Imperfect Impermanence

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I think Aedan is really struggling with his dad being gone right now, and it manifests in him treating the rest of us like crap. Lots of name calling, hitting, toy throwing…it’s a challenge for me to keep in mind that it’s because he’s having a hard time. Yesterday morning, after unending insults and fighting, I loaded everyone up in the truck with the plan to drive out to Tombstone Territorial Park.

The drive wasn’t any better than the morning at home. Lately, whenever I get the kids into the truck, they do nothing but bicker. Is this a thing siblings do on car rides? Someone always complaining loudly that someone else is bothering them, touching them, took their thing, bit them…I have, on more than one occasion, threatened to “pull this truck over right now” or “turn around and go right back home”, even though we all know full well I’m not going to do that. Who have I become?

I’ve become a woman doing her best to keep her shit together, I guess. We arrived at the Interpretive Center and hit the trail to the beaver pond. It was overcast, the sky low and moody over mountains just on the verge of fall brilliance. The dog wouldn’t stop pulling on the leash. The kids alternated by running ahead on the path and running up to hug the dog, and then we’d all get tripped up. I’d step on the dog’s paw and he’d yelp and then I’d stumble over a kid and they’d yelp and then I’d yelp at everyone to get out of my way. Fun times, right?

We got to the bench by the beaver pond and immediately everyone asked for a snack. The snacks I bring are never what they want and there is never enough. Still, I tried to relax and take in the surroundings, tried to be present even if that meant fully existing in a moment of kids and dog tugging at my limbs. It was not relaxing, but sometimes that’s just the way it goes. At least we were out of the house.

On the walk back to the Interpretive Center, where the path skirted the highway, I could see three young women hitch hiking together further north. They had big packs on their backs, the hoods of their Gortex jackets drawn tight over their heads. They chatted and laughed, the one in the middle clutching a cardboard sign with their destination written on it. I thought of all the adventures I never had, will never have. Slipped out of the moment and into longing for a life that is not mine. Charlotte tripped over a root and fell, and I went to comfort her. The dog, forever tugging on the leash.

We arrived back at the truck and I loaded Winston into the back before we went into the center. It was relatively busy in there. The boys went to play with the animal puppets; Charlotte sat down to colour. I poured myself a cup of tea (labrador tea leaves, yarrow and cranberries) and sat in front of the blazing woodstove. Here. I’m here. This is my family, this is my life.

The irritation I’d felt on the path subsided. It was cozy inside, the kids were happy. As we left, it started to rain a little. I passed those women on the highway, silently wishing them a ride soon. I felt grateful to be dry and heading home.

Lest you think the day was perfect after that: I yelled at the kids to be quiet on the drive home. While I was changing the oil in the generator, the dog decided to become a car chaser and not come when I called him. I cried. I wanted very much to drink the bottle of wine my friend left here in case of emergency.  But I also didn’t want to drink the bottle of wine. I made tea instead. Aedan saw me crying and told me he cared about me. And then I texted with P about how I was feeling and he just listened and didn’t try to fix it and that felt good. And then our friends came to visit and had dinner with us and by the time they left, things were better.

As I headed up to bed with the kids, I was reminded that it all passes. The moods, mine and the kids’, rise and fall like waves, drift like clouds in the sky, whatever metaphor you prefer. Nothing lasts forever. This difficult moment in my life, the bad mornings, the bad days, the sadness: they pass. I don’t have to be the uncomfortable feelings. I don’t have to believe the shitty things my mind tells me, or act on them.

This morning we all woke up in a better mood. We’ll go to the pool, we’ll visit our friends, I’ll make pizza for dinner. I may or may not yell at everyone to be quiet when we drive to town. It can’t all be perfect.

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Flying Solo

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I’m going to be solo-parenting for the next little while, and so far the experience has brought a few things forward for me. First is a deep appreciation for all that my partner does in the running of our household. I sometimes feel resentment because the childcare falls primarily to me. But now that I also must monitor our water and fill the water tank weekly, keep the generator fueled and its oil changed, clean up the kitchen after I cook, find someone to buck up a cord of firewood, find more firewood…I really see just how much he does. Even the little things, like starting a fire in the early, chill hours of the morning, putting on the birch because I love how it smells: I see them and appreciate them now more than ever.

Last night, when I came home late from work, I got the fire going again so it would be warm when we woke up today. Crouched in front of the stove, breathing life into the flames, watching them lick up the kindling that I’d split in the yard a few days earlier, I felt so grateful to the friends helping me through. Who not only babysit my children but clean my house, too. Who take my kids to the park so I can write (or, you know, run some errands unaccompanied), or who give up their weekend so I can go to work.

I felt grateful for this whole experience. In the last week, I’ve learned skills that I never made time for before. I feel empowered and independent again, something I have missed since getting married and starting a family. It was easy to give over all these running-of-the-home tasks to him. But I would also feel frustrated if they needed to be done, and I had time but lacked the knowledge. I used to worry: what if something happened to my partner and I had to keep this place going on my own? It’s hard for me to ask for help. It’s hard for me to be dependant on another. And this experience has challenged both of those things. Leaning on my friends for help with the kids, while gaining a measure of independence at home. I can now do almost all of the things that I’d previously boxed up as “blue jobs.” (I know, super sexist.) The only thing I’d like to learn is how to run the chainsaw. That will have to wait, for now.

I’m grateful for all the hard work I’ve done in the last two years to learn how to better take care of myself. I know those skills will be essential in the coming weeks. I’m down to bare-bones self-care, but I try to savour it. Making time for meditation when I can. Not worrying about writing and polishing poems, but instead focusing on 10 minute freewrites, just to keep my hand moving across the page. Taking some extra time in the shower, even. I’m grateful we have a dog that forces us out for a walk, and that there’s no cell signal in the woods. It’s an hour where I’m far away from my phone.

The season is turning abruptly here. We had a week of uncomfortable, dry heat. Each afternoon, it would reach 35 degrees celcius in the sun. Then: cool mornings and the leaves of the birch and aspen turning golden and brown. One night, strong winds blew much of the leaves down, at least around our place. Geese gather, ready for the long flight south. My thoughts turn to the woodpile, to soups and stews and home-baked bread; to checking which kid needs new boots this winter, or a new coat, and actually trying to be prepared for that (because I’m never prepared for that). I pulled the big duvet out last night and put it on the bed. It’s cozy with the kids in there, too, and for once, I’m glad we still co-sleep.

I’m going to try and keep up with my weekly posting here, but if I miss a week or two, please know life is busy right now and I’m okay! You can find me sporadically on Twitter, and more frequently on Instagram (my account is private, so if you want to follow and we don’t know each other IRL, just send me a DM) and Facebook. Take care, friends!

Quilled

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We’ve recently fostered and adopted a 5 year old Husky named Winston. He’s a big baby who just wants to be around his people. We all love him; it’s really nice to have a dog again. But having a dog and living in the bush comes with its share of hazards, porcupines being one of them.

Earlier this week, I took Winston and the kids out for a trail walk. Now that he’s familiar with us and knows where home is, we leave him off leash. This particular day, he hung back, barking at something I hoped was squirrels. Eventually, he caught up to us and we finished our walk. When we got home, he went right back to the same spot, barking and sniffing around. I went to check it out: down towards the back of our clearing is a bunch of old rotting stuff–building materials, truck tires, and windows. He had something trapped in a big jumble of plywood. I looked around but couldn’t see anything, so I left him there and headed back up to the house to see what the kids were up to and get to some yard work that needed to be done. The barking intensified though, so I grabbed his leash and headed back down, figuring I’d bring him up to the house and secure him so that whatever was trapped could leave peacefully.

I was too late.

By the time I got to him, he was rolling around on the ground, yelping. Poor baby had a mouthful of porcupine quills. I took him back up to the house, put him on his line in the yard, and went inside to figure out what to do. I put a show on for the kids to keep them occupied, found a pair of needle nose pliers, and went out to see if I could do this myself. There weren’t too many, maybe fifteen to twenty quills, mostly in his lips and gums, with a few under his tongue. I held him between my legs, pried his mouth open with one hand, and got to work. With a few breaks, I managed to pull nine quills myself before he’d had enough. He wouldn’t hold still long enough for me to get at the rest of them, especially the ones under his tongue. I needed help.

I sent a text to Paul, who was in town, asking him to call the vet and find out if he was available. Our vet here is what I would call a “country vet”. He can immunize dogs and perform simple surgeries. He doesn’t have an x-ray machine and he works out of the front of his home. Paul got back to me to say that John was in town and heading home to meet me in thirty minutes. I loaded up the kids and the dog, and away we went.

John was waiting for us when we got there. I left the kids in their car seats with books and toys, and brought Winston into the cramped and cluttered front office. After weighing him, I heaved him up onto the metal exam table. John sedated him and he fell heavy against me. I lay him down on the table and held his mouth open so the vet could remove the remainder of the quills, only five or six. Before long I was carrying my dopey pup out to the truck to head back home, with instructions to keep him on leash for the rest of the day.

John said he figures there are two kinds of dogs: the first kind gets quilled and thinks, “that hurt! I won’t ever touch that animal again!” and the second kind gets quilled and thinks, “ouch, he got me this time, but I’m gonna get him next time!”

Let’s all cross our fingers that Winston is the first kind of dog.

 

How to Make a Summer

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Each morning, my husband and I sit in our favoured places in the living room, sipping our respective cups of coffee with cream and green tea, the kids fully immersed in intense dragon battles. He’ll look at me through blasts of dragon fire and when there is a lull in the roar, he’ll ask “when does school start up again?”

It’s a hopeful question, and a useless one. They’re here, all three of them, every day. How will we get through the summer? Just by getting through. One day at a time. Tuesdays and Thursdays we go to the pool. Every morning we walk to the pond near our house and throw rocks. There may be more rock throwing later in the day at the river. There are car naps, and french fries, and mosquito bitten ankles. Yesterday, there were wild strawberries.

At work the other night, someone tipped me off to a strawberry patch accessible from town, so on Wednesday after our lunch, we loaded into the truck and drove to town, drove all the way to the end of Front street and parked under the slide, where every August the mud bog is held. As we got out of the truck, I could see the strawberry plants spread out in a mat over the hillside, amoung soapberry bushes, golden rod, plantain and the odd raspberry cane. The kids ranged over the patch, grazing. Colm, who wouldn’t eat fruit if I paid him, brought the berries to me one at a time to drop into the container I’d brought. We’re late in the season or this particular patch has already been picked clean, because the berries were sparse. I let Charlie eat what we’d collected, gone in two fistfuls.

I want to be the person who fills her freezer with wild berries each summer, lines her pantry with jewel-toned jars of preserves.  But truthfully, I find gathering wild berries to be tedious. They are so small: a good sized wild strawberry isn’t even as big as the tip of my pinky finger. Whenever I do pick wild berries, I can’t help but think of the Han people who have lived here and gathered here for thousands of years. Of the devotion they must have had to picking wild produce as it ripened. It’s not for me. I’m content to graze and to let the kids do the same. The berries are a tart burst of flavour, best enjoyed in the sun that brings them to fullness.

The kids went to bed last night with their mouths and fingers still berry-stained. Today is a pool day, maybe a rocks-in-river day. Now that we know what it’s like to have a kid in school, having three at home seems impossible, like filling a pail with tiny berries. But we get through it, one day at a time, and I try to make them about more than just “another one down”, if that makes any sense.

I’m not writing much, I am working more and the days are busy in other ways. It feels like I can’t fit it all in without letting something slip. It’s always the writing that slips. I have notes and half-poems started in my journal. I think about poems. I’ve been trying to read some poetry every day (to do that I’ve let slip the Trump-Russia fiasco and I gotta tell ya, it feels really good). I imagine that some day I’ll have it all figured out: work, family, writing, myself, so delicately balanced that even the seasons changing can’t throw it off. More likely, life will continue to be one day at a time, dragon fights and berry stained fingers and poems jotted down in between it all, each day never quite the same.

Life Lately

It feels like this summer is flying by. My parents arrived on the 18th and between spending time with them and work (did I mention I took on a second serving job?) life is busy. Here’s a quick update for you, with pictures!

It’s been hot and dry and some lightning made for a few very smokey days. We had forest fires burning all around us, with the closest being just 21 km from town. That one was something like 5 km away from a historic site, Dredge #4: the fire crews had it surrounded with sprinklers just in case. Between the efforts of the fire crews and a few days of rain, all the fires are out.

Last Thursday, I read alongside U.K. based poet Chrys Salt at Alchemy Cafe here in Dawson City. This is my third time reading in public, but my first time as something of a feature. My name was on the posters and every time I saw one of them around town I felt like a total imposter. But we had a great turnout, twenty to twenty five I think. Chrys was fabulous: her background is in theater, and it certainly shows in her readings. She was captivating, and I feel like I learned a lot watching her read. I read for ten minutes to a much appreciated, very warm reception. At the end a few people asked where they could find more of my work, and as I wrote my website address on scraps of paper, I wished for business cards. I think I secretly (not so secret anymore?) love an audience!

Other highlights of the last week: a walk through Orchid Acres, a spot in West Dawson where thousands of spotted lady’s slipper orchids grow together in the forest, and a private tour through the Bear Creek compound just outside of Dawson. This was the headquarters for all of the dredging activity that happened in this region up until the 60’s. Everything there is pretty much untouched since the day they ceased operations: it was fascinating!

Next week I hope to have a book review for you, if I can manage to squeeze in some reading time and finish my book! Hope your summer is fun. xo

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Spotted Lady Slipper Orchids
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Forest walks
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Midnight Sunsets
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Smoke in the valley
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Me and Chrys Salt at the Alchemy
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Safety first!