his own devices

Tolliver is basically either playing outside, or dreaming about playing outside. 
Aside from using his iPod to solve the day's Wordle puzzle (as soon as it goes live, right at 7am) he has very little interest in screen time, focusing instead on what needs to be done before he goes out - piano practice and putting away dishes or laundry. He asks Siri every morning about the weather, irritated with the same cold response she provides before resuming Tuck's jazz listening or the Encanto soundtrack. Lately, most days, Tollie puts on a coat anyway. 
Left to his own devices, he collects tools from the shed, chipping at ice with a rubber mallet, tying knots or shaping nails or sanding sticks. More often than not the neighborhood gang shows up; they default to hide and seek or cooperate to enhance the nearby fort. Their noises (blasting sounds and descending missile squeals) penetrate the exterior, just a pitch above Siri's pleasant background volume. 
Occasionally Tolliver comes to the door for a snack or fresh gloves, his fingers frozen and cheeks bright pink. His ability to disconnect, to be in the world in a way technology just can't duplicate, is - while admittedly confounding in such cold - enviable.


what wonders

Hank started keeping track of wonders at the beginning of the month, sand dunes big enough to slide down and tiny snowflakes collected on black construction paper. A pickle jar cloud made of boiling water and hairspray, and a library book that no one else had ever checked out. I don't have my own January jar full of paper slip records, but I see the clementines in a bowl, the bulbs that began in November, blooming now. And I heard the version of He's Got the Whole World in (His) Hands that actually used all the pronouns. Wonders abound.

Darkness hugs the city on both sides of the day and I wonder when we might safely awaken from an era of hibernation. Still feeling mostly stuck inside a shrinking world, I don't want to misallocate my attention.
A brisk walk under eighty five layers and the bright sun, a shot of joy, when everything else is unraveling. The way the shadows fall and the smell of simmering cloves and cinnamon (mostly to mask the smell of all the wet socks, on its own a real wtf slash wonder). Seed catalogs and fresh broccoli soup on the stove, every small story of hope. Anything that pulls my awareness in the direction of gratitude, like waking up at all, another new day, a wonder.


war and peace

frozen waterfalls and board games and a backyard full of kids
Wordle teamwork and cousin hugs and fireside books
and absolutely no more grenades.


two whole hands

Life has required more courage than I anticipated.
I remember when I thought growing out my bangs was a tough year.

Celia's been gone for a decade now, two whole hands. 
It's hard to stop counting backward. No matter how clearly I define her distance, I cannot pull my daughter back to me. Ten years and it's still a shock that she's not here, asking for the other half of my bagel, rolling her eyes at whatever I've said. I miss her, the kite tail of a memory, her death so far behind most of the world may barely see it. 

Traditionally, tin or aluminum is known to commemorate a ten year anniversary, symbolizing durability and resiliency. On Saturday we looked at photographs and read old blog posts, recounted stories and shared a few tears. I can still picture a trace of delight across her face, recall the way her hair felt in my fingers. I loved her, one brother said, the words right there, he didn't have to reach for them at all. 

There's a lie that perpetuates: if you’re grateful enough you can’t feel the grief.
This is undeniably wrong. Here is my joy right beside my sorrow, my rage right next to my gratitude. 

I was born with braids in my hands. 
I don't know how to explain the misery of mourning not only the loss of a child but also the grand narrative of a life together. The mystery unsettles me.
I don't know what to do with my hands, stitch a cross, wash a dish, write a sentence.
I don't know what to do with my heart except let it break and love with it. 
The world feels so full of everything I haven't lost yet.


National Parks, part 2 (Death Valley)

While they had been comparing Zion's orange mud with walking on pumpkin pie and likening Bryce's switchbacks to throwing wet noodles on the map, in Death Valley there were suddenly fewer similes from the boys. Although not one giant brushstroke of brown - enough green rock for a few things to be named after bullfrogs - the desert landscape did remind me of the loneliest colors in the crayon box. What Death Valley lacked in vibrancy, though, it made up for by pulling the curtains on a vast stage of cosmic drama AND bathing suit weather!

For Tolliver, Death Valley offered plenty more things to climb. Plus it was a place to walk where Native Americans live. He became very engaged in conversation with our trail guide, Max, who introduced Tols to the wild horse crisis on American rangeland (which led to lots of questions about natural resources and fiscal responsibility and even whether drones could deliver fertility control). Along with his animal welfare wonderings, Tollie carried a single battery and a foil gum wrapper in his pocket all week, making note of mesquite bean pods and small cave locations, anything that could meet a basic need. 

Accessed after more than two miles on an unmarked high-clearance road, the trail to Darwin Falls began innocently at the mouth of a gravel canyon bottom. Despite the initial construction site vibe, this turned out to be a Goldilocks hike, pleasing from five to forty three, not too much and not too little, just right for a preteen and a mountain goat. As we hiked it was like the world dialed up the saturation. Drab colors were slowly replaced by tall reeds and weeping willows. Opportunities to scramble and multiple creek crossings culminated in a rare middle-desert oasis.

Still often crouched at ground level, refining his observation skills, Tuck caught up occasionally to squeeze conversation into slender moments. He circulated new information in gusts of gladness, regaling us with facts about the pupfish found in Salt Creek drainage, how this endangered species can withstand such harsh conditions, and how the males turn bright blue during mating season. Not solitary or serious the entire time, Tuck also discovered the marble slide in Mosaic Canyon and invited us all to follow him down over and over again.

Looking up at night, in the largest certified dark sky park in the country, it felt as if we peeled a film from our eyes. One evening we joined a ranger under a brand new moon. Necks craned to see the giant swath of Milky Way, a swooning moment, I was reminded of my own borrowed stardust. The boys learned to spot Polaris and the Pleiades, to trace Orion's bow, to recalibrate hope. We listened to the native story of Ursa Major and the hunter who lost his mitten, spotted meteors from the Quadrantid showers, contemplated infinity.

Hank kept a running list of desert wildlife, despite the fact that he was asleep for at least half of the sightings: a kit fox, two coyotes, six road runners, a pack of wild burros and one lizard 
He danced and skipped and held our hands on every trail, while punctuating the barren landscape with his voice: It's hard to play shadowlands in the desert, do you know why? Because there aren't any shadows! How do you spell DIE because my legs feel like they might die. Is that why they call it Death Valley? Do you think Santa could bring us Celia? I'm not sure he's that magic. But did Celia have any perfume when she was young?

On the other hand, Andy took more of an HDMI approach, like that cable that used to connect a television to a stereo or something, so coupled there's no reason to speak <Will he ever stop talking?> <Have you seen a liquor store?> <Stop, we're fine. This is safe. Please wipe the panic off your face.> <Want to just leave the boys here?> <How lucky are we?> 

And I found myself thinking the very same things. 
We have been blessed with boys who show uncommon stamina, infinite curiosity and a solid sense of adventure. We took them west to ride horses and the waves of some new, unknown family narrative. To see the orange sun sink early behind tall peaks, glimpse an unusually ornate blanket of stars, appreciate the native poetry of nature. To remind them that we are not their only source of advice or wisdom, that there are stories in the sky and sermons in the canyons and history in the hills. 
To pin joy, like a moth, to a few special days together.  
As we settle back into the small, fragile present my fervent wish is that they will forever travel on the wings of memory and imagination.

Death Valley hikes:

Mosaic Canyon
Darwin Falls
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
Salt Creek Trail
Badwater Salt Flat

We also wandered Harmony Borax Works, Devil's Golf Course and Rhyolite ghost town