nature

Marking Weather, Forgetting Time

Lately, as a new approach to weekends, I’ve struck a deal with my kids. On one weekend day, they get to choose an activity. It’s usually something that requires money and coordination, like going to Chuck E. Cheese’s, or seeing Lego Batman at the Cineplex, or visiting the children’s museum—the kind of boisterous activity that you would only do if you are a child or supervising a child, the kind of experience designed to make children beg.

On the other weekend day, I make them walk with me. We’ve got at least a half dozen nearby trails that lead to the water. In the past, I’ve had a hard time motivating them for this, but lately, because it’s routine and because I’ve set it up as an exchange (your day, my day) they seem to roll with it.

And every week, once we arrive at the beach, I am struck by the same exact thing: They LOVE it here. They run around in search of sticks. They lift big rocks and watch the crabs flee. They descend into this kind of flow state where they can throw rocks into the water, one after another after another, and they don’t get bored. They are focused and happy. No one bickers.

If given the choice between a walk and Chuck E. Cheese’s, I’m pretty sure they would choose Chuck E. Cheese’s 98 out of 100 times, and yet they seem to have more fun on the walk. I think about how, just as Chuck E. Cheese’s is designed to appeal to all of their joy-seeking impulses, the beach was designed to appeal to all of their senses. Like, we could go to the children’s museum—we could pay $35 so that they can launch wooden boats in a water table—but Nature has already nailed it. There’s the soft sand, the logs to climb on and roll, the encroaching tide, and unexpected guests.

Last week, our Saturday brought us to a marina that sells soft serve ice cream for $2, a place where people launch boats and let their dogs run wild. Once we’d been playing for a half an hour, three friendly dogs stormed the beach. They were all different breeds, but all were black and white. One of them barked insistently at Smoke until he threw a wet stick over and over. Another one leapt in the air every time Stump threw a rock and this made Stump laugh uncontrollably.

When my kids grow up, wherever they land, I want them to know they grew up in the Pacific Northwest. I want them to feel it in their bones, to remember seasons of rain and breaks of sun, and the way Puget Sound spreads its fingers and holds the land. I want it to be a childhood of mossy trees and glassy inlets, a childhood spent throwing rocks in water, forgetting time.

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The Summer of Less / More

Lately I’ve been dreaming about Colorado. C1Two summers ago Kellie and I packed her truck and took the boys to live on an 800-acre ranch for the summer. We did this for no logical reason, except that we had an opportunity and we seized it. It was a hard summer. Though the mornings were often beautiful and sunny, by afternoon the clouds rolled in and they often brought lightning and hail. Smoke, who was four at the time, complained of being bored and homesick. Stump, who couldn’t even crawl yet, wasn’t much of a diversion for him. Meanwhile I struggled to keep up with a workload of teaching online and editing while our internet was spotty and Kellie was busy building a barn.

But of course those challenges aren’t what I’ve been remembering. I’ve been remembering how every night, just after dark, my family fell asleep in one room and I sat among them, writing in the dark, listening to their breathing. I remember the garden snakes who warmed themselves on the same rocks every day, and the chickens who refused to stay inside the fence. More than anything, I remember the massive herds of elk who moved through the land every day on a schedule.

In Olympia, where we live full-time, it’s not hard to find nature. Sometimes deer walk down our neighborhood roads. It’s a ten-minute drive to the forest. I can walk the kids down to the beach and sometimes see seals swimming in the water. But visiting the beach is not the same as living in wilderness. Here in town, I can’t recreate the feeling of waking up in the mountains and walking to the outhouse through wet grass to take my morning pee, or the feeling of watching the evening slowly gather around you as the elk descend from the hills, munch grass and bugle at each other, and then disappear in time for the first stars to appear. C2I keep thinking about how this would be a good year to return to Colorado, because Stump is old enough now to play with Smoke and I can imagine them chasing each other with sticks and scrambling up the gravel road. But that adventure isn’t in the cards this year. We will not be dropping everything, packing the truck, and living in the wilderness—at least not for three uninterrupted months.

Since I can’t have Colorado, I’ve been asking myself how I can strip away my life this summer, to make room in my cells for some growth, to reclaim the balance that I lose every year over the course of nine months of teaching and working and parenting. I want my life to be quieter, with space to notice the changing sky, the ants, the birds, my own two children. And so, I’m working to identify the things that clutter my life, to reduce them in hope of making room for what feeds me.

Less internet / more real life

This might mean going to bed at the same time as my kids, lying in bed awake to take in the dark, or letting Smoke stay up late so that we can read together. It might mean keeping my Macbook closed for most of the day, unplugging my modem, and keeping my smart phone out of sight.

Less digital / more analog

Recently a friend shared this: How to Replace an Instagram with a Sketchbook. The idea is that we consider drawing our lives for a change instead of constantly snapping photos. I want to. And while I’m at it, I want to spend more time reading books and stories and essays that are printed on actual paper.

Less packaging / more slow food

No to microwaved lunches and single-serving yogurt containers. Yes to canning all of the fruits. Yes to this post by the Zero-Waste Chef: 5 Zero-Waste Baby Steps

Less driving / more walking, running, and biking

The goal is for the car to get lonely. The goal is for a tank of gas to last a couple of weeks at least.

Less stuff / more room Maybe I’ll finally get around to recycling my old computers. Maybe I’ll even read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

What will you be doing less / more of this summer?

Spring is right here.

flowerdeathLast week it rained and rained and rained. In the pauses between the rains, the robins sang. That was the first sign that spring had come.

This week the weather alternated between cold and warm, sunny and gray. Each morning before seven I looked out my window to see a brightening streak of blue cutting through the dark sky.

I remember now what it means to leave for a walk at five in the evening and not have to brace myself for darkness or outfit myself with reflective gear and flashing lights. I remember what it means to watch the sky change as I walk instead of tightening my hood in defense of pelting rain.

I remember now that nourishment isn’t just about eating stuff that tastes good, but also eating foods that offer nutrients, things that are green, orange, and red—things that crunch.

I remember now that what it means to move through my day with a small fire inside of me, to experience the day as a landscape to explore rather than a checklist to complete.

This morning the sky cleared and I brought my sons on a hike to the water’s edge. Along the trail, Smoke entertained me with theories about how trees had fallen (thieves with chainsaws), and Stump stopped at every puddle and called it the beach. For nearly an hour, no one whined. The forest cleared, and we arrived at the beach in time to witness a surprise: dozens of sailboats gliding across the bay.

boatsI was surprised to realize that, for the moment, I was doing the exact thing I wanted to be doing, meaning I didn’t wish I was in Hawaii instead, or writing instead, or watching TV, or sitting in a hot tub. I just wanted to be there, on the beach, watching the sailboats while Smoke collected rocks and Stump hit water with a stick.

Beach2Of course in the moment of noticing that I was content where I was, I realized how often the opposite is true, how easy it is to long for elsewhere.

I think of my family members in New England and imagine the snow piled up past their windowsills. I imagine them trapped inside winter, tiny little shoots of green sleeping under snow banks.

I don’t envy my New England friends, but I want to be there on the day that winter begins to melt, that first day you step outside and can actually hear the water dripping, can sense that the snow has begun its return back to the source.

Come Monday morning, in my dark cave of an office, I’ll be feeling like those sleeping greens, craving elsewhere, wishing for light.