Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Sycamore

I'm watching a death as it happens. A living being is being slain before my eyes as I type this.

The sycamore in front of my house was planted over a century ago by my great-great grandfather, Mathias. He built the family homes, all three, which sit together on the historic National Road in Wheeling. They were Victorians, and they were early suburbanites, moving from the hustle and pollution of South Wheeling to what was known, in 1900, as Pleasant Valley. Hills rolled, and soft green topography must have felt very peaceful. They moved together, parents and grown children and grandchildren, and built three homes on adjoining lots, where they all lived out their days and passed the homes to their children. And their grandchildren. And to me, their great-great granddaughter. I live here now, with the sixth generation, my kids. And my parents live next door, in Mathias' home.

When the homes were built, each received a sycamore sapling out front. I assume it was Mathias who dug the holes, perhaps not knowing how tall the species lives, or how long it lives, or how unbelievably messy it can be. In every season, the sycamore sheds something. Spikey balls in the spring, bark in the summer, leaves in the fall and winter. The pollen and debris cause an irritation in the throat and eyes when we mow the lawn or sweep the front porch, and the trees have grown so tall that any sun that might reach the rooftop or the front lawn is filtered down to pinpricks, hedging us into our little West Virginia shade holler.

In our adult years, my husband and I have done the yardwork for the three homes. We help my parents out as they find themselves less able to tackle backyard labor. But a tree of one-hundred feet, with a canopy almost as wide sheds a volume of leaves which I've never seen the likes of before. They begin to fall in September, continuing almost through New Years, tough, papery shreds of cardboard which make the tractor scream and struggle. The houses are constantly covered in mold, and the gutters clogged to a point at which they must be disassembled for repair.

Shawn and I hate the sycamores. A stunning giant lives above us, or rather, three stunning giants. And yet we hate them for the work they cause us, and the mess. The sycamore is a dirty tree, and not recommended for backyards, ever. They get too tall; they're too big to prune, and too messy to properly clean up after. And yet, here I've lived, for 36 years (on and off) under their shade.

And now I sit and type and watch the death of my particular sycamore. Some time in the last decade, a city project on the road in front of the house required the severing of one of the larger limbs. When this was done, the tree lost vital organs, in a sense, and as the years have passed it began to drop branches, tiny ones at first, and then gradually larger limbs began to die, and fall with their tonnage dangerously close to the house, to my family. A Sword of Damocles, we learned last week that one-half of the sycamore has died. The wood turns gray and carptenter ants and wood wasps swarm around the trunk. A visible root is lifeless, and the tree begins to list towards our house.

Towards our house.

The sycamore is one of the heaviest trees. And the damaged side of the tree faces my home, my bedroom, and Benjamin's bedroom. If it falls, it will fall on the dead side. Onto my sleeping son, onto my house, and the neighbor's house, and the townhouses beyond. And though I suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and probably have taken the potential disaster far farther than it would ever go, the tree cannot be allowed to stay. The tree surgeons tell us it's dying. It will have to come down at some point, and should the stars align in a most horrific way, it will come down on its own.

And I fought for the death of this tree. My anxiety, the image of my little sons in little caskets, their bodies crushed under the weight of a behemoth tree, drove me to paranoia and fear. It must come down, I insisted. It must die before it kills us. And though it was the gut reaction of a mom who suffers with a mental disorder, the calm, collected tree surgeons concurred: it must indeed come down before it hurts someone. Kill or be killed. It's on its way out," they said.

The tree people knew. Every tree person said the same thing. It's dying. Though I said it from a place of fear and hysteria, the facts remained. This sycamore tree will be dead soon. It will cease to plant its feet in the earth, cease to shade the house and drops its obnoxious cardboard leaves. It will die today, or tomorrow, or ten years from now, but it will die.

The tree guys have left for the day. Parked their cherry picker in my front yard and drove off, leaving a pile of freshly cut wood. Some of the branches are dead. Most of the branches are dead. The living bits remain on the tree. It looks like the site of a massacre, like body parts. And as I sit on a fresh stump, a chunk of some branch that towered over my head a few hours ago, I ask myself, "What have I done?"

That's my anxiety, my OCD talking. As I sit and stare at the pile of detritus, the tree still rises up above me, presenting its dead south side. Carpenter ants run up and down the length of the trunk, and wood wasps pick at the cracked, dried flesh.  But still, I place my hand on the cutting in front of me, a stump perfect for a campfire seat. I've read about the spirits of plants. Devas who have spoken to humans about the natural world. I wonder if they'll speak to me, but of course, they do not, and I feel nothing but smooth, dusty bark under my hands. If the tree is suffering, or if it is afraid, I am not the human to recognize that. I am not blessed with understanding. All around me I sense sadness, but I know full well that it is only my own guilt.

Tonight the tree will stand as it always has, awaiting its execution tomorrow. My gut, my heart, are wrenched.




Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Price of Peace

We've not been to the lake much. This has been the most horrendous weather I've ever seen. Summer has decided not to arrive in West Virginia. My heart aches because I'm such a summer gal, and I worship the sun so deeply (from underneath my long sleeves and large umbrella tent, that is--precancerous mole). We went out this past Sunday for the day. The weather was comfortable and humid, but the water temperature hovered around 77 degrees. Unswimmable for adults. The kids were in until they turned blue, naturally.

We took a boat ride on Sunday afternoon, and headed northwest towards the marina for gas, in the direction of a heron who was perched in the middle of the lake on a floating log, a very unusual scene. As we approached the log we saw that it was not a log at all but a styrofoam buoy impaled by a dollar store solar light. Two power cords came together on the buoy and one dropped over the side and down into the depths. To our right were several more.

My parents chattered aloud about the buoys, which, as we rounded the corner, stretched off into the distance. Rows and rows of little white squares and solar lights and thick black cords anchoring them to whatever lay on the bottom. Dad wondered if it was a race course. (The horsepower limit on Piedmont is 9.9. That would be a mighty leisurely race.)

The feeling which began to rise in my belly got stronger as we found ourselves plowing towards the marina in what appeared to be a channel between two lengthy rows of these buoys. My father, ever the humorist, was in the middle of his theory on alien surveillance when I turned from my seat up front and said, "It's fracking."

Nobody took the bait. Nobody jumped onto my bandwagon. When we got to the marina and pulled up to the gas pump, though, the attendant confirmed it. "They're seismic sensors," he said. "Antero is mapping the lake bed."



There must have been hundreds of them. The mood on the boat sunk a bit. Actually, it dropped over the side and into the depths of Piedmont. Shawn steered us down to the dam for a boat ride as the day began to cloud up, and we passed row after row of sensors, floating so quietly that they may have been October leaves. The solar lights on the buoys didn't match, I noticed. Antero, the drilling company, didn't even buy matching lights. They just went to Walmart and cleaned out the shelves. Some were square and some were round and scalloped. Some are the same lights I just bought at Dollar General for the edge of my new deck.

The haze of the afternoon turned the surface of the lake gray, and in so doing made the buoys harder to see until we were close to them, giving them the illusion of popping out at us, a shitty little surprise party every 50 feet or so. And for the first time in my life, movement on the lake was restricted. We had to weave around the sensors carefully to avoid hitting them. A body of water is a physical representation of freedom, in a sense. Barring the presence of oyster bars and manatees and other boaters, you can go where you like. You can make right turns and u-turns and drive in circles should the spirit move you to do so. That little patch of shore right there? That's accessible. There are no exit ramps or stop signs. You're floating freely; go about the universe just as you please, because it's Sunday on the lake.

Except you can't go where you please on Piedmont, now. For the bargain price of $95 million dollars, the Muskingum Conservancy Watershed District sold our freedom of movement to Antero Resources. More importantly, they sold the water under our pontoons for the drillers' machinery. They sold the school of white bass my children caught for two days in May, and they sold the great blue heron who stood on one leg and watched our boat go by. They sold the new bald eagle chicks who have just established a home on the lake for the first time in living memory.

I've spent my adult lifetime watching environmental crises unfold "somewhere else." And those crises hurt. They make me feel impotent. Frozen. I can do nothing to help the polar bears. I can do nothing to save the last white rhinos. No matter how strong my desire, the collapse is out of my reach, and seeing it in photographs provides just enough of a cushion so that I can close my eyes at night, and push away the images.

This bird on this buoy was not an image. It stood before my eyes, in real-time. The heron preened its feathers as though it were standing on the shoreline after a meal, moving through its routine quite naturally. One short bird-life, unchanging. But it is changing, and the bird hasn't a clue.

I have a clue. I'm no longer staring through the some journalist's lens, or reading the words that fell off of his fingers as he lay awake, unable to shake what he saw. This is Piedmont; this is my home. This is my crisis, for the first time in my life. There's no screen to dim, no button to push to make this go away. And as naive as it sounds, there's something different about a crisis on your own back door. It takes up a physical space in your body, creating a palpable ache you can touch through your skin with your fingers. It's a hole. An empty place of sorrow.

As we motored back to the dock, only my children seemed chipper. I thought about our respective timelines. My father has known 65 years on Piedmont, and he told me it has always been the same lake. Vegetation has grown up, retaining walls and docks have taken differing forms, but Piedmont has remained herself for a lifetime. His lifetime. My mom has known the same Piedmont for 45 years, and I for 35. The lake has never changed.

My children's bodies were clearly visible in the chilly water, which has an emerald cast most of the time. Rather than looking soupy, this is a rare, crystal green, and after our boat ride they floated and dove and laughed and came onto the dock smelling like nothing at all, no chlorine or salt or sweat. Benjamin is five, and now Piedmont has changed for him. He won't grow up and know the same shoreline, the same fish and birds. He won't gulp down the green water as he swims. For Ben and Andy, Piedmont will always be a lake that was.



 

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Fading into mush

Although we spent a recent weekend at Piedmont with the kids, I'm having more trouble picking out topics for a Piedmont blog than I did when I went alone. Just as I mentioned in my first entry, when I'm with my family, there are a lot of voices in and out of my head which sync up into a droning beat of noise punctuated by spikes and dips. And when I have time to stop in the evening and write, or think, I often fall into a heavy sleep instead. 

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The kids bickered. As a child I remember wondering why my mother found it so infuriating. Now, it seems perfectly obvious that the developing fetus triggers a reflex in the mother, and this makes her nerves vulnerable to the irritation of bickering. One child is often being picked on, so there's a protective instinct, but more often it's simply akin to fingernails on a chalkboard (here my mentor comes out and slaps me for using a cliche, but this early on a Sunday I cannot locate a more accurate sensation). 

Someone always needed food, or a worm on their hook, or some dog had pooped right in the driveway (you may remember that from early, solo blog entries as well). Piedmont isn't so peaceful, with my family. It's still fun, and it's a salve on a chapped soul worn raw from a few weeks in town. The lake heals, and remains a source of joy. But as the weekend matriarch, I find responsibility to be a far louder voice than the quiet call for serenity.

The lake at noon, looking east.

This winter I made eight solo trips to Piedmont. I didn't expect to love them as I did. The drive is long, and the winter was bitterly cold. I'm a warm-weather gal; the cold closes in on me and, unless I'm on the ski mountain or something, feels unfriendly and stank. I waited for the warmth to come as I made my Piedmont trips, but now that it has, I hesitate. I don't wish for more cold at all, but I do mourn the loss of my solitude, and my freedom to walk in the woods and on the ice. Now, the lake is crowded. (And by crowded I mean there are, at any given time, 10 boats within sight. I know: horrors.) There are fisherman in front of the dock, and church campers at the camp, and in the cabin my mom is resting (her health is poor) and my dad is in the garage tinkering, and the children are tossing toys and insults on the deck, and there are five dogs going in and out of every door every time one is opened. It's mad chaos in comparison.

I loved my winter trips. My spring trips. I loved every trip I undertook alone, and I saw more, learned more, than I had in 35 years of lake trips. I saw it as a natural place rather than a weekend vacation site. Just the thought of my new perspective makes me both excited to have experienced it and wistful for another taste of it.

Northern rough-winged
swallows have nested in the dock
floats for years.
I'm one of those "highly sensitive people" you read about. It's a curse, really. The world is just too much for me. John Coffey, in The Green Mile, says that he feels like there are bits of glass in his brain, and I often feel that way about things. Loud noises bother me, and I detest wind for the feel of it on my face, garish and offensive. That's right: wind bothers me. That's how sensitive I am. At the lake I get up very early so as to avoid sensory overload, but my dad gets up very early too, so even then solitude is hard to find, and it's always accompanied by the responsibility of motherhood, of constantly turning an ear inward to listen for little feet on the stairs. 

To make matters far more complicated, Shawn and I now get cell service at the lake. We switched from ATT to Verizon. Once a month, Shawn has to be on call. He's a programmer, and when a server goes down, he needs to a) know about it, and b) be able to reboot it. The rotation is every four to five weeks, and so for the past nine years, every fourth or fifth week, we were stuck in town. In order to be able to go to the lake on on-call weekends, we had to make the change in carriers, and now the world can reach us at Piedmont. Facebook and CNN can find me. And though it's a necessary change--we made the decision to switch when Nugget was hooked and the cabin phone wasn't working and we wondered, what if it had been more serious?--it's intrusive to be connected. There's a weight I imagine I feel, now. 

We can at least check the radar for incoming weather, Shawn's on-the-side passion.

I enjoyed the weekend so much, and it was fun. But it wasn't restorative. Not entirely, anyway. Returning to Wheeling, I didn't feel as though I'd been able to turn inward at all. There was no time, no quiet moment. The woods are closed now, the poison ivy thick and the vegetation thicker. The brambles and thorns and poisonous leaves reach out over the hiking paths just aching to get a lick at my legs. I won't go in. (As you'd imagine, I'm highly susceptible to poison ivy. I require cortizone shots.) 

One of the [illegal] jump rocks.
This weekend, the storms have been popping up everywhere. We chose not to go to the lake, and the radar has confirmed that we made the right call. The lake was slammed several times on Saturday. Yet, part of me wishes I could be out there, alone, listening to the thunder volley about the hills as it comes in--you can never tell where the storm is because the sound echoes all over the lake; it's on my Top 10 Favorite Things About Being Alive list. 

Perhaps the universe is telling me that I need a few more solo day trips. The children start day camp soon. I might have to invest in a few tanks of gas in the coming months. 




Shawn discovers the water is 71 degrees.

The whole fam damily

Though his smoked chicken was outstanding, the process of smoking meat is
one more way to offend my senses.

B gets a story.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Don't Feed the Humorist

Another blog on writing thoughts.

I know, you all groan inwardly. Here again we must listen to the obsessive-compulsive, Type A, neurotic mess of a writer talk about her own insecurities and do a little whining, followed by a predictable conclusion. We just came to see the duck fucking she promised us a month and a half ago.

Well, first of all, I keep wanting to write about the randy mallards but then I realize it might go into my thesis, so I'm hesitant to blog about it.

Wednesday was my birthday. It actually sucked royally because I was recovering from an obscene migraine, and four days later I'm still so darn fatigued and headachey that I'm wondering if maybe I contracted Lyme Disease while romping around in the wilderness of Belmont County for the last few months. Oh yes, I'm a horrible hypochondriac. Just a mess of a hypochondriac. All winter I had a twitchy eye (or was it a twitchy finger?) and I was sure that there was a growth on one of my lobes. And then I switched to the far more realistic fear of an impending-anaphalactic reaction. Every time I took any sort of pill I was certain my throat was going to close up. I'm absolutely off my rocker, I know. I never did continue with the medication that was prescribed to me, because it clouded my head. And now that the stress of school is over, the anxiety has largely melted away. I even managed to ride in the passenger seat with Shawn driving and not brace my feet against the dashboard in crash position. That's progress.

What does this have to do with my birthday? Not a damn thing. I had a migraine; it makes you stupid for a few days. It was a tangent. Anyway, the Lyme Disease thing...I'm calm about it, for once, and curious, and cautious. It's something I'm keeping an eye on. Stiff neck, headaches, fatigue, confusion, joint pain...those little bastards are out there. There's nothing so creepy as a parasite. Anyway.

As I lay there miserably on my birthday reading my plethora of Facebook birthday greetings, a theme emerged: You're the funniest person I know. You're so hilarious. You make me laugh.

Holy shit, Batman. Don't tell an obsessive-compulsive that she's funny. It's too much.

I know I'm funny. God didn't give me the gift of beauty, or a quick wit, and he didn't make me much of a public speaker. (In fact, I think I'm far more likely to pass a thesis defense if I just sit there and shut up for an hour. Opening my mouth can only screw it up.) The one thing He gave me was a sense of humor. A very specific, sarcastic, biting one. I've learned to be careful; last year I almost ended a friendship when I made what I thought was an innocent crack about a friend's pants. Not everybody appreciates it. But, it seems that many of my Facebook friends and my writer friends do. Write more funny, they say. Where's the funny, my local writing group asks when I show up without something to read.

Do you know how hard it is to write "funny" on command? In fact, out of every ten essays I write, only one is funny. That blog early in the semester that everybody loved about my encounter with a rabid squirrel and walking into a log? That was me being "on." Most of the time I'm not "on." And as for the Facebook folk, they only see me when I'm "on." Funny people shut the hell up when they're not feeling funny, lest they be discovered as an ordinary, not-so-entertaining human being. When I'm not funny, I'm not talking, or writing.

Also, I've discovered in my MFA program that there's a huge difference between a funny quip and a funny essay. Quips are easy. They're like the whoopee cushion of writing. Writing a humorous essay, or story, requires the literary equivalent of a room full of fart gags, and chances are that after a few air biscuits the reader is going to be bored. That's a lot of pressure (pun not intended but I'll go with it), and what's more, humor doesn't sit in a jar waiting for the lid to be lifted so it can burst forth. Imagine the circumstances that came together that day last winter for me to write that humorous blog: the dog had diarrhea, the trapped squirrel, the log in my face, the fricking flat tire...that morning was a gift from the universe.f

(I think I just stated that walking face-first into a fallen tree was a blessing.)

Therein lies the part where "writer" comes in. I don't get those sort of funny days very often, so this means I'm going to have to rely on my skills. (Ugh.) And in turn, that's where the insecurity comes in. I'm not sure I can force funny on any given day. Rather than a steady stream of comedy, it seems to come in wee bursts, all-or-nothing funny flash-floods.

I read 300 pages of Freudian humor analysis this past semester. Freud taught me how to craft his version of a joke. But even if I had any respect for Siggy himself, I couldn't agree less with the way he deconstructs humor. Sure, somebody has to do it. It's interesting to note why things are funny to the joke-teller and the joke-receiver. But I think analysis falls apart in my hands when I'm writing something funny. Sometimes a joke is just a joke. I don't give a shit why you laugh at what I say, as long as you laugh. Any press is good press.

Moreover, when I went to a one-day conference at school last fall, I sat in on a humor lecture. And there was no comedy in that room. That is to say, it was dark humor. Sad, ironic, look-what-the-characters-have-come-to humor. The essays didn't make me smile. Sigh. I hate that kind of irony.

Okay, I love irony. Writers feed on irony the way my kids live on cereal. In high school we were force-fed irony until we puked up Sophocles. Our discussions were led while the word "Irony" was written on the chalk board in huge letters, as though irony were the orgasm of our literary roll in the hay. And, I suppose it is. But dark, ironic humor isn't particularly funny to me. If you don't smile when you read what I write, it's not humor. It's not comedy. It's not fucking funny.

That's not particularly scholarly of me, is it? I just want to make you people laugh. Life is serious enough, and nature writing has the potential to be a serious downer due to the fact that we're all in a sorry-ass situation of our own making. (Irony! God, yes! Right there!) But dammit, if you keep telling me how funny I am and how I should do stand-up in my kitchen and write a Sedaris-esque book, I haven't a chance in hell. Lower your expectations. Then, maybe I'll come up with something cleverly humorous just to stick it to you.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go check my scalp for a bullseye rash.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Weekend of the Century

The blog goes back to Piedmont, now. And what a weekend we were blessed with.

Responsibility

It takes an awful lot of work to get six people and five dogs out to the cabin for two nights. I am the designated organizer, now that my mom has health problems. I made the list, I did the shopping, I did the packing, and the hauling, and the children's overnight bags. I filled the gas tanks, and remembered toilet paper and sunscreen and dog food. And when we got there on Friday afternoon, Mom and the children and I, I did the unpacking so she could rest. For the first few hours, I hated every minute of it.

Being the sole soul in charge is trying. Shawn helps me by hauling, but this time he was at work and in addition, he has ADHD, so his contributions are usually limited to asking where we're going and putting milk in the liquor cabinet. He is my partner in this life, but the weight of forward momentum is always on my shoulders. At all times I am responsible for three lives, plus my own. At times, I feel very tired, deep in my soul. Friday night was one of those nights. Shawn joined us late, after he'd come home from work and loaded up his own collection of things, like his smoker. I made food for the kids and they had a grand time jumping off of the rock, when they weren't fighting.




Two months ago that rock was high and dry, and encased in ice. This has been an extreme year, so far. The air was 90 degrees, and the water had risen to 76. Far too cold for me to go in past my waist, but the kids toughed it out until their shivers prevented them from speaking. As they stood on the rock we saw two water snakes go by. They are Northern Water Snakes, and they lurk along the shoreline living under tree roots. They eat frogs and craws and minnows, and they're a snake that gives birth to live young.

The mental image of a snake giving birth is icky, by the way. I'm not anti-snake, but any time wiggly things come out of other wiggly things....it's just a lot for the old brain to handle.

Birds

As we sat on the deck, Mom and I tinkered with my new Cornell Ornithology bird app. A towhee and his mate were fluttering around the yard and when I played the bird call, the male immediately approached me. He dove at my head, he sat on the roof above me and in nearby branches, calling and calling. His mate was on her nest in a boxwood beside the screened porch, while he flirted with my phone for several hours. Not that I'm anthropomorphizing or anything, but he was quite the sleazy guy. Looking for cloaca on the side. (Actually, in truth I felt I'd screwed with his little bird brain by playing the app, and I had a serious case of birder's remorse.)

On Saturday we were fishing and heard a tremendous murder of crows in the nearby woods all calling and cawing together in fury. Interspersed between these calls were the angry screeches of a red-tailed hawk. Whether the hawk was too close to the crows' nest(s) or the crows were too close to the hawk nest, we couldn't tell. But after twenty minutes of bawdy hysterics, the crows came flying out of the woods and over our heads with the red-tailed hawk in hot pursuit. The hawk swooped low over our heads on his/her way to the west, and settled into a yard a few lots down. The crows didn't come back.

Within an hour of the hawk sighting the lake's resident bald eagle appeared. This was very exciting, because I hadn't ever seen the eagle leave the southeast end of the lake, the headwaters. Nor do I know if there are now a pair of eagles or not, but I hope there will be. The eagle was in our large cove and swooped over our dock, heading eventually back to the southeast. It was very exciting.

On Sunday morning, I saw a hooded warbler, which I have never seen before, and was delighted to encounter. The woods are full of such different birds than the urban backyard, and the songs are all new to me too.

Fish

The weekend's spectacularity (that's a word, right?) really stemmed from the fishing. We rarely come out in May, and this past weekend the water was cold, the air was hot, and a vast school of white bass moved into our cove. In 36 years at the lake I've never seen a white bass, nor have I seen them school around the dock as they did. It felt like a swarm of locusts, almost, because they hit on every single cast. I caught 10 fish in 10 casts; Andy caught 20 in 20. In fact, I caught more fish on Saturday than Shawn and I have caught at Piedmont in our entire 13 years together, combined. The four of us brought in well over 100 fish on Saturday, and it continued into Sunday.

While 90% of the species during the day on Saturday were white bass, aka stripers, as the afternoon progressed we began to pull in a few saugeye. White bass school and hit in a frenzy, but saugeye are bottom-dwellers. Unlike bass, they have sharp teeth and razors on their gills, and a frustrating habit of extending their gills outward when handled in an attempt to slice open human fingers. Ben and Andy became rather adept at "lipping" the bass, but we had to handle the saugeye for Ben, at least, because of the potential for injury. Saugeye are a farm-produced hybrid between a female walleye and a male sauger. They do reproduce on their own but are easy to grow and stock. Walleye need colder water, so the saugeye is particularly well-suited for the warmth of these Ohio reservoirs. They're a favorite fish in Piedmont, along with the muskellunge. Anglers often troll slowly around the shoreline for saugeye. They have the creepy walleye eye, which appears iridescent and wonky at times. Though Piedmont is known for it's saugeye, Shawn and I have tried unsuccessfully for years to catch them. We caught more this weekend than we knew what to do with. 13-year-unlucky streak: broken.

In the evening we began hauling in large crappie. They like cold water and they were lurking in the growing weeds about 10 feet off the dock. We caught several the size of dinner plates. Well, salad plates, anyway.

Get ready for some fish photos.

Dad's 14-inch crappie on Sunday at dawn

Ben's big crappie

Ben's beefy striped bass (white bass)

Lengthy saugeye

Andy's crappie

The record fish of the weekend: Ben's 16-inch saugeye caught on his Spiderman pole



The children, I think, have no idea how unusual this weekend's fishing was. Piedmont is a spring and fall lake, and we really only use the cabin in the summer. By the time we get established out there, the only fish to catch are bluegill and catfish. Fishing is terribly slow in the summer. In the pre-children days, Shawn and I spent a lot of time spring fishing, but it's a fading memory. When the water warms another ten degrees, the lake will shut down and the poor kids won't understand what happened.

Nevertheless, this weekend will remain in their memories for most of their lives. They may never catch that many fish in 4 hours ever again. I certainly haven't. And our experience reiterated why I think fishing is such an important hobby. Somehow, I differentiate it from hunting quite a bit, though not everyone does. It's the idea of catch-and-release, the idea that humans can be part of nature, dip into nature for their own enjoyment, and at the end of the day, restore it and go home to our world. Anglers, assuming they are responsible, don't hurt anything, and I think anglers are some of the strongest proponents of environmentalism you'll encounter. We don't want chemicals in the lake, we don't want jet skis on the water. We want our fish to have structure, and we want stable populations. Anglers are sticklers for the rules. (Insert paragraph about the rapacious Amish who disregard fishing regulations and catch limits, who catch as many fish as they can and grind them up to put on their fields. We can't stand the Amish anglers. In fact, I saw a pontoon boat struggling along with about 20 of them on it, each with about 8 inches of room to cast.)

Fishing is a perfect way to introduce kids to nature, to instill a love of the outdoors without asking them to do something they can't: sit still. Kids need action, and meditating on the dock doesn't do it for them. Andy learned how to take the fish carefully off the hook (and how to avoid dogs), and Ben learned how to "lip" the bass. Every fish went back into the lake. Not that there's anything wrong with eating fish, but there's something to be said for the thrill of the catch followed by the impact of watching your hard work swim away. It's not a lesson they'll realize they've learned for many decades. And I'd love to say, "America, take your kids fishing," but I find that any time "America" makes up its mind to do something in droves, it inevitably screws up the natural world. So I'm not really sure I want every family out there with us. In fact, we told nobody about our white bass school.

But, America, take your kids fishing. Just be careful. Be calm. Be sustainable.

Fauna

During our campfires on Friday and Saturday nights, we heard frogs. It sounded like a great chorus. Two notes: an ascending trill followed by a descending trill, something like this. It came from the forest. On Saturday night, Dad and Shawn and I went down to the dock to look at the Milky Way (which wasn't visible thanks to the light from a new derrick the gas company has erected across the lake, thank you very much Antero) and we realize it was one damn frog making a noise so loud as to be heard for half a mile. Research indicates it was a Gray Tree Frog, and a loud mother humper at that. I don't know what I'd do if he was on a tree near my bedroom window.

The second night we were sitting there with Mimi and Pop and began to hear a series of yips and barks and howls. Someone made the idiot mistake of identifying it as a pack of coyotes, which it surely was. The kids were terrified. On the lane a few years ago someone left their golden tied up outside over night and the dog was killed, and on Saturday another neighbor lost her pug for several terrifying hours. I worked very hard to explain to the kids the nature of coyotes, and the bad-guy image that they and wolves have unfairly earned. Still, it was an ongoing ruckus and both kids ended up in their dad's lap.

The eastern coyote is actually a cross between a western coyote and an eastern wolf. They're larger than their western coyote counterparts, thanks to the wolf DNA they've absorbed over the years. There's a fascinating documentary about this "Coy Wolf" on Netflix. And eastern coyotes are well-suited for urban life. We have them in our neighborhood at home, from time to time. They are one of those species who thrive around humans. A critter cam in our backyard would be more likely to catch a coyote than one at the lake.
Google Image of an eastern coyote

Also of note is the sudden appearance of gray squirrels at the lake. In Wheeling we have red and fox squirrels, and never a gray. Suddenly, the gray squirrels have come to Piedmont. Or, perhaps, I've suddenly noticed them.

Food

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the ribs my husband smoked from 9am to 6pm in his smoker, with hickory chips. Phenomenal.

Not so phenomenal was the doggy diarrhea had by my parents' sheltie on the boat the next day after she snuck a rib out of the trash. It was Mother's Day, so I cleaned up the mess. (Dad, apparently, doesn't do dog poop, period.)


When the shock and effort of getting out there with two squabbling kids wore off, I had the weekend of my life. In fact, on the boat ride, when the spring-green hills were sandwiched between the blue of the sky and the blue of the lake, I was 100% certain that I've never loved any place on earth as much as I love that lake. It's not sexy; it's not the Grand Canyon or the Caribbean Sea. It's the element of my childhood home, I think, that makes it so vital a part of me. "Happy" isn't even the proper word. Rather, the lake brings me a deep contentment that I don't think I've ever felt anywhere else quite so strongly, including my own home.


Finally, a view of the cove where I spent my cold winter walks.

The dam at the northwest end of the lake.


Monday, May 4, 2015

The World-Famous Horseshoe Curve

Aerial view of The Curve

We intended to go to Piedmont this weekend, but an opportunity arose to take a little road trip instead. Every year we visit the famous Horseshoe Curve in Altoona, Pennsylvania, with our very good friends, who also happen to be train aficionados. In fact, they introduced us to The Curve when Andy was very little, and stoked his love of trains into a roaring blaze of devotion. Now, they have their own little guy (who, at the moment, is terrified of the blasting horns and screaming brakes), and of course Ben is just as excited about trains as any other red-blooded American kid. It's a rapidly inflating ball of burgeoning testosterone.

There's always time for fisticuffs.

The Horseshoe Curve is a 2,375-foot long curve around a bend in the Allegheny Mountains. It's quite astounding. Built in 1854, it was constructed over the course of three years with picks and shovels, and no heavy equipment (I'm not sure there was much heavy equipment in 1854). It was so vital to the war effort that the Nazis had a plan to blow it up in 1942. 


It took us almost three hours to reach The Curve, one-third of the way across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. But it was easy driving, and the Allegheny Mountains are so good for the soul. Now, my husband will murmur something about my running a stop sign and blowing through a toll without paying, but that's hearsay. (And who creates a toll booth that only takes $1 bills? I had a $10. There was no human manning the toll; there was no change offered; there was no swipe machine. Screw you, PennDOT. When I get my bill in the mail I'm going to puff up like a chicken, grouse about it loudly, consider making an angry phone call, and then change my mind and pay the bill like a chump.) I had an endometriosis attack in the car and the day's plans were threatened, but we pushed on and with the help of 600mg of Ibuprofen and sheer maternal determination, we made it, and had a great day. 

Why is an entry about a marvel of engineering taking up space on a nature blog?

Because I can't quite decide where The Curve fits. Obviously, it has earned the adjective "marvel". And I fall under the spell of trains myself, so I can understand why little kids are so enchanted. The larger trains we saw were approaching two-hundred cars. We saw a mail train--FedEx and UPS, trains with tanker cars, an auto-train, a coal train, and a few years ago we saw a trash train (who knew that trains haul garbage?). 

I like the way trains sneak their way through the mountains, along riverbanks. I like the way they appear, in PA and WV in particular, in a wild place--like during a paddle on the Youghiogheny River--briefly passing through and hauling pieces of the human world, here and then gone. Even on a day on the river, their presence doesn't offend me. It just feels efficient.

On their commercial, CSX claims that one gallon of gas can take a train 500 miles. In doing a little reading I see that the notion of environmentally-friendly passenger trains is debated, and that high-speed trains may or may not be the environmental godsend that their proponents claim. (Though electric trains are quite green.) In terms of freight, however, there's no comparison. Two hundred cars being hauled by three engines. Two hundred trucks off the road. What a statement.

It was so odd to see the auto-train go through, with over 100 [train] cars, each one carrying 8-12 vehicles which will end up on the road soon enough, just making the problem worse. 

In a sense, railroads are about dominating nature. In another sense, moreso than roads, railroads are about working with nature, or even bowing down to nature. Trains are heavy beasts, and engineers have had to work with the topography of the land rather than plowing through it. The trains need nature on their side to make the system work; they cannot conquer it. Hence, the building of the Horseshoe Curve. We've got an enormous mountain, boys. Should we blow it up and go through it, or use our brains and follow its topography even if it means three years of digging? They wisely chose to go with nature rather than smashing their way through her.

Of course, I'm not dumb enough to think that The Curve has anything to do with respecting nature. It's about physics and economics. But, I'm cool with the final product.

And my guys were happy. We spent the day high in the Allegheny Mountains, tucked into a weird mix of forest and iron. Normally I have a hard time breaking out of black-and-white thinking when it comes to nature vs. man, but on this occasion, the blend felt quite comfortable.





Drone view



video
They raced every train.



Friday, April 24, 2015

Big Bushy Backyard

This past semester, I might have chosen my own backyard just as easily as I chose Piedmont. In fact, if I had, I'd have encountered far more wildlife, albeit familiar wildlife.

Heinrich, the fornicater extraordinaire.
The yard is actually three yards together, and the property belongs to my father and my uncle. The three houses on the property do, too. In fact, the three lots were purchased at the turn of the 20th century by my great-great grandfather and his two children. Each built a house on the land and the entire family lived here for the remainder of their lives. The patriarch would die relatively shortly after building his house, but his son and daughter would live their lives in their respective houses next door and my grandfather and great-aunts were all born here. I've written extensively about this family story here, in Weelunk. It's unusual and amazing and will take up 20 minutes of your already-busy day.

Anyway, my parents now live here and I live next door to them, and for forty-plus years my father has been planting trees on the property. It's about two acres. We grumble about this, as it causes the houses to accrue mold and the gutters to clog. The amount of work my poor husband has to do for autumn leaf-cleanup is beyond measure. There are easily one-hundred trees here. Some of them are Christmas trees my parents planted after using them in the early 70's. Many are volunteers. We have silver maple and oak (pin and red) and poplar, sycamore (horrible trees) and magnolia and hemlock, honey locust and ash and on and on and on. Dad has this thing about Nature. (I have to capitalize that.) Things must be allowed to flourish, to their own ruin, even. Weeds are unwelcome if they're growing in the driveway, but any little sapling that shows up, even if it's growing right in the middle of the area where we play kickball, is encouraged and loved. Flora are rarely trimmed, here. Except by me.

Mama woodchuck and one of the twins
In fact, Shawn and I have a running joke about our insanely unkempt forsythia. For propriety's sake I won't repeat it here but we refer to it as the crazy 70's bush. We can trim the sides, but it's so massive that we can't reach the top, and so it gets taller and wackier every year, and doesn't bloom as heartily as it used to for that reason. It needs a good trim. But, as nature tends to do, it tucks us into our yard in increasing privacy, and we like this. More importantly, the crazy 70's bush is a dense thicket of habitat for birds and rabbits. Many birds spend blustery days hiding there, although the most common resident of the unkempt bush is the sparrow, and if you don't know how I feel about sparrows, you soon will. Mama rabbit (all seventeen of them) stay in the bush during the day. And under the little shed next to the bush we sometimes have a groundhog. One year she produced twins, and so we were thrice-blessed in the whistle-pig department.

One can never have too many whistle-pigs.

Oh, yes they can. And we did. Daddy groundhog lived under the front porch and he was, as they say, arnery. They've dispersed in the past few years; on occasion we will see one under the shed.

Sycamore out front, two honey locust in back cover the
entire house.
The canopy above the houses is thick, so thick in fact that Google Earth does not show my house, and only a bit of the houses on either side. Now imagine your life as a squirrel on this property. Glorious! My red squirrels find themselves the luckiest little twitchy bastards in the east. Their feet don't have to touch the ground. Additionally, this canopy provides cover for the fox squirrels too. Fox squirrels are terrestrial squirrels; they make leaf nests and reproduce up in the trees, but they spend a good deal of time foraging on the ground, and under this thick layer of green they are protected from flying predators, including our resident sharp-shinned hawk (although I think he may not be big enough to tackle a fox squirrel).

The photo displays the vast wilderness-in-the-city that my father has created. The deer sleep in the yard year-round, and on the north side of the property a little run (creek) flows towards the west, so critters have a water source. And as a bonus, children can find both water for their sandbox and a perfect opportunity to contract poison ivy. As a child I got it so many times that my parents banned me from the creek, not that I would be banned. In fact, I was in there just the other day collecting rocks for my newest pond project. Much of the creek is technically on the neighbors' side of the property line. The neighbor is the fiercest attorney in the state, so I wait until everyone goes home at the end of the day before I start hauling out my sedimentary booty, just in case.

While are bird varieties aren't particularly sexy, on any given day we see:

Where have all the finches gone?
To my house.
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Robin
Wren
Goldfinch
House finch
Junco
Starling
Grackle
Hummingbird
Nuthatch (my favorite)
Cardinal
Blue Jay
Downy Woodpecker (we have a mated pair)
Red Bellied Woodpecker



We recently acquired a group of the bawdiest crows in the world. They nest in the box gutters next door, and they sit in the trees above the yard and throw down their raucous laughter and what I can only assume are dirty jokes based on the way they all cackle. They've changed the dynamic of the yard significantly.

The sharp-shinned hawk is never far. It's presence is always announced by the other birds, and it calls frequently. Once in a while a red-tailed hawk will show up, and two summers ago one of the Ohio River Bald Eagles flew over the house.

Every September our little screech owl makes his/her presence known. I know the owl is always around, but of course we've never seen it. It sits in the honey locust every fall and cries its heart out in a beautiful and disturbing series of lonely cries. This Easter we lured to dinner a friend who works for the power company. We gave him food in exchange for his services in climbing a poplar and hanging a screech owl house about 25 feet in the air. The house faces east, away from northerly blasts, and it's near a little branch so any chicks born might have a place to hop around. I've read it can take anywhere from a few weeks to several years for the owls to discover the house, and within two days I had bleeping starlings checking it out. Nobody seems to have moved in yet, thankfully. I look every day, hoping for a little owl face to peer out at me.

It's a little biome all its own, here. We gripe incessantly about the yardwork (my parents are old enough that Shawn and I have taken over the maintenance of the three yards), and the trees. It's impossible to imagine the variety of wildlife, though, without the arboreal habitat that sustains them. I'd write more but I have to go get the honey locust seeds out of the fish ponds.



Stop having babies in my herb garden!


Swaggering chuck

Buns and chucks and chucks and buns


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Post Semester Thoughts: My Role

My semester is finally over, and I'm still up well before 6am. Apparently, this is my body and my brain's favorite time, and I'll be dedicating myself to writing at this hour so long as they wake me up to do so. I had hoped for a nice, late Thursday morning wakeup (late meaning 7am) in honor of my sudden lack of work (hah! I suppose I could finally do that load of laundry I started last September), but I'm obviously destined to be a sunrise-watcher.

I don't go to Piedmont as often as I'd like, so I'd like to use this blog to consider other nature thoughts.

Yesterday was Earth Day, and I always feel a little bit jaded by its celebration. On the one hand, even one day dedicated to the planet is better than none, and perhaps each Earth Day a few more souls are brought over to the cause. We need those souls. On the other hand, it feels like lip service, the day we all remember to care. It's like folks who go to church on Christmas and Easter.

Don't look at me...I go on Christmas, Easter, and when there's free food. Have you ever tasted church lady biscuits and gravy?

Anyway, Earth Day feels sour to me, and again, I've had a hard time in the last few years seeing the environmental glass as half-full. In fact, rather than the glass I see the Doomsday Clock. On a day to day basis I'm a pretty happy, pleasant person. I look on the bright side, never a Debbie Downer. Except about this subject, because it hurts. The one thing to which I want to devote my life is the biggest, hottest, ugliest mess in human history, and shows signs of ballooning into a series of problems that will make my children's existence unpleasant. And nobody seems to care. Check that. The little people care. Not dwarves; regular people. Well, I'd hope that those with with dwarfism care too, actually. It's a diverse movement. Okay. Many of the Average Joes care.

How will I approach my part in the telling of this story? I don't have the fortitude to be much of a doer, a rally-er, or a screamer. Unfortunately, the man upstairs blessed me with incredibly thin skin, a heart that seems to beat outside of my chest (thereby exposing it to wind, rain, insults, and papercuts, not to mention Sara McLachlan commercials and Facebook posts from the animal shelter). And I was given an ability and desire to write. So that's my angle.

This seems like a simple and natural conclusion. But I'm about to turn 36 years old and only now, in this chair, am I accepting that my duty is to write. As I read the works of Abbey and Muir, and the more contemporary folk too, I feel a great desire to go out west and put my hands in the dirt and run around in the sand adding a physical contribution to the environmental cause. For four years at Eckerd College I prepared for a job with the Everglades Restoration Project. (And you know, I'm still sore that Life screwed me out of that one, despite the fact that it bestowed upon me a husband and two children.) It simply wasn't meant to be. That's not my contribution.

I fight that notion. Oh, certainly I can contribute in other ways. There's no reason to spend my life indoors assuming my pen is my only tool. There will be plenty of adventures, and anything might happen. Any job might come along that would allow me to write and do. I won't rule it out at all. But, my progressing thirties have delivered me a message: I am to write, and that is my weapon of choice. I'll never be a scientist--that's okay, too; I didn't excel when I held a test tube instead of a pen. And happiness doesn't come when we're in a field in which we struggle. I wasn't born to be a scientist. I'll never study the black-footed ferret (at least, not as a scientist....maybe they need an author on their team, though).

It's a cliche to talk about life lessons, but this was a big one. I've been fighting the "writer" path for decades. In high school my favorite English teacher begged me to apply to Kenyon. I refused. In college I was drawn to every environmental course that involved long, research-heavy papers (writing them with glee), and did terribly in Biology, but still failed to see the bigger picture. As recently as two years ago I was preparing to take the GRE to apply to graduate school in Florida and become a marine scientist.

I suck at science. And, though he never used those words, Shawn has been whispering the word "write" in my ear for 13 years. I hate it when Shawn is write. Er, right. Correct.

So why fight the writer path? Is it because, unlike planting Syringodium filoforme (manatee grass...planting involves a snorkel and a day in warm Gulf waters with a bunch of other Siren-lovers), there is no immediate payoff? Is it because I have to let go of my control freakism and trust that my words will reach the ears of people, youth perhaps, who will grow up to plant more manatee grass?

Writing is like parenting. I work my ass off; I fill sippy cups and wipe butts, and then as time passes I go over spelling words and talk about morals and spend money on organic food...and I won't know if I did a good job until my kid grows up to either knock off a liquor store, or doesn't. (Felony larceny being the ultimate litmus test for the successful raising of progeny, of course.) Putting my heart and soul into nature writing is no guarantee that it will spark change, and so I am forced to rely on my very old frenemy, Faith. You tricky concept, you. You terrible burden and wonderful blessing.

All a writer can do is run something up the flagpole and see who salutes it. And regardless of how uncomfortable that is for someone like me, OCD and Type A and overachieving and self-critical, writing is the gift I have been given, the task assigned to me. It brings me joy.

Life Lesson #769: You're a writer. Stop fighting it. This is your weapon in the environmental war.

Geesh. I was all set to sit down this morning and write about the fornicating mallards in my backyard. I'll save that gem for tomorrow.


Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Blog Continues

This is my first post-Nature Writing blog. For the last entry, see "Muddy Floody Rampy Joy", one entry below.

If you've made it this far, congratulations: you're now a reader of my non-academic nature blog. I cannot promise any regularity, nor can I vow to keep every entry Piedmont-centered. Those fornicating ducks in the backyard deserve an entry, after all.

To celebrate being almost-done, the weather threw for me a surprise party consisting of blue sky and 76 degrees. I got up early, I went to the store, I bought s'mores, and I just plain handled these men I live with. There was some uncertainty about an April overnight--it's a lot of work to go out there, not that any of them would know because I do it all--but my noon I had three men and two dogs in the car, and plenty of joie de vivre. I was psyched.

Ben made me put Flo Rida on the stereo on the way out and demanded that it be played on repeat until we arrived. ("Right Round" remix). When this finally happened


I quickly turned it off only to hear his stern little voice say, "Hey! AGAIN!!" Well, that shit doesn't fly in my house, little punker.

It's ramp season in West Virginia and Ohio. I've talked about the so-called "spring leek" before. They're delicious. They smell like a cross between onion and garlic, and they're both pricey and hard to come by in farmers' markets. At the lake, however, we have them growing like crazy.  

Ramps ahoy!


Shawn, being the foodie that he is, has been planning a ramp raid for a year, ever since he (an Ohioan all of his life until we married) learned about the WV tradition. We arrived, we hit the woods, and we dug. His plan was two-fold: we collected both ramps to eat and ramps to transplant back in our yard in a wet, shady spot where we *hope* they will grow. Hope.



I know, I know. Welcome to the gun show.

Yes, there's nothing more badass than a man who goes into
the woods to dig up wild leeks. You crazy, reckless man.

Ironically, whilst we were out hunting for spring leeks, Shawn took a spring leak. I have a photo, but since this is a public blog read by many of my respected peers, I cannot post it. Maybe later, after a glass of wine. In the photo he's peeing on a log, looking over his shoulder at me as I snap the photo. I've been known to do some cruel things to the poor man. For example:



I photoshopped this and put it on our Christmas card one year. And sent it to his boss. And his grandma. There was concern. Anyway, he's a patient man and we celebrate 10 years on April 30th. Amazingly.

On the hike back, I noted many, many trilliums. None had bloomed yet, but the three-leafed flower is unmistakable. (Not to be confused with the 3-leafed state flower of Ohio, the poison ivy.) I was feeling sad that they hadn't bloomed yet, as next weekend is supposed to be terribly cold and I won't have much desire to go out there. Then, I came upon this:


I believe this variety is known as "Stinking Benjamin". Ironic on so many levels.


Red trilliums aren't as common as the white and pink variety. And look at the stripes on the leaves! My God, it's gorgeous. A very delicate flower, it's easily damaged by feet or deer, and it absolutely musn't be picked. Trilliums are becoming rare around here, and this was surrounded by four other flowers of this color. I would see hundreds of trillium plants this weekend, not yet blooming, but only a few red ones, which seem to blossom early. I'm surprised. For years the trilliums have been sparse and we've been worried about them. Whether or not they will actually bloom is a different story.

Back on the deck, Spiderman wasn't having a good time. Ben has a thing about throwing his toys. And rocks. And his shoes. And his food.

Stinking Benjamin...


While Shawn and Andy fished, Ben and I went for a paddle. It was a nightmare. He insisted we bring his Spiderman pole, which I felt very nervous about considering how little grasp he has on the idea that there is a sharp hook at the end. Several times it almost went into my hand. And then, as we paddled, I managed to get it hooked in a tree. I saved the pole and the bobber, but the hook is forever lost in a bush.



Plus, who the hell can fish with this following your boat? She gets very concerned when she cannot make physical contact with her children, and I had one of them in my boat. So, she swam along with us, make sure that not a single bass or bluegill came anywhere near our bait. The German Shepherd has the biggest heart in the animal kingdom. She'd take a bullet for these children. 



And then it all went to hell. As I switched kids and paddled with Andy instead, I caught sight of Nugget on the shore with one leg tucked up, limping very severely. And I knew without even looking that she had a hook in her. This has never happened before, but then, we've never been stupid enough to fish with two little boys before. In fact, we couldn't find the hook for the longest time because it was entirely in her leg. The eyelet was sticking up and the rest of the hook, which had a total of three barbs (two on the shank), was fully buried. It was as bad as it could possibly be. I loaded the poor dog up, told the men I'd see them before bed, hopefully, and drove the dog back to Wheeling (an hour). On the ride she didn't utter a peep, but lay as still as death on the floor of the car, so still in fact that I had to poke her from time to time. 

I had intentions of sharing the story of the hook with you, but I'll condense it to a $775 bill and a very, very sad dog with a lampshade on her head. As she woke up from the anesthesia (it was bad enough to require surgery) I could hear her in the back, crying. At that point I would have bagged the weekend but the children were desperate to have the first overnight of the season, and so I drove a third hour back out to the lake with poor, poor Nugget, coned and sorrowful.

When I arrived, the kids had been fighting for hours and their father was cantankerous about it. Andy had admitted to leaving his pole lying on the ground and not knowing where his hook had gone. And Ben had kicked his brand new shoe into the woods and it was lost. He owned the shoe for 24 hours before it vanished into the Piedmont jungle. 

 Oh, and they hated the ramps.



It was a long night with Lamp Dog, who couldn't navigate doorways too well. At 5am I got up to pee, and Shawn got up to pee, and we let the girls out to pee. And then Shawn walked face-first into a door. I laughed so hard, and there's a bit of a dent in his head.

At 7am I gave up on sleep and stumbled out looking like this.

Ye Gods....that's awful.


Spiderman spent a quiet night on the roof. I refuse to get him down. There was a great chorus of "Andy threw my Spiderman on the roof!" followed by an echoing answer of "Ben told me to!" Screw Spiderman. Have a nice summer up there, buddy. 

Spiderman on the garage roof

Before anyone else woke up, I made my way back down to the lake, and stopped to see the trillium again. It struck me as the most gorgeous thing in the world, as though I would never see anything like it in this lifetime again. A forest angel.

I have yet to find a photo online of stripey leaves.

I had a second (third?) cup of joe down on the dock and watched the sun climb a bit. The wind had shifted from north to east, signaling an incoming front. Not a single fish was anywhere to be seen. They don't bite upon arrival of a cold front, ever. Toughest fishing in the world. That, and a full moon.

Guess in which decade my parents bought this mug? 


So instead I went back into the woods, in part to look for that damn shoe. And I went back to the frog pond, which is no longer a vernal pool but rather a puddle of muck. And behold, I encountered a vast wilderness of uncurling baby ferns. Hundreds. What a miraculous way to enter this world.


And the may apples are opening. 


And a white trillium is growing in, of all places, the dirt above the septic tank.


Last night, and yesterday, were a disaster. So terribly stressful. All I wanted was to escape Wheeling for a weekend, and find some inspiration for the final revision of my final paper. I've learned the hard way that sitting in front of the laptop all day and waiting for the words to come is a waste of time. They'll come when they come, and they're more apt to do so when I've had an experience out in nature. Well, I had a fucking experience out in nature. On four separate occasions I asked Shawn if we could just bag the overnight and go home, back to the internet and the paper waiting for me and the real world. I am so glad I didn't bag it. I slept with the windows open, with very cool air wafting over me, huddled under several blankets, wearing my mom's pajamas from 1983. This morning it was serene, and everyone had simmered down and was quiet and contemplative (except Ben, who discovered that the word "vagina" has a lovely echo when thrown into the woods against a birch stand). Nugget regained her strength, Maya hiked with me and found a ball. I saw a few deer in the woods (they're far more shy than our backyard deer), and found so many trilliums, and ferns, and may apples that my heart leaped, if you'll excuse the cliche. 

And I found myself terribly, terribly grateful for the blog assignment of this past semester. The patches of woods where I've been walking...I've been staring at them from the deck for 36 years, but because of the summer poison ivy and thorns I've never walked in them. I've stuck to the rough paths. This year I've been over every inch of those patches (mostly looking for a 4-year-old's Star Wars Croc) and seen new streams forming new ravines, and strange moss, and weirdo holes and funky fungi. I love April out there! I had no idea what was in the woods in April. It's the most amazing time of the year, when everything creeps back in, starting as a green carpet in sunny patches. 

We found the damn shoe under the bed.