Wednesday, June 30, 2010

There was one man who officially survived both atomic bomb blasts in Japan, having his eardrums ruptured and his skin blasted in Hiroshima only to head back to Nagasaki and find himself surrounded by the same white light. A documentary a few years ago located a whole bunch more double survivors, but only the one was ever officially recognized. (I bet they gave him a really nice certificate.) He figured that since he could have died on either of those days, the rest of his time here just counted as a bonus, and he lived until just a few months ago.

So I mean, technically we could really survive anything, and each day after everything is basically a bonus. But that's an awful lot of responsibility to be carrying around with us. Especially since everything else is already so heavy.

I wanted to give you planets, plucked from among the more distant galaxies, but my arms are just so tired from the heft of trying so often and failing so hard. And planets spoil so quickly, much faster than you'd imagine that they would, wilting and expanding.

Late at night I couldn't sleep because the phone wasn't, hasn't been ringing, and somehow I started reading about cellular memory. It appeals to me, the idea that we keep parts of ourselves stashed in all of our cells instead of just in our brains, that someone with a transplant can develop ideas and habits and memories unrelated to the rest of themselves. Later, in my dream, I swapped our hearts while you were sleeping. You didn't notice the change, commenting only that colors seemed suddenly brighter and plums sweeter, but I missed my own uneven thump so I switched them back.

I don't think it was my heart you wanted, anyway, and I need it for surviving all of the anything awake. My heart is just as tired as my hands.

Monday, June 28, 2010

It's discouraging to start to summit a molehill only to find halfway up that you are actually on a mountain, and the ground and the top are equally far away and hostile. I'm not sure what business molehills have, hiding their mountains until it's too late to find somewhere safer, but there should have been a warning. A sign or an angry rhinoceros or 30 feet of razor wire. Something. Because now I'm stuck.

I think about those photos of insects covered in dew, sleeping and jeweled, turning back into plain old insects once they wake up and move, and how few who hadn't seen them transformed and sparkling would ever believe that they could be so beautiful. And the bowerbirds of Australia and New Guinea, amassing collections of beetle shells and flowers and fruit and arranging them carefully for hours, hoping that their combination of colors and objects is the right one. That one hypothetical golden frog left behind on the riverbanks of Panama, waving to no one at all. About how most of nature centers around the fact that almost no one gets to have what they want, but are still driven to try for it.

If I were smarter, I'd bring mountaineering gear with me whenever I left the house, ready to encounter frozen summits and hostile conditions around every corner, accepting that almost all surprises are unpleasant ones, that almost none of them come with warning signs or tiger pits or guards with machine guns. If I were smarter, I would have learned my lesson by now.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sometimes I think of all of these love letters stacked unread in my fingertips, waiting, and I worry that they will end up forgotten under floorboards and behind walls, still unread. Discovered only later, maybe, by a generation who has never heard the beating of my little bird heart. Like the cactus I saw in the desert, holding their blooms for moths that might never come.

There's this documentary about making a documentary in the Amazon that I watch all the time, where a local tribesman pulls an anaconda out of a hole by its tail. They tell the camera that the point of doing this is to relocate the anaconda somewhere where it is less likely to eat a cameraman and get itself killed, but really I think the point is to watch a man pull a giant snake out of a hole by its tail. It seems that the anaconda emits a scent that makes it hard to miss, and I wonder about the people living in those jungles in all the years before the cameras came, learning that that smell meant snake and that it was possible--even desirable--to forcibly remove it from where it had hidden. Like pulling a rabbit out of a hat, if rabbits ate jaguars.

I think about those lost Amazon tribes living among the snakes, not knowing they were lost until strangers showed up to tell them that they had been found.

And I think about how we are all sometimes, a little bit, a lost Amazon tribe waiting to be found by someone intrepid and not even realizing it. Looking for explorers who know only how to mangle our languages and customs but would like to learn why we tip our poison darts with rainbows scraped only from the reddest of frogs, how we pull magic snakes from thin air, what the names of our constellations are. Lost and foreign, but not unknowable.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Salt flats

1.Laying on a deck chair in Arizona, propped up by an arm not my own, feeling the warmth of the day gathered liquid in my bones. Watching for shooting stars and not seeing them but also not caring much because I can feel them, too, in my bones, fizzing like champagne.

2. After a couple of days watching out the window I had seen the landscape open up unexpectedly into all manner of shapes--scrub grass and cactus and wide windy valleys, cloud shadows and canyons and trees. In lower Oregon, after careening around curves that left the whole of the road ahead a mystery the world out the window folded in a new way and spread apart to reveal cows threaded along the shoulder, ambling, forcing the car down to their speed. Close enough to touch.

3. Around us the world had started to look familiar again, tall trees and grey skies, my insides sinking out of vacation and back to real life. If I had blinked I would have missed it, but on the side of the road stood a small sign informing passers-by that they have just crossed the 45th parallel north, that they are at the halfway point between the equator and the north pole, and like a balloon with a cut string my brain is in both steamy jungles and the frozen north at once. I imagine another trip along that line, through Acquitaine and Lombardy to Croatia and Mongolia and back around to South Dakota and Oregon. All of the halfway places up here and then maybe after, all of the other halfway places.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


After 1,900 miles of road, we are home. Not one single scorpion or rattlesnake anywhere along the way, which turned out to be a little disappointing after all of the dire warnings from everyone and their brother. Also, the southwest doesn't seem to believe in roadside stands at all, which was kind of a shame because I believe very deeply in roadside stands.

It's always amazing to watch the landscape change, how Arizona fades into Utah which abruptly becomes Nevada. We have so much space that has so few people. A lot of our route was along two lane highways where it was possible to not see another car for an hour or more, just asphalt spooling out in front and behind and trees and clouds everywhere. I don't think I would like to be a long haul trucker, but I can definitely see the appeal.

Monday, June 14, 2010

On the way to North Carolina I flew through Chicago. Chicago was my first trip on an airplane as an adult, and turning into the airport the sky and the water were the exact same shade. This time was the same, and turning toward the airport I couldn't tell up from down.

A mile up in a different sky going home, we pass next to and sometimes over a huge storm, brutally beautiful, flickering brilliantly with lightning. For a few minutes the storm is all I can see and I watch it, flashing constantly, crackling audibly even from this distance. Once we fly past the end of it I can see inside the storm, the lightning illuminating pillars of clouds, and I think that this is something people were not meant to see.

We're leaving for the desert tomorrow, not bringing the computers, and having a plain old adventure. I'll be back sometime this weekend, probably sunburned, dusty, and relaxed.

Friday, June 11, 2010

A mile in the air and during the time when it is late at night across the country I woke up disoriented, crammed against the window. Outside the ground was dark but the sky was covered in stars, closer than I had ever noticed them. I wondered briefly if they were noticing us, too, and then the quiet weight of the stranger next to me shifted and the scarf covering my legs slipped and I lost most of the stars to a few stray wisps of clouds.

At the airport, a woman waited with a balloon and her camera trained on the doorway. She had been standing there some time, and so by the time I found my family and said hello and dumped my bag on one of my brothers she was shifting her weight from one foot to the other, clearly uncomfortable standing so long in her high brown wedges. We waited a while, to see who she thought was coming, but if they were in the airport they were slow to find the way out.

Later, we took a walk with the dogs, fireflies glinting in the hedges. Every few steps the breeze swept down a new gust of magnolias and everyone working in yards or sitting on porches waved when we walked past.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

On Sunday I went to visit Niko again, bringing his parents some dinner straight from Coolio's cookbook. He's reached the witching hour, which is a little misleading since it goes on for way more than an hour, but you can't blame the guy for being a little annoyed about how things work here in the outside world. (Although as a grownup, I'd be pretty stoked about sitting in a vibrating chair with a white noise bear on my head. I'll have to look into recreating that.) His little brain is disorganized, all of his little elves trying to file a whole world full of new information as quickly as possible, and it's making him a little grumpy.

Anyway, a trick from one of the books about babies is to wrap the little guy up tight, hold him on his side like a football, jiggle him a little, and shush loudly near his ear. When you do this his eyes get all round and his elves take a breather, and I would really like to find a way to incorporate that process into my own life. All of my relaxation techniques are coming from baby books from now on.

Friday, June 04, 2010

I'm starting to learn the differences. Between feelings and enthusiasm. Between running and leaving, between heads and hearts, between sunrise and sunset. Sometimes it takes me longer than average, but I almost always get there. I love maps, only I can never seem to find them for the places I really want to be. Maps of eyes instead of maps behind eyes. They're all differences that feel subtle but turn out to need bridges and rope swings and dirt bikes to navigate.

I wake up in the night and listen to the sounds, doors slamming and buses passing and those birds that never go to sleep, plotting in my head how future archaeologists would recreate this scene, these days. Because they are much more important to the future than any artifacts I might leave behind. All of these shoes are great, of course, but they are ultimately not the point.

But you know, even if they tried to recreate it, it wouldn't be quite right. Like those dioramas in the Museum of Natural History that you just know have slightly missed the point. They'd get the duvet and the clock right, but forget the birds. So I scribble maps to these times in my head, x marking the spot, repeating the directions over and over to myself until I know just how to get here again.

It all means more to me than it would to those future archaeologists, anyway.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The mildly insane part of the trip I'm taking next week is that it is to go watch the older of my baby brothers graduate from high school, an event that is making me recall with alarm the shenanigans that we got up to during that summer after graduation. But you know, my siblings are so much younger than me that I don't really know what it's like to have siblings, and I am excited about the possibilities of having adult relationships with my brothers. I am also excited about how it's only a couple more years before I will have an ally (read: drinking buddy) at family gatherings.

About a day and a half after I get back from that is where the actual lunacy happens, because I will be flying down to Arizona and then driving back up with a boy I have only recently begun dating, and about whom I am obviously not going to say anything aside from to point out that this trip was his idea, which points to an encouraging commitment to adventure and/or slightly insane decision-making skills. I have been lucky enough to see a lot of the country out of car windows--up and down the east coast, diagonally from the Atlantic to the Pacific--but I have never seen the desert from anywhere. We're going up through Utah, which gave me space poisoning and cowboy poetry when I was there a few years ago, and then across the top of Nevada and up to Oregon and then home. Almost a week of not being at work, with great tunes and someone I like to smooch and the potential for some spectacular roadside stands, one sunburned arm, and a soft seersucker dress sticking crumpled to the small of my back. (Also: swimming in the Great Salt Lake with all the sea monkeys.) It could be a disaster, of course, but Magic 8-Ball says "outlook good".

All I need is air in the spare, friends.