Rewrite the Past

The other day I decided I was going to start telling people that my parents died in a plane crash while delivering medical supplies in the Congo. My father was a pilot and my mother a doctor and they had created a non-profit organization back in the 70s that was their life’s work. They lived and died serving others.

The truth is, my dad died when he was 61 from heart failure, 98 percent of his arteries were clogged, and my mother died at 56 from cancer. My dad was a part time taxi driver who lived in the woods in a car with solar panels on top, and my mother was a Safeway clerk who lived in trailers and apartments. They were hard working people who struggled since birth to get by and do right. And while I am not trying to erase their stories, I am trying to find some form of understanding as to why they died so young, and to find another answer to the question that is so often asked.

How did your parents die?

It is an odd question, I have found, in that when people find out my parents are dead they do not ask about who they were, what they did, what were their hobbies and passions, what books they read, where they lived, and all of the questions that somebody may ask about a person who is still alive… they always want to know how they died, and that be the end of the conversation. Which doesn’t leave a lot of room for honoring my ancestors, telling their stories, and feeling proud of who they were and what they accomplished in their lives. So I figure, if I tell people they died in a plane crash in Africa, people will want to know more…

But the truth is, after almost 6 years since my mother’s passing I still find it difficult to talk about it. Sometimes I will tell my daughter about her grandmother and I will begin to weep because I miss her so much. I will tell her, “Multiple times I went to your grandmother’s apartment and found strangers sleeping on her living room floor because they did not have a place to sleep for the night. Your grandmother would use her days off to bring people in need food, clothing and money. People who were too anxious or proud or high to line up at food banks and ask for assistance. Your grandmother would spend all day driving people to and from Anchorage because they did not have a car or they were too afraid to drive. Your grandmother…” And then I have to stop because I begin to miss her so bad I well up.

Sometimes I tell my daughter, Primrose, about her grandfather but I don’t what to say because I didn’t know him at all, so I stick to the facts. “Your grandfather could grow a beard down to his chest and could box with the best of them. Your grandfather loved to read and write poetry just like your daddy. He studied the Bible and loved God with all of his heart. Your grandfather was a tough man who didn’t feel deserving of love, so he gave and received love in the only way he knew how, from a distance.” And then I come to a stop, not because I have tears, but because I don’t really know what more to say.

Savanna, my wife, decided that we would celebrate Did de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) this year by creating an altar in the living room with our deceased ancestors. We have an unidentified skull covered in geraniums, a few candles, artifacts from our ancestors and pictures to honor them. We light candles and burn incense every day in honor of them. I pray to them, thanking them for what they did for our family and ask God to help me honor them and to honor our future ancestors. It has been a very healing experience, to look at their pictures and remember them instead of allow them to recede into the blackness of the past.

Savanna baked the traditional “bread of the dead” called Pan de Muerto. A sweet bread with anise flavor covered in an orange glaze. It sure makes remembering and honoring your ancestors sweet.

I bring this all up not because I am sulking over people not asking me questions about my parents or because I feel like I’m missing out on not having parents who are alive to hold their grandchild and support my family, although there are certainly slivers of those buried deep in my heart. I am writing about this because I helped a 79 year old neighbor butcher, pluck and clean 7 chickens yesterday and death is on the mind.

My neighbor, Mr. Harold Kerchner, with his knobby, arthritic hands, false teeth and radiant eyes of pure gold, taught me a life long skill yesterday that I will hopefully continue to use and pass on to my daughter. He used a machete, two nails and a log- a boiling pot, two metal buckets and a plastic one for heads, feet, necks and feathers. A young calf watched, unstartled. Chickens in crate did not panic, crow or peck as he opened the crate with one knobby hand, grabbed a bird’s feet while pinning back its wings and set its neck between the nails, stretching out the neck. “Thwack!” Off with its head. He gently set the chicken on the ground until all 7 were lined up by the pot.

He said, “My daddy used to hang the birds by their feet by little lassos on the wall and he could come up behind them with his thumb and put it right through the back of their neck, killing them instantly. I never saw a more ethical way of killing a chicken.”

Wet snow fell. A half inch on ground from previous night. 9:30 am, cold, October morning. We could see our breath, the cows breath, and the steam boiling from the pot of water.

He dunked the birds for less than 10 seconds in the steaming pot then gently set them on an old chicken feed bag on the ground as I took to plucking. He talked about his family, all farmers from Missouri, and how his parents lived into their late 80s and 90s and how his own siblings are in their 80s. He and his wife moved up here to live off grid in the late 70s, their son and daughter live on our same road with their families, they spend time with each other every single day. They are real time farmers, no doubt, as we have seen over the past two years since they moved here with their tractors, trucks, animals, and keen ability to build, clear, plant, and give to their neighbors. Every time Harold gives advice or talks about something regarding to farming he starts by saying, “Now I don’t know much about all this, but what they say is…” They are kind, funny, hard working people who don’t waste time with unnecessary words and unnecessary action.

When finished plucking, I watched him cut and clean two birds before I started cutting. The warmth of the bird felt comforting on my cold hands. We took the cleaned birds inside the house to quarter. I arrived home at 11:30 to a smiling wife and happy daughter. Savanna’s smile grew even bigger when she saw two cleaned birds in my hands, and it continued to grow throughout the day when she made chicken barley soup for dinner that filled the house with a good smell of country comfort and filled my belly with goodness. Life is good.

While I certainly was not a country boy, I am a country man, and I am honored to be learning from people who have lived the country life for generations. Perhaps in learning from them I can not only gain self reliance, sustainability, security and friendship; perhaps I can honor my ancestors of the past and the future, and be willing to rewrite my past and recreate my future.

We went to The Alaska Zoo last week for the first time as a family. Making these girls smile brings me joy and purpose.

Not Always Rose Hips and Honey

Two days ago we were pregnant.
Today, we are not.
Life and death can happen within a single hummingbird’s wing flap.
Ravens soared with 40 mph wind gusts today, they did not laugh, instead-
They cried a melancholy “Caw!” and then were gone.

Savanna returned home from the blood test with a Hazelnut Chocolate Bar, so I knew instantly. Our beautiful daughter was asleep in my lap next to a Michael Crichton novel in our Laz-e-boy beside the raging wood stove. Radiant heat to warm me from the inside. My tough and tender wife sat on the hearth and we shared the chocolate in silence before speaking of God’s will and acceptance.
It is not our fault. It is not our fault.

The view from our Laz-e-boy where I often hold Primrose and read as she naps.

With tear filled eyes she told me that only because of me is she able to bear this loss with God’s plan in mind rather than ours. I told her that I was angry, because unlike our previous pregnancy, I had allowed myself to be super excited from the start. It’s easy to follow God’s will when things are going well, but the real trust happens during hard times.

My bride and I agreed that since the embryo did not have a heartbeat, legs or arms or anything resembling a human, it is an easier loss. But nonetheless, it is hard. Savanna mentioned that she can start running again, and then we brewed a pot of caffeinated coffee instead of decaf shit we have been drinking for two weeks.

Planting hardneck garlic outdoors for the first time. When I feel sad or angry, the best thing I can do is keep moving to accomplish something that makes me feel better.. Today was one of those days.

We went outside in the blowing wind with yellow birch leaves flying all around. Our beautiful, healthy daughter all bundled in winter gear, ready to plant garlic in a new outdoor garden bed where we planted cabbage this year. The top layer of soil frozen, unworkable with a stirrup hoe, I used a spade to break it up. The girls came out just in time to plant. We covered garlic seeds with a layer of aged chicken manure, cardboard and a thick layer of straw for insulation. A total of 191 cloves planted this year, 120 inside the high tunnel, 71 outside. Three varieties. Romanian Red, Music and an unknown. Last year we planted roughly 30 cloves of 1 variety. We love garlic in this family and want to grow enough to last all year.

Primrose laughed and screamed and tripped on the dips and depressions in the uneven orchard then screamed when she needed help up. She laid on her back in a pile of straw with no skin but her face showing and I kissed her face and she laughed and screamed out of pure joy and gave me a bunch of kisses on the lips, something she generally saves for Mom. It was like she knew I needed them.
My sweet girls.
How blessed I am to call them family.

Our daughter sitting on a load of aged chicken manure. She brings so much joy to our lives. How lucky we are to have her.

After we came inside, Savanna made grilled cheese sandwiches and lentil soup and mentioned how good it felt to be outside and work. Primrose ate hummus with a spoon and fed the cat. I was angry again about the loss, without a real compass for emotional complexities, I sum most of them up with anger. We ate, Savanna was patient with me and Primrose, and then we heated two big pots of water on the wood stove to give our daughter a bath together.

They say that families grow stronger during hardships endured together. We are a young family, an in-love family, with so many blessings. I am reminded that life will not always be rose hips and honey, and like the raven, it is okay to cry sometimes and to laugh others.

Rose hips in the fall

Cutting Grass on a Sunny Day

In airborne school we cut the grass with scissors. I didn’t realize how important the lesson on patience, tolerance, and acceptance would be on my life, especially in parenthood. Not to mention how grateful it made me for lawn mowers. I didn’t appreciate them quite like I should have. What do you not appreciate quite like you should?

My beautiful bride, Savanna, being followed by our daughter, Primrose, as we mow our friend’s yard. We have been housesitting for them the past week and are certainly enjoying our mini-vacation only a few blocks away.

Our yard has too many holes and humps to use a lawnmower, so we use a weed wacker on nearly 2 acres. It can be a real pain in the butt, no doubt, but it sure beats using scissors! And since we only do it a few times each year, so the bees can graze on fireweed, dandelions, clover and comfrey, it doesn’t seem like a big deal. We hand weed around berry bushes, apple trees, and vegetables. It can certainly be a lot of work, no doubt, and after mowing our friend’s yard in less than thirty minutes we might have to reassess our game plan.

Sometimes it takes a change of pace and a change of perspective to see the things in life that we take for granted.

We have been searching for new ways to make our life a little less chaotic. Does anybody else feel like all they do all day is clean and tidy up? That no matter how many times you sweep, the floor is still a sandy beach without an ocean view! We do laundry and hang dry, then after we fold the clothes our daughter always wants to destroy the ones that have been folded, so we refold them. It’s crazy! How can we have time to do things that spark joy when we are literally running in circles all day?

Savanna found these baby chicks in a grove of trees the other day. The grown birds had left them to hide near the yurt, so she picked them up and brought them to where we are housesitting. It’s a little late in the year for these birds to survive our cold nights, so they more than likely would have died if she wouldn’t have picked them up. While she may not be an EMT or somebody running into a burning building to save a life, she saved two lives that day. And look at the joy and magic it brings to our life!

Since we’ve been staying at our friend’s place we have been taking full advantage of their unending electricity. We’ve been watching television and movies like never before, using their dryer, dish washer, swim spa, bathtubs, instant coffee maker and space. Our 700 square foot house gets a little tight with our three dogs and cat, so it’s been nice to be in their big home where it seems like we can spread our wings a little bit.

Nala, the big old dog on the left, is somewhere between 11 and 13 years old. She slobbers, snores and constantly has ear infections, but she certainly loves babies and brings so much joy to our family.

We have watched every show so far that features Marie Kendo, and have begun to ween through some of our things during home visits. For years I have prided myself as a “simple man” without many belongings, how blind I was! I donated four overflowing boxes of books that I don’t want to carry into my future, books I have not read and have no interest in reading, others I have read multiple times but don’t need to read again. This has freed up space in our room for “our” books and new opportunities. We tore down every poster I had harvested from walls in Canada, Denmark, Guatemala and USA, they plastered the kitchen walls, hiding the unfinished, water stained, peeling mud and tape for too many years. (Is this a metaphor for looking at ourselves? I believe so…) This is not an easy process, no doubt, especially since I have been holding onto my late mother and father’s belongings, including my brother’s, so it’s been hard to get rid of many objects, especially pictures and artwork! But I have to make room for my new family now, bring light to the home, and hold my parents’ memories in my heart and let them go. We are really excited to do this process, to lessen our stuff and to cherish the gems. And we hope that by doing so we will reduce the amount of cleaning, tidying, picking up and searching for things, while discovering a new way of looking at each other and our belongings.

Picking Saskatoon Berries for market the other morning. How lucky am I to be able to earn a little bit of money doing what I love? To have an overabundance of food right outside my door! To have a freezer full of salmon and berries, a home full of love, and a yard full of food. We are a blessed family, and it’s easy to forget that when you’re knee deep in chores.

To bring this full circle, too many times in my life I have struggled through something without being able to see the bigger lessons. As a young alcoholic with shitty school attendance, during my two years in Iraq as an infantryman, during the death of my parents, feeling like an alien at college, and now as a parent and husband with a beautiful family. The most important lessons in life are learned during the struggle, and I am grateful for those struggles. I may not act grateful when my old dog is panting non-stop like she’s in the desert, the puppy is chasing the baby, and the baby is tearing apart her dresser. I may not act grateful when the chickens leave piles of manure in our walkway and our baby puts her hand in it then eats it. I may not act grateful when I sit down to read a few pages of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park right when the baby is waking up from a nap. And I certainly may not act grateful when it’s 12 am and Primrose refuses to sleep in her bed without her mom, and all I want to do at the end of the day is lay close to the one I love. But you know what, I am grateful for those times, and while I may not be great at showing my gratitude when I’m pissed, annoyed or frustrated, I am working on it. Heck, I am a work in progress. Without these moments, I would not appreciate holding two baby chicks in front of my old dog, beautiful wife, and baby daughter just before mowing the lawn on a sunny day. I wouldn’t appreciate the stillness of fall and watching the yellow leaves fall from the birch trees. No, I would still be trying to be a famous writer, chasing some wild dreams, or being a depressed alcoholic stuck in my self-despair.
And thanks to Marie Kendo, I am also becoming grateful for my cherished belongings I used to merely call “stuff.”

Primrose thinks it’s funny to climb the stairs and go into our friends room to play with the pill bottles. No matter how many times we chase her, close the door, put something in front of the stairs and tell her “No!” she still goes up there to play with the pill bottles. So finally, we’re letting her! Who ever knew that pills could be a great marimba?!

P.S. Savanna and I just celebrated two years of marriage! Miracles do happen! Perhaps the patience, humility, tolerance and acceptance I learned while cutting grass with scissors is what has kept us together during the tough times.

In Honor of 4/20

While I don’t drink or smoke weed anymore, I certainly use to do both… a lot! This poem was written in 2008 while doing a lot of smoking, drinking and traveling in Thailand… Oh God, I can’t wait to go back to Thailand as a sober man!
Sometimes when I read this poem, my addict mind starts convincing myself that I could start drinking and using again… but then I have to check myself and remember how I needed to drink and use every single damn day, all day, and how hard it was to stop.
Either way, to honor 4-20, for all of those people who can smoke a little bud here and there, I hope you’re enjoying yourselves. Smoke one for me.

I was high and drunk and tired in this picture, I felt so ashamed to be sitting across from such a calm old man. I wanted to be just like him but didn’t know how to live a single day without being messed up. Either way, I certainly LOVE the train rides and traveling in Thailand. And the people are kinder than anywhere… besides maybe Nepal.

For The Rat On Ko Lanta Who Stole My Weed

Trees in breeze from sea,
Birds sing songs from heart,
Green curry with love in the kitchen,
Hammock swings,
I am thankful.
A bore- a whore
not fun- nor scum
what times- bad lines
sipping coke and rum
To the blood sucking critters who
left a hundred welts on Seth’s arm;
you bugs- big hugs,
you fuck us up.
The herb eating rat lives in our thatch,
sneaky rodent is nibbling through
ditty bags to get high.
White spirit- black spirit
red spirit- blue
each spirit works for me and for you-
helping people bond in unusual ways.
to relax when wound up,
quiet sullen shy folk break out
in dance & conversation-
some over do it
boozers & baby abusers,
but for those who don’t, who won’t,
who simply enjoy the taste & warm embrace
of a small or big glass
from a Gin or a Bass,
Enjoy it. I am.
I smoke a doob in the morning,
I smoke another at night,
I swallow down Coke and Rum
Stoned out my gorge as I write.
Smiles all around me,
Local and farang,
Smiling lips from ear to ear
As I ride in the bathtub rain.
When I ask a man for gasoline
He smiles and says “ok.”
When I pass her on la calle,
A smile I pass her way.
Each person has their secrets,
Hidden behind smiles,
It’s what’s presented outside
That separates the good from the piles.
So may you on your journey,
Share a smile with lots of peeps.
From happy, smiling angels,
To dirty, filthy creeps.
Dear Rat:
You stole my shit
now I want it
I’ll hunt you ‘til I get it back,
Whether you ate it- you hid it
or shared it
I won’t cut you an ounce of slack.
The first time you hit us
was funny,
Who would have thought 
it would happen to us,
You took over half of
my sweet stash,
Why did you abuse
my trust?
Then! You ate it while
we slept soundly,
You must have watched,
or smelled, who knows?
You nibbled through Rainbow Crow’s
zippered pouch, you’re 
a fiend, little buddy, it shows.
You son-of-a-bitch
while I smoke this,
I will think of your
stoned little eyes,
I hope you enjoyed
this here ganja,
Because the last of the 
stash is all mine.

Aloe shallow
Clear blue seas,
Gin I win
Under bamboo trees,
Snakes and lakes
Mosquito coils,
Green curry cooks
Full pot boils,
Deck of cards
Loud Nirvana,
Writing and writing
Constant prana,
Laughing drunkard
Ocean music lights,
Hidden moon advertises
Muy Thai fights.
Dig a grave for I am here
Ol’ Ko Lanta I love you dear,
Cockroaches live in the bathroom,
Birds nest in the tree,
All of us from one thing,
Fleas, bees, and me.
If I die, where will I go?
Oh yeah, I’ll die indeed,
To heaven or hell 
will that be it,
A corpse for insects to feed?
As long as I can read. 
Will I come back a street mutt?
With nipples on the concrete.
What will happen? 
So many beliefs,
To ponder, oh what a sweet treat.

I received the outline of this tattoo while sitting on a beach leaning and watching waves crash while sipping a cocktail. It was completely finished almost 10 hours after first starting; I swore to never get another tattoo with a gun.

Healing Powers of Plants

“Who is going to market today?” asked the professor of my Practice of Sustainable Agriculture Course in College.
Everybody’s hands shot up.
Market is where the farmer is validated, seen, thanked; market on campus is where students flirt and pretty girls see handsome farm guys.

Our teacher divvied up harvest tasks.
“You’re bunching radishes, you’re doing beets, you clean the salad mix, you get the truck ready… Do I have anybody to cut flowers for bouquets?”
None of the 24 students raised our hands.
The teacher smiled.
“Bob, what do you say? You want to make bouquets today?”
Everybody turned in silence.

I was the only person who recently went on a one week camping trip,
Touring two dozen farms around Washington State and didn’t use a puss pad.
I worked and laughed with my classmates,
But at the end of the day I hung out alone, writing and reading
Instead of laughing and talking around the fires.
I was the only Veteran, and everybody knew it. 
Not the oldest person in class, at 25 years old, I was the third oldest.
And he wanted ME to pick flowers? Ha!

“Sure, I’ll do whatever is needed.”

With two five gallon buckets half full of water, I went to the flower patch
And started looking for color variety, shape combinations, perfection.
I didn’t know the difference between a snapdragon and a tulip,
A delphinium and an Aster, but I did my best finding ripe flowers to cut and put
In the bucket. After about ten minutes of working the way I too often do,
With head down and rapid movement,
I stopped.
The smell of flowers covered in morning dew with clover, rye and vetch overwhelmed me. The sound of hundreds of bees floating from flower to flower, ignoring my prideful self, completely unafraid of me, was like a mantra or prayer within my tortured soul.
The silent laughter of my classmates in the fields with the tall spruce trees
Smiling in the surrounding forest warmed my cold heart and made me feel
Love from some kind of God that I had turned my back on. I felt soft for the first time since I could remember.
I dropped to my knees on the edge of the flower bed and wept.
I cried out the feelings of abandonment from my father, abandonment from my mother, abandonment from my brother, abandonment from God and abandonment from friends.
I cried out a failed marriage as a 19 year old alcoholic who pointed out all of her faults while thinking I was perfect.
I cried out the forgotten feelings of abandoning my only brother in prison, of mistreating my mother and never reaching out to my father.
I cried out the two years in Iraq, where I shot at dozens of people and watched people bleed to death and cry over dead relatives.
I cried out the fear I had
Forced on thousands of people as I kicked down their doors in the darkness and pointed my rifle in their faces while yelling in a foreign language.
I cried out my misunderstanding of Good and Evil and Ignorance.
And then I realized that I was just another poor kid who was trying to do Good but was instead forced into doing Evil.
I cried and cried and cried like I hadn’t cried in years.

And then I stood up and continued harvesting the flowers.

This is Why I Live Here

Finally! Spring is here! Today was warm and clear with sunshine from 7 am until just now at 9 pm as the sun sets and I sit in the Laz-e-boy writing this post while Savanna breastfeeds Primrose and rocks her to sleep on the other side of the wood stove. 11 flats of plants takes up the living room. We start the plants inside the house and walk them out to the greenhouse in the morning and bring them back at night. We bought a garden cart this year that allows us to take 3 flats at once instead of 1 at a time, it sure saves time and energy. An essential oil burner lets off the scent of Ylang Ylang and Texas Cedarwood, blanketing our home with a calm feel of tranquil ease. A volcano can be seen from my chair, Mt. Iliamna to be exact, the sun is behind her in her reddish pink perfection just like fireweed with purples and blues to my front. The dogs are settling down after a long day of outdoor play and my hands are cut and swollen from long sought after labor.
It’s been a good day.

A zoomed in view of Mount Iliamna from our living room.

80 degrees in the greenhouse today, I worked with my shirt off and was kissed by the sun on my face. Savanna and I planned out the garden beds, transplanted tomatoes, took turns playing with Primrose as she crawled on all fours in the dirt picking at clovers and straw, and smiled at each other.
The chickens explored further today than in 6 months and we harvested 18 eggs. They are barely eating any food anymore, little foragers they are. I get so much joy out of watching them. Primrose loves it here. She has so much fun every single day, what child wouldn’t?
Not to ramble, but life is really wonderful when I stay in the present moment.
I am currently reading a few books I wish to share…
The Seven Storey Mountain: Thomas Merton
Doctor Sleep: Stephen King
Night Sky With Exit Wounds: Ocean Vuong
Four Season Harvest Handbook: Eliot Coleman
Bible: Book of Mark

I am provided so much peace from watching the chickens.

Lots of love from this man, I hope you are all enjoying Spring like we are out here on the farm.
I wrote this poem while I was in India in 2008.

Ap Ka Nam Sundar (Your Name is Beautiful)
For Rosie O’Donnell
Every object on this planet
Is the same in beauty;
A white peony is no more lovely than a wilting daisy.
A snowy pine is no more lovely than a desert cacti.
The most celebrated cathedral,
Complete with every window stained,
Is equal in beauty to an Iraqi mosque.
Paris Hilton is not sexier than Rosie O’Donnell & 
Brad Pitt is not better looking than Stephan Hawking.
Orange juice & apple juice are equal.
A bottle of wine that costs two hundred & fifty bucks
Is the same as a five dollar box.
When you gaze at the Himalayan snow capped mountains,
Look behind you at the lowlands;
No view is better than another.
A diamond ring flaunted by an Indian bride
Is equal to a plastic Ring-Pop worn by an Alaskan.
One man’s Armani is another man’s robe.
One woman’s wedding dress is another’s grass skirt.
White pen, black pen, brown pen, yellow—
All equal in beauty.
The beauty lies not in the objects,
Do not let this common misconception deceive;
The objects, my friends, are equal.

P.S. Did I mention that I’ve finally realized the possibilities of working for ourselves out here and am planning to do so many fun little projects this year to provide better accessibility to our property and to beautify an already beautiful place. I couldn’t do these things if I was stressing over money and work for somebody else… I couldn’t do these things if I was married to somebody who was constantly hounding me to make more money, not take naps, and get a “real” job. My wife is the best!

Baby ate cold mud
With black smile and bright blue eyes
Spring buds almost here.

Not All Days Are As Good As Pie

Josh Blaney and I with a truck full of Iraqi men with sandbags over their heads and their wrists flex-cuffed behind their backs.

Yesterday I had a rough day. My counselor asked me what I was angry about and I said, “I’m angry about my fucking parents dying; I’m angry about going to war; I’m angry about still not being a paid writer; I’m angry about not being a paid farmer; I’m angry about feeling insufficient.”

I never learned how to process the grief that came from the death of my mother. And while people tell me, and I often feel, that my mother is still with me. How does one get over the loss of somebody so important in your life? And not feel that life is unfair because she died at 56…

And who knows what else I said, while my lovely wife cried beside and our baby crawled around the tiny cabin’s dirty floor. Not being able to sell eggs set me off. Triggered me and brought out my disappointment about resigning from the director position of a nonprofit organization called, 907VETS. I didn’t realize how bad I had wanted it to work out, how bad I felt after being pushed and pushed and pushed and not listened to and not trusted and bossed around by one of the board members. Until I just couldn’t take it anymore, and I resigned. I had one of those days where I feel like nothing I do will ever be successful. Where I felt like a “pussy bitch”, in my words. Not being able to hold a steady job to pay for my family’s dreams, and not wanting a steady job because I want to be a writer and farmer, the reasons I bought this place and moved out here in 2012. Because of those feelings of not being on the right track, I lost all sight of God’s plan for me, whatever that may be. While Savanna kept reassuring me that all will work out as it should and that we don’t need the money right now and that I’m doing the most important thing I can by being here for her and Primrose, I couldn’t shake the feeling of being a less-than-man.

I played the ukulele and officiated my friends’ wedding. While it was and is a highlight in my life, can I say that it was a “manly” thing to do? The definition of “manliness” is such a confusing concept to me, and I know that I am not the only person who feels much torture because of these made up gender roles.

My counselor said, “You did the manliest thing possible. You were a soldier during war time, and a good one at that.”
He is right. But those skills I used during the military don’t come in handy at all, and I can never talk about it with anybody, so nobody really knows beside my comrades who I never talk to, and myself. Instead, I’m sitting here worrying what people NOW think about me, and it makes me feel less than… I don’t want to be the hyper-aggressive man that I was…

Look at that baby face. It doesn’t matter how old you are, you can be trained to fire a grenade launcher.

I can’t begin to understand how I am not supposed to compare myself to people. That’s what people tell me to do, all the time. I was raised comparing myself to siblings and neighbors, to other skateboarders, athletes, students and boys trying to get the girl. I compared myself to enemies in Iraq and to my comrades by trying to be the best soldier so I could not only stay alive and keep my buddies alive but kill the other guys and get quality training beforehand that was only reserved for the bad boys. Then in college, I was constantly comparing for scholarships, attention, rental places, and the like. And then after, I’m comparing for jobs, careers, jobs, spouses, and sending my writing to agents, publications and the such that reject me because they have somebody better. So all of the sudden I’m supposed to not compare myself to people? What?! I am a member of a culture that severely competes with our own people, and now it’s all supposed to change?
How am I supposed to do it?

It’s so damn easy to pray to God when things are good, to cry to God when things are super bad, to say I have Faith in the afterlife and all that jazz, but what about the in between states… When they’re not really good and not super bad… What about having Faith in not only the afterlife, but in the here and now? I kept repeating the paraphrased scripture in my head today, from Matthew 6:26-34 that says:

26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 Which of you by worrying can add one [a]cubit to his [b]stature?

28 “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not[c]arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will Henot much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

If I could only full embrace these teachings and live them instead of worrying every single day about nothing and everything at the same time.

Sometimes I wish I could just sit on a seat like this in the sun and forget about all of my plans, dreams, and hopes for the future. How do you find a balance between pursuing dreams for the future and living in the glory of the moment?

Yesterday, after the counseling session where I was so damn close to breaking into tears, my two girls and I went out to the Homer Spit where I parked the car and Savanna sat inside with her seat leaned back while Primrose and I walked the beach for at least two hours. Listening to the waves, watching the birds fly freely without backpacks full of traveler’s checks and books, enjoying life instead of worrying about the future.

I loved watching these birds soar only inches above the waves in Mexico. They didn’t seem to have a care or worry at all.

No Person Should Treat People Like I Did In Iraq

I like to feel pain—
Not constantly for weeks on end,
but for a couple hours
every couple weeks
as a reminder for 
pain I caused.

I felt pain last night
During a Columbia University colloquium
about institutionalized racism against Palestinians & Muslims
in which I played a part.
A bayonet stabbed my heart,
it felt good to bleed.
I woke up at five unable to fall back asleep. 
Memories whipped around like tracers and shrapnel. 

The difference between thought and memory is the inability to control.

Life is constant-
Babies grow and poop.
Some days easy, others hard.
Smile, laugh, cry.
Smile, laugh, cry.
Smile, laugh, cry.

(Pause…Deep breaths…Sips of Coffee…Stare…Release…)

My baby fat cheeks flush with embarrassment
“Sorry my gun is in your face— you see— 
I’m terrified you’ll kill me.
Are you hiding explosives under that hijab? Take it off!
Oh, you can’t understand me? 
Here, let me help you…
Please don’t scream— It’s only hair—
I won’t get turned on by your hair alone— I swear—
You people smell funny anyway—
I don’t think I could #$@! you if you wanted me to—
Please don’t cry— It’s only temporary—
Your husband and sons will be back in a few days, weeks, years—
-Please, stop screaming- –
Don’t make me push you to the floor and put my boot in your back
You fucking bitch. Shut up!
Go stand in the corner with your forehead to the wall and back to the room!
We are not here for you, so shut your trap or I’ll shut it for you.”

My cheeks are sunken with malnutrition of spirit, mind and body.
I cannot eat enough, exercise enough, 
Pray enough or take enough vitamins
To become healthy like I wanted
Before war
Destroyed me. 

Pecan Pie

How did I marry the most beautiful woman in the world? Here is Savanna from the top of Alyeska Ski Resort in Girdwood, Alaska.

Every Wednesday Savanna, Primrose and I go to our good friends’, Barry and Donna White’s home for supper. We cherish this weekly routine as one of the only social events we do at all, especially during Covid Timez. Last week, I mentioned to Donna that my favorite pie is easily Pecan, and what the heck would ya know, she baked a Pecan Pie from scratch. It was the best darn pie I’ve tasted since living in Georgia! She gave us the half that was left after dinner to take home, I had a thin slice first thing this morning and two slices today. It was Savanna’s first time having Pecan, and now she can understand why it’s my favorite.
My prayer before eating the pie was simple. “Thank you God, for pie.”
I was trying to talk Savanna into baking a pie each week that we could have around to munch on but she thinks we’ll get fat, although I’m already thirty pounds overweight. I think I’ll have to take this one on myself.

We love living out here in the country, where silence is so loud it is like a real life character, an old friend who brings great wisdom. Today was a wonderful day. Warm (38 degrees), melting snow, buckets of rainwater to drink, I reseeded broccoli, Brussels, tomatoes, cauliflower; transplanted felt leaf willows and seeded marigold, cabbage, basil, nasturtium, calendula, toothache plant, baby’s breath and bee balm. Had a visit from a neighbor/friend who I always love to talk with. Sold a few eggs, harvested 25. Worked in the high tunnel with Primrose on my chest then set her on a big pile of straw that I was pitchforking into a sled to pull to the chicken coop. She sat in the sled with the straw and a huge smile on her face. I watched the puppy play with a ripped up sandal all over the yard, and listened to the two big dogs breath calmly from the living room floor. Savanna and I started reading a book aloud together Doctor Sleep by Stephen King, the sequel to The Shining. We are super psyched! We finished painting our bee boxes in preparation for the 28th, when the bees arrive, and Savanna made my new favorite soup, a French Onion. Being married to your best friend is the bee’s knees!

We are back in the egg business! Yes! Farm fresh eggs are the best! Every shape and color is so different.

I absolutely love our slow and quiet days out here in the country. And while I wouldn’t mind spending our winters someplace warm where we can grow food and swim and enjoy the sunshine, if we are never able to leave here again I would be happy. I have always been a homebody, especially now that I have a home of my own. Here’s another poem, this one is about the often overlooked wisdom that comes from Silence.

Priceless Old Tool

Silence exists like rock in Earth,
Often mistaken as having no worth;
Trunks without treasure, useless old tools,
Silence avoided at prestigious schools.

Ice floe in layers over river beneath,
Fish swim in schools, chickadees peep;
Breeze rustles grasping cottonwood leaf,
Airplane flies over— silence beseeched.

Debate between sandbar and ocean a stream,
Of sound and expression, rip tides and screams;
Snore of two dogs, tea kettle steams
Frost inside window— seam between scenes.

Answers unheard with radio on,
Pandora playlist with favorite new songs;
Talking and talking to prove others wrong.
Secrets revealed in silence at home.

Importance of Having a Home

I am a very, very lucky man. I have a warm home with two heaters, a few small leaks in the roof and fresh air that streams through the trim around north facing windows. The floor is cold but not frozen. Our bath tub is currently full of dirty water from doing the laundry, our pipes froze under the house again due to the 7 degree temperatures this morning and yesterday. No big deal, really. It’ll warm up next week and unthaw, and next season I will get back under the house and fix the problem. A clothes line hangs in the living room with drying clothes just above our heads. Our three dogs have clean beds, plenty of food and clean water. Our cat has dozens of beds. All of the animals received plenty of salmon scraps today, and on a regular. We have a toilet inside that is used by Savanna for Number One and an Outhouse outside for Number Two. A well is powered by a generator that brings water upstairs into a 65 gallon tank that gravity feeds for us to do dishes, fill water to heat on the stove, and bring the chickens water. We received 15 eggs today. Our baby has her own bed in our warm room, both of our beds are made of Wool and handmade by Home of Wool in Bulgaria. We have THREE vehicles that run, one has a flat tire and needs some work. Our bedroom has two walls with inlaid bookshelves that are filled from floor to ceiling with comics, books and movies. We have a dozen buckets full of dry food in our food cache, a freezer full of fish and fruit and dozens of jars of home canned products on the shelf. We paid off our home last year and live off grid, and since we are receiving more sunlight we are using far less gas to power our batteries. We have a loft with a hide a bed, a tiny closet we share, a cook stove with pots and pans, and a small tool shed with enough tools to handle business. But most importantly, we have each other.

Yet still, human nature takes over and my mind wanders and wanders to faraway lands. I read a book set in France and I start researching travel to France. I look at a map of USA and I begin thinking about moving the family to New Mexico. I watch a movie based in Mexico and I check out every movie in the library on Mexico while thinking about moving there. At least every single day for at least one minute I think about leaving our home for a warmer climate, where it isn’t 7 degrees almost three weeks into Spring. Where we can swim!!! And where our baby can be around other children, running barefoot and playing in the water. A place where we can grow food year round instead of for our short growing season. A bigger house that doesn’t feel so cramped and cluttered even though we barely have anything compared to the Modern American.

And then I remember how many damn people all around the world are starving to death. I see their faces from my travels, and I know there are millions more. I remember the millions of people who are refugees, the millions of others who are homeless and the millions of others who live in big homes near sunny beaches and who don’t have any time to enjoy them because they’re too busy to work.

Savanna demands that we never sell this property and that we keep it our home. And while I can agree to not sell the house and land and to always have a home here in Alaska, I don’t want to close the door on God granted opportunities for us to be of service in other parts of the world. And to enjoy the gifts of the Cosmos, such as warmth, water, and wellness.
I wrote this poem sometime this year when I was getting a little stir crazy and angry about the Covid scare, food shortages, gun hungry neighbors and life. It helped me through a tough time.

What do you do to get through tough times in a healthy way?

Importance of Having a Home

Forty-four t-posts to keep out moose
From eating the fruit trees and killing our roots,
Seiner net fence cost two bucks in gas
Smells of old herring with plenty of gaps,
Pulled from the dump bin at the Gear Shed
Strung up eight feet above my head.
Bees collect pollen, I collect eggs
Wife collects pictures, dog has old legs,
Dandelions blossom, nettles sure sting
Life is too short—Just like the spring,
Life is too short—Just like our spring.

Masks on the shifter, disinfectant in nook
People with gloves on pass us weird looks,
Shifty hands—fingertips 
Repulsive eyes—hidden lips
No more teeth—expensive beef 
Aisles too small—carts stacked tall
Riots erupt—virus spreads
Over 300,000 dead!!!

Yarrow dries inside our home
Wife and I share a phone
Watch the dogs chew a bone
It sure is peaceful in our home.
Eat and watch bees collect
Baby moose stops at net
Our baby drops—Not just yet!
Savanna’s hips are almost set.
In a dream, the natural world
Berries, sunsets, family curled
Up together in our bed
Today’s memories in our heads.

It’s nothing fun to kill a pig
Pluck a chicken, wear a wig
Cancer kills—don’t forget
To watch the moon rise and set.

Sometimes I want to move away
To a warmer place, to swim all day
With board shorts on and toes in sand
Wifey smiling, white teeth on tan.
Speak Español on the reg
Beads of sweat drip down my head
Mangoes, piña, avocado, bread
Raise our child…
Away from the cold, gun heavy hearts of incessantly shooting neighbors!!!

But right now… 

Our home is here;
In the woods with water near
Safe and happy, a little cold
Love that warms from the soul.

A buddy of mine sent this to me the other day and I had to share. I am DREAMING of summer!

Thanks for reading, I hope everybody reading this has a place they call home.

Evidence Intake Center

I received mail today denying me of any form of disability from the VA relating to my ankles, knees, upper back and neck, and hearing. There is no evidence that my four and a half years as an airborne infantryman, with two years in Iraq, had any impact on those parts of my body. I guess that’s what happens when you tough it out and don’t complain. Only thing I don’t understand is how I have met some people with 0 combat time who receive 100 percent disability? It’s a strange system, one I don’t trust. I would be laying if I said that this doesn’t upset me, but hey, what can I do about it?
My baby slept in her own bed for the first time last night, my wife and I played a game of Kings Corner today, we ate salmon with chimichurri and had a really wonderful day. Life is good.

Here is a poem to honor some of the secrets we all keep. What secrets do you have that you write about? Writing is the most effective way I have found to confess and move forward. What tricks do you use?

Secrets of a Cop Killer

Sometimes I want to tell people that I killed two cops in Iraq, 
but it would be like telling them that I write poetry; 
I won’t admit either.

Occasions arise to gain street cred from hard folks 
who swap tales like pictures of girlfriends;
I listen to them brag, and smirk.

Occasions arise to gain street cred from rich folks
who ask me to drive after a cop passes by.
“Unpaid tickets,” they say. “I hate cops.”
I take the wheel.

Should I tell them I killed two cops in a firefight? 

I laugh hysterically at their imagined reactions 
then visualize cold bodied facts;
If God and Karma do exist, 
and I sometimes believe in both,
I should not laugh about killing.
So I stop laughing and feel guilty instead.

“What were you laughing about?”

“Oh, nothing.”

Do I tell standing trees 
about killing and burning their kin 
for heat in my wood stove?