Wednesday, March 16, 2011

This post brings us to the end of the work we did for the 2009 Three-Day Novel Contest. But a lot has happened to Kristi and to me since then. Stay tuned...

2009 POST SCRIPT--Kristi

It is August of 2009, exactly 10 years and one month since Bill and I moved to our small valley. We are camping in the San Juan Islands with our youngest while my older girls spend the week in Seattle with their dad. My husband brings the 14-foot wooden rowboat he has built from a kit so he can fish and crab. It is a pretty little boat based on a Maine lobster boat design, and attracts a lot of attention where ever we go.

We decide to row out to visit Ti on her island about three miles away. We put in on a beautiful summer day; with bright blue water, calm seas, and warm air. Our daughter sits in the bow with my husband in the middle so he can row. I head to the stern where I wish for the 100th time that he would build a seat. Still, it’s a comfortable spot with its back-sloping curve and I pile up life vests to keep my butt dry.

It takes less than an hour for my husband to row us the three miles to Ti’s beach. Along the way we skirt small islands, cross open water, and go around a small point where Ti’s beach comes into view. It is a lovely little half-moon shaped cove. Gentle waves are hitting the rock and shell-covered beach that gently slopes up a shallow hill covered in grass and trees. Joey, Ti’s yellow lab, lopes down to the beach to greet us, and he and my daughter are instantly best friends. They spend hours playing fetch, exploring the beach and looking for shells and crab. Jannie builds a little statue of driftwood and rocks. Joey sneaks bites of her lunch when she’s not looking. They are two happy little animals playing in the sun.

Ti comes down to greet us. I have not seen her in years but she still looks the same: wide open face under long dark hair, with a little gray here and there, and a short, athletic build. We walk up to her home through a grove of old plum and apple trees that were planted decades ago. The plums are delicious! I snack my way up to her house which sits in a clearing of trees surrounded by water on three sides. Her home is a weathered two story shack; tidy and dark inside, but serviceable for sure. We tour the un-insulated building where she and her family lived for the first two years and the bright, cozy studio/shop where Ti does her art.

Ti’s stepdaughter is working at the local store that day. Her husband is not around. Again. Ti says he’s in town, but I tease her about her fantasy mate, whom I’ve never actually met. He used to work at KCTS, doing overnights in Master Control - or so she says. The only time I actually saw the two of them together, all saw was a head with a hat in a sleeping bag in the back of her truck. “That could have been any head,” I tease. “How do I know you don’t just drive a head in a sack around to convince everyone you have a husband?” She laughs and we continue our tour.

At the moment, she is making small toy sheep using local wool to sell at the farmers market. My daughter loves them! She immediately commissions a small black sheep with a purple scarf and an orange hat with a pink pom pom. We tour the rest of the property and beach. I see the line where she dries clothes and the cistern where they catch their water. The property is lovely with water meeting islands and mountains all around.

As I walk along the short, wooded path to Ti’s outhouse, I think about taking that path in the rain, snow and dark and what it must be like to wake up to the sound of the ocean surrounding you on three sides. I think about her trips in a small boat to take their daughter to school on a different island. They must be beautiful in the spring but terrifying in winter, much like my own travel with the girls.

I suddenly get Ti’s life; the beauty and the struggle of it, and know it’s not so very different from my own. I wonder what keeps her here – the thing that convinces her to stay when reason and doubt creep in and push her to leave. I wonder the same about myself.

We go back to the beach and talk about our lives while my daughter plays with the dog and my husband naps in the shade on the beach. Ti is thinking about getting her EdD in educational technology. I am just completing my M.P.A. We ponder the pros and cons of more education and more debt. The challenge is interesting but the payback unclear.

I tell Ti I’m reading a book about a woman who leaves her comfortable life in Toronto to teach and travel in Bhutan. It reminds me a lot of my Peace Corps experience teaching English in Zaire. Ti has read the book. I say it has made me interested in exploring Buddhism and how I think its teaching and meditation practices could help me center my thoughts and stay more positive in my life. She talks about her Taoist and Buddhist upbringing and what the two philosophies have in common – which is much. We laugh about our many “east/west” moments at work.

It is wonderful to finally see where Ti lives. I have missed her and my other colleagues at KCTS. Ti has stayed connected with many of them on Facebook and I vow to do the same. We both miss things from our old lives. Mostly what we miss is the collegiality and collaborations that so marked our mission oriented work at KCTS. It is a wonderful thing to work hard long hours on a common project with people who share your passion and goals. I have had some of that with my consulting work in the Methow, but not nearly enough. The same is true for Ti.

Finally, we say good-bye. We have a long row back and it is starting to get late. We pull on our jackets and life vests and get into the boat. My husband rows us off and we head away. I look back to see Ti and Joey heading up the trail to their home; a smart, capable woman and her dog. If anyone can make it here, it’s Ti. She has the skills and personality to survive, and occasionally thrive in all this beautiful isolation. My life, with its relative conveniences and somewhat denser population may be somewhat easier than hers – but not much. And she has this beautiful ocean embracing her life that I wish I had in mine. Still, I know I would miss the mountains and skiing if I lived here. Perhaps we are both where we should be.

The following day I pick up a cell phone message from Ti. “Kristi, thanks so much for coming to visit. I just found this 3-Day Novel writing contest online. I think we should enter and write a story together about moving to the sticks. In Buddhism there are no coincidences!” She signs me up before I can say yes. She knows I will. It is time to write these stories down.

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