Monday, December 29, 2008

Maintaining Connection

We left home today to head to our little cabin in the Trinity woods, which is even more rustic than our yurt (although it does have a flush toilet, albeit in a water closet 50 yards from the building!). Tonight, we are staying at our friend's little studio in Arcata, which is a cute, has-all-the-essential-features unit, walking distance from downtown. What a different reality than our rural homestead! Most people leave the city to get a break: we enjoy going urban and eating out to enjoy a change of pace.

But the urban scene challenges the locavore and the naturalist, in that the earth beneath your feet is more veiled and obscure. Whereas it has become commonplace for at least several ingredients in each of our nightly dinners to be from our very land, when we patronize restaurants, unless they focus conscientously on local food, we don't know where the lettuce, or fish, or anything else came from. And visiting buildings can be rather disorienting, when you can't remember which way north is, or if they don't take advantage of passive solar day-lighting.

Though I feel like a fish out of water at moments, for me, it is sometimes an opportunity, to re-orient and re-locate, to hold that space as I walk through the world of disconnect, to hold the space of connection to natural cycles. I hold this vision for the future, where the passage of the sun across the sky is a primary informant of design for buildings and public spaces used by humans.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Rainy Day Birds

This morning, I headed to my sit spot without Ella. She wanted to stay with Daddy and read books. So I pulled on my fleecies, donned rubber rain boots, and goretex rain hat, and headed down the hill. It's rather drippy today, what with the constant weeping leak of light rain falling from the sky since yesterday. One thing I noticed, however, is how distracting the raindrops falling through the leaves are: I kept thinking I was seeing birds out of the corner of my eye. You could all try this, to see what it's like...just soften your gaze while outdoors in the rain. Make it so you are using all of your peripheral vision. Then notice movement! Let me know if you try it.

After I sat there a while, I got bored, and remembered that the dog smelled like fish two nights ago, so I decided to walk the creek and see if I could find a salmon carcass. The creek is bigger than yesterday, and more brown. I had to walk on the flat above it because in places the water was deeper than the tops of my boots. I tromped through the blackberry and stinging nettle, finding little mushrooms, or little rivulets I didn't quite know about. Eventually, I left the creek to head home, no spawning salmon to speak of.

I walked back the way we normally travel from our neighbor's house. About half-way back, I heard the feeding flock of birds I heard two days ago with Ella. They are a rowdy little bunch. It's Hutton's vireos, chestnut-backed chickadees, and sometimes sparrows, and probably others at times. Instead of walking up on them and causing them to scatter, I stopped, and turned my body aside, to communicate my passivity. They fed for a while on coyote brush (It is preparing to flower, and there are little tiny seeds at the base), poison oak (maybe there are insects on it?), and other brush. They slowly made their way closer, until one little brave vireo soul flew to a California hazelnut branch just three or four feet from me! I got such a lovely look at it! It was a treat. The rest of the flock was arriving into the bay across the trail, and I also got a really clear look at a chestnut-backed chickadee, who kept flashing the white stripes on the back of its head as it darted between and around branches. They sure brightened my foggy, gray day.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Frogs and Skunk Cabbage and Wild Ginger

It feels so wonderful to have new momentum with the sit spot routine, an excuse to leave the house, whatever the weather, and to explore and learn about our back yard! Ella and I bundled up to brave the slow, weeping rain to visit our little log backrest in the dripping, moist, and mossy forest. Ella ventured to touch the mushrooms we found yesterday, again. We heard a small feeding flock of chickadees and maybe other birds pass overhead while we whispered to each other.

After only about 8 minutes, Ella said she wanted to go home, so I took her back, and asked Drew if he would watch Ella so I could go back out. I had a more adult sit, and I centered and grounded into the earth, said my thanksgiving address, and dropped into my awareness exercises. I began to notice some details about where I was sitting. I had thought the log against which I rested was on old, burned fir tree, but I realized it is a bay log. And the stump to my northwest is the bay stump from which it came! And there are not one, not two, but three wood rat nests within sight distance of the spot.

After a long collection of minutes, I decided to wander a little, to look at our northern spring. As I crept through the damp leaf litter and the overhanging sword ferns, I noticed the first leaf buds of the skunk cabbage emerging from the moist earth, and a quick look underneath the spade-shaped wild ginger leaves revealed its tightly curled flower buds. Ah, the very first evidence of spring approaching! Not sure if this is earlier than is should be, but hey.

And finally, I first noticed on Christmas Day the song of the tree frog, a joyful response to the wetness we are at last experiencing. And not a day later, I have begun to hear them here, in the swamp, and even right close to the yurt, I believe in the garden. I'll let you all know if I locate the little singer.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Sit Spot: A New Year/Solstice Resolution

Merry Christmas to everyone! I hope your holiday, however you choose to celebrate, was full of health and happiness. We had a wonderful, adventuresome day: after opening presents, we ventured out for a traditional beach walk, which lasted only a short while due to heavy rain, hail, and cold, cold wind. After nap, we paid a visit to our wonderful friends and neighbors, Jen, Blase, Ossian, Nola, and Jen's mom and stepdad. We shared a delicious meal with them (THANK YOU!), and then traveled on to the sauna to sweat out all the junk food we'd consumed all day.

Today dawned with more blue sky than clouds, at last. It's been many days since we've had a day so nice! It was the perfect day to introduce Ella to the "Sit Spot" routine! Over the last several years, I have off and on been pursuing a self-guided natural history curriculum, called Kamana, offered through the Wilderness Awareness School in Duvall, Washington. I've fallen off the wagon several times, the most recent fall being due to our move here coupled with giving birth to Ella.

But thanks to Drew, I am climbing back on, in pursuit of that elusive goal that I can feel but can't see, out there in the forest ether. It is a goal that is something like wanting to feel myself part of the fabric of animals, birds, plants, water, and everything else that converges on our specific place here, to be able to hear a sound a know that it means a coyote is slinking through the underbrush, or to be able to find food in any season or weather. I'm looking for indigenous knowing of this land, and all it's faces.

How did Drew help me climb back on? As a Christmas gift, he bought me Wilderness Awareness School's "No Child Left Inside" package, which includes three books: Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv, Sharing Nature With Children, by Joseph Cornell, and Coyote's Guide to Connecting With Nature, For Kids of All Ages and their Mentors, by Jon Young (Wilderness Awareness School's founder), Ellen Haas, and Evan McGown. What better way to help me reconnect with my goals and desires than to encourage me to share it with Ella.

The Sit Spot routine is the core of the Kamana program, and basically involves choosing a place, close to your home, that you can visit every single day, in all kinds of weather, at all times of year. You go there and practice awareness exercises. Over time, you begin to have some odd, and at first, seemingly random experiences. Though I've not yet mastered the routine, and have always had trouble going every day, I did it enough at one time to begin to have strange and coincidental encounters with animals, like deer, squirrels, chickarees, and birds. You begin to notice things you somehow missed before.

So this morning, I asked Ella to go on a special walk with me to a sit spot. We talked about being quiet and listening and feeling, and smelling and looking at everything. And we walked quietly to the spot I've chosen, down the hill behind the yurt, into the forest, next to an old charred log, next to a bay tree, with a wonderful view of the lower meadow by the creek, and the wet seepy area below one of our springs. It's perfect. We crept in there, and sat together, listening for birds, drinking in the rushing sound of the full creek after all the rain of the last few days. We touched some yellow jelly fungus, and some stiff capped mushrooms that were growing out of the log. And after she got bored and couldn't sit still, we went on a little walkabout, to look for some deer, to play in the creek, and to see what else we could find. It was lovely, to wander with no agenda, and to find unmelted hail unexpectedly, and to follow a deer trail, hoping to find them. Ella was remarkably quiet and attentive the whole time. I would call it, unabashedly, a complete success.

So we'll be sit spotting every day, from now on. Who wants to join me?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Happy Solstice!

The fire is lit!

Overlooking the Mattole Estuary

The sky blushes pink for sunset

Ella bundled up

Friends gather round the burning solstice fire

Already, we have arrived at and surpassed the longest night of the year. It seems to have come quickly this year...

We gathered a plethora of outerwear and a few snacks, and extracted our playing toddler by 4:30 (by threatening to leave without her!), and headed for the bluffs above Mattole Beach, site of this year's Solstice celebration. For 15 years, the party has been at the home of Freeman and Nina, and last year, they declined to host a potluck, and this year, due to Freeman's healing broken back, Michael and Ellen volunteered to host out on their grazing lease.

We parked the car just as the fire was lit. The new location is just breathtaking! There was the looming pile of brush and limbs, set to become a bonfire, perched on the edge of the continent, overlooking the blue and serene Mattole Estuary, while scalloped black sand outlined the roaring ocean below. There were already a handful of revelers, all donning rain pants and coats, parkas, and barn boots, braving the winds and threatening rain to honor the age old tradition of lighting a fire on solstice sunset, to keep the light alive on the longest night of the year, to welcome back the light. The sky turning pink was the only indicator of sunset, as thick clouds obscured the view above.

After about an hour of chatting, we circled for our formal business: to cast into the fire things from the previous year we wish to release, to honor the births and deaths of those close to us, to call out the things we are grateful for, and to sow the seeds of our intentions for the coming year. We write the wishes and intentions on little pieces of paper, and tie them to a fir tree, which is tossed onto the fire at the end.

We have not had as much rain as some would hope so far this year, especially the salmon. Our neighbor Clarence offered up a Native American rain chant, in hopes of bringing on the rain. We all agreed to give it a go. I'll be damned if that rain didn't open up while we were still singing the unfamiliar syllables! And it kept up, effectively bringing our family's attendance at the party to a close.

The Solstice gathering is one of my favorite annual events all year in Petrolia, a chance to gather with intention with our small, but large, community of fellow Earth travelers. It feels like an ancient connection, to honor so old a tradition. Indigenous peoples all over the world honor(ed) this annual marker of the passage of the Earth around the sun. And shouldn't we honor that glowing orange orb that truly provides all that we consume and enjoy on this sacred planet?

Solstice Blessings to all of you, and may your coming year be filled with fulfilled intentions!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Some birthday pics

Here I am today, 33 years old, my Jesus year! I'm having a wonderful day. Slow morning start, breakfast, letting Ella open my presents, Ella off to babysitter, Drew and I have a hike date, and I got some camera nerd time in. The photos above are from said hike, of this fabulous Bay tree. Ella is now napping, and we will attend the annual Petrolia White Elephant party tonight. This is a fabulous shindig, with too many contestants elbowing and bumping their ways around a medium sized living room.

In case you don't know about white elephant, it's a gift exchange. Each person brings one gift, and picks a number when they arrive. Each number is called in succesion. When it's your turn, you can either open an unopened gift under the tree, or you can steal a gift from someone else who already opened one. Rules are: 1. Each gift can only be stolen three times. The fourth owner is the FINAL owner. 2. You cannot steal a gift from a relative/family member. (This is significant as a lot of our community members are related and could easily collaborate to get a certain gift!) 3. You MUST take your white elephant home!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Health Care for ALL

I hosted a Community Health Care Discussion tonight, as prompted by the incoming Obama-Biden Transition Team. They are compiling the opinions of ordinary Americans like you and me as to what is broken, what needs fixing, and what we think they should do about our current health care system. I couldn't resist the opportunity to contribute to the larger conversation, as health care has risen to the surface as a personal top priority.

A whopping 7 adults and two toddlers gathered at the Community Center tonight to answer the questions, and to create a policy statement to submit to the team. We had a healthy critical discussion about lots of things that are wrong, and there was generally a consensus that everyone should be entitled to health care. Wouldn't it be fabulous if we could go to the doctor when we wanted, and not feel worried not only about our health, but about how are we gonna pay for it, or what if our insurance goes up, etc. We were all in favor of a single payer health care system. Even beyond that, what if our health system encouraged health, by supporting nutrition, education, preventative care, and alternative health modalities? I sure hope that the Obama administration can pull something together in this arena, for the benefit of all.

If you would like to host a discussion wherever you are, it's really easy. Go to, and click the link about signing up to host a Community Health Care Discussion. They provide all the necessary instructions. You can invite as many or as few people as you'd like.

The Statement we created is copied below:

"We believe the government should create a Health Care System, as opposed to the Sick Care System that we currently have. We believe insurance companies have no place in a Health Care System, and that the government should provide payment for medical services that people require as recommended by their doctors and other health care professionals. Health care professionals should receive a healthy living wage. Drugs should not be patentable, and should be available at low or no cost for all people who need them. Public policy should support public health, by encouraging wellness, nutrition, and preventative care. Alternative modalities such as acupuncture, chiropractic, massage, and others should be supported and encouraged in service of maintaining the HEALTH of our population."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


I know that anyone living up and down the west coast has been blasted this week with a comprehensive mass of [relatively] frigid Arctic uncle, who lives in Oakland, remarked that when he left his building to walk to work on Monday, he thought that there might have been an earthquake and he had been transported to Chicago. My friend in Montana showed her son playing outside in -20 degrees in a Facebook photo. And friends in Oregon shared that there have been lovely blankets of snow lying all around their towns, making driving treacherous, and beauty common.

While we haven't seen snow here at sea level on the Lost Coast, we have had two nights of hard freeze, and a third, tonight, of lighter frost (there is a change in the weather afoot). We have needed to keep the fire going almost all day, and areas in the shade to the north of the yurt have maintained frost all day long! This is not unheard of here, but it's really a rare few days a year that it gets this cold.

The road into town has been covered in the dangerous, invisible black ice at night, and motorists who tried to get to town on Monday, as well as each successive day since, have had to wrangle with snow in places. Ella and I went to the store yesterday, and a guy had driven down from Wilder Ridge. His truck had snow all over the hood and roof. A large clump laid next to the truck on the pavement, and Ella was just beside herself about it. We ran circles around it, touched it, prodded it, stomped in it, and squealed with joy. Who knew that just a little lump of snow could be so much fun?! The weather people keep threatening that we will see snow, even down here at sea level, but we'll just have to see about that, won't we?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Country Christmas Tree Hunt

It has been something of a tradition to seek and collect a Christmas tree on my birthday, which is December 20th. But this year, since Ella is old enough to be excited about trees and ornaments, I couldn't wait to venture out to find one early. Our lovely neighbor, Deva, offered up her large knoll, which has a spontaneous eruption of small fir tree acne on its north side.

We left the yurt in the late morning, wearing rain coats and boots, and carrying no less than one large tree saw, a rainbow umbrella, a dog, and a toddler. The moment we left, it began to rain. It's been an on and off affair of showers, snow, sleet, sunbursts, and rainbows, as of late. Down the hill and across the creek and up up up, past the spring, coming into sweeping vistas of our flat, Apple Tree Ridge, other people's burn piles, far away cows, and amazing, fluffy cloud-scapes. We met Deva, who joined us for the wet walk. As we reached the tree area, we noticed a buck at the ridge, who uncomfortably strutted away, hoping to evade the dogs.

At last, we selected several trees, and asked Ella to make the final choice: "Dis one, no. dis one, yeah yeah yeah..." Drew and I each took a turn with the hand saw, and then we collected our harvest, and began the trek back. It began raining harder, and was a pretty steady downpour most of the trip home, until, of course, we arrived back at the yurt. Ella was rather non-plussed, but she made a valiant effort nonetheless, hiking in her non-waterproof blue poncho and pink rain boots.

In the fading afternoon light, after the tree dried off a little, I brought it inside and set it inside a white bucket with rocks in the bottom to stabilize it, and dug out the tree ornaments. Ella LOVED this part, and has been so delighted to play with and talk to the animals now inhabiting the tree. She even played peek-a-boo with the raccoon this morning during breakfast! With Ella being older this year, things are setting up for a really fun holiday, full of new family rituals and traditions.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Full Moon and Sick Times

With all this clear weather as of late, we've had an amazing string of moony nights here on the Lost Coast. Crystal clear, twinkling stars, frosty grass, and white liquid moonlight spilling all over everything. No need for headlamps, and it shines in on our faces through the skylight while we sleep in our cozy yurt loft. Yesterday afternoon, we were returning from town and took a pit stop while on the Wildcat (the road between Ferndale and Petrolia), and as I chanced a look behind me to the east, a giant, transparent moon was just above the golden horizon. Oh, it makes the heart sing! And tonight, as the sun was setting, there it comes again, hovering over the dip in the ridge to the northeast.

The neat thing about the solstice full moon is that it describes the path of the summer sun. In other words, where the moon came up tonight is where the sun rises on summer solstice. This is a valuable piece of design information, if you want to get a sense of where the sun is on your site and you don't have access to other kinds of tools.

Otherwise, this is also a time of year when everyone and their brother is sick, getting sick, overcoming sickness, or worried about getting sick. Our whole family was sick during this last calendar week, and everywhere I go, I hear of others, and hear the coughing and congested noses. More time indoors with windows and doors closed + drier air to dry up throats and noses, due to woodstoves + holiday eating of rich and sweet food along with extra alcoholic beverages + less exercise + more time spent in indoor places with lots of people = ripe breeding ground for viruses of all walks. Our little family is always working on eating well, but especially this time of year, toning down the dairy and sweets, trying to exercise more, and wash hands wash hands wash hands. It's amazing how far hand washing will take you! While we were sick, I made

Kira's Sicky Soup...

1 onion
2 stalks celery
2 carrots
5 cloves garlic
grated ginger (to taste, optional)
1 bunch chard, chopped, including stems
chopped (or a can of) tomatoes, about 2-3 cups
chicken stock
cayenne (to taste)
1 pkg. bean thread noodles
tofu (optional)

Saute the onion slowly in some olive oil in a big soup pot until it is transparent. Add the celery, mushrooms, garlic, ginger, cayenne. Saute a few minutes longer. Add the stock, some extra water, and tomatoes. Cover and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer. When carrots are cooked, remove some water to a small bowl. Dissolve several teaspoons of miso with the small amount of water and set aside. Put bean thread noodles, chard, and tofu into soup pot and boil a few moments longer. Turn off the heat. Add the miso slurry into the soup and serve with whole grain toast and a tall glass of water or tea. Eat for several meals in a row, even breakfast! Yum! I was grateful the other night for garden carrots, chard, and tomatoes.

May you all enjoy lovely full moons and good health throughout the winter season!

Sunday, December 7, 2008


Yesterday, Drew said, 'We should go to the beach this weekend.' Yeah. We should. We have been having this gorgeous weather, which makes for nice beach time in the winter, with low angle sun and a rather slack wind. Somehow, I often forget to go visit the ocean, even though it's only a short 7 miles away. So we gathered our snacks and extra layers, the dog and her chuck-it, and piled in the car.

We arrived shortly at the mouth of McNutt Gulch, the place where the Mattole Road spills onto the beach flat when you head north out of Petrolia. We drive by it several times per month, but until today, Drew and I had only been there together once, and I had only been there one other time besides. It's a beautiful beach, bordered on the east by impressive sand dunes. It's a wide, flat, plain-like beach with a fantastic view in all directions. McNutt Gulch is generally a small volume stream, and its water usually snakes back and forth wildly before disappearing into the sand before it reaches the ocean.

We walked out and immediately were all drawn into searching for tiny, smooth, orange, green, and yellow agates, with the unlikely idea that we will use them someday in a concrete countertop. There are so many! There is sea glass too. We could spend all day collecting odd shaped trinkets and pieces of shells made smooth by the action of sand and waves and time.

The wind came up rather suddenly from the north, the cold strong wind, unfolding white caps out beyond the surf zone, so we retreated to the dunes, to a south face that was warmed by the sun but protected. Ahhh, reclining in the sun next to my husband while my daughter throws the ball for the dog, snacking on salty almonds and crackers in there any better life?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Winter Patterns

Suddenly, we arrive here. Though the 70-degree temperatures lately are deceiving, the shortness of the days and the crispy chill at night is presenting winter as arrived. The darkest season presents some different daily patterns than the warm, long days of summer. We have to watch our power usage, and therefore the weather, closely. This significantly affects our ability to do laundry. We need not only full sun on the solar panels to run the machine, but sun to dry the load outdoors. With the days so short, the laundry is still cool and damp an hour before sunset when the dew drops. We can barely squeeze one load onto our indoor drying space. So we have to get strategic. Sometimes, a day is this morning, though foggy, we could plainly see it would be sunny. We ran the laundry, only now, high clouds obscure the sun, and the temperature has fallen. Onto the indoor racks we go!

Winter also changes other routines: we keep a fire going most of the time; we cook dinner in the fading light or darkness; we wear waterproof footwear; I no longer visit the garden daily; we watch more movies at night; we spend hours poring over seed and nursery catalogs fantasizing about spring, fruit trees, and edible goodies; we see more of our neighbors than during the summer as everyone's projects have slowed down; and we prepare for the coming of the light with much social revelry.

We also spend time worrying about the fish, and about climate change. The river mouth opened in November, but it just closed again the other day. Spawning surveyors are reporting that adults are spawning in the mainstem, and that none have made it past Honeydew. The river flows peaked after our last storm and have continued to decline, meaning the salmon can't get to their spawning gravels in headwaters streams. And it seems so darn warm. People keep saying that it didn't used to be like this. And maybe they're right. But the crazy thing I realized today is that no one has been here long enough to truly know. We are absent the long term, generational connection to times past, there is no oral history about it, and our mobile culture confuses us: I don't remember it being this way, but I have spent winters in 4 locations in Pennsylvania, 3 in Connecticut, 4 in L.A., 2 in Danville, 7 in Santa Cruz, and 7 in Petrolia. But even given this, that I have no roots here, something seems different, not right. There are alarm bells going off in my viscera, at my deepest level the worst yet to come? It's so difficult as a single human in the flow of it all to get a sense of where the river is leading...