I looked over my new business cards, ordered so I could get them in time for my trip to New York City where I was headed to attend Robert McKee’s Story in Business seminar.

I liked the color. I liked the design. I liked the font. Pretty impressive I thought. And then I noticed my address. I live on Happy Valley Road. Would New York City take anyone who lived on Happy Valley Road seriously?

I had been so looking forward to this trip. I had recently been raked over the coals by a local group who thought my voice sounded too authoritative. Women cringed. Certain men responded with hostility to any sentence that came out of my mouth. If only I could do something about that voice, they said, maybe then they would like me.

New York City seemed like a refuge to me. An authoritative voice was just talking there. It’s how you ordered dinner, hailed a cab, or asked directions.

But then I saw it: Happy Valley Road.

Would an address as optimistic as that make me seem as alien and untrustworthy to urban dwellers as my authoritative voice had to the members of the group in the rural community I now live in?

My first truly rural experience happened shortly after I moved here. A German shepherd started running after my car as I headed down to Happy Valley Road. It was getting close to rush hour and Happy Valley Road, let’s face it, is a more or less thoroughfare. As many as five cars might barrel down the road at rush hour.

I had recently moved from a suburban town so immediately went into protect the dog mode. I stopped the car and started talking to him. Loping up the road came a second dog. He was enormous and it was clear to me that he was a wolf hybrid.

It was a sign, I thought, that I had moved to the right place. I have a wolf tattoo on my right forearm. The wolf hybrid lay down in front of my car. How very trusting. I was moved by his trust of me.

Another car drove by and stopped.

“Do you know who these dogs might belong to?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she replied, “but they killed one of my chickens this morning. I think that one,” she pointed to the wolf hybrid, “was the instigator. I called animal control but their truck is out of commission. It got hit by a drunk driver last night.”

Wolves get such a bad rap, I thought as she drove off. Remembering that I was in a rural environment, I now worried more that they would get shot than that a car might hit them.

I looked back at my car. I had left the driver’s side door open. The shepherd had climbed in and was sitting in the passenger’s seat, ready for a trip to the drive-in. I walked around the back of the car, opened the door and tried to coax him out.

I turned and saw that the wolf hybrid had followed me around the back of the car. There I was right smack in between the German shepherd, who occupied my car, and the ginormous wolf hybrid who stared at me with a look that said, “I hear humans taste like chickens.”

Well this was a conundrum. Was the shepherd my friend, trying to get away from the bad boy chicken-killing instigator, or was this part of the plan? Were the two of them hunting down tasty treats?

And then it occurred to me that rural living also requires street smarts—just a different kind than urban living.

I don’t honestly remember how I got the shepherd out of my car, but he did leave. As I drove off I still wondered, was the shepherd trusting me to get him away from the bad boy instigator or was he part of the plan? I drove past a house that had chickens in the yard and realized it was all out of my hands.

I enjoyed New York. I stayed in a hotel in Times Square with its overload of neon lights and teeming humanity; walked half a block to see Love Letters with Brian Dennehey and Mia Farrow. Made sure I was always aware of my surroundings.

No one seemed threatened by my authoritative voice.

I returned late in the evening to Happy Valley Road and the crisp clear autumn air, the darkness barely pierced by the lights of the farm across the street and the homes sparsely scattered across the valley.

This is where I live, I thought—somewhere between the optimism of a Happy Valley where wolf hybrids stalk chickens and naïve newcomers, and a teeming city where a human hybrid might stalk you.

It makes sense to me that I can live in both places.

As for my voice, well, I’m a writer. It makes me neither predator nor prey. Anyone can have an authoritative voice. You just have to make that choice. Like me, don’t like me, just know that without a voice, I’m not a writer so I’m not giving it up.

I’ve earned it. Get over it.

Reading and writing are in themselves subversive acts. What they subvert is the notion that things have to be the way they are, that you are alone, that no one has ever felt the way you have.”
Mark Vonnegut, from the introduction to Armageddon in Retrospect

I think this is going to be about story and story is important to me.

I went to New York City two weeks ago to take a seminar from Robert McKee. I had taken his Story seminar in 2000 and 2003 in San Francisco. I took it twice because the first time I took it (in 2000), I had to stop taking notes and just let the experience of story carry me out to sea, knowing it would bring me back to shore. Or maybe I didn’t know then that it would bring me back to shore.

I just trusted.

I had been through a particularly traumatic experience in which I thought I had lost the family I had worked hard to build. I’m a stepmother. Stepfamilies are precarious. The heart is a resilient muscle. And that’s a good thing. Life tests it.

As I sat through his seminar, I began to see the story of how I discovered the heart’s resilience. A villain is not a villain in the villain’s story. The character is right from the character’s point of view. If you can’t see that, you have a caricature of a human being. You haven’t drilled down to the truth of what it is to be human.

That humanized the trauma for me. It didn’t take it away. Instead it lifted the numbness and allowed me to feel the loss. It also lifted blame.

This latest seminar I attended was called Story in Business. McKee is right about story. It is one of the most powerful tools a leader has to connect with people and move them to action.

Leader as author he says. I agree.

As the day progressed, I found myself once again being swept out to sea. I was nursing a recent disappointment. Not traumatic like what happened in 2000, but nevertheless very disappointing.

Once again, I saw the events and my experience in terms of story. No villains. No heroes, just humans acting in very human ways, driven by fear of change and life passing them by. It’s what we do when change is thrust upon us and our lives are turned upside down. We try to restore our lives to what they were before they were turned upside down, when what we need to do is use our experience to change the story we were living.

For me, it’s allowing myself to be swept out to sea and then use story to make my way back to shore. It’s what I have in place of religion, my way of making sense out of chaos—out of that which I cannot control.

I said this is about story, and I still think it is. Story does not so much give me hope and faith as it shows me that things are much more up for grabs than I thought they were. That’s how Mark Vonnegut puts it in the introduction to Armageddon in Retrospect:

What occurs to people when they read Kurt is that things are much more up for grabs than they thought they were.”

The news has been filled with dread the last few weeks. Between ISIS and Ebola, we’re all feeling as vulnerable as a young black male who’s stopped by the police, or a raped woman who wore a short skirt.

We’re all going to die, Lindsay Graham predicts.

Well, that is certainly true. We all are going to die. We have that in common.

But in the meantime, things are much more up for grabs than we thought they were. Story, our stories, can help us discover that. Not a bad thing when dread hovers over us.

It was 1974. I was newly divorced and about to turn 25. I had also recently purchased my first car—a 1963, factory-equipped camper VW bus.

Owning a car was a big deal for me. My parents were terrified of my owning a car. I still don’t know why, but it had something to do with me being a woman alone in the world, though I had been the “bread-winner” in the marriage I had recently extricated myself from.

The women’s movement was nascent, but loud. Mostly we blamed men. I was as confused as anyone else. So in an act of independence, I decided I would celebrate my birthday by driving up the Pacific Coast Highway, from San Francisco to Washington—alone in my newly acquired VW bus. Well, I had my dog Rita Louise with me.

The first night out, I stopped at a campground somewhere along the northern coast of California. I have no recollection of where. I opened my can of tuna fish, dumped it in a bowl, added mayonnaise, and made myself a sandwich.

And then, darkness descended on me along with a blanket of aloneness. No one to talk to. No one to share the tuna fish with. Now what do I do?

So I made my bed, tried to read, but drifted off to sleep with Rita Louise curled up next to me.

I decided I needed company.

And there, not far down the road the next morning, was a young man, longish blond hair, wearing an army jacket, backpack beside him, his thumb stuck out—the international sign for a hitchhiker.

I had hitchhiked through New England three years earlier with my husband and his two friends (that was my honeymoon, which probably explains a lot about why the marriage didn’t last). So, of course it was fine to stop and pick up a hitchhiker. To hell with that woman-alone-in-the-world-without-a-man-to-guide-her bullshit.

“Where are you headed?” he asked.

“Washington state but I’m not in a hurry,” I said.

He climbed in. I don’t remember where he was going, but as soon as I aimed my VW bus onto the highway, the voices started in my head: “He knows no one is expecting me. There’s no on else on the highway. What if he’s a crazed murdering hitchhiker?”

“This is my dog, Rita Louise,” I said pointing to her lying on the pulled-out bed behind us. One should not name a dog Rita Louise if one wants to present her as a fierce, defend-you-to-the-death attack dog. She looked like a Disney dog. Cute and scruffy.

My terror and uncertainty filled the car. Which brought out his terror and uncertainty.

We hurtled down the winding highway making small talk—uncertainty so dense that not even subtext broke through the unspoken questions. Me, “Why did I pick up a hitchhiker?” and my hitchhiker “Why did I get in her car?”

We hurtled, that is, as much as a 1963 VW bus could hurtle, until I felt the right back wheel start to drag.

“I think I have a flat tire,” I said, though I had no idea what a flat tire actually felt like. We pulled over. Apparently I did know what a flat tire felt like.

My hitchhiker gallantly offered to change the tire. Which he did as I stood by and watched my VW bus sway and shudder as cars sped by on the narrow, winding highway that is the Pacific Coast Highway. Traffic had chosen this moment to pick up.

“Let’s go,” he said as he climbed back in the car, his face ashen. It was entirely possible that this was the first tire he had ever changed—and he had risked life and limb to do it.

And yet, still in the back of my mind, I worried that he might be out to murder me.

I decided I didn’t want to camp out that night, so as darkness descended, I pulled into a motel. He asked if he could sleep in the back of the van. I said yes, and then spent the night peeking out the window to make sure he hadn’t driven off with it.

He didn’t.

We reached his destination a couple of hours into the next morning. I think that by that time we each had developed enough trust to figure out that this was not a scene in a horror movie. It was just a ride.

I don’t remember his name.

Two days later I ended up in Sequim, Washington, where my Uncle Ray and Aunt Mary lived. Their daughter Sue, her husband, and son lived in the trailer parked on their property. Ray was my mother’s oldest brother.

“Weren’t you scared driving up here alone?“ Sue asked me as we sat together on the couch that first evening. “Whatever you do, don’t pick up a hitchhiker. Girls have been murdered and they think it’s by a hitchhiker they picked up.”

I decided not to tell her about my hitchhiker.

So now it’s forty years later. My Aunt Mary died in 1984. My cousin Sue, who was never in very good health, died sometime in the 90s. My uncle outlived my mother. She died in 2006; he died in 2010, eight months after his 100th birthday.

I visited Sequim for the second time for his memorial. That was when I decided I wanted to live here—in Sequim. And so now I do. Been here a little more than a year.

A lot has changed in forty years. That assertion of independence for my 25th birthday, as tame as it seems now (think Cheryl Strayed’s Wild), was the starting point for the path that led to where I am today on the verge of turning 65. With that act, I began to break free of the expectations and confinement that seemed almost Biblical-pronouncements of what the world was supposed to be for me.

The road has not been straightforward—more like the winding Pacific Coast Highway I drove to reach the Pacific Northwest where I celebrated my 25th birthday.

I got a wolf tattoo on my right forearm to celebrate my 55th birthday. Two weeks later, in the shower I looked at it and thought, “Wow! This isn’t washing off.”

It gave me a new understanding of permanent. It took another couple of years to understand what that meant to me: no turning back.

I have come to understand that the obstacle to freedom that the women’s movement was birthing back then really had very little to do with men. I have come to learn that often the biggest obstacles to a woman defining her own being, her own liberation, are not men, but other women. Women who fear their own liberation.

But that might mostly be women my age. I suspect it might be different for younger women—women who were born about the time I was hurtling up the Pacific Coast Highway with my hitchhiker.

I wonder where my hitchhiker is. I wonder if he was as scared of me as I of him. I wonder if he became a corporate executive or became a maverick who defined his own way in the world. I had forgotten all about him until I did a writing exercise that asked me to describe a scene in a car.

Several years ago, while conducting research for a story that included the Vietnamese orphans who perished when a plane that was trying to save them from the fall of Saigon crashed shortly after takeoff, I discovered that there indeed had been a murdering hitchhiker who was terrorizing the Northwest about the time I had picked up my non-murdering hitchhiker. He was famous—the murdering hitchhiker.

It was Ted Bundy.

Things could have turned out very different had he been my hitchhiker.

Guilting the Lily

I would like to just walk away from this, but it sticks in my heart and mind, the charge that I am a bully. Look inside myself—anonymous, and one not-so -nonymous, commenters said to me. If they are saying I’m a bully and they know many, many people who agree, then it must be so. Their feelings are valid. (Okay, they also accuse me of a having a “chronic need” for validation and recognition, which I think is a bit ironic.)

I did look inside myself and couldn’t find the bully they described. But I found it hard to write a blog post. Nothing seemed to get through the fog. The more I told myself to let go, the harder it was to think of something else. It was kind of like when I was a kid on Christmas Eve and the grown ups told me that Santa wouldn’t come until I fell asleep—and then I tried to fall asleep.

I just couldn’t get the voices of the chorus out of my body, mind, heart, and psyche. I had no idea what to do with that energy.

So, I set on a quest to understand what it was I needed to let go of.

Betrayal? That was painful, but that healed.

Anger? As always, that one subsides with time.

The hope that things could have been different? Almost there.

And then, I found it, lurking in my genetic conditioning—what I need to let go of: guilt and shame. Guilt for believing that I am entitled to be recognized for my accomplishments and shame for voicing it.

I will readily admit that the most painful thing for me is when someone willfully doesn’t “hear” me.

I will also readily admit that not being heard is a deeply rooted wound for me. I believe that when that happens, I attempt again and again to be heard, increasing the desperation and then the volume, as if either will solve the problem. I become relentless in my attempt to be heard.

I suspect my relentlessness is what is being translated as bullying. It is perceived as hostility, but really, it’s anger. I would say that willfully not hearing someone is a hostile act—a passively hostile act. I suspect that the decision to willfully not hear is a defense mechanism, one that might not even be conscious. It’s probably reflexive.

But that’s the other person. The question for me is: why the relentless pursuit to be heard when it’s clear that the person either doesn’t have the ears that are capable of hearing or just doesn’t think it’s important to hear me.

There is that niggling voice inside me that preaches guilt: who am I to expect to be heard—it is after all, just me.

So, really, I end up yelling at my own guilt. It’s the most useless form of guilt ever created by humans—a guilt for which there is no way out, because there is no reason to feel guilty to begin with. It is our birthright to feel entitled to our own life.

If gilding the lily means giving something a deceptively attractive or improved appearance, then I think guilt over feeling entitled to one’s own life is “guilting the lily.”

I don’t think we need to do either with our lives.

In defense of my relentlessness, it was my relentless pursuit to have writing as an art integrated into Art Happens that got Storied Nights established. I continued pursuing that goal when other writers who wanted a venue for recognition of all forms of writing gave up. Tricky thing, it is, the strength that can also be your weakness.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur friends Holly and Richard Sears brought a bottle of homemade wine to our going away party. The label read, “Words and music moving north.”

We passed our one-year anniversary in Sequim last Saturday. We arrived on June 14, 2013.

As I read through the New York Times this morning, I noticed a new film with Liam Neeson. It opens in New York and Los Angeles this weekend. In my Bay Area days, I lamented when movies like this only opened in those two cities, but knew that it would open in a theater somewhere near me soon. Not so much up here.

Movies have always been a way for me to decompress, refresh, put whatever is mangling my foremind into my backmind so I can let my unconscious or the universe, whichever is the most appropriate, untangle the mess. I would sometimes see two or three movies a week. Maybe four.

So, the one thing that I sort of kinda’ miss about living here in a rural environment is movies. There’s a great theater in Port Townsend that shows “art” as well as first-run films. That’s a 45-minute trip, but well worth it. The theater itself is cool. I saw Chef there recently—on a particularly bad mind-mangled day when I needed chocolate. The movie was showing in the Twilight Room where they serve food and beverages of all persuasion. So I ordered a chocolate martini.

Great story. Great chocolate martini. Movie fix and chocolate fix all in one fell swoop.

The grandeur of the mountains, the deer roaming through my yard, and the ducks with their ducklings and geese with their goslings, all make me miss movies a little less. My mind seems to get mangled less.

ota buildingIn addition, there is the local theatre company, Olympic Theatre Arts. The Olympic Theatre Arts Center was one of the draws for us moving here. Built-out in an old church, it is an impressive facility for a town the size of Sequim (6,000 in town—probably 26,000 with the surrounding area). Light booth. Sound booth. Shop for building sets. Dressing room and green room. A hall, called the Gathering Hall where certain performances can be held. The main theater seats 165.

And then there is the talent. Good actors. Good directors. And, as I am learning, incredible talent for set design, light design, and costume design—all dedicated to telling the story. I’m currently the production manager for Sherlock Holmes: the Final Adventure. The costume designer in one of the early meetings, said she planned on few costume changes because she didn’t want the costumes to be the story. She wanted the costumes to help tell the story.

I never knew.

Tom and I have jumped in and are knee deep in the company. Our proposal for staging a reading of Twelfth Night, on Twelfth Night, was received with enthusiasm. We held it in the Gathering Hall, which was transformed into a Shakespeare-era gathering hall thanks to the imagination of Rosie von Engel. She is also the set designer and dresser for Sherlock. As with the costume designer, she does her research and insists on details that ring true to the era.

These people care about the production and the audience—they know what it takes to make the audience suspend its disbelief.

Tom is in Sherlock. He plays Watson. He also is writing music for an aria that is part of the story and incidental music for certain scenes and scene transitions, and is creating sound effects using the inside of the piano. Oh, my!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI had the privilege of directing and acting in Love, Loss, and What I Wore (by Nora and Delia Ephron, based on the book by Ilene Beckerman) in March and will be directing The Good Doctor, set to open in September. The Good Doctor is one of Neil Simon’s lesser-known plays. The company had considered Barefoot in the Park, but had trouble finding someone to direct it. I considered it, but thought the play and its humor seemed dated in 2014. So I dug around and found The Good Doctor. I liked it because I think Simon went out of his comfort zone to write this play—a series of 11 sketches—nine based on Chekov short stories and two Simon originals. Simon drew on his experience writing for Your Show of Shows to create comic sketches that could have been on 19th century Russian television—had Chekov had Sid Caeser—and televeision—to write for.

If that makes sense.

We also were able to get a series started called “An Unusual Evening in Sequim.” We stole the title from our early mentors, Cask and Mask. Well, they just called it an Unusual Evening—we added the Sequim part.

Our first one was a celebration of Shakespeare’s birthday. Local actors selected their favorite passages from Shakespeare to read to the audience and tell them why Shakespeare was so important to them. We did a rap version of “You Say It’s Your Birthday” spoken like Shakespeare, “Thou sayest’s thy birthday . . .” and served cake.

The audience has grown for each evening. At the May event, Local writers read stories about Sequim and the peninsula to help celebrate the Irrigation Festival. We started the evening with an interview with Joe Borden, who has worked on the festival for 19 years. Why do we have an irrigation festival? Because there would be no Sequim if “Crazy” Callen and his partners hadn’t figured out how to make water run uphill, Borden told us. It was a parched prairie before the irrigation ditches.

camiOur June event was something I had wanted to do for years. Tom has written music inspired by my writing and I have written pieces inspired by his music. My favorite “collaboration” was around Tom’s Music Box Rag. I wrote a poem titled “Tending the Garden of Shared Memories,” that reflects on a music box that might or might not have ever been, given to a little girl by her father. I always wanted to perform the piece with Tom and a ballerina to be the music box ballerina. So that’s what we did, with a very talented 15-year old ballerina, Cami Ortloff, dancing to my words and then Tom’s music. The dance was choreographed by Laurel Herrara, just one more example of talent that makes up our community.

Next up is a radio play!

I remember one evening watching the sunset right after we moved here, breathing deeply and thinking, “There’s something about the air here. It promises possibilities.”

And so it does.

It was a bit scary to make this move. Tom and I had been active in theatre in Livermore, when we were teenagers and then again when we returned in 2001. I had built a literary community and Tom had composed pieces for the orchestra and a chamber symphony. It was very moving to receive the bottle of wine with “Music and Words moving north,” printed on it to mark the occasion of our leaving the community.

There’s something about marking the passage of a year—going through seasons, getting the rhythm of whatever it was that made the year one worthy of having its passage marked.

It’s a blue sparkly day in Sequm. The earth made its journey around the sun. We made our journey north. And here we are.

Words and music alive and flourishing.

Thank you Richard and Holly Sears for the wine and the words.

Last week, as I approached the entrance to our sun room, there, not more than six feet in front of me, was a mama duck and her ducklings, fuzzy little ducks not yet ready to fly.

I had surprised her. As I fumbled for my iPhone to get a picture, she quickly gathered them under her wings, pushed them to a corner under the rhododendron bush, and marched towards me.

Yup. She marched. She didn’t waddle.

I backed up toward the door to my Writing Shed. She turned left, outstretched her wings, made a noise that sounded like a wounded bird, then did what looked like waddling while flying low to the ground, drawing me away. I followed her as she made her way through the yard, worried that perhaps she was wounded. She made for the Japanese maple tree surrounded by overgrown stuff.

In a stunningly Homer-Simpson-“doh!” moment, I realized that I needed to back off and give her space. I headed to our front porch and waited. She peeked around the bush, head held high. She saw me, let out a quack, then waddled back towards the sun room.

It was an impressive moment of maternal courage. I was in awe. I hope that her head-held-high quack was an indignant moment for her in which she understood that I had gotten the message—stay away from my children.

I managed to get photos of her and her ducklings as they headed away from the rhododendron bush to a more secure vegetative covering. At that point, I think she was at least convinced I wouldn’t kill them, but she might have been thinking, this picture better not end up on Facebook.

It did. And now, it’s on my blog.

duck and ducklings

Later that day, as I drove down Third towards town, the goose family was crossing the road. This was an extended family of some sort. The goslings seemed to range in age from itty-bitty-but-able-to-waddle to adolescent-but-still fuzzy. The adult geese acted as sentinels, flanking their young as traffic stopped waiting for them to cross the road. Their necks stretched high, their heads turning once to let me know that they saw me.

Why did the geese cross the road?

So I could get pictures of them. I had plenty of time to whip out my iPhone as they herded the various members of the younger goslings. They weren’t in a hurry. They were determined, however, to get them all across the street safely.
Perhaps the head turning was to say, “These picture better not end up on Facebook.”

They did. And now, they’re on my blog.

These encounters with waterfowl made my day. I can’t even explain why. Or maybe I can.

It just seemed like moments when two species co-existed in the same space at the same time and worked it out.

This seems so fair to me.

I’ve been accused of being a bully recently, in an anonymous post in a comments section on a blog. I had commented on the blog because its author had taken credit for something I had done. When I pointed that out, the author rewrote history again, this time to make herself the victim of my comment.

The anonymous commenter (I believe this was a woman) pointed out that I had a chronic need for recognition and validation. Many, many people agreed with her on this point, as well as my bullying ways, she claimed.

Bullying is nasty. It’s the coward’s way of asserting power by humiliating another simply to gain a sense of power. I think there is a difference between that and standing up for oneself—holding someone accountable for her willful misrepresentation of history to make herself the star of a show she never even participated in.

I do have a chronic need for recognition and validation. Just like that duck and those geese, I believe it is my right to be recognized—to be seen—and to be validated—to have my right to exist in my own space to be respected.

So that’s it. I just figured out why that day was such a fair waterfowl day for me. The universe (as it were) gave me not one, but two opportunities to mess with another creature’s vulnerability. Neither the geese nor the duck were bullies. They were standing up to me and claiming what was theirs to protect and defend. Instead of messing with their vulnerability, I respected it as life expressing itself.

Being smart does not make a woman a bully. Asserting her right to recognition and validation is not a pathology.

I’m not a bully. I’m a strong, smart woman who feels entitled to defend and protect that which she created.

There, I feel better now.

Note: I drove by the geese later that week:

“Keep your hat on. We may end up miles from here.”
Kurt Vonnegut

I’m on a Kurt Vonnegut roll. I recently read If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?, a compilation of his graduation speeches. As I said in my last post, Kurt Vonnegut is living proof you don’t have to be alive to be living.

There’s just something about him. I would have liked to have taken a writing class from him. I imagine he would say this about writing: “Keep your hat on. We may end up miles from here.” He actually did say that. I just don’t know for sure if it was about writing.

I attended Fourth Friday last Friday, the local venue for writers to listen and read. The featured writer was Holly Hughes who read from her book of poetry, Sailing with Ravens. It was important, she said, that instead of diving in randomly to read poems in her book, that you start at the beginning and continue on.

From the back of her book:

“Gillnetter, mariner, and naturalist Holly Hughes has experienced first-hand the practical and philosophical consequences of navigating difficult waters. . . . In this exquisite collection of poems Hughes deftly navigates the ‘wavering, certain path’ of a woman’s heart, finding that sometimes the best directions to follow are those that come from the natural forces in our lives. . . .”

I’ve been on the ocean—I spent 75 days on a Dutch freighter traveling from Saudi Arabia to Long Beach, California. We went days without seeing either land or another ship. Once, we patiently watched for what in my memory seems like hours for a ship to transform from being a dot on the horizon to a sister ship gliding by alongside us, bow to stern, and then sail away to become a dot on the horizon again.

And then we were alone on the vast expanse of water with the occasional school of dolphins that appeared.

The ship I was on raised three stories off the surface. I can only imagine what it would be like to be on the 33-foot fishing boat Holly Hughes set sail in—what it was like to be at sea with that much uncertainty surrounding you.

It occurred to me as I listened to her that she did what writers do—she saw the poetry in the prosaic. I think at the heart of being a writer is an understanding that we “ . . . never had to leave home to be writers, because there are people there just as smart and just as dumb, just as kind and just as mean, as anywhere else in the world.” Kurt said that, too.

I’m having a serious Kurt crush these days.

Somehow that gives me permission to leap into this next thing I’m going to write about: tent caterpillars in my trees.

They are voracious little creatures, eating anything leafy. Not the evergreens—the tasty leafy things like the leaves on the apple and cherry and pear trees.

Side thought: With all due respect, they sound very much like us humans who are sort of kind of’ ravaging the planet—not by eating the leafy things but by changing the climate with our behavior and modifying the genetics of plants and planting plants that have been pre-treated with systemic pesticides that kill bees.

But, back to the tent caterpillars.

I am faced with a decision . . . do I get rid of them, or just let them cycle through. There is a non-poisonous solution: Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). It’s made from dead ground up caterpillars and introduces a bacteria that they eat and then get sick and die before they become moths and lay eggs. Or maybe they lay eggs and then become moths, I’m not entirely clear on that concept. But they die before they become moths.

The point is that by introducing Bt into their world, I interrupt their transformation. I keep them from learning what it means to take flight.

Which gives me pause.

Note: Literally, it gave me pause. I removed my hands from the keyboard and put them in the pockets of my fleece vest, wondering where I’m going with this. Hold on for the play button.

I’m back. I stepped outside to the balcony. Birds were singing and in the background I could hear Tom’s music playing on the iPod inside my writing Shed. They didn’t compete (the birds and Tom’s music). They complemented each other. Here’s what I saw.

So here’s what I think. I will spray the Bt. It doesn’t poison other insects (maybe mosquitoes, I’ll research that and I’m okay with that because of the equine virus thing, though I suspect that mama equine viruses love their equine virus children as much as we love our children). I think that introducing the bacteria will give the trees a fighting chance.

Now, will it kill all the tent butterflies? Probably not. I suspect there will be some who will survive the bacteria. Which could mean that they will create a new generation of tent caterpillars that adapt to the bacteria. That is the cycle, I think.

Maybe I’m overthinking this.

Where was I?

Oh, right the transformation-interruptus thing.

So, here’s where I am with that: what I will be doing is introducing living things that interact with each other into the environment. Apparently there is a three-year cycle of tent caterpillars getting overly enthusiastic about reproduction. This is the third year of that cycle, or maybe the second, depending on who you talk to.

I think what I’m doing is giving my trees a fighting chance of staying clothed and producing fruit. I’m okay with that and I apologize to the moms and dads of the caterpillars whose offspring won’t get a chance to take flight. I think they might have had a good life anyway. They certainly are beautiful creatures.

And, for what it’s worth, I suspect that bacteria are hard at work thinning out the human race.

That’s the cycle of things. Or, as Kurt would say, “And so it goes . . .”


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