on tbt – on strapping in for hazard pay

I’ve been lax in my Throwback Thursdays this year, thinking #tbt, even enjoying #tbt photos from friends, but not regularly participating myself each week, so here’s one for the road: strapping into the helo that was shuttling me and Sam, my search dog, to our assignment on a search in rugged terrain. Bright yellow nomex shirt (theory? so we could be seen from the air), tough boots and a pack full of overnight gear that had to last us however long it took. (And did. In spades.)

being shuttled to assignment on a search, 1980s

being shuttled to assignment on a search, 1980s

Although we trained for free, when we got called out to work a search or rescue or fire, we got paid. And if we set foot in a helicopter? That was counted as hazard pay, due to the general tendencies of helos to, well, exit the sky in unplanned ways, even if we had a cracker-jack pilot (which we usually did). I can’t remember how much it was, something like 37 cents per hour or so? Not enough to die for, no, but then again: you don’t sign up for this kind of work if your own death is your biggest worry. Good work, good co-workers, many a good result and no misses in all that time: glad I did it then, happy not to do it now, and truly delighted it’s part of my story for TBTs!

~

on tbt – for plying fierce seas at the ready

Life is a grand ol’ lady-man bound hard for high trouble and low pain, her bold strapping curves rimmed from the outset by our soul-sick desires and spirit-plundering needs and the evanescing relations we yearn so to make and secure but cannot.

Some days s/he rides easy astride all nearsome seas and we coast sweetly by, lured into pleasures benign, amaranthine, while on other days s/he flings mighty roiling waves across us bow to stern, whipping ruddy decks clear of debris, rigging, gear, mud, and us, too, on occasion. In either instance—sweet or hank sailing—it is all too easy to lose our footing and find ourselves off the last boat we called home, reaching for something we know not how to name much less touch. To sally on is failproof, a non-singular grace of existence, breathing in to the very last end no matter what and counting on life alone to haul the next exhale into itself—right to the one moment that it doesn’t—come what may.

Whether we know it or not, feel it or don’t, value it or could not care less, we all stand at the ready in neck-high seas every day, our whole lives little more than single droplets in storm-embowelled walls of tall water. In the gurgling eddies given at random to those born to this world, we can rest and float and forget and story the spin-drifted lot as we flow or surf or are dragged back kicking strong into yon fray, our anchors pulled because we said so or not or something in between and us headed for blue water or not or somewhere beyond in these oh so fierce or placid seas. This is our one colossal recurring miracle, I believe, and worth remembering for one Throwback Thursday: how we all manage—even when we may feel most unready—to stay at the ready, come what may.

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Photo of me rafting the Snake River in Wyoming, months after my children were abducted for the first time.

~

All images and content in this post, as with all on this site are original, subject to copyright, all rights reserved. If you wish to share or post them, please do so with a link to the page on which you found them. Thanks in advance for your consideration. © Hannah Nyala West and pointlastseen.wordpress.com, 2009 — present. (Formal copyright notice on About page and sidebar.)

on tbt – for these who made me a mother

Mother’s Day makes not one lick of sense if you’ve no longer a mom on this earth, but for throwback Thursday this week, it occurred to me—as I was going through old photos of two children long grown and gone—that I could now mark the day by simply being grateful for the two people who turned me into a mother and walked part of my road here alongside.

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People show up at birth intact in our souls and along the way sometimes we break. Children help to make us strong at the broken places and go off to lead their own lives from the start. Getting to witness that, even from afar, is a gift beyond easy reckoning and any words. The gift stings and compels, brings one into deep and turbulent waters and times, and throws out daily lifelines as we flounder—teacherless and oh so alone—in the muddy shallows.

sc0002cfa6All you think will be most valuable for them may turn out a dead weight in their long run; all you do to assist and ease their paths may miss every mark they grow up to care most (or least) about; all you are may wind up not being what they need or want when it counts. Nothing in that negates motherhood or the vast shifts in consciousness that the role brings. Nothing. No Thing. Because once in a while you do something right, it turns out okay or even well (remembered or not), the years of work and worry and exhaustion culminate in a single moment when they see and appreciate some part of the lot and it actually helps them. The rest of the time you live for the whole—each jot of it precious to a mother—but once in a while an exquisite connection recurs, and you can go on from that undeterred for good.

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And then, too, there’s this: Once in a while we get downright lucky at life. With these two tiny beings, I chanced it all and my ‘once in a while’ turned into eternity. That is a singular grace, bestowed by these two who came alongside for part of my journey. Happy Mother’s Day to all you fellow mothers!

~

All images and content in this post, as with all on this site are original, subject to copyright, all rights reserved. If you wish to share or post them, please do so with a link to the page on which you found them. Thanks in advance for your consideration. © Hannah Nyala West and pointlastseen.wordpress.com, 2009 — present. (Formal copyright notice on About page.)

on tbt – on fellow pilgrims nearing the last fork in our road

We were younger then and agile, eleven years and seven months ago, me intent on redirecting his puppy energy and world-class OFA-certified, genetically healthy hips from what he most wanted to do with them then: leap onto things or off, thus risking an injury that could cause those pricey hips to cause him a problem later on in life.

At grandma's house in Missouri, November 2002

At grandma’s house in Missouri, November 2002

Only moments before this photo he’d been atop that tire, challenging my right to  request him to do otherwise, and on the next pass he cleared it with inches to spare before wheeling into my embrace for this one brief and rare snapshot. Photographs tell almost nothing of reality. Ours then was that he was almost always on all fours, full out for tomorrow’s back forty, with me on my two hoofs, gamely paddling along in his wake but always attempting to assert control over how high and whether he jumped. Lest it seem a fully unequal partnership, I should add that I could do a roundhouse kick over the top of my six-foot-tall spouse’s head that winter, from mid-step and without requiring a wind-up to boot, so I, too, was in reasonably fine form for a functioning human. Not fine for looking at, no, though to be frank, that has never been one of my higher (or even lesser) goals for existence. But I could work my feet and the rest of me quite well.

Still can, though my rusty roundhouse today would be liable to land on somebody’s elbow or knee instead of sailing over a noggin with inches to spare and looking impressive on the way. There’s no one here to capture us in pixels today and perhaps that’s a good thing, for my fine friend can no longer leap tires and kick dust on his human mom’s advice or wishes. He can’t leap anything. He gets up only if I lift him. Out of sheer hardheaded will, he moves the hips that months ago became nearly nonfunctional, and then I have to help him lie down again. He hurts and I can’t fix it. (No one can.) I wrote my way toward this weeks ago in an entry for this creature I love so dearly, already well past the point where I should have ended all this in the only way it can ever end, but I keep saying to myself that until he gives me the sign he’s ready to quit I can’t quit either, and he hasn’t given that sign. Just hasn’t.

Coober Pedy on duty

Coober Pedy on duty

It’s not pretty, it’s not inspiring, it’s downright grueling some days. And nights. But he still has a bright fire for life, and I cannot extinguish that just to take away his pain or my own. On this throwback Thursday, though, I have to admit that, despite my vow on the day of his birth to keep his bones and joints thriving, and despite the fact that I don’t do anything I do in a halfhearted manner (which means I did my deadlevel best to keep that vow, then to now), and despite the application of every possible form of utterly hopeless medical intervention, I have not lived up to my word. Never could. The attempt alone was sheer hubris. He, like all beings here, did as he saw fit whenever he could, living to his own lights. We walked alongside one another for these years—12 and counting, come this Cinco de Mayo—and now the last fork in our mutual road is looming, bearing down on us hard and steady, a crossroads from which only one of us will walk beyond and still be here. For a spell.

No pilgrim to this planet, no matter how long lived, gets more than a few breaths of eternity on this side of the pale. The question arises, as I always, always knew it would, but I was stubborn then and would not concede the point as long as I thought I could finagle some control over the outcome: why not leap and bound about for whatever time we have here? Why not, indeed?

~

All images and content in this post, as with all on this site are original, subject to copyright, all rights reserved. If you wish to share or post them, please do so with a link to the page on which you found them. Thanks in advance for your consideration. © Hannah Nyala West and pointlastseen.wordpress.com, 2009 — present. (Formal copyright notice on About page.)

 

on tbt – grandfathers and kites

They were plain sharecroppers who helped to raise me in my early years, teaching me valuable lessons like how to build kites every spring, how to sip Folger’s from a saucer so it wouldn’t burn your lips, how to find the sweetest blackberries and stew them up with dumplings—small, necessary lessons tied to the seasons and the land.

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Spring was for kites. Not the citified or store-bought things, oh no, not those. I’d come racing down their driveway with their mail in hand after school, and when my feet hit the porch, Pappaw would say, “There’s something for you on the table,” and sure enough, if the wind had been kicking up just so in the last few days, there it would be: a brown paper bag. I knew the drill from there. Borrow Mammaw’s quilting scissors, grab a pencil for tracing the cut lines and a box of crayons for the decoration, cut the bag open and lay it out flat on the floor next to Pappaw’s rocking chair on the porch, edges of the paper secured by rocks. Then I’d hie off to gather two perfect cross-sticks from the woods and, on the way back to the house, four perfect broom straws from the patch where Mammaw grew her straw: “Don’t trample the rest of it,” Pappaw’s words, only ever said the first time (when I was four) and never repeated, but I heard it in my head every year just the same and usually said it out loud myself because I savored the sound of homespun words like “trample” and understood in my bones the import of carrying on the family history well enough that you could tell it yourself: “She’ll be wanting that straw to make new brooms soon. You just pick four good flyers.”

Four good flyers. Four long tail wings for that kite. Pappaw helped me make a series of slits through which the stalks could be threaded, then helped me to get the cross braces made and the paper bag attached to it. These were no flimsy kites. These were large, sturdy, working people’s art and I put markings on them every year to depict what was most important to us: the sun, the rain, the dirt, the trees, a standing field of sweet corn, some blackberry brambles, and always a flower and some birds and some horses and so on. That all took a considerable amount of time (because I never could draw worth a lick but was determined to do it anyway), so the kite never flew on its first day of being. The next afternoon, though, when the parts had had time to get into the habit of each other, Pappaw would hand over the treasured ball of twine, we’d connect the kite to it with a doubled-off set of farmer’s knots, and then off we’d head up the hill pasture in front of their house to find a winsome thread of the wind on which to launch our beautiful creation.

There are not many sections of sky in rural southern Mississippi that didn’t have trees just waiting to snatch our beautiful kites from the sky, but that field above the house had a sweet spot in its middle and the pines and oaks would have to just stand alongside its edges and stare at us, I believed. So they would stand and speak the gentle wind’s name and watch without touching as we all flew and laughed, happy and forever, and Pappaw would always say at least once and sometimes twice, “That’s a working man’s kite,” and I knew it to be god’s truth and myself a working man in this world, and my chest and head would swell with the pride of being in that line and I’d work that kite from my feet on the ground but the rest of me up there with it until my blistered fingers could no longer hold onto the twine, and then we’d finally haul in the kite and head to the house for dinner.

For throwback Thursday this week, all I could think about were kites. It’s been decades since I built one, because after Pappaw died—in that horrible, long drawn-out way with the cancer eating out a whole side of his face and him in such pain he could no longer even grin at me (though he still tried)—I just couldn’t do it without him. I would sit on the porch by his still, empty rocking chair with my paper bag and tools all ready and the wind calling our names as always, but I just couldn’t do it with him gone. I fly our kites in my heart, though. Build and fly our kites in my heart. One day soon I will teach my granddaughter to build a working man’s kite, too, and then she can carry one of her great great grandfathers in her bones and, in this way, I trust, know herself also to be a working man capable of wresting four good fliers from a field without trampling the rest and setting one beautiful thing loose in the world for one perfect afternoon every spring.

~

 

All images and content in this post, as with all on this site are original, subject to copyright, all rights reserved. If you wish to share or post them, please do so with a link to the page on which you found them. Thanks in advance for your consideration. © Hannah Nyala West and pointlastseen.wordpress.com, 2009 — present. (Formal copyright notice on About page.)

on tbt – parents for all seasons

I can shoe a horse, milk a cow, drive a tractor, and move a sunbathing rattlesnake off an asphalt highway so the next car won’t hit him on purpose. The first three I learned from my parents; the last is all me.

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I can rescue a fightin’ mad and injured raccoon or horse, sing a cappella in public for money, play piano for strangers and kin alike, and cuss like a sailor standing ten words this side of the grave. The first three I learned from my parents; the last is all me.

sc0000e734I can sew my own clothes, clean my own house, mow my own yard, and bake a choked-off or dropped biscuit that can ease down your throat like the resin off a sweet chaw of newly cut sugar cane. The first three I learned from my mother; the last is all me.

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I can shuck corn, buck hay, haul wood, and wield a pulaski. The first three I learned from my father; the last is all me.

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I can work while everybody else is sleeping, sleep while everybody else plays, tell the truth even when it hurts, and trust in heaven from the nearsome side of anybody’s torment. The first three I learned from my parents; the last is all me.

IMG_3260I can read books, write letters, swim muddy rivers, and shout Amen to a sinner’s doings and mean it. The first three I learned from my parents; the last is all me.

I can raise chickens, prune tomatoes, string butter beans, and grow mushrooms. The first three I learned from my mother; the last is all me.

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I’ve known many, many a fine parent in my time here. None—near or far—measure up to mine. We crossed horns on our paths, my sturdy will and bare feet tangled up with their best-laid plans and dreams and years of hard, aching work, and I didn’t turn out near as well as they’d hoped, but nearly all of my best qualities were set into me by them: by our shared genetics and histories, the homes and pastures and fields and yards we built together, the symbols we sparred over, the models we looked to, and the legends we all breathed in until we became them.

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Without any say in the matter, I broke into their lives like an asteroid seeking shelter, and they bundled me up, carried me till I could walk, held me up in the saddle till I could do it myself, and made sure I behaved like I had good sense or paid a price I would remember and live by. My love for these two people is a fierce fire, unquenchable, unstoppable, a force of nature that grins at any tools deployed to halt or hinder its devouring maw. From them I came; for them I live: how I wish there were a god somewhere to whom I might tender my eternal gratitude for having emerged on this planet from these particular parents. Throwback Thursday isn’t near wide enough to carry my stories of them, but it’s a beginning: one long pitch forward into that long night to which we all go.

~

 

All images and content in this post, as with all on this site are original, subject to copyright, all rights reserved. If you wish to share or post them, please do so with a link to the page on which you found them. Thanks in advance for your consideration. © Hannah Nyala West and pointlastseen.wordpress.com, 2009 — present. (Formal copyright notice on About page.)

on tbt – a puddle of pals

family

family

And so it was, in December 0f ’96, our very own version of a murther of crows, gaggle of geese, and so on. A puddle of pals, slough of sibs, a kwitcherwailin/bellyachin’ K-2 of kin easing back in here all these years later for throwback Thursday.

From left to right (based on position of noggins): Tali, Gnose, Purna, Zorro, Brent, Kit, and Ebenezer. Some of the crew didn’t deign to sit for the photographer. All I can really recollect is the laughter and the love.