A clever warning from a clever girl who wanted to make sure she would be eating delicious soup for dinner. Not mush.
This was written entirely in capital letters, but not frantically. In fact, the unanimity and clarity of the letters betrays a sereneness of thought, methodically manufacturing energy.
OLD PEOPLE GRIP YOUNGER PEOPLE BY THE ARM VERY HARD. IT IS ALWAYS JUST ABOVE THE ELBOW, AND IT IS ALWAYS FOR THE PURPOSE OF DISTRIBUTING VARYING DEGREES OF SENSELESS INFORMATION. THEIR EYES ARE MASTERFULLY BETWINKLED, AND THEY SAY, QUIETLY, “DON’T LEAVE ME BACK HERE, WHERE EVERYTHING IS SLOW AND CANDY AND VERY GRADUALLY BREAKING AND LEAVING, LIKE LOOSE PAGES FROM A VERY TATTERED AND MUCH LOVED BOOK SLIPPING SILENTLY UNDER THE COUCH. IT WAS SOMETHING SO IMPORTANT, BUT NO ONE WILL EVER FIND ME.”
This requires a photograph.
Transcription of the written entry:
Sometimes, in my writing, I don’t know whether I’m an inspired creator or an escape artist. I suppose I’m a little of both. But I hate the polite and civil conversation boringness of that. I’d rather be all of something. All creator. Or all runner. Just a strong version of whatever I am. Somebody who moves, and doesn’t just think. I wish rocks would move when I open my mouth, that I could speak heavy enough. But pushing twirling air doesn’t move rocks.
I BELIEVE IN THE POWER OF WORDS. I DO NOT BELIEVE IN THE POWER OF WORDS.
I believe in the power of words. I do not believe in the power of words.
Like a lover picking petals off a flower, risking the truth of love against nature’s beautiful and insane randomness, I offer myself to the last inked scratch on the page. When will I run out of words? And will it matter when I’m done?
I believe in the power of words. I do not believe in the power of words. I believe in the power of words. I do not believe in the power of words. I believe in the power of words. I do not believe in the power of words. I believe, I do not believe in the power of words. I believe in the power of words. I DO NOT BELIEVE IN THE POWER OF WORDS. I BELIEV
This is a hasty bit of scribbled prose, haphazardly launched onto an old page like soup dropped on the floor. And after discovering it, I found that I love it with a reckless lack of remorse. This would have been written on a saturated morning, full of bright thought, in a quiet abandoned hospital room or stairwell. I would have snuck into the room (or stairwell), stealing a few minutes from a busy day, to splurge on the expulsion of rambunctious imaginations onto paper with ink. Ink! May it last forever.
My first reflection was that I had no idea what it meant. But I was ecstatic in its inanity. It was sublimely absurd – a realm in which I believe we spend far too little time.
But then I remembered what it meant. It quickly and quietly surfaced from the depths in exactly the way a cannonball doesn’t (to riff off the brilliant Douglas Adams). It was a note to myself, a warning, written in bizarre, grinning whisper-ink, “Hey… Dan. That tie is going to kill you.”
I had a dream last night that I was fleeing from – and occasionally fighting with – a tiger. And then I woke up and wiped the sweat from my beard and tried to replay as much of the dream as I could remember. There was the time I tricked the tiger. There was also a lot of running. And the time I thought I was going to die. Then I tried to de-virtualize the dream, removing the strange, rambling, moonlit and wispy abandoned hospital and evaluated if survival would be possible in the jungles of Bangladesh. I thought that I would surely die. Then I went back to sleep.
But I was still thinking about it when I slipped my feet into my moccasins – mockassassins! – and when I tripped over the dog that is always stretching, limbs always stuck out at porcupine angles. And also when I washed my beard with the flexible shower-head. I hate showers. I forgot about it in the car because NPR was on. But it was back in my head as I walked into Mr. Holloway’s room – a gentle and beautiful fishing man from the country who keeps telling me to think of him (“Carry me in your pocket!”) when I cook bacon and eggs over a campfire when I walk from here to Montana.
He said this, lamely, flatly: “You look different. You got a tie.”
Usually, he hollers this, gleaming: “God love ya son, I’m proud to see ya.”
I fell out of a tree in Bangladesh. The tiger won.
We are rearranging the house, and we found some old journals. Not that old. My handwriting is the same. Maybe a bit broader, more breath between the lines and letters.
I found a small note. I may as well have written it this morning.
I sat in my car this morning, engine off, waiting for the windshield to fill up with rain, hoping, craving some poetic thought to drip into my head. Like fresh rain.
But no thought came. I trudged into the hospital.
I wonder now if it’s more important that no thought came, or that I tried.
Beauty, fill my head again.
I have a general distaste for polite reassurances, but feel nonetheless compelled to offer one now. This does not represent a depression. I am, in fact, a happier man now than I have ever been at any point in my life. I adore my wife, who is absolutely beautiful. I tell her she looks lovely on blurry mornings with rivergrass and willow hair, and she does not believe me, but it is incontrovertibly true. She is also wild-eyed, intelligent, and full of wit. She is ferocious, tenuous, and much stronger than me. And cool. God she is cool.
And River is a phenomenon, a glacier-eyed force of nature, something like the human equivalent of phosphorescence. He moves through the world, his day, my life, and in his wake there is a rippling, a sparking, an impossible glowing that makes a grown man like his daddy sit down in the boat, arms over gunwhale, hands and fingertips in the water, staring deep into those deep, quiet lights.
And there is a daughter on the way, homespun out of clay and dirt and grass and trees. And there is already so much I know about her. I know that she has the energy of the moon, pushing whole oceans onto shores. She has its beauty too, and we watch her rise and careen to the next horizon with calm, wide-open wonder, catching glimpses as she spins around us, a little bit larger every day. She is celestial in her presence with us. Quiet, very near and still somehow impossibly far away, and so, so, so beautiful.
So be assured that this note does not suggest a depression. Instead, it is evidence of a suppression, a subdued mind, too entangled to think wildly, brightly, vividly. It was written on a morning and in a moment when a busy soul simply wanted simple poetry, impossible colors to fill his vision, to somehow pry open his mind like windows in the morning, letting in a thicker, sturdier light.
It hardly requires elaboration to describe my preoccupation these days. But I am a happy man. And I do look forward to simpler days ahead, full of lightning bugs and orchards, streams and fall leaves, failed and accidentally successful gardens, racing the birds to the berry bushes, lugging full buckets with cut fingers, watching the woods bend in wind through the drifting steam from fresh coffee settled on my back porch knee, and two small children bounding through forests, chasing foxes, red cheeks, cocoa mugs (with marshmallows), caves for any reason whatsoever, tents in yards, and staring wide-eyed as their breath turns white and makes soft clouds above their heads.
Grandpa Leverenz: “Papa!”
Grandma Leverenz: “Mo!”
Grandpa Robinson: “Paw.”
Grandma Robinson: “Nanee!”
Clementine: “LAY!” or “Doggie!”
Truck: “Cruck. WHOOOOAAA!”
Where is it?: “Hmm… whereitis?”
There it is!: “Deritish!”
Book: “Ook? Ook!”
Thank you: “Tshank ow”
[The letter O]: “O!”
Fresh food: “Hawt???”
Rhino (the silent beast): “Shhhh”
Up: “Up, up, UP!”
Wiggle wiggle wiggle: “Weeoweeoweeo”
Dance: “Daynsh daynsh!”
Go go go!: “Go go go!”
Bubble: “BUBBOL!! BUBBOWL!!!”
Belly button: “Deritish!”
There’s River!: “BOO!”
Hole: “Hole. Hole.”
Oh no: “Oh nooOOOooo…”
Uh oh: “UH OH! UH OH! UH OH! UH OH!”
Guitar: “Ghar? Ghar?”
[Duck sound]: “Cack cack”
[Dog sound]: “Oo, oo, oo”
[Cow sound]: “Mow”
[Lion sound]: “RAWARRRRrrr”
[Tiger sound] “RAWARRRRrrr”
[Dinosaur sound]: “RAWARRRRrrr”
Egg: “Ayg? Ayg?”
Chicka chicka boom boom: “BOOM BOOM!!!”
There was more energy in his sheer bulk than in my wildest words. He twisted his face, torticolic words unhinged, “That’s what I thought. Past tense. A sharp, critically specific piece of information that goes unnoticed just a little too often.”
I always wonder whether the past is like the air that twirls aimlessly in the empty space you leave behind by walking through it, or if it stays with you. Whether you walk through life collecting all this dust and it just adds to you, piece by piece, sticks to your clothes, leaves a residue on your back that beckons even strangers to come and smear their fingers in it, spelling suggestions and summaries.
“I’ve evidently become filthy.”
It’s both, I guess. It’s the twirling, unconnected wake, and it’s the dust. The dust clings, you get heavier, your wake gets bigger. By the time you’re eighty, you’re fat like a boat and your wake crashes into shorelines, confuses swimmers, inspires poems in shoreside listeners.
River’s first concert was at the Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth, TX. We went to see Balmorhea. I think that by then you had your ears, so I like to imagine that you could hear the whole thing. It was so beautiful. Your mom said she had tears in her eyes three times, and I can hardly remember a scene that I didn’t see through water. I imagined what the world must look like to the musicians, with all that beauty in their minds. They heard all those notes and rhythms rustling above their heads like springing leaves, and they plucked them down from the green and heavy branches like apples from orchard trees. I watched them in throes and the wilds of their imaginations. They took those notes and rhythms and made something so perfect. I was watching them through water. Your mom and I both.
After the show, I spoke with one of the musicians. I told him that I was sorry if I sounded cloying. Tawdry. I apologized, but I told him I needed to say it anyway. I told him that I was tired of spending so much time thinking about how destructive we are, as a people. Or as a species, however you want to look at it. I take these quick glances at what the human tide is up to, what it’s careening up against now. Check the news, work a shift in the emergency room. Instead of seeing the glowing moon’s pull and tug in our ebbing and rising, flowing and waning, I see heavy cliffs crumbling slowly, rocks and sturdy shores moaning. I see wars and murders and rapes and horrible coping mechanisms that lead people to do awful things to themselves and to each other. I see terrible illness and disease, and I see us ripping our precious Garden to shreds and tatters for what amounts to absolutely nothing. We shatter the mountains and pick through the shards for shiny slivers and wet ore, and then we burn their black bones, violently sweeping their gnarled and rivered faces from the dirt of the quiet earth. We rearrange the rivers, children at play. We turn the air grey. And all this for nothing. Without any discernible way to stop it. And I wonder if we are capable only of pain and destruction.
But as we listened to Balmorhea’s music, the musicians dancing through those orchards and picking apples and picking apples and picking apples, I kept thinking that this is the truth. This is what is true and good about our nature. This is how we were made, and what we were made for. We are so beautifully, wonderfully made. We are capable of such unimaginable beauty and creativity. Genesis says that we were created “in God’s own image,” and we’re told that right after He finishes creating the heaven and the stars and the seas and the trees. That’s the source and the proof of all that exploding life in you, all that surging, rushing beauty that defines you already. I want you to know how much we love you. And I want you to know how much beauty you have in your soul. It is your true nature, your true design, your true ability. To create beauty.
So I told him all that, and he seemed really surprised. I told him I was so thankful that he had reminded me of how much beauty we have inside us, and that we’re capable of creation, not just destruction.
I hope you enjoyed the show. Like I said, I think you had just gotten your ears, so I would love it if that music was one of the first things you ever heard. And by the way, your middle name was almost Balmorhea. I think you can see why.
River’s first camping trip was to the bluffs on Lake Travis, west of Austin, TX. Your mom and I know this spot so well that we can find it and build camp in the dark. Let the night itself blindfold us! In fact, I think we’ve set up the tent more often in the dark than we have in the day. When we were at Baylor, we went to Austin about once a month. Sometimes we’d go for a concert, or sometimes just coffee and fresh air, and then we’d always camp at that spot on the bluffs at Lake Travis. We’d listen to owls, let the birds wake us up, the sun wash our hair. We used to jump off the cliffs, and take new friends to jump with us, about forty feet down. I jumped every time until one day I just decided to stop. Some Goodness must have reminded me that you were in my future, and that I’d rather not ruin my chances at hiking the John Muir Trail with you one day.
In the mornings we’d go to Mozart’s coffee, a beautiful little cabin on the water that roasts beans and bakes breads. Your mom loves their bagels, and I love their cinnamon buns without icing. They have sprawling, yawning decks and docks that stretch into the lake like fingers. I can’t tell you how many hours we’ve spent on that deck drinking coffee.
Other traditions are to go to Waterloo Records, Whole Foods, and REI, where we spend a fair amount of time trying to feel out just how serious the other one is about setting up a yurt and living quietly in the mountains, drinking from clear streams and gardening food. Something I suppose you’ll come to understand about us is that we’re mountain walkers, forest people, maybe even hippies at heart, and that we go to Whole Foods with the same glassy, gaping look in our eyes as a tween in the mall. It is our wonderland.
This particular trip to the bluffs was your mom’s idea. In all the swarming, smothering chaos of medical school, we had only made it to the bluffs a handful of times. As soon as medical school ended, we made a mad dash for those bluffs with the owls and the morning birds. I love your mom so much. She knew exactly what I needed.
River’s first argument with mama was a few days after we found out that you had appeared. I cooked some quinoa with a lot of veggies and seitan, one of our favorite meals. Your mom wanted to eat it, but you kept telling her you weren’t so sure about it. Mama looked down at her belly (at you) and said “Baby, we eat lots of veggies in this family. They’re good for you!” You said you didn’t care and that you would prefer some limes. You know, mom didn’t put up much of a fight. She loves you a lot.
River’s first names included – but were not limited to – Lee, Annalise Rae, Finn, Jonas, River, Jayden, Muir, Zoe, Corrigan, Eddie, Jack, Forrest, Levi, Sam, Samuel, and Jackson.
River’s first… well, exposition was on Tuesday morning, April 5, 2011. We had an appointment to have an ultrasound done so we could make sure that you were growing and moving like you should. But your mom wanted you to dance. She read that drinking grapefruit juice incites dancing in babies, so she drank a whole jar of it that had just been hand-squeezed by her friend Sandy. It worked. The first thing I saw you do was chop both your arms up and down across the front of your body. You waved, crawled, somersaulted, and danced. Even the technician said you were quite an active little boy. You also were not shy. At all. Either that or you were sick and tired of hearing us yammer monologues about how we “knew” you would be a girl with absolutely no evidence to back it up. At twelve weeks and six days, earlier than I’ve ever heard of such a pronouncement being delivered, we found out you were a boy. That you would be our son.
To try and summarize the waves and cascades of happiness and surprise and every other emotion that swept through me at that moment would be a feat of introspection that I fear I am not capable of. All I can say is that I was absolutely bombarded, pummeled, swept up and deposited somewhere else, in some other place than I had been standing before. The earth tilted.
I can fairly say that I was absolutely ecstatic when I thought we would be having a girl, and that I was equally ecstatic upon the realization that we would actually be having a boy. But I was happy in an entirely new way. The closest thing I have for comparison is my love for mountains, both the Rockies and the Appalachians. The Rockies are enormous, rugged, and spectacular. They are all rock and ice, canyon and carving river, pine forest and glacier meadow. They demand a fierceness from you that the Appalachians do not. They are like boulder words to a wild poet. But the quiet green waves that ripple through the Appalachians and Blue Ridge offer a sonant peacefulness that is rhythmic in a way the Rockies are not, defined by seasonal washings of orange and red, grey and white, and then the most green of greens, the most yellow of yellows, the most blue of blues.
I love both, but they are different. And when I found out you were a boy, I felt the earth tilt, leaning its eastern shoulder eastward, and I was in a different place. I found myself out of the soft forests of the Blue Ridge and in some high alpine meadow, the towering eruptions of the Continental Divide and the rioting sea of Rocky Mountains stretching to every horizon I knew to look for. I felt wild. I felt long bearded and glacier eyed. I felt strong shoulders and calloused hands.
I am ready for you. I cannot wait to meet you.
River’s first dance was Thursday, April 28, 2011. Your mom felt a little flutter in her belly, and as soon as she placed a hand over the spot to see if you were moving, she felt two tiny little kicks right under her fingers. You only moved for a moment, and she didn’t feel anything again for about a week. I missed the whole thing, but I loved hearing the rivering excitement in your mom’s voice when she told me about it. I can’t even imagine the connection you two already have.
River’s first trip to the mountains was in the middle of April, 2011. Your mom and I took a last-minute road trip to Breckenridge, Colorado. April is the time of year in Colorado when no one who has a grain of honesty in their bones can tell you what the weather will be like. We thought we might be hiking in fresh green meadows, or even snowshoeing on higher hills, but we were wildly wrong. It snowed nearly the entire time we were there.
Unfortunately, I failed to anticipate what 10,000 feet of elevation gain could do to a pregnant woman. Your mom’s morning sickness joined forces with what may have been a little touch of altitude sickness, and together they slammed her whole body into the couch for the first day or two we were there. But your mom is a rugged Mountain Mama, and she began to climb out of the fog with amazing energy, grace, and beauty. Before I even had time to crack the covers on a few books I’d brought with us, she was ready to start exploring. And skiing.
Her eyes looked like the sun and the moon through wet forest trees in fresh morning, and she insisted we go skiing. We got twenty inches of snow, all soft and gleaming powder, and there was no way she’d let us go home without getting on the mountain.
The day was as beautiful as a mountain day can get. It snowed all night, leaving us an empty white mountain canvas in the morning. The clouds had wandered east, and the sky was 10,000 feet closer than we see it in Texas. I saw blues that you cannot see unless you’re that close, fingertips waving at the earth’s soft roof. And your pregnant mama carved the sweetest mountain songs to you with her wild white cursive in the snow, skis chiseling verse after verse on the first blank paper runs of the day.
I can’t tell you how proud of her I was. She was sick all day, but kept riding lifts and skiing back down. I think she imagined that white slope glide settling into your bones. Mountain air in your blood. I think she imagined teaching you what the side of a mountain feels like, the angle and rumble of it, the sturdy heaviness and the pine forest skin.
And I like to think you loved it.