Remnant Population, Hearths, Transformation, and Travel

Last week I re-read Remnant Population by Elizabeth Moon. It is a book I’ve loved for years. This was the first book that taught me being old could be interesting and wonderful in some ways. The book examines the ways that the elderly are de-valued and why they should not be. It also has fascinating things to say about the responsibility to nurture regardless of race, creed, or species. Nurturing is what I do. I spend three quarters of my energy on tasks which are for the benefit of those residing inside my home. I work at house cleaning, earning money, managing homework, being a chauffeur, and dozens of other things, all in an effort to create a space in which growth is maximized. In the parlance of Remnant Population, I do my best to be a Nest Guardian for my family and friends. The role of Nest Guardian is separate from the role of Mother. The Mother feeds and tends the bodies. The Nest Guardian is post-mother, a grandmother or aunt whose responsibility is to feed and tend the minds. Children have one Mother, but many Nest Guardians. I first read this book when I was in the midst of the diaper and toddler stage of parenting. I think it seeped into my consciousness and helped me to see that feeding one end and cleaning up the other was not the point.

This week brought me an article in our church magazine which spoke of being Guardians of the Hearth. The phrase immediately brought Remnant Population to mind, particularly since I’d just finished my re-read. I like the idea of a hearth as a central gathering place of heat and light. People gather round the hearth and a closeness is created out of the shared experience of gathering. My home is a hearth. I try to make it a place where people can be safe, laugh, eat, and learn. Howard shares the hearth keeping responsibilities with me. Now that the kids are older they are also participating in tending the hearth. Thus our home becomes a mutual creation.

When I was a senior in high school I went on a week-long trip to Washington D.C. It was very different from my home in California. I tromped with a group of peers through the capitol building, saw the Vietnam Memorial, looked up into the giant stone face of Lincoln, spoke with demonstrators outside the white house, participated in debates, and wandered through the Museum of Art. The week was transformative for me. I came home with my horizons broadened and everything was new. I promised myself I would go back one day. I went to college, got married, and had kids. I wanted to take my kids to Washington D.C. I wanted to show them all the things I had seen, tell them what I had learned.

When the possibility was raised that I might go to the Nebula Weekend with my sister, one of the deciding factors was that it takes place in Arlington, Virginia right outside Washington D.C. In fact the Nebula programming includes options to tour the Museum of Art and the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. I’m going back to Washington D.C. Not for as long, nor as thoroughly, but still I am going. Without my kids. I had to think about that. I’d always meant to take them. But the truth is that they will have their own transformative experiences. I can’t give them mine. Even if I hauled them to every location where I went as a teen, I can’t guarantee they’ll gain what I gained. Part of my transformation was being nearly-adult, out on my own, away from my parents. I pondered this and realized that my intention to take my kids to Washington D.C. was a smoke screen. The core truth is that I want to go back. I want to see those things again, to see what else those places have to teach me. The only way I could justify it in my mind was to make the trip be for the education of the children.

A hearth exists not just for the children. Adults are not beyond the need for nurturing. We are all of us growing and becoming. Or we should be. If I want to be a good Nest Guardian, a good Guardian of the Hearth, I have to nurture my own growth as well as the growth of those around me. Taking a trip so that I can learn and grow is just as valid as taking a trip for the purpose of teaching the children. Fascinating that I did not see it before. I have my tickets and I’ll fly in May.

Three Quick Updates

On Wednesday we’ll be running a sale in our store to celebrate Howard’s birthday. We’ll be discounting deeper than usual and featuring the numbers 11 (the number of birthday’s Howard has had), 29 9the date on which he was born), and 44 (how many years he’s been around.) This means that today and tomorrow will include preparatory work for the sale.

The lovely essay I wrote yesterday is still true, but less exhausted conversation with Kiki clarified that her dance experience was more complex than the essay implied. This will not surprise anyone who has experienced adolescent relationships. The dance was a very good experience. I can tell because of all the new thoughts she is thinking. This is one of the purposes for adolescence, to begin to figure out what you want in relationships both friendships and closer ones. I’m glad that Kiki is willing to sit with Howard and I to talk through all of her thoughts.

Last week I booked plane tickets which will take me to the Nebula Awards weekend in May. This will be a solo trip where I leave Howard and the kids to take care of each other. The thought of this trip makes me happy because I don’t think my sister Nancy and I have ever had three days in a row to hang out together without our kids. I don’t think we even had this sort of focused time when we were teenagers. We were too absorbed in our regular lives. I’m also excited that I’ll get to go back to Washington DC and do a couple of tours. I haven’t been there since I was a senior in high school. So nostalgia and photography are incoming the third weekend in May.

Antelope Island: January

When I went to Antelope Island last October, I knew I had to go there again. I wanted to bring my daughters, who I knew would love the place as much as I did. The park is open year round and the brochures list things to look for by month. Today we packed ourselves into the car along with lots of warm clothes to go see how the animals fared in winter.

Kiki drove. She is trying to get the last few hours of driving practice which are required before she can test for her license. She loved driving across the causeway and around the island. She could drive at a leisurely pace which she found relaxing. There were some people on the island, but not many. Most people seek out indoor recreation midwinter. I was fascinated to see that the water on one side of the causeway was frozen in a solid sheet. The other side was liquid.

We began our visit by driving down to the south end of the island to the Fielding Garr Ranch. We were greeted there by a volunteer who gave us a quick orientation to the ranch buildings. They ranged from over 150 years old to a mere 30 years old. All the eras in between were represented in various machines, tools, and implements. These things were arrayed for us to look at and to touch. The whole place was completely hands-on. Gleek was in heaven. She particularly loved the blacksmithy.

Kiki got cold after awhile and returned to the car, but Gleek wanted to look at every inch of the small homestead and barn. My favorite place was the spring house. It was this little rock building half buried in the ground right over a spring. Food that needed to be kept cold would be wrapped and placed in the icy spring water. We were able to walk inside and look around. I particularly liked the view toward the door.

The one thing about Garr Ranch we all loved were the owls

One of the volunteers led us into a copse of trees and showed us where to look. There they were, glaring down at us for waking them up. Unfortunately my camera wanted to focus on the branches in front of the owls instead of them. The same guide pointed to some distant trees where Bald Eagles hang out, but we opted to take our frozen fingers back to the van.

We did some sight seeing from the van and saw lots of buffalo. We even sighted a coyote out wandering by himself across the ice of a bay. Our next stop was the same beach that I photographed last fall.

In October silence was the first thing I noticed about the island. This time I had chatty company, but on the beach silence returned. We walked across frozen sheets of ice, noticing that salt water ice is springy-er than normal ice. It clumped in unexpected ways. Gleek liked to walk on sheets and use her toes to chase the air bubbles under the surface.

Once again the beach encouraged photography.

We spent a lot of time admiring the glass-smooth surface of the water, or looking out to the sand bar filled with seagulls.

On our way back to the van we took a side trip through the tall reeds. We were obviously not the first to do so. A trail of sorts wove through the clump. When I exited the beauty of the sun touched reeds against the blue sky caught my attention.

It is an interesting exercise in photographic lighting. I was able to completely change the effect of the reeds and sky by facing the setting sun instead of shooting away from it. This shot was taken simply by rotating from the one above.

When we left the island, it was understood that we need to come back. In the spring. When we can go on some of those hikes that we drove past because our fingers were still numb from the two trips out of the car that we’d already taken. I tucked some of the silence of the island into my heart. It’ll have to last until I can go back again.

Antelope Island

The first thing I noticed on the island was the silence. It wrapped around and surrounded me the moment I exited my van. No engine noise, hum of power lines, or buzz of refrigerator could be heard. Most times even the drone of airplane engines were absent. Instead I heard the sound of the breeze blowing gently against my ear, the buzz of a beetle flying ten feet away, the distant cry of sea gulls. It was a place which exuded solitude even when other people were nearby. I could hear other people from as far away as the sea gulls, but these noises were welcomed by the island. Voices belonged there as much as the birds and beetles. I stood on the first overlook and breathed in the fresh salty air. I was simultaneously glad to be on the island with my friend and her baby, while wishing to be there alone, and wishing I’d brought my own children. I was going to need to take another pilgrimage there, this much was obvious.

(Many more pictures beyond the jump) …