Monthly Archives: March 2012

I Am From: My Grandmother

In which Carrie writes an I Am From poem in the voice of her mother’s mother, Grandma…

I Am From

: the red head of my grandfather Gordon.

: liver and onions, and wheatened cinnamon rolls.

: hand-sewn skirts and initialed kerchiefs.

: the twenties, the thirties, the nineties and on.

I am from the back of my favorite horse

who I rode,

with the boys,

all of us five, me the only girl.

I am from my sister, my mother

who I still call Mother even though she is gone from me, in a way.

: Boring, Estacada, Sisters, Nehalem:  I am not from a small town.

I am the small town: Rural.  Tree-lined. Transparent. Neighborly.

: my husband, my children, my girls.

: the whirring wheels of my old Raleigh bicycle.

: where re-use, recycle was everyday practice, not a movement.

I am from a cocoon: my grandchildren always will think of me in a Monarch’s flight.

I am from the giggle of my young great grandchildren who I impart tribunal forced marches in the lovely place we live:

from which we enjoy and pass on to them.

I am from the library, the Cascades Range, the schoolhouse, Time.

I am Lois

By Carrie Anne Ebner


On A Long Coat

In which Carrie revises an original poem…

On a Long Coat

I remember you best as
the ankle-length oilskin coat framing
You might be in a film
from the seventies,
or on the cover of a Larry McMurtry novel.

I’d always be riding a few lengths behind
admiring your silhouette when the sun dips west.
Your good mare’s ears
pricked forward
ever-compassing toward the barn.

All of that light dust
kicked up.
I inhaled, and ate you up.

Like shared atoms and ashes from the ancients.
Your piano song in time with hooves.
Your pomegranate given for the season.
I’m in your shadow again,
I huddle within it.
It warms my thin skin.

I’m finding other coattails
like in that John Hiatt song
With an image of a painted pony,
a Navajo rug across its withers
galloping questionmarks, like cat tails,
across my serious forehead.

I’m constantly wondering
When will I discover my own?

Your trenchcoat would not fit me right
or the evening gown silk of the modernist novel,
neither the business suit of our utilitarian frustration
nor the ones without any
who have yards to spare.

I won’t ever be the tech savvy pirate,
the mongering artist,
absent of the art,
a philosopher’s shunned poet,
guilty as charged,
the poet’s honored philosopher king
with the periodic elements on her hands,

Here: I can perfectly envision myself,
in a bathrobe
the color of forewarned
draped across these two stiff joints
holding up my canopy,
hidden from view.

It was you.
And you.

Or, I have “one hand over my mouth”
on Billy Collins’s couch,
devising a philosophy of myself
(only not at the expense of others).
Am I a resemblance of you?
Are we amongst the few?

Where was I,
where looked my inner eye
when I sought distance from my what,
my how,
my who?

By Carrie Anne Ebner

New Favorite Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

In which Carrie is thrilled about an author found by sheer luck…

But I’m a little sad that she hasn’t written more than two books.  Chimamanda Adichie spoke on TED and I happened to be surfing for whatever inspiration or knowledge I needed that day.  Here is what I found:


I’d become interested in storytelling, or, “The Narrative,” since I began attending Socrates Cafe meetings in Portland.  Like a good student I read Christopher Phillips’s book by the same name in February 2010, and later wanted to integrate my learnings everywhere.  It was in these philosophical discussions which examined the content of a voted upon question using a five-principled model for reasoning in discourse, that I discovered the importance of the narrative.

In her book, Adichie does one of the most lovely things I’ve seen in awhile…if ever.  I appreciate complexity in literature.  Not the plot-ladenness like in Steig’s novels which reminded me of reading Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina times three in one month, but a well formed symphony of perspective.

Adichie does just this in Half of a Yellow Sun.  Never would I have imagined that yesterday I would be playing amateur lichenologist and then today curled with a hefty novel set in 1960’s Nigeria.  I think about Nigeria about as often as I think about cooking a meal for twenty or the artworks on the inside of my neighbors’ living rooms.  And yet, now that I have come across this delightful story which promises to speak of a major war I had never even heard of, I am reminded of philosopher Martha Nussbaum’s encouraging paraphrase of  Wayne Booth’s words regarding the promises literature brings.

From The Company We Keep: An Ethics of Fiction: ” A literary work, he writes, is, during the time one reads it, a friend with whom one has chosen to spend one’s time.  The question now is, what does this friendship do to my mind? What does this new friend ask me to notice, to desire, to care about? How does he or she invite me to view my fellow human beings?”

It strikes me as odd when people question how much I read, as though this form of spending time is inferior to other ways in which people make meaning of their lives.  One of my meaning-making activities is devouring books, absolutely eating them, and, just to brag a little, I have really excellent taste in literature.  This is incontestable, though some of the people in my bookclub try.

I’m just thrilled that I’ve found this novel which tells an interweaving narrative of three different characters living amongst each other.  I’m zealously jealous of the professors who meet at the collegiate home of Olanna and Odenigbo.  I see the young houseboy’s affection for his Master, Olanna’s trust in her inner and outer beauty, and the humility of the Englishman, in love with Igbo-Ukwa art, who is invited into this elite group discussing, namely, Nigeria politics.  It makes me crave dialogue like this, like the narratives I’d heard at Socrates Cafe, and yet I can watch these weaving stories safely from Oregon, in my college insignia-ed sweatpants, and feel my world picture broaden with each page by a clever and compassionate author.  It is also amazing to notice what her characters eat.  Eating is always intriguing in novels.

If only there was some way I could make Chimamanda Adichie know how much happiness her story is filling me with as it helps me understand the danger of one story and teaches me what good writing is like.

So now, back to it, though I can tell this will bring sadness at its ending. At least there is also Purple Hibiscus next…

The Just by Jorge Luis Borges

In which Carrie copies a poem by Jorge Luis Borges even though she probably isn’t supposed to yet feels that he would want her to regardless of copyrighted material…

(Spanish below the English translation by Alastair Reid)

The Just

A man who cultivates his garden, as Voltaire wished.
He who is grateful for the existence of music.
He who takes pleasure in tracing an etymology.
Two workmen playing, in a cafe in the South, a silent game of chess.
The potter, contemplating color and form.
The typographer who set this page well, though it may not please him.
A woman and man, who read the last tercets of a certain canto.
He who strokes a sleeping animal.
He who justifies, or wishes to, a wrong done him.
He who is grateful for the existence of Stevenson.
He who prefers others to be right.
These people, unaware, are saving the world.

Los justos

Un hombre que cultiva su jardín, como quería Voltaire.
El que agradece que en la tierra haya música.
El que descubre con placer una etimología.
Dos empleados que en un cafe del Sur juergan un silencioso ajadrez.
El ceramista que premedita un color y una forma.
El tipógrafo que compone bien esta página, que tal vez no le agrada.
Una mujer y un hombre que leen los tercetos finales de cierto canto.
El que acaricia a un animal dormido.
El que justifica o quiere justificar un mal que la han hecho.
El que agradece que en la tierra haya Stevenson.
El que prefiere que los otros tengan razón.
Esas personas, que se ignoran, están salvando el mundo.

Lord of the Rings on the Deschutes River Trail: Must Have The Precious

In which your brother reminds you that you’re really just a kid at heart…

You exit the car and walk into the woods.  Rock walls of the finest aesthetic sense assault you with their fortressness: keep out or keep in.  You are not sure which.  The river glides past oblivious to the great task at hand and it is like you are in one of the calmer moments of Frodo’s journey: a hero’s journey, obviously.  You walk along, heroic in your way, observing what is around.

The rocks change in a dramatic movie set from iron-colored and yellow to porous, gray basalt, smattered with crustose lichens: yellow, orange, red, pink, white.  You find these on every hard surface everywhere, and remember this two-faceted organism, fungi and algae, was partially responsible for making the dirt you walk on…the very foundation upon which civilization rests…along with bug poop, and star dust from well past the ozone.

Cyanobacteria eating away at that lava rock as the mighty battle rages, till dust be damned, it’s in your ears, your nose, in the little cracks within walls, the surfaces untouched by agency other than wind.  Dust…

So you walk the Deschutes River Trail, a short 3 miles, now with the spontaneously conjured spirit,  an evil spirit: the Gollum.  Oh yes.  You know which one he is.  And he is dedicated.

Must Have the Precious

You forgot that you could laugh like this…as abundantly as the rapids push oxygen into the river… and everything becomes the Precious.

When Sir Smiegol is in a good way he is urging you, walk this way, come this way, and his voice is very encouraging.  There is no thing of fear to be found, no not one thing.  The brother-Gollum shows no sign of fear, not even on the north side of the river where the snow hasn’t exactly melted on these warmish spring days or the dogs and owners rushing past on the hunt for another precious: exercise.

If anyone really saw you two like this, at the adult ages of thirty-something, they might suspect drug abuse.  Not the case, just the imaginative power of J.R. Tolkein and Peter Jackson influencing  the talent for voices that Bret has.  And you are willing to go along…you are not too far from fantasy fiction, and the sort of colorful abandon wild places bring out in you: a wonderous carelessness you abandoned the other day for the imagined quality of seriousness.

You weave through the Ponderosas and Juniper, Horsetail and Rabbitbrush.  The river rollicks around you, loudly some, softly some, and you vow to find an answer to the question: are there beaver or river otter this close to civilization.  You and the Gollum surmised such in this riparian zone, but…it might be imaginations running wild as childrens’ might, as creatures of play will allow on a Saturday afternoon under the sun of fun.

Mary the Magnificent

In which Mary “Speedstick” Moynihan answers our disturbingly philosophical questions from “Are We Whack” about trekking the AT, the PCT, and the CDT…

1. US: What did you use for t.p.?

Mary: Well, t.p. of course. In the backcountry a hiker should practice
“Leave No Trace.” The proper way to dispose of one’s used t.p. is to
dig a hole 6-8 inches, 200 feet away from the trail or any water
source. This is describing what you would do for, umm, well, #2. If
your a woman and are just going #1 then my recommendation is to either
drip-dry (exactly what it sounds like, followed by a little shake at
the end) or use a reusable cloth, like a bandanna, that you can rinse
out in a creek. If you must use t.p. ladies, pack your used t.p. out
in a re-sealable baggie. It simply won’t break down in the ground and
more often than not ends up as unsightly t.p. strewn about the woods.
For more information visit: Leave No Trace.

2. US: What did you eat?

Mary: What didn’t I eat? I average a marathon a day (22-30 miles) which
warrants between 4,000–6,000 calories. This all depends on how
difficult the terrain is. Is there snow? Bouldering? Am I
ascending/descending significant elevation? While on-trail I typically
carried granola with dried milk for breakfast. I break a box of
granola into 4-5 servings. (The serving size on the box might say 11,
however). For lunch I’d eat a variety of things. Typically a couple of
flour tortillas with cheese, tuna and/or salami. Thomas everything
bagels were a staple and almond butter is still one of my favorite
toppings. (So worth the extra money compared to that of the same-old
peanut butter). I’d also always carry some sort of chip, like corn
chips, which are high in calories and eat a few handfuls with lunch
and dinner. For dinner, a whole box of mac n’ cheese or a whole
package of instant potatoes with a few pieces of cheese, or more
tortillas, cheese and salami. I’d also eat a few high calorie energy
bars, like Raw Revolution and Tigers Milk and I typically had a stash
of single-serve powdered drink mix and, before forgetting the single
most important thing, I’d have a candy bar (preferably King Size) for
desert after dinner and lunch!

3. US: What did you CRAVE in those months of aloneness?

Mary: Fried egg sandwiches. Cold water when I was in the deserts and hot
showers when I was freezing in the mountains. Milkshakes, fresh fruit,
a crisp, cool beer, New York-style pizza. Music. A handsome man to
walk beside and pass the hours talking about all the great things
we’ve seen. I craved dry ground after the five-hundredth mile of snow
in Colorado. I craved snow after the five-hundredth mile of desert in
New Mexico. I craved the climb up Springer Mountain on the Appalachian
Trail—the first miles of my first thru-hike and backpacking trip,
ever—to come to an end. I craved for it never to end.

4. US: How did you think?

Mary: “How did I think?” I thought about everything and anything and about
nothing at all. I’d spend miles thinking about wildflowers, distracted
on the ground beneath my feet. I thought of the flora and fauna, the
sunrise and sunset, the granite and sandstone and the plethora of
things to see as an artist always does. I’d ponder everyday
things—everyday in the backcountry, that is—seeing rich texture,
detail, color, form. I’d sit at a vista and without words summarize
the vast expanse I stared out across. On my most recent hike, the
Continental Divide Trail, I’d think about navigation constantly;
rarely an hour went by without consulting my maps. I’d spend the last
day of a 5-day stretch dreaming about fried egg sandwiches. Sometimes
all of this thinking was words in my head while sometimes I talked to
myself out loud or to a squirrel, butterfly, beetle. Sometimes there
were no words at all, just walking.

5. US: Who did you meet along the way?

Mary:I met other hikers. Day walkers, weekend hikers, section-hikers,
thru-hikers. Sometimes I’d walk with them for a moment, a day, a week,
a month. If we spent a month together, we might spend our days
separate and camp together or we might hike together and camp
separately. As a solo hiker, you can come and go as you please. I’d
meet the people in the variety of towns I passed through. They were
generally friendly and many times people offered me a ride, a meal and
sometimes they would invite me back to their house to sleep in a comfy
bed for a night.

6. Why?
Why? Why not?

(Rhetorical thru and thru.)
7. US:Why do you do it?

Mary: It’s become a way of life I very much enjoy. I love the rhythm I fall
into when I’m hiking for four, five months at a time. I can leave all
the hustle and bustle behind. I can escape from the everyday pressures
and materialism. I carry everything I need on my back; it’s very
empowering. I also thru-hike because it’s the perfect way to see the
beauty of this world. It’s slow enough that I can take it all in
without feeling I missed anything, yet fast enough to see the vast
differences our forests possess.

8. US: Who are you now?

Mary: The immediate post-trail life was a difficult adjustment to say the
least. I felt like a huge part of me vanished. It’s like my best
friend disappeared from my life. A few months later I returned to my
usual positive self. There is so much to see and do in life. I fill my
time with things I feel passionate about, no matter how small or big
they may be and I am always thinking of another hike.

9. US: Are you writing a book?
Mary: I’ve been writing a memoir. I want it to be a humorous, informative
and engaging piece. I’m focusing on my latest hike along the CDT, but
referencing the other thru-hikes. I’m also writing it in the
perspective of a solo-female woman, which as you can imagine has lent
itself to many concerns and doubts from onlookers.
10. US: What advice do you give anyone–men and women–regarding through-hiking?

Mary: Once you’ve considered it and shifted the idea into a plan and then
into reality and you find yourself a mere few miles from the southern
(or northern) terminus you might find yourself asking, “What am I
doing!?!?!” Perhaps in those first few days you have doubts or pains
(which is unavoidable). I caution you these words: keep hiking. After
your first two weeks, things get easier. Your body adapts. You mind
focuses. You find peace and you yearn for what’s around the next bend.
You won’t regret it, but if you get off, you may never forgive

US: (Bonus) What do you read?

Mary: I read a ton of non-fiction. Mostly on traveling and food. Currently I
am reading Julie Powell’s Cleaving. She also wrote the amazing Julie &
Julia, which both books are a great influence in my own writing as
committing to 2,800 miles in 4 months is not totally unlike making 524
French-inspired recipes in a year. 
Other favorites include Barbara
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Elizabeth Eaves’s Wanderlust,
Alexandra Fuller’s Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, Russ Parson’s
How to Pick a Peach and Alisa Smith & J.B MacKimmon’s The 100-Mile

Us: And, more importantly, why do you wish to plant yourself on your
meager days-off at the PCT sites in central Oregon to hand out coffee
and candy to thru-hikers this spring/summer?
(Can we join you?)

Mary: I want to give back. I’ve received tons of support along my hikes from
many people I had never known before or sometimes, never even met.
I’ve stumbled upon a dozen  coolers in the middle of the woods with
soda and a trail register. I met a kind woman in a post office who
invited me into her home for spaghetti and puckery rhubarb pie. I’ve
met handfuls of trail angels who offer their generous time and homes
to hikers year after year. They welcome hikers in to take a shower,
put their feet up and stuff their empty stomachs. I want to return
this kindness in the form of “trail magic” by strategically placing
myself along the PCT this year with coolers of beverages and a kitchen
to cook up fried egg sandwiches.

(We would like to thank Mary for her candid and inspiring responses.  Not only has she had some incredible adventures, but is a really nice person with a kick-ass spirit.  We believe, upon all accounts, that she practices and promotes excellent environmental ethics and serves us and future biophiles (lovers of the biosphere) as an example to look up to for our own efforts to conserve and enjoy Earth.  Stay tuned for her lively book…)

Symbiosis, Survival is the Focus

In which you consider survival…physically, not metaphorically…well, maybe a little metaphorically…

Hey, hey ya
Hey ya, hey-ya-ha

Survival’s the focus

Hey, hey-ya
Hey-ya, hey-ya-ha

Survival’s the focus…

…can be heard by the Ermines and Douglas’s squirrel.
The little voles below might hear you
And so does the Grey jay on his hemlock branch watching a train of 30 or so fourth graders march the song out…in two feet of fresh powder.

You stole the chant from one of the Indian songs…to honor them…not to repeat offence…and everyone has a good time singing in the woods.  You sing the Indian part like your elementary school music teacher taught you…all out and with noble intention.

You may be thinking of your lightweight snowshoes, and the technology which has brought them about.  Ideas stolen from nature, the Yukon variety of shoe might have come from the hare,

…but for you the name Yukon invites an image of a large river, or a geographical region in the north.  Maybe it even reminds you of a short story you read by Jack London… your freshman year of high school when an ambitious student teacher wanted to excite you with a two-week unit on survival and how to write a short story.

You read “How to Build a Fire” again, wondering what it would be like to spit, only to have it crackle-freeze in the air.  And you, wiser than this character geezer, understand that the reason he made off so poorly is because he wore moccasins, and really ought-to’ve had snowshoes.  Wet feet are dead feet.  He really should have been taught by his schoolteachers and kin that one must make connections to the indifferent Mother Nature who simultaneously supports us without bias.

“The trouble with him was that he was without imagination. He was quick and alert in the things of life, but only in the things, and not in the significances. Fifty degrees below zero meant eighty-odd degrees of frost. Such fact impressed him as being cold and uncomfortable, and that was all. It did not lead him to meditate upon his frailty as a creature of temperature, and upon man’s frailty in general, able only to live within certain narrow limits of heat and cold; and from there on it did not lead him to the conjectural field of immortality and man’s place in the universe.” (Jack London)

You notice many instances when people do not take the time to use their imagination as this character might’ve.  It does take a lot of energy to work it out with the biosphere, to recognize less obvious dangers and opportunities for symbiosis. You are humorously aware of your lack of direction and cautious clambering down of slopes (when the fourth graders run down, oblivious to a fear of falling or the adults shouting out safety imperatives).

And when you do inevitably fall in the fresh two feet or so, you are able to laugh at yourself and the cool irony, while knowing saftey is quite near…you are not desperate to build a fire.

However, you are surprised when two girls lend a hand to you in order to help you up.  One small glove comes at you, and so does another.

You reflect later and are positive these kids will do just fine and you imagine a mental movie of people in Congress or high officials in other countries taking lessons from these students who know how to take care of others, who can together survive a field trip in the snow.