Ice Storm

To call Oklahoma’s weather inconsistent is an understatement. In fact, a friend of mine recently called Oklahoma’s weather “a bipolar bitch.” It makes total sense if you live here. That our Thanksgiving weekend ice storm was topped off with a 4.5 earthquake came as no surprise. At this point we Oklahomans expect seismic activity to bring down the curtain on all of our major weather events. Are you familiar with the term quakenado? Of course it’s a real thing. Why wouldn’t it be? It’s Oklahoma.

We woke up early Saturday morning to the strange quiet of a power outage. After crawling out of bed, we puttered around the house unsure of what to do once we realized nothing works without power. Elle decided to do some drawing. Matt decided to do some gaming on his phone. I decided to put on two pairs of pants, three shirts, a scarf, hat, and fingerless gloves just so I could crawl back under the flannel sheets of my bed and read. It was 52 degrees inside the house.

Nena’s, a restaurant only a block away, provided us with power, heat, lights, and a filling breakfast. Nobody really wanted to go home after that, but where else could we go? We had already driven down streets on which power lines and whole trees had come down, stressed to their limits from the weight of all the ice. So back at home, we lit our gas stove to heat up a kettle of water for hot chocolate. Then Elle and I bundled up and stood on the porch where we watched neighborhood trees fall and listened to transformers explode. We used to do this back in Florida when a hurricane was blowing through. It’s pretty much the same here – only colder.

The dogs couldn’t play or pee outside unattended for three days. To have one get hit by a broken tree limb, a melting chunk of ice, or a snapped live electrical wire in our yard was just too risky to let them out alone. This past weekend was a test of everyone’s patience, and all the dogs’ bladders.

We were the lucky ones, however, who got our power back by Saturday afternoon. Our neighbors behind us just got theirs restored yesterday. Others have had to wait an entire week. The street is flanked on both sides by the remains of downed trees and various limbs, but everything has returned to normal. For the next few days, my husband will be doing the majority of our yard work with a chainsaw. And tonight we enjoyed the hot tub again with no more fear that the pecan tree would collapse onto our heads, drowning us both in a spectacular fashion. Believe me, I was so cold at one point that I still considered risking a dip in the hot tub…while wearing my husband’s motorcycle helmet, of course. You know, just in case.

 

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The Migratory Instinct

Years ago when I first moved to Florida, I thought I was done with all the moving. That that move was the last move. At least, the moving from state to state, country to country – it was all over. I had a baby in Gainesville and moved to Jacksonville, so the whole idea of relocating within Florida wasn’t out of the question completely. But I believed and finally felt like I was a Floridian, once and for all. I’d grown up in places that were not Florida, yet my parents held Florida residencies no matter where we lived. Their driver’s licenses, the tags on every vehicle we owned, absentee voter’s paperwork. All Florida. They were Floridians and I, by familial association, always thought I was a Floridian, too.

I made it to Florida in 1996 and it felt good to have a legitimate residency, a place I didn’t have to leave unless I chose to do so. And I eventually did just that. The move to Oklahoma was traumatic, to say the least. I fought any and all nesting instincts that tried to surface. The idea of settling in was completely rejected. Why was this so hard? Why was this so much work? So for three years, when I talked about the South, I called it home. When I talked about Florida, I called it home. When I talked about my parents’ house, I called it home.

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Well, I finally had a breakthrough. And I have New Mexico, of all places, to thank for it. I am not special, this I know. At least not in the sense that I used to think I was – a global nomad, a restless spirit, wandering the continent (or, really, the East Coast) in search of home or, when times got really desperate, any sense of belonging. Somehow, though, halfway between Oklahoma City and Santa Fe, I felt another connection to another kind of landscape. A landscape that features tumbleweeds, coyotes, mesas, and sagebrush. These few things are what brought back my migratory instinct.

Since we returned from our spring break vacation in New Mexico and Colorado, I have found myself pining for the desert and mountains of the southwest more often than I have been pining for Florida. This in no way means I don’t think fondly of Florida. In fact, I think we had one of the best relationships ever! That’s a trick I’ve learned to employ recently – thinking back on my connections to certain places and considering my relationships with them. Like former boyfriends, I have my favorites: Italy, Upper Michigan, and Florida top the list. Prince George’s County, Maryland? You’ll always be the worst and I never want to see you again. Go to hell.

Oklahoma, on the other hand, has been good to me. Oklahoma has been patient with me. Oklahoma has offered me so many different landscapes. It’s like she’s trying so hard to get me to connect with her, to connect with something about her. Like me, Dena. Please! She has mountains, forested hills, lakes that are covered in morning fog. She has wild weather like ginormous tornadoes and ice storms, but she makes up for that with sunsets that knock my damn socks off. She has tallgrass prairies, canyons, and my beloved bison, which I’ve resorted to calling Land Manatees. She even has mesas and salt flats. So what took me so long?

Me. I was the problem this whole time. That is usually the answer to most of my problems and, to be honest, the hardest truth to swallow. But I’ve gulped it down, along with my pride (because I’m so sorry you all had to listen to me whine for three years!), and I have learned to just be where I am. And where I am ain’t too shabby.

Take a look:

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Things I wish I'd known prior to my canyon hike: 1. Wagon wheel ruts are still visible in the park, which once served as part of the California Road. 2. The canyon is the only place the native Caddo Maple tree still grows and thrives. 3. Yes, Oklahoma h

It turns out I live less than an hour away from a canyon. Considering how badly I want to return to New Mexico, to the mesas and the sagebrush, I thought it was a good idea to take a walk through a canyon. It’s very un-Oklahoman, a canyon, but it’s not very New Mexico-ish, either. The visit to Red Rock Canyon didn’t necessarily scratch the New Mexico itch, but it gave me back my migratory instinct – that inner restlessness and rootlessness that has always felt like a curse to me. Except it doesn’t feel like a curse anymore.

Oklahoma and I had a good heart-to-heart this year. I have left this place to go to other places – Santa Fe, Denver, and again to Florida. But in the end, I always come home to Oklahoma and I am quite alright with this arrangement. Finally. I’m a Third Culture Kid, there’s no denying it. I will still call myself a Floridian, but I also call myself a Wisconsinite and a Yooper. I have called all those places home. They are all a part of me. These are the places my family comes from. But I am also an Oklahoman. This is where my family is.

Until we move somewhere new…

(I can’t tell you what a relief this is. Migratory instinct, WELCOME BACK!)

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Books I’ve read (and recommend):

The Folded Clock: A Diary by Heidi Julavits (which has the most stunning cover art, because I do judge books by their covers) – I can’t even explain this one. Julavits uncovers her childhood diary and decides to take up the art form as an adult. Her writing is gorgeous, just like the cover.

Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ by Gulia Enders – I will never be able to feel unwell again without considering yogurt for dinner. Something most of us should probably do more often, anyway.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Stories From the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty – I always thought I wanted to be cremated and to have my husband take me in a small container on all his global adventures. His future wife would have to be okay with me always being on vacation with them, but only to scatter me into the wind in whatever country it is they’re visiting. I still want that to happen (does a blog post serve as a legally binding notice as far as dealing with my remains?), but I would also like to be put into the ground somehow, too. Animals and vegetables gave me life and I’d like to return the favor.

Currently reading:

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert – I love this woman and I plan to drive to Wichita, Kansas, in a few weeks to meet her. Another thing Oklahoma has provided me – proximity to Liz Gilbert.

Myths and the Landscape

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When I moved to Oklahoma almost three years ago, I immediately tried to connect myself to the landscape. This is one of the first things I do in almost every place I live. Italy, in my mind, was terracotta rooftops, cobblestone alleys, and a city called Venice that looks today much like it did half a century ago. Upper Michigan was whiteness, then sunlight until 10 o’clock at night, sometimes auroras, always pine trees as far as the eye could see. Maryland was beltway traffic, jellyfish in the bay, emergency sirens. It was a toxic environment for me. Florida’s landscape healed me. Salt water. Swamps. Longleaf pines. I’ve watched the sun rise over the Atlantic and set on the Gulf. I’ve seen whales in the river,  manatees in the springs, and dolphins in the ocean.

Landscapes are mythical, I believe, and Oklahoma’s is no different. And while I know I haven’t seen all she has to offer, I probably will never feel a strong connection to this place. It’s like a relationship that never quite took off. We both wanted this to work, but Oklahoma and I tolerate each other until one of us receives a sign that it’s time to move on. Mother Nature has tried numerous times to wipe this state off the map, and yet after centuries of earthquakes, ice storms, and monstrous tornadoes, Oklahoma stays put. In all likeliness, I will be the one who moves on first. Until then, here I am.

To help me understand Oklahoma’s landscape and what she has to offer me (as defined by my idea of culture of place), I decided to enroll in a class the explores the history of the American West. This, of course, goes toward my master’s coursework, and it will allow me to learn more about the land that I’ve spent so much time on my own trying to understand, but have failed at doing so, and miserably. Over the next seven weeks we will delve into the frontier mentality. We’ll research the Native tribes’ alliances with the Spanish, the British, and the French, and the acquisitions of lands. Gold rushes, land rushes, oil booms, and mining busts. In the end I’ll present an in-depth research paper on something of my choosing that tells a story of how the American West came to be defined not only as a place, but also as a culture.

I struggled with this one. I truly struggled. I do much better when tasked with a specific topic, whether I hate it or not. And what made it so much more difficult, besides knowing absolutely nothing about the American West, was that my options were so many. Endless and vast, not unlike the West itself. And, as I mentioned above, there is nothing I could think of that I love about the West. At least, not in the same way I love the sound of the ocean or the thick humidity of the Deep South.

But, wait. Yes. Yes, there is. It was the one thing I had waited my whole life to see. It was the one thing I had always connected to life in the West. After seeing one with my own eyes, I will forever connect this creature to the landscape out here.

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In 1866, General Phillip Sheridan, commander of the U.S. Forces in the West, said, “Kill the buffalo and you kill the Indians.” They almost succeeded. The life of the animal did not matter. What mattered was that the buffalo gave life to the Indians. The extinction of the Indians was the goal, and in the process, the bison were nearly annihilated.

I once created this daydream (more like delusion) about how my first encounter would go with a bison.

Daydream: It is morning and the sun has already come up, though it’s still hidden behind the smaller mountains. The early morning fog still lifting from the warm ground. The air has a chill. I’m wearing a long skirt and it’s tussled a bit by the breeze. I hear a snort and a huff and suddenly, a bison is next to me. I reach out with my hand to touch his snout, his nostrils steaming. He stares at me, and I stare at him. We have our moment.

Reality: I was in the passenger seat of my minivan. I might have cried a little because I was, undoubtedly, really, really, really excited! There was no long skirt; I was wearing jeans and a coat. There was no breeze; it’s the plains and the plains are very, very windy. There was never a bison next to me. All of my photos were taken with a zoomed-in lens.

Still, these are my bison. They are special to me. These are what I think of when I imagine the American West. This mythical landscape is inhabited by this mythical creature. One Native American legend gives credit to the buffalo for creating mountains. Another tells of buffalo marrying the Indians’ daughters. These animals are so revered in native lore that in some tribes, they are considered sacred.

Maybe after all this time I have finally discovered that which connects me to the Oklahoma landscape. Of course, I miss the ocean waves and the lushness of greenery in winter time. But when I think about what I might possibly miss when I do leave Oklahoma, it’s the bison.

December, so far.

• Our dog, Chimay, went blind just after Christmas last year. Normally we would place our Christmas tree near the front windows so it could be seen from the street when it’s all lit up, but we can’t do that this year. This year we had to consider how often she’d walk into it, or get lost in it, or potentially poke her eye out with a pine needle. After discussing a table-top tree, a fake tree, or continuing with our tradition of picking out a real tree, we chose another Douglas fir and set her up in the corner of the dining room. For all we know,  Chimay has no clue that it’s even there. Everybody wins!

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• It has been so long since we’ve seen the sun that I’ve lost track of time. Its last full appearance happened between 3-4 weeks ago and I have surprisingly kept it together, dosing myself on a regular regimen of Vitamin D gummies and watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix. Is it odd that I find the opening credits’ sepia tones to be somewhat comforting? Just today my husband manually juiced up the batteries of our solar-powered gate. It died on the third day of no sun and we’ve been opening it by hand ever since. I might just hate that gate more than I hate winter (when it’s not being powered by the sun, that is).

Here is a photograph I took on December 9th. We have seen the sun exactly twice since then, and only for about 30-45 minutes each time.

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• Which leads me to this photograph of our home’s rooftop and a brilliant blue sky in the background. I was outside taking pictures because I was afraid the sun would go into hiding permanently and I didn’t want to forget what it looked like! I was chased back inside by the blare of tornado warning sirens. It hailed. It rained. It earthquaked, too! Then some rotation began on our side of town near the airport and touched down near Edmond.  The sun disappeared for another week. FIGURES.

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• A few weeks ago my jaw started to bother me once again. My TMJ disorder creeps up at the most inopportune times, like on holidays when I’ve maxed out my dental insurance. Things like sprained arthritic jaws happen, or my newest malady – a bruised tooth. Google it. That stuff’s real. None of the muscular exercises or alignment treatments seemed to relieve my pain, and I’m back on antiobiotics through the remainder of the year. Because it’s not Christmas in this household until someone’s on amoxicillin! (That person is usually me.) While at work last week, I came across this book in the children’s section that helps explain to young kids what it’s like to lose your baby teeth. Did you know that in most Asian cultures it’s customary to throw your teeth onto the roof or bury them in the ground? Some culture even ground them into a soup or try to convince rats to trade their teeth with the children. Maybe my belief in the Tooth Fairy is where I went wrong and now I’m doomed to dental suffering for all eternity.

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• I had the opportunity to watch a World War II medal ceremony. My museum’s curator’s father was honored by the French Consul for his service in Europe and North Africa. Another gentlemen was also honored for his service in the Battle of the Bulge, during which he lost his leg. The French Legion of Honor is France’s highest distinction. I’m telling you guys, the French do not take America’s role in the war lightly. The ceremony was conducted in English for the first half, but policy strictly enforces the actual medal-awarding portion be conducted in French. Here’s a shot I got of Earl J. Gonzalez receiving his medal. That this happened in his son’s museum was pretty awesome.

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• Last night we went to our first Oklahoma City Thunder game in two years. It’s always fun, and the weather was a bit more balmy than the last time. That was when it had snowed and it was freezing cold outside, making our walk from the arena to our parking spot exceptionally miserable. This time, though, it was a mild 40-something degrees. Believe it or not, we have the fog to thank for that. Yin. Yang. Whatever.

Downtown OKC and a fog-covered Devon Tower. #okc #oklahomacity #devontower

In reading news – I’m researching Gerda Lerner for a historiographical essay project. I absolutely love this woman and I won’t be surprised if I head in the direction of women’s studies from this point forward. I’m still learning historical schools of thought and so far two really stand out for me: feminist theory and a school called “history from below”, stories told from the perspective of those outside the decision-making processes. It’s a social history narrated by those whose stations in life were directly or indirectly controlled by those in power. Slaves, women, child laborers, Jews, immigrants, etc.

I’m reading Fireweed: A Political Autobiography and Why History Matters: Life and Thought, both by Gerda Lerner. Up next is Lerner’s The Creation of Patriarchy.

Another interesting read is Auschwitz: A History by Sybille Steinbacher. I’m halfway through this one. I’d probably be further into it if I weren’t researching Lerner, because this one is completely by choice. Lerner, a Jew who was once jailed by the Gestapo before she escaped Nazi-occupied Austria, was often threatened as a teenager with deportation to Dachau. And it is interesting to read how Auschwitz, and other Third Reich cities like Dachau, had such a rich history before their names became synonymous with mass murder and concentration camps. It’s fact versus emotion. Place versus person. Everything and everyone has a story.

Finally, a little lighthearted read which, obviously, I sometimes need. Sun-Mi Hwang’s The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly is a short Korean novel. It’s a tale of a few farm animals, their assigned roles in life, and how those roles must sometimes be discarded for the sake of another’s happiness. I loved it. It was a kind of magic, really. And I don’t say that often.

Fall in Southeastern Oklahoma

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Things I did this past weekend:

1. Got a surprise root canal. As in the specialist immediately said, “Yeah, I would take care of that right now if I were you.” Surprise! The biggest surprise was learning that his father and mine were both stationed at the same base in Northern Italy at the same time – over thirty years ago. His sister and I were in the same grade. There were only two 2nd grade teachers at the school. That means there’s a 50/50 chance his sister and I were in the same classroom in 1983.

2. Immediately drove 3 hours to Southeastern Oklahoma to accompany my husband on an off-roading trip. Except I never actually went off-roading. My historiography professor suddenly decided to move up a fairly important assignment by three weeks, making this weekend not one of relaxation but a weekend of trying to snag bits and pieces of internet connection while in a BFE bed & breakfast-type house in the mountains. In the meantime, my professor continued to be argumentative regarding my research topic, insisting that I was making things too hard on myself, and wasting my precious laptop battery before finally agreeing that I should’ve stuck with my first topic.  Oh, yes. I forgot to bring my laptop charger because I, ladies and gentlemen, am a freaking genius.

3. Rediscovered the joy of getting in a car and just driving until I find something interesting. I found three something-interestings.

  • Clayton Lake State Park
  • Choctaw Village and the Choctaw Nation Capitol Building & Museum (which, sadly, was closed)
  • K-Kountry Kitchen II. Not I, but II! I have no idea where K-Kountry Kitchen I is, or if it even existed at one time.

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A confession:

These photos above show that fall is happening in Southeastern Oklahoma, and the area we visited is closer to Louisiana than it is to Oklahoma City. When we returned home to Oklahoma City only two days later, I was certain the colors had changed while we were gone. I appreciated it. Unfortunately, it looks like we might be getting ourselves some snow here in the next week.

This is not the confession.

Of course, the possibility of snow bothers me. It means things are turning cold. Very, very cold (our high on Wednesday will be 36 degrees). On our way back home from tiny Clayton, Oklahoma, we were listening to A Prairie Home Companion on NPR. Garrison Keillor was in Duluth, Minnesota, hosting the show with various musical guests and the very cool mayor of the city. Locals joked about the weather and Garrison sang songs about how skinny people would most certainly die in that kind of chilly environment.

Here’s the confession…

We almost moved to Minneapolis this year. Well, I say almost but we’ll never know how close we came. A job opportunity got us very excited (the kid was, surprisingly, not very excited). There were phone calls and interviews. There were online house hunts and neighborhood research. There was a scheduled visit to the city. A few days before that visit, though, I called it off. Something told me don’t do it. We discussed it as a family and decided we’d stay put.

Just a few minutes ago I saw this on my Facebook feed. The same winter storm is heading toward my childhood hometown of Marquette, Michigan. Meanwhile, in South Florida, they’re experiencing record cold temperatures in the mid- to high-60s.

Winter. What a fickle, fickle beast.

The hot tub is broken again but I have access to Vitamin D. And there is about an hour more of sunlight left in the day. That means I can enjoy fall for a little while longer before the cold weather moves in tonight and covers everything in frost. One meteorologist referred to this arctic front as a “bomb cyclone”. What happened to a simple arctic blast? Or the polar vortex? I’m totally convinced now that Oklahoma-based weather people just make this shit up.

What is History?

According to E.H. Carr:

“The historian starts with a provisional selection of facts and a provisional interpretation in the lights of which that selection has been made – by others as well as by himself. As he works, both the interpretation and the selection and ordering of facts undergo subtle and perhaps partly unconscious changes through the reciprocal action of one or the other. And this reciprocal action also involves reciprocity between present and past, since the historian is part of the present and the facts belong to the past. The historian and the facts of history are necessary to one another. The historian without his facts is rootless and futile; the facts without their historian are dead and meaningless. My first answer therefore to the question, What is history?, is that it is a continuous process of interaction between the historian and his facts, an unending dialogue between the past and the present.”

Put aside, if you will, any personal feelings you might have about Carr. To be honest, I have none at all. I don’t even know the first thing about this guy. Well, except that he wrote those words and they sound like poetry to me. Historiography is already proving to be an interesting class.

As you read your next nonfiction book, or even your next historical fiction novel, keep this in mind:

  • all written histories were once oral histories
  • all historical accounts are biased in some way, by someone’s perspective or, simply, by cultural misunderstanding
  • the addition or omission of a single adjective or verb can alter the tone of one’s historical interpretation
  • political thought influences historical bias; historical bias influences political outcomes

Speaking of influence over politics and, ultimately, the course of history, I have noticed a strange phenomenon in the Oklahoma City metro area in regards to Rasputin. Twice now I have visited eateries that depict some artistic rendering of the Romanov’s favorite “political” adviser.

First, he watched me from across the room while I ate the most delicious restaurant-made grilled cheese sandwich ever. Oddly enough, he is standing next to the Pope. My husband and I tried for quite a while to understand Rasputin’s place in this collection of famous people, which includes Michael Jackson, Babe Ruth, and Oscar Wilde.

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The Abner in Norman, Oklahoma

The second time was just last weekend. Rasputin hovered over me as I ate my slice of pizza. He, as you can see, had one of his own. I’m not much of a student of Russian history. I’m fascinated by the way the Romanovs were killed, so I mainly read about the immediate events leading up to their execution. The Romanovs were Russian royalty, their fate sealed by the revolution and, probably, by their association with the man who is strangely celebrated around Oklahoma City.

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Empire Slice House in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (Plaza District)

September

Two consecutive weekends of being outside? It does a body good. While I can, and often do, complain about my constant and undiagnosable jaw and facial  pain as of late, it seems that being under a tree canopy and/or fishing are great ways to help me forget that I’m hurting. So is the soma prescription – a generous helper of a muscle relaxer that puts me in such a deep sleep that I actually remember my dreams.

An example of a soma-induced dream: Matt and I were in a new house, one that included separate wings, and the kiddo wanted her room to be closer to us. As the two of us contemplated the many uses of Elle’s then vacant two-story bedroom, our Mexican contractor offered me up a gorgeous plate of cauliflower cheddar mash while his two Russian female assistants apologized profusely for being unable to provide me with their favorite crepes, which can only be had in Poland. Seeing as my jaw and ears were screaming from pain prior to falling asleep, I’m pretty sure the cauliflower cheddar mash appeared in my dream only as a reminder to stay on my soft-food diet (aka How Many F***ing Ways Can A Person Prepare Eggs?).

But back to being outside…

It’s finally not 147°F out there. These recent temps in the mid-80s have me pining for Wisconsin once again. Instead, I headed for the trees. A couple of weekends ago I went to Martin Nature Park in northwest Oklahoma City. The birds were out, and so were the deer. I didn’t get a good shot of the one I did see across the creek bed, but I left knowing she was there and my deer-sighting streak is still going strong.

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I emerged from the woods a couple of hours later, drove home to pick up my family, and headed out to a lakeside restaurant where we had dinner. I broke the soft-food diet rule and enjoyed the hell out of some broccoli salad. Later I snacked on two cups on tapioca pudding because, well, I’d learned my lesson. The following day’s meals consisted of scrambled eggs for breakfast, a fried egg for lunch, and egg salad on potato bread for dinner. So, there are at least three ways to prepare eggs while on the soft-food diet…

Saturday morning, after having enjoyed a few decent nights of sleep on the soma, Matt and I woke up at the crack of dawn and headed south with our fishing gear in tow. Lake Thunderbird is just outside of the city of Norman. And it’s beautiful early in the morning. We arrived just in time to catch the fog as it lifted from the water’s surface. Herons, egrets, and ospreys caught their breakfasts and laughed at us as we caught nothing. It didn’t matter, though.

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We saw deer, wild turkeys, a rabbit, and a lot of jumping fish. They were mocking us from a distance as we stood on shore, just begging us to buy a boat – that discussion continues (between Matt and I, not with the fish).

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What I’ve read: Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. It involves Antarctica, Seattle, and snobby, rich moms. While it was entirely predictable, it was really fun to read.

What I’m reading: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. I started this on my first night on soma and only got to, like, page 7 before I crashed haaaaaard. It’s a historical fiction novel based on true events of the 18th century that include murder and the capital punishment of a woman in Iceland.

What I’m watching: The Killing on Netflix. If anyone else is watching this, let me know. My coworker got me turned on to this series, but he’s only recently finished season 1. I’m well into season 4. I have nobody to talk to about the plots and drama, but my husband does a decent job of showing interest when I start a conversation like this: “Oh my god! Let me tell you about the dead teenage prostitutes!” I need friends.

 

Early Morning

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As I type this the wind is howling through the city, shaking up the trees and my metal porch rocking chairs. You can actually hear it roar before it blows through. This, I’ve learned, is typical of the southern winds that come from Texas. The photo above was captured last night just before the winds became so unbearable that Matt and I cut short our lakeside walk and headed back home. Blowing dirt in the eyes – it’s not a pleasant feeling. Being around a large body of water during sunset – that’s a pleasant feeling.

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It’s a little after 6 o’clock in the morning. I woke up nearly three hours ago – on my own, on a holiday – and have already had breakfast and watched an episode of Parenthood on Netflix. The rest of the family is still in bed. The dogs did get up  to have their first meal of the day with me but even they promptly went back to sleep. I hopped online to get a head start on some classwork but, as usual, I was distracted by stories. This time is was a blog post written by a young woman who is touring the arctic waters near Greenland, where icebergs and belugas outnumber people. Another time I was sidetracked by an entire blog series about women who travel solo in Iceland.

I’m not sure when I developed this fascination of life around the Arctic Circle. I much prefer being in the subtropics. My loyalty to the North Florida swamps is proof of that. Even my current Facebook profile photo is of me riding an alligator, all giddyup style. I’m also concerned about how the manatees will fare if their federal protection status goes from endangered to threatened, which is very possible. So while my heart is in the coastal south, perhaps my sense of adventure (which is very underdeveloped) enjoys learning about life in the high Arctic because it knows I’ll never go.

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So, back to why I’m online in the first place. What it’s like studying history? Well, I’m not studying history yet. I’m actually studying how to study history. Sometimes this is very boring, as there are only so many ways one can be told how to interpret a source. Also, there are way more types of sources than I ever thought possible. I’m enjoying parts of this, though. We are told to be critical and skeptical, yet to remain open and able to consider context. I am a Libra, a middle child, and have played Devil’s advocate all my life. I feel very comfortable in this role.

Clearly, there can be no perfect interpretation of history. My classmates and I have compared historical interpretation to practicing medicine or law – you’re only told so much by the source/patient/witness, then you must factor in what they are possibly not telling you, and then you are expected to create a narrative/diagnosis/judgment. In the end, someone is always going to be pissed off by what you’ve decided.

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Books I’ve read recently:

  • We Were Liars by E. Lockhart: It’s a young adult novel, and one that kept me awake all night. It’s also one of those stories that cannot be summarized without giving away the parts that lead to the bigger parts, and therefore giving away the end. If you read reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, be careful of spoilers. It’s best to go into this one headfirst and clueless, maybe only knowing that the end is worth it.
  • The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani: This was my first audiobook.  It was 13 hours of someone telling me a story while my husband did the majority of the driving from Oklahoma City to Milwaukee. The book reviews are harsh, not so much on the book or the author, but on the main character. I loved her. Most readers seemed to hate her. Set in Florida and North Carolina, the story we are told centers around something that has happened between this girl and her cousin, something unspeakable, and it takes a damn long time to get to it. However, that unspeakable something is just the catalyst.
  • Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley: A novella originally published in 1917, Parnassus is a comical look at life for one woman who decides to make her “spinsterhood” work in her favor. I enjoyed this one, which surprised me. It took me nearly two weeks to get through this book because it doesn’t have the same kind of drive and drama most books today have. That’s not the book’s fault, though. The story itself is nearly 100 years old! When I finally read it with the idea that most women in 1917 were tied down by, well, oppression, it took on a whole new life.

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I opened the blinds hours ago so that I’d be able to catch the sunrise. I wasn’t paying attention so I totally missed it. At least the wind has stopped.

Eco-Therapy & Books

There has been a lot of reading and outdoors time going on, often at the same time. The nights are mild; the mosquitoes have returned. I’m not deterred, though. I still like to take a glass of wine out to the back stoop and catch up on some reading.

I’m unable to say what has gotten into me lately. In summers past, I was quite happy to spend an hour outside and say I’d done myself some good with that single hour. Not this year. I don’t mind getting dirty from pulling garden weeds, and I don’t mind getting sweaty from a long walk around the block or even around the zoo. In fact, the kiddo and I spent nearly four hours doing just that this weekend.

All three of us played for hours on an outdoor ropes course downtown with the hopes of ziplining across the Oklahoma River. The skyzip didn’t happen due to wind gusts but I’m pretty sure I would have chickened out anyway. It seems I have a newly developed physiological reaction to heights that I must work on before I step out onto the Willis Tower Skydeck next month (I only made it to the third story of the ropes course – out of eight – before feeling a little queasy).

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We recently attended an outdoor wedding reception at our friends’ new homestead/farm-to-be where there was canoe filled with ice-cold beer and soda, a metal washbin for a firepit (to cook our hot dogs and s’mores, of course), as well as a petting zoo. All the guests parked a few hundred yards from the event which meant we had to find our way back to our cars in the dark. Being that far out in the country gave us all a fantastic view of the stars and a nearly full moon, though, not to mention the spectacular firefly show.

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I have felt so happy lately and I truly believe it’s from being outside so much. It helps to be so blitzed out by the sun and heat of the day that I usually fall into bed blissfully exhausted.

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Between walks around the nearby lakes and city parks (and cutting flowers during my many trips to my garden), I read. Most recently I’ve finished Susannah Kaysen’s Cambridge, Helen Oyeyemi’s Boy, Snow, Bird, and Maggie Shipstead’s Seating Arrangements. My most favorite was Shipstead’s novel; my least favorite was Oyeyemi’s. Cambridge fell disappointingly in the middle.

I’m reading two books at the moment: Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez and Delicate Edible Birds and Other Stories by Lauren Groff. It’s funny how the two of them are so drastically different yet each one serves up a good fix for my Floridana literature itch. Groff lives in Gainesville, Florida, my one-time hometown, the city in which my daughter was born. I miss that place. The tall trees, the afternoon thunderstorms, the summer jasmine scent in the air. Lopez’s book on the Arctic explains in detail why dwarf trees are so prevalent in regions with violent weather and temperature extremes. Wind is one of the greatest weather forces. There is so much wind here in Oklahoma that I now understand why there are so few tall trees. And the way Lopez talks about the Far North, or the way most Alaskans talk about the Far North, for that matter, is what makes me miss the South.

That is how I feel about the South, except I haven’t yet found Arctic Dreams‘ southern equivalent.

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May Into June

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The last day of May and the first day of June have conspired to make this weekend one of the best in recent memory.

Saturday included a late-morning trip to the farmer’s market, the local plant nursery, a used bookstore, and a family dinner at our favorite sushi restaurant. I got a little tipsy off a delicious drink mixed with elderflower liqueur, which made the unexpected sighting of a hot-air balloon pretty damn exciting. The wispy seeds of the cottonwood trees, supposedly discovered by Meriweather Lewis in 1805 in Missouri, have created “snowdrifts” of a sort, pockets of fluff all over Oklahoma City that have built up to be inches deep in some places. I bring up this part of the Lewis & Clark expedition only because I almost purchased a copy of their journals during my bookstore trip. Ultimately, I passed it up and started reading Susannah Kaysen’s Cambridge instead.

cottonwood seeds, thick like snow!

This morning (Happy June!) I managed to mix the perfect amount of sugar and half & half into my coffee and I even convinced my husband to take a morning walk with me in the woods of a nearby nature park. It smelled like honeysuckle and musk in some places; in other places it smelled like clean dirt and lake water. The sound of traffic was muffled by all the trees. They also served to keep us cool from the sun and humidity, both of which increased throughout the day. Matt and I have decided we should make plans to hike the Appalachian Trail before we die, even if we accomplish it in bits and pieces. This adventure will be much easier to accomplish after we’ve started a new life in the Blue Ridge foothills. I don’t know when that will be but I’m already looking forward to it. I miss being dwarfed by giant trees.

field of Mexican hats

prickly pear

Being surrounded by fields of blue stem prairie grass, Mexican hats, and Indian blanket feels pretty fantastic. I even got to see my very first prickly pear cactus…in bloom! I was hoping to meet a particular owl who has become a little famous on the park’s Facebook page, but the time of day probably worked against us. On our way out of the park we did get to see a duck swimming along with her tiny brood. We crossed paths with two deer and even spotted a little fawn hiding in the tallgrass.

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a fawn!

And all of this before noon…but we’re home now after a fantastic lunch at a lakeside restaurant and I’m off to read more of Cambridge. Happy weekending!