From Rubbled Ash

green-growth-after-fire

(image credit: https://stillnessproject.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/green-growth-after-fire.jpg)

Does the cause really matter?  Whether by wind-ember, arson, or friction-sparked words, the tangled fuel of uncleared underbrush between us ignited.  Structures glowed red, then orange, then yellow, then blue, to finally blacken and crumble to grey.

Even the neighborhood is gone, landmarks obliterated as if in a blast zone.  Gone is the round barn, our marriage gazebo, lilac trees, altars, your hands on my skin.

Now cool enough to approach, only isolated stones remain, islands emerging from a blanket of rubbled ash – a slate chimney, broken concrete, a sandstone staircase leading nowhere.

A two-pathed question emerges: stay or go, rebuild or diverge?  We have long felt the pull apart, a wishbone aching to snap.  Perhaps fire, Pele, ashes, are painful kindnesses.  Some cones open their seeds only to fire.

Ash bestows fertility. Minerals captured in living tissues return to the soil to be used again. Rainforest cultures know this cycle of slash, burn, replant, repeat.  The slash, the felling of the green between us, ached more than the burn.  The slash opened.  The burn cauterized.

I know how to sift.  Little-used skills gained in archaeology field-school on the banks of the Snake River.  First map, then shovel into screens, then collect jumbled pieces – some smooth, some jagged, some too small to recognize, some too large to ignore.  Turn over each shard, decide to bag and tag – or to trash.  Later, spread the rescued pieces onto long lab tables, look for patterns, fashion a plausible story, publish the results, await peer review.

So, I sift, I assess, and I write. Trying to weave sense from senselessness – knowing any tale reconstructed from fragments will always hold more questions than answers.

I watch to see what rises. I hope for green, but not with you.

~~~~

I wrote this in 2017 when fires in Sonoma County, California – a place I inhabited for seventeen years – echoed profound changes burning through my personal landscape. Enough time has passed to share these words, that like a cairn, mark a pivot point.  Old structures are missed. New structures have formed. I’m still sifting – learning that green rises at its own pace.

Hospitality

Image Credit: http://goldpaintphotography.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Full_Cold_Moon.jpg

 

Tonight,

I invite Sadness

to sit at my hearth

give her expensive wine

a cushion near the fire

a place to rest her feet.

 

I pray my welcome

will invite her to

move through

rather than stay,

but invite her in I must

for she rules this season

of cold full moons.

 

An attentive hostess

I serve her

stew from my cauldron,

bread from my table,

cake from my cupboard

meat from my heart.

 

I refill her glass, smile

knowing these gestures

risk permanent indwelling –

but hoping instead

for a gracious shift

back to whole shadow

or a bare sliver of light.

 

Even in full wane

I will still feel her,

this tearing pull

to emptiness

this flowing ebb,

this littoral zone,

for she dwells nearby.

 

Warmed by firelight

she nods,

smiles slightly

comfortable

in our arrangement.

I am not.

But even I

am capable of change.

 

That Will Leave a Mark (#LessonsLearned)

Written in response to an assignment in Martha Beck’s Write Into Light class.  We were prompted to transform difficult experiences using humor.  SO much fun to write! Enjoy!

Photo Credit: http://djringer.com/photos/d/4869-2/smilax-sp.jpg

  1. Keep your hands on the handlebars. Age 13. Ten speed bike. Ambulance ride. Stitches. Scars. #StrangersCare #cuteEMT #BlacktopStillEmbeddedInElbow  #BackpacksProtectBacks #RememberedMyFirstAidTraining #ToldThemToElevateMyFeetBecauseOfShock

  2. Sharpened trowels cut through more than soil layers.  Age 19. Archaeological field school. Reaching into backpack. #MadeALeatherSheath #ProblemSolved #StaySharp


  3. Sometimes people need stickers on windows. Ongoing. #CantWalkThroughThat #StickersAreNotJustForBirds


  4. Microwaves superheat water. Age 32. Spilled soup. Trip to university clinic. #DoNotBalanceOnLap #UseATray


  5. Chances of spraining ankle just walking is greater than while doing something dangerous. Ages 18, 19, 22, 25, 27, 30, 31.  #JustFuckingWalkingAcrossTheLawn #OrAFlatSurface #NeverRockClimbingOrCaving


  6. The steeper the slope the greater the gravity. Ongoing. #WalkingStick #RidingDownslopeOnAssWorks #NoShame


  7. Carbide lamps create actual fire that singes hair. Age 19. National Youth Science Camp caving trip. #MiniBlowTorch #CompanionsBeware


  8. Safety glasses work. Ages 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 21, 32, 33, 50, 51. #SavedMyVision #SuperNerdyLook


  9. Do not mouth pipette. Ever. Especially acids. Age 15. 40 molar HCl. #FranticMouthRinse #ToothEtching


  10. Apparently, I’m an acquired taste. Ongoing. #StillPuttingMyselfOutThere #LikeFineWine #ExpandYourPalate


  11. Do not rinse heating blocks while they are still hot. Age 33. Super-heated water shoots up and onto your skin. Blisters. #ActionReaction #NeverAgain


  12. Wearing lab gloves is always smart.  Ages 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 31, 32, 33, 50, 51. Chemical irritation. #DespiteSweatyHands #Required4AReason


  13. Not everyone risks as deeply as I do. Ages 19, 25, 26, 27, 33, 49, 50, 51. #StillWorthIt #RiskWisely


  14. Avoid “the gift that keeps on giving.” Ongoing. #Guilt #FinelyCraftedInMormonCulture #JustSayNo


  15. Lab coats protect clothing. Age 15. #LabCoatInLaundry #RuinedFavoriteShirt


  16. Some ants are too large to sift through archaeological screens. Age 19. #TheyBite. #TheyDefyDeath #TheyKeepBiting


  17. Silk dresses reduce friction on stair bannisters. Age 16. During intermission at a regional debate tournament. Bruises the shapes of stair edges. #AllHeadsTurned #WhatWasIThinking #NeverLivedItDown


  18. Gravity acts differently on a 30+ aged body self-launched from a playground swing than on a 10-year-old one. Age 32. #Gravity #SlowmoFaceplant #PineStrawInMyFace #FriendLaughedHerAssOff


  19. Not everyone wants me to write about them. Age 51. Cited as one reason for end of marriage. #StillWonderingWhatHappened #FinallyWritingAgain #NotJustMyBad


  20. Plot twists happen in real life too. Ongoing. #DidntSeeThatComing #GoWithTheFlow  #WOW


  21. Kittens don’t like water. Age 3. Kiddie pool. Scars. Photo evidence. #PissedKitten #NeedleClaws #NeverAgain


  22. Pets break your heart every fucking time. Ages 3, 8, 23, 48, 49, 51. #StillWorthIt #LearnSoMuch #JoyRemains


  23. Blaspheme bush (Smilax sp.), a vine in Georgia bogs, is aptly named. Ages 31, 32, 33. #ThornsEverywhere #DefiesMachetes #AttacksOutOfNowhere #AlwaysOnMyTransect #FuckYouAndAllYourBabyVines


  24. Sparklers are beautiful but painful. Ages 3, 10, 25. #BeautifulSparks #BurnCreme #StillWorthIt


  25. Extreme levels of pain or embarrassment require elevated levels of laughter.  Ongoing. #LaughAtMyself #ReleasesTension #EvenMoreHilariousLater #BetterThanDenyingItHappened #StorySeeds


Legacies

I met her while walking the wrong way on the trail. I felt her before I encountered her story. I circled, fascinated by the pattern of lines and holes covering her trunk and by her absence of bark. Though she looked dead, hollow with an open knot in the shape of a heart, her presence lingered.

After I read the signage, her story, I had to sit on a nearby bench until I had strength to walk again.

They skinned The Mother of the Forest alive, segment by numbered segment, and reconstructed a shell of her as an exhibition, later destroyed by fire. Only this scorched skeletal, yet still rooted snag of her remains.

She continues to defy erasure.

Her legacy also remains. Outrage at her exploitation saved the grove, now protected as a park.

In 1854, as the bark of The Mother of the Forest was being excised, my 4th great grandmother, Mary Ann Williams prepared to immigrate to Utah, despite the recent death of her husband. Determined to join the Mormon Saints, she sailed to New York and joined the ill-fated Willie handcart company.  Mary Ann and her six children all survived low provisions and being stranded by early snowfall, partly due to her ingenuity. To combat freezing temperatures, Mary Ann warmed rocks each night by the fire to keep the children warm. Because of her resourcefulness, I exist as DNA and experiences passed to her daughter Eliza, then to Emma, to Nellie, to Maxine, and through my father, to me.

Like the Mother of the Forest, these women defied erasure through sacrifice. They are the threads I am made of, stitched together through stories, actions, and heart. Their legacies live in me.

From Mary Ann, who left home to follow her faith, I gained resourcefulness and flexible thinking. From Eliza, who weakened by the trek, died young in childbirth, I learned creation despite risk. From Emma, who raised her children and those of her sister, rather than disavow their husband when he married a third, younger wife, I received the gifts of storytelling and endurance. From Nellie, who died of downwinder cancer caused by government nuclear testing, yet who never said an unkind word, I gleaned a love of learning and teaching. From Maxine, who remained with her secretly cruel husband to nurture each of her grandchildren into believing they were her favorite, I gained a sense of playful disobedience.

Official accounts paint these women as fiercely Mormon – believing, sacrificing, and dying true to the faith. Where they loved men, I love women. Where they chose faith, I choose excommunication. Where they chose to remain in toxic marriages, I choose freedom.

For years I feared I disappointed them – that my choices somehow diminished the power of their sacrifices. That walking the wrong way on trails has ancestral consequences. Part of me wanted to please my grandmothers, to remain Mormon, to honor their legacy through imitation, yet I relish the freedom to walk a pathway resonant with my soul.

One night, years after I left Mormonism, I encountered Maxine in a dream. We sat together, holding hands as I expressed my fear.  She took my face in her hands, looked deeply into me, smiled and said, “you were always too big for those temple garments anyway.”

Though I walk a different path, I honor the sacrifices of my grandmothers and The Mother of the Forest by sharing stories of their lives, by showing my daughter that each sacrifice was a choice, an offering to future generations. In these stories I pass my threads and theirs into my daughter’s hands as an antidote to past erasures and as a glimpse of gifts generated in the ancestral past.

(Im) Perfection: advice from my wiser, kinder self

Perfection lies.

Perfection rises as an illusion of light and heat. As straight lines imposed on curved landscapes. As adherence to rules. As dogmas of the one true way.

No human can reach this mirage, Beloved. Not even you.

Perfection impedes.

How long will you wound yourself, insisting that every attempt, step, breath, desire, creation be perfect from the onset?

You allow yourself no learning curve. No compassion. You excise imperfections with white-hot knives.

It is not arduous work or endings which impede you, but fear of imperfect beginnings. You hesitate on thresholds simply because you might fail.

Remember when you stood on the slopes of the Claron Formation, slope-a-scope and plant guide in hand, a site to survey, frozen in fear? Aunt Carole broke the spell, saying “you’re here, you know what you’re doing, trust yourself and just do it.” Gathering your courage, you did. Not perfectly, but well.

Can you imagine life without this drive for perfection?

 

Stop. Listen. Imagine.  

 

Imperfections are gifts.

Remember your minerals. When you select one from many, you choose those bearing unexpected color, texture, or shape. Elemental imperfections appear red, yellow, green, blue, or opaque, rather than clear. Crystalline imperfections emerge as botryoidal or vesicular or striated, rather than smooth. Imperfections create beauty.

Imperfections invite wonder.

Remember miles of desert interrupted by wildflowers. Green of meadows marked by unexpected splashes of lupine and paintbrush. Once rough hillslopes smoothed and curved. Roadside waterfalls. Trees defying drought. Sage perfuming the wind. Rocks outcropping as resistant cliffs. Green emerging from fire-blackened trees. Imperfections surprise.

Imperfections embrace wildness.

Remember your child self, running through orchards, gathering fruit, climbing trees, untamed. Recall mixing mud pies, following ant trails, illuminating microscope slides, gathering earthworms, fishing, and romping with rabbits.

Embrace the dirty, grass-stained, tear-stained, sweat-stained, imperfect, happy, free, wild one you were before cultural taming. Imperfections defy civilization.

Imperfections curve and meander.

Remember precisely engineered waterways in your hometown – concrete beds imposed to control flow and flood and course.

Imposed perfection kills the river, removing nooks for fish, boulders, log jams, rope-swings over pools, hands splashing, feet balancing on uneven stones, exploration by canoe.

The river has no thalweg, no invisible line connecting deepest points, for all depths are even, equal, boring, predictable. All that remains is concretized flow.

Embrace life curving into unknown territories, cutting banks, leaving sandbars, carrying loads. Trace the curves of your lover’s lips, of your lips, of shapes made by joining and shapes made alone. Imperfections braid and flow.

Imperfections sanctify.

Find holiness in imperfection. See sanctity in curves of thighs, in pregnancy furrows, in loose skin that once stretched taut over extra pounds of flesh. Embrace mistakes, longings, feelings, aches. Caress fractures in your once-broken heart, cracks now mended with kintsugi gold. Trace the rills in your facescape, the wrinkles carved by concentration, laughter, sadness, joy. Imperfections reclaim.

Imperfections are gifts.

Perfection rises as an illusion of light and heat. No human can reach this mirage, Beloved.

Stop. Listen. Imagine. Be.

 

Hi There! But wait, there’s more…

This is not my first rodeo/website. But it is handy because it brings them all together, so…

Welcome to the buffet!

Website #1: River LaMoreaux (you are here)

This website is about connecting threads:

  • connecting my writing to the larger world through blogging (you might want to check out a few of my earlier blogs on other sites like 12 concepts that shouldn’t apply. 
  • connecting the different veins of my creative output onto one launching pad.
  • connecting with people who want to create a community of weird-ass creative types who still don’t know what they want to be IF they grow up. 
  • connecting past me (Heidi) to current me (River) to future me (who knows?). 

Website #2: Inner Geographies: Explore Your Inner Worlds

Inner Geographies is about using science, art, creative writing, and experiential exercises to explore your inner landscapes and to connect to the natural world.  I’m currently working on content for Bog of Memories and Waterfalls of Wonder. 

The Inner Geographies website doubles as a repository for creative work that grew out of a course I taught in the Hutchins School of Liberal Studies at Sonoma State University for nearly ten years prior to my retirement. The website contains: 1) my personal artwork and writing around this theme (River’s Stuff); 2) academic articles and blog posts  (book chapter): and 3) most importantly, artwork and musings of students who have graciously agreed to allow their work to be published online (intro to inner landscapes content)

Trigger Warning: True Believing Mormons (TBMs) might want to proceed with caution because my personal artwork is not always TMB-friendly (you have been warned).

Website #3: Unauthorized Mormon Saints

Unauthorized Mormon Saints grew from my hobby (aka. personal therapy) of creating reliquaries and backstory for these imaginary saints including “The Saint of Priesthood Envy”, “The Saint of Home Baked Goods” and “The Saint of Wild Words”.

I grew up Mormon and found a dearth of deep feminine stories in my birth culture. This website is my way of speaking to that absence. I also enjoy stirring up shit when stirring is called for, so there’s that too (mischievous grin).

Trigger Warning: TBMs might want to proceed with caution because a glittery pink penis dressed in a suit may be involved (priesthood envy).

Website #4: Cryptids: Fact & Fiction

Cryptids are creatures that might exist but haven’t been scientifically proven real – you know, bigfoot, Nessie, dogman, etc. This website also has a fun Facebook spin-off page. 

This website contains the results of a two year teaching experiment in which college classes created Believability Indices to apply to cryptid sightings and physical evidence.  One of the indices was published in the magazine Cryptid Culture a few years ago.  Final group projects included creating a video mocking the TV versions of cryptid sightings (which I think is hilarious) (student video)and faux newspaper articles and an atlas (cryptid creations).  Fun stuff. 

Website #5: Exploring Place: Sonoma County and Beyond

This website contains the weekly content of a course I created for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Sonoma State University.  It was a fun experiment. If you’re interested in Sonoma County, CA or learning about place, you might enjoy this site.

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you find something useful.  Please don’t hesitate to use the contact link at the top of the page to contact me.

Best,

River.