In 1975, I biked my dog to Stanford campus. At Tressider Union, I drank coffee. He rested under the table. Afterwards, we stopped at Lake Lag. Cas retrieved sticks, swimming murky water. “Two-thirds what it was,” the old timers said.
In 2012, my niece moved into a dorm that backed onto a weedy, muddy shadow of Lake Lag. I expected it to fill with rainy season water. No luck, dry like this year.
Hundred year drought we’re in. Arsenic blows off a drying Great Salt Lake, a hazard to fish and people. Climate cycle, climate change, it’s too damn hot.
The last time we met you was before Zoom was the go-to way to say “Hello.” A long time ago, but we remember.
Your three year old was a baby. She’s distant, no interest in meeting strangers. As long as you hold my phone for her, she likes the photo of the lizard camouflaged in the dirt.
“The ground is moving.” Enough to entice a child to get acquainted. It’s a tuft of dried grass, to be precise. A nose pushes up, sniffing the air, reluctant, the way we were when we took the risk to picnic in the park.
Flax fields grew atop a rocky mountain. Never suspecting they would be trampled, the pretty blue flowers waved at trucks filled with chemicals. They expected to become fiber, fabric, clothing, paper; to end in a spark of light and heat, ascending to the sun. That is what their ancestors had done.
But they were destined to die under machines that would mine shale, producing oil that would make polyester, gas that would become electricity to power the paper of the internet. Their glory short lived, the flowers photosynthesized carbon from the atmosphere, but not enough to cool the warming earth.
Hans Christian Anderson, The Flax inspired this story.
Kiki sent her novel to scads of agents. Despite what she considered electric prose, the rejections streamed in like greased lightning. The book was not marketable. More often than not, she thought she wasn’t talented.
Throwing herself into producing fluff for lifestyle e-zines, Kiki churned out travel stories and dating tips. She started getting published. Quitting her barista job, she used the time gained to write stories that more and more revealed the true Kiki. Something about the process gave her strength. Something about writing for herself made the stories sing. Something about hitting a different note led to success.
My parents sent me to this stupid camp. Wooden cabins, steel spring bunks. You can’t bring phones. No internet. Nothing happening here anyway.
That’s why they did it. I live my life online. They say I’m missing out. “Swim in a lake, hike, pick up rocks and learn to skip them along the shore,” they said. “Breathe fresh air.”
It did get fresh, I’ll admit that. There’s a boy’s camp close by. My friend and I snuck out one night. We played board games in the moonlight. Who knew the counselors did bed checks? What did my parents expect?
For Kat’s birthday, Grant made a board game. He scoured thrift shops, looking for tokens. The game squares read: darkest secret, childhood fear, favorite sexual position. They played together. Sometimes with close friends. She liked the heart token. He liked the stallion. The Identity Forest, a square decorated with tall oaks surrounded by question marks, asked: “Do you know yourself?” The answer was in the True Confessions stack. One card said, “I’ll marry Grant.” If a friend read it, they had a laugh. But he proposed each time she landed on that square, in case Kat drew the desired answer.
She sublet her apartment and set her toothbrush next to his. That lasted for a week. She bought a blue ceramic bathroom set. “To match your eyes,” she told him. There were other changes. She left her clothes strewn on the floor after showering. She made fresh brownies and left them on the kitchen table. Her smell clung to his clothes all the time instead of just occasionally. He breathed it in when he was patrolling the streets, responding to domestic disputes and bringing homeless people into shelters. The smell of her made some things easier. So did the chocolate.
I hold my five year old’s hand and say, “Surprise me.” Eyes closed, remembering a stubbed toe, my bare feet inch forward expecting Matchbox cars left on the carpet.
Though I can’t see, I can feel the closeness of a hall. Maybe it leads to the playroom where the floor is littered with Legos, Brios, and baby dolls having tea next to stuffed bears. “You can open your eyes, Mama.” The space is neat, the blocks stacked in their chest, the animals lounging on shelves. Picnic’s black button nose glints white. Jaimie holds him tight and says, “We cleaned up.”