Every Sentence Begins with the Wind

Dec 31, 2023

Dear Animal,

A few years back, you and I, Animal, worked with a local blacksmith to build a typewriter backpack. I wanted to hike and write. Typewriters were originally invented by gun manufacturers, as it turns out, and there was a war in the woods where we lived. I wanted to listen more deeply, to translate the voice of the natural world (bang, bang, bang) onto the page.

Here in Sunshine, in this season, the typewriter hangs on the wall near the door, because my fingers get too cold. But, this place has plenty to say.

Every sentence begins with the wind. 

The wind hit this row of mailboxes from the side, and the morning after the storm they are agape. Look at the one hanging by a hinge. Everyone is ordering the holidays on Amazon. The wind will pick up packages and carry them up your driveway. The force of nature.

I live now in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Behind our house, a glacier cleaved the hillside, and it is through that channel that the wind comes. The prow of the house is angled into the wind. You hear it first like a rush. The word ‘rush’, my midwife used it as a term for contractions when I was in labour with my babies, ‘here comes the rush’. And, now, yes, here it comes. It has that kind of vigour, that rush which becomes howl; it’s a contraction, and here, at the beginning of the new year it is pushing something new into being. I ring the doormat with rocks to hold it down, but wind kicks rock aside and the doormat sails down the mountain. Even when 14 inches of snow fall, gravity can’t keep it on the ground. Try to walk, I do, but it is an ice blender. Even my ears fill with ice. I hide in bed in the night with the animals as a giant tries to loosen our moorings, flip the house. That’s the wind.

A sunset over a snowy mountain

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There are techniques for survival; the Bristlecone Pine squats wide like a wrestler when the wind comes to blows. We cut one of these pines (one that was encroaching on the septic field) for a Christmas tree. Ha. No ornament hook can find purchase on their brawny arms. Last year we had a cedar tree that bowed if you set a paper snowflake on it. Here I could hang rocks. 

A tree branch with lights and a mushroom on it

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Indeed, rocks are beautiful enough to be ornamentation. The tree gets decorated after dinner, and the wind yells all night. By morning, you see the result. Soft snow becomes ridged peaks and architectural arches, planed by the wind. I also find one of my sofa cushions half a mile away.

Everything is in movement. 

A large group of logs on a rocky beach

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I forgot to tell you that I went back to Canada for American Thanksgiving. I missed the Golden Chanterelle but made it in time for the Winters. My bestie, Tanya, and I run to the forest like it’s recess. We sink into the deep moss and begin to pick. I don’t use a knife when I mushroom, but I pick clean, pinching the hollow golden stem just above the forest floor. If you pull them up, you get forest duff in your mushroom bag, and then you have to use a lot of water to clean them, and that dilutes the flavour. If you pick every one with a pinch, then cleaning can be done without water. 

A hand holding mushrooms in the forest

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The Winters are tiny, hollow trumpets. When it is time to cook, you should tear the little trumpet in half lengthwise, as there is often a single fir needle in the throat. Pull that out and rub any bits of duff away. That’s how I do it, anyway. It’s painstaking, and it’s perfect. Lots of terroir.

A pile of mushrooms on a table

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Getting the food to the counter is generally as far as I want to go. Left to my own devices, when the garden is going, I like to take a hard-boiled egg or chunk of cheese and just wander in the garden, nibbling herb, leaf, flower, pod. That’s my perfect meal. But, Tanya loves to cook. A mound of clean Chanties on the counter. 

A pan with food in it

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They hold a lot of water, and she cooks them in small batches, pouring off the juices that pool in the pan. This is careful. She wants them to brown and doesn’t move them until each surface has had enough time and heat. She is patience personified. I am a person who cooks most things on high, just to get ‘er done. I ask her about her process.  

She quotes our friend, June, who is a brilliant seamstress. Tanya once asked her how her sewing projects turn out so well. June said simply, “I don’t skip a step.” Tanya cooks like that. Don’t skip a step. That idea is infused with love. Love reminds me not to skip a step, particularly, in a culture that urges me to bound ahead. 

Don’t skip a step. Snowed-in here in Sunshine,  I have a lot of silence, and these words linger. I bring more attention to the steps of helping a teenager think about the future. The steps of learning a new grocery store, even (where is the polenta, goddammit?). There are steps I have taken two at a time, that now I notice. 

But, yes, the things I love, making theatre, cleaning mushrooms, walking, yes, I linger long in each moment. Finding the right word, the right design choice, the right time to breathe when six woodpeckers convene around me in a stand of pine, hammer out their impromptu concert. 

Don’t skip a step. Even in the journey to fall in love with a new place. 

I’m driving to Denver in the middle of the night to pick my husband up from a flight that was three times delayed. Spotify is throwing me all the great breakup hits. Breaking up with home is a step I have skipped. I sing Cake’s version of ‘I Will Survive’: “Go on now go, walk out the door, don’t turn around now, you’re not welcome anymore.”

I figure out another step I have skipped. That’s getting a dog. 

A dog means home. I’ve been without a dog for several years because last time I made a 120-pound mistake, a guardian dog named Petrichor. Her name describes the smell of the first rain after a long drought, and she came to my dog-dry heart. And ‘guardian dog’ sounds like a protector, but it means a dog that takes care of flocks, not, um, me. Petra ran away constantly looking for animals. If I came into the room, she looked pained. I had to bribe her to get her to do anything. My biopic from that era would be titled, ‘So Many Sausages’. After several months, I rehomed her to a turkey and goat farm in Willams Lake, where her best friend is a pony named Chuckles who follows her everywhere.

To find a dog in Colorado, Google Maps leads the way. We are heading to a puppy rescue in a tiny town called Mead. I miss a turn, and Google Maps takes me down County Road 3 1/2. A wiggle of a road to a very small dog.

The puppies are in a heated garage, playing in a soft tunnel, inside, out, and through — I would have to invent new prepositions to properly describe the way they navigate space in puppy chaos. Two pregnant Chiweenies from Texas gave birth within a week of each other and co-nursed two litters. There were 14 pups in all. When we leave, two days later with 3 pounds of puppy, I am 13 siblings and two moms. 

I couldn’t afford a trained emotional support animal for my kiddo. This is homebrew. We lucked out. Little Pinto is puppy Velcro. All he wants is your lap. I walk with him in a sling inside my puffer jacket, because a Chiweenie pelt is no match for this mountain in winter. He woofles, which means he wants to walk and then gallops valiantly beside me in his too-big plaid coat. 

A puppy playing with a pink stuffed animal

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And yes, I am trying to potty train a three-pound hairless dog from Texas in an ice hurricane. Cheese motivates him. I tuck him in my parka and carry him to a patch of meadow that I have shovelled. He has his own coat, but the straps under his belly seem to interfere with peeing. So, I put him down naked and give a command. When he starts to shiver, I tuck him back inside my coat. I feel him heating up, like a jacket potato. Then, he is ready to walk again, and trots behind me, letting my boots break the path in the snow. 

The first time he met a hill, Pinto was baffled. It gets harder than this? I feel his surprise so keenly. That has been the undercurrent of the last five months, the false promise of arrival, the various barriers that stun me. It gets harder than this? 

The cat is confused. She can smell that Pinto is a wolf, but he is the size of snack food. Cat twitches with annoyance, pup shivers with fear. By the end of the first week, they smell each other. Nose touches nose. As soon as things warm between them, the pup, short 13 siblings and two moms, wants to play and pounces on her fluffy tail. The cat leaps onto the counter. Maybe someday they will snuggle together to sleep. We are not there yet. Don’t skip a step.  

A dog sleeping on a blanket

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We are walking again, and Pinto startles at sounds: magpie, ring of an axe, passing SUV. His eyes tell me what it is to be new and naked and displaced. Oh, pupper, I know. This is why getting a dog is a step I cannot skip. I am his translator. Taking the chaos of his experience and making safety, warmth and cheese. I am the only animal who says ‘It’s gonna be okay’. This is not different, Animal, than what we often told audiences in our work together. Theatre is a place of safety, warmth, and if not cheese, at least inventive concessions. Pinto falls asleep, his ears still akimbo from the wind. 

A chalkboard with pictures and tassels

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I take the step of joining a yoga studio in Boulder. I’ve been a member of the Sticky Mat Nation since 1993, on and off. COVID took me online. I’m back, and the yoga class is full; we are almost mat to mat, a line of weather systems. When I have to ask people to scooch their mats closer together so I can get in, I say, ‘Thank you, for finding room.’ And the yogini beside me replies, “You would do the same for me.”

Well, one can hope. Kindness for kindness. Kind faces are also capable of evil; yes, evil is also in this crowded room. Early in the class we are stretching and have our left feet hanging over our neighbour’s left shoulder. Mine hers, his mine. I haven’t been this close to strangers since COVID. Wait, that’s wrong, I say to myself, thinking of subway cars and airplanes. It’s the wind that’s different. It’s breathing each other in. It comes back to the wind. 

Our teacher reminds us that the practice is all about learning to breathe in difficult situations. We start with child’s pose and end with corpse. I died when I was 19, in a rock climbing accident deep in the wilderness, but through the grace of the EMT who happened to be climbing nearby, I got another shot. I never thought I’d make it this far.  

My son, who loves to bake, made me a pie for my birthday. But, #teenager couldn’t wait for the party to have a slice. I’m grateful to have the metaphor of something missing as I start a new turn around the sun. 

A wall of colorful signs

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Tanya has a ‘Yes’ button by her front door. Push it, and variously it will tell you, ‘Sure thing. You betcha. Absolutely. Affirmative. 100%. Certainly. I’m in. Amen. Indubitably. Positively. Yeppers.’

Are you putting on your shoes, about to enter the fray? Coming home from a shithole day? ‘Finegoodokaytrueyea’.

I order a ‘Yes Button’ for Christmas. Maybe I will throw in a laptop sticker from Boulder’s indie bookstore. ‘Yay! Flip Flops!”

My teen will get the ‘No Button’ in his stocking. Not that he has any trouble saying no. He is the reigning world champ. It’s to save him the trouble of having to say anything, because mothers are so much trouble as it is. Yay! Mothers!

The Yes button is a reminder to reckon with reality. No snow called for and 11 inches arrive? Absolutely. The one friend my kid makes is transferring schools? Affirmative. My heart still aching for home four months in? 


A dog standing next to a red button

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Alexa is giving me a flash news briefing as I make oatmeal. She is speaking of the Problem of Evil.  This problem is in my feed and in my in-box, and in yours, I am not alone. It’s in the bloody battlefield of the heart, where I struggle to do the right thing, to stay on the side of Justice, which is not maybe sensical financially, and is seriously fucking with my sleep. 

The Problem of Evil is there as I go into Michael’s to get grey clay for my kid’s diorama, leaving him in the car. He is lost in his book. I say, ‘I’m in the building with the red awning’, and ‘I’m going to lock you in.’ I don’t say, ‘if there is a shooter in the parking lot hide down in the wheel well’. I stand outside the car trying to figure out if inside the store is safer, where I might be able to shield him with my body. I never thought like this in Canada, about the porousness of my child in a violent culture. I worry about Trump and ‘Yay! Fascism!’. I lock that out. As if I could. Like the wind, it can’t be stopped. 

So yeah, the Problem of Evil is all around, but I find new approaches to the answer at the University.

A building made of legos

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I don’t know why the University has a Lego version of itself in a Plexiglass box on campus. But squint, and you can see some of the philosophers I meet there. 

I am invited to dinner at the house of a couple of philosophers who are also a philosopher couple. He wears a cat shirt. She baked her way alphabetically through a master cake cookbook during COVID and does aerial silks. They serve us homemade challah and Impossible Burger meatballs, and every mouthful is a masterpiece. Philosophers don’t talk about the Meaning of Life nearly as much as you might imagine. Instead, Math: whether it might be possible to cipher as you play pool and win every time. I had assumed that since I have a calculator on my iPhone, the number-crunching imperative in my life was met. Consider this: if you have a high-speed brain, then you can do the math of skiing, calculating your way down the mountain in real time. 

I don’t know how to ski, but I count how many times I can make them laugh. Yay! Jokes!

Over salad, there is a passing mention of the Problem of Evil: the mathematical problem. I stop them there. 

Now, each of these philosophers, including my husband, can talk to only 200 people in the world — that is how specialized the knowledge base is — so I am cautious when I ask them to explain Evil with Math. I think I understand it now, Animal, and can therefore translate it into the language you will understand, that is, the theatre. 

Start with the protagonist – an all-seeing, all-knowing God – and place Him on the set of the world. It’s site-specific, of course. God can act there, along with the complete cast of evil. Now, watch, and observe yourself; the blocking, the play, and keep your eye on the crowd scenes. There you will find the ratios of God to Evil. Is there a point, perhaps in the third act, where the cast of Evil is so large, so overwhelming, that it undermines your willing suspension of disbelief that there is a God at all? Math is there for the denouement, to calculate the probability, you know, given the amount of evil, that there is or isn’t a God. Math, like theatre, comes to definitive endings. But as the news gets worse, one can remount and get a new result. 

If you are curious and want to work it out yourself, I got the formula for the Problem of Evil over a delicate saffron flan with pomegranate seeds… P(h|e) = P(e|h) x P(h)/P(h) x P(e|h) + P(not-h) x P(e|not-h).

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I work this out in my head as we drive back up the mountain. I get God. Maybe it’s the additional term of C(h)m|S, that is, Christmas music on Spotify. I start to tell my husband the answer, but the wind kicks up again, and he has to concentrate on the middle line through the blowing snow. God and Evil wait for another day.

I’m not sure what step is next. At the beginning of yoga, the teacher says, “With wind like this, you must be feeling pretty scattered.” 

I make a peanut butter sandwich for my kid’s lunch, but forget to include the peanut butter. Or the second piece of bread. “Mom, why was there one piece of bread in my lunch?” I come up with an explanation, but it is lost to the wind because he has rolled his window down, as per usual.

A snowy road with trees and power lines

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He sticks his head into the freeze as we wend our way up the mountain. The gusts loosen the school day, and he shakes his head. It will be gone by the time we get back home. The song ‘Littlest Bird’ by the Be Good Tanyas comes on. We shout the line, “You pass through places, and places pass through you.” I mean, my yoga teacher is right, I am scattered, but the wind does more than that. It drives this place inside me, day by day. I let the drifts accumulate now. What else can I do?

There is a poem by Taliesin that I once learned as an actress for a training text. I know this part by heart: 

“I was in many shapes before I was released, 

I was a slender enchanted sword, 

I was raindrops in the air, 

I was stars’ beam, 

I was a word in letters, 

I was a book in origin, 

I was a lantern of light for a year and a half, 

I was a path, 

I was an eagle, 

I was coracle in seas.”

Beautiful, eh? “I was a lantern of light for a year and a half.” Now that’s my kind of job description. 

I imagine Taliesin and that shape-shifting, allowing himself to be swallowed into various forms of life: now raindrops, now word, now coracle in seas. There would be stillness and dissolution, solidity and temporality. It might take a while to reckon with the difference of being, say, a path instead of a human. It might take some learning. Maybe a year and a half to dissolve the dark stain of the species and just be lantern. It’s solstice today, and I am thinking about Taliesin’s journey. He knows life. 

You do this, Animal. Theatre is this. To write a play you need all of the characters within you. And site-specific theatre features the character of landscape. To make it, you have to stretch the size of human skin. Instead, take this shape.…

A snowy landscape with trees and rocks

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I am a rock, small in my mitten, and large, blunt horizon. I am snow falling into silence, and snow crunch. I am ice blender, but only for about 10 minutes, as that is all I can hack. I am the multiplication of moon on snow for a long sleepless night. I am drifts pushed. I am the hurt of cold for the year and a half it takes me to get back from the mailbox in the storm. 

A tree covered in snow

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I am paws of the bristlecone as I hold fistfuls of snow and polka-dotted hillsides of white. I am snow airborne. I am the cold that takes away breath and wind that moves stone. I blow gold up the mineshaft into my hand as I wait at the mouth of the mine. I am wrestler trees, and I fight and fight and fight to stay standing in conditions like this. It requires so much strength.

A group of chocolate chip cookies

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And, yes, I’m high-altitude baking mishaps. I am trying again, new in the new year. 

A toothbrush in a sink

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I’m the toothbrush given to me at the dentist in a plastic wrapper with bristles with a ‘toothpaste infusion’. Oh, my species, that we can figure out toothpaste-infusion but not Evil. Humanity is like what you would get if you put distraction and invention in an ice blender and hit PULSE. I spend a solid five minutes as a toothpaste-infused disposable toothbrush. Then I follow the receptionist’s instructions and throw it away.

Two boxes of candy canes

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And of course, I am life-giving sustenance, in the form of Twinkies flavoured CANDY CANES at the checkout line of Michael’s. I’m the imploding Death Star of consumer culture. 

A close-up of a mushroom on a branch

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I have been the rainforest, wet and fecund, where every colour of green had a baby, where all those babies ever-gain pounds of green, and grow, and always reaching up. I have been that life filling every crevice, abundant, expanding. I’ve been soft, like logs eaten by moss, on a trajectory of falling apart, soft to softer. I’ve been death feeding life. I have fed myself, spring tips of hemlock and fir, thimbleberries too fragile to be eaten any other moment than right now. I’ve been the forest floor quickening, mushrooms pushing the moss in slow-motion eruption. I crouched there and found those mushrooms. I hope you do too. Once you find one, stay low, there are probably three more besides. 

That was a softer time. I’m in a harder place. I’m becoming this place. I check the weather app a few times a day, to inform me what to expect of myself. I’m high and clear, and visibility today is 18 miles. I spend some time looking 18 miles down the road into the new year.

The yoga teacher says, into this body you breathed your first breath, and into this body the last. 

Every sentence begins with the wind.