Hello from Tennessee

Well, cold is to Washington as heat is to the South.  I was in Georgia this weekend visiting my friends Jesslyn and Bryan, and we turned around to find their two year old Odessa standing in the cat’s water dish.  When I went to see my Auntie Laura the next day, we ate two popsicles.  Now I am in Tennessee, at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference.  The schedule goes something like this: shower, eat, shmooze, go to a reading, shmooze, eat and shmooze, workshop, go to a reading, shower, shmooze, eat, shmooze, go to a reading, shower etc.  I think it will change as we get to know each other, but the first day felt something like an endless cocktail party where everyone had the same answer to the question, “so, what do you do?”  A little awkward and tiring.

Ruffled Silk Dress

Then, towards the evening there was an actual cocktail party, or a fancy reception at the vice-provost’s house, and it was really fun. Conclusion? Alcohol can make a difference.  Or maybe I just like wearing a pink ruffly dress.

This may not be something you know about me, but I love dressing up.  I really, really like pretty dresses. I would wear them all the time, if I didn’t also like doing things where I get covered in bike grease, baby pee, glitter, manure, puppy paw prints, tempura paint, tree sap, charcoal, berry juice, and kneeled-on slugs.  But if I am going to be drinking wine on a veranda with a bunch of strangers, I would sure like it best if I get to wear a kick-ass dress.

Counting Slowly Backward from 37, or How the Space Unicorns Invaded my Life

Today is day 18 of camp, out of thirty seven.  Thirty seven is a very large number, if you count slowly enough.  Its size depends largely on the weather.  And we’ve had a lot of rain.  Heidi told me some newscaster guy has been counting minutes of this summer where the temperature in Seattle has been over 80 degrees.  His total: seventy eight.  There was actually a day last week where it was too cold for popsicles.  I gave the kids tea instead and NO ONE COMPLAINED!!!  This week has not been so cold, or maybe it’s just that I’ve been more anal about keeping the kids’ feet dry, and also I discovered that if I layer the upper part of this pair of wool tights that I cut the legs off of under my leggings, along with my wool socks and rain boots, a skirt, and a sweater or two, I stay pretty warm.  Like if I sit on something wet it doesn’t get my bones.  It’s that kind of summer.

That isn’t a complete picture of camp, however.  Camp is also me sneaking around in the woods with my puppy, eating wild huckleberries, and evading enemy scouts.  That’s Capture the Flag.  It is me running around frantically, pretending I have a rock in my pocket.  That is Smuggle the Geg.  It is me watching kids do full layouts on the grass while making karate sounds.  That is Ninja Tag.  It is me saying, “Guys! Eat your lunches!  Then you can go play with the crawdads.  Hey! Sit down and eat your lunch!”  That, in case you are skimming, is lunch.

Also, my campers talk about a lot of things.

Theology: “I could be God.”

Gay Marriage: “Any marriage between two adults should be allowed.”  (go kids!)

Puberty: “You don’t want to watch the fourth grade puberty videos.  They are so gross.”  “What is puberty?  Tell me!”  “It’s uh, when you grow up, in a certain way, and you smell bad and have to start wearing things.”  “Dude, my gym teacher must have puberty.  He stinks.”

Etc.  But mostly, they sing about Space Unicorns:

There.  Though you may have puberty, you now know as much as my campers.  Except I bet you have no idea what the heck a geg is.  (We don’t either.)

Fishing

Today, Squinchy and I went fishing.  Squinchy is the ideal beginning fishing companion.  He likes to bushwhack, he does not head out into rapids, he does not make criticize or laugh when the line gets tangled,  and he gets right to the heart of the endeavor by finding a mossy spot on the bank and falling asleep.  Also, he does not care if I catch a fish.  In fact, I don’t even think he knows that one can catch a fish.  Fish comes out of the refrigerator, right Squinch?  I also do not care if I catch a fish, and while I do know there are fish in rivers, and that people catch them, I am still stretching myself to believe that I could stick a line in and it could catch one.  It seems very magical, and at this point, it’s still a metaphysical activity for me.  I mean, holy shit, what would I do if I caught one?

But I am getting ahead of myself.  Because this fishing trip didn’t start with fishing.  It started with Squinchy high-tailing it away from me when he saw we were going to get in the car.  (Last time he was in the car, I left him there during my yoga class and he peed on both front seats.  Future passengers beware.) This time, I caught him, we bought a fishing license, and headed up the Middle Fork.  Things were going well.

Then I locked my keys in the car.  There we were in the woods, Squinchy and me and two doggy biscuits.  I borrowed a nice kayaker’s cell phone, and called my mom.  Who else would I call in an emergency?  Also, she could look for my spare.  She hung up before I could tell her I was on a borrowed phone because my phone was with my keys.  She did not find my spare key, but drove off to my rescue anyway.  She showed up armed with a tool called a slim jim, basically a metal ruler with a bite out of it.  We jiggled it around, but nothing happened.

“Well, we have the tool — now we need someone who can use it,” I said.  A minute later, a guy in a heavy metal band shirt popped out of the woods.  “Are you locked out?” he asked, excited.  He jiggled the tool, no luck.  “Let me get Jason.  He’s uh, really experienced with this stuff.” Jason came out and jiggled the tool.  No luck.  “Don’t you have a coat hanger? I could do it with a coat hanger.”

Meanwhile, back at home, my dad had found my key, where I said it was, and was eagerly awaiting his moment of heroism if the slim jim didn’t pay out, cell phone and house phone at his side.  My mom and I ended up just driving back to get the key ourselves, and I’m pretty sure my dad looked disappointed.

But after all that, Squinchy and I had a great afternoon on the river.  One great thing was that none of it was really a big deal.  I mean, my mom was a mega mom-saint, driving back and forth and back and forth with her slim jim, when she had a whole morning’s worth of her own things to do.  Thank you, mom.  But besides that, it really wasn’t a problem.  I wasn’t freaked out; it wasn’t a headache.  Just a series of asking kind people for help.  And I didn’t feel dependent on them.  If they couldn’t help me, I would just keep going down the road, or worst came to worst, break my car window or something.  Whatever.  Beautiful day in the woods.  This was really nice.  I used to get so tense about this kind of thing — missing buses, car trouble, being stranded.  I would deal with it, but it scared me.  Today, I just felt at home inside myself.  I could get myself where I needed to go.

This feeling is part self-sufficiency, and part interdependence.  It was the feeling of being confident that I was surrounded by kind strangers, and that I could trust my own senses and serendipity to find them.  I think it is pretty much the feeling of being on the Camino de Santiago.  Which is just as metaphorical/magical/metaphysical as fishing, though harder to do with a dog.

When Squinchy and I were walking back to the car, sun-filled and with salmonberry seeds in our teeth, we saw Jason and his friend building huge rock stacks on the river bar.  “The trick is to make them look impossible,” said the friend.  I left them there, in their own river meditation, and Squinchy and I drove on home.

Some very tired thoughts on the future

Well, I moved out of my little place, and am now at my parents’.  My mom says I should not think of this as moving back to my parents, but rather as having a long vacation here, with my stuff in storage.  Sounds good to me: this is one of those old-fashioned vacations where one imposes on the relatives for a month or so, trunks and hatboxes in hand.  Or: a little extra time as the future is forming.

Speaking of the future, I was just talking to my brother about his thoughts about college.  He told me he was thinking of taking a year off to live on a “hippie reservation.”  “You mean intentional community?” I asked.   “That’s it,” he laughed. He told me he likes the idea of everyone working together and everyone being provided for, all living on an idyllic farm.  “I don’t even like farm work,” he added, “but I think I would like an intentional living facility.”

Anyhow, whatever the places are called, I think it’s a cool plan.  But it’s still two years until Aidan is done with high school, so who knows?  The future is still forming.

Popsicle Time

Camp started on Monday and I am moving out of my little bamboo forest oasis on Saturday.  Moving temporarily back to my parents’ farm, where I will either share a room with Heidi, who sleeps like an open-mouthed angel (it’s the curly hair), and a life-size plastic skeleton, or Eamon the Squinch and I will sleep in the mudroom.   Both have their pluses and cons.  The whole proposition does, but so it is.

Anyhow, camp started, and so my life happens in places called the Stopping Stump, the Story Garden, the Picnic Place, and the Deep Woods,and time has names like Singing, Forts, and Popsicle Time.  And before you can ask, Jesslyn, this week is Woodland Elves and yes Medieval Merrymakers is coming later in the summer.  Camp is a place where I stepped in a cow pie on Tuesday, and everyone is still talking about it.  Where all day they ask me when Popsicle Time will be (it is always the last thing of the day), and yet hate that the week is so short.  Where the occasional kid goes home plastered with manure. Where I get to see Ian, whom I used to nanny, lose his first tooth and walk around all day glowing. Where I get to hear my brother sing.

And speaking of singing, these kids can sing!  We can do three part rounds that hold together, which means that even though I anchor one part and my husky-voiced brother valiantly tries to sing in kid-range to anchor another, a few five to eight year olds are holding down the third part.  It happens every week, but it still makes me happy.  This is my theory on singing: get ’em young and you got ’em.  This applies to lots of things, I guess.  I do have ulterior motives with camp.  Such as that kids should sing, build forts, climb things, get lost in the woods, get bit by mosquitoes, get dirty, play imaginatively, make messy art projects, take warm eggs from pecking chickens, get dirtier, swing, be expected to be kind to everything from ferns to puppies to boys, and be subject to the mysterious flow of the untold plans of the day.  And if that means feeding them their holy popsicles every day even in the rain, so be it.