Welcome to Love of Place. Most of my work celebrates our connection to the natural world.

Most recently, my Knocking on Heaven's Door is the winner in the category of science fiction in the 2016 New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards and in the category of fiction in the 2016 Arizona Authors Association Awards. A number of reviewers have been enthusiastic, including the website Geeks of Doom, which makes me smile. Not many people know me as a geek of doom! But I am happy to embrace the complexity of my personality.

I'm also so pleased that Diary of a Citizen Scientist: Chasing Tiger Beetles and Other New Ways of Engaging the World has been awarded the 2016 John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing, as well as the 2014 WILLA Award for Creative Nonfiction from Women Writing the West.

My historical fantasy Teresa of the New World won the 2015 Arizona Authors Association Award for best Children's Literature and was a finalist for the New Mexico/Arizona Book Award for Children's Literature, the WILLA Award for Children's Literature, and the May Sarton Award for Children's Literature.

These are nice landmarks in a writer's life. I would be writing regardless--but, still, whew. It's good to have some encouragement.

Feel free to contact me at http://www.sharmanaptrussell.com or through my author Facebook page, Sharman Apt Russell.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Kathleen Dean Moore
Copyright © Kathleen Dean Moore, 2010
1828 words

Wonder, Bread

A white Buick rolled down the road along the south jetty, trailing gulls. It parked beside us in a gravel pull-out with a view of the channel and the seiners heading out to sea. Gulls swirled over the Buick, squawking. The passenger door opened on the far side of the car. Bedroom slippers on thin legs lowered themselves to the ground. Without warning, slices of bread flew up like toast from a toaster, and gulls swarmed to the open door, screaming and fighting.

On the driver's side, a woman opened the door, grasped the door frame, and pulled herself to standing. Her shoes were purple. Her socks, lavender. Her slacks were purple, and her blouse was purple and gold. Her hair, short and tightly permed, was brick red. The gulls circled her as she made her way to the back of the car. When she opened the trunk, the gulls went wild. Screeching, they swooped in close, colliding in midair. More bread popped up on the far side of the Buick. The gulls glanced over and dove for it, clattering their wings together, crying out.

The woman reached into her trunk for a loaf of bread. She unwound the twisty tie and held it in between her lips. Then she pulled out as much bread as she could hold in one hand. Gulls pressed against her legs, stumbled over her shoes. In spasms of excitement, they tilted back their heads and gulped out the raucous food call. The woman tossed up a handful of bread. Gulls caught the bread on the fly. What fell to the ground disappeared under slapping yellow feet and flapping wings. Gulls swooped in to pull at the bag the woman held in her hand. They swallowed quickly, and who could blame them, tossing back their heads and gulping down the scraps before another gull could snatch them.

How many gulls? A hundred? Two hundred? I sidled closer, not wanted to scare the birds or intrude on the old woman, but wanting to feel the wind of these flapping wings. She saw me coming.

"Want some?" she offered, and in fact, I really did. She beckoned me over to her trunk. Every niche was crammed with bread, one plastic grocery bag after another, each bag stuffed with five full loaves. This was soft, white Wonder Bread. When I was a kid, we used to slather this bread with margarine and coat it with as much sugar as wouldn't shake off.

"Safeway sells it," she said, although I hadn't asked. "Five loaves for a dollar."

"Good price," I said, because it was.

"We've been doing this every day for ten years. It's what we do."

I stood next to her and tossed bread high into the wind. I threw a slice to a pure white gull that had only one eye, firmly fixed in my direction. I threw a slice to a grey-winged gull that had only one leg. But it didn't matter where I aimed; every bird mobbed every piece of bread. Birds hung at our heads, wings flapping and legs dangling. They swarmed at our feet. Experimentally, I side-armed three slices into the crowd. The volume of screaming was directly proportional to the amount of bread in the air.

Another handful of scraps shot up from the far side of the car. A phalanx of gulls peeled off and settled by the bare feet in the bedroom slippers.

“My husband,” the woman said.

"Do the birds follow you home?" I wanted to know.

"No. But they know we'll be back," she said, and turned to pull another loaf from her trunk.

She gave me fully half the loaf. I would have liked to have eaten it, I was that hungry for what the old woman offered. But I tore it to pieces and threw it to the birds. Then I backed out of the melee. There stood the woman in her purple shoes, her face lifted to the birds, her arms wide open -- the gesture of exaltation. Gulls fluttered around her like angels.

She might have been my grandmother, I thought. Her gesture was exactly that of my grandmother in a newspaper photo I keep framed in my hall -- except that when that picture was taken, my grandmother was five years old. In a little shearling coat and buttoned boots, ringlets falling to her waist, she stands in front of an open door. Her face is lifted in wonderment. Her arms are open and her hands upraised. Her expression is a picture of astonishment and delight, that same exultant gesture.

A staff photographer from the Cleveland Plain Dealer had positioned the little girl in front of the tall doors of Macy's department store downtown. He steadied his camera on its tripod and ducked under the drape. On a signal, somebody threw open the doors. There in front of my grandmother shimmered a giant Christmas tree twinkling with electric lights -- the first electric lights Cleveland had ever seen.

The next picture I have of my grandmother shows her waving from a float in a parade -- Miss Liberty, with the same long curls, but this time a young beauty in a flowing toga. Then she was a widow, living alone in a tiny house that used to be a garage. Each year, she talked my Uncle Harry into plowing up the expanse of ground between her house and the road. In rows, as if she were growing corn, she planted five acres of the biggest, brightest flowers she could find. Gladiolas. Sunflowers. Zinnias. Chrysanthemums -- the puffy yellow homecoming kind. Heavenly blue morning glories grew up her trellises, over her roof, and into the trees. She loved these especially, loved the miracle of their opening every morning.

Before dawn, she would fill her car with buckets of flowers. The car was a Metropolitan, a tiny square car so crammed with flowers that she could barely find the gear shift and had no hope of seeing in the rear view mirror. On her way to work, she would drop off buckets of flowers at peoples' doors, especially ours. I would hear a scuffle on the step, open the door to a bucket of red and purple gladiolas as tall as my shoulders, yellow and orange zinnias, day lilies, sunflowers as big as faces. I dragged the flowers into the house, the bucket too heavy to lift, and ran out to thank her before she could get away, wrapping my arms around her ample waist.

She was as thick and hard as a tree trunk, so corseted and girdled -- her amplitude the only thing she held in, as far as I know. She wore purple, always, and dyed her hair mahogany. She gave us lipstick when my sisters and I were kindergartners, and silk stockings when our mother said not until we were twelve, and patent leather tap-dancing shoes with high heels. "There is no waiting with his woman," my mother would despair, which was true.

In these last weeks since I met the woman with purple shoes, I've been thinking about my grandmother, and how one goes about living like that, with that extravagant joy and astonishment, that hard embrace of what is so wonderful that it can take your breath away, which is everything, when you think about it, every single thing in this mysterious, miraculous, morning-drenched world. But we take these things for granted -- really that, we take them as our birthrights -- and we hardly notice them, so focused on ourselves, this bloated self-absorption.

And I've been thinking about a morning in my own life: Waking early, I had opened the front door of the cabin. A forty-foot Douglas-fir filled the door-frame. The tree was made of white light. Light glowed in the water drops at the end of each needle. Light sparkled in the spider webs draped from branch to branch. Beams of light shot from the sun concealed behind the trunk, illuminating even the air inside the tree. The whole thing shimmered in front of me, whistling the sweet clear song of the hermit thrush. I threw back my head and laughed at the wonder of it.

I had opened my door to this tree so many mornings. How could I have never seen it before?

This new seeing, this sense of wonder, must be what Abraham Heschel called "radical astonishment." Astonish, from the Latin word tonus, which means thunder -- to be struck, as by lightning, the sudden flash that startles and, just for a moment, lights the world with uncommon clarity. "Wonder is a state of mind in which . . . nothing is taken for granted," he wrote. "Each thing is a surprise, being is unbelievable. We are amazed at seeing anything at all; amazed . . . at the fact that there is being at all . . . Amazed beyond words. Souls that are focused and do not falter at first sight . . . can behold the mountains as if they were gestures of exaltation."
The mountains, yes, and the gulls, and the gladiolas, and electric lights, and morning light in spider webs, and women in the wind of wings. Everything beautiful and ineffable. Look! Just look! Look as if you have never seen this before -- with that surprise, that wonderment. Or look as if you would never see them again, with that yearning and confusion.

Surely my grandmother lived on a sense of wonder. It fed her, gave her what she hungered for, a life-long enchantment, a connection to great and mysterious gifts. Rachel Carson wished for "a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantment of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength." This is what I wish for my children.

So I was glad when my daughter called from Tucson the other day. Hearing a strange noise, she had came out the front door to see what it was, a sort of cracking and scratching noise, "as if somebody was trying to tear a mesquite tree apart with bare hands," she said. As she glanced around, she noticed that feathers were drifting from the sky and alighting on the gravel. She looked up. There, perched on top of a utility pole, was a sharp-shinned hawk, a mourning dove pinned in its talons. With its bony beak, the hawk pulled out the dove's feathers -- that popping noise -- and tossed them away. Each floating feather was soft and grey, with a puff of white down at the end of the vane. My daughter stood in the yard, her arms spread, her face raised into a snowfall of bloody feathers, trying to keep her mouth closed so feathers wouldn’t drift in.


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