Sunday, November 29, 2009

Life Lived Sharp

I'm taking a few days off from blogging folks. I'll be back Thursday with some posts on turning venison into smoked sausage (cough, YUM! cough, cough, YUM), some recipes (Brown Butter Banana Bundt Cake), and perhaps more of life with the Range friends.
Now life's sometimes a battle
You just try to get what you're after
A world full of stories
You won't live to tell
But going on is all we know
Like rivers always flow
It seems the years just fly right past
While the days go by so slow
-Lowen and Navarro

At the James farm, arrowheads have been found. In my state, one can find arrowheads made out of obsidian, which is one of the more common gemstones found in this state, as well as where much of my family lives now.

Obsidian is used in cardiac surgery, as well-crafted obsidian blades have a cutting edge many times sharper than high-quality steel surgical scalpels. Even the sharpest metal knife has a jagged, irregular blade when viewed under a strong enough microscope. When examined under an electron microscope an obsidian blade is still smooth and even. A obsidian knife is one of the most ancient of weapons, with a blade as dark as death, and as sharp as life.

As a gemstone it possesses the peculiar property of presenting a different appearance according to the manner in which it is cut. When cut in one direction it is a beautiful jet black; when cut across another direction it is glistening gray.
Sharpened, obsidian, like words, can be an instrument of hurt or healing. Polished smooth it is a thing of rare beauty. How obsidian is cut reveals its use. How our souls are cut, shapes ours. Everything we experience in our life, in some way, chisels and shapes what is left, making it sharper, or grinding it to bits.

I had family visit a few months ago and we went through some old photo albums, memories to share. The comment was made that I had saved so many pieces of things of the past, of my family. I'm not sure why. I think it's because the past has been such a tumbling series of changes that having the artifacts of memory helps me remember how each piece shaped my life. The grade cards from school, a picture of a model rocket built in junior high. My Mom's badge from the Sheriff's department. A petal from a wedding bouquet, that unwittingly survived every other keepsake of that decade being burned up in a fire. A notice from my 20th high school reunion. Things that touch the memory.

I grew up in a small logging town, one of dozens nestled around beautiful, forested mountains in the West. Ever present was the noticeable rotten egg smell of the pulp mill that I never noticed as a child, but is as constant as death and taxes. There were no malls, simply a main street, a roller rink, a movie theater and only two fast food restaurants. It was a town where my best friend and I could ride our bikes over streets unconfined and unhurried, until darkness or hunger for family dinner around the table brought us home. It was a town where you could raise your family in relative comfort and safety. Life was routine, life was predictable. You graduated high school, married the first or second person you ever slept with. Had several kids, a mortgage, a dog, a cat. You retired and got a gold watch and watched the next generation take over the positions in the mills. The incredible open sky and mountains notwithstanding, it was a flat landscape of life, and one that I knew, probably by the age of 12, that I had to escape from.

I had never really fit in. I had skipped several grades, starting college at 14. I was outgoing, yet painfully shy, and though I usually had one or two girlfriends, the majority of painted, attention seeking girls hated me on sight, making cruel, catty remarks if ever I stumbled, when all I wanted to do was to go to organic chemistry unmolested.

I could not wait to leave.

At the time, and still today, the biggest employers was the factory and mills, and the majority of my graduating class, attracted by pay an 18 year old can only dream of, were working the green chain or in the pulp rooms right after high school. It's honest work, hard work, and dangerous work. It stole the youth from your bones and the hope from your horizon, for by the time you were 25, you have a modest home, kids, a bass boat and the prerequisite four wheel drive. College and a distant city are beyond thought and the pay that was incredible at 18, required more and more shift work and overtime to provide for your family.

Life would have it's moments of fun, watching your kid play softball where you once played, watching the sun come up over the river. But, for many, it's not what you dreamed of when you were 12 and the spaces between your dreams, once lined up like pickets on a fence, get farther and further apart. And all you have to fill those spaces were a few lonely hours with a book or out hiking a walk path, striding further and further away from yourself. Simply existing, as the daily repetition of just breathing, eating and paying a growing pile of bills, hammered you into an attenuation of wasted hope and frustrated longings as dull and pale as spiritless ashes.
I visit every few years, to see my Dad who settled there, lured by the fishing and the cost of living. Usually my family meets at a siblings, at a central location we can all get to easily so I'm not there often. I enjoy seeing my Dad, but I don't look forward to revisiting what my future might have been had I not ever left.

For when I step away from his house, I don't really belong. After 7 years of college and a substantial career, I am a stranger in what many would call my home town. I'm one of the few who left, as soon as I was old enough to get to Seattle and fill my life with books and knowledge, travel and new mountains. I wasn't the only one that went, we heard about each other in bits and pieces, a scholarship notice here, a medical school graduation there. But those kids and myself soon drifted away from peoples thoughts and faded away, until we return for a visit and people look at us long and hard, as if they might remember us from a grainy photograph somewhere. No one knows exactly what to say. It's as we stepped over some invisible line in the sand when we left, and are never seen quite the same way.

Visiting Dad one summer I ran into someone at a grocers with whom I played with as a child. She's been working the register as long as I remember, and although she is as pretty as she always was, there's a roughness to her, like a piece of beautiful fabric that's become worn and frayed over time. "How have you been?" she asks, but the question doesn't reach her eyes - beautiful eyes fragile and the color of tea, the color only deepened by the wrinkles I already see around them. I don't think she recognized me either, age and life has its ways of changing us, but she saw the name on the credit card. She asks what I'm doing now and when I tell her, I might as well be telling her I was just abducted by aliens and returned, my life so foreign to the life she leads. "Well you have a nice day" she says and I nod and take the receipt for Dad, not knowing what else to say. We're strangers, and though as children we shared bike rides and ice cream, now we are looking at the world from completely different places.

I can't live my life that way, in a sepia toned existence of just eating and breathing and going to a job I hate to pay the bills for people who care as little for my dreams as I soon will myself. Waking up each and every day with tastes dulled by the grind of life with no flavor; skies cloudy with the dark reassurance that living life far back from the edge gives. Comfortable, safe, and as stale, bland and artificial as a Twinkie.

I left that life, as quickly as I could. Left in a trail of exhaust from a small airplane that would as soon kill me as carry me forward; leaving it perhaps a bit worse for wear, but alive. Flying out into a night as black as obsidian, senses sharp, and ready to jab at whatever life threw my way. Yes, it's been a life of changes, of mistakes, of tears, but it's brought me to this spot, here today.

Here where I keep small snippets of memory in a folder in my desk drawer to remember why it was all worth it. For memory feels before knowing remembers. It feels stronger than knowing recognizes. Memory feels with nerves sharpened by pain, and aged like wine, until every nuance of life is clear. Every choice you have made, laid out on a stainless steel table for your review.

In this small town in which I keep to myself, I am mostly a stranger but it doesn't bother me, as those who do include me in their circles do so for who I am now, and not what they expected me to be. Those that judge or prejudge aren't those I welcome in my life. My group of friends is small, but true; people like me, those that share that same elemental feeling of living that seems to have escaped so many. Last time I was back there I couldn't help but notice that the huge field back behind my Dad's home, where once we hunted for shiny black arrowheads, is now the parking lot of a Walgreens, and the forested hills behind me are crowded with homes, hills I could still see if not for the large Burger King sign that blocks the view. As I walked back from the store to my Dad's house I searched the once familiar sky for the clouds that fueled my dreams and strained my ears to hear the beloved sound of a log train. But the train no longer runs along that route and I only hear the clatter of traffic.I don't really belong here any more. Somehow today, I don't belong anywhere but here in this place, now, but here, I am at home.

Would I change my past, even the most profoundly painful parts of it, knowing I would not be the person I am today, in this moment of time, in this place? A past that, had it been less stressful, might only have ended diminished and foreshortened in it's outcome. For without all of those tears and struggles and changes in landscapes, I would not have ended up in just this one spot, in just this one moment, breath teeming with promise. Alongside me in the truck, the touch of soft black fur against me, my lab Barkley, my companion. Like me, he is ready for today's play as we head out into the countryside, resting up against my own arm, my skin smooth as obsidian, yet strong as steel, muscles taut with the excitement of just being alive.


  1. I understand the feeling.
    Only I could not express so myself so eloquently!

  2. Glory be! The first read went perfectly with my morning coffee (pressed after grinding the beans by hand). After feeding the cats, the dumbo rats, fancy mouse and the chickens, I shall return to read it again.

    This isn't gushing, BTW. It's just plain awestruck admiration. You're the real McCoy!

  3. It might of been Nero Wolfe that said you can't go home again, or something close to that. It isn't so much that home changes while we are gone, but that we change so much.

    The town I grew up in was similar in ways to yours. Lots of open desert to play, wander and explore in. All gone now. Local Deputies knew most of our parents etc. Most of my class mates never went on to college or got to far from town. Mostly they headed for the Copper mines or an industries that supported them. For the rest of us it was either early marriage and small jobs, or off to the Military. I chose the military. I've never been back to that home town although I've lived about 200 miles from it for almost 20years. I Left nothing there to go back for.

    In AZ the small globes of Obsidian are called "Apache Tears" so named for the tears the Apached women cried when their men, cornered on top of a cliff jumped to their death rather then be captured. The place was called Apache Leap. It is/was an old volcanic pipe that had Apache Tears suspeneded throughout. We used to go there to dig them when I was a child.

  4. "...although she is as pretty as she always was, there's a roughness to her, like a piece of beautiful fabric that's become worn and frayed over time. "

    "For without all of those tears and struggles and changes in landscapes, I would not have ended up in just this one spot, in just this one moment, breath teeming with promise."

    Two Lives diverge. Which one is better? Security and ease over following your heart to where-ever it takes you?

    This reminds me of the 'youth' that everyone strives for. But to 'look' young on the outside is far different from being young on the inside.

    What is Youth? (poem)

    Youth is not a time of life - it is a state of mind,
    it is a temper of the will,
    a quality of the imagination,
    a vigor of the emotions,
    a predominance of courage over timidity,
    of the appetite for adventure over love of ease.

    Nobody grows old by merely living a number of years.
    People grow old only by deserting their ideals.
    Years wrinkle the skin,
    but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.
    Worry, doubt, self-distrust,
    fear and despair - these are the long,
    long years that bow the head and
    turn the growing spirit back to dust.

    Whether they are sixteen or seventy,
    there is in every being's heart
    the love of wonder,
    the sweet amazement at the stars
    and starlike things and thoughts,
    the undaunted challenge of events,
    the unfailing childlike appetite
    for what is to come next,
    and the joy and the game of life.

    You are as young as your faith,
    as old as your doubt;
    as young as your self-confidence,
    as old as your fear,
    as young as your hope,
    as old as your despair.
    When the wires are all down
    and all the innermost core of your heart
    is covered with the snows of pessimism
    and the ice of cynicism,
    then you are grown old indeed.

    But so long as your heart receives messages
    of beauty, cheer, courage, grandeur
    and power from the earth,
    from man and from the Infinite,
    so long you are young.

    So Long Are You Young
    celebrates a little-known literary sensation.
    — D. Quinones

    Yep... time to dig up that old favoirte of mine.

  5. That is why it is a truism that you can never go home again, even if you want to.

    I've been so far around the country--lived in many states and many towns and my life experience is so far from those left behind that I might as well be the alien that they always thought I was anyway.

    Sometimes I envy those who haven't seen beyond the horizon; they are secure in their place, their role.

    I sometimes think my travels took me too far away and for too long, but as the saying goes, we are the sum of our experiences and I've been pretty lucky to both have those experiences and to finally find a home at the end of the long road traveled.

  6. Excellent and moving, as always, Brigid. Much of this resonates with my experience. Thanks for articulating the feelings so brilliantly.

  7. "That is why it is a truism that you can never go home again, even if you want to. "

    Aint that the truth, Midwest Chick. Sounds like others are speaking the same thing on this post.

    I think this may be time for an old Song by the Moody Blues (not funny... sorry!). They put to music the very thing we are saying here...

  8. Home is where you make it. Change is the reason you can't go home again.

    Great post as usual Brigid. You always start my mornings.

    God Bless

    See Ya

  9. Don't be away too long, Brigid! I really enjoy your writing!!!

  10. They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
    Love and desire and hate:
    I think they have no portion in us after
    We pass the gate.

    They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
    Out of a misty dream
    Our path emerges for awhile, then closes
    Within a dream.
    - Ernest Dowson


    Ah, great it is to believe the dream as we stand in youth by the starry stream; but a greater thing is to fight life through and say at the end, the dream is true!
    - Edwin Markham

    We'll be here, Brigid.

  11. Enjoy the rest Brigid, Will miss your posts. I feel drained from the first week back and can't find the motivation to post anything. I can't see how someone can make jabs at you. If they do Brigid, its because of jealousy or they have the mindset of a jellyfish.
    Enjoy your break

  12. Perhaps a proper response with more depth will come tomorrow after a good sleep, but in the meantime I'll be glad for the chance to think on this one some.

    I'll be happy to hear from you again when you get back, and I'm quite certain that I'm not the only one.


  13. Eagerly awaiting your return!

  14. Brigid, I think you have touched many of us who left and can't or won't go home with this post...

    Thank you for sharing that with us. We'll be here when you get back.

  15. I'm still working on getting there....I am very happy for you Brigid! I think your words speak to the hearts/or at least touch them - of a lot of people - me included. You hit on things that I have felt but haven't put a specific word or words to or even made a link to - like me getting more .22 ammo available for me because you sold your Ruger 22/45 -thanks for that.

    I try to pick up little pearls of wisdom here and there. I just need to remember them better.

    I love obsidian! I have found my fair share out here just walking around. Check out-

    Glass Buttes in Oregon - so many different types of obsidian.

  16. Brigid,

    I think I know the feeling. Work's been one nightmare after another, and I've posted almost nothing all year long. Strangely enough, I have started posting regularly again, and it seems to be working for me. We'll see.

    As far as you are concerned, you do what you gotta do for you, and we'll be eagerly waiting here for you when you get back.

    Like a lab, without the slobber;)


  17. Take time to relax and recharge. We'll be here when you come back.

  18. Enjoy the time off to refresh the mind.

  19. Sorry for the delay in reading this post; Blogger occasionally fails to tell me when your posts go up.

    This one, like most of your writing, is not only evocative but heart-wrenchingly familiar to anyone who's ever left home and a dead-end future. In my case, the local choice was between an auto assembly plant or an iron mine. (shudders)

    You words, so keenly felt, and yet accessible and shared ... such a gift you have been given.

    Go. Be refreshed. Come back only when you're ready. Your friends and extended online "family" will be waiting.

  20. That's a great song, my favorite on the album.

    Take care of yourself - we'll be here when you get back.

  21. You couldn't have described my own experiences in escaping from my own hometown. Devoid of hope, and covered with a pervasive pall of could-have-been and stuckness. Myself, and my three siblings, all escaped as soon as we could. And my Dad still lives back there, too, not unlike yours. I'd love to go back, and enjoy the affordableness of it all, take over his business, even - but there's no way I can bring myself to do it.

    I am still thankful that I did escape, nor do I want to imagine what other life I would have led if I had not left.

    Thanks as always for your writing - it really is most excellent!

  22. No HOTR postings? Anyone know the phone number for Betty Ford? I am already going through withdrawal.

    Seriously, we'll miss you, but have a great vacation. I'm sure that you earned it.



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