I confess I love those stupid social media questions where they say ‘you’ve been kidnapped – the person coming to rescue you is the character in the last book you read’ or the character from the last movie you watched. Those questions always get me thinking about all the wonderful characters I’ve come across in books.

Plus, I always answer with Amos Burton, a character from The Expanse books, and now the television series. He’s a fascinating character because he had this horrific childhood that’s alluded to in the books but never, thankfully, detailed, and that background left him with no sense of right or wrong. He recognizes that he’s broken so he finds someone that he thinks is a good person and follows them as his moral compass. ‘No trouble unless there’s trouble, then lots of trouble’.

All that got me thinking of characters from books that have stayed with me long after finishing the book, and what made them so memorable.

Homily Clock. The mother from The Borrowers series by Mary Norton. She lived a life of safety and security in the semi-darkness under the kitchen floorboards. She never saw ‘human beans’ and never saw the outdoors so when her family had to escape into the fields she was terrified of everything. She would cry and grumble and delay and try to avoid, and in the end she always did what needed to be done to keep her family safe. She showed more courage than any other character in those books.

Amelia Peabody. Because, well, if you know me, the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters has been a steadfast favorite for many years. I loved how her opinion of herself and her hero abilities were so different from the opinions of the others who loved her. And it was great how the author showed those different opinions even though the books were written in first person, from Amelia’s viewpoint. For example, she always carried a little pistol and would pull it to save the day, convinced in her mind that she was a marksman, only to terrify her family and send them fleeing.

Mole, from the Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. He looked at life with such wondrous innocence and joy. Every tiny little thing was something to be fully experienced and I think as we get older we lose that sense of wonder and magic and the simple happiness of a picnic basket by the side of the river on a spring day with your friends.

Lynn Schooler. This is kind of cheating as technically he’s not a character. He’s a real person who wrote a memoir called Walking Home. But that book stays with me because of the unbelievable courage it took to decide one day to step out into the wilderness and go for a walk.

Faina. The child from The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. She stays with me because of how the story allowed me to remember the magic of fairy tales. And the book left me with the mystery of who she really was.

Winnie. The teenager from The Geography of Water by Mary Emerick. A beautifully written story and a young girl who walks away from her life in order to live, and then returns.

Obviously this could be a really long list. So I’ll keep it short with just the ones that come immediately to mind, and ask you to remind me of more characters that come into our stories and don’t leave us.

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.