Category Archives: Essay

Hands Down by Patricia Karamesines

handprint

For many, it’s a simple thing, going to sleep at the end of a day. For me it runs to the difficult side. I sleep with my special needs daughter to keep watch over her through the night. She’s often troubled by discomfort or becomes tangled in sheets and blankets. Sometimes, her arms and legs get caught on or under each other and she can’t sort them out. She may suffer reflux or other problems that need attention. We learned years ago that guarding her sleep reduces seizures to the point of eliminating them. It’s a tough investment that we think is better than the many unfortunate alternatives, including having to spend all night trying to resolve problems that have gone undetected until she erupts in fits of pain, crying–sometimes screaming. I think it’s fair to say that if we’d left her alone in bed all these years, she might have suffered a dangerous accident without our being aware until it was too late.

Every night, we go through the same ritual. We put on Priscilla Herdman’s music DVD Stardreamer for her, turning the balance control ’til the music hums from the speaker on her side of the room. I get into bed. Her dad comes in and we speak the ceremonial words: “Good night,” “I love you,” “Can you say ‘Goodnight’ to Daddy?” My daughter lets him know when she wants to go to sleep. Just before or just after he leaves, she utters to me a two-syllable sound that varies in coherence. Sometimes it’s just those two, softly hooted syllables, hinged by a  sound that seems like a combination between a glottal and nasal stop. Sometimes it takes the shape of a querying word: “cuh-gul?”, “cuhgd-duhl?”

Cuddle.

By the time we get to bed, I’m usually worn out. I just want to go to sleep. Sliding across the bed to tuck her knees up on my thigh and spread my left hand over her chest is just plain troublesome. And that isn’t enough. Usually, she wants my other hand on her, too, uttering her cuddle call until I relent. “You want me to cuddle more?” I ask. She hoots a soft yes. My hands together have an 18-inch span. Despite her age–nearly 21 years old–she’s very small, an effect of her microcephaly–reduced cranial size resultant of a severe, prenatal brain injury. My hands spread across her chest and upper abdomen and wrap around her sides.

Lately, despite rumbling hunger pangs for sleep, I’ve started paying more attention to what happens when I lay my hands on her, sometimes long enough that, beneath them, she falls asleep. I’m teaching myself to become more aware of and involved in the sensations of feeling my hands lift with the expansion of her one functioning lung when she inhales then lower again when her breath slides out. I get wrapped up in the rapid fluttering of what I call her butterfly heart against my left palm, straining to hear and feel my own slower heart beat in concert. I wonder over her misshapen rib cage, torqued by scoliosis, the sternum pressed upward, her skin stretched tight and thin across it like a hide over a drum. My still hands learn the shape and measure of it, resting and open, palms down, on the height of that upward curve. I compare the movements of my own breathings with hers. Through my hands, I feel other movements, murmurs, and gurglings in her abdomen.

Sometimes she grunts to let me know she’s done with the ritual–she’s ready to fall asleep and wants her space. Cuddle over. In recent past, that moment came as a relief as I unbent and rearranged my body into more comfortable shapes. Sometimes, I lost patience, pulled away, and told her, “Go to sleep.”

That’s changed. Sometimes, through my hands, I feel her relax into the foam topper we’ve put on the bed to make it more comfortable for her bone-jammed body. Her breath acquires soft, near regular depth, becoming rhythmic and peaceable. She sinks into sleep. Then I slowly lift away my hands and squirm back to my side of the bed, where I savor the sensations she’s given rise to in me. Sleep wells up then, not as abrupt relief from exhaustion, like the wind’s slamming a door between the world and my worn-thin senses. It comes more peacefully, like the slow glide of late evening into dusk, into night, complete with sunset displays of dreams. Going to bed still takes work, but the effort’s effects have become less oppressive and more revelatory.

The literally tiresome ritual is becoming, for me, a final, pre-sleep act of wondering over another deep layer of my life, another engagement in the mysteries. It exposes an added layer to the stratigraphy of connectedness and its ever-increasing expanse, linking up, diving then resurfacing elsewhere in our lives. There’s no end to the wilderness we call life. It changes even as we fix a gaze on it, taking the gaze with it, so that our seeing becomes part of the changing. The world gives rise to something new.

That first twenty minutes or so of bedtime is now a looked-for meeting time with Something Else as I place my hands on my little, living seer stone. We shouldn’t label them “special needs children”–unless we mean that they can meet and provide for our special needs. I’ve said this before, but I keep learning it, over and over, in new forms: The limitations here are not hers, and they’re not the developmentally delayed conditions of hundreds of thousands or millions of children like her. Those delays in development are ours–they belong to the rest of us who lie near to these souls yet are incapable of seeing through the windows they open, we who draw the curtains and put space between them and us because, we think, they ask too much of us. It’s too hard. It’s too late. We just want sleep. Like any profound question, they do ask too much, over and over. Cuddle? Cuddle? Cuddle? We are the ones who often fall short of intimate response. Even when my daughter is falling asleep, she catches me up.

A few days ago a 20-something Navajo student named Danielle Yazzie brought in her annotated bibliography for my review. Clearly, she felt passionately about her topic–special education, how the public school system treats special needs children, and how special needs categories have changed over the last 50 years. She couldn’t help but put in her own heartfelt views–not exactly appropriate for a bibliography. I tried to guide her away from that, just so she could meet the requirements for the assignment. I suggested that she save those thoughts for her essay.

But at the end of the bibliography she included a personal annotation that I decided to leave in place. This is what she said: “To me, the category gifted and talented students includes disabled students because they offer so much insight into the world around us.” A spectacular perception from such a young woman. I said I agreed and looked at her dark eyes. There was no exchange of secret acknowledgement of the sort that those of us who are mothers to brain variable children sometimes flash to each other. This bright girl, not a mother herself, took her truth completely in stride.

So maybe we are catching up, moving past the edges of our limitations. Maybe we’re becoming caught up. And these kids are spurring our development, enabling breakthroughs. Teaching us to walk with better balance, speak ourselves more fully, become more involved in this world. Maybe they’re moving us past ourselves to deeper meaning and more fully realized life.

I live with a cutting edge being. This cutting edge person wants me to cuddle with her. Hands down I am the luckiest unlucky person I know.

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To see Patricia’s bio and other work, go here, here, here, and lots of other places, including WIZ’s sister blog, A Motley Vision.

Quote from Danielle Yazzie used with her permission.

Edited 2/21/2012 at 9:52 a.m.

Love of Nature, Nature of Love Month on Wilderness Interface Zone

Valentine_722 Antique Valentine

Starting February 1st, Love of Nature Nature of Love Month will open its heart at Wilderness Interface Zone.  We’re issuing a call for nature-themed love stuff. Got messages of companionship, connectionship, or of loveship you’d like to send someone? Are you weird like me and your nature is to be crazy about people AND nature? WIZ is looking for original poetry, essays, blocks of fiction, art, music (mp3s), videos or other media that address the subject of love while making references to nature–including to that work of nature as earth-moving and variable as any other natural force, human language.

We’ll take the other side of the coin of affection, too: We’ll publish work about nature spun up with themes of love.  And as always, you’re welcome to send favorite works by others that have entered public domain.

Some of us have been around long enough to have the authority to urge you to let people you care about know how you feel at each opportunity that flies up in front of you. So if you have a sweet song or sonnet you’ve written to someone beloved–or perhaps a video Valentine or an essay avowing your love for a natural critter or space near and dear–please consider sending it to WIZ. We’ll publish it between February 1 and February 28. Click here for submissions guidelines.

Our fondest hopes for LONNOL Month: Putting into the currents of language flowing around the world some of the deepest, warmest, freeze-busting words we can find. And if things work out, we’ll also be running one of WIZ’s DVD giveaways, a Pre-Hays Code movie, King of the Jungle, starring loincloth-clad Buster Crabbe as Kaspa the Lion Man.

We hope you’ll join us for this month-long celebration combining two of the most potent forces on the face of the planet–love and language.

We love the things we love for what they are.  ~Robert Frost

One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.  ~William Shakespeare

Green Children by Jenny Webb

tomatoes in the garden-1 by Jenny Webb

Like me, my first children arrived in March. Looking down at them now, their branches bowed and thick with ripened weights, green through the sun’s steady warmth—these unruly creatures bear no obvious relationship to the sweet brown seeds carefully tucked into flimsy plastic trays and lovingly carried outdoors on the days spring chose to trail her warmth along the soil, stirring their pale souls toward the light. In the beginning, when we planted our garden, we worried over our sprouting family, Nick more than I. He cradled the trays as he moved them about the yard, seeking the sun with a visionary faith in our vegetable family. We figured that if the plants lived, we might qualify for a cat by winter and eventually, human children. Continue reading Green Children by Jenny Webb

Earth Day Honorific: George Handley’s Home Waters

512px-Upper_Provo_River_Utah

We interrupt Spring Runoff for an Earth Day pause, in prose, as a way of remembering that, among its many reasons for being, WIZ is a quiet place of earthen bearing, dressed in soil and water and seed, in sun and winter and stone. We come here to read, “o’er the mountains, by the sides/Of the deep rivers, and the lonely streams./Wherever nature [leads,]” either to hear the “still, sad music of humanity./Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power/To chasten and subdue” or to feel a “presence that disturbs [us] with the joy/Of elevated thoughts: a sense sublime/Of something far more deeply interfused,/Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,/And the round ocean and the living air,/And the blue sky, and in the mind of man. . . .”*

Few enough of us hear those things, or see and feel them, but fewer still do something about it. George Handley is one of those precious few, and is regularly in the breech. Handley is a professor of Humanities at BYU in Provo, Utah. He is also an active environmentalist and an avid outdoorsman. His recent (and still running) book, Home Waters: A Year of Recompenses on the Provo River, has made a substantial impression as both memoir and important work of environmental theology. George speaks and writes on the issues he raises in his book–and so much else–often and stirringly and in ways that provoke both humility of spirit and a desire to do a little something to help. He has graciously sent along the following excerpt.

Winter has been defeated, no question. It is a glorious spring day today, and I can’t resist the temptation to get in a run early this morning before the kids’ Saturday soccer games. The impression of an evergreen valley, coated in velvet grass, only lasts a month or two before the piercing sun at these altitudes brings the green into submission. I don’t mind the brown like I used to, which is why I feel all the more guilty for my pleasure, which in Utah feels like the sinful pleasures of the carnal mind. So be it. Today I will be a hedonist and I will stare unapologetically at the viridian velvet of the mountain contours.

I pick a stretch of the Provo River Trail that winds along the banks through the city. I pass under concrete bridges and across streets to keep pace with the water, which flows in a controlled and only slightly meandering line. The water is higher than usual but not by much. Before the Deer Creek Dam was built in the 1940s and before the grid of middle class homes began to spread across the land the way thin sheets of ice claim window panes in a sudden freeze, the water regularly breached the banks, depositing the sediments brought from the mountains, providing fertile spawning ground for fish, and renewing and enriching the soils of riparian life. Continue reading Earth Day Honorific: George Handley’s Home Waters

Thank you, 2012 LONNOL participants!

Valentine_Antique image woman bird cupids

Wilderness Interface Zone would like to thank participants who put their hearts in our Love of Nature Nature of Love Month.  The list includes:

Elizabeth Pinborough
Kathryn Knight
Gail White
Ashley Suzanne Musick
Sarah Dunster
Chanel Earl
Sarah Dunster
Mark Penny
Laura Craner
Gerard Manley Hopkins
Jonathon Penny

You all helped WIZ celebrate love and nature with fair fond tokens of well-worded affection.  Thank you!

Thanks also go to our readers and commenters.  There’s still plenty of room open (until March 24) on our LONNOL month giveaway of Typhoon, starring Dorothy Lamour and Robert Preston.  If you’d like one, please go to that post and leave a comment.  I’ll contact you for shipping information.  WIZ offers these DVDs free to readers in appreciation for your presence here and for your support of WIZ’s mission to create a rhetorically-diverse space for Mormon nature literature (though, of course, all nature writers are welcome–see submissions guidelines here).

Also, WIZ’s 4th Annual Spring Poetry Runoff Contest and Celebration will open on the vernal equinox, March 20, with categories for both competition and non-competition, an open-invitation spring haiku chain, another Retro Review, and other revelry.  Please make a note of the Runoff’s pending arrival and watch for announcements detailing this year’s activities and prizes.

Again, deepest affection to you, contributors, and to you, readers and followers of WIZ, for your continued presence here.

Come in Under the Shadow of this Red Rock by Chanel Earl

Calf Creek 2-1

As we walk—side by side—down the long sloping trail, we pass gray trees and black igneous boulders peppering the otherwise white, sedimentary landscape. The earth is a mirror reflecting the hot yellow sun that has so recently removed winter’s snow. I point out traces of vanished streams; you find lizard footprints delicately decorating their sandy banks. We continue on.

I thirst and walk and imagine living forty days in this forsaken place. The nights are cold, the days are sweltering. My mouth dries and I see only sand, sun. The blue skies taunt and laugh with derision.

If there were water and no rock.

I imagine this land as sea, sediment settling onto the ocean floor as the waves rise and fall. I swim and fall to the bottom of the deep.

If there were rock and also water, and water—a spring—a pool among the rock.

I imagine Elijah, sliding into his cave among the rocks to find a saving pool. He drinks and prays.  And sleeps.

If there were the sound of water only—the sound of water over the rock.

As I continue to dream I hear the water. It falls through the canyon. It seeps through the rocks and splashes onto the sand.

I take your hand.  We hear snowmelt careening down the canyon. The rocks echo the sounds of thunderous falls as we arrive at our destination. Too cold to swim, I sit and drink and feel the cool mist on my hot face. You lie, relaxed, in the warm sun.

If I were living in this rock’s shadow, I would live with you. The ravens would bring us grapes and melon. Every morning we would wake to the life of the desert.

On our return you find green buds sprouting from the tips of each gray tree, trees that grow out of living rock. A black bird soars above us.

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Chanel Earl grew up in Utah and currently lives in Bloomington, Indiana. In addition to reading and writing, her hobbies include teaching, gardening, knitting, quilting, watching way too much television, parenting and housework. Her work has appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, The Wasatch Journal and Revolution House Magazine. Her short story collection, What to Say to Someone Who’s Dying, is available online. Chanel is a Mormon. You can find out more about Chanel and her writing at www.chanelstory.blogspot.com.

LONNOL Month call for submissions

Antique valentine woman rose butterfly3

Roses are red;
Their odor is heady.
LONNOL month’s here–
Are your Valentines ready?

It’s Love of Nature Nature of Love Month on Wilderness Interface Zone, and we’re looking to publish love abroad.  Do you have a message of friendship and love you’d like to send someone? WIZ is looking for original poetry, essays, blocks of fiction, art, music (mp3s), videos or other media that address the subject of love while making references to nature.  We’ll also take the flipside: We’ll publish work about nature intertwined with themes of love.  Besides original work you’re welcome to send favorite works by others that have entered public domain.  So if you have a sonnet you’ve written to someone dear to your heart–even and perhaps especially your pet hamster Roley Poley or faithful horse Old Paint–or perhaps a video Valentine or an essay avowing your love for a natural space near and dear–please consider sending it to WIZ.  Click here for submissions guidelines.

Besides rolling out a (hopefully) heart-embroidered carpet of love-art, we’ll also be running two WIZ, nature-laced, romantic DVD giveaways, Typhoon, starring Dorothy Lamour and pre-Music Man Robert Preston, and a Pre-Hays Code movie, King of the Jungle, starring scantily clad Buster Crabbe as Kaspa the Lion Man.

We hope you’ll join the celebration.  Let’s warm up February with fond feeling.

Making Friends With Winter by Sarah Dunster

800px-Fence_after_snowstorm2 by Julian Coulton

It snowed today, for the first time. October 6th.

When my family moved to southeast Idaho, we knew that Winter was one of the by-products we were choosing. That “W” is capitalized, because winters here are real winters—you couldn’t survive without shelter. In Utah Valley, where we’ve lived the last ten years, you likely couldn’t either, easily… but there’d be a chance. Some random steaming garbage pile might keep you warm at nights if you found yourself homeless.

Not here.  We now live in Idaho’s Siberia. You’d think that, farther north in places like Sandpoint, it would be much colder, but no. The carryover from Washington state’s more temperate coastal climates makes the panhandle and other, more northern places a much easier place to grow things like tomatoes, for instance.

Here in Idaho’s Siberia there are miles of landmass and ridges of mountains to keep us from any friendly ocean breezes. In January it dips down toward negative twenty. And the winds are to be reckoned with—tearing in from the southwest, lifting sod off the fields before the ground freezes, withering the branches of any non-hardy fruit tree.

You plant your Polly peaches northeast of your house, here in southeast Idaho. The Honeycrisp apples and sour pie-cherries and, perhaps, the pears and plums might survive (all these are currently imaginary—a vision dancing in husband’s head and mine.) But not the peaches.

Our new home is hyper-insulated. Six-to-ten inches of polyurethane foam keep the elements away, and our body heat, so far, has been enough to keep us toasty and warm, even at that lethal six-o-clock hour when bare feet hit concrete floors and children shiver through showers.  But it’s coming. I know it is. My Viking blood is waking up, warning me, prompting me to drag out the giant tupperwares full of snow rompers and wool socks and mittens and hats and thermal underclothing.

We have neighbors close by who warned me that the key to life in our new little city is to “live it up in the summers and fall. Take every second you can and enjoy them… because when winter hits, everyone shuts themselves indoors. You don’t see anybody. And it drags on so long… the snow. The cold. The isolation.”

I asked him, don’t you go out to play in the snow.

He shrugged. “Yeah. But it gets so cold. Cross-country skiing and sledding just aren’t fun in below-freezing weather.”

Of course, he’s part Samoan and part Jamaican—he’s not used to this. Well, neither am I; I grew up in Northern California. But my Viking ancestors will jeer at me from the other side of the veil this winter if I don’t make the attempt…

Winter and I are going to be friends. I’m determined.

So this morning when the first snow started slanting down, soaking our alfalfa field and bringing out the sweetness of it’s purple smell and swelling the gutters with puddles, I shook it off. I  piled coats on my kids, snapped the baby into her fleece bear-hoodie and we walked to our homeschool co-op.

On the way home, two of my children slogged through a puddle. They were chattering by the time we got home and whimpering a bit. They will learn about winter, that the friendship has boundaries.

I fed my kids lunch and made my year’s first pan of cottage-friend potatoes, the most wintery of foods. My husband came home from work tonight and spent eight hours prying the lid off the boiler that heats our house and examining the rusty innards. I sense    already that his friendship with winter will involve more of a wary respect. And I admit I’m nervous. For me, friendships can be awkward at first. I get overwhelmed. I have my moments of despair: Did I say the right thing? Did I do something that revealed too much of my vulnerability, too soon?

Today I watch the snow fall through the big French doors and the windows that look south, east and north from our kitchen/dining room. I pretend nonchalance and think of the flakes as gifts. I allow the excitement to well up inside me at the prospect of four-foot drifts, of building a sled hill in the backyard, of cross-country skiing on the groomed trail by the icy-jade river that runs through our town. Of family snowball fights and cozy evenings cuddled around a TV screen watching movies that aren’t too scary but are scary enough to send my five year old shuffling to our room in the middle of the night, asking to be kissed and tucked back in.

We chose winter, and so winter will be a highlight of our year. We will make friends with winter. I’m determined.

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Sarah Dunster photoSarah Dunster is an award-winning poet and fiction writer. Her poems have been published in Dialogue: a Journal of Mormon Thought, Segullah Magazine, and Victorian Violet Press. Her short fiction piece, Back North, is featured in Segullah’s Fall 2011 issue. In addition, Sarah’s first novel Lightning Tree will be released in spring of 2012 by Cedar Fort. Sarah has six children and one on the way and loves writing almost as much as she loves being a mom.

Polar Opposites: Are Polar Bears in Danger? by Val K.

800px-Ursus_maritinus

On May 14 of 2008, Dirk Kempthorne, the Secretary of Interior, followed the urgings of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dale Hall and placed the polar bear species (Ursus maritimus) on the endangered species list. Hunting bans were implemented to prevent the importing of hunted polar bear hides.

Before this, a powerful controversy had been developing in the scientific world and continues even now. Environmentalists and many scientists believe that, due to global warming, the ice habitat of the polar bears is receding and endangering them and that in a matter of several decades they could possibly become extinct. Continue reading Polar Opposites: Are Polar Bears in Danger? by Val K.

Crossing Boundaries, Part Two by Steven L. Peck

Steve, friend, and redrock country

To read Part One, click here.

H. is unwilling to give up and is looking more closely at the little hole we might be able to climb in. I back up and find a passage behind a fallen slab about the size of a pancaked SUV leaning against the wall of rock. I tell H. and he looks and we decide it is worth a try. He goes first (again, being the less timid) and wiggles his way through on his belly. He yells that it ends at a drop off about seven feet high. I hear grunting, huffing and puffing . . . ”If I can just twist around . . . I can go feet first . . .” More grunting then an exclamation, “I’ve done it!” I then belly through the birth canal and emerge scratched up but smiling. We continue. The canyon is very narrow now. We cannot face forward in some places without each shoulder touching the wall. Two more places require us to chimney to get down similar seven-foot drops, but they are coming more often and getting trickier to negotiate. Continue reading Crossing Boundaries, Part Two by Steven L. Peck