Terrified Yet Transfixed

Amazing, seductive, life-giving, nurturing. Terrifying.

     My son was driving in the wee hours through rural Georgia on his way to deliver a load of department store goods in Kentucky, when he saw a huge, as in he thought he was seeing things it was so huge, orange ball of light pulsing in the darkness. Both thoughts simultaneously in his brain:  It’s a fire! It can’t be a fire!

     Within moments, he got closer and saw it was a mansion as big as an apartment building engulfed in raging, throbbing flames. The ball of fire grabbing up at the sky, the mansion itself like a shadow inside the flames.

     There was no one anywhere in sight. He stopped the truck and called 911, straining to see if there anyone around. He saw no one. No nearby houses. No sirens.

     Being so close to that inferno was deeply unsettling to him. He was transfixed and terrified, even though he was at a safe distance from the blaze.

     His experience reminded me of this story from the Ibibo people of eastern Nigeria, “Fire’s Wild Dance.” Long ago, the Sun and Moon were happily married and living here on the earth. They had many friends and loved to entertain. Sometimes they could hear Wind whooshing in from far off, other times he spoke quietly at their door to announce his arrival. Fire was animated and loved to tell stories. Because he danced and waved his arms when telling his stories, they would visit outdoors in the open yard for safety. The Trees in the nearby forest were friends as well. Since they couldn’t come to the house, Sun and Moon went to the forest to visit them. They also went to Water’s home as Water knew it would not be safe for he and his family to visit as they were so large, they might do harm.

One day, Sun and Moon decided to build a larger house, then they could have larger parties and everyone could come. So with much work, they did build a house of wood and thatch five times larger than their first home. They invited everyone to the celebration. They cooked pots of food, gathered fruits for days ahead in preparation. Yet again, Water said he must decline as the wonderful new home was still too small and he and his family might bring danger.

Wind arrived bustling and swirling, blowing through the forest. Fire crackled and sparkled as he danced in. The festivities and food were abundant. Wind was singing with his rich voice along with Fire as he told his story. Fire leapt excitedly in his dancing.

And then… a spark caught on Wind’s breath and flew to the thatched roof. Soon the house was in flames. Wind stopped singing. Fire stopped dancing. Sun and Moon began shouting. Fire cried out, “There is nothing I can do now. Only Water can stop the flames!”

Sun called to Wind, “Go quickly to Water. Tell him to bring all his family. We need them now!”

Snohomish River, Lowell park.
Photo by MDessein

By this time, the Trees in the forest were also aflame. Water arrived with his family and they were able to put out the fire of the house, but not the Trees. It seemed everything was on fire. Water sent Wind back to summon all his relatives. Cascades of water rushed over the land, rising higher and higher. Soon, the fires were out, nothing could be seen. The land was under water. The trees were under water. Wind had blown away. Fire had disappeared. Sun and Moon flew up to the sky for safety.

It took a long time for Water to make his way back to the sea. There was nothing left of Sun and Moon’s home. Every day and night, they came back to look around earth for a new home. They have not found any place as magnificent as the home they had, so they remain in the sky.

My son drove past the place of the fire two days later on his return to Tennessee. Absolutely nothing was left standing. A huge black area was the only evidence the mansion had been.

What? How? Why? The unanswered questions disturbed him. He felt a visceral gut punch reliving the intensity of the experience; the uncontrollability, the wildness of the fire.

Amazing, seductive, life-giving, nurturing. Terrifying.

Been there, have you?

P.S. you can find Tom Nevin’s version of “Fire’s Wild Dance” in his book, Zamani.

Living Who’s Dreams?

     Rejection. Who needs it? Mary Buckham says we do. In an interview I did with the accomplished writer and successful writing teacher, she spoke about dealing with rejection and managing the uncertainty of a writer’s life. She shared an encouraging reality: those challenges prove you’re in the game. You are truly in the business of writing. You have engaged the clutch, the car can move forward.

     When she told of losing one of her sons to SIDS, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and how she had to follow her dream of writing not only to fulfill herself, but for her son and what his dreams might have been, tears welled in my eyes. And a dormant bulb ticked on in my mental chandelier.

     Of course, pursuing her dream also included her five other children, as they were there for the sacrifices, balances, compromises, collaborations, late dinners, and undone laundry that is part of having two artists for parents. Yet, ardently, rigorously structuring her life in order to write was directly related to honoring her son.

     Am I respecting Rosie by living my dream? We were sisters yet I don’t even know what her dream was. She checked out at the age of forty-nine years and four days, over16 years ago. She had worked on Alaskan fishing boats, in a busy studio as a photographer, and was in optician school when she died. She had drifted, looking, never seeming to find an answer. What did she give up on? And why? Do I honor her by staying the course, no matter how difficult? The African folktale, “The Cowtail Switch,” says a person is not really dead as long as they are remembered. Does that go for dreams too?

     My father died relatively young, a bit shy of age sixty-six, the decades of smoking had done irreparable damage by the time he quit in his early sixties. He resented quitting, actually, but his emphysema gave him no choice by then. What about his dreams? He gave up on a dream of professional golfing in order to take care of his wife and three children. At one time, he was a ‘scratch’ golfer, meaning he had a zero handicap, meaning he was really good. I shake my head remembering one occasion he tried to teach me a ‘natural’ swing when I was around thirteen. After a series of golf balls hit our Great Dane/Labrador dog, knocked over a couple tall droopy sunflowers, and ended up lost in the blackberry bushes, Dad gave up and went in the house. Do his and Rosie’s dreams live on in me when I pursue mine even though I can only guess at what theirs were?  

Crystal sunset March, 2021

     My Mom was ninety-one when she died. She, and my dad, told me I could do anything, being President was just one option. She wanted to be a social worker. One of her teachers strongly encouraged Mom to go to college. Yes college was a nice idea – yet regular people got jobs and got married. Will I carry her dreams with me now that she has passed on by living mine fully, as she would want me to? Have I already done so without making the conscious connection, as I worked many years in social services and graduated from college in my forties.

    By living my dreams, pursuing heart-driven goals, and delving into what I feel passionate about, do those other peoples’ wishes find a path as well? Am I the vessel for more than just me?

     Storyteller and sublime harpist, Patrick Ball, tells about going to college in pursuit of a law degree. Then when his father died suddenly, he walked away from that legal career as he realized that law was his father’s dream; Patrick went looking for his own, and found it in music. Yet by doing so, did he carry his father’s even further?

     Grandpa Alfred, my Mom’s father, died at age thirty-nine of tuberculosis. In 1937, all that could be done then was put TB patients in a sanitarium and wait. Like Doc Holliday fifty years before him, there was no cure for TB. In fact, Doc was about the same age as Alfred. What a mysterious scourge TB was: Doc’s mother had also died of it.

    Dreams. Alfred married a French girl he met in eastern France where he was stationed in World War I. Big dreams when he brought her back to the U.S. four years later and started a family, as well as a furrier business in downtown Seattle. Then died when his children were thirteen, nine, and four. Dreams. My mother tells of the family moving to Cle Elum to be near the sanitarium; Mom, being the eldest, usually fixed dinner as her mother was over at the hospital every night till dusk. Then one evening, her mother came home, sat down on the porch step and remained there. Mom watched her mother through the screen door, then after a few minutes, she came out of the cabin. It took a moment or two before ma Grandmere’ quietly said, “He’s gone,” as she looked over across the field on the other side of the road. Wondering where the dream had gone?

   Dreams in the laboratory, dreams in the courtroom, dreams in the typewriter, dreams over in the next valley, dreams on the stage, dreams taking off on a journey, dreams unspoken in the secret place in one’s heart.

     Where do dreams go that are released, abandoned, forsaken, or denied? Are they inherited? Do they collect in a big pool somewhere? A gigantic cosmic canning jar?

     Can others’ dreams live on in me even if my dreams are different than theirs? Yet, maybe all dreams are much the same:  what makes us feel alive, what gives us hope, what compels us to tell the stories about them, what pulls our eyes to the horizon? What makes us aspire to better? What keeps us in the game? Dreams.


I had not seen a deer on the beach before. And she was alone. The deer in my and my neighbors’ yards were usually in groups of three, sometimes as many as six.

      My pup and I were sitting on a log about forty feet from her when she saw us. I had Lyric sit at my feet, so as not to scare her. She looked at us for a minute or so, then stepped elegantly in to the gentle waves of the incoming tide. She walked out into deeper water, up to her belly.

     Was she washing something off? She walked out further, and appeared to be swimming. Was something wrong? She moved her head back and forth.This looked and felt wrong.

     Lyric tried to run down to the edge of the water where she was.

     “Come Lyric. Let’s let her be, she won’t come in if we stand here.” I knew I was talking to myself at that point. Lyric returned to the spot on the shore closest to her a couple more times.

     We walked about 10 more minutes in the southeast direction of the beach. The wind was getting colder, I turned around and Lyric galloped to catch up with me.

When we got near to where the doe had gone in the water, I saw a dark shape floating about fifty feet or so out. It was her body. Lyric knew something was wrong. He ran down to the edge of the water and looked out at her.

   Why would a doe drown herself? I was numbed. I called to Lyric as I walked back the way we’d come. He came to me, then ran back to where the doe was floating. He came when I called him and we kept walking.

   What could I have done?

Perhaps I did it: witness. An act of nature, a peaceful ending. What were the chances I would be a mile down the beach from the entry point, at 1:15 in the afternoon on this particular day?

A couple days later was my birthday. A marvelous day, one of the most memorable of my life. My cherished friend, Terra Lea, came over, got us a delicious lunch of fish tacos which we ate at Fort Casey State Park, walked our pups on the seemingly endless beach, chased our pups, and talked. A witness and celebrant of my special day.

To be present for someone else. Perhaps no action is required except your presence. I bet you can list a myriad of occasions when you have witnessed for someone else, perhaps not even aware of it at the time.

Ah yes, be present. Be the light.

Courage, Risk & Zoomies


Really? Sometimes the actual instance is more accurately described as “What was I thinking?” “If I had known this, I wouldn’t have ____.” “What? No one told me that.” “If only I had _____ first.”

My son was telling his beloved partner about his mom’s adventures – listing how I had lived in Italy, walked on the Great Wall in China, gone to Chichen Itza, graduated from college at age 46, performed at scads of open mics, done a weekly radio show for years, and worked with incarcerated teens.

Adventures? I hadn’t thought of it that way, yet he was right.

When my remarkable daughter, super son-in-law, and I were celebrating my daughter’s successful surgery at a Mexican restaurant, I ordered the cactus salad as I had never heard of such a thing. I didn’t like it.

“Mom, you always do that – try new things and half the time you don’t like them.”

I started to dispute that, then realized she was right. I had not seen that about myself. I realized I like to try new things, yet then saw I don’t want to miss out on anything.

     As you can see, I am getting to the synopsis of my life: nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Wonder pup, Lyric

     I have a five month old puppy asleep at my feet, his name is Lyric. Hopefully, he will sleep for a while longer. I had NO idea the constant vigilance, consistency, and patience required with a puppy. At this point, you can imagine I have revisited the first paragraph questions several times in the last 3 weeks since Lyric came to live with me. He is a sweet, smart and patient soul. Thank goodness.

      Ten months ago, I had enough of where I was living, so I did a ton of work, spent so much more money than I anticipated, sold my condo, and moved to where my heart called me: near the ocean. Yee gods and little fishes. Courage? Yup. Risk? Oh yeah.

      I didn’t think about it in those terms until I found these rocks. My dear and wondrous harp teacher, Harper Tasche, had a bowl of engraved rocks at his wedding some years back, inviting all attendees to take one or two, which I did. I had long since put them away and found them as I was packing and sorting in the prep for my huge move.

     The many challenges of this move have been intimidating. The unexpected issues have been overwhelming. The list of expenses has grown. The extent of needed repairs and unmaintained items seems endless. Yet, I followed my pursuant heart. As I have done so often in my life, even without having the words for it. (Did I mention sleeping on the floor of the Luxembourg airport one night in November while waiting for a flight, and the next night being locked outside and huddling up on the cold pavement until the airport reopened in the morning?)

     All righty then, Lyric and I just got back from a walk on the beach, he ran zoomies in and out of the waves, I picked up a couple agates, and listened to the waves as they foamed up on the sand.

As Tom Rush would say, “No Regrets.”

I Forgot I’m a Genius

A favorite caveat of mine over the years has been, “How hard can it be?”

The two story, split-level 2,324 square foot home my family was living in at the time very much needed painting. I said, “How hard can it be?” It took me two years, I got it done.

     Play the harp? “How hard can it be?” I went to Dusty Strings, rented a harp and bought a teach-yourself book. Yes, I did make progress, yet I needed a teacher and found the amazing Harper Tasche, who’s been with me many a year patiently teaching me. It has taken me decades, I’ve done it.

     Over the years, in watching people, in being involved in the legal system and social work, I noted that Justice is like Truth, it depends on who you ask. There’s a loaded one. I could ask the prosecuting attorney, the parent of the young offender, and even myself, “What is justice in this case?” and get three very different answers.

I came to realize that we each choose a belief system. We can accept the one handed to us by parents, adapt it as we go to school, get married, enter a workplace, or a social community. Yet our beliefs are still a choice, even as they change.

Autumn Snohomish River. Photo by MDessein

‘Freedom comes in many forms’ is one I am just stepping into. Living in America, I definitely appreciate the freedoms I have to live where I choose, vote for whom I choose, work where I choose, and so many others. The deeper personal freedoms I am learning about are my freedom to say no when asked to do something, my freedom to simply be for a while, not listening to the ‘Mary, you should be doing xyz and being productive,” from my inner critic, and my freedom to be kind to myself.

A wonderfully generous contractor was here at my home yesterday helping me resolve an issue. I offered to help him with a literary project of his. Then I smiled and offered to play the harp for him on a family occasion. He smiled and said nothing.
“Everyone needs a harpist at some time or another, they just don’t know it,” I told him.
Indeed, don’t we all need a comfort, a balm, a beautiful experience to soothe us, to celebrate, or to enhance a moment we are in?

In packing and sorting recently, I found my graduation cap from the University of Washington-Bothell and the commencement program. Out of a class of 450, I was one of the top 20, the cum laude graduates. In telling my son about this, I remarked, “I forgot I was a genius!” He laughed for a full minute. “Mom, how could you forget that? I’m using that line!”


Are there times you have forgotten or had a stellar accomplishment pushed aside as the river of life had you surging along with family, work deadlines, financial obligations, neighborhood friction, local and national politics, and the list goes on. Remember your stellar achievements~

My daughter’s Siberian Husky had 11 puppies two months ago. Gorgeous little creatures. I’m getting a puppy!
How hard can it be?

It’s About the Light

The leaves drift and drop from the trees each fall. It is often thought the leaves falling is due to the cooler weather. Simplistically, it is more about the decreasing amount of light as the days become shorter, the chlorophyll which give the leaves their green color breaks down, and the leaves change their color to the many magnificent oranges, yellows, golds, scarlets, amber, rust, and crimson.

It’s about the light.

When I was afraid to go upstairs to my bedroom as a 5 and 6 year old because it was dark and I could not be sure there was no creepy thing lurking. There was not light in the stairway or upper room until I got to my bedroom.

How many times have I been stopped by my own fear and uncertainty? When I didn’t think I could see enough? So it didn’t stop at age 6!

Hydrangea. Photo by MDessein

Ah, when did I not see when I was the light? As my children have become autonomous, amazing adults, I sometimes look back and wish I had known better for times they were in distress and uncertainty. I tended to react to the event, their behavior, and circumstances rather than look at the bigger picture, possible actions, and then respond. Yet, they are both still speaking to me! and I look forward to each time. For the most part, they remember when I stood up for them, taught them, played with them~

Mukilteo sunset. Photo by MDessein

Michael Strassfeld is an author, a rabbi, and thinker. One of his thoughts captured my attention, “Light gives of itself freely, filling all available space. It does not seek anything in return; it asks not whether you are friend or foe. It gives of itself and is not thereby diminished.”

Be the light.