+CHAPTER 3, BOOK 2 OF “THE DARK SIDE OF MILDRED’S MOUNTAIN” (‘Angel’)

The Dark Side of Mildred’s Mountain series – Angel book 2 beginning with the POP!  Goes Alaska letters – chapter 3

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3.  Hesitant Story

What story lurks inside of me that I find myself so afraid, so hesitant, so unsure of how to begin to tell it?  Do I stand at the magical gate of my own secret garden holding in my palm the skeleton key that I know will open this lock to let me inside?  Am I approaching one of the gates of hell (I assume there are many)?  Do I stand in some dark-walled somber court room about to lay my right hand upon the cover of a Bible to repeat an oath that what I am about to write “is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God?”

I want to run away yet find myself glued here, poised to let words come into my mind and then out the ends of my fingertips to write a story I am so aware of not being able to fully remember.  No one is forcing me to move from this point forward.  I am at that balance point between ordering myself to write at the same time I respect myself enough to ask for permission to cross a threshold of memory to retrieve what I can know about myself in my life beginning one month before my sixth birthday as I crossed the threshold into the log house in Eagle River, Alaska on July 31, 1957.

Pausing here I note my own rule:  Every word that appears to me as I write belongs in my story.  Once placed it cannot be removed.  To refuse a word’s existence within this story is to separate myself from the gift of my story as I follow the scent of it, the feel of it, the shape and form of it as if the story exists already.  My job is to find it and express it.  My challenge is to let it come forth one word at a time no matter what.

No matter my own doubts, my own unfaithfulness to my truth, my own fear of failing, my own intimidations of myself.  In spite of my own self-imposed critic.  In spite of my mind that will often wish to wander away, to find something in my adult present so much more pleasant to think about, pay attention to and do.  In spite of my discouraging self, my discounting self, my unbelieving self I will give credence to my own words and to that which they humbly try to communicate.  I need not make any claim of perfection.

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Any thoughts about why I write take me back to myself sometime in my early teens.  I am sitting on a knoll in one of our homestead fields below our house on a summer day.  The hill is well established with a plant I grew up to believe was called Dogwood.  I know now that was not its real name although Dogwood is what I always call it in my heart of hearts.  This is its proper nomenclature:

Cornus canadensis COCA13

bunchberry Cornaceae

HABIT: 2–8 inches.

KEY CHARACTERS: Leaves 4–6 in a terminal whorl with 1–2 pairs much smaller, opposite stem leaves below.  Flower bracts white, petal-like.  Fruit clustered red berries.

HABITAT: Spruce and birch forests, muskegs.

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These thriving short plants were thick beneath me where I sat, so I know several years had to have passed since Father had first torn up this land to plant crops of Timothy grass as required by the government’s homesteading proving up requirements.  There was no sign of tall grass on this hill.   Rather this lush carpet of green was half full of white flowers and half full of red clustered berries at their fruition time of summer.

I was at a similar stage of transition from young to older childhood, yet I had no more sense of my own history than did the wilderness I was a part of that measured nothing about itself in nanoseconds or millennia.  Small grasshoppers popped up and down around me as I disturbed them by lightly brushing my palms in wide sweeps over leaves, flowers and berries around me.  Rushing glacial river water far below me on the valley floor surrounded me with muted roaring.  I was anything but alone.

It seems I have two simultaneous lives at this moment.   I am here writing at the same time I can return to my body on that sun graced knoll experiencing a state of perfect peace.  There I am met with bird songs drifting past me in an untroubled warm breeze.  Here I feel tension in the muscles of my torso as if they are preparing to lift a great load.

Every time I consider writing my whole childhood story I see myself there on that blue-sky day on that mountain suspended in my memory as if that part of me has refused to leave that spot.  I feel brewing tears as I write these words.  I cannot exactly say why I want to throw a line of words back through time to myself sitting there.   I had such an untold story to tell even then. 

I would trade these tears for that joy, but I don’t think that is what my writing is meant to accomplish.  Is this more than poignant melancholy?  Is this story a scratching, gnawing, clawing thing twisting and insisting on being formed and getting loose?  Will it no longer sit still within me?  It demands words.  Only then will it leave me as it takes to the sky beak, talons and all – finally setting me free.

Or so it seems….

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Plant information is from:  Forest Plant Identification Guide Chugach National Forest, R10-MB-421, by Robert L. DeVelice, Susan L. Boudreau, Charles Wertheim, Connie J. Hubbard, Chrystal Czarnecki

May 2001

USDA Forest Service

Chugach National Forest

3301 C Street, Suite 300

Anchorage, Alaska 99503–3998

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