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A Bolt From the Blue--I Mean, the Gray—Thursday, June
After the storms chased us off Mt.
Whitney on Tuesday, Tom and I decided to use our remaining anniversary
vacation time to attempt a different fourteener, White Mountain.
At 14,246 feet, White is the third-highest peak in California
but hardly one of the most difficult, since it’s a 15-mile
round trip hike with 3,300 feet of gain compared to Whitney’s
22 miles and 6,150-foot climb. So we drove to the trail head of
White Mountain under dark, low clouds and intermittent rain while
disregarding not only the fact that the skies were no clearer
than the day before but the even more salient detail that we have
never, ever, reached the summit of any mountain we have
attempted on the first try.
There are two main reasons for our sad reality. Either we don’t
manage to reach the summit before our designated turnaround time,
or we meet with foul weather. Yesterday it was the latter. We
were so thrilled by the stunning views that there was no minding
the clouds or even the thunder we could hear off to the east.
Every half hour we’d do a reckoning. Was the pocket of sun
we could see to the west moving toward us, or to the north? Was
the thunder getting closer, or farther away? The vistas were too
beautiful to leave without a fight. At 13,000 feet I felt as strong
as I do at sea level and I was overwhelmed by a desire I would
characterize as goal orientation but which Tom would more likely
call crazed summit fever.
At about 13,200 feet I turned around to Tom to reckon once more
when our final reckoning almost arrived in the form of a bolt
of lightening that hit not 200 yards behind his back. Tom saw
the flash reflected on my glasses and clothes, and we turned tail
and hoofed it out of there while being pelted with thousands of
sharp little hailstones. Yet again my ongoing issue of lacking
a normal relationship with fear had gotten the better of me—it
had even gotten the better of Tom, who is tired of turning me
around and then feeling like a wuss afterwards if the peak in
question is bathed in sunshine an hour after he’s made the
call. But nearly getting electrocuted helped us reach an agreement
on one unequivocal climbing policy, from this moment forward:
Any weather. Is bad. Weather.
I Could Die, No Big Deal—Tuesday, June 27, 2006
My husband Tom says that I am a scary climbing partner
because I have no natural fear. When he says this he is referring
to incidents like the one on Mount Shasta when my right ankle
was failing on a particularly steep grade. On a slope you have
to roll your ankle so that all your crampon points are digging
into the ice. As I was noticing that my right ankle wasn’t
interested in doing this anymore, there was a 2,000 foot dropoff
below and the only thing between me and sliding to my death was
my shaky ankle. I looked down and thought, with absolutely no
feelings at all, “A normal person would be scared now.”
Then I finished climbing the mountain. It never even occurred
to me to turn back.
So I was more than a little surprised when I was the one who
turned us around from the summit of Mt. Whitney on our annual
anniversary climb today (see the March
20, 2006 nonBlog). We were in the car driving toward the trail
head on Mt. Whitney and there was this ominous weather system
right above the peak. I thought—again, with no actual feelings
attached: “Maybe we shouldn’t be doing this.”
But we went ahead. Weather on the high peaks changes often and
quickly; maybe it would change in our favor. By the time we got
to 10,000 feet we heard thunder every few minutes and people were
passing us on their way down, telling tales of high winds, freezing
temperatures, lightening, and hail at our base camp above. Tom
was wondering if we should go forward and hope for the best. But
I kept picturing us being struck by lightening. Granted, I wasn’t
actually feeling afraid of being struck by lightening, unlikely
as that sounds. But I said I thought we should get off the mountain
as fast as possible.
Okay, maybe I’m not any closer to developing the kind of
useful fear that keeps people from making stupid errors outdoors.
But at least my brain is drawing conclusions from life-threatening
situations instead of just commenting dryly on them.
My Mulligan—Sunday, June 18, 2006
A lot of us have a lot of regrets,
and a lot of them are pretty serious. We could all use a do-over—just
one thing we’d do differently if we had the chance. Like
most people I’ve done an array of things I wish I hadn’t,
but oddly enough I genuinely believe they were essential experiences.
I don’t want a do-over, even if I could have one. Except,
that is, for college.
If I could have one do-over, I’d start from the first day
I arrived on campus and finish at the moment I was handed my diploma.
I’d spend every minute differently. When I went off to Dartmouth,
I arrived there with great excitement and anticipation to find
myself utterly unprepared. I had never been allowed to spend more
than a night away from home by myself. My father had suffered
a breakdown and my parents were divorcing. I fell hard for the
wrong guy and my grandmother got cancer. Even my dog died. I fell
into a state of what I now realize must have been depression,
and the people who were supposed to recognize it and rescue me
were otherwise occupied.
So I’ve decided that even if I can’t have a do-over,
I’m going to engineer a repeat. This weekend I started with
Freshman Trip. I went to my 19th reunion (don’t ask why
they celebrate that one—it’s not worth explaining)
and took my bouncy adult self up to Moosilauke Ravine Lodge. I
went to the dinner and square dance I missed the first time because
of giardia or whatever it was I contracted, stayed up late, woke
up early, and climbed Mount Moosilauke with a big fat smile on
my face. Then I partied all weekend with old friends and walked
around campus feeling the first glimmers of ownership I’ve
ever had. It felt pretty damn good.
Voice From the Past—Thursday, June 15, 2006
My piece about letting my toddler
watch TV is airing on KQED public radio today—I’m
in Boston at the moment so I heard it on the Web.
To my ears I sound exactly like my mother. This is not good.
It’s not that my mother doesn’t have a pleasant voice;
I certainly loved to hear it when I was a child. But, as all six
of you who read my blog already know, I am long estranged from
my mother. I don’t enjoy hearing her voice come out of my
mouth, which I notice not just when I hear myself recorded but
at odd moments when I’m talking to Olivia or telling a funny
story. I have all my mother’s inflections and vocal tics.
This means that Olivia has picked them up too, so I sometimes
have the surreal sensation of hearing my mother when I’m
listening to my daughter.
Maybe this is one of the good ways in which my mother is still
in my life, even when her physical presence is lacking. I can
have her light, lively tones in my ears without having to deal
with the harsh ones, the ones that signal the withdrawal of love
that is her trademark punishment. I should see it that way, but
instead it feels like ghosts of a past I’d really rather
put out of my mind.
No Self-Esteem Issues Here—Thursday, June 8, 2006
My six-year-old, Greta, has more
E.Q. (emotional quotient) in her pinky than I have in my entire
body. She oozes charisma. She’s like a mini Bill Clinton,
only female and red-headed. Her teacher once told me that on days
when Greta is home sick, her classmates are beside themselves.
Yesterday Greta made a beaded necklace with her name on it and
announced that she intended to sell it for $10, just like her
big sister does in her lucrative beading business. “But
Greta,” I protested—when I speak to Greta I’m
usually protesting something—“that necklace has your
name on it.”
“I know,” Greta replied. “Everybody loves me
and they all think I’m cute, so if I make a necklace with
my name on it then they’ll want to buy it.”
I take it back. She’s a mini Calvin Klein.
Bruce Who?—Wednesday, June 7, 2006
The thing nobody tells you about
seeing Bruce Springsteen in concert—I would have simply
said ‘seeing Bruce in concert’ but when my 23-year-old
babysitter came over to free us to drive to the Concord Pavilion
I found out the hard way that her age group doesn’t know
who you’re referring to—is that he is a person completely
comfortable in his own skin. My understanding of him was formed
during the “Tunnel of Love” and “Dancing in
the Dark” era when he wanted to change his clothes his hair
his face, and I didn’t realize how utterly he has moved
beyond that state of discomfort. He is a 56-year-old man with
three earrings in his left ear and one in his right and a tiny
little upside-down triangle of a beard directly under his lip
and he looks perfect just like that. He can play Pete Seeger songs
all night, ignoring virtually his entire personal oeuvre. He can
exhort the aging crowds who come to hear him to get off their
asses while they listen to him play. He can sing two or three
false endings to songs and force the audience to sing along until
he’s sure he’s got them completely engaged and in
the moment. He can do any damn thing he wants to. He creates whatever
art moves him and you’ll pay to hear it, and he’ll
persist all night until his art moves you too.
Dream Turned Nightmare—Saturday, June 4, 2006
For about five years I’ve
fantasized about giving a reading at Point Reyes Books. This bears
explaining. Point Reyes Station is a sweet little town about an
hour north of San Francisco that Tom and I adore. At least once
a month we drag the kids up there for the afternoon and stroll
down its one street, which is called—what else?—Main
Street. As small as it is, Point Reyes is the cultural center
of West Marin, and its book store manages to draw major authors
So when Horse Crazy came out, I decided this was my
big chance. Point Reyes is filled with horse junkies; in fact,
the shop next door, Cabaline
Country Emporium & Saddlery, is a horse
store. I contacted the owner of Point
Reyes Books and pitched my idea about a reading
co-sponsored by the horse store. I was, how shall we say, not
to be denied. The reading was scheduled for this past Friday,
on Western Weekend. There were five of us contributors reading,
and it was perfect. It was a spooky, foggy night. Olivia was there
to hear me read the story I had written about her to an audience.
I didn’t even have my patented pre-performance anxiety attack.
As we were heading for home I was thinking about what a rare
and great thing it is in life when you get to do something you’ve
dreamed about. Then we walked in the door, pushed “play”
on the answering machine, and found three messages from Ava’s
pediatrician telling us that he needed to talk to us because Ava’s
routine blood work had come back with a white cell count of 25,000.
Normal is 12,000. This is a doctor so hard to reach that if he
calls you once, let alone thrice, your heart stops.
He told us that Ava needed to be seen right away. At the hospital
they were going to redo her blood tests and give her a full physical.
He mentioned that he especially needed something called the differential.
I got on the Internet. The differential is how they can tell whether
your child has leukemia. Tom’s mother had leukemia when
he was growing up. He looked like he’d been punched in the
These were the longest 24 hours I can remember. The lab at the
hospital said we’d have the results an hour after her blood
was drawn, so of course it took two. We thought they weren’t
calling us because they were trying to reach our pediatrician
so he could break the news to us himself. Then the hospital called
and said her white cell count was down to 13,800. The tests showed
indicators of a recent virus, the probable cause of the spike
in her white blood cell count. I cried so hard I scared Ava, who
kept touching my face and saying, “Mommy! Mommy!”
Makes all your little work fantasies seem like petty stuff, and
suddenly getting through each day without something terrible happening
to one of your children is enough of a dream.
Me Drive Pretty—Thursday, June 1, 2006
Here’s what Tom and I did
on Memorial Day to honor all those poor kids fighting in Iraq:
we traded in our clackety 1995 Ford Explorer for a Highlander
We didn't hold on to the Explorer for so long because we exult
in driving an overlarge, gas-guzzling monster. We have three kids
and all their stuff to haul about and thus have a genuine need
for an SUV. And we didn't hold on to the Explorer because we couldn't
afford something shinier. It's because I have car issues.
My car issues began when I was about 12 and I noticed that my
father loved his Triumph TR6 more than he loved me, an assessment
I think he'd be hard-pressed to dispute. The issues deepened when
I watched my mother and stepfather lease a new luxury vehicle
every three years while being unable to pay off more than the
minimum on their many credit cards. Watching these shenanigans
made me want to separate my identity from my ride to the greatest
degree possible. If I was driving an old thing that ran, I decided,
I would just keep doing so until it stopped. But my desire to
not be wasteful by driving the Ford until it drove no more ran
smack into the gas crisis, whereupon the waste came from buying
too much pricey gas to keep the thing running until it ran no
more. So if you see me driving the shiny hybrid, take note-I remain
exactly as rusty as I was last week.