Jan 25, 2024

Dear Animal,

I got my kid some sourdough starter for Christmas. He does pie crust and is ready to level up. The starter comes with instructions, and he is into it, does the flour thing and the top of the fridge thing and the discard thing. This goes on for days. At the end of the week, the starter is ready to make bread, but school begins and days are very long because of the SAT prep thing. I watch the starter on the counter for a day, then read the instructions myself: If you don’t want to make bread right now, then put the starter in the fridge. Then you can wait because the cold half kills it. 

A wire fence with icicles from it

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Yeah, the cold half kills it. I feel you, sourdough starter. The cold here, it needs its own word, because it has nothing in common with say, the sweet chill of March soil when you plant peas. No, this is an ugly cold that clobbers you in the street and drags your body into a back alley. You are out cold. And there is not enough coffee in aisle 18 of King Soopers to revive you. You might just have to wait till spring. 

I watch the weather app and I know it is raining there, Animal, on the wet coast of Canada, that you had snow, and now it is green again. Here in Colorado, Winter is all about waiting. The snow blows around but doesn’t melt. The well slows down, and we run out of water several times a day. 

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The well guy comes out at sundown and connects the old cistern to the house. I was hoping to use this water for a garden, sigh. Then we buy water, 1000 gallons, to stock the cistern and get us through the transition, until the well can slowly fill it up. To go from the west coast water abundance to this scarcity is a shock. Water from a truck instead of from the sky. Still, it is a relief to have the water flow. 

It works for a day. Then there is a cold snap, and the water lines freeze. 

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Turn on a faucet, and you get something between a dribble and a trickle. There is nothing to do but wait. 

And making friends here, yeah, it’s that same kind of flow rate.

Neither of my kids has made a friend yet. It’s been six months. Not one phone number. Not one invitation. I offer to host playdates for the younger kid—nothing pans out. I place a stealthy call to a mom on our road who has a highschooler. We go back and forth but can’t figure out a way to connect our kids that wouldn’t stink of our interference, so we sigh and say we will talk again another time… 

Dribble trickle.

And me. I have not yet made a friend. 

Animal, you will remember that the first show we ever made together, Other Freds, was all about loneliness.  The dramatic action was the tiny deviations from the path that we might make, any of us, that might lead us to a parallel universe with friendship and connection. I am living that show, man. I play it every day. 

The remount looks like this: I talk to everyone, yoga teachers, cashiers, staff at school. I tell the woman at the pool who is French braiding her hair that she looks beautiful. I walk the dog in the hardware store aisles because it’s too cold outside. When folks reach for him, with that special yearning for puppy love, I pick him up and put him in their hands. Pinto is basically a very small carwash in the shape of a dog, and he licks them right away. It brings squeals of delight.

This everyday effort is good, but over the holidays, I am here for a week without my husband and without school and with society shut down, and me and the kids only have each other, and we melt down like our skin was made of sugar.

Pinto also has trouble socializing. When other dogs come near at Puppy School, Pinto hides in my lap. I sign him up for Puppy Club and they work their magic—in the form of a mini-wiener dog named Chip.

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Pupper makes a friend.

I’m learning there is much kindness in the canine world. Conflict comes at a high price, the trainer says, as losers are cast out and killed by lions. The pack benefits when all the dogs survive. A Weimaraner named Alfie puts two paws on Pinto’s back to hold him down and look at him. Maybe I should intervene? Look, their mouths are open, the trainer says. Open mouths are a good sign. All the people attached to the puppies nod, and let their jaws hang too. It is bitterly cold outside, and the pups are all stir-crazy, and we let them play a long time. The success of friendship delights us all. 

Twelve years ago, I moved to the coast because I fell in love with a creek. Joe Smith Creek is his name, but don’t make the mistake of personifying him. That would reduce that wild, winding water, to something trivial. No, these relationships with the elements that I will tell you about here—they are deeply satisfying because they are more than human. They do fill for me the role that humans call friendship—emotional connection, shared history. You can’t fake it, with a companion like Joe—he demanded more of me, more strength, more resilience, more ability to let go. I’m grateful for what he taught me, I am better for knowing him. I understand more about life. Besides, Joe was very good company; I lived by, walked by, walked through, soaked in, touched, washed, sat with my feet there with Joe. I cleaned the litter from his banks and kept back the choke of ivy. In places, the kids and I pushed the creek, moving stones, and then in the swell of winter, Joe pushed back. The creek was a stone’s throw from my home and I often parted the curtain of chaos that comes with family/company/love and would run to Joe. He offered so much solace.  I slept with the windows open in January so that I could hear the surge of him through the night. I worried over him in the summer drought when I thought I might lose him. Love is a thing my species can do, and he was worthy of my affections. I’m not the only one who felt this way about him—Janice Tanton, who came for a week to paint, loved Joe like this:

A painting of a forest

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Now, of course, Joe and I are separated. Damnit. With apologies to my current husband, I regret not marrying Joe Creek while I had the chance. 

I ask my husband please not to be jealous. Life is a web of love with many threads. One connection does not negate another; instead, together they form the fabric that holds. Any one thread (or rope, like my husband) can’t hold a life the way a fabric can. I’m all cat’s cradle at the moment here in Colorado. I could slip through and fall into the abyss. So, I look at this life here like an aggressive crocheter with her hooks out. 

It works. For example, I get this email…

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If the Universe is reaching out, it makes me actively curious about what other connections I might be overlooking. No creek nearby, but other elements. And, as so oft in my life, Animal, you will be happy to know that art made the introductions.…

A person standing in a room with a large painting

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At the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver, I spend the evening in the company of a thousand pigments. Clyfford had a special relationship to the elements. The straps you see here were what he used to hang above his canvas so that he could throw down paint like a rainstorm. You can see his relationship with colour is, in turns, riotous, tender, quirky, waggish. With the same cautions about personification, I have to say that that night, I make a friend, Roy G. Biv. You might have met Roy yourself as the mnemonic for the colours in the order of the rainbow: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet. And, yeah, that’s the visible ones, but Roy has a million more tints invisible to the human eye. Roy G. Biv contains the unseen—like any friend. You have to get to know him.

In the rainforest, the sky is scud—that low line of clouds that can hardly get up off the endless sofa of the horizon. You likely know that scuddy sky of the coastal winter. How is it possible that without the sun, that the colours of coastal Canada are so intense, a green that could beat you at arm wrestling, the zingy blues of the sea, the striking purples of the sleeping islands in the Strait?

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‘Vivid’ should be a colour name, and you, Animal, could walk along the coast slapping that name tag on everything you meet. 

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Here in Sunshine, there is a surfeit of light, even in Winter. This light has washed out the Crayola tang of home. Instead, the colours of this place are faint, some dim thing between yellow and green or between grey and blue. I can’t find words to name these shades. If I asked you to mix up a colour called Cold Dawn, could you? How about Footstep in the Snow, or Winter Grass? 

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Strangely, the jumble of nail polish at H&M captures the palette of this place. I have time to muse on this because my kid is trying on jeans so oversized he has gotten lost in them. He doesn’t come out of the changing room for ages. I pick out a bottle of Pink on Wednesdays and show it to him at checkout. ‘Do you like this?’ He shrugs because he is listening to a podcast about life as an L.A. influencer and how everyone is really too tired to party. I put the Pink on Wednesdays back; the day is Pillowcase, so we all head home and nap. 

The next day, I let my new friend, Roy G. Biv show me around. I’m ready for a deeper connection, a way of knowing, a way to plug into the divine. He starts with Red.

A sunset over a snowy landscape

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Red is the first one up in the morning. Hemingway famously said that he never missed a dawn. I’m an early riser too—I never weary of the blank slate of the day, the possibility in beginning, the magic of the opening act. Red reminds me of this. The birds have mostly migrated. The snow comes and goes. But, Red comes with the dawn. So loyal. There is no morning without your kinship. 

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Otherwise, Red is scarce here.  I walk on Bald Mountain and pause at the Red grass. You might be inclined to downgrade this to Orange or Pink. I’ll call it Red: it is the weak heat of winter, the persisting fire on the mountain. I might even take off my mittens and stretch my hands towards you. You grow warm. 

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In King Soopers, I find Fyre. Sigh. Under all the consumer gaudiness and giddiness, maybe the person who invented Fyre felt that same desire for warmth in the wintertime. 

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On the way to the Denver airport for a dawn flight, Roy points out this sketch in steel against the orange sky. Later, at my computer, in the registry of colour names, I try to identify the exact orange with the Hex, RGB, CMYK codes. I think it is somewhere between Beer Orange and Jasper Stone, maybe a touch of Buff and a bit of Bumblebee. 

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Sunset shares the hue. I’m working at my computer when I look up and see Orange waiting for me. Well, hello there. It’s that friend dropping by, unannounced, asking ‘what are you up to?’ innocent enough, but reminding you that everything on your computer will be garbage when you die, so remember the sky. The new shade here is the tawny Fulvous, reminiscent of a barn swallow’s belly. Catching me in the midst of making 60 doctor’s appointments for my child, it is kind-hearted, Roy, for you to bring me barn swallow belly, by the skyful. 

Now, Yellow.

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Here, Yellow is tenacity. It is the grass that stays standing through four seasons—wind, drought, snow, and cold. It is the gentle growing gold of a place known for subterranean veins of the same. Each stalk has both Buttermilk and Trombone and grows high enough to touch my 12-year-old’s elbow. I tell him the colours’ names, hoping it will be a small delight, for my child, to walk amongst the tall Trombones. 

Roy and I talk often about Green, that of moss and cedar, the wet forest of home. It has been part of our art, Animal, for many happy years. Here in Sunshine, there is a companion hue in the dark green in the pines, but he draws my eye towards a delicate light shade. This is new.  

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It is here in lichen and yucca and mountain cactus. This is the green of the mountain washed in light. And this is the green of liquid flowing, large, like wild Boulder Creek. …

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And small like this little Green pool…

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…like the cocktail at my birthday dinner. This colour is a diluted Juniper, called Gin, appropriately enough, and the ice cube itself is Swamp. I sneak a picture. Rob made the reservation, and we delight in the colour and flavour, artistry and care. At one time, Animal, you and I talked about hosting a forest dinner, with moss tablecloth up on the mountain, a foraged fungi feast for a town of 200. This restaurant has the same foraging ethos without the wild room that we might create. But Rob and I need shelter from the storms of winter and raising kids, so are happy to have a table inside. The ‘W’ on the ice cube could stand for ‘Wonderful’. Green. 

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Blue is this thick coat on the winter sky. Maybe it has relation to Scud. It is Smudge. The only wild berry I have found in the ecosystem is a similar shade. Juniper Blue.

And then, of course, consumerism got it’s hands on blue and named the hue below…

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Here Roy trails off, because there is not much in winter here that is Indigo, which is between blue and violet. I scroll through my photos from the last month on my phone. The closest thing I find is the highlights of this pre-show cue for the musical, Six, my kid’s other Christmas present. 

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Thank you, theatre, for once again saving the day and getting us closer to the end of the rainbow. 

Roy G. Biv is at my elbow as I make hag torches on New Year’s Day. 

Violet is here in the Dotted Gayfeather from the mountain decorating this hag torch. It was part of the wildflower Super Bloom and speaks to me of summer, even now. A hag torch is mullein, dried and dipped in beeswax. I make them to fire up summer from time to time. Like so many things, the name makes it compelling. I am happy to be a Hag if Dotted Gayfeather is with me. These are the musings that Roy and I can share, with the honey-scent of hot beeswax and the labour of making. 

And then we get into an argument, Roy and I, about Brown. 

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It is not a part of the rainbow, but when the snows blow away, it is all that is left. 

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Brown is undaunted. It doesn’t care if it is included in the rainbow. Strength in numbers, Brown is everywhere. 

Where the general store once stood in Sunshine, I find the old lid of a woodstove, the Improved King Bee. Time and place have turned it into the colours Penny and Saddle. 

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And as long as we are leaning into the unnamed shades. I bring up Grey. 

Grey skies I know from 25 years in coastal BC. But the grey of this place is novel. Here is how Roy makes the introduction. 

My teen gets his learner’s permit, and we go to an empty parking lot at the ball field to learn how to drive. I have been driving for 30 years but find I have no advice to offer about how to pull the Jeep into a parking space. I just say, it is like a bike, but bigger, steer it. The brakes lurch. He keeps trying, then getting out to check if he made it in the lines. Learning has come easily to this kid; it just sort of happens that he can read, draw, bake, do calculus; he just breathes in his age and agency, and it naturally occurs, but driving, THIS is hard. He stops and takes a stretch break. 

He climbs back in, curling his long lines into the driver’s seat. This is Self-Determination Grey.   

White is all the wavelengths of colour combined, and here the White is with every colour because it is always coming down. Roy points out that as a writer, black and white is the palette that colours my days.

A snow covered car at night

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And just like the hours I spend staring at the white page with black type, I am looking at these images from everyday white and black. Looking for meaning. If this place makes sense to me yet.  

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Here it does, at Boulder Creek. The calligraphy of the running water in the deepest freeze speaks of the future to me. You’ll get through, the creek says to me.

There I go again. I’m talking to creeks, I’m talking to colours. Maybe I should talk to my therapist.

My therapist listens to my emerging friendships, with colours, with place, and prescribes the e.e. cummings poem, ‘i am so glad and very’. Here is the last stanza:

“we are so both and oneful
night cannot be so sky
sky cannot be so sunful
i am through you so i”

“i am through you so i” There is no separation, not really, between this and that. I arrive through the other and he through me. Through learning all the colours of this place. I arrive through my first friend here, Roy G. Biv. I am the spectrum of his visible and invisible ways;  all of that colour  running in my bloodstream. It comes into me as breath or through my permeable skin, and so I am now, with this story to tell to you. There isn’t actually any other choice. This is the porousness of being human. I am through you. It is how I know myself. The environment circumscribes my shape in the world.  

Animal, we used to talk about this conceit in art-‘Let the inside out and the outside in’. It is why, I think, the art lived best outside. The wild sites of our work together asked more of us as artists, because it was not just human constructed sets, but the unbridled wild world that came through us–the actors, the designers, the writers. Through this, so I. So I.  And in a way, yes, this is lovely. But it’s also dangerous, because I am through you. You could be terrible to me, and I have no defenses. For all our talk of boundaries, the world arrives within. This requires much bravery. 

My yoga teacher just came back from an off-grid retreat in Mexico. It was Paradise, he said. Then he noted that a lot of people there think this place is Paradise. I think he was probably referring to the Rockies and not, say, the mini-mall where we are taking class. All the same, the studio has a nice vibe. The yogis have turned a pillar into a tree and decorated it with hummingbird ornaments. There is one fox ornament too, to acknowledge the predators among us. And in the mini-mall, in the company of hummingbirds, foxes, and yogis, I have my instructions. Find Paradise in each of the poses you move through today.

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Afterwards, I’m back, folded in the driver’s seat doing the school run. The snow by the side of the road is grey. The trees having the arboreous equivalent of a bad hair day. All stuck up. You know. You can imagine. I’m watching the SUV in front of me. I’m watching for patches of ice, I’m watching for patches of Paradise exactly where I am. 

Paradise won’t arrive here in this form, the one seen below in the image I grabbed off a gardening website and dragged onto my desktop. This place is not that Green. 

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Here, Paradise might look like this: 

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This van belongs to the neighbour—the one who moved to Oregon. My son, pictured here, covets it. We text the neighbour to ask if we can buy it. My teen plans to refurbish it and live in it while he goes to film school in LA because apartments are too expensive. You watch too much Van Life Tik Tok, I tell him, I will pay for a dorm room, I say. But he loves Van Life. It is powerful, he is porous. He wears my old work coat that I thrifted on the Coast a decade ago when the blackberries were shredding my puffer. It was ancient then. He adopted it 2 years ago; his bony elbows have worn holes, and the sheepskin is thinned by time. He is 6’3 now, and his wrists stick out. It doesn’t fit, I say, and I buy him a black parka and a white corduroy coat that he thinks has ‘Kenergy’. He brushes by them at the door some days, then puts on this same, thin, old work coat and leaves the house without locking the door. 

The coat is an old friend, and, yes, it is not easy to leave an old friend for a new one. The Van has his eye, it is the one that he is terribly interested in. I see the romance.  

It is a start.