Sue and Kate copy

I have a great mom. Not only because she raised me with love and an unswerving moral compass in a place where salmon skeletons and zinnia stalks make our shadowy backbones in the late summer sun. Not just because when I proposed last November going to a Joe Hill centennial concert in a boxcar in the scrub brush down an unmarked road hours from home surrounded by pierced and tattooed anarchist hobos protected by canine body guards around dusk, she was in with both feet. Not least because she is taking her health into her own hands now and working to strengthen her body in hopes of avoiding surgery.

The latest evidence that my mom is great came in the form of a phone call earlier this month that made me cry from a spontaneous kind of joy that bubbled up in me like a cold, clean spring. That’s another thing I inherited from Sue  (and her father before that) – the ability to cry a river in its entire profile, whether from happiness or sorrow. “Happy Birthday!” piped the voice on the other end of the phone. Confused silence on my end. “But it’s not my birthday yet, not even close!” I protested. “I know,” Sue said. “But I just got your birthday present!” she burst out. I was worried.

This might be a good time to interrupt my narrative and explain that I can be funny about gifts, especially those given under the weight of expectation. Not ha-ha funny, but ungenerous in my reactions, a poor faker and a person who usually wishes to avoid getting gifts. Even from my family, who know me better than anyone. You see, unless you know me well enough to know what I would actually want (and many of those closest to me haven’t the foggiest), I’d rather not be given any material thing that I will need to feign interest in, invent a use for, find a space to store, forget about and later weed out of my life. My favorite gifts are usually time with the people I love and appreciate, who make a point to show up, in person, on the phone or in the mailbox, bearing good food and drinks and stories.

This gift from my mom is a brilliant illustration of what happens when someone knows me well enough to bypass the discomfort factor and override my general aversion to senseless accumulation of stuff – one that must be stored in three garages. “A complete set of Gourmet magazines!” she nearly shouted “From the 1980s to the early 2000s!”  Hydraulics and boils and holes of tears flooded in and caught me in a happy eddy near the bottom of the rapid.

A dear friend and neighbor up our winding, country road has gifted me a subscription to Bon Appetite magazine for several years now. It’s another rare and sweet example of a value-added gift in my life, as it helps me to show up for my friends and family with good food, drink and stories. If I could, I’d trade it in for a Gourmet magazine subscription, as I prefer the simple approach in Gourmet to the busy and often ridiculous Bon Appetite style, by contrast (though it is almost always intriguing in its own chaotic, over-the-top way.)  For whatever reason, however, the publisher of the two magazines chose to discontinue Gourmet and carry on with Bon Appetite. Like many of the things that bite me in my life, capitalism seems to be behind it. Sue and I had lamented this exchange of a foodie gold standard for a superficial, flashy fools gold of cooking, apparently enough times that she knew just what to get me.

In any case, I was overwhelmed with gratitude, partly for the decades of food files that came to me via my mama’s newfound fascination with Craig’s List, but more so to be understood and loved so well by someone. And I’m honored to get a chance to love her back for as long as this life lets me. Anyways, what are birthdays for if not appreciating our mothers?




This all feels too familiar. Mid-May with a greenhouse full of transplants wanting to go in the ground and a bad knee. (I know, we shouldn’t call our hurting parts bad parts, or broken either. But it’s hard not to think of it that way some times.)


Greens transplanted into our garden pre-knee pain.

That’s just how my brave, unstoppable mother overdid it on a sore knee several decades back, touching off a string of events that has unquestionably changed her life. In a few months, she will have her second knee replacement after years of toughing it out with an increasingly thin cartilage layer and a painful leg bone angle at the joint.

Yesterday, I surrendered. I went to see a doctor about my right knee which has been bothering me for the past month and a half. I have mixed feelings about doctors , especially given my own health history in the past few years and my family’s health history reaching back way further. They can save your life (my dad is still here because of them), and they can also make life altering choices on your behalf with little care for your quality of life later. Most of the people I trust and respect the most are leery of doctors, each for their own reasons. This has rubbed off on me, but I’ve also found that sometimes the expertise and guidance of a doctor can be essential. Thus, I am often mentally strung up somewhere between the two approaches.

Thankfully, I trust the orthopedist I saw, who no longer performs surgeries. He has now helped me through a right foot injury, a left ankle sprain, and now a diagnosis and treatment path for patellofemoral pain syndrome (stemming from chondromalacia patella or a cartilage scraping behind the kneecap when it doesn’t track right with the groove in the femur), patellar tendonitis, and a sore medial collateral ligament, where it attaches to the shinbone.


My unruly kneecaps, as captured by an x-ray yesterday.

All of these have been further aggravated by lateral compression syndrome, where my kneecaps tend to ride toward the outside of my femur (as exhibited in the x-ray taken yesterday.) Unbalanced tightness and looseness in my thigh muscles may be the culprit for that problem. Repetitive movements that require knee flexion are out until I can untangle that jumbled ball of symptoms, causes and their respective solutions.

This is a nuanced physiological problem, I’m learning. Moving can make the pain worse. Yet sitting around can be at least as bad. Part of the answer is varying the types of activity I engage in and the ways I move, listening to my body, and adapting to the new reality. That’s the medium term. In the near term, I’m narrowing my reality down to ibuprofen every 8 hours and gradual but religious rehab on the floor to see what I can do with the gut-it-out treatment path. Could take up to four months I’m told, thus disrupting plans for backpacking, swimming, and work around the homestead.

With this latest body issue, I’m once again thinking about how we talk to sick or injured people. Having been through a few body snafus in the past few years, I’ve had time to observe patterns and give this some thought – maybe too much time and too much thought. So, I will offer some unsolicited advice on the topic.

We often seek to use humor to improve the situation for the person who is hurting. This can work beautifully if you know the person really well. But it can go way awry, too. Easy to crack a joke if you’re not the one suffering. And if we aren’t careful to direct the humor toward ourselves or some outside target, it can do unintended damage.

Or we say something that calls into question the legitimacy of their problem. Also a dead end.

Finally, what I too often hear is a comment that implies the question: “WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?” Let me assure you that anyone whose body is out of working order is asking themselves that question a million times per day. Leave them to it. It’s their question to ask and answer.

If you want to converse about why/how someone’s body is breaking down, think of a time when you experienced pain or your body didn’t/wouldn’t/couldn’t work as expected or hoped. Start there, but remember that everyone’s body is different, so they won’t all respond the same way. Ask questions about the person’s symptoms, options, experience and approach. Above all else, LISTEN. Be in solidarity with them.

It’s a frustrating setback that can force a radical rearranging of how we live, a time when life doesn’t go even close to according to THE PLAN. It’s also a tremendous learning opportunity for those of us who hurt. And for those of us around those who hurt, it’s a chance to make a lifelong friend who will help you up when you’re down (or remember if you don’t do the same.) If you can truly empathize, you can do a great service for people with these plan-defying health problems. And if you earn their trust by refraining from judgement or hasty reaction, the patient will soon want to know what you think, want to know who your physical therapist was, want to know how you resolved your own health issues.

My final suggestion: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. At least you will do no harm.

“You can go about living your life, and doing what you need to do,” my doc assured me. “Unless your life involves hiking uphill through the woods all day. That will probably not be so good for your knee.”

Point taken. But my doc, bless him, has obviously never been to Somes Bar or tried working at a watershed council.

Fortunately, I schedule all my bunk body parts for NBA season and post-season.


Santa Cruz, I’m sorry I forgot about your bright spots. Siete mares seafood and broth on the wharf. That sea air smell when you step outside in the morning. Your redwood and coastline loops and your early morning swimming pool culture. The strawberries and brussel sprouts, the people who grow them, and the enviably long growing season here. The relojerías that are there when you seek them out, run by the nicest Oaxacans. Taquerías with carnitas and vats of melon juice. Peyton Street and people who took me in when I was adrift.

I never forgot about the friends I came to see here though. The friends that go way back can’t be replaced. I have been lucky enough to see a handful of those folks on this trip. And to walk through their gardens, neighborhoods and offices, learn my way around their kitchens and their firelines, spend time with the little people they are raising. To be an NBA fan among friends, and to sit in the rafters of Oracle Arena while the Warriors walloped the Spurs to secure a #1 seed and home court advantage in the playoffs just up ahead.


Win #70 for the Warriors and we were there!

Everywhere I go, the news of the formal commitment to remove Klamath dams is ahead of me. Strange to be at the same time seeing this news in the rear view mirror. And that’s how I see it, after more than a decade of pushing and pulling for that outcome. It feels as though we must have made this announcement in slightly different ways nearly a dozen times already. So what will make this one different? What will make this one real? It’s hard to say, but I hope that such public and official declarations by corporate and government officials will at least be so painful and embarrassing to retract or backpedal that the end result will be dams out by 2020, at last. Not needing Congress to move ahead with real solutions gutted out by local people. There’s a bright spot.

Jewell Signs Off On Dam Removal

US Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell signed off on removal of four Klamath dams by 2020 earlier this week.





When you finally have a block of feta, black sesame seeds, and sumac in the same house at the same time, your garden yields a few sprigs of fresh oregano in January, and no one else is around to remind you how crazy you (and Bon Appétite magazine) are, you make this.

And if this is what it takes to get me blogging again, go ahead and call me crazy. But try it first.

Tonight, my co-worker Will and I will be in San Francisco to talk about our work to restore one of the wilder places left on the planet: The Klamath River watershed. And Friday we’ll be in Chicago at a similar event.

Even if you can’t be there, consider supporting what we do at the Mid Klamath Watershed Council. You can read about it on our website, or see what we’re up to on our Facebook page. And you can contribute to the cause through our website too!

MKWC offers a blueprint for: restoring our connections to place, changing how we respond to drought and fires, keeping salmon around, Preparing younger generations to be stewards of environment, community and culture, hands on learning, training and adaptation, and building institutions and economic engines that are sustainable.

Thank you for helping us to ripple out and do more!


shy springer

flaming snagacornburnKidsatButler

It was an epic long weekend in the back country. Here’s what that was like:

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Descending the long steep trail out of the Marble Mountain Wilderness this past weekend, my mind landed on the way we pick our paths, literally, and metaphorically, too.

We must have at least three levels of seeing the path we’re on. Where will my next foot go? Where will I need to navigate in the next 10 or 20 feet and what is the cleanest line, so to speak? And am I on the right path? Will it get me where I want to go? If not, should I recalibrate?

But sometimes, maybe all that control is just an illusion. Sometimes, a path chooses you. And sometimes, for all the charting of course, you’re not going anywhere very fast. That was the case after I sprained an ankle right near the end of the hike out from this trip. Not the right side, where I injured my foot two years ago – this time my left ankle, leaving me perplexed about which side to refer to as “the good side”.

What a revolting development! And yet, at the same time, this must somehow be the right path, because it’s the one I’m on. I picked it. I’m committed to it. I’ve already been down this path, a part of me protests. Now I have to pick my mental path, one that does not lead to the conclusion that my feet and ankles are weak, but instead takes me to the fact that by virtue of doing things in the world, I will sometimes, inevitably, fall.

Thank goodness for the people in my life who have been down this path ahead of me, and have showed that it goes somewhere good. Especially thanks and much respect to Ann Rants, Heidi Perlmutter, Tammy Lightle, Ippolita DiPaola, Susan Corum, Michelle Krall, and Scott Kingery, who will know what I mean.

Please excuse my extended absence on here. As the weather has gotten better, maybe even too good for April, my mood has improved. Longer days means more possible activity with a broader array of people. IMG_4325

Most recently, and memorably, my niece Emma and I went to Oakland/Berkeley.

Seeing the Warriors play the Blazers in person was her idea. And I wasn’t going to say no. Her basketball team, playing in school cafeterias and neighborhood centers, has gotten leaps and bounds better this season, passing, pulling down rebounds, scoring, setting screens. It has been a remarkable transformation to watch from the utter court chaos that passed for basketball amongst Emma and her peers last year.  So basketball was already on her mind. Since no one else in her family is even nearly as fanatical a baketball/Warriors fan as me, she had identified me as a good candidate for the trip she wanted to make. Plus, as her mom pointed out, it offered a rare opportunity for one-on-one aunt-niece bonding time. IMG_4249

Emma is 12 years old, a wonderful blend of pragmatism and daydreams. She likes pop music, pizza and swimming pools. On the way south on Highway 101, I handed her a map. She looked back, as if to say, “What am I going to do with this?” I need to know where Oracle Arena is, I said. You’re going to find it and tell me how we’ll get there. You’re my navigator, I added. She picked up plenty fast on how to read the map and give rapid fire directions. I’d argue she had better corrective faculties than any GPS unit in a vehicle, but I sensed that modern technology made the exercise seem archaic. I smiled and shook my head as I heard myself say: “People used to consult this kind of map on paper (the ones that take up 2/3 of the front seat and never quite fold back up on their original creases) to get around ALL OF THE TIME before smart phones existed. Reading maps makes YOU smarter. Smart phones actually make you less smart.”

HERE IT IS, she shouted once she’d followed the bay, through the tangle of freeway interchanges, down the Oakland waterfont far enough with her finger. Here’s a pen. Circle it, I instructed her. She did, embellishing with arrows and stars. Then, she moved north on the map, closer to the home of the friends we would stay with. She had quickly identified an aquatics center and the Oakland Zoo as possible things to do, and outlined them in heavy dark ink also. The zoo won out, and good thing it did.

We walked until we got tired, stopping once for ice cream sandwiches. Then we rode the cable car to the top of the hill where the zoo is situated. We giggled and shot selfies. We oohed and ahed over lions, tigers, giraffes, zebras, camels, bison, baboons, chimpanzees, hyenas, sun cats, meer cats and even elephants (which I’m told have some of the more humane captivity conditions – if such a thing is possible.) We whiled away the afternoon. IMG_4288

Then we cued up in line to park outside Oracle Arena, playing rummy and go fish on the dash board while the anticipation built. The arena is supposed to move across the Bay to San Francisco in a few years to attract more and different crowds, I explained. Between that fact and the stellar season the Warriors are having, this was a good year to catch a game.

We parked near the exit, walked across the parking lot and joined the throng waiting to be admitted. Once we were in, Emma found chicken strips, garlic fries and Dip N Dots. I found a fresh barbequed pork Bahn Mi (Vietnamese sandwich). Remember, my goal was quality time with my niece, so I decided not to be much of a regulator and more of an enabler auntie. We were both in heaven. We circled the arena hall, checking out all the swag for sale and in-your-face promotional deals. It was overwhelming and fascinating, much the way I felt strolling through Latin American markets. Somewhere in our loops, I lost track of where we were in relation to our seats. Happily, Emma has been to more live sporting events than me, so she took over and steered her aunt to the right door like a pro.

As the teams streamed out onto the court through the tunnels, the place darkened and then lit with fireworks and fireballs and announcers voices. The thousands of fans undulated like sea anemones. THIS was what I was really after: the home crowd atmosphere you can only know by being there. Emma watched the jersey numbers and dance team closely. And I sat back and tried to soak it all in. The sweaty defense, turnovers and swishes/thunks below, the playbacks after every whistle, the amicable fans in gold and yellow who helped us more than once when our country mouse showed through a little, the chance to do all this with my niece.

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As often happens with the Warriors, a big lead shrunk down to a small one in the last quarter, keeping us on the edges of our seats near the end. But finally, the Warriors persevered, with a 45-point performance from their star player Stephen Curry. The Roaracle lived up to its name and all the hype and fanfare of the Dubs franchise in the past few years.

Maybe most important, I lived up to my title of auntie.