“Do you believe that spring will come?”

Bones of Faerie, the first book of my Bones of Faerie trilogy, is about uncontrolled growth: plants that bloom in every season, crops that fight their harvesters, trees that seek human blood and bone to root in.

[Faerie Winter Cover]

Faerie Winter, the second book of the trilogy, tells the opposite story. It’s about endless winter, failure to grow, and the fear that spring might never come.

During our current physical and psychological winter, Faerie Winter is the book I’ve been thinking about.

The story’s protagonist, Liza, is surrounded by adults who remember countless other winters, followed by countless other springs. Liza was born after the war between faeries and humans banished winter from her world, though. She’s never known anything but deadly, unbounded growth. When that growth stops at last, Liza’s first thought is about how much safer the forests have become. Later, when she realizes that those forests have also stopped producing the things humans need to survive, she has no mental roadmap for what might happen next.

When Jayce, a member of Liza’s town’s council, talks about preparing for spring planting, Liza wonders at the fact.

If he feared that the spring crops wouldn’t grow, he gave no sign. Adults believed, somewhere deep inside, that spring would come, for all that they were careful of our rations. Some part of them couldn’t imagine that green wouldn’t return to the world, as if green was something we were born to. I did not understand it. Deep inside I felt as if this gray had surely gone on forever and the forests I’d fought all my life had been merely illusions.

Not all the adults in Liza’s world share Jayce’s certainty, though. As the story progresses, Liza flees a danger that comes from beyond the dying forest with Karin, a fey survivor of the War. Karin is a plant mage, keenly aware of the changes winter has brought to the world, and she asks aloud the question that human adults have not.

The grasses sighed wearily and retreated back into the snow. “They’re not dead,” I said. “Not completely, not around you.”

“They are not dead.” Karin sounded as tired as the grasses had. “But they are dying. Tell me, Liza, do you believe that spring will come?”

Why ask me? I was no plant mage. “The adults in my town believe it.” They believed in spite of the gray trees and the gray skies, the failed crops and the too-long winter.

“So it is with the human adults in my town as well.” Karin held a hand out to the falling snow as we walked on. Snowflakes melted against her skin. “Yet I have never heard the trees so quiet. They yearn for darkness, and some have given way to it. Others slip into sleep, accepting that they may never wake. I am told this is the way of your world. It is not the way of mine. I have never known a forest that was not green. What do you believe?”

Do you believe that spring will come? It’s a question I’ve returned to many times since I wrote Faerie Winter. It’s a question I was asking before I wrote that book, too, before fiction led me, as it so often does, to put into words the things I was already saying.

Because Faerie Winter is fantasy, the question of spring’s return is not merely metaphoric. It turns out the danger of endless winter is real, and so Liza’s inner crisis is echoed by the world’s outer one. Fantasy does that, sometimes—lets us transform internal struggles into external realities so that we can face those struggles head on and in a more concrete way than other types of stories allow.

Do you believe that spring will come? Things have changed so much already—in Liza’s world, in our world. There’s no changing them back. Do we believe that forward change will continue instead, leading us on to someplace new, someplace viable, someplace where things can grow once more?

Do you believe that spring will come? There’s a strange comfort simply in putting the question into words.

On one level, I know the answer, always have known it. If I didn’t believe, deep down, that spring—that the future—would come, writing a book where spring was called into question would have been too much to bear.

On another level, I need, just as deeply, to hear the question asked, and I need to travel the hard path toward its answer, again and again, not just in the books that I’ve written but also in the countless books that I’ve read through the years, ever since I knew how to read. Stories were the thing, after all, that got me trough childhood and adolescence and all that came after. Every misunderstood kid who had adventures and saved the world and found their place in that world was, in their way, another needed answer.

An answer, and also a map—the map Liza lacks—for what the journey might look like. Spring comes. Not always easily, not always painlessly, not always as quickly as we want or as we need, but in the end and at the last. Spring comes. Deep down, I know that.

After all, I’ve taken this journey before.

While we wait

Let me not to the counting of true ballots
Admit impediments. Votes are not votes
That alter when they alteration find,
Or bend with the remover to remove.
O no! They are an ever-fixed mark
That wait on counting, patient and unshaken.
They are a star for every governing bark,
Their precious worth shall not be taken
By those impatient fools who lightly seek
To bend time’s sickle to some baser goal
Than truth. The truth is not so weak,
But bears its witness, to the edge of doom,
Wary of error, careful and unmov’d,
Until the people’s will at last be prov’d.

[Image of ballot and flag]
Photo by Joshua Woroniecki on Unsplash

Smoke and haze

A few days ago I woke to a muted orange sun, shining sluggishly through layers of haze. This wasn’t the orange of sunrise—the subdued light lasted well into the day—and it wasn’t caused by the clouds of a late-season desert thunderstorm, either.

It was wildfire smoke. Again.

It’s been more than a month since Tucson’s Catalina Mountains burned. That fire, too, filled the daytime sky with smoke. It made my eyes itch and left ash on our backyard trampoline.

[Orange smoke over Catalina Mountains at sunset]
Those look like rain clouds over the Catalinas, but they’re not.

My eyes have been gritty this past week, too, but it’s no longer Arizona’s mountains and grasslands that are burning. Now California, and Oregon, and Washington burn instead.

The fact that these wildfires are hundreds of miles away doesn’t matter. Air moves, after all. Wind blows. Ash and smoke travel. The entire planet is in motion, and what happens in one place affects all places, in small ways and in large ones. Smoke in California becomes smoke in Arizona, and New York, and Europe.

If your air is polluted, my air is polluted, too.

[Sun through wildfire haze]
California smoke or Arizona smoke? They look the same.

This is, of course, the lesson of the current pandemic, as well. I breathe air out. You breathe the same air in. I cough, and where that cough lands determines whether someone I’ll never meet lives or dies.

It’s not enough to keep ourselves safe and ignore everyone else. It’s not enough for you to wear your mask if I don’t wear mine. It’s not enough to only douse the fire we can see, not if we ignore everything else that’s still burning.

Judaism has taught me that, “If you save a life, you save the world.” As I move toward Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, I’ve been thinking about that teaching a lot.

Thinking about the ways it is may be literally, and not just figuratively, true.

Nursery rhymes, pandemic edition

Or, Mother Goose for the Covid era.

Twinkle twinkle little star,
How I wonder how you are.
Up above the world so high,
Socially distanced in the sky.
Twinkle twinkle little star,
Text and tell me how you are.

[Illustration of star wearing mask]

Little Miss Muffet,
Sat on a tuffet,
Waiting for curds and whey.
But the Instacart driver,
Came unmasked to find her,
And frightened Miss Muffet away.

The wheel on your tablet
Goes round and round,
Round and round,
Round and round.
The wheel on your tablet
Goes round and round—
Too bad, I need the wifi.

[illustration of computer with spinning loading wheel]

This little piggy went to Walmart.
This little piggy stayed home.
This little piggy bought toilet paper.
This little piggy had none.
This little piggy went wee wee wee all the way home.

Humpty Dumpty sat on the Wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men,
Were out of personal protective gear so 
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

Feel free to share your own in the comments.

“Be kind and respectful. Be responsible. Be safe.”

At my daughter’s elementary school, every child learns three things from the first day of kindergarten on: “Be kind and respectful. Be responsible. Be safe.” These principles inform every aspect of school life, creating a caring atmosphere that’s one of the reasons I love her school and want to send her back in person this fall.

But I can’t.

Our school is currently offering both online and in-person options, and at first I struggled with which to choose. Yet if I ask myself the same questions my child has been taught to ask, the answer is clear.

Is returning in person kind?

I recently attended a (virtual) school board meeting. District teachers spoke, often tearfully, about how they were being forced to choose between a career they love and—quite possibly—their lives and the lives of their loved ones. Unlike district families, teachers aren’t being given a choice. If they’re assigned to teach in person, they need to either show up or resign.

It’s a cruel choice, and kindness demands I not ask teachers to make it. Instead, by agreeing to learn remotely, I help increase the number of teachers who can teach remotely.

Is it respectful?

Throughout the United States, teachers are terrified of returning to face to face learning. Here in Arizona educators have already died, even while socially distancing, even on relatively empty campuses. What will happen when our facilities are closer to full?

Respect demands I recognize that our teachers’ lives are just as important as our children’s lives. If I respect educators, I can’t put them in harm’s way for my own benefit.

Is it responsible?

Arizona’s per-capita rate of Covid-19 cases are among the highest in the country, as are the resulting deaths, and our hospitals are running out of ICU beds.

Responsibility demands not giving our tapped-out public health system more cases to treat. It demands I step up and do my part to help my community maintain the capacity to treat all who are sick, so that our hospitals don’t have to make life-or-death decisions about who receive care and who doesn’t.

Is it safe?

Remote learning has been challenging for my daughter and me, as it has been for so many families, and I have a new appreciation of the ways the benefits of face-to-face learning extend far beyond academic achievement. I want so badly for my child to experience those benefits once more.

But like my child, I have to accept that sometimes, being safe means we can’t always do what we want. Evidence is growing that single greatest Covid-19 risk is simply sharing an enclosed space with other people, breathing the same air for an extended period of time. That’s pretty much the definition of classroom learning, and I’ve yet to see a plan effectively mitigates that risk.

Safety demands I not send my child into this dangerous situation, even if she wants to be there, even if I want her to be there, too. Not yet.

Not until Arizona’s Covid-19 numbers drop—and our understanding of the virus grows—enough that we can return in a way that truly is kind, respectful, responsible, and safe.

“The only way to cope with something deadly serious is to try to treat it a little lightly.”

1. I have a piece in the Weekly Humorist this week.

Buy My Book, It Will Protect You from the Coronavirus, Says Author Whose Public Appearances Have All Been Canceled

(For the record, I didn’t have any launches or appearances planned. But a great many authors have, and you should totally buy their books.)

2. Good Unicorn, Bad Unicorn.[Good

(Good Unicorn: “Feeling ill? Here, let me cure you with my magical horn.” 
Bad Unicorn: “Get your unicorn-purified hand sanitizer here—just $500 a bottle!”)

Hang in there, everyone.

To save a life is to save the world

[Iris buds in the backyard]The irises are getting ready to bloom in our backyard, just as they have faithfully for many years, in spite of whatever neglect we can throw at them. I’ve been spending time outside with them this week, weeding, catching up, keeping my family occupied as best I can. We’re sticking close to home, aside from grocery runs, but I’m grateful for that outdoor time, and for the irises left to us by our house’s first owner, a yearly gift from someone we’ll never know.

Yet more and more, I’m thinking about those who not only can’t get outside, but are stuck indoors in close quarters, including the many immigrants currently in ICE detention. There is no real social distancing in detention, and it doesn’t  take much to imagine how quickly COVID-19 could spread through a detention center—and how quickly those centers could turn into death camps.

The vast majority of those in detention have not committed any violent acts. They are not a threat to society, and at this unique moment in time, they need to be free to be with their loved ones and keeping distancing themselves from everyone else the same as the rest of us are.

I called Governor Ducey today and urged him to use his emergency powers to free those in ICE detention now. Those of you who live in Arizona may be laughing at that, knowing our governor—but we have to try, and the more people who call, the more pressure there will be on his office to act. I have to believe that no one truly wants to be responsible for  so many deaths.

Whatever state you’re in, please do the same. Governor Ducey’s number is 602-542-4331, but the numbers of the nation’s other governors are easy enough to find online, and many states farther from the border than we are also house detention centers.

[Iris buds]We can’t gather in large numbers on the steps of our state capitols right now, but we can do this much. Call your governor, and then urge your family and friends to do the same. You could be literally helping to save lives.

Feel free to share this post widely, or to write one of your own.

Overheard

One person walks up to another in a local coffeeshop.

“Are you ———?”
”Yes, I am.”
”I’m ———. Twenty years ago you saved my life.”
”Well. I’m glad you’re still here.”

The first person proceeds to share photos of his daughter, who is now starting college, with the second.

I know no more than that.

Well, no more except that the world is a strange and wondrous place.

And also that the things we do matter.

Moving Day

My website has a new host and a new look. Come on by! I’ve ported over all my previous Desert Dispatches blog posts, whose urls should be unchanged.

  The design still needs some tweaks, but my first priority was on making sure all the content—which I still believe is the most important part of the web—made it over.

The site should be easier to update on the run now, so I look forward to updating that content, including this blog, more often.

And of course: if anything doesn’t work, or there’s something you can’t find, let me know!