Bones

o'keefe

I love bones. There’s something exceptionally pleasing about the way they feel in your hand, their smooth surfaces and occasionally jagged edges, their curves and swirls. I love their blankness, their lightness, their simultaneous earthiness and ethereality.

When I visited my old home in Colorado in April, my partner asked me to bring him something that could only be found there (“not a rock”).

I brought him some heirloom beans from the Adobe Milling Co. and a smudge stick made from sage I harvested on my grandparents’ property. I also gathered bones. On a walk around the old settlers’ road with my friend and her three kids, we happened upon what I guessed was a scattered rabbit skeleton. As I squatted to collect the bones, the kids helped, picking up tiny vertebrae and placing them gently in my hands.

“It’s a bunny skeleton,” I said.

A moment passed, and Preston, age 3, asked, “Are you making a bunny?”

I swooned.

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After I returned home, the bones languished in a wooden box for a couple of months before I felt sufficiently creatively energized to make the mobile I’d imagined. Per my partner’s request, I wanted to make something really special, crafted as an emblem of my love, and as a testament to the enduring magic of the fragrant, sky-suffused high desert landscape that’s one of my favorite places on earth.

As well as Southwest bones and rocks, I incorporated Northwest moss and driftwood, in a union between desert and sea, dry and wet, here and there.

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People Watching

On the ferry.  A pair of women who look to be mother and daughter. One thickset in black shorts, pearl grey blouse, the younger one svelte in a flowered sundress. Each with long, blondish hair, painstakingly highlighted and straightened: expensive hair. For some reason I find this hair depressing. Tragic, even.

A man leans against the lifeboat cage, gazing at his screen. He’s got on jeans holey at the knees, a black baseball cap with a red Polo logo on it. He sports the kind of trucker ‘stache I’ve got a weird weakness for.

A plump girl with curly auburn hair displays her butt in cutoffs, her belly in a cropped shirt. Though I admire the confidence and body acceptance evinced by such a getup, I can’t imagine ever being comfortable dressed like that (unless I was at the beach, maybe).

There’s another girl wearing pink shorts so short and tight that they grab at her crotch, jam themselves aggressively into her butt crack. They’re smaller than most of my underwear. She tugs at them, and I wince in sympathetic discomfort.

A young woman with pale skin and chin-length dark hair passes, wearing a long skirt of diaphanous ochre, a short-sleeved polka dot blouse, and black strappy sandals. Her elegant, flattering ensemble is a refreshing departure from all of the awkward and ill-fitting clothes I’ve seen today.

Sated on salad, fries, and coffee, hot sun beating down, stroked by sea breeze, Ranier’s majestic bulk looming across the sound, the smell of salt water exciting pleasure as keen as a lover’s caress. This place is paradise.

Inextricably entwined with Seattle summer’s idyllic nature, though, is an awareness of its ephemerality, an insistent anxiety that nibbles at the edge of consciousness, reminding you that it will be gone all too soon.

 

Crushin’

His feet are filthy, dirt in various shades of brown coating the soles in a mottled patchwork, the nails longish and jagged. I want to touch them.

I’m eager to impress and aware of it. I watch myself, amused, as I try to sound smart, to act nonchalant, to rein in my eagerness and play it cool. Is it working? I can’t tell.

I feel obvious, foolish. I want to break free of the game, of the need to put on a show, and instead be completely genuine.

Ah, but where’s the fun in that?

Perhaps it would open a realm more worthwhile than mere “fun.” I can hear K telling me as much.

People fetishize the concept of “life.” I see it manifest in a couple of ways:

1. The idea of life as interesting and noteworthy in of itself, i.e., life on Mars (microbial, whatever).

2. The idea of [human] life as somehow “sacred,” imbued with divine essence.

These views seem to be often at odds. I’m thinking at the moment of environmental degradation, the cataclysmic changes that are occurring as the result of human activity on the planet.

It seems like those who believe the earth was created to be our pleasure garden should want to preserve it in a state as close to original creation as possible, whereas those who believe that all life, simply because it is alive, incredibly, through a confluence of circumstances far from inevitable, would shrug and say, “life persists.”

But in practice it’s often the opposite.

I was thinking about astrology a minute ago, the idea of planetary phenomena causing (or, depending on your school of thought, merely predicting/correlating with) outcomes in human affairs. I think it arises out of a desire to feel connected, at home in the universe. To know oneself, not as pathetic and arbitrary and alienated, but as an integral player in the world, no matter how small the role.

I like the concept of fractals. Echoes of the big in the small, the minute in the vast. The way clouds mimic fossilized swirls of primordial mud. I believe that this phenomenon extends into the realm of ideas and feelings. From the individual all the way up to the cultural, and eventually, the collective unconscious, the Noosphere: The struggles and misapphrehensions and surges of insight and passion and madness that occur on the individual level also happen at the group level.

I want to believe he’s watching me, even though he’s not. It’s a titillating fiction, to think of him gazing out the window upon me unfolded on this rickety lounge chair, writing in my little notebook. The thought of being desired by someone you desire is catnip for the ego.

Running my fingertips over my thigh, I feel how it is both soft and rough. Soft to someone else, maybe, who’s used to the coarse bristles and tough skin of their own masculine leg. Rough to me, because I know each scuff and burl, each little eczema patch and inflamed hair follicle.

Its okay that I’m not all that good at drawing. It’s okay that I take off my shirt to sun my belly, wanting to not give a fuck, then think about putting it back on, giving a fuck after all.

Life’s like a lucid dream: We wake up when we die, and none of this will matter.

I don’t much like your tattoos, but I do like the warm rankness of your flesh, the raw grassy smell of your sweat.

Breaks in the clouds like veins through marble.

Sometimes you just gotta make out with a tree.

The fact that there is injustice in the world doesn’t absolve you from exercising common sense.

Fresh Ink

I was done with work, but I didn’t feel like going home. Instead I biked down the hill to see what was happening in the throbbing Pike/Pine corridor. Little drops of moisture stuck to my coat and the pavement shone slick with the lights of cars.

Outside of the Wild Rose, a woman flagged me down, suggested I step inside for a beer. It was karaoke night. I shrugged and locked up my bike, went inside. The crowd was thin. I ordered a Ranier; it was $4, which seemed kind of steep, but I guess is pretty normal.

(When I was in Idaho last summer, my friend and I stumbled into a small-town bar that could’ve been frozen in 1975. Beers were $2, shots of whiskey (good whiskey), $4. The jukebox took quarters, and was stocked with Hank Williams, Marty Robbins, Charlie Pride, Pasty Cline. There was a pot-bellied stove, a strict cash-only policy, indoor smoking. The proprietor was a half-deaf old guy. The only other patrons were three young men and one woman. It was her birthday. She crossed her arms and complained that she was tired; she just wanted to be in Twin Falls, with her kid.

My friend and I played pool against each other, then shuffleboard with the locals. We listened to one of them rambling about his desire to go to culinary school, interwoven with a vague story about a recent arrest. When we’d been there a while and everyone was standing outside, passing a pipe, I remembered that I had presents in my car.

I’d sent a care package to a soldier in Afghanistan a couple of Christmases before, but it had gotten sent back (my pen pal was fine – she’d gone home). I’d left it, unopened, at my grandparent’s house in Colorado and retrieved it on this trip. There was a little fancy pad of paper, a Calvin and Hobbes comic, some Oreos, all prettily wrapped. I gave the Calvin and Hobbes book and a jar of almond chocolate spread to the woman for her birthday. She exclaimed, over and over, that this was the most random thing that had ever happened to her.)

At the Wild Rose, I sang one song (the Doors, “Backdoor Man”) and left before the karaoke contest started. I went into Big Mario’s to get a slice. I was hoping to find an appealing stranger to banter with, but all I got was a guy commenting on the steam rising from my pizza as I wadded it inelegantly into my mouth. Everyone was with someone, and the bar was loud and crowded.

I ate my pizza and drank a Hamm’s and watched a closed-captioned Mark Wahlberg get slapped around by apes on the TV. Hamm’s tastes like passion fruit. It’s good with oily hot pizza.

I thought about getting another slice, decided against it. A guy out on the sidewalk cheerfully touted his wares (weed, blow) to passersby. I got back on my bike, coasted down the sidewalk towards downtown. At Third and Pike, the usual nighttime assortment of addicts in various stages of decay. The D Line to Ballard was 15 minutes out. Still restless, I biked down to Second, thinking of the Clever Bottle and vinegary cocktails in frosty copper cups.

On the way was a tattoo studio I’d often seen from the window of a bus. I’d always thought it looked pretty dubious: stridently glowing against Belltown’s darkness, open late. I walked in. There were three people working, all women, all really nice in a refreshing no-bullshit way. Even though it was 11:30 pm, they gave me some paper and a pen. I signed forms, used the bathroom. A sign above the sink read “employees must carve Slayer into forearms before returning to work.” I realized that, as of this year, I’ll have been tattooed for half my life. I remembered a time when having a tattoo was still sort of edgy. I lay down on the table.

 

Bus is Best

I am so tired of cars. They are horribly polluting. They uglify the city and make it less walkable. They are always breaking, necessitating expensive repairs. When you’re sitting in traffic in a car, all you can do is seethe as you feel your finite time on earth being sucked away. Cars are symptomatic of a cynical individualism that privileges convenience over community need. Cars are dangerous and noisy.

While public transit certainly isn’t perfect, it offers many, many advantages over cars.

Here are some things you get to do on public transit that you don’t get to do while driving a car:

1. Sleep.

2. Read a book.

3. Write a poem.

4. Listen to a guy whistle like a bird.

5. Talk to strangers.

6. Surreptitiously draw people.

7. Text.

8. Watch a woman spinning yarn on a drop spindle.

9. Stare out the window.

10. Get a compliment from the bus driver.

11. Close your eyes and daydream.

12. Make little clay figurines.

13. Be wasted.

14. Spy on people in their cars.

And the list goes on… what’s your favorite bus activity?

bus portraits
bus portraits

 

hand practice.
hand practice.

 

Spring Grey

magnolia

When it’s grey outside and chilly and I imagine being spattered with wet cold drops, I don’t really want to walk Ayla. But then I do, and I see how bright everything looks in the rain. How saturated and vivid the colors are against the slate of the sky. Why our emerald city is called that: There are thousands upon thousands of shades of green, in grasses and firs and deciduous trees, ferns and vines and shrubs and flower stalks and jewel-like mosses.

grey beach

Sun’s delight needs no explanation. It’s showy and brash, greeting everyone with a high five and a belly laugh. Its gold illuminates an unchallenging, obvious beauty. But the grey, the misty drizzle that so often engulfs this corner of the world, is full of secrets. There’s a hushed excitement on damp grey days, a feeling of incipient magic. The grey invites you to look closer, to sit with stillness and let nascent dreams bloom into fullness.

Soon the kiss of the mist isn’t unwelcome, and the rain feels nourishing. Living things sparkle under its tender touch, streets are sloughed of grime. Birds chirp and dogs leap, knowing what’s good for them.

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Mycological Magic

Uncanny and mysterious,  mushrooms abound in woods and meadows worldwide. Clinging to tree trunks, peeking from leaf-litter, nestled in the grass, mushrooms astonish and delight us with their outlandish shapes, bizarre tactile qualities, and weird aromas. They pop up suddenly, profuse wildly, and confound our taxonomies. IMG_3524 Discovering weird new varieties, like one I found in the Oregon woods with a ruffled base and conical fruiting body that oozed pineapple-scented goo when squished, thrills me. The hobbits’ thievery in Fellowship of the Ring always struck a chord: Good mushrooms are worth the risk. Wandering London’s Chinatown as a child, I was endlessly fascinated by the jars of dried fungi that crowded the window displays of apothecaries and grocery stores.  I love mushrooms.IMG_3605 Celebrated as they are, ritually, artistically, and culinarily, mushrooms are also feared and reviled: Darwin’s daughter Etty famously hunted and destroyed stinkhorns, lest their phalliform appearance corrupt the morals of those who saw them. Ayurveda proscribes the consumption of mushrooms because they grow in the dark and feed on decaying matter. And some people simply can’t abide their earthy flavors and spongily meaty textures. I, for one, can’t get enough. IMG_3634 A walk in Bainbridge Island’s Grand Forest after an autumn rain several months ago yielded no chanterelles, but many pictures, plentiful inspiration, and a piquant reminder of the wonders of the natural world. IMG_3652 IMG_3666 IMG_3574 IMG_3568 IMG_3548 IMG_3594 IMG_3537 IMG_3555 IMG_3541   IMG_3604 IMG_3522   IMG_3679 IMG_3639 IMG_3673