After

Is hugging a child

Like riding a bike, sailing

wild down a steep hill

Learning to Drive

The return to normal was jarring.

Kindness and gracious behavior. Missed opportunities for snubs, gentle jokes made at no one’s expense. Papering over treachery so fresh that spilled words were still visible on people’s shirts.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris taught a master class in class today. It was instruction we didn’t know we wanted and hadn’t signed up for, like a Sunday School session on turning the other cheek when we wanted to run down the hall and punch Johnny in the face. But, just like in Sunday School, by the time you finish coloring the picture of Jesus being super-kind to people, you get all mellowed out. In the interest of moving on and coloring in the lines, you forget about Johnny and whatever travesty he committed. And so it was today. The high road had a lot of traffic and everyone was beautifully dressed and smiling.

This will take some getting used to.

I might need a deprogramming camp.

Oh, I am enjoying the reveal, for sure. I’ve known for a long time that Trump had neither the intellect nor the system of beliefs to drive what people were doing to the country in his name. He was yet another Wizard of Oz, a huge flowing social media cloak behind which ideologically-driven lieutenants pursued their own wet dreams. Tax cuts for the wealthy. Muslim ban. Child separation. And the most important, the waving off of an illness that has killed 400,000 Americans. Trump was an instrument, made powerful by people who convinced him otherwise.

I love that Trump is gone, removed from Washington D.C. via Air Force One early this morning, banished from Twitter, unable to get the adoration that he’s used to, but it bothers me mightily that he is sitting under a palm tree in the Florida evening, having a waiter bring him yet another Diet Coke. A big part of me wants him to be cast out on the side of the Florida Turnpike so he has to walk to the oasis and beg fries from someone leaving the McDonald’s counter.

I have bitterness in my heart.

I want there to be an accounting for the damage done. I want an admission. I want an apology. It feels like I can’t really start coloring the picture of Jesus being super-kind to people until that happens. I want to aim for the high road but it’s very foggy out there and my headlights are dim. It’s going to take some time.

Good Things That Could Happen Because of Trump

This is what I thought at the beginning of Trump’s horrible presidency and I turned out to be right. This nightmare has made us smarter, stronger, better organized, and more determined. Still mountains of work to do. Tomorrow we fuel up and get going.

Red's Wrap

I’ve been overwhelmed with the catastrophe that is Donald Trump. The past month has been an elaborate and never-ending progression of fun house mirrors. Every day, there’s some more grotesque consequence, new ways that civil rights, sensibilities, and American traditions are stretched and distorted beyond recognition. What was never okay is now somehow okay. The adjustment is warping.

I work on finding the bright side.

The bright side. So naive. So foolish. But so necessary if we want to live the next four years without weeping constantly with our heads in our hands. What good could happen because of Trump?

Consciousness-raising: This was a thing in the sixties and seventies but it hasn’t been a thing since then.  Political circumstances have allowed us to deal in nuances, tiny cuts that hurt no one, rather than in slashes, which could make many people bleed. Over the past few decades, we could…

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Fish Tales

Red's Wrap

My husband is cooking a red snapper for dinner. With the head on. Because that’s how sophisticated people cook red snapper. So later at our dinner table, there will be the whole fish lying on its side, its one visible eye unfocused and baked. And then we will dig in, taking whole chunks from the fish’s side while the eye remains, starched open until we strip the fish of everything it has down to its many bones. And then we will throw the fish carcass out, eye and all.

In Nicaragua, years ago, a whole red snapper was served to me by a waiter in a roadside restaurant that had only the fish and one or two other things on the menu, it being a time of great scarcity in the country after the Sandinistas took power and before prosperity came. I had my newly adopted toddler, Joe, on my…

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A Winter Story: The Whole Story

She was an idiot for coming. Carol knew that much. The snow, the drifts, the ferocious wind coming off Lake Superior, combined they could kill. She knew that after twenty-five years owning a place on the lake, but she decided she didn’t care. After Jerry died, it was the only place she could be.

The last forty-two miles of the trip, from US 2 to Grand Marais, took almost three hours of driving in a single lane, headlights steady on the clouded-over tracks of the cars that had passed before, clear in one place, blown over in another. Snowmobiles, their riders’ headlamps glowing in the snowy dark, passed on either side, jumbling what was left or right, on the road or off. She couldn’t see what was in front of her or behind, a snowplow could be bearing down on her and she would have no way of knowing. Every time she swerved to avoid drifts or tapped the brakes to keep from spinning out, she reached over to the passenger seat to steady Jerry’s urn. The driving was terrifying, but she knew from experience that it was best to keep moving even if she couldn’t see. She would just have to guess where the road was.

When she turned down the hill to their place, she prayed that the driveway would be plowed and hadn’t already drifted over. But it was always drifted over when they came in winter. Why would it be different now? It could be plowed an hour ago and the wind would make new mountains of snow, deep enough that 4-wheel drive was meaningless. She stopped and shone a flashlight up the driveway. Impassable. She’d have to leave the truck and hike through the snow.

It was slow going. The snow came sideways in sheets, collecting on the ruff of her parka and hanging like a curtain over her face. Climbing through the drifts made her breathless and scared. She’d never done this alone, been in the wild like this without Jerry. He would’ve been leading the way and looking back to make sure she was alright. She looked up from the blizzard every few steps, using the flashlight to check her bearings. Aim for the door, she told herself. Just aim for the door.

It had been months since they’d been at their place. Last time was in October when they closed for the winter, stowing everything away, cleaning the place inside and out. They liked coming back in the spring to a place that was in shipshape condition. Jerry would not like her coming back in deep winter, too risky, he’d say. Too many things that could go wrong.

She dug in her pocket for the keys. It was crazy but she’d hardly ever even unlocked the door. Jerry did that. He’d get the door open and turn on the light and then she’d get out of the truck like she was royalty waiting for the trumpets to blow. She knew the backdoor lock would stick but she remembered how he said you had to lift the handle while you were turning the key, so she did that. But it didn’t work. She tried again, jiggled the door, and gave it a hard push with her shoulder. Her face curled into a scream, “Where the hell are you, Jerry?”

The lock popped. She flipped on the outside light and the light in the utility room, turned on the water, and fired up the water heater. Then she went upstairs, switching on lights as she went. She was back. At their place. And in a while, it would be warm in the house and she could go to sleep in the four-poster bed upstairs and just be done with all her heartbreak and yearning for just a while. She was right to come. Home was home but up here, on Lake Superior, this was their heart home.

The house, warm and lit, was the haven she thought it would be. Even though it was night, the world felt lighter, safer. This living room, this kitchen, this place where they played music on the old CD player and watched ships with their stem to stern lights aglow passing by miles out on Lake Superior, this was their beloved place. She went to the kitchen for a glass of water and to look out at the neighbor’s house a quarter mile down the beach which she knew would be dark but stopped when she saw dishes in the sink. A bowl and a spoon, the markings of tomato soup on both, still damp enough to be wiped off by a fingertip.

Carol froze. Someone had been in the house while they were gone. Recently. She spun around and opened the refrigerator. There was a Styrofoam take-out box and a half-drunk Mountain Dew on the second shelf. She and Jerry had emptied out the fridge and wiped it down last fall. They’d pulled it away from the wall, unplugged it, and left the door open. That was the fall ritual – part of closing the house down. But the refrigerator was pushed back against the wall and plugged in. Her eye caught the stove, a saucepan with a wooden spoon. The tomato soup.

Jesus, she whispered. Who’s been here? How did they get in?

What if they’re still here? What if they’re here right now?

Carol closed the refrigerator door, creeping silently backwards with her hands held up in front of her chest like the appliance itself had become radioactive. Her eyes widened to take in every corner of the room. She felt for the lip of the drawer behind her. It was the drawer with all the kitchen utensils, spatulas, and wire whisks. She knew there was a hammer there. Jerry kept a hammer in the kitchen drawer so he wouldn’t have to go out to his truck’s tool chest every time a nail needed pounding.

With the hammer in her hand, she stood thinking. Her breathing came in jerks, her head and then her shoulders started to shake as if she was standing jacketless in a winter gale. Get control of yourself. Breathe quiet. She took shallow, silent breaths. She thought about calling the police but there were no police nearby. The Sheriff was in a town an hour away. She should just leave. Get to the truck and drive into town. Go to the gas station and call the Sheriff. Yes, that’s a good plan. She inched toward the stairs. Her foot on the top stair, she heard someone speaking.

“Who’s there?” It was a woman’s voice. No, it was a girl’s, softly whiny like a teenager not wanting to get up for school. And it was coming from Carol’s daughter’s old bedroom, just a few yards away. Carrying the hammer like a hatchet, Carol nudged the bedroom door open with her other hand. The girl sat up in bed and yelped, “Who are you?”

“I’m the owner of this house! Who are you?”

Only the girl’s face was visible. She was wearing a parka with the hood pulled tight and tied under her chin and was lying under a dozen blankets and sleeping bags. Carol remembered the blankets as having been in different rooms in the house, the girl must have collected them all to sleep under. A house on Lake Superior in deep winter – there was almost no way to stay warm.

“I’m Destiny. I’ve been staying here awhile, well, actually, since Christmas.  The door was unlocked so I didn’t think anybody would care. Are you mad?” The wide-eyed nature of her question was dumbfounding to Carol.

“Yes! I’m mad. You have to go right now. Get up, let’s go.” Carol moved toward the bed, she noticed a heap of clothes on the floor next to a backpack overflowing with t-shirts and underwear.

“It’s dark out! And it’s really cold. I’ll go in the morning. Okay?” Her whiny teenager voice came back with pleading. Destiny burrowed under all the blankets.

“No! Don’t hide. You’re getting up and getting your gear and getting out of here this minute if I have to drag you to the door.” That’s what Jerry would have done; she knew it. He wouldn’t have had even this much conversation. With that, Carol grabbed Destiny’s arm and pulled her off the bed. She was already dressed – jeans, hoodie, parka – she just needed to put on her boots. “Here,” Carol yelled, “put on your damn boots,” tossing the pair she spied near the door. “And hurry up.” Destiny wrestled away, backing into the corner. “No, I’ll go tomorrow. I promise.”

It wasn’t hard to drag Destiny down the stairs. She couldn’t have weighed more than 90 pounds and she barely struggled. She had all the resistance of a student being taken by the ear to the principal’s office, protesting but coming along, making that noise kids make when they know they have no choice.

Carol opened the back door. “The wind’s died down. It’s not that bad out. It’s just a mile to town. Go to the gas station. It’s open all night. Tell them your troubles.” Destiny looked at her like a child in a poster for orphans in a faraway land. “Go!” And with that, Carol shoved Destiny out the door, slammed it shut, pulled up the door handle as hard as she could, and twisted the lock. She pulled the curtains shut to keep out the draft. She couldn’t believe she’d just physically thrown somebody out of her house. It was unreal. Like a lot of things.

The night was long. She found the unlocked door that Destiny had used to get in and gave it the same strong-arm treatment to get the lock to set. And then she went to the loft to bed. It would be impossible to sleep. Why the hell had Jerry left the door unlocked? She ruminated on this for hours, remembering every time he’d been in too much of a hurry, forgotten to close a window, left the stove on, she compiled lists in her head and then went over them, adding new mistakes, new faults. God damn Jerry left the God damn door open so some God damn stranger could come in and live in our God damn house. God damn Jerry.

Carol woke early, having barely slept. From the loft’s window, she could see the sunrise’s light just beginning to spread over the pines lining their driveway. It hadn’t snowed anymore, for that she was glad. There was no coffee in the house or cream. So, she would have to go to town. Maybe get donuts. A donut and a cup of coffee would be good to have. She pulled on her jeans and a heavy turtleneck, laced up her boots, and found her parka and gloves. With her keys in her hand, she flung open the curtains across the back door. There was Destiny, curled in a ball, leaning against the glass. Jesus. Is she alive? Did she freeze to death? What was I thinking pushing her out into the snow. The winter. Jesus. Up here. I’ve lost my mind.

“For Christ’s sake, what are you doing here?”

Destiny raised her head from her crossed arms. She was as folded in on herself, as tightly gathered as a human being could be. A light dusting of morning snow clung to her mittens and the ruff on the hood of her parka.

“I was afraid to go to the gas station.”

“You were afraid to go to the gas station, but you weren’t afraid to sit outside next to the door all night? That’s crazy.”

Destiny unfolded herself and stood up. She stood shivering. Carol was almost certain she could hear her teeth chattering.

“Jesus. It’s a miracle you’re not frozen to death. Come in the house.”

Carol slow-walked Destiny into the house and up the stairs, the girl shuffling stiff-legged as if she might have been partly frozen. With each step, Carol bit her upper lip a bit harder. What a mess. This crazy girl. Jerry in his stupid urn on the kitchen counter. No coffee.

Carol gently pushed Destiny on to the couch and went to fetch the blankets from the bed where the girl had been holed up the night before. She flicked up the thermostat several degrees. Then she filled the kettle, put it on the stove, and got the box of teabags out of the cupboard. Country Peach Passion. It was no substitute for coffee, but it would be hot, that would have to be good enough.

“What’s in the vase?”

“You mean the urn? That’s my husband. His ashes. I came up here to scatter his ashes on the beach. It was his favorite place.” Carol turned her to look out the window. It wouldn’t do for her to be tearing up in front of her little house guest.

“What happened? How come he’s dead?”

Carol poured hot water into two mugs, each with a peach teabag. She carried both mugs over to the couch and handed one to Destiny.

“It’s a long story. He got sick and then he died. There’s a lot more to it, but that’s pretty much it. The bigger question is why are you in my house?”

“I was in a foster home and I had to leave because I turned 18. So, I just started walking. I figured there would be some abandoned cabins or something up here. I don’t know. It’s just where I ended up.”

“Nobody helped you figure out where to go? Don’t the foster care people have to do that? Prepare you? I guess not. One more thing that’s crazy.”

They sat in silence, drinking their tea, staring out the window at Lake Superior. Soon, Carol could hear Destiny’s tiny breathing and knew she was asleep, ensconced in her blankets, both hands wrapped around the mug of tea. Carol lifted the mug from her hands and pulled a blanket up to Destiny’s chin. Tucking her in. I’m tucking in someone who broke into my house.

The scratching sound snapped Carol out of her own nap. She hadn’t realized how tired she was, how exhausted from the driving and the discovery and the near-miss with a kid parked at her back door in the dead of winter. Was it a dog or a bear? What on earth would be scratching at her door? Feeling like a battle-worn handler of unpleasant surprises, Carol headed for the stairs. She would deal with whatever it was. It was a first, feeling emboldened, but she like it. Liked thinking she could handle whatever it was.

She tripped, catching her right foot in the strap from the satchel she’d left on the floor the night before. Her arms reached out for the banister, but she couldn’t grab hold, her body cascading down the stairs as if the stairway itself was encased in ice. There was no purchase anywhere, just sliding and colliding until she reached the bottom and hit the wall.

The pain shot right through her. Her back, her head. Her ankle. She wondered if it was broken.

“Destiny!”

It took a long time to hop up the stairs on one foot even with one arm around Destiny’s shoulders. It hurt to hop, everything hurt.

“There’s no hurry. We’ll go stair by stair. I’m not going anywhere.” Destiny kept her eye on Carol’s hopping foot, wanting to make sure that she was positioned right to take the next step. Carol could smell the many nights of sleep on Destiny. The girl needed a hot shower, a good scrubbing, and some of that great green apple shampoo.

Now it was Destiny’s turn to make the tea.

“I can’t believe I did this. I came up here to scatter Jerry’s ashes. This is nuts. My ankle. You being here. Now, what do I do?” Carol had settled into the old blue chair, the one she’d always sat in when Jerry was alive, opposite him in his chair, always reading old issues of the New York Times.

“I’ll help you with the ashes. We can tape up your ankle and then do the ashes. It’ll be okay. Are there words or something that we’re supposed to say? I can do that. We got up the stairs okay.” Destiny sat with her hands folded in her lap, quiet but on the edge of her seat.

They waited until the next morning to scatter the ashes. The snow and wind had picked up again, so they stood on the deck instead of braving the beach itself. It was quiet. No words said out loud. Only words that Carol said to herself and maybe words that Destiny said, it didn’t matter. Jerry would be glad to be back home, no matter.

From the deck, Carol could see the nearly snow-covered tracks in the snow from the night before. A dog, a large dog, maybe a wolf. It had come looking, searching for something, and then left, the tracks fading off into the stand of trees to the far side of the house.

“I’ll go now.” Destiny was bundled up, her backpack cinched and ready to be hoisted on her shoulders. “I’m sorry I broke into your house. Well, I didn’t really break in. But you know.”

“No. Don’t go. Stay here. You be the caretaker – I’ll pay you a little bit. You can be in charge of keeping the wolves away.” Carol smiled, surprised at the offer she was making. “When I come back, we’ll figure things out. How does that sound?”

Destiny looked down at her boots and then, for long minutes, stared out the front window where snow was now falling like confetti. Then, seeming to be done with her deliberation, she spoke, so softly Carol could barely hear her, “It sounds okay. I’ll be the caretaker. I promise to always lock the door.”

Gifted

Red's Wrap

I had resolved to be spare, to be modest in my wants, to be basic in a place of indulgence. But one thing I wanted with all my heart on this odd cruise to Cozumel with an old friend was to swim in the Gulf of Mexico.

I wanted to swim a long breaststroke along the shore and watch people walking on the beach, stooping now and then to pick up a shell or a horseshoe crab.  In my mind’s eye, I saw myself swimming far, further than the beachcombers walked. I dreamt about being in the blue, a long wide ribbon of blue where only my strokes would break the stillness of the water’s seamlessness.

But when our tour bus rolled up to the beach in Cozumel, the surf was wild with big waves crashing on rocks. Oh, there were people on the beach but they weren’t swimming, they…

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Last Friday of Madness Friday Round-Up

My husband got dressed up today in jeans and his top of the line hoodie because he had an important meeting. He even wore a belt. The meeting was in-person, though outside, hence the formal wear. Otherwise, nothing would have extracted him from his rotating wardrobe of insulated sweatpants. Between us, we could do a commercial for adult Garanimals.

Amidst the neglect and caprice that characterize plant care around here, my orchid is blooming. People I know have things blooming in their houses all the time; their plants are lush and green and creating oxygen that makes their families super healthy and stops aging in its tracks. My plants often need dusting. But not this lovely little orchid. It’s my pandemic posey!

I think Nancy Pelosi is the toughest customer in America. People can take potshots at her age, criticize her for not being progressive enough, yearn to turn the page to younger leadership, that’s all fine. But while you all are complaining about her, she’s getting the Electoral College votes certified, having her life threatened, sorting out whether members of Congress were in on the invasion, and impeaching the president. In heels.

We thought for a while this morning that getting vaccinated would happen sooner than later. And the impact of this, psychologically, was amazing. Plans. Making plans. Going to a baseball game in the summer, maybe spring training. And then, nope. Those doses we said we had, we don’t got. Such is the message from the Trump Administration – an extraordinary, ne’er to be repeated, impossible to replicate fumbling pool of incompetence. You know, there used to be Republicans that could make the damn trains run on time. But, no more.

We asked the vet why Swirl eats wood chips at the dog park and she said, well, he lived outside for a long time (having been a sled dog for 8 years) and it doesn’t seem to bother him. She doesn’t see him scratching through ice to get a tiny chunk of bark as if it is bacon soaked in beef gravy. Sometimes, he just sidles up to a tree and gnaws on a branch. It’s Swirl’s buffet line. But if she doesn’t care, we don’t care. At home, he still goes for the occasional towel. Orange. I bought a dozen.

Howard’s Pet Rabbit

Meet Howard’s pet rabbit, Milton.

I would say that Milton lives in the bushes on the side of our house but he doesn’t so much live there as sit there. He sits, perfectly still, alert, watching us but not blinking when we pass by with our two dogs. The dogs don’t bother with him, so Milton’s belief that he is completely camouflaged is reinforced.

Milton is always at his post. Except when he isn’t, a rare enough occurrence that, when he is gone, we worry. When it snowed very hard, he left, which made sense because his cozy sit space had a half a foot of snow on it. We wondered where he’d gone since he left no tracks and decided that he’d left for good. We talked about building him a wee shelter but it seemed ridiculous. Especially if Milton had already found better quarters.

Missing him and maybe hoping that decorating his space might encourage Milton to return, Howard put a tiny painting of Milton’s lookalike on the edge of the porch overlooking his sit space. And then, magically, as if better decor was all he needed, Milton returned. We pretended we didn’t see him.

Biting Commentary

In the Outlander book (#4) I am reading or the episode of the Outlander series I just watched, not sure which, but finding both perfect antidotes to pandemic hopelessness, Claire directs everyone to find maggots to chew away the diseased parts of Jamie’s terribly injured and infected leg. The imagery of this really hits home with me.

I need a load of maggots to chew away four years of rage about Donald Trump. I’d start with our stockbroker who sent me a racist Obama meme on Facebook Messenger late one night and then suggested my portfolio would improve with Donald Trump. And then I’d send a couple of maggots to chew on the insufferable Bernie Bros who cluttered up my social media feed with their insane, single-minded devotion. And at least a good healthy handful of angry worms would be devoted to the “Hillary was a terrible candidate, she wasn’t likable, and (my very favorite) she didn’t come to Wisconsin!” post-election cabal. The people who, after the election, jokingly claimed that they wrote in “Donald Duck” for President, well, they were immediately dead to me and nothing they have done since or could ever do will result in their resurrection.

The day Donald Trump was inaugurated, we were in California visiting our daughter and her husband. During the actual time of the inauguration we went to a movie – Moonlight – at an old theater in a cute San Diego neighborhood. We wanted to be nowhere where we would have to witness the installation of Donald Trump as president in real time. After the movie, which was gripping and strange and, yes, depressing, I was relieved and glad to push open the doors to outside.

It was raining. Not a hard rain which would have made the weather emblematic and memorable. It was a soft rain, more of a dew than precipitation. Ahead of us, my daughter and her husband held hands and twirled their unfurled umbrellas like a segment from Singin’ in the Rain. They looked carefree, strolling ahead of us, and the look of them gave me hope for the future. We would all get through this, I thought. How bad could he be?

It is terrible to think of horrible, inflamed, oozing leg wounds when reflecting on one’s country or to land on a bucket of maggots as the perfect metaphor for what needs to happen. But it’s where I am on this day, January 13, 2021, the day Donald J. Trump was impeached for the second time.

Tonight in Nome

“I wanted us to belong to the same nation.”

Red's Wrap

“I don’t feel part of the United States.”

She said this after leading our small study group in a two hour lesson in how to introduce ourselves. She is Yup’ik. She was raised by her grandparents until she was 12, moved to five different camps corresponding to different seasons – three different fish camps, squirrel and greens gathering camp, and moose camp. Then her grandparents died and her family “disintegrated into alcoholism.” They lost their boat and engine, their camps fell into disrepair; she lived in foster care for a while, married twice but neither marriage worked out, and yes, she would go back to moving from camp to camp if she could afford it and could find a good man who could hunt.

I know all these things because she told us in her introduction. She told us that a good Native introduction offers something for the other person…

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