Hope Springs Eternal

I haven’t lived in Humboldt County for nearly two decades now, but I’ve held it in my heart all these years.  During my hiatus, I’ve been told by my brother that it is “not the same as when we were kids” and he’d “never let his kids run around the woods like when we were young”.  I see where he’s coming from.  I’ve read the articles, I’ve seen the changes, I’ve heard the stories . . . but the Heart of the Redwoods still has just that, heart. My high school friend has it right when he says “the community we knew is still there, just barely.”

What really gives me hope is that there is still respect for the amazing beauty that is the natural world of Humboldt amongst my peers. When I go on Facebook to check in with my virtual So Hum community, I am continually inspired by the photographs they upload depicting the Humboldt landscape that is unique in all the world.  There are photographs taken by people I grew up with who I never thought they would connect so deeply with their surroundings! The poetry and statements put out by my online rural community show that the adults who were blessed enough to grow up in the county of So Hum have a depth to them that clearly separates them from their counterpart transplants.  Hey, we were listening as our parents prattled on about loving mother nature and thinking deeper, outside the box!

I am also reassured of the survival of the legacy our Flower Children forefathers bestowed upon us because there is a crusade for caring for and cleaning up the local environment.  When I look beyond the mainstreet panhandlers in Garberville and see the improvements being made via the Town Center and the addition of a Farmer’s Market, my heart soars.  When I hear the discussions being encouraged on KMUD about river restoration and candid reports on alternatives to growing weed, I feel a twinge of hope.  Friends of the Eel, Youth Alive! adventures, articles Redheaded Blackbelt about Sharing Humboldt with Kids all encourage me to have faith.

When I watch theater shows put on by Feet First Dancers, Inc. or Recycled Youth, I can’t believe the talent and free thinking So Hum is infused with.  I feel so lucky to be part of this community, even if from a distance.  I am so proud when someone in this far off city I currently live in talks about Reggae on the River, that a seemingly “nowhere” place known best for it’s marijuana culture can also produce big time shows known world wide.  Or I see some article of clothing such as Blue Canoe or Island Tribal being sold in my little Food Coop store, or a mention of Music for Little People who’s humble beginnings are Redway, I burst to say “I am a Humboldt native”. The artistic side of Humboldt County is flourishing and something to flaunt to the world!

This isn’t to say we should turn our back on the cannibis culture. Quite the opposite! Embrace the creativity and free thinking that such a culture encourages. But it would be wrong to dwell only on the horrors that the bulldozing and water pollution created by mass marijuana planting.  Yes, it is wreaking havoc on our oasis. Yes, there are horrific deaths and mysterious disappearances associated with that aspect of our counter culture. Yes, the lure of “easy” money has brought in a whole new crowd of people who maybe bog down So Hum’s magic and charm.  All this is true, and yet I am reminded that if I count the blessings of my dearly loved community, all the dark negativity feels just a little lighter.  I may sound naive or dreamy to many, and they may be surprised should they ever hear the horrors I too lived through as a child in the pot (and drug) culture of the 80s, but I believe in choosing to focus on the positive.

I see my old Humboldt, the community of my childhood, patiently watching and waiting while this crazy, bizarre siamese twin community rages through.  Just like a Super Nova Giant Star, the greedy, money hungry community will burn itself out with time and the community of my childhood will be reborn with new, invigorating energy.  There is too much love and creativity, too much heart, for this community I and so many others care deeply about to just disappear. Just as the Gold Rush passed through, and the logging industry passed through, and the hillsides renewed, so shall this move on.

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Dancer’s Daughter

Like a marionette I walk

Strings pulling me this way and that.

My chest up,

heart reaching for the sun.

Back of my head stretching tall,

pulling my spine straight.

“Shoulders back, chin down,

relax your jaw.”

I smile as her voice echoes in my mind.

I walk on, feeling graceful…

Remembering.

“You walk like your mother”

Family friends point out.

I grin my jack-o-lantern smile,

All of 6 years old.

“Horrors!” explodes my bow-legged,

once-upon-a-time ballerina mother.

And a new monologue enters my thoughts.

“Knees together, toes forward, bottom tucked.”

I miss a beat along the sidewalk as I feel

I might be just a little bit tight-assed at this point.

Self-consciously I check my thighs and waist in the store window

As unbidden comments slip through.

“I shouldn’t eat bread!”

Images of my mother twirling in front of her mirror

Hands measuring legs.

She catches me watching

“Thank Goddess you take after your father.”

How hard to navigate my teenage self

Once my step-dad pointed out my thighs and hips were growing

“Gluten-free, gluten-free!” Billboards shout out around me.

My Mother was always ahead of her times.

I stop to buy a coffee.

Hands passing over the counter interrupting my view.

“You have your mother’s hands.”

My choreographer tells me as I wave 12-year-old arms like sticks,

The branches of a tree.

My mother smiles.

She likes her hands and so do I.

Walking like a marionette,

The warmth of the sun on my face,

The comfort of her voice in my head.

I feel like a beautiful doll

Shaped by fate,

thrown together as we are, into our lives.

“Are you a dancer?”

A passing stranger asks.

“No,” I grin.

“But my Mother is.”

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Fairy Child, Child of the Woods

My love for fairies, the magical kind that glow and sport sparkles and wings, mischievous as often as not, started at a very young age.  I remember one year, maybe I was four, my grandparents gave my brother and I little record player that used batteries.  Not having electricity so no television, nor many toys, this was a special gift.  It came complete with a little set of fairy tale books.  My favorite was Sleeping Beauty.  When Princess Aurora goes to live in a the woods with the three good fairies, the drawings for their cottage made me think of our little A-frame house.  Set in a backdrop of huge trees and a little meadow of sunshine adorned with colorful butterflies, flowers, and singing birds, the cottage could have easily been my home.

Years later, when money came our way via the garden, and we moved farther up the mountain to a sunnier piece of land that actually belonged to us, I would still feel wistful for my little cottage home.  Once, when I was just about 6, and we’d only been moved out for a year, I ended up at a party of children in the house below the A-frame.  An 11-year-old girl, and the only other girl on that mountain, was in charge of watching me.  The two of us, my brother, and a couple other boys were wrestling on the huge brand-new bed the homeowners had just recently purchased, complete with a satin bedspread. (It’s amazing how money made such an appearance even in those early stages.) Someone wacked me by accident, and I got angry, yelling that I wanted to go home now! The girl was having a good time and said she wasn’t ready to walk me home.  I told them all I’d walk home myself. No one believed me.  They even laughed! I would show them, so I took off when no one was looking.

I meandered up the little well worn path between the house and the A-frame up the hill.  It was dark in those woods and I quickly realized I might have made a mistake.  I looked over my shoulder, where I could just see the house lights (they had a generator and electricity, so the contrast between the house and the woods was strong) twinkling between tree branches.  I was stubborn, though, and refused to give in to their taunts of my being just a girl and too little, a stubbornness that would prove to get me in trouble many times over throughout my lifetime.  I took a deep breath and kept my determined march upward and onward.

An owl hooted over head and, startled, I looked up.  Lo and behold! I could see the stars and the moon through the tree, and their light made a little silver pathway overhead.  I spent the next 5 minutes walking the narrow woodland path by tilting my head upward and following the path of stars.

A scurrying under the brush ahead snapped my attention back to my feet and the path below.  In the sudden darkness my eyes were slow to adjust and I stumbled over the roots criss-crossing the path.  I pitched forward, landing on my hands and knees, and found my face inches from a tiny glowing speck.  Forgetting my fears and injuries, I gingerly picked up the tiny glowing object and stared at the miracle resting in my hand.  Had I just found my very own fairy? No wings, was it a baby fairy?  My mind went back to the pictures of the tiny pink, green, and blue fairies who protected Briar Rose in Sleeping Beauty and I felt certain I had quite literally stumbled upon an orphaned fairy child.

All thoughts of anger at friends, fear of woods turned dark, and concern of making it safely home were gone.  All I could think about was holding onto this little baby who was obviously more vulnerable than me.  I made my way past the A-frame and up the steep path to the driveway above.  I followed the road, each corner and hill etched in my mind from the ritual morning and afternoon drive to and from the school bus stop, no need for paying attention to my way.

Before I knew it, I had made it to my home, and my bewildered mom asked how I’d gotten home all alone.  Realizing I was probably in trouble for not staying with the group of kids, I hurriedly showed her my prize.  In a voice full of awe and wonder, a conviction of full belief only children tend to embody these days, I shared my journey home.  Carefully opening my hand to show her my glowing baby fairy, I was confused by the worm that lay in my palm, not glowing at all.

I turned my dirt covered face, now streaked with tears of worry that I must have killed the baby fairy, to my mom’s face full of equal parts frustration, confusion, and concern.  I’m sure she wrestled with what a good mom would do in this moment; discipline me for my lack of following rules, applaud me my bravery at climbing a mountain in the dark, or hug me for my sorrow over “killing” a baby fairy.  Hugs won out, and as she wrapped me in her herb scented embrace, she lovingly explained that I had found a glow worm.  Glow worms weren’t very common in our area, so even though it was never a fairy baby, it was still a unique prize from my adventure in the dark.  We took it outside to a wooded area safe from any feet who might trample it, and left it there to make it’s way in the world.

To this day I am still in awe with living things that glow; be they worms, flies, or fairies.  To this day I am certain that the cottage I spent my early years in was a home meant for a fairy child.  And when I remember the beauty I was surrounded by every day of my early years, and the adventures I was able to go on in a world far from the fears of modern life, I’m pretty sure I was gifted with a fairy-like childhood. Indeed, that I myself was the fairy child that night.

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Peace in the Sunshine

Today has been a beautiful day, where living in the city yet tucked away on my tiny plot of land I call a homestead, feels just right.  I’m keeping myself busy with washing the towels in the washing machine and hanging them to dry in the sunshine on my deck overlooking a canyon.  Sure there are houses rimming the entire canyon, and sure it’s not the privacy I grew up with on my mountain homestead, but watching the hawk circling over head and the wild bunnies scurrying into the underbrush below makes my city life feel that much less city-like.

After hanging the first load this morning, I soon found myself distracted by the need to clean off the deck.  The dogs have taken to peeing on the wood rather than the dirt right next to the deck, so I wanted to wash it off before it got tracked into the house.  Such city dogs! It rains once in a blue moon here and they start up with peeing in the house, then slowly relearn that they need to pee outside but choose the deck rather than get their arses cold for too long by making their way all the way to the dirt.  I was better about peeing outside at 3 than they are!

Once I realized that I needed to wash off the deck, I started noticing the piles of leaves that had fallen from the vines overhead and the pile of little pots of bulbs some night creature had strewn about.  Before long I found myself happily digging in the nearly dormant garden beds, hoping to resurrect the few bulbs that still seemed to have life in them.  I’ve recently taken a full time job after being out of work, and back to school, for the past two years. So, of course, the “homesteading” chores of gardening and laundry have been pushed to the side.

Now, with a pleasant break from work (I’m lucky enough to have a boss who gets how important family time is and gave me the whole week of Thanksgiving off to spend with my children) I am finally getting through all the piles of projects I’ve abandoned.  Yesterday I worked on a quilt I’m sewing to donate to a youth program in my home town and hopefully it will be finished in the next week or so.  Maybe this weekend! Considering I’ve got another for my children’s school and two in mind for new babies in my family, it will be nice to complete the first one.

I’ve also cleaned the kitchen and helped my daughter set up the bunny hutch (who returned from a stay with grandma while we vacationed.) Next weekend we will be picking up a new larger bunny hutch and possibly a new friend for the bunny (her sister ran off and was never found . . . ) We’ll move the chicken, who has miraculously survived a couple scuffles with who-knows-what even though her two sisters didn’t survive.  She’s going to move over and live near the bunny until she passes on because she no longer lays eggs and we find we’re just too busy with both my husband and I working to start up a new flock of chickens. Maybe this summer . . .

Anyway, a peaceful day that doesn’t feel like a city day at all! Now, I get to sit for a minute, write in my blog and admire my colorful towels as they wave in the sunshine just like Tibetan Peace Flags.  Bliss . . . 🙂

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Simpler Times

When I was a little girl growing up in the mountains, food and money were scarce.  Lentils were a common staple and honey was a huge treat. My parents were basically unemployed so they were able to qualify for food stamps.  Not a big deal in the rural community we lived in.  Times were simple and we made the most of what we had.

When I was about 3-years-old we lived in this classic A-frame house, complete with a dutch door.  I loved that door because I could just open the bottom half and slip through without hitting my head. The grown ups had to open both halves, so I felt the smaller door was just for me.  The house itself was shaped just like a capital A, with the roof reaching all the way to the ground on one side and a small room (the kitchen) jutting off the other side.  The top was a little loft where my mom, brother, and I all slept.  There wasn’t any insulation so my mom covered the walls with beautiful indian blankets, book shelves, and art from various friends and family.  There was a little wood stove in one corner, a huge diamond window along one wall where I sat in the patch of sunshine mid-morning, and a narrow deck off the back, where the shower stood in an alcove.  House plants hung in front of every window, and huge oak trees canopied us on the outside.  In the evenings, without t.v., my mom would pull out her guitar and strum a tune or read to us.  One of the first books I remember listening to was “The Scarlet Feather.”  There were always beans cooking on the stove and sometimes even a fresh loaf of bread in the oven.   It wasn’t much, but the feelings of warmth permeated every square inch. It was home.

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Butter Journey

One of my favorite memories is making butter with my mom and brother.  We lived so far from town that hopping in the car (which we didn’t have anyway) just for a cube of butter wasn’t an option. This particular morning we woke up to the usual sounds of my mom banging pots in the kitchen.  After crawling out of the loft and down the wood ladder, I wandered into the kitchen to see what mom was making.  She had the flour out and was mixing it with water into a bowl.  She asked me if I wanted to knead it and I did.  I loved the feel of the dough between my fingers. Who needs bright pink, obnoxious smelling Play Doh when you can have the real thing? And eating it was an option! My brother, who is a few years older than me, may have even joined in the fun, but most likely he was driving his toy trucks around the living room.

Mom explained that the dough was going to be baked into a loaf of bread for us to eat with our bean soup later, so we had to let it sit in the bowl in the warm sun so it could rise.  I eagerly asked if there would be butter to put on the bread and mom shook her head no.  She hadn’t really planned on making the bread so hadn’t bought any butter from town, more than 20 miles away on windy nearly deserted country roads.  I was sad and probably pitched a tantrum in the crazy end-of-the-world way only three-year-olds can.  Next thing I knew, mom had packed up her backpack and dressed my brother and I into our pants, sweater, and shoes.  She had decided we would hike across the valley to our neighbor’s homestead.  This particular neighbor had a cow and had in the past offered to trade fresh milk for food stamps.

We tromped outside into the brisk yet sunny spring air.  We lived in our little house nestled in a particularly dense part of the forest.  The smell of wet oak leaves decomposing on the forest floor was always particularly strong there.  Other scents permeated the woods, too.  In particular, I could always smell the sapling pine trees still struggling to revive after the past decade of an over zealous wood miller.  I guess it was good luck for the homesteaders who moved up in the previous 5 years because most of the houses we all lived in were built from the scraps left behind when the miller made his exodus.

The journey to our neighbor’s house would require us to head down a 70 degree incline, clambering over fallen trees, around gigantic rat nests, and through the damp, dense underbrush.  After a good ten minutes we reached the creek.  This was the very creek my brother was born next to in mid-winter and my mom, I suppose on an “enlightened” whim, decided to baptize him in the frigid waters.  He always had a special connection with that creek, so I figure it didn’t do any lasting harm. Mom did say he had bellowed pretty loud with his wee lungs.

Now, getting across the creek, especially in spring, could have posed a challenge for a young mother and two fairly small children, except that our creek had suffered plenty of damage from the clear cutting of the surrounding forest which was than followed up by a major flood of rain one winter.  The creek was shallower in most places than it should have been, considering the salmon had once run all the way up our mountain, because the soil of the mountains had slid into the creek.  Also damming up the crystal clear waters were various log jams.  I guess the miller had tried sending his logs down the river at one point. ?? Makes little sense to me, but I suppose the creek must have been powerful and deep at one point in time. At any rate, it was one of these log jams that my brother and I followed our mother across with little trouble.  Not much more difficult than crossing a narrow bridge without a railing.  My brother and I were like little rabbits, living in the woods like we did.

Once we crossed the creek, we then faced another 70 degree incline, this time going up.  I’m sure I cried to be carried at least part of the way, but there was no way my mom could carry both my brother and I.  I figure this is just one of the reasons he grew up to be such a strong mountain man.  Once he shared his mom with his little sister, he was expected to be a stronger person, and boy was he ever! But, that’s a different story.

Now, our neighbor lived near the top of her mountain, in the bright sunshine where she grew amazing gardens full of flowers and vegetables.  I think she wrote a book about using nature to keep deer from eating one’s garden . . . I have always been in awe of people who write books. Of course, this is also where the cow lived.  I remember her name being Bessie, but that may not be true.  Still, Bessie has always been the name of the cow as far as my memories go.

We meandered through the gardens until we came to the house.  It was gray, like all the houses in the mountains.  No one bothered to paint the wood, so all the houses ended up the same weathered color.  But, that is where the similarities ended.  Every house up in the mountains is as unique as a finger print.  They go every which way, sprawling out in whatever direction the builder felt like adding a room onto.  Usually, the rooms followed a view, or a stream bed, or even a tree.

We knocked on her door and almost immediately, a tall woman with long gray hair braided down her back answered.  Luckily, after our long journey, our neighbor was home.  You never know about these things in the mountains, especially back then, because no one had phones.  However, people never went anywhere either so chances were you’d catch them working away at some hobby or other.

My mom talked things over with her, explaining about baking bread and my request for butter.  The older woman nodded her head and my mom produced an empty jar and some papers.  The woman took the jar and the papers and gestured for us to follow her.  She took us around back of the house to a part of the house protected by thick trees, and into a dark room.  It was cold in the room and she produced a jar similar to ours.  She said we could have the milk she’d taken from Bessie that morning, because she really didn’t need it every day.  Then she explained that if we were to make butter, we would actually need to use the cream she’d skimmed off the top.  So, she handed us another smaller jar full of cream.  I still didn’t see how that would give us butter, but I would have to wait.

My mom explained that we would have to turn right around in order to get home in time to bake the bread.  She thanked our neighbor and packed the jars into her back pack.  We made our way back home, down the mountainside, across the creek, and back up the other side to our little A-frame home.  The journey had taken over two hours and I was hungry! My mom poured my brother and I each a glass of milk, and we eagerly drank it.  It was the sweetest milk we’d ever had!  Then my mom took out the jar of cream showed us how to shake the jar back and forth, back and forth.  We each took turns, dancing around the small living room, shaking our bodies as much as we shook the jar.  Finally, after what felt like forever, the cream in the jar began to coagulate. Little white lumps began to form within the cream.  Not too long after that, the lumps formed one large lump and the butter milk separated from the butter.  My mom let us taste the butter milk, yucky! Then we tasted the butter. Yum! No salt, but so delicious! We had to wait for the bread to finish baking, which my mom had put into the little propane oven while my brother and I shook the cream.

To pass the time, she pulled out her guitar and we took turns strumming and making up songs. Before we knew it, the aroma of fresh baked bread wafted from the kitchen and filled the house.  We could barely wait! My mom carefully cut a slice for each of us and spread the soft butter onto the bread. She showed us how to blow on the bread to cool it and we watched the butter melt into the fluffy whole wheat golden slices.  Finally, we took a bite and it was the culmination of a journey I would never forget.

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