When I launched the kayak from the shoreline onto Silver Bay, just outside Sitka, Alaska, I met an elderly Indian hobbling about the beach with forearm crutches making him a four legged.  He said he was checking to see if the bears were still around. He said a sow and her cubs were seen earlier in the week and he wanted to make sure they were gone before he brought the children out to fish.

To watch the Indian get around was in a way like watching the bear itself amble about.  He had a lot of weight to carry, but he moved with a natural ease that knew the setting, policing the grounds, thinking of the children to protect.  

It was later after paddling down the bay about five miles that I actually got to see a grizzly.  A blondie sow in the June estuary grass, too preoccupied to notice me, eating, roots and all. These blades of grass lush and oozing on long days of a sun that barely sets. Blondness and Greeness.  Everything about this creature took in and shined back the height of summer.

Once on the trail the scat of this Solstice reaper loomed large.  So fresh that none of the vernal green’s luminescence seemed lost to the convolutions of digestion.  Heaps so large that my Iowa farm boy reference would have said a Belgian work horse had just plodded through.  Then looking across the creek to where the bear ate, it finally decided to pay me some mind, interrupting its feeding to rare up on its hind quarters to size me up.  It eventually turned and dissolved into the cover of the woods, but for a moment I beheld the mighty spark that only a vast span of wilderness can kindle.

I’m not sure whether a trip that starts with a four legged old Indian at the launch is in real time or dream time.  And was the Indian looking out for bear to keep his grandchildren safe the same as the bear who turned when she saw me to protect her cubs in the woods.  Gladly finding them, more or less, where she told them to stay. Her behemoth blondeness tipping over at their insistence to give them her green engorgedness, nipples geysering the afterglow of her graze before they can even begin to suck.  

And the old Indian, finding no bear,  returns home with a jug of milk for breakfast cereal announcing, “We will fish tomorrow!”

Splish Splash

From South Carolina Flood Recovery 2016

The preacher in charge of the disaster recovery inspected yet another flood damaged trailer home, he  squeezed his way around piles of stuff with a clip board refraining from stating the obvious, “How can you live in a place like this?!?” Finally he offered the home owner, “Well we could surely get you a new tub and shower.” “Ah no sir…My wife LIKES that bath tub.”  It was a round horse water tank made out of a brown recycled plastic by Rubbermaid. He’d picked it up at the local farm supply.  It was plenty big enough for the both of them. Like a big hot tub you might find in a honeymoon suite. After the flood ravaged their trailer, David had so many leaks, so many outbreaks of black mold creeping across panels, floors and sodden ceilings, and with no insurance money to deal with the “deferred maintenance,” he began his recovery by tearing out the tub and shower unit and rolling the horse tank through the gauntlet of piles and drilling holes and installing the faucet unit in its side.

When the preacher had pulled in the drive and offered a hand shake David averted eye contact.  David’s face was disfigured with scars that gave his visage a pinched look. He walked us around the trailer with a can of Mountain Dew in his hand talking about how the storm just kept pelting the trailer with rain, emphasizing how much rain they got and how as a farmer he had a total loss of his cotton crop because the fields were still too wet  four months after the flood to ever get in the fields. “They covered me for the seed and chemicals, but nothing else. My wife and I were trying to save up some money so we could have a baby, but now were so far in debt….” “She’s working at a day care” As we made another pass around the trailer it became obvious that he was trying to avoid having to show us the inside of the trailer. Then he said, “I can show you inside , but it aint who we really are.”

On the wall was a yellowed local newspaper clipping in a frame, titled “Local Farmer Tries his Hand as Fantasy Writer.” As the preacher followed David to the end of the trailer, they stooped in the Master Bedroom. The preacher broke the awkward silence by saying,  “I see you’ve got a trach hole” The back story to come made up for the previous verbal reluctance and shifting from foot to foot, “ Yes sir, when I was in high school I was driving to school and swerved to miss a deer. I went through the windshield and was 35 days in a coma.”  “Funny thing I remember everything about seeing the deer, the car going out of control and me laying there in the field with my blood on the cotton, and seeing the tail of the deer bobbing up and down in the blue sky as it ran away. Now you’re not going to believe me when I say this, but it was the most peaceful time of my life.  I mean it’s when I met God and felt his hand on me. There’s no other way to explain it. That peaceful feeling is something I’ve been trying ever since to get back.” David circled his hand around his face and the pointed, “I mean they did all these surgeries and gave me this eye, but I can’t go through a day without finding myself day dreaming about the peace I felt that morning.”   

And the preacher was nodding the whole time, “I might know what you mean.  I felt that peace too, when I was shot in Vietnam. It was like time stopped and I just knew that I was with God and that’s where I wanted to be the rest of my life, so I told him I’d give my life to Him right there. I wasn’t sure if that meant living or dying. And just as I thought that, some more bullets flew in front of me and as I laid there I thought I was surely dead now, but they were all stopped by my helmet that had flewn off before and had landed in the dirt just ahead of me.  So I knew that the answer was that I was going to keep living so that’s why I’m a preacher today.”

Cotton balls rotting in the field, hopes for children postponed maybe forever if the birth control works, three FEMA rejections and you’re out, the wife worn down all the time from the daycare job and just depressed, the old tub/shower sitting outside filling with more rain and empty Dew cans, the bank threatening foreclosure… But they got their own well and can fill that tub up with hot water and at the end of the day,  David and his wife can scrub and soak and giggle and sigh with that peace flirting out there just on the periphery like the mockingbird that comes to sing every morning.


Transiency of Life

1/4/18  I was struck by this arrangement when I was working in Ms Sybil’s house with volunteers in Jacksonville.  An altar to brokenness: trying to hold on to some semblance of family and order amidst a flooded home.  These are family photos she’s trying to dry out presided over by a one winged angel, a fine shy gentleman waiting in the corner for a dance at the debutant, a black cat and of course Jesus.  

Trying to be part of the force of Love here in the mold and cold!



If It Hadn't Been For Love

I’ve reached my Zenith. I’m living in a van down by the river.   Actually it’s a bus and I’m making like a troll and living under a bridge by the swamp in Louisiana. The swamp down here makes no pretensions about it’s Zenith. This is unabashedly the low point where the river muck from far North tendrils its way South bogging in a mire.

I have answered a call to come to the swamp to know the slog that broods and hatches. To know truth in this swirling world of untruth and carelessness.  I want to feel my feet sink into what may well be a speck of the silt that I once pulled weeds from as a kid in the fields of Iowa tall corn country. I want to live in the swamp to get to the bottom of it, to know after the floods have raged and the mighty waters have circulated through heartland and pushed out to the ocean what’s left?

I was trying to clean the fryer grease off an old commercial grade cook stove that a Trump Supporter/NRA member had gifted me to support my project of housing and feeding cypress tree planting volunteers. I had just hopped in the driver’s seat on the bus to get the phone when the answer flew down, end over end through the morning blue, off the top of the bridge.  It was a Jack Daniels bottle shattering on the stove where I had just been working.

The phone call was my buddy Jim calling to hatch a plan to fix a clogged toilet in my house up North that I was renting out.  Jim had gotten a call from the tenant. It was a sub zero morning and he had ventured out. As he was going on about how it was so cold that the stink pipe might have iced shut causing the toilet not to draft, hence the clog, “Maybe we could throw some rock salt down the…” I interrupted him sheepishly  with, “Ah Jim... I think you just saved my life?!? I mean did you get any background noise of glass shattering?”

Out of the humid humility of the swamp there emerged once again the truth that I knew and could have known anywhere, but needed a bottle of Jack to distill it down for me: Live life like everything matters. Everything is related.   We hang in this delicate mystical balance that leads from one far fetched impossibility to the next. The chain of events that holds us up to walk this Earth is ever tenuous and infused with an awful grace that one moment can be lauded and the next leaves us despaired and wailing. And not like I couldn’t wail on ad nauseum about the inner despair.  

But on this occasion I have the privilege to marvel. And marvel I shall. How I go, but for the   If Jim hadn’t called when he did to muse about a solution. If the toilet hadn’t clogged. If there hadn’t been that brutal cold spell.  If the tenants hadn’t ate a Pizza Hut low fiber diet that produced torqued turds that were bound to log jam any toilet. If I hadn’t been raised an Iowa hog farmer.  If Jim and I hadn’t bonded a friendship from helping me chase escaped hogs through 7 foot burdock “trees” under a full harvest moon. If that bond wasn’t so strong that thirteen years later he’d leave his home fire on a thirty below morning to help me far away taking in Louisiana sunshine.  If the Mississippi watershed hadn’t pulled that fertile Iowa top soil down to this swamp. If I didn’t feel displaced and searching for my home in this messed up country.

Of course these chains are like the double helixes that contain our essence and they’re everywhere, billions and guzillions, and we can only begin to unravel them. I mean there’s probably one with Drew and a Jim Beam bottle too.   At some point you just have to say, If It Hadn’t Been For Love!