tidepool immersion~blue inside

 

(The photo above is from a different beach I visited on a grayer, less photogenic day, save for these colorful anemones.

All that follow are from a single tidepooling trip.)

 

On my recent tidepool walk, I found a fish lying on the sand. A large sculpin? I picked it up to take a picture (as one does). In my hand, its body shifted so that its mouth dropped open and I gazed into a gaping chasm of blue! Its mouth is blue?! Simultaneously, its opercula opened, closed, gasping. It was still alive!

 

I snapped quick photos and rushed it into the water. It lay on the bottom, letting water pour across its gills, brown lumpy body camouflaging its secret bright interior. At home, I looked it up: a cabezon, part of the true sculpin family, a rocky intertidal dweller who feeds on crabs, fish, and mollusks. In its blue inner realm – not just mouth, but also flesh and internal organs – tiny abalone shells are said to become brightly polished in its digestive acids. The cabezon spawns on rocks, where its eggs, poisonous for consumption, can disperse up to 200 miles from shore, drifting as embryos divide, develop, hatch into wiggling larvae, absorb their yolk sacs. Arriving back in their tidepool spawning ground as fry, they hunt and grow into adults who lurk in the kelp beds.

 

I walked to the farthest extent of the beach one can access, and then only on these lowest low tides. Actually, I stopped short of the farthest tippy tidepool at the end once I spotted hauled out seals, and ceased approaching. Took zoom lens photos of baby seals raising their heads and rear flippers like they were rehearsing their swim, strengthening their core muscles.

Discodoris sighting! aka Diaulula sandiegensis from family Discodorididae

I chose fishing line as my genre of litter to collect on this day, filled my pockets.  Stepped across a vein of something agatized or fossilized. Made by pressure, revealed by water, without having to dig.  The smooth light gray rock erodes pockets and dimples. The small black cobbles collect inside. On the farthest stretch, the crabs are less accustomed to having to hide from hikers, and they plop and tumble into tidepools, scuttle and skitter under eelgrass clumps.

 

Otter is the name of the beach I wandered, though the last known individual sea otter swimming in Oregon waters was shot off Newport in 1907. Locally extinct ever since, they no longer exert control over sea urchins, which can overgraze the kelp holding down the base of this ecosystem.

Other species help in the role of maintaining kelp forests, though none to the extent that otters once did. I leaned over every edge of every farthest shelf of rock on this day, hoping and wishing to see a sunflower star.

(Like the one Quinn is touching here in 2010.)

(Or this pair from 2011.)

But sunflower stars have reached critically endangered status as of December 2020, failing to make a comeback from sea star wasting disease. Locally extinct now in the southern part of its range (zero Mexico or California sightings since 2018), sightings in Oregon are now vanishingly rare. I have not been able to find one.

I did see a leather star, though, between meals of anemones. A number of purple and ochre sea stars wrapped around mussels. Some species are making a halting comeback, others not. They will pull on the threads that connect them to other species until a new equilibrium is reached.

 

Maybe it’s because I’ve just finished reading Into Great Silence, a memoir written by a woman who studied the Chugach transient orca pod in Prince William Sound, a diminishing group that has not reproduced since the Exxon Valdez emptied oil into the sound in 1989. There are now just seven individuals. Maybe it’s because the author, Eva Saulitis, included a quote from the poem The Last One by W.S. Merwin, so I read the rest of the poem. I think a lot about these last ones, the impossibly lonely condition of being a last one, that so many species are facing. And then the one is gone, and there are none. Maybe it’s because I felt like I discovered a kindred spirit in Eva as I read her book, and know that she, too, is gone. Or maybe I’m a cabezon. I’m just a little blue on the inside, too.

 

 

~rainbow mondays~ blooming

Posting from Aurora, Colorado, this morning as we have been stuck in an epic airline debacle overnight on our way home from Adulting In Oklahoma Part II. It feels appropriate that there are so many pictures of columbine in this post, which resonates for this town not too far from the April 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High. But mostly these photos make me long to be home again, as I trust we will be by this evening.

 

~rainbow mondays~

a splash of color on monday morning

a photo study documenting the colors of the spectrum: the balance points between light reflected and light absorbed

back to writing

I had a good day: built a garden bed, then spent 3.5 hours on the phone with Mom. She filled me up with new stories of Anna Hilda, and Hilda Louise, warrior mothers in my matriline. I am grateful for receiving some loving messages despite closing the comments. I am grateful to be able to sometimes remember it’s possible to be okay even when things are not okay. Back to the writing studio (an early version at Nana’s house pictured here.)

missing

I’m not here to tell anyone to be happy today. I’m at a pretty low ebb in my identity as a mother – am I even a mother if my son has spent over a year not with me? I’m on a two week social media hiatus so I don’t have to look at everyone else being happy today. I consider it self-preservation at this languid, eroded stage in the pandemic. I’m not looking for a pity party, or answers to my rhetorical questions, but I’m also going to put this here to be real with myself, this still hurts. I still miss my son and I still miss my mom.

There don’t seem to be very many photos of just Mom and I, but I have found a couple over the past year as I have been scanning batches of family photos. Both of them happen to be taken in the Adirondacks, one I suspect taken by Nana, and one I took myself. I’d like to get back there one day, and I’d like to take Quinn there to see a place that was so important to my childhood, and Mom’s. For now, it’s another item on the list of things I miss.

Sending love to all who are experiencing missing today.

 

 

~black and white wednesday~ time

 

 

tidepool immersion ~ pink moon low tide

 

Last week we enjoyed a very low minus tide series courtesy of the full, pink, willow moon. It was just setting when I arrived at my destination.

I met this hummingbird while tidepooling – a bit unusual for a tidepooling find!

 

I don’t often get photos of feather duster worms, so this was a special treat. Apparently they have giant nerve fibers that help them retract very quickly when disturbed, to avoid getting eaten. They also have light-sensitive eyespots on their gills so they can sense a predator by its shadow passing overhead!

As the sun started coming up over the ridge, the colors became so much more vibrant.

>crow’s feet<

~rainbow mondays~ vernal

 

~rainbow mondays~

a splash of color on monday morning

a photo study documenting the colors of the spectrum: the balance points between light reflected and light absorbed

~rainbow mondays~ being ok

All was not okay in Oklahoma, and Rich and I realized we could not postpone a trip any longer. With one dose of Moderna administered, we arrived on the scene of chaos that ensues when a fiercely independent aging parent, recently widowed, has been living alone with dementia.

 

In and out of recognition, we were still someone to her. We established a routine that brought her back a few feet from the precipice on which she teetered. Fed, hydrated, rested, and medicated, we tried to appreciate the time we had together, knowing it might be the last time she will know us. Meanwhile, the task of arranging her care once we would so quickly depart again took up the majority of our energy.

 

Sundowning was a term I heard – defined as, “restlessness, agitation, irritability, or confusion that can begin or worsen as daylight begins to fade – often just when tired caregivers need a break. Sundowning can continue into the night, making it hard for people with Alzheimer’s to fall asleep and stay in bed.” Indeed. Thank you, internet.

My support system kept telling me that I was awesome, that I was handling things amazingly. I decided I wanted to be mediocre instead of amazing. Can I just be okay in OK?

We took turns to stay sane. When it was my turn, we went for lots of walks. Her feet are as sure as her neural pathways are unsure. We looked at birds in the apple tree, in full bloom when we arrived. She said, “oh I bet they’re making a nest.” And “I like looking at the birds.” Inside, she showed me another window you could see them from. I wonder how many hours she has spent just looking out the window, while she has been forgetting to eat, drink water, sleep.

I think the frequent walks helped her sleep. She had not been walking in her yard like this, though she had unknowingly left her house at 2:00 in the morning a few weeks before, our wake-up call.

By day five I was under enough strain that I felt like I was slipping from myself, but there were butterflies and I trusted the butterflies would save me. Painted lady, orange sulphur, a blue (possibly spring azure), and black swallowtails each made appearances while I wandered with my camera.

One walk was very windy. A turtle was on the lawn beside the lilac bush. I took numerous butterfly walks that day. One swallowtail hunkered down in the lawn, bobbing up and down as the wind went sweeping down the plain. Another I followed into the tall amber waves of grain in the back field, and located it two-thirds of the way down a stem, gripping on for dear life as each stem waved and whipped past its gossamer wings. I tried to take notes on how to ride out the turbulence. Official butterfly of the State of Confusion (and Oklahoma).

A day before we were scheduled to return home, we looked at the assisted living facility her friend had helped us find. No waiting list. Sitting with her in the courtyard gazebo, I tried to help her let go of the worries she can no longer control anyway. Money. Bills. The house. The rock collection. Keeping herself safe. Time to hand all the worries over to us now.

We added another week to our stay.

Eighty-eighth birthday cupcakes. Rich cut up her steak for her before we put her dinner plate on the table. For a lifelong health nut, she really enjoyed the ice cream. She spun her prisms in the kitchen window and we watched the rainbows dance on the ceiling one evening. These little moments of wonder and delight were precious gems in a field of heavy, dark stones.

The next day was beautiful again, so we went for a nice long walk, and looked at some of the rocks sparkling in the sun. I tried to join her reality, use her vocabulary, anything to ease this transition. “Little pieces of God’s creation,” I said of the rocks. “Yes! Exactly,” she said. We talked about the bird songs. The neighbor’s dog. She said, “it’ll be different to live in town…” And it wasn’t even a complaint or a reason against moving. It felt like she was turning this stone over in her mind, moving toward accepting it… “Yes, it will be different for you,” I said, and then we talked about that courtyard where we sat – another little piece of God’s creation.

When she reverted to resistance mode and Rich was on duty, I went back out alone to just sit in the sun with the rocks. They were so pleasingly undemanding.

When a person has dementia it can turn parts of their personality sour, and it can be hard to remember not to take it personally when you’re criticized or snapped at. At lunch one day I tapped out, and took a walk around the whole perimeter of the field with my camera. Breathing in. Breathing out. Meditating on butterflies. Not important. Let it go.

My birthday was not as explosive as its 4-3-21 made it sound. Stale cupcakes were already on hand. Butterflies were a gift. Mom and Dad called me as they were going to bed, and I was just starting my video call with Quinn so I put them on speaker and they all got to talk, Rich sitting nearby, and the sketchy internet wasn’t even a butthead during this best twenty minutes of my birthday. Quinn is reading an owl book I gave him and described the way flammulated owls can throw their voice to make it seem like they’re distant when they’re close, or make it seem like they are flying from the opposite direction.

It had been such a disoriented day for Nancy, as she had attempted to spend the night before at her friend’s place and had not slept. She told us three times in a row, almost without a gap in between, “there was a bird that would sit on the top of the post and when I would open the door it would talk to me. And I’d whistle to it, and it would whistle back.”

On Easter Sunday morning, five scissor-tailed flycatchers, state bird of Oklahoma, displayed their tails proudly in the yard. We went to church and then to a backyard family barbecue. She wanted to take a walk when we got home, and the day was still balmy. We took three laps, and the first two she checked to see if we had any mail. On Easter Sunday. I just let her check, then asked if she wanted to smell the lilacs.

Each time we would walk beneath the sycamore, bare-limbed but for its seed baubles, she mentioned the branches needed to be picked up. Each day Rich would pick up more, and each day the wind would bring more down.

Another walk around the yard, Nancy and I. “I like it here. It comes down to I just don’t want to go.”

Leaving the lab where she had blood drawn, I said we needed to look closer at the pretty trees planted around the parking lot before we got in the car. Oklahoma redbud, the state tree, in bloom everywhere, painting the landscape red violet. State bird, butterfly, and tree, check, check, and check.

We woke up to rain on the day we moved her into her new home. The rain felt appropriate as I googled how one signs a check as Power of Attorney.

The sun came back. The next morning a rabbit was sitting by the shed, cleaning its face with its paws. The bird with the whistling song greeted me from its post when I opened the front door to take out more expired food from the freezer to the trash.

On the airplane, we sat with our hands on each others’ legs, the book Refuge in my lap, as I read about birds and mortality and mothers, flying the friendly skies.

A bird flew through the B concourse of the Denver airport during our layover…

On our drive home from Eugene the sun beamed down over the coast range, lighting up our destination to the west.

It feels good to be home.

~rainbow mondays~

a splash of color on monday morning

a photo study documenting the colors of the spectrum: the balance points between light reflected and light absorbed

~rainbow mondays~ equanimity

   

     

Baby dahlias are sprouting!

 

Equanimity (n.) – calmness, composure.

Composed of equal parts light and darkness, I perch and hover on this equinox, my compass needle steadying but this orienting is an active state, an attentive tending. The direction I steer toward depends upon the territory I’ve already crossed as much as it does the destination to which I’m headed. And while both inform my bearing, it is neither of them, but the balancing here in the present, that is the point.

         

~rainbow mondays~

a splash of color on monday morning

a photo study documenting the colors of the spectrum: the balance points between light reflected and light absorbed

the portal

I reached the light at the end of the swim tunnel.

I continue to rise at 4:00 to write every day.

The portal is open, the ideas are flowing onto the page, I am diving under each wave and coming up breathless and ready for the next.

 

I have been accepted into the Mountainview low-residency MFA program in Creative Nonfiction.

 

 

This is just one of several amazing doors opened by taking a new step towards actively pursue my writing goals.

 

My mentor reminded us at the end of my first workshop that it’s necessary to write daily, but also to sometimes put down the laptop and go for that hike.

Which is wisdom I already embrace.