The Balm

As I’ve mentioned before, my subconscious doesn’t trust me to get the meaning of dreams. So my dreams are usually ‘hit-me-over-the-head’ obvious.

Here’s a prime example from a couple nights ago.

I was in an old car with a friend and she was driving. We were in the middle of a nasty swamp, with deep dark water flooding into the car. I knew we were going to sink, but she said we would be fine, even as we were going under. She kept her foot on the gas and the car continued moving, but when we got to the edge of the swamp, there was a high fence trapping us. She didn’t stop, and drove right through the wall, breaking it down and allowing us to get out to the other side.

Yeah, nothing subtle about my subconscious.

I’m going to see that friend in a couple days.

She is dealing with the two-year anniversary of the loss of her son.

My sister passed away in January.

I’m sure we’re going to share grief and probably tears. But knowing her, there will also be laughter and stories, and I’ll leave, having come out on the other side, at least temporarily.

She’s amazing that way.

I’m bringing her a couple jars of Balm of Gilead that I made this past weekend. It’s a salve made from cottonwood buds steeped for a long time in a carrier oil. Beeswax is then melted into it to the consistency you want for the salve.

Last year on a damp day in late fall/early spring, this friend and I went out into the trees and collected cottonwood buds. Being, at the time, the first-year anniversary of the loss of her son, we shared tears and laughter and stories out there in the woods. Those buds went into the salve I’m bringing her.

It’s almost time to go back for more buds to start the process for next year’s balm.

The dictionary defines ‘balm’ as something that has a comforting, soothing, or restorative effect. ‘Balm’ is also defined as a fragrant ointment used to heal or soothe.

I see both definitions at play in my world at the moment.

The balm of a fragrant ointment sitting jars like little pots of spring sunshine.

The balm of friendship, also like little spots of sunshine in that dark swamp of grief.

Breaking down the wall and coming out the other side.

That’s us.

With the help of those who love us.


Blurry little pots of sunshine.


Here in western Washington State we decided to hold winter in two weeks instead of spreading it out over a few months. Of course winter might not be over yet.

A week with no electricity. Days with no water. Falling snow that went on and on and on. Highway closed because of so many trees coming down.

Here are the things that made these days safe and not so bad.

A wood stove and a full wood shed. Even though I hated stacking firewood on hot summer days, this is the reason for all that labor. Though honestly, my husband worked harder splitting all the wood. This coming summer we should have plenty of wood to cut because of all the trees that came down.


When company comes, we put them to work.

A generator and full gas cans, thanks again to the husband who fills the cans before winter and makes sure the generator runs. All our gas cans wouldn’t have lasted so many days though, and so we should probably get a few more for next winter. What helped this time was my husband and a neighbor who braved the closed highway, collecting gas cans for others in our tiny community and keeping us all with running generators.


The Blue Scoop. The husband (again, hero of the times) works at the mountain pass and there they use something called a blue scoop. It’s like a weird snow shovel that is big, and you push it like a lawn mower. It moves lots of snow fast and easily, without the backbreaking work of bending as with a traditional snow shovel. As you pile the snow you remove, it can be pushed right up the slope of the pile, and then with a single push forward, the snow slides off the scoop. You can find them on Amazon. They aren’t cheap, but are well worth the money if you live somewhere with lots of snow. With the scoop we were able to keep paths clear to the woodshed, the gates, the generator, and most importantly, the hot tub.


Four years ago when the snow wasn’t as deep, but still…priorities.


A full pantry and a full freezer. The full freezer would have been a liability without the generator to keep it running. But we were never at the point of having to worry about groceries.

A kid. Our son moved back home about a month ago. Didn’t he time that perfectly? So having a young man to use that blue scoop was pretty nice.

Ice caves

Community. There were rough moments with a few people in our little community but I believe it was their fear and worry coming out, and not something that will last. Those moments were mainly due to the lack of water when the water system’s tank ran dry and everyone expected my husband to fix it. Which he did. But there was a wider community of people who donated supplies and delivered them to the mountain neighborhoods. Granted, the supplies came after the highway was open and we were past the worst, but what’s important is that people cared.


Water. I keep gallon jugs of water in the freezer. When power goes out, they can go in the fridge to help keep things cold, or to help keep the freezer cold. When thawed, they provide potable water. This time we knew ahead, so we had full 5-gallon water jugs and a full bathtub. And of course, lots of snow to melt on the wood stove. Though a canner full of snow melts down to a scant inch or so of water so it’s a long process. It works better if you can melt icicles.


Propane. Having the stove be propane rather than electricity allowed us to cook and bake just like it was any other day in the household. Granted, our propane level is now low and the delivery truck feels they still can’t make it up to us. But if it goes out, we have the wood stove.

And today the sun is out. Shortly I will head outside to use the blue scoop now that all the snow is softening some, to do some more clearing. We made it through the week fine, thanks to preparing and planning.

If you were to lose your power and water, could you manage?

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Eleven years ago at the old cabin.

On Stone

I just finished a book called Cairns: Messengers in Stone by David B. Williams. I thought it would be an interesting non-fiction read but was pleasantly surprised at how good it was. The author has this wonderful writing voice and a soft humor that has you laughing before you even realize that what you just read is funny.


The book also made me want to walk over to the river and stack some stones.


Rocks are a thing in my family. We never seem to be able to go for even a short walk without bringing home a few in our pockets. Our windowsills are lined with agates from the beach and sand marbles from the badlands. There are more rocks on other surfaces in the house. Conglomerates with fossils. Granite with bits of garnet. Jasper. Fluorite. Crystals from friends. Smoky quartz. Lots of quartz. And many rocks that are nameless but pretty. Oh, and wishing rocks. You know, the ones that have a ring that goes all the way around them. You’re supposed to toss one over your shoulder when you find it, making a wish as the rock flies. And then you’re not supposed to look where it lands so that your wish comes true.


But they end up coming home with us because we can rarely toss them. And when we do, we can’t help but look at where they land, which defeats the whole purpose of tossing them.

I also live surrounded by rock. Granite mountains, ancient riverbeds, glacial till. You can’t dig a hole around here without immediately hitting granite, rounded by water from some long-ago flow. If you want a garden you have to bring in dirt. Seriously.

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Earthquakes here shake rather than roll, because of stone. If you like to rock climb, or boulder, this is an area to come.

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Dean Brooks, the doctor who portrayed a doctor in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, once handed me a rock when I was visiting. He was a wonderful man who created and helped fund many preventative mental health programs for children. The rock he handed me had come from China. It had been given to him by a family, and had been in that family for many, many generations. They called it a worry stone.

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The worry stone was shiny and black, like obsidian. One side had been worn down to a concave shape. Dean told me many, many people had worn away their worries by rubbing the stone over countless generations, and wanted me to touch it and feel how smooth it was. I wouldn’t. He insisted. I refused again. Finally, I said ‘It’s been in this family for a thousand years! What if I drop it?’

He said, ‘it’s a rock’.


Well, okay. A rock that felt like silk under my thumb.


I have a rock with bits of shell embedded in it on my desk at work that I found on the coast. A geologist came in and picked it up. He told me it was around 30,000 years old. I was blown away by the thought of that great age, and told him so. He looked at me kind of oddly and said ‘It’s a rock. That’s young.’


If you read the book on cairns, you’ll learn that people have been leaving messages in stone since the beginning of time. It seems to be hard-wired into our genome to  move stones, to stack rocks, to pick them up. And to bring them home in our pockets. Or to create works of art with them.

I wonder why that is.