Dad

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Dad crouched on a boulder planted in the middle of the Wind River. For what seemed like hours, he had studied the deep pools and brisk eddies around him. With a spider’s grace, he flung his line, allowing the lure crafted from pheasant feathers or polar bear fur to settle on the river’s surface.  Its shadow was larger than the mosquitoes’. A breath and a heartbeat.  A flicker beneath the surface. Dad pulled more line from the reel and allowed the lure to slip across a riffle and into a pocket of darker water. Suddenly, there was a tug on the line. With a flick of his wrist, he set the hook and reeled in his catch. His prey struggled, swimming this way and that. Dad’s fishing pole arched, but his hands remained steady and his gaze intent.

From where I watched on the bank, it seemed as if everything happened in slow motion. I fixated on his green rubber boots as he carefully stepped towards the boulder’s edge. Next, I focused on the net as he lifted it from the river, its dripping web frustrating the trout within as it writhed for freedom.

And then everything sped up. Dad pulled the fish from the net, grasped it firmly, and dashed its brains out on the rock beneath his feet. From the many-pocketed vest he wore, he pulled out a sharp knife and dragged the blade along its belly from tail to top. His blunt fingers reached inside the cavity and pulled out the liver, lungs and heart and released them back into the stream. “That’s gonna be good eatin’,” he said, grinning.

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His composure fractured from time to time. One snowy winter’s day, I hitched a ride home with my boyfriend, Doug, in his Chevy Impala. When the car skidded into a telephone pole, my head connected with the windshield. Dad came to help, crying out, “Oh God, are you ok?” I reassured him as best I could, but he couldn’t look me in the face, bruised and bloody as it was. He took me to the hospital where a doctor prepared to treat the hematoma on my forehead by unwrapping  a massive syringe.  A nurse assisted him to a seat, where he sat with his head between his legs.

In memoriam, Harold Stanton, who passed away on this date in 2013.

There’s No Place as Boring as Home

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Our home, a brown two story affair with a large deck and a river rock chimney, stands just within the treeline. There are a few Douglas firs circling the place, but most are knobby and twisted apple trees, part of an orchard the previous landowner planted and then abandoned.

In the springtime, the trees are glorious. Soft moss clambers up their trunks and a profusion of blossoms flare out from the branches. Yellow pollen cascades through the air and coats the rocks and deer paths through the underbrush. Everything is yellow—except my dad’s eyes, which are red. He sneezes violently. “This hay fever is killing me.” I look around, confused, because I don’t see any hay.

The trees are lovely in the summer and fall too. I climb into the crook of an apple tree where the leaves shimmer around me and I smell dust, resin, and the sweet and spicy perfume of apples—tantalizing until I remember the small green fruit are full of worms.

The Reader

I read books while I’m in the apple tree: Black Beauty, Treasure Island, and Robinson Crusoe. I dream of adventure, when I’ll be able to leave this lovely but boring place and do something exciting. I’m not sure what yet, but it’s going to be great.

Below me, a black bear lumbers by. Most likely, he was looking for the trash bins, but my father locked them up in the garage, tired of the mess he left behind.  He grumbled, “With all this litter, we might as well live in Seattle.” I perked up. I love the city. I want to see the busy people doing important work, the stores full of glittering things and the restaurants with white table cloths.

LIttle Girl, Big City (v.1)

“Traffic’s better here,” dad said, dashing my hopes.

My brother, Will—not William or Billy, just Will, dashes out onto the deck and hollers at me. “It’s time for dinner! Mom made chicken and dumplings.”

I can hear her voice, but am not sure what she’s saying.

Will says, “Sorry, it’s chicken FRICASSEE.”

“Is the bear gone?” I ask.

“What bear?”

Good enough for me. I climb down from the tree, run up the sledding hill, dodge a half a dozen gopher holes like a soldier in basic training, jump over the log we use a pirate ship and dash through the back door where I can smell the savory scent of dinner wafting down the hallway. Adventure can wait. I’m hungry.

Mice are Nice

My daughter had a rough year. She started experiencing severe anxiety related to school and suffered from panic attacks. At the time, it was bewildering and I felt unable to address her needs. The school counselor bent over backwards to help her, but she didn’t have any magic cure. Neither did a slew of other teachers, friends and healthcare providers.

My daughter is not alone in this experience.

An estimated 31.9% of adolescents have an anxiety disorder.

That’s a staggering figure.

One of the good things that came out of this experience (yes, there are GOOD things) is that we learned how to better communicate with one another. She began sharing more of her concerns and ideas with me, rather than just the superficial observations of everyday life. Our relationship became stronger. The anxiety issue is not behind us. I don’t believe it will ever be entirely absent from her life–or mine, but hopefully both of us will develop better coping mechanisms.

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My clever girl came up with one of her own ways to soothe herself. I will admit, I wasn’t enthusiastic about the idea at first, but I eventually gave in because (a) she had done a lot of research to support her argument and (b) I desperately wanted to give her something that made her feel better.

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So, yes, I allowed her to adopt a trio of mice. As is shown by the screenshot of our text messages, I was concerned about how our cat would react to the little creatures. I don’t believe this would be the case for every cat, but ours didn’t express even the slightest curiosity about them. She’s getting pretty old and all that canned food keeps her sated, so she wasn’t tempted by them in the least.

I enjoyed seeing my daughter bond with her little pets. She is not an emotionally demonstrative child, so I wasn’t sure how well she’d do with her caretaker responsibilities, but she took them very seriously. She spot-cleaned the cage daily and did a thorough cleaning once a week. She fed them and played with them and fussed over them when they inevitably developed a cold or respiratory problem. Sadly, despite her excellent care, the little creatures aren’t long-lived.

We had to have some tough discussions about mortality. But kids need to learn about those big issues and it’s no use trying to shield them from every unpleasant thing in the world. She learned to grieve and to move past her grief when the time was right.

My verdict: They are, indeed, “freaking cute” and “smelly.” They are also excellent for a child who needs to connect with another creature and to develop a sense of competence and responsibility.

They are also capable of some gymnastic feats that will blow your mind.

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