Essays

Old Wisdoms, New Ways: A Fire-Sparked Reflection

Two days after an approaching wildfire chased my husband and me from our home in the tinder-dry Californian forest, one of our nearest neighbors, who had gotten permission from the authorities to return to the fire zone to check on his pet llama, called to tell us that our house had “sustained some damage.” It was kind of Peter to try to break the news gently, but he needn’t have bothered. Ever since climate change-driven wildfires first appeared in northern California several years earlier, ever since “fire season” had begun to replace “autumn” in our vocabulary, and residents were encouraged …

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On the Dobbs Decision: Opinion Piece for L’Obs

The evening after the Supreme Court announced its decision to dismantle reproductive rights in America, my husband and I joined with other dismayed citizens who were converging on the central plaza of the small Californian city we had recently moved to. It was a sweltering evening, but despite the heat and despite the lack of advance warning about when—or even if—the Dobbs Decision would be released, there was still a sizable crowd. Several hundred women, men, and non-binary people, ranging in age from kids to seniors milled around the plaza, all of us seeking a way to express our fear …

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Unnatural Disasters

A month after the Walbridge Fire destroyed our home at the end of Palmer Creek Road, I finally had a chance to hike beyond the rubble of our house to see what effect the fire had on the fifty-five acres of forest my husband and I had bought back in 1989, the forest where we’d lived ever since. I had already confronted the total ruin of the modest manufactured home where we’d raised our three children and which had housed several lifetimes’ worth of family treasures …

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Shakespeare Before the End

Here’s one thing you should know about Shakespeare before the world ends: William Shakespeare has already been there. In the final moments of King Lear, after we have just learned that King Lear’s faithful friend the Earl of Gloucester is dead and his loyal servant the Earl of Kent is dying; after we have heard that Lear’s oldest daughter has murdered her sister and then killed herself; after we have seen their two bodies brought onstage, and the body of Gloucester’s villainous son Edmund borne off; Lear enters, howling, the lifeless body of his beloved daughter Cordelia in his arms. …

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Learning to Listen to the Land

When I was twenty-seven, I left the Northwest and moved to northern California, it was a good move, since I made it for both love and work, but for many years I missed the land I had been born into with a startling ferocity. I recognized that the Californian landscape was beautiful, with its redwood groves, oak-studded hills, and lush and tidy vineyards, but for me its loveliness lacked significance. I felt no real connection to that picture postcard prettiness, and I longed for the subtler, deeper meanings of the land I had known first. The land was eastern Washington, …

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Hoping for Boys

Before my son was born, I never really wanted to have a boy. It is only now that he is nearly a teenager, only now that I have been utterly in love with him for over a decade, that can I admit, with both embarrassment and astonishment, that before Garth was born, when I imagined raising a boy, it was with more resignation than pleasure. Even after two daughters, I was still secretly hoping that my third pregnancy would yield another girl. If the truth were known, I wasn’t much interested in maleness. My last intense involvement with men had …

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Nightmares

The child is afraid of the dark. She says she is afraid to go to sleep. She weeps. It is after her bedtime, of course, and after her younger sister’s, and the baby is fussing and needs to be put down, and you are tired yourself, and would like a few minutes of silence in which to attempt to retrieve your life from the clutches of motherhood before you, too, must go to bed. But the child is weeping, her shoulders shake, and you notice how large and frail and newly thin the shoulder blades are beneath her nightgown. She …

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The Whole Story

In the past six months, I’ve learned about scores of abortions. I’ve learned about legal abortions and illegal abortions. I’ve learned about abortions that were performed with respect and support, and others that were humiliating or even excruciating. I’ve learned about women who bought lottery tickets on their way to the abortion clinic in hopes that a winning number would allow them to cancel their procedures, and I’ve heard about women who went dancing the evening after their abortions. I have heard about women who felt empowered by the sense of control that being able to choose an abortion gave …

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