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.