Sunday, January 13, 2013

2012: An Index

(I just finished reading Rebecca Lindenberg's beautiful book Love: An Index and I wanted to try out the form.  Lindenberg's index is an intensely moving tribute to a deceased lover.  Mine is a document of the places I've been over the past twelve months followed by associations.  This list is by no means exhaustive or even done but its a start--a way of playing with words and memories.)


The gas station on the side of Route 2 I stopped to photograph, once with a boyfriend, once by myself: paint petals flaking from the porch and rusted nails securing a red-and-white “Café” sign above the entryway--abandoned when gas was still less than a dollar a gallon.  In boots I walked floors littered with broken glass, pink insulation puffs, and ketchup packets. 

Where Mom and I split an order of spring rolls and Pad Thai and wandered the shops in Kerrytown fingering pocket watches, scarves laced with strands of silver, and jewelry formed from typewriter keys. 

Where I spent Easter.  Liz and I ate Indian food in the park near the co-op and exploded Peeps in the microwave of Scienceworks Hands-On Museum as part of a chemistry demonstration for kids.  On Easter Sunday we walked from one end of Ashland to the other, passing the place where a boy had been killed months before.  People had left pine cones and prayer cards, silk flowers and candles—a sight not of resurrection but of remembrance: water logged candles in the rain-soaked soil. 

I bought my first in Iowa, four years ago.  I used it to cross the country on both interstates and back roads until the pages wrinkled and logged with water, stained with coffee and scribbled with phone numbers, names of hostels, addresses of farmers markets and co-ops.  I replaced it August 2012 in Wall, South Dakota at a gas station which sold postcards, jerky, and wide-brim cowboy hats.  


Preferred method of travel--Route 2 in particular--that stretch of two-lane highway that runs from Everett, Washington to St. Ignace, Michigan just south of the Canadian border.  This year, I stopped at roadside espresso stands and diners.  I scrambled Steamboat Rock and sat above the Columbia River watching the sky darken before a storm.  

The most memorable of the year: May 5, during the Supermoon.  (My co-worker) Lauren’s friends burnt invasive scotch broom they’d pulled from roads around their farm.  The pile loomed over all our heads and when it lit, we all had to stand back from the blaze.  Dried yellow flowers seared like paper, blooming into flames that crackled above us.  I watched from the grass, ate rhubarb pie, and drank ginger tea laced with whiskey, looking up at the moon and letting the scent of smoke seep into my hair.

In 2012 there were several.  I recovered.  I bruised my shins and cut my knees climbing rocks.  Michigan soil stuck to my sweaty skin as I re-learned how to press my body against stone and earth soloing my route one foot at a time.  

Keith: a lifeline who makes me go swimming or fishing, running or climbing, on the days I feel most uncertain. 

I like the way they color my knees, marking the spots where I’ve slipped hiking or climbing with blots of purple, green, and blue.  Like the scars on my knees and knuckles they tell the story of someone brave enough to get hurt.


The most northwestern point on the continental United States.  (My cousin) Deidre and I drove four hours to dangle our feet over the cape’s edge--to look out at the point where Puget Sound meets Pacific Ocean and listen to the rush of water slapping rock.

I never went to camp as a kid—but as a twenty-six year old I worked at one.  I woke to the sound of clanking plates in the dining hall.  I went to sleep to the smell of cove-water and campfire.

On the coast of the pacific.  On the shores of Lake Ozette.  In the cedar grove outside Camp Seymour.  On a patch of grass beside a goat pen near Port Townsend.  In Glacier National Park. On the banks of the Two Hearted River.  In the shadow of Glacier Peak.  In a campground beside Hart Lake. 

Where I’ve lived since August.  A porch with a swing and a stove which burns wood.  Lamp lit living room and wood paneled walls.  I share this space with three women who fill it with novels and teacups, ginger cookies and rye whiskey, basil plants and British television DVDs, knit hats and winter boots.

A celebration of the local, popular in the late 19th and early 20th century--Roosevelt called them the “most American thing about America.”  Saturdays in Tacoma, I listened to my friend Derrick talk about Chautauquas.  We walked rain-splashed streets with cups of coffee in hand and plotted a future filled with potlucks and music, community gardens, and contra dancing.

I’ve gone (almost) every day for the past four months.  I like the ritual of it: silence and candles, hymn-singing and mediation.  But my favorite part is passing the peace: shaking hands, giving hugs.  Poet Michael Dickman calls it: A prayer of bone.

The lake where (my housemate) Kari and I canoed from her parents’ cottage to a vacant lot, overgrown with golden autumn grasses.  We beached our boat and talked until our eyes welled.  The lake sprawled still in all directions: a mirror of the cloud-streaked sky.


Home.  The place where I spent New Year’s Day 2012: exploring the snow-dusted sidewalks of the neighborhoods lining the Lodge, photographing murals inside the Guardian Building, eating crepes in Corktown, and sitting in silence at New City Friends Quaker Meeting.

(See back roads)

A sand pathway that arches almost six miles into the Puget Sound.  It lies in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains so I walked it on days when I needed dry air and the smell of salt.  I tottered up and down rocky coast and wobbled along wet sand until walking and waves became their own rhythm—an escape from work and relationships and rain.


In Iowa I helped Amos (age 4) and Lydia (age 7) build them from twigs and stones in the backyard. We braided strands of grass into fairy carpet and crafted tiny tables out of acorn tops. Now at my chalet in Holden, I have a tiny fairy house on my dresser, built from a fairy door (my cousin) Deidre bought in Ann Arbor, walnut, moss, bark, and lichen.

Uncertain. (See detour, back roads)


My first slumber party as a Holden Village resident: yurt glamping with twelve women, ages 23-59.  Boxed wine and a wood burning stove.  Stories of elementary school teachers, marriage proposals, and first loves.  Pasta with cream sauce warmed in cast iron and women lit by campfire and candles--eating out of coffee cups, drinking out of mason jars, occasionally exiting the yurt to squat on the path and pee in the snow.

Home to one of the families I feel closest to: a stop on my way west to Holden.  In Grinnell I climbed trees and built fairy houses, read stories and constructed forts, ate homemade pizza, and drank beer with one of my former professors on his porch.


The fjord that separates the Kitsap Peninsula from the Olympic Peninsula.  I crossed it when I traveled to the beach or the mountains.  At the Hood Canal Bridge, the road splits and the landscape shifts from Douglas firs and cedars too thick to see beyond, to Puget Sound and Olympic Mountains.

The thickest forest I’ve ever been in: moss-covered nurse logs and big leaf maple canopies that blot out sun.  In April I wandered it with two women.  We let our hair dampen in the dew and bent to run our fingers along the lichen-laced bark.  We walked the hall of mosses and took photographs of elk butts along the Hoh River Trail.  Two days later, after I’d broken up with my boyfriend, one of my travel buddies knocked on my door and pressed a drawing she’d done into my hand: a picture of a women woven into the bark of a big tree.  On the back she’d written: Living in a Cedar Tree.  Hoh Rainforest 2012. 

To get to Holden Lake, you switch-back up Railroad Creek Valley, traversing avalanche chutes, nearly two thousand feet above the trailhead—till you get to a lake scraped by glaciers; clear enough to mirror the mountains in its surface.  Mom and I hiked to Holden in the September sun, photographing the mountain-shadowed valley below us, as we caught up on a month of conversation.   In November, two friends and I hiked to Holden in snow, skittering up and down the mountain in slippery small steps.  We talked about things that felt solid as we climbed frost-glazed switchbacks.

A remote community in the mountains—three hours away from the nearest shopping center or cell phone signal. The place where I’ve planted myself for (at least) the next year.  This winter over sixteen feet of snow has fallen on the village.  Some days I sled to work.  By mid-day the sun rises over the mountains, breaking winter-gray, and I’m taken aback by the way light shades Cascade peaks, making the snow on too bright to look at in some places and shadowing in the depth and curve of cliffs in others. 

My family.  Detroit.  Liz, Brenna, Amanda, Annie, Anna, Bekah, Danielle--friends who make me feel settled just by being in the same kitchen or coffee shop.  Holden Village.  Michigan.  The Great Lakes.  The Upper Peninsula.  My car.  A notebook.  A trail.  A cup of coffee.  Books.  Words.  Water. 

My orange car—nicknamed my “noble steed” by (my former housemate) Anna because of the way it accompanies me adventuring. This year I’ve driven it around the Olympic Peninsula, down the Oregon Coast, around Mount Rainier, through the Cascades, across northern Montana, through the Badlands and Black Hills.


Home of my friend Liz—a place I visited for the first time this year.  Liz and I picnicked at Table Rock, eating black bean brownies and granola under white medal cross then scrambled up cliffs colored in graffiti so dense that the words melted into nothing but color, smears of red and blue and pink on the sandstone.


Site of the Blackberry Cafe where my cousin and I stopped twice during our trip to the Pacific coast.  We loved it for the booth seating, the regulars in baseball caps bantering, the sweet potato fries, and the blackberry cobbler.

I learned from a boy from Muckleshoot Tribal School that Washington natives consider it a sacred act.  So I waited until my body felt heavy with thought before I stripped down to my shorts and sports bra and jumped from the dock at Camp Seymour.  I swam with otters and seals, wearing shoes so my skin didn't snag on barnacles.


The big body of water that cuts through the North Cascades, separating Holden Village from the nearest city.  Poet William Stafford wrote of it, "Everything we own has brought us here: from here we speak."


My favorite grocery store in Tacoma.  On Sundays, after Quaker meeting, I went to Marlene’s to buy bags of whole wheat flour, olive oil, kale, cauliflower, and chocolate.  Some days, when I didn’t want to return to my dorm room at the YMCA lingered at Marlene's -drinking fair-trade coffee and reading poetry in the deli section.  I stayed until closing time, occasionally pausing my reading to re-walk the aisles of sweet potato chips and dried dates, kombucha and ginger beer, Dr. Bronner’s soaps and Burt’s Bees balms.


The western point of the Olympic Peninsula, not far from where (my cousin) Deidre and I decided to camp in February.  It got dark at seven.  We couldn’t start a fire with the driftwood we found on the shores of Lake Ozette so we shivered all night, huddled together in a tent that sagged in the rain.  In the morning we woke with numb feet and cold-whitened skin, and too chilled to imagine hiking from our campsite as planned, we drove into Neah Bay for to eat at a diner called “The Warm House.”  We washed our faces with hot water in the bathroom, ordered French toast and scrambled eggs, and thanked our waitress each time she refilled our cups with hot coffee.

Bioluminescent phytoplankton that glow.  When I kayaked the Puget Sound at night, they lit the water around my boat, making the water sparkle like a firefly-filled sea.


Brackish water, an estuary where rivers meet the sea.  Water dense with sea stars and seals, sea jellies and barnacles, stretching its way across the state Washington from the Pacific coast. 


Where my favorite television show was filmed.  After dropping my cousin off at the airport I drove to Rosalyn  by myself to photograph the famous mural and to eat over-priced salad at the diner where Northern Exposure characters Joel and Maggie bantered their way through the early 90s.


This summer, I woke Mom in the middle of the night to watch meteors sweep across the sky but city lights obscured our vision so all we could do was lay on our backs and squint.  We covered our bodies in blankets and stayed in the backyard till tiredness blurred our vision and dew made the night chill.

A stopping point, home to my first friend in Washington.  The place where I wake early to drink coffee in a wood-floored room that glows golden at sunrise.

My favorite Great Lake.  Cold water that separates Michigan from Canada--where I swam in my underwear this summer on a day when I needed to lay back and fade into something deep.  


My solo birthday hike.  I stopped just in shadow of the summit, unable to make it up the ice-slicked scree in wind.  

TWO-HEARTED RIVER                                                                                         
The place where my brother and I traveled to camp and retrace Hemingway stories.  We cast in the water where Nick Adams fished.  We stood in the river smoking pipe tobacco while we read short stories out loud.  We jumped in the river and let the speed of water sweep us into Lake Superior.  


  1. :) I love this love this love this. Beautiful.

  2. Liz, Brenna, and Mom--three of the people I miss most in the world. Thank-you for the kind words and for always being so willing to read what I write. Love, Rachael

  3. The Warm wood floor, misses your bare feet after shedding your running shoes.... John

  4. Rachel Dear...... all IS well... all Is... Tam has her surgery on Monday next..... an email for you afterwords... best and love always... J and T... :))