Our little town is amazing. We’ve always known that. The past two weeks, though, showed just how amazing it is. And more surprising, how very big our little town truly is. The flood of kindness and generosity has been overwhelming, from near and far – across the street, across the country, across the world even – from friends and family, and people who don’t even know us.
We steel ourselves against all the bad we know will come one day, prepare to do the hard things just so we can get through them. But we never prepare for the unexpected good. The good has slayed us.
People are amazing. Really and truly amazing.
Thank you for being part of our town. Thank you all.
Back when I was building the Melonseeds, I frequently got lost down a rabbit hole of history, thinking about all the things going on in the world at the end of the 19th century, in 1888, when the plans from the boats were drawn. Was a fascinating time, undergoing rapid change as fast as today. The transitions from sail to steam, agriculture to industry, rural to urban, were as transformational to society in that era as the computer and internet have been in ours.
On this day in 1889, Nellie Bly – a single young woman, 24 years old – set off alone from New York by steamship to set a record for circling the world, by ship and train and any other convenient conveyance. With just two days notice. She took the dress she was wearing, a coat, some underwear and toiletries, and a bit of money tied in a pouch around her neck.
The goal was to best the fictional Phileas Fogg, protagonist in a popular book of the time, Around the World in Eighty Days, written by Jules Verne. She would meet the author along the way, pausing in Paris long enough to interview him.
She was a young journalist who had talked her way into a job at The World, working for Joseph Pulitzer. Her first assignment had been to convince people she was insane so she could be committed to a women’s lunatic asylum. This was after talking the paper into accepting the project in the first place, to get the actual job.
She spent 10 days in the asylum. The exposé she wrote about the experience made her famous, and the ensuing outrage prompted improvements at mental institutions.
This race around the world was just a different kind of crazy. She sent back dispatches on her progress from remote places around the world, all published in the paper, using what was then the first modern form of worldwide communication – by telegraph. She crossed Europe, passed through the new Suez Canal, was delayed by problems with the trains in Asia, visited a leper colony in China. In Singapore, she bought a monkey. In Hong Kong, she learned that another woman had set off just behind her in the US, and was traveling the opposite direction, trying to beat her time, making it a real race.
Bad weather slowed her Pacific crossing, threatening to make her miss the 80 day deadline. Pulitzer chartered a private one-time train run, dubbed the Miss Nellie Bly Special, to speed her from San Francisco to Chicago, traversing 2500 miles in less than three days – a the fastest train trip ever. To spur the crews along, she presented each railroad superintendent on the with way with a bottle of expensive champagne.
She arrived back in New York after only 72 days, setting a new record for circumnavigating the globe. Which, alas, would be broken over and over again as travel improved, but it was quite a feat at the time.
A few years later she married a 73 year old millionaire, who promptly died and left her all his money and his steel manufacturing plants, which she ran successfully until she died in 1922.
I’m 58 at this writing. I can brag about my daughters.
Our trip to California this summer was for Amanda’s wedding to Scott. Was a great trip and a really fun wedding. We’re happy for both of them. Amanda started out teaching the kids of migrant farm workers for AmeriCorps, living in a cinder block room next to the strawberry fields. They’re now living in the Philippines, a teacher and a guidance counselor.
On the drive to the venue – next to Lassen National Park, 20 miles from the nearest town – we got a text from Amanda saying “Call me when you get to the fire trucks!” This is not a good thing. Especially in California.
The weekend before, Amanda’s wedding planner got married herself. She had to rush the minister to perform the rights before the guests arrived. A wildfire was bearing down on them, and forced them all to evacuate. So it seemed like we were gearing up for a repeat.
A crew was there with trucks and flashing lights, and helicopters that emptied out the pond at the ranch where the wedding was held, to dump on the fire across the street. No more pond, but no more fire. Fair enough.
Emily was right in the middle of it. She’s been working on fire crews in Oregon on the weekends for years. She actually had her gear in the truck, along with her bride’s maid’s dress.
Back in Oregon she’s been working a lot of weekends as a woodlands firefighter. Last week she sent these video clips from where they were cutting a fire break and setting a back burn.
It seems the whole western side of North America is on fire this summer. Just so happens the last crew she was on was all young women.
What was news to us was that Emily, at 5 feet tall and 110 pounds, beat out all the men on her certification test carrying 80 pounds of gear on a forced march. The other women on the crew had to do something comparable.
During Amanda’s ceremony, smoke still lingered on the surrounding peaks. Days later, the big Carr fire exploded to the west at Redding. She and Scott sent photos from their first day back in Manilla, of flooding from a typhoon.
I have a photograph I took of my grandmother the year before she died. It’s a black and white print, made in the darkroom I had set up in her basement then. She is sitting in front of “the picture window,” in her living room in Richmond, Virginia, reading. The light is cool and quiet, the room peaceful. She is content. Yet, out the window, clearly visible, snow is falling hard and blowing. It makes a pleasing contrast. The date of the photo, written in my own collegiate hand, is April 15th.
Other photos from the same day show her beloved and locally famous rose garden covered in blooms and covered in snow.
Yesterday it was 70 degrees and sunny. Today, April 7th, and over 30 years later, it is snowing again. The forecast predicted 2-4″, but the cold front has not arrived in time to make it so.
Still, it comes down and coats the hyacinth and redbud, the narcissus. As I write this the lawns across the neighborhood are frosted white, though too dark now for photos.
The wood stove is on high. A good day for local beer and a big bowl of chicken and broccoli curry soup.
It’s early, and T is sleeping in for the first time in months. After coffee, I leave by the screen door, wade fifty steps through soft sand to the Bay and turn left.
There is only one house on the island. There is no one else here.
The island is two miles long, most of that north of the house. But it is very, very narrow. For most of its length, so narrow you can stand in the marsh and throw a stone across to hit the Bay. More than a sandbar, but to call it a barrier island perhaps exaggerates. There are trees, many of them quite old, but dunes throughout are flattened by overwash from Bay to marsh. It’s clear that water often flows through the trees. No barrier; more like a split rail fence.
The place is raw and wild. Animal tracks everywhere – birds of all kinds, but also otter, fox, raccoon and muskrat. And terrapins. With no one to disturb them, the tracks persist between rains. We find many skeletons. Like the undisturbed tracks, bones remain in place, composed where each creature took a last step.