Jungle Gym

Today you are at school, a third grader now. Your sister in first grade. This is the first time for you to be in a single grade class, no older or younger grades sitting with you. I don’t know your teacher, where your classroom is located, And for the first time, I didn’t take a […]

At seven minutes to seven the sun drenched the cabin


Good morning my dear one,

We left you with step-mom and dad yesterday after another week of turmoil. Turmoil is my word for it, maybe you would call it bliss because you came over to my house to stay until mom and dad worked out the kinks in their two year marriage. Daddy gets enraged and when he does the whole house shakes, actually the earth does too, maybe all of Bonny Doon knew something was amiss. We read that story of the horribly grumpy bull a few years back who everyone steered clear of when he was in the field because of his grumpy roars, charging hooves and red glowing eyes. But remember? It turns out that bull had a sticker in his back foot, and after some brave little creature, a bird, I believe, pulled it out, life changed for him, for everyone on the mountain. I wonder what is stuck in daddy’s foot, if it was remedied, would he, too, bask in the sun in the pasture of his blessed life and enjoy all of you more fully? Enjoy himself? Would mommy, too find more joy? Usually, dear fellow, its all more complicated than a sticker.

Then there’s your step-mom. She has her own demons that haunt her, chase her around sometimes get her. Its all grown up work, all pretty private and personal. Your job is to find your way through it all. Be a kid. Climb, run, swim, hike, draw, paint, put that nose in a good story. They will work it out when you are too busy playing to notice. I am glad mommy is back. That is why Grandpa and I could leave, we felt things were okay enough for you and your sister to be safe and attended to…your little brother is secure when everyone is in their places.

So here we are at the lake, seven minutes to seven the sun peeked, showed, then screamed its way into the cabin, warming everything in a flash. I sat waiting to notice the time, watching a merganser dip and glide alone, the only single life on the surface of the lake, while below fish slipped through the thick chilly gelatin lifting only their mouths to nip at the insects on the surface. The cabin danced with reflective ripples from the glassy lake, yellow light like the Aurora Borealis dancing up the stairs, across the stones of the fireplace, “Thine Be Ilke Joy and Treasure, Peace Enjoyment Love and Pleasure” Shines for a moment on the fireplace leaving Robbie Burns in the shadows. They lit up Annie lying on her dog bed attending to her food pad where something needed some licking. Then it stopped and the cabin was bathed in pure yellow light and warmth.

If you were here you’d be sitting in the chair I am in, in front of the fire drinking hot chocolate. Liza would be there, too, wrapped in her fuzzy blanket, the one with the giraffe print on it and yours around you with the zebra print. I can hear the chairs squeak as you jockey for the best place to be warmed by the fire. Take turns adding sticks, talk about yesterdays swim, fishing, the hard hike and what you’ll do today. But you are not here. I am letting you go for this trip to stay with your family, for me and Grandpa, who just got up (I bet he was waiting for the sun to come in) to be here at the cabin alone. All I hear is Annie’s licking, grandpas sniff and the pages of his magazine turn after he finishes reading the page. Tick, tick tick go my fingers on the ipad keyboard. I miss you all and leave you nestled there where I can imagine you getting ready for your art class, eating scrambled eggs, mommy  asleep…oh, that’s enough grandma, get back to the merganser, the nuthatch, the Siskins. Get back to the cabin. This is my week to unwind, pull out for awhile, hike, paddle and sit and watch the birds, the water and the sun come in the cabin each morning. I love you, gma

Camp Gateway

IMG_0717“Wash your face before we leave. Did you brush your teeth at daddy’s? Okay do that, too, and oh, your hair is snaggly at the back. Do you have panties on today? Here, stick these on. Hurry. We gotta go. ” Your sister is going to join us when I take you down to your summer camp. You go to Seymour Center, Ocean Explorer’s “Something’s Fishy” week with nine children your age. Go get your tennies, I know I know tennies is not a word anymore. Because you are going to hike the San Lorenzo River up at Cowell Redwoods. Today you talk about and explore the Coho habitat.You told me you found an unfamiliar sculpin in the tidepool yesterday.You are more bubbly than  Liza’s toothpaste this morning and tell me about everything.

Your sister does, too. She learned to juggle and has a friend and likes the big playground and the kids are nice and she was a little shy but now she isn’t (already in just one day), she says. Wipe that toothpaste off your mouth. Get your water shoes and get in the car. We are off.

I am happy, so happy. I just got home, from all the dropping off and a quick stop at the store. I took Liza first so she could show you her new playground with the cool monkey bars. You will join her there after we go to Echo Lake for ten days next week, just me and grandpa and your sister. You and she will go everyday all day to the camp near the lighthouse, Camp Gateway. It’s just what you need, to play, get out from under, to enjoy yourself. You are limited at home these days by the “don’t go past the tree” rule, the no bikes, no climbing, no digging rules and then no water. Yikes. Held back, unable and began to feel resentful, trapped. Gateway, a good name, yes, lets push it open and keep it that way all summer so you can run, ride, climb, dig and splash.

I loved the lightness I felt, a relief and a ping of pleasure when I dropped you off, one at a time, and watched you enter the room and be greeted by people who like you, people you are sharing ideas and explorations with…keeping that gate open for you this summer. love gma

Picking Berries


Yesterday gave us a warm sunny day. Yesterday I got up early, wrote for a few hours, took a nap then walked to the garden. You and your sister and brother were in the fenced yard, I could hear you playing. Yesterday I filled the birdbaths, as the chickadees and the sparrows waited for me to get out of their way. They dipped into the clear water, twisting, flapping and splashing-one or two at a time. Raucous fun for a bird. When you heard the water you leaned over the railing and asked to join me. Daddy said okay. Mommy’s friend was in from out of town helping out for a few days. You looked happy, relaxed, cared for and attended to.

I handed you a berry basket. Picking berries, Olallieberries is work that your sister hates. She gets too many scratches and pricks for comfort. She whines at every speck of red blood. She thinks the berry juice is blood, too. She decides to stay home. Only pick the black ones, I remind you. Watch out for poison oak at the back of the rows there. You tell me that you already noticed it and duck under it to get to the last row. When we already have three strawberry baskets full, you find two raspberries from canes I thought died a year back. You offer me one on your palm. Its the sweetest I ever tasted, you say. I wonder if its because we didn’t expect to find a raspberry? I ask you.

When something is rare and you find it, it makes it more special. Its like that with everything, you respond. Grandma, Remember when I told you that you are my sunshine, like the song?

I remember. It was in the car, two days ago and we were listening to Vicki’s CD on the way to the last day of school. I will never forget what you said.

You told me to pause the music and said, I just now understand that song. It was a sad dream, like maybe the boy’s grandma or someone special died and he had a good dream but when he woke up she wasn’t there because she died or something. Maybe she just moved away, but I think she died and he is so sad that he cried. But he still sings about her. And he calls her his sunshine, because she made him feel warm and bright like the sun. And, Grandma, you said to me, tears in your eyes, you are my sunshine. You choked back tears surprised by your own emotion. You touched the wetness on your cheek. I touched mine and patted you on the knee.

Well, you say, mouth bursting with purple juice, “that was true about you being my sunshine. I hope I never will have my sunshine taken away and that you will be alive to meet my kids. They will be your great grandchildren. You will love them. And maybe you will be their sunshine, too. Please be healthy and live for thirty more years.”

That’s my plan, buddy. You must have been so scared when your step-mom was sick, even now watching her, hearing her struggle with all the hard work of healing. Worried that she may not get better, you want to plan, assure your safety. Keenly aware of how fragile life can be.

Yes, you can take one basket to your mommy.

She loves these berries, Grandma.

I have eight baskets, almost enough for a pie. Want to pick again in two or three more days? Then we can roll out the dough, pile in our berries and….

Can you get ice cream for it?

Of course.

Grandma, its okay if we have a couple of reds one in a pie, right?

Sure it ads some sweet to the tart. Makes it perfect. Like life.

“You’ll always know dear, (giggle) how much I love you. Bye Grandma.”

Bye, Sunshine.

Hey, am I your sunshine, too?

You know you are. gma

Do you remember your dreams?


Hi, Buddy. Good Morning.

I had dreams last night that I remember as if they really happened. Does that happen to you? I know your mommy likes to hear about your dreams. And sometimes when you tell me about them, you are dreaming them as you speak, inventing images and ideas on the spot. What an imagination you have. If Ellie stands leaning against my hip, her dreams appear in competition with yours and then all dreaming stops and storytelling begins in earnest. Is there a difference?

I experience them quite differently. My dreams are like the little flakes of calcium that dislodge from the inner lining of my teakettle. They are small fragments that come together is odd, strange, funny and sometimes disturbing ways to make a story ” behind my eyes” as you explained once about dreams. The flakes are not connected at all and then sometimes become one related story.

Last night behind my eyes I was at Seymour Center, UCSC’s Long Marine Lab, for a celebration of some kind, people were dressed up, but I wore shorts and t shirt and flip flops. I was hungry but the food was so fancied up I couldn’t tell what it really was, so I couldn’t eat a thing. I slipped off my flipping and flopping shoes to sneak into the kitchen for something to eat and joined a party of workers having a party of their own. They were eating huge tuna sandwiches they had made, there were platters of them, with grated carrots and grated beets and tomatoes piled high. They asked me to join them. But then I had to help departing guest find their cars. I was barefoot. My flip flops were not where I had left them. My backpack was gone, too. “I am a fancy guest” “I donated money. I am…(I really said this in my dream)….a millionaire. Don’t judge a book by its cover” Why would they believe me? I was barefoot, had no identification like my driver’s license or anything. So I had to go outside in the dark and escort people to their cars and my feet got scraped, bumped, and bruised.

After everyone left, I said good bye to the sharks in the tank, the otter without and ear and the sea lion cub. And found my flip flops in the tank. They had sunk to the bottom ( rules of science don’t apply in this dream). I am not a good swimmer, but I dived down and got them. The sea lion cub, slid along my body, and like Mickey in the Night Kitchen I somehow had become naked. The slippery cub was lovely, warm and it’s touch welcomed. I dried off, picked up my pack, opened it to check for my wallet but my pack was full of cash, paper money bulging out. I pulled it out by the handful and put it all in the clear donation box by the door. Found my car and drove away. Stopped, went back and Returned to the kitchen party and got one more of those tuna sandwiches. THE END

Some links to real life:

I bought new flip flops for my trip to Brazil. I love them.

My wallet was bulging with money after I exchanged my reals for dollars.

You are going to a Sea Explorers summer camp in June at Seymour Center.

I loved the tuna sandwich at the acai place in Florianopolis, Brasil.

I went to bed a bit hungry.

The crazy house cleaner threw out toys, sox, papers and clothes that she dug out from under your couch mixed with mouse droppings. We discovered that the two pairs of shoes Id gotten each of you kids before I left on vacation were missing or half missing. Yesterday I found only one of yours, your brothers and one of your sisters new flip flops.

I re parked all the cars yesterday so the dump run guy, Rocky, could take away one shoe from each pair of your shoes along with other things I cannot imagine. Other things that will prove to be missing at some point.

I am not a millionaire.

I am a misfit in fancy social settings.

I am and always will be a working class kid.

I have a vivid imagination and dream in color.

Happy Dreaming, buddy. I hope you remember your dreams from time to time and will enjoy trying to make sense of them. gma


the Vest

people riding horses on beach
Photo by Bianca on Pexels.com

I shortened my breath, pulled through a stack of clean laundry, flung hangars aside searching. I had to find it. Today I must, I knew, wear that vest. My favorite, I have had it for years. Tears streaming, hiccuping with emotion, desperate for the comfort, familiarity. Lost, It has to be here. Sweats, wool sox, foggy outside, a cotton long sleeved layered up. But that vest…..Oh there you are. I slip in one arm then another, zip up, slowly like you do with those brass metal zippers. I has that good zip sound, deep like shuffling a deck of cards. I put it on and am protected. Ready for whatever hard thing that’s coming next.

It’s my writing vest, especially when I know I am tackling a difficult scene. My vest, the one I bought at a feed and tack store over twenty years ago, is dark green, quilted, lightly filled. Tattered. Its been through it all. It may have been made for horseback riding. I see a tiny horse on the zipper pull.

I wore it on trails, I wore it when I was afraid. Afraid of everything some days. Out there in the woods, trying to escape the demons.

Today I will go back to Your daddy and step-mom’s house. Tackle stacks of papers, dirty clothes, old food, broken toys and rodent droppings. I’ll wear gloves, a mask and take my bottle of disinfectant. You live here all the time. You manage mask-less, no vest, no gloves. How do you do it? You just do, right? You are a kid. You cope.

Yesterday a social worker came to your house when I was cleaning, Auntie Robin was washing the dishes. Most of the stuff from the house was outside covered by tarps, bags and bags in the dump run pile. She saw a different house than your mommy and daddy left. She saw counters, floors and medications stored away. She heard from someone that you and your sister and brother were living in squalor, that you lived with rodents, their droppings, ate spoiled food and that mommy and daddy’s medicines were not secure. All of that was true. And my sister and I worked hard to make it go away this week. We scrubbed and sorted and I am doing more today.

I am washing your clothes, loads and loads of them. I am polishing the floors, sweeping away the rodent poo and cobwebs. I am covering for your step mom. SAnd Dad. He is in a little trouble with CPS. He will have to do better for you. He knows and has a hard time following the rules. Mommy knows too.

She said she was sorry.

When they come back I will have rules, too. Rules about cleanliness, safety and reasonable expectations. I know mommy is going to have a hard time out of the hospital, but she will get used to it. She will get stronger. She will need your help. And so will daddy. But remember they are the grown ups. It is their job to keep you safe, healthy and growing strong and smarter. Your job is to be kind to your sister, your bother, and parents. Love them and yourself. Play, pick up after yourself and feed the chickens. I can help. But only for awhile, then I have to rest. And as long as I wear my vest I can be a super hero. For you. gma

I am Orion

oatcreekIn a school writing assignment you say, “I was named Orion because it is in the sky. I am called Ryan, but also “o” and Monkey. If you are looking for me you will find me fishing or swimming. They are two of my favorite things to do. I could be eating meat or plants fresh from my garden. There is a good chance that I am in the woods because I am a nature boy. Twenty years from now I will be a marine biologist, a zoologist and a fisherman. I hope to work at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and be a scientist. But for now you will see a boy that flaps his wings and plays mostly with girls. That’s me.

If I were in charge of the world

I’d cancel rules and adults and also all cleaning.

There would be pets for a dollar and no two hundred dollar ones.

We wouldn’t have chain saws or poachers

We wouldn’t have guns.

If I were in charge of the world,

I would be a dragon

My homes would be candy.

A Person who sometimes forgot to go to the bathroom

And sometimes forgets to clean up

Would still be allowed to be in charge of the world.


Of the same cloth

I sometimes call your uncle AJ your name. I catch myself and apologize. One time AJ said you really love Ryan, don’t you? I told him, “And I really love you, too. Thats why I call both of you the other’s name.” You are in a tiny little file folder in my brain with those I am very fond of, those I adore, those I have cared for, know well, enjoy, those boys, I guess, little boys who charmed me. AJ is grown up and I still feel the boy I knew years ago even as he stands there in front of me as a man. He liked animals too, you know. He used to play with his animal figures in the dirt and the rocks and imagine things happening. His play was private, purposeful and absolutely necessary. Yours is like that, too.

You are pulled to squat down and place families of animals, their eco mates and predators on the ground together. Then facilitate their interactions.

I wonder if you might grow up to be like your uncle? He spotted birds from the car as we whizzed by on the highway way out on the savannah in the trees. He called out when he saw rheas, hawks, falcons, toucans and parrots. And always saw the mammals first on walks. You do that, too. You have binocular eyes like he does. He’s a surfer, an adventurer and traveler. He likes to learn the languages of the countries he visits. He makes friends where ever he goes. I watched him meet people and ask them about the food, their favorite place to get a salad, to walk and get dinner, to see the history of the people in Brazil. He could google, but he told me that he prefers to chat with people.

I want to tell you more and more about Uncle AJ because I just had such a great visit with him. I realized now that my littlest boy is grown that he is a wonderful man that I would like even if he wasn’t my son. He is funny, generous, kind, optimistic, friendly, loving, thoughtful and brilliant. All those things. And this was the first time I felt his protectiveness, care and love for me from his grown up self so clearly. Very sweet to have him walk in back of me, hold my elbow at steps and door jambs, tell me to look out for uneven walkways and carry my bags. That’s what we used to call being a gentleman. Gentle. It was nice to feel him taking care of me. I was deeply touched. I didn’t want to say good bye.

Maybe someday you will go places to see animals, walk incredible trails, swim across pristine lakes in far away places and climb amazing mountains. Someday you will speak in other languages with people you never met. You will find yourself too, as you explore. Learn things about humanity, diversity, their struggles and the amazing resilience of the human spirit. And learn about yourself too. I can see it. If you hold my hand, tell me about the bumps on the path and walk next to me, I will join you. You and Uncle AJ are cut from the same cloth, woven together in my heart and mind. I adore both of you. See you soon…unless there is a storm in Houston, that is. And Uncle AJ, maybe he will come visit Santa Cruz again soon. Until then, I am happy to have seen him in a place he has made his new home, his Brasil. Gma       img_0593


I watch a little girl crying as her mother peddles down the street on her rickety bike, loaded with parcels, hanging off each side like a bee heading back to the hive thighs packed with pollen. She has a baby in a plastic chair attached to the handlebars secured with a strip of cotton fabric. And she is noticeably pregnant. Her shiny black hair stirs as they bump over the uneven ground. The little girl tosses her head back and wails to the sky. Only once did I see the mother scold the child. She had seen me watching her, I smiled and blew them a kiss…maybe embarrassed her and she flung her arm back missing the girls face by a hair. The child growled. And I thought of your sister, the way she growls sometimes, wails, calls into the sky for help.

I wonder how shes managing without her step-mom to ground her, to pull her in close and assure her that everything will be okay. I imagine your daddy unable to do that. I imagine your daddy spinning in circles, looking for a center place to focus. I imagine you dropping to the floor and playing, pretending you are and animal in his nest, wondering if another hospital stay could mean that step-mom is dying, wondering if I will ever come home, from my vacation, singing a private song to soothe yourself, then lifting your arms and flying away out into the yard to perch in your roost in the loquat tree between Grandpas office and your house, scooting to the top and watching down the road for anyone to arrive. Anyone at all.

I didn’t come back when mommy got  sick. I stayed with AJ in Brasil. Stayed with Grandpa. We agreed it was best to stay here, to walk the jungles, listen to the falls, look for birds and mammals and collect stories to tell you and Liza when we get back. Teach you new words, show you maps and offer you a fresh perspective, a peek into what happens in the big world while yours there from the top of that tree must feel pretty messed up. You must feel lonely. I hope not too worried.

I am sorry if I made the wrong decision. Maybe I should be home, taking care of you all. And I am not.

I will be home on Tuesday. Maybe you can miss school on Wednesday, stay home with me and we can listen to each others stories. You talk and I talk and both of us will open our hearts to your step-mom fighting her illness. We will find kindness for daddy as your daddy is confused, worried and lonely, too.

I wish for that little girl on the back of the bike, the baby and that peddling mommy that they have a place to fall softly and rest after their day. Maybe they have a grandma at home and she is that place. I love you, GmaIMG_0281

Mommy in hospital

wilder family

Hey buddy. What a time for you. I am on a vacation with Grandpa. We are in Brazil for another week. I hear that your step-mom is sick. She had something called a stroke. It makes it hard for her to walk and move one of her arms. Her face may look a little different, too. I am so far away that I haven’t seen mommy, but you have, She is in a hospital that will help her get better. I wonder how you are. How your sister and brother are managing. I think your daddy is probably very upset and busy helping mommy feel safe and cared for. I hope you get some of that too.

If you get worried please ask daddy or my sister, Auntie Robin to help you understand. Uncle Neal, Grammy and Robin are good at telling you what you wonder about. I think you may be spending the night at different places while daddy sorts himself out, soon you will be back to your routine. That will feel good. Maybe you could draw your mommy some pictures or Skype with her. That would make her happy. I bet she misses you. When I caught a piranha today in the river, I wished you were here. I wanted to show you the toucans, the river otters and the giant anteater. I wanted to hold you and listen to your questions. I wanted to hold you while you cried. I love you buddy. Your step-mom has a good doctor to heal her. gma