Friday, September 28, 2012

And Some of it Was Perfect

I've added some pictures here. Shadow and I had a ride this afternoon, a short one as these things go, so all three dogs could come along. A family outing, if you will. The last several pictures are from hanging out in the yard after the ride. Dogs and I lounged on the grass at Shadow's feet, and I took pictures of everybody (and then a last trip to the sunset).

It was the perfect last day.

It Wasn’t All Bad

I have enjoyed several parts of my trip out here to Jerome Creek, and I want to be sure to give them their due:

  • ·         my friend MS came out last night and we had a beautiful ride, and an excellent dinner at the Hoo Doo.
  • ·         The ride took us over two trails I’d worked on earlier this trip, where I’d been hanging from trees as I trimmed them. I had ridden the trails bareback on Shadow, and I’d done a good job with the height for that; riding Sikem with a saddle (and the extra 3 or so inches of headroom needed) also worked! No more sharp, pokey dead pine branches in the eyeball!
  • ·         G&N had me over for delectable lamb burgers and Greek salad the night before, and I brought along a peach cobbler that wasn’t so bad, either.
  • ·         Sadie has found a job that I praise her for, much to the disappointment of her sister-dog. A couple days ago I was outside with dogs, talking on the phone with my mom, when I noticed Sadie standing at the door to the sun porch near where I was chatting, grrring and talking—not barking—in an insistent but not eardrum-piercing way. I let her inside and she ran immediately across the kitchen to the back porch, to where Tessa, who had been inadvertently left inside, had dragged the galvanized bucket holding Spackle’s food. The bucket was on its side, and Tessa was just beginning the process of figuring out how to unclamp its lid and enjoy its tasty insides. “Tessa, BAD DOG,” I said. “Sadie, GOOD dog.” The next morning, I forgot to close the cabinet door where Tessa and Sadie’s food is stored. I heard a low-grade grrrring and went onto the back porch, where both dogs were on their beds, but Sadie was very clearly keeping Tessa at bay. I again praised her, “Good dog, Sadie!”, and Tessa gave her a disgusted look as I closed and latched the cupboard. 
  • ·         In the vein of forgetting to close things, the other evening after I’d finished wrapping Snickers and putting the horses to bed, I turned to come back to the house and saw Shadow, out, standing across the road from me. “Shadow!” I exclaimed. “What are you doing? Get back into your pen!” I walked across the driveway to her and she walked briskly by me, nosed open her gate and went back in. I had forgotten to latch her chain, and she wanted to make sure I knew, not unlike this time
  • ·         A really awesome and satisfying hike with the dogs up from Jerome City to Maple Creek Landing, about 2 hours and maybe four miles?
  • ·         Seeing a big bull moose on a drive down the mountain
  • ·         Seeing an elk mama and twins
  • ·         Frogs in a little puddle left from White Trash Creek, the seasonal stream bisecting the front yard.
  • ·         The small plot of commercial pines that I limbed with my favorite birthday present ever, the folding saw that Ian gave me several years ago for hacking my way through the National Forest.
  • ·         The leap forward I’ve taken on my path to personal enlightenment.

Mom is flying to Moscow/Pullman airport tomorrow morning and Spackle and I are going to collect her and she’s going to accompany us on our homeward journey. You can bet we'll have a lot to talk about!

And here are some (very few, alas) pictures. There almost weren’t any, because, ironically, the day that I went to collect my new battery charger from the local PO, I lost my camera. I found it the next day, though, perched on top a “piling” on the “pier” on the pond. Fortunately, for this iteration of photographic tool, I purchased an “adventure proof” Pentax. Even if Tessa had managed to knock it into the water, it would’ve been okay. It’s made to be submerged as well as dropped and kicked!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Let’s Clear the Air

I’m sure many of you more evolved readers recognized, in my histrionic lists of details and melodramatic claims of being the BEST PERSON FOR THIS JOB, the breathtaking arrogance underlying it. I had not, although it has been my practice over the last few years to search within myself for answers to Life’s Questions, and so I knew some learning was on the cusp when this idyll became a hell.

I had already noticed that, at least in some aspects of life, if I’m having a hard time with something the difficulty probably lies somewhere inside me—after all, we can each interpret our environments best only from the internal standpoint. When we humans share communities and families, we also share frameworks and expectations, so when ten thousand pin pricks mar an otherwise perfect picture for me, and I describe those pin pricks, you all can relate, to some extent, to the frustration and disbelief that I’m experiencing.
Pin pricks, however, begin to be comical once they reach the point of caricature—like these ten thousand have. It has really felt to me as though every single thing I’ve done since arriving here has caused or revealed or portended a new problem. Everything.

In addition to the exhausting (if not quite exhaustive) lists I’ve already posted, when I turned out Sikem yesterday noontime, my finger got caught in his halter as I was removing it, and he was behaving like an ass anyway and leapt away, twisting my knuckle and bruising my pointer. “You hurt me,” I cried, with such childlike disbelief and anguish that a part of my brain thought whoa there. Where did that come from? I closed the horses in and sat down, sobbing, on the grass just outside their pen. Spackle knows from long experience that such things will pass, but Tessa and Sadie snuggled in, licking my face and refusing to be pushed aside. This was only somewhat comforting.

Also, yesterday, I decided to fix the indoor environment. It’s been a chilly 65, even with the struggling gas fire (another pin prick was having to learn how to light it, only partly successfully), which is not a temperature I find hospitable. After reviewing, in my mind (another prick—where were the instructions? Why had no one written them down???), the working of the giant wood-burning stove, I lit a fire in it . . . and discovered that it had been not only cleaned, but evidently re-blacked this summer (prick! prick! prick! prick! prick!). Before I asphyxiated inside (it was happening—I could feel it!), I opened a bunch of windows to the then cleaner outside air, also welcoming in the last of the summer’s flies (prick!), turned on several fans, and took the dogs outside while the poisons filtered out. Unfortunately, the fumes had no effect on the flies (an aside about the flies and killing them—I have smashed so many flies that all the other insects in the house I’ve just let be. The spiders, the moths, a strange beetle.)

A called yesterday morning, and I wrote the next couple paragraphs after her call. The rest of yesterday’s post is relatively obsolete and won’t be published, but this helped open me up for some much-needed person understanding:

A. called from central France this morning to check in—the first time they’ve been able to easily access a land line from which to telephone the States. I had thought that their radio silence might have been either of two things—1) they knew that everything would be fine with me, or 2) they suspected things weren’t and wished to continue their trip in peaceful ignorance. Since what’s really going on here is a combination of 1 and 2 (minus, evidently, their suspicions), it hadn’t occurred to me that the real reason for the lack of a call was simply 3) the difficulty of locating an actual telephone. At any rate, A stated, genuinely, that I was free to call Z to come back and take over, or to leave things with G&N and just extricate myself. They did not begrudge me the new pair of work gloves I bought for myself on their account at The Junction when I went in search of heavy horse salt, 30 minutes driving away.
Their flexibility in the care of their place is one of the reasons I am unbegrudgingly, myself, staying here; I know I could leave. But as I stated before, I care too much, and so I’m stapled here by my own moral judgment. And let me tell you, if you haven’t run afoul of my moral judgment yet, lucky you.

Here are the things that I learned about myself yesterday, which finally clarified and coalesced last night, kind of like head cheese if you’re the home butchering sort. If you’re not, you probably don’t want to imagine what that is.

I have a belief that just because I CAN do something, I MUST do it. I’ve recognized this pattern occasionally for several years, but hadn’t realized just how ingrained it was. It first came to my attention when, desperate to have the house clean before guests arrived, although I hadn’t taken the time to do it myself, I had enlisted the help of my mother. She was downstairs, cleaning my toilet, my mother, when I realized that, ability or not, I needed to hire housecleaners. Just because I could clean toilets didn’t mean that I had to, or even that I should (because I obviously wasn’t)—someone needs that money more than I need that work.

Nothing fundamentally different about that out here: I CAN deal with a lame horse, but does that mean I MUST? Yes, but only a conditional yes. I’ve been missing the “conditional” part: Saying yes to something does not always mean that one must follow through to the bitter end—especially when the parameters change unexpectedly or drastically, especially when there are other options available, and especially if the end is looking to be more bitter than it deserves. Not every agreement is a marriage. Contractors charge for change orders.

So, given all that, why was I still here, and why was I still letting myself feel constantly pricked? Then, then I recognized the shadow side. I saw the arrogance, and what it led to, the martyrdom. I was completely blind to the conditional. I had been acting, believing, not only that if I CAN I MUST, but also that what I can do is going to be better than what someone else will be able to do. That’s when I lost my breath for a moment, and felt, suddenly, deeply ashamed. Who am I to say that my ministrations are the ones that are needed? It’s been pretty clear that Snickers is getting better, even though her treatment is a far cry (prick!) from what the vets originally suggested. My torqued finger is fine this morning. The house is pleasantly warm and fresh-smelling; the flies virtually all dead (I’ve become expert with a swatter).

I am not a perfectionist in my own life, for things that I create for me; I am quite happy to leave errors so that Allah won’t be offended. It has been my habit however, when I take something on for someone else, to assume that they expect perfection of me. That the horse must stand calmly and steadily improve in the dictated manner. That I will be able to fix Sadie, who has licked herself raw out of anxiety—months ago and totally unrelated to me—and continues to do so. That I will leave the house sparklingly clean and all ready for the cold season. That I will finish tending to the tree farm. That I will clear important trails. That I will, in short, be better at caring for this place then K&A, who are not only two people, but are the homeowners, the ones who have set up this life to suit themselves. They are just happy to have me fit into it a little, so that they can have a short break. I may have skills that make me suited to be a temporary chatelaine here; but those skills are not unique, or uniquely necessary.

And therein lies revealed the shadows of arrogance and martyrdom. “I AM TRYING SO HARD TO DO EVERYTHING PERFECTLY!” I scream in my head. “WHY IS IT ALL SO DIFFICULT?!?” and, when offered a reprieve, a way out, I declare that “NO, I’m FINE.”  I will stay here—fighting against myself—and continue to beat up myself about it, and ultimately you, even though I desperately don’t want to hurt ANYONE.

Talk about choking environments.

So, here I’ve been, dizzy and ill, stuck in a whirlpool, rudder fouled by my own lines.

I’m not sure the weather out here, uncannily mimicking my internal struggles, has been anything more than an unrelated coincidence—that would be arrogant—but this morning, when I woke, light of heart, the sky was a clear, bright blue, not a cloud in it. You can see for miles.

N.B. I called Z this morning to see if he could take over before Sunday, and he needs to check with his other responsibility to make sure it’s okay with them, and then he’ll get back to me. I am, truly, perfectly comfortable with whatever happens. And Sikem responded well to me today.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Just When I Thought Everything Was Going So Well

Dogs and I—deciding that “Moderate” levels of air uncleanliness would probably be reduced to almost “High-Normal” in the forest primeval, among the whispering pines and the hemlocks, and all their oxygenation powers—had a spectacular two-hour hike this midday. We drove up to where a Forest Service road—I can’t remember which one and am not currently bothering to look it up—splits off from the Jerome Creek road (which is also one, actually, FS 788), hiked up to Jerome City with its roofless, overgrown log hotel (nothing about it says “hotel” expect for K, once, telling about the place), its heaps of gravel, and its incipient creek. Dogs had a brief wallow in the muddy spring, and we headed up hill, on a trail I’ve ridden before, but it’s been awhile and it’s not that easy to get to with unshod horses.

The air was lovely in the woods, and we all swung along through trails and roads, and finally found a road that I’m pretty sure led to a trail that I’ve been trying to connect with for the last few years. It’s a trail that I rode most recently about 7 years ago? Maybe more? And so, if no one else has been on it, it’s probably vanished. I at least, today, identified the old logging road that led to it, though, so there’s some hope of connecting the two later this week. Why? I don’t know. Because it’s there. It’s outside. It’s with dogs. It’s exploration! And I can’t hear the whinnying gimp, anxious for her grazing herd.

I had put Shadow and Sikem out in the yard the last two days because they’d at least be closer to Snick, and I held her on a lead yesterday and the day before and let her graze in their vicinity while her leg iced, but today when I opened the yard-side gates of their pens, Shadow stepped outside, looked around her, and went back in and stood by her other gate. Nope, she was not interested in being in the yard today, even though there is plenty of graze. I had no idea catering to her whim would become such a problem.

Dogs and I played in the pond for 15 minutes after we returned (Tessa’s return wallow at Jerome City, just before getting back into the car [but not into the house], made her look all the more hog-like. She’s a bit of a fatso, but not like some four-square fat labs—she just looks meaty and bacony) and then, STARVING, I came inside and heated up some tomato soup and made a grilled cheese sandwich. Right as I finished preparing lunch, and was sitting down to eat, Sadie started to grrr at something out on the road, and I heard Snickers begin to whinny, and I looked out and saw the silly thing trotting back and forth in her pen, whinnying and snorting and pooping, throwing her head around, completely disregarding the fact that she is in pain and on bed rest.

Snickers wasn’t even just trotting; she was dressage trotting. She looked like she was dancing. I had not experienced such lightness of foot while riding her, and was surprised and alarmed to watch it in a lame horse. I immediately abandoned my lunch and ran outside. Sadie, it turns out, was barking at someone who had parked a truck and stock trailer in the road just outside our driveway. He was collecting up the last of his free-range cattle before hunting season begins in a week, but the strange, slow, agitated movement of cattle and machinery was very alarming to the resident animals.

 Snickers continued to whinny up the hill where the rest of the herd presumably was having a big party that they hadn’t invited her to, glancing wild-eyed at the road, and really angrily calling to her mates. I had never heard just that quality of whinny before, and so I grabbed Snickers’s halter and went into her stall/pen to collect her and try to calm her down; right as I was finishing up with the buckle of her chin strap (after following her around for several moments trying to get her to stand still), she threw her head up and almost knocked herself out on the eave just above, stumbling around very (obviously) close to me and my ill-chosen footwear (wool Haflingers—I wasn’t in flip flops, at least). I decided that unhooking her lead rope—easier than taking the halter back off—and getting myself out—was probably the best bet. I threw her a flake of hay to distract her.

I retreated to the house and called up W, and we decided that, when I bring in the other horses in about 30 minutes now, I’ll take Snickers back down to her outside pen. If she’s trotting, clearly she can make the walk. Also, if she really has done damage to her tendon (although I am tending, after this afternoon’s display, to believe that much of it was histrionics not unlike that displayed by Italian footballers), maybe she’s been getting too high a dose of the pain killer. We decided that I will not administer tonight’s dose of bute, and that, depending on how she looks in the morning, I will turn out all three horses in a little corral along the creek, where it’s unlikely any of them could get up to much of a gallop. I’m debating about the bandages. I think I’d just have to leave them off, since she’d be walking through water.

I verified the bute and transfer with the vet’s assistant (the vet will be back in tomorrow, and I’ll call to update her then), gave Snickers the rest of her afternoon hay in her bag, and came back in to eat my lukewarm lunch. At least the salt I have to carry back down to the pens is the slightly licked, not quite 50-pound one instead of the new one.

Dogs: two thumbs up!

Horses: meh.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Last Gasp: A Rant, and A Coming of Age

It’s not hunting season yet here in Jerome Creek; it’s fire season. The area immediately around me here, with all the logging and National Forest land, seems to be relatively well-managed and we haven’t had too much in the way of local fires (I guess there was a small one, about two miles away, that burned for a week or so, but it was out before I got out here). A. had said to the previous house-watcher, Z., that in case of wildfire, open the gate for the horses, take the dogs, and get out. While that is excellent advice, it doesn’t do anything to protect us from the general air quality, which is listed for the weekend as “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups,” meaning “everyone should limit exertion outdoors” and implying, I suppose, that those such as me, with cancer/pneumonia-scarred lungs, should limit exertion. Full stop.

I suppose, also, that the trail clearing I did for a couple hours yesterday afternoon, frequently sawing with my arm fully extended above my head, and sometimes perched on rotting spars, hanging onto a stronger limb with my non-sawing hand (bathed in sweat under my daypack)—I suppose that counts as “exertion”, and I’ve probably fulfilled my quota for the . . . ever.

By way of comparison, the air quality in Beijing today, as measured by the US Embassy, is listed at 192—which means you’re about to die. Out here, it’s only in the range of 101-150. These numbers are based on some measure of particulate matter as well as, perhaps, the type of particulate matter, but who knows. At any rate, it looks like it would behoove me, as well as my hooved charges, to stay close to home today, and by that I mean inside typing or knitting. Me, that is. The horses can stay out, or penned in, as is the case with Snickers. More about her later.

It’s hard for me to see the sun shining (well, glowing through the haze) and stay inside—being from the Pacific part of the Pacific Northwest means, in general, clean, wet, rainy air—and so no rain means go outside, yes? Yes, for most of the year, although the bowl of the city between two mountain ranges means that, by late August, heavy, filthy air pools over town. Flying in, you watch yourself descending through a dun-yellow layer. The layer was particularly dismaying this fiery September, returning to smoky, smoggy Seattle on the 12th, after a generous week in the crystalline late-summer air of watery Sweden. The rising sun on the 13th was End-of-Days Red. It was a bit of a drag being home—like taking a puff on a cigarette. My skin immediately began to feel dirty, my nose stuffy. As I slowly encrusted with a limn of filth, becoming dun colored myself to match my surroundings, I realized how much a creature of water I really am. Coming out here has not made that observation less acute.

Note: I went outside briefly to tend to Snickers and I wore one of my headscarves over my face. I didn’t bring my oxymeter along with me this trip, but I’m definitely staying inside. It’s bad out there.

I have also discovered that I am an aging creature of water—maybe not quite a 300-year-old sturgeon yet, but definitely not 30 anymore. And so, when Snickers immediately came up lame, my first morning here, I was not thrilled to be given yet another opportunity to show off my rancher’s skills.

In the case of Snickers, she was lame with a stone bruise on her right front hoof for a few weeks (?), up until the day K&A left for their trip (Europe, 11 Sept-4 Oct). She was given sturdy shoes on the morning of the 11th, with pads built in so that the rocky terrain wouldn’t continue to injure her sensitive soles, and then she was turned out with the other horses and went galloping off up the hill—after weeks on stall rest—and K&A left, she went out daily for a week, and on the 19th when I went to let the horses out, Snickers couldn’t put any weight on her right leg at all.


This is where 1) having some knowledge about horses and 2) loving this family and their animals, are MAJOR inconveniences. I let Shadow and Sikem out, and brought Snickers up to the Garagemahal where I found her last recovery stall still recognizable as a sick-bed: there is a deep, soft layer of sawdust in Sikem’s stall and pen, the nearest one to the house. I stumbled upon wraps—evidence of leg-care—on the work bench in the garage. I gave Snickers some hay, then came inside to call W, K&A’s daughter in Seattle, who knows the place in and out and is also comfortable issuing directives about her parents’ animals. We decided to have the vet in.

To sum up: Snickers’s right foot seems to be fine, although with a slightly suspicious swelling in a spot on the coronet (just above the hoof). This could be related to a deeply cystic stone bruise; it could be nothing. Her tendon between the pastern (ankle) and the knee (knee), however, is swollen and sore. To help her heal, she is having both front legs wrapped (note: by me), with big puffy bandages and leg-wrapping material, that I’ve had to tape on because the wraps don’t have Velcro or anything else (I had to go in search of tape). Snickers was not happy to hear the startling sound of duct tape unrolling under her belly the first night. These bandages are essentially support hose.

Twice a day, although for my own peace of mind it’s going to be once a day, she gets a cold-pack for 15-20 minutes, which means unwrapping and wrapping and unwrapping and wrapping her right leg.

(An aside: Tessa just farted a BIG ONE in the kitchen. I feel that that is, truly, the final insult. I can’t go outside; and now I’m about to expire inside as well. Stupid dogs.)

Since Snickers is in a stall, I have to feed her morning and evening, and it’s better to feed her from a bag, which hangs and she doesn’t have to bend down, putting more pressure on her front legs. The bag was difficult to find, but I did find it after about an hour. It also takes me about 5 minutes to feed in a hay bag, instead of 20 seconds to chuck hay over the side of the stall. Today I have to toss down another bale of hay from the loft (I think these are smallish, 75-pound bales, but I haven’t tried to move one yet), which I’m sure is going to freak the horse out. I’m thinking I’ll try and toss it out onto the driveway . . .

The water in the barn is turned off, for some reason, so I had to go search out hoses with which to fill her water tank every day (note: her water is also Spackle’s favorite outside drinking water source.). I had to bring salt up from the outdoor pens (about 45 pounds left in the 50-pound block) which meant I had to go into town and buy more salt for the pens. That was fine, however, because I also had to go into town for the medication that I have to administer 2Xday. I had tried to get the oral injectable version, which is like a big syringe of worming goop that you squirt behind the molars, but the vet was out so I ended up with an orange-flavored powder (the vet: “Orange, yeah. Horses don’t eat oranges, so I’m not sure about that.”) that I have to mix with syrup and grain (so the powder sticks, and so she’ll eat it). This is messy, and the powder is “not to be used on horses meant for human consumption”, which, the way it appeared in two lines on the jar, made me think at first that they were saying “Not to be used on horses; Meant for human consumption.” This was briefly confusing for the internal linguist, but I figured it out. Note to readers: do not ever eat Snickers, horse-version. She’s had a lot of bute.

AND, finally, because she’s now in a stall, I need to scoop poop every day and because she’s much closer to the house with all her poop, the flies have come back. I’ve probably killed at least 60 flies inside in the last 4 days. This starts to get disgusting, after a while.

I’m not sure if I’m done listing ALL THE THINGS I HAVE TO DO, but I’ve gotten very bored with it and so I’m going to stop. I was feeling quite resentful of K&A yesterday, that I was out here doing A LOT of work, when really all I wanted to do was ride, wander, and write—at Shadow’s pace, which has slowed considerably this year, as I’d wished for mine to do as well. But the fact is, K&A are going to be SO GLAD that I was here, and SO SORRY anyway, that I had to deal with all this, and they are wonderful, dear people who have enriched my life in immeasurable ways. So, much as I am tired of the hassle and covered with dirt and smoke, inside and out, and disappointed that this visit isn’t the vacation in paradise that I have come to expect—although, part of my previous definition of paradise INCLUDED being able to solve problems difficult for the standard housesitter, and that definition is clearly changing—even though all of that is true, I am unbegrudging in my care for these animals and this place. I, too, am VERY GLAD that I am the one here right now.

But . . . as Shadow ages, and as K&A age, and as I age . . . my standard of spending weeks here, year after year, is coming to a close. I could see another, shorter trip next June, maybe, when conditions are the perfect blend between wet and dry; and a long weekend in the late fall, maybe for a couple more years . . . but life is moving on for all of us who love it out here.

Two valuable lessons that have come from Jerome Creek: I will happily rent out my pastureland to livestock owners who will be entirely in charge of their livestock. Also, I will buy a grand piano long before I’ll buy a horse. I think Ian will go along with me on these. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Stringing Me Along

The last time I was in Stockholm several parts of my life were unraveling, and all the silky, curly yarn from Gotland sheep was not going to be enough to knit me back together. Ian and I had been traveling for three and a half months in limbo, having sold our cars and rented our house; our tie to Seattle and home was the first loosening thread. Through the summer, throughout Europe, we were continuing the process of procuring visas to move to New Zealand (note: although we refer to this time of our lives as “when we moved to New Zealand,” the process of visa acquisition ultimately ground to a lengthy, bitter, fatal end, and the move never actually happened.).

The first three months of summer 2007 were relatively laid-back as travel goes; three weeks in Greece, a couple in Scotland, and about five in Portugal (including 10 restfully domestic days at a loaner house on the Atlantic coast), punctuated with a glamorous weekend in Ravello, Italy, some stops in London (new friends!), a quick trip to Phoenix, AZ—me—and Oxford, UK—Ian (where we had completely opposite meteorological experiences).

And then we went on to the Baltics. We hadn’t been to the Baltics before, and so we became, for two weeks, true back packers, traveling from Riga to Šiauliai to Kihnu and back, staying no place longer than a night or two, and moving on with, in my case at least, about 70 pounds of gear lugged front and back (I don’t travel lightly for a week; of course I needed an entire household for four months). Not surprisingly, this was exhausting for mid-30-somethings, particularly me, whose health was another of the increasingly errant threads. 

By the time we reached Sweden, we were spent. The language, even though my linguistics graduate-school friend G had created a brilliant workbook for us to help us begin to learn it—or at least say please and thank you and excuse me—seemed as opaque to me as Sanskrit. Some family members met us at Arlanda upon our arrival and we drove north, to Härnosand, where G and his lovely wife A were living at the time. I’ll conclude this multi-paragraph introduction/background by saying that, by the time we all left G&A and reached Stockholm, for the end of our trip, that family tie was unknotting as well.

Jump forward just over five years, and it turns out that Swedish, although still virtually incomprehensible to me in spoken form, is a Germanic language with tons of cognates recognizable (in printed form) to seasoned travelers (one being a dilettante linguist) with backgrounds in English and German. Also, every Swede we talked to spoke easily intelligible English. G&A are now residents (at least part-time) of Södermalm, Stockholm’s hippest neighborhood (it reminds me a lot of Park Slope and environs in Brooklyn), and G gave us an exhaustive (and really tiring, as we were still not quite over our jet lag) tour when we first arrived from Lysekil, and the next day with A home the four of us continued our tour with a 6-hour circuit of much of their island (punctuated with stops for coffee and lunch).

Set free on Monday and Tuesday, Ian and I did our best to shore up the (it would seem already relatively strong) economy of Sweden by hemorrhaging money for clothes of the knitted and work-wear styles, effortlessly traversing the city on clean, frequent buses, shown the way by helpful locals, as G and A went about their respective jobs in Uppsala and Falun (university professors both). It was a tremendous intellectual pleasure to spend time with G (and without the soporific effects of long-term Amelia friendship, which I’d necessarily cut off before international travel).

This last week many of those old threads and a couple new ones—combined with the glow of Stockholm in late summer—knitted back together into an exquisitely detailed, warm, intricate, and stimulating cloak of many colors. Stockholm is one of the most attractive, easily toured cities I’ve ever been to, and spending a few days there helped me weave together my evolving understanding of home, health, and family; just as I stitched in the ends of my latest hat on my return flight. Home is wherever I am. I love Seattle; but I have become a global citizen.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Pictures from Lysekil

We go to Stockholm this morning, back to mass transit and city bustle. Please enjoy pictures of glowing air and shining water here.

Lysekil, Sweden

Contrary to how it appears to be pronounced if you're a native English speaker--an elided, furtively mumbled version of License to Kill--the name of the town is actually pronounced something more like "Lees-uh-sheeul", with the "sheeul" part said deep in the back of the throat. Swedish, as spoken, is definitely a language I have little experience with.

We're here at this resort town--about 1 month post-summer season (and yes, it's 7 Sept)--for Ian to teach another course in AD Model Builder, a stock assessment software that was originally developed (I believe) by one of his PhD advisors, and which he has now taught in Chile and Japan, as well as here. I, of course, given any opportunity to fling myself out into the world beyond Seattle, am here to . . . well . . . be here.

It turns out that Lysekil at this time of year is a perfect place to clear out any sort of gunks, cobwebs, old habits, and thought patterns that have long since lost any value and are just circling tiredly around the same decaying mind-tracks. That's true, at least, if nature can get into your psyche, and let me tell you, it can.

It is starkly bright in the day times here, with a blinding white-gold sun, glinting off sparklingly clean buildings and streets. The streets also sparkle because of the high quartz content of the locally produced paving stones. Walking with Ian and his co-teacher, A, to the Institut every morning is a bit like walking along a path strewn with diamonds. Even with my sunnies on, I'm squinting a lot.

The light may be so dazzling because of the latitude and time of year--58 degrees north, approaching the equinox, whereas Seattle is about 47 degrees (equal with Munich, for some perspective)--but the atmosphere is also shockingly clear. There are not many people up here, and not any industry, and no hint of pollution. The sun stabs right through not only the sunnies and the clothes, but flesh and bone and long-held secrets.

It has also been, except for a delicious few hours yesterday morning, windy. Really windy. Like, blow your knit stocking cap off your head windy. In part, for me, that's because I've decided to let my hair grow back and see what state it's in, and so it's too long to act like Velcro with my hats any more and instead is like fine, slippery threads of silk, but really it's the wind. Once the sun has exposed your innermost fears and shames, the wind races in to scour everything clean.

We're on a peninsula here at the mouth of a fjord opening into a branch of the North Sea. One characteristic of fjords is that they tend to be shallow at the mouth and deep up inside, because the glaciers that formed them, when they finally melted, left all sorts of debris near the sea. What's left of the land after that ice age bulldozing, at least here, are rounded granite hillocks, deeply veined with pink and orange and silvery quartz. An enterprising man in Lysekil's history quarried much of the stone for building in the town; fortunately, his wife recognized the beauty and uniqueness of the area and got him to stop, leaving a nature preserve at the very tip of our peninsula. I spent yesterday morning's calm meandering along the shoreline and up over the tops of these mounds.

The clarity of the water and the abundance of light make it possible to see deep down, to waving grasses and tiny fish. There are hardly any barnacles on the rocks, very few mussels that I've seen, and occasional schools of teeny fish, but the richness of sea life along the rocky shores in the Pacific Northwest is almost completely un-duplicated here. I finally made the connection by the end of my meander yesterday--by some weird aquatic physics, there is no tide to speak of, and so no inter-tidal zone, and the pools of water shining amongst the granite mounds are either from spray (when the wind blows, it blows water), or from the occasional downpours (the third arm of the cleansing atmosphere is torrential rain). We asked someone at the celebratory feast last night if she knew anything about why there were no tides--it's not a lake; it's not the Mediterranean--and she said "I really don't know anything about tides. We don't have tides here; I never thought about it."

Earth is a fascinating place.