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

The Sound of Snow

snow crystals cover pine needlesThere once was the sound of snow. I first heard it at my aunt and uncle’s cabin in the Big Bear mountains, a place our family gathered for winter holidays. The old shake-wood cabin was painted forest green and snuggled against the hill side. A series of stair-steps lead to the front door. There was a wood stove with its smoky heat, a small living-room-kitchen, and the icy-cold outdoor bath tub. Sometimes, rain fell all day, but by next morning, a white powder covered the trees, the forest floor, and the cabin roof. Long, pointy-tipped ice-cycles hung from the eves.

I knew the snow would come. I heard it in the pitter of rain on the tin roof, how the sound would quiet to a whisper, then silence. The snow absorbed sounds. It turned down the volume of the world outside; it lowered the volume of the thoughts in my head to heartbeat and breath.

Years later, while backpacking in the Trinity Alps, I heard the sound of snow. It softened the sound of the rushing waters at Deer Creek into a gentle, bubbling babble. Instead of the icy crunch under foot, there was a slippery-slosh as my boots sank into wet snow. Blacktailed deer, and even Black Bear, remained active in the winter’s snow, but their sounds were smaller. The snow covered the branches and the leaves of the forest floor. No longer was there the snap of a branch or the rustle of leaves as the animals walked on their forage for food in the snow-globe-world of white.

Living off-grid in the Tahoe National Forest, large snow flakes fell throughout the night. In the morning, our trucks disappeared, hidden under heaps of snow. The snow circled our cabin, tucked it in tightly, like a child swaddled in blankets. My husband and I were cocooned inside where the wood stove hissed and popped, while the tea kettle whistled. Outside, the snow stacked higher.
snowy ranch see from homw window

When we lived in the Modoc Mountains, the snow didn’t fall from the sky; instead, it blew with a horizontal wind from the north or the south. Snow covered windows in delicate crystals. It threw piles of whiteness in front of the doors. The sound of snow was wailing wind, and when the wind calmed and the snow settled, there was the swoosh of the snow shovel, the thunderous crash of snow as it slid off the roof, and the sputter of the tractor as my husband plowed to uncover our long, gravel driveway.

But, the snow stopped. From the north in Modoc to Big Bear in the south, the snow fell in inches instead of feet, and the pitter patter of warm rain melted the tiny layer of snow to a thin slush. Hope came as a new winter storm was promised, but there was only timid rain. There was no snow pack to seep slowly into the earth to feed the forest. No snowpack to release its waters down into the dry, thirsty valleys in the hot summer months. Millions of trees died, and reservoirs were cracked-dry earth. Each winter night, I listened for snow, waited for the silence that did not come.

That was before the world turned upside down, and the river appeared in the sky. There was a thunderous noise as the rains poured down upon the earth. The water filled the thirsty lakes and stream beds. The water overflowed the river banks, spread mud and debris across the roads, punched huge holes into the asphalt. At home, in the Sierra Foothills, the water crept through the floors, filled the laundry room inches deep. The garden ditches were raging creeks. The news said, “Only travel in an emergency.” We were trapped inside, as trees fell in the wind, and the electricity stopped. A new quiet came. The hum of the refrigerator ceased, the ceiling fan stopped it’s whirl. Outside, the storm continued, but inside, the quiet was profound.early morning light on snowy ranch

And this morning, after five years of waiting, I woke to the silence of snow. From my window, I watched it fall softly from the grey sky. Snow sprinkled the tree tops, covered my truck, turned the cabin roof white. I opened the front door, inhaled deeply, let the moist air fill my lungs.


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.

Photos by the author.