‘Salvaged’ by Madeleine Roux

I’m typing this up on my phone on a plane while a baby the size is for an avocado does flips and bounces on my poor, beat up bladder, so bear with me.

I just finished the second book that features fungus as “the bad guy”, so that seems to be an emerging theme in sci-fi. This fungus is much more exciting, however, as it gradually seizes control of your brain and turns you into a collective, psychic zombie. In space. It turns out about as well as you can imagine, though the story focuses on a small crew who somewhat manages to fight off the voice in their head that turns into their mothers.

While there were some descriptions in this book that I, usually pretty immune to squeamishness, found hard to get through, overall it’s an excellent space who done it horror story. The fascinating part is how hard some fight to stay human, and how easily others give in to groupthink, or being controlled by a fungus.

A good, mildly thought provoking read, but don’t eat with food.

My Voice, Part One

Every attempt I’ve made to maintain steady blogging, especially post college, has slowly petered off and eventually abandoned. Unlike some friends and almost friends that also blog who manage to keep one single blog going, every time I return is more starting over, new name, new fonts, a fresh face that follows the same pattern. I’m not committing to anything this time around (even though I paid for WordPress again), but with everything going on in the world and my personal life I still feel that itch to get my voice down on paper or through the keyboard.

I have noticed that the blogs I enjoy reading the most have a more or less coherent theme, whether it be about books, long form essays, or horses. For myself, there’s two main things I want to write about; I have my own horse now (for the first time!), so there’s a ton to explore and keep track of and learn there. But, back to the whole “state of the world” thing, I want to toss my voice into the void about such fundamental things as the state of our democracy, the world I want my son to grow up and become an adult in, and where my life and choices fit into that larger (and undeniably privileged) framework. Plus random other things like book reviews, fumbling attempts at cooking, navigating home ownership, setting up my rig for horse camping…things I want to share without FB owning and playing corporate games with my stuff. Sounds like two totally separate blogs right?

Being only one busy lady and based on my past attempts, keeping up blogging is an uphill battle between my time, my desires and everyone in my life I jiggle around, so we’ll see how this one goes.

Pretty horse photo cause blogs without photos aren’t as fun usually

To start with the second topic (since I’m travelling for work and stuck in conference rooms 700 miles from my horse), my boss and I grabbed dinner after an 11 hour day for both of us. I support my company’s EHS team, which is heading our response to the corona-virus outbreak (we have customers and therefore employees supporting those customers in Wuhan), so that’s led to long days with no signs of slowing for my team. My boss tossed me into the daily meeting with folks whose titles are no less than two to three levels above mine for, quote, “Being the most reliable and up to date on this stuff.” His confidence helps mine, but man can it get rough!

Decompressing at Claim Jumpers over bourbon and a mock-tail, respectively, we touched on such light, work appropriate topics as our families genetic history, career plans and trajectories, and of course politics…but not about the current impeachment clusterfuck or specific policies.

My high school boyfriend had a karate teacher who was friends with an akido instructor who had a huge influence on how I deconstruct arguments and what points I dig for in such discussions. Even as a teenager I picked up not to go after the fluff of things or get overly sidetracked by tangents, but to dig until the root cause or point was found. Debating with him over email on such topics as religion and politics helped immensely, and I remain grateful for those conversations to this day.

Not to say I didn’t go through the typical teenage and young adult growing periods of false logic, grasping at straws and taking uninformed or ill-informed stands, but we all have to go through that so I try not to beat up myself too much for those much more idealistic days.

Last night with my boss, I wasn’t going after the fluff-my questions (in part informed by this recent series by ‘The New Yorker’), were along the lines of “Can a true, fundamentally fair democracy thrive with a capitalist economy?”, “How do we move on from a two party system?”, “How do we teach our kids to debate and disagree without hating the other person or group?” The point wasn’t to stump each other or argue for one side or the other, but to inch towards that last point; disagreeing without relegating the other side as a bad person.

I’m about to board my flight home (woot!) So more on this vein later!

Oregon Trails Summit

Along with a few other lucky ladies, I was privileged to attend the Oregon Trails Summit in Bend last weekend. PNER sent me to talk trails, but I brought a lot of past experience as both a trail user and stakeholder (I worked on trails with Northwest Youth Corps for six summer seasons, as well as two seasons as a State Park Ranger). It was wonderful to network and discuss issues with nerds who speak my language, a complicated polyglot of passion, frustration and issues between Federal, State and private land managers, industry leaders, and coalition groups from every corner of the state. As a passionate dirt bag, equestrian, and overall outdoor geek, it was heady brew.
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I also go to visit Smith Rock State Park for the first time!!!
Even with the fun and empowering discussions, presentations and emotional keynote speech to fill the weekend, there was a shadow cast over the whole thing for me. I’ll get to the specifics of the sessions I attended shortly, but I’d like to address what to me has become the elephant in the room: PNER is no longer the place for me.
This PNER trip to the Summit was spearheaded by Julie Serres, on behalf of the Trails Committee. She eventually chose not to come, for her own reasons born of frustration, and after seeing several back and forth comments through this member’s page, I am also choosing to bow out of paying dues next year to an organization that does not walk it’s talk of late. Oregon Equestrian Trails and Back-country Horseman’s Association both had a large presence at the summit, from leading a horse and bike workshop, having a small booth with handout materials, to being on several panel discussions. I feel PNER could have either been a larger presence, or gone with a clearer directive to “learn how we can give back to our beloved trails, and be more active in the trail maintenance community.” Without Julie there, it felt like our group lacked cohesion.
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Also got to ride an awesome little war mare, Dalai Lama!
The first session I sat in on was regarding the new technology known as “e-bikes”, where I learned a great deal about what they actually are. The discussion was wide ranging, but boils down to what kind of experience e-bike users are looking for. Federal land managers have classed them with OHVs and other motorized vehicles, when most e-bikes are no louder or that much faster than non-motorized bikes. Oregon State has a more flexible, while still limited, interpretation for basic, pedal assisted e-bikes, the kind that have no throttle (you have to be pedaling to keep moving). For now, though, most e-bikes remain quite expensive, but as this market expands look to see more of them on the trails. From an equestrian’s perspective, the main worry is about speed on trails designed to allow bikes, whether motorized or non, to rapidly gain speed or pop out of nowhere, limiting reaction times for all parties. We covered built environment fixes (ie designing multi-use trails to slow all parties down through specific trail features), administration fixes (ie bikes only uphill, bikes and horses allowed on alternate days, etc), and simply building new, bike only trails while still maintaining equestrian and hiker access on existing trails (not a zero sum game; bikers get trails that cater to them, while equestrians don’t loose access to trails they’ve traditionally had access to.)
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Downtown Bend is fantastic!
The next session was Forwarding Signature Trails (think like the PCT, only Oregon specific). As a trail user, this was a fun and hugely informative session as to the hard leg work and cooperation goes into building trails and trail systems. Presenters included groups from Umatilla, Tualatin, and Southern Oregon. I was heartened to hear that with the exception of the Tualatin River Trail (which is heavily urban and not a fun place to ride anyway) all trails in this discussion included equestrians in their design and build processes (I can’t decide which I’m more excited to visit and ride someday, the Jack-Ash trail in Southern Oregon or the Joseph network near the Wallowa’s!)
This session, along with the Regional Trails breakout, covered a ton of ground on how to gather support, funding, and everything else needed to make trails a reality. Ideas, tips and tricks ranged from encouraging participation of volunteers, communicating effectively with different demographics, and making local media your friend. One very cool tidbit as a technology loving Millennial was QR codes on business cards and trail signs, where you can pair your GPS track from your favorite local trail to a larger regional database. This helps map where and how people are using local trails, in order to include them in the area’s overall trail plan.
The most interesting breakout was one which certainly requires more time, Resolving Trail Conflicts. I know Elayne’s write up is already up (she’s faster than I am!) and she came into this session with a much different perspective. For myself, I lean more democratic and have a wide range of views on trail usage, as I’ve built trails for all types of users (OHVs, horses, bikes, hikers only, multi-use, ADA) and have used trails in all sorts of different ways, though my primary use is from horseback (c’mon, who doesn’t agree that’s the best view?) The overall point I took out of this session was considering each user group’s desired trail experience. For the most part, user groups can “make it work” in relative harmony, minus outliers who ruin things for everybody, regardless of how they use the trails. The main beef comes both between OHV users and other groups, mainly due to the noise and speed being so much greater than any other group (bikers, hikers, kayakers, equestrians, etc. while they each have their own impact on trails, and minus run ins with mountain bikes and *gasp* piles of poop, don’t really impact each other in a huge, insurmountable way).
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So pretty…no desire to climb up like the two dozen climbers I passed!
Ultimately, it’s up to land managers to “build the table” and the responsibility of each user group to ensure they have a seat at that table, whether it be private, State or Federal lands in question. Ironing out issues of trail use, maintenance, new trails, emerging technologies and access take time, a buttload of patience, and empathy for other users, even if you hate what experience they might seek on trails. Each specialized organization, from PNER to Friends of the Columbia River Gorge, can help maintain access to trails for all through a combination of education, encouraging volunteers, and reaching out to bring user groups together; from poker rides that include hikers, bikers and equestrians at the same event to special sponsored trail signs, it is possible to share trails in a sustainable way.
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This mare was a hoot and I can’t wait to ride her again someday!
The biggest question, now that we’ve presented what we’ve learned, is where PNER will take this information. Each rider uses some combination of private, State and Federal trails (I myself ride mostly on private timber lands kept open to equestrians through the good faith of the landowner, as well as Federal and State forests and parks when someone takes a horse for me out and about). OET and BCHA both have large, well organized service arms; OET sponsors several fantastic horse camps through annual work parties, specialized signage, and organized fundraising rides; BCHA is out there hauling tools and equipment into back country trails, supporting other trail organizations by hauling equipment, providing equestrian based expertise, and both organizations spend a good amount of time on educating an increasingly horse naive public about horses, equestrian issues and best practices when meeting horses on trails.
Based on Julie’s experiences of the past year to get a Trails Committee off the ground, is PNER even willing to become more of a service or education based organization? It’s one thing to have a booth at an equine trade show asking people to join our organization; it’s a whole other kettle of fish to ask those who do join to organize an educational poker ride, put in hours maintaining their local trails, or designing educational materials for other trail users.
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Definitely dragging the husband, kid and dog to this awful place someday…

Flash Fiction: The Reaper’s Rope

Originally prompted by TerribleMinds, “A Random Scattering of Fresh Titles.”

Dawn’s early light was usually a friendly, soft color, diffusing the mistakes and messes of the night, softening the blow of what the morning would bring. Dawn was the time she slipped out, leaving the night’s work behind. Her work was most often discovered once the coffee of the cubicle rats had been digested, morning traffic cursed and the sun’s height made day a foregone conclusion.

She could take pride in her work, if not joy, although there was always release of a sort. She utilized her many skills, not a one of them traditional or fit for an office, but nonetheless needed for all that.

It was the bruise on the client’s face which had moved her to accept this most recent job, though it didn’t always. Broken arms, swollen black eyes, a tight, stiff gait, long sleeves and thick makeup on faces aged before their time, one or all of them combined would always move her, but nothing put speed behind her like kids. She walked outside the golden light of official justice, but when the cool marble walls of the courthouse failed so many she took up Lady Justice’s blindfold.

For the Lady was truly blind, but she wasn’t human as the courts were led by, staffed by and hampered by. Neither was she herself blind to the consequences of her chosen profession; “murderer”, “home wrecker”, “evil” where the least of what could be thrown at her, should she be caught. She may not be able to count the effects of her work when the sun beat down weeks after those wicked grey nights, steeped in filth or the merely mundane, but she comforted herself with the action itself.

In her work she was neither tidy nor messy, extravagant nor understated, excessive nor miserly. The ugly glare of fluorescence, the cramped confines of a backseat, the always squeaky cheap motel mattress, the cheap thrill of a marriage bed reveled her main strength for this hustle, her flexibility in doing what the job required, no more, no less.

The conclusion was always the same, however sordid the details. A quiet, unremarked grave, destined never to be found if she’d done her work correctly, which she always did. The point was to alleviate pain, turn a black slate to a grey one, for nothing could wipe them completely white again after such suffering.

It wasn’t her name which was passed from spotless kitchen to needle strewn flop to beater car; nor a title that spread between those at that particular intersection of needy and desperate. Her position required a delicate balance of discretion and openness, so she’d settled instead on a simple type of calling card. A small length of rough cut rope, ragged at the ends, of unremarkable make. Various titles had been handed around with it through the years, but the most enduring one had been, simply, “The Reaper’s Rope.”

The Night Mare

Externally, things are looking up. It’s my inner lizard brain that’s having issues accepting this concept. I have had nightmares off and on since my son was born, usually way too early in the morning, from which I cannot wake myself up. I know it’s a dream but I’m stuck, being dragged through it by my traitor brain and physiology.

This morning’s tardy visit by the Night Mare:

I was so excited! As a working mom, I didn’t get to play parent chaperone for many field trips, but this time I was going to the coast with a bunch of first graders; what could be better? (I’m not a teacher, so clearly I can think of better things!)

The morning was spent making sure everything was packed and just so for the flight out to the coast, no buses for these kids! But in creepy Lost style, we never made it. I don’t remember the crash, it’s not the important part. We realized we were stuck in a strange anteroom to the center of the earth, not a fun place to be unless you’re in Mrs. Frizzle’s Magic School Bus.

The plane was totally MIA, no idea how we’d gotten down here but here we were. We had to get an entire class of terrified, dirty, injured first graders back up, via a rock staircase one of the other parents had somehow found. I was torn between helping care for the other kids and not letting my son out of my hands, how was I supposed to keep him safe in this rock prison?

We started climbing up this red rock staircase, think from Fellowship of the Ring, impossibly long and getting tighter and tighter as we rose. We had to carry each of the kids by turns as they tired or faltered as the heat rippled around us. It was about the time the staircase got so windy I couldn’t keep my eyes on my son and the walls started scrapping my shoulders that my mild, latent claustrophobia kicked and Tom had to shake me awake.

I managed not to leap out of bed to check on my son, but only barely. Usually once I’m awake the Night Mare gives up the ghost and I can’t recall the dream she left behind, but this one is vivid and clear, post commute and coffee consumption.

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It’s not writer’s block…

I’ve never really subscribed the theory of writer’s block. You either write, or you don’t, and I’ve always been writing. Even if I’m not blogging, which is separate for me, I’m still writing somewhere, ideas and characters and weird experiences and thoughts spilling out.

I’m going on five months at the state hospital, and I’ve not written a drop since around Christmas. Once I got settled in on my unit (settled being a relative term here) my internal spigot which spills forth aliens with spying complexes, women with tattoos up the wazoo and kids that make fairies out of whole cloth…turned off. It didn’t stutter to a stop like a train engine; didn’t putter out like a puddle in summer; I woke up one morning and all was quiet.

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I’ve tried kick starting the engine, of course. I’ve picked up my physical activity level, pushing myself to be ready for this endurance season; I’ve snuggled the dog more; ridden as much as I can; read to the kid most every night; tote a journal with me everywhere, read writing blogs, stared at the blank screen, played endless rounds of Tetris, muttered incantations over the keyboard…

Hearing Code Greens (behavioral emergencies) called out overhead several times a day, that tiny twitch and surge of adrenaline (do I need to respond?) keeps the spigot well dammed. Tweaking signs and processes for patients and picking apart every word leaves me too exhausted to wrestle the spigot back open at the end of the day, when watching old episodes of NCIS lets me rest.

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There are lights throughout this tunnel called life. Spring is somewhere around the corner, last week’s snow tardy but not holding up the march of longer days and optimistic daffodils and shedding equines. Tom finally admitted to the world that we’re getting hitched, so I have a whole new world of things to annoy him with. I have an interview for a pretty damn good job next week, plus another on offer with it’s own considerations. Endurance season training has already started, with deliberations on the first ride of the season being hashed over.

This March, of my 29th year, I’m going to blog or write every day. I need to. There’s so much of my job I can’t talk about at home (HIPPA is no joke ya’ll) but so much stress, the kind no one can warn you of in any way you’ll understand until you’re in the trenches. I’m working on it, and part of that is finding the biggest wrench and tub of WD-40 I can and wrenching the spigot back open. It’s not just my day I need to write, it’s everything else; grand adventures on horseback, probing the far reaches of space, goofy names for serious characters and sarcasm for all.

 

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A stumbling start

A super quick post cause the dog and I are waiting in the truck together for the kid to finish his swim lessons.

Behold, hear ye hear ye, read all about it….My start to NaNoWriMo 2017!

The Aliens Are Spying On Us

“Red sky at morning, sailor take warning. Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.”

I hummed the old ditty to myself as I watched the endless sky light up in every shade of red the human eye can encompass, deepest blood red to faintest pink. The trouble was it was noon, and the weather report had called for a clear day’s sail. The nearest weather of any sort was 100 nautical miles away, not nearly close enough to build such a sky. I pondered the rippling, flowing red sky, noting the shade of pink of my niece’s first birthday dress, the red of the heart shaped love letter I’d had tossed in my face a few weeks ago, the catalyst of this trip.

It was right about the time a booming shock wave knocked me on the ass of the deck of my boat and a huge wave crested and broke over the bow that I decided it was time to rouse my brother from his mid-day cat nap, with the ship’s cat aptly named Dickhead (short for Moby Dick). I needn’t have bothered to have the thought, my twin brother being as much as of a sailor as I. I had barely picked my now dripping self up to eye a suddenly becalmed sea when he burst out of the hatchway stairs, a set of parallel scratches on his bare chest to show where the cat had launched off at him when the ship bucked.

He took in my rather soaked state and the shade of the sky, his wide eyes reflecting the darkest shade of red. I watched his lips form the W sound, when I realized I heard nothing. Not the steady hum of the desalinator, the soft slap of waves on the hull, the faint whir of the wind turbine at the top of the mast, or my twin’s question. Thought what else could it be than “What the fuck?”

I shook my head and turned back to the wide expanse of ocean, which should have been relatively empty in this massive stretch between Hawaii and Tahiti. Instead the near horizon was filled with something massive and dark, sleek with the turquoise water of the Pacific spilling off it’s sides. Our beauty of a ship was not insubstantial, at a sturdy 85 feet long, but we were suddenly, utterly dwarfed by whatever took up the view to the south.

My twin’s hand gripped my shoulder and I jumped, bursting out “They don’t say what red sky at noon means!” At his wince I guessed I’d shouted in his ear, but at least I could distantly hear his response of, “You still haven’t answered my ‘What the fuck’, sis.”

Shaking my head, we looked out over the utterly still ocean to see something detach itself from the impossibly huge dark shape, heading right for us. A million possible courses of actions flitted through my head, and with the ease of the Navy’s long training I decided that waiting was the best course. Anything that appeared in a blaze of fire out of the sky wouldn’t be easily outrun, and since we were the only ship for a few hundred miles as far as we were aware (present company excepting) clearly we’d been targeted. Running away from someone who was gunning right for you was folly without more information.

My twin left my side briefly, only to reappear after a short stint below deck, now fully dressed albeit in his sailor style of board shorts and a blindingly yellow sun shirt. We stood on the starboard side and watched the shape head for us, my short Columbia dress already mostly dry in the high noon sun of the Middle Pacific Ocean.

We couldn’t quite make out the shape, other than to tell there was one, which seemed odd that I couldn’t put a word to it. Rectangular? Not quite, yet not quite round. Somewhere in between, but it had to be sleek based on the zero wake left behind it.

Writing Prompt: Answers

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     It should have shocked the breath from her, stolen her thoughts for just a moment. She was braced for it, eyes squished shut, full surfer’s wet suit tight against her, making her feel vaguely stifled as always. Instead she slipped into water which caressed her through the black suit, a soft welcome to an alien world.
     A rough grayish shape brushed past her right side, and she instinctively grabbed for it, her movements strangely coordinated despite the weight of the water. As she latched onto what she knew was the dorsal fin of a bottle nosed dolphin named Kevin as soon as she touched him, another part of her brain started muttering, “Since when can I breathe underwater?”
     She felt there were two of her, a woman who caught rides from dolphins named Kevin as a matter of course, and her landlubber side who rarely swam outside a chlorinated pool or hot tub and was still reaching for air where there was only water.
      :Of course you catch rides from me, every Saturday at this time. Why else would I be hanging out by a human pier?: She heard the words in her head, felt a strange burble of concern which was not her own, as half of her self was struggling with the not being freezing and choking for air, while the other half hung on as the dolphin, Kevin, dived deeper, heading due West away from shore at an easy clip for him.
     That corner of her self still trying to guess up from down as the light faded around them decided this was clearly too much, the last straw, chucked up her hands and went on vacation. She distinctly muttered to herself, “And don’t let the door of reason hit your ass on the way out!” which made less sense that she was mind talking a dolphin. Named Kevin, of course, what else would a talking dolphin be called?
     :Are you alright, Ambassador? You seem unduly confused.: Kevin’s voice placed in her mind again; curiously, the words seemed to have an orange tinge to them; alarm, she guessed. She opened her mouth to answer, sucked in a metric ton of water, and began to thrash, dropping her hold on Kevin’s fin, convinced she was about to drown.
     A moment later she gasped and snorted, tears and snot pouring down her face as the long rays of the evening sun caressed her face. She took a long time to just breath- actual air!-before realizing they were far from land. All her eyes could see once they cleared was the searing brightness of the sun washed ocean, stretching all the way to the incandescent horizon.
     The soft shimmer beside her in the cobalt blue waters turned into a dolphin’s blunt grey nose, one eye peering at her closely. The one shred of her mind still hanging around swarmed with questions, so she reached out and grabbed one at random.
     “How much magic are we talking about, here?” strangely relieved to hear her own voice, thin and reedy against the vast rolling ocean as it was.
      :What is your last memory of the ocean, Ambassador?: Kevin side stepped her own question entirely, but that dark round eye drew an answer from her. The truth was almost startled out, she didn’t have to think about it.
         “I grew up in the desert, hundreds of miles from any ocean. We visited a few times, last one was when my uncle died,” her voice trailing off at that bit, the thought a sore bruise she wanted to ignore, a strange tang of metal filling her mouth.
       :Oh dear, the Council warned us of this possibility.: He nudged her gently, concern seeming to radiate from him, a gentle purple in her head. :Let me take you home, the Council must be appraised and your Aunt Ursula summoned!:
     She was so startled by the incongruous appearance of a child’s villain’s name from the dolphin, she replied without thought. :Ursula? What does an evil sea with have to do with me? With all of….: she burst out before that small part of her thinking brain broke in, “Of course this involves an evil sea witch, why wouldn’t it?”
     :I’m sorry you believe Ursula evil, there is much to fix if this is so. Shall we continue, Ambassador? There is less time to waste, now.: Kevin turned into her, bumping her hand so she again grabbed him out of reflex, a move that felt oddly familiar and comfortable all at once.
     “What, go where? How do I…” she sucked her breath in and decided to go with the flow, having no option as Kevin barely waited for her grip to settle before he was diving again. She held on with purpose this time, she’d get her answers, even if she had to deal with a telepathic dolphin and a sea witch, possibly evil and possibly not, to get them.