I turned thirty this week, and I’ve been thinking, like I might, about Love, and Who I Am, and Leading a Happy Life.  Or really, I can feel these kinds of things swirling around me, as they have been for a while, but this week I haven’t really been thinking about too much of anything, because I have been being Surprised.  First by my sister Grace, who flew in from D.C. as a secret for my birthday. Then by my cousin Erin, who drove up from Portland, where she has wisely relocated from the East Coast, also as a surprise for my birthday.

We all slept together in the Pink-then-yellow-now-beige Palace, the room at my parents’ where all the miscellaneous young women sleep.  It was like it was when we were teenagers, only I mostly felt a lot less hormonal and desperate, and nobody was listening to STAR 101 or any other music much less cool than themselves.  (And, in case this wasn’t obvious, the whole point of this post is to say my sisters and cousins are REALLY, REALLY cool.) And then there was cake, and friends, and another surprise, which is that turning thirty is, so far, mostly a relief, like ah, I’m me and I am living my life and that’s pretty cool.


The Day of the Dead Rodents

Today at camp we buried a mole.  Also a rat.  Squinchy, ever attuned, decided to bring a half-eaten bird inside tonight at dinner time. At camp we also picked up what the kids called “millerpedes” and shook them so the almond smell came out.  We picked up the feathers of a dead gray bird and admired the raccoon skull that graces Aidan’s childhood fort, a cathedral of nostalgia made of old boards and rusted wire and now frequented only by spiders.  None of this was planned of course, but I would say these were the best parts of the day.  I got to explain that most things die with their eyes open — we think of dead people as having their eyes shut, because the dead people we think of have friends.  Also, the mole did not die as it was pooping (a horrifying possible cause of death for this soft little critter), but rather pooped as it was dying.  Five children learned how to stand on shovels to dig.  We decorated his grave with daisy petals, horsetails, crossed white sticks, and a flat stone, which tomorrow we will write something on, assuming the kids remember.  Before we buried it, the kids kept popping up from their lunches to crouch over it.  “Don’t destroy it!” yelled one girl, after a near miss with a shoe.  “It’s adorable!  Can I take it home?”  “No, it’s dead,” I told her.

Meanwhile, one after another of my family has been falling to what we call around here, “The Dreaded Gombu.”  Other people call it the flu.  Well, this isn’t a proper Gombu, because it isn’t the arfy-barfy-run-at-the-buns kind.  It’s more of a Victorian recline-on-the-day-bed-with-glazed-eyes-and-moan type of thing.  I feel it lurking in my neck glands, myself.  So I am off to take one of my mom’s anthroposophic healing baths.  All I hope is that camp tomorrow is as full as today with unplanned magical moments.  Maybe on a different theme, though.  Maybe The Day of Happy Butterflies or The Day of Yummy Berries or The Day of Exciting Scat.  Or The Day Becca Slept off the Gombu Before Nine AM.


Hay, it’s Family Time

For years, my family has gotten hay from a man named Pete.  He gets it in Eastern Washington and drives it over the pass.  He says if you watch you can catch him on the weather cam at the ski resort.  My sister Grace used to work for him in high school, riding around in his truck and bucking hay: a good job for a teenager with endless physical energy.  Pete is a great guy, and about as Libertarian as they come.  This is what I like about Pete: he starts conversations with things like, “I bet you won’t like my bumpersticker.”  True enough, I didn’t.  It was something about wishing poor people had his work ethic instead of his tax dollars.  But right from the get-go, that was ok.  He said his piece, I said mine, we considered each other’s positions, neither changed our mind, and the hay got into the barn.  So I like it when I’m around when Pete the Hay Guy comes by.

But this summer, my mom found a source for unsprayed, un-GMO, local hay for $6 a bale, which is a hell of a lot cheaper than Pete’s pass-crossing stuff, if perhaps not quite as nutritious.  (I guess Western Washington grows poor hay??? Farm rumors…..) Plus, the hayfield was the school project of the brother of the boy who raised my mom’s brown cow Mattie.  The catch was, we had to pick it up ourselves.

My family has done three hay runs in the past week.  Girls, pay attention.  My brother is going to get some biceps out of this.  I came along on our latest run, which began at 6:30 on Tuesday evening.  Usually at 6:30 on Tuesday evenings, I am thinking about dinner.  In fact, whenever I make any kind of plans, one of my main thoughts is, “what about dinner?”  This Tuesday, the answer was sketchy: we had a bag of snacks and a chicken in the oven on low.  Then, after a lot of yelling and wiggling the truck and trailer up and down the driveway, Aidan, my parents, Charlie the Dog, and I got into the truck and headed towards Monroe.  Monroe is about an hour away.  It’s in the next county, and you Back East people should know, counties are big here.  Monroe is where the Snoqualmie River and the Skykomish River become the Snohomish River, which heads west to Everett and the Sound.  It is a wide flat floodplain of farmland and highway and strip mall.  And even though my dad did floor it to pass the Mercedes SUV that was driving too slow on the two-lane highway, it was a long way to drive in a truck with a broken exhaust pipe and a strong perfume of mouse pee.  Aidan was in the backseat sitting sideways with the dog.  I pulled rank for the seat between my parents.  It was crowded enough that doing up my mom’s seatbelt for her I pulled out my sixth grade Dolly Parton joke:  Have you seen Dolly’s new shoes?  Neither has she.  Yep.  That was at the beginning of the trip.

It was past sunset when we finished loading up the hay.  The sky was streaky with pink, and the last light washed over a couple of hot air balloons.  I want to say there were meadowlarks, but that is impossible.  They don’t live here.  There were truck engines and a bad squeak from the overloaded trailer’s axle. But it had a meadowlark feeling, and it smelled so good like hay.

Then came the difficulties.  After tying it all down, my dad decided there was too much weight on the trailer.  Off came eight bales.  Then, pulling out onto the highway, the load shifted.  He drove gingerly to the gas station, where we tied it down some more.  The gas station attendant, a large man with a ponytail, was out having a smoke.  Turns out he was the same gas station attendant as the last time, when my family had stopped with a truck load of hay while my dad literally fixed the truck with baling twine.  We had a wise discussion about the merits of baling twine and duct tape, drove two more blocks, and stopped again.  This time we moved the bales around and redid all the ties.  Teenagers stared.  Then it was back in the car.

We finally got the hay home and unloaded.  We ate chicken at 11:30 PM while staring blankly at each other.

The next morning, I felt like a bug: my legs could move, but the rest of me was so much bigger and heavier and tireder that I was just a flailing beetle.  Now we know what Kafka did for family time.

The Moth Walk

Last night, some of us at Sewanee went on a Moth Walk.  The phrase “Moth Walk” is hard to say straight. At least it was for us writers. Was it the assonance? The mothiness? I don’t  know, but I went despite the smirking, and oh wow.

It wasn’t actually a walk.  They drove us to  Memorial Cross, a giant white cross on an  overlook — a WWI memorial — that is lit up  by two thousand-watt bulbs.  If a porch light  draws moths, imagine.  The air here was as  thick with them as a dark sky is with stars.  Bats, like comets, careening around.

I lay on the grass and looked up.  The moths  each burned with light, like silver fish in  sunlight.  The sky churned with their white  flashes.  This, I thought, is what outer space is like to people who really love astronomy: the multitudes of stars, animate.

Moths don’t just drift.  They glide and dart.  They spin in circles around and around.  There is a rhythm to the motion, a lurching fast and then slow.  A regularity to the chaos.

We had bug nets, and Alice McDermott’s teenage son caught an imperial moth, like the one in this picture.  He stood on the base of the cross, heroic, while we gathered in the strange, shadowed false-brightness of the lights to look.  The katydids pulsed in the darkness. Freed, the moth settled for a minute on my foot, large as a bow.

We stayed for a long time, and went back gentled.  The late night scene on the porch of the French House was quiet, mostly just habit.  And I think now that we couldn’t say “Moth Walk” without smirking not because it was dorky, but because it was something words lessen, that uncomfortable, uncontainable thing.