“Water Body” – published in Hot Metal Bridge, Winter 2015 (“Coming Home”)
There is nothing small at sea, or personable, or petty. Even the tiniest plankton, rising and falling with the changing light, signify a larger something at work in the belly of the sea. Looking at them under a microscope, I’d often catch them locked in each other’s jaws, fragile things lost in the arms of war.
I remember watching a film of a mother sand-tiger shark as she was drawn from the sea and spread open. Inside her pinkish-white womb, her one surviving infant was still hard at work eating the remains of the siblings it had killed, struggling for dominance and survival even before birth. In a litter, only one sand tiger shark ever fights its toothy way out of that violent darkness and into the wider sea, its stomach already round with food.
In the give and take of tide, under the hungry lash of wind and in quiet realms of deeper current, the ocean fills endlessly with egg and blood, curls around cliffs, prowls like a restless thing.
(Read the full piece here.)
“Remembering That Life” – published in the Harvard Review, Fall 2014
(Read the full piece: Remembering that Life)
I guess we’ve all seen dead fish.
Years ago, while scavenging for driftwood along California’s coast, I stumbled across one that had washed up from the deep, eyes glazed, its thin teeth glistening like needles, and I realized I wasn’t the only one swimming in those cold swells. I stared in horror for a few spellbound moments before running from it on fast little legs.
At an outdoor market in Seattle last spring, I watched men dressed in rubbery foul-weather gear toss silver salmon back and forth, catching the slippery bodies with nonchalant bravado. The fish were almost whole, save for long cuts down their stomachs out of which the inner parts of them had been torn. Five ninety-nine a pound.
When I got tired of reading Puritan poetry in college, I enrolled in a class that brought us, without an ounce of literary analysis, to an ichythyology collection at the far end of campus. Through a back door in Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, down a white hallway and just past a room crowded with disarranged papers, we found a fish library.
In the stacks: neither the Encyclopedia of Fishes nor Kurlansky’s Cod, but actual fish, bottled and lined like books down the shelves. Acestrocephalus boehlkei from a river in South America, Ahynnodontophis rosaliae from deep waters off of Cuba, Bathypterois dubius, collected among the Azores in 1890.
One and a half million pairs of eyes failed to follow me as I passed down the aisles.
“Melt Out” – published in River Teeth 16.1, Fall 2014
(Read the full piece: Melt Out)
The following week, we returned to the same place by boat, lingering offshore to watch for the pack. Sure enough, they were there: dark wolves with lanky legs that paced the shore and bristled with the same power that is contained in the long shadows cast by certain high mountains. They moved slowly along the side of the creek that emptied out at the base of Gloomy Knob.
We followed their gaze and watched what they were watching: salmon. Salmon leaping at the mouth of the creek, salmon flurrying upstream with quick bursts of muscle, salmon shimmying over the same rocks that had lain pressurized under ice just a geologic blink ago. After some time, we witnessed a long-limbed mother wolf wade slickly into the current and carry one out of the water to feed four dark-furred, tumbling pups.
Four thousand years of ice-age desolation, and after the breakup of the glacier, some intrepid gang of salmon revolutionaries had found its way those 40-some miles up the newly-opened bay to this streambed–and wolves had followed. I watched and wondered.
“Gulp Life,” published in Inspiring Generations: 150 Stories, 150 Years in Yosemite, Yosemite Conservancy 2013.
Stand in Yosemite Valley and look up at sunrise: you can almost see Ansel Adams cresting one of those high granite faces in the first light, camera in hand. Look closely at the boulders as you hike. You’ll find water collecting in the mortars where Ahwahnee women once ground acorns as they watched their children from atop the rocks. Come across a black bear track in the dust, and with a little imagination, you might hear the crack of gunfire that killed the last grizzly, echoing through time from a century back for those who listen. Venture above the valley to the little community of Foresta and, if you lived in the area or read the news in the 1990s, it will be disturbing to remember that this is where the decapitated body of Joie Armstrong was discovered: the fourth and final murder committed by the “Yosemite Killer.”
As a memory, it is a horrific one. Yet as a story, Joie Armstrong’s death was not a final chapter. She was 26 years old when she died—a vivacious adventurer and a dedicated educator with Yosemite Institute (now NatureBridge), an organization that brings students into national parks to learn and explore. She was lovely and beloved, and sight-unseen, she changed my life–and the life of Yosemite National Park—in the most breathtaking way possible.
“Your Own Cathedral,” published in Inspiring Generations: 150 Stories, 150 Years in Yosemite, Yosemite Conservancy 2013.
When he caught the orange-gold light reflecting from those impossible granite walls and felt the mist from those rocketing white falls, John Muir did well to describe Yosemite as a cathedral. How apt to think of this place—with its ancient groves of sky-scraping sequoias, its gravity-defiant rock faces, and its thundering towers of water—as a vast and shining, unroofed shrine. What better place to do worship, you might ask yourself, as you idle in bumper-to-bumper traffic in the heart of Yosemite Valley, searching for the scent of pines through the slight smog that has settled over the one road that leads into Muir’s “great temple.”
Someone up ahead has slowed down to take a picture of deer. You can see the driver with his camera out the window, foot still on the gas as he rolls forward, eyes diverted from the road. This is an era of multi-tasking, after all. Across the meadow, on the other side of the valley, you can already make out the dark throngs moving as one toward the base of Yosemite Falls. Cars are double- and triple-parked along the Merced River. The traffic ahead slows down again, this time to a stop: a black bear has been sighted, strolling in the direction of the tent cabins in Curry Village. He has the swagger of a well-fed bear who probably learned from his mother what an ice chest looks like.
The whole place thrums with restive, bustling humanity. It is a day of comings and goings. Many of the vehicles up ahead won’t stop longer than a few minutes to snap photos before they continue along the loop that will carry them back out of the valley. The average visit to Yosemite National Park—all 1,200 shining square miles of it—lasts about four hours. I’m not a religious kind of girl, but this seems to me kind of like strolling into a church, snapping a shot of the angels on the ceiling, and hurrying out midway through the first sentence of the sermon.
“The Engineer” – published in Jack Tar Magazine 2012
He navigated by sound: like a man at a lightless anchor watch, his invisible bearings spoke to him with voices that only he understood. There, the water pump chugging and lapsing with use and inactivity; underfoot, the bell-like rush of unseen pipes; the faint buzz of electric wires behind their paneling. His blood thrummed on pitch with the whir of fans in the battery bank; his breathing matched the chink and knock of wrenches tapping against the bulkhead with the sway of the ship . . . .
Teaching Others to Love the Earth – 2010 Press Democrat
(Read the full piece: Hindley News Clip – Teaching Others to Love the Earth)
“In these caves, there will be no light, and I am only going to guide one of you through. The rest of you will need to lead each other,” I tell them. “Use soft, supportive voices, and maintain the chain of communication.” We lower ourselves one by one through a narrow hole in the granite. Our eyes grainy with sudden sightlessness, we direct one another’s hands along wet walls and sidestep between boulders, easing foot-first through snug tunnels, backs stiff against rock . . . .
Splendor in the Branches – 2005 Press Democrat
Sleek and sinuous, they tumble through the trees like suicidal acrobats, defying gravity, spiraling and unfolding among the leaves with graceful abandon. Our fences are their highways, our rooftops their bridges . . . .
A Lesson in Newfound Grace – 2004 Press Democrat
A vast, hollow silence washed through the vehicle as the automatic doors sighed shut and the bus crunched back onto the road . . . .