Wild Lovers

Recently, my friend, Andi asked me, “What’s your favorite flower?” Daffodils came to mind, as they were a childhood treasure. But that wasn’t the answer. My love for a specific flower has grown more complex over the years as I have traveled through different landscapes. New flowers have impressed me, and I no longer see a flower from the outside only. I have found unique qualities to love from the inside. For example, I feel a certain empathy towards flowers such as scarlet penstemon. These tough tubular blossoms can make their home in gravel or rock. Like me, they need the sun and don’t like crowds. I had to think long and hard to answer Andi’s question.

My mother planted flowers in the back yard of my childhood home in Southern California. The mild winters and warm weather kept almost any flower in perennial bloom. Along the house and fences, my mother grew roses, geraniums and carnations. If I smell these flowers today, my mind immediately time-travels to the warm sunny days of my youth.

My two sisters and I made perfumes. Father smoked cigars, and sometimes, these cigars were encased in glass tubes. We squished rose and geranium petals with our fingers. Pushed the petals deep into the glass. Added drops of water and leaves. We gave our tubes a vigorous shaking, twisted off the lid, and sniffed. We worked our potions until the fragrance was just right: something that smelled like green tea and ripe fruit. After our day’s work, red, white and pink carnations were tempting treats. We pulled off the blossoms, sucked sweet honey from the base.

Although I loved all the flowers in my mother’s garden, daffodils were different. My mother planted the brown bulbs in the fall and told us that, come spring, flowers would bloom. And even though I knew they would come, the first daffodils of each spring were pure delight as the brilliant yellow flowers popped all around our home.

Years later, when I lived in the high desert, our daffodils pushed through the snow. Yellow against a sea of white. I still feel a thrill at the sight of daffodils in the spring. They keep the time, tell me the seasons: soon there will be longer days and warmer nights.

blupine and golden poppies on hillsideIn my thirties, I came to love wild flowers. Who knew so many flowers existed between 7,000 and 10,000 feet? As a back-country guide in the Sierra Nevada, the mountains were my backyard, and the flowers along the trails were as intimate as those my mother had planted in her garden.

In moist meadows, pink shooting stars blazed with neon color. Up close, the deep-pink blossoms nodded; bright yellow covered their base. I’d risk swarms of mosquitos or falls into the mud to capture their splendor. I still have an old photo of a meadow of shooting stars, but the picture doesn’t capture the whole story. To get close to the flowers, I had to wade deep into the soft, wet ground. My boots sank slowly into the mud as a horde of stinging mosquitos covered my body. I snapped the picture quickly, tried to make a run for it, but due to the heavy mud, I moved in a slow-motion trudge, my hands wildly slapping at insects. It was worth the effort, though, as each year in the grey of winter, I would open my photo books, see the flowers of summer and remember that sunshine and flowers would soon return.

But a favorite? For a while, it was harlequin lupine. This flower is a cluster of color: pink pea-pod-petals circle pods of yellow and white. Later, it was the dainty globe lily: an almost translucent, silky-white, fairy-lantern. In early spring, there was the joy of finding blood-red snow plants poking though a snow-dusted forest floor. In summer, the minty smell of pennyroyal filled the air long before the plant came into view.

I love spotted tiger lilies, crimson columbine, fire weed and fox glove, pine-drops and poppies. I can’t choose a favorite. When I see Andi, I’ll tell her I like my flowers wild. I am the lover who pours her affection on the one I’m with in the moment.


Kandi MaxwellKandi Maxwell lives and writes in the Sierra foothills of Northern California. She walks through forests, soaks and splashes in rivers, lakes and hot springs, and bends frequently in downward dog. She is a retired high school English teacher. Her work has been published in Fair Haven Literary Review, KYSO Flash, The Raven’s Perch, One in Four, Foliate Oak, and others. Her work has been nominated for The Best American Essay series.

Photo of spring lupine and California Poppy wildflowers with White Oak trees, Northern California Sierra foothills, by Terrance Emerson

Still Running

Lady gingerly wades into the water and immediately squats down and pees. Her facial muscles relax and her mouth turns upwards- a hint of a smile. She wades deeper into the pool, but rarely gets her back wet. I take off my sandals, step into the cold and drip water over her head and her backLady exploring a mountain stream to keep her cool. The deep emerald pools lie under granite boulders that are covered in mosses of tangerine-orange and sea-green. Splashes of liquid sliver, like Christmas tinsel, pour into the pounds. Lady, tiptoes daintily over the rocks, stops to smell the earthy scents: animal scat and the muddy-smells-like-compost puddles.

Lady is an eight-year-old, 95 pound husky/wolf mix. She wears a thick, double coat: soft white tufts underneath are layered with wiry-white hair frosted in tips of black and tan. She has the distinctive white mask of a Husky, the golden eyes of the wolf. One ear flops downward where a cut has separated the top of her ear, evidence of a former life before she was adopted.

My husband, Lloyd, throws sticks for his younger dog, Jackson, a lab/border collie mix, who can fetch sticks and swim endlessly. Lady watches, but never once has she made an effort to swim after a stupid stick. Instead, she lies at my side, her head on my foot. I comb my fingers through her hair; it’s everywhere- fluff in the water, hair covering my shorts, hair riding on the wind. Matted, wet hair sticks to my fingers like spider webs.

After several hours of soaking and walking along the pools, we hike back up to our camp. The hike up is tiring for Lady. She walks slowly, watches me up ahead. I wait for her, tell her, “good girl.” At the phrase, she becomes youthful, if only for a few seconds- she takes a playful leap towards me, then settles back into her pace.

In her early years, Lady ran for miles. Our home on thirty acres could not contain her, so we walked further out in the open spaces behind our home. Sometimes, she’d chase a rabbit, and in seconds, she would disappear in the thigh-high grasses, then reappear far off in the distance, a mere speck on a hill top. Like me, she needed to run, needed to expend the energy bursting inside. The command “come” was not in her vocabulary.

Back at camp, Lloyd and I sit under the shade of Jeffrey and Lodgepole pines. Lloyd looks down at Lady, who is resting by my side.

“She’s starting to take on the shape of an old dog. See how her hips sink in?”

I look down at Lady and rub her back, her shoulders, massage her head. She makes her purring noise, a low rumble, almost cat-like.

In the evening, I cook dinner and we eat in the camper, chased inside by hordes of mosquitoes. From the table, I look over and see my lower legs in the full-length mirror that covers the bathroom door. A jaw-dropping, eye-opening shock smacks me. These legs cannot possibly be mine: the skin is papery thin, and where muscular calves are supposed to be, soft, sagging muscles appear. And even worse, light blue veins sneak through once-tanned skin.

When we return home from camping, I look on the internet, find the dog-age calculator, enter Lady’s age and breed. I learn that Lady and I are the same age; we’re in our early sixties. Our bodies are changing, but we are stubborn; our minds believe we are spry and agile, strong and energetic. I know this is not true, but I can still see myself running up hills, climbing rocks and mountains; the muscle memory is clear. I watch Lady sleep. She makes muffled barking sounds and soft howls, as if she’s dreaming of rabbits; she runs for miles over grassy hills, runs for the joy of the movement and the freedom to roam across the open land.


Kandi MaxwellKandi Maxwell lives and writes in the Sierra foothills of Northern California. She walks through forests, soaks and splashes in rivers, lakes and hot springs, and bends frequently in downward dog. She is a retired high school English teacher. Her work has been published in Fair Haven Literary Review, KYSO Flash, The Raven’s Perch, One in Four, Foliate Oak, and others. Her work has been nominated for The Best American Essay series.

Photo by the author.

Lessons in the Wind

windy day sky and bunchgrass scrubOut the window, a bright-burning circle of sun cut into a cobalt sky. The dogs seem to notice, too. They smash their noses against the sliding-glass door eager for their daily romp. The day is cool with a slight breeze, so off we go into the fields. We walk too far, stay too long and the harsh evening winds descend. Dust devils swirl and tumble weeds bounce across the earth. The leaves of the silver sage shake and the air fills with its sharp scent. A gust blows. My ears turn cold and crimson. My hair ― a wild lion’s mane.

The dogs run through bunchgrass that stands taller than their shoulders. I call to them, but the wind hushes my voice. As the sun and the temperature lowers, I turn back towards home. The wind pushes against me. My pace is slow. Grueling. I can’t see the dogs, but somehow they meet me at the gate, panting ― their long, pink tongues hanging out of their mouths. I’m wind-weary and disheveled, but full of endorphin-flowing exhilaration.

A tree falls on Tyler’s house. My student’s and I can hear the wind rage outside the classroom. A freight-train wind, we call it. Gusts up to 60-80 mph are not unusual here in the high desert. We are writing stories, when someone says, “Tyler, a tree just fell on your house.” We look out the window, and there it is, the tree thrust inside the shattered roof. Tyler walks out of the classroom. We watch him from the window. He crosses the street. Stares at his ruined home. That night, his family moves out of the house until the tree is removed and the roof is repaired.

That same day, I find our camper in the middle of the long, gravel driveway that leads to our home. The wind had grabbed the camper, tossed it like a tumble weed. It landed on its back, its feet sticking up. I stop my truck, get out and walk over to check the damages. I peer through the window. Everything is upside down. The clothes that hung from a rod in the closet spread across the ceiling, which is now the floor and littered with broken dishes, pots and pans. Later, the ruined camper will be hauled off, and a new one will replace it.

As the sun sets and the night grows black, I listen to the winds howl, rattle the old stove pipe like brittle bones. The stove-vents clap and the windows shake, keeping me from sleep. Living in this land of wind, I see its power. The wind brings change; it tears down the old, and from the wreckage, new directions flow.


Kandi MaxwellKandi Maxwell lives and writes in the Sierra foothills of Northern California. She walks through forests, soaks and splashes in rivers, lakes and hot springs, and bends frequently in downward dog. She is a retired high school English teacher. Her work has been published in Fair Haven Literary Review, KYSO Flash, The Raven’s Perch, One in Four, Foliate Oak, and others. Her work has been nominated for The Best American Essay series.

Photo by the author

Green: After Five Years of Drought

Bright green grass and dark green oaksAfter five years of drought, I had forgotten about the restorative effects of green. Living on the western slope of the Sierra surrounded by evergreens, I thought I remembered. The large, drought-resistant ponderosa pines and the incense-cedars growing near the cabin where I live led me to believe the mountain landscapes flourished in spite of the lack of rain. The thick-bark ponderosa pine, with its long, dark-green needles and the bright-green plumes of the cedar were a soothing sight on hot summer days. The trees provided refreshing shade and filled the air with the pungent fragrance of pine. But if I had looked closer, I would have seen the dead branches at the tops of the trees, the brown needles hidden in the green. I knew the drought had damaged the less drought-resistant, but the sight of green provided some relief during those hot, dry years.

Each week, I drove down the mountain and into the valley to buy groceries. Unlike my forest home, the low-lands were thirsty and the ground hard and cracked. At the sight of the parched earth, my mind worried and my heart felt heavy. The once prolific willows spread along the waterways had yellowed as the streams dried up. The wind-wavy grasses became still, brown stubble. The drought-savvy blue oaks dropped their leaves in their effort to retain moisture. For weeks, fire filled the valley, and a thick-grey smoke choked the skies. The land lost its color: blue skies became haze and ash, the ground- dust. I felt relief when I arrived home to my patch of green in the mountains. It was a luxury I savored.

Then the rains came, and after five months of continuous precipitation, I saw the full spectrum of green. I drove through the valley where the clouds were grey and a light, spring mist sprinkled the sky, creating contrast against the green hues. The once brown fields were bursting with emerald grasses, and the deep-blue-green leaves of the blue oaks hung in heavy clumps. Bright-green mosses clung to clusters of rock. Long, tapered, waxy-green leaves lavished the tall, camphor-smelling laurel. The valley oak’s lime-green foliage grew thick and abundant. New life popped, splashed its glow across the landscape. My own limbs lightened, as I reveled in the return of the heart-slowing, mind-calming restorative effects of green.


Kandi MaxwellKandi Maxwell lives and writes in the Sierra foothills of Northern California. She walks through forests, soaks and splashes in rivers, lakes and hot springs, and bends frequently in downward dog. She is a retired high school English teacher. Her work has been published in Fair Haven Literary Review, KYSO Flash, The Raven’s Perch, One in Four, Foliate Oak, and others. Her work has been nominated for The Best American Essay series.

Photo by the author

A Sierra Night Remembered

young friends sitting near campfire by lakeThe thin, orange thread of twilight cracked through the darkness. On the lake shore, hippie boys with sand-dusted feet, played conga drums; their hands slapped the drum-skin, and the short, sharp percussion sang into my bones. A campfire glowed, its fire illuminating dark-shadows that danced in the warm night. We threw off our clothes, ran into the black water and swam towards the moon’s reflection. We sipped fruity-sweet drinks that made my legs wobble. We slept on a wooden wharf, until the water’s waves woke me, churning my stomach with its motion. I grabbed my sleeping bag, walked into the softness of sand and slept.

In the morning, we traveled up the mountain to a lupine-lined trail surrounded by rugged peaks-polished like jewels. I inhaled deeply, sucked in the sweet scent of sun-warmed pine needles and minty Pennyroyal. We hiked higher and higher, beneath tall pines, where slivers of sun-rays fell on our dust-coated boots. We stopped by a twisted Juniper tree, its trunk folded into the ground by years of heavy winds and snow. Then, we stepped out of the trees and into the light where spectacular vistas opened to miles of mountains with snow-capped crests, puffy cumulus clouds, bright-white against a deep-blue sky.

We set up camp on smooth granite stone. My companions had strapped guitars to their backpacks, so we could sing. As the sun sank behind the mountain, we sang Indigo Girls and Neil Young. We sang the moon up into the sky, where it reflected its light down onto the lake. A fire sizzled and snapped to the music, joined by a chorus of coyotes; their staccato yips and howls echoed across the stone bowl that formed the lake. When our songs ended, we slept under stars. I slipped into dreams as the wind blew and the water slapped against the shore. Deep into the night, I awoke. The wind had died down and the coyote’s song had ceased and the world was black and soundless. And even now, as I remember, I can feel the comfort in the stillness of that night.


Kandi MaxwellKandi Maxwell lives and writes in the Sierra foothills of Northern California. She walks through forests, soaks and splashes in rivers, lakes and hot springs, and bends frequently in downward dog. She is a retired high school English teacher. Her work has been published in Fair Haven Literary Review, KYSO Flash, The Raven’s Perch, One in Four, Foliate Oak, and others. Her work has been nominated for The Best American Essay series.

Photo by Tyler Olson