There’s no Costco in Heaven

He was once a stallion, strong with a chiseled jaw and tall stature, now well past his mid-80’s and considerably withered. My ears were playing tricks on me because I thought he said, “We don’t have a Costco in Heaven.” No one in ear-shot looks surprised, leaving me no clue as to what was really said.

A smile parts my lips and I feel the tears well. I selfishly stifle my emotions so that no one will see, realizing that I feel a measure of comfort knowing there’s no Costco in Heaven. It’s a private moment in a busy day.

The holidays rip at me, I want time to stand still so that I may mourn and gnash my teeth and wallow, I know that is not the way. That the departed would be ill honored by such shallow, predictable, useless and self-serving behavior, but for my grief…  Occasionally it bunches and bulges, surges and threatens to overtake me. Every loss, fresh. Once again deep, open wounds fill and bleed freely. I miss you.

Embarking on the next great adventure, seeking what is beyond the veil of this life…my mind has been on him and what might be out there ready, waiting. Will he explore heaven right now as I ponder the man whose life is too large to capture in an obituary, or even a long winded tribute. Will there be mountains to climb, how high will he go? What will marathons look like, though are those from heaven?

If you’re there when he arrives, circle ’round, find a spot then get acquainted. Expect the best story time, but you’ll have to be patient, he’s not one to boast, he’s not telling to hear his own voice.

I told you before how his days were numbered. There were weeks that stretched to months and turned into more than a year.  It’s time to remember my days are numbered, each of ours are. The concept circles inside of my head to not let a doctor or a disease be the reminder I need.

Someday will come for me too.

For today and each day I am here is an opportunity at love and adventure, at discovery, at chasing my joy like a fast paced foxhunt where the fox and I both win because we are one and we played as hard and as faithful as our spirit would allow.

On the 11th of December the world got a little less light, lost some of it’s sparkle. The mantle we carry to give, to care, to do more good than bad, to forgive and to love just got heavier, our shares increased. The balance of what we are to bring: a measure of good, of light and the challenge to give more than we take grew in the wee hours of the morning when Johnny passed out of this life and into the next.

I wholeheartedly detest two things, New Years Resolutions and Valentine’s Day, so I’m not waiting until January 1st to make sure everyday I start fresh, make a mark and try to climb above it. I’m not waiting until Valentine’s Day to start spreading my love around. I love you and all your mess, your flaws, your iniquity and your bright and glorious self, your goodness, generosity and creativity. I love you.

Don’t wait, start that adventure, run that race, take that trip, fly that heart. Go now.

 

Good-bye for now Johnny Yu, 7/26/48 to 12/11/15. Thank-you for setting such an amazing example of love and life, generosity and the example of largeness and joy!

You Spin me Round and Round

You Spin me Round and Round

I’m Too Sexy For My Glasses

I’ll be honest, I was hoping you wouldn’t see me this morning. Sure I had a smile on my face but I was wishing, instead, for a bag over my head.

If you see me in the morning commute, dropping kids off at the pool…er, I mean at the school–or either actually–and I am wearing my “nice mama” glasses, you will know, I have given up on the day already. At least I am strongly considering it…another story, for another day perhaps…

Nice Mama GlassesMy “nice mama glasses” are hideous. A pair of wire rimmed glasses more than ten years old, bent, scratched and really, really ugly, they were the emergency back-up pair to my “sexy librarian”, Kate Spade, tortoise-shell frames that inevitably fell victim to a puppy several years back.

I only wear the “nice mama” glasses out of desperation, late at night or mornings when getting up early enough to put in contacts seems insurmountable.

For whatever reason Orion, 4 years old, has named them my “nice mama” glasses.

“mama, can we get under the covers and watch a movie together?” he will ask.

“Aw!” Heart melting, “Yes, that sounds nice. You are so sweet.”

A satisfied smile will sweep across his whole face, then the tiniest flicker of a shadow before he will decree;

Photo on 12-16-15 at 12.06 PM

without my “nice, mama glasses”

Photo on 12-16-15 at 12.06 PM #2

with my glasses that make me suddenly nice.

“but first you have to put on your “nice mama” glasses.”

Sometimes they are my, “good mama” glasses it just depends on the day.

Weirdo little kids. Just like weirdo adults, they have ideas in their heads about what different things mean, even innocuous or arbitrary items that come off and on. I promise you, I am just as mean and nasty with my “nice mama” glasses on as I am without them.

I’d like to get another pair of “sexy librarian” glasses, I actually see a pair in the very near future. It’s tough being so sexy and not having a pair of spectacles so that everyone else knows it too…Until then, even though I hate the ratty, crooked, scratched-up, gold-rimmed, “nice mama” glasses, I am glad someone thinks they look good on me.

Scraps of Armor

It’s been there for two years, almost two years anyway. It feels like a lifetime and though I don’t know if anyone else ever noticed–for me–it was my sweet, and silent, tiny little piece of armor.  Strong, and still soft like when someone grabs hold of you, gives you a hug and whispers strength in your ear because they know you’ll never admit you need it. That piece of heart shaped paper with four little names on it was just like that.

It seems barely a breath has passed, though in fact two years have gone by, my life and everything in it felt fragile then. My rational, grown-up part of my mind knew the life it wanted, but my heart was fragile, hurting and full of doubts.  The hardest year in recent memory was coming to a close, no resolutions and no promise of improvement. Emotionally I was adrift, clinging to vague hopes and lost dreams, I clung to the fact that despite feeling like I might die, no one had…actually died…

Days would slip by when I could not eat, I would force myself to drink water, cringing at the thought of food. I withered, physically, emotionally, spiritually…I felt like I was dying. I was in hiding, hoping that all of the turmoil would melt away but not at the expense of going back to the past.

Then one day–admittedly in a haze of emotions a little tiny hand, no longer the chubby fist of a toddler and not quite the dexterous hand of a big kid–reached from the backseat and tapped me, handing off this tiny scrap of love.

Imperfect and cut with safety scissors, a heart, on it the words; mama, papa, Apollo, Orion. Scrawled with his tiny hand, in imperfect penmanship, made in stolen moments after a class project. Mama at the top of the list. It really was up to me…

The love that holds us...

The love that holds us…

I am not a sentimentalist.

Mini KnightsNot by any stretch of the imagination. Nothing feels better, for me, than letting go. Lucky for me, when I let go I rarely ever look back, that coupled with impatience for “junk memories” means I rarely remember anything long enough to regret getting rid of it.

I just held that scrap of red paper and wept before I could even start the car to pull out of the school parking lot.  I knew, then and there, not just what I wanted but that I had strength enough to get there.  A sense that if I could just hold on, the pieces of my puzzle would start fitting back together. I felt comforted.

God,  I hate not being an open book, but no one could have or would have wanted to hear the crap I was sorting. Even if they did, would I ever come back from the judgments they would pass, the doubts they would have about me?

That little scrap of my heart said I was going to be okay. Patience…have I mentioned I have none? So it was that I faced, head on, a test I knew I was otherwise not equipped to make it through.

I offered accolades to Apollo telling him how much I loved his gift, I held it all the way home then tucked it into an empty compartment in the car, for months that’s where it lived. At the school pick-up I would pull it out sometimes when I was waiting. A guaranteed smile would wash over my face, even on the bad days.IMG_2944

In the spring I quietly brought my love scrap into the house and mounted it to the side of our stainless steel refrigerator. I’m sure someone noticed but all mom’s are required to keep various gestures of affection from our children. No one knew this was actually a direct answer to personal prayer, executed by my own.

Family, it means more to me than I can adequately put into words.  If you know me at all, know my deepest held beliefs, know that my family is vast and extended and many are my dearest and favorite friends, especially my sisters and my husband, even my own mom, than you would not be at all surprised how much this paper screamed that life was going to be ok…eventually.

Last week, when I was cleaning, I took down my love scrap and recycled it to the paper gods. I don’t need it anymore, this picture is enough. So thankful for little hands and little scraps of armor.

An Oregon Thing

It Was Night Time

I was driving home at 9:30 at night a few days ago, top down, wind in my hair and it happened. That familiar hush, of Sonoma County, in the night time, the damper to sound and traffic. The night sky was glowing the way it does when low clouds, or high fog, are hovering just overhead–compressed into a sound dampener. Total dejavous swept over me, obliterating that moment and smashing it into hundreds of moments where I’d been in an entirely different state. A different world really.

Here I am in Bohemia, and I am having a flashback to CowCountry.

In the high deserts of Central Oregon, the nights are crisp and clear. It sounds like an exaggeration to the rest of the country but trillions of stars stand out like bright sequins, the light from the stars so bright that the Cascade Mountains are backlit, a ragged, majestic silhouette of razor sharp peaks . None of that was happening here in Sonoma.

The night sky was glowing softly,  alive and lit from within, like soft bioluminescence. There are no real mountains (sorry sonoma…truth hurts) but the air smelled familiar, taking me back to so many summer And fall nights growing up.  In Sonoma–in the neighborhoods close to where I live–evening smells rotate with different times of the year; there’s fragrant jasmine nights, eucalyptus, rain, mown grass, sometimes apple blossoms and daffodils, fermenting (rotting fruit, usually grapes but at my house it could be figs) even wine can fill the air from various wineries…other nights the pungent smell of feedlots and ranch stuff can hang in the air (there are plenty of cows in Central Oregon but rare, unless you’re the rancher, to smell them on any given night)…and other times of year (in Sonoma) you can drive around and smell out which of your neighbors are pot farmers…

Tonight it just smelled like a late summer or fall night in Central Oregon, it smelled like a wood fire, a forest fire. No seriously. NorCal is on fire, Oregon is on fire, Washington, Idaho and Montana are all beating down fires…I don’t think fog is hanging over head, I think it might be smoke.dt.common.streams.StreamServer

Rampant fires are taking homes, lives and property.  When I was in school I took four years of Forestry. It’s an Oregon thing.  I even took college credit courses in forestry fire-fighting, built firelines, did some backburning…cleared a lot of brush and understory… I wanted to grow up to be a superhero. A firefighting superhero, I got side tracked with boys, and life rearranged some of those one-time dreams, but I remember how rewarding it was and how much work it was and I remember during one course a fire we were following had several firefighters from Arizona die. I remember how serious it is.11880440_10207489730543946_6792181153920138706_n How devastating everything can be in the blink of an eye.

So I’m driving home at nine o’clock at night, the top off the jeep, looking at the glowing night air and doing something I haven’t done in a while…thinking about families whose loved ones are out protecting others from fire, putting themselves between homes and fires…If I’m honest I found myself saying prayers. I don’t know what makes another person decide they are willing to risk their life for the welfare of strangers, but I am thankful for them, not just the ones fighting fires. 

You’re not a special snowflake!

“Buddhism has a word called Vipassanā, or (vipaśyanā) (विपश्यना for all of you Sanskrit speakers. It means insight into the true nature of reality, and it’s Three marks of existence: impermanence, suffering [or unsatisfactoriness], and non-self.

“Roughly translated they mean nothing is permanent including you, shit happens and you aren’t a special snowflake.”

 “What!? WTF? F@€% you for saying that, I am too a special snowflake!” My mind is spinning.

I read this ‘proverb’ weeks ago from one of my favorite, thought provoking, facebook  tribe. My immediate, knee-jerk[face] reaction was to be incensed and annoyed. How dare someone tell us all that we aren’t special…I’m special. 

I am really.

I may have done some trudging around, had a bit of defiance in my step, while ruminating about this particular ignorance. Days past and I pondered. Wow, you think you know a religion and then…then this…not a special snowfake…none of it matters. 

It all matters…right?

As the blind, indignation of being told I wasn’t special faded and my ego tried to recover I kept thinking and pondering this perspective on Vipassanā.

At some point in my dejectedness I realized that while no two snowflakes are the same, they are still all snow. We don’t catch a snowflake on our mittens and rejoice over how insanely unique each one is, it’s just snow. I hate admitting it, but snow is neat (from far away or whilst on vacation…oh and on Christmas…) but snow is just snow.

For some reason in the interim of exploring why I was upset to not be special I happened across another personal gem. I’m struggling to find the words to relate, in a way that will make sense and have as few ums, and grunts as possible, so stay with me.

What does it all mean if none of it means a dang thing? What’s the fucking point of all of it?  

Quit. 

There’s no point so let go. You’ll never be special. You’ll never be perfect…

I can finally start a naked commune at my house and quit wearing clothes, stop tempering my potty mouth, start smoking and drinking like I’m the rockstar I thought I’d be by now…

Just when I was about to give it all away a quiet whispering threaded its way into my noodle

…”know by doing…” 

It doesn’t make sense now that I’ve written it but in my heart I understood it to mean that we can believe whatever we want about the person we are, but do we know it because we’ve experienced it.

We may believe that our morals are unshakable, our resilience to adversity above the cut. We can believe that we are charitable, and that we know how to work hard, have great love and or an unmatched ability to forgive…insert whatever beliefs you have about who you are…what makes you ‘special’? 

Do I live it, I must ask. 

When challenged within my iniquities do I faulter? Do I succumb to my addictions, my frailty, my fragility, impulses, desires, do I indulge in my gluttony? If I do, do I recover, do I confront failures or continue to make excuses, give up, turn up the volume of distractions, defining who I am, not by my actions but by my own inner dialog so that I can live without guilt, without change and without experiencing the fullness of my best version of me?

That’s it. 

Can I be in pursuit of becoming the most stunning version of myself or do I need the validation of being special. 

When I get over that “rainbow bridge” I want to look at my reflection and not see all the places I let myself down –holes in my soul–for not working as hard as I could have, not living as much as I should have, not giving all I have…I want to see perseverance, generosity, forgiveness, resilience, muscles from hard work and brains from learning. I imagine lots of scars across my body and my heart, and I hope that everyone of them turns into a treasured memory of becoming stronger, better, smarter, kinder, quicker and I hope I still have a mean, twisted  sense of humor.

I don’t want to be snowflake, I want to be a beast!

So then I just put on my crazy pants and took the day off…

I will trump your regular 8 hour work day, your one hour workout and your dinner-kitchen exploits and raise you; storytime, blog writing, cookie baking, friend visiting, weed pulling, power cleaning, crafting, conglomerating, adventure finding, fundraising, bug hunting, kid coaching, bird training, carnival practicing, chicken wrangling bliss…but sometimes a girl just needs a little break.

That is to say that I absolutely am guilty of trying to follow through with every “good idea” that pops into my head and sometimes…well somebody has to pay the price of that.  Clearly, not that smart, I still haven’t figured out that “someone” is Matilda.

All summer I have had one day off a week… If by one day off, you mean clumping together parts of a couple different days. I’m lucky that my work days are things I already love doing and that I have creative jobs to begin with, but in true Matilda fashion, I hate having a schedule. It’s so much more fun to choose as I go. Buck wild and full throttle.

Last week, on Thursday I went to bed, running through the next day’s “To Do” list in my head:

  • deliver 7 year old and his bud to Summer Camp by 8:30
  • proceed to the gym-no detours…
  • drop off three year old for 2.5 hours in child-care,
  • Hit the weight-room
  • hit booty-camp with my bestie
  • hurry home for lunch
  • complete animal husbandry consisting of
    • taking care of my rescue flock…the parrots;
      • birdie play time-outside
      • birdie treat time-outside
      • food and water clean/change-in and outside
      • more playtime in the sun and maybe bird showers-outside
    • feed and water the dinosaurs  er, chickens
      • clean chicken hutch… it’s been a week…ew…
  • write and publish at least two blog articles for my favorite boss.
  • but I may have to pick up the big kid and his bud from Summer Camp somewhere in the middle of writing…
  • make dinner
  • clean house
  • fold pile of laundry instead of perpetually dressing from the clean pile…

This is a normal day off…even if the writing eats up seven hours of my day…and it can…

Here’s what really happened:

at 5:40am this malicious, sleep stealing, booger eating, bed hogging, sex terminating, bath intruding, non-ice cream sharing, banshee rivaling, germ sharing, cutest brat of all time rolls onto the scene and proceeds to lay out his demands…

I shoo him off and reset my alarm…

Ten minutes pass…

He’s back again. It’s 65 degrees, he’s cold. He wouldn’t be if he’d just get into bed with me, snuggle under the covers and shut up…go back to sleep like a normal person…

I am badgered into dressing him.

Never mind that he’s wearing ratty navy blue sweats with orange pinstripes and a spiffy, new turquoise and white pollo, He’s dressed, I’m not going to dwell on fashion.

I reset my alarm

 

Very shortly he’s board.

Yes. Whatever you want.

T.V.

My ipad.

Whatever you want kid, just go play.

I reset my alarm

Then, shoes,  he’s not asking…but incessantly droning on about it right beside my sleeping head.  Oh good, go outside, where I can’t hear all your shenanigans(…the voice in the back of my head is belittling me, warning me and comparing me to a delinquent, useless parent…oh well, let go voice…)sleep. Sleep is what I need…

I reset my alarm.

No time has passed at all before my head is pounding again and I am awakened by the whiniest, most pathetic child you’ve ever heard…he may have been there for a while judging by the desperation in his voice…something about food. Aparently he is hungry…

A brief negotiation ensues to determine what food stuffs we have on hand that will not require my departure from my soft, warm, lovely, fluffy bed.  Yellow cheese and apples…Okay.

Brat, “But I need it cut”

FortheLoveofGod…Just get the block of cheese and eat it and the apple whole!!!!

I mean, “can you bring it to me baby?” he’s off, pitter-pattering down the hall. After a brief pause he’s returned. So cute…he has an apple and my aged cheddar. Precious little…punk…

Now the debate…I shouldn’t.

I know it…I throw back my blankets but quickly change my mind. BBBRRRRrrrr!!! …checking the time…6:40.

I totally had my heart set on getting up at 8:00…a brief struggle with my conscience proceeds.

6:41: “can you be so brave and get mommy a knife?”

The impish smile, implies he can.

“I mean it, no running, soft, slow, steps. Use two hands. Hold it like this. Can you do that?” A nod and his retreating pitter-patter.

He returns with the biggest Cutco Chef’s Knife I have… OMG.

Cut apple. Cut Cheese. Stow knife safely in bureau drawer.

Butcher knife's in dresser drawers is totally a normal thing...

Butcher knife’s in dresser drawers is totally a normal thing…

…Reset alarm…

I rolled out of bed 18 minutes before Camp Started, put on my bathing suit, and a t-shirt, and threw some essentials into my purse. Sunglasses, kid swimsuits, goggles and sunscreen are always loaded by the front door. Dropped the kids at camp, went straight to breakfast then the pool where I stayed for a good portion of my day.

Swimming with my three year old for an hour and 20 minutes, lazing in the sun watching him play for almost an hour, sipping large glasses of ice water and snacking on fruit. As I laid there, the pressures I had put on myself, expectations of the day and judgments about what is required began dissipating, slipping away. I felt the sun sinking into me, re-charging me. Three hours slipped by and it was just after 1:00 before I knew it.

Some ice-cream was in order, then with time flying we retrieved the big kids from camp and came home.

I'll see your crazy and raise you a flock of feathers...

I’ll see your crazy and raise you a flock of feathers…

I still had enough time to take care of my flock and write one article. Man I needed that day. I needed to not care for a few hours and do nothing, even if I did have to dress from the clean pile for one more day…

Whew! Can’t wait for another day to blow everything off!

 

I gave up shit for lent…

Today is Ash Wednesday, and wouldn’t you know it, the neighborhood power is out for “routine maintenance,” (NSA setting up better recon on the guy down the street…or me…not sure) eight hours of not opening the fridge, and all I can think about is lent and how when I was growing up dad always encouraged us to give something up for lent.

Lent is never mentioned in the bible, but I still like it. Think of lent as actively praying for forty days. Rather something like this “…dear god, why would I ever think I was strong enough to give up wine!” …or chocolate or whatever you love to indulge in…

Upon my reflection I realize I gave up “shit” for lent: dumbshits, shit heads, bullshit, piles of shit, gives of shit, shit holes (assholes), shitty food, and shit, literally…

I mean, crap, I have been cleaning up someone else’s shit for more than two decades. W.T.F. Really. With dogs, parrots, a cat, chickens and kids, there’s a lot of shit around here that needs cleaning or hiding…

I have been wiping kid-ass for more than twenty years. Let that sink in. I’ve worked at vet clinics…on ranches and in kid care…wanna talk about shit, I’m your gal. By the time I’m done wiping kid butts it will be my moms turn–(sorry mom) and then my husbands and then after fifty years of up close and personal with everybody else’s little brown-eye, you guessed it, then it will be my turn…for someone to wipe my ass.

So before it’s too late to take a break from shit-I’m doing it, right now, for lent…In one more hour because the fucking dog has shit stuck to his butt, AGAIN, (he needs to quit growing hair) and I can’t turn on the clippers to shave his ass until the power gets turned back on…

Then I’m done with this stupid shit! At least for lent.

I know that’s backwards-we are supposed to suffer in commemoration of Jesus and his forty days he fasted and suffered in the desert before he was crucified…I’ve been suffering…I’m giving the “shit suffering” mantle over to someone else for a bit…

It probably won’t last and I’m probably just freaking out because I’m stuck with shit (literally) until the power comes back on…that and I’m starving since I won’t open the fridge until the power comes on…I cleaned all the junk food out of the cupboards (no-I didn’t eat it-I threw it away days ago…originally I was just giving up shitty food for lent…) and I need some protein!

Later I will feel shitty for exposing you to shitty language (just the silent ramblings I usually keep to myself), you know-after I eat, then clean the dogs behind-so apologies ahead of time.

I Got My Whitewater Team-Bring It 2015

I must have made some kind of silent wish, listened to that story and let it rekindle some barely alive spark still smoldering. It fits, I’d listened to that young man and his tale, thought it the perfect call to adventure, and somehow wished it upon myself. He was young, approaching 19 and still in awe of all life held before him.

He’d stood in front of us, gathered to celebrate the passing of time, the beginning of adulthood and the end of high school. It was early summer and graduation parties for young men and young women were abundant, so was the excitement of new adventures and big dreams. I don’t remember his name, barely recall what he looked like, young, handsome, tall with waves in his light brown hair, but it’s vague. What’s not vague is the story he offered up and the wish that he bestowed upon us all.

“It was going to be the trip of a lifetime.” He started, ” three generations together, one epic journey to commemorate their solidarity, their love and to forever bind their hearts to each other. My grandfather, my father, my brother and myself were stepping out the door to tame the wild, slay dragons and navigate the the treacherous Rogue River down deep in the wild wilderness of southern Oregon. We had signed up for a guided trip, with other strangers looking for adventure, it was the summer before my brother would leave for college and everything would change.

My grandfather had booked the trip and now we all sat in the car at our rendezvous point with our group.

‘Before we get out,’ my Grandpa said, ‘I’d like to offer up a family prayer.’

This wasn’t abnormal for our little tribe and so each grabbed another’s hands and silently bowed their head. We probably should have paid attention to the building anticipation, been afraid of how things just fell together too easily, recognized it as an omen that time offs were granted, and schedules cleared, but we were oblivious, the smell of excitement filling our noses, testosterone coursing through our veins…heads hastily bowed, ‘hurry’, was my prayer, ‘before someone uses up all the fun.’

Grandfather inhaled, let it out and began, ‘Heavenly Father bless us that we will encounter all the adventure that we can handle. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.’

That was it. I was left wondering who was this guy and what had he done with my long winded grandfather, I quickly decided I shouldn’t question it, maybe God answered my silent prayer, the Lord works in mysterious ways, after all. And so it was that we all excitedly exited the car grabbing arm loads of gear and coolers of food. Enough, in hand, to last us three nights and four days in the wilderness, and we were off. Off on the adventure of a lifetime, we could not contain our enthusiasm.

The first half of the day was un-eventful, as far as rafting trips go, fun…predictable, there was a brief midday stop for grub but I hadn’t had time to build up an appetite. We nibbled on turkey sandwiches and drank bottled water, mingling with our new companions. My brother and I were filled with anticipation and excitement and saw this lunch break as unnecessary, spending much of our break skipping rocks across the burgeoning waters, full from the spring melt following a record year of heavy snowfall.

When lunch concluded and we began the process of relaunching half a dozen rafts we were armed with a brief run down of the next stretch of river and what to expect. Class 3 rapids were up ahead–I was going to see some action after all–and in the next half hour, adrenaline was swirling, I was on pins and needles.

Most rapids get smaller in the spring as the deeper melt-off water adds cushion to the underlying boulders, this upcoming area however was the exception to that rule. With vertical cliffs on both sides, a giant boulder more than ten feet tall pinned between them and a matching ten or twelve foot drop off the back side of said boulder. Lower water levels, meant a bigger drop off the backside but slower water too, thus making it easier to navigate your approach. The approach here is what mattered.

The boulder marks the first in a series of rapids. Entering these from the right side of the boulder is paramount to safely negotiating the next hundred yards of peril. It sounded fun, we were ready. Our boats began spreading out, making room for each other to chance the Rapids safely spaced out, we were the fourth boat with two following us. When the infamous boulder came into sight. The first three boats each took their turn paddling hard towards the right cliff, finding their mark and sliding effortlessly over the large rock of death.

Suddenly it was our turn and we were hurdling toward the left side of the cliff, we dug in our paddles, a singular and perfect effort…until the current ripped dads paddle from his hands. In his effort to retrieve the paddle he fell from the boat, the right side of the boat. Cliffs ever looming and fast approaching he scrambled trying to climb back in, each of us grabbing hold of his life jacket. Suddenly our raft was hurled into the left cliff with all the force of a raging river, we ricocheted off the left wall, then slamming into the right cliff and over the top of dad. He was gone, just like that; lost in the white water. Because of the manner of traversing the path over the Rock of death, we went over the water fall in a spin and to the left.

I barely had time to worry about the safety of my father when I found myself swimming in the icy water, our boat having flipped upside down at the base of the falls, all of our supplies and gear sliding out into the fast, swirling, rushing waters. My head broke the surface of the water and I felt the scream leave my lips but could not hear my own voice over the rush of the water.

If I tell you that it was maybe eight minutes of solid rapids that’s not doing the experience justice. Climb into an extra large washing machine and try to stay in it for seven or eight minutes while it’s going. It’s a better idea of what riding those rapids, outside the boat, felt like.

White Water Rapids

While I won’t deny I was afraid, I didn’t entirely have time to really consider how scary, just trying to find air and land, when I finally did, I saw my grandfather on the other side of the river, safety on land and sitting up. I could see a cut on his forehead but he looked okay. In the distance I could see the last two boats far away, upright and getting smaller and smaller on the horizon, our gear strewn about, some on the shore but most of it smack in the middle of the river and on a course far out of reach to us.

I looked up river from where we’d come and saw raging water, boulders and fallen logs all creating a hazardous maze of rushing white water. Standing on one of the boulders lining the opposite side of the river I could see my big brother, Joe. He was standing, arms in air waving at us, the orange life vests downstream. I could not yet see my father and a sense of doom seemed to grow in my heart.

Behind me was a small rocky beach and cliff sides that would soon prove inescapable. My granddad was yelling at me, I couldn’t hear him but understood the indication to stay put as he picked his way over rocks and boulders back to my brother. I watched and soon realized that below my brother my father was laid out on a rocky landing barely big enough for the boulder resting there, dad’s feet were still in the water and I could not see his head, my view obstructed by other obstacles between us.

It seemed hours passed but eventually my grandfather and brother had my dad between them and were carrying him back down towards my position. When they got into clear view I could see dad was hurt but conscious, weak but standing. Whew, thank God.

It took us a lot of time to realize that, though safe from the river, I was also trapped. After scraping every part of my body, and eventually falling from too many feet up I decided I could not safety climb the rock face buffering the river. No one was going to tell me to jump back in the water, there were still a dozen yards of white water. If I jumped in to cross the river, I’d be swept into it and though fine now, there were no guarantees I could pull that stunt twice and live to tell.

While the other side of the river brainstormed, no doubt discussing leaving me there and going for help, I became impatient. I felt prompted to act. I’m sure waiting would have left me weaker and less able, more exposed to the elements and in bigger jeopardy. I couldn’t wait. Dad and grandpa were arguing, again, I couldn’t hear the conversation but I could tell that emotions were running high. I looked at my brother, I must have a ‘tell’ because he stood up like he had a rocket in his butt. He said no words but walked directly to the edge of the water, staring me down. His eyes broke away for just a second and so did mine while I looked down river at what I was facing, when our eyes came back together I jumped in.

helping hand giving to drowning man in sea

That’s when he started yelling and screaming, running down and over all the hurdles in his way, trying to converge on my hopeful landing point. I was lucky. I did make it to the other side, some yards down river, one thing is for sure though, I wouldn’t have without my brother Joe. He was thighs deep and braced against the current on green slimed rocks when he reached out and grabbed me by my sweatshirt-hood hanging from the back of my life jacket, barely grabbing, then dragging me to shore. I don’t know how he did that unless by some miracle.

When the four of us regrouped we stood there for a time, heads together, arms draped over each other’s shoulders, smiling, shivering, laughing. We were sure we were goners and something made that fantastically funny.

Eventually dad and I sat on a rock together unable to really function at full capacity and Joe and grandpa gathered what they could find of our belongings. This included: one smashed turkey sandwich still dry and sealed in a ziplock bag, one empty cooler, two cans of soda and by some other miracle a neon green, plastic tube with a watertight, twist off lid and 13–still dry–matches.

We gathered together all the dry bits of leaves, grass, twigs and sticks we could find and proceeded to build the tiniest, most pathetic fire you’ve ever laid eyes on. Being early summer/late spring most things were too green to burn or had already been swept away by the raging river. No matter, we were sure if we could just hold on, rescue crews would arrive in the next few hours.

Dark fell on us and still we’d herd no rescue choppers nor had we seen any other boaters. We knew our group saw us go over but we did not know they had no way of contacting search and rescue until later the next day. We were lost, deep in the thick of some of Oregon’s most remote wilderness and we’d just pulled ourselves from water barely over fifty degrees Fahrenheit… For perspective that’s only a few degrees warmer than your refrigeraters, to top that we had no food, (not counting the one, smashed turkey Sammy mentioned earlier) had skipped lunch, no dry clothes, no cell phones, no blankets, six dry matches–don’t ask–and a fire you could put out with one boot.

Rogue River temps drop significantly at night, even in the summer and I later learned the temperate that night hit a low of 48. We could see the glow of fog leave our mouths illuminated by our teeny tiny fire and a hush crept over us. When you have enough time to get out of survival mode, that is when dread smacks you in the face. We all reached that moment together as the night noises grew louder and the still air got colder. Finally granddad stood up, pulled one of dads arms up and over his shoulder and said it was time to get going. No one argued, Joe and I stood and followed, happy to let grandpa take the lead, hoping he knew something we didn’t.

We walked, hobbled, limped and shivered through the dark all night finally coming to a barbed wire fence. Knowing fences usually go somewhere we followed it on into the morning dawn. The fence eventually led to an old logging road where we took a break and shared our smashed salmonella sandwich…which is a lot like a smashed turkey sandwich that has been shoved in your pocket for 18 hours. I know we all felt guilty for eating, thinking each of us might need it more than the next but grandpa insisted.

That logging road held so much promise and we felt so hopeful even after morning turned to midday and we still hadn’t seen any other signs of civilization. Eventually after noon we came to a paved road that crossed the logging road and followed that another six or seven miles before we came to a rest area along, you guessed it, the Rogue River. This too gave us hope and renewed belief that we would be rescued soon.

Our father, in desperate need of some rest and surely having suffered a concussion was nauseated and dizzy wanting to lay down and rest. Grandad said there was no time for sleeping that we needed to get found and allowed only for a half hour respite from being on our feet. He set my father down on an ample rock big enough to be a small arm-chair and went to check for running water.

All of the sudden we heard this strange sound coming from the rock. The sound of a giant hornet on steroids or a mini freight train, if you will. I had never heard anything like it but some animal instinct in me knew it was bad, no chance it was something soft and fuzzy… Dad instinctively pulled his feet up on the huge rock and peered past his knees I took a few steps back and studied the rock, it’s then I saw the enormous timber rattler that had laid out its body along the south facing base of the giant chair rock. The snake had been startled from a snooze by our clambering and climbing on his rock and now, feeling threatened wanted to stake his claim.

Joe approached with a handful of pebbles and succeeded incompletely pissing the snake off until he was tightly coiled, buzzing his tail like mad and peering at us, ready to strike. Thats when dad stood up and lunged off the backside of the rock. We all began to argued how to best get rid of the beast and avoid getting snake bit in the process. Meanwhile, grandpa had seen the commotion, picked up a long walking stick sized tree branch, sharpened one end by rubbing it at an angle on the asphalt, walked quickly back to the ensuing mess, held a hand up to silence us, waited for the snake to lay his belly back in the silty sand and start to slither off then lightening fast, stabbed that snake right in the top of his head pushing the stick as far into the sand underneath as he could.

Then while the snake coiled and writhed on the stick grandpa scolded us saying that had we left the snake alone it would have caused us no harm and been on its way. I just stood there staring at the deadly pit viper, that wasn’t going to hurt us yet still managed to find a wooden spear in his or her head…I felt high but I think that was just hunger…

It was easier to find materials for fire here in the day use area so we gathered tender and wood and build another fire in a pit we made in the sand and circled with rocks (but not before we carefully inspected and kicked each rock, checking for any “harmless” pit vipers that might be hanging out.) Once that fire was sending out little glowing dust bunnies grandpa treated us all to cooked rattle snake. I wish I could tell you we were hungry enough that it tasted like fine dining but if you’ve ever had moms cooking you know the bar is pretty high…it was not fine dining and I could not pretend the sand was salt and pepper…but by the end of that chewy meal I did feel certain that all was right in my world and that things were going to be just fine. Ready for some smooth sailing…

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It must have been my guardian angels whispering to me because just before nightfall a car came down the road to the day use area. It was a local man, alone, on his way home from a working out of town, he’d stopped here to relieve his bladder and was as surprised as us. We must have looked awful because after explaining the entire affair the man still looked nervous about taking us with him. It was momentary but even I could see that he thought he was making a mistake.

So it was, with no money, no I.D., no leverage or proof we were rescued by grace. He drove us to his house where loved ones, and eventually authorities were contacted and we were fed and clothed and ushered back into the arms of loved ones.

Joe said, In the back of the State Troopers SUV, on the way to a local hospital to be treated for dehydration and exposure, ” I know I must be insane for thinking this but I am so thankful for the last two days. I feel like I witnessed miracle upon miracle and I definitely had ‘all the adventure I could handle’ thanks for that prayer Granddad, how else would I have such clear proof that there is a God and he does listen and answer prayer.”

He was right you know, my brother Joe. I will be much more careful what I pray for from here on out!”

So I think about that young mans story in summer of 2013 and I’m sure the adventure gods heard my snicker when I had the thought that I could handle whatever they threw my way…cuz last year is proof of that!

Some of my favorite team mates.

Some of my favorite team mates.

I’m still ready for some adventures, I feel sure 2014 was gunning for me but I could be wrong, maybe 2014 was trying to teach me some survival skills, ready me for an even more epic endeavor…one where we are not doomed. Just to be safe, I put in a few request this time and conceded that I would prefer that this go around it’s not ALL white knuckle…but bring it on 2015. I’ve battened down the hatches, steadied my paddles, and thrown on some extra rope and matches for good measure, and though they might look like monkey’s, up close they are the real deal–hardcore, never backdown, never give up, fighters–I got my whitewater team and we are ready.

I’m Handing Out Cheer

There’s this man.

“Hey, dis you car?”

His accent is thick, and personally, I’m always a sentence behind trying to follow the conversation. If it’s your car, he will find you.  When you see him coming up the road, or up your driveway, do yourself a favor, go and meet him directly. Jonny hails from the land of confrontation (I don’t mean China, but he’s also Chinese).

If he’s not there to protest a parking offense, he likely wants to borrow the extra space in your recycle bin or your plant waste bin, don’t even bother telling him it’s too full, he will come and check in the early morning hours just to see if you were telling the truth (and then, go ahead and fill it up the rest of the way).

When Jonny isn’t reprimanding you on your neighbor etiquette, (those poor bastards who park their trailers, boats, and RV’s streetside…who am I kidding–go get them Jonny!) borrowing a tool, or the space in your yard clipping bin he might actually have a plate full of cookies, rolls, or some other treat to share. That or a job for your young one…a job that pays actual money whether you want it or not. The last likely scenario to watch for: he has some furniture he wants to offer you before he donates it to charity.

His name is Jonny Wu and he is my next door neighbor.  You can find him in his yard most any day, (even in the torrential winter rain and blustery spring evenings) or out walking his retired seeing-eye golden retriever “Rupee”. He has climbed mountains, kayaked rivers and the ocean, scaled cliffs, white-water rafted, run half marathons and marathons, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s even flown planes and driven race cars but I have yet to hear those exploits. He skis, he travels, he’s been to countries all over the world and driven through more than half the states and parts of Canada in his motorhome.

Jonny is ageless, though I think he is close to seventy, I am still not sure which side of it he’s on. Not taller than about five foot, don’t let his diminutive stature fool you, it’s not an accurate measurement of his gravity. Pointed and direct, readily handing out advice and criticism, usually making me or anyone he’s talking to realize the error of their ways, Jonny grew up in China, (not what I meant by the land of confrontation–by land of confrontation I refer to the ethers from which his soul was heralded into this existence) and looks at the world very practically…and vocally.

We are next door to each other. He knows all the nuance of being a good neighbor, we rarely talk over the fence or through the fence, and he uses the front door, or phone instead of an open window to talk to me, but because of his reputation for directness my neighbors offer up their raised eyebrows, apologetic smiles, coupled with knowing looks, sure that I must be in the line of fire more than anyone else. What most of my neighbors don’t know, wouldn’t believe, what they’d never understand, Jonny and I, we get each other.

He’s called me at 2:00am in the morning to tell me my tiny yap dog is “singing” at the cat on the fence between our homes. I could hear the smile in his voice when a few days later I called him at 12:30am to ask if he could hear that his german shepherd was almost as musically inclined as my yappy dog. The next day we laugh at each other and tease.

He brings over photos of his adventures, narrates as I flip through glossy portfolios of amazing places that most of us will never see. He’s a good photographer too, with a memory that rivals any archivist.

Jonny will tell you if you are out of shape physically, he will tell you if you missed an opportunity, he will tell you when you are wasting money, wasting time, having bad manners, using too much water, what color to paint, what tree to cut down, where to put your flowers, when you might not be picking up your dogs poo fast enough or if you are being too hard or too soft on your kid. It’s one of my guilty pleasures hearing or seeing him in action, though I have been known to enjoy a little carnage here and there…

He doesn’t believe in God, he believes in people, believes in actions. He doesn’t live by intention he lives by doing.  The perfect example of who more of us should be. He has no time to hold a grudge, he is busy living. He passes judgement but not to ridicule, or feel superior, he passes judgement as more a function of his observation.

“You have everything going for you, you male, you young, you good looking, you white. Hell, what more you want? Go to college, get good job, get married, you have great life.”

I overheard him admonish one of my teens with this one day upon hearing their complaint about life being hard.

Bad or good, he’s got clarity and he speaks freely. He can’t help you if he doesn’t tell you to your face and chances are, if Jonny is talking to you, he likes you, maybe even loves you (I know he loves my kids, he’s helped them over and over, made up opportunities just to justify paying them). He can’t help his cut-and-dry/no-bones about it approach to getting you to move your car from in front of his house (I laugh joyfully that it’s never been me who chose that perilous folly!) or telling you to try harder.

He only cares about the things that matter not the things people say matter, or the world says, or words said, only what matters, what matters to him. He could solve a billion of the worlds problems, but no one is listening. He’d say quit bitching, get to work, don’t worry about about what everyone else thinks, worry about what you’re doing. What. You. Are. Doing. The rest doesn’t matter. You can’t change it anyway.

A few weeks ago a couple months ago an ambulance visited Jonny’s house. Probably almost three months now, truth be told. News got around the neighborhood that Jonny was sick. Eventually we each learned that Jonny had been diagnosed with a rare and very aggressive cancer. They gave him 6-8 weeks to live.

He’s home, still out walking Rupee, still borrowing my green waste bin, (I know I need to rake the dang leaves…) still Jonny. Life is fragile. He tells me everyday feels like a gift since he past the 8 week mark. He looks good too. And I am scared.

I am scared for him, mostly because I hate to see someone hurting and it’s overwhelming to think what he faces and hope he doesn’t feel alone. His family is gathered and always at his side. His wife is amazing, and I am scared for her too, but I only smile when I see either of them and talk about all the normal things we have always talked about. They are brave, their smiles warm, their laughing real.

I started this entry two months ago. It doesn’t feel done. I don’t have all the thoughts and emotions sorted into a diatribe of authentic and articulate words that portray the many layers of emotion. But when I sit in the dark thinking of the arguments, disagreements, and petty bullshit that permeates way too much of my own life, probably yours too, I realize that Jonny is a rare human. He gives a shit about everything and nothing all at the same time. Like the perfect stranglehold on serenity if you ask me.

I like to tell you funny stories and smarty pants stories. I like to try and uplift, inspire or flirt with you, but today I can only think how I wish we could all be hyper focused on just this moment, every moment. Who moves us, who loves us, who we love, care about, that we could let go of the trash and toxins we are dragging around like they are important when they aren’t.  I want to fill up my time with more things I love and love doing. Things that are meaningful to me. I want to ask myself, everyday, to refocus on what is important, how I want to live life and who I want to live it with. More laughing, more dancing, more creating, more playing, even more alone time, but also more together time, with the people that matter. 

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