Sunday, February 27, 2011


The randomly generated word today is RUSHING (trying to get my brain muscles toned for Lent Writing starting on March 9)
We stood in the middle of the river, my old PF Flyer tenny runners clinging to my sockless feet, the laces knotted together where they had broken from overuse, the chilly water of the Snake rushing around my little girl ankles as I stood atop a water-worn rock in the shallows. Mom was slightly downstream. I watched as she raised her right arm and flicked her spinning rod like a sassy wave to a flirty boy. The weighted line squealed through the Idaho air. She instinctively drew the pole back when she felt the sinkers approaching the spot where she wanted the bait to land. The pitch of the plunk, when the metal hit the water, indicated the depth or stillness of the pool and the potential for a nice deep hole. I tried to imitate my mother. Tried to wave my arm with the same grace, to command the direction of the line, and stop it where I wanted. More often than not Mom ended up having to wade on out to the willows hanging over the water at the river bend and try to retrieve my line, searching the weave of willow limbs for the squirm of a worm. When she found it she followed the translucent thread out of the mess I’d put it in, and when it was finally free she tossed it out into the water. I could feel the jiggle of freedom tugging at my line and for a second I imagined it was a fish making my pole dance rather than my newly freed sinkers making their way over the rocks on the river bottom.

Before sunrise Mom and I had ventured out to the river while the others slept, the slick bottoms of last year’s gym shoes slipping in the dewy grasses that led to the bend between campgrounds F and G near Island Park, Idaho. My whole childhood, and even half of my adulthood, I lived under the impression that that particular fishing spot was known as Effergee. It wasn’t until I was teaching my own children to fish that I realized they were saying: “Let’s meet at F or G” when Mom and her sisters were making their fishing plans.

Once in the river Mom and I stood in silence, the only sounds being the rushing water, the rustling of a deep summer Idaho breeze in the willows near the river, and the hawks and owls nested in the tall pines deeper into the dry spaces. Occasionally a crisp new sound rang out when a critter made itself known, or when the sun finally rose and hit a certain spot in its traverse across the cerulean sky calling the fish to the surface for a fresh hatch of flies. Then the fish would start jumping, proving their existence despite their mysterious neglect of our juicy worms underwater, their entrances and exits making an earthy sort of Xylophonic song in the bass cleff range. That’s when the fly fishermen came out and invaded our quiet spot.

But in those wee tiny hours before the grass blades dried in the Idaho heat, the place was all ours. We traveled up and down stream, finding an accommodating trunk of a fallen tree on which we could rest, our threaded bait strategically planted in a mysterious bottom spot while we waited. Once situated we could cock our reels and sit a spell. That’s when we’d reach into our pockets for a refresher. My pocket usually bore one of two treasures, available in my childhood only in the summer on our trips to Idaho: Big Hunk or Chick-O-Stix. To this day both of those treats make me want to go fishing. Maybe my successes on the stream were due to a tinge of sweetness lacing my worms in those days. Whatever the cause may have been, the fish generally responded and through the morning we would call back and forth to each other with our Indian whoops and hollers: “wooo – wooo - wooo” . If I could write out music I could show you the pitches of the call, the last “wooo” rising in pitch a third above the fist two calls. Like the birds that wake me on bright summer mornings from the woody hollow outside my bedroom window now, the call was co

nsistent and melodic and it meant one thing. We’d hooked and landed a fish. This was the language of the river: Silence carrying the fullest portion of the serenade, with the rhythm section of nature keeping a soft frenetic beat behind the melody of silence, with an occasional natural whistle coming from the trees or the fishing lines as we cast them, our feet suctioning out of the water as we shifted our places on the river, and the native American calls of our forefathers eeking out of our bellies as we voiced guttural gratitude for the food accented with the pride of the catch.

By mid afternoon I was sleepy and hungry. We took our harvest, strung through the gills onto two flexible willow branches which had been looped and knotted and planted under a rock on the riverside, so the fish could remain cool in the water until we were done. I hooked the loop of fish over two bent fingers , carrying them like a purse to market. We rose up over the lip of the river bed, water from the river sloshing in my shoes, sucking in and out like an air pump as I walked, the water trapped in the canvas seeping out over the tops of and out across my sun tanned ankles.

Mom fried up the fish for dinner in the old black cast iron griddle, speckled trout drenched in flour with salt and pepper. Fried up in three large spoonfuls of Crisco. Evidence of our feat remained speckled all over the circle of rocks in the fire pit or on the lid of the Coleman stove. The aroma of pine and water and earth swirled through my nostrils as my happy belly relaxed in a full bodied sigh and I settled under an accommodating tree for a little respite. Never was rest so perfect.

In the depth of winter, back in Pittsburgh; far from the meandering Snake River and high country pines and Big Hunks, I yearned for the moment. I could only find it in my imagination, back in the place that usually comes when my eyes are wide open but I see nothing…those magic picture moments when we stare into space and go somewhere else. I did discover once, when I was on the outside of adolescence that if I held a knee-high stocking just so; where the toe was in the water of my mother’s washing machine but the knee was in my hand; if I held it just so at the right time in the washing cycle, the agitator would jerk back and forth in such a way that if I closed my eyes completely I could swear there was a fish on the end of my line…that I was standing in the middle of the Snake River in the deep of the summer when the water was low and rushing over my feet, when the sun was warm and throbbed against my skin like a maternal heartbeat…that even though logic told me I was standing against the cold metal washing machine in the basement laundry room of my childhood…in my heart I was planted upstream from my beautiful graceful dependable mother in our spot out at Effergee.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Dear Jesse,
Don’t look back.
Set your eye and keep the pace as you bound up there to your heaven place.
I imagine you running, with 4 good legs, down the wooded hill and out across the sand toward the lake, never breaking stride as you leap into the air above the water, intent on a piece of driftwood tossed out past the sandbar. Somewhere mid-air the angels take you up.
Chelle stands there alone, looking eastward over the water, small waves lapping at her feet until the tide goes out and you are gone.
That’s what I imagine.

Thank you, Jesse.
Thank you for those loving eyes; liquid brown and full of trust. It takes a long, long time for humans to get that kind of eyes. You had them from birth. Little round mirrors of the one you love. Very few people get to look into another’s eyes and just breathe - no words, no motion, just a gaze that sings and whispers words we do not quite know how to speak. We see her best reflected in your eyes.
And your warmth. A steady throbbing warmth beside the sister we love but cannot hold. Distance is a demon! Knowing you could keep her warm; that by the end of the movie or the book or the dream, your breathing would somehow have aligned with hers, your heat infused into each other; this was peace to the ones who cherish her.
Thank you for waking her in the morning, and for fluttering about when she came home. For sensing when she was sad, or sick, or happy or tired. And for… I know this sounds strange… for being naughty now and then: just enough naughty that she had to set boundaries and keep you in them. It’s a healthy thing for us to help each other be good, even when it’s hard. It ties knots in the strings that bind the heart. It allowed our sister to use her innate gifts to nurture and tend someone who could not wholly do it for herself. It reminded her of her stewardship over you; not in any egotistical way, but in the sacred way of true servants and masters. You allowed her to give; and in the giving she received.

Dear Jesse, if you have any pull up there where you are, could you please exhale a deep warm breath and place it over our sister’s bed, so she will sense your presence in her dreams? Make her aching brief; her memories charmed enough to comfort rather than pierce. And if by chance you find yourself curled up beside Mom and Dad, would you pound your tail against heaven’s floor and tell us you are all just fine?
Snuggle with the ones we love and rest a while. Then run.

Run, Jesse!
Use your brand new freedom with no tumor and no pain. Run and leap and shake this earthy weight like water from your golden hair. Go explore the vast expanse of that place we try to imagine.
Run until you are happy-tired.
Find a cozy spot to make your bed,
and wait till she comes Home.