Montana Wolf

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Blackberry Zen and a Pinch of Hellfire

Heading towards Deception Island. I stopped here to photograph porpoise.
Little did I know what the island had in store.



I've hit single digits on the countdown to CAST OFF. Nine days to garner the lessons of the cracked elbow and broken rib and my unplanned journey into the land of constraint. One-handed peck typing. No photography. Gone was the cadence that attached my words to paper. My pen would not reach, no matter what contortionist moves I made. Erin-the-nurse was too good at assuring no wrist would budge. I have bounced like a ping-pong ball between love and hate: one moment, my spiffy purple cast a protector, the next moment a brig. Bottom line, surrender won, as I allowed my body the exhaustion it expressed, napping often and damping down the fire and air that inhabits my soul. I relegated air to utterances delivered on the wing of an osprey, the cackle of a raven, a chickadee chorus. As for fire, I laid naked in the sun at river's edge. And then one morning I lit the oven and commenced to make a blackberry pie.



Blackberry thickets abound in the neighborhood. Before fruit appears they are a tangle of vicious sharp tendrils that snarl pant legs and tear the flesh. Bloodletting is their MO. That doesn't change when shiny, dark juicy berries swell on the branch. Picking them is a slow, careful ritual. Especially one armed. The sweet explosions that made it to my tongue were the motivation for reaching into the bowels of the berry patch, as my fingers bid, let go, I will catch you. Oft times I lost my balance and the quarry fell to the earth, through a chasm of thorns, unreachable. The slower I moved, the more berries made it into the container. As if to taunt, Hobo prowled around, disappearing into the many tunnels he'd forged into the patch. Teak sampled berries at will, never once getting pricked. Songbirds ate seamlessly as I pondered "Breve orazione penetra" -- short prayers pierce -- watching my mind scramble to make sense of the moment. Comically, yes.

The days before my accident I was at the top of my game. I had sent manuscript pages to editor- Em, prepared to send them off. The summer was intoxicating with her gifts of kayak adventures, new women friends and an island lover. Snowmelt runoff over, I was looking forward to hiking above timberline, into flower-laden meadows, fully engaged with the muses, at the gateway of the invisible world. One slip on a boulder and I was re-cast, dreaming the words "red leaf urgency" and contemplating how the wind dies.

I froze three quarts of blackberries. The kitchen filled with holy aroma as the pie baked to perfection. I delivered two pieces to neighbors and watched the energy as the procession of friends, with whom I would share the bounty, momentarily stopped. Yes, universe? The pie sat on the counter, morphing into temptation at its worst. Heaven help me and my thighs if I continued to scoop luscious berry elixir into my mouth.

Then it dawned: the river. I thought about floating the pie downstream in the spirit of Moses, but didn't want to pollute with a pie plate. So handful by handful, I fed the pie to the rush of water that for months had filled my midnight dreams with longing; swept fears and trees down steam like matchsticks to saltwater's door. Like the Natives that offered tobacco to the spirits, I offered blackberry pie to my wild confidante, and prayed for grace. Not long thereafter he appeared...a Lummi Indian fisherman. When I extended my right arm to shake hands, I awkwardly stopped and switched to the left. No, no, he said. Do not apologize. Understand...to shake with the left is closer to the heart.

I have nine days to journey closer to my heart. Nine, the symbol of endings. Nine days to castoff.


"Then it dawned..." Sunrise out my door. The Skagit River.







Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Deception to Massacre: Alive to Tell the Tale (or Two)


Linda and I threaded our kayaks along rocky cliffs and scenic outcroppings, headed to a favorite deserted island for lunch. It was high tide; strong currents swept across the channel to infamous Deception Pass as I slowed to take photos. The azure day was dreamy-idyllic as I rocked gently on molten waves. I heard them first. A puff of breath every thirty seconds or so. A small, gray fin suddenly protruded in the water twenty yards in front of me. Then another. Harbor porpoises had come to check me out, the first I'd ever seen, as my state of mind continued from earlier that morning. Life couldn't be more perfect, I'd penned in my journal. I'd started back to work on my book the day before. I was ecstatic. Nothing foretold what was about to unfold.

Most of the island beach was still under water but we floated over rocks and managed to land on a narrow swath of sand. We secured the boats and looked around for higher, sunny spots to perch for lunch. Binocs and camera attached firmly to my torso, I studied a large boulder for footholds and handholds and ascertained that it would be an easy, fun climb. I was halfway up the steep, slick rock, reached out my left hand and it failed me. I went down on my right (write) elbow so hard that an electric jolt passed through my entire arm. I laid still for several minutes giving the body every chance to recover. Checked my camera. One, two, three...I sat up into extreme rib pain and an arm I couldn't straighten. Not good. I told Linda I needed to get back, not giving words to what I feared the most. My right paddle barely touched the water as I steered through exposed rocks. Oystercatchers flew low overhead as we reached deeper water. Linda chatted away, sometimes out of earshot. I hung on every imaginary word as my body filled with adrenaline and blocked the pain.

Urgent care, nurses, and x-ray technicians followed. The Dr. was in disbelief as he held up the pictures of my right rib and elbow. "You kayaked back with these two breaks?" Yes, gingerly... from the island, across the channel of passing boats and their high wakes and into Bowman Bay, where I bee-lined for the park ranger and asked for help to lift the kayaks onto the car. He asked where I fell, that far-off island I pointed. "Deception Island," he said. Of course, I thought as I rolled my eyes. Deception's currents had me paddling in place a week earlier. I had delayed this trip a day to assure my body was rested. In between my dates with Deception I'd been tossed across a sailboat that had run against rocks in Massacre Bay off Orcas Island. Serious left arm, left rib pain and glad to be alive. I could have launched airborne into the sea. Quite the week. No wonder I'd started to write again.

I've never broken a bone. Now I have two. I sit on the bed in tears, cradling my heavily-casted elbow. "I'm so sorry," I say."What did I do to you?" It's taken two days for the adrenaline to drain from my bloodstream and feel some calm. My mind won't shut up as I backtrack-search for signs and omens. I pick up Tolle's Power of Now to buoy my determination to stay in the present. Meanwhile I can't get my hair into a ponytail and I'm trying miserably to brush my teeth left handed.

I cancelled an appointment this morning that would have taken me across the Deception Pass bridge that spans Fidalgo and Whidbey Islands. Even if I could drive, I'm not ready for that neighborhood. Deception and I, we'll get our meeting of the spirits. Some straight talk and deep listening. As for now I can't put this into words except to say, thanks for the porpoise.

__________________________

Thank you Carole, Hope, Linda, Lynne, Cap, Jeffrey and Joe...my solid ground those first few hours.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Sea-Change Shuffle

Baker Lake, a favorite kayak spot


A gnawed-on pork rib bone and a cold cup of espresso bookend my laptop. I've procrastinated all I can today. What one part of me proclaims to be a well-deserved rest from the written word, another calls an excuse for the whip. As if taking six weeks off from writing is the genesis of original sin. A seasoned editor at several publishing houses recently shared she is going to retire this year. She saw me through two book publications and told me that of all the authors she has worked with over the years I am the most tenacious; her compliment, a blessing and curse.

I arrived the Pacific Northwest on winter solstice to write the sequel to Drive Me Wild: A Western Odyssey. The universe, with the help of travel aficionado Rick Steves, had other plans, as I jumped tracks to exhume the out-of-print words from the "Land of Enchantment." New Mexico's Sanctuaries, Retreats and Sacred Places 2014 joined the digital and print worlds with 133 color photographs. The most arduous editing task of my life left me exhausted on summer's doorstep.

David and Hope
Hope's Graduation Day
My daughter Hope graduated from a master's program at the University of Oregon in June. I travelled to Eugene, whereupon her dad/my Ex, David, and I joined Hope for the special event. It had been twenty-two years since we had sat together. It was a deeply moving evening of memories, laughter and loving tears. I returned to Washington State and back-to-back visits by friends. Then I embarked on three weeks of R&R, kayaking Puget Sound, exploring thrift stores, hiking and dancing at the Edison Inn, a historic bar up the road where the local folks, from twenty to eighty, gather in the name of fun. Live music begins at 5:30 on Sundays. Perfect.

I also completed an interior makeover of  LaPerla, my travel trailer, adding new space savers like a maple magnetic knife holder. I've spruced up the colors with blue-green kitchen cupboard pull handles, purple window coverings and turquoise cushions. I upholstered a bit. All this as the nagging voice in my head kept asking if I was ever going to write again. You'd think after all of these years I could catch a break.

Gull with Clam
It is not a question of if I will write but how, as my spirit accustoms itself to this lush landscape. It is a time of dramatic evolution, from thirty-plus years in the arid southwest to the northwest's Salish Sea.  I have no answers, except to watch my hand, one click away from the sequel's computer file, my index finger poised to push. The move will not come lightly. I know what the the open folder means -- the possession that my will ensue in the commitment to words and cadence. I know the second Rick Steves interview, this time on Drive Me Wild, will air August 16th. I feel the liquid chrysalis state taking form.

Soon enough I'll toss the bone to Teak, swill the cold espresso and give that mouse a hearty click, intent to mingle play and work amidst the summer's sea change. Just one more kayak, please. And a few high-country hikes.

Kayaking island to island in the San Juans



Day's Gracious End on the Skagit River

___________________________

Thanks for stopping by and giving your precious minutes to my words. Visit www.christinanealson.com for more. Join me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/christina.nealson
And at this especially troubling hostile time around the world, be peace.
Heart,
Christina


Monday, July 7, 2014

Destroying the Angel in the House

I was searching old computer files for a copy of a novel I wrote in the 1990's on the Ludlow Massacre. Old? Downright floppy disk-ancient! I haven't found that manuscript, but I did find this letter Virginia Woolf wrote in 1931, as she prepared to address a group of women who sought to enter professions barred to them. Her words are as powerful then as now. Perhaps more so, for Woolf's "angel in the house" still exists. In our heads, in the House, the Senate and the Supreme Court. There is no hierarchy of freedoms.  Christina

Her words:
While I was writing this review I discovered that if I were going to review
books I should need to do battle with a certain phantom.  And the phantom
was a woman, and when I came to know her better I called her after the
heroine of the famous poem, "The Angel in the House."  It was she who used
to come between me and my paper when I was writing reviews.  It was she who
bothered me and wasted my time and so tormented me that at last I killed
her. 

You who come of a younger and happier generation may not have heard of her-
--you may not know what I mean by the Angel in the House.  I will describe
her as shortly as I can.  She was intensely sympathetic.  She was immensely
charming...she sacrificed herself daily...she never had a mind or wish of
her own. 

In those days, the last of Queen Victoria---every house had its Angel.  And
when I came to write I encountered her with the very first words.  The
shadow of her wings fell on my page; I heard the rustling of her skirts in
the room.  Directly, that is to say, I took my pen in my hand to review
that novel by a famous man, she slipped behind me and whispered, "My dear,
you are a young woman.  You are writing about a book that has been written
by a man.  Be sympathetic; be tender; flatter; deceive; use all the arts
and wiles of our sex.  Never let anybody guess that you have a mind of your
own.  Above all, be pure."  And she made as if to guide my pen. 

I turned on her and caught her by the throat.  I did my best to kill
her.  My excuse, if I were to be had up on a court of law, would be that I
acted in self-defense.  Had I not killed her she would have killed me.  She
would have plucked the heart out of my writing...Thus, whenever I felt the
shadow of her wing or the radiance of her halo upon my page, I took up the
inkpot and flung it at her.  She died hard.  Her fictitious nature was of
great assistance to her.  IT IS FAR HARDER TO KILL A PHANTOM THAN A
REALITY.  She was always creeping back when I thought I had dispatched her. 
Though I flatter myself that I killed her in the end, the struggle was
severe; it took much time that had better have been spent upon learning

Greek grammar or roaming the world in search of adventures.  

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Betwixt and Between: North Cascades to the Salish Sea (Pt. One)

Kulshan and Her Lake this winter.
The PNW (Pacific Northwest) has taken the act of kayaking to magical levels. This gloomy, temperate winter I donned my long underwear and began on small lakes close to home; solo trips on safe bodies of water so as not to pay attention to troublesome tides and ocean currents. It was me and "Sunny" the Equinox kayak getting to know one another.


Past an old growth stump on Baker Lake

Passing canoe on Baker Lake - the only other boat
As the weather warmed I expanded horizons to lakes in the N. Cascade mountains, within forty miles of the house. The largest of these was Baker Lake, a large body of water to the south of her namesake active volcanic mountain, Mt. Baker. Kulshan to the Native Peoples of this area. Most recently I have ventured into Puget Sound, the native-named Salish Sea. These excursions have been with my friend Linda, an experienced "Sound" kayaker, knowledgeable of tides and currents as I begin my straight-up ocean kayak learning curve. Enjoy the gifts of the Salish Sea --



PART ONE - BOWMAN BAY

Linda takes the lead - that distant island was our picnic spot

Salish spy - cute and curious

Calliope Hummer - not supposed to be in this area but she had the island to herself - until we got there

Pigeon Guillemots - members of the Alcid family, they only go to land to nest

The rock shore where we lunched. Stunning colors and textures.

The movement of kelp.

Lingcod kayaker - I'd caught them years past off the islands of SE Alaska. They're out of this world delicious. 

Me n Sunny at the entrance to the infamous Deception Pass



Father and son. The scene touched me deeply.