This blog contains 1000 posts. Posting to Blogger with such a large archive has become unwieldy. Also, your blogista, who is sewing a kesa, is not writing much at present. She has ceased adding new posts. Still-active links are here.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

The Spanish-looking lady

We went to a wedding in our old valley in the Coast Range; it was our first event to which we a) went as a lesbian couple and b) knew less than half the people there. So much time has gone by! The people I did know were so gray and stoop-shouldered. It was like one of those gerontological high school reunions.

We were having a great time; but we left early to go tabling for PFLAG at the Eugene-Springfield Pride Celebration. This was exciting and fun, too; though Beloved got into a bit of a funk when she felt that my dancing was ... too ... ah, well ...

My friend John had his camera there and took a number of candids all day.


I had a splendid meeting with my counselor; toward the end he gave me the letter for the Department of Motor Vehicles. I cried. I mean, I really cried.

"This means so much," I said, redundantly, while reaching for his box of tissues.

We talked about surgery. I had hoped for February, but he feels the Standards of Care require him to have seen me for a year. This would put it back to April. So, as I suspected, the last counselor did lose me a year of my life by screening me out. So sad; so unnecessary.

But he'll talk to some counselors to see if anyone has an opening for "second letter" work. And he did say I could write to Dr. Reed and start an account.

"It's all a formality; I have to do it this way, but, as you can see from the letter you have in your possession, I'm satisfied that you are a woman. So we have made some progress and I don't foresee any difficulties."

Well, April beats the heck out of never.

From his office I drove directly to the DMV. The one in Eugene has a trans-unfriendly reputation; word is they are saying that there is a list of counselors that are approved to write gender letters. But some people called DMV headquarters in Salem and they denied having created such a list. Rather than wrangle with Eugene DMV over whether their list is arbitrary, I headed for the much smaller one in Springfield.

My number was 59. The screen showed 50. I took a seat.

Clerks shouted their availability over the general hubbub and crying babies.

"Fifty-one. Fifty-one."

"Fifty-two. Fifty-two...fifty-three."


"Fifty-five. Fifty-five."


"Fifty-seven. Fifty-seven ... fifty-eight, fifty eight."


I got the youngish brown-haired lady, whom I'd picked out as the most likely easy clerk. I showed her my driver's license and my letter, and briefly explained my mission. She checked both, said, "hang on a bit," and disappeared into the manager's office.

I felt surprisingly calm. If this didn't work, I'd thank her, leave, and try again elsewhere. I could see her through the half-open door, talking earnestly. She nodded, then stood up and walked out of sight deeper into the office.

She reappeared around a wall in front of me. The boss's desk must be in a room with two doors. I could see that she still had the letter, and was placing it on the glass plate of a small office copier. I chose to take this as a good sign.

She came back to the counter.

"Here's your original; we keep a copy for our records. They might ask your counselor for more information, you never know, but this looks good.' She picked up my driver's license, which was all of three months old, and stashed it below the countertop somewhere.

She turned her computer monitor toward me. "Is all this correct?"

"Yes. Well, there's Altanta -- should be spelled A - T - L ,,, "

"Oh, yeah. Lemme fix that." Clickety-click.

She looked at me. "You're wearing contacts?"


"It says here you need both outside mirrors. Is that about your vision?"

"No, I'm seventy percent hearing impaired." I lifted my hair to show my hearing aid.

"You do pretty good."

"That's what they tell me."

"Still a donor?"


She typed a few things and hit Enter.

"They'll call your name and take your picture. That'll be twenty-one dollars, though."

I have never been happier to write a check.

I found her rather deadpan, but if she was thinking "oh, yuckies," I couldn't detect it. There are times when I don't ask for more than that. I thanked her warmly.

While sitting and brushing my hair, I noticed a young man with a long ponytail and a hipful of wallet chains coming back from the camera area. His expression was cherubic and mischievous at the same time. I liked him immediately, though I felt some of the other patrons did not. He caught me looking, and took the seat next to me, easy as you please. I asked how his picture had come out. He made a wry face and said, "OK, I guess." He handed me his new driver's license, still warm from the laminator. We looked at it together, shoulder to shoulder.

"Oh, it's very nice!" I said, and meant it. He beamed.

"Rice-a Stephanie?" called the camera lady.

I hopped up. "Bye!" I said to the young man. Trotting over to the counter, I said, "Ree-sa Stephanie."

"Oh. Well, okay, stand on the mark, put your shoulders on the wall, look right here -- " She indicated a picture, cut from some magazine, of a mop-topped parrot of some kind, mounted just below the camera lens. Cute. I smiled.


A couple of minutes later, I was called back to pick up my new license, still warm. I balanced my new reading glasses on my nose and looked.

The picture was not bad at all. Even good, though I had missed some hair on top of my head with the brush. Happy girl face.

Looks Spanish actually.

Clearly I could use a little FFS, but with prices what they are, I may have to make do with me.

I let my eye travel to the right. There it was.

Sex: F


Stepping into the hot, bright summer sun, I took about ten steps toward my car, and burst into tears (again).

Three years.

Three years of counseling it had taken me to get that little consonant. I slid the license into the little plastic window in my credit-card purse, snapped it shut, got out my hankie and blew my nose, unlocked the car and slid behind the wheel. I opened the credit-card purse, put on my reading glasses again, and studied the whole license, front and back, half afraid it would vanish.

I closed the purse again and looked out the front window of the car at the parade of pedestrians going about their business beyond the parking lot.

"No one," I said, to no one in particular, "no one will ever take this away from me."

And I turned the key in the ignition.

-- risa b

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Mother meets new daughter

I went to the airport to pick up my mother and her best friend. They would be here for a week, and the purpose of the visit was for my mother to meet her new daughter

The previous day had been a long one, including a landmark counseling session in which the counselor promised me a letter for my gender on my driver's license in our next appointment, and then I had waited at the airport for hours late into the night, not knowing the Ladies had been held up in Salt Lake City by a missed plane.

Once again, on Saturday afternoon, I watched hundreds of people go by, dwindling to a trickle, followed by the aircrew in their uniforms, chatting among themselves and wheeling their identical little luggages behind them. A moment of despair --

And then there they were. An attendant was pushing my mom in a wheelchair, and her lifelong buddy, "Auntie," was trailing along behind.

They clearly weren't seeing me as they began to pass, ten feet away.

What were they expecting to see?

I wore medium-length hair, bangs, and light makeup, and was wearing the blue jumper with the princess seams and a short-sleeved peasant blouse, with brown shoes -- no socks -- and carrying a matching brown leather purse.

I stepped from the crowd, touched the arm of the wheelchair, and said, "Hi, sweetie." Jaws dropped.

Later, as we waited for the rental car to be delivered to the curb, I was distracted for a moment from the chair by luggage issues, and my mom rolled toward the curb. Fortunately the car was perfectly placed to catch her as she pitched forward, but it was an awkward moment, to say the least. Several of us tried to reach her before it happened, but to no avail.

After we settled her again in the chair on the sidewalk, with the brake properly set, a young man who had joined the rescue knelt before her with strong emotion in his face. He held both her hands and said, "Ma'am, I tried to reach you in time but I failed you. Please forgive me."

This struck me as interesting. Clearly, I too, as well as Auntie, had tried to reach her, but we were no part of his narrative of rescue attempt and apology.

Oh! It's because we're girls! He felt the sole responsibility because he was the only man present!

When we reached their motel room, I remarked on this. My mom merely observed, "welcome to our world." Then she remarked on having watched me walking through the airport on my various missions for rentals and luggage retrieval.

"You got your walk down, honey; maybe just a little too well, 'cuz the men were watching your bottom."

Oh. I would never have known. Wouldn't I be too old for them?

From the moment the Ladies arrived, I knew I had a problem ... despite their determination to be supportive of my condition, they cannot rewire fifty-six years of name-and-pronoun habituation. They would even argue with each other as to who was blowing it:

"Yew called him him again!" -- Auntie's voice is permanently set for crowd-control megaphone level.

"Did not!" Mom's is not much softer.

"Did too."

"Did not! And anyway yew just called him him yourself!"

"I never!"

I turned to the waitress. "Umm, just water for me, please."

We went shopping. This was successful, notwithstanding the dreaded pronouns, flung back and forth across the stores with wild abandon.

I have had a horror of my mom's general taste in things, especially gold-toned costume jewelry and all sorts of pale green clothing, accessories, and geegaws. She even had a car once in "her" color, purportedly aquamarine,. And her ideas about boys' clothing and possessions always gave me hives.

But something about my being her daughter has changed everything. We seem to have a new respect for each other, and a warmth that helps us each listen to the other's opinion in matters of practical femininity and taste. I found four dresses, two skirts, four bras, some panties, a pair of shoes, a purse, a matched set of imitation amber earrings and necklace in silver settings, reading glasses and non-prescription sunglasses (I'm now wearing contacts for the first time ever), a blouse, and some nightgowns.

Everything but the shoes worked out well. I will have to put inserts in the shoes and soften the leather, to see if they can be salvaged.

She also brought old treasures, of dubious value but much loved, from her jewelry box. Daughter and I pawed through these and exclaimed over the variety -- glass dogwood blossom earrings and pin, faux pearl string and matching earrings, service pins, glass strawberry brooch, and half a dozen little wristwatches, all gold-toned and all needing batteries.

During the visit, I called to check on my dad; also to see if he would talk to me. It turned out he would, which was pretty much what I expected. We didn't say much.


"Oh ... hey."

"I caught a three pound trout."


"Umm, how's the dog?"

"Oh, she's ok."

"You sound a little poorly."

Well, blood pressure is low; I'm laying in bed and if it gets any worse I'll get the neighbors to take me to the VA."

"Does Mom know about that?"

"Oh, yeah."

"Well, I just wanted to see how you were holding up."

"Yeah, I am, kinda."

"All right, love ya."


Well, it was a start.

Beloved and my most local son and I spent much of one evening visiting with the Ladies in their room. I had to go home early to take out my new contacts (which is still excruciating for me to do) and Beloved stayed to talk longer. She gave my mom a hug and told her she loved her (which was a new experience for them both) and thanked her and Auntie for their support of me.

The boy and I took them to lunch, next day, at an Italian place that we both really love, forgetting that my mom doesn't like "fancy cooking." As she looked over the menu, she began grousing. I lost control of myself.

"We can go somewhere else, you know!"

"What's with you today, son? You been waitin' to jump on me all day."

What had just happened? Other than my being outed to my sixth waitress in a row? I realized I had revealed resentment in my tone.

I thought about this. I had learned, as a faculty member, and through the efforts of my friends over the years, many of whom were socially "above" me, the difference between low and high quality art, music, literature, food, and drink, and had tried to share my knowledge with her over the years. None of it took. Not that she doesn't have standards -- she regards my dad as uncultured -- and her standards in manners are high, if a little dated. But she tends to suspect anything that might be regarded as foreign or new and often rejects out of hand experiences toward which I try to lead her.

I had forgotten. And so I had taken her to an Italian place with a terrific chef, when what was wanted was a hamburger and fries from a fast food place. The gift was simply inappropriate.

We had embarrassed each other. And I had shown my claws.

I excused myself from the table and ran to the bathroom and dissolved in a flood of red-eyed tears. I washed my face, washed it again, dried it, washed it again and dried it again, took my three deep breaths and, putting on sunglasses, returned to the party and sat as quietly as I could, dabbing at my nose with a handkerchief whenever I thought no one was looking.

"Have yew been cryin'?" shouted Auntie between bites. My mom touched my knee in a conciliatory way. I gave everyone my best fragile smile.

Back at their room, I curled up on my mom's bed for a bit of rest. She put away her cane and sat down heavily on the edge of the bed. I was turned the other way; so I curled my legs around her back, so she could rest against my backside. This was a thing no "son" in our family could ever have done; it was, for us, strictly a girl thing.

As they began gathering up their belongings to pack, my mom handed me an envelope marked "Risa."

Inside was a card. On the front of it there was a drawing of a vase with a single flower. Inside, the copy read: "You bring out the happy in me."

She had added, "Thank you for a wonderful week. God Bless you and keep you safe. -- Mom."

We looked at each other.

Auntie said, "Yew two start cryin' agin' an' I will hit yew both."

-- risa b

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Jet boating

Monday morning I picked up an old friend; she had been on our wedding committee (in 1977!) and was now in her late eighties and very frail; and having seen her family scatter across the world was living alone in the farmhouse in which she had raised and cared for them all. She has a taste for adventure for which she has had little scope, and so she placed with us an order, so to speak, to accompany her on one of the famous Jet Boats on the Rogue River.

She had also, in some ways, raised us, as a spiritual mentor, and of all the people in our worship community, she was the only one who filled the role by being properly severe with me when I had my midlife crisis. I'm always, I think, a little frightened of her, and yet I know her to be one of the few absolutely non-judgmental people in my world.

The three of us packed our things into Beloved's car and headed for Gold Beach, three and a half hours away. I had reserved three seats on a boat and Beloved had reserved a motel room. She often asks me to drive on these longer journeys, a holdover from days when I had a somewhat husbandly role. But it would have been a strain, for our Elderess of the Tribe was starved for talk, and I am nearly three-quarters deaf. So Beloved drove and I sat in the back, happily rediscovering a novel which had greatly impressed me in my twenties.

I also napped.

We discovered along the way that Elderess was having great difficulty using my name and pronouns, not for any disapproval of my current status but because thirty years' usage was deeply ingrained. Upon our arrival in Gold Beach, I walked, arm in arm, with the Elderess, toward the river boat museum.

"Dear heart, I have a concern ..."

"It's about your name, isn't it? Oh, dear."

"And the pronouns ... here I am in the wide world in a little green summer dress; and -- and how you address me can be, in some circumstances, a life-or-death matter."

"I'll do my best, girl. I'll do my best." And she did very well thereafter.

She was planning to write an article about the Mail Boats and we were a little dismayed to find that I had been bamboozled by clever ad copy into reserving a ride with their competition, but we felt we could stick it out and learn enough, perhaps by doing our shopping in the Mail Boat sales room in Wedderburn. This turned out to be the case. The Mail Boat people seem very sweet, and we promised that on our next visit we would ride with them.

Early the next morning, with about twenty others, we presented ourselves to be herded down to the 80-mile boat. It took the Elderess a very long time to get down the ramp, and everyone was very patient with us. Beloved and I looked across at each other -- what were we doing? But our charge seemed quite determined; and so we boarded and listened to the instructions from our young captain Kevin. He's a grandson of the inventor of this type of craft, who had started the company. Among the passengers was his dog, Emma, a lovely golden retriever, who goes along on all of his trips.

It was low tide; and in the mists each piling out on the water stood tall as a telephone pole, and atop each stood a cormorant, spreading its wings to what sun it could find.

Kevin took us out onto the estuary, past a number of sea lions, and once in the main channel, gave us a taste of what the boat can do by whipping it in a circle on one spot in about four seconds. The spray leaped a good thirty feet into the air, and everyone got a taste of the Rogue. We all squealed, some dubiously, others with delight; and away we went.

Going up the first few miles was much like riding the train at San Diego's Wild Animal Park. Kevin has an absolute eye for wildlife and stopped every few minutes to point out some natural presence. He showed us bald eagles, juvenile and adult. He showed us ospreys, and took us to within thirty feet of one that had settled, in bemusement, on a low branch with a very large and very determined eel in its uncertain grasp. He showed us herons and mergansers, and of course many deer and Canada geese; but we also got to see a huge river otter at work -- it was the Elderess' first otter, and she was delighted -- and, best of all, we shut off engines and drifted down toward a very busy mink, who seemed not at all perturbed by our presence.

We drove through riffles and rapids and skimmed past huge rocks like the Twin Sisters, and turned donuts and wheelies in the canyons, and it was all great but very wet fun. I kept looking over at Beloved and the Elderess; often they had their eyes closed as they were being showered, and hunkered down against the cold. Both assured me, and each other, that they were fine, and both checked on me as well. I tend to be much affected by cold and wet, but was having one of those lifetime adventures on which one forgives the conditions, as were they.

All around us the mountains were suffciently imposing and wild to remind us that while we were on the coast this was not the Coast Range as we knew it, farther north, but the Siskyous, with their gnarled roots exposed in the canyons, gneiss, shale, serpentine. At stops, Beloved pocketed her usual many small green rocks, crazy-streaked with white veins.

The wind was so great that my earrings became a hazard to my cheeks, so I popped them out and into a pocket. We came to Agness -- twice -- once for a pee break and later, after some white water, for lunch on a wide deck above the river. I admired the young waitress' fresh-water pearl necklace and she told the story of how she got them. The sun and shade crossed and re-crossed us as we ate, due to the canyon winds pushing the darkly leaved myrtle branches far above.

The inland temperature climbed above 900F and I was able to remove enough layers to feel feminine again. I am unhappy in pants, even women's pants, because I feel they make my past easier to spot. But instead of the ubiquitous sweats, hoodies, and t-shirts among the other passengers, I had resorted to a black one-piece swimsuit as a top, with reinforced Spandex at the waist and built-in cups. This seemed to provide a convincing presentation. By the time we got back to the harbor, I was wet, chilly, windburned and sunburnt, but happy.

The Elderess was very pleased with her sometimes harrowing experience, but was tired all through. She and I crashed at the motel and slept through the afternoon like play-exhausted toddlers. Beloved was not done with the day and went hunting on the beach for sand dollars. She found two unbroken ones, and, looking up, saw three small whales, perhaps pilot whales, breaching and spy-hopping beyond the surf.

By morning, a steady rain had set in.

-- risa b

Friday, July 08, 2005

Raiders of the lost hellhole

The next day after I came home from the lake, I was right back in the same area, hiking with friends in a gentle rain, looking for a fabled crack in a mountainside which the Forest Service had removed from their maps, in an effort to keep fools from killing themselves there. As soon as we'd heard of it, of course we had to go look.

This was cross-country work with a vengeance, as the Crack of Doom is well away from roads and trails. We had obtained GPS coordinates, however, and, observing caution as we neared the oddball canyon, were able to happen upon it without disappearing from the earth.

A great day with my peers, doing the kind of bushwhacking I'd done for a living for so many years. You can see from the photo that I'd dug out my old cruiser's vest for the day.


After resting up from my hikes, I took my son and daughter and a friend of theirs to Salem for a Floater appearance. Salem, unlike Eugene, has trans protections, even though it seems to me to be a somewhat rough-spirited town. But I no longer think much about that; to everyone I was just a mom bringing young adults to a festival, and that's because that was what I was.

The event where Floater was playing, in a large park on the banks of the vast Willamette River, is the sort of thing one most easily attends if one has a beefy husband and two screaming toddlers, with a cigarette in one hand and dripping hot dog in the other.

Floater's fans, including Daughter, follow the band around religiously, and many of them have beefy boyfriends, two screaming toddlers, a cigarette and a dripping hot dog as well, but also have eyebrow rings, lip rings, tattoos, and black t-shirts with foul language silkscreened on them.

The speaker systems kept grinding out shrill renditions of Sousa as the band tried to hear themselves tuning up. This was the third of July, and flags were everywhere. It would seem the festival organizers would have picked some sort of oompah band instead of cutting-edge experimental rockers known for driving rhythms, heavy bass, and existential lyrics. Sort of Talking Heads on speed. Out across the park were thousands of Middle Americans, many of them with American middles (like mine), sweating about in the sunshine.

It was a strange mix.

As Floater cranked up, some four hundred people gathered to listen, of both varieties, the fans standing close and even forming a mosh pit of sorts in the grass, the regular festival goers seated on rows of folding chairs in the hot sun, wondering what the heck was going on. I pottered off to the acoustic stage, where some eight people were in the audience, but couldn't here the musician over the rock band in the distance, so I went for a walk along the river, sipping a can of diet something, and watching a couple of kayakers. Floater began to fade after I had gone about three quarters of a mile.


I don't go to pop or rock concerts much.

In the Sixties, I made it to one appearance by Donovan, and one by Steppenwolf. Other than a few folk festivals, and one bluegrass festival, and a recent appearance by a tottering Peter, Paul, and Mary, it's been mostly classical. I haven't always had the money to go, but when possible, I've sought out chamber orchestras or performances by choral ensembles. A highlight of my life was the Brandenburg Concertos on period instruments. And I'm a sucker for operas, such as La Bohème or Rigoletto. Most of my access to these things has been through recordings and radio.

My taste in music was shaped by my uncle, who undertook my exposure to culture at an early age. He provided me with copies of Plato, Aristotle, Longfellow, Whittier, Thoreau, Paine, Franklin, Herodotus, Marcus Aurelius, Julius Caesar, Stevenson, Kipling, Tolstoy, and others in handsome editions. He introduced me to exploration and nature literature, such as Peter Freuchen, Gavin Maxwell, Rachel Carson, and Thor Heyerdahl. And he taught me to appreciate classical music.

He gave me a copy of the venerable Lives of the Composers and we went through them in order, listening, from Bach to Stravinsky. He honored my developing preferences, and though he enjoyed Mahler and Wagner, would sit with me through endless Haydn sonatas and quartets, or Mozart concertos. We were both held spellbound by the Beethoven Violin Concerto in D Major.

My uncle was not well, and lived at home with my grandmother. He mowed the grass and painted walls, and she cooked and did his laundry. We would be sitting around in the living room, my parents, my grandma, my uncle, and me, and as the conversation proceeded he would have some kind of massive shiver, that seemed to me to make him a blur, as if he were in the early stages of being beamed up to the Enterprise, and then begin listening again, sometimes having to ask for a refresher because he didn't know what had been said in the last few seconds. No one seemed to take notice of this and it was never explained to me. My mother, at various times, explained him to me as having schizophrenia, paranoia, or bipolar conditions, or all three. He was occasionally institutionalized by the family. In retrospect I'm a little surprised that I was left alone with him so often, listening to record after record on his one prized possession, a stereo console, with good speakers, in his room.

I knew that my uncle had a curiosity about sex and gender issues, and kept a copy of Havelock Ellis, among other things, on hand, but I was being raised in an intensely evangelical home and knew not to think about it much, if at all. He seemed to me to be mildly effeminate and sexless. I knew that he was supposed to have had some sort of accident in the military, and that it involved a drunk doctor and an unnecessary operation, which resulted in his having a regular check from Uncle Sam and absolutely no prospects of marriage. Some time after I grew up and went West, he moved out on his own.

He died at 47, alone in a studio apartment, from what I was told was a heart attack. There was a small, almost unattended funeral, and I inherited those of his LP albums that he had not already given me.

Only years later did I learn that he had drunk himself to death, because the family was shunning him. Apparently he was gay.

It would have been interesting to get his reaction to his nephew's turning out to be his niece.

Years later, my mom got to talking about him and all the trouble he had been.

"would you believe it, he even kept a picture of you on his bureau and would tell visitors you were his child!"

Really? Huh.

I ambled off toward the concert through the crowds, stopping to admire babies in carriages, and exchange smiles with their mothers. Shadows of riverside trees gradually spread across the sweltering audience. The band finished their set, applause went on for some time, and they returned for an encore, pleased with themselves and their fans. No one had known how it was going to go for them at a festival dominated by a twenty-four-foot fiberglass sculpture of a salmon and six food booths.

After the band began to pack up, Daughter and the others found me. I was accused of having wandered off. I didn't know she would pay that much attention to my whereabouts.

"I heard the whole thing. It was just as clear from the other end of the park as here. Less damaging to the hearing, too."

"Hear, hear," assented her brother, unpacking paper napkin earplugs from his ears.

Daughter asked my reaction to the music.

"It's good. They're a good band."

"That's all? C'mon, Risa, they're not good, they're great!"

"Well, you gotta remember, I grew up in the Sixties."

"Not fair! Floater's all we've got now."

But she likes to look on the bright side of things. She hooked her arm through mine and leaned her head on my shoulder.

"I'm really glad you came, Mommy Two, and not just 'cuz we got a ride."

"I had a really good time. Thank you for inviting me. Are there any more of those chips?"

-- risa b

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Everyone should get a life

A long holiday weekend; vacation, really. I took Thursday and Friday off and drove into the mountains to visit one of my old haunts, a forty-acre lake in a Wilderness Area. I had not yet even used my Annual Pass for this year; three years ago I would have been up here four times by now. But at least I remembered the route.

Aside from my activism, which kept me from many things that I enjoy, I had become reticent about my old enthusiasm for chasing fish in mountain lakes, for fear of stereotyping.

I had told a counselor (not my present one; he's great) that I still liked to do this, and her facial expression and body language said, "Aha! NOT A GIRL." The same thing happened when I used an analogy from baseball.

It's very sad. If I've been constrained to certain pursuits by expectations, and gone to the trouble to learn and enjoy the skills involved, why am I suddenly supposed to not like them, or even know anything about them? I feel as though I'm being held to a narrower standard of womanliness than any other woman would be.

A similar thing happened with gestures. I was told that some other women said: "Risa's behavior is exaggerated; a caricature. Real Women don't act like that." Yet I know women who do -- more so than I was doing at that time (I've since, apparently, toned it down without conscious effort). And they don't have to hear this ... the implication in the phrase "real women" is, of course, that I'm not one. I would note that the critics have a reputation as men-haters. Shades of Janice Raymond.

Sorry! Can't help you there. I'm not doing this for them, but for me. It's to get a life. Everyone should get a life.

Some "femme" things I am going to do badly, because it was a mode denied me for over fifty years. Some "masculine" things I will continue to do well, through long practice. And some of those I may no longer enjoy, and some I may.

I was talking with Daughter's boyfriend about U-boats, and she said, "Busted."


"Girls don't talk about World War Two."

"Well, this girl does."

The boyfriend thought it was funny -- in a good way -- and we finished our talk.

So, about fishing in the mountains: this girl does. 'K?

Before I left, I rolled out my tent and tent fly, checked to see that the folded fiberglass tent poles were the right ones, and laid out on top of the tent a double-a size flashlight, a plastic bag containing a candle stub, space blanket, matchsafe and lighter, compass, vial of Bag Balm, ace bandage, compact mirror, vial of meds (used to be aspirin and multivitamins, now it's those plus calcium, estradiol, and Spiro), Wilderness map, and a tiny sewing kit. Next to this I placed a small tube of sunblock, a landing net, a fly reel pre-loaded with sinking line and leader, and another plastic bag with a container of flies, spoons and the like, another of 4-pound-test line to make new leaders, and a tiny snap-lid box of number 10 and 12 hooks, split shot, and swivels. Next to this I placed a rolled up canvas tote bag. Next to this I put, from the refrigerator, a small styrofoam container filled with moss and several nightcrawlers. I added a two-liter bottle of vegetable juice and a container of milk powder. Last, I added a pair of kayaker's deck shoes, which also make good slippers and camp shoes.

I collected my driver's license, VISA card (for emergencies) and insurance cards and added these to a tiny slipcase that came with my new fishing license and slipped this into my -- gasp -- hip pocket. Pants! I haven't worn pants more than a couple of times in months. I can only say in my own defense that these jeans are size 14, not 38/30. in one front pocket, I put a vial of DEET, and in the other I put a folded multitool. From a belt loop dangled a keychain -size pepper spray and a whistle. Over my cami, I put on a blue shirt, conscious that it buttoned the "wrong" way for me now, but grateful for its long sleeves, and I selected a visor cap, of the kind that has no crown. My earrings I reluctantly set aside in favor of a pair of garnet studs.

I dismantled my fly rod, put it between the halves of my kayak paddle and duct-taped the paddle halves together. The tape could be re-used if necessary, and could serve as a vital part of my skimpy first-aid kit as well. This bundle I stashed in the bottom of the Poke Boat. I then folded my sleeping bag, an old Gerry mummy, and laid it across the treasures on my outspread tent, and rolled up the whole business, tying it off with the guy lines from the rain fly. This much larger bundle I stuffed into the boat, and it pretty much filled it. I added a water bottle (where I was going there is a clean spring, so I didn't need more than enough to get me to it), a headnet (there are huge mosquito swarms up there) and a hoodie for keeping warm at night. Last of all, I slipped the pack frame onto the boat, braced against the gunnels, with a strap from a dog leash wrapped around the stern. The whole business weighs, believe it or not, less than forty pounds, an important consideration as the muscle mass continues to melt from my increasingly feminine frame.

My ride is a 1996 Saturn wagon, and by sliding the passenger seat forward I can make just enough room, with the back seat down, to lift my entire boat-pack into the back, close the back door, climb in, buckle up, turn the key in the ignition and depart for another world.

There were no other vehicles at the trailhead, which was what I had hoped and why I left on a Thursday. I parked, opened the back, slipped into the pack straps and was gone, a turtle with a seven-foot shell, before the mosquitoes quite got it that fresh meat had arrived. The hike-in is two miles, with a drop in elevation of 450 feet. The first part is through an old clear-cut, which has grown considerably since I first went this way, replanted with a variety of true-firs. Then one signs in at the rustic trail kiosk and descends gently though a hemlock forest with an understory of blue huckleberries --won't be any this year -- and then drops over the edge of a precipice by switchbacking sharply down through Douglas firs and hemlocks up to six feet in diameter. The lake is in a bowl between this slope and a mountain over six thousand feet in height, with a historic fire-spotting cabin on its peak that is now gaily maintained by volunteers -- mostly retired rangers.

I found my favored campsite unoccupied -- in fact, the entire area showed no sign of recent human activity -- and unshipped the boat between two young trees that conveniently serve as a boat rack. I dragged out the tent, unrolled it in the level spot (possibly the only level spot for miles), threw everything boat-related back in the boat, and everything tent-related into the tent, zipped up the door, spread the tent-poles, popped up the tent, tied on the fly, and went back over to the boat. Camp, when done this way, can be established in under three minutes, a blessing in mosquito country!

Assembling the rod and reel takes longer. One has a opportunity to fuss over lines, make sure there there are no entanglements, see to the bait and the flies, to check conditions on the water and plan the campaign. It's a form of meditation, known to many men and some women. Like many obsessions, it's difficult to justify to the uninitiated. Some of my friends believe it's inappropriate to kill fish. Some of these even back up their claim by actually not eating fish. Those I truly respect, the others I pay a little less heed to. I believe that what I'm doing has an element of cruelty and I believe that that's part of the natural world. We eat; we are eaten -- or should be. There was a time when we were the proper province of lions, jackals, and vultures. A fish may be taken by an osprey -- there are two of them at this lake -- or by an otter -- I've seen one here -- or by another fish -- the rainbows eat the fry of the brook trout, as do the brook trout themselves, and either of the adults may eat the other if there's enough size difference. Or they may be taken by me.

Beloved and I come from farming families. We have raised ducks, geese, chickens, rabbits, sheep, and one steer, and we know the anatomies of these. I have often thought, while looking down at my work in the barn, how much my own insides must look like this, and felt my kinship with these creatures most strongly at these times. If we have souls, I concluded, then so do they. But I did not conclude from this not to eat them. The sun rises, the sun sets, and it has done so for millions of years. The same flesh returns in many forms as we feed on one another. Somewhere, sometime, there must have been a first self-replicating cell. It wasn't all that long before the children, so to speak, discovered in one another the sustenance they sought.

I do not buy meat in supermarkets.

At this lake there are only stocked fish, the two kinds of trout mentioned above. There were, prior to this century, no fish here at all. The brook trout were brought in in the 1930s by rangers, on pack mules (!!), while the rainbows, who cannot reproduce here, are periodically unceremoniously dumped from a bucket underneath a low-flying helicopter.

I take the ones that offer themselves to me and place them in the canvas tote. At camp, I clean them, roll them up in the tote bag, and place it in the lake underneath a heavy stone. It's a very heavy stone; at one time I used a lighter one, but I once watched a raven walk into the water, disappear beneath the surface, appear onshore dragging the tote bag, untie and unroll the bag, pilfer a cleaned trout, and fly heavily away with it to the trees on the north shore.

You are allowed five trout per day, two daily limits in possession. If a trout was not badly hooked, I took it as a sign to let the fish go. One holds them gently under the belly in a few inches of lake, until they realize they are free and swim away. The others I kept. Five for each day, to be rolled up and kept, cooled by evaporation, till they could be brought home, washed, bagged, and frozen, two by two.

I have never seen the water this clear. Boulders and logs were clearly visible at twenty feet, and I could see trout loitering beneath the logs. Looking down among the fish and features of the blue-green world, then up at the sun-scorched mountain, produced a kind of cognitive dissonance that I found bewildering.

Between times on the lake, finding there was enough breeze to keep off the mosquitoes, I dressed down to my cami top and sat on a boulder a few feet out from shore, brushing my hair. I watched trout jumping at damsel flies, or sipping down carpenter ants that dropped from overhanging brush around the shoreline. I watched the ospreys glide among the trees. I watched shadows lengthen across the water, and a wisp of mist rising. I watched the mountain turn golden, then red. And I watched the stars come out.

The last time I was here, I paddled out onto the lake by moonlight, treated to aerobatics by a good two dozen bats. As I sat there taking it all in, something whacked my paddle blade and fell in the water. A small grey bird flew from the water onto the front deck of the kayak, flapped itself dry enough to fly, blessed me out thoroughly and flew away. I had never seen or heard of such a thing. There's something different every time.

I climbed into the tent, drank my veggie juice, took my meds, crawled into the sleeping bag, and slept for eleven hours. It would take all of that to get me and my forty pound load back up that trail.

-- risa b


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