22 July 2009

100 Words – Day 11: Nightfall

Sun’s down. Stars prickle the blueblack sky. There is no city light here to dim the view of sparkling red Mars, low on the horizon. The air is soft, a caress of fleeting coolness in harsh mid-summer. A cricket chirrups in chorus with the tree frogs. The robins have gone to sleep in spite of the crazy hilarity of one or 12 coyotes downhill, a cacophony of laughter rippling the still night air like whale songs in deep water. The fan whirls while the dog sighs, sleepy at the foot of the bed. The cat rumbles, snug against my hip.

21 July 2009

100 words - Day 10 of 50: Fat clothes

I have three big bags full of clothes. I’m donating them to the local hospice thrift store; I need the closet space. Some of the clothes are pretty old. Some are almost new. They’re my “fat clothes.”

They’re all up to four sizes too big for me now. Today I wear the size I wore about 20 years ago.

This is a big step for me. I’ve never banished my “fat clothes” before; I was afraid I’d need them again. But I know I won’t. I’ve learned.

Those stuffed bags represent decades of blumphy discomfort. They no longer weigh me down.

18 July 2009

Almost 3000 words: Spirit Walk

This is the beginning of an unfinished story I wrote a couple of years ago. I'd love to hear what you think.

My friend Ellie says I should write this so I guess I will.

I was born on the reservation in Montana on October 25, 1969. My father, Terrell Gray Wolf, was 17. My mother, Rosa Spotted Owl, was 15. They were just dumb kids and they never got married. Terrell died when I was five months old. He got beat up behind a bar by a bunch of drunken Anglos. He probably deserved it, he was always getting too drunk and picking fights. He had a bad temper. That’s what my uncle Henry Spotted Owl says. When I was three Rosa got tired of living so she drank some Drano. There were no more women in the family to take me so Spotted Owl and his woman Jewel Limpy took me.

I don’t remember these things. Spotted Owl told them to me. He says my father was big like I am now and my mother, his youngest sister, was very pretty. He says if she hadn’t started drinking maybe she would be alive now, but almost everyone drinks too much. Spotted Owl thinks alcohol is the Anglo way of killing off all the Indians the slow way. Sometimes I think he’s right.
He says he drank too when he was young but he stopped when he was 15. He went on a spirit walk then because old Jim Running Horse told him he should do it before the alcohol took his spirit away. Spotted Owl says while he was on his spirit walk Old Grandmother walked with him a while. She told him he would be a good medicine man. He thought this was crazy because she looked like a mouse and she was very funny, but he never knew mice could talk before, so he decided maybe she was right. He took her advice and it worked. He is a good medicine man. He has helped many of the People and even some Anglos.
I was in trouble a lot as I was growing up. Jewel Limpy got sick from diabetes when I was 10 and went away. I think she had a sister in Oklahoma so she went there. I missed her because she was nice to me. Spotted Owl missed her too but he never said much about it.
I had a bad temper like my father and I drank too much with my friends. I also liked to smoke weed, which was better than drinking because it didn’t make me angry. But weed cost too much and it was harder to get, so mostly I drank. I did OK in school but I had trouble with reading so I just listened hard but the teachers didn’t say all the things I needed to know.
When I was sixteen I got into a big fight at a party with some Anglo kids in Ashland. We were all drunk but the cops only arrested me. I stayed in jail for ten days because a girl said I tried to rape her and I beat up some of the boys. They beat me up, too, but that was different. It was true I wanted to sleep with the girl, but not that I tried to rape her. The Anglo cops didn’t believe me, though.
After a while the girl’s spirit felt bad so she admitted that she had lied about me trying to rape her. That was brave because she was in a lot of trouble with her parents. I was very glad she decided to tell the truth. I never saw her again. Her family went to live somewhere else. I hadn’t done anything wrong but get drunk and get into a fight. Lots of people did that, so the police let me go home.
Spotted Owl was mad at me for being stupid like my father and getting drunk and fighting and trying to sleep with girls. He told me I was dishonoring my ancestors. I knew he was right but I was mad at him for saying it. He said I should take my spirit walk but he thought I wasn’t strong or brave enough. That made me even madder so I did it. I wanted to prove that I was a man and not as weak as he thought I was.
I lost track of how long I walked but Spotted Owl told me later it was 12 days. At first I thought it was stupid to walk all over the prairie. I thought Spotted Owl was stupid, too. I was going to trick him and go to the highway and hitch a ride to the town and shack up there for a while.
But I got lost. I couldn’t find the highway or find my way back home. I got real hungry, too, but then that stopped and it didn’t matter if I was lost. After I walked a while I thought I would sit down under some trees and look inside the medicine bundle Spotted Owl gave me. I was curious.

I found two little stones, a black one and white one. There was also a wolf tooth. This made me happy because I was named for the wolf. There was also a handful of cracked corn and a little, blackish, dry, wrinkled disk. It was about as big as my thumbnail.
I knew what it was, even though I’d never seen it with my own eyes before. It was peyote. I remembered what Spotted Owl said. When I found the right place I should stop and wait there. So I stayed. I softened the corn in my mouth until I could chew it, and then I chewed the peyote button. It tasted terrible, but I knew it was right that it did. I just kept it in my mouth and chewed until I could swallow it.
It made my stomach feel sick for a while, but then that stopped. I drank a little water to take the bad taste out of my mouth and then I just waited. I got bored. I wondered if all those braves in the old days who took spirit walks got bored too, or if they had adventures. I thought they probably had adventures, but I wouldn’t because I wasn’t a real brave.
I was a little mad because I knew peyote was supposed to give you visions. I didn’t know what those were like, but I wasn’t getting any. It was a gyp.
The tree I was sitting under was nice. The shade felt blue. I slept a little because my legs got too heavy to walk more.
When I woke up the moon was in the sky. I drank a little more water, and then Rosa came and talked to me for a while. She was only a little older than me and real pretty. I didn’t recognize her, but I knew it was her because she didn’t have a throat or a belly. I could see the prairie and the stars through the holes where they’d been. It didn’t bother her any.
Rosa sat with me for a while. She told me I had an animal spirit. She knew this because since she was a spirit, she could see mine, and she told me I should think about that. I didn’t understand what she meant but I told her I would. That made her smile at me. We talked a little more about my animal spirit but mostly I didn’t understand. It was crazy talk to me because I was still thinking too much like an Anglo.
When we stopped talking about that she made me get up and follow her, so I did. She showed me where there were some camas plants and told me I could eat the bulbs if I could dig them up. So I found a sharp stick and dug them. I couldn’t cook them but that didn’t matter. They didn’t taste very good. Rosa said my belly would like them anyway. She was right.
After I ate some camas I asked her if she ever saw my father. She said no, but there was no hurry. I wanted to ask her why she’d drunk that Drano and left me, and if she was ever sorry she did that or if she missed me, but I couldn’t make those words. I knew then the answers didn’t matter. So I asked her how she knew about the camas. She giggled a little and said all the People knew about camas. I didn’t, until she showed me, but I was just a dumb teen-ager.
A while after that Rosa walked away into the tall grass. There were stars over her head. I was sad when she left but I knew she didn’t need to say good-bye to me. She could see me whenever she wanted to. That made me feel better.
I stood up and walked a while but then I got dizzy so I stopped and just sat down. It was a good camas place. There was lots of tall grass. I thought maybe I would die and be like Rosa, except I wouldn’t have holes in me, so I waited. I wondered if I would be a human spirit or an animal spirit. I hoped I would be a wolf, like my name. I wasn’t afraid though.
To give myself something to do I looked at the two stones Spotted Owl gave me. They were smooth and round. I thought they might be river stones from the Tongue. I put one in each hand and looked at them. After a while I could see that the white stone was me now, with my spirit strong and well. The black stone was me when I was angry or drunk. Both stones were beautiful, but the black one was heavy and dragged my hand down. The white one had no weight. It was like the stars.
I thought maybe it was better to be like the white stone, if I could. I felt dumb thinking I could be like a stone, but then I remembered that even though the stones were small and didn’t do anything, they were as old as the world. A long time ago they were mountains. They were very patient and never got angry.
Sometime after that Coyote came. He sat down pretty close to me but he didn’t talk. He just looked at me and I looked at him. Once in a while he scratched his fleas. He went away for a while, but he came back. He had something in his mouth. He dropped it in front of me and walked back into the grass. I didn’t see Coyote again after that.
It was a ferret he dropped. He was generous to give me this good ferret he caught so I could eat it. But I couldn’t eat the ferret. I didn’t have a knife to skin it or a way to make a fire to cook it. And it wasn’t dead. I was sorry for it, though. It was a nice ferret. It didn’t deserve to be caught by Coyote just so its death could be wasted on a stupid man who couldn’t even eat it.
I had a little water left so I put some in my palm for her. The ferret was very brave. She drank the water and asked if she could have some more. She was very polite. I gave her more. She said the places Coyote bit her hurt. So I used a little more of my water to clean them, and then I tore the blanket and wrapped her up in it. She went to sleep. I thought she would probably die.
She didn’t die though. After a while she woke up and told me her name was Ha’hahn’e. Coyote had eaten her four babies, but she understood he had to. It was the way of things. She had never been a mother before, so she was still learning the right way to hide them.
Ha’hahn’e asked me if I would make her hurts stop. I told her I didn’t think I could, but I would try. She said that was OK. But when I touched her fur, I could feel the places where she hurt. I could see brown fuzz in those places. It was ugly, and bad. It scared me a little.
But I told her I would try, so I did. I found out I could make the fuzz stick to my fingers. It didn’t hurt me. So I started taking it out of her. It wanted to stick to me but I knew I shouldn’t let it do that. I shook my fingers and it floated away. Ha’hahn’e was very quiet and only bared her teeth and snapped three times. She apologized, though. I told her I was sorry if I hurt her, but this was my first time being a healer. She told me she understood.

It took me a while to find all the brown fuzz. Some of it was very deep inside her. But I didn’t have anything else to do. I was too dizzy to walk anymore. I was afraid the wind would blow me away, but if I sat on the ground like a stone it couldn’t. So after a while the brown fuzz was all gone. Ha’hahn’e said she felt better. I was glad for her, but I was very tired then so I went to sleep.
When I woke up the moon had moved some. I thought Ha’hahn’e might be gone, but she wasn’t. She told me if I didn’t mind, she would stay with me. I said OK, she could stay. I liked her. She was my first animal friend.
I stayed at that place for a while, watching the sun rise and set a few times. I thought a lot about what Rosa told me. I had always liked animals. I guess that was because I had an animal spirit but I didn’t know before. Now I could see the brown fuzz and take it away so they could be well. So I thought maybe this was what I was meant to learn on my spirit walk.
I should be a medicine man for animals.
Also I learned I should not be like Rosa and make myself die. Life is very hard sometimes but it’s better than walking alone in the dark. Rosa told me she didn’t mind being a spirit, but sometimes she missed hugging people. I thought maybe I would miss that, too. It would be better to live until I was old. To be like the white stone, like the stars.
I thought I should walk back home. I didn’t know the way but I started walking even though I was dizzy and it was hard. My legs didn’t want to walk anymore. Ha’hahn’e rode on my shoulder. Sometimes she ran ahead of me and teased me. She made me laugh because she didn’t only run, she leapt and bounded and did funny somersaults.
When the sun rose I saw the town. I was surprised because I had been looking for it but I couldn’t find it anywhere. Now here it was, like always. I walked down the street and the people all looked at me and Ha’hahn’e. Some smiled and some only stared but no one stopped me or talked to me. Later I found out some of them thought I was drunk, because I was walking funny and I was only wearing that stupid loincloth. When I got to Spotted Owl’s house he was waiting for me on the porch. He said he had water and food for me.
I never told him about my mother Rosa or about Coyote. Spotted Owl didn’t mind if Ha’hahn’e stayed with us, but he asked me to tell her she should go outside like we did if she had to make water or pellets. I told her and she did that. She was a very cooperative ferret.
When school started I worked harder than I ever had before that. I had two more years to go and I wanted my grades to look good to the Anglos. I knew if I wanted to be an animal doctor I had to do that. So I had to stay after school for help most days.
I stopped drinking. It was the hardest thing, because it was in my mind, like a blackness. My old friends got mad at me because I wouldn’t party with them. I wanted to, because it would be easier and more fun than doing homework, but I was afraid my animal spirit would leave me.

17 July 2009

100 words - Day 9 of 50: Young people today

Oh, he looked a sight!

Young people today had no sense of decorum, Gertrude thought as she surveyed the young man standing in her kitchen. He held a steaming bowl of her mutton stew, wolfing it with a soup-spoon as if he hadn’t had a bite to eat all day. He wouldn’t sit down proper at the table – said he had no time, he was due at the dance in just 15 minutes – but she couldn’t see why that meant he had to stand to eat, like he was a young horse. All that was missing was the feed-bag.

16 July 2009

100 words - Day 8 of 50: Dusk walk

Dusk gathers, the shadows beneath the great trees deepening. The earth is dry and spongy from the fir and pine needles slowly, slowly dissolving into the soil but if he steps just so, even in his thick-soled hiking shoes, he makes no sound. The air is sharp and chilly; a light breeze lifts his dark hair and caresses his ears.

A jay – a Steller’s, with its aquamarine and royal blue body and wings, its sooty-black, tufted head and feet – scolds him. Shhh, bird, you’ll alert them to my position. He steps deeper into the trees, making himself a shadow, invisible.

15 July 2009

100 Words – Day 7 of 50: Why peppermint tea?

Summertime and peppermint tea. They go hand-in-hand, like winter and gloves or autumn and orange leaves. Spring and changeable weather. You get my drift.
My reasons for loving peppermint tea? Three:
1. Gloriously refreshing on hot days, made strong and mixed with lots of ice.
2. Blessedly therapeutic boiled, steeped, set on a kitchen table and inhaled while tenting a towel over your head. Clears blocked sinuses in minutes.
3. A tea brewed from peppermint leaves is so whimsical and magic, it’s hard to believe it exists. It’s a faerie drink.

14 July 2009

100 words - Day 6 of 50: Girl in black

Later, on the train, Tom took his laptop out of his briefcase and, sitting with it on his knees, started typing.

“I met the most intriguing young woman today,” he wrote in the journal space under the day’s date. “Her name is Emma. She works in a book shop in the Canal Road. She was wearing black from head to toe, a black clip in her hair, jet chips in her ears, a slim black dress and black Mary Jane-type shoes. Only her skin, rose-tinged porcelain, and her lips, pink as dawn, provided contrast.

“I think she is quite beautiful.”

13 July 2009

100 words – Day 5 of 50: Little white lies

It had been a fishing trip, a fact-finding mission. Tom had known the man for years, and he was often a very good source of information, moving as he did through the shadowy world of arms buyers and sellers. A devout Muslim, he had no more moral problem with his work than did the Christians from whom he often bought his inventory. What Mohammed did was perfectly legal; in fact, he’d purchased this particular high-powered automatic rifle from the Americans.

He felt a little bad about his white lie to Emma, but he couldn’t have told her all that, anyway.

12 July 2009

100 words – Day 4 of 50: Sunday bells

Church bells sounded through the heavy sea-fog, flat and fey, everywhere but nowhere in the small German city on the sea. The bells competed with lonely foghorns. Seagulls mewed. In summer, when the sun bathed the cobbled streets and stone buildings in clean yellow light, the church bells sounded bright and reverent, a soundtrack for red geranium petals drifting to the sidewalks. But when the wind blew topsy-turvy the Sunday bells wavered and rippled, and in heavy rain the peals sounded underwater, as if they were calling Neptune and his mer-people to worship.

There are no church bells here.

11 July 2009

100 words – Day 3 of 50: Firewood in summertime

Mr. Wren and I bought three cords of firewood this week. We had it delivered – read “dumped on the driveway” – and then stacked, all ready to go. We won’t need it for three or four months, but there’s a quiet security to knowing our
winter’s warmth is already paid for and waiting. Now we’ll have the chimney sweep out with her odd, spiky brushes and traditional black clothes. She brings us good luck: no chimney fires in bitter February.

The almond wood smells spicy-dry. It evokes chilly days and warm sweaters in the middle of short-sleeved, barefoot summer. I’m smiling.

10 July 2009

How my garden grows ...

Sometimes when the muse returns after a long absence, she comes loaded for bear. Other times, like now, she knocks politely on my mind and asks to be allowed in once again. I'm letting her in. She brought a camera and told me I should tell a garden story. So here it is: Mr. Wren is a master gardener (I am decidedly not). He has ideas about gardens and their creation. This year, he wanted to try straw-bale gardening. The idea is that you plant your vegetable starts in holes forced into bales of straw that have been soaked thoroughly. In the hole goes soil and the small plant. Doing this means that many of your plants are at about knee-level, meaning that you don't have to kneel or bend to reach them, which he appreciates because of his disability. Me too -- I'm not as young as I once was.

So he placed the bales for planting. I weeded out about a half-ton of soil and compost that had been ... seasoning ... and we filled the empty middle sections of the bales for further planting. All this took place in late April. I lost 10 pounds in the doing. No complaints.

Once everything was planted,we waited. And now things are growing like crazy. The tomatoes have little yellow flowers. The crookneck squash has big orangy-yellow flowers and a couple of actual squashes. I took the first one this morning and am now considering the best way to serve it. Battered and fried? What a temptation.

I got to work on the rest of the garden in May, clipping and deadheading and weeding. More weight loss. I can't complain. And the result of all that work is a thriving, colorful garden that makes me smile. The foxgloves were glorious. The blackberries are coming and so are the grapes. Daylilies glow and roses are blooming in Technicolor. Even with the gray June we had, everything is busting out in wild, fecund good health.

Butterflies flutter and loop. Bees hum. Even m'ol dog Logan is getting in on the fun.

I'm looking forward to August, when the tomatoes will be nearly ready for picking, the crooknecks will be overwhelming, and the Japanese eggplants purple and
sublime. I intend to make spaghetti sauce by the gallon, eggplant parmesan, and salads filled with bright yellow cro
oknecks. Not to mention yellow and red bell peppers and fiery little jalapenos.
I musn't forget The Girls, our five Rhode Island Red hens. They're strangely menacing but they give us four or five big brown eggs a day and eat up all our stale bread and elderly store-bought veggies, along with scratch and feed. Nice Grrrrls.
This is what I've been doing during the long blog silence. I've been reading, too. Organizing old stories and considering which to bring back to life. I've missed you all, but it's been good. Really.

100 words – Day 2 of 50: Summer gray

It was the strangest summer she’d ever spent in sweltering-hot Northern California. Nearly every day in June was gunship gray and cool, but there was no rain. The daytime house looked winterish, flat and shadowy inside. Flowers bloomed without benefit of sunshine. Tomato plants grew. Haunting wind-chimes dingled in the breeze. Twice, thunder ba-boomed. Once, hail rattatatatted for thirty seconds.

Years ago, her elderly friend Magrit in Germany complained the weather there had changed drastically since she was a girl. She blamed it on jet contrails.
Oh cool, quirky un-California June. Global warming? Or just the bitter surprise of age?

09 July 2009

100 words – Day 1 of 50: Inspiration

OK. I note that Blue Girl is doing the 100-word, 50-day challenge again. As you may have noticed, I have not written anything for quite a long time. Why? My muse has deserted me. For the last couple of months I’ve been unable to think of anything I care enough to write about. Or maybe I haven’t been able to think of anything to write about that I want to share.

Anyway, I think I’m back. I’m going to follow in the inspirational BG’s footsteps and make myself write 100 words every day for 50 days.