Fire and Fog

[In full disclosure, this post was written over a couple of days, with intermittent and international wi-fi coverage...and by now it barely makes sense to publish it at all. And yet, here I am doing it anyway.]

Thursday morning

I was going to share a photo on Instagram this morning, but found I had more to say than the little caption box is designed to hold.  Instagram is not really my preferred format anyway, as evidenced by my pitiful collection of photos. Given the choice, I will choose the 1000 words over the substitute. Every time.

We just passed the 45th parallel, exactly halfway between the equator and the North Pole, and I am carsick.  Out of practice, I suppose. 

The green hills and bouncy clouds of Oregon look exactly as we left them nearly four years ago.  Keeping vigil until our return.  The grasses are slowly turning into pines the closer we get to the Pacific.   No wonder Lewis and Clark kept going. Every mile is more beautiful than the last.  Of course these hills will be shaved bare again before we see the tides.  I love the dressing and undressing of rolling hills.  These road trip stripteases never get old.

Friday

Early last evening we made it to the northern end of Washington, Oregon's dark, foreboding cousin. The greens are deeper, more menacing, and capable of swallowing you whole if you step too far off the road.  It was a shock to step out of the car into the damp and the chill and David and I were forced to climb up and untie the car-top carrier to find jeans and socks and close-toed shoes.  (Though on the morning news they were talking about the heat wave and I couldn't stop laughing.)

We woke this morning to somebody blowing the fog horn over and over, long and low, and the gulls calling.  It already feels like we're in a foreign country even though we haven't yet crossed the watery border a mile or so into the Pacific.  We are headed north.  As far north as we can get.  When your backyard is as hot as the surface of the sun, the only thing to do is head north.  And as Caleb reminded me in southern Idaho, the earth turns slower the closer we get to the pole.  Just what I had in mind.  More time together, more savoring, elongate each gorgeous, precious moment, roll around in it.   I am determined to make the sun stand still.

I feel like I ought to say something about my long absence from blogging, rather than dumping you directly into our vacation.  My life seems pretty magical when the posts go from holiday to holiday, eh?  (Look, I'm already speaking Canadian!)  But now there is too much--too much to say, too much to remember--and the last few months have been like a wildfire, burning out large swaths of my memory and leaving only a few stubby highlights among the smoldering, smoking ruins.

There was school and work and church and lessons and school musicals and finals and an endless lineup of orchestra concerts. Though to say it in one sentence like that does nothing to convey the heat and terror of the firefight.  I also happened to throw an Indian-themed wedding for my youngest sister.  I didn't sleep during the entire month of May.  Mostly from searing and unrelenting fear.  My own mind can be a fearsome thing at three in the morning.  You will be surprised to learn that this made me mildly difficult to live with.  Despite my worries (and David's collateral suffering) it turned out lovely.  People who happened by slowed down and got out of their cars to crane their necks at all that love and beauty. 

And then finally, blessedly, the fire was out.  Summer was here and puzzles and games and movie marathons became the most pressing issues of every day.  And slowly, I have learned to sleep again. Ten minutes more every day.  Soon I will be downright slothful. 

Best of all, here we are in line to board the ferry to British Columbia.  We are headed out to sea, straight into the fog.  North, like I said.   Inside my head they are playing a rousing rendition of "O, Canada" and outside my head the earth is slowing down as it arcs along its orbit through space.

One slow, lazy, glorious turn at a time.

Transient

True Blue Through and Through

Well, we lost.

We cheered. We rose and shouted. We wore black to match the boys' jerseys.

But we lost anyway.

The truth is though, it didn't really matter to any of us except Ethan and David.

Mostly we were just thrilled to be in that beautiful stadium in the mountains, surrounded by crisp air and fond memories. There is no place I'd rather spend a Saturday afternoon in October.

The fall weather was perfect. Just cold enough to pink our cheeks and warrant sweatshirts and lap quilts, though it must be noted that many of the Utahns around us were in short sleeves. We, however, wore our gloves and regretted not bringing a beanie for Ethan's ears.

The Cougars scored three touchdowns and a field goal and we went hoarse yelling our praise.

My favorite parts: 60,000 heads bowed in prayer at the start of the game, hearing my children lustily sing the BYU fight song, looking at David's handsome profile framed by the mountains, and the cheering--the roars and groans--that echo off the ancient Rockies. Those giant hills are on our side.

After the game we went bowling, browsed through Blickenstaffs, and ate dinner around a round table with flavored lemonades, where Ethan and David commiserated over a few freak plays in the fourth quarter that turned the game in the Beavers' favor.

Savannah asked why they call it "homecoming." Someday she will understand. For me, it truly is coming home. Back to the beginning. Back to the start. These mountains are the cradle of my adult life, and will always be home.

Our Winding Road

This afternoon, just at gloaming, we took David's favorite drive. The mountains were covered in a bright blush of orange and red and the clouds were low and thick, as if the flaming, changing leaves had actually caught fire in the sunset. The higher we climbed up Timpanogos, the thicker the clouds became, until the aspens at the top looked like ghosts in the mist, their black knots a thousand evil eyes keeping watch from the edge of the road.

It was eerie. It was breathtaking. It was bewitching and enchanting.

Caleb and Ethan stretched their arms out the windows to touch the cloud and imagined they were hobbits, climbing the mountain closer and closer to Smog's lair, right into the belly of the beast.

Savannah clutched her seatbelt and asked David over and over to be careful.

Olivia sighed about how it looked just like being inside a book.

David, who has driven this road dozens of times, reminisced at every bend in the road, recalling the picnic here, the nap there, the test he studied for while he sat in the sun on that lovely outcropping of granite.

As for me, I tried to memorize it all, to write it in my heart, and engrave it on my bones. That when these leaves have fallen and disintegrated into the dirt, when these giant boulders have been weathered by the wind and water into dust, when this majestic mountain itself has risen and crumbled and been swallowed by the earth, this moment will still remain.

The first time I drove this road with David I could not have predicted this other moment, more than eighteen years later--with my children's dreams and fears and fantasies swirling around in the car with us, mixing with our throbbing memories--and yet they seemed to be one and the same. That first drive inevitably lead to this one, like two points on the same road, a road laid out for us long ago.

I craned to see the bends and climbs and views ahead, but it was all fog and clouds and dragon smoke. I settled back and looked at David, content to sit next to him, as the road continued its slow and beautiful revelation of our mysterious future.

Verde en Amarillo

Dear Reader,

Are you weary of these letters yet?

The good news is that we will arrive home tomorrow.

The bad news is that we are not there yet.

Regretfully yours, April

*******************

Dear David,

You will be amazed to know that we made it to the panhandle tonight, even before the sun went down.

Apparently there really is nothing I can't do. Make a note of it, darling.

I drove through five states today and went 855 miles (all by myself) and even the sun was impressed. It watched me all day long and then threw a little party for me as we came into Amarillo. The sky was on fire and made one of the most spectacular sunsets I've ever seen. Add the silhouettes of the huge silos in the foreground and you know my heart was thumping.

(I'm giving you fair warning that whatever welcome home party you are planning for tomorrow night, it might have been upstaged by the show tonight. I recommend a little passionate necking as one of the party games just to be safe.)

We stopped at Liberty Jail on the way through Missouri. It was tender and faith-promoting, and especially touching to Caleb. (Though it does pain me to admit that hearing the accounts of women who walked from Missouri to Illinois with their little children in the middle of winter made my cross-country driving feat seem slightly less impressive.)

From Missouri we went a different way than we usually do, and when we came into Kansas, I excitedly told the kids they were in a state they had never been in. But actually, it looked quite a bit like Oklahoma and even though it was all new, the kids lost interest pretty quickly and slept from Topeka to Wichita.

The rest of the day was miles and miles of land and sky, barns and hay bales and cow crossings over the highway. The heartland will steal your heart.

And now we are tucked in in Amarillo. The kids showered and are softly snoring. I know I made it look easy today, but to tell the truth, I am dizzy and rather nauseated. (A consequence of being both slightly carsick and popping M&M's most of the day to stay awake.) This does not bode well for the final leg tomorrow.

It's a good thing I'm amazing.

But then, you already knew that.

Always yours, Ap

A Letter from the Riverbank

Dear David,

Once upon a time there were words to go along with these pictures.

Twice actually, there were words.

I retyped my post after I lost it the first time. It was clever both times. I wish you could have seen it.

Now though, I've given up.

Just know that after we dropped you in Chicago, I drove our beautiful children all the way across Illinois, and passed thousands of acres of cornfields along the way. (Much to my delight. Oh those rows!) We made it to Joseph's beautiful city last night in a reverent gloaming and slept up on the hill next to the shining temple.

Caleb said the prayer last night when we went to bed. It was so tender it would have broken your heart. He finally stopped when he ran out of synonyms for gracious and kind. You know how he is. And especially last night, after being to Carthage, and driving the road next to the mighty Mississippi, we were all feeling the spirit of this sacred spot of land.

Today we will churn butter and fire horseshoes and eat a picnic lunch among the ghosts and memories and bricks of Nauvoo. And here on the banks of the Mississippi, I will mother my children in this lovely, holy city where my mothers once mothered theirs.

Love you, darling,

April

The Long Pause

Ira Glass narrated my dreams last night.

Act I was a funny story about how we bought a horse that shared a room with Ethan, in Act II we took a bus trip to Hawaii, and then Act III was a heartfelt story in which Ira asked us, "So you've been here a year, does it finally feel like home?

There was a long pause. (The pauses always say more than the actual sentences.)

Then a quiet but truthful, "Yes."

Over the last year I've thought about writing a post or two. I've been tempted by your kind comments and lovely emails prodding me to post. But I needed the long pause. There was just too much sadness and self-pity to make worthwhile reading. Everything I tried to write became a tally of my blessings and a list of my grievances, then a few computations where I would add the former and subtract the latter and ultimately see that I came out ahead, but only just barely. It was tiresome, especially to me.

But somehow, over the last month, I realized it was time. I was ready. The fog had cleared. I had something to say that didn't start and end with "Wo is me." I made plans to redo the banner, clean up the sidebar, start fresh, and write a post about how David and I rode a subway, a cab, a plane, and a canoe all in one day, a post about how my kids tried to train a bunny to use a DustBuster, and a post about Olivia's music camp at which her group named their quartet "Rhythm Is Not An Opinion Quartet" because apparently, to Olivia, it is (an opinion)...and the first violin disagreed.

(There were 84 words in that last sentence, if you're counting. Phew. I may be out of practice.)

But then summer started and I've been busy with Lord of the Rings marathons and keeping the house stocked with sunscreen and clean swim towels and afternoon reading that usually turns into a drooly nap. I take my summers seriously, as you know.

And then this morning, as the sun rose over our car heading out of Albuquerque, I couldn't help myself. I couldn't wait anymore. So I'm using my iPhone (which makes me prone to mistakes and misspellings...don't point them out...the buttons are small) and beginning again.

We are on the road. Headed out of the heat and back to our much-missed, beloved Lake Michigan.

It's good to be back. On both counts.

Cue the music, Ira.

The World Can Wait

The last two days we traded the lazy days of summer for a little bit of industry.

We washed the sheets and beach towels and cleaned out the fridge.

We spent a good thirty minutes standing in front of the game cupboard, carefully picking out the best games for life at the beach.  (The selection committee takes their job seriously.)

Savannah made four kinds of cookies and bars.  They are sitting on the counter, ziplocked and waiting for their big adventure.

Ethan and I went on a Target run for sand toys and wheat thins and sunscreen.

Caleb found the boogie boards and the beach umbrella.  (Check that big box in the corner, son.  The one labelled "salvation.")

We packed light.  Swimsuits and jackets only.  Oh, and books.  A few bags of books and we'll tie the bicycles on the back. 

In a few weeks, we will be back to rising early and kissing goodbye.  We will be back to packing lunches and practicing spelling words and reading only what they're assigned.  Add to that the anticipated pain of looking around the bus stop and classroom and the lunchroom and not knowing a single soul...and I almost can't breathe.

With the calendar looming, David and I lay in the dark discussing our options.  We listed the pros (salvation) and cons (money).  We discussed directions (north, east, west) and locations (the beach or the mountains).  We tried to figure out how capable and brave I am (on my own) or am not (as the case may be).  In the end, the choice was easy.  My children need a few days of glee, a few days of freedom, a few days of salty air and icy waves, a few days of bliss, to store away and keep for the days that are coming.

And so, I am taking my children to the beach where I intend to make the most of these summer days of mothering, when they are mine, and the world and its sorrows are very, very, very far away. 

What Meaneth These Stones?

"Then ye shall let your children know, saying, Israel came over this Jordan on dry land. For the Lord your God dried up the waters of Jordan from before you, until ye were passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red sea, which he dried up from before us, until we were gone over:  That the people of the earth might know the hand of the Lord that it is mighty."

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Sand in My Eye

How about something fun today?

I'm in a bad, bad mood.

In fact I may be teetering on the verge from "mood" to outright "funk."

It's that bad.

And it's all David's fault, of course.

Now he is reading that last line and I can hear him scoffing all the way from the hospital.  He is thinking, "That's outrageous!"

And it is.  (But don't tell him.)

I'm going to move on to the fun stuff in just a minute, but first, the straw that broke the camel's back.  (Because I know you are wondering.)  I went in the bathroom this morning to put Caleb's hair up for "Crazy Hair Day" and I walked through a substantial sand pile right in the middle of the floor.  I asked, "Who dumped their shoes out in the middle of the floor?"  And everyone said, "Not me." 

I know.  I was shocked too.  And if you are wondering how this is David's fault I will just remind you (as I reminded him) that he was the reason these children (and therefore, the sand pile too) exist in the first place.

I know what you're thinking.  "Wow, she can make a mountain out of a molehill  sand pile like nobody else I know."  What can I say?  It's a gift.

(Don't worry.  It's October.  I should be feeling better any day now.)

Now to the part where I make your life a little better.  Fun, right?

On the way to Utah last weekend, David asked me if I brought any books-on-tape.  I had.  But he wasn't interested in either of them, and so I casually mentioned that I had a bunch of "This American Life" podcasts on my ipod that we could listen to.  I've mentioned this before.  But honestly, David thinks my penchant for NPR is another of my charming character flaws, and has always declined.  But then he got a little desperate on our way out of the desert and I tempted him by saying, "There's a funny one I think you'd like."  And so he reluctantly consented.

We listened to every one of them before the trip was over.

I made a convert.

Some of them are so laugh-out-loud funny David and I just sat and hooted at each other and wiped our eyes afterwards.  Some of them are so sobering we just sat and looked at each other, our eyebrows doing all the talking.  Some of them are so informative we would have to pause the podcast and discuss our take on it, and how it made us think of something else we had to tell the other one right away.

Delicious.

And, as you know, I love being right.  So this was doubly wonderful.  David even asked me when it "normally airs."  Ha!  I told him Saturdays at two with a gleeful, triumphant smile.

So if you haven't already, you really should subscribe to the podcast and next week you can fold your laundry to the joy that is "This American Life."

And can I just say, that when I can't sleep and I am lying in my bed in the dark, I fantasize about being interviewed by Ira Glass.  And the stories I would tell him and the pauses he would make and the questions that would follow.

I can just imagine the one I would tell him about the sandbox I found in the bathroom this morning and after I told him the whole thing, how I harassed the children and made a federal case out of it and was nearly run through by the beam in my own eye, he would pause and ask, "At any point along here did you think 'This is crazy!'?"

And then I'd give a long pause.

And we'd both laugh, because of course I hadn't.