Friday, December 31, 2010

Dear 2010,

I was suspicious of you when you showed up, because everywhere I looked people were crowing about how they just knew you were going to be great. I have watched for long enough to be sure that there are forces and factors out there indifferent to our optimism. My plan was to have the best you that you'd let me have.

I visited a lot of beautiful places this year--San Francisco and the Hood Canal, the Oregon Coast, Orcas Island, New Orleans. I watched the country spool out ahead and behind from Arizona through Utah and Nevada and Oregon. I gained technology and heartbreak and another year of graduate school, and watched more nature documentaries than anyone probably should. I defied gravity and common sense, made a list and crossed some things off. I built a tiny stegosaurus, got a new tattoo, made an alliance with a noisy hummingbird. All the things that make up a life.

2010 was the year I lost my grandma, and so subsequently also the year I really learned about living with grief. In one part of Meghan O'Rourke's excellent series on bereavement following the loss of her mother, she talks about trying to make a pie from her mother's recipe. She had questions about gaps in the recipe, questions she had always before called her mother to ask and never noted the answers to, because calling her mother was part of the experience of making that pie, and now this was one more tiny tradition broken in the aftermath of death. This was the hardest thing for me, the constant snapping of tiny stems, always blindsided and made a little unsteady from a fresh wave of loss. She concludes with, "Loss doesn't feel redeemable. But for me one consoling aspect is the recognition that, in this at least, none of us is different from anyone else: We all lose loved ones; we all face our own death. And loss, strangely, can attune you to what is beautiful about existence even as it wounds you with what is awful. You live with a new sense of what the Victorian critic Walter Pater once called "the splendour of our experience and … its awful brevity," too."

I was reading an article a couple of days ago about mortality projections in the global population, and the study was centered on the notion of focusing on providing people with a life worth valuing instead of one longer lived, figuring that one will likely follow the other. It was relating to populations in non-industrialized countries, but I think the concept holds true for everyone. It's my plan, anyway. Doing more good and less harm, crafting a life to be valued. Looking and seeing and remembering, in the grand tradition of adventurers everywhere.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Somehow it is already Christmas time. Staying home instead of traveling makes the whole holiday season feel sort of distant. It's relaxing, sure, but that also feels kind of weird--Christmas isn't about being relaxed, really.

I think we're going to go to midnight mass tonight. I've never been to a Christmas Eve service, since I wasn't raised religious, but I do enjoy tradition and the feeling of being surrounded by people all believing in the same thing. Tomorrow I'll get up early and call my family before I go to serve lunch at the shelter, and then I'll watch cheesy movies with friends until it's time to go to the bar. I don't really have any Christmas traditions of my own, so this will all do fine for me. It will be quiet and friendly and slow.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Before the big freeze I took my hummingbird feeder down, figuring that the noisy little guy that lives in the trees across the way had probably headed somewhere more temperate for the season, following the pull of zugunruhe and the call of brighter flowers in other places. But then in a morning a few days after Thanksgiving I looked out the window and saw him sitting on the topmost branch, looking bewildered and a little irritated about the uncluttered landscape of my balcony.

On the Saturday during the big rain I looked up in time to see him sitting there, drenched and forlorn, at the feeder. So I have been doing research to help make sure he makes it, since it seems that my little friend is wintering here in spite of the lack of flowers. I'm worried about him, of course--hummingbirds are always just a few hours away from starving to death because it takes so much energy just to keep themselves going--but it's comforting to be able to make the effort to keep something else alive. Even if it turns out that my hummingbird is the kind that tends to overwinter in town, and it's only that one has never before decided to do so within range of my own home.

And it is comforting to have a compatriot in this winter time, hunkered down almost within reach, waiting through the waiting and the wind and the cold. I'm already concocting stories about how to get him into a little sweater and all of the unlikely adventures we'll be going on.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

For the past few days we've been having the sort of rains that you feel in your chest and the backs of your knees, the kind laced with so many secret messages that they clog up the storm drains and fill the streets with puddles.

By Monday evening the rain had been going on long enough and heavy enough that it had bruised all of the lavender and rosemary bushes along my route home. I could see the people stopped in their cars at the stoplights feeling sorry for me, buffeted by the wind and rain and clutching my space umbrella. But they were missing the important part, wrapped in the dark on the sweetly spicy sidewalks all swept clean by the rain.

I was cold and wet and almost exclusively just wanted to be home already, but on the other hand I have never smelled anything quite so perfect.

Monday, December 13, 2010

It seems that in the depths our only options are to grow bigger eyes or to lose them altogether.

I think about eyes a lot, how we evolved ourselves into them and all of the avenues we can go down to evolve our way back out of them. How we see differently after each eclipse and Venus transit, and how we can't see our own glow but our old friend the mantis shrimp probably can. Just because of what is going on inside each of our own eyeballs, whatever kind of magic had to happen to get us from no eyes to these eyes.

And the changes, too. From the crystal eyes of the trilobites to here, and whatever happens next. Like that spider who can see at night not because its eyes are made of mirrors but because it grows a whole new skin of cells on each eye every night that gets destroyed by dawn. So much responsibility for something so little.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Someone gave me my first advent calendar this month, and now I finally understand the appeal. It's filled with candy, after all, and it looks so jaunty with my pink sparkly Christmas tree.

It is the end of the quarter and I am sick, like clockwork, which I sort of feel is just the price of a life lived at this pace. There are so many people around all the time, and lately so many of them seem to want to be touching me, so some of them are almost certainly covered with germs. It's just a numbers thing. (Dear people of Seattle: please stop touching me. I am not a puppy.)

I am spending the holiday at home this year, and taking the week after it off as well, and so I am laying in supplies. Cookbooks and Watership Down and stories about ethnobotanists discovering zombies, documentaries, sweaters. Tiny pink Christmas tree. Quiet, and still, and hopefully snowing.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

As soon as it gets dark I think that every bright star is the North Star, every constellation a dipper. The night that we went to look at space I learned that I have precisely no idea where the North Star is, in awe of the woman who, without even stopping to consider, could point unerringly to anything in the sky with her magic green laser and tell us the story of it. It's lucky that I don't have to navigate anywhere, since each evening I am positive that any number of wrong stars are the right one, and I would likely lead us off the edge of the map were I behind the wheel. Heading toward Ultima Thule is only an adventure if you're planning on going there; otherwise, you're only teetering dangerously on the edges of cliffs you don't even know are there.

I could point at the sky and tell you the story of whatever is up there too, of course, but it would be the wrong story for the wrong sky.