Summer teaches Spanish in Juneau, Alaska, where she lives with her commercial fisherman husband and two semi-feral children. She’s not sure how they came to be that way, but let’s just say that the pinecone never falls far from spruce tree.

(Until, of course, a squirrel piece-meals it much like Summer eats a blueberry muffin. Fun fact: her nickname in Spanish was squirrel.)

Summer is a winner of the Alaska Statewide Poetry Contest, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Motherwell Magazine, Lowestoft Chronicle, Third Wednesday, and Hellebore, among others.

She got her start in writing at a young age, which eventually metamorphosized into rapping and writing folk songs. She has a background in theater and dance, and occasionally choreographs numbers for her belly dance troupe, Daughters of the New Moon.

Summer has a Bachelors of Arts in People and Performing Arts of Latin America and the Caribbean and Masters in Education.

She also likes to play in nature with her kids and write songs on guitar. You might catch her at next open mic rapping about the budget, or something else equally uplifting.

Because she is of the wilderness, why shouldn’t the rhythm of a thousand hustling feet induce her to run through TSA?

Because when riding an escalator, why shouldn’t she wait for the prettiest step, although it may mean losing Mommy who has alteady gone ahead and landing spread eagle upside down between five metal moving steps?

Because she prefers to pee on dandelions with the sun on her bottom, why shouldn’t she run out of the airplane lavatory with her underwear down around her ankles?

Because she is a magical fairy princess, why shouldn’t she pitch a next-level prima donna hissy fit when she doesn’t get a window seat?

Because she has a voice that bellows off mountains and belies her five years, and a mother who listens and encourages her to speak her truth in a world of men who won’t stop talking, why shouldn’t she use her voice to stand up for her tiny little self— because if she won’t, who will?— even if it means everyone on the plane goes semi-deaf?

Because she appreciates the ways of Miro, why shouldn’t she paint the floor an acrylic abstract masterpiece minutes after getting home from a two day flight?

Because my daughter is a mirror, why shouldn’t I expect her to run a bit feral like her mother?

And because God gave me over the top kids, and maybe I parent a little over the top, too— and because to whom much is given, much is required— why shouldn’t I expect that everything be too wonderful, too stressful, too much work, too satisfying, too unsatisfying, too draining, too hilarious, and too much?

About the Prose Garden

“When there’s uncertainty, when you’re looking for meaning beyond this world–that takes people to poetry. We need something to counter the hate speech, the divisiveness, and it’s possible with poetry.” — Joy Harjo, the first Native American U.S. poet laureate

Here in the Prose Garden, we grow stories, prose and poetry to inspire, featuring fresh perspectives, close-ups, close calls, cluster-flucks and koester-pluck, all with a good watering of beautiful contradictions and terrible word plays. Let’s explore the entropy of parenting and life in Southeast Alaska, true tales of venturing off the beaten path, crossing borders real and invisible, and living beyond the imaginable.

“We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.” — Toni Morrison, 1931-2019.

Ahhhhh, Takhini Hot Springs… a lovely outdoor Olympic pool-sized bath fed by the natural hot springs of the Takhini underworld, where everything moves as if in slow-motion– like after dancing it up all night in the club then walking into daylight for the first time in a blurry-eyed state of blissful exhaustion just as the rest of the world starts to get on with their hustle. We were baptized in the healing water and made new. Praise the Takhini gods and the hot Swedish guy working there who stripped into his bathing suit every night to drain the bath. Can you believe they drain it every night?! Cray!

Check out these adorable mermaids that we discovered during our swim!

The one on the right is my daughter, Taegan; the other is my best friend’s daughter, Ona.

Our family, along with another family and old friends, enjoyed the hot springs and fell asleep early in the comfort of our camper, and although I coughed all night, we slept until 11:00 the next morning.

The next day started with a few rain showers. Ah, so quaint.

Until shit got real. 

As water came down harder from the sky and we snatched wet bathing suits and towels off clotheslines, we heard the dragon growl of thunder in the distance. The kids’ eyes grew wide as saucers. “This is my first thunder storm!” Ona exclaimed excitedly as we rushed all the kids and moms into the dry camper. 

One-two-three-four-five-six-seven… FLASH! Lightning illuminated our little camper. The rain poured harder. 

The thunder growled louder this time… one-two-three… FLASH! “It’s getting closer!” The kids cowered like frightened animals.

“Don’t worry,” I assured them. “The best place to be in a lightning storm is next to a tree—definitely NOT in the hot springs though! The lightning looks for the closest conduit to the earth, and the trees are taller than us!” 

So then the kids wanted to know why you didn’t want to get struck by lightning. “Can it kill you?!” Maybe I should’ve kept my mouth shut.

Thunder boomed right above our heads as the same time lightning lit up the room, and it seemed like our camper would split in two. It’s right above us!

“Do you think I should unplug the camper?” Jason asked. I shrugged, and thought about my friend in Jamaica whose mom died when she was struck by lightning. 

Meanwhile, back at the hot springs the Swede who looked like Lancelot had ordered everybody out of the bath. According to my friend, who was stuck in the bathhouse waiting out the storm along with some moms, kids and babies, the lightning struck the bathhouse and caused a power surge. The lights in the bathhouse temporarily went out and the bath house rattled and roared.

Babies were crying, kids were crying, moms were crying… Everyone was crying! We’re all gonna die!!!!

Then, all of a sudden, our friend ran in to the camper and exclaimed, “Rookie mistake! Our tent is a river!” They had parked their tent in a low spot and water and mud rushed under it. Amazingly, their sleeping bags were saved because the sleeping pads floated! AAAHHHHH!!!!!

Later that night after the storm passed, we returned to the hot baths. The Swede told us that that was the first time ever that they had to close the hot springs due to lightning! 

Finding My Spirit Animal

Art by Aida Pascual

Dear Reader, since we are still getting to know each other, it may help to know that back in the day, when I used to live in Central America, my Honduran friends nicknamed me “Coyote”. 

That evening I decided to take my inhaler before bed to help with my cough. Because it’s a steroid, it makes your heart pump fast and can result in insomnia. Tonight was no different.

Around three in the morning, heart still racing, I got out of the bed to walk off the jitters. My footsteps on the gravelly campground were loud and crunchy. I didn’t want to the walk the others in the campground so I tried to walk around the trees and bushes on the soil.

Trying to not make sounds I walked into the wood and came upon a copse of trees. Funny how the trees make circles around each other. 

Photo: John Westrock

I’ve always believed trees to be like seers, because every time they teach me something. The trees always call me back and gift me another lesson. Why? Perhaps because they are perfect, made by God, like children before we put them in a box.  Or is it because they see us from above, they have more perspective. They probably laugh at our frivolity…

Then I heard them. Incessant barking sounding like dogs that would finish with a howl. Then another would join in. Soon, a chorus of barking, punctuated with a howl. Coyotes. 

At one point a lower, more mournful howl rose up with the others. That was a wolf! Just when I thought the world was too quiet…

The nocturnal coyotes continued with their nightly rumpus, calling and responding with barks and howls. I wanted to join them. 

Art: Helen Warren

The first five minutes in the Behemoth weren’t good. On first smell I could tell something wasn’t right. Then something in the truck caused my hyper sensitive lungs to react, and suddenly I needed my inhaler. 

On our first corner we climbed a small hill, and our flatbed Chevy Cheyenne work truck slowly putted up the incline, chug-chug-chugging as hard as my lungs. After the hill we finally hit 30 MPH and the rig started hiccupping down the road. Hop-hop-hoppity hop like a bunny rabbit. My husband started laughing. I was starting to have serious doubts that I could make it the full 320 miles while involuntarily head-banging and gasping for breath. My lungs that had oft landed me in the E.R. felt like they were being crushed by a garbage compactor. You see, we were going to travel the Golden Circle from Skagway to Whitehorse, then finally to Haines for the SE Alaska State Fair. A trip we had done once before, albeit in my old car. 

Five minutes later (which felt like thirty), we arrived at the ferry terminal. Late. It was 5:15 A.M. and plenty bright outside. This was, after all, Alaska during the summer. Getting out of the rig I noticed the lettering on the door read “Quality Asphalt Paving”. I was breathing in creosote! That explained the funky smell and asthmatic reaction. “Maybe I should get a snorkel and breathe out the window,” I joked.

Ten minutes after that I lost my voice, which would not return for the rest of the trip. Guess I wasn’t going to be entering in the singer-songwriter competition at the State Fair, or singing along to my guitar around the campfire.

We met up with our friends on the early ferry ride, and after seven hours we unloaded in Skagway. The creosote-saturated rig chugged 20 mph down the busy main road, and soon we started the ascent through the pass that was so foggy you could hardly see the white camper towing a white car with no brake lights ahead. The thick air squeezed my lungs even more. I rolled the window all the way down and tried to stick my head out, and my daughter strapped in to her car seat behind me started coughing. 

“You are the most sensitive person I have ever met!” my husband reminded me, which did nothing to alleviate the pressure on my lungs. I couldn’t respond because my voice was gone and the loud truck engine drowned out my whispers. Which I’m sure my husband appreciated at the time.

It’s too late to bale out now, I thought to myself. There was no cell service, hospitals, or even pull-outs. We climbed higher and higher through the steep mountain pass that paralleled the Chilkoot Trail, where many a miner lost his hopes and dreams — and a few lost their lives — on their way to strike it rich in the Yukon.

Those men and women that came to Alaska to find gold, those were the rugged, the hardy, the fittest, the dreamers, the hopeful, the swindlers, the fools, the brave, the brawny. People like me did not come. The truth is that I would have died long ago back in those days, first at age one when I came down with pneumonia, and again at age four when my asthma landed me in an oxygen tent for a week. Yet here I was, chugging up the pass in the untested Behemoth on its maiden voyage as we traveled around the Golden Circle of yore. 

We finally made it to the summit and on the downhill crossed in to Canada after stopping and showing our American passports to the Canadian official. Once we got off the mountain the air cleared, the sun appeared, the road leveled and straightened and we could pick up the pace. With speed, the Behemoth stopped jittering and Jason, my husband, cracked his window to let in a cross breeze. My lungs relaxed a little with the breeze, although my daughter’s coughing worsened. I quietly started plotting my escape from this toxic truck… I would take the kids with me, fly back to Juneau, as soon as we got to Whitehorse. Jason and the Behemoth could find their way back on their own.

Once we got to Takhini hot springs, my lungs had stopped barking at me and I almost forgot about booking a flight home. Instead, I noticed the beautiful white and black aspen trees. Looking closely one could see their magical eyes. The trees see all…

(To Be Continued…)

 Air dense with trees and pollen, 
I couldn’t get a breath in.
Sent to live in an oxygen tent at age seven.
Short breaths
Left their autograph in my health,
And I am left with gratitude
That I can exhale chatter
And inhale what really matters.

One morning my jaw couldn’t move 
Because I could not speak my truth.
Locked up, clicked when I chew,
It taught me to speak my truth with candor.

Infections next level settled in my feet,
Blisters festered where rivers and ocean meet.
My feet grew into bigger boots
Packing babies and packs over slippery routes,
And because those feet have filled bigger shoes,
Talents for balance increased with my standards.

And it’s true that in protecting my heart
My back grew askew, 
Like hiding for cover could protect it from ruin.
Years of pain I now work to undo in yoga studios
But I am more nubile now than when I was new.

In my litany of complaints 
I do not seek sympathy or saints,
And the meekness of my weather vane frame
Will not be in vain,
For within my weaknesses lie my strengths.

June lupine blooms
Cocoon Juneau in hues
Of lavender and blue,
Cormorant and loon attune 
To swoon of spring —
None are immune.
Whispers rise and fall
Soft like balloons
Under the loom of moon 
In full bloom.
Soon strewn throughout, 
lupine seeds commune,
Leaving clues to ruminate
On what once grew 
Under lover’s rune.

Photo by Jessie Herman Haywood