Personal Voices: Counting on Wildflowers

April 5, 2004
April is the cruelest month and will be the bloodiest yet for U.S. troops in Iraq, but we don't know that today. Our peace group is bringing Dennis Kucinich to the area tonight, and we are excited about what he'll say. In the morning, my husband Mario and I go into the woods and try to relax after a stressful week of organizing. We are grateful some nearly wild places still exist. We know we'll find flowers in the forest today. People are dying all over the planet, but nature still grows flowers where she can.

My tension and depression evaporate -- nearly -- as I walk the Falling Creek trail deep into the Gifford Pinchot forest. I can't be thinking of anything except where I am: Lions and bears roam these woods. Trilliums -- the first flowers of spring -- are beginning to pop up in the dark green underbrush, white and pink three-petal flowers, like recessed landscape lights showing us the way through the forest. Yellow violets display their pansy-shaped faces. We count 62 trillium, and eight violets.

That night, Dennis Kucinich tells us we need� reconciliation with nature." We need to create a world "where peace is inevitable, where the human heart dwarfs war." He quotes Tennyson, "'Tis not too late to seek a newer world."

April 11, 2004
British officers complain about the use of violence against Iraqis by American soldiers. One officer says the violence "is over-responsive to the threat they are facing."

We go to Falling Creek and count 136 trilliums, 86 violets, and 15 Oregon anemones. We also find our first deer's head orchids. These tiny purple orchids with blossoms about the size of my thumbnail look like tiny slippers lost by Barbie and stuck on the end of a six-inch pole, or like the heads of a tiny deer with tiny purple antlers. Whenever I see this fragile flower growing in the wild and woolly forest, I know anything is possible. We count 38. Vanilla leaf plants have started coming up, too. They grow about a foot off the ground and have three leaves. When they first appear, they are light green -- new green, what the crayon box calls sea green. They shake in the wind and look like so many green hands waving excitedly, "We're here! We're here!"

April 18, 2004
The 9/11 hearings are depressing. Ashcroft apparently didn't like the way he was treated, and he had a memo declassified and released to the public, which says Jamie Gorelick wanted "the wall" between agencies that everyone is complaining about. I thought information was classified or declassified according to national security, not politics. It is nearly impossible to be idealistic these days.

It has been raining. The trilliums are bent over and folded up, dripping wet, and I think of homeless people out in the rain; their bloom long ago washed away. Today the woods are filled with hope and possibility; we count 150 deer's head orchids.

April 26, 2004
The photographer who took pictures of the flag-draped coffins of dead soldiers was fired from her job. They should show every aspect of this war. Every night on the news they should show footage of what is actually happening in Iraq: People are dying. And dying, and dying.

On the trail today, the fiddlehead ferns are beginning to uncurl. They look just like ... fiddle heads. Or green arthritic fingers starting to feel the cure. The dogwood have buds. We see our first bear grass blossom. Bear grass looks like tufts of shiny green hair growing out of the forest floor -- 1/2" wide hair. In the middle of these tufts, a shaft emerges. Hundreds of tiny flowers eventually unfurl from this shaft. We count 168 deer's head orchids.

May 3, 2004
The tales of torture of Iraqi prisoners are so awful. I don't know what to do in the face of these horrors caused by my tax dollars except keep writing, keep contacting my representatives, keep talking. Flowers are blooming around our home: California poppies, rhododendrons, peonies, and hydrangeas. I stand outside and stare at the poppies. Has anything in the world ever been as orange? They flower again and again, despite rain, sleet, heat, despair.

In the woods, the trilliums are almost gone. The number of deer's head orchids is beginning to decline. We count 129. The dogwood have tiny green blossoms surrounded by white bracts. They float amongst the trees, like lotus blossoms in a sea of old growth -- or a flock of white birds suddenly stilled. They are glorious, white lights in the deep wild.

May 14, 2004
Rumsfeld testifies before Congress about the torture. He doesn't seem to get that he was wrong all along to deny these people their civil rights. Nicholas Berg was beheaded, and his father blamed Bush and the U.S. policy of bullying other countries.

In the woods, two elk cross the road before we get to the trailhead. The bear grass blossoms are filling out. They remind me of breasts. Mario says they look like white jellyfish. The trilliums are gone. Star flowers are beginning to open. Their blossom is about the size of the nail on my index finger, with seven pointed petals, white inside with pink lining on the edges. They sparkle in the sunlight, as if someone has dipped them in glitter. Only 46 deer's head orchids today, and most of those are faded to lavender.

May 31, 2004
I hear by email that some members of our peace group have collected photographs of the U.S. soldiers who have died in Iraq. For Memorial Day a local bookstore has agreed to put them in their window until the end of the week. Beneath the pictures, people are leaving flowers and lit candles.

Mario and I start mapping the Falling Creek trail. I love every curve of this place. People are afraid of the wild, yet we would perish without it, I believe. Barry Lopez said a bear in a zoo is a mammal, but she is no longer a bear. She has lost that wild something that makes her a bear. I wonder if people have been away from the wild so long that we have lost the essence of what it is to be human. We've been living in our cages for too long.

I've heard people say war is a natural progression for people, and war makes us crazy. I don't believe that. We become crazy, then we go to war. War is unnatural. Senseless. A sign of failure. Give me the wild any day -- it's not safe, but it's not chaotic. Things make sense even when they are gruesome.

The deer's head orchid have faded into oblivion -- or into the forest humus. They'll be back next year. We find a new orchid along the side of the trail with coral-colored flowers about half the size of the nail on my littlest finger. It's called coral leaf orchid.

June 3, 2004
Mario and I cut several stalks off the magenta peony bush and the powder blue hydrangeas in front of our house. We think about bringing some poppies, but I can't bear to take shears to these wild things. We drive to nearby Hood River, Oregon where the war dead memorial is.

One of the two huge bookstore picture windows is nearly covered with small photographs of dead U.S. soldiers. I arrange our flowers amongst the dead flowers and candles. Then I stand next to my husband, and we try to look at each and every face of the dead. Were they all once wild and wonderful? At the bottom of the poster are casualty figures. Over 4,100 U.S. and other "coalition" forces have been killed or wounded, and as many as 11,000 Iraqi non-combatants may have been killed. I look at the faces of the dead and start counting.

June 14, 2004
Last week the public and the mainstream press had collective amnesia when former president Ronald Reagan died. The talking heads attributed miracle after miracle to the dead president as people continued to die in Iraq. A dozen people died in a suicide car bombing attack in Baghdad yesterday. Thirteen Iraqis were injured, too. At least six people died in overnight fighting in Sadr City. Kamal al-Jarah, an Education Ministry official, was shot and killed near his home.

Also yesterday, in my small town, helicopters flew overhead and Portland news channels set up their satellite trucks in the parking lot of the county courthouse, a block from my house. A mother had taken her two little girls into the forest near where we hike. She sat them on a blanket she spread over the wet gravel, and then she shot them to death. Fog sank from the clouds, shrouding the dead children until the mother led the police to them.

It has rained here for days. The flowers are all bent or disappeared. Peony petals lay on my porch like tiny discarded scarves, their ends turning brown and curling slightly, as though briefly touched by fire. It seems war and madness are everywhere. And we keep counting the dead.

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