A Moment: Morning Has Broken

I was driving under overcast skies early this morning, listening to the radio and singing along to “Morning Has Broken” by Cat Stevens. Just as I crested a hill towards the lake, the sun burst through two layers of clouds, flooding the windshield with light. A perfect moment with a perfect soundtrack.





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All That Science*

This week I’m posting an excerpt from an essay I wrote about skiing the Blackcomb Glacier in Whistler, B.C., last winter.

Whenever I write about skiing, I try to do it in a way that will appeals to people who don’t ski, as well as those who do. For me, it’s about more than technique or equipment or the freedom of speeding down a slope (though speed is immensely appealing). For me, skiing is about having rare access to places that would be difficult, if not impossible, to get to otherwise. It’s about being out in the world, and feeling far away from the every day even if I’m just an hour or two away from home. It’s about being immersed for a time the beauty of the mountains, of nature and silence, and remembering for a time that we’re all, each one of us, just small elements within a vast universe.


Whistler’s Blackcomb Glacier: An Immense Geological Marvel

“What makes Whistler Whistler is geology: volcanos, rocks, ridges, altitude. What makes Whistler Whistler is the effect of the Pacific Ocean on the climate: rainforests, precipitation, temperature. What makes Whistler Whistler includes all of the elements of the natural world we learned about in school—all that science….

Just when I was about to catch my breath from the hike, it was taken away again by the vista before us. The immense cirque where the glacier originates gradually opens into a bowl so wide that the skiers traversing toward the middle looked like tiny moving insects even though just a few moments before they were regular-sized human beings.

It takes a moment to consider this, to feel the impact of your true size against the immense backdrop of land formations that evolved from forces that we can understand intellectually, but that are suddenly inexplicable when you’re staring right at them….”


*If you enjoyed this excerpt, I hope you’ll check out the complete essay in this season’s OutdoorsNW SNOW Guide and on the magazine’s website.


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The Verdict

We left the dinner table and turned the television on to public broadcasting—the stolid, unflashy journalism of non-commercial news. PBS allowed us to take a pass on the stacked rows of talking heads, the frenetic split screens, and the emergency-of-the-day theme music of the major media outlets.

We watched, heartsick, as the Ferguson prosecutor unrolled his strange presentation. My husband’s face growing harder, the kids trying to figure out—as we all were—what he was actually saying in his weird, meandering speech.

Eventually, we turned the television off. The family wandered off to their routine pursuits, I slowly worked in the kitchen, listening to radio coverage and pausing now and again to check the rage burning its way through Twitter.

My nephew, a journalism student at a university in Missouri, tweeted that he couldn’t pull away from the Ferguson coverage focus on his homework. In  his classes, he’s learning what journalism is meant to be; why it matters; how to be a good journalist. On this night he was applying those lessons to what he saw before him as Ferguson erupted in pain and disappointment on the television screen.

We tweeted back and forth a bit. He wrote about seeing history in the making, about his hopes that the turmoil would lead to change.

Our brief exchange reminded me of so many things.

I remembered the excitement of seeing history unfolding before me when I was his age, my eyes increasingly opened to the world outside my own small environment.

The Challenger Explosion — The Solidarity Movement — The Fall of the Berlin Wall — The Breakup of the Soviet Union  —  The AIDS crisis— Tiananmen Square — Mandela’s Release — The Invasion of Kuwait — The Dismantling of Apartheid — The Dayton Accords  — so many others.

I remembered the names of people. The change-makers becoming icons before our eyes  because they acted on their convictions or because they unintentionally became the face of a movement that changed things for the better.

Christa McAuliffe — Lech Walesa — Nelson Mandela — Ryan White — Randy Shilts  — Václav Havel —Desmond Tutu — the anonymous protestor who stood alone in front of the tanks in Tiananmen Square — so many others.

I remembered beginning to understand that behind those familiar faces, those big names, stood many unacknowledged and unnamed people who worked alongside them to make change happen.

I remembered how their hard-fought optimism seemed to sweep the cobwebs away from the world.

On the night the Ferguson verdict was announced and I stood in the kitchen tweeting with my nephew I knew—just as I knew yesterday when the Garner verdict was announced—that my college self, that naïve, optimistic college girl, would never have believed this.

That optimistic college girl would never have believed  that in 2014 she’d find herself standing in the kitchen listening to the despair and rage of the protestors in Ferguson, Missouri, who have had enough of blatant racism and brutality by police. Or that a few days later another, similar verdict would set off more protests, centering this time in New York.

She would never have believed that she’d witness an important historical moment revealing not how far we’ve come, but how long we’ve stood still, looking over our shoulders at a past we haven’t come close to leaving behind.


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The Straight and Narrow

The Central Garage at the university is all lines and angles and primary colors. Well lit and dry, an annual white wash keeps the walls fresh.  Angled car stalls are outlined in white against the dark floor like hundreds of chalk outlines at a murder scene. Diagonal crosswalks, the white-striped corridors that offer the suggestion of safety for pedestrians, cut across open spaces between the cars and yellow-painted walkways that lead drivers up and out of the garage into the fresh air.

Three times a week I park in the bowels of the garage.  My assigned parking area is on the lowest level—marked by vivid green —and at the farthest remove from the exit that takes me nearest to my building. So, three times a week, I walk from one end of the parking lot to the other, thoughts tumbling whichever way they will:

Do I need to make copies? Did I bring my key? Is there time for a coffee before class? Will my perennially absent student show up today? Do I care if my perennially absent student shows up today?

Three times a week, thoughts tumbling whichever way they will, I park my car, cross in the diagonal crosswalk to the N-shaped pedestrian ramp from the green zone to the red, and enter the narrow yellow-bordered path painted on the floor.

Sharp right to the end of the row of cars, sharp left along the wall, continue skirting the wall to the exit. Up four flights of stairs and out.

Three times a week, I reverse the process and go home.

It’s unremarkable, really. The parking garage is a utilitarian space for housing my car. It is a space in my day–a physical and mental space–that equates to nothing more than a way—a tool, even—for leaving one thing to do another.

But then one day, I noticed something.

The garage was half-empty as I began my head-in-the-clouds journey from car to exit.

Would anyone actually notice if I parked in the red zone instead of the green zone? Like in that empty space by the exit that I can see from all the way over here? Does anyone even check the permits?

Leaving the ramp, I made the usual sharp right into the yellow-bordered pathway, took a few paces, and stopped.

Just me there, no one else. Not a moving vehicle in sight. The space between where I stood and where the exit sign glowed in the far corner was virtually obstacle free. A direct as-the-crow-flies line was open before me.  And, yet, I had still begun to turn away and unthinkingly follow a painted yellow path along the perimeter of the vast expanse of concrete.

The idea that I’d been doing this—blindly following routines, being guided by painted paths I never really looked at—struck me as simultaneously poignant and silly. Full of meaning, if I wanted it to be. Or not.

It was clear what must happen next. Obviously I had to step out of that path. The narrow path laid out by parallel yellow lines was a painted suggestion, not an absolute.

I stepped out.

But there was an odd momentary pull as I crossed the painted yellow line. Imagined, no doubt.  But it was almost as if my brain wanted to give me a chance to turn back.

“Whoa, there. Are you sure?”

And so it has been. Three times a week, I pull into the Central Garage. I park. I get out of my car. I automatically follow the lines. At the end of the ramp, it takes a few beats for me to remember.

And then I cross out of the straight and narrow, making my way–as a crow does–across, out, and away.



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28 Degree Morning

Driving down Aurora Avenue after a cold morning fitness class. Toes and hands numb, I enjoy my heated car seat, the welcome warm air from the heater’s fans pointed right at me. I feel good as I thaw out, tapping my hands on the steering wheel. A loud song on the radio.

Singing along, I stop at a red light in front of The Purple Store, an example of ridiculous consumerism if ever there was one. I glance over, always surprised that it’s still open. And there he is, on this bright 28 degree morning.

Lying against the wall, two dirty foam mattresses keeping him off the ground, if not away from the cold air rising from the sidewalk. Blankets piled up over his sleeping bag, reaching to his chin. Awake in his hood, he stares miserably at the sky, Big Gulp cup by his side, an empty food container next to it. He looks eerily like my student, Billy.

Billy, the funny, friendly college kid with the look of an affectionate puppy. Billy, who with his mix of humor and seriousness, makes his classmates laugh. Billy who everyone likes.  Billy who, unlike many of his peers in class, spent his childhood playing baseball and hanging out with his friends instead of spending all his time under parental pressure to study. Billy worries about that sometimes. Does it mean he’s not sufficiently serious enough to tackle the future?

The young man lying on the sidewalk on Aurora, trying to keep warm on a 28 degree morning could be Billy’s twin brother. If this or that had been different, he could have been a Billy, himself, sitting in a college classroom instead of lying on the ground trying not to freeze. Making his classmates laugh instead of staring miserably at the sky.

The light turns green. I drive away.

Billy/not Billy remains.


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Names (redux)*

I come from a family in which the three women have two names and the two men each have a single, short name. (Insert the ubiquitous  “You must be Catholic” quip here.)

The double names of my mother and sister roll off the tongue; mine is full of consonants and seems to flummox most casual acquaintances on our first meeting. But I persist in claiming the whole thing because I am not a “Mary.”

“Do you go by Mary or by the whole thing?” people ask optimistically. This usually occurs in a doctor’s or dentist’s waiting room–bless them for even asking.

“The whole thing,” I reply. I can almost see the inward sigh under the professional exterior. If I like the person, I’ll add, “Or you can call me ‘MC’ if it’s easier.”

I’ll let you guess what ubiquitous quip often follows that.



*I was inspired to write this after reading an essay called Names on the new blog The Five Hundreds.


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Walking Man

For years Walking Man and I took the same road. He, on foot. Me, by car. In opposite directions. He, south. Me, north. Me, south. He, north. Mile after mile, day after day.

Always passing. Passing the vacant lots, the hookers, the bus stops, the broken glass, the gun shop, the organic co-op, the eCigarette store, the cross-fit and yoga studios, the mani/pedi salon, the school, the Dollar Store, the paint shop.

For years Walking Man and I took the same road in all its weather. Rain, sleet, snow, sun, dust, cloud, smog trapped over the six-lane road.

He, always, in brown pants with brown sweat jacket, hood pulled over his dreadlocks. His skin, hair, long matted beard the color of chocolate, the color of his clothes. Tall, handsome, some days a slight bounce in his step, others a steady grace. Always the same pace, always straight-backed, arms swinging by his sides.

Me, windshield wipers on or off, heat or AC blowing, windows cracked or not. Stalled in heavy traffic or gliding down the lanes on rare open days. Me, in clothes that shifted layers from day to day, season to season, choices dependent on what I observed from the comfort of my home in the mornings before I left.

After Christmas came and went this odd winter, Walking Man wore a new jacket. Brown and cream houndstooth, with fleece cuffs and collar. The fresh milky color of the fleece contrasting with the rich brown of the pattern. Chocolate brown, matching his hoodie and his pants, his skin and his hair.

Someone knew what color to get.

When the weather worsened, the new jacket was layered beneath the old. Cuffs and collar just visible. Graying.

For years Walking Man and I took the same road. He, on foot. Me, by car. He, silent. Me, singing along to the radio. One day Walking Man was talking to himself. Agitated, fists clenched. Something needed to be said. Something important. The next day silent again, back to his slow, steady pace.

I went away for a while and then I was sick for a while and stayed bundled up at home. When life resumed its normal pace, I took to the road again, day by day. It was a week before I realized it.

Walking Man was not on the road.

Another week, and another.

I asked a friend, the only one I knew who also measured her trips down the road by his presence, “Have you seen Walking Man lately?”

“No. Now that I think about it. It’s been weeks.”

“I’m worried,” I say. I have imagined terrible circumstances.

“I could contact homeless advocate I know,” says my friend. “Maybe he can tell us something.”

Maybe he could. But I think about many things. About freedom and privacy and well-meaning but clueless gestures. And I think about a new houndstooth jacket with fleece cuffs and collar.

I wondered then as I wonder each time I take the road again–

If a person is no longer there, no longer where we think he ought to be, does that mean he’s missing?


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