Returning Light

The days are getting longer, second by second, and I’m not ready. Not ready for sun and warmth and open windows. Not ready for melting and thawing and blooming.

I want to stay within the cocoon, enclosed and wrapped up and listening to the sound of rain. Dormant and inward, dreaming and still.

It’s safer to stay stuffed down and numb, to not remember or be aware. To see strength in pulling up the boot straps and doing what needs doing and not feeling. To rest, safe, in that den down in the roots of the old tree, forgetting that above you the tree is pulling up life and budding and leafing out.

What is the definition of healing? Recognizing that at some point you need to also lift up and step out? How do you know if you are fully healed or partially or somewhat or as good as it’s going to get or not at all?

I’m so much more emotional than I ever used to be. I cry at everything from songs to anger to nothing at all. One day a few weeks ago I was talking to my husband and crying and I told him I didn’t even know why I was crying. I didn’t feel angry or sad and yet I was crying. I even laughed at the absurdity of crying without knowing why. As always, he so easily sucks up my tears in his hugs.

For me, being emotional has always been a sign of weakness and not being in control. For a few years now I’ve felt broken by two events. One was the death of Sam Grafton in February of 2018. The second was having to come to terms with some deeply personal issues that were forced to the surface by COVID’s masks.

I saw those two things as breaking me so that suddenly I could no longer breathe through life, stooped under the huge, huge weight of grief, and felt I had lost all control. I’m trying now to follow the advice that says I’m not broken but opened and placed on a new path.

It’s hard to believe that when I still see emotions as a loss of control and when I still strongly need to feel in control and safe. And yet there I sat, crying for no reason. I get so impatient and almost angry. I think, quit whining. You used to be strong. Do what needs to be done. Push everything else back down.

So many of us are here, in these days that are starting to lengthen, feeling that warmth that pulls us up from the safety of our dens. That sets us out along the path we don’t want to walk, that makes us face things like bright summer light that bring tears to our eyes.

I’ve always loved the rain. I prefer the cold winter season over any other time of the year. I love the short dark days and the warm fire and the feeling of being enclosed and safe. Whether it’s the reality of this love for the wet and cold or the analogy of wanting to stay down in the roots of who I used to be, all I know is that I’m not prepared for the change.

Rattling Around

It’s been an interesting few months. The pendulum has swung from scorching weather, to evacuation from a wild fire, to heavy rain and debris flow risk, to lots of snow and long power outages. I suggested to my husband that we sell everything, get a recreational vehicle, and hit the road. He said ‘not yet’. I suggested to my sister that we move in with her. She laughed.

All in jest of course. But it has been overwhelming, especially for my husband who is spending a lot of time fixing things and rigging things up and taking things apart in order to put them back together.

And then there was Rat. We’ve had mice in the house. We’ve even had rats in a house we lived in previously. But this one deserves a capital letter.

My husband is a big softie. He’s been known to babysit a nest of mice in his toolbox to keep me from feeding them to the chickens. A few weeks ago he saw the lid of our recycle bin had blown up in the storm and was getting rain inside. When he shut the lid, he saw two rats. One had drowned and the other was struggling, so he put a long stick inside for it to climb out.

Rat: ‘My new best friend! My savior! I’m going to follow him home!’

It didn’t take long before we started hearing rattling around in the kitchen walls. It didn’t take long before our new dishwasher quit working because the power cord was chewed through and some mysterious part broken. It didn’t take long before Rat discovered my pantry.

It didn’t take long before I started setting traps.

We have a cat who is an amazing rodent-catcher. She stores them in the bathtub to play with later and even catches critters at the neighbor’s and brings them home. But she wasn’t catching Rat and she started sleeping at the opposite end of the house. I admit I had unkind thoughts about her not catching things in her own home.

The thing is, she’s a petite cat. If you haven’t read blog posts here before, this is a cat my husband found on the road in a rainstorm and brought home tucked inside his shirt. The little bedraggled scrap now rules the house. But she was ignoring Rat.

We found out why when, two rat traps, one five-gallon bucket, and a ski pole later, we saw just how huge Rat was. It got caught in two traps at the same time and that didn’t even slow it down. I’d say it was bigger than our cat, but because of my storyteller powers of exaggeration, in reality it might have been a tiny bit smaller. Maybe. Either way it was obvious why the cat had been sleeping at the other end of the house. The thing was huge.

You’d think having a rat in the house compared to everything else going on would be trivial. But having a giant Rat eating your dishwasher while waiting for debris flow landslides and watching the snow bury your car was kind of the last straw. That’s when I suggested we move in with my sister. For now though, paths are shoveled, Rat has moved on to wherever rat spirits go, the power is back, generator gas cans are full, the wood box is full, and the pantry is stocked.

So is all back to normal then? Is all good in our world? I started writing this blog post after my son came into the kitchen.

‘Mom, there’s another one.’

The Coming of Rain

If you’ve followed this blog you’ve probably noticed a long dry spell. There have been so many things over the past months that have silenced words. Family stress, challenges around writing, unexpected deaths and expected deaths with family and friends, and a parched land and forest fire. So many burdens. So much weight to bear us down.

Clearing its throat.

When the forest fire came, it came with a roar like nothing I’ve heard. And remember, we were on a fire department. We’ve fought fires. But this was wild and insane and consuming and starving for fuel. And the forest was dry and vulnerable. It came with a pounding on the door, with the words to get out now. My husband said later it was like the sound of thousands of propane torches magnified beyond count.

Luckily we had an evacuation list on our fridge. It was broken down by time. If you have fifteen minutes, grab this. If you have thirty minutes, grab all that plus this. We had the cars loaded and were out, gone, away down the highway with camping gear and essentials. Like the old dog happy to have a car ride and angry cat not so happy with a car ride.

Our evacuation home for a couple nights.

Fire crews were right there. They built a firebreak around our homes and saved them. We were able to come back after a week even though the fire still burned, and still burns. The mountain that shelters our community is now covered in burned trees. We will never see tall evergreens there again in our lifetime.

Taken, I believe, by fire crews.
Look closely. That’s an exhausted firefighter sleeping near the end of our road.

But our house still stands. And as two friends reminded me, life will return where the fire has burned. There are birds that only come to burned areas, like the Olive-sided flycatcher. There are plants that only grow in burned land. There are saplings that will come up through the ash.

This weekend the rain came back. I saw the mist and the coolness and the water dripping from the trees that still live. I felt it in my hair and on my clothes. I could breathe in smoke-free air with the scent of damp earth. And I felt the roots deep inside me stir, the parched leaves tentatively open into weak words. But still, words. I need the rain like the land does, like the trees do, like the fire does not.

All of this is now burned. But it will come back.

This is a poem by S.C. Lourie:

‘I started calling that girl back./The girl who loved living, the girl who danced instead of walking./The girl who had sunflowers for eyes and fireworks in her soul./I started playing music again, hoping she would come out./I started looking for beautiful moments to experience, so she would feel safe enough to show herself, because I knew she was in there./And she needed my kindness and my effort to come to the surface again.’

She’s not showing herself yet, but she’s stirring, maybe unfurling, maybe just breathing in the healing rain.