Aya Walksfar, Author

To write is to create new realities with words

The Rest of the Journey

The Rest of the Journey: Jaz Wheeler’s Places to Remember

For several more days, I awakened surrounded by redwoods, listening to the occasional bird call. Each day brought some new adventure, some place to eat that fixed delicious food, photo ops to freeze the moment and time to heal.

I’d never heard of Petrolia, California, the Lost Coast nor the Mattole Valley, so I got directions and took off. The topography reminded me of Hawk Hill and Hopewell Farm. road to petrolia top of hillFor a moment, guilt stabbed me because I hadn’t called Aretha since I left home. I pushed that feeling aside knowing how she’d laugh at such foolishness. I’d call when it was time to call.

Steep hills, rough road, sharp curves, and solitude.1226 photos from new camera 434 One car passed me, heading for the Lost Coast and a truck rumbled by coming from Mattole Valley.

At the top of the hill,  top of hill to petrolia

a lone steer wandered away from the few head of cattle bedded down, hard chill  winds blew up from the ocean that was merely a smudge of darker blue on the far horizon and one house squatted alone, on a far hilltop. Cattle and green grasslands fading to brown beneath the summer sun, and quiet. 1226 photos from new camera 439

The further down the hill, the rougher the road, but the ocean lapping the shores below me gave reward to the determined traveler. 1226 photos from new camera 466

Cool winds blew off the water and the rugged shoreline of the Lost Coast gave testimony to the hardy people whose ranch boundaries ran along the cracked roadway. 1226 photos from new camera 488

Smaller than the small town below Hopewell Farm, there wasn’t much to Petrolia.  It boasted a general store/post office/gas station–all-in-one and scattered houses. What people I encountered were friendly, but the little store was mostly surrounded by uninhabited land. 1226 photos from new camera 511

By the time I left the valley, the patterns of bright late afternoon sun and early evening shadows greeted me along the same road that I’d ridden down. 1226 photos from new camera 514

This time I stopped to gaze at the largest Madrone trees I had ever seen. Lines of them marched along both sides of the road. largest madrone

Back home on my little farm, one tall slender Madrone struggled to thrive. My place wasn’t unique. In the Seattle area, Madrones simply did not get as large as these. I wondered about the age of these majestic trees, what changes they’d seen, whether they mourned their fallen and dreamed of days gone by when groves of them stood shoulder-to-shoulder. A bittersweet moment.

I left the windy road behind and headed to Ferndale, California. As evening drew close, an old and beautiful building caught my eye: The Victorian Inn. 1226 photos from new camera 622

Dinner was real chicken pot pie, nearly as tasty as Folami Winters had served at Mother Earth’s Bounty before she helped Aretha and I; before the attack that burned her restaurant to the ground. I shoved those thoughts aside, told myself it no longer matter, that was years ago. After dinner, I met the owners of the Victorian Inn, Lowell Daniels and Jenny Oaks. They told me the Inn had been built in 1890 of Humboldt County redwoods, that the walls were so thick no insulation was necessary.

Full and tired, I headed to the campground. Tomorrow I would be leaving, beginning the return trip home.

If you enjoyed Jaz’s travelogue, be sure to CLICK and FOLLOW so you won’t miss the ending!

To discover more about the magical Mattole Valley, go to:  http://mattolevalleynaturals.com/mattole-river-valley

You can learn more about the beautiful and historic Victorian Inn and the “slice of the past” town of Ferndale, California by going to http://www.victorianvillageinn.com

To read about how Jaz wound up at Hopewell Farm and became friends with Aretha Hopewell and Folami Winters, read Run or Die, now available on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Run-Die-Aya-Walksfar-ebook/dp/B00KV8BK5A

 

 

AMONG THE SACRED ANCIENTS

AMONG THE SACRED ANCIENTS: Jaz Wheeler’s Journey Among the #California #Redwoods

Dark settled its shawl over the redwood forest as I drove into Hidden Springs Campground. My headlights picked out cars and tents and RVs as I wound my way along the curvy asphalt to my reserved spot.

Redwood sentinels stood guard at the entrance as I pulled onto the leveled area and shut off my bike. Quiet embraced me. Exhausted, I flipped out my bedroll and lay down. The next thing I knew, birds chirped in the bushes as the sun filtered through the trees. DSC01223

After a quick breakfast of granola bar and bottled water, I stuffed my bedroll in the bear proof box, snapped a small padlock on it then hopped on my bike.

Those years ago, after Alicia was lost and even after I left Hawk Hill and Hopewell Farm, playing tourist was far from my mind. The redwoods had started the healing of my wounded soul, but I hadn’t been ready to take side trips to places like the Drive-Thru Tree at Myers Flat. DSC01205

And, I’d never seen a two-story tree house! DSC01215

I learned a little more about the majestic redwoods.  Drive thru shrine water stats

When I entered the gift shop, this little guy greeted me. By the time I left, he’d worked so hard to make tourists feel welcome that he was simply exhausted. shop dog at drive thru tree

For the rest of the day, I wandered among the ancient giants, drifting from one grove to another, beginning with the Founder’s Grove then on up to the Rockefeller Forest where the Giant Tree and the Tall Tree resided. DSC01239 DSC01238

When I entered Rockefeller Forest, I entered a sacred time and place.

person among giants

Like my heart, the Forest held light and shadows and jagged memories.

DSC01292

Eventually, the passing of the hours forced me to return to my campsite.

evening comes in forest

 

For more photos from Jaz’s exploration of the Redwood Forest, go to http://www.pinterest.com/ayawalksfar

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To learn more about Jaz Wheeler, read Run or Die. http://www.amazon.com/Run-Die-Aya-Walksfar-ebook/dp/B00KV8BK5A

 

 

DARRINGTON PARTIES!

july 4 1000Darrington sprawled beneath a partly cloudy sky this July 4th as parade participants gathered in the Community Center’s parking lot.  The Timberbowl Rodeo Queen, Lindsey, chatted with a woman before the parade got started. july 4 1013

Our “fire chief” was on hand to oversee the arrangements of fire trucks and floats. july 4 1028

Aya and her wife, Deva, were honored to be on the Grand Marshall float. Rows of chairs waited to be filled by a few of those who had volunteered during the Highway 530 Disaster. (The whole town couldn’t fit on the float)

Darrington, the therapy goat, was on hand. He gave Aya a kissjuly 4 1019  july 4 1025

and then told her a secret. Aya wouldn’t divulge what Darrington told her. After that, Darrington got busy and inspected the candy to be tossed to the kids along the way. july 4 1039

Will Foster, one of the high school students who volunteered during the disaster as well as an up-and-coming writer and artist, smiled as we got ready to start on the parade route. Will Foster 2

Smoky the Bear joined the parade train. july 4 1006

 

We idled through town, throwing candy at the kids. The water gun folks hit their targets most oftenjuly 4 1074

but the kids ate our “ammunition”.  july 4 1075

The Pack Station’s Mule Trainjuly 4 1090 wandered through town, but I think they may have gotten into the mash. They kept going in circles and weaving up the street. july 4 1093july 4 1095

A number of antique cars joined in the fun.  july 4 1064july 4 1065

Even an antique PUD truck. july 4 1078

It was a lot of happy chaos july 4 1056

as we meandered over to the city park where there was food and fun for everyone. july 4 1047

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Seals and Sea Lions, Oh My!

Entering Crescent City, multiple chain stores assaulted my vision. Progress had come to the quiet, unique seaside town, gobbled it up and spit out a bland ghost of what had been. The loss tugged at me until I reached the southern edge of the city and swung into The Apple Peddler Restaurant for breakfast.

The Denver omelette came with homemade fluffy biscuits and what Grandmother Pearl used to call ‘milk gravy’. The strawberry waffle topped with luscious red strawberries and homemade whipped cream topped off the huge breakfast. A pot of fresh coffee washed it all down and drowned any lingering sadness over Crescent City’s march to ‘ordinariness’.

Chatting with the young waitress moved her to recommend a visit to Ocean World right next door to the restaurant. IMG_0258 ocean world signNormally, I avoid wildlife shows on ethical grounds–objecting to their normal methods of obtaining and keeping wildlife–but replete with a wonderful breakfast, I decided to take a peek.

The show is housed in an old ship brought to land. I followed the young tour guide through the double doors and onto a concrete path through lush green growth. At the end of the room was a large pond. While the guide told us about the starfish whose stomachs “pop out” from their underside and engulf their prey, I picked one up and marveled at the rough exoskeleton. The sea anemones felt soft and slick. The guide demonstrated a great deal of respect for the living creatures she talked about.

Eventually, we left the pond room and moved downstairs to the aquarium exhibits. IMG_0199 fish eyes Each aquarium appeared to be spacious and to mimic a natural environment. The information about the various fish, eels, sharks and stingrays was entertaining and had me considering no more fish and chips, at least for a while. Two of the stingrays were housed at Ocean World due to the lack of a tail which would doom them in the wild. I was shocked that several of the aquatic creatures had lived for over a hundred years! A few of their resident fish could live to be 200 years old.

We climbed the stairs and followed the guide to go pet the sharks. It was my first encounter with a shark, and an eye-opener. Their rough skins and willingness to swim close to the pool edges so we could feel them brush up against our hands, went a long way to helping me appreciate them as sentient creatures that are due respect and protection.

After our shark petting time, we followed the guide to a covered area to watch the sea lions and harbor seals perform. The three sea lions slithered up on the concrete deck to slide to a stop in front of their trainer. She started by having them “wave” to the people. They took turns picking up a flipper and “waving” at us and were immediately rewarded for their friendliness with a fish. The trainer took them through several physical and verbal acts, but my favorite was the rendition of “zombie sea lions”. I’d never suspected sea lions could make such a wide variety of sounds! IMG_0239 sea lions

After the sea lions slid back into the poolIMG_0230 sea lion, the harbor seals skidded into the limelight. Harbor seals resembled young kids on sugar highs next to the more sedate sea lions.IMG_0245  Cora handstand The harbor seals performed a number of tricks, one being retrieval of a basketball from the pool then bringing it up on the concrete skirt and making a basket with it. IMG_0253 cora carrying ball

The trainer talked about the positive training methods used in teaching each animal, how each small increment of desired behavior was rewarded while each mistake was simply ignored. She said one of the seals could perform over a hundred tricks while another one could only do a small number. Each had their own specialties. When asked how they acquired the animals, we learned that two of her “crew” had been rescued, including one sea lion that underwent surgery to remove an eye. Other animals were obtained from facilities that had too many animals.

I felt pretty good when I walked out of Ocean World, leaving Cora and her performing kin behind, to head south on Highway 101. Nothing looked familiar, not even the windy road. Made it to my campsite at Hidden Springs on the Avenue of the Giants right before true darkness settled beneath the redwoods.

To see more photos of Cora and her friends at Sea World go to http://www.pinterest.com/ayawalksfar

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SOUTH TO ANCIENT FORESTS

I’m Jaz Wheeler and I’m a private investigator. The small town of Darrington, Washington lies five miles east from my land. When the Highway 530 Mudslide swept away the tiny community of Hazel/Steelhead Lane at a bit after ten o’clock on a Saturday morning, I was away from home. IMG_0051

When I returned to Darrington that evening, via the 85 mile roundabout way along Highway 20, I stepped off my V-Strom 650 and into chaos and fear and ten thousand other emotions all running in fifth and overdrive.

For the next few weeks, I did anything and everything. I inventoried donations, I bagged groceries, I handed out gas cards, I registered volunteers and did a multitude of other various tasks alongside of neighbors I hadn’t met in all the years that I had lived up here. Long days and short nights were the order for all of us with that certain knowledge that the only news we’d be getting from that mud and debris field would be of death and loss.

I watched the town cry and hug and support each other, and they gave just as freely to me as to those people they had known all their lives. Humbled and uplifted by the strength and courage I saw every day, I slogged on to the end.

All but one victim was finally found. The road reopened on a limited basis with one way traffic.road open one way

I packed my bags and headed south. I needed to get away from all the reminders of sorrow and loss and clear my head. The only place I knew to do that was the California Redwoods.

Friday the 13th, I idled slowly between the walls of pushed back mud slopes, down the roughed up asphalt of Highway 530 then kept on driving.IMG_0016

With single-minded determination, I rode Interstate 5, dodging kamikaze drivers and hardly stopping long enough for bathroom breaks. The cool wind blew cobwebs of sadness out of my mind. The first night I stayed in an easily accessible Motel 6. Nothing to shout about, but a shower and a bed for the night and a nearby restaurant for breakfast.

The next morning a gray sky greeted me as I hiked a leg over the V-Strom’s seat. I didn’t linger that day, either, preferring to push toward the redwood forests. I entered Gasquet, California that evening.

I’d first discovered the redwoods the spring after I lost Alicia. Grandmother Pearl sent me south along Highway 101 to Hopewell Farm and my destiny, though I didn’t know it at the time. I just knew I hurt so bad that even breathing without Alicia in the world seemed wrong and painful. Not really wanting to meet someone new, I camped out in Jedidiah Smith Park near Gasquet in northern California then spent several more days in various redwood forest campsites I found along the way. Sleeping on damp ground felt preferable to meeting Alicia’s Aunt Aretha.

Though I didn’t realize it, my healing started there, among those giant, silent Ancients.  If I hadn’t taken the time to linger among them, back then, I would never have stayed on Hopewell Farm. And…I would not be writing this journal.

So, on this June day, I again sought the healing of the Ancients as I shut down my bike and stepped onto the soft floor of the forest. Nearby a stream tumbled lazily over rocks, chuckling along its way. Filtered sunlight drifted through the green canopy far overhead. So far overhead that I had to bend nearly double backwards to glimpse the intertwining branches. That night I flipped my bedroll out and shut my eyes as the true darkness closed in.DSC01227

The next morning the chill dampness had me wishing for the warmth of a hotel room and a hot cup of coffee. I rolled up my sleeping bag and lashed it on my bike. Highway 199 from Gasquet to Crescent City is a winding, narrow ribbon with hairpin curves and uneven surface and trees that stuck their roots out to the edge of the road.Tree toes in road

It woke me up.

 

Wednesday Jaz’s journey continues. CLICK and FOLLOW so you don’t miss the rest of the journey.

To read about how Jaz became a private investigator, get your copy of Run or Die go to  http://amazon.com/Run-Die-Aya-Walksfar-ebook/dp/B00KV8BK5A

 

MAKA INA (MOTHER EARTH)

I am going on a much needed vacation, but wanted to leave something for all of my wonderful readers. I will return in a couple of weeks. Until then, enjoy this story.

“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it.

Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.

All things are bound together. All things connect.

–Chief Seattle

MAKA INA (MOTHER EARTH)

June 25

I have to get back to the ranch. Grandmother is probably worried sick. Two weeks ago–it doesn’t seem that long–mom and grandmother sent me here to Bald Peak. “I have watched you,” grandmother said, “for many days. You’re here. You’re there. You can’t sit still. You don’t sleep well.”

When I looked at her, startled, she nodded. “Yes, I awakened a number of nights  when I heard something disturbing the horses. I watched from the window until you returned.”

“I don’t know what it is , grandmother. These dreams, I can’t recall except to feel there’s  something I have to do.” I glanced away from her black eyes, staring out towards the mountains  that rose up from the back of our pasture and towered above the small patch of woods.

Mom walked into the kitchen, poured herself a cup of coffee and sat down. She waited quietly to see if grandmother had anything to say. While the quiet stretched on, we all  sipped our coffee.

This was how I’d grown up. My friends thought we were weird. Whenever  their parents were quiet they were either mad or ignoring the kids. Only Angie, my Quaker  friend, understood the concept of waiting for the spirit to speak.

Finally mom spoke. “The  ancestor whose name you carry was very traditional. As a young person she spent many days in the mountains, fasting and praying, looking for her spirit help.”

Downing the last dregs of coffee, I studied the grounds at the bottom of the cup. My  heart pounded from excitement or fear or maybe a bit of both. “ I ‘ll be ready to leave in the  morning.”

The next morning as I finished cinching up Star Dancer’s saddle, grandmother handed me  her eagle prayer feather. “It is good you are following the path of our ancestors, but there is a sadness in me. Last night I dreamed.”

“What did you dream, Grandmother?”

“You called to me. I could see you and hear you, yet when I spoke to you, you did not  see me nor did you hear my voice. I wanted to reach out and let you know I was there, but  something was between us. I couldn’t touch you.” Grandmother shook her head as if to shake the dream from her mind. “Remember, little one, no matter where you are, I am with you.”

Putting my arms around her thin shoulders, I was poignantly aware of grandmother’s  eighty-five years. “I will remember.”

Mom hugged me. Holding my shoulders, she stared into my eyes. “We are proud of you. Your father, I am sure, smiles from the Other Side. Even though he was white, he understood the ways of our people and honored them.”

I nodded, unable to speak past the lump in my throat. Turning from them, I swung up into the saddle.

Ten days into the fast, my prayers were answered. I didn’t understand the vision, but then I didn’t expect to. Like the stories of our people, there were layers of understandings which could take years to realize. On the eleventh day, I rested and ate. On that night the quakes began.

***

Today is the fifth day from the start of the quakes and the first day that the only thing shaking is my hands. I am scribbling this all down in my dairy. Coming from an oral tradition, I wonder why I have such a compulsion to write. Grandmother said writing is just another canoe to carry important things forward into the future.

Star Dancer is saddled up. As soon as full daylight comes, I’ll douse this campfire and head home. I pray mom and grandmother are alright.

June 27

This is the second night I have been forced to make camp. Large sections of the trail have vanished beneath rock slides; chasms have opened up where once there was solid ground. Huge trees resemble a handful of toothpicks tossed down by some giant. .

I guess we were lucky to escape the chain of worldwide natural catastrophes for as long as we did. For the past year, seems like every time we turned on the news, there was another earthquake or volcano or tidal wave wiping out entire cities.

June 30

I almost wish Star Dancer and I had not made it home. It has taken all day to dig mom and grandmother from the ruins of the house. They must have been singing as they crossed over to the Other Side. Their hands still held their drums.

Tomorrow I will bury them beneath the arms of the old cedar. Grandmother told me Grandmother Cedar is over a thousand years old, according to the history handed down from her great-grandmother. How it managed to stay rooted amid all of this devastation is beyond my understanding. But then how the old cedar managed to evade the logger’s chainsaws that clear-cut so much of this area has always seemed a mystery and a miracle to me, too.

June 31

It is finished. I pray I did the ceremony right. Every time I faltered, I heard grandmother, “When you do ceremony with a good heart, the spirits can forgive mistakes.” They must because my Spirit Helper stayed with me from just before dawn when I began digging the graves until I placed the last shovelful of dirt on the mound above mom. Later this summer, I’ll ask one of our medicine people to come and make things right.

Lying here, staring up at that sky full of stars, I hear mom and grandmother singing their songs. It’s been there all day, at the edge of my hearing. Tonight, with a coyote’s song echoing from the hills every now and then, their drumming and their voices sound clearer.

July 1

The radio is smashed beyond use. Mom and grandmother’s songs have left. Even the wind has deserted this place.

Far Runner, grandmother’s Indian pony, returned early this morning. Except for a few scratches, she’s fine. With some tugging and sweating I cleared enough of the tack shop rubble to get to another saddle and some saddlebags. With enough salvageable supplies to last a couple of weeks, I’ll head out to the Rez. It’s only twenty miles, but who knows what condition the roads are in. Mom’s cousin Annie will want to know what’s happened.

Today, for the first time that I can ever recall, I found myself wishing we had some neighbors closer than the Rez. Everything I think seems to lead to thoughts of mom or grandmother. Like the neighbor thing: soon as I thought it’d be nice to have nearer ones, I remembered grandmother saying, “I’m glad the folks nearest us is our own people. I sure dread the day this land gets crowded and white folks are sitting on our doorstep. “ She’d shaken her head at her self. “ I try not to feel so. Meetin’ your father helped me to see white folks in a different way. But, them boardin’ school teachers poundin’ on us Indian children for speakin’ our own language…” Her voice had trailed off.

July 5

They’re gone! I can’t believe everyone on the Rez is gone. Granted it is–was a small reservation, but everyone, dead!   Their bodies look like they have lain out in the summer sun for months. My Spirit Helper led me to Cousin Annie. If I hadn’t known her so well, I would not have recognized her body.

I don’t get it. Oh, there seems to be logical explanations for everyone who is dead–trees and houses falling down; cars crumpled together, obviously thrown out of control by the quake; explosions from ruptured propane tanks; fires. But how can a whole place be wiped out like this?

Was this then the meaning behind the raging fires in my vision? In part of the vision, there was an emptiness on the land and fires everywhere. Was that great emptiness this loss of family and friends?

I buried Cousin Annie. The rest of them, I prayed for and left where they lay. I sang for Cousin Annie then I sang for the rest of the Rez. I can’t do any more. Perhaps their spirits will still be able to find rest.

My heart is so heavy I want to lay down with Cousin Annie, but my Spirit Helper is nipping at me, refusing to let me even stop here for the night.  The full moon casts a shimmering, magical light over the devastated land. As I mount up to leave, beauty and sorrow envelope me as fog envelopes the marshlands.

July 18

Been moving steadily since I left the Rez. Have yet to encounter another living two-legged though I have spotted a hawk, a pair of eagles and a wolf. The wolf  must have come down from Canada.

I feel so tired yet each time I consider lying down to let my soul wander away, my Spirit Helper nips me as a sheepdog might nip its’ charges to force them to keep moving. I’d think I was dreaming such attacks except for the red marks on the back of my legs and sometimes on my arms. Grandmother never warned me that spirit helpers could be so downright annoying.

August 1

Today I crossed what was left of Snoqualamie Pass on the remnants of I-90. I left Far Runner’s tack lying next to the remains of a farm house. She continues to follow as closely as if she were still tied to us. I don’t blame her. If it weren’t for my Spirit Helper, the aloneness would probably immobilize me. Towns, suburbs, houses out in the middle of farmland shaken into rubble. Roadways crumpled like discarded paper balls. Not a living two-legged in sight. Why was I spared?

I’ll head for Seattle. Surely out of all of those thousands, there will be living people there.

August 6

If anyone had told me last summer that it would take five days to make one day’s mileage from the summit of the Pass to Seattle, I would have laughed. Star Dancer and I have been known to easily make twice that distance in a day’s ride.

Last summer seems a century away. Craters, mud slides, rock avalanches, patches of forest still smoldering from fires. Now this. A huge wave must have come in and slapped Seattle like some monstrous hand, carelessly sweeping large parts of it out to sea. Is anyone alive besides me?

August 12

Scavenging has become a way of life and ignoring dead bodies, a habit. At last I know with certainty that it was not metaphorical fires of which my vision spoke. It was this. Seattle’s skyline is bright not with neon but with orange-red-blue flames shooting two to three stories high from busted gas lines. Safe up here on this hill looking down on the city from beneath a surviving magnolia and several short-needled pines, I feel a profound sense of loneliness.

Today would have been grandmother’s eighty-sixth birthday. Taking out my hand drum I couldn’t decide whether to sing sorrow or celebration. Surely, mom and grandmother are better off not seeing this. I sang both.

September 5

In some ways I dread continuing this journey. I don’t know exactly where I am going. Just a generally southern direction. I dread the full understanding of my vision that I fear awaits me further on this sojourn. Yet there is a part of me that can’t forget the memory of hope I felt during my vision. There was that terrible sorrow binding my heart as I first came back into myself up there on Bald Peak , my face awash with my tears; but, there was also a lifting of my heart, a sense of wonder and a –joy–for lack of a better word. I must go on. Even if I would stop, Spirit Helper would not allow it. To what tomorrow is she guiding me?

September 9

Seattle was a graveyard. Portland, or what was left of it, wasn’t any better. Fact is, this is the best I’ve seen since leaving Bald Peak. Southern Oregon has always been a beautiful place, except of course, for the highways and cities. Well, it doesn’t seem like human ugliness is going to be a problem for long.

I passed a Fred Meyers. Grass and dandelions have already pushed up through the asphalt of the parking lot. Part of the outside walls have tumbled down, not really noteworthy except for the amount of moss covering the bricks left standing and the sapling already twelve or more feet high and easily several inches in diameter growing on the inside of what had once been the bakery.

Brush and saplings seem to be sprouting up overnight, growing at an amazing pace. It’s like Mother Earth is in a hurry to reclaim her body. Farmlands have become semi-wilderness. I wonder what’s happened to the livestock and domestic animals? Come to think of it: I haven’t seen many animal corpses. Mostly dogs with their people or animals trapped in man-made structures.

September 15

Using the binoculars I scavenged from REI in Seattle, over the past few days I’ve spotted several horses, a couple of domestic cats near the rubble of an apartment complex, cougar sign, a glimpse of a black bear and some raccoons sleeping in a cedar tree. Funny, I don’t feel quite so alone now.

October 2

Hello world! This is the day of my birth nineteen years ago. I feel like I’m thirty! The weather is a bit warmer than usual for this time of year, but then maybe it’s just one of those years. The earth seems to have settled back down. Since Bald Peak, I have not encountered any more natural disasters.

Of course, I don’t know what’s happening anywhere else. None of the radios I’ve found work. As for humans, forget it. All the ones I’ve met look like they’ve been dead fifteen or twenty years. Bones in clothes or at best, mummified skin and rotted rags. Cities overrun by trees and brush; grass and weed shattered sidewalks.   I don’t get this. It feels like that old sci-fi show the “Twilight Zone”. If it wasn’t for this diary and my vision on Bald Peak, I would think I was crazy and all of this happened years instead of months ago.

November 1

Crescent City, California looks nothing like it did when mom brought me here for my fifteenth birthday. Back then we camped among the redwoods for two weeks. We stopped at the Safeway I’m sitting here looking at now.

***

Had to pull blackberry vines off the front so I could enter. Lined up on the shelves, canned food sported discolored labels. Some crumbled away as I touched them, like really old paper.

Found an intact mirror in what used to be an employee’s lounge. Now, I know. I don’t understand. But I know. Took the picture of mom I snapped on her thirty-second birthday from my wallet. It felt old, fragile. Holding it next to my face, I stared in the mirror. Everyone used to tell me I was the spitting image of mom. With crow’s feet around my eyes and that grey streak like mom had running down the middle of my head, I can clearly see mom in my face.

In a crazy way, it’s beginning to make sense. Mom used to always kid me about wearing clothes and shoes out overnight. Maybe that’s partly the reason it never occurred to me before now how often I’ve had to replace the man-made materials I’m wearing while the natural cotton and leather items are still okay.

Manmade–that seems to be the key.

December 30

I loved the redwoods from the moment I first saw them with mom. Grandmother said my great-great grandmother had some California Indian–Klamath–in her and that’s why I felt so at home among these giants.

I continue to age quickly. Star Dancer and Far Runner have matured to the five-year olds that they are. From all appearances, it is only humankind and their constructions that age rapidly in this new world. Even the trees and vines that are taking over the cities, though they grow very fast, they don’t seem old.

January 3

I’ve made my last camp here on this bluff overlooking the steel blue Pacific foaming against the black grained sands below. Redwoods tower above and around me, embracing me. The mild weather continues. I enjoy the seals barking from the island that stands out a bit from the shore. Seagulls glide and argue. Their raucous voices harmonize well with the ocean. Deer slip through the early evening shadows, barely cracking a twig. The birds keep the days from being silent.

My Spirit Helper has led me here to this place in my vision.

I don’t know if there are people anywhere any longer, but it’s nice to know that the wild ones and at least some of the domestic four-leggeds have survived. A semi-feral orange tabby followed me from the old camp near the remains of a ranger station to this camp. When I catch fish, I throw the heads back away from the fire. I sit quietly when she darts out and snatches them. I know it’s a she since I’ve seen a couple of half-grown kittens with her. When she gets the food far enough away, they come out and help her eat it.

Last night I returned to camp late. South of me is an area that has returned to lush grassland. Star Dancer and Far Runner run free in that grassland now. I had to let them go. The sunset of my life is upon me.

I carefully wrap my diary in oiled leather and stash it within a hole in  Grandmother Redwood. Settled with my back against the rough bark of the ancient Redwood, I pick up my hand drum, the one Grandmother helped me make. As I stroke it, I wonder if anyone else is alive, and if someone, someday, might find my words.

The End

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NEW BOOK RATING SYSTEM–BETTER THAN 5 STARS

AYA’S BOOK RATING SYSTEM (1 to 10 Stars with 1 Star the highest rating–so busy reading can’t take time to hit more than one star!)

  1. ( no response to a four-alarm fire in the trash can next to reader)
  2. (distracted, barely mumbles) Hmm? Did you say something? Okay, whatever, now go away
  3. (picks up head, blankly stares at interruptor then resumes reading with a wave) Go away. You’re disturbing my reading
  4. (picks up head, momentary alertness in eyes that says reader is in the present) Did you say Godiva chocolate and a venti mocha? I’ll take some. (promptly returns to book)
  5. (shuts book with a bookmark to hold place and sets it next to favorite chair before going into the kitchen to fix cup of coffee and retrieve chocolate. Returns and resumes reading)
  6. (shuts book, tosses it on the couch, goes out to have supper at Italian Restaurant. Resumes reading late that night)
  7. (tosses book on end table, resumes reading a couple of days later)
  8. (Looks at book, leafs through it) Yeah, I’ll read this when I run out of other books.
  9. (picks up book and opens it to read. Sighs) Guess it beats reading the back of a cereal box
  10. Pass me the cereal box

STORYTIME FRIDAY: CHANGE THE THINGS WE CAN

CHANGE THE THINGS WE CAN

On a drizzly September mornin’, James McMurphy, alcohol and drug rehab counselor, was found face down on his desk, dead. The tip of his finger-pointin’ finger was glued precisely at the end of the last sentence of the last entry of Irma Nelson’s file. Like a period.

Two weeks before, Irma had brought homemade oatmeal cookies to our therapy group. McMurphy went right off the Richter Scale. Ranted that Irma took care of other folks so she wouldn’t have to deal with her own problems. My opinion–McMurphy didn’t have no call to be lookin’ at none of us, ‘specially Irma. Not when he brushed at imaginary dust and refused to shake our hands, pullin’ back like we might contaminate him. ‘Course, who’s gonna listen to Sally–call me Sal–Whitewater, half-breed Indian?

A week later, Irma OD’d on booze and pills.

That evening our group bunched together for smoke break exactly the required twenty-five feet from the back door. Georges had measured the distance for us the last time McMurphy pitched a hissy fit ‘bout us bein’ too close to the door. Carol Johnson said, “Somebody should use McMurphy for target practice!”

Ray Perazon, the only other felon in the group besides me and Georges, chuckled. “You bring that gun you have, I’ll bring the red paint to draw the bull’s eye.”

Rita Anders piped up, “Her gun makes too much noise. Besides, it’s registered.” She batted her eyes at Ray. “Bet your gun’s quieter.”

Ray’s eyes shifted away as he forced a chuckle. When he looked back, his lips curled into a suggestive grin. “My gun’s quiet, but fully loaded, babe. If you want quiet, someone could take a pillow and stuff it over Mr.-Don’t-Touch-Me’s face. That’s quiet. You could even embroider a cute lil’ saying on it.”

Rita tapped a cherry red lip with a hot red painted fingernail. “Well, darlin’, what would I embroider?”

Ray chuckled again, this time sounding natural. “I’m sure you’d think of something.”

“Courage to change the things we can,” Jeff Georges’ muttered from beside me.

I shot him a glance, but he had on his ‘inscrutable Indian’ face.

“This is no joking matter.” Richard Semafore sniffed. “Irma was a good woman and McMurphy kept at her until he pushed her over the edge. He killed her as surely as if he’d poured the booze and pills in her.”

Me and Georges shifted to look at the mousy, little tax man. Everything about Semafore drooped, like a newspaper left out in the rain. He pinched a piece of lint from the lapel of his suit jacket. Holding it between thumb and forefinger, he rolled it into a tiny ball which he pocketed.

Carol laced an arm through Semafore’s. “Maybe someone’ll give McMurphy what he deserves.” Rita agreed with a vigorous nod as we headed back into therapy group.

Three days later, Detective Simons pounded on my door. He looked down his long thin nose at me like I was some kinda bug he was thinkin’ of squishin’.

“Yeah?” I’d never liked Simons. It hadn’t made things any better between us when he copped a feel during an  interrogation a coupla years ago and I’d decked him. I got an extra thirty days in lockup; he still got razzed by the boys in blue. I figgered I won that round.

“I’d like to come in a moment and ask you a few questions.”

“You can like anything you want, but the hallway’s good enough.” I folded my arms across my chest and leaned a shoulder into the doorjamb.

He glared at me. I didn’t shift a foot. Finally, he growled, “Why’d you drop out of your group?”

My lip curled. “What’s it to you?”

His pasty-white face turned red. “You can answer my questions or I can get you a ride to the station.”

“And, I can sit down there, yelling for an attorney.” I waited a long moment then shrugged with one shoulder. “But hey, I ain’t fond of cop shops, so I’ll tell you. Judge only sentenced me to four months.”

Flipping open his notebook, he pretended to read. He shoulda known better than to try that routine. I’d grown up with silence.

He slapped his notebook closed and shoved it in his shirt pocket. “A week after you entered McMurphy’s group you threatened him. Said if he didn’t back off, he ‘might become one of the ghosts of the past’. What did you mean?”

The lids of my eyes dropped to half-mast to hide the anger in their dark depths. “Maybe I meant I was gonna drop his group.”

“Yeah, right.” He scowled like that was gonna make me give up the truth or somethin’.

“What’re you hasslin’ me for? You ain’t my probation officer.”

“James McMurphy was found dead this morning.”

“Ain’t like I’m gonna cry for the bastard.”

His pudgy face squinched up until he resembled a pissed off pig. “Where were you from nine last night to five this morning?”

“In bed. Asleep. By myself.”

He stared at me as he said, “We found the weapon.”

“Wasn’t mine.”

I almost grinned. He’d honed in on that like flies on shit. His piggy eyes narrowed. “You’re a felon. What’re you doing with a weapon?”

I did let my grin out then. “Who said I had one?” I let visions of my twenty-two and my .45, safely stashed where cops would never find them, dance in my head.

“We found a throw pillow with McMurphy’s blood on it.” His mean little eyes latched onto my face. “In a dumpster two streets from here.”

“Maybe you’d better find out who’s missin’ a throw pillow and a gun.” I pushed off the wall and stood up straight. “Go talk to people who like throw pillows and little guns.”

“I never said anything about the caliber of the gun.” He pounced on my words.

“No, you didn’t. So arrest me or get off my doorstep.”

“I’ve been lookin’ at your rap sheet.” He stared hard at me. “Yours and your friend, Georges.” He shoved his face toward me. “I don’t like felons.”

I waved a hand between us as I wrinkled my nose. “Eww, man, you gotta get some Listerine, or Scope or maybe bleach water.” I cocked my head. “You forgot to mention Ray Perazon. Is that cause he’s white?”

“I don’t like what you’re implying.” He puffed up like a ticked off cat.

“That an’ a coupla bucks might get you a cheap cup of coffee.” I studied him. “You been hasslin’ Georges?”

“I’ll ask the questions.”

“Why you messin’ with me?” I tried a different tact.

“A woman took McMurphy down.”

“Seriously? Where’dja get your crystal ball? Might wanna think ‘bout returnin’ it.”

The vein in his forehead popped up and throbbed. Like it had that day I’d decked him and he’d come after me. I’d been lucky we’d been at the cop shop. “I don’t think Perazon and Georges fingers would fit in the trigger guard.” He snorted. “Besides, everything at the scene was very tidy. Even the way the killer laid the tube of superglue right above the file folder. Let’s face it, men aren’t that neat.”

Thinkin’ about my apartment, I swallowed hard to keep from laughin’. I’ve been accused of lots of stuff in my life, but neat ain’t one of them. “You’re fishin’.”

He opened his mouth just as his radio crackled. Most folks don’t understand that garbled junk, but I’ve listened often enough to get it as good as the cops do.

He mumbled into the radio then turned back to me. “That’s all for now, but I’ll be back. When I return, I’ll have a set of handcuffs with your name on them.”

“Seriously? Hallucinate much?”

His jaw tightened so hard I thought he was gonna bust a tooth then he spun and hurried down the stairs.

Georges and me had dinner at his house that night. I told him about Simon’s visit.

“Hmmph!” Georges grunted at me. “He was over here earlier. Told me he heard I’d threatened McMurphy.” Georges wiped the clean stove top for the fifth time. “I told him threats go with the territory.” Neatly foldin’ the dish towel into three perfect sections, he hung it over the towel rack next to the cupboards.

***

It’d been a year since Irma’s dyin’. Word on the street had it that the police stuck McMurphy’s murder in the unsolved files along with a jillion others.

The day I heard that, me and Georges went over to Italio Ristorante. It’s got good food and decent prices. Irma’d brought me and Georges here when me and him hit thirty days sober. I could still see Irma’s big smile.

Now, we toasted Irma’s life with a couple of pots of coffee, the way most sober drunks celebrate. In the candlelight, I looked across at the man who’d took me in off the cold streets of Seattle back when I was a skinny twelve-year old kid. “Georges?”

“Hmm?” He replied as he refolded the linen napkin, placing it precisely next to his empty plate.

“You figgered out McMurphy’s murder?”

He shrugged. “Can’t resist a puzzle.”

“Can’t be a private dick, but it don’t stop you from pokin’ and pryin’.” I sighed and leaned back in my chair. “Okay. Who did it?”

A slow smile spread across Georges’ lips. “Who do you think?”

I pursed my lips. “We all hated the bastard. Wasn’t me. Don’t think you would’ve done it either. Might’ve wanted to, but since it wouldn’t bring Irma back, you wouldn’t.

“Carol was pretty friendly with Irma, and if she used a pillow to muffled the report of the gun…” I snuck a look from beneath my lidded eyes. Not too many folks could read Georges, but I knew from the smug look on his face that I hadn’t hit it even close. Tossing my napkin on the table beside my cup, I crossed my arms and stared over at Georges. “Don’t tell me Ray did somethin’ for someone besides himself.”

“No. Ray Perazon loves Ray Perazon too much to risk a prison sentence for an old woman, even if she did treat him like a normal person instead of like the slime he is.”

“That just leaves Rita Anders and that little tax man…what was his name, again?”

“Richard Semafore.”

“Rita’s too tiny and there’s no way mouse man would take on a rat, especially not one who could ruin him like McMurphy could. Hell, he hardly spoke a word during group.”

Georges tilted his big head, his long single braid swaying to one side. “Funny how love can give a mouse great courage.”

“Seriously? No way. He hardly looked at Irma during group. I’d think a man who was in love with a woman would at least steal a glance or two.”

“He wasn’t in love with Irma.”

Brows wrinkled, I took a long drink of coffee. “If he wasn’t in love with Irma, where does love come into this?”

“There are a lot of different kinds of love, Sal,” he reminded me quietly.

Heat flooded my cheeks. I hated talkin’ ‘bout love. The closest I’d ever come to talkin’ ‘bout it was when I got drunk one night and tried to jump Georges’ bones. He’d gently pushed me away and made me suffer through a talk ‘bout how he didn’t love me like that, but like a brother. Like a brother….

I raised my eyes to Georges’ black ones as Irma’s smiling face rushed into my mind and the mouse man’s slowly came into focus next to Irma’s. “No way. They would never have put a brother and sister in the same group.” I shook my head. “Even if they did, no way mouse man had a gun, much less knew what to do with one. He was white collar DUI.”

“He didn’t own a gun, but Perazon owned an untraceable belly gun.”

A belly gun, or better known as a .22 two-shot derringer. “You just said Perazon didn’t kill McMurphy. He sure as hell wouldn’t have loaned the mouse his pistol.”

“Not knowingly.”

“Then how did mouse man get it?” I leaned forward, forearms propped on the white linen tablecloth, voice lowered.

“Carol lifted it.”

“Uh-uh. Ain’t buyin’ that. Perazon didn’t like Carol well enough to have her over at his house and she ain’t the B & E type.”

“But she is the party type.” A hint of a grin twitched the corners of Georges’ mouth.

“Why would Perazon be partyin’ with Carol? For god’s sake, she’s lesbian.”

“Rita is straight.”

I drummed my fingers on the table as I stared at him. “Are you sayin’ Rita got Carol the invite to a party at Perazon’s place?”

“Bingo.” He pointed a finger my way.

“So in the middle of a party, Carol walks out with the gun? How’d she know where it was? And where’d she get the tits to be that bold?”

“Rita and Perazon had a thing going.”

“You sayin’ Rita told her and then distracted Perazon so Carol could get it?”

When Georges didn’t say nothin’ I knew I was close, but no gold ring yet. “What am I missin’?”

“Just because Carol stole the gun, doesn’t necessarily make her culpable of murder.”

I huffed a breath and threw my hands up. “First you make me think Carol shot the bastard and now you’re sayin’ she didn’t. You’re insistin’ mouse man did it.”

“I’m saying that Richard Semafore pulled the trigger, but was he solely responsible for the murder?”

I frowned. “If he pulled the trigger, sure.”

“What about the pillow?”

I shrugged Georges question away. “He needed to keep the noise down, so he grabbed a throw pillow and….” There hadn’t been no throw pillows in McMurphy’s office.

“I talked to a friend in the Department.”

“Only you would have a cop for a friend,” I snorted. “What did your friend tell you?”

“She said that the throw pillow was embroidered with part of the Serenity Prayer.”

“So? That prayer’s smeared across everything from coffee cups to bed sheets.”

“Want to hear what part of it was embroidered on that pillow?”

Something in Georges’ voice perked my ears right up. “Yeah.”

“Courage to change the things we can.”

My jaw dropped a bit before I recovered my cool. “That’s what you said that day….the day right after Irma died.”

Georges’ deep chuckle rippled across the table. “No, I didn’t off McMurphy.”

I let the impossible thoughts roiling in my mind like a pot on full boil simmer down. “Perazon’s gun. Rita’s pillow?”

“Good.”

“How does mouse man fit in this picture?”

He picked up the fragile china cup in his big hand and took a dainty sip then carefully replaced it on the saucer. “I wondered about that, too.”

“And?” I nearly shouted with impatience, but at the last minute shifted in my chair instead.

“Some skills learned as a young man come in quite handy, especially for solving puzzles.”

“You didn’t!” I felt a bit sick to my stomach. “You made me promise not to B & E!”

“Your path is different than mine, Sal.” He gave me a tiny grin. “Besides, I only use my special skills for special cases. Even working as an investigator for a private dick now there aren’t too many special cases, but Irma was our friend.”

Georges didn’t never let his friends down.  I swallowed my fear for him. Person couldn’t live worryin’ ‘bout what might happen. “What did you find?”

“Old school papers. Pictures of a boy and a girl. Neither of them changed very much over the years. The girl was a few years older than the boy.” He dropped his eyes, carefully centered his cup on its saucer though it was already perfectly centered.

Brows wrinkled, I tried to make sense of what he was sayin’. Finally, I shook my head. “Sorry, but I seem to be kinda dense.”

“I found Irma’s diary as well as her photo album. Semafore was Irma’s half-brother. When their parents died, she was nine and he was seven. They were sent to different foster homes. After a while, Irma lost track of Semafore. They only rediscovered each other in treatment.”

“Why didn’t the cops find Irma’s diary?”

“You know how cops are–always a day late.” Georges gave me a long look.

The End

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2 Reasons NOT to Trust the News Media

BREAKING NEWS!

We see those words every day as they flash across television screens. The counterpart to these words are the bolded  headlines that scream from the front pages of countless newspapers. And, on the radio somber voices announce the latest disasters.

We count on those words every day to keep us informed. But what happens when those words are WRONG, INACCURATE, INCORRECT?

The Highway 530 Slide is an example of the news media chasing glory rather than truth, or even accuracy.  When the news media first arrived on the scene that fateful March 22, a beautiful Saturday morning, Highway 530 was blocked and traffic stopped close to the Oso Fire Hall. Because that point was where they were stopped, the news media dubbed the landslide-turned-into-mud-slurry-tidal-wave the “Oso Mudslide”.

No one could blame the media for the MISNOMER that day. It was a day of chaos, fear, hope, and devastation as survivors were pulled from certain death and the count of bodies rose. No one could’ve blamed them for the next couple of days, but after that…..

It has been nine weeks now since that fateful day in March. I have personally spoken to several news media people and written to others asking that they cease calling the Highway 530 Slide the “Oso Mudslide”.

Daniel Catchpole of the Everett Herald answered my email on April 28:

Daniel Catchpole <dcatchpole@soundpublishing.com>

Apr 28

to me
Thank you for your email. I’ve shared it with the newsroom. You make excellent points, some of which have been raised already in the newsroom.
The name is meant solely as a geographic reference. Oso was the closest thing that shows up on a map. The name isn’t meant to connote who suffered the most. I agree that it is frustrating that the name doesn’t quite match up. And I have referenced Hazel in several of my stories.
Perhaps we should have called it the Hazel Landslide, but when that decision was made, it was in the early hours of the disaster. There was sparse information. But once we started using one name, switching to another name would have created much confusion among readers and officials. And in the first couple days after the slide, confusion was something that people in Snohomish County didn’t need more.
(NOTE: Actually, Hazel does show up on some maps.)

It is no longer the first days of the disaster. The officials have been calling the slide by its proper name, The Highway 530 Slide, for several weeks now. No one appears “confused” by the change from “Oso Slide” to “Highway 530 Slide”. No one except the NEWS MEDIA. They still seem unable to grasp the difference.

A section of Highway 530 was wiped out along with a small community–Hazel and the Steelhead Loop.

The nearest part of Oso to the slide was the east end of Oso Loop Road,  situated on the WEST side of the slide and four miles away from the closest edge of the mud.

We had a recent memorial at the site of the slide before the highway opened to traffic. I talked with one of the people from one of the major news media in the Seattle area and asked him to use the proper name for the Highway 530 Slide and to at least mention Hazel.

He looked at me kind of blankly and said, “Hazel? Where’s Hazel?”

I told him, “You’re standing next to it. And the people who lived here, and died here, deserve to be recognized, to be named, to be honored.”

He said, as he crabbed away from me, “It’s not my call. I just do what the higher ups tell me to do. They said call it Oso Slide. I don’t want to argue this with you….” then he slipped away like a wet eel.

So….I am a voice crying in the darkness created by the very people who are supposed to shine a light for the rest of us, the news media.

They made a mistake and misnamed the slide. That’s okay. They’re human; it was chaotic during those first days (I know; I was here). We can all understand that.

What we who live here on the EAST side of the slide don’t understand is this:

Why will the news media not admit the misnomer?  Or at least, stop using it and change over to what the officials are calling the disaster: The Highway 530 Slide?

Why won’t they, at least, honor the people who died by naming their community?

There are the two reasons to NOT trust the news media:

1. They won’t admit a mistake

2. Even presented with information, they won’t accept they might have been wrong and they won’t CHANGE.

Maybe they shouldn’t be called the “news media”? Perhaps,that is a misnomer. Maybe some of them should be called the “myth media”?

COME WITH ME on a journey into the past and meet the community of Hazel, Washington. I am currently researching the area of the Highway 530 Slide and will be posting about the history and the people who lived there. DON’T MISS THE UPDATES! CLICK and FOLLOW.

 

THE DAY OF THE DEER

THE DAY OF THE DEER

My momma has always been a quiet person. The only time I’d seen her raise a hand in anger I was ten and came racing from the woods with a bloody nose, yelling at the top of my lungs. Some big boys were stoning a broken winged crow. Momma ran from the garden, passing me as we raced back up the hill.

By the time them boys circled around that poor bird realized Momma was there she’d done snatched one boy by the collar of his shirt and flung him to the side. As she reached for the second boy, those boys must’ve got a good look at Momma’s face. They rabbitted out of there, crashing through the woods in several directions.

Momma stands only an inch taller than my four-foot-eleven and at a hundred-ten, I outweigh her by five pounds. But, that day, there was something in Momma’s face…. I saw it, too. As much as I love her, I felt a shiver run over me.

That evening Daddy kissed Momma on the nose, calling her his lioness. Said she never showed her claws unless something needed protecting.

Grandpa laughed. “She’s the only lioness I’ve ever heard of that drags the critters home and heals them!”

Ever since I can remember, I’ve helped Momma with the critters that wind up at our house. Sometimes, neighbors brought possums and raccoons and squirrels injured by traps, dogs, cats and cars. Other times we found the poor things dragging themselves along ditches or down the center line of a roadway. Grandpa brought Gimp, the mongrel, home. Truckers down at the big truck depot where Grandpa worked had a bettin’ pool on and the money went to the man who ran over the little dog. Grandpa cornered Gimp, threw his jacket over the small dog and grabbed him in his arms. Gimp gave Grandpa a smart bite on the hand, but my grandpa never let go.

Occasionally, even Dad hauled a critter home. The last one was a hawk. The slipstream of the big rig ahead of Dad’s snatched the hawk as it dove for dinner along the road’s shoulder, slamming it to the ground. Momma put on a heavy pair of leather gloves and examined the frightened bird. No broken bones, just a few outraged muscles. Two months later, the four of us drove further out into the country to release Redtail.

It was the last release Dad ever did with us. Two weeks later when the brakes on his rig failed, Dad hit a sharp, West Virginia curve too fast. The state police found him and the wreckage of his rig at the bottom of a ravine.

After Dad died, Grandpa gave Momma his old .38 Smith and Wesson. He said the four inch barrel made it accurate enough to be useful. At the time, I thought Grandpa should’ve known Momma well enough not to do that. Momma doesn’t like guns.

I thought for sure that Grandpa wouldn’t be able to talk her around, but like Dad he can be what Momma calls “mulish”. Maybe that’s why she gave in when for the ten-thousandth time, he insisted she needed to have the gun. “Dag gum it, Natalie, what is the matter with you, girl? Whatever happened that you’re so agin guns?” A shrewd look settled over Grandpa’s whiskery face. “Somethin’ happen back when you was a kid? Somebody you love got kilt with a gun or maybe just bad hurt?”

“My childhood is irrelevant and you know it, Amos. Guns are for killing. I don’t like killing, that’s why I’m a vegetarian, remember?”

“Look, honey, I ain’t gonna be around here forever. You need to be able to protect yourself and Amy. Please, just humor an old man?”

Since then I’ve wondered if Grandpa somehow knew. Eight months after Dad died, Grandpa was building a new pen for Stanley, a wild rabbit with a milky film over both eyes. At the hospital, I heard Dr. Randolph tell Momma that Grandpa was gone before he hit the ground. Massive heart attack.

Grandpa’s pistol gathered dust on the top shelf of Momma’s closet ever since that day. That’s why I never expected Momma to do what she did. But, I’m getting ahead of myself now. Momma’s always reminding me to start at the beginning of things. Soo…..

The day IT happened I’d just turned twelve the weekend before. Looking at my bean pole self, nobody coulda told how old I was. I still wasn’t wearing nothin’ under my shirts. That day I was out back of our older brick house. Calling for Gimp, I grabbed a hammer and the plastic jar of nails. I needed to finish the plywood shed Momma and me had started building.

I’d wanted a horse for the longest time, but grocery store cashiers don’t make much. Besides, we had quite the collection of critters already and Momma said horses were too expensive. She didn’t see how we could stretch our budget that much further. Now, climbing between the salvaged boards of the four-rail horse fence, I slowly edged my way towards the bay filly with the white star on her forehead, trembling on the far side of the small paddock.

A few days before Momma and I had sat up till the eleven o’clock news come on trying to figure out how we could make-do so we could afford the little filly. I volunteered to wear last year’s school clothes since I hadn’t grown much over the summer. Momma suggested we could eat a few more beans and a few less veggie burgers. We knew we had to find a way to do it.

Ever since early spring, Momma had been watching this little filly on old man Hampsen’s place, five miles up the road. The filly’s field bordered the road Momma took to and from her job at Darrelson’s Grocery. By August, the last weeds in the field had been eaten. Momma said she could see the little horse getting thinner than she already was by the day.

The first week of September, school started along with the fall rains. The bony filly soon stood knee deep in muck.

That Friday night, I rode along with Momma when she wheeled her junker Ford into Hampsen’s drive. Though she ordered me to stay in the pickup, I could easily hear Momma’s usually soft voice. It wasn’t like she was shouting; something so strong in her voice carried it across the crisp September air. “You can either sell me that poor little horse or I swear I’ll call the animal welfare people and keep after them till they’re pounding on your door.”

Hampsen pulled a raggedy red bandana from the hip pocket of his dirty overalls. Loudly blowing his big, red nose, he eyed my momma as he stuffed the bandana back into his pocket. “I reckon I could let ‘er go for fifty dollars cash money.”

“Fifty dollars! I’m not goin’ to give you a dime over thirty dollars and I want a halter and lead rope, too. You should be payin’ me to take that poor creature.”

I held my breath. Then, just in case it might help, I crossed my fingers.

“Weelll….” He drawled. With an abrupt swing of his arm, the head of the ax he’d been leaning on thunked into the chopping block. “Ya gonna haul ‘er outta ‘ere on that?” He shoved his bristly chin at our truck.

Momma pulled her wallet out of her back pocket. “My daughter and I will walk her home.” We stalled her in our garage. I hand grazed her on the lawn while we built a pasture fence.

As I ran my hands down her brittle-coated sides, Momma and me had done the right thing. I was still talking to her when I heard them. Squinting towards the brown hill sloping up across the back of the twenty acres Grandpa’d left us, I watched as a slender doe staggered into sight. Even from where I stood, I saw the red stain on her shoulder.  She bounded clumsily away moments before two, orange-hatted, bow hunters lazily trailed after her.

“Momma!” I yelled. As I scrambled towards the house, the back door banged open.

Momma’s feet pounded across the wooden porch floor. “Hey! Get off my land!” Her voice rang across the autumn afternoon.

“That’s our deer.” The heavier hunter shouted back.

“I said to get off my land, now!” The boom of Grandpa’s .38 punctuated her words.

The hunters stopped, staring down the hill at us. They were close enough for me to see the angry flush on the heavy one’s face.

Momma, straddle-legged, faced them, the black pistol aimed in their direction.

“Lissen, lady, back off. I’ve already marked that deer with my arrow.” Arrogance echoed in his words as he turned to continue the slow pursuit.

The gun barked again. The shot kicked up dirt in a bare patch a few feet ahead of the hunters. “Next time it won’t be the ground I shoot.” Momma’s voice didn’t sound nothing like her. The hard edge made my stomach clench up.

The men hesitated a moment longer. The shorter man gestured towards Momma, obviously arguing with the heavier man. Finally, they turned, stepping quickly back the way they’d come.

Momma didn’t waste time watching them leave. She hurried up the hill. Stopping where the hunters had stood, she gazed down a moment then picked up the deer’s path of flight, moving off silently, quickly. It wasn’t too long before I heard the gun boom again, just once.

I waited for Momma by the porch steps when she came down the hill. She caught my eyes then glanced away towards the pens holding the raccoon we’d patched up from an arrowhead infection in his shoulder and the raucous crow whose broken wing had never healed quite right. When Momma looked back at me, her smoky-gray eyes were tear filled. She lowered herself wearily to the steps. “Wasn’t anything else to do. She was so beautiful.”

Then Momma laid the gun on the porch and buried her face in her hands. For the third time in my life, I saw her cry.

The End.

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