The Meaning of Progress

8 02 2016

I know I keep stating the obvious — our home lives have changed drastically since the September move, but this weekend was a marked example of some of the ways in which a little bit of crazy can bring a whole lot of good.

Saturday our friends, Laurie, Trevor and their son, Cameron, came for a visit early in the day while Gwen and Kaherdin were off with friends over the hill. We gave Laurie and Trevor a tour of the house and property then ended our visit at one of our favorite haunts, Olita’s, a Mexican restaurant on the wharf in Santa Cruz. After a nice lunch, we made our goodbyes and Danae and I continued south toward Watsonville.  We had made plans with Hilario (one of the men who worked on our house) to pick up some firewood from his property.

Hilario, a framing specialist, had spent many hours in my house from the very first days of the remodel. I was always taken by his friendly demeanor — polite, quick with a laugh or a smile — and over time we shared stories with each other about our houses, our kids. Hilario shared that he lived in a rented mobile home that he had put some work into. On his last day of work here he was taken by all the progress that had been made (by other workers and by us) and was really liking the way the house had come together. He wanted to share with me pictures of a new addition he’d made to his home — a hearth and mantle where he put a wood stove given to him by his cousin. I’d heard about this wood stove. The first winter Hilario and his family moved into this place, the family had to huddle in the living room under blankets and still couldn’t keep warm. The addition of this stove, along with insulation and sheet rock work Hilario had done on the place, had made the home not only livable, but comfortable. I was excited to see it.

Riding in what we call “the goat van” is always an experience. It smells like hay and goat and in all the winter months it has been sitting under the shade of the trees, it has developed quite a collection of mold colonies throughout. It’s gross. And, truly, I am never certain if turning on the heat or air conditioning is actually worth the agitation of mold spores. Thankfully, Saturday was gorgeous — sunny and warm to the point where rolling down the windows was really the only option.

We pulled off highway 1 and began making our way east on little roads — following directions in the very British sounding voice that Kaherdin had chosen for Danae’s phone. The road ran along several marshes before we came to a road called “Elkhorn” and I realized that we were on the back end of the slough. I have kayaked Elkhorn Slough any number of times and have always enjoyed the myriad of birds, otters and other wildlife that come with a paddle along that waterway. Here we were at the outer end of it noting that beyond the popular part of the preserve, there are still many bird species resting in the marshes. It was beautiful.

The British voice told us we were reaching our destination — a cluster of mobile homes on a hillside — many with the same official address. We pulled into the parking area of a couple of homes where an older Mexican man was sitting out front in a chair. Danae got out and asked him in Spanish where we could find Hilario. I really do love it when she speaks Spanish. It’s almost like, in those moments, I enjoy my own ignorance of the language. I can understand a lot of Spanish, and can speak a little, but I lack the confidence to even try most of the time. Danae just busts out with it and I guess her abilities and confidence make me feel taken care of. And, of course, as an introvert, I never really want to be the one to ask anyone anything anyway, so it works out.

The man pointed us up the hill and said that Hilario was the last house on the left. We got back in the car and drove up a bit and there I recognized Hilario’s tan Honda. His three boys were washing the car. I was immediately in love with the place. I think my kids have washed my car once — years ago — but seeing these kids enjoying the process of the chore made me feel transported back to my own childhood when I used to wash my mother’s and grandfather’s cars.

We greeted the boys and one ran around back to get his dad. Hilario came out and greeted us then he invited us into his home — excited to show me the mantle. I’ve never actually set foot in a mobile home before and I was taken aback by how it really felt no different from a conventional home on the inside. It was small, but comfortable. And Hilario’s mantle was adorned with multiple pictures of each of his sons. I could see the work he had put into the place. Insulation, sheet rock, rain gutters, windows — he’d made it better for he and his family. Outside he showed us where he’d cut the hillside back to make a flat space outside his back door. Then he showed us the wood — eucalyptus. He explained that the tree had a huge branch that hung directly over the home. The landlord had the tree trimmed and left the wood on site to use for burning. The front of the property was rolling hillside studded with oak, manzanita and eucalyptus. In many ways it felt idyllic to me.

“Do your sons climb the trees?” I asked. We are not short on trees where we are, but climbing redwoods is better left to the professionals.

He pointed to one of the oaks. “Yes, they do like to climb that one.”

He went to get his chainsaw and began cutting pieces down to size for us. Eventually his saw ran out of fuel and he had trouble starting it up again.

“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “We have a chainsaw, we can cut the pieces down.”

“Do you want me to show you how to split a log,” Hilario asked.

Suddenly I felt like we were on a reality TV show. This was one of those “experience” scenes set up by the producers.

“Sure,” I said, as though my contract for the show obligated me to do so.

Hilario went and got his wood splitting maul. He showed us the difference between a splitting axe, which flares out behind the blade, and a chopping axe, which doesn’t.

He raised the axe above his head and came down close to the outer edge of the log. Eucalyptus, he told us, is nearly impossible to split toward the center. The fibers in the wood do not run straight, which makes it more difficult to split. He broke off several perfectly sized split logs for us before getting tired.

“Do you want to try,” Hilario asked. Again, like a reality TV show.

We both laughed, knowing full well we would provide nothing more than entertainment. In the show, this would be the part where Danae and I start bickering, or where one of us gets hurt.

“You try,” I said to Danae.

Always the sport, she went for it with little success. We agreed that we were not going to split anymore logs today.

Danae, Hilario and I began loading whatever would fit into the van before the tow hitch was close to bottoming out.

Hilario picked up huge pieces — long, with the circumference of telephone poles — and loaded them into the car, as Danae and I picked up what we could. Eucalyptus is an incredibly dense and heavy wood and is not popular for burning in this area due to the fact that it creates build up much more quickly in your stovepipe than other woods such as oak or almond. Still, we like it. The eucalyptus doesn’t ash as much as oak, and the logs (being that they are so dense) last much longer and give off a lot more heat.

Running a continual fire all winter has done more than give us a nice visual point for morning tea or an evening glass of wine, it has kept the air in the house just dry enough to combat the moisture in the air outside. This house, which was riddled with mold when we bought it, now doesn’t have a spore in sight. And while the propane heaters are effective on some level, on a very cold night, the heater in the living room doesn’t stand a chance of getting the room up above sixty degrees. The wood stove keeps the house between 68-72, which is perfect.

As I brought load after load of wood up to the van I began to laugh. What the hell are we doing? I imagined what our new life would look like to anyone from the outside that hasn’t watched the progression over the last five years (let alone the past five months). Why get goats when you can buy milk at the store? Why move to a house where your supply of gas and water are your responsibility and where you don’t have a seemingly unlimited supply? Why leave a comfortable existence in the suburbs and exchange it for work work and more work? To someone it would be more like a regression than progression.

The question calls to mind the 2011 documentary “Surviving Progress.” If you haven’t seen it, you should. In the film, Ronald Wright describes predicaments he calls “progress traps.” An example would be the Ice Age hunter who learned how to effectively take down a mammoth. Progress. Then Ice Age hunters learned how to take down two at a time. Progress. Eventually, they figured out that you could cause a herd of mammoths to stampede, running hundreds of them over a cliff face at one time so you could feed your entire clan for a year or more. Progress trap, because now there are no more mammoths to make more mammoths and once you finish all the meat you have, you’re pretty much screwed.

This describes so much of what is going on on planet earth today. We feel that because we CAN make things more complex, that we SHOULD do so. That if we can make something less work, that we should do so. We continually applaud ourselves for each and every quality that qualifies us as “civilized”.  And yet, in an age where first world people have more stuff and more opportunity (whatever that means) than they ever have, we have more people quietly suffering in private. People depressed, scared, uncertain of their own purpose.

Yesterday was another gorgeous February day. Danae and I decided we would go up to the top of the hill and work on constructing the new chicken run. We have been saying for months that we are going to do this, then priorities shift and the materials just sit where we originally deposited them.

Friday night I had taught Kaherdin how to make crepes, just the way my Hungarian almost-mother-in-law had taught me back in the days when Daniel and I were still together. Kaherdin picked it up instantly and made batch after batch of crepes. His crepes are slightly golden and thin. Perfect. He made breakfast crepes for all of us — to order. Goat cheese blintzes, dankles, whatever you want. We ate a leisurely breakfast then Danae asked what the kids should do for the day.

“They’re coming with us,” I said. “Helping us with the chicken run will be their chore for the day.”

My kids had chores on Garden Street, but it was hit or miss whether they got done. And, quite frankly, the chores we gave them were easy enough to do ourselves that we never really fought with them about getting them done. It is different here. There is more work, and that work HAS to get done. The way we ask them to help is now more out of necessity and team work than out of a middle class notion that kids should have chores. The kids now stack wood, sweep the floors, feed the animals, load and unload the dishwasher…

“I think we need to start teaching them,” I continued. “What good is all of the know how we’ve collected over the years if we don’t pass it on?”

Danae agreed.

At the top of the hill both kids asked, “What’s my job?”

I told Kaherdin that I was waiting for Danae to bring up the chainsaw, that I wanted to thin out a couple of spots on the property where baby trees had sprouted up over the past decade.

“I can take them down,” Kaherdin said.

“How do you propose to do that,” I asked.

“I’ll go get the axe.”

Kaherdin bounded down the trail back to the house then, a few minutes later, returned with a huge chopping axe that I had bought a couple months back.

“Which one do you want me to chop down,” he asked.

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of his enthusiasm, but I ran with it.

“This one,” I said, pointing to a young Douglas Fir.

He began chopping away at it and, as is Kaherdin’s way, his body began to show him how to use the tool. He worked for the better part of a half hour without stopping before he needed a break.

“Do you want me to finish up,” I asked.

“No,” he said. “I want to know what it’s like to chop down a whole tree.”

He took the axe back up and it wasn’t long before he tipped it with his hand and yelled, “Timber!”

After a short break he said, “Any more trees you need cut down? This is one of my chores now, unwanted plant removal.”

I was shocked, amazed and impressed, but not nearly as much as I was when, by the end of the day, he had chopped down no fewer than five trees all with an axe, all under his own power.

Gwennie worked with the drill to drive screws into the posts and post stakes that make up the perimeter of the chicken run. It was tedious and it was difficult — particularly because we have an incredibly torquey drill.

When I asked her, “Do you want me to finish up,” she said, “No, I’m going to try a different way.”

Before now I would have categorized both of my kids as quitters. As people of little substance. But what we have given them, a wealth of responsibility, has put just enough weight on their shoulders to keep them grounded. And, by sharing my dream of what we can make here under our own power, that wealth of responsibility brings with it a wealth of possibility. They can see more clearly the relationship between hard work and a different kind of progress — not the figurative kind where you can afford the cooler, shinier gadgets, or the home that could easily be in a Restoration Hardware catalog, but the kind that shows the direct cause and effect between hard work and a better, more literal quality of life.

This mountain house will never be the model home that so many strive to have for show, but it is enough. And enough is the thing to strive for.

We stopped work around 1:30 for lunch, then Danae and I returned to the hilltop on our own to resume work. Once again, the chicken run did not get finished. Instead I worked on chopping the downed trees with the chainsaw, while Danae loaded the cut pieces into the Polaris to bring back down the hill. We finished one, then moved to a different section to work on some others. My back was getting sore from maneuvering the heavy saw, but I was game to keep on going. I positioned myself in a spot where I could get maybe five good cuts in a row then, on the fifth cut, I pulled the saw toward me and rested it on my leg unconsciously. The chain ripped through my pants and for a moment I was afraid to see what other damage might be done.

Danae gasped and ran for me, “Turn it off! Shut it off! Are you ok? Are you ok?” She was screaming, her panic more urgent than usual.

Just a week before we had learned of the death of our friend, Sharon. Sharon was 51, just five years older than I am. Both her kids went through school with Gwen. By all accounts she was fine, until last Saturday when she wasn’t. Her death was sudden and unexpected. The details of her passing have left many in our school community, as well as Sharon’s larger community, on the one hand feeling the loss of her beautiful spirit while grasping for their partners and checking their overall health and well being with the other.

Sharon’s passing was the source of more than a couple of nighttime panic attacks for me, during one of which I awoke unable to breathe and feeling an inordinate amount of pressure around my heart. I was certain I was about to die and began screaming, “No, oh God, no!” I woke Gwen, who was sleeping in the room with me. She was frightened, so I calmed her then went out on the sofa where Danae was reading. It took the better part of a half hour to stop shaking.

I know for Danae and I, the greatest loss we feel is on behalf of Sharon’s children. We have both been imagining — perhaps too deeply — the pain they might be experiencing that we hope our children never have to experience.

I gently widened the hole where the saw had cut in. Blood was slowly coming to the surface, but the cut was as minor as it could be considering the damage that could have been done.

Danae gently grabbed the chainsaw from me. “We’re done for the day. We need to just be finished now.”

She knows me. Had she not taken the saw from my hands, I would have insisted we continue.

“OK, I said. You’re right. Reason number 572 why I don’t use the chainsaw when you’re not home.”

We walked out of the small grove onto the logging road and over to the goat barn.

“You know,” Danae started, “We really need a bench up here. Somewhere where we can just sit and enjoy the space.”

“You know the view I like up here?” I walked toward the back of the hilltop, close to where we had been cutting wood then turned around. Before me, green hilltop, with the chickens in their coop at the back. We would move them soon enough and would begin transforming this space into a massive garden.

“Hold on,” Danae said. She grabbed a concrete pier and brought it over. Then another. Then she grabbed a plank of scrap wood and put it across the two. “There,” she said, “now you have your bench and your view. Sit with me.”

We sat down on the make-shift bench and looked out over the hilltop.

“This is where I want a yurt or a travel trailer,” I said. “And in front of that, a deck. And in front of that, a pool. And in front of that, an abundant garden.”

It is in moments like these when I feel like a child again. I have enough space to dream and I can teach my kids to be dreamers. And, at the end of a day of really hard work, that cup of tea or that glass of wine in front of that fire made from the wood that I cut, tastes that much better.

I have what I need, and it is enough. And that, in and of itself, is progress.

 

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The Question of Character

22 01 2016

A few weeks ago, Kaherdin’s class was slated to go on a rather sadistic field trip to an old sailing ship, the Balclutha, in San Francisco. The ship was built in 1886 and now serves as an on-the-water classroom for children to learn about such ships and about the difficult ways of sea faring life. I say sadistic because Gwen had the same teacher, Mike, and went on this field trip when she was in fifth grade. Danae acted as a chaperone, so saw first hand the “character building” activities that took place.

Once on the ship, children are not allowed to speak to or make eye contact with the chaperones. Chaperones are there solely for the purpose of maintaining safety (according to Danae, this did not prevent two children from walking off the ship unattended and into a public restroom in a San Francisco parking lot without telling anyone where they were going). If your child gives you a hug or blows you a kiss, for instance, they must walk around carrying a heavy bucket of water repeating, “I will not break the rules.” The chaparones and the children are also awakened at all hours to swab the deck, prepare breakfast or hoist the main sail, while the teacher sleeps comfortably and quietly in his private room. Gwen’s detail, swabbing the deck, had she and her group up in the freezing cold, swabbing the deck at two in the morning, which meant Danae, too was up, standing around in the cold not making eye contact with our child.

Not only is this field trip sadistic and expensive, but I believe that some of the lessons it sets out to teach fall short. Namely, character building. Take a bunch of wealthy Palo Alto children away from their comfortable homes and video games for one night and what does it accomplish outside of suffering for the sake of novelty?

We opted Kaherdin out of the trip. My boy subsists on hugs. I cannot imagine sending my little sugar coated introvert into such an environment and expecting him to get anything positive out of it. That day he stayed home with me running errands and having lunch on the beach. At moments, I questioned my decision to keep him home. Was I giving him the easy way out? Or was I taking a stand, protecting his sensibilities.

We came home and I asked him to help carry wood from the wood pile up onto the deck to stack in the rack. He did so gladly. The effort he exerted to pick up those large, dense hunks of eucalyptus and bring them, step by step, up to the deck caught my notice.

Character is not something you gain from an overnight field trip, it is something built from a way of life, a way of being, a code that is learned and passed down. In my adult life I have struggled with my own lack of strong character. I was raised to worry about what other people think and this left me unsure of my own values. So much of my life has been lived in reaction to or in anticipation of the perception of others. The voices of these others in my head has often overshadowed my own voice and, in many cases, has even caused me to act in opposition to those voices — much like a naughty child — to the point of acting against my own conscience. It has only been recently (the past few years) that I have truly been able to separate the voices of others from my own to the point where I have been able to clearly define my own values and peel back the layers to reveal what it is that I am made of.

One of the motivating factors of moving here, to the Santa Cruz Mountains, came from a realization that I had last year, while watching my kids slack off on the sofa. Even asking them to break away from TV or video games to come to the table for dinner was asking too much. They only did chores if they named the price for which they would work, and if they felt they had enough money for themselves, they would flat out refuse to do what I asked of them. I stood in the kitchen looking at my kids and realized that they lacked structure and guidance much in the ways I lacked such things when I was their age. Don’t get me wrong, as a child my physical needs were accounted for, but my mother admits now that she thought we would all be self-motivated and take care of ourselves. She, too, needed to raise her voice and threaten to get any of us to help out around the house. History was repeating itself on my living room sofa. This was a moment I have never heard any of my peers speak about, the uh oh moment when you realize that you’ve screwed up your kids. This was going to take a lot of undoing. For all of us.

Around the same time, the rains started. Danae, the kids and I were headed out to Santa Cruz when we saw a truck stopped in the middle of our road. At first I thought the driver wanted me to pull over so he could pass, so I pulled into the nearest turnout and waited. He didn’t move.

Danae said, “I think he has hay in the back of his truck. Maybe he lost a bale.” She got out of the car and went to see what was going on.

It was our neighbor, Dave Roberts. A huge oak branch had fallen and was blocking the road. Another neighbor (Chris?) pulled up behind Dave’s truck. At this point I got out of the car, too. Dave had the branch attached to ropes and had dragged it a short distance to a place where the branch could be safely deposited. Dave, Danae, Chris and I gathered all of our strength and lifted the branch to the side of the road. It felt good to help.

Dave thanked us for our assistance, then filled us in on the work he’d done on the road. The private, dirt road portion of Love Creek operates informally. Each of the fifteen houses pays a yearly maintenance fee to Dave based on where they are situated and therefore how much of the road they actually use. We are the first house on the road, so we pay the least. Bradd has the last house on the road, so he pays the most. Dave has the tractor and the know-how and does an excellent job keeping the road in good shape.

“I wanted to talk to you about something,” Dave said. “There is a culvert beneath the seasonal creek next to your house. We are all counting on you to keep that clear so we don’t have any problems this winter.”

Danae and I both said, of course, we would stay on top of that.

Dave was polite, but I could tell he was not really trusting what we were saying.

“I notice the seasonal creek has a bunch of branches and leaves in it. It needs to be cleared out. If we get a lot of rain, that stuff will wash right down and block the culvert, flooding the road, and then we’ll have big problems.”

“OK,” Danae said, “we’ll clear it out and make sure it’s in good shape.”

We made our good byes and went on with our day. That afternoon it started to rain. Danae put on her mucking boots and went down to the culvert. When I came out to join her, she said it looked good. Nothing was blocking it and water was draining from the culvert down to Love Creek. We felt satisfied.

A couple of weeks went by, as did several rainy days, but now a big storm was coming. I was home and it was raining when the phone rang. It was Dave.

“First of all,” he said, “I want to wish you a happy new year.”

Suddenly I felt like I had been called to the principal’s office.

“Happy new year to you, as well,” I said. “What’s up?”

“Well,” Dave continued, “I wanted to see if maybe we had a misunderstanding.”

“About what,” I asked.

“Well, you said you would clean out that creek and I still see a bunch of branches and leaves.”

“Oh, no worries,” I said, “Danae went out and checked, the culvert is clear. Everything is fine.”

His voice became a little more frantic, “If we get six inches of rain, all of that will break loose and if that creek floods, it could wash out the road.”

I paused. “So you’re saying it needs to be cleared back quite a bit.”

“Yes,” he said. “I’ve never been on your property, but I can see a little bridge going across the creek. It should be cleared back to there.”

“Oh,” I said. “Yeah, it looks as though that creek hasn’t been cleared out in decades.” Which was true. Beyond the bridge that he was speaking about, and beyond the second bridge up by our water tank, there is so much debris that you can’t even tell that there is a creek there. I had wondered if clearing this creek was something we should do. It was something I’ve wanted to do, if only because it would look nicer. It just hadn’t been on the priority list. Until now. I could hear myself trying to lay the blame on Joanne for a total lack of maintenance on the property.

Dave was silent.

“I have to go to the post office,” I said, “and when I get back I’ll start working on it.”

“I can help you,” he said. “I can come whenever I have time and we can work on it together…”

“That’s sweet of you to offer,” I said. “Dave, you have my word, I will do this today.”

There it was, laid out on the table, I had given my word. Never in my life have those words left my mouth. Sure, I’ve made promises and such, who doesn’t, but somehow giving my word felt serious, more formal. It felt amazing. A new way of being and perceiving. Personal responsibility.

I skipped the post office and went straight into the bedroom and changed into some work clothes. I put on a rain slicker and my waterproof hiking boots, gathered a pitch fork and a shovel and set to work. I had never been IN the seasonal creek. There were a lot of leaves and twigs, which I cleared and tossed over the banks of Love Creek (Dave said it was fine to do this as detritus builds over time to create land). I threw branches like javelins toward the road as I worked my way back in the creek. The bigger branches (oak mostly) I stacked in one of our parking spaces to break down into fire wood. I got back to the point where there was a pool of water beneath a waterfall where I dug up the brain case of a large animal. The work felt good, as did keeping my word. I found myself working harder, wanting to get the job done before the next time Dave drove by.

There are so many things we take for granted in the suburbs — road maintenance, natural gas lines, water (not only the supply of it being continuous, but also the filtration and treatment of it). Our biggest responsibility if a tree falls in the road in the suburbs is to call someone and tell them to come and take care of it. Here, our one lane road is private property, and therefore our responsibility. We all generate our own water through wells and springs. If we use propane, it is stored in tanks that need to be filled and maintained.

I had to get out of the creek and approach from behind the waterfall. I got the chainsaw, which I had never powered up cold on my own before, and fired it right up. It felt amazing. I walked down toward the creek and had a sudden overwhelming feeling of embarrassment when I realized that the branches Dave had been referring to were not from Joanne’s neglect, they were from the dead wooding of the redwoods that we’d had done a couple of months before. I began sawing the larger branches into smaller pieces that I stacked to dry out for next year’s firewood. I managed to clear all of the branches over the creek and cut wood until the chainsaw ran out of fuel. I had cleared the creek back to the first bridge. I was cold, wet and sore, but I felt great having gotten it done. I walked up higher to the second bridge to survey my work and to see what more could be done another day. With all the rain we had gotten I decided to put my ear up to the tank to hear if there was even a trickle coming from the spring, which had dried up days after we moved in. There was more than a trickle, the spring had sprung! I screamed out in delight and immediately texted Danae to let her know that our days of sucking 4-5 minutes out of the well 2-3 times a day were over. The water tank was literally overflowing into the seasonal creek. We would celebrate with long showers.

Kaherdin’s teacher, the one who takes the kids on the overnight field trip on the ship, is someone who places great emphasis on character and personal responsibility. This is, in part, due to the tenets of an Ohlone Education, but Mike has always taken it just a little bit farther, perhaps spending more time on the subject and broadening the kids’ mindfulness through exercises in conflict resolution (part of every day’s afternoon class meeting) and in teaching the kids to try and understand and be accepting of differing opinions. It is the depth of the social/emotional training that Kaherdin receives at Ohlone that made me not want to transfer him over to San Lorenzo Valley right away. We watched Gwen languish through elementary school with issues of bullying and being teased, only to take off like a rocket in middle school largely in part to Mike’s compassion and attention to her specific needs (both social and academic). If you were to ask me the first thing I admire about Mike, I would say his strength of character. That is why it was not only shocking, but heartbreaking last week to learn that he had been arrested for sexual assault on a child (stemming back to one particular child — his then girlfriend’s daughter — ten years ago). There are many pieces to the story that don’t add up to those of us who know, or think we know this man.

The allegations surfaced a year and a half ago, when the alleged victim told her story to her therapist, who then was obligated to report the story to authorities. I’m sure Mike was notified and questioned repeatedly during the past 18 months. I had commented to Danae at the beginning of the year that Mike looked weathered, older, burdened. He was struggling with the accusations privately, as was his way — never sharing too much of his personal life — up until the day he told the class he was going home sick at lunch before quietly driving himself to the police station to self-surrender.

The response from the community, as anyone can imagine, is mixed. Some are reserving judgment, understanding that false allegations are not uncommon, and are poised to wait and see what the justice system brings forth. Others have rushed to judgment out of fear (and likely fueled by the superintendent’s inappropriate and inflammatory personal editorials on the subject). The incident has only deepened my examination of the subject of character.

How we, as a community, treat this situation, sets the example for our children. Seeing some rush to the assumption of Mike’s guilt contradicts one of the tenets of our society’s legal system, innocent until proven guilty. Rushing to judgment due to the superintendent’s inflammatory e-mail and/or the media’s sinking it’s fangs into the story gives the illusion that real lives are not at stake here, that this is just a series of episodes in a low level reality TV show.

For those who are so quick to condemn, I ask this question, what if it were you who stood accused of the very same actions? I can hear the response, “But that’s ME. I would never do those types of things.”

As far as I can tell, neither would Mike.

And while the details and testimony remain to be seen, I still wonder what the point is in leading a life of integrity and leading children through the example of strong character and personal responsibility if, in a heartbeat, one person can point a finger and suddenly all of that is forgotten in favor of believing the worst.

I cannot control what others think or feel, but I can discuss this subject with my children, who are heartbroken and believe wholeheartedly in Mike’s innocence. Do I want to put two people in the world who are fearful and suspicious? Or do I want to put two people into the world who trust their instincts and judge a person based on what that person has shown them? I choose the latter. I would rather bet on the horse that I know. And I would rather my children be raised in an environment of compassion and not fear. If Mike were put back in the classroom tomorrow, I would put both my kids there without question. As the parent support counselor said, these allegations do not negate the relationship you or your children had with this man, nor do they negate the fact that he was an amazing teacher.

In a parent support meeting this week, there was one parent who talked of how her son has been repeatedly let down by the men in his life. This was just one more time. Another mother said her daughter has said she never wants anything to do with Mike ever again. This mother went so far as to say that the school should not put another male teacher in Mike’s place because it would be too traumatizing to her daughter. These women are prime examples of parents who have tainted their children’s world view. Did Mike let the first mother’s son down? If the accusation proves to be false, then no. But if she is flavoring this experience in that way, he stands to always feel let down and abandoned by Mike, regardless of the legal outcome. As for the second mother (who I think was in danger of getting jumped in the parking lot by several of us for her negative and inflammatory comments), the conclusions that she attributes to her daughter are, in fact, her own. No ten year old comes to that place without being coached that Mike is 100% guilty. I feel sorry for these kids. The entire class is in shock and mourning. We, as parents, should be helping them through this difficult time, leading them gently through examples of how to behave as a community and as a society.

The one mom who would have us avoid all males as teachers since, according to her, they may feel suspect to her daughter, fails to consider the message that might send to our sons. I almost feel as though it might be more important to put a male in the classroom in order to negate that way of thinking.

Unlike the Balclutha, this is not a field trip. This is not pretend, but it is an exercise in character. These are the moments that build a life. Fear and avoidance, anger and outcry. Compassion and patience, intuition and understanding. Which way would you choose?

 

 

 





Taking Care…Being Care

18 12 2015

Last week marked the last day of having workers in the house on a daily basis, but to say that the remodel is finished would be something beyond optimistic, it would be flat out wrong. There is still SO much left to do. Yesterday, one week after the last workers spent their final day here, Hilario came back to install the downdraft on the new stove, a task that couldn’t be done last week because the manufacturer forgot to put the motor in the unit. Today Rich will come to measure the counter tops for granite. Then, of course, we’ll have to pick out our slabs and schedule the install. But beyond THAT, there is STILL so much left to do that will be on me and Danae to finish up — tiling the kitchen, painting, laying hardwood floor in the master bedroom, unpacking the boxes that seem to be multiplying like bunnies on the back driveway.

Saturday we are having family over for a holiday celebration. This will be their first viewing of the house. I am asking them to bring their muck raking shoes and their imaginations. While I am asking them for their understanding in regards to the state of things, and while I want to make a nice gathering for them, I am not seeking their approval or validation for our decision to move here. This stands in stark contrast to where I was even three months ago when I wanted everyone to see and feel what I saw and felt here.

Our realtor and friend, Bradd, told us when we wrote the offer on this house back in June, that once we moved here, everything else would feel like madness. He was right. In no way did I doubt what he was saying at the time, but how could I have entered into the deep understanding and breadth of what he meant before I actually spent time here? There is something about a life among the trees, and living in a very small town that can transform you in the most positive of ways.

Aside from the fact that driving over the mountain now stresses me out — the yellow air, the congestion on roadways (and not just at rush hour anymore), the entitlement of the drivers — there is just a warmth and genuineness that accompanies every transaction here that is less common over the hill. Here, at the Ben Lomond Market, check out might take you an extra five minutes because the cashier notices you are buying artichoke and wants to share a recipe for the perfect aioli. The manager of the lumber yard will let you walk off with a $90 piece of equipment to borrow without even taking down your name, or will give you a hands-on tutorial on how to start your chainsaw when you are unable to get it started on your own. People care here and we have heard over and over again, this is a small valley, no one is going to screw you over because you’re going to run into them at the grocery store at some point and they want you to be happy to see them. And it IS a small valley. The valley is made up of four small towns, one of which, Brookdale, has a population nearly identical to the number of students that attend Palo Alto High School (1,991). Felton comes in next at 4,057 — roughly the same as the population of both Palo Alto high schools combined — with Boulder Creek coming in at 4,923,  and Ben Lomond tipping the scales with a whopping 6,234 residents. The entire valley sports a population that is a mere quarter the population of Palo Alto. The population of East Palo Alto, where we moved from, is 4.5 times that of our current town, Ben Lomond. The change is staggering.

Even your definitions change. No matter which direction we look in, we cannot see another house. It might be as much as 1/2 a mile in any direction before we might encounter another actual residence. This drastically changes what the word “neighbor” means to us. Suddenly, it’s not just a word to describe people who live in houses directly next to or across the street from us, but rather it now describes the fifteen houses that sit on or off of the dirt road portion of our road. And, just like you cannot choose your family of origin, these people instantly became “our” people. We view them differently than we would even the people that inhabited the house just 100 feet away from us on Garden Street.

These are the people you have pot lucks with when the power is out for three days. These are the people you work with when a tree falls and blocks the road. Or, as happened the other day, these are the people you go to when another neighbor needs help.

On my way to the post office, I encountered a white minivan in the middle of the road. As it wasn’t moving, and as it was stopped just along side a turnout on the one lane road, I assumed he wanted me to pull forward into the turnout so he could pass, so I did. He didn’t move. The driver was an old mountain man — slow moving, full white beard. I couldn’t pass, as in front of me were two piles of gravel for grading the road. I looked in front of the minivan and saw a viscous fluid covering the ground. First thought: did he hit an animal? Second thought: He’s leaking something. I rolled down the window and asked him if that was coming from his car. He looked upset and confused.

“I can’t go anywhere,” he said.

“Ok,” I said, “let me see what I can do.”

I got out of my car and walked around his to see if it would be possible for me to use my car to nudge him into the turnout. I walked back to my car and touched my grill. Plastic.  There was no way I could push him without cracking my grill. Suddenly Noel pulled up in his full sized Dodge Ram. I ran up to him and filled him in.

“Would you be able to push him with your truck,” I asked.

Suddenly I felt badly. I didn’t know this man’s name and could not remember if I had met him before.

Noel got out of his truck to assess the situation. By this point the man was maneuvering the car slightly by pushing backwards with his foot.

I turned to Noel, “Let’s see if we can push him into the turnout.”

Noel and I got behind the minivan and gave it all we had. We could get him parallel with the beginning of the turnout, but getting him in it presented a slight uphill that we were unable to conquer. We pushed the van back farther than it was before, the man steering at the wheel, and then tried from a different angle. Noel and I were unable to do it on our own. We pushed the van back again to a point where the road was carefully passable. Noel suggested he go back to his property and grab a couple of his guys to help. In order to turn around, he needed my car to be gone, so I squeezed past the van and went on my way to the post office. When I returned, no more than five minutes later, the van was in the turnout, the man (who I now know is Ed) was gone and Noel was on his way out toward town. My guess is that he ended up using his truck to nudge the car and another vehicle (caretakers for an elderly resident on the road) likely gave Ed a ride back to his house.

While my help really didn’t offer any solution to Ed’s dilemma, only effort and support, it is not typically “me” to jump out and act in this way. Living in a bigger city it is easy to assume that someone else will come along and help — someone with more time, more ability, more patience. What has happened though is that it has become “me” to want to help, and not just Ed, but everyone. It has become a true pleasure forming cordial, yet warm connections with people simply by holding the door for them, yielding to them on the road, or taking the time to listen to the cashier that had a horrible fight with her husband the night before. Life here is simpler, slower and, in those things, seemingly more meaningful.

Is our house a show house that will impress people when they walk in? Probably not. But is it comfortable? Totally. The sofa we moved out of the stairway hall and stashed in front of the wood stove until we had the energy to move it — has stayed. Does it look great? No, but man, do we love to sit there and watch the fire.

Is our dining room “nice”? Not really, but man do I love that I can have two leaves in my table at all times and that there is still ample room to walk around.

How much do I love that I can walk around my ow property and get lost in “looking micro” and taking beautiful photos?

What we thought we would make of this house and what we thought we would do with this place has changed so drastically. Our house, our property, our experience is no longer just about us. Once we actually moved in, we began feeling a responsibility — to the neighbors, both human and non-human. This place is for us, but it is not just for us. We share it with trees that have been here 999 years and 9 months longer than we have. We share it with generations of newts that rely on our creekside property to support their entire lifespan. We share it with banana slugs and owls, bats and scorpions. And the birds! So many birds. We share it with deer and coyote and the occasional mountain lion. Where on Garden Street we would pick up a salamander, marvel at it, then put it in a corner to find a new home while we exerted our decorative control on the yards — lawn, play structure, concrete — we now watch our every step when down by the creek taking great care not to step on a newt or slug. The newts that are crawling down on the leaves now are the hatchlings of the eggs that the females were laying in the creek when we moved in. We’ve already seen one generation unfold because our eyes are open, as are our hearts.

Emotions have been running very close to the surface for me these days. I realize that my existence in the Silicon Valley was a callous that had formed over my life. The callous is sloughing off and what lies beneath is tender. So, while I have grown more hearty in terms of physical strength — running around outside in 46 degree weather without a jacket where on Garden Street I wore a down vest in the house even if it was 72 degrees inside — my heart is feeling open and exposed and it feels amazing. And that is the last bit of responsibility that is coming into focus — to step away from just “doing” and to step closer to the being and the feeling. We need to take care of our hearts and our spirits first and foremost.





Something About Nothing

19 10 2015

We’ve probably all heard the saying, doing nothing is a choice, but what does it really mean to “do nothing”? Nothing is a relative, subjective term, and sometimes doing nothing is doing everything that you need to do in any given moment.

Thursday night Kaherdin was suffering what appears to be a migraine. He’s never had one before, but after a particularly stressful car ride home from school with Danae and Gwen (whatever transpired, Danae saw fit to ban Kaherdin from TV and Gwen from the school dance), he developed a headache so painful that he needed to wear a sleeping mask for the rest of the evening. After a heartfelt apology to Danae (for apparently calling her “retarded”), we allowed him blindfolded on the sofa while we watched a couple of episodes of Drunk History. I rubbed his temple with one hand and wrapped my other arm around him. Before eight o’clock he was breathing deeply and steadily. He was out for the count.

Earlier, Danae had connected the dots. K had a field trip that day to the Exploratorium in San Francisco.  Danae theorized that K’s meltdown and migraine were a result of being a completely overloaded introvert.

K has recently been self-identifying as introverted. He fits the bill. He and I share many of the same qualities: we’re observers, we need to take alone breaks when around large groups of people, we prefer one-on-one or small group social interactions, the day after being around a lot of people we tend to be exhausted and/or crabby.

We’ve been discussing the needs of introverts a lot since moving here. I’ve begun to take the things I feel out of the “preference” category and place them neatly and firmly in the “needs” category. For years I’ve felt that I’ve had something to prove, whether to my in-laws that I was of value to my family and not a freeloader just because I don’t have a full time job (the question, “WHEN are you going back to work?” started very soon after Gwen was born), or to my parents that I was creating a life they could be proud of. What got lost in all of that proving was me. I’ve spent the past decade and a half feeling spent, beyond spent, as I’ve buried myself beneath a shell of what others wanted me to be. I don’t want that for Kaherdin. I’ve taken the change in lifestyle very seriously, as I set out to make an example that he can follow in how to identify and take care of his own needs.

Monday through Thursday I had kept the dogs in the house as Doug worked on drywalling the new bathroom and kitchen. I placed a dog gate across the length of the kitchen to protect Doug from getting his ankles bitten, and by Thursday was able to get the dogs to be calm by putting on a movie for them to listen to in the background. I was exhausted. Doug is a lovely man and we enjoy talking with each other, but still, every morning at 8 a.m. there is at least one man in my house. The dogs and I cannot live in the house the way we would otherwise. Friday I made a decision — not about tile or which vanity would go in the new bathroom, I made the decision to do nothing.

I crated the dogs and headed to Santa Cruz to our favorite Indian restaurant. They have a lovely lunch buffet for $9.95. I got some food to go, then drove to Seabright Beach, walked close to the water, put down my chair, took off my shoes and ate my food.  The food tasted amazing. The sun was mild, the breeze was soft, my toes wriggled in the sand.  I could feel the stress of the week melting away. My cell phone would not receive a charge, so I was completely and totally disconnected for the day.  No calls, no texts, just this. I sat there for nearly two hours watching a sea otter surf the waves, watching sea birds dive, watching dolphins swim past.  It was heaven.

Saturday Danae and I worked as part of Jim’s crew to build the Tuff Shed. Danae has spent weeks trying to get someone over here to construct the 10×16 loafing shed, but everyone so far has flaked. Jim arrived around 9:30 and we quickly got to work leveling the dirt with a jack hammer, constructing the foundation, and, the very hardest part, moving and raising the 16×10 single piece walls. After the last contractor, Terry, walked off the job a few weeks ago, I have taken to calling him “Mr. No” since he couldn’t come up with or accept any solutions for how to get the shed up. Jim was Mr. Yes! Not only was he willing to work with my solutions and strategies, he frequently was inventing his own. Around four, Trish and Robert picked up the kids to take them to a Holloween party at a friend’s house. Danae, Jim and I continued working.  After nine hours of hard physical labor, we decided to call it a day. The shed is 3/4 built and, while we didn’t finish it, we were very happy to get as far as we did. We gave Jim big hugs then were on our way with a plan to reward our hard work with dinner at Olita’s at the Santa Cruz Wharf.

The wait for a table worked out to be just enough time for us to enjoy a margarita at the bar. We ate dinner on the Boardwalk view side of the restaurant. I said to Danae, “This is how I like the Boardwalk best, at a distance.” I can take the crowds, bright lights and noise maybe once or twice a year, and then only because the kids love it so much. I find that as I get older, the jarring of the Big Dipper has lost its appeal.  So many other things in life are thrilling and jarring in ways that don’t leave me battered in bruised the next morning.

We finished our dinner and walked downstairs and outside. Very quickly we could see a commotion taking place down the wharf. We walked over to see what was happening. A car had driven over the edge and sunk down into the pitch black water. One police car was just on scene. There was nothing he could do. A woman was walking to her car, soaked. Very quickly I was able to determine that she was not a driver or passenger of the car. She had identified herself as a lifeguard and immediately jumped in after the vehicle. The car sunk too quickly and she realized there was nothing she could do.

Danae was exhilarated and smiling. Some of the police officers were doing the same. I literally could not comprehend such a response. Two men were twenty-five feet beneath us, suffering, scared, fighting for their lives. It was as if I could feel their anguish from below. I scanned the crowd. There was a mix of smiles, blank faces, people recording video and taking pictures, very few seemed to be registering the gravity of the situation. More rescue vehicles drove onto the wharf — fire, ambulance, more police. One by one, divers arrived on scene. They were hanging around talking, no one seemed confident about what to do. Why were they doing nothing? Whey were they not just diving right in? I realized they needed to be briefed and come up with a plan. Once that was done, they each climbed to the top of the fence rail then jumped 24 feet below into the dark sixty degree water. The police shined a light onto the spot where the car was thought to have landed. Six divers took deep breaths and went down in twos. They could not find the car. Lifeguards with rescue boards thew their boards over the wharf then jumped in behind the divers.

Police were interviewing witnesses around us. Apparently the car was speeding and lost control as it tried to pass another vehicle — a large pick up truck. The car bumped over the curb, crashed through the railing, teetered for a few seconds before plunging into the dark, murky ocean.

Why did the divers not have scuba? Why did they not have their own high powered lights? Again and again they went down and came up bewildered. Finally a witness suggested the car landed closer to the piers of the wharf rather than several yards out.  Suddenly I felt a letting go. Someone’s struggle down there was over, I just knew it. It had been twenty minutes since the car went down. A diver went back down again and came up saying he thought he saw a light. More divers free dove down and finally the car was located. All search was being done by touch. Again and again they plummeted to the dark depths until finally one diver called out that they needed the board, they had recovered a body.

The young man was shirtless, just wearing shorts. They placed him on the board then, as a team, paddled the board to the beach, where the EMTs had been repositioned. The man’s belly was sucked in, ribs showing. His chest was not moving. His head flopped from side to side. They got him to shore. A few minutes later someone called out, they needed the board, they had another body. The lifeguard paddled back out to the scene, but this time he took the body to a waiting coast guard ship waiting farther off shore. For twenty minutes they performed CPR on that young guy on the beach. Taking turns between three different people so no one person became fatigued, they pumped his chest. Finally they stopped, six or seven people helped pick up the board and carried the body to the waiting ambulance.

Watching the rescue very much had the feel of watching a football game on TV — people rooting, some for the team of wanting everyone to survive, some for the team of wanting to put themselves at the center, of having a good story, of being able to say, “I saw a man die.” In the very literal sense, there was nothing we could do. But in doing nothing, could our collective energy accomplish anything? If the survival team was stronger, could their will fuel the rescuers to do more, try harder. Could high hopes keep the men alive?

Just then Robert arrived with the kids. We had been in text contact about where to meet up for the exchange. I looked out at the coast guard ship making its way to dock. I looked where the ambulance had been. It was gone and had left without lights or sirens. I felt completely empty.

On the car ride home I asked Danae, “I can’t stop thinking about the look on that woman’s face as she stood there with her wet clothes clinging to her body. Pitch black, sixty degree water. Would you have jumped in?”

She thought for a moment. “I don’t know, you know?”

I searched inside myself and was certain. “I would not have jumped in,” I said. “Too many unknowns.”

I thought back to the time I saw a man straddling the side of a bridge on 280. He meant to go over, I just knew it. Even though I passed him at a decent speed, his face will be forever burnt into my memory. He had black hair and a comb-over. He had full lips and a slight overbite. He looked incredibly frightened. I had a choice to make: approach him directly, or get to the next call box and call the police. The call box by the Junipero Serra statue was very close by. I could still see the man as I spoke to dispatch.

They wanted my contact information.

“There isn’t time for that,” I protested. “Get someone out here!”

“Ma’am, we need to get your information.”

I knew there was no getting around this. I gave my name, address, phone number.

“OK, what is he doing now,” she asked.

“Oh,” I said as the man slipped over the side, “you’re too late. He’s gone.”

“OK,” she said, “officers are on the way.”

“What do I do,” I asked.

“Nothing. Go home,” she said. “Just go home.”

For days I struggled with my decision. Did calling dispatch equate to doing nothing? If I had approached him, what difference could I have made? Could I have talked him out of taking his life, or would my approach have caused him to jump sooner, leaving his actions placed firmly on my conscience for the rest of my life? Might he have grabbed me and taken me with him? There would never be any way of knowing. I finally decided that the man’s choice to take his life was his business. Perhaps he had his reasons. Perhaps they were even justified.

Both kids had a great time at the party with Trish and Robert, but Sunday K was leveled. His mood was volatile at best.

This was the day we were finally bringing the goats home. Danae said she was going to bring Gwen with her. Gwen has proven herself to be quite the goat wrangler. She is able to intuit their next move and grab them when they least expect it. I asked Danae if she needed K and I to come. She said no. Part of me wanted to be there, but another part of me absolutely did not.

Being there for the goats is one thing, but Sarah, the woman we have boarded them with, is a total and complete energy suck for me.  Sarah is nice enough, but she’s a talker, she’s rather coarse and Danae and I both find her poorly done face tattoos rather distracting. She normally takes a shaman class on Sundays, and Danae and I find it amusing that she fancies herself a healer when she can be so harsh toward the animals she claims to love.

She once demonstrated for us how we should deal with goats that won’t mind, the babies who want to play and eat our clothes.  “You need to rap them on the face real hard,” she said as she slapped one of the babies on the nose.  As another goat approached her, she hit that one too.  We were horrified. We did and said nothing. We felt trapped. Sarah is the only goat boarder we know, and we needed the goats to be somewhere safe, even if not emotionally ideal.

Another time she wanted to catch Suki so that Danae could help trip her hooves.  She lunged toward the goat, grabbed her by the horns and in the blink of an eye, she and the goat were rolling over one another in the dirt. Danae and Gwen watched in astonishment. No matter what, Sarah was not letting go.

Over the past four months we have watched as our goats have come to fear even us. I have been eager, the five weeks since we’ve moved here, to get them back and win them over again. Particularly my beloved Adobe, my “dough baby”. He and I have a very special bond. He is the goat that got stuck in the birth canal. The one the vet told us to let go because he was too weak to survive. Sarah separated him from the rest of the herd and put him with one other buck that challenged him constantly. Adobe is a love. He just wants face scratches. With this buck Adobe was lonely and isolated. He became so reclusive that he would no longer even come out from under the barn to say hello when we would come to visit. I wanted him home.

Sunday I felt a pressure in my head and was spacey and drained from the previous day’s work and from witnessing the rescue. I literally felt like I could not take on one more thing. Danae was fine. Gwen was fine. Kaherdin was laid out on the sofa. I told Danae that K and I would hit up Staff of Life for some groceries and meet up with them later.  Danae and Gwen left for Sarah’s, so I told K to get on his shoes.  He resisted, protested, sighed and whined, but I got him in the car and drove him to the store. We got some things to get us through the week, then walked into the salad bar. I suggested to Kaherdin that we get something from the bar and take it for a picnic like we used to do when he was in preschool. He often talks of how those picnics were some of his fondest memories.

“Nah,” he said when I offered. “There’s nothing here for me to eat.”

“Really,” I questioned him. “There are roasted potatoes, hard boiled eggs, soups…”

“Meh,” he said, his low mood continuing.

I grabbed a small cup and filled it with corn chowder, then grabbed a pre-made plate of Indian food for myself. We went to the drink aisle to pick up some Kevitas. A woman walked up and grabbed a root beer.

“These,” she said, “are AMAZING.”

K looked at the label. “Probiotic root beer?”

I picked one up and read the ingredients. Only 5 carbs per bottle. Made with Kefir water. I was intrigued. We grabbed two, hit the check out and were off.

K started to open the soup in the car.

“Hold on,” I said. “We’re going to the beach.”

We drove over to Seabright, set our chairs in the sand and ate our food. We spotted two sea otters rolling around in the water.

“Isn’t this beautiful?” I asked.

K nodded.  He looked toward the wharf. “It’s hard to believe that the car went into the water just right over there.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Do you think they’ve lit some candles for the guy that died?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “They haven’t released the names of the victims. Maybe once the friends and family have been notified, they might do something.”

“It’s just so sad,” he said. I could tell that, like me, K was deeply affected by the accident in a way that Gwen and Danae were not. Me and my boy, we’re just made of the same stuff.

“I know,” I said.

We sat in silence eating our food. When K was done he got up and said, “Let’s go.”

“No,” I said. “We’re going to sit here for a while and take it all in.”

K sat back down.

“Do you know some of the hidden reasons why people find the beach so relaxing,” I asked.

“No,” he answered.

“The negative ions coming from the water. The grounding effect of having your feet in the sand. It’s a great place to be when you need to come back to center when you’re feeling stressed.”

K got up again. “I’m going to dig in the sand.”

He made a sand chair and sat in it. “Do you want to try my chair,” he asked.

“No,” I said.

“Why?” he asked.

“Do you want me to try your chair?”

“Yes.”

I got up and went over to the chair, sat down and reclined. “Oh, look at those clouds! Did you look at the clouds when you were in your chair?”

“No,” he said.

“You need to try.”

K took my hat so his hair wouldn’t get sandy and I gave him my sunglasses so he could look at the sky without glare. He laid there watching the clouds.

“Do you want to go now,” I asked.

“Only when you do,” he said this time.

I finished my root beer just as I got a text from Danae saying that Adobe was completely wild and almost took Sarah’s husband, who was holding his leash, down the hillside. She didn’t think she could manage him on her own.

“We should get back,” I said, “Mom needs my help.”

We drove back home. K had made a total turn around. He was just lighter. I felt lighter, too.

“You know,” I said, “being wiped out the next day doesn’t mean you didn’t have a good time the day before, it just means you need to take some time for yourself to restore.” I was just as much saying this to myself as I was to him.

As soon as we got to the house I ran up to the top of the hill. Danae was walking up the logging road away from the van.

“Where’s Adobe,” I asked.

“He’s still in the van,” she said. “He was rearing up and going crazy. I do not know how we are going to get him the rest of the way up the hill.”

I walked toward the van and opened the side door. “Do you have any carrots,” I asked Danae.

“He won’t take them,” she said.

“Just give me the carrots.”

I crouched inside the van and saw Adobe. He looked scared. I desperately wanted him to remember me and trust me again.

“Here, Dough Baby, what a good boy,” I started talking softly to him and extended a carrot.  He took the carrot.  Then another. I was feeling optimistic. I clasped a leash to his collar then unlatched the tie down leash that was attached to the seat and gently began pulling him out of the van.  At first he pulled back, but I gave a firm tug while talking gently to him. He finally stepped out of the van. He lunged toward some baby oaks and took a mouthful of leaves.

“That’s OK,” I said and pulled him toward me. “There are a lot of new things for you to eat here.”

I made a decision. If he took off, I would not let go. He would have to drag me down the road with him. Danae was right behind me. I gave a slight tug on the leash and Adobe reared up. Danae gasped. I held the leash firmly with both hands and Adobe came crashing down to the ground. He looked stunned.

“Baby, are you OK,” I asked. He stayed down panting for a moment before getting back up again.  Little by little I got him up the hill to the temporary goat run. Danae unlatched the gate and Adobe eagerly went inside, seemingly grateful to be reunited with his herd.

“Dude,” I did it.

Danae shook her head in amazement. “I can’t believe you got him up here just like that.”

I wondered how Danae had been handling him. Perhaps she was businesslike — all doing, no feeling — focused on her end goal, rather than on him and his needs. That works for some things, but, in this instance, he needed someone who understood his state of mind. A few hours earlier and I might have deferred to Danae, asked her to just deal with it. But my experience with K helped me build back up just enough reserves to get that goat safely up the hill.

My connection with Adobe was restored. Our herd was finally home. And in that moment I saw more clearly than ever how sometimes doing nothing is the something that must be done before anything else can be accomplished.





Cresting The Hill

13 10 2015

Friday was an in-service day for Palo Alto, so Danae went to work while the kids were both home with me.  This was the first day I had the kids alone at the new house and, while the possibilities for what we could do were numerous, I made an early decision that I was going to put them to work.

I fed the kids breakfast then told them that we would be leaving soon to go to the hardware store in town to buy fence stakes for the goat run. To my surprise, neither protested. Typically I get push back any time we are going to leave the house to do anything other than what they want to do.

Things move at a much slower pace in the San Lorenzo Valley. We walked into the ACE Hardware store and aside from employees, we could have been the only people there.  Just as we passed the threshold, the phone rang.  I needed to ask where the fencing was. The cashier answered the phone. She did not put the caller on hold to greet me or answer my question. I was going to have to wait.  I’m growing accustomed to waiting. I might even go so far as to say that I am actually growing to enjoy it. I’m relearning how to get lost in my thoughts and/or how to be completely present in any given moment.  Whichever suits the situation.  It’s a lovely feeling that has, up until now, gradually left me over the past decade as smart phones have taken over.  It seems increasingly there is no such thing as a “free” moment.  There are always text messages, e-mails to read and respond to and, if a free moment threatens to emerge, there is ALWAYS facebook to check, check in on or check out with.

When the cashier was finally finished with her call, she pointed us toward the lumber yard where we got twenty eight foot fence stakes and were on our way.

Once home, the kids helped me unload Moby (the Q7) and put the stakes in the Polaris to bring up the hill.  I grabbed my water jar and a 3 pack of work gloves and we all rode to the top. I set the kids to clearing the shed and chicken run site of branches. It seemed that the previous owner had cut down a medium sized fruit tree and all of it was left there in pieces. This wood will eventually be perfect for the wood burning stove but, for now, we put it in a pile on an unused clearing by the side of the logging road.

We rolled three logs that were being used to retain the site out of the way. One crumbled as we touched it, revealing a scorpion between two of the layers. We poked at the scorpion and observed it for a while, then it was time to get back to work.

If I were to say that my kids tend to lack stamina when work needs to be done, that would be a polite way of saying that, before long they both melt into deep puddles of tears and mood. Gwen gets bored easily and takes breaks because she quickly gets “tired”. Kaherdin starts “getting hurt” and, therefore, also needs to take breaks. Typically they end up going off to do their own thing, leaving Danae and I to do the rest of whatever needs to be done. Since moving here though, I have noticed a shift in both children, Gwen in particular.

I’m not certain, but it seems as though she may have just passed me up in height. When I’m at my ideal weight, we can wear the same pants, we share the same shoe size (a whopping 10).  Just as she is the size of an adult, she also has the strength of one. During these four months of offering, listing, selling and demolition and moving, there have been several times where I have had to ask Gwen for help with something that I am unable to lift of move. It is new for me to lean on her this way, but it is as if she has learned a sense of purpose by being able to help me. My weakness points to her strength, or her strength adds to mine, and I think that makes her feel good about herself.

I started leveling the shed site — digging down the 14 inches at the high spot and throwing the shovel fulls of dirt anywhere off to the side, over the steep down slope. Gwen was getting bored and tired.  Kaherdin was amusing himself by cutting vines with a machete. Gwen plopped down on a log looking as though she had long since resigned to the fact that the day was going to kill her. She is, after all, thirteen.

“Mama,” she asked, “can we try that new restaurant that you wanted to go to.  The one that’s only open for breakfast and lunch?”

“Rocky’s?” I asked.

“The one that looks like a house,” she added.

“Oh, maybe.  It depends on whether or not we get our work done.  We have a lot to do.  The more you help, the more quickly we get done and the more likely it is that we can go.”

She scrunched her face and sighed heavily.  I kept digging. Kaherdin hurt himself and quickly bounded into the Polaris to nurse his “wound”.

“Mama,” Gwen started again.

“Yes?”

“Can we go now?”

“Like I said, we have a lot of work to do.” I kept on digging.  Both kids were now sitting, doing nothing. “Hey,” I said, “you know what would be awesome?  If you guys went down to the house and made lunch for all of us and brought it back up here.  That way we could have a picnic together and still get our work done.”

“But you said we could go to Rocky’s,” Gwen protested.

I was beginning to lose my patience.

“Look,” I said to both of them. “Kaherdin, tomorrow you want to go to the Gem Show with Bo. Gwen, you want a sleepover with Sasha.  Both of those things are going to take a lot of time out of our day for drop off and pick up and what have you.  Mom and I planned for both Saturday and Sunday to be total and complete work days, but I am trying to make it all work. I’m trying to find a way to get everything done in such a way that you still get to do the things you want to do and I get to finish the work that I have to do.  All I’m asking is that you help.” I started digging faster.

Gwen got up and walked off. I tried to keep my cool.

Kaherdin said, “Well, then I’m going down the hill to get my sushi out of the fridge.” And he took off, too.

Irritated as I was with both of them, I was actually impressed with Kaherdin. K has been a tad hesitant about exploring on his own. Typically he requires a buddy to go up or down the hill.

As I continued digging I kept wondering why my kids crumble so quickly. Then I reminded myself of the hard work they’ve put in to get us as moved in as we can be right now.  Gwen and the load after load that she took in the Polaris a couple of weekends ago to clear the front driveway all on her own.  And K, bringing heavy boxes from the garage up to his room all on his own.  I wanted to believe the best, but I was frustrated.

K returned to the top of the hill. “Gwen’s not in the house. You really should tell her not to wander off like that.”

“Well, I suppose if she’s choosing to be mountain lion food, that’s her choice.  I can’t physically restrain her,” I said. And I meant it. If you believe in time outs, once a child gets to a certain age and size, there’s not much you can do to keep them in one place. I didn’t necessarily mean the mountain lion food part about her wandering off, but on Garden Street it had become a recent habit of Gwen’s to get pissed off and leave the house without telling us where she was going. She would threaten us with running away. She told us she would learn to survive on the streets. In retrospect the threats were adorable. We came to learn that “running away” meant walking over to Nordstrom Rack, where invariably she would find an outfit she liked and would call from the dressing room asking if I’d come down and pay for it. We also learned that, in Gwen’s terms, “surviving on the streets” meant using her own money to buy a Caramel Macchiato while she hung out at Starbuck’s for a couple of hours. And, every single time she “ran away” she was texting me constantly, craving connection and understanding. Still, I worried about what “running away” might mean to her when we moved.  It’s two miles into town, and most of that is on completely uninhabited roadway. Anything could happen. I wasn’t sure if thirteen year old hormones could override common sense and cause her to one day run off into the night. Then I remembered the first time Gwen stormed off after we moved here.  She walked up the road past our house and, when she came back, instead of remaining pissed off, she was excited to share that she’d seen some of the other houses and had discovered a water fall.  Wherever she was, she’d be fine.

K sat and ate his sushi. I kept on digging. I got lost in my thoughts — a fantasy that, at any moment, Gwen would crest the top of the hill with food in hand.  But K said she wasn’t at the house.  Maybe he missed her. Maybe she was in the make-shift kitchen, while he just grabbed his sushi in the main kitchen. I tried to just focus on my work.  Truth be told, now I was getting tired and a trip into Rocky’s was sounding pretty nice.

I looked at the ground.  The soil was rocky and loose. It wouldn’t be difficult to level, but it began to feel overwhelming for just me. Suddenly I was no longer in the mood.

The stakes still needed to be unloaded from the Polaris. I threw down my shovel and as I turned to walk toward the Polaris, there, cresting the hill, was Gwennie, panting from the hike, carrying an armload of food for the three of us.

My eyes misted up. I walked toward her and threw my arms around her. “I am so proud of you right now.”

We sat on a log. She handed K some sushi.

“I already ate mine,” he said, “that one is yours.”

She shrugged it off. For herself she brought a small cottage cheese.  For me she brought some chips, carrots and my favorite Annie’s Cashew Cheese Dip.

“See mommy, I brought you your favorite dip,” she said. She wanted to please me. She not only heard what I had said about needing to get the work done, but she accepted it and understood. She had grown more than in just height.

K took the sushi and said, “I’m going to go put this back in the fridge.”  Once again, he trotted down the trail independently.

Gwennie and I sat on the log and ate our food.  “You know,” I said, “this can just be a snack.  There are just a few more things we HAVE to do, then we can go to Rocky’s.”  We sat shoulder to shoulder with our heads touching, rocking side to side. I felt happy.

Minutes later, K crested the hill saying, “Look who I brought!” He had gotten Hoover on leash and walked her up the hill all on his own.

I can’t help but compare moments. An ending like this would have never been possible on Garden Street. I can only speak for myself when I say that I haven’t experienced a peace or calm like this since I left home for the first time to go to college. I drive at or below the speed limit because I am so relaxed. Sometimes I feel as though one slight shift could put me in a meditative state.

Our realtor and friend, Bradd, said to us when he came to Garden Street to write our offer on the Love Creek house, “Once I moved to Love Creek, everything else began to feel like insanity.  Even being here in the suburbs,” he said, “is almost more than I can take. You guys will understand once you get there.”

He was right.  When I am here, I don’t want to be anywhere else.  When I sit on the deck, I just want to sit.  Anyone who knows me, knows that I am constantly moving — getting up, sitting down, getting up again.  Being still has never been something I am able to do…until now.  It’s as though the trees, the silence, the lack of buzz and energy that permeates the Silicon Valley, affords me a peace that is allowing me to get back in touch with parts of myself that I have been trying desperately for years to get back in touch with.  I stopped writing poetry right around the time Gwen was born which, no coincidence, was the exact time that cell phones entered our lives. I was certain that parenthood would bring endless writing fodder, but I have spent the past decade and a half paralyzed.

I remember telling Danae, when we lived in Noe Valley together, that living in San Francisco was paralyzing for me. There was so much energy, so much possibility, so many choices in things to do and places to go, that I would sit in my apartment all day feeling stuck. Now I understand that my creative spirit not only wants, but needs space. Here, for the first time in my life, I have it. Lots of it. And now, so do my kids.  I can’t speak for them, but I notice shifts and changes that point to relief, growth and dare I say, happiness? The space that is reconnecting me to the true ground of who I am is now allowing them to learn and become who they are.

I am happy here.

Yes, we’re still living in a construction zone and cooking on a camping stove, but more and more deeply we are home.





The Change of Season

4 10 2015

Last night, while Danae ran to Sarah’s to bring some healing ointment for one of our goats, Gwendolyn asked me to help her with her homework. She seemed to be in a down mood, so I suggested we take her books out on the deck to work. As we worked our way through finding the slope of several lines, the light dimmed to dusk. It was warm enough, and we both felt relaxed under the glow of the rope lights hanging above us.

When we first moved to the house, and even before, my fear/obsession with mountain lions joined forces with my overactive imagination to form scenarios of attacks not only on the deck, but also stemming from outright break ins (this from a video I foolishly watched of a cougar breaking through a glass door and devouring someone’s pet spaniel). Tonight was different. I knew that as I grew accustomed to the place, my ear would grow keen at differentiating between leaf fall and footfall, which it has. Also, the brain has a way of working out the odds. Where, in my imagination, we’d be dodging both cougars and rattle snakes on a regular basis, we have seen neither in our weeks since coming here.

Gwen was growing frustrated with her math – more out of exhaustion than an inability to work it out. I suggested she take a nice, deep breath. In doing so, we both spotted the first bat to emerge for the evening. Then another, and another. More than 20 bats flew up from beneath the house. Two flew out in a pair, one accidentally hitting the house in an ill-advised u-turn (perhaps a little wine before dinner?), while another buzzed just behind Gwen’s head. We were entranced.

A few problems later we heard it for the very first time – the heavy footfall of a large animal up behind the house. We sat still and silent, listening and waiting for the animal to emerge into view up the hill. Gwen asked if it could be a cougar. I told her it was possible, but that I thought cougars would be more stealthy than deer, who tend to clomp around on the forest floor. When it didn’t emerge, I suggested we go upstairs for a better view. We went quickly and quietly upstairs into Kaherdin’s room (he has two windows on that side) and tried to spot what it was. It has surprised me no end that the only deer I have seen so far on our property have been skeletal remains. Once in Kaherdin’s room, the kids began fighting over who would look out what window, etc. and the footfall ceased.

The bats and the footfall were a welcome reminder of all the magic we have yet to experience here. While work on the house continues full throttle, it is important for me to take days, or sometimes even moments, of appreciation for what we have and what we are creating.

This week has been all about electrical and plumbing. Not the exciting stuff you immediately notice (eliminating knob in tube is really not the high point of a remodel), but feeling like progress, nonetheless. Butch, the electrician, has consulted with me on every detail of where to place outlets and switches, which lighting systems need to be replaced, how they should be placed, etc. I know from a discussion with Jared, our project manager, that once the electrical is finished, the sheet rock crew will return to cover up the walls. That is when the shower will look like a shower, the kitchen will look more like a room, the hallway to the master will actually become a hallway.

Things are falling into place. And while my pace becomes hectic in waves, I’m getting better at learning how to manage what it is I have to do. There is no place in the house that is private, so I sit at the deck table and work. Yesterday I did something new. The dogs had to be in their carriers because there were so many people coming and going, so many open doors. I took each dog for a walk individually up farther on Love Creek Road. First I walked Hoover, our biggest and, at 14, our oldest dog. We walked past our house and up the road a bit. Just past the bridge, we passed an area of gentle sloping hills – still wooded, of course, but not steep ridges like on our property. The creek bed widened with fewer boulders in and around the water. It was so peaceful and beautiful. Why hadn’t I done this sooner? Suddenly I resolved that walking the dogs up this road would become a regular part of my daily routine. And if this short bit of the road is this beautiful, what haven’t I seen on the two miles that it continues on? Just before we turned around, we came across a blackberry bramble. I picked one that was ripe, gently wiped the dust away from its surface and ate it. The flavor was deep and slightly sweet. Tangy without being bitter. I imagined a daily ritual with Danae and the kids when they return home after school. Each of us gets a dog and we walk up Love Creek Road. Maybe on some days we will stop and pick blackberries and bring them home to have with sugar and cream from the goats that we hoped to finally bring home on Sunday.

Today we received delivery of the Quonset Hut and had a contractor come out to build the Tuff Shed for the goats. He drove all the way from Watsonville and, from the very first moment, gave every reason why he couldn’t do the job he was getting paid to do. Every solution I threw at him, he resisted. Bottom line, his ego was out of check, and the work he needed to do in order to receive my $800, he was not willing to do. This ended with me asking, “So you’re telling me no.” He kept insisting that I pay him an additional $500 to level the ground next weekend, or that we level it ourselves and he come back next weekend. I insisted that between the two men, me and Danae, we could level the area in an hour or less. His words: “I didn’t come here to dig, I came here to build.” Yeah, no. You came here for nothing, because now you are leaving back to Watsonville without getting a penny from me. We’ll call the other guy.

The guy delivering the hut, by contrast, was local, a San Lorenzo Valley guy. He was glad to help unload his truck, even though it was stipulated that we would do the unloading.

After the stress of the morning, Danae asks what the plan for the rest of the day will be. We decide to drive to the Milpitas Tuff Shed showroom – they have not answered any of Danae’s calls regarding the building of the shed, and we learned this morning that the shed they delivered is not exactly what we ordered. They owe us – either labor or a refund. I suggest we could hit the Great Mall, while we’re in Milpitas, to buy any pieces of clothing any of us needs to fit the color scheme of the family portrait we are having taken tomorrow for my mother’s 75th birthday. Then it sets in, the thought of a fight with Tuff Shed, the thought of battling the crowd at the mall.

“Here’s the plan,” I say to Danae, “We stay home. We need the rest. We need to be pacing ourselves.”

Danae lets out a huge sigh of relief.

This morning we had morning coffee on the deck before the kids woke up. Then breakfast on the deck. Then lunch. Then afternoon coffee. As Danae and I sat out amongst the trees, a cold breeze shook loose droppings from the trees.

“It’s actually cold,” I said. “And you know what? This is the first full day we have been here, doing this.”

I thought back to earlier in the day when Kaherdin was playing the Wii. I sat down on the overstuffed chair, he climbed into my lap, and I had the mental space and clarity to genuinely take an interest in what he was doing, something I was never able to do on Garden Street.

This has been less of a move from one place to another and more an act of time travel. No cell service, corded phones, wood stove for heat, nature all around. And, truly, the Wii U could just as easily be an Atari game system. We have dialed things back to the pace we enjoyed in our youth. This is one way in which moving backwards has not only been good, but necessary for our health and happiness.

I don’t think about Garden Street anymore, except to notice that I don’t think about Garden Street anymore. The new owners can have it. I don’t miss the buzz of the Silicon Valley. In fact, I find myself becoming increasingly more reclusive. I have no desire to travel over the mountain. It’s as though we were always meant to be here. As an empathic person, I have always found being around too many people or too much energy exhausting. I am a magnet for EVERYTHING. And, for the past ten years or so, I have felt the energy drain. No matter how much sleep or how much “rest” I tried to recoup, I was never truly rested. I now understand why. Here, protected by the silence and the strength and peace of the trees, I am able to reach inside and go outside of myself on my own terms. If I need to be around people, Santa Cruz is just 15 minutes away. For the first time, my home is not in a place where my energy is drained by one neighbor running his noisy remote control car, or another talking on the phone on his front porch. I don’t need to worry if my music is bothering anyone, or if anyone will see me if I need to run to the dryer to fetch clean clothes in the nude. Here there is peace and freedom that will eventually restore my energy so that I have more of the best of me to give to my children – so much of me that they have never known or seen.

Danae and I sat on the deck taking it in for a long time, imagining the weeks to come as the house moves closer to completion. Fall is here, the light is falling to angles, casting itself onto a new season.





Attack of the Killer Cougar-ish

24 09 2015

Today was the first day that Danae left the dogs home for me to manage.  I say “manage” not because dogs are something I am incapable of caring for, but because I have men in and out of the house from 8-5, and we love our pets too much to trust that every last one of them will remember to shut the door.

We have four dogs.  It’s a lot, more than we really wanted to have, but each of them came to us for their (and our) own reasons.  As much as we would sometimes like to scale back, we don’t want to do it by offering any of them up to the forest. At 14, Hoover is deaf. Stewart, at five and a half pounds, would be less than bite sized for a coyote or mountain lion.  Oliver, at ten pounds, falls in the same category as Stewart, and Olivia… Oh, Olivia.

Yesterday afternoon I ran a roll of fencing up to the hillside and began the tedious and laborious process of staking in a temporary dog run. I hit each stake into the ground until it was deep and firm, then wrapped wire fencing around the frame. By the time Danae and the kids came home, I was bloody from wire scratches and feeling fairly good about what I had started, but knew it needed reinforcement along the base and that we would need to create a wire door out of a piece of fencing that we could hinge using zip ties. Danae helped shore up the run by adding a few more stakes, creating the door and putting some metal shed roof around the perimeter. Done.

Just before dinner a man in a septic truck pulled up to the house and came up the stairs with purpose.

“Can I help you,” I asked. He said he was here to pump out the old tank, that they would be filling it in tomorrow morning.

He pulled back the sheet metal and rotting wood from the old tank, exposing a vessel brimming with, well, you get the idea.  The smell was AMAZING. As he sucked it out he looked toward the bottom.

“I don’t think this has a bottom,” he said.

I imagined a bottomless pit and for a moment thought the new system was a waste of $35,000.

“That looks like dirt,” he said.  “This is what they used to call a cesspool.”

“It doesn’t look as though it’s been pumped out in a long time,” I offered.

“It was pumped out pretty recently,” he said. “This is pretty much the smallest system I’ve ever seen.  It was meant to support just a small summer cabin, like most of the houses around here were meant to be.” As he finished up, he cautioned us, “Don’t take any showers or anything.  It’s ok if a few gallons get in there before they fill it in, but if you fill it more than that, they’ll have problems.”

This morning workers arrived early, 7:30, to put in the new system. I sat at the table in my pjs with my morning coffee and contemplated whether or not I would have time to take a shower.  Lindsey, the plumber, arrived by 8 and was busy underneath the house.  Was he disconnecting pipes? If I flushed, would it land on the brim of his baseball hat?

Danae had left all but Hoover in the van, just in case someone came into the house early. I went out to the van, loaded the dogs into the back of the Polaris and brought them up the hill to their new run.  One by one I brought all three carriers in, then closed the run door behind me before letting them out.  They adjusted quickly — sniffing, exploring, peeing on the cloth tarps Danae had left as bedding.  They were fine. I realized I had forgotten to give them water, so I fastened the door, got back in the Polaris and made my way down the hill to get some.

The septic workers were congregated at the hole where the new tank sat. I asked them what was going on.  The spring tank was empty. They needed to pump 1500 gallons into the new tank in order for it to settle and to do a “sit test”.  If they had asked me, I could have told them that there were nowhere near 1500 gallons of water on the property.  I suggested we try tapping into the well.  I climbed between the dirt ledge and the garage building to disconnect the hoses that I had running to the spring tank. I pulled the hose through the city of myriad of bookshelves that I had removed from the house and that await their fate on the back driveway, and presented it to one of the workers.  He attached it to his hose and gave me the OK to throw the pump switch.  We were in business.

Jim, our friend and contractor, caught me on the way back into the house. “Make sure you tell them to let you know if it runs out of water,” he said. “If that pump is pumping dry, you’ll burn it out.  No, seriously, look at me.” He looked me straight in the eye, “Tell them you need them to do that. You do not want to have to replace that pump.”

I went and told the worker. He assured me he’d let me know.

Back in the house I grabbed a glass water bottle from the recycle bin and took it to the sink.  The faucet sputtered and spit water in my face several times before I gave up trying to fill the bottle.  I grabbed a mostly-empty jug of distilled water from the top of the fridge and then walked back up the hill to the dog run. The dogs were silent. This was a great sign.

As I emerged from the path and came into view of the dogs, they all got excited to greet me. I gave them each treats and filled their bowl with what water I had, then wanted to get right back down to the action to make sure all was going OK. I blew them kisses and started back down the hill.

Suddenly I heard a rustle of brush, something crashing through the forest. I whipped around and saw a tawny flash. “Shit,” I thought, “this is it.” I’ve always wanted to see a mountain lion, but every time that thought pops into my mind, I remember an episode of Fantasy Island back in the early 80’s where a man wished to go on a lion hunt or some such thing. Mr. Rourke, of course, granted his wish, but the man’s fate was sealed when he was mauled to death by the very creature he meant to kill. This was my Tattoo moment, where Mr. Rourke tells his short-statured side-kick, “You see, Tattoo, Mr. So and So should have been careful what he wished for.”

The crash of brush came closer and I finally made out Olivia charging for the house.  I took off, full sprint to head off her trajectory. She went straight for the front door! I let her in, closed the door behind me, then turned around, ripping off my sweatshirt and bolting up the steep hill back at the run.  Did Steward and Oliver get out, too? Stewart wouldn’t go far, but Oliver is an explorer, never fearful of wandering off.

My self congratulatory feelings about how much more easily I could make it up the hill earlier now felt silly as my legs became weak with the effort of bounding up the hill. I got to the top, turned the corner and there, poking up, were two little heads, still in the run.  There was a hole — Olivia, who we affectionately call The Bulldozer, had pushed her way through the fencing, squeezing out and making a break for it.

I unlatched the door and picked Stewart and Oliver up, one in each arm to carry them down the hill. I then remembered that, when I was clearing the patch for the dog run, I came across two lengths of rope. I grabbed one and slipped it through Oliver’s collar so that he could walk down under his own power. As I slipped the rope through, Oliver slipped his head out of his collar and ran up the logging road into the deep forest.  I took off after him, Stewart still beneath my other arm, and caught up with him when he stopped to lift his leg on a fallen tree. Finally, I made my way back down the hill.

As I entered the house, it occurred to me that Lindsey had been working beneath the house, there was a trap door open in the floor of the room that will be the master bath. I called for Olivia, but she didn’t come.  I put Stewart and Oliver down, then called for her again.  Out of nowhere, she came to greet me. I quickly had to come up with a plan.

I went outside and found a discarded glass pane door that I had taken down from the old dining room.  I hauled it over the trash pile and back into the house, then laid it on its side in front of the doorway between the living room and the bonus room.  Finally, all dogs were corralled.

I decided I would spend the day working upstairs in the kids’ rooms, that way the dogs could stay with me. I gathered supplies downstairs as the dogs nervously waited for me at the my make-shift doggie gate. I climbed over and we all went upstairs.  As I moved furniture and prepped K’s room for painting, the dogs settled in on K’s bed.  Downstairs the water truck had arrived with 2500 gallons — 1500 for the new septic, and 1000 gallons for our spring tank. I put on some music and the dogs and I settled into a nice groove — me  taping and putting two coats of primer on K’s walls, and the dogs doing what dogs do, looking so sweet tucked into the Dr. Who themed pillows and covers . Tomorrow instantly took shape. Me, my dogs and my music are going to transform the upstairs into something wonderful.

I text Danae, who was on her way home with the kids, and suggest we go to Olita’s, on the wharf in Santa Cruz, for dinner. She agrees. They arrive to pick me up at home, and I make a quick stop to the restroom to pee. The toilet is full with the day’s accumulation of urine from me, from the workers.  It’s time for a flush. We’ve been doing the “if it’s yellow, let it mellow” to save water. I push the lever down and an explosion of water and urine splashes all over me, all over the toilet and floor.  A trapped air bubble from when the pump was sucking nothing from an empty tank. Now I need a quick rinse in the shower before we can leave.

After a wonderful dinner on the water at sunset, we arrive home. I soon get a text from my sister. My dad has pneumonia. My brother is in Connecticut, having just arrived to my step mother not allowing him to see our father. We all launch into full panic. Do my sister and I fly out? Is this it? My heart sinks. I pull Danae into the kitchen to tell her the news. Gwen walks in, fully silliness mode, to show us a mud tattoo her friends gave her during P.E. I try to smile and acknowledge her, but my girl can read faces. She knows something is wrong.

“What’s wrong,” she asks.

I am silent.

“Your face.  What is it,” she demands.

I tell her.  Her heart sinks, too.

“Are we going out,” she asks.

“I don’t know,” I say.

Then Kaherdin walks in. I tell him, too.

We tuck the kids into bed. I have a text out to my brother for more specifics. We’ll know more in the morning.

I come downstairs and get myself ready for bed. While upstairs I’ve gotten a text. It’s from my brother. My dad’s fever is only 99. His cancer has been determined to be Stage 3, not Stage 4 as previously thought.  The news is getting better. I start breathing again and make my way upstairs.

“What are you doing,” Danae asks.

“I need to talk to the kids.” I go into G’s room and give her the update, not wanting her to go to bed with a heavy heart. She throws her arms around me.

Next I go into K’s room and give him the update. He, too, throws his arms around me.

“Thank you, Mama,” he says, grateful for the relief.

At least we’ll all sleep tonight. Tomorrow is another day.