Author Archives: bus chick

Back on the bus

It’s 2021, and we’re still deep in the pandemic. Since my last post, two people in my extended circle of love have died of Covid. Two of my closest sister-friends are currently ill. One of them has been hospitalized. Twice. Things are definitely not back to normal.

And yet, several obligations that require me to travel outside of my neighborhood have resumed.

So, I’m back on the bus.

In many ways, my return to Metro feels like coming home. Last Tuesday, I found myself on a 4 Smooth Jazz was driving. He was healthy and laid back as ever, and I have never been happier to see him. I happened to be riding to the end of the line, so I stopped for a (masked) conversation on my way off the bus. He shared updates about DDC* life (driving during Covid, that is) and then blessed me with suckers and chocolate to share with my crew. It was like old times. Better, even.

Riding my regular routes again, checking OneBusAway to see what’s coming, having (distanced) chats with strangers at stops, tapping my ORCA card on the reader, hustling across the street holding hands with one of my kids—all of that feels really good, like I’ve regained some of what I’ve spent almost a full year missing.

But so much of what was beautiful about riding the bus is still missing. My pandemic rides feel, well … stressful. I no longer relax into my seat and stare out the window or sink into a book. Instead, I eye the other passengers warily, watching for mask and distance violations.

There are no more spontaneous conversations with fellow riders. No bus-wide discussions. No seat-sharing with acquaintances I run into on my rides. These days, I perch on the edge of my seat, alone and on alert, until I arrive at my stop.

But despite the enforced separation, I am feeling more solidarity than ever with my fellow riders.

There’s been a lot of discussion about all the trips that have disappeared since March of 2020. But thousands of daily trips never went away. Covid has laid bare what people who depend on transit have been saying: “Rush hour” isn’t the beginning and end of a transit system. The trips that continued, uninterrupted, throughout the pandemic—daycare drop-offs and grocery runs and laundromat visits and medical appointments—are. These trips, and the people who take them, should be at the center of our transit planning.

A transit system designed around the needs of essential workers, poor people, disabled people, immigrants, youth, and the elderly is frequent, all-day, affordable, accessible, and reliable. In other words, it is a transit system that works for everyone.

Let’s make sure this critical lesson lasts beyond our return to “normal.”

A King County Metro bus stopped at a bus stop. The words "essential trips only" show up in the bus's lighted display.
Photo credit, SounderBruce

***

*Might need to add this to term to my bus glossary.

2020, in (mediocre) pictures

What I will remember about this year, in addition to the obvious:

Growing stuff

Over the past several years, as my climate anxiety has increased, I have become more and more interested in plant life. One of the ways this has manifested has been in an increasing obsession with house plants.

I have channeled much of my pandemic grief and helplessness into nurturing struggling and/or discarded plants, including this sweet baby, which I found next to a “free” sign on someone’s porch. (Note that photos are, per usual, Carla quality.)

Image description: A photo of a terracotta pot that contains a plant stem with no foliage.
Sweet Baby Girl in March
Image description: Several potted plants, including monstera plant with many leaves.
Baby Girl (with friends) today

We also attempted (and mostly failed at) growing food. I ambitiously bought packets of seeds (basil, parsley, tomatoes, carrots) in March, thinking the project would be a good learning experience for the kids and a good way for us to stay connected and grounded during a time defined by screens.

The experiment started well; at least, the seeds germinated as expected.

Image description:  A close up photo of newly sprouted tomato starts
Future tomatoes

Unfortunately, very few of the plants made it past the start stage. After many months of tending (during which only a few plants survived long enough to be moved outside), we harvested a handful of parsley, enough basil to make one batch of pesto, and zero tomatoes. The carrots, which we attempted to germinate outside later in the spring, never sprouted at all.

Our pandemic experiment was not the first time we failed at growing food. In past years, we’ve planted collards, lettuce, broccoli, and pumpkins. We cared for all of them according to the experts’ instructions, without success.

After this latest debacle, I decided that growing food was not my/our “thing” and vowed to limit family farming adventures to harvesting the apples from our tree. But then last month, when we soaked some dried black beans a bit (OK, a lot) longer than necessary, several of the beans sprouted. What could I do but put the sprouts in some dirt?

As I type, I have bean plants growing on my bedroom windowsill. One has an actual bean pod. So maybe, just maybe. We shall see.

Image description: A close-up photo of a bean pod growing on a bean plant
Future food?

Since 2018, the kids and I have served as “forest stewards” at our neighborhood park. The title is impressive, but the job is pretty basic: We manage a small planted area of young trees and native plants. This year, we (OK, I) spent most of our work hours removing invasive blackberries.

Image description: A large, blue tarp, wider than two park benches, covered with a pile of blackberry vines
The results of our first afternoon of blackberry removal

Digging up blackberries is tough work. And, though I love nature in theory, I’m not really much of an “outdoor” person. I’m cold natured and comfort seeking and a bit on the skittish side. But the hours I’ve spent on this strenuous, sometimes painful job have been some of the most satisfying I’ve spent since the pandemic started. Each time I do it, I become so focused, I lose track of time, rescuing tree after tree from the choking vines, until it’s too dark to see. I leave feeling tired and proud of my efforts. And even a little bit hopeful.

Mutual aid

For me, the most beautiful thing about 2020 has been watching people take care of each other. From Seattle Community Kitchen serving free chef-cooked meals, to Covid-19 Mutual Aid delivering groceries and hygiene products across the region, to the Seattle Transit Riders Union creating a solidarity fund to buy propane and other necessities for unhoused neighbors, to Bike Works and 350 Seattle organizing a bike drive for emergency transportation support, folks stepped up and stood in the gap for each other.

2020 pushed us toward the future many have been working to build for a long time: a future of, peer-to-peer support, without roles like “giver” or “receiver.” A future where we recognize that our destinies are intertwined, and we finally, finally start acting like it.

Image descriptions: Several items displaced on a purple, blue, and green bedspread: a package of N95 masks, a jar of elderberry syrup, a sealed bag of immune tea, and a $20 gift card
Some of the contents of a bus driver “care package”: N95 masks, elderberry syrup, immune tea, and a takeout gift card for a local small business

Marking milestones

In May, my brother Jeremy turned 40. In August, my church friend, Mrs. Alcine Wyatt, turned 100(!). In November, my baby girl turned 13. (Yes, folks, I’m a teenager in bus mom years.) And, also in November, by youngest nibbling, SC, celebrated her first trip around the sun.

It was hard to not be able to gather in ways that we’re used to. But we marked every occasion nonetheless.

Mrs. Wyatt’s loved ones planned a “drive-by” parade. Folks drove past her home at an appointed time, playing music and waving signs from their cars. Our crew walked up, of course, which meant we had the honor of being Mrs. Wyatt’s birthday elves. We transported gifts and cards from her well wishers’ car windows to a box just inside her front gate.

We celebrated Chicklet with a few of her closest buddies in our front yard. We set up a projector and screen in the late afternoon, just as it was starting to get dark. Then, we lit lots of candles; passed out blankets, handwarmers, and hot cider; and watched an outdoor movie.

For my other two beloveds, we gathered outside and shared stories (and, on SC’s big day, Seahawk-themed doughnuts).

Nothing was as we would have wished, but we did what we could. Because if there’s one thing 2020 has taught us, it’s to give folks their flowers—and “Happy 100th birthday” cards—now.

Image description: A chain link fence decorate with balloons in the shape of the number 100. Behind the fence is a porch, and on the porch sits an elderly woman wearing a birthday sash.
The birthday girl, enjoying her celebration from a distance.

The badasses of the WNBA

One thing I don’t write about much here is my lifelong obsession with basketball. So for those who didn’t know: Basketball is my sport, the WNBA is my league, and the Seattle Storm is my team. (Yes, I spent 30+ years as a Sonics fan. And yes, I’m still bitter.)

I appreciate the WNBA players so much—their leadership, their integrity, their sports(wo)manship. This year in particular, the players showed leadership in the fight for racial justice, putting forth a social justice agenda and insisting that the league adopt it.

Watching the games in the “Wubble” kept me sane this summer. And watching the Storm play team ball all the way to a fourth championship was my idea of basketball nirvana.

Much respect and gratitude to these women of talent, principle, perseverance, and integrity. They held me up (and down) when it felt like everything was falling apart. Their courage and strength became my courage and strength, and helped me rise to the many challenges this year presented.

Image description: 10 women, members of the Seattle Storm basketball team, of different ages, sizes and races. All are raising their right fists and wearing Covid masks and t-shirts that say, "Arrest the cops that killed Breonna Taylor."
My sheroes
Image description: A newspaper front page with the headline, "A perfect Storm." Below the headline is a photo of the Storm players, celebrating as green and yellow confetti falls around them.
CHAMPS!

I don’t have any illusions that the hardships we’ve experienced in 2020 will vanish when the calendar changes to a new year. But I do have hope that we, the people, will continue to unify around the things that matter: care for each other and our shared home. Let’s make 2021 a year of transformation.

Image description: A black and white block print of a bus. In the area for the route number and destination is the text, "2021: To Justice, via LOVE."

Onward.

***

P.S. – Here’s a list of the books I read in 2020. It was tough to find time (and often tough to concentrate), but I’m grateful for the ways these authors shifted my understanding, enhanced my knowledge, inspired my action, or just plain entertained me.

The losses we don’t name

One thing I’ve heard repeated a lot this year is that Covid has clarified what is important. This doesn’t resonate much with me, in part because I have never really struggled with perspective—certainly not since watching my mother die prematurely from a prolonged and horrific disease—and also because I haven’t reached the same conclusion as most of the people saying it. For many, Covid has reinforced the importance of family and other close relationships. For me, it has reinforced the importance of random encounters with semi-strangers.

I’ve ridden the bus four times since March 12. This is, of course, an indication of my privilege. Every member of my household is working or schooling remotely. We bike for groceries (a practice we started three years ago, when Red Apple closed). With work, school, and food covered, we don’t have any essential trips. So, out of respect for bus drivers and other essential workers who must ride, and out of respect for load limits, we’ve been staying off the bus. Truth be told, except for daily walks around the neighborhood (and occasional work at the park where we volunteer), we spend most of our time inside.

I’m profoundly lonely, but not for the reasons you might think.

Yes, I miss my family and close friends. I haven’t held my youngest nibbling, who turned one last month, since she was barely out of the newborn phase. I haven’t spent time indoors with my siblings or dad since the first statewide stay-at-home order. I haven’t hugged or shared a meal with a girlfriend in even longer.

Despite all of this, I have managed to stay connected to my people. We Zoom. We talk on the phone. We meet for walks. We email, DM, IM. I send letters (and bus stickers!) to my nibblings. I text ridiculous memes to my brothers. I Marco Polo with my bestie. I communicate with nearby neighbors via group email and text. (My neighborhood even gathered for masked, distanced outdoor movie nights over the summer.)

So, while I certainly would prefer to be present with my beloveds in the ways I am used to, I am still very connected to everyone I was in a definable relationship with before the pandemic. (I am also deeply, deeply grateful that everyone in my immediate circle is still healthy.)

The people I am missing desperately are the people I never call. The people whose numbers (and sometimes, names) I don’t know, but who I am in relationship with nonetheless.

I miss the school crossing guards. The front desk folks at the library. The bus drivers. The bus regulars. (I saw Miss Ida walking down Yesler in September and almost cried with relief and joy.) The dance school receptionist. The Real Change vendor. The not-immediate neighbors I’m on waving/”How you doin’?” terms with.

These are people who bring texture and connection and beauty to my life. I have always valued these relationships, but I didn’t realize how much I relied on them until overnight, all of them were snatched away. I don’t know if these folks are OK. I have no way to check on them or offer support.

I am not a “people person.” I am a deep believer in community and a lover of humans, but I am also a shy, introverted homebody. Left to my own devices, I would live my entire life in my head. My daily travels—walking a kiddo to school, picking up a library hold, stopping for a paper and a quick chat, greeting (and then thanking) a bus driver, running into an acquaintance on a ride—are my way of connecting to my community. They help me remember I’m not alone.

So yes, I miss my loved ones, but I never really lost them. The network of humans that held me up pre-pandemic might never return.

And that loss is profound.

On “using” the land

I think a lot about our culture’s dysfunctional and abusive relationship to the land, and how that unhealthy relationship influences much of what is unhealthy about our society. Our relationship to place, which begins with our relationship to land, is foundational; it influences everything else we do, including how we get around.

I’m not referring to the exhaustively discussed connections between transportation and “land use” (though that term does provide some insight into our cultural context); I’m saying that that the way we think about and relate to land influences how we get around. And, how we get around influences the way we think about and relate to land.

Our culture does not see inherent value in land. We have been trained to relate to it as a means to some end: either extracting “resources” for profit, or dividing it into pieces (“real estate”) to be owned by individual human beings. Taking from and abusing land is in the DNA of this settler nation. In big and small ways, we live as though land exists to please or benefit us, but not as though we owe anything back—or as though there is a limit to its ability to support our taking.

(I wrote more about how settler colonialism influences our relationship to place here.)

Our lack of connection to land keeps us from seeing beyond what we can extract from a place. We want to get “there” as fast as we can, do or buy something, and then get to the next place. Cars support this way of being, so we focus our communities around them. We are surrounded by roads, driveways, parking lots, and strip malls. We rarely consider that there is land underneath all that concrete.

And, because we’ve built an environment that revolves around cars, we can’t imagine (or often even manage) our lives without them. We use them for every trip, of every distance and level of urgency. This means that we are always moving too fast to have experiences that connect us to the land. And we are always moving too fast to notice the harm we cause.

When your days are spent driving a two-ton steel cage from your garage to a six-lane road to a freeway to another garage, you don’t get to know a place. You don’t feel the changes in terrain. You don’t experience the seasons. You don’t notice all the non-human beings who share your surroundings.

We don’t know the land, so we continue to degrade it by driving. We feel less connected to that degraded land because we drive. We become desensitized to “roadkill” and traffic deaths and exhaust and streets slick with oil. And the more disconnected we feel from the land we’ve degraded, the emptier and more restless we feel. We want to go somewhere else, to “nature.” And to do that, we must drive.

But once we get there, to “nature,” we don’t know how to be with it. We only know how to consume. And before long, all of our driving to and consuming of does more damage—to the land, and to us.

So what can we do to reclaim our relationship to the land?

The work isn’t fast. We’re in a crisis, but there is no quick fix. There is no magic policy or set of policies that will get us there. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pursue meaningful policies that prioritize the health of humans and all living beings. It does mean that no policy will save us unless and until we transform.

Of course I understand that for many of our ancestors, participation in this extractive, disconnected culture wasn’t a choice. But all of us, to varying degrees, have been indoctrinated into this harmful way of being. And our work is to find our way out.

We must start by acknowledging the truth.

Acknowledging the truth means mustering the courage to look at the harm we cause, knowing that we won’t be able to eliminate the direct harm of our own actions and choices, nor reverse the massive, planetary harm perpetrated by the culture we participate in.

We must grieve what has been lost, including our own ancestral connections and cultural traditions. Then we must begin the slow work of reconnecting.

We must pay attention to what is in front of us.

Paying attention means noticing. How the air smells after it rains. What is growing in the garden on the corner. The intricate pattern of the spider web on the balcony.

Paying attention also means learning. The natural and human histories of the places we call home. Whose land we occupy. Where our drinking water comes from. What forces shaped the communities where we live.

We must change the narrative that has brought us to this crisis.

Changing the narrative means learning to see the land as living, as inherently worthy, as deserving of our attention and appreciation. It means removing ourselves from the center of the story, and remembering that, to a mountain, to the ocean, even to a tree, our lifespans are a blink. What gives us such a sense of importance? What gives us a right to determine the future for all species?

We must learn the meaning of enough.

When we stop reaching for more, we can appreciate the gifts we rarely take time to appreciate. Air and water and soil and sunlight. All of the beings and processes that make it possible for us to eat. Shelter. Laughter. Music.

When we stop reaching for more, we realize that what we really want is love, and a sense of connection to something bigger.

And then, when we have done the work, when we have faced the truth and slowed down and noticed and reframed and found gratitude and satisfaction, we will be ready for transformation.

And we will walk into a new world.

Image description: The inside of a bus shelter, with a nature scene and the words "protect what you love" painted on the back panel

What this means

I am taking full breaths for the first time in four years. My body is just now beginning to process the stress—the deep terror and impotent rage—that has been gripping me for so long. I will spend the weekend taking those breaths, trying to recalibrate my nervous system, and just reveling in the relief. (Also, listening to this song.)

But I’m not naïve.

If we think of a just society as the top of a mountain, then last week, we were at the bottom of that mountain, on our backs, being stalked by a ferocious mountain lion.

Today, we have stood up. Now, we must battle (or escape) the mountain lion. If we manage that, we must begin the arduous climb.

It’s going to be a long, exhausting road. But I’m really glad to be standing.

And I’m ready to fight.

A tribute to Seattle’s best bus rider, who was also my friend

On November 19, 2019, my friend, Annie Lamb (known to me always and only as “Mrs. Lamb”), died unexpectedly. Today would have been her 80th birthday.

Annie Louise Cheatham came to Seattle an orphan. Her mother, Nina, died from an infection, which developed after an injury she sustained while washing other people’s laundry. I’m not sure how or when Annie’s father, Hiram, died.

After they lost their mother, Annie and her sister, Margaret, came to Seattle to live with their older brother, who was in the navy. In 1960, she married Thomas Lamb. In 1966, the couple bought a home on Madrona Drive, across the street from a 2 stop.* For the next 53 years, Mrs. Lamb was a 2 rider. She rode the bus everywhere—to shop for groceries and clothes and household items, to take her children to school and appointments, to work, to visit friends and family.

I met Mrs. Lamb in 2005, when I started attending Good Shepherd, the church where she’d been a member since the 60s. Over the 15 years we shared a congregation, I grew to love her. Here are some of the reasons why.

  • She kept it real.
    Mrs. Lamb rarely smiled. She would call you out in a heartbeat. To be honest, she wasn’t particularly nice. But Mrs. Lamb was kind. She showed up at my mother’s funeral when we were little more than acquaintances. She always remembered my children’s birthdays. She knew about Chicklet’s political plans and regularly brought her magazines with articles about female candidates. When my mother-in-law was suffering from a serious illness in 2018, Mrs. Lamb made her a blanket and prayed over it before she wrapped it up for me to send.
  • She became the elder she never had.
    As an orphan, Mrs. Lamb didn’t have anyone to look to for advice or help, to ask about family history or lean on in a crisis. But she became the rock for her own family. She was able to be there for her four children—Michael, Alison, Jason, and Vanessa—well into their adulthood. When they had families of their own, she become a beloved grandma, and, eventually, a great grandma. She and her sister Margaret** kept their connection throughout their lives, acting as co-matriarchs of the ever-expanding Seattle branch of Cheathams.
  • She did what needed to be done.
    Mrs. Lamb was not much for fanfare or attention. She was the person working behind the scenes, making sure things got taken care of. She was a deacon at the church and a member of the altar guild. She sewed the banners that we hung in the sanctuary. She watered the plants and made sure everyone separated their trash correctly. She decorated and cooked for almost every gathering, from big events like the annual Advent tea and Black History Month soul food dinner, to smaller gatherings like baby showers and birthday celebrations. She never expected (or wanted) recognition. She just did her part.
  • She loved the bus.
    Many members of Good Shepherd ride the bus. But Mrs. Lamb chose the bus. She called herself “Metro Annie,” because for her, the bus was more than a means to an end; it was an extension of her community.

    She got to know the drivers and the other riders. When she learned about Bus Driver Appreciation Day, she printed out transit-themed thank-you cards to pass out on the holiday. She looked out for unhoused people who found refuge in bus shelters, often bringing them water, blankets, and other necessities.

    She took care of stops, picking up trash whenever she saw it. In 2006, she organized our congregation to adopt a stop on 23rd Avenue, around the corner from the church. She faithfully picked up litter and emptied the stop’s trash can until Metro removed it—the can, that is—a couple of years later.

    She had an encyclopedic knowledge of buses and could tell you which route to take to get anywhere. She wore comfortable shoes even when she dressed up. Most days, she wore a backpack, in which, among other bus chick essentials, she carried a flare.***
Mrs. Lamb and her sister cleaning Good Shepherd's adopted stop
Mrs. Lamb with her sister and lifelong best friend, Mrs. Margaret Bell, taking care of Good Shepherd’s adopted stop

The 2 isn’t one of my family’s main routes, but pre-COVID, we rode it at least a few times a month. Sometimes, we would run into Mrs. Lamb on our rides, and it was always such a delight to see her in her element—with a shopping cart or a punch bowl or a bag of Christmas play costumes to drop off at the church.

When she joined the ancestors, I knew immediately how she needed to be honored. Just in time for her birthday, that vision become real. Thank you to the family of Beulah Dyer for the inspiration, to Mrs. Lamb’s son Mike for the photos, to Steve Tucker and Jaivier Forward for the beautiful design, and to Dale Cummings at Metro for making it happen.

Rest in peace, Annie Louise Cheatham Lamb. The bus isn’t the same without you.

Eastbound 2 stop, Union at Martin Luther King:

A bus shelter with a mural honoring Annie Lamb
A
A bus shelter with a mural honoring Annie Lamb
A bus shelter with a mural honoring Annie Lamb
A bus shelter with a mural honoring Annie Lamb

***

*Incidentally, this is the same stop where I used to wait to catch the bus home from elementary school in the 80s. There’s a good chance we waited there at the same time at least once.

**Margaret. Bell was an amazing woman as well. She was the sweet to her sister’s salty, and she was also a bus rider. She died in September of 2019 and is missed by many, including me.

***To make herself visible on dark winter evenings

A love letter to my city

What does it mean to love a place?

In 1936, my paternal grandparents moved to Seattle. They were young and Black, fleeing the poverty and various forms of terror in their home state of Kansas. They would experience both (poverty and terror, that is) in their new home, but they did not know that then.

My Grandpa Marcellus arrived first, riding the rails west and then, eventually, north. He worked as a day laborer until he earned enough money to send my Grandma Bernice a ticket. She left behind her six beloved sisters—whose names I heard almost daily growing up—and everything she knew to travel to what might as well have been the end of the world.

Marcellus and Bernice married in Seattle. My dad, their second child, was born at Harborview in 1939. He knew a Seattle before the Space Needle, before I-5, before so many of the corporate behemoths that have come to define it.

I have always been simultaneously proud of my family’s deep roots in this place and ashamed of their participation in the colonial project that made it what it is. I understand that my grandparents were also victims of white supremacist settler colonialism, doing what they could to survive. They did not have the capacity to consider the impact of their presence on the original people of this land. I grieve for the Duwamish people and for my grandparents, whose own ancestral trauma required them to make their way in someone else’s homeland.

I hate what Seattle represents: genocide, Native erasure, Earth as “property” to be bought, sold, and exploited for profit. I recoil at the stories of razed hills and inconveniently meandering rivers filled with dirt to suit commercial aims. And yet, I am grateful that my family came here, and that they had some part in building the city that is my home.

What does it mean to love a place?

Like my father, I was born here. I have lived away—two years in Morocco as a child and eight years in Houston as an adult—but I have spent 38 of my 48 years within 15 miles of my first neighborhood. My family didn’t give me much in the way of culture or community or tradition or even a sense of self. But damnit, they gave me this place.

Alki Beach and Puget Sound. The Olympics. The 54 and the ferry. The 2. The Monorail. Air that smells of saltwater. Slugs and mist and mildew. Tahoma, mother of waters. Sword ferns and Oregon grapes. Supersonics. 1250 K-Fox. Chubby and Tubby. The Monroe Fair. Madrona Park. The Market. Gloomy Junes. Dark Decembers. Husky Deli. Cottage Lake. Roger’s Thriftway. The Fun Forest. The Facts building. Tahoma, Tahoma, Tahoma, the mountain that comes out.

What does it mean to love a place?

In the summer of 1990, right before I moved away for college, the Goodwill Games came to Seattle. For the first time in my memory, there was heavy traffic at all times of day instead of just during “rush hour.” Back then, I thought all those extra cars were temporary. They never left.

When I returned to Seattle eight years later, everything was different—not in a “change is constant, don’t get set in your ways” kind of way, but in a pollution and traffic, gentrification and displacement kind of way. Every day, as I drove to work, I felt uneasy. I felt like I was contributing to something brutal, to a mindless, self-centered death making. That was when I decided to stop driving.

What does it mean to love a place?

I never love Seattle as much as when I am on the ground, walking to, riding on, or waiting for the bus. When I ride, I am part of the living, breathing organism that is my city. I am invisible, unnecessary, and irrelevant. But somehow, at the same time, I belong.

What does it mean to love a place?

In November of 2015, our little family volunteered to plant trees in a wooded area near the kids’ school. I didn’t expect to enjoy it. (I suffer from Raynaud’s and am generally cold-natured, so I rarely schedule compulsory outdoor time on November weekends.) But I was hoping to connect my children to their community. I wanted them to put their hands in the dirt—to plant something that they could watch grow over the years.

Though I wouldn’t say I had a good time, I found moments of joy on that day. And my children had a blast. They named every single tree they planted. They remembered their locations and checked on them at least once a week. During the dry summer months, they hauled buckets of water from the faucet at the front of their school a full quarter of mile into the woods to keep the baby trees alive.

Years—and many trees—later, they still know all the names of those first babies, and they still check on them regularly. If my children are granted the gift of old age, and if the trees (and our species) manage to survive that long, I hope they will bring their grandchildren to admire them.

What does it mean to love a place?

We’re told that Seattleites love nature. After all, they’re always outside, hiking and boating and skiing and climbing and camping. What I see is a professed love that manifests as a need to consume, commodify, and conquer, not as reverence or gratitude or stewardship. “Nature” as entertainment, adrenaline, escape, instead of the source of our very lives.

What if loving this part of Earth meant that, instead of asking what it could do for us, we asked what we owed back? What if it meant accountability and not unfettered access?

What does it mean to love a place?

For at least 15 summers, I have felt uneasy. I don’t need scientists to tell me the climate is changing; I can see it with my eyes and feel it in my bones. Summers are hotter and longer. Mountains are barer. Madrone trees are stressed. Salamanders and slugs are a rare—instead of regular—sighting.

Other people celebrate the warmer summers, as if weather is some sort of ambiance that exists to please humans. But I feel every degree like a diagnosis. Seattle is dying, and not because privileged people can no longer make it through the day without being reminded of suffering. Seattle is dying because we have finally asked too much of the land that supports us.

The smoke that at this very moment surrounds us is our invitation to see clearly. What are we going to do about it?

Chicklet and Busling at Lincoln Park
Fourth-generation Seattleites, loving on Lincoln Park (August, 2019)
Chicklet and Busling at Lincoln Park
Chicklet and Busling at Lincoln Park

My people are free

I’ve been thinking a lot about Harriet Tubman. I’ve been thinking about how, in the midst of slavery, she declared, “My people are free.”*

Harriet Tubman wasn’t just courageous. She wasn’t just brilliant, and skilled, and purposeful, and determined, and compassionate.

Harriet Tubman was a visionary.

She could see beyond the circumstances she was born into, to a more beautiful, expansive future. She could imagine a world where Black people were no longer enslaved. But also: Harriet Tubman knew that her people were free even when they were enslaved.

It is this kind of freedom, the kind that can’t be granted, that I want to live into in this moment. This freedom lives in my heart and my imagination, no matter what is happening to my body, no matter what is in front of my eyes.

In Harriet’s vision, I am not separated from those ancestors who lived every moment of their lives on the African continent. I am in contact with people living seven generations in the future, watching them enjoy the shade of a tree my children planted.

In Harriet’s vision Tamir Rice is alive. It is the day of his birth, and his mother is cradling him in her arms.

In Harriet’s vision, Breonna Taylor has started her new job, and she’s loving it. She is a healer, mending folks’ bodies with her skills and their spirits with her smile.

In Harriet’s vision, George Floyd is napping peacefully on his sofa on this lazy Saturday afternoon. The living room window is open, letting in a warm breeze. He is surrounded by all of his ancestors and all of his descendants. They are breathing with him, for him, though him.

My people are free. My people are free. My people are free.

***

*Thank you, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, for sharing this beautiful truth.

Police murdering Black folks is apparently not canceled, either

Yesterday, on Memorial Day, George Floyd was murdered by the Minneapolis Police Department. I won’t share the details because I can’t bear them. I am so sick with grief and horror and fear and rage that I can barely type this.

I don’t have anything profound to say. I don’t know what the hell to do. I can’t even bring myself to call for “justice,” because what the fuck does justice look like in a culture that does not recognize Black humanity?

I am here to bear witness. To remember that a human life was stolen. A living, breathing man was brutally murdered by a publicly funded gang—people whose salaries he helped to pay.

A man who got dressed in the morning expecting to get undressed in the evening. A man who loved and was loved. A man who was birthed and nursed and bathed and scolded and cheered for and held close. A man with gifts and talents and people who depended on him. A light in someone’s world.

Rest in power, George Floyd. I will not forget your name.

Image description: Three lighted candles on windowsill. In front of each candle is a handwritten name: Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor.

Cancer is not canceled

This morning I looked at my “calendar” for June. (So much for the Storm season.) Pretty much the only thing on there that’s actually going to happen is the mammogram I scheduled back in February.

I schedule mammograms months in advance because the imaging center has limited appointments with same-day results. I watched my mom die of breast cancer in 2007, so, I have a teensy bit of anxiety about mammograms.

I’m also still recovering from that time a few years ago when a front desk person from the imaging place called two days after my mammogram—on a Friday—to schedule me for “additional images,” with no explanation about why those images were needed. I spent that entire weekend in hell.

I digress.

The point is, in the midst of this complete upending of “normal” life, in the midst of this horror that is consuming all of our attention, people are still getting diagnosed with cancer—and experiencing other disasters unrelated to coronavirus.

My friend C is is middle school teacher. One of her students—a 7th grade girl—was reported missing over the weekend. One of my other close girlfriends is separating from her partner.

People are still experiencing abuse. People are still (actually, more than ever) losing their jobs. People are still dying in car crashes and of illnesses other than COVID-19.

But recitals, and weddings, and graduations, and birthday parties, and religious services—those are canceled. No bus adventures. No dance rehearsals. No visits to Husky Deli or Colman Pool. No Sunday dinners. No sleepovers. No formal dances or music shows. No girls’ nights. No potlucks with the neighbors.

All of the gatherings that help us celebrate our milestones and accomplishments and relationships and connections (in other words, LIFE) are canceled completely or “virtual.” It feels like we are suspended in time, like we are not really living.

But there’s absolutely no doubt that we’re really dying.