Wednesday’s Words/Short Story: Rocky Mountain Dreams and Leanne’s Lesson

“If you can’t have what you want, then you’d better learn to want what you have.”

Her mother, Maude, had tossed those words at her like a hard ball, and by instinct, she caught them with only a passing sting in her chest. She was used to her saying things like that, her life whittled down by farm work, days of tedium and nights defined by what she did not get enough of; sleep eluded her more and more, Leanne noted the purple shadows under her mother’s bleary eyes. Her father was decent enough, he just had no talent for love. Maude once told her, when Leanne was set on getting married, that a man might set her heart alight but that fire had to grow and it took a lot of tending. Leanne didn’t know if her father ever made her mother’s heart light up; by the time she was born, three others had caused trouble enough and her parents just seemed tired out, if accepting of their lot.

Leanne leaned against the fence post. The deep meadow was thick with windswept, pale grasses waiting to be overtaken by fresh green blades. Further on was the woods, where deer hid out sooner or later and whre Randy hunted, then usually came back empty-handed. She suspected it was because he dozed in the blind or didn’t want to kill anything since leaving the Army. He said it was because they were few and wily. She was happy her eyes could scan the grasses, trees and sky– everywhere she looked. It gave her relief from the sense of being caged. But it was what she’d called home most of her life.

And she was back when she’d thought she was gone for good.

This good land she and Randy owned: ten acres with a cabin they were fixing up. It was bought a shortly after they wed, thanks to an inheritence from his grandfather. Sometimes it was like overseeing their own country out there, and ten miles from her parents. But at times it also felt like one she’d been exiled to, and protesting a life they chose was worse than useless. As restless as the day she was born bawling and beating the air, she right then wanted to row a boat downriver or take a horseback ride to a whole other state. Reall, much farther. It had gotten to a point that when she was grading papers, she saw not words or numbers but those Rockies of Colorado where they had met. Or the cities they’d visited–Denver, Albuquerque, Sante Fe. It stirred her up, those thrilling memories, that landscape of heat and red and grey rocks and high open sky. The surprise ot it all. It made her long for things she didn’t have.

What did she have to complain about? He was now a full-time forester; she taught fifth and sixth graders. They treated each other well, better than most if she thought about the sad little town, the old friends who opined that her husband was the cutest-sweetest-smartest guy around and wasn;t Leanne so lucky. Well, that was true. But he also wasn’t from there; he was from Wyoming and so this was new to him. Why he’d actually wanted to be Michigan, she didn’t understand–she had so taken to Colorado. They’d met at the state university. But neither could find decent employment there after graduation. A teaching job for Leanne became available in northern Michigan; her family–still Michiganders, still stuck– encouraged a return. And when two people meet and see something special in each other, you do what seems timely and good to build a life. It’s becomes the right way to do things–reasonable actions undertaken for each other. And when he got there, he loved the greeness, its open land bounded by forest, “A little open like the West but much more interesting–lush.” And they needed her job until he found one.

Leanne leaned forward. In the distance a deer wandered to woods’ edge, lifted nose in the breeze, disappeared again. She slowly stood, alert, and fought an urge to follow it, to enter the sheltering crowd of trees and vanish, too. If she’d had her backpack, she might have done it. For awhile. Then what? Hitch hike to Colorado? Send Randy a postcard: I left but please come…? He’d guess why: she never wanted to return here. It was the fishbowl effect of a rural town, the certainty that her parents would draw a circle around them as they had her siblings. Pull it so tight about her. She wanted her own life–their own lives. But it was convenient, it was the first job when income was crucial as he continued to look for work. She had always thought they’d go back to Colorado.. But then he found his job in soil conservation and land and forest management. He was content.

The early March wind came up, lifted her ponytail off her back, swung it about. Leanne better secured her oilskin baseball cap. Redwing blackbirds were making a sweet song of bird talk further down the fence and nearby circled two vultures, looking to stave off hunger pangs. Was that what she was doing? Looking for more nourishment?

Still, she had a knack for teaching. Her students overall appreciated her– when they weren’t complaining about the work. Randy was good at his work. He was a man given to clear action, not talk, but he was also companionable, Steadfast. And he got on well enough with her parents, a miracle–much better than she did. It was the land that tied them, the potential as well as its history and how they could maximimze its bounties, Leanne mused. She had missed out on that family gene; her siblings owned lots of land, made it work for them well. She didn’t experience land lust, that fierce pride of ownership that drove people to sdo all sorts of things good and bad. She didn’t want or need to own it. Just to love it and admire it, treat it with respect no matter what it offered– and wherever she roamed. The desire to travel and see the world dogged her night and day.

When the vultures moved on and an eagle soared beyond the treeline, she wandered to the river that was a ribbon unfurled across rolling meadow. Her legs were embraced by rustling grass as she passed, a feeling evocative of childhood when she ran around barefoot, bare legged. She sat on the damp bank, knees pulled to her chin, designs of shadow and dappled light decorating her skin and the earth.

“It’s Todd Markham, that’s the problem,” she said aloud; she talked to herself when outdoors and secluded. “He had to take over Mrs. Helman’s class right across my classroom, then proceeed to tease and torment me with tales about off-road trips, snowboarding and camping in the Rockies. He knows I loved it there and miss it–as he does despite putting on a good front. He knows Randy loves it here and now we own a piece of land and a cabin in the grip of major renovation. We’re stuck here. Todd is single…so he might be here a couple of years then move on, he admitted last week–he has nothing to lose. he can do as he pleases…”

She picked up a twig and combed her hair with it, dug in the dirt with its sharp point, got a worm wrapped around it and tossed it to a safer spot. The river talked back to her with generous and soothing song, nothing complicated, nothing foreign. This was a river she knew all her life, wide and fast in spring and narrower and gentler in summer and in winter or the remnants of winter when it was often given to an icy slab or sparkly bits. But always it sang of mysteries and wildness she could taste, see, smell, hear. It carried with it the past and moved to an unknown.

She closed her eyes. This spot was sacred. But her mind wouldn’t stay calmed.

The first time Todd had looked at her she’d looked away. It was reflexive; she was married, and his clear baby blues held a searching look. The second time she’d acknowledged him to be courteous. The third time they’d lunch together in the teachers’ kitchen and lounge, getting to know one another a little in between comments from others, bites of sandwiches. Then it was lunch three or four days of the week, and some days Sandy or Thomas joined them. But it was Todd and Leanne who conversed smoothly as maple syrup on tap, to her surprise.

Sandy admonished, “You’d better make it clear to this one who you are and what your boundaries are.”

“Oh my gosh, we’re work friends like you and Thomas and the rest of us,” she’d protested.

Sandy raised an eyebrow and shook her head but left it alone. He was only being congenial, they had a a couple of things in common–like a love of Colorado, his home state. But when she anticipated seeing him she felt a slight flutter in her stomach, as if nervous. Yes, she liked his brash descriptions of his adventures. Todd’s obvious comittment to his students best interests, especially challenging ones, impressed her. His goal was to teach at a wilderness school but an ideal job hadn’t come his way. He said she was born to teach. And he understood her interest in travelling, expanding her life. He’d been to Europe twice, why didn’t she plan to enjoy Venice and Paris, Dublin and Berlin, too?

But she was with Randy, of course; she might or might not ever leave this continent for another. It was his choice, too, not just Leanne’s.

A week before, after a parent-teacher’s conference, Todd had walked her to her car . A purplish twilight began to fall. She was tired but satisfied with her teaching results, and they chatted about experiences with the parents. Then he asked abruptly if she was “happily married, you know, are you and Randy good totgether, are you glad about how things turned out?” The question jarred her. It felt unnnecessary and misguided. She got into her car, rolled down the window and looked at him with narrowed eyes.

“Todd, you need to get out there, date more, you know that? We’re friendly co-workers. If you need more than a pleasant friendship, look elsewhere.”

And she drove off too fast without looking back to see what he made of it. How dare he question her marriage? What did he think she was capable of here? But she felt the discomfit of guilt rising from the time spent with Todd Markham. It had not been, after all, a right choice; they could not be easy friends but friends who might skip over that line, it seemed. At least he imagined so. What a foolish idea, and how selfish she had been to want even that with a single man, new to town. All she needed was for gossip to come above ground and sully life.

The following day he avoided her; the next day he barely nodded at her in a meeting. They didn’t share lunch hour the following days. Sure, his spirit and its reflection of Colorado life had been fun and intriguing. Leanne’s uncertainty about living once more in Michigan, the uneasiness over what she and Randy were going to build together had shaken her up, made her vulnerable to wishful thinking. But it had never been about Todd Markham but a broader wistfulness. A naive daydream, a wanderlust.

On the other side of the river there was a blur of motion, and Leanne looked up in time to see the deer’s ears rise above bushes and brush between tree trunks. A lovely ear flicked, perhaps at a bug. She held her breath and stared hard, looking for its eyes, one of which barely shimmered in a golden slash of sunlight. The head came up into full view. When their eyes met for a split second her whole being tingled with delight. The white tailed doe scampered off with barely a sound. All was still except for a woodpecker, and the distant screech of a jay.

“I am crazy about this land,” she whispered, throat tightening with emotion. “I just want more…adventures with Randy before years pass in a blur, before life takes more than we can spare. Before we ever come close to forgetting how much we love each other. I do not ever want to end up in a rut, worn out like my parents seem to be as they get old…”

The river listened. It always bore her words patiently. It knew this was a young one with heart but also ignorance and simply saved by sincerity, curiosity. It gave her nothing but songs of beauty, constancy, clarity. All she had to do was live with honor, live by her spirit’s deeper wisdom.

She was ready to go home; she more than anything wanted to hold her husband. Work with him diligently on their cabin at the edge of the welcoming woods. Make their place much more of a home, a happy refuge, welcoming others into their lives. Maybe for five or ten years–maybe for a lifetime.

And they lived close to sprawling Canada; they could travel there as she had as a kid twice. Randy hadn’t even been there yet so it might seem like a whole new destination as they explored together.

******

She ran up five steps to their broad porch, thinking of the chicken stew with dumplings she wanted to make for dinner and if they had any brownies left for her quick snack.

Her mother met her at the door as she burst in, face scrunched in worry.

“Leanne, where have you been? We tried to call and call but there was no service! You’ve been gone for hours–it’s Randy!”

“I was at the river–what do you mean, it’s Randy?” Panic engulfed her.

“He got hurt, honey!”

Her mother’s words cut as she was yanked into their bedroom, heart pounding. Her father sat beside a supine Randy, his hooded eyes watching over him. When she crouched close to her husband she saw the blurry outline of blood seepage on a thick swath of protective bandage taped about it. His wounded hand–and fingers?–looked gigantic as it rested on his chest. Randy’s reddened face was lined with pain, sweaty below the wascoth that served to cool him. He breathed in slow breaths, eyes half-closed as he barely gazed up at her.

“Whatever happened?… Randy?”

“My Leelee…damned chainsaw kicked, not good….” he said, slurring his words. “Accident, guess my turn…”

Maude said, “Stitched his hand up at ER in Petoskey, saved his thumb for now but barely, another finger hurt. It may not heal right, honey….we have to make sure it’s cleaned, he takes all antibiotics–“

“He can live without a thumb if he has to, better than a whole hand. Galen Gilliam got his leg ripped up bad, might lose it… Randy here tried to help and got hurt, too,” her father said quietly. He patted his son-in-law on the shoulder and vacated the chair.

“Oh, Galen..and Randy’s body?” she asked.

“Luckily okay, just a hand.”

“He’s all drugged up, he’ll rest better, start his healing,” her mother added extraneously, then left the room as did her father, closing the door behind them.

Leanne’s mind emptied of thoughts; her body was stripped of a sense of balance as she sank into the chair, cradling her face in both hands until the spinning slowed. Her heart was melded with his. Fear was followed by dread, then it drained away as she looked him over. His wide forehead, sandy colored hair long at ordinary ears; his neat reddish beard was shaggier. She touched it wiriness with one finger, then his chapped lips. Kissed him. His eyelids didn’t flutter; he was asleep already. He’d trusted emergency interventions just as he trusted the earth and his friends and her–with faith in an essential goodness, a courage that was rooted deep from all she had seen in just three years. Now he rested. Her own breath evened, and her stomach unclenched as relief flowed through her. It was only a damaged hand, maybe loss of a thumb, maybe nerve damage but they’d figure things out. They could live with that much harm. She could attend to his regret or anger, even depression if that was what it was to be. But Randy was a born optimist, just as she was a born wanderer. And yet she’d not leave his side, just as he’d not give up.

His work shirt had been changed, maybe cut off by a nurse or her mother. The navy T-shirt he wore was clean and “Colorado Dreaming” was stamped across it with pine green letters strewn against jagged mountain peaks and bright blue sky. His muscled arms were strong but now slack, defenseless atop the bed clothes. She put her head on the patchwork quilt-covered bed and let tears flow, and all she longed for was him, husband and best friend. Randy, Randy, oh Lord. A fervent prayer for healing spilled into their room.

All she understood at that moment was that they’d arrived alone and vulnerable in the world, and then they’d found one another. But how much more helpless they could be made in an instant. They had to hold each other up, and be–or act–brave, come what may. They had to stand and face life together and when things got too much, they’d be wise to kneel together, too. It was how a life shared was created: moment by moment. Within peace and abundance, surely, but also with difficulty or uncertainty yapping at their heels. They had to handle the bad times, and use them, too, when linking together wants and needs, plans changed with sudden surprises to make room for greater dreams. Who knew where they’d end up? Maybe the Rocky Mountains were just a moment they had shared; they were older now, moving on. For the foreseeable future, Leanne was staying right there, in the middle of their home. Her hand on his free hand, her breath matching his as needed, as ready as she could be for what came next.


Friday’s Poem: Looking for Clarity

In the thicket of morning I lean at the railing,

search between trees for confirmation

of our mountains, their resoluteness rising

within a miasma of relentless winter.

The diaphonous scene releases nothing

of canopy or carpet of springtime.,

I have only memories of camellias,

snowdrops, crocus that surely color lowlands.

Here on the side of a volcano, I forget.

Below and beyond are rotting stumps,

a proliferation of fungi that embellish forest,

and leaves cast off in good faith before

we were captured again by the specter of illness.

I strain to see the evidence of more.

I need an embrace of verdant offerings,

birds greeting and flying close to me

and bees hunting for hearts of flowers.

This fog that blinds is winter’s mantle;

it seems to own these times but it is gossamer:

it shifts, it parts its icy curtain and there–

there is the sight that has kept me waiting.

It reveals brave peaks which guard the valley

and reminds of days blessed by sunlight and roses,

my feet climbing through friendly mosses,

the infinite sky a kiss bestowed on every living thing.

Friday’s Poem: Sing, Darkness, Bring the Fall

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In the old neighborhood while autumn crept into

the fading simmer of summer, I awaited chirps.

Crickets were soon found among houses

that carried history in their seams, and

behind tree giants that rose above all.

A walk into saturated dark, which can

flash glimpses of life behind beaming windows,

was a puzzle of hide and seek sounds.

I traced their repeat to unseen stages as

evening became a chorale thick with

a divine sense of composition,

that tranquil pulsing like stars.

I stood, eyes closed to capture

a thrill of insect song offered in unison,

their interweaving of meters and tones.

Year after year I followed their chirrups,

seeking the most distant, jaywalking

toward sentinel bushes lining lawns,

cocking my ear in alleys with underbrush.

Holding my breath.

*

They have come again as leaves are crumpling,

berry-reddening and tarnishing to brassy hues.

But here on the small mountain it is a different event,

the gathering and listening easy–not better or worse.

Now I need go nowhere, just slip out my balcony door.

Steep land below cradles them in ivy,

pine needles, grasses, wind sheared branches.

They begin at once, for we who have

long waited and those who have not.

With invisible constancy, crickets never forget,

do not disappoint.

And later, in the dense, torn nights in my bed,

their universal call and response carries on,

as if an angelic force behind the scenes

holds fast to everything, each voice kept true.

And keeps me in place, rooted in calm.

I feel that humming in heart and bones;

it removes the world from my rest,

and me from my troubles.

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

Below is my reading of the poem, if you wish to hear it shared aloud.

Friday’s Poem: A Student of the Rivers

The Willamette River, south of Portland

What would it be to live as this river

which labors and keeps its own counsel,

carries cargo along ragged banks or thundering falls

a heft and roll of mighty water that sweeps

toward the mother-father river, Columbia,

and exhilaration of bliss: the Pacific and its bounties.

To possess such a sure homing instinct,

its pull and push moving me toward wonder

and brimming vastness of wisdom;

shuttled beyond the endangering world

and released to life’s healing in a mandala of unity.

What would it be to travel as our river,

swift and potent, a messenger of nature

as it grazes earthy arms, melds with a greater whole,

generous in spirit, giving and taking as its waters

gather, fold, churn, ruffle, twirl and glide–

this waterway’s bright, honorable element

shared with creatures, sustenance imparted:

all for one, one for all.

May this never be a missable, everyday miracle.

And may I not miss my daily call-

to go forth in strength, peace and purpose.

The Columbia River, which courses between Washington and Oregon

(Note: The Willamette River flows south to north, an uncommon occurrence, mostly uphill to join the Columbia as it runs to the Pacific Ocean.)

Monday’s Meander: Astoria’s Charms… with Smoke

We visited Cannon Beach at the Pacific Ocean, then took 101 north to Astoria, at the northwest tip of Oregon. Views leading into the city were a bit eerie and oddly mesmerizing to me. Fogginess mingled with light smoke from California and Oregon fires still burning south of us. These scenes feel painterly to me, and different than what I usually am able to photograph.

I always enjoy this deep water port town. The oldest town in Oregon, it was established in 1811. It grew along southern banks of thColumbia River which joins the Pacific there. Named for John Jacob Astor, the entrepreneur, his fur company was established here. I always meditate on the mysterious power of a huge volume of fresh water meeting such vastness of salt water–a melding of two potent forces. Fishing and canneries were prominent businesses there; a last cannery was closed by 1980. Fishing, however, remains important to the economy, as well as tourism for those interested in area history and the town’s placement.

Below, entering from the south side with its smoky, almost vintage, coloration as dusk fell. The Columbia was surprisingly, perhaps deceptively, peaceful. It holds mighty currents and depths.

Although the city is interesting–it boasts several historical museums, a bustling arts scene and good restaurants, about which I’ve posted before–I concentrated on Columbia River scenes as we walked by railway tracks. The faint smoke in the atmosphere–not too discernable to the nose– gives an added yellow-orange tinge here and there. A moody series of views.

The man below arrived in his bright boat at the dock and got off with his dog. They then had a game of catch the stick thrown in the water–a pleasant scene to witness! You can see here and in other shots the Astoria-Megler bridge that connects our two states, and which we have taken a few times to visit a few of Washington’s coastal areas. (It is different and less accessible much of the coastline.)

According to Wikipedia: “Opened 54 years ago in 1966, it is the longest continuous truss bridge in North America.”

Hard-to-see seals on long docks farther out by ships were a raucous bunch!

It was a good end of another day out and about–hope you enjoyed it, as well! See you at “Wednesday’s Words” post.