Author Archives: Laura M Gibson

restoration ecology

A year of big changes, many of them good, has meant stretching in unexpected ways. Experiencing an emptier, quieter household after sending a kid off to college. Becoming busier as an educational consultant. Listening to a body that seemed drawn to injury for the better part of three seasons. Learning about what it means to be a good bee “mama” over winter when we lost both hives (and were left with 60+ pounds of surprising, delicious honey).

There’s more that’s not worth reporting here, and there was enough of it that my fiction life is one I threw under the bus. Often, I write in spite of frustration and anger, but not this year.

Still, I’m always writing in my head, and I’m hoping now that I’ve sat down again to make words, those stories I’ve been percolating about will present themselves. I’m hoping they’ll turn up, ready to show me what they’ve been up to after being kept from the page. Not unlike all those jars of honey we’ve processed which was meant to feed bees through the winter and instead feeds us.

While I dive in to crafting new stories, I’m grateful and delighted about an old story new to world at Sundog Lit.

You can read it here.

Sundog’s editors helped shape this piece and encourage me to see what I couldn’t, and I’m honored, thrilled, and tickled they said yes.

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Categories: fiction, publishing, short story, writing | Tags: , , | 8 Comments

on being tender

Most days, these days, I count to 5 before I read the news. While I’m counting, I ask myself if my time would be better spent reaching out to someone or engaging in joyful pursuit. Or both. Not that I’ve put my head in the sand. Far from it. But I’m interested these days in boundaries that also allow for light. There’s a long, troubling haul ahead culturally, and sustenance for the fight, for me, is going to come from remembering both my impermanence and the importance of celebrating tiny, fierce, joyful things.

I’ve been thinking all week, since my book group meeting, about Brian Doyle.

I first met writer Brian Doyle through the pages of Orion magazine, where his pieces made me giggle and want to read them aloud or memorize them or lean into my husband and whisper them. Delicious series of words that tongue-twist and whirl and leap. “21 Laws of Nature as Interpreted by My Children” reminds we humans not to get too big for our britches: “If you can’t make a new ant, don’t kill an old one,” reads #20. “The Greatest Nature Essay Ever” pokes fun at the preachy earnestness of environmental writing, which so often bludgeons readers with stridency and dire prognostication.

Here’s his last paragraph from that essay:

“And finally the last paragraph. It turns out that the perfect nature essay is quite short, it’s a lean taut thing, an arrow and not a cannon, and here at the end there’s a flash of humor, and a hint or tone or subtext of sadness, a touch of rue, you can’t quite put your finger on it but it’s there, a dark thread in the fabric, and there’s also a shot of espresso hope, hope against all odds and sense, but rivetingly there’s no call to arms, no clarion brassy trumpet blast, no website to which you are directed, no hint that you, yes you, should be ashamed of how much water you use or the car you drive or the fact that you just turned the thermostat up to seventy, or that you actually have not voted in the past two elections despite what you told the kids and the goat.”

Doyle’s writing’s often silly, unwieldy as Faulkner, and this side-door play with language works like a water mark you can see when you hold the artifact up to the light, or a flavor you can taste hours later. That kind of fun with words piques curiosity, keeps you reading.

A few years ago, a friend gave me a copy of his novel Mink River, a book I read faster than I wanted to and stayed up late to do it a few nights running, aware that such fast tour through the pages was a disrespect to the writer’s deft ability to make prose read like poetry. Mostly, when I consider Doyle’s work, I think of the word wonder. I don’t know how he does it, but he manages to infuse his characters and their perspectives with an awe about living most of us seem to miss, busy as we are with the big problems, the minutiae, the plans and goals and hiccups.

Time with Doyle always makes me realize that in this short stint of living, I’d be better served to use wonder as my lens. There’s a choice about perspective, after all, and sometimes choice takes both purpose and a bit of work.

I recommended Martin Marten as my book group’s February read. The same friend who sent me Mink River gifted me Martin Marten in early summer as my son was about to leave home for college. It was the perfect gift, and I read it in the hammock in the week before we delivered Owen to his new chapter. Doyle’s story was a reminder that sending a kid out into the world is a new chapter for parents, too; when anyone you love peels off on his own path, he’s both inextricably bound to the place from where he’s come and forever separate in a new way. Both joy and sadness can set up shop next to each other in one’s heart, and that’s the vital rub of living.

Martin Marten, about a boy called Dave, his family, and the colorful collection of characters in their small Mt. Hood town of Zig Zag, Oregon (a town below where I’ve spent some time skulking about in the woods, a magical place), is another testament to Doyle’s wondrous outlook, to his fine ear and artful craft, to his bedrock sense that the world is a brief, glorious journey, and that the people along for the ride with us are full of wonder, too, even if they are also simultaneously curmudgeonly, or afraid, or confused. The novel unspools the twin coming-of-age of Dave, the boy, and Martin, the pine marten, and their stories weave and flirt together and apart as they’re both tossed and turned in life and love.

Dave’s younger sister is as precocious as any child you’ll meet in fiction. But I didn’t mind her ability to so candidly talk about feelings or her spatially gifted genius. Her words to her brother – the same words that ring long after the story is over – are to “be tender.”

Could there be any better words to adopt as your theme song? Especially now, when most days it feels like tenderness is a fleeting impulse, with so much hateful rage and fear on the wind.

A few years ago Brian and I both had stories published in the same journal, and I ginned up the courage to email him and tell him what a fan I was. I shouldn’t have been surprised that he emailed me back within a few hours with genuine enthusiasm and his signature silly swirl of language. Neither too important nor too busy to respond, despite his much more impressive publications. His swift, embracing tone of collegiality is something I’ll remember always and work to pay forward, too.

Our book group meetings always involve a writer review, and a friend came this week prepared to share Doyle’s accomplishments in fiction and essays, his background and family story, and his working life as editor of Portland Magazine. This story isn’t all about joy: I didn’t know until this week that Doyle was diagnosed with a brain tumor in November. He had surgery a few weeks ago and is recovering in the hospital after a complicated procedure that’s made post-surgery complicated, too, not to mention survival.

In Martin Marten, Dave spends a good bit of time exploring the “Daveness” of being Dave. In a note to his readers in the days before surgery, The “Doyleness” of Doyle sounds an awful lot like the character he built for us, so full of light:

“stories are holy and nutritious and crucial. Stories change lives; stories save lives. … They crack open hearts, they open minds…It’s more important than ever before to hold hands and catch and share stories of substance and grace and defiant courage and irrepressible humor…The alternative is to ‘allow nothing in our lives but sales pitches and lies.’”

“We could change the world if we told the right story,” Doyle said. 

Indeed.

I hope, Brian, that you can feel me hugging you from here with defiant tenderness. That you can hear my stories rising up with the stories of so many others.

Doyle Family Support Fund.

 

Categories: book review, books, community, family, fiction, nature, publishing, writing | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

hope that perches

Just after the election, while I was vacillating on the despair-o-meter between head-in-the-sand and rage, Riley came home from school with a list of actions for the future. That’s what she called them – “actions,” uttered with the most delicious conviction – and her brainstorm included ways to engage in the community. In class that day, they’d talked about the power of volunteerism (one of the many reasons I love her school) and the possibilities inherent in tapping into the needs of beings outside of oneself as the only way we’re going to move forward together.

On Riley’s list were actions that indicated what she loves best and not what she thought sounded good to someone else (from the beginning, it’s been clear I’ve had very little to do with her rock-solid self-awareness, which is strange terrain for a parent). Volunteering at the World Center Birds of Prey, at the zoo, and The Humane society. She threw down her backpack and got online to find out how an almost thirteen-year-old can work for her chosen causes. In her notebook, she made another list of phone numbers to call, dates she’d be able to participate, and paperwork required to make it all happen.

I hovered on the edge of her intent, preparing dinner, and marveled at this girl of mine.

After months of conversation and reading and listening to pundits, after months of classroom activities and learning about the democratic process, after going with me to the polls to vote and then staying up late to witness what felt like the world burning down, Riley had had enough of the adult version of solving problems. And who can blame her?

Admittedly, I haven’t been a very good role model in the days since. Each new cabinet appointment – which I take as a personal affront and further evidence every safeguard I value and respect is being dismantled and sold for parts – calls up fresh desolation and confusion. Fresh dystopian metaphors. As if the White House is a frat house, and Voldemort’s doling out bids to Death Eaters after rush. As if the Hunger Games contestants are all environmentalists, artists, scientists, educators, thinkers, philanthropists. The last one standing in the arena will be a reminder not to live against fascism. As if our new Big Brother positioned himself for office for no other narcissistic pleasure than because he cannot get enough of watching himself on T.V. Orwell and Huxley and Bradbury are turning over in their graves. I feel confident my future may involve standing in front of a bulldozer, literal or metaphoric.

What seems clear, especially to Riley, is that I’m no peach to be around. Also, I’ve forgotten my job, which, in addition to teaching her to speak up and question everything, is to model and encourage critical thinking, making connections with people we might not understand, working hard for the common good.

My resolution as we leave this odd year behind and face the new one is to take a page out of Riley’s notebook. To focus on chasing down what I love best with more joyful purpose. The byproduct, I’m hoping (I’ll work on my optimism here), will be to heal some of what feels so broken.

Onward then.

To gardening that nourishes the soul and belly, that becomes a reason to share.

To working with students to uncover what sings best for them, that seeds a new generation of mindful citizens, that becomes a reason to listen across generations.

To being outdoors and finding dark nights, that become a reason to preserve and to acknowledge how ecosystems are tethered, reliant upon one another.

To reading and writing stories that ask us to question what it means to be human, that becomes a reason to wonder, to seek  bridges.

And to rediscovering music, which for some reason that escapes me we’d taken a hiatus from in favor of radio and T.V. covering the election. A friend once told me she likes coming over because there is always music at our house. Looking back, I can’t remember at what point we turned this part of ourselves off.

This week Riley and I went to hear the O’Conner Band (with Mark O’Connor, known well in both bluegrass and classical circles) perform An Appalachian Christmas. We’re pretty enthusiastic bluegrass fans, and this seemed like just the right kind of medicine for a pre-holiday evening. You know you’re in the presence of something inspired when strings and voices give you chills, when they sound better live than recorded.

A few minutes into the fifth or sixth song, Riley leaned over and pointed toward Mark’s son Forrest, the mandolin player. “Listen to that mandolin,” she said. “Boy, can that guy play.”

We tapped our feet and sang along to a few Christmas tunes, and then the band played a new duet, the mandolin welling up in the space between voices. Riley leaned over again.

“That mandolin,” she whispered, grabbed my arm. “Mom. I think that’s my spirit instrument.”

All the way home we talked about the mandolin, where to rent it, if she’ll ever be able to make her spirit instrument sound like that. I’m tickled, of course. Our new season of action, it would seem, will involve more music. And even better, music from my capable daughter’s generous, curious hands.

We’ll see what happens; the journey is the thing. But I can’t think of a better sidekick for greeting the actions of the future than a girl who believes in possibility so fiercely, it’s emanating like light from within her. .

2012 India Trip #3 025

Riley at the Taj Mahal (www.lauramgibson.com)

Categories: community, music, parenting, writing | Tags: , , , | 8 Comments

canary in the coal mine

A number of years ago I spent an evening with some friends on a sleety winter night. It was dark well before evening, and these friends had just finished a rec room that featured a TV as big as a car. We decided the inaugural voyage for the media system should be something light, a comedy.

Over the next few hours we dropped into the world of Idiocracy, starring Luke Wilson as Joe Bowers, a man who’s a thoroughly average American soldier. Bowers is chosen for a “top secret” military hibernation program that’s billed as an experiment to test storing the world’s citizens for a future date, when they might be needed most. He’s joined in hibernation by Rita, played by Maya Rudolph, a woman who’s running away from her pimp. It’s a ridiculous experiment and plot line, of course. Scandal ensues, and the officials in charge close the program down and forget they’ve cold-storaged Bowers and Rita, who wake up 500 years later to a world that’s changed in every terrifying possible way. Mountainous terrains of trash grow as far as the eye can see. Costco is the central business of the world. Citizens subsist on a drink called Brawndo, supposedly rich in electrolytes, which has replaced water for drinking and is used for irrigating plants. A food shortage plagues the land.

Bowers and Rita are the Adam and Eve – the smartest people in the world – in the new landscape where every conceivable commodity is built around convenience, desire, and pleasure. Together they come to understand the call to arms set before them: they must educate citizens and ultimately serve a stint in the White House, run by President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho.

I made it through the film without falling asleep on the couch. Not because it was good. Like other Mike Judge work – Beavis and Butt-head Do America, Office Space – its satire is built around the sort of basement humor that’s somehow funny every time: farting and burping and other crude cultural jokes you’re slightly embarrassed to be laughing about.

Don’t rush to see this movie.

I’m writing about it here because I recall how it agitated me in the weeks after. It was absurd and low, yes, but there was enough possibility for reality underneath the idiocy, enough prescience at its core.

I’ve spent the last year mainly listening more than writing, as events in my own life haven’t left much bandwidth for creating words. A natural introvert, I’m on friendly terms with listening. This is how we quiet types make sense of the world. Writers especially listen in on the world, transforming what we witness and hear into story lines and scenes, eavesdropping on conversations to hear how people talk and what silences in conversations sound like.

It’s been hard to listen to the avalanche of words from both sides in the last few months. I’ve purposely not used this space for political discussions. But this last week, these election results, feel like what happens when the premise of Idiocracy and McCarthyism have a baby.

I normally love babies. What better testament to new beginnings, to love, to hope? But this baby is genetically engineered by people who don’t speak for much of what I believe in.

This baby is going to develop at an abnormal rate. It’s on its back in the crib, soaking in the shiny bright dangling mobile of hateful rhetoric, intolerance, and anger. It’s drinking the milk of corporate interests, of stripping away protections for the common good, of sowing the seeds of fear. This baby is walking and shouting and pointing a finger. It’s developing hand-eye coordination by using a sledgehammer. Swinging away at environmental protections, healthcare for the underserved, justice that makes sense for democracy, protection of the arts and education and refugees and carefully crafted global partnerships.

I’m a parent. A teacher. I’m concerned about the first years of this child. What happens when it goes to school and has to play nice with others? When it becomes a teenager? When a childhood devoid of wrangling with facts and compassion cannot curb the impulsive choices it makes because its frontal lobe isn’t yet formed?

And since I’m throwing around such loud metaphors, I’ll add one more. How was it so many of us missed the canary in the coal mine? I’ve been listening all year, hard, but I wasn’t, clearly, listening to the voices that could’ve indicated all the air would be leaving the chamber. How was it so many of us couldn’t hear – more, acknowledge as a possible majority – that frequency?

Tending to this rogue baby is going to take a village. The future will require all of us to listen to each other in ways we haven’t. I hope enough of us will be brave enough to try.

Categories: community, parenting, writing | Tags: | 6 Comments

stories in the world

Much gratitude to JuxtaProse for including “Shelter in Place” in a recent issue. They were amazing to work with, and I’m thrilled to be invited to the party of authors they assembled. You can read that piece here.

Volume-4-Cover-Stretch

If you’re not sick of me after that, you can check the most recent book review of Paolo Bacigalupi‘s The Water Knife here.

TheWaterKnife-PaoloBacigalupi-201x300

Thanks, always, for checking in to this space. I aim to end the year writing, the same as I began it, and to make a dent in the pile of books I can’t wait to get lost in. Here’s to stories of all kinds and the way they shore us up in hard times, plant the seeds of change, and inspire us to be better humans.

 

 

Categories: book review, books, fiction, short story | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments

tiny farm notebook

www.lauramgibson.com

Snow’s on its way. I’ve closed up the garden and turned my attention to indoor pursuits. It feels good.

In the last two seasons I’ve learned a few things about tending a tiny farm. It’s a ton of work, for starters, which I knew. But also didn’t. Just as I knew, but also didn’t, how raising a high school senior and keeping a garden bigger than the house would invade writing time.

Still, I’ve managed to harvest some bits of wisdom along the way:

Two roosters fight. Constantly. If you try and give one of your men to a gal pal with more land and a bigger flock, she will lecture you about why you should be made of tougher stuff. Real farmers suck it up. They do what’s necessary.

So, you research what to do.

No one else you know wants, or is allowed to raise, a rooster. If you list your FREE rooster on craigslist, he will be used as cockfighting bait for champion roosters to practice on.

You let your two fellas range in the pasture, hoping nature will decide. The red-tailed hawk that hunts on your land looks hungry for fresh chicken, but the boys are better than you thought at avoiding danger. This is the only activity during which they create an alliance in order to survive.

Weeks pass. Every time you feed the birds, you get assaulted by the big rooster Carson (formerly named Custer), who shows his irritation that you’re near his harem by flying at you sideways with his spurs out.

In the interest of taking care of your own business and being merciful, you have to kill him. Then you explain to your kids how not all living things on our farm are pets.

 Even though this is a lie.

www.lauramgibson.com

Bees sometimes swarm. When your bees flee, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent. It’s not like 20,000 kids ran away because you neglected them. This just happens, according to experts who know. If your bees only get as far as the plum tree twenty feet from the hive, and you catch them after watching seven videos on YouTube about how to do it, count that as success! The dog, who tries to “help” and gets stung twenty-seven times, will be okay once the swelling goes down.

Try not to congratulate yourself too much. The next day, your bees will get attacked and killed by someone else’s robbing swarm, and that will be the end of that. Utter colony collapse.

There’s always next year. You have all the equipment now.

www.lauramgibson.com

Gardens get big. When, in your spring zeal to GROW a GARDEN, you plant three times more tomato, pepper, zucchini, and bean plants than your family can possibly handle, remember to preserve, can, freeze, salsa, red sauce, bruschetta, and chili your way through harvest. Once the shelves and freezer are full, you can SHARE the wealth. It’s important to hear poorly at this time. For example, when friends in August try to tell you they’ve got all the zucchini they can handle, it really IS okay to insist they take more. It’s their civic duty.

Also, you can leave presents on the porch when they’re not home which, let’s face it, is better than a visit from Santa.

www.lauramgibson.com

Labradors like birds. If a friend’s dog attacks your remaining rooster Willy (formerly named Napoleon), think carefully before you use your home as the infirmary. Chickens really do prefer to be outside. Once the injured fella is inside the house, there’s no helping the way the whole of your living space will smell like a barnyard. Several websites will suggest giving injured chickens Epsom salt baths and syringe-feeding them electrolytes, and you can employ these methods if you want.

However, it will likely make tending Willy’s psychic and physical well-being very heartbreaking. Your friend’s dog gave him a sound thrashing, and his legs are clearly broken.

Try not to be relieved when he dies on his own. You won’t have to subject your children to another round of murder, which, as they keep reminding you, will be the reason they’re in therapy later.

www.lauramgibson.com

Woodstoves are a hassle. If you have a tantrum about the inefficient woodstove in the living room that leaks and covers the furniture with ash and takes up too much space and MUST COME OUT, and if, then, you watch more YouTube videos about extracting the beast from your world, be careful. These videos are not nearly as entertaining as the ones you watched about bees. You might discover that woodstoves are quite heavy, and awkward to move, and you can’t do it alone. So you enlist your spouse, the foul-mouthed pirate, who helps you while he cusses the thing out the door. When it’s over, he’ll tell you that this activity does NOT qualify as an emergency, and that it would be nice if you could learn the difference between what is acute and what can wait for someone who knows what the hell they’re doing to help you out.

Also, when you remove something attached to the house, you will be left with HOLES in the wall and in the roof. Because you were a Girl Scout, you’ll be able to insulate the holes, and also fashion a piece of tarp to prevent any water from coming in through the roof.

But it will be a sad little Band-Aid of a solution.

Remind yourself not to let too much time pass before you arrange a drywaller and roofer to clean up your mess.

Because critters WILL find this space. Word spreads fast about the easy access your tantrum has created. You’ll likely hear them in the night, scratching and squirreling away food for winter and hiding whatever they’ve found inside the walls.

Fall is windy. You might hear the chimney cap you jammed back into the hole in the roof fly away one night in the wind and land somewhere in the yard. The next day, you’ll climb up there and put it back in place and wonder how a person who’s smart in so many ways could have decided to proceed with home “improvement” in this way.

You will have to get the roof patched. You will.

Kids leave home. If you’ve raised them right. Because hasn’t this been the point all along? To plant the seeds, to build the tools, to foster independence? He’s ready. He’s got the skills to drive his own life, mostly. He’s already making plans, one eye on the door to the what next, and he’s itching to walk through it.

But he’s wistful and tender, too, about his “youth,” as he calls it, which is almost as funny as when he calls himself “a grown man.” Because neither is true today, and both squeeze your heart. The little melon-headed boy who had two speeds: awake and busy with endless questions, or asleep and sweating, breathing too loudly. The young man: articulate, curious, driven.

You hadn’t reckoned on this. The way your boy is a man and still such a child.

Maybe you’re the one who’s not ready.

You’ve got seven months left, and you’ve been telling yourself  for a couple of years that you’ll have a party when that boy leaves the house and takes his stubborn opinions, loud music, cloying cologne, disgusting bathroom habits, and bottomless hunger with him.

And you will.

But now, you’re thinking about how quiet it will be without the hum of him, and how much bigger your tiny house will be without the size 11 shoes he dismounts from and leaves in front of the door and the bags of swim gear and books you trip over. You’re thinking about how the leaving, for both of you, is the beginning of the rest of his life disconnected from you but tethered to everything that’s come before.

It’s a lot to process. This joyful sadness.

 

www.lauramgibson.com

 

 

Categories: chickens, community, family, fiction, gardening, parenting | Tags: , , , , | 10 Comments

theft

From time to time I’ll be reviewing books at the Kudzu Vine, the blog associated with Kudzu House Quarterly, where I’m also a reader. This month I had the pleasure of reading and writing about BK Loren’s debut novel Theft.

bkloren.com

bkloren.com

Loren’s a skillful craftsman, a thoughtful environmentalist, a damn good storyteller. She’s also published Animal, Mineral, Radical: A Flock of Essays on Wildlife, Family, and Food, and she’s a frequent contributor in the pages of Orion Magazine. You can read her “Dreaming in Dirt” in those pages here.

I’m delighted to occupy the planet with a writer paying attention to the tussle between people and place in all the right ways. The publishing editor of her first book told Loren she wrote like she was “raised by wolves.” Which seems about right.

 

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evel

Last month I took my daughter Riley to a soccer tournament in Twin Falls, the town where Evel Knievel tried to jump the Snake River in 1974. Denied the chance to attempt a leap over the Grand Canyon, Evel had learned a thing or two about bureaucracy. In order to pull off his dream in Idaho, he leased land of either side of the river and built a a ramp on one side, hoping the trajectory of this slope would propel his special steam-powered rocket with enough momentum to shoot the mile-wide gap. He was unsuccessful, poor bugger. His parachute deployed early and down he went, just missing the water, landing on the same side of the river as the jump, and breaking his nose.

Between soccer games, Riley and I hiked to what’s left of the earthen ramp. Still ramp-like in formation, it’s nonetheless a “structure” you might miss without the signs. After all the hype around town about its genesis, it’s a little underwhelming, a monument insufficient in a lot of ways to represent how Evel’s schemes riveted the country then. As a kid, I paid attention to Evel’s antics, his spangled costumes, his thousands of broken bones.

Now, above the Snake River, base jumping’s the thing. Around the bend from Evel’s ramp, jumpers hurl themselves from the Perrine Bridge, many GoPro-ing their falls, each of them hoping no parachute malfunction will deliver certain death, which happens often enough. One guy I talked with, who’d just come back from Malaysia where he’d jumped off the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur (twice the height of the Perrine Bridge), told me the Perrine jump was dangerously short.

Riley and I watched twenty or so jumpers that day. It was terrifying to watch. I can’t imagine the terror of free falling. The week after we left town two jumpers died when their chutes failed to deploy.

Somehow, Evel survived all those stunts he performed and died instead from lung disease in 2007 at the age of 69.

For at least a decade, Evel’s been a household name at our house. It seemed right to make the time to visit one of his jump sites and talk about how what seems crazy to one person means inspiration, passion, and desire to another.

In the way the world is spectacularly weird so much of the time, while we were on this trip Flyway Journal of Writing and Environment said yes to my essay “Evel Kind of Love,” which you can read here.

Deepest gratitude to Flyway for including me in June’s issue.

 

 

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custer versus napoleon

A look at my posts over the years indicates I’m more than a little bird obsessed. Birds creep into my fiction and essays, into the décor of our home.

Since February, I’ve been back at the chicken mama thing. I’m (mostly) thrilled to have babies again, and their presence in our lives has been a lovely diversion during a pretty strange year.

Plus, we have this tiny farm now, and farmers keep chickens.

Riley and I went to the hatchery and chose six pullets – two Wyandottes, two Auracanas, and two Bantam Golden Sebrights.

The girls have been inside our garage cozying up to each other in their heat-lit habitat. There’s nothing so thrilling as a bunch of animals living in the garage, stinking up the place, squalling as they figure out who’s in charge, and making a general ruckus that results in the shavings from their cage becoming airborne in the way of fine dust sprinkled over every single thing. The veiling silt is a pall fine as drywall dust.

It’s time for the birds to go outside to the coop we’ve assembled. Over the past few weeks, Owen – desperate for money to feed the prom monster – has led the charge on building. Our creation is more like a chicken condo, really, and built from a structure we carried from our previous urban chicken days and another we rehabbed from the new place. We focused on using what we could reclaim this time, and the result is funky and…artistic…the enclosed run will happen in Phase 2, due to begin soon.

It’ll do the job just fine.

As John says, “They’re just chickens. No need for the Taj Mahal.”

Which is true, although it’s pretty easy to get carried away.

We talked about our bird love so much, we convinced two other families to get flocks for the first time. “It’s easy,” we promised. “Think of all those eggs,” we said. “There’s hardly any chance of getting a man,” we said, our fingers crossed behind our backs.

 

The last time we had birds – Mrs. Howell, Ginger, and Marianne – we discovered that the 99% certainty in predicting the sex of chicks means the Gibsons will access the 1%. Mrs. Howell was anything but ladylike in the end. Crowing all night, telling the whole neighborhood what a stud he was. With some friends who own a farm, we traded the rooster formerly known as Mrs. Howell for a hen who was sweet, a steady productive layer, and much nicer than Mrs. Howell.

This time, I joked early and often that another rooster was in the cards for us, though every time I said it, I secretly hoped this wasn’t the case. We’re allowed to keep a rooster on our land, at least, but still. The threat of another dandy has made us reluctant to finalize names for this flock. I’m inclined to go with female characters from Pride and Prejudice or Downton Abbey, which has been met with some complaints in the group, but since I’m the one scooping the poop, feeding the birds’ relentless hunger and cleaning the garage, it seems reasonable I get to call them whatever I want.

So, Mrs. Hughes, Cora, Daisy, and Mrs. Patmore it is then. For the birds I know are hens, anyway.

By late March, one of the Wyandottes was clearly developing the most gorgeous florid comb and wattles. Bigger than the other, more aggressive. Most sources say bossiness doesn’t a cockerel make, but I’ve had my eye on him, worried. Last week, his voice-cracking teenager crow was unmistakable. John named him Custer, a name we giggle about every time we say it. We’ve decided we can handle one rooster. It’ll be good to have a bodyguard for the girls.

My other worried eye has been on one of the Bantam Sebrights, who is beginning to look very much like this fella:

www.cacklehatchery.com Bantam Golden Sebright Rooster

http://www.cacklehatchery.com
Bantam Golden Sebright Rooster

The other one looks very much like this hen:

http://www.cacklehatchery.com/

http://www.cacklehatchery.com Bantam Golden Sebright Hen

Over the weeks, the be-combed Sebright has become a tiny, angry specimen of a bird who struts around his habitat starting fights, flicking his tail feathers. We named him Napoleon (he does look very French), hoping we’d be wrong.

Yesterday, Napoleon, a week younger than Custer, announced HIS presence in the world. The two generals, of course, cannot stand each other and are separated, so now I have TWO filthy garage habitats to keep clean, and twice the dust.

Today they really must go outside, where there is only one living arrangement. It’s going to be ugly with too many suitors in the manor. I’ve asked around, and no one, of course, wants a rooster, even a really beautiful one. And, of course, none of the friends we convinced to get chickens got a rooster, and so they are reveling in the good fortune of their 99%-ness.

At our house, one of these boys is going to be voted off the island. There’s much heated debate about which one. And also, quite a bit of discussion about the virtues of a hearty late-spring soup, versus a chance encounter with a hawk, versus a sudden interested benefactor willing to adopt a general still in his awkward teen phase.

Categories: chickens, family, girls, outdoors, writing | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

all the birds

wyld

 

This week I stayed up too late one night to finish Evie Wyld’s novel All the Birds, Singing. After I turned out the lights, I lay awake deciphering how Wyld had stitched the thing together and how she’d managed to make every page of it wrought with terror and mystery.

Then I had a bunch of nightmares.

I don’t usually read thrillers. I’m not a great sleeper anyway – I’d hate to think what a steady diet of horror would do to my psyche. But I’m so glad I read Wyld’s novel, a delicious puzzle of a story.

About Jake Whyte, a woman who raises sheep on an island off the coast of England, Wyld’s novel toggles time: Moving forward through the present is the mystery of what’s killing Jake’s sheep – something vicious, stealthy, beastly – and the mystery of what’s chasing her from the past. Moving backward is the story of Jake’s past in Australia, also a mystery that increases in brutality as the novel careens on.

The twin haunting of Jake’s past and the current lives is flecked with leering, largely malicious characters. So much so that a reader is naturally suspicious of the mysterious stranger Lloyd, who shows up one stormy night at the ranch. Jake decides to trust him, but as we’ve seen, her life is a stew of unfortunate events and her own tragic choices. We don’t entirely trust her perspective.

Psychological and physical torment through the seen and the unseen stalk the novel’s pages. There’s the trope of gruesome scars on Jake’s back. Though we never get a really detailed bead on what, exactly, they look like, we understand them to be horrific and to appear as if she’s been ravaged by some clawed beast. More, every scene in which the scars present themselves means further menace for Jake. We come to understand the necessity of her muscular arms and legs, honed through a regimen of push-ups and sit-ups – sometimes the only aspect of her world she can control.

Plugging for Jake to occupy any kind of grace is what a reader brings to every threatening scene.

Structurally complicated and unflinching, the novel marches toward the mystery of Jake’s bleak past and what feels like her bleaker future. Along the way it’s peppered with the kindnesses of people with whom Jake attempts to heal. Greg, the boyfriend she leaves behind in Australia. Lloyd, who seems, always, to be in the right place at the right time. Don, from whom she bought the island ranch, who’s got his own set of demons to wrangle.

To all this Wyld adds the relentless rain, the wind, the isolation, and the uncertainty of what or whom is tracking her – man or supernatural force. Wyld shoves a reader along toward the inevitable intersection of past and present.

A point, this reader was certain, must be cataclysmic.  And it is.

I will say that after the heart-drumming-up-at-night-reading-nightmare-having-hope-for-grace journey with Jake, I was surprised (and disappointed) at the ending. I spent quite a bit of time thumbing back through the pages, trying to trace the road map to the place where Wyld leaves us. It’s a purposefully mysterious place, that much is clear. After spending so much time in the good hands of a really accomplished storyteller, I had to reconcile the ending as artfully open and remember that sometimes landing the plane of a story is the most difficult part.

In an interview with Courtney Collins, Wyld talks about resisting neat closures. I don’t disagree with her; endings that solve every conflict make the journey to get there much less interesting. Equally dissatisfying, though, is a kind of vague falling away – two characters staring off into the distance might be real life, but it doesn’t much work for fiction, especially fiction that for two hundred excruciating pages is a punch in the gut.

I don’t think Wyld’s ending works, but I take her point: tidy endings stink; the world is full of mystery we can hardly imagine; our own hearts are sometimes cloaked in darkness. Ultimately, I recognize in the final scene a reconciliation for Jake, and for that, I’ll be able to sleep easier at night.

She won some impressive awards for All the Birds, Singing, her second novel: the Miles Franklin Award, the Encore Award, and the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered prize. She was short and long listed for a heap of others, and among The New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2014.

I can’t wait to see what dark tales Evie Wyld’s got waiting in the wings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: book review, writing | Tags: , , | 8 Comments

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