Breaking Bees

2552489483_fd1c4a318f_b

“Everyone leaves something behind in this desert,” the Shaman smiled. Full water bottle in my hand, bandana on my head, and a worn-out pair of Birkenstock sandals on my feet, I was out for a day of hiking with a strange group of new age-y people I barely knew. I’d left my infant daughter with my husband and young son for a lazy by-the-river day in our campsite for the smallish hiking expedition to the Shasta lava tubes known as Pluto Cave.

Thirty minutes in the high desert air–I could feel my temples warming in the waving bulb of electric mid-morning sun. There was not really a trail head where we’d parked by the road but a small metal sign with an arrow reading  “Pluto Cave 1 mi.” goaded us to a clearing on the first bank of sage brush where a clipboard and a pen were tied to a makeshift table. We each scrawled our names onto the blank page. My name below Bob and Aluna Joy, Nina (Resnick) and Atilla Molnar, then Don and Mary Simon. I was the only single in a group of couples who all shared one and all in the Age of Aquarius, but I had decided that I was going to attend a solstice expedition to Machu Pichu, Peru in September and this adventure 3.0 miles into the belly of mother earth was supposed to simulate the majesty of the view from the top of the world? I felt like a novice for these kinds of adventures but I was in good hands with these emissaries of light so nothing could go wrong.  When one of the group leaders broke away with the others to do some guided meditation in a circle of rocks, just Bob and me were left to the trail.

The steep meadow path unwound over the brush in the before-noon heat and only the sound of our footfalls and the soft breeze could be heard out there in the steppe. Then, we came round a bend of the trail where a forest of ancient sagebrush stood. Full blooms and twisted limbs animated with a frenzy of sound. The buzzing was louder than anything I had ever heard before–safe guarding the mouth of Pluto Cave was a massive cluster of wild flowering sage and it was home to millions and millions of wild desert bees.

From where I stood, the cave looked more like a hole in the side of an overpass than some mystical portal to the center of the earth? But the majesty of the sage bush forest and the army of high desert stingers made me shiver. I had been raised by bee-fearing folk from way back. My mom had long warned me of the allergens that run deep in our Washingtonian bloodline–and the accompanying horror stories were never far from mind. The 7 Up bottle-trapped bee who stung her on the mouth when she sipped her ‘occupied’ beverage to the knocked-down nest of winged stingers that fell onto her as a small child after a pelting war of river rocks. Bees were to be feared as far as I was told and if I was ever going to get into that cave I had to face my fear and break (gently) through the legion of bees keeping watch.

Bob was not afraid. Reading the horror on my face, he pulled gently on my shoulder and led me to the closest branches of the bee forest camp. He reached into his pack and pulled out a joint and lit it up. One drag in, there was calm among the buzzing, or at least my heart was not racing anymore. Bob pulled out a bundle of sage leaves and burning the ends with his lighter, circled around me smudging us both native-style. The sweet smell of the burning sage mingled with the wild plants, the calming sun, and the wide sky. We walked together under the first of the orchard tree-sized sage brush and sat on the ground by the stump.

“Let’s wait here and just be with the bees,” he said. My red hair teased my neck and shoulders in the breeze. Then the buzzing seemed to disappear? I heard nothing but the swell of the heat and the swarm of the bees turned to a conference of high desert hosts right before my eyes.

F8641C4E2B494459AEB6412485D2A4CC

As if in slow motion, worker bees passed by our perch holding fast collected pollen clotted from the knees to the stingers, holding plant goo in their fuzzy limbs like shovels as they flew along. The intricacies of their eyes, their wings, and tiny faces were so soft and every buzzing minute was purposeful and filled with grace for the environment around us it made me want to cry.

These bees were tending the desert and its plants with their whole bodies, mindful of the trails through the air, the currents through the brush, and worked in symbiosis with the natural landscape that I was stomping carefully into. That is the day that I realized that I was born clumsy and human and with a knack for reinvention, I decided to leave behind my fear of bees.

And so I did.

The rest of this story is unimportant. Yes, we rejoined our group at the mouth of the cave, and the seven of us crept inside the 3 mile lava tube into the cold, dry earth. It was majestic and dark and cold as the grave. It was two hours before we made our way out into the open air again. When we reached the sage bush again, the bees had gone, taking my fear with them.

For Maggie, Annette, and Joie

You three women could not have lived more different lives. Your last birthdays, 87, 70, and 61. Politics, Television, and Poetics. Powerful, Resourceful, Powerless. Having never met her Ironness, my relationship to Maggie is based on BBC World Service and that movie that came out a few years ago. Always a Minister, never a queen. Tyranny was your darling.

images (1)

Our Ms. Thatcher died on a Monday in London of a stroke at the Ritz Hotel. She had been in poor health for months and had suffered long hours losing mind to trip along the cold water of dementia. I lost my grandfather to the boatman headed for that sorrowful shore in 2003.

images (4)Annette, I was never a Mouseketeer or a Beach Crazy girl, but one aunt of mine has battled with your kind of sickness for years.

The last time I was at Disneyland you were there in a parade wearing your big girl ears and an Anniversary sweatshirt, I was fourteen then.  When I see pictures of you, bubblegum and suntan lotion come to mind. You had the love of your country, you believed in your army, and beloved jazzy piano solos…and the rest of your life is still in syndication.

If Maggie were the TV starlette, cooing in Uncle Disney’s clubhouse without dark eyes and a sugar-sweet voice, how long would the world have waited for the unspeakable rebellion that made so much great brit-punk music?

Minister Funicello at your service? England would never gone to war in the Falkland Islands–they’d have been dancing to the beat of Rock n’ Roll with their toes in the sand spinning records and drawing hearts in their diaries. 

Our Beach Party girl died from complications from a controversial alternative treatment when the blood rushed back into her head as the veins of her neck were widened to improve blood flow–she died fighting it back. Better we think of bubble gum and Maui sands rather than blood transfusions, medications, and hours of pain.

Joie was just Joie. She could never be made of iron or sand. She was a punk rock singer and a street-guitar jammer in the summer of 77. She wrote her first performance poetry in 79, when Ginsberg and the new beats found her down on the Haight picking her strings with methadone-chicken-bone thin fingers, already living on the smack. How slowly the blood disease sunk into you after you got clean it drained all your life away but its cold push never made it into your work until 99.526214_10150761402601354_1350581318_n

Heroin, Pills, and stronger will than body, frail as a sparrow child, loud as a subway train. When all the ugly turned to beautiful, that is where I found you.

I met you on Facebook in 2007 and you sent me one of your chapbooks in the mail with a hand written note that said “I love you.”

Hours with you going on about reading and writing good poetry followed in the few years we lived online together. You called my face “pretty” and my words “pretty bitch”. When we read together at the Miller Tribute in San Francisco, you held onto me tighter than anyone I ever met online.

Not even my own mother ran her fingers through my hair that way just for no reason at all. It made my boyfriend at the time feel even more insecure. You reached out in the very best way someone does–with the force of your love.

Ms. Thatcher, Ms. Funicello, I say godspeed to your ruling bodies of iron and sand. To the daughter of San Francisco who never ever swam in the sea, I wish I had known you died last month, and I wish the last time I called you your number was still in service. I wish you had never quit reading your email.  You spent weeks in the hospital on transfusions you said, that it was all you could do to sleep.

When you came to visit me in L.A., we had Chinese food and you told me that you were gonna stop calling people back. You were telling me goodbye. When you dropped away from all the online sites, those of us in your dirty girl tribe knew that soon we would have to leave you alone as you wanted us to let you go.

Then your body began its deathly dance–that is just what you wanted. When Hep. C and too many allergic reactions finally lay rot. You never talked of suicide because you lost so many of your closest friends to drugs and self mutilation. Even your single daughter talked about that. ‘Mom is a strong, ugly bitch” she said, “And I have hated her most of my life.”

I cannot speak to that attitude at all, but at the time it really pissed me off. I am over it now, and with any luck, she will get over it too.

Sleep sisters three, the world is different for having known you, and as for this pretty bitch poet, I will miss you, Joie.

Easter Memoir

akc_gspointer_bloom_xl                          Image of the Easter Hound in her natural habitat

On Easter Sunday, 1979 I met a mysterious, pent up cage-dwelling creature in my own living room. I was six years-old. Every egg-in-basket holiday since that one, the image of the Easter hound comes to me with all the fury that she and her stud did at eleven a.m on Easter morning.

Her name was Lucy and she was a one of a pair of hunting dogs our neighbors kept in a free standing kennel in the side yard between the two properties. On warm spring days, the smell of dog shit and stale piss would waft up from their 10X10 keep to the second story dining room window of our house-which we kept closed always for that smell.

Looking down from our deck at the twin hounds hunkered on the sun-bleached concrete slab always gave me a sinking feeling. I sometimes tried to imagine what living in a kennel of my own shit and stink would be like. For the way the Vale’s cared for those dogs, I hated them and their one daughter, Lindsay, who never seemed to mind that those dogs were living in filth in plain sight (and smell) of the neighborhood children.

I imagined that they were kept in that cage because they were purebred hunters. Being held against their will as rare and dangerous animals who had no desire to play frisbee and run free the way our scrappy mut dog did. What would they do if they ever got away?

On weekends when the sun came up over the Rainier Valley through the trees our un forested property would flood with the light of the unblocked sunshine–the deck sliding doors were opened and the entire living room was warm and sunny.

Especially on this particular Easter morning.

1222-1

So it happened that my mom was on one of her religious experimental bouts this year and had heard of a non-denominational church where non members could worship the big Easter bunny God and his resurrected Christ.

I had awakened to a sunny living room and a bright orange and green basket full of treats and had just popped a speckled jelly egg into my mouth when I heard my mother’s voice.

“We are going to church this morning!” it rang out in her weekend morning cigarettes-and coffee-with-cream voice. “Go and put your new dress on.”

Surviving memories of my childhood are the stuff of miracles to me now. In the drumbeat of time and tested ways of forgetting the past in two-year intervals, the remaining bits and vivids to fill in the cache of brain are holding true.

I savored a single jelly bean and put down my bright shiny basket. In a quick inventory I gauged there were about thirty nestled in the soft green plastic grass and at least another six bright foil-y chocolate eggs, crested by the big sugar-eyed milk-chocolate bunny keeping watch in the middle of my stash.

Church was uneventful and my shoes were tight. The wierdo songs and cross-eyed children made my stomach upset. My mom was the strange unmarried mom. The divorcee who was trying to be as unassuming as the christian mob around us.

That was an hour of my young life that I would never get back and I will admit to whispering a prayer to the savior on his cross that my mom let me go in with her rather than down the stairs to the kiddy pit for sunday school.

I was a young pagan. A feral child of sun and sky, cedar branches and tree-climbing. I was bicycle wheels and scabby knees. I was a leaf-born native as wild as the climbing ivy deceiving the clipper claws.

I felt as trapped as the hunting dogs in the cage while I clung like a hunk of shit beside my mother, the concrete lady. I remember staring at the hands on my mom’s little gold watch just to keep from listening to the sermon on the mount and the cinnamon-stick colored benches we all perched on rattled when the organ played or the PA system hissed with the Jon the pastor’s microphone breath stops.

When the endless drivel of sermon and song finally stopped and the pastel people all stood up for the juice and cracker communion, we made our exit. No one tried to keep us from slipping away unsaved.

The little portable church could not have been more than two miles from our new house and when mom and I sped off in our burgundy Camero with a cigarette in her teeth and a lollypop in mine I knew we still had most of our Pagan holiday to ourselves and my basket of candy was getting closer too.

[The rest of this story is not so bright and sunny. It is dark and disturbed. Read on if you have the stomach for it, otherwise pretend it ends here.]

images-2

The front door of our house was just as we had left it. Dark and heavy and shut tight. Mom pulled out her key and waved me up to the steps to hold her purse while she opened the door. The key turned fast and the door opened into a flood of mid-morning sunshine and the smell of dog.

Dog drool, dog shit, dog wrestling dog. The growls from the top of the stairs echoed as my mom rushed into the house and up the stairs startling two angry hounds.

As my mom began to shriek they rushed past us out the open door so quickly I nearly lost my balance and fell back down. The last one out the door had a tuft of plastic grass sticking from its asshole and blood dripping on the floor.

My mom’s voice was screaming and she tried to cover my eyes before I reached the top step.

The room at the top of the stairs was completely mined with shit, drool and vomit. Each runny wet pile of shit was laced with easter grass and bright slivers of pink wicker shavings. Some of the shavings were tinged with blood.

Lucy and her stud hound had wrestled with my basket and devoured it; pink wicker, grass, candy and all. The lingering smell of marshmallow, milk-chocolate, dog food kibble, and  bloody stool could send Christ back to his tomb.

Every plastic egg was laying in the carpet. Yellow and blue plastic halves soaked in drool and even a few with teeth marks were found on the back porch as if one beast had come through the left-open glass door and scouted for the other for a veritable candy feast, bringing a few bright playthings along as booty.

In a little less than 90 minutes, the two busted into our house, found the basket there on the couch and shook, clawed, wrestled, swallowed, spouted, choked, and shit out the contents of my morning basket as if it were a nest of pheasants.

I do not remember shedding a single tear for my basket that day, but my mom cried in her anger for hours. The neighbors recaptured their hounds and my mom made the hunter pay to steam clean the floors and clean up the Easter massacre.

In thirty-five years, I still can’t separate the smell of sick dog from Easter basket treasures. Milk chocolate eggs from smears of feces, plastic grass from cracked shells, hemorrhoids, and splinters of wicker stained orange and green.

The Vale’s dogs survived another year in that cage without ever breaking free again before the sale of their house. The same year Dave the hunter divorced his wife and moved away with his dogs. Lindsay and her mom moved back to Alaska.

When the house sold the new owners used the kennel to store their recyclables and  compost bin and on warm sunny days the scent of turning worms and dirt and beauty bark wafted through our upstairs window and mingled with the sunlight and the dust rising from the cane bookshelves along the dining room wall.

There is my Easter memoir.