Thursday, December 29, 2011

Because I Can.

Some days I wonder if I've got what it takes to sit down and actually write this book. So many details, so much research, so many writes and edits and additions that I of course always think of after I've sent off the section to my editor; and I'm only a teensy way through what will undoubtedly be a long, long year of tap-tapping away at my keyboard. The local coffee roaster will be making a bundle off me, I can tell already.

Combine writing a book with, oh, yeah, my family, then sprinkle in the AKontheGO website and a little radio show called Alaska Travelgram, and I realize once more that I've gotten myself pretty deep into a lot of stuff. It can make a girl rather depressed. At least, it did, me, until the incredible forces of Yukon once again came to my rescue with this:

"If you are meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don't do it, you not only hurt yourself, you destroy yourself. You hurt your children. You hurt me. You hurt the planet. You shame the Angels who watch over you and you spite the Almighty who created you and only you with your unique gifts, for the sole purpose of nudging the human race one millimeter farther along its path back to God. Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It's a gift to the world and everything in it.
Don't cheat us out of your contribution. Give us what you've got."
- Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Snow On Snow On Snow

I can scarcely think of a better way to help a family grieving one more Christmas without their son and brother than a feathery falling of snow.

Christmas Eve was the perfect excuse to grab snowshoes and dog to head for our favorite community trail system, where my spirits are always renewed by the healing breath of nature. We spied a little hawk perched high in a cottonwood tree, chased each other around the stubby spruce trees, and let Bear show us the snow shelter he built last week at outdoor survival daycamp (yes, given many options for vacation fun, he picked winter survival; go figure).

I was content with 14 inches of perfectly perfect snow already on the ground, and our dreams of a white Christmas would have been fulfilled, easily. But when kid is in bed and all the lights are out except for the Christmas tree, and the eggnog is poured, and Midnight Mass is on the radio (I am a sucker for Christmas and Easter High Holy Mass), falling snow pushes me over the edge of sentimentality. And did it ever snow! Way beyond our bedtime of 1 a.m.

Bear woke up this morning to a new sled from Santa and a deep desire to try it out right away. Obviously.

The only other thing that competes with falling snow for a lump in my throat is the sight of a little boy flopping down on his brand new Christmas sled and belly-whopping down the sledding hill lovingly built by his dad.

It almost made up for the other boy we are missing. Almost. But it sure helped.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"A People In Darkness Have Seen a Great Light..."

I'm trying to keep that phrase close to my lips this week. Today is December 21, the shortest of the year and one that sends most Alaskans into a tizzy of excitement; not for the extreme non-length of the actual hours today, but for the additional eight seconds tomorrow. Sometimes that's how we must think, here.

Normally, Winter Solstice passes as a peaceful, snowy interlude with lantern walks, evening ski and snowshoe adventures, and hot cocoa beside a roaring backyard fire. It is the night before The Night To Come, and yet another way those of us who consciously choose to live in the Far North recognize the balance between nature and creature.

This year was something else, again. A month of warming, blowing, absolutely insane weather has played tricks on our usual celebrations. Trails are icy, roads are treacherous, and sledding hills are, shall we say, insanely dangerous (although that doesn't seem to be stopping some people).

In the wake of not one, not two, but three storms of 90 mph magnitude, we were tired. Tired of the creaking house frames, tired of picking up trash and chasing trash cans, tired of the darkness created from not enough snow to create the sparkling wonderland we have come to associate with Winter Solstice.

But the sun came out today. It warmed the earth, made the soggy snow to look something special, and gave me a special gift while I was out running on a local trail this afternoon, waiting for Bear to finish winter survival day camp.

The sun started to go down around 3:15 this afternoon, fingerlings of whispy clouds reaching toward my for my tired body and brain, offering energy, respite. Suddenly, the very bland colors of an Alaskan winter changed from gray and beige to orange and red and yellow.

We simply cannot have one without the other.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

From the Wolf Den: IT.

This weekend I've done just about everything I can to avoid doing what I really should.
Actually, I should have done it a few years ago.

But here I am, sitting at the big family table with way too many chairs for the three of us and crumbs underneath Bear's seat (see how distractable I am?), staring at a pile of papers with such words at the top like "IN THE SUPERIOR COURT FOR THE STATE OF ALASKA" and official-looking lines and numbers and acronyms I don't want to read.

Today is December 18, 2011. I know this because I've written it at least five times so far on two sheets of paper.

In 20 days my son will be 18. Tomorrow, Yukon and I will troop the State of Alaska Court System and file a Petition for Guardianship.


I've visited with our attorney, I've listened to the fantastic staff at Mountain High School (who really pushed us this last time to get the legal bowling ball rolling). I get it, I really do. Wolf does not have the capability to make decisions regarding his current and future level of care to help him succeed as an adult. He thinks he can leave MHS the day of his birthday, despite what really will happen (nothing). We must do this. Our heads know, but our hearts have yet to accept the rational explanation.

But it's a big decision, and an ironic one, perhaps.

When the kids who used to be his peers start receiving college acceptance letters or letters of scholarship awards, my son will be receiving an official letter from the State telling him he is now our ward, signed, sealed, and delivered.

Yukon and I are so very torn between sighing with relief that we will be able to continue aiding our disabled son, and signing with resignation at the inevitable fireworks that are sure to follow.

We hope and pray Wolf's birthday on January 6, 2012 will be a true "ephiphany" for him. We hope somehow, in the middle of his ranting, he will feel, if only just a little bit, how very, very, very much he is loved.

But for now, on this dark, windy, and cold afternoon, I continue to sit here; scribbling on my file folders, listening to an Andrea Bocelli CD.

Oh yes, God Bless Us, Everyone.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Still, Still, Still?

Ever since last week, when I wrote from Homer while waiting for a flight home after a crazy wild windstorm flummoxed even the most hardy Alaskans, life has been a bit noisy.

Weather in Alaska is noisy, I've discovered. From the grating, grinding of snowplows to the sound of chainsaws cutting up tree limbs that have dislodged from their trunks in a violent reminder from Mother Nature that we are all, by the way, guests here.

Despite all assurances that the storm of last week was but a distant memory, one week later, here we were again, but this time, God Himself showed up. Saturday night winds topped 65 or 70 mph, compelling Yukon and I to make fast the bbq, Christmas decorations, and garbage cans. Power flickered all over town as the southeaster howled until 5 o'clock the next morning. Bear was scared and insisted I sleep in the basement family room with him while Yukon and Dog braved it upstairs on their own.

Yesterday brought temperatures in the mid 30's and snowfall as heavy as I have ever seen, but we were immersed in holiday fun around downtown Anchorage, so, as all good Alaskans do, we simply ignored it. Until, of course, reports from Facebook and Twitter started flowing in talking about 110 mph winds gusting all over town.

We returned home to find carnage; chimneys damaged, fences down, and four trash cans in our back yard that had crashed through our chainlink gate (severely damaging it), spewing recycling/garbage all over the back yard. In the dark and swirling wind, in our fancy "downtown" clothes, Yukon and I alternated between comforting a very frightened Bear, picking up broken glass and shredded documents, and keeping the dog out of whatever the neighbors had had for leftovers (everybody's trash was here, it seems).

After about an hour of futility, we finally left the mess and came inside. We went to bed early, fully planning on picking up the rest in the morning.

But morning came with an uncharacteristic hush. Nobody, it seems, had anticipated the foot of new snow that fell, and was still falling, as I rose from my bed at 6 a.m. Blizzard? I guess that was the right word. At any rate, this stuff was wet, heavy, and practically impossible to shovel. At least it covered the garbage.

We received another blessing, though; no school. Since this hardly ever happens, we took it as a holiday and allowed Bear to sleep in, play outside all day, and take an evening snowshoe around the neighborhood park with both of us.

Still, still, still, it is, tonight. I had forgotten how stillness feels.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

What It Is: Writing Words

I think everything happens for a reason. Right now, I'm perched high above Homer, Alaska, at a friend's house, waiting. But I'm glad to be waiting.

Since Friday afternoon my focus has been on Homer, Alaska, and writing. Setting up camp at my favorite bakery/B&B, I've been all about words, words, and more words. I'm writing a book, see. But the weekend has been more than that.

Yukon is a smart husband, and he knows when his wife needs to fly away for a little while. More important, he knows that to me, writing is akin to breathing; vital, deep, and refreshing if I pay attention to it.

So I've been writing; molding words at my fingertips, fact-checking, proof-reading. I set up my "desk," a little table in my room upon which I set my laptop, reference books, pen, water bottle, and a few apples (writing makes me hungry). I had to move the coffee maker across the room in front of the television, because, of course, I wouldn't be watching any TV this weekend.

The weather was wild, with driving rain, wind, and melting snow; perfect writing weather . I'd sit in front of the modest glow of my Mac for a while, until the word count reached another thousand words, then I'd pull on my Xtra Tuff boots and rain jacket and go outside for a break.

I'd planned on returning home late this morning, but Mother Nature had other plans. 100-mph plans. Anchorage was slammed with a Chinook that brought heavy rain, wind, and ice on every surface. As brave as I had been feeling about flying on small planes this summer, I was not ready to fly on one, today.

So here I am, watching the clouds toss each other an occasional sunbeam. Perfectly relaxed, utterly spent, and waiting.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Family Regroups: It's Just Different

It's been difficult to post, lately. Yukon and I have, all of a sudden (or perhaps not) been thrust into this crazy, vortex-like salad spinner of emotions that leave us a little bit confused.

We have been told by those in the know (it's lovely to be friends with doctors and spiritual advisor-types) that this is not uncommon following a traumatic event. Since we've had several this past year, we can expect to multiply the subesequent meltdowns by two, or three, at least.

Seven months have gone by since Yukon dove into a pot hole of ice and mud. He is back on Nordic skis and is able to return to his flip-turning, machine-like swimming regime at the local pool; the dedication on his face, and within his very spirit, is palpable. It's good, but it's also different. Bear, in particular, notices that Daddy is not home right at 5 p.m. on some days because he's at the pool or on the ski trail. It's not bad, mind you, for Yukon would never sacrifice his family for his fitness; it's just different.

Wolf is returning to old patterns of behavior at Mountain High Facility. The staff are exemplary in their reactions and consequences and incredible sixth-sense of getting to the bottom of whatever set Wolf off, this time, or that time. The phone rings and I hear the report, and I listen to Wolf tell me all about it when he calls. But here's the thing: I'm done validating and commiserating. Wolf knows by now what to do, and all he needs now is to ask for help doing it. But he won't. In one month, he will turn 18. We, and a choir of supportive voices have made so many opportunities possible, but we cannot sing the solo for him.

"Elituq" too, is ready for a re-group, too, I think. But I'm not sure just what that will look like, or how, or if, things you read will change. So stay with us, if you like, and continue to be a part of our virtual support system. But know that we are reconfiguring our lives as we go, and sometimes that regrouping, that "not-bad-but-different" can look a little messy...

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Here We Are Again: Four Holidays Later

If I could do math, I'd calculate how many months, weeks, and days it's been since Wolf has spent a holiday at home. I'm not even sure we really know what "home" means to him, anymore.

For all the blessings heaped upon Wolf and our family this past year, we are also sad that he won't be with us again this year, on the last Thanksgiving and Christmas of his "childhood."

Oh, I know he is safe, warm, and loved where he is, and that his surrogate family will do their absolute best to make sure all the boys are treasured and gifted. But Wolf, like so many kids who don't "get" the whole concept of their disability, only wants to know why he is not home. Even after four Christmases away, he does not connect the dots from behavior to privilege to home.

It is not surprising, perhaps, that all the kids experience escalating behaviors around the holidays, which makes it harder for staff to enforce boundaries and families to just ask for a child to be "let off the hook" for the holidays. The irony is painful for the entire family. I'm tired of cutting and pasting together Christmas cards with single images, divided, instead of one, solid, family photo.

Bear told the dentist the other day that Wolf might be coming home for Christmas; interesting, because we have not talked about it at all. Wolf said today in the New Hour of Power that he just doesn't understand why, if he wanted to come home, that we wouldn't "let" him.

If only it were that easy, boys. I'd wish both of you together in a minute.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Simple Gifts

When Yukon texts me, I sometimes panic. Often in a hurry and failing to realize I read between the lines a teensy-bit too much, his fast messages like "Call plz" send me scrambling for the telephone, especially this week. This past month. Okay, for a long time.

We're officially seven months from the date of Yukon's accident that broke his elbow and forever changed our lives. We're three weeks from the latest surgery to unfreeze stubborn joints that, happily, seem to be staying mobile. And now we're three hours from the text message.

"Call me plz."

I did, gripping the phone with a sweaty hand, hoping and praying that what he had to say would be the beginning and not a U-turn from the past weeks and months of utter confusion and pain for all of us. I took a deep breath as Yukon's deep voice answered his cell phone, skipping my usual greeting and offering a query of "Well?"

"Everything's just great!" The words practically tumbled out of his mouth and into my willing ears; and it was. An ultrasound showed no blood clot and no veinous residual from previous clots. He'll have to be careful for long flights, and the risk factor, while low, is still present, but for one who is lucky to be walking the planet upright, that was more than enough good news.

Then he started to cry.

"I'm just so relieved," this unbelievably courageous father, son, and husband said. "I didn't want to worry anybody else, anymore."

The Aaron Copeland CD in my stereo began to play a favorite melody as we reaffirmed our "better/worse, richer/poorer, sickness/health" vows to one another over the telephone, a fitting ending to Yukon's best day, ever...

"Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be-
And when we find ourselves in the place just right
It will be in the valley of love and delight."

Deep breath, Yukon. We did it.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Winter is Here.

At least in Alaska....

Winter arrived with a bang this year after a prediction of "cold and dry" from the folks at NOAA. We woke up to 1" of snow Sunday morning, much to the absolute delight of Bear, who guessed the first day of snow dead on and won the Family Bet. Doubly exciting for him since this year was the first time he had chosen a day other than his birthday. (He is, right now, cashing in on that winning bet; pizza and Clone Wars DVD, btw.)

Halloween was an interesting day as well, with temperatures hovering around 22 degrees, causing my little Hansel to wear long underwear beneath his costume at school. Then, right as Yukon and Bear were heading out the door to canvass the neighborhood last night, a blizzard hit. And how. Sideways snow, gusty wind, and of course the now-Mummy-Skeleton-Zombie wouldn't wear a coat.

It was a very cold duo who showed up at home 30 minutes later. Took me at least 10 minutes to dust the top layer of snow off the remains of his costume. Yukon needed a hot toddy, too. But Halloween in Alaska sort of follows the US Postal Service motto:

"Neither rain, or snow, or gloom of night..."

Keeps an Alaskan kid from Trick or Treating..

Thursday, October 27, 2011

From the Wolf Den: In the Zone

Wolf and Yukon made it safely to Colorado Springs, weary but in good spirits (or, in as good of spirits as a duo who had been shuffled around more than a deck of cards could possibly be).

Yukon was treated very well by the car rental company who gave him a free upgrade to an SUV, a little benefit that would come in very handy, later. The guys drove up to Denver, found Mountain Time Zone without any difficulty, and proceeded with the admissions process. Wolf almost immediately found a pal from CHYC, a rather nice young man, and then was spied by another kid from New Facility. He was thrilled to know two people, already, and didn't want to leave them to go on his tour of the campus with Yukon. Nice.

According to Yukon, the campus is lovely, in a pleasant neighborhood with attentive staff who seem to possess a great deal of compassion for the youth they serve. There is an indoor swimming pool, "real" school, library, and three small businesses older students utilize as part of a vocational training series. By all accounts from Yukon, the general atmosphere was vastly different from CHYC, and he felt very good about leaving Wolf that evening. For his part, Wolf was quite willing to stay and get settled without any fuss.

Yukon spent the night at his best friend's house in Denver, leaving at 3 a.m. for a 6 a.m. flight out of Colorado Springs to Minneapolis, then Anchorage. In a snowstorm. In that SUV.

He arrived in Anchorage at 3:45 ADT, unshaven, exhausted, but still smiling. Of course he was, he's Yukon.

All I could do was throw my arms around him and thank him for coming into our lives, over and over, and over again.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

From the Wolf Den: Fortitude in Failure

Absurd moments are inevitable in any travel experience; as a journalist, I witness them every day, usually because they involve me. Normally, the abject absurdity results eventual resolution and laughter over a bottle of wine that evening, and life goes on.

When one is traveling with a child on the Autism Spectrum, however, the ability to laugh over a snafu is a bit more difficult. Actually, it feels downright impossible today.

Wolf was/is due in at Mountain Time Zone this morning after what should have been a great dual-parent trip where we could all march into the school together as a family united in treatment with our disabled child. As is typical when important decisions are made on Friday afternoons, however, the travel-planning-discharge wheels did not grind forward at all on Monday morning, and Yukon and I were again faced with a "who will go-who will stay" coin toss. After considerable contemplation and consultation with every medical authority at New Facility, and after Wolf promised to take an anti-anxiety med to hopefully calm his nerves, Yukon volunteered to once again deliver his son to a new and strange facility.

Supposed travel arrangements were made, but not actually confirmed, as was discovered late last night when we arrived at the airport. Ticketing agent to counter and back again we went, trying to figure out where, exactly, these two would be going, and aboard which airplane. A decided lack of paperwork in hand (yes, we left the facility without a formal itinerary; Wolf needed to go and go then, we could not wait another day, a truly AS behavior), I sent Yukon to the Alaska Airlines counter, where a fabulous agent/supervisor spent the better part of an hour tracking down the reservation (only one leg was actually secured), finding seats together (big fail on the part of New Facility), and eventually getting the boys to Colorado Springs.

Yes, you heard correctly. Colorado Springs. Not Denver. Seems New Facility Discharge Planner never mentioned that the flights to Denver were booked so she booked them to the next-closest in her mind. Right.

Before any adult melting down could occur, Yukon and I looked over at this child, who was watching our every move, pacing, muttering, and also fading fast from the anti-anxiety meds, and bent over to have a brief confab with Agent, who was by this time looking at us like we were positively crazy to even be there without the proper information.

"This child must. go. tonight." The words came out just like that, along with a 60-second synopsis of the Wolf and his long, arduous situation.

She jumped around her kiosk counter, said "I'll be back in a second, sit down," and disappeared into the back room of the Alaska Airlines offices.

Around 30 minutes later, she reappeared bearing printed tickets for all flight connections (it was the best she could do), Yukon's return flight itinerary (oh, yes, did we mention Discharge Planner did not even book Yukon to come back to Alaska?), and coupons for a few free drinks (for Yukon). She had also contacted United Airlines by phone, informed them about Yukon and Wolf, and asked on their behalf for early boarding in Chicago.

Agent told Wolf that O'Hare was a great airport, and listed a few things he should make sure he saw during their 2-hour layover. He brightened considerably at this, and said a "thank you" in his best monotone voice, hands still shaking as he clutched the Cinnabon I bought him as a reward for behaving so well during this crisis.

I had planned to capture all sorts of family photos illustrating our family goodbye; group hugs and all that. Yukon was also going to take the camera from me and use it to record Wolf's arrival at Mountain Time Zone. Drat. Instead, Bear and I hugged our big guys (it was almost 11 p.m. by this point), waved them through the MVP line (at least that was a good perk), and then I picked up my weary littlest son from the floor and we headed to the parking lot.

Yukon and Wolf made it to Chicago safely, I have yet to hear about an arrival in Colorado Springs. But I'm sure things will go smoothly from here.

Won't they?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Happy Birthday To Bear!

Wow. Seven years old, already.
Sometimes I think he's seen too much, yet other times, I don't believe he's seen enough.
This is one compassionate, insightful child, and I'm lucky to be his mother.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

From the Wolf Den: Mountain Time Zone

Wolf has been down these past few days, we think caught up in the nothingness of his current situation. New Facility is an incredibly caring, compassionate place, but they are not meant to be a long-term solution. Wolf is bored, frustrated, and so were we, until about 2 p.m.

Best Therapist Ever, who has been working with a dilligence I don't often see in therapy staff, called us this afternoon while I was sitting in the waiting room of Yukon's physical therapist (it seems all I do lately is wait around for or attend therapy in one form or another). Mountain Zone facility in Colorado, one of the leaders in treatment and management of issues similar to Wolf's, accepted him. Even more important, the State of Alaska Medicaid system approved him for transfer, which, we feel, was absolutely due to the Utilization Review Goddess.

Now we begin the process, again. Yukon may or may not be going with us, depending upon his medical clearance. My gal pal from Anchorage, who has worked as hard as we these past few months to help Wolf, will go if Yukon cannot. We've arranged childcare, switched schedules, and taken a few deep breaths in order to prepare ourselves.

We're happy for the potential in Wolf's future. We're happy he will finally have a chance to show us and every member of the Team that he can do this.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

And So It Goes...

Alaska and the Kirkland family are playing a waiting game.
Alaska's is seasonal; ours is situational. Both are important.

This is the time of year when our weather swings between rain, snow, and sun, and sometimes all three together. Nature holds it breath until the day the rain turns to snow and stays that way, with sunbreaks relieving the darkness that threatens to undermine the little bit of light we do receive. It's a harsh but beautiful time of year, this, and I love it. Alaskans congregate indoors to get used to this shift in both temperature and atmosphere; we bake more, we sleep more, and we tend to accomplish indoor sorts of tasks we put off during the busy (and light) summer months. But we're still waiting for the day when we wake up to the muffled sounds of the snowplows and shovels, scraping and sliding along the sidewalks and driveways, signaling the beginning of another long winter in Alaska.

As a family, we are holding our breath on a number of fronts. Yukon is recovering from his second surgery and spends most of his day enduring physical therapy and home therapy, both of which bring him pain. Wolf waits, still, for a final referral to a facility out of state for, we hope, the last time. Bear is waiting anxiously for his seventh birthday on Sunday, not totally understanding why we can't invite the entire class over but at the same time understanding our need to keep things mellow this year.

And me? I just wait for everything to be thrown up into the chilly fall air and return to earth in a fashion I hope will not look as haphazard as I feel.

More coffee, please.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Yukon: Haven't We Been Here Before?

If these photos look somewhat familiar, join me in saying a big "ARGH" to the fact that yes, Yukon did indeed have surgery again. His elbow and shoulder were just not experiencing the range of motion desired by both he and his surgeon (not to mention our friend and physical therapist), so on Wednesday we returned to the Anchorage Surgery Center for Round Two.

Thankfully all ended well; two pins came out (the figure-eight wire will remain forever), an elbow was bent, and a shoulder was rotated. That was the easy part.

Now comes the weeks and weeks of painful physical therapy. Since the surgery Yukon has had an IV port connected to his neck and a little "power pack" delivering a nerve block to his entire left arm. Physical therapy began on Thursday, and the block will allow his brain and body to accept the amount of movement our PT pal is delivering.

We've only heard screaming once, yesterday, as Bear and I sat in the waiting room. It was awful.

The block comes out today, thanks to a visiting nurse, and we are anticipating a painful night as the full feel of such surgery becomes more real.

It has been sort of nice, though, to ease into this point. We were able to plan and that makes a huge difference.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Why I Left, and Why I Came Back

The award-winning film "A River Runs Through It" was on the top shelf of Unit Director B's office at CHYC. Wolf never wanted to watch it with me, even after I said it had antique autos, fishing, and Montana in it. I ended up purchasing the DVD at Wal Mart in Salt Lake City and watched it on my last flight home this past June.

I enjoyed it immensely; being part Montanan (my mother was born and raised there, most of her life was spent in Missoula, where the film takes place) I guess the sweeping landscape and familiar rivers drew me in before the story line. In fact, it took the last lines of the film to provide the ah-ha, the validation, and the new reality of our family life.

Reverend Maclean, father to author Norman Maclean (and to Paul, the antagonist of the story), was preaching in the Presbyterian Church of Missoula, after Paul had died a violent death due to his lifestyle, personality, and choices.

He says:
"Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: "We are willing, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed?"
For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don't know what part of ourselves to give, or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us.
But we can still love them - we can love completely without complete understanding."

I left this blog almost three weeks ago, just after Wolf had entered New Facility Anchorage, and just after he had presented (been evaluated) to the State of Alaska as a child/adult with few options for his future. Yukon and I had some difficult and painful decisions to make, and I wanted to make them with wide-open eyes to the possibilities ahead.

Wolf does not have the capability to love; he does not have the capability to empathize with others who hurt on his behalf, and in the same vein does not understand the agony of my mother-heart when I see the bruises and scrapes on his body because of some behavior-related incident.

The reality of Wolf's life is instutional; he likely will transfer out of Alaska once again, he likely will be in a locked facility where he and the community will be safe. Wolf hopefully will receive the long-term assistance he needs to graduate from high school, learn independent living skills, and perhaps get a job nearby.

Yukon and I have had to think of "what-if's" with regard to Wolf's future, and what we will do if he refuses treatment, runs away, or injures himself or someone else. That is raw emotional torment, having to make a plan like that, for a lifetime, but honestly, Yukon and I know at our cores we have made the right decision.

That's why I left; to decide.

I came back to write it all down.

Monday, September 26, 2011

From the Wolf Den: And So We Reach

This is a hard post.

Wolf is struggling, and as a result, so are we. We shudder when the phone rings, shut our eyes when a new email pops up, and our eyes fill with tearful uncertainty when someone asks about him.

There are so many reasons for Wolf's swings of emotion, and we purport to know only a few of them. Indeed, when he is raging at staff, his therapist, or us, he repeats the only fact we, and he, know with absolute certainty:

"You don't understand! You Just Don't Understand!"
We never could, and probably never will.

Our family will eventually come through this crisis as intact as we possibly can, but right now it is a painful reminder of just how tragic this "mental meth-lab" of behavior disorders truly is.
We are reaching up, and out, and all around, as far as we can, to find some way of helping Wolf.

I'm going to take a blogging break, hopefully returning soon. Please join us in praying, thinking, pondering, meditating; whatever you feel comfortable doing, for peace in our son's soul, and in ours.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

From the Wolf Den: The Wheel Goes Round and Round, and Round.....

Now that Wolf is back in the same city as family, Yukon and I have noticed a decided shift in his behavior. Having a taste of the same air as us, knowing our weather patterns and traffic noises, Wolf is beside himself to "come home," even though we, and probably he, knows he can't.

As a result, he is spinning his emotional wheels, trying to drag me under them in the process. Our telephone conversations are abrupt, long, and full of "Why me's" and "How could you's" that do nothing but make me feel as if I suck as a parent, and do little else for Wolf than ramp up his already ramped self.

Staff at New Facility are now getting to see what Wolf is like when he is angry, and on one level, I am glad. On another, I am painfully aware how horrible it must be to live like this, and it makes me sad.

But like a wheel that keeps turning around and around and around, eventually the tires wear out and something has to change. I just hope Wolf will be able to recognize that before the axle breaks and he flies off into space.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Autumn in Alaska

The AK Fam took a trip to Fairbanks this weekend, during which was intended to be a visit with Wolf. Even though he has returned to Anchorage, and given that arrangements had already been made, we went anyway.

I'm glad we did, for Life, in its unexplicable and unpredictable ways, manages to go on.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Be Not Afraid

Trudging slowly through the thick stands of willow and alder trees, my calm exterior belied my shivering insides. I was three miles up a small but vigorous creek in Hallo Bay, Alaska, some 100 miles from Homer and more than 300 miles from Anchorage. A guest of Hallo Bay Bear Camp, I was there to gather material for an article in Alaska Coast Magazine. I'd been there before; a day trip last June left me curious about this camp so far off the grid they used solar, wind, and occasional generator power to function with 20 people in a safari-like atmosphere. I wanted more. What I didn't count on was a whole lot more.

Those who know me best know I have had a strong aversion to bears over the course of my lifetime (I've gotten over the small plane thing; this is Alaska, and if I ever want to get anywhere cool, I've got to fly. So be it.). Bears are big, they are unpredictable, and they are known for doing things on their schedule at their whim. It is not my nature to be in Nature with these beasts, sharing the same trails and creekbeds, and yet there I was.

Hallo Bay guides work endlessly to establish a sort of rapport with these bears, meaning they stay out of their space if at all possible. Guests are drilled on a set of instructions before, during, and after each "encounter" to ensure safety and preparation for the next one; because at Hallo Bay, there is always a next one.

Fortunately or unfortunately depending upon who you talk to, Guide B. and I were the only two-legged people out on the creek that day. It was incredibly stormy, with rain and wind swooshing against our hip waders and rain jackets. It was also noisy; recent rains had left the creek high and water boiled and rushed, leaving us, and the bears, with less warning should the other suddenly appear. My reticence to enter the green, creekside thicket was not unfounded.

As Guide B. slowly led the way over logs, through leafy underbrush, and across smaller stream channels, my brain screamed over and over and over "," an internal monologue I kept up despite B.'s attempts at chatting about our various college degrees, football season, and travel.

Some spots were simply too rough to navigate on land and necessitated a return to the creek where, at our final count, eight bears had been seen fishing or sniffing or scavenging along our three-mile hike. With every bear we spotted and passed on the way up, we knew that the gauntlet would need to be run on the way back, so we ticked off bears; Silver Ears, Scaredy Bear... numbers dwindled as we got closer and closer to the creek's outlet near the beach.
I was nearly there. Faced the giants, even. Damn, I was good.

But then.....

A sow with her three-year-old cub came ambling around the corner, he (?) slipping in and out of the chilly water, playing in the grass, like all youngsters do; she carefully watching his every move yet allowing some freedom, since this was likely the last year he'd be under her protective wing.

B. eased us out into a sand bar to watch their progress and ensure visibility, knowing that bears, with eyesight comparable to ours, would be smelling us soon and our popping out from a willow grove would not be appropriate. We crouched quietly on the shallow sand, and waited.

Cub strayed up to the trail we were standing upon minutes before and Mama remained in the water, but both kept heading our direction; she on one side of us, he on the other. B. took out a flare all guides carry for protection (no guns or spray are allowed at Hallo, but flares provide heat and light and are reliable methods of deterrant) and said "Just wait here, and we'll see what she does. I'm pretty sure she'll cross in front of us to get in between us and her cub."

Pretty sure? Unprintable words rose in my throat as I froze, hunched over on the sandbar which suddenly seemed way to small and infinitely vulnerable to something so, so large.

"Good bear. You're a good bear." B. crooned with the smoothness of Bing Crosby as Mama and Cub came close enough for us to smell their fishy hides. "You're sure she'll cross over?" I quavered. "Sure I'm sure," B. replied, his eyes not leaving Mama for an instant. I did notice, though, that his thumb was heavy on the top of the flare and a large raincoat was within reach of his other hand, something I found out later was also a deterrant (bears hate the noise of flapping fabric).

Seconds felt like hours as the two bears indeed met at our sandbar's point and proceeded to pass us at about 20 feet, so close I could look into Mama's eyes as she warily, but steadily, lumbered by.

"Keep on going, bear. Nice bear, good work, keep moving." B. kept up his one-sided conversation until the two were well on their way upstream, then he slowly placed the flare back in his pocket, strapped the raincoat on his pack, and said, "Let's go."

So we went, our footprints seeming more than a little out of place on the wet sand next to the two other, larger sets.

It was only later that night, sitting in front of the woodstove at camp, that I realized something.

If a mother bear could walk past something so potentially dangerous as two unfamiliar creatures very obviously in her space, and with a cub to boot, then would it not make perfect sense that I could do the same?

Be not afraid.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Mom Goes Away

It is fortunate that I had a trip already scheduled for Hallo Bay Bear Camp, today through Saturday. Given everything that's going in our world, the timing could not be better for an off the Grid, cellphone-silenced, computer-void (sort of) experience.


Hallo Bay Bear Camp is an hour or so out of Homer, Alaska, down on the Kenai Peninsula. It's lovely, and I'm looking forward to visiting again and staying for a few days. I'm anxious to see if the bears I saw back in June (above) are still moseying around now that fall is upon us and the primary mission is to eat, eat, and eat some more.

Yukon is in charge of the home front, and friends are helping out with Bear. It's cub scout orientation night and an open house at the German Halls of Higher Learning, so it will be a busy evening. But tomorrow is Friday.

Wolf is hanging in at New Facility. Our clock has begun ticking as to future plans, and hopefully the Team will keep plugging away in my absence. It is likely, though, that we are looking at more out-of-state placement, since Alaska has nothing to support a young adult with his constellation of issues.

One day at a time, and right now, I am taking one for me.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

In Step

"When you get married, it's time to learn how to dance correctly."

A resident at the long term care facility I managed told me this just before my wedding. Her generation married young but already knew how to dance. In fact, their children knew how to dance, too, because they were enrolled in etiquette classes. Not so for my generation, and all my residents knew it. They had seen me stumbling around, trying to lead, which was bad, they told me.

For a young lady to truly dance correctly, these proper women patiently instructed, she must both give and receive. Give; as in surrender the irrepressible urge to always know the right way to go, and when, and how. Receive; as in allow the dashing young man (they're always dashing, aren't they?) to completely sweep you into his arms and carry you away on the music, even if the music is unfamiliar, harsh, or not particularly to your liking. As in, trust him to make it work, or, at least try to make it work as one entity, rather than two individuals.

"Partner: Either of two persons who dance together." (Webster's Collegiate Dictionary)

It's our eighth anniversary today.

It's an unfamiliar tune to which Yukon and I are dancing lately, but I trust him to help us with the steps. And he trusts me to let him when I just can't seem to figure out the sequence and my ankles turn on those crazy spiky shoes. The music is indeed harsh, and uncomfortable, but we are moving across the dance floor, one turn at a time.

He's a good partner.

The best, actually.

Monday, September 5, 2011

From the Wolf Den: Full Circle

Wolf and his escort landed in Anchorage last night around 9 p.m. Wolf was anxious but willing to go along with things, thankfully. During the course of our day I reminded him that he likely had an advantage; he had been through residential treatment before and would be generally familiar with procedures and routines.

That said, it was a nervous teenager who called us from the airport, saying he'd safely arrived and was headed to New Facility.

We're again so thankful to our friends, T & J, who sat with Wolf over the weekend and were parents-by-proxy for Yukon and me. What a blessing to have people be in the right place at the right time.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Update From the Wolf Den: Today

It has been an impossibly long 24 hours for the whole family, and for the people to whom we are close. Here is an update as things stand at this particular milisecond (thanks to another blogger friend who provided me this appropriate word), and how amazed I am at the people who have wandered in and out of our lives:

Yukon and I completed intake procedures for an Anchorage-based inpatient treatment facility to stabilize Wolf and conduct some additional testing to investigate his current behavioral trend. Through the course of the day it was discovered that Wolf probably had not been on a consistent medication regime since his arrival at Arctic Manor.

Wolf found his way to a kindly older couple's house who fed him, talked with him, and encouraged him to call us, whereby we found transportation to the hospital's ER for a checkup and the beginning stabilization process. He is currently safe, warm, and sleeping after a traumatic series of events that, understandably, were exhausting for him. This older couple deserves our humble thanks and appreciation for using enormous amounts of grace to refrain from judging Wolf, us, or the organization. They probably saved his life last night.

Initial Arctic Manor House Parent N deserves our thanks as well for remaining in contact with our family even though he was under no obligation to do so. Without his support and obvious compassion, Wolf may not have agreed to go to the hospital.

Friends from Anchorage are visiting family in Fairbanks and blessed us with the offer to collect Wolf's possessions from Arctic Manor and visit him as he waits in the ER for transport down to Anchorage. This couple likely the people who understand Wolf the best outside of our immediate family, and we are so, so thankful they are helping take at least a bit of the worry from Yukon and I. Update: Wolf just called and said they were there, bearing McDonald's, which made him feel "pretty good." He was surpised to see them, and "very, very happy" they came.

New Facility's Associate Medical Director is the individual who first diagnosed Wolf with Asperger Syndrome in 2007, and is one of the few clinicians with whom Wolf had a rapport, and the only physician I trust thus far. That he is still at this facility provides me with a level of relief I have not felt in some time.

However, the bed that was initially available at New Facility last night is no longer available today, and now we wait. Wolf will remain in acute care in Fairbanks for the interim, which is hard, and is a constant issue among mental health providers throughout the State of Alaska. But he sounds rested, and much, much more at ease with himself than earlier in the week.

I am cleaning the house, because that's what I do when I'm stressed.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Update From the Wolf Den: Everybody Hurts

Changes are hard, even traumatic, for children on the autism spectrum. For Wolf, they are made even more difficult due his extreme impulse control problem. He's been struggling mightily this week after a transition into a strict, unbending, yet very loving new home (a good thing).

He's been running away almost every night. It's not safe, it's not appropriate, and it's hell on us.

And now our worst fears may be realized. Bringing Wolf home was a difficult decision driven partly by Alaska Medicaid and partly by us. Three years at CHYC was a long time, and something had to change. As initially positive the move back to Alaska was, and as beautiful our moments of reunion were, Wolf is resorting to primal reactions to basic interactions (and conflicts) with other people, and is manifesting his disorder(s) through running and all the absolutely negative behavior that goes along with it.

Who knows? Maybe I'd spend my life running, too, if inside I had no idea who I was or why my brain was telling me to do things I didn't understand, and if the world appeared to be a jumble of other people telling me to do things as well.

I have spent the day on both my cell phone and the landline, on multiple conference calls, to put together a plan of care for Wolf in both the short and long-term. Thank God I have a background in long term care, for the scenarios and paperwork and emails might otherwise swallow me whole.

Nonetheless, my kleenex box is as empty as my heart, right now.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Summer Love

Yukon and I had a date today. Like a real, adult, all-by-ourselves-do-what-we-want date. With other real adults, no less.

The Alaska State Fair is in full swing, and while I usually don't attend any of their special events, I did make an exception this year for Garrison Keillor's Summer Love Tour. Because I think Garrison Keillor is a writer's writer, a wordsmithing genius who makes me shut my eyes and let my mind slide over the gems that come out of his mouth.

Since both Keillor and his famous Prairie Home Companion show are due to retire in 2013, and since seeing/hearing the man live is most definitely on my List of Things To Do in Life, we went.

Brilliant blue sky (those of you not living here in Alaska must appreciate that the Fair is usually shrouded in clouds and rain and, at the very least, not-so-warm temperatures), cold beer, and a perfect spot on a warm, grassy slope to witness a master of storytelling and my literary hero reminisce and ruminate about Love for three hours.

There has not been so perfect a day in a long time.

"Love," Keillor mused, "Is not meant to be a neat and tidy thing. We are purposefully entangled in its hollows and reaches."

The Summer of Love. Yukon and I needed a little help to figure that out this year, if only from a funny-looking man in red sneakers who managed, somehow, to be speaking right to us.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Like a Hurricane...

Listening to frenzied news reports coming from the southeast, I'm thanking God I don't live there anymore, with all due respect to my dear friends in Summerville, SC. I just don't think given the events of our lives these days I could take a hurricane on top of it all.

Swirling here at home is our own frenzy of activity as we sort out calendars, make plans, and otherwise prepare for a hurricane to hit the Kirklands. Yukon's surgery has been scheduled for October 12; Hawaii has been put on hold (this fact will undoubtedly hit me later); Wolf got in a fight today at school; Bear said he likes the dog better than me.

Sigh. It's been one of those days.


But, our friends, as usual, have been undeniably fantastic with offers to take Bear, make us dinner, and otherwise soothe the soon-to-be crazed family Kirkland. We'll make it. We did it before, and we can do it again.

Everything happens for a reason. And perhaps the best reason of all is to show us how resiliant we truly are as a family.

Monday, August 22, 2011

First, the Good News...

Today was the first day of school for Bear. All trumped up and ready by 7 a.m., my little casanova had his hair spiffed, his bright yellow shirt all buttoned, and brand new, uber-cool Sketchers on his fast-growing feet.

A nice surprise was finding him assigned to a grade 1-2 split this year, which should be an interesting challenge for our little know-it-all. Thank goodness for faculty who understand my kid and his learning style!

We heard from Arctic Manor staff who, too, are pleased with progress both at the house and at school. Seems as if everyone is settling into their places with bright shiny faces. Haven't seen that in a while...

Now the bad news....

Yukon needs surgery again. Seems as if that elbow is just not presenting enough movement, despite endless physical therapy and exercise. Adding to the difficulty is a left shoulder that appears to be "freezing up," reasons for which will not fully be understood until Surgeon gets in there to see for himself.

Two-for-one; that's what we have coming on October 12. A long recovery coming, too, according to Surgeon. Ten days at least. Right after we are supposed to get back from a week in Hawaii, meaning that Yukon could conceivably be away from the office for three weeks, meaning that maybe we won't go to Hawaii. Meaning, also, that I am in a bit of a funk tonight.

I do, however, have a raspberry cobbler in the oven, because that is one thing I can control tonight. Dessert.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

From the Wolf Den: Firsts

I have tried not to think too much about "firsts" anymore where Wolf is involved. Our "firsts" are not like other people's firsts, and it used to drive me nuts. Baselines and standards, and all that.

But today was the first day of Wolf's senior year. A first worth remembering, because Yukon and I were not sure this day would arrive on time, if at all. But it has.

Wonderful N. at Arctic Manor sent me a message last night saying Wolf had organized his stuff a few times and was subsequently wandering around nervously, not wanting to go to bed. I had called earlier in the evening and listened as Wolf shared his list of new school clothes and supplies both N. and I had purchased over the last week. This was a big day.

It was an anxious day for me; wondering if the school would meet his academic needs as I knew it would his behavioral ones, for better and/or worse. Would the other kids be a hinderance rather than a motivator? Would staff truly understand Wolf's intellectual capabilities yet be ready to support the emotional fragility and anxious behavior?

I received an email from the school administrator around 4 p.m.

"Just wanted to let you know that (Wolf) had a very good first day. He easily made friends and is excited about the class he was placed in. He feels he has a lot in common and is on the same level as his classmates. We should be on track for (Wolf) to graduate on schedule, if not earlier."

We've never had a first day like this first day. Ever.

Monday, August 15, 2011

From the Wolf Den: Oh Boy, Tomorrow!

The family is in an uproar tonight. We found out at 5 p.m. that Wolf will be making a quick visit to Anchorage tomorrow. I'm excited, I'm anxious, and I'm hopeful.

Hopeful because a family who loves Wolf almost as much as we do is going to be so happy when we drive up to their house and he pokes his 6'2" frame in their doorway, and I know that 30 minutes of seeing their faces will provide power for the rest of Wolf's day.

I'm anxious because medical appointments rarely go as planned, especially with new psychiatrists in Alaska, where nothing is certain personality-wise, and options are few.

I'm excited because a little brother has the chance to wrap his arms around his big, big brother on home turf; show off bike-riding skills; eat a popcicle; read together.

This is bound to be an interesting day.....

Friday, August 12, 2011

From the Wolf Den: More Than This

I drove out of the hotel parking lot this morning with more than just coffee fueling my tired body. It was bound to be a full one; taking Wolf to the El Dorado Gold Mine to show him the ins and outs of Alaska's chief mineral mining process, visiting the Fairbanks School District to sign papers releasing them to do necessary testing, and taking Wolf to a potential school where, I knew, a fight was imminent.

My expectations were unfounded, however, for as much work as Wolf needed to do throughout the day to maintain his behavior standards and not break down into tears when we arrived at the alternative high school to where he will be placed, Wolf did fantastic.

Not to say that he didn't have his difficult moments; kids with Asperger Syndrome always will. But he rallied, pulled back, and was willing to listen to what we adults had to say.

House Parent N. accompanied us to the gold mine and had a great time. New to Alaska from Kansas, N. had not panned for gold before and found the opportunity sort of fun, and quite educational. It was nice, too, to see how N. managed Wolf's actions and words, and I'm sure it was nice for him to see the same from me.

School is going to be different for Wolf. It concerned we adults that asking him to mainstream into a large public high school when he has never before had such an opportunity would be crazy, and potentially set Wolf up for failure. So we are enrolling him in a small (23-student) high school operated in partnership with the School District and a family service organization.

Once Wolf found out it would not be like CHYC-unlocked, he calmed down, checked out the classrooms, and met the teachers, all of whom are absolutely incredible individuals. I continue to feel blessed by the amazing people we are meeting up here. Everywhere we go. All the time.

As a reward, I took Wolf to buy some "necessary" school supplies, consisting of graph paper, a zip-up binder, and a stash of pens/pencils. Since he's not had the chance to buy supplies in quite some time, this was a special event, indeed. I sweetened his behavior pot further by buying him a model and the necessary accoutrements, and when I left Arctic Manor this evening, he was peacefully organizing his new Titanic model.

I feel as if we both are waking up and seeing each other for the first time after a long, long, winter.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

From the Wolf Den: His Home

The first thought that drifted into my head early this morning was of how grateful I was not to be sitting on a red-eye bound for Salt Lake City. The second was how unbelievably comfortable it felt to be headed to a city I know, and know well, with people I trust and land I know almost as well as my own in Anchorage.

Wolf, I hope, will feel this way, too.

Arctic Manor is situated a bit out of Fairbanks, away from what hustle and bustle this small Alaskan town can produce. Along a bike trail, in the trees, the house is roomy, comfortable, and calm. Incredibly calm. Part of that has to do with Teaching Parents C. and N., their small daughter, and engaging little dog, Phil (I can use Phil's name because, well, he's a dog, and I don't think he'll mind my revealing his monniker).

Serenity also comes from Wolf himself. He is happy, and although the obsessions and impulses are still there, he says he likes where he is, and that's good enough for me today.

We took a walk this evening after a full afternoon of meetings at the school district for me, and anxious waiting for Wolf. A heavy summer shower had just passed over, leaving the air smelling like a hay field and causing flowers to nod with the weight of raindrops. The sun was out, though, and Wolf and I took our time ambling along the bike path, Phil sniffing and snorting in the tall grass.

It was nice. Really, really nice.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

From the Wolf Den: All That Glitters is Not Necessarily Gold

I swear my son was a racoon in his former life. Attracted to anything shiny, bright, and/or with the perception of value captures his immediate attention and usually sends the adults around him into hyperspace with fretting when these "treasures" are discovered. Case in point was the fact it took me a month to clean Wolf's room after he first left for CHYC.

After three years living in a fairly regimented environment where all possessions are logged, categorized, and kept fairly minimal, Wolf now finds himself in a place where he is permitted to keep more "Stuff." Now that he lives in one of the gold mining capitals of the world, guess what shiny item is taking center stage? Argh.

Gold Fever is real because I'm sick, sick, sick of talking about it. I'm sure the Arctic Manor staff are, too, but we all suffer with good humor because Wolf is so darned cute when he is talking about gold, mining, panning, and/or sluicing. We can't help it.

However, we must remind ourselves fairly frequently that Wolf's impulses are indeed brash and solid and hard to control, so should the mailman deliver three "authentic" gold coins to the Arctic Manor mailbox, it is a teachable moment (or two, or three) to explain why they need to be sent back.

I can't wait to see what he's hiding under his bed.

Friday, August 5, 2011

From the Wolf Den: With the Freedom Comes the Pain

As we are joyful at Wolf's presence back to Alaska, we are also reminded of how difficult this transition is for a young man with Asperger Syndrome.

Arctic Manor continues to be a fabulous option for Wolf, if he will allow it to be so. In a typically Asperger Syndrome sort of manner, Wolf is struggling with both the loss of old boundaries and the tightening up of new ones. There have been so many signs that perhaps he did indeed absorb some of the skills taught to him by CHYC, but, when presented with stressors in a very real world in which he now lives, his coping approach doesn't exactly match the situation. Unfortunately.

I cannot even to pretend to know what goes through Wolf's mind as he tries to manipulate in the fashion he is accustomed; in this case it is a staff member to whom Wolf finds a little too direct (bossy, as we are told) in telling him what to do, when, and how. In Wolf's mind, as in that of most people with Asperger Syndrome, he assumes this person, and all people, will submit and see things "his way." It is an extremely difficult existence, thinking one is the master of all and yet, it is actually the other way around.

Wolf knows he has freedom, but like a dog who escapes from his fenced-in yard and runs amok in the neighborhood, he has no idea how to safely and appropriately use it.

In looking at behaviors that are so immature, it becomes difficult to match the antics to the face we see. This is Asperger's at its most painful, and watching Wolf muddle his way through this most important time of new freedom reminds us further that the sand is slipping further and further into the base of the hourglass.

We can only take one deep, cleansing breath at a time, and wait for tomorrow.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Upside-Down in Mother Nature's Arms

The photo above shows a clump of moss and lichen clinging to the skeletal branch of an old spruce tree. Not very unusual at first glance, I suppose, especially since it was taken in southeast Alaska, where moss grows like grass and spruce trees are numerous.

No, what is unique about this beautiful, mossy image is that it was taken from nearly 50 feet in the air by a wet, slippery, and unsure photographer; me. I was lured to a ziplining excursion in Ketchikan on a day even most southeast Alaska residents would call "too wet," along with a group of adventursome (or foolish) other people gathered to propell, rapell, and zip our way from treetop to treetop in a sort of Tarzan-esque experience.

I'm not afraid of heights but I do possess a number of control issues, just ask my kayak instructor and the pilot who flew me out to Hallo Bay last month. The very idea of sliding rapidly down a mountain with nothing but nylon butt straps between me and the forest duff below was not really my idea of a great time. But I did it, and ultimately loved it.

I am the daughter of a forester who taught uhis kids to look up. Up at the sky beyond the tippy tops of evergreen trees, up at the frosty green leaves and branches whose arms stretched to the heavens. I never believed one day I'd be standing among them, on their terms, held tenuously within their generous hands.

That clump of moss with the little sword fern growing out of its deteriorating branch would not have been found near the ground. It grows only there, and in that way, and I would have missed it had I said "no thanks" to the ziplining invite.

It was quiet up there in the trees; the rain made tentative taps upon my helmet and against the decking of the 5' X 5' platform we stood upon as we waited our turn to zip. Occasionally, the wind would gently move each individual tree back and forth with a rhythm that was, surprisingly, not scary at all.

Perhaps Mother Nature is less scary than we think, if given the proper respect. Perhaps Life is, as well.