Actual Size

Well, I did let a month pass before writing here, but I have a rock-solid excuse: we moved, and I’ve been scurrying around setting everything to rights. Admittedly the last time we moved the computer was warm to the touch practically because I wrote about the whole progress, with big color photographs. Since I’ve started university my efforts are concentrated in that direction, so this space has suffered from neglect. 

Another thing that’s kept me busy has been a fluctuating tide of anxiety. Some days it’s barely there, trapped like a bat in my ribcage, and other days it’s full tide, washing away most of my good thoughts, changing my personality into something dark and jittery. I’ve written about my anxiety in more lyrical and beautiful ways than this before, preferring to cloak it in characters, or prose, or hide it behind haiku. It felt better to turn worry into art. I used to think that was productive. By beating around the bush I was creating something new and beautiful out of something old and raw and terrifying. It was a cop out. By not staring the demon right in the face I continued to feed him. By addressing him by name without throwing flowers at his feet I can make him smaller. Remember that Buffy when Gachnar the fear demon overtook the frat house on Halloween ended up being such a tiny, tiny little demon that the Scooby Gang could was able to taunt it and squash it? I need to start seeing my fears and anxieties as small and squashable in the universe. I need to see them as as insignificant as Gachnar.


What has helped me squash the fear demon? Walks, a bit less coffee, listening to music, traveling to places that make me calm, spending simple, honest time with my family. This new house is calm. It’s house number is a six in feng shui numerology, which means that it has no negative influences that need to be offset. The only negative influence so far, has been me and my monkey-mind. My worries generally revolve around money, the fear that we’ll run out, that we’ll be poor again, that I’ll have to leave school. These are not completely irrational fears, but the way that my mind spins them out of control is anything but rational. 

I’m trying to focus on the bright spots instead of the dark. Here are some of the bright spots from this past week. 

WilmaRudolph Coulter Grove

Xander’s “house” at his new school chose this quote from Wilma Rudolph to be their house quote, and also chose Wilma Rudolph to be the person that embodies their house theme, which is perseverance: 

“I can do anything; no mountain is too high, no trouble is too difficult to overcome.” 

Xander made the “E” in “Trouble.” 


A sunny moment in our new living room. 


Xander hiking yesterday evening along the water that feeds the historic Mingus Mill on the North Carolina side of the Smoky Mountains. We are so lucky to live here, and our new town is so much closer to spots like this. 


An overlook somewhere between North Carolina and Tennessee. This land of Blue Smoke is our home. 


Tell me, what quiets your anxiety? 

both oceans

I am in a coffee shop, a proper one, tucked inside an old house in the historic section of a town that’s near my own. It’s a bit noisy to really dig too deeply, but digging into my own thoughts and imaginings isn’t my goal today. Today I am alone, and am here to conduct research on various online databases. I have gnawing hunger to research life in Elkmont when it was a resort village, before the national park system took over and before the synchronous fireflies were world-famous. There is, of course, a narrative floating around my ears like a butterfly and I don’t want to make the mistake I made during Men in Caves (research during/after, instead of before). I want to feel confident in my knowledge, and let the words and dialogue flow from the real place as much as it flows from my own head. The advantage to this new project is that I still live near to Elkmont. When I started Men in Caves we were a month from moving away from Alaska and the mine. Elkmont can be reached from my house, in less than an hour. I can go there and hike or camp with my family, soaking in the essence of the place.


We have had lots of rain in the past few days, which makes me very happy. I love storms, frightening as they can be sometimes. I love the way the wind blows the trees, carrying in fresh smells and cool air. I love the sound of rain on the roof, and love to watch puddles form in the yard. I love the way that birds sing after, loud and strong and full of praise for the rain.


On the drive here I was thinking about this city lodge in a large Anchorage park, where we took most of the photos for our picture book project. The lodge is quiet and warm, and perched on the top of a large hill that’s used for cross country skiing and sledding in the winter and frisbee golf in the summer. In August, these wonderful fairy tale sort of mushrooms explode from the mossy ground at the foot of the trees, flashing their poisonous colors of orange and red, spotted with white. Moose crash their antlers against the trunks of white birch, full, strong, and dangerous in their rut. The air smells of leaves and decay. When winter hits there is nothing subtle about it; snow falls in clumps and swirls and covers the hill quickly. Once there is enough packed on the ground, children descend on the hill with their sleds, their heads and hands covered in wool and their small bodies wrapped in snowsuits. The bright colors of the wool, fabric, and the gaudy reds and oranges of their plastic sleds, are some days the only colors besides the bright white on the ground and the pale baby blue of the sky above. When they sail down the hill the noise is magnificent, their happy shouts and the whoosh of the sleds makes the cold air crackle and fizz.


I’ve been lucky in my life so far. I’ve dipped my toes into both oceans, and have walked on many mountains. I’ve known the heat and the green of the south and the cold and the white of the north.

She stayed in the creek

(This is part two of this story.)

She stayed in the creek until her toes were coated with silt and her fingertips were wrinkled and grey. Her mouth, still covered in red lipstick, was just at the water’s silver-grey surface, and she blew out little puffs of air to make a motorboat sound. She had grown slightly bored, restless, and cold. Her body had been submerged for long enough that all her previous thoughts of escape were carried away in the creek’s gentle current. Super-saturated, she was ready to exit the cool cocoon of the water and walk home.

She waded to the shore, her cotton nightgown heavy around her middle, and climbed up the muddy bank and up to the damp grass. The fabric of her nightgown bunched and wrinkled around her body in rippling waves, ice-cold and stuck against her breasts and thighs, and she was grateful that her walk home was short.

When she reached the cabin she was shivering and pushed the door open slowly so as not to wake him. The cabin was quiet to her after the noisiness of the forest at night; the rushing creek and the roaring cicadas were replaced with the rustle of the fire and the rhythm of her husband’s soft snores.

She peeled off her wet nightgown and laid it out on the stone hearth to warm and dry beneath the fire, and crawled underneath the down comforter and quilt that her husband was sleeping beneath. His body was warm and hers was still so cold, so she wrapped her arms around his body and buried her face next to his neck. He stirred and rolled over to face her, but in his sleep-drunk state he didn’t ask why her hair was wet or where she had been. He only kissed her deeply, his and his eyes when they opened were glazed over in a dream. They made love quickly, his heat melting the ice of her skin, and she felt small and magical, like a river dryad, a fairy, the Lady of the Lake. Her kisses were filled with a passion she rarely felt in the daytime.

In the morning he rose before her and saw bits of wet leaves on the sheets and the still damp nightgown in a heap on the hearth. He started to shake her shoulder to wake her up, and ask where she had gone in the night or if it had rained. He thought better of it.  The morning sun was streaming through the cabin’s only window, and it bathed her face and brown hair in its butter-yellow light. Let her sleep, he thought, before putting the kettle on the fire for their coffee.