Violence All Around

I was ten years old when September 11 happened. I was at home and my parents wouldn’t let me into the living room, but stood in front of the television, not able to take us to school or peel themselves away from the terrible scene in front of them. My parents both grew up on the East Coast, going in and out of New York for fun as teens, and my sister and I had been in the city days before the attack.

John Sifton, a Human Rights Watch director, discusses 9/11, the world long before, right before, and after this incident. He discusses the blundering, the linguistic inventions of new terms for failure by the Bush administration, the use of terrible intelligence, and the way the US took an attack and fucked up our response royally (in one memorable scene, his colleague on the ground in Baghdad calls and reports that the US has “no plan” after invading Iraq and deposing Saddam Hussein. As a cynical historian, this was not surprising.) He also muses on the nature of violence, from the Christian crusades to the misinterpretation of Gandhi’s use of non-violence, to the inherent reality of violence present in our lives, whether we want to acknowledge it or not. As somebody who was actually present in Afghanistan, Iraq, Poland, Thailand, and other places of human rights atrocities and fuck-ups before and after 9/11, his point of view is not jaded, nor arrogant, but tempered, pragmatic, and beautifully written. As an American who grew up while the news blared updates of our involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East, the billions of dollars wasted, the innocent lives killed by soldiers, drones, and other weapons, I fell into this compact but exquisite book and loved it.

Advertisements

Phone diary from July

42710433454_4c68fbe7e4_c42710487354_98b14986de_c43378999372_d9f44dc2bf_c29657588838_392f52c4a8_c41720544890_cb40da6bb9_c29555677388_6a2be4aaf3_c42710475304_4d5afbc7a3_c29555660398_4885c0efe7_c43426780321_1e78816b3c_c43426811721_fd8e71eccf_c

Logan’s been gone a month. I’m on my own here in Montana. I’ve adopted new skincare methods, moved into a new room, have four bags of clothes to donate, and have been trying to enjoy summer. That means reading- a lot. In distilleries, coffee shops, bed, on work breaks, in the park, anywhere and everywhere. After the books come walks- long, meandering, in the evening. Summer is always remembered as the best but it’s so hot during the day that I duck in and out of shaded spaces and cool buildings. I can’t concentrate when it’s so hot that the buildings themselves radiate heat after sundown. The fan goes, and my mind wanders in circles, and I loathe summer as it happens, but remember it as so much better when it’s over.

Black and white reflections

40986229800_ebc05b68d6_c42079627144_0f87dc189c_c40986228880_3c1db397dd_c42796696321_1ef0446753_c40986226690_76b47a481b_c40986227170_235b1ce158_c40986228290_5185edd696_c

Odds and ends of a strange month. I got my Canadian work visa from the kindest border agent and then had the most awful experience coming back to my home country. I stayed out late and saw people I rarely see, found a dead bird behind the auto repair shop on my way to work, ate at a diner outside Spokane in eastern Washington, spent some time by the sea with my mom in Bellingham the night before getting my visa, and photographed flowers sprouting everywhere here in Missoula. It’s 90 degrees outside and I miss those weird spring days where you still might see snow on the mountains and have frost on some bits of the yard.

Stony Creek Cabin

42344080061_58eca10c3c_c41621422284_f573cc54d5_c40536990320_c98a444222_c

Late spring at a Forest Service cabin nestled in the Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest. A moose had been bedding in the front lawn of the hundred year old cabin, a creek rushed loudly and busily across the road, farmers drove by in trucks kicking up dust clouds, and we made a fire that we sat by, quietly chatting, for hours.

42344078651_79e708cc6b_c28470877668_2d548f74d9_c40536993900_a6e8b353d1_c42344075411_5721e0de12_c28470891968_2e7222ff32_c

3 am and we could see stars and planets and satellites. I felt alive and happy, connected to new friends and old ones by the fire and the woods and the sounds of outside. The cabin was one hundred years old, and as I slept a little resident mouse ran back and forth along a beam near my head.

41621438414_16d04227bc_c40536997160_5f2136409a_c41621438794_5374afc3f5_c

In the morning I found moose tracks, wild strawberry plants, shooting star wildflowers, and lots of other evidence of living fauna. We had to drive over a water-logged road because Rock Creek was overflowing with runoff, muddy and fast. We were tired and happy together, breathing clean air.

 

First Yellowstone trip of the year!

41937188641_9df260eff7_c41937190171_0bd563d9a1_c41937192351_ca04bc7a44_c41937189481_d18c1cf7e5_c

April in Yellowstone is kind of a crapshoot. You never know if you’re going to have a blizzard roll in, a bunch of hail, or a perfectly clear, beautiful evening. You could literally encounter anything- elk in your campsite, bears, unruly humans- and you have to be prepared for all those options.

We drove through Paradise Valley, past the fast-moving, brown Yellowstone River, admiring the cloud-covered peaks of the Absaroka range. We got to the Mammoth Hot Springs campground. A park ranger let us know we got the last campsite in the area (yes!!!) and we proceeded to pitch our tent on the raised platform. This was the first time we would be sleeping in our new-ish tent that we had gotten for a ridiculous steal at an REI garage sale.

After pitching our tent we drove to the terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs, and walked on the creaky boardwalks all over. The smell of sulfur belched from the ground, and there were dozens of cow elk scattered nearby, many of them pregnant. I wondered when they would be surrounded by their small, awkward calves and hoped I’d get to see some soon!

I ran into an old classmate from my Swiss college on the boardwalk as we were coming down. I hadn’t seen Heather in over seven years, and here she was! We hugged, and I shook my head in bewilderment. After attending Franklin College in Lugano, I feel so lucky to have my world be so small that I get to have experiences like that.

41937189691_a80f0055ff_c40129880190_0d1025cb72_c27115462777_cec0e4f5c5_c

Logan and I bemoaned the stupidity we already saw visitors exhibiting. We saw women try and pet the pregnant cow elk, and behind my gritted teeth I let out a vile hope that the elk would charge or kick somebody who dared to disrespect their personal space. Red dogs, or baby bison, cavorted outside our campground, and people got way…too…close…to photograph and marvel at the tiny little devils, who were dwarfed by their much larger, scarier mothers and fathers.

Yellowstone is best before Memorial Day weekend and after Labor Day, but it was still so awful to see so many people stressing out wildlife and putting themselves in danger. I usually refuse to visit after June starts because it just gets to be too much- I tend to become enraged so often seeing the ridiculous amounts of idiocy being exhibited by humans, so I just stay away.

Regardless, it was a beautiful, sunny day. Logan and I tried to go to the Boiling River, but the river was moving so swiftly, full of run off, and there were so many people crowded in the hot spots that we decided to try again tomorrow morning before too many people were awake. This plan was ultimately foiled.

We went back to our campsite and started a fire with dry grass, newspapers, and matches. We made some hot water for tea and cooked kielbasa, and then a hard wind came down, accompanied by fat, unapologetic drops of rain. We got into the car (the tent was being blown almost vertically by the rain) and waited it out. Soon, hail pelted the car. We looked at each other and wondered if we would need to get a cheap motel in Gardiner, because if the weather kept up this way there would be no way we could sleep in our tent, even with the rain fly on and it being sturdily staked in the ground. The wind was just too much!

Luckily after about 40 minutes it all subsided, leaving us with a beautiful full moon and some fluffy, nonthreatening clouds. We spent the evening eating and sitting by the fire, having a beer or two and just chatting in the way that a fire encourages people to talk. Eventually it was time to retire, and we crept into our little green tent and nestled into our sleeping bags. I slept like a rock, not waking until about 5 am, when the birds began to serenade us and the sun began to slowly make itself known. Logan stirred, and I rolled over, wanting to sleep in but also wanting to get up and get to the Boiling River.

Finally around 7 am we got up, put on bathing suits, and headed down the road. It looked like there were no cars in the lot! Yes! Upon driving closer, we saw why: the park rangers had locked the gate, which was a sure sign that the Gardner River had been deemed too fast and dangerous to stay open for visitors. We barely missed it!
41984816511_6686556f10_c27115461427_1c4c3f0aaa_c27115460887_18b2a0db4e_c

We went back to our campsite and made coffee and cooked the rest of our kielbasa for breakfast. We then decided to drive through the whole park to see what it looked like. Once we got outside Mammoth the temperature dropped rapidly, and we saw layers of snow that had been plowed off the road piled high. Mated pairs of sandhill cranes stalked in shallow streams, and we saw bison partially hidden behind curtains of billowing steam from the volcanically-heated waterways and geysers. There weren’t many people out and about, and we marveled at the sun glinting from mountain tops and how green everything was already.

On our way home, we stopped at Norris Hot Springs to soak for a bit, because we were at the bare minimum going to get to soak in at least one hot spot! Red-winged blackbirds and yellow-headed blackbirds and mountain bluebirds trilled and called from the marshland around the hot spring, and we let ourselves relax. We shouldn’t have- as I drove over the mountain pass that lies before Butte, a freak snowstorm swept over us. Massive amounts of snow were falling, and the road was quickly getting full of slow-moving, careful cars. The heat in our car gave out, and I had to ask Logan to wipe the inside windshield so that it wouldn’t freeze up and block my vision. It was late April, and we were in the middle of a fucking blizzard?! I cursed my way over the pass, knowing that as long as we went slowly and carefully we could make it to the other side.

Eventually we did! It was quite a journey. We got home after 10 hours in the car in one day and collapsed in our beds. It’s always an adventure going to Yellowstone, no matter what you expect will happen.

The Oregon Coast

40960272805_2638c24af3_c41816138722_82acd3fc34_c41816135772_05d61d4362_c40960272115_854dba35f7_c

It’s pouring rain outside and the lights flickered a little bit. I thought, “thank goodness for a full computer battery and the weird little LED lantern we bought for camping”, if the power did indeed go out.

I finally these pictures scanned, and they make me feel things. We stayed in Seaside, Oregon for one night, thinking it would be the sort of resort town that idealizes life, and instead it brought out all the ugly things one pushes to the edge. We stayed at a B&B that was beautiful, but it was so windy that going outside was nearly impossible. Tried to find a good place for a martini or something strong and nice, but instead found only dive bars and tourist-y places that had the veneer coming off of them far too quickly. We did our best and found sushi, seafood, and bad mixed drinks. We saw people who go on dates to gamble, each taking a twenty dollar bill, and one bar had a garish plastic rat stuck in the wall. It was a strange town, vaguely sinister, and we were quite happy to pack up and leave. Perhaps in the summer it’s a slightly better place to be? People seem to think so!

Driving the Oregon coast was strange and beautiful. Lots of little towns strung together by a highway, some barely held together by the bookends of a church and a bar, others flourishing with multi-story buildings. Woods, rolling hills, the sea and tributaries flowing into the sea, which we followed as we drove. We got out periodically to eat, take pictures, breathe in the salty air, and relish the warmth of the already-present spring. I want to go back, very badly, but with one exception: I think Seaside, for whatever charm has made it a destination, will remain a place in my past.

I was on Medicaid as a healthy, able-bodied, educated woman. Everybody deserves affordable access to healthcare.

Excuse the boring title. If you’ve been reading my blog you know last year I spent a lot of time talking about unemployment, feeling burned out by the job hunt, all that jazz. What you may not know is that I was on Medicaid for almost eight months of 2017, and how much it helped me have a high quality of life while I was unemployed and looking for work. I am still, even though I now have good health insurance through my job, so grateful that I was able to have Medicaid.

Now, I’m twenty-six, able-bodied, and a white woman with a Master of the Arts from a good Canadian university. You might not picture me as the kind of person who might need Medicaid. That’s where you’d be wrong.  I’ve worked customer service, in college cafeterias, taking care of gardens, being a teaching assistant, and could always  find work because I wasn’t too picky, but holy cow did 2017 throw me for a loop.

YES

In early 2017 I was turning twenty-six, studying in Canada. I knew when I got back to the United States in April I would have to get health insurance somehow- but no longer through my parents. Due to the Affordable Care Act, my parents were able to keep me on their insurances until I was 26. When that expired, due not having a job, and therefor no income, the ACA website suggested I was eligible for Medicaid. At first I felt ashamed, because I never had to rely on any social safety net before. Then I got angry with myself- I’ve been paying taxes since I was fifteen, when I got my first job, and what were they for if not to help people who were having a hard time? For the first time, that included me, and that was okay!

A hard time I was indeed having. My life, when I came back to America, was fraught with money issues. I got a job back at a boutique in my hometown for a month, just enough to keep gas in my car and help my boyfriend pay rent for a month or two while I filled in shifts for my coworkers. We moved to Missoula, Montana so Logan could start his job, and I began searching for one in mid-June. It took four months, everybody. Four months. I applied to be a barista, a dishwasher, to work at a tourism agency. I did get interviews, but interviews that ended with rejections, though exciting and full of hope, didn’t pay the bills. They were progress but not the sort that paid for an oil change for my car or could help me financially contribute to the home Logan and I were living in.

ithinksotoo

I walked around handing my resume out to every business I walked into, dressed-up, ready to smile, shake hands, and show that I was hard-working and smart. I looked for free-lance work writing, editing, and photographing. I was on Indeed and Monster and the city, county, and state jobs job boards, sending in applications and always editing my resume, writing and editing letters of introduction, etc. I applied for remote-work jobs at tech firms to write and do research for them. Missoula is notorious for being the sort of place where you have to know somebody to get a job, and I tried networking, getting friends to help me meet like-minded people. I watched summer fade into chilly fall, and felt powerless and pathetic, a jobless blob.

However, Medicaid made it possible for me to get out of bed every morning. I knew what medical debt is the number one reason Americans file for bankruptcy. I knew that one fall, one person not paying attention and hitting me with their car, one freak accident could land me with the sort of debt that would destroy every plan I had ever made. The security that having Medicaid gave me to live my life, even while I was feeling so ashamed of my inability to find a job here in this well-educated mountain town, made it possible for me to breathe and do things. I felt safe floating the Clark-Fork River on a tire tube with Logan, watching ospreys catch fish in the river and falling under the spell of the smokey summer sunsets. Medicaid made me feel safe hiking in Glacier or even just walking around town on the long walks that eased my stress. That, to me, was invaluable.

thumbs_up_twinpeaks

Medicaid allowed me to see my regular dentist. I went to Planned Parenthood for my annual exam. When I had a really bad cold, I went to a clinic and got a prescription medication for very little money, such a paltry amount that even in my broke state I could pay it. I was feeling defeated in most ways, but I knew that even if something bad happened to my health, Medicaid would make it so that I would end up okay, and that the upward trajectory of my life would probably not end. In the end, I barely used Medicaid, but just having my little plastic Medicaid card in my wallet was so empowering. Medicaid made it possible for me to feel safe leaving my home. I cannot express enough what a weight was off my chest because of it.

I saw that on Thursday some states are going to try to mandate that people who have Medicaid work. And here’s my problem with that- people want to work.  Nobody I know wants to just languish. I once Tweeted that America’s national sport was not baseball, but poor-shaming, and this is another example of that. Financially unstable Americans have been dealing with housing and rent price increases, wage stagnation going on for decades, the backlash of a recession that still ripples through our lives, student debt, and many more issues. Some of us are highly educated people who believed that our hard work in school would pay off, but have too many student loans to build savings or keep our chins up. So many Americans live on the financial edge of ruin. The idea that those of us who use safety nets like Medicaid, Section 8, food stamps, etc. are using them because we just don’t want to work, is absolutely ridiculous. It shouldn’t have taken somebody who has had as many opportunities like me four months to find work, but it DID.

Also, if you have to use Medicaid or Medicare or Section 8 or any other state or federal safety net system, please do NOT feel ashamed. It is ingrained in us through our culture and mythology here in America to believe that the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality will make sure that everything ends up okay. The reality that has been proven time and time again is that sometimes even a lot of hard work isn’t enough, and that we have sexism, racism, class systems, and more to reckon with. These things are real and do make a difference in who gets access to opportunities. I believe that there should be no shame associated with needing help and getting it through welfare programs. In fact, if anything, we should expand them, make them easier to access, and encourage people to use them, so that they can afford things they need, and get a leg up, because it is so hard to do so. For me, Medicaid facilitated my ability to job search without being paralyzed by fear that leaving my home could result in some medical event derailing my life. Now, I have a job in a place that helps domestic violence survivors and victims work through our legal system, get housing, and offer them support, options, and advocacy.

jennyholzer

So, to end this post, thank you to the Affordable Care Act for allowing me to stay insured until I was twenty-six through my parents. Thank you to everybody working at the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services who helped me get enrolled, who answered my questions, and who made me feel unashamed to use their services. Thank you to the doctors and medical professionals who took me in and took Medicaid as payment for my care. Medicaid changed my life and I barely used it, but just having it there made a huge difference in the quality of life I was able to have.

Books, mornings, and priorities.

24756821327_5ba78e083a_c

The other night, as my film scanner hummed, showing me what the chemical baths had done while they danced with my film, a good friend was over and we were chatting about what mattered. Books, travel, good friends, good wine, being kind, and loving, loving, loving. She left here with two books to borrow, and I will borrow a few from her. I’ve been loaning books out more, because they do no good just sitting on our shelves.

I loaned her The City of Fallen Angels, a book by John Berendt, about a mysterious fire in a famous opera house in Venice. In one or more ways, there are characters who are connected, be they corrupt Italian businessmen, old Venetian glass-making families, writers who had boxes there, etc. and he weaves together a tale of an old, eccentric, rapidly-changing but still very traditional city. It was one book that I bought this year and have re-read twice.

I loaned my mother the new book The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore. Kate, who is not a historian, nonetheless went headfirst into doing amazing research to reveal the true stories of the thousands of women who were employed in radium dial painting factories in the first half of the 20th century, and who often got sick and/or died due to ingesting and working with the radioactive substance. Government ignorance, corporate greed, a poorly-working legal system, and the fact that these women were often working class meant that many died before their stories could be properly heard, and many didn’t even know what was causing them to have brittle, broken bones or cancers that suddenly appeared on their youthful bodies. It made me send out many thankful, grateful thoughts to those brave women, and our worker safety systems and legal system are now much more comprehensive because of what these women did. It was one of the books i devoured in Hawai’i, as pictured above.

It’s been snowing relentlessly here, and I’ve been in a more combative mood being inside and working as much as I have been, with little to no sunlight for me to enjoy. However, one of the best parts of my days have been waking up early, getting dressed, packing a book (right now I’m reading Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll by Peter Bebergal) and walking in the snow, which camouflages my footsteps, and making my way in the quiet morning before most people are up, and walking the mile or so to a coffee house to read and hold a hot cup of caffeine in my hands for a few minutes before going to work. Mornings are sacred to me, in that they are quiet, private, and much more likely to be not interrupted by the same going-ons that happen at night. Drunken men unaware of personal space, loud trucks zooming about, groups of people huddled like penguins slowly making their way to a bar or a restaurant. None of that is there in the mornings, and I love the purposefulness of them. Nobody tries to make the world too aware of themselves before the sun is up, and I dearly love it.

Something else I love and miss is traveling. The friend that stayed with us talked about going to France with her fiance this summer, because they both have kept their heads down and have been working so hard for so long, they feel they need to look up, look around, and go do something. I told her she needs to not question it, find a flight, and book it before she can say no to herself. Americans love to suffer, to struggle, and to glorify the two. We take pride being the last sucker at work or the first one in the office. She knows this, and both of us feel shame at wanting to go and spend money on trips and on good food, but I feel that my quality of life is so much better when there is something planned, something to look forward to. Keeping ones head down and just working with your eyes forward means you never get to see as much, and I think that even though we have horrible wage stagnation, most of us have lots of student debt, and most of us will never dream of owning real estate or new cars, that we can still do and live and breathe and thrive. We can thriftily plan a trip across the sea so we can give hugs to loved ones not seen in ages, or buy a nice block of expensive cheese here are there. Denying oneself constantly is foolish, and while last year was a huge exercise in no to such Epicurean joys due to my unemployment, now that I am gainfully employed I feel so much better about going to a nice dinner with my boyfriend, about dressing up or spending a little money on something that matters to me, like saving for my trip to Brazil to see Logan at the end of the year or booking a cabin somewhere quiet.

This post has been longer than I planned, but once I am inside my mind darts back and forth like an excited bird in a cage. I have written about how one has much time to think during the long, dark winters here in Montana, and mine is not immune to that. I’ve been quietly trying to write more and be more generous with my writing, especially here.

Thankful.

38223911822_a4fdda917e_c38223907072_2a1fe05261_c24384386918_e5b75f300e_c38200910946_ee0c57d63b_c38223910182_178c9a5ec7_c24384390978_61867942a5_c

This year has been tough. It’s been full of thoughts of failure and regret, of frustrations and complications. It’s been rejection, a lot more than I thought, and a lot of patience.

But this year has also been one of thrills, victories, and love. Getting up at 6 am and writing my thesis, slowly punching out the right words in the morning at my favorite coffee shop while saying hello to the crows I passed in the morning. Walking by the sea, my beloved sacred place, and listening to the waves. Having my dad and Ella visit me there in the spring, taking each to my favorite haunts. Going home and looking at homes with Logan, trying to find somewhere that felt like it would work for us. Struggling with my thesis edits and getting everything right while applying for job after job, only to hear nothing made me feel worthless. Making pizzas with Logan in our kitchen, and eating on our front porch, watching the shadows grow as the sun set in the summer. Seeing movies and walking across the Clark Fork river on the bridge, feeling the breeze on my face while holding Logan’s hand. Hugging my mother and sister when I see them and playing with my mother’s dog. Holding a hot mug of coffee in a booth at Butterfly Herbs.

While Thanksgiving as a holiday is a lot of historical erasure, I still took the day to be thankful for it all. For the struggles and the lack of money, which feels constant. For the love and support I give and receive. For the roof over our head and the car that is still running and for the fact that I am healthy and okay and that it will be okay.

I hope that you had a good day of thanks and that you were able to take a moment or two and think about the good things or hold the ones you love.

Before all the leaves left the trees.

37645542581_508312b3bd_c (1)37386650630_57864dd6af_c37645545671_ff7398bda2_c37386649990_8754bb1843_c37386649280_52be0b1896_c37386649520_b118340348_c37386648940_2479a4c9bc_c37645541921_9d08839148_c

Outside our window I can see the almost-naked trees sway in the wind. It’s cold and foreboding outside, and it’s the first snow of the year. I feel glad to be nestled in our house, warm and comfortable. I’ve had some health scares lately and am tired of calling doctors and making appointments and dealing with the what if’s of having a corporeal form.

But, having a job makes a lot of the worries feel less serious. I’ve been getting up early, getting dressed, brushing my teeth, and walking to work. The normalcy of doing so is healing, in my opinion, and while I don’t relish the realities of having a lunch hour or watching the clock a lot, it’s refreshing to know that my time means something to somebody, that as I work I get money. Having not necessarily worked with that exchange full time in a couple of years (hey grad school!) it feels so good.

I’ve had some film developed lately and I’m so excited to share it! Here are some frames from when it was still light out in the morning and the foliage hadn’t fallen off the branches yet. I already miss those times even though they still seem like yesterday.

 

Escaping Hell to go fishing.

36637216390_0658459d36_c (1)

We woke to the acrid smell of smoke invading our noses and our home. It wasn’t even 8am, and we had been up late. I couldn’t sleep any longer, as the smell was overwhelming and prevented me from feeling as though I could do anything but move to avoid it. Looking up the air quality, it was confirmed that heavy winds had brought forth a proliferation of smoke from all the hundreds of thousands of acres that are on fire in Northwestern Montana.

My home is burning. My home is evacuated, desperate, bone dry, frustrated, and suffering. We all breathe the smokey air, feel the headaches, and many of us get spontaneous bleeding noses and can’t sleep. We feel lethargic and every morning look out the window to see if anything has changed. Some days I can see the closest mountains, but most they are a mere outline, more like a mirage or a memory than the sturdy landmarks that they are.

Logan and I spent the morning nestled in a coffee shop reading and having a good chat. We went home and couldn’t stand the oppressive smoke. If we were going to suffer, by God, we were going to do it outside our claustrophobic town. Logan packed his fishing rod, I packed my camera, and we drove Jarvis to the highway to escape the shit.

36862894302_34f11c5d54_c36226126783_6feeeca12b_c36637200070_ba5c852445_c

While Logan fished, I explored. We listened the the gurgle of the river, and didn’t talk much. There was nothing to say that nature wasn’t whispering to us. I could feel both of us grow more relaxed and atuned to things. The smoke wasn’t quite as bad out here, and hearing the wind rustle the grasses and the hum of bees and the gentle whoosh of the river moving over rocks as it has always done I felt like my mind could finally shut the fuck up.

36637202670_3f45aa71c5_c36637201710_55bb40687e_c

I eventually found myself looking for animals. We had seen lots of bear scat on the side of the road, full of berry seeds, and I was glad we brought the bear spray. Along the river beds I found lots of tracks, of dogs that fishermen brought, of deer, of raccoons, and of birds. Insects skated along the tops of little ponds near the river. The amount of shallow, still water and rocks made me sure that snakes and frogs were nearby. As a child, Jeff Corwin was my first crush, and I grew up watching him wrangle snakes, catch critters, and be outside. I wanted to be a snake venom researcher when I was little and much of my life I have loved all reptiles, amphibians, and arachnids. They are integral parts of our ecosystem, often environmental indicators, and really damn cool. So when I spotted a leopard frog sitting in one of the ponds, I quietly walked over and tried to catch it. It got away, aided by the thick amounts of algae, and I waited and tried to catch the poor creature again. I failed again and then left him alone to live out his days doing his thing, as stressing out wild animals is really not my gig.

We were getting ready to leave after our brief time in nature when Logan yelled that he found a snake! I put my camera down and went and grabbed this little healthy garter snake with bright yellow stripes! Of course the creature proceeded to pee on me- as many reptiles and amphibians do, because would you want to eat something that stank and tasted like urine? I let the little guy go quickly, but holding him and feeling his smooth skin was so neat. He darted into his rock home and I washed my hands and arms in the river. Logan fished a bit more, and I wandered into a grove of common tansy (an invasive species) and let the sound of bees wash over me. Having recently learned that there are 56 species of bumblebees in Montana, I wondered how many kinds were flitting among the flowers. 36226124953_55de839f2a_c36226128603_61333cc24e_c36226123263_eeecc33c84_c36637201010_41a0a62915_c

Before the defense

35956117803_26afc7d4b5_c35956115803_624265d580_c35956114803_829b34c1fe_c35956113493_1da60de768_c35956112843_d78f205164_c36064623483_0eafe692cb_c

Last week I went to an interview for a job I thought was going to be awesome but it ended up being not at all what I thought. Halfway through the interview, I was asked, “what is your biggest accomplishment?” and I paused. My thesis. My beautiful, eloquent, hard worked thesis. I knew then that this interview was a waste of my time and my interviewer’s. I called later to have them take my name off of a list. I cried when I got home to Logan, knowing that I wanted more. That aching compulsion to be pushing myself made my stomach feel queasy and I sobbed, harder than I should have.

I defended that beautiful thesis last Friday and I did well. I did better than well. I managed to answer every question, even the odd ones, and I left feeling a mix of elation and exhaustion. Hibernation sounded amazing- wake up three months later, as winter comes, and shake the cobwebs off my eyes and start over. But here I am, and it is Monday, and life continues. Except, now I am a Master of the Arts. I can put an obnoxious, little “M.A.” next to my name in email signatures if I choose (I think I will not do this).

Anyway, here are some film photographs from the last two weeks. A quick day trip to Kalispell for ice cream, used books, and terrible sushi. A fiery sunset that my film failed to capture in all it’s glory (but can a camera ever really properly do a great sunset justice?). A few moments lingering on the side of the road with Logan, surrounded by smoke and fire, watching the end of another day. Sunflowers all abloom in my parent’s yard, quietly exuding beauty without knowing it. I am trying, almost desperately, to make moments that will create the idea of a summer that has not, thus far, been fraught with a cocktail of stress, tears, and anxiety that has been almost uncontrollable. If that leaks out into this blog a lot, I cannot help it. But damn, y’all, it’s also been such a good summer. We moved into a house, had some irises bloom that were heartbreakingly beautiful and fleeting, we traveled to San Francisco, I’ve gotten to see friends I haven’t seen in months and years, and life is mostly good. There’s money for food, a roof over our head, and I’m lucky enough to be on Medicaid while I look for work.

What do you guys do to deal with stress and do self care? I’ve always been really good about it but not being able to be outside due to the smoke has made that harder.

Chocolate before dinner.

35647260063_3c8dca2d0f_c35647261083_3c0b80ace0_c36058092010_72fedc92a4_c35619866564_a423cbd267_c35647262313_65071b794b_c35619868364_b182531fdd_c35647264813_6fe60ba602_c

It’s been awhile, eh? I am nibbling on some honeycomb covered in chocolate before we make dinner…oops.

In three days I head to Victoria to defend my Master’s thesis (!!!) but this last week has been something from Hell. I got really, really sick, had two job interviews which didn’t pan out (always a bit of a bummer), and generally loafed, hacked, and worked my way through the week the best I could. The smoke here has been dreadful- we aren’t supposed to be outside for too long, it’s so dense! They’ve got almost 700 firefighters from all over the country here to battle the Lolo fire in Missoula.

Besides fire and a bit of immune system failure I did bake some amazing blackberry pastries using a recipe from The Little Epicurean!  (Click through for the recipe!) We ate them up before I thought to make some pictures. Next time!

I also finished The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman. An exquisite, sensitive, multi-layered book about the meeting of two cultures through the lens of an epileptic Hmong girl. If it sounds strange, fall into the pages. It’s a sad, extraordinary, determined story. Now I am reading Steven Johnson’s The Ghost Map, which is about London’s cholera epidemic. I love medical history and stories about cities and this intertwines both. Again, if you ever feel ungrateful for modern medicine, go read something like this! You’ll be so glad that you’ve got anesthesia that isn’t ether or chloroform or cocaine! (Or a cocktail of the three!)

Anyway, these photographs are from a few weeks ago. Lovely Chelsea visited, Logan and I went to a diner, and I’ve been admiring the beautiful green plums that are on our little trees in the yard. One determined squirrel has been pilfering them, but we’ve had a host of birds, including a northern flicker, in our yard lately, and it’s been so lovely to see them! I like sitting quietly on the porch watching them flit and fly around. Birds really are so neat.

 

Blackberry pie: The South meets Montana.

36056460730_02d753b9b9_c36316300151_69020dabea_c

Hey y’all! In the midst of it all, I made a blackberry pie! When we moved into our home I found a tangled bush/vine monster that was climbing up the back shed, and I suspected it would have blackberries. Sure enough, it did! Apparently, blackberry pie is a very Southern thing, which I did not know (my grandma is from Texas but hot damn is that the South? Or is Texas it’s own thing? I suspect the latter!) Anyway, I got to pick blackberries and take them into my kitchen literally just a few feet away! Some of them were small, other blackberries were as big as half my thumb and heavy as hell! Unfortunately there are lots of wasps hanging about (I loathe them), probably because I haven’t sprayed the three or four tiny new nests that have sprung up since we moved in. Ugh.

Now, here’s the truth: My pie didn’t turn out that aesthetically pleasing. I know that whoever reads this is probably more used to the gorgeous baking and cooking images that lace our everyday Instagram and Facebook feeds, but this pie is GENUINE! It was made with love and it tastes GREAT! Screw using all the props and the nice marble countertops if you don’t have them, because food is made for eating as well as visual enjoyment. So yes, my pie is ugly. My lattice work is hideous. But my taste buds and stomach are happy. 🙂

Having never made a blackberry pie, I searched the internet and used an excellent recipe from The Country Contessa My one change to her recipe would be that if your blackberries are juicy, your pie is going to be super juicy too- mine literally is standing in about 1/2 inch of delicious blackberry juices, which I plan to save. If you want a more firm pie, I’d increase the flour a tiny bit (something less than another 1/4 cup) and probably add a tiny pinch or two of corn starch. Rhubarb pie recipes have you lay down a sugar/flour mix at the bottom to soak up some of the juice, and you could give that a try if you wanted to. If you choose to use cornstarch, be really careful, as it can overwhelm the taste of your fruit (I did that to a raspberry pie about two years ago and still regret it). I know that baking is something close to an exact science but when you’re working with quality pie dough and good fruit I feel like there is more leeway.

36316299551_e1aec9b415_c36316299331_bdd4492574_c36453481065_6e7ee1cec6_c

Ingredients (from recipe by the Country Contessa)

  • Dough for a double crust pie
  • 6 cups of blackberries
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 of a lemon’s juice (I used a lime!) 
  • 2 tablespoons cold butter
  • 1 tablespoon beaten egg mixed with 1 tablespoon water (I never do a wash on my pies, that’s just me!) 

Roll out your bottom crust and lay in the bottom of your pie tin. Punch small holes in the bottom with your fork. This helps lessen the chance of burning or overcooking the bottom of your pie.

Mix together blackberries, sugar, flour, salt, and lemon juice. Put the mixture in your pie tin with the bottom crust laid out. Then, roll out the top crust. You can fold it in half and place on top and unfold, or do a lattice pie, or do whatever you damn please! It’s going to taste great.

Bake at 350F for 50-55 minutes. Remember to put tin foil or a pie plate protector on the edges so that the crust doesn’t cook faster than the rest of the pie dough!

Remove, let cool and set for at least 4 hours. Overnight is best! I like it with coffee in the morning.

36316298651_63b566e156_c36453480185_8c0824602e_c36453480005_a446d7e25a_c36453479685_fa997b5b6e_c