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15 July 2009


My mother died two years ago, the week after I completed my MFA, which makes me the oldest living member of my blood family.  (My husband Gary has three years on me.)  Mom was ill for the last several years of her life, in gradual decline, and we had been very close for the whole of my life.  I began writing about her death on the very day she died, and then found I could not write at all.  This past winter I gave up writing fiction altogether when I confronted the fact that I’d been editing the same story for a year and a half.  This had not been my habit.  (I’ve written drafts of four novels and my Masters thesis inside a year, I’ve never dwelled for 18 months on five thousand words.)  Rejection notes were depressing me.  I not only wasn’t writing anything anyone would publish, I really wasn’t writing anything at all.  So I stopped, and then I returned to nonfiction.  I wrote a “Junior Research Paper” with my Junior Honors classes, and in the spring I completed ten writing exercises with my WR122 class.  These last were about my mother.  And this week I’ve been working on an essay about dying secrets, the way we try to shelter the people we love from the knowledge of our weakness. 

My mother tried to shelter her children from her dying, and I know I tried to shelter her from my sorrows as well. 

But the truth I’ve come to understand is that to carry the pain of a loved one is not only a burden, it’s a blessing.  I wish my mother were alive so that I could tell her that.  

08 July 2009


It started the 3rd of July morning. Not early, about ten. The first explosion. Not a pop or a bang, but a deep boom that made us think immediately of the day Mt St. Helens blew when I was pregnant with Alan. The tourists are here for the fourth and they fully intend to blow up thousands of dollars of illegal fireworks in front of our house. Yesterday was just practice. They practiced in the fog last night till after eleven.

On the Fourth we ran four nine-minute miles, our first lengthened run. We’ll be running six miles in August, so it was good to begin stretching the distance. In one hundred yard stretch I noted three of my least favorite things about tourists: early risers who pass within a few feet but refuse to return a “Good morning!”, a huge spotlight shining out into the daylight on the beach, and a fire left all night to smolder on the beach next to a large drift log.

If they don’t want to be friendly, are afraid of the dark, don’t know enough to put their fires out, I wish they would stay home and set fire to their own neighborhoods.

Only once in my memory has a beach fire gotten completely out of hand. The fire departments came, fire fighters, it made the news. Usually untended beach fires burn themselves out, but sometimes they slowly eat up a log that might otherwise have sheltered children’s forts and sun bathers all summer. Usually they do no real harm. We are damp here, sixty-five to over a hundred inches of rainfall a year. But in summer even my world dries out and most of our neighbors have cedar roofs, cedar siding, cedar decks—all prime burning material.

Tourists don’t think of that. They are on vacation and none of the rules apply to them. They ask stupid questions, drive too fast or too slowly, step into the street without looking and when driving also fail to stop at crosswalks or slow down in school zones, ignore parking restrictions. It’s because I live in paradise and affluent people want their share. Oregon beaches are entirely public and they are entitled. Because they have money they feel particularly entitled. No joke. My husband works retail and it’s the men and women driving Beamers who complain about the cost of gas, food, and the lack of cell reception. They don’t make eye contact while demanding The New York Times. They are the ones who dig change out of pockets, pick up the extra pennies from beside the register, argue about everything.

Tonight we might be lucky. It’s rained enough lately to keep them inside and prevent fires on people’s cedar roofs, or maybe they worried enough about the weather that they haven’t saved explosives for another day, and another, and another. We can only hope. 

02 July 2009


We ran our three miles this morning, before seven to avoid tourists and the heat of sunrise.  Our neighbor Barbara walked out with her big golden retriever just as we returned from the cool-down walk.  Yeti was thrilled—the highlight of her “run” is seeing other dogs.  She needs canine companionship. 

I haven’t seen a friend (other than Gary) in almost three weeks, but email hooks me up and I am glad of a peaceful summer where I am not interacting with a hundred students a day.  I love my job, but it takes its toll.  In a movie we watched recently—a terrible movie—Robin Williams proposes taking his family RVing.  His wife warns he’s forgetting “We don’t like people.”  This made Gary and I laugh till we choked.  I have no memory of the rest of the movie—maybe we didn’t watch any more than that scene—but it was close to the reality for us.  We like people, but we’re pretty satisfied to be on our own most of the time outside our jobs.    

When we go out before sunrise, each of us breathing hard, running too fast for conversation, we each focus on our own thoughts.  I don’t know what Gary thinks about.  If I am pushing to make time I do arithmetic, computing distance and speed, calculating overall time and goals for speeding up, maintaining, running further.  Running a little slower. I write essays in my head.  I used to do this in the shower as a child, arguing current issues, composing scenarios, planning letters or emails, stringing lines together.  The words fly away when I come to the end of my run and click my watch, check my time, begin talking to Gary, and seriously beachcombing. 

During our three miles I don’t search the sand, but I do bob for agates, limpet shells, the very rare bit of beach glass.  This morning I plucked a plastic bag from the sand and brought it home to toss.  I even stopped for a sand dollar, which I almost never do because once I have one I look for its partner to lie bottom to bottom, the curved dome of one cool against my palm.  The one I found today still showed a little purple, which is the color of live sand dollars when they are covered with tiny dull spines.  The spines fall away, the color goes from purple to gray, and then to white in the light.  I brought it home to bleach on the deck. 

Yeti bounced at her friend, I unloaded the sand dollar on the bench outside the door, agates and a limpet shell into their jars, Gary has already taken his shower and time for me to head that direction.  

My interior painting is mostly done—I have a small section of floor and a tricky bit of ceiling to paint, a table and perhaps a wooden chair to enamel.  Tonight we'll replace ten bookcases where they belong in my office nook, move the last three bookcases off the floor I need to paint.  Right now there is a large open space, freshly painted at my right shoulder.  I like the openness and perhaps this will stimulate another effort at weeding books.  Well, harvest some books for consumption by someone else?  Books are nourishment.    

I realized something about the first chapter of the novel I've been working on, chapter by chapter, for many years and mostly-completed in my masters program.  Though chronologically it is early, the short piece "Remembering Snow" belongs at the end and not the beginning. Yes, it was a strong run.   

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