The Earth Itself

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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.

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The Seas of Distant Stars

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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 Listenare 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:

Lara Campbell McGeheeMidwest ReviewPublishers Weekly

You can find The Seas of Distant Stars wherever books are sold! Let the countdown to August 7th begin.

Slow Moon

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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
nor darkness.
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 Rabbit Kingdom

 

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Image courtesy of The Epoch Times

 

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.

From Emptiness to Emptiness

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I close my eyes and imagine the blanketed oceans, how they quaver beneath the starred sky. The sun hides coolly in the corner, overshadowed by the dull blink of the crushed moon, orbiting us like the rings of Saturn. Underwater, the sky burns red, and the world is, for a moment, still. Nothing is alive yet, except perhaps some bacteria. I wait. A meteor crashes into the ocean. Water shoots up around it, and then it’s swallowed into the emptiness. Another few billion years and the first, primitive animals will sputter into life. Brachiopods. Trilobites. Sea urchins. Will they love each other? Will they feel concern and worry and hatred? I can’t see their eyes, so I can’t know what’s inside them, but I like to think that I’d recognize something there; that, maybe, just maybe, I would see something in their eyes similar to my own, some glimmer of life to combat the emptiness of space, and the dark, young emptiness of the first ocean.

Cedar

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I had a dream about you, cedar tree. That you were gone. I ran to the empty space where you had once been, and I knelt in the rusted leaves. The sun fell over my hair, and over the fine, carved lines on my hands, and I ran my fingers through the blistered earth, as though through water, through black, bloody, seaweed. But you were not there. No stump. No place of mourning or rest. I stood and ran. The heaviness of the air followed me. One by one each tree vanished, until the forest was barren. All I wanted was to sit with my back against bark. To look up and see the lace of your leaves against the sky. But the trees were gone. The ferns lay severed and stepped on, and the salmonberry bushes wilted into pale, thorned dust. I couldn’t run anymore. The wind halted to absolute stillness. And then it was over, and I heard only my own small heart, flittering softly, like a dead leaf, trapped and wrapped carefully in my chest.

The Bent Air

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The untouchable bends, a bowl that spools the air, unwinds it, throws it up and towards us and catches the ravens’ talons in the bristles of it, the pinyon pine, the turkey vultures in a square, sailing together toward the dying sun, and the moon, up from the dense, bent echoes, the dark, still places in the in-between, in the distance, the calm, bent walls, the purple outlines that lengthen at dusk, that inhale the other colors, the very rays of the sun, the dotted cliff-sides, the sharp click of rocks chipping against one another. Clouds like plates, with flat bottoms, and wisps of rain caught up in the sky. Long streams of mist that never touch the ground.

Lake Powell

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I think I know why the desert seems alive; because it is. Because here you can see the earth itself, the shifting, deep-time rock, and you can see quite clearly that it’s as alive as any plant or animal. And you can see the place where the rain forms, the gray sea-like air as it churns on itself, around, around, dark enough to obscure a mountain. The water does not belong here. This would be canyons. It would be deep, smooth walls of red dirt.  Yet it is beautiful. Once a sea, water again. It joins the cliff-sides seamlessly. They reflect onto each other, the pinks and reds and pale-greens molded into one flat pool, like a painting, like spilled light, these colors that have not mixed in millions of years.

Magpies

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Photo credit: Yoo Chung.

 

Magpies know their own faces. Put a mirror in front of them, and they know it’s them, and not another bird. During one particular study, scientists placed a white mark on the chest of a captive magpie named Gerti. The mark, situated just below Gerti’s beak, was only visible in the mirror. Gerti, the clever bird that he was, noticed the mark immediately, and he began to claw at it, using his reflection as a guide.

 

As far as we know, only a few species can recognize their own reflections—Asian elephants, chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans, bottlenose dolphins, killer whales, humans, and magpies. Thus far, mirror-recognition studies have focused on the European magpie (Pica pica), but it’s likely that their new-world counterpart, the black-billed magpie (Pica hudsonia), has similar abilities.

 

Black-billed magpies are some of the most common birds in the interior west. They fly in short bursts, and their wings flick out like paper fans, exposing glossy, ivory-white undersides. A deep, jeweled blue runs along their sides and all the way down their tails. As magpies pump through the air, their long tails sail behind them, like pieces of blue-black ribbon aloft, and wavering.

 

They live among us, in small towns, suburbs, and cities. One can see them hopping across lawns, or swooping down over parking lots, their iridescent tails streaming behind them. To some, magpies are thought of as troublemakers—they’re slandered as thieves, and pests, because, at times, they dine on our blueberry patches, or snatch pretzels from our picnic tables.

 

Admittedly, magpies are opportunists. Unlike many other birds, magpies can smell, and they use this sense to help with their thievery. They steal meat from the mouths of coyotes. They scavenge ticks from the backs of moose. And, if they come upon more ticks than they can eat, they’ll store their catch for later, keeping the ticks alive so they can reproduce.

 

Perhaps because of the magpie’s trickster image, many humans feel animosity towards them. A quick YouTube search for “magpies roosting” turns up, not magpies roosting, but videos of dead magpies, laid limply on the soil, often next to the guns that shot them. One video is titled “Air Rifle Hunting – Magpies Pest Control”. Another is called “Air Rifle Hunting. Another Magpie in The Bag.” Yet another is called “Should You Hate Magpies?”

 

Few humans appreciate the magpie’s guttural squawk, which is a call similar to that of its cousin, the crow. Like crows, magpies are social, and brave—if provoked, they’ll stand up to owls, hawks, and other raptors, through a group-attack behavior known as “mobbing”.  In the bird world, magpies are both fearless and feared. Smaller songbirds hide from them, and, because of this, many bird-lovers shoo magpies from bird feeders.

 

To some, magpies are associated with superstition. In the British Isles, it’s considered bad luck to see a magpie flying alone. Magpies mate for life, and, if all is well, they rarely separate from their partner.

 

Magpie couples spend five months building nests from branches, roots, leaves, and grass. Often, multiple magpie families nest in the same trees or shrubs, forming colonies that can number in the hundreds. At night they roost together for protection and companionship.

 

Chicks stay with their parents for about two months, and then they fly out into the world, banding together with other young magpies in the community. In spring, unmated magpies meet up in congregations known as “Magpie Parliaments”, where they have the chance to mingle and find their mates.

 

When a magpie dies, whether by fault of a gun, car, or natural causes, his fellow magpies hold something like a funeral service. The first magpie to discover the body calls wildly—yelling, crying. A circle of magpies forms around the body. They stand watch over their deceased friend for hours. They fight off foxes or coyotes who threaten to take his body away. All the while, their cries of distress continue, again and again, over and over, their necks hunched, their eyes locked on their friend. Very carefully, they nudge his body with their beaks, grooming his feathers, tugging at them, remembering their particular sheen and softness. Their movements are slow, and full of deliberation. Every so often, they nudge him again, gently, with the edges of their claws, in a desperate attempt to stir him awake. At dusk they take his body in their beaks and drag him to a safe, covered spot beneath a bush. His mate lingers at his side, still plucking desperately at his feathers. At last, when the sun falls, she says her one, final good-bye, and, heavily, emptily, she flies away, and she leaves him.

The Fern Tree

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You do not sleep, fern tree. You stand awake, with moonlight on your shoulders. Behind you, Venus descends, slows, and dissipates, like a stone into water, but you do not move. At dawn the steller’s jays sway on your branches. Their feet clasp, and together you and the birds rustle, touched by the shallow milk of rising dew. The robins awaken. Yes, all of them. They call to each other—up-down-chip-chip-chip, in the smallness of morning.

 
At your feet, the creek migrates north, then east to the Willamette River. A decade ago one of your branches fell into the water. It remains there, spongy, softening, mossy. The current forms a diamond around it, and tugs it gently onward.

 
So, too, do your leaves join the soil. They sharpen, and crunch, and feather into lacey ghosts. The soil asks for them; demands them as a blanket so the salmonberries and the waterleaf may grow. You do not mind it, fern tree. You are blessed; you are a god, a great bridge across the forest, multi-trunked, invincible, your branches draped by thin-papered ferns that crisp in summer and glow sorrel-green in winter.  You will not die, not entirely. You will spout new trunks and the ferns will flock to you.

 
Two spotted-towhees rest in the elderberry bush. A cloud of chickadees joins them, along with a lone kinglet whose wings tremble like a hummingbird’s. They visit the cedars and the hemlocks; the baby ash, and your brother maples; but they do not visit you, fern tree. The jays have claimed you.

 
Night returns. You are silver; a strand of the moon, a keeper of wayward sunlight. Your leaves remain warm. The wind sifts in slowly, as though from the ground. You cannot help yourself; you sing your own night song, a whisper that is blue and ancient, and you join the birds in their nestling.