“I had a boyfriend once who said that all Hostess products contained nuclear waste and it was every American’s patriotic duty to eat her share.” This is a quote from a NY Times article from the 90s that I cut out and stuck in my journal, which later became part of a play about America. And I find myself now cut out of Canada and stuck in the U.S. If you don’t know Hostess, it is Ding-Dongs and Sno-balls and Twinkies. This month I am trying to stop resisting America, you know, eat the Twinkie. Yeah. So, Animal, it is under these conditions that I write to you, my gob plugged with yellow sponge, through which I say ‘huf-pho’.
I’ve been collecting lots of little stories for you from Sunshine, Colorado, U.S. of eh? I hope they accumulate, like paint-by-numbers, and you will see the big picture. If you read my last letter, there will be characters you know, like grasshoppers and my therapist, but also new ones, like Stephen Hay and the Steinways. There will be Google, and sour apples, and active shooters. Runaways and worms. Keep in mind all this time that I am trying to tell a love story.
‘Whoa, that is an unlikely Table of Contents for a love story,’ you say.
But love is unlikely too, isn’t it? Never a straight line. More like an EKG, rising and falling, mountains and craters, apex and trough. For me, Love is instant and also endlessly arduous. This is a story about falling in love with a new land.
At the airport in Denver I saw a fella who was bald with a huge cowboy hat and a thick, furry mustache. He was ahead of me in line for the TSA, and, in order to check pockets for sharp objects, he had stuck his boarding pass and driver’s license in his mouth, half-covered by the ‘stache. He was a large dog with a newspaper, trying to please his master, as much as a fellow passenger trying to please the TSA agent. I loved it, love was instant: pure, simple, beautiful, ridiculous, irresistible Love. But then there are the wildflowers that I put by the sink in the bathroom. They are Dotted Gayfeathers; obviously I am instantly in love with that name. But consider this: I put them there more than a month ago, and they are still exactly the same. It is so dry and high that the whole landscape, and even the wildflowers, inside and out, are just on perma-pause. So different from home, that lush, wet jungle with nurse logs and fungus and decay and change. It seems like nothing changes, breaks down, grows. How will I fall in love with that?
‘Falling is easy’ says no one acquainted with gravity. Sometimes I hafta push myself to get beyond the disdain or sadness or snark. The answer I have come to is effort. Love: I just have to work at it. I have to lean in until I fall over. Open, Inquire, Surrender. Try to keep north of Force.
But let’s not get too grim as we go, because every mini-story that I am going to tell, if you look carefully, has a Great Band Name in it. Here’s one I captured in a photo from the post office.
This month, I’m definitely singing backup for ‘Flimsy’s & the Open Ends’. I’m at the Post Office because, at the urging of my nephew, I bought a Worm Farm online from a small business called Princess. It will help me compost fruit indoors, which might deter the bear. But the worm farm won’t fit in the mailbox, and the postie finds our driveway intimidating, so the worms end up stuck in the Main Branch of the Boulder Post Office over the long weekend. On Tuesday morning, I shift everything on my list to get them. I have the slip, but they can’t find the box. Do worms eat cardboard? Have they all escaped? Will this be the demise of the Boulder Post Office? Workers squirm. I’m antsy. I want to go look myself; I am a producer, and I would like to produce some worms fer chrissake. Eventually, they find the worms in a hand-lettered, repurposed Pampers box. Well, no one was looking for that.
When I unpack the box, there is a bad situation, but no instructions, just a Worm Hotline. I call and Princess herself picks up. In the long shipping experience, some worms have escaped into the outer bin and need to be put in the inner bin. I try to dump them but they cling, and I whack it and they slime down the sides, and it is terrible. I walk out of the room and cry a little. It’s gross, and I give up. But then, following her instructions, I water the coir and put in apple peelings. I sprinkle coffee grounds and ground eggshells.
The show begins: naked little heads poking up, and then folding into soft soil. It’s a durational piece; they are fully committed to their actions. I check on them often, like a waiter, ‘Can I get you anything else?’ Retch recedes and in its place, reverence. You see, to a worm, ‘dig’ and ‘move’ and ‘eat’ are all the same verb. I want to move through the world like that. Digest this place.
I look for life, I look in the wild places. Sunshine Saddle. I climb up. The air is such a character up here. Thin and stingy.
Even with the wind blowing in your face, you can’t catch your breath. By day, it’s all air, all around, all sky, and a suffering of sunshine. Try to hide or hat or whatever, but sun is in your eyes, burning your arms, and you are skirting and looking for shade. The air is warm or frigid and maybe still, but probably blowing again. It’s like being a candle and the sky wants you out.
If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes. That’s a saying you hear up here a lot. The smell of snow by morning, a sweaty afternoon. Aspen were green yesterday, today, yellow. Storm then double rainbow. The septic guy says hard frost in a week.
I’m a stranger here, wait five minutes, I’m invited by group text for Happy Hour at the Crow’s Nest. Google can’t find the joint. Oh, that’s because it is not a bar; it is a mountaintop. We are asked to bring appies. I make a joke on the group text about bringing a corvid-themed appetizer, like maybe Roadkill? My husband puts together suitable snacks. When we get to the Crow’s Nest, there are 14 folks in a worried circle. Gunshots coming from the Crow’s Nest, target practice or hunting or something. I volunteer to go first up the trail, and maybe disarm the shooters with my Canadian gee-whizness, ‘oh, hi, didn’t mean to disturb you, but we have appetizers? What do you think, crab dip?’ But, two women in the party flat-out refuse to go. One says, ‘I don’t want to die tonight.’ Totally kills the vibe.
Turns out she is a Steinway and can host us at her house, which is circular with a six-car garage on the inside, piano as the name promises in the sitting room, and deck that wraps all the way around the house on the outside with a 360-degree view. At home, it is the weekend of Canadian Thanksgiving, and in honour of that, I gorge myself on view. Sunset, stars, city sparkle, plains, foothills, the Continental Divide. I think of You, Animal, as among it all. The theatre of the sky. Remember that time we wanted to pitch a show on the moon? I watch that possibility for a bit and feel you near. Animal, I try to see you, not nowhere, but everywhere in this new life.
Later, home in bed, I catalog the stories from the night. There is a retired geologist who likes to go to landscapes with tectonic upheaval and do yoga there. It’s good for change. I have a friendly chat with an estate lawyer, whose true talent is financial advising. I tell him, in what I hope is a jovial tone, that we have no overlap between our two souls. He bams back that he just published a novel. ‘Wow’, I say, and ‘How?’ He didn’t know if he could write a book, so he Googled it. Apparently there are two rules:
1) You gotta write 80,000 words.
2) If you start, you have to finish it.
It took him a year. He didn’t tell anyone he was writing it until it was done. I tell him he has inspired me. We rejoin the group conversation. I learn a few things about Water Filters & 1974 (and yes, that is the band name in this story).
I’m taking notes on my phone in the dark. I should turn it off and sleep. It’s the last day of summer. At night, the crickets here make a wall of sound. The sky is high, and the wall of cricket is too. Nothing can get over, under, through.
My husband is a philosopher, and his head is the Library of Congress. He quotes at length an article he read in the 90s, that crickets are thermally sensitive; so, how much activity there is in the neurons is how fast they rub their leathery front wings together. Friction makes the chirp. You can tell the temperature outside by counting the number of chirps in 15 seconds, adding 40; that’s the temperature in Fahrenheit. So, 50 chirps in 15 seconds is 90 degrees, which means it is too hot to sleep, and you are awake to hear this performance. It’s the male crickets that chirp to attract a mate; so, it is basically a big wall of flirtation. The female crickets automatically echolocate. Their bodies carry them to the nearest mate. I get carried away myself. In theatre, we say you need Time and Space to make a performance, but maybe it’s not just that. You clearly need Animals. And you need to be good at Love. Maybe all of this effort will make me a better theatre maker. Or a better person. Or, I suppose, A Better Cricket.
Fall is coming now and the crickets become fewer, softer, duller and the night becomes porous. Other sound comes through. Animals crying, the wind crying, the teenager doing TikTok workouts upstairs.
We sleep with the windows open, and while a gentle breeze is fantastic, the wind is the enemy of sleep. And also the enemy of cats, who look out the window into the storm then back at me, helpless.
I talk about helplessness with my therapist. He recommends it. I think we are always, he and I, trying to pry the veneer of confusion off of Life and to see it raw, plain, unadorned. He is in his eighties and looks at helplessness from the point of view of aging. I look at the impossibility of starting again in theatre in a new landscape, state, nation. Helpless. The word itself asks for help. He assures me I will find people in the world willing to help.
People, sure, but what about landscapes? I go outside to move stones and make a new garden bed, to plant the hops that I hope will grow tall and soften the line of the telephone pole out my window. Enter clouds from the west, in a furious hurry. Three drops, then a pelting. There is an expression for it: it is raining chair legs. The sky can throw down. I have never seen a sky act like this. I need a Lead Umbrella. Helpless, I head inside.
I serve a dinner that my kid won’t even try. I give the cats new diktat – ‘do not scratch the couch’. Then, I walk in the other room and hear Pricking Claws & Peanut Butter Jar. Helpless.
I walk on the campus of the University looking for Wi-Fi. The college kids flirt audaciously. I love how openly they adore each other. The sidewalk is littered with the head-over-heelsness of them all. I’m stepping over bodies. The buildings are all red stone, and the hearts are all red porous stone. They lean into each other; they are falling in love. Helpless.
I get ready for a Zoom in the University library, then the school calls. My kid can’t hack it, so come get him immediately. The weather guy says the first snow will come by mid-October; wait, isn’t it fall? I plan a hike in the Rocky Mountain National Park, and Sky Pond requires goggles because of blowing ice shards. Oh, nice, ice shards. My EV falls in a pothole in the driveway and doesn’t come out. Man, this place is mean.
I keep trying. I fill the new native plant beds with soil that I gather at the bottom of a cliff, but it hardens and water runs off and away from my transplants. I try to loosen the soil with my hands, but that sunbaked pack won’t budge. When we were looking for a place to live, ‘Anything with land,’ I would say again and again, ‘soil that I can get my hands into’. Now, here, soil, I can’t. I get down, crouching, bending my fingernails. Dammitdammitdammit. Then head into the house where I stay for days.
So you know, sometimes here, I fail.
I think it’s the water. The water is so mineral it could kill an axolotl. You can taste the minerals, and that sounds kinda refreshing, right? Like mineral water, like Evian? But no. A glass of water is like sucking on a rock. It lands heavy in the stomach. I don’t want to eat here. Don’t want to drink. The kettle and I are calcifying. Maybe turning to stone is not a bad thing. I am tired of being soft and bloody. I lie in bed and feel the rock in my stomach.
I talk to Alexa. She switches from CBC to Fox News, and I feel the betrayal keenly. I try the alarm bell function to wake the kids for school. They too have turned to stones. I bring my younger son breakfast in bed–porridge and cream. I pulverize all the healthy seeds he would never eat and hide them in the gruel, because deviousness is my main parenting strategy. But the delight of the small tray and the steaming bowl and the cat who comes for the cream, yes, the charm of it makes that one morning easier. Stone transforms to boy, and he gets up. We might make the first bell.
Later, I work on a durational art piece with the bear.
Every day, I set up the compost container, and every night she destroys it in a new way. I document her postmodern approach.
My i-Phone lens is cracked on the face from dropping it on the rocks. This means I can only take pictures of what is in front of me. Kendra, don’t look back.
This week, my office is full of grasshoppers. I put one outside and then there is another, perching on the edge of the laptop screen. My desk is a jumble of rust, the things I have collected from the land, a chain, an old bent can, part of a pail, a Handful of Nails. I have been trying to decorate the office, but can’t bring myself to put 18 years of Animal show posters on the wall. But the rust really grows on me. There is a bleached-out beer can that the wind has been chewing on; it is full of holes. I stick a sprig of juniper in it and the grasshoppers go wild.
Meanwhile, our tank is nearly ready for an Axolotl. All the specimens I can find nearby are the wrong colour; I will have to order one from Seattle and with the mail delivery as it is, I am worried it will die. Very worried. I lose sleep worrying about bags of water and little bloated bodies. I am failing as the producer here. It’s been a terrible day. My kid is on a fieldtrip and runs away, and the staff at his school are frantic. I drive an hour to get there and find the adults sweaty and startled and my kid nonplussed with his e-reader. I say soothing things to the adults and stern things to the child. I get home and want to cry, so, to calm down, I invoke the ancient technique of calling a few reptile stores. I find a baby white axolotl with hot pink gills, just one, it will go fast. I forget that I am supposed to be stern and holler with delight. ‘Axolotl ASAP!!
Meet Poseidon. You can call him Percy. He is two months old. This is the animal, illegal to own in Canada, that proves to an ax-loving-12-year-old that America has its perks. Percy looks at me and wiggles his tiny pink antlers. He swims in a circle to show me his tail. His blocking is beautiful. When I was in theatre school, a teacher used to say that some performers have a thing that can’t be taught, he called it Spell. Poseidon has lots of Spell. I put a finger gently on the side of the tank, and he raises a small wet salamander paw. Instant Love.
I feed Poseidon heads of worms, and he grows while I shrink in the world of Canadian theatre. I watch things that I love there die. My therapist tells me that when you lose a position of power, you find out what people actually think of you. Not much. Mortal woundings. I try radical acceptance.
In that spirit, I go to the Sunshine Cemetery to learn more about being dead. It’s mostly a meadow, but here and there I find rectangles of rock laid long ago. There are hand-carved stones too, with names and dates. The care moves me.
Someone dug a hole in this unyielding earth, covered a body in soil, laid the stones. The kindness that we can do for one another.
The attempt to make something beautiful. The horseshoe handle on the old schoolhouse’s outhouse door.
A Salami Rose at a dinner party. Grab a shotglass and a stack of meat, and I’ll teach you how to make one. We are The Only Animal who does that. Puts Love into shapes: Rectangle, Horseshoe, Rose.
Meanwhile, my kid misses his friends. I commiserate on the couch. He tells me he is running away, home to the Coast. He storms out, then comes back in and puts on his shoes. I offer him a flashlight, which he takes, angry, then pushes into the night again. I steal out after him. He walks to the bottom of the driveway. I can see the light bouncing there. I sit against the rock wall and wait. My kid has always been in deep communion with the night sky. He turns off the light. He is of vast darkness. The Big Dipper is poised right above the hill to scoop him up. After an eternity, my kid turns back up the driveway. I pull my black toque down over my face, and it works, he walks by me, and finds his own way back to the house.
You asked me to tell you a story, of how to fall in love with a new place, but instead I am telling you the story of my kid running away. And how does it answer the question of how to fall in love? Answer: don’t worry, everyone finds their way home? Or, answer: do worry, because the sky will steal you if you go too far? Sigh, I don’t have any answers. I’m in the midst of a story I have never told and don’t yet understand. I’m trying to figure it out by writing to you, because, Animal, you have always made meaning for me, all these years. I know that right now, this little BC family perched on the mountainside here: we are all we have. We bleed together. We are a one-celled organism. If there is sorrow in the system, we all feel it.
Same with joy.…
There is fruit setting on the pioneer apple tree on Dennis’ claim, Little Giant. Dennis shrugged when I asked if I could pick, said ‘sour apples’. With so little rain, they are green and dense. Whatever, sour, green, dense — an apple in hand is an orientation. I grew up on an old apple orchard. As kids, we called the windfall, which were often rotting, ‘bopples’ and threw them at each other. Dared Stephen Hay to eat one, which he did. Schiller kept rotting apples in his writing desk. Years ago, Animal, we wanted to do a show where the audience lies under a tree and the actors perform above, a show in four seasons, remember that? There was that tinkers workshop of the scene of the apple orchard and the kids in the cast throwing apples and getting the audience throwing apples and the smell of the sun in the grass. I just think we don’t get enough time, in this one precious life, to lie under a tree, in warm grass, and look up a little. In the past when we imagined it, Animal, it was fall we dreamt of, that the audience might watch as a leaf trembled and fell, a leaf for you alone, you lying on the ground, a leaf that lands splat on your forehead, on your chest, we thought that might change a person. But, here, I think apples could do it better. In the land of Crow’s Nest and Buckshot. Lie down under an apple tree. Get Ready for what happens next.
Some of the apples we pick are wormy, and I collect them in my shirt and carry them to the place where the orchard will be someday. There is much to do to prepare the soil, and that requires new tires for the chicken tractor, and a tow bar to move the chicken tractor, oh yeah and then chickens for the chicken tractor—that is all to come. But for now we walk to the meadow. I scrape the sandy soil just with my heel. It’s the best I can do with the time that I have my child’s attention, which will snap before I get a shovel. In the divot I put a wormy apple, then my kid drops a rock on it. The apple crushes. Sometimes you can see the seed, and the warm brown mush that will keep it moist as it germinates. We push dry soil on top with the sides of our shoes and tamp it down. Tie it all with a fungal strand. Repeat ten times as we move across the meadow. The chances are slim any will take. The bear has been in the compost, so will probably snuff them up. You know, a bear can smell a chicken a mile away, surely it will smell our apple trail in the meadow. But the act of planting is the thing that counts. If I see a sprouting tree next spring, I’ll probably take it and put it in the meadow spot, because I am devious as I said before, and also, I want to plant hope. Child, what you and me can do, with the heels of our sneakers, with a shirt full of bopples, with a rock, it is enough, it will start the world anew. And because I so fiercely want this for him, it works on me too.
I’ve heard of Colorado peaches, but the young permaculturist from down the road says they won’t grow here. His orchard is apples and pears. Erin, the goat farmer from the Canyon, says yep, apples and pears. I make vats of applesauce, not yellow, like with Transparents, not red-tinged, like with the crabapple of Joe Road, but GREEN. It is a pleasure to can, the wrapping of a tea towel around a double row of warm jars. I write ‘Dennisauce, 2023’ on the lids. Dried apples are next and then I’ve promised apple pie filling. More sauce after that. I go back with a basket and the ladder. Reaching from the highest rung to the lowest twig. You gotta really stretch.
When I was into rock climbing, I heard about an ascent up a famous peak. There was a massive boulder that marked the top. And this party of climbers were so excited after a 3-day ascent to reach that famous boulder, that they sat beside it, and started winging their extra tortillas from the spot. And down below, a nice couple got whacked by a tortilla not once, but twice and annoyed, they moved their picnic spot. And, it was just then that the immense and epic boulder fell from the top, crashing precisely onto the picnic spot; that solid ancient thing impounding itself in the dry earth. Afterwards the climbers met the nearly-crushed couple who told them what had happened and said, ‘Yeah, don’t you know the code? Tortilla, Tortilla, Boulder?’
Oh, Animal, you taught me all about Creation, but nothing about Destruction. Will you help me understand the code? Is there a way to practice this destruction of the past, making work with you, in a place I loved so much? Will it help to destroy one love story and start another? Hard water, hard soil, active shooters. This place is rich with destruction, but I don’t wield weapons well. If I wrote 80,000 words, could I find the one that rends us asunder? Should I buy a self-help book, a handgun? Sigh. I take hot tips where I can. Tortilla, Tortilla, Boulder. Which is also my new band name.
On the Sunshine Coast, I can tell you where to go to find a bear bathtub, a hole scratched in the forest floor where the water table is high. It will be half full about now. Dennis, who built our house, is a water witch and chose a great spot to dig the neighbour’s well, he tells me. Dennis’ dad, Harry, was also a water witch, so, my well is in the best spot, I am assured, at the crossing of two underground rivers. It is good to find water. I would like to be good in the ways of the bear and Dennis.
I am not. A few friends from home betray me. I am scorned. I burn about this. I inferno in the night. I could catch this town on fire. I am solely responsible for global warming.
But, ‘If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes’, and yes, the anger passes. My two true friends stay true. My partner finds infinite kindness in his 5’8 frame. When the anger passes, I am sad. I try to walk it off, which has worked for me a hundred million times, but I puddle into my shoes. I stop at the side of the trail and sit for a bit. Sure enough, there is a show. Juniper berries appear in profusion, Quaking Aspen go gold, orange lichen form galaxies, twists of barbed wire bind things broken.
Aspen leaves are actually gold all the time, it turns out; the gold is just dyed green by chlorophyll in the summer. Gold underneath. Reverie. Theatre is my bridge back to life. I watch. I walk again. Even when it is unlikely, I resolve to look for gold.
I shop for Canadian Thanksgiving dinner and look for Junior Astronaut Juice, to consume (instead of scorn) the stupidest beer ever. Instead I find these.
This year, I toast Canadian Thanksgiving with Formless Void in America. Axolotl Oasis sounds better with leftovers, don’t you think? I give thanks for worms, double rainbows, grasshoppers, raining chair legs, air that smells like snow, water that tastes like rocks, orange lichen galaxies, turkey and Poseidon in equal measure.
I know at Home Depot Grave-n-Bones is $12.99. I am helpless to the ridiculousness of my species. For Halloween, I will go as a Roadkill. The stars hang in the sky and could fall. Or gravity could reverse and I might lose my child to the sky. It is fallacy to think one can protect oneself from any of it.
What helps the most maybe is that I see Magpies every day, with their striking white markings, often in flocks. This nursery rhyme about them was in my head, oh, maybe for the first 100 times I see them. It goes:
‘One for Sorrow,
Two for Joy,
Three for a Girl,
Four for a Boy,
Five for Silver,
Six for Gold,
Seven for a Story that has Never been Told.’
Naturally, I always want to see two and look a little harder and a little longer. But, one is enough for now. The Magpies find my feeder and quibble with the Jays for dibs. They flock: Sorrow, Silver, Story. There are threads of gold here in the ground, in the party conversation, in the BBQ ice-cream, in six magpies. The magpie call is exactly like a 70’s cassette tape rewinding. However Nature came to that, I’m grateful. The winged retro clowns, with big thematic pronouncements and gender reveals, goddammit, I love their spurring, always and ever, as once we made together, Animal, and now I try alone to tell, the Story that has Never Been Told.
Yours, ever so,
- All photos by Kendra with her phone except for the album cover for Tortilla, Tortilla, Boulder which was a collaboration with Bing AI Image Generator.