Early this morning, I woke to load the stove with wood. As I made my way back upstairs to bed, I heard a strange call. I laid under the blankets and waited. It called again, longer this time. I woke Kimi. "Listen," I whispered. "Listen. There's an owl." We listened to the soft hoot, the first we've heard in our woods since being here. "Stay. Mark your territory", I pleaded silently. These woods are more yours than mine.
Rainstorms in the desert- I've seen two. One with lightning striking the tall cactus trees; the other with fog wrapping its thick arms around the prickly contours of the land. The sand turns a reddish brown as it washes along the desert floor. Cactuses gleam green and drip with the promise of life. The air is filled with a fragrance of earth and dust and all that we came from. Somewhere a pocket mouse lifts its mouth to the sky for a long deserving drink, and I try to appreciate whatever invisible dowsing rod it is that's led me twice to water in the deep, dry deserts of Arizona.
A hummingbird paused mid-flight inches from my partner's face and hovered there looking directly into her eyes. Right in front of me, two deer stepped from the woods onto a usually busy road. They stopped at the center line. Mo was in the car with me and we stopped too. No one else was around. The deer and I looked at each other, and I understood that they knew Mo was with me. Slowly, they walked to the side and watched us pass, never leaving the road even as we neared them. At the same time, two rainbows hung over Portland, and thousands of miles away in a little patch of grass in New York, my mom found a four leaf clover. The natural world was calling Mo home, and she was ready. She'd already told me so, but I was still looking for confirmation. Letting go of fourteen years is hard. I was by her side the afternoon she died. I had been with her all weekend. It was my privilege, those last three days, to cook for her, hug her, and make sure her every need and want was met. Of course, Mo lived her life making sure her every need and want was met, but those last days with her were different. They touched the very edges of perfection. Sweet and sorrowful, each moment was filled with wonder the way they sometimes are when gotten exactly right. On her last morning, she followed me around, as she always did, limping and wagging her tail. She was sweet and loving, as she always was, and I knew this was right. She deserved to die just as she lived - gently, happily, filled with trust, treats, and goodness. You see, Mo was good. Perhaps not in a "sit, come, stay" sort of way, but her joie de vivre, her forgiving and devoted soul, and her mischievous and kindly spirit were the sort of goodness we strive for in ourselves, the sort of goodness we hope someone remembers us by on some distant day. We held her close and told her all of her best stories, including the time she took a bite of the homeless man's burrito as he held it near his knee, and how so long ago, on our first day together, I took her to the river. She was around three and busting with excitement and energy, so I threw a stick into the water. She immediately swam out for it, but kept going until she got to the other side. As she bounced up and down the far side of the Clackamas River without a care in the world, I wondered how I would explain this to the rescue people. I soon learned Mo didn't care about explanations. She lived in the moment, always going for what made her happy. Although exasperating at times, she always gave us a good laugh. Still does. Her last breath neared. Thank you, Mo, thank you so much, I said, and I hugged her as she returned to that place where all that is good must eventually go.
Mo was, and will always be, my most funny, loyal, optimistic, demanding, and irreplaceable friend. My souldog. Sometime on her last day, it occurred to me that she was taking care of me too, the way she always had. I bent down, put my arms around her, and asked her for one more thing - to please help me find someone just like her who needed a home. A month later, she sent Emmy, a sweet-natured beagle who was surrendered by her family. She sat in rescue for almost six months waiting for someone to take her home. Mo couldn't have found us a better dog, even the cat agrees. Someone said recently that it seems like Emmy has always been with us. It's not that exactly. It's more that she is the perfect continuation of an enduring love that began more than 14 years ago when I first saw Mo busting at the seams of her one size too small animal rescue vest, confident that life would go her way.
In Minnesota, a woman asked where we were headed as she wrapped our sandwiches in butcher paper. "Oregon," we replied. "We live there." She then asked if she could come too, said she would lay quietly on the roof. Later in Sioux Falls, we asked what there was to see as we checked into our room. "Nothing really," said the woman at the front desk. "There's nothing here to see. Maybe the falls at sunset." Meanwhile, the same winds that blew us east across the prairie in March dared us to travel against them today. Meanwhile, a mother deer ran out from the grass in front of us. I remembered yesterday and hit the brakes. A long-legged fawn soon followed. Meanwhile, the Amish raised a barn in Wisconsin as we whizzed past. Life goes on, doesn't it? A mile a minute if you let it.
"There's nothing here to see," said the woman at the front desk, but still, after 9 hours in the car, we went out looking. Wouldn't you?
Not every lake dreams to be an ocean. Blessed are the ones who are happy with whom they are. -Mehmet Murat ildan
The best part about long days on the asphalt is the gifts the road gives. Today a mother deer and her fawn darted across the road in front of us. A summer storm roared across Lake Michigan as we watched from the beach in our car, and Mo slept until 8:15 this morning. The road brims with magic.
Another awesome day on the Canadian highways... eagles, the Amish, one Great Lake (Huron), deer, a good laugh (see video below), and a picnic lunch on Lake Huron's shores. We're back in the United States tonight in America's 3rd oldest city- Sault (pronounced Soo) Ste. Marie where we watched a ship go through the Soo Locks, a pair of Locks that allows boats to travel between Lake Superior and the Lower Great Lakes. After that, we finished the day overlooking the water eating "whitefish from the Lake" and peanut butter fudge. And to think, we only went in for appetizers!
Lake Huron, Manitoulin Island, Ontario
Me and my favorite 16 year old at Lake Huron
Check out the video of Mo's visit to Huron today. She snuck under the guardrail when I wasn't looking, and I had to get her back before she fell down the 50 foot bank behind us. If you know Mo, or chocolate labs in general, you'll love this!
Bonjour from Canada! What a great first day- first and foremost, we got Mo across the border. ;-) Then, just outside of Montreal, we made a big left turn towards the west, our major direction for the next 3800 miles. We drove about three hours before hitting a storm so severe that we saw sparks fly as lightning bolts struck the ground around us. Our route, a beautiful road through the remote regions of Ontario, took us into North Bay where we ended the day with dinner on Trout Lake. Right before paying the bill, we saw a muskrat swimming for the docks. The locals said she lives under them. The sun turned the lake pink. Although my car points west, my mind drifts east for a moment towards Cambridge, and I think how awesome it is to take a chance on something because you never know where it may lead.
many a time to wash up on the same broken-down shore.
The lighthouse marks entry to a harbor of protection,
but this time I'm sailing in a different direction.
Yesterday I biked almost 25 miles along the Maine coastline stopping only for lighthouses, ice cream, and a lobster roll. I made up that little stanza above for fun during some of the long miles, but the truth is, if I had the chance in Maine, I'd drop sails and stay awhile. It seemed to me the kind of place you could find yourself anchored at the heart.
I was only here a week when the bombs exploded. I had traveled, cross country, to take a temporary job with Cambridge Public Schools in Massachusetts. Cambridge would be a halfway point between Vermont and New York, and it had been a long time since I had family in two directions. When I moved to Oregon in the late 90s, everyone I cared about lived in one direction and one direction only - east. The Friday before the bombs, five days into my new job, a welcoming and friendly colleague asked if I wanted to meet her at the marathon to watch the runners. Typically, watching something like the Boston Marathon would have suited me perfectly, but that second week of April was spring break for Cambridge Public Schools and I already had plans to drive to Vermont to visit my aunts and uncle. "I can't," I said, "but have fun." Less than 72 hours later, Boston exploded. Within the week, Boston, Cambridge, and the surrounding towns, including Waltham, where I now lived, were locked down. People had lost limbs; others life. All of Boston suffered. Not having TV where I was in Vermont, I tuned in by texts and online media. I pictured my dark, empty apartment that I hardly knew. I wondered if the neighborhood was awake with police sirens. Were my neighbors scared? I considered returning to Oregon. The night before I was to go back to Waltham, my aunt asked, "How are you?" She knew I'd gone to work only five times; had barely a friend in the Boston area. "That whole place is hurting," I said. "How will I talk to anyone?" I couldn't imagine trying to relate to people I'd only met a handful of times about the terror they experienced in their city, and the pain associated with it. See, Boston wasn't mine to talk about - not to the people who lived there anyway. What did I know about their suffering?
I called my partner. "Please come," I said.
The following day, the day after one suspect was killed and the other captured, my partner flew in from Oregon and I drove from Vermont. I think it's fair to say the trip was a bit surreal, but also inspiring. A city that faced horror for a week remained true to its 18th century roots and stood united and proud before the world. Boston Strong signs hung on bridges and in people's windows. MassDOT changed their road signs from "Please Drive Slowly" and "Don't Text While Driving" to "Thank You Watertown" and "Thank you Boston." I came to understand that if my home town were attacked while I were away, I would want to return immediately. I would be proud to stand strong with my fellow Portlanders and claim our city, but to return to a grieving town where I'd lived for less than a week felt voyeuristic. I picked my partner up at the airport. We ordered Thai and drank wine at home. Talked about the bombings. Watertown is only a mile away; Copley Square just a few more. What happened to our neighborhood hung in the air like thick wet towels that you want to put away, but can't because they're dank and heavy, and still require attention. After awhile, we simply went to bed to escape the heaviness that hung over all of Greater Boston.
Not one to be plagued by clouds for long, I woke the next day with renewed spirit. I lived here now, and would for the next three months. My partner would be here off and on during that time as well. We knew we hurt differently than our neighbors, but still, we grieved with them and for them, as did the country. We're in this together, we realized. We're all Boston Strong.
Later that day, we went to the wildlife refuge for balance. The air still hung heavy, but had the promise of drying in time.
At the refuge, we were reminded to take it slowly,
I've got a story of how this past April I came to live in Waltham, Massachusetts, home of The Waltham Watch Company and the first assembly line to produce watches for the masses. Piece by piece, much like the Waltham watch, my story was built. However, this is not that story. This is the story of a time after I arrived in Waltham, the birthplace of 40 million timekeepers and a neighboring town of Walden Pond. Henry David Thoreau said this about time: It is a stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it, but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.
Standing on the shores of Walden Pond, I understand the magnitude of Thoreau's words. A watch keeps shallow time.
I walked Walden Pond for more than an hour. Others boated, swam, and fished it, something I found strange until I learned from a teacher, there with 65 of her middle school students, that Walden Pond has always been a place of leisure for the locals. "Even when Thoreau came to the woods to live deliberately," she told the one or two of us who were listening, "people used this pond for recreation." Learning that consoled me somewhat about the amount of activity; however, I longed to have Walden to myself the way I always imagined it for Thoreau, but this is Massachusetts and solitude is relative.
After Walden, I went into Concord with plans for lunch and a trip to the Concord Museum. I'd heard that one of the lanterns which signaled Paul Revere's midnight ride to Lexington was on permanent display at the museum, and I meant to see it. However, I never made it to the museum. If you've ever been stopped by the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, imagine coming upon the house where he wrote those words.
Standing at his gate, it slowly occurred to me that perhaps I was someplace special; someplace that didn't require museums and artifacts behind glass walls to understand its significance. But where was I beyond Concord, Massachusetts? I stood still and let things come. When I did, I felt the air vibrating around me. It was charged, and would remain so for the rest of the day. I didn't know it yet, but I stood only a half mile from Louisa May Alcott's home where she penned Little Women and fought for women's rights. Increasingly, I came to understand that Concord is a ghost town, but it is hardly abandoned.
Despite the charged air, the growing inclination that I was onto something special, and the fact that I had just visited Walden Pond, I was starving. It takes more than a hallmark of American literature for me to forget my appetite. As I looked for a place to eat, I noticed a small sign on a street corner with an arrow and the words Author's Ridge on it. The air again felt magnetic, like it was drawing me into something preordained. I didn't feel I'd lose the magnetic pull if I stopped to eat first, and like I said, I was starving. I found the Colonial Inn, an old restaurant built in 1716, and sat outside. By now, I knew the Alcott home was nearby, and I'll admit- I ordered the Alcott-wich special on the menu. I scarfed down the sandwich and quickly left for Author's Ridge. The charged air crackled around me, although there was little sound. Headstones appeared in the grass ahead. A cemetery? Soon, I stood at the main gate of the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. A slight chill raised the hair on my arms. This was no ordinary cemetery. I followed the signs to Author's Ridge. Gravestones for soldiers of the revolution marked the pathway in places. I walked to the back of the cemetery to a ridge, Author's Ridge, that holds the graves of Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and their families. "You're hanging with some serious ghosts," a friend wrote to me on Facebook. Birds chirped and weed eaters sounded. The wind blew leaves across the cemetery roads. The ridge hummed with energy as I walked among the dead. Buried on this ridge are those individuals that scholars, historians, librarians, teachers, and political leaders across the country keep alive every single day. How naive of me to think they'd lie quietly just because they're dead.
"Let us know what they say," wrote my friend.
"The universe is wider than our views of it."
- Henry David Thoreau
"She had not known the weight until she felt the freedom."
- Nathaniel Hawthorne
"I like good strong words that mean something."
- Louisa May Alcott
"Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Later, sitting at the doorstep of The Old Manse, a hundred or so yards from the first battle of the American Revolution, I remembered what my friend wrote. Who could know what the ghosts of Concord, Massachusetts would say? I told her I needed another afternoon with them. Probably longer. Still, I learned that the things they fought for and against in the 18th and 19th centuries remain relevant today. Maybe they'd suggest we relight the lanterns and signal another revolution. Perhaps they'd invite us to sit at their doorstep, like I was, but only for a moment, because we have an obligation to ourselves and to our country to rise and walk on our own two feet. Think with our own minds. Who can know?
Before going home, I made one final stop.
Here, Louisa May Alcott wrote, "Such hours are beautiful to live, but very hard to describe."
I hope I've done a decent enough job today of describing the beautiful hours.
These rays are friendly and curious about people. Because of daily excursions from the motus, they are habituated to humans, especially humans with huge eyes and strange tubes coming from their mouths.
Blacktip reef sharks were also in the area. They enjoy an easy meal when fed by the tour boat captains. I would be sure to stay on my tour boat captain's good side.
Blacktip reef sharks typically grow to about 5 feet.
That's my length.
Is it their rows of teeth that make them seem so much bigger?
Perhaps these pictures make me seem brave. The truth is blacktip reef sharks are usually quite shy of humans. If you ever have the chance to snorkel or scuba dive in reef shark territory, take it. You will be awed by their prehistoric and enduring beauty.
Before leaving the area, I dove underwater one last time to say a silent thank you for their presence. I wished them well, then boarded the boat to the coral gardens.
Kimi is in this picture somewhere. She dove into the water with bread and was quickly swarmed by hungry scissortail sergeants.
Eye to eye with the sarge.
Diving for a closer look at the fish.
The biggest blue beckoned
from beyond the reef.
Lemon sharksare rumored to lurk in these waters.
Lemon sharks typically attain lengths of 8-10 feet.
"Get in," said our guide.
"You can see them better from the water."
Sure, why not?
A lemon shark soon appeared with a hook in its mouth.
Motai, our guide, tried to get closer for a look.
Unfortunately, nothing could be done. The fish swam away as soon as he approached.
Sharks will be sharks. This one likely followed a fishing boat and got caught on a hook when trying to steal the boat's catch. I hesitated mentioning the hook because I didn't want this post to end on a sad note. However, it's a part of the story. I don't blame the fishermen. They were only doing their job, but it's a reminder of the thread from which we're all sewn. An invisible thread connecting us all.