Sobre Mesa

Julie and Xavier scouting for whales

One of our favorite summertime adventures in the Pacific Northwest is island-hopping. Last year we ferried around Lopez, San Juan, Gabriola and Vancouver Islands. This year, we camped with friends at one of the fifteen coveted sites at San Juan Island County Campground, watching the resident orca pods swim back and forth more times than we could count. We spent a night with our adopted family Judy and Denny, then jumped on the ferry to Victoria to see grandparents and finished in Vancouver for time with cousins and more friends.

Georgia and Chris discussing logistics as we approach San Juan Island

Epic sunset

During the six days in Victoria, Xavier's highlight was going with Grandad and Abu to see the Humpback Whales IMAX movie at Royal BC Museum. He also loved the electric train traveling across Canada at Miniature World, crabbing in Sooke, playing hoops with Abu and playing Granddad's piano. Georgia most enjoyed the soft carpets in her grandparents' home to practice her new-found skill: crawling.

Abu sinking shots

Dungeness crab feast

My favorite thing in Victoria was chatting with Grace and Allan during and after the beautiful meals Grace made. In Argentina, this time spent gathered around the table is called Sobre Mesa and I wrote this poem for her after one particularly lovely alfresco breakfast.

Sobre Mesa

From Bahia Blanca,
Graciela followed
her first husband
to Canada.
When his drinking
killed that love,
cousin Alicia advised

Don’t come back.
Argentina is a mess.
Go live your life.

Which is why we are 
now still gathered 
around the table,
quite a while
after finishing desayuno,
in her garden on
Vancouver Island.

to my father-in-law,
Abu (as my children call her)
refills our coffee cups and
we talk of all the usual things:
relatives, friends, work,
travels, memories,
and love.
Always love.

My son runs around the table
with his pretend baseball bat
replaying hits, strikes
and home runs
in slow-motion.

Watch Abu! Watch this!
Watch, Mummy, watch.

The baby sits in my lap
blowing raspberries
and interrupting us
with happy shrieks,
showing off her two teeth.

It is July.
A ruby-throated hummingbird
chases a rival.
A yellow-wingtailed butterfly
hovers nearby,
drinking her breakfast,

We have nowhere to be.
We have more to discuss.
We linger.


Miss Rumphius

Last summer, I discovered the delightful children's book Miss Rumphius written and illustrated by Barbara Cooney. We were renting a house on Lopez Island and it was one of those books timed perfectly for the setting in which I first read it.

Then recently, visiting my mom on our way home from Montana, I found a copy of Miss Rumphius on her bookshelf. When I told her how much I loved the book, she said, "Oh yes, one of my favorite teaching supervisors gave that to me. He once wrote a recommendation for me comparing me to Miss Rumphius." My mom taught for 30 years with a 12 year hiatus in-between raising us kids. I asked her if she still had the letter of recommendation and she found it in her files to show me. It is dated from 1996.

As I pondered writing a recommendation for Susan, I was reminded of a children's book titled Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney. Like other books I've read and enjoyed, this one is for adults as well as children. The story in this book, I believe, best describes Susan. The book is about the Lupine Lady and it reminds me of Susan's philosophy of serving others. So, here is the story.
Once upon a time, the Lupine Lady was a little girl and her name was Alice. Many years ago her grandfather had come to America on a large sailing ship. He was an artist and worked in a shop making things for ships and stores. In the evening Alice sat on her grandfather's knee and listened to his stories of faraway places. When he finished, Alice would say, "When I grow up, I too will go to faraway places, and when I grow old, I too will live beside the sea." Grandfather responded to her by saying, "That is all very well, little Alice, but there is a third thing you must do. You must do something to make the world more beautiful." Alice nodded but she did not know what that could be.
As Alice matured and grew older, she remembered what her grandfather told her. She started working in a library helping people find books, sometimes she went to the conservatory to smell the sweet scent of jasmine. She traveled to a real tropical island where people kept cockatoos and monkeys as pets. She walked along the beaches and picked up beautiful shells. One day she met the king of the fishing village and he invited her to visit his home. So she did and she also met his lovely wife. They ate and talked together and when she was about to leave the king gave her a beautiful mother-of-pearl shell on which he had painted a bird of paradise and the words, "You will always be in my heart." "You will always remain in mine too," said Miss Rumphius.
She continued her world travels and then when she grew older, she decided to live in a place by the sea. And she did. From the porch of her new home Miss Rumphius watched the sun come up; she watched it cross the heavens and sparkle on the water; and she saw it set in glory in the evening. Then she started a little garden among the rocks that surrounded her house and she planted a few flower seed in the stony ground. But, there was one more thing she had to do to carry out what her grandfather had asked her to do. She thought, "I have to do something to make the world more beautiful."
The next spring the flowers she had planted the summer before had come up and bloomed in spite of the stony ground. She could see them from her bedroom window, blue and purple and rose-colored. "Lupines," said Miss Rumphius with satisfaction, "I have always loved lupines the best.
After a hard winter spring came and one day she took a walk over the hill, where she had not been for awhile. "I don't believe my eyes!" she cried when she got to the top. For there on the other side of the hill was a large patch of blue and purple and rose-colored lupines! What had been planted in a small way had spread out and grown larger and what a beautiful sight it was to see.
So she hurried home, got out her seed catalogues and sent off for more lupine seeds. All summer, she filled her pockets with seeds and wandered over fields and headlands, sowing lupines. She scattered seed along the highways and down the country lanes. She flung handfuls of them around the schools, churches, and into the hollows and along stone walls. By the next spring, there were lupines everywhere. And they were beautiful and bright. 
This, to me, is Susan's story too. She has planted seeds of learning in whatever she has done. Children have grown under her tutelage. Over the years, I have been thankful for her gift of empathy, her dedication to serve others and to work cooperatively with parents and administrators. There is no doubt in my mind that Susan will plant more seed in the future and then observe how beautiful the flowers become. 

A very apt and lovely new perspective on my very own mother.


This Moment

This Moment

A neighbourhood
at dusk.

Things are getting ready
to happen
out of sight.

Stars and moths.
And rinds slanting around fruit.

But not yet.

One tree is black.
One window is yellow as butter.

A woman leans down to catch a child
who has run into her arms
this moment.

Stars rise.
Moths flutter.
Apples sweeten in the dark.

~ Eavan Boland


Crown of the Continent

After our family reunion in Bozeman, Patrick's family joined us for five nights at Many Glacier campground in Glacier National Park. Christian organized two big day hikes up to Iceberg Lake and Grinnell Glacier, listed as #7 of the 20 Best Hikes in the National Parks by National Geographic Magazine. We did one of the hikes on the Fourth of July, a just-about-perfect way to celebrate America. My 10-and12-year-old niece and nephews were troopers on the trails and it was a special way to get time to chat with each of them. On the trails we spotted moose, a black bear, big horn sheep, mountain goats, pileated woodpecker and pikas.

We lounged in adirondacks at the 100-year-old Many Glacier Lodge, the big cousins went kayaking with Paula, Fiona built a dinosaur house on the riverbank with Xavier and we ate huckleberry ice cream. A big thunderstorm rolled in on our final night, just after dinner which made for an exciting sleeping experience. On the last day driving up and over Going-to-the-Sun-Road, we stopped at Logan Pass for Xavier to be sworn in officially as a Junior Ranger - one of the best moments yet of the summer.

Riverside campsite on the Swiftcurrent

One of our best-ever campsites

Patrick swimming in Lake Josephine

Starting our walk around Grinnell Lake

Huckleberry Ice Cream

Georgia likes camping

Uncle Pappy!

Liam and Patrick

Fiona, Paula, Patrick and Liam

The crew

Liam and me with Georgia - Iceberg Lake Trail

Xavier and Christian

Liam: "I'm not even tired yet!"

Christian, Liam and Finn leading the charge

Dropping into Iceberg Lake 

Magical indeed

Cooling off our feet

Looks a lot like Antarctica, if you take away the wildflowers

Snackbreak at the waterfall

Xavier's swearing in by Ranger Eric


Burns Family Reunion in Bozeman

My dad flew in with his wife Laurie. My older brother Patrick and his family drove from Minnesota. Mary Ellen's family drove from Idaho. Matt and his wife Rebecca drove up from California. We drove out from Seattle, reminiscing about the similar road trip across Montana we'd taken two summers ago for Matt's wedding, which was the last time all of us had been together. Through three states, Xavier wanted to hear "She'll Be Coming Around the Mountain When We Come" again and again.

We all arrived the week before the 4th of July and it was hot. My sister found the big house we rented for four nights and the setting was so perfect, we hardly left the property. She and my Dad and Laurie had done a huge grocery run and all the couples took turns cooking meals. We had a swimming hole, a firepit, games, gorgeous mountain views in every direction and space for the kids to run. The days were leisurely and unplanned. We cooked, chatted, swam, played, napped and played some more. I feel so lucky to have siblings I enjoy so much. My only wish is that I could see them a lot more frequently.

A few highlights:

Fierce backgammon games
Matt jamming on the electric guitar with Finn and Liam on the piano
Cousins playing baseball, Xavier's current favorite sport
Chicken fights in the pond, boys on the shoulders of uncles
4-year-old Mabel and Rebecca's flowing interpretive dance on the lawn, each taking turns following the moves of the other
Finn's magic tricks
Uncle Patrick nominating Georgia for the Outstanding Camper Award
Uncle Andrew taking Finn and Fiona fishing
Uncle Matt and Auntie Rebecca taking Fiona rock-climbing at Hyalite Canyon
Patrick taking Liam zip-lining
Auntie Paula making her famous lemon tart
Temporary shimmer tattoos all around
The big box of presents Mom sent out for everyone
The babies, Georgia and Evelyn, splashing at the edge of the pond and napping in the shade on blankets in the grass
Fiona and Finn racing on the blow-up orca and dolphin
Sipping calvados under the stars, sitting around the fire, laughing
Family photo shoot, curtesy of Rebecca
Patrick streaming a Grateful Dead concert
A thunderstorm rolling in and the beautiful calm afterwards
Bird Bingo with Xavier, Mabel, Uncle Patrick and the big cousins