Over the River and Through the Woods

Mostly, I had a lovely week. Mount Rainier is slowly emerging from a winter nap and I drove up to greet her as she opened an eye. Then another. It will be a couple weeks before she dons her summer finery but I love seeing her slow, sleepy awakening. Right on cue came the first marmot of the season poking his head out, blinking in the bright sunshine. 

My hiking fitness is well behind last year.  The caps of my knees ache with every step down. My lungs fill quicker with every step up. The balance back to readiness will take some time. Along the river the water is aqua then green then blue then foamy white. This mountain forest is home to birdsong and light. The wren sings among the red cedar and fir trees. The light slants and bounces. The Dark-eyed juncos go about their work in shimmering hearts. I find myself in awe not only for the things I see, but also for everything I can’t see. Life implied. Away from the river and the crash of waterfalls, everything goes still.

Chasing birds is my passion but it’s lousy cardio. I’ve been spending a lot of time in the Kent Valley lately. In an effort to stay closer to home and be available quickly if I’m needed, I began exploring birding locations within about twenty minutes of where I live. I grew up in Kent. I spent my teenage years cruising these roads and walking a few of these paths. While there was a housing boom in my younger years, most of the growth happened on both west and east hills. The valley remained flush with industrial warehouses, farming and wetland areas. 

These twisting roads along the Green River are bursting with story. Walking along the river this past week it all came back to me. I spent the morning hours photographing the awkward ones: the wood duck in eclipse plumage that looked like a rockstar, the sweet young house finch, the killdeer chicks, the fledgeling red-winged blackbird. Then there was the chubby little young Towhee and the awkward teenage geese. 

I was awkward growing up. As a gay kid I never really felt like I fit anywhere. I had a handful of good friends, but places like school and home were pure torture for me. I spent hours down here near the river. It wasn’t all sweet memories. One night I ended up in a ditch after losing control around a turn and I got towed out by a guy in a pick-up. And one very early morning after being out driving all night, I was pulled over and given an escort home by Kent police. 

I remember parking along the river road and walking down to the bank with my notebook. It was right before the bend, a lone spot with soft dirt that I called “river beach“. I’d sit for hours watching the water. You could almost see the undertow ready to swallow up anyone foolish enough to try to swim across. On one memorable day I was joined by a couple that had pulled up behind me and wandered down to where I sat on the edge. They had weed to share and left shortly after we smoked. I sat mesmerized for another couple hours, scribbling in my journal, marvelling at my good fortune. 

In later years this area would become infamous as the dumping ground for several victims of the Green River killer. I didn’t really know to be fearful back then. I didn’t learn of the killings until a year or two later and after that, it took decades for me not to feel afraid.

Returning to the river has been healing. 

Remembering those awkward times reminds me how hard these years can be. From the tender times of early youth and knowing I was different, to the angst of my later teenage years feeling angry and abandoned. I dug through some diary and journal pages to tap back in. Whoa.

I just want to gather that little Bonnie up and tell her it’s perfectly fine to be different. I wish I could swoop in and tell her the simple truth about owning who she is and that it would all be okay. The differences I agonized over as a young person would become the things I celebrate today. Thank god I never listened to the chorus of voices wanting me to fit in. I didn’t fit. I still don’t. 

Do you ever think back to who you were at age of 9 or 10 or 11? I knew I wasn’t like other kids at that age. I had no reality on the particulars of why or how, but if it were ever said I marched to the beat of a different drummer, know that it was loud and strong beneath my rib cage. I just wasn’t sure what it meant or what to do with it. I was so young. So naive.

I think about all that has happened since then. From the tender early years, to teenage angst, to young adulthood, to where I finally landed in the discovery of myself. I’ve known love and loss. I have conquered fear and taken chances. I’ve known deep disappointment and even deeper joy. I’ve made mistakes. The key is that I had the time to invent and reinvent myself. More than once. I failed miserably at some things, but never because my heart was in the wrong place. 

But again, I had time. A lot of it. 

I can’t stop thinking of those two teachers and nineteen children who lost so much. We are righteously angry and we vow to never forget. But then the dishwasher breaks, the dog gets sick and we slip into that place of numbness. And life goes on for us and we forget …

Yesterday another mass shooting. 

This afternoon there was a fire drill (I assume) at the middle school a block away. My heart fell to my stomach to see kids ushered out and a fire truck roll in. The alarms and sirens pulsed in my own body. I won’t forget. Not this time. 

I am determined not to forget. 

June 3rd begins Wear Orange Weekend to demand awareness of a future free from gun violence. It is a small thing I know, but sometimes small things are what we have. Sometimes it takes a thousand … a million, small acts before things begin to shift. But they do shift. We can’t not believe. We can’t bury our heads. We can’t backstep, or skip ahead. We have to be in it. Here. Now. Up to our necks in the quicksand that it is. My friend wrote something amazing. I’d love for you to read it. Please Send the Police Now.

Thank you for sharing this space with me. I’m going to step out of my comfort zone this weekend by wearing screaming orange (if you know me, you know it is not my color) and I hope you’ll join me at the edge of awareness. We can make a difference. One small way at a time. One awkward, orange moment at a time.

18 Comments on “Over the River and Through the Woods

  1. Yes, the Green River, and your early life, had some unexpected twists and turns. Glad the river now brings a sense of joy. The little wren singing is precious. I can almost hear him singing.

    • Wrens are my favorite bird. Delicate, but powerful. I love everything about them. Thanks for reading ♡

  2. Beautifully said and lived. Excellent photos. Let’s celebrate, and wear orange. I thought of you just earlier as I took photos of our game results after mom, dad and me played cards. I’m in Slovenia again! Truth be told, as you’ll see one of these days, my handwriting is not nearly as neat as yours. But I won. 😀 Another truth: I had to rescue the results from the trash since my mom – known as The Tractor – speedily threw them away before I could take a photo proof. 😉

    • I love that. Manja! Bragging rights are everything in my family. Good for you getting the all important photographic evidence! Thanks for being here. Enjoy Slovenia!

  3. It is literally mind and spirit numbing, the stasis and inactivity with which each new gun violence and child slaughter atrocity is met. Soul crushing. I fear we are approaching a tipping point, a sad law of averages where the events come at such a pace where eventually every family is touched — until the entire country is in tears and leaders continue to turn a cowardly blind eye.

    • Yes, so very mind numbing. I say term limits could help free ourselves of these cowards who focus only on staying in office. We are regularly held hostage by people who could care less what “the people” want. Their job becomes keeping the job. Sickening.

  4. Life is hard and exhausting and there are birds. So thank you for continuing to show the beauty with the pain. It seems impossible and yet here we are, slogging through. I wonder what percentage of teens feel/felt like they didn’t fit in – 100%? It’s certainly harder for those who are especially outside of the mainstream, and who are punished for that. But even those “in-crowd” kids had a sense of unease about who they were or who they were trying to be. I wish everyone had a pack to ride with. Between that and taking the guns away, maybe we’d have a better world. Keep on showing us the beauty, and thank you for the link to Send the Police Now.

    • Oh yes, so hard and so exhausting, but I know it is shot through at its core with goodness and hope and I have to hold onto that no matter what. Every single child deserves the chance to grow up and be awkward. Every single child dserves the chance to grow up. I don’t claim to know the answer to all that ails this country, but it’s pretty clear what doesn’t work. You’re so welcome for sharing Karen’s post. She is truly a beacon. I have a lot of those in my world. (You are one too) Thanks for being here.

  5. First of all, thank you for the beauty of the birds, and like Gretchen says, the reminder that while the human element of the country is out of control in a horrific way–the nature element is out of control in a beautiful way. Thank you for not fitting and for expanding the edges of the story. You build a nest into which so much of heartfulness fits. The way you write, the places you are willing to look, the connections you make–this is courage. May you find relief in your bones and keep writing and grow readership.

    • Thank you Christina for championing the story and the storycatchers. I’ve learned so much from you already, not the least of which is that our words make a difference. Cheers to edges and courage and not fitting in.

  6. Bonnie, your sensitivity for all of life shines through your photographs and your honest missives. Thank you! I also am not forgetting the Uvalde shooting. I applaud President Biden’s speech and I applaud your tender, fierce heart. Ann

    • Thank you for the kind words, Ann. I am still reeling from the senselessness, but I truly believe that if enough of us rise above objection that we can find a way forward. I am grateful to be on the path with you.

  7. Thank you, as always, for your willingness to be vulnerable, as Bailey said, and to show us beauty. The country is out of control, and so is spring rebirth, the antidote to feeling helpless. Nature rebirths itself, begins again, every year. You rebirthed yourself. I hope the world can too.

    • Thank you Gretchen for the reminder about rebirth. I have to believe that a swell of goodness can overwhelm the chaos. I’m in.

  8. I need to find something to wear that is screaming orange. My other ‘job’ this weekend is to make sure that everyone knows about the oath of office for elected officials. So many officials keep thinking that it is about their own personal beliefs. This is the Washington State Oath of Office: I (insert name) do hereby affirm that I will uphold the laws and Constitution of the United States of America, the laws and Constitution of the State of Washington, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge the duties of the office of a Washington State Representative to the best of my ability. This oath is similar to all others across the country.

    The key phrase in the oath of office is ‘I will faithfully and impartially discharge the duties . . . .’ They represent us. Not the NRA or their own personal beliefs.

    Off to find that screaming orange!

    • Thank you, Keitha. Yes. It is long past time to hold accountable those who have the power to legislate change and have done nothing. Cheers to screaming orange!

  9. Thank you, Bonnie! Just read about several new shootings just before I read your thoughtful honest vulnerable posting. I’ll be wearing orange.
    And going up to Rainier sometime soon!

    • I’ll be watching for others today and I look forward to sharing with anyone who happens to ask. Maybe you and I and our cameras can have a meet-up this summer!

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