Thursday, December 30, 2010

A mother's nightmare; a mother's dream

Chris' self portrait taken in the garden in late December 2010 is symbolic. This is his home, and he loves it. But he's a ghost here, always en route to a new adventure. 
 I read about your son--truly a mother's nightmare. I was wondering how you restrain yourself from locking him in his room until I read the follow-up story about how much he loves what he does. I'm glad he is home for a bit--I'm sure you are too.
The email message above arrived yesterday and made me study my wonderfully alive and well son sitting at his computer editing his photos from Africa. What happened in Africa in early December was a "mother's nightmare," and a father's and a family's nightmare as well. A horrific tragedy occurred, and Chris could have been the victim as easily as the man who died. 
If you're reading this, you likely know that Chris was one of three kayakers on an expedition that entailed paddling rivers never before navigated in the heart of Africa—the Democratic Republic of Congo. They successfully ran incredibly challenging whitewater, something they've done all over the world. They know how to measure a rapid's or a waterfall's risk and weigh the consequences of error. They can walk away, and they often do. But a giant crocodile exploded from the Lukuga River, grabbed one man by the shoulder and capsized his kayak. Hendri Coetzee was gone. 
Chris and his companion, Ben Stookesberry, were stunned and horrified. There was nothing they could do for Hendri, so they paddled furiously and pulled out of the river at a village less than a kilometer downstream. They told villagers the tragic story and asked for help looking for Hendri. But the villagers, who were otherwise helpful, refused to enter the river. The croc, estimated at 15-feet long, had already killed nine people in recent years. 
The next day, vacationing in Costa Rica, PK and I got an email from Chris informing us of what had transpired. Our first thought, "Thank God it wasn't Chris!" Then guilt  because somehow that equates to we're glad it was the other guy. But that's not true. We're deeply sorry that anyone died this way. Our hearts go out to Hendri's family and friends. I  regret never getting to meet such an incredible young man, and am grateful that Chris was able to benefit from Hendri's energy, experience, and insights.


Media frenzy ensued. 
An AP  quote, via email,  from PK and me in Costa Rica:
All of us with loved ones engaged in extreme risk as a lifestyle and vocation live in dread of getting bad news, but at the same time we are wildly proud of our sons for their courage and determination to be explorers in a time when most people think terrestrial, social, and environmental exploration is over. We didn't know Hendri, but will miss his presence on earth and in the life of our son.
Amen to that. But what about that impulse to "lock him in his room?"
Last spring I called Chris as I was obsessing about his plans to run a big, bad waterfall. "Why do you have to do this," I asked. "What's the point?"
The point was he wanted to do it, he said. And, he added, I was in greater danger driving than he was running waterfalls that he had carefully measured himself against. Ten minutes later,  on a deserted street in our quiet little Oregon town, a man had a heart attack while driving and plowed into the back of the vehicle I'd exited about a minute earlier.  My car was totaled, spun around and pointed the other direction. The errant driver died. So could have I. 
Ok, Chris, I believe you. Perhaps risk is relative, and the greatest danger is mediocrity, of playing it safe, of avoiding risk. (says she with a blog entitled Ordinary Life!) Well, I have to tell you. One of life's greatest risks—and joys—is having children. You raise someone as far as you're able, then they're launched and all you can do is watch and hope. Loving someone as deeply as most parents love their children is a huge and unavoidable vulnerability. Loving children is a exploration into the depths and heights of being human. It is at once dangerous and thrilling. I hope one day you dare to take the plunge. 
I'm not advocating that our youngest son forsake his adventuring soul and give it all up for a  home in the suburbs or work in a cubicle. My dream for him is that he can continue exploring the globe and his inner self, accepting physical and mental challenges, and make a living doing so. He's one of an elite group of seekers who dares to step far outside the boundaries of what most others think possible. But I also hope  that he never turns completely away from the ordinary life of making a home and  having a family. Because it's good, too, and has its own rewards—and even an occasional thrill. 

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Thanksgiving retrospective

I never thought I'd eat a wild turkey, but once you start, you can't stop! Cooked, of course. 
"Retrospective" sounds heavy, but don't worry. There's nothing serious about Thanksgiving these days, except for serious fun. I have a seriously ordinary life, as my blog title indicates, but a few times a year I rise out of the grinding slog of food production, cat placation, and the very real and pathetic toil of trying to turn back the relentless processes overtaking  my aging body to forget all that and get down.

Last year's post tells a lot about Thanksgiving that I won't repeat. This year was a rolicking continuation, but with more people, including the most darling Korbulic, Noah, a new life on earth for whom I am truly grateful.
Six-month-old Noah with mom, Heather, taking a break from reading Dr. Seuss.
I can't think of anything more life-affirming than a baby so incredibly delighted with everything. 
Nine of the female cooks, and one brave male, posing behind the feast. We're all about substance, not presentation, so the dishes are arranged buffet-style on the ping pong table (ping pong being a fiercely executed two-day contest) atop cardboard to protect the table. The Franks actually transport the table from their wine barn, along with a Bocci Ball set and Washoes, a game sorta like horseshoes. 
The cool new thing this year was going local. We cooks and food-producers—that includes everyone in attendance one way or another, and this year we had 20 (or was that 21)— determined last year to make the 2010 Thanksgiving a local feed.
We're so with the locavore trend, aren't we? It's harder than it seems. We pared down to an 80 percent commitment. Where you gonna get salt? The mandatory Crowley cheese?  But anyway, the feast was primarily homegrown and homemade, gleaned from our gardens, cold frames, vineyards, (thanks, Franks, for all the wine!) freezers, and in one case, the fields and forest.
Tom, left, with a 25-pound wild turkey, and Gordy, with a more chicken-sized bird. We ate them both for dinner.
The birds, not the men. I arrived at the assassination scene moments after the birds were dispatched several days before Thanksgiving. They'd been feeding  in the Frank's grain-baited field.  These two were blown away in a second. I helped a bit with feathers and guts while the birds who died for us were still warm. They were thanked.
I felt not even a twinge of guilt. None. I feel  remorse for animals grown to kill and who live in feedlots and crappy stalls, and the commercial  turkeys whose breasts get so large they can no longer stand.  It's much more humane to "harvest" a wild turkey, and much healthier, too. At this advanced stage of life, I regret not learning to hunt, as several of our acquaintances do, but few women. I used to abhor hunting, but since deciding I am comfortable on top of the food chain (except for grizzlies, tigers, etc.) I would ideally  prefer taking responsibility for what I eat. I know this isn't going to happen. But still. We know many families whose freezers are full of elk, venison, and, especially, wild salmon. I think we can at least manage to fit in some salmon by rearranging tomatoes, chard, and peas.
Gail had some fancy wild-turkey recipe that called for wine,  raspberries and bacon.
The bacon came from right down the road, by the way, along with a ham that was on the
Thanksgiving (ping pong) table. 

The birds in bags ready for the oven.

Ready to eat! I expected tough and gamey, but not at all.
It tasted like, well, regular turkey. Delicious. 
In addition to the turkey, culinary highlights included Rogue Creamery smokey blue cheese, an incredible raw apple pie (when Shelley provides the recipe, I'll post it.), salmon, fresh green salads, veggie dishes, and abundant cabernet & syrah and other red varietals, much contributed by the Franks from their home vineyard.  Our festivities required two days at Whisper Canyon Ranch, a wonderful oh-so-Oregon forested hollow near Lake Selmac. Did I mention that all but six of us sleep in a bunkhouse! It's a cushy bunkhouse, though, with dividers between bunk beds, a great woodstove, and numerous toilets, showers, and sinks.
Thanksgiving is an activity-packed two days, each culminating with a dance party—for those who can last past too much to eat, too much to drink, and non stop fun. That would be me, among others.

And that was just the start of my getting-down-ness for the holiday season. PK and I leave tomorrow for nearly 3 weeks in Costa Rica, where amidst the fronds and frogs, cloud forests and smoking volcanoes, we'll escape the dreary spectacle of commercial USA Christmas and try to retain the pure and free spirit of Thanksgiving. Too bad we couldn't take the whole gang with us.
For more photos...