There are times when the forest seems to exhale clouds, when fog rests so heavily on the tree-tops that the space between them vanishes, and the whole of the forest becomes a white-frothed ocean. There are times, as well, when sunlight finds its way to the ferns and fawn lilies, to the dense, secret streams at the feet of the maple trees, and for a moment the colors lose their dampness, and the soil smells of drying rain, and all the world seems stirred by the sun.
December always begins with a string of clear, cold days. This was one of them. I walked home from the bus stop, head down, pace quick, headphones in my ears. The air churned around me, crisp and ancient, and bled of sun. I kept my hands in my pockets. My breath felt hot against the wind. Suddenly, a flash of pink. I stopped. A hummingbird hovered above a yellow-flowered bush in someone’s front yard. She flowed, there, iridescent. A row of pink feathers showed when she turned to the side, two long stripes along her neck. Otherwise she was a deep ocean-green. She faced me for a moment. Music still played in my ears, so I could only see the vibration of her wings as they blurred. She tilted her head, and then flew away. I looked around the usually busy sidewalks, and I found that I was the only one there, standing breathlessly at the edge of dusk, in the cold December wind.
Above the concrete sky, and
the rest of the whimsy,
we could’ve been real.
But you looked down
and wasn’t I cute?
So I pointed for you,
to the flat place in the sky
where it all caves in, and I
guided your hand like a bug on water
all legs and skittish muscles,
and I opened your palm, like a flower blooms,
and I helped string down the moonlight,
so it could fall on your skin.
You laughed again,
and asked where we would go next,
your eyes flat and matte and dead as paved ground,
and you looked away from me,
and the moonlight’s gaze in my reflection.
I sat awake, propped up on my elbows at two in the morning, and I scrolled through my phone. I hoped that, somehow, the repetitiveness of social media would help me fall back asleep. Instagram. Facebook. Twitter. Videos. Advertisements. Pictures. All just a blur.
But, then, something caught my eye — a photo of two orangutans, mother and child, lounging together, the child on the mother’s belly, their heads turned sideways, their eyes brown, wide, human. I could see our shared lineage so clearly in their faces. All those many generations of hominids who lived beneath the open sky, and hunted and stalked and foraged and called the moonlight sacred.
I felt that I could stand face to face with these orangutans, and understand clearly the life in their eyes. Even if I knew nothing of science or evolution, I would find those faces familiar; I would know intrinsically that they could feel, and love, and mourn.
And, sitting there at two in the morning, staring at a smart phone in my Portland apartment, I felt, so very strongly, the beauty and peril of my connection to the more-than-human. And I felt more ready than ever to fight for the natural world, for our non-human relatives, for the Earth, and for all that lives.
Sometimes I ask the moon for guidance.
I stand at the window, my breath fogging up the glass,
and I reach my hands up.
The moon is alive in the way of mountains and rivers,
through the long-lived presence of time,
and the humming of old things.
The clean blue moonlight pours through the city air, in a steady stream, as soft as water.
I feel it spill over my skin, through the too-pale crevasses on my palm, through the rivulets of my fingerprints, over the paper-cut on my index finger.
The moon and I are kindred,
nocturnal and unknowable.
I ask the moon what I should do,
what should I do, moon,
and she speaks to me the way a creek rolls across pebbles.
I cannot understand, but I feel something settle within me.
I feel that I am long-lived for a moment.
Wind, or a boulder,
or the bend in the river where the willows hang low.
I wash clean in the moonlight,
ancient, nocturnal, and unknowable,
The owl waits on the branch of a cedar tree. I drift closer. He looks at me. I pause, there, among the ferns, and atop the old, creek-sweetened leaves. I cross my arms over my chest. I stand still. The owl raises and lowers his wings. This is not a threat, but a stretch. Our eyes meet, for a moment. He looks away. Slowly, and with great patience. He’s not afraid of me. We are simply two animals in the forest. I stand for a great long while. I watch. Wherever the owl looks, I look. A crow calls from across the creek, and the owl’s head whirls backward. A squirrel whistles from the top of the maple, and the owl’s head shoots up. But after every disruption, the owl glances at the sky with something like reverence, and then he closes his eyes, just briefly. The wind blows. We both look up. All at once, the samaras fall from the maples. Like rain. Hundreds of them, twirling as they fall, a rust-brown the color of bark. I remember being a kid and throwing them up in the air, just to see them twirl down like helicopters. Now they are falling of their own accord. The owl and I watch. We breathe. Not one samara hits me. Not one. They fall around me, at my feet. I pick one up, and I throw it in the air.
After everyone has gone to bed, I sit on the sand. The lake pulls quietly inward, lapping against the velvet rocks. Above me, and above the purple lake, Ursa Major appears, star upon star, from the blue-lit ether. It pulls on me — the lake, and the deep-time silence that writhes in the wind, and in the mountains, and in the low, dark roots of the pine-mat manzanita. I feel the unfolding of blue, of sunsets sacrificed into the same tree-fringed hills for millennia. How this was once a glacier, high in the pristine paleolithic air, and now, kayaks and howling children linger on the bows of the lake. Behind me, the moon lines the trees with a white like salt. Mineral white. Desert white. I feel that I should draw in the sand. I should dance a slow, secret ritual, or kneel at the point where the moonlight hits the earth. Instead I turn back to Ursa Major, and I listen for the silence. It buzzes in my ears. The silence is its own music. It is the earth itself. It is the dance and the waters of time. I feel it pull up, and out, and around my chest, the thud of the night air, the unchanged lake, the windless millennia, the bright and ancient drumming of the earth. I have found something lost to me. I am whole again.
My new book comes out August 7th! When I tell people about The Seas of Distant Stars, I say it’s about a human girl who’s kidnapped by aliens. Which is true, but here’s the official description:
Agapanthus was kidnapped when she was only two years old, but she doesn’t remember it. In fact, she doesn’t remember her home planet at all. All she knows is Deeyae, the land of two suns; the land of great, red waters. Her foster-family cares for her, and at first that’s enough. But, as she grows older, Agapanthus is bothered by the differences between them. As an Exchanger, she’s frail and tall, not short and strong. And, even though she was raised Deeyan, she certainly isn’t treated like one. One day, an Exchanger boy completes the Deeyan rite-of-passage, and Agapanthus is inspired to try the same. But, when she teams up with him, her quest to become Deeyan transforms into her quest to find the truth―of who she is, and of which star she belongs to.
My biggest inspiration in writing this book were the works of Ursula Le Guin. I wanted to combine the beautiful prose and strong character development of literary fiction with the limitless plot possibilities of science fiction. If asked what genre this book falls in to, I would say literary science fiction.
This is my third novel. My first two–Call of the Sun Child and Listen—are for young adults, but The Seas of Distant Stars is aimed at adult readers. I wrote it when I was 22, and now I’m 25, which tells you just how long it takes to get a book published! I’ve been lucky to have the same great indie publisher–Homebound Publications–for all three books.
So far the reviews for The Seas of Distant Stars have been positive:
You can find The Seas of Distant Stars wherever books are sold! Let the countdown to August 7th begin.
You stare through a telescope.
There, the craters,
and the old seas, like bruises.
You stare a bit longer.
You see the moon revolve,
inch by inch–
the slow moon tilting,
an avalanche off an edge
that is neither light
A chill rises on your arms.
It’s not just the moon that’s moving.
It’s you, too,
face to face
and dancing the sunward spiral,
out, and out,
with purple dust in your wake.
The aspen trees shimmered above us, silver as starlight, and the cottonwoods streamed, feral, across the grass sea. Something brown and close to the earth darted toward the stage. A rabbit. White cottontail. Soft brown fur, close-cut and smooth like moss. We crept closer. Two more rabbits surfaced from their bush kingdom. I tip-toed closer. I crouched. They took this as a threat and jumped silently into the brambles, to the dark, sunless underbelly of things. We continued on. I stopped to admire a carpet of wood sorrel, when another rabbit surfaced. Then two, then four. Around the bend and–three more, their noses twitching against the twilight grass, their leg muscles tense and stringy and poised to flee when we passed the threshold of their kingdom. Out of the trees and into the garden. Three more waited in the grass. And then they retreated to the blackberry bushes. They waited for our footsteps to wane, and at last they reclaimed their places in the setting sun.