thank you to our fantastic fire fighters and the hundreds of farm fire units fighting the flames every day. These are the warriors who are actually facing our climate emergency while our leaders continue to flounder.
From deep within our hearts—thank you.
I also heard recently that my friend John Atcheson was killed in a car accident. You can read more at Common Dreams. When I began the site about eco-fiction, I read John’s book A Being Darkly Wise. I really fell in love with the story. It was set in British Columbia, and John had such a rich background, including with the government in the EPA, and was both outspoken and passionate about the environment and our place in it. He was so knowledgeable. Our first interview was in the fall of 2014, and I reiterated some of that conversation in a climate change author spotlight in 2017, this time talking about newer books in the series, a new nonfiction book he’d just published, and kind of the normal political stuff around Trump. I’d decided to do a second edition of Winds of Change this fall, and I will dedicate it to him. He’d also contributed a short story that, among other stories in the anthology, received high kudos from English professors at the University of Minnesota who used these stories in a book about teaching writing about climate change. They also used the stories in their own classes.
It is life though. Gain and loss. The loss in our family has once again drawn many of us together and it’s been like old home time, with long conversations between us. I sometimes walk around the house talking, phone in hand, fire place on, trying to get warm, as we work this out together. Good times and bad times.
Anyway, I sit here this morning trying to fight the cold, dreaming of a summer full of cricket and bullfrog sounds in Halifax and all that lovely green that will embrace the world.
Today’s post is inspired by my recent marches at Vancouver’s climate strikes and getting to see factual and powerful speeches by Musqueam, Tsliel-Waututh & Squamish speakers as well as Tiny House Warriors, along with Greta Thunberg and Severn Cullis Suzuki. I’ve been fortunate to get …
Last night I was thinking of my friend Lisa, from high school. She was my adopted “sister”. I’d had another bestie before that too, but our friendship had gone back to junior high and sort of stagnated in high school when I began to depart from the religious crowd at church. Indeed I became a wild child for a while and lots of my church friends, who I still really loved, became rather judgmental. I didn’t meet Lisa at church. Or even school. But at our part-time job. Lisa and I did everything together from junior year in high school on. When I moved out of my house temporarily, her parents took me in. Of course I moved back home soon enough, but I was quite rebellious!
The first night Lisa and I got to know each other was when a bunch of us went to a a Christmas work party that our manager threw at his house. We lived in the Chicago suburbs, and when I think about it now, I’m ultimately surprised that my very strict parents ever allowed me to go, because it was going to go on late and it was a very cold winter night with lots of snow. But my parents were not aware that the manager (who seemed old but really probably was only in his twenties at the time) would allow alcohol. Well, he told us “no alcohol” but never enforced it. Someone in my friends group had gotten a bottle of Southern Comfort, and passed it around generously. Really, at that time, being 16 and all, I had never really ever drank much. That night’s memory is both vivid and fractured, as just a few drinks of SC got me pretty buzzed but also seemed to enhance everything. I recall my friend Alicia and I trying to walk in the snow out front, and we kept falling down and laughing loudly. It’s the night I got to know my friend Bob better, also a co-worker; we stayed friends for many many years later. He was in my biology class and for a long time had a crush on me, and once tried asking me out, but I laughed because I thought he was too hot for little ‘ol me and I thought for those high school years that he only liked me as a friend. We did end up going to prom together (a story for another day), and by that time he had a girlfriend, but she had already promised someone else the date, before she met Bob. He was super kind, cute, and genuine, and made everyone laugh. But that’s the night my friend Lisa and I kind of bonded. We’d already been friends and talked a lot. People thought we were sisters because we were both about the same height, thin, and had wavy golden-brown hair. We began to just tell people, “Yes, we’re sisters.” We bonded over a silly thing: the nicknames our friends gave us after that night, which had to do with Southern Comfort. I became the “Southern Comfort Kid” because I got so silly on it. She became the “Chicken Soup Kid”, because on the way home she threw up her earlier soup on the way home, out the car window, from drinking too much.
Lisa’s family had moved from Boston during her junior year, so that’s why I hadn’t known her before. Her dad was from Galway, Ireland, and he was almost like a stereotypical Irish man. He had twinkling blue eyes, a deep accent, and enjoyed the drink. I was also somewhat close to Lisa’s two brothers and her sister. Her younger brother looked like a young Dax Shepard (before I ever heard of Dax), and her other brother was super shy. The mother was so kind to me and treated me like a daughter. Lisa didn’t like moving to the Chicago area. She missed Boston. But we became fast friends and just loved each other so much. Back then we were so in to Led Zeppelin. She had a big poster of Jimmy Page on her wall. He was cute, but I thought Robert Plant was cuter–and we had long light-hearted debates on the matter. My hair was super curly back then, and I could pull and brush it forward and then flip it back and look like Ted Nugent or something (I had no idea he’d become a crazy right-wing dude later on). We hung out with our other really good friends from work and school: Alicia, Bob, Laurie, Nancy, Tom, Ricky, Debbie, and others. Our parties were risky (we would hide pot in our work lockers–or at least Tom and Ricky did–and bring vodka into work and mix it with the orange/lemon drinks served at the restaurant). I spent many nights at Lisa’s house, and she at mine. It was just that type of friend: reliable, trustworthy, the kind you would spend hours talking with about everything under the sun. I guess I was thinking of her out of the blue last night because I was thinking about genuine friends, the likes of which it’s harder and harder to find when you get older. Outside my best friend, who is my husband, I have at least one other dear friend, my husband’s best friend’s girlfriend, who I have so much fun with. Then I have a handful of other friends we do stuff with, but unlike in high school, people are so busy and we are lucky to get together like a dozen times a year. But Lisa was just a rare friend who I did everything with.
I still remember the day she went to college. I was really a part of their family, so I went up with the family to help her move into her new dorm at Aquinas College in Michigan, and I remember crying with her mom that day, and just feeling so sad because Lisa would no longer be around. I briefly attended a local college before moving to Indiana and going to Purdue University. Lisa and I kept in touch. I visited her at Aquinas a lot and we went to kegger parties in the nearby vicinity of Aquinas in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I remember those old two-story houses with big front porches and autumn leaves falling around them. I had such a great big crush on a guy who had long hair (think a straight Jonathan Van Ness), and he actually got killed in a freak accident. Before attending Purdue, I had applied to Ferris State University, north of Grand Rapids, and gotten accepted into one of their science programs (back then it was called Forestry, but I’m not sure they still have that), but my dad and mom were moving from Chicago back to central Indiana (where I’d grown up before high school days) and didn’t want to help pay for an out-of-state college. I sometimes wondered how different my life would have been.
Slowly but surely, Lisa and I adapted to life without being right next to each other at every possible moment. She went on to get married, as did I, and really, the next time I saw her was in 2004 or so when she had twins and I was temporarily moving back to the Chicago area. I spent an afternoon hanging out with her and her then babies, and it was really nice. In 2009 when my father died, she called and we had a great talk. Her father died two years later, and same thing. But I have never found her on social media, and we really haven’t been in touch since. The only people I have regular contact since those times are really our other friends Alicia and Laurie, who are on Facebook–but it turns out that none of us are very active there. I’m actually fine with friends drifting in and out. People move on, move away, and things just change. It’s the place in your heart that’s frozen that sometimes means the most. But there’s a very few people throughout my life who had that kind of impact on me that Lisa did. I guess a lot of it had to do with us going through the emotional teenage and young adult times together. I look so fondly back on those days because the people I loved, and who loved me, really molded me to be the person I became. I’m happy I became me, and so that’s the gist of it, really. Because I am full of such fond memories like this.
I also sometimes feel nostalgia because the world was so vastly different. Though I was always into the environmental movement, from as early as I can remember, the mainstream media wasn’t talking about climate change yet. We didn’t have this crisis looming around us, or we did but didn’t quite know about it. I was always the type to think of myself as small and real problems as something bigger than me–like, instead of ruing that some guy didn’t like me who I liked, I worried more about people with real problems, like not enough to drink or eat. And now I don’t worry so much about personal things that seem petty but about others who are being far more affected than me. Like children being detained at borders or refugees or women being beaten and raped (I have my own #metoo thing that happened as a young adult, but am not sure I’ll ever have the courage to talk about it in this blog) or low-lying island people already having to move because of destructive storms and rising seas or people of different skin colors being victimized or all the other things happening now. When I look at it, I can only empathize. I’m not in a position of knowing what it’s like. And though I have my own personal worries, my life is cush comparably, so a lot of times I can just feel guilt or anger or sadness over things that mean that other people or animals or the planet itself is hurting.
Thinking about people like Lisa makes me aware that I was so fortunate to have wonderful people in my life at those pivotal times. There was a certain sweetness in friends I don’t see as much as an adult: like something genuine and reliable. I don’t understand the modern world, which has so much internet culture that is entitled, raging, dependent on memes and iconic pinpoints rather than really meaningful ideas, and likes to use/make fun of others rather than embrace differences. I do not play those games, and when I find others do, I walk away fast. Anyway, even though Lisa and I have lost touch in the past few years, I can’t help but believe that if at some point, our shared memories come to her out of the blue, it would probably make her smile. People like these, you hold for a lifetime.
Featured image: Back when I hung with Lisa, selfies and cell phones weren’t around. Any photos I have of her are at my mom’s, the holder of all printed photos. So, who else to put up here than Jimmy Page? Here he is in 1983–by Dana Wullenwaber.
People come and go. Eagles come and go. Water is always moving. On Saturday we rafted part of the Squamish River, which is the largest home in the world for bald eagle populations. It wasn’t a wild fast paddle but a slow one, which went from Squamish to the brackish waters of the tidal area, where we also saw numerous seals coming up from the ocean to feed on salmon. It is journeys like this, where I don’t want to leave the place and could stay all day, despite the cold water chilling my feet, gently puddling around my gumboots. I thought of life, of people I loved, and knew I had to give Mom a call that night because we were due for a call–hadn’t talked significantly for about a month. Rivers remind me of life, of time. Call me a nostalgic person, and I don’t care. But when I see the beauty of the world I remember what has gone before me, the love I felt growing up, and there are few people I can share these memories with outside of my mother. We aren’t stuck in the past, and we are also excited about the present and still dream of things to do tomorrow. But sometimes I do get a little sentimental, and though she was busy that night, this morning we finally talked–for almost four hours. We solved a few mysteries. Find out below.
It’s been a strange year in a few ways. Late last year I posted how my dad’s first cousin Linda didn’t look like she’d make it. She didn’t. I learned early this year of her death. She fought her entire life against racism and for equality for all and taking care of our natural world. And she was a sweet second cousin to me–making it to our southern road trip back in 2012 and joining us at Jerry’s restaurant, which was like a running tradition in our family. This was how January 2018 came in for me. You know, when people die we know it could be us next time…and life doesn’t seem so fair sometimes. Like when my husband’s cousin died suddenly during the early morning of November 1 this year of a heart attack and left behind a young wife and three children. Sometimes people are expected to die. Sometimes not.
My mother and I talk about people we’ve known, places we’ve been. Some memories are a little foggy. Like I remember a place we camped once when we were kids, and I recall one of my brothers and I finding wild grapevines out in the forest and swinging on them, pretending to be Tarzan. Back then if we camped, we usually did tent-camping, but at this place it was a cabin and had actual cots. We’d never been there before or gone after it. We were happy about the cabin shelters because there was a great thunderstorm that night. Because I was so much younger, I never remembered the name of the place, but after talking about it this morning, Mom had me convinced it was near Shades State Park, and I didn’t really believe her because we went to Shades and Turkey Run often–but only hiking, never camping. But I looked around the area nearby, and there is actually a place called Clements Canoes Outdoor Center that rents primitive cabins that are kind of in the middle of the forest, not around other cabins, and I think that might be it. One mystery solved.
As we talked, she asked me once again to look on the internet or Facebook to find one of her best friends, Susan, from the Chicago area. I had tried researching before, but not for several months. Sure enough, it turns out that she died in April this year. We moved to the Chicago area when I was 13 and stayed there for nearly a decade. Mom and Dad had met some very good friends–but she called Susan her best friend. Eventually they lost touch, but around that time Susan’s husband died, and as it turned out then so did she a couple years later. I hated reading the obituary over the phone, but that mystery was solved too, and I felt sorry for Mom. She lost her parents at a fairly young age, she lost her husband, my dad, and each year we learn of more deaths from the people she knew back then. This year another of her friends from the Chicago area died too. Mom is still kicking it though. Susan was the mother of one of the members of the band Umphrey’s McGee–who one of my brothers also grew up with–who I will feature in my next song of the week soon. They were one of the bands, along with Jack Johnson, Pearl Jam, Bonnie Raitt and Jon Cleary, Maroon 5, Philip Glass, Zac Brown Band, moe., the Bad Plus, Blitzen Trapper, Mason Jennings, John Scofield, Piers Faccini, Switchfoot, Brett Dennen, Ky-Mani Marley, Sun Kil Moon, Ben Solee, Ra Ra Riot, Spoek Mathambo, Taj Mahal, Toad the Wet Sprocket, the Drive-By Truckers, Bobby Long, The String Cheese Incident, Ki: Theory, Moondoggies, Vusi Mahlesela, Disco Biscuits, O.A.R., Ziggy Marley, Los Lobos, Dawes, Abigail Washburn, Big Head Todd & The Monsters, Brandi Carlile and many more, who donated to the Patagonia Music Collective, which raises money for the environment. Umphrey’s McGee donated proceeds from “Hajimemashite” to Climate Cycle.
I listened to the song this morning after talking with Mom. I barely recognize Joel (founding member and keyboardist), as he was also young when I knew him, but I really like what he is doing and am always inspired when people like those in his band care about the planet. Hajimemashite is a greeting in Japanese but translates literally to “it’s a beginning.” A quip that also ties with “all things must pass.” Listening to the song made me think of Joel’s parents and the great friendship and love they had for our family, and how, even though they are both gone, there’s this beauty that lives on in the music their son makes. It reminded me of a moving river and the continuity of eagles and seals and salmon and all the other life that exists in that ecosystem and may continue to if we don’t ruin it.
Speaking of musicians, the first guy I ever dated was in high school, and his name was Tom. I found out quite by accident this year that he is dead. I don’t know when he died, but I guess after high school he must have gone into the army. Eventually he got married and had a son. I lost touch with him, for even though we didn’t date long, we remained great friends, but I also moved away from the Chicago area after high school. And I went on to kind of drift after college–ending up falling in love with California, the ocean, the mountains, and so on–it was never my style to stay in one place for too long, though I guess now I have found the place that is more me than any place before–the temperate rainforest of British Columbia–and having also found my soul mate and true love here, I guess it makes sense to not feel like a drifter anymore, though together my husband and I love to see new places. However, we know for sure now, having explored so many areas in the province, that there is no place like home. And as we learned over the weekend on the raft trip, the temperate rainforest of British Columbia has the largest biomass areas in the world. Yeah, give me that. Give me the biomass, and that’s my forever home.
Anyway, Tom was a guitarist in a band that I think I’ve forgotten the name of–another mystery to solve some day–and we met at our job, where a few long-lasting friends at my high school worked back then. Tom and I kind of hooked up at a party, and our dating consisted of me going to listen to his band play on the weekends. No movies. No dinners. But I liked it. We did this for a couple months before he just kind of drifted away and eventually dated another girl for about the same amount of time. I think we didn’t work out because we were like brother and sister to begin with. We talked and hung out all the time, and it was finally clear to me when I experienced my first heartbreak ever that I felt more strongly for him than he did me, but of course it was okay because we were young and stayed friends, and I also started dating others. But he was a kind and gentle soul, super skinny as we all were back then, with big blue eyes. His band played a lot of Led Zeppelin–they seemed to really like the song “Dazed and Confused” and some songs I’d never heard of before like James Gang’s “Funk 49”. I occasionally still hear that song on the radio, and always point it out to my husband as being a cool song that never seemed very mainstream. I think it actually came out on Rock Band or Guitar Hero at one point in time, and I’m like “Yes! I know this song,” while the rest of our friends had no clue about how cool it is, nor had ever heard it.
I’m rambling like the river. I think of my mother’s sweet southern voice and her love of remembering old things with me as we walk down memory lane or dream of seeing each other in the future. Time is not linear. There’s always the present moment, which like a drop of rain dissipates into a puddle and expands the water. There’s the past that never dies because it lives on in us. There’s the future that is part of today’s planning. The current just keeps moving. And sometimes we move with it; sometimes stand like sentinels at the bank, watching it.