Number 33

“I’m headed up Denali for a shift. If anything happens, I have the Outward Bound van stashed at _________’s place and the key is tied to the rear axle.”

Those were some of the last words I heard Mike say before he went up on Denali and died.

And today, of all days, my son popped in unexpectedly and when he threw his keys on my kitchen counter, I saw the number tag from that van that Mike had stashed in Talkeetna when he flew in to the glacier.

There’s no mistaking an old COBS key ring

I didn’t know it still existed.

My breath caught and I reached for it without a thought, mesmerized; flooded with feelings: physical stirrings, an emotional rinse; just a moment wherein I was completely taken over with unconscious memory.

For a brief moment I was transported twenty years back in time and I was outside that van, about to unlock it, and open the door onto the pieces of Mike’s life that were tucked away waiting for him to come off the mountain.

The smell that bowled me over when that door slid back was a combination of chain saw two-stroke gas, dirty socks, mildewed rain gear, and wood stove smoke. It’s the smell of my memories of Mike.

As I held the 33 in my hand, my brain was breathing in the fragrance of him.

And my sweet sweet boy said, “Do you want it mom?”

Never one to take anything from my generous children, I tried to hesitate, I imagined saying no thank you, and yet “yes” flew from my mouth completely unhindered.

And now it’s mine.

September 14

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the Accident.

One year.

It’s been the longest, saddest, hardest, scariest year of my family’s life, and yet, it feels like it can’t possibly be an entire year since that night.

I haven’t really written many details about the accident or the fallout from it, out of respect for my son and the other families involved. I’m holding true to that but I will share what happened:

My guy and three of his friends chose a random place in the country to hang out and party. Then they all got into my son’s truck to drive home.

He hit a huge cottonwood.

There were broken femurs, a broken jaw, a broken face, a broken neck, and several other serious injuries. Children were airlifted to other hospitals. My son was transferred from police custody to the ICU.

He was charged with 3 felony counts of vehicular assault which each carry a sentence of up to 5 years in prison. Add an aggravated DUI to that with up to a year in county jail for that one – and no, nothing could be served consecutively.

Meanwhile, his friends and their families were moving through the not so gentle aftermath of that night, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

We went through the system, and yes, it is a very slow process.

Painfully so.

When we finally got around to his sentencing we had accepted a plea agreement from the District Attorney, which keeps him out of prison as long as he adheres to demands of his probation for the next 2 years. Also at the end of that two years, he will be able to say that he is not a convicted felon.

The State owns him, which is fine with me – he fucked up – but his life will not be shaped by a felony record.

Most importantly, his three friends are alive and well.





might piss some people off with this one…

When my children were just tots, we, along with another couple, decided to start a charter school here in town.

We were educators; educators of the experiential and outdoor type; and we wanted to create a school that would create the environment that we believed was best for learning and growing.

Our intentions were good. We wanted this for the community, not just our children, and we “knew” that this was the best form of learning in a town this size with the resources at hand.

We put together a presentation for interested parties that was well researched, thorough, and super convincing.

We knew that everyone would jump on our bandwagon.

Until they didn’t.

I was standing in front of a room full of neighbors gathered in the community center and before I could even finish, a local woman (whose name I won’t mention but if I did, no one would be surprised that she was the one to set me straight) spoke up and asked,

“Who the hell do you think you are coming into our town and telling us what to do with our children when you haven’t even set foot in the existing school?”

Needless to say it kind of took the wind out of our sails. We were astounded that we didn’t have the support of this town because we obviously knew what was best for our children and therefore the children of this community.

Our school didn’t happen. Kids went to alternative preschools (primarily because we overqualified for Headstart by $13.) and then, our boys went to kindergarten at the public school and stayed there until they each graduated.

The school here did some great things for my kids and my children were failed in some ways. We got involved, PTA (for a brief time), classroom volunteers, school board, curriculum committees.

Fucking D.I.

Our kids made friends with the local kids, girls and boys, older and younger. They grew up knowing everyone in this town because the reality is, the school is the heart of a community like this and there is no faster way to become an integral member of the town than by getting involved in the school and going to school here.

During this last year, I have relied so heavily on friendships that developed while sitting in child-sized desks eating blue cupcakes. The other football parents are my family; 8 years of sitting in the stands, in the cold, in some place in the middle of the San Luis Valley, brought, along with the suffering, a bond that includes a deep love for those families and all of those boys in helmets and pads.

When Number 3 moved in with us, we were inundated with food, clothing, furniture, and love to help make it possible for this boy to thrive.

Everywhere I go in this town – the grocery store, post office, library, etc., I know people who care about me, care about my boys, and about whom I care deeply.

I am thankful that all of those years ago, DW, gave me that reality check.

The reality being…we did think that we were better than, our children more deserving, and that we knew better what was good for our community…

Without ever setting foot inside the institution that we were trying to protect our children from.

In a nutshell, we were elitists and we got shut down.

In all of the pros and cons of my children’s educational experience, I am so glad that my  boys went here; they are loved and included and supported by so many amazing people that we would have missed out on knowing had we kept them separate.

And each and every one of those people has added value to our lives.

Well most everyone.

My son said to me the other day, “Mom, I know that if the shit ever hit the fan I would have so many people here that I could turn to if needed.”

The other one has said, often, “Some of these kids have such hard lives, it makes ours seem pretty easy.”




Sometimes I feel as if I can’t say enough about the beauty of being a member of this community, about the kind and wonderful and fun and funny and smart and valuable folks that make up this town – people I would not know if I had isolated my children and therefore myself.

I know people who I never would have known otherwise, good people who I may not have much in common with but we have children and that is all that we need to have in common.

We would never have known Number 3, and therefore would never have opened our doors and our hearts to him, and our family would be lacking.

DW also let us know that night that if we want something different, first, experience what already is and then, get involved, be the change that you want to see.

Don’t just go to a school board meeting when there is danger of a tree being cut down.

I’ve learned so much and grown so much, as my children have; I am no longer that wide-eyed snobbish gal who believed my children to be better than my neighbors’.

So, as this school year begins, I hear a lot from the parents of young kiddos asking “What are you going to do about school?” and the answer is not, but should be, “Duh, he’s going to kindergarten here.”

From my crone throne I see families going through the same angst that we did; I see solutions that range from homeschooling to driving 30 miles twice a day, several days a week to make sure that the kids get the education they deserve.

Let’s talk resources people.

I shake my head, I get a little fired up, I see the hypocrisy of preaching community and yet refusing to participate in that one thing that lies at the heart of said community.

There are more families now that are looking for alternatives than when my boys were young. That’s that many more children who will not be going to the public school.

That’s that much money the school won’t be receiving. That’s that many more educated caring parents with time to get involved who won’t be getting involved here. It’s more children who will grow up isolated from their peers, hanging out with only like-minded boys and girls with like-minded parents.

It’s opportunities missed to learn compassion and empathy and humility.

This school is far from perfect – I don’t know of any rural public school that is. But if we have chosen to call this town “home” then fucking participate don’t separate.

I say, at least give it a try. I know some folks whose children have gone here for several years and will now be attending school somewhere else. That’s different – that’s we tried it and it doesn’t work for our family. Not, we know that this school isn’t good enough for our child even though we haven’t even given it a try.

I will also give credence to those who have been committed to homeschooling since babies were in the womb. But there are opportunities  there to mingle, as some parents have – send your kid here for a couple of classes, let them participate in sports, or the school play, or music with the most amazing music teacher a school could ever hope for.

And let me also say here that predetermining who the good teachers are and who you’re willing to let teach your child is of the same mindset. We have some exceptional teachers. Phenomenal. And sure there are some less than perfect ones too – but you’re going to find that in any school.

And if you make the decisions about who you want to be your child’s teacher based on hearsay, then you’re still being a snob.

As I’ve gotten older I have less tolerance for anything that hints at elitism, especially when it’s couched, somehow, in “community.” You can’t be a part of a community if you avoid it, if you think you know more than, if you think that your children are more deserving, more special.

I say all of this with the wisdom of age and experience because, as I began with, I was one of those parents.

And I no longer am.

So, I will end my tirade with, give what we have a try. Get involved. Participate in your community.

Be a Blue Jay.