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I still haven't gotten the hang of brewing my morning cup. I know the coffee I splurged on in Kona last month is strong stuff, so I tend to underfill the coffee basket. When I do that, the coffee's pallid, the ghost of really excellent coffee. All my other efforts have turned out pots of undrinkable tar-like goo.

I suppose that just like anything else, brewing a great pot of coffee takes practice.

Sam always made coffee in the mornings. It's one more thing I'm learning how to do, one more thing I'd always taken for granted before now.

Other things I'm learning: how to make a DVD player behave. How to kill spiders without flinching. How to fix my internet connection when it gets flaky. How to sleep in the middle of the bed.

Most importantly, I'm learning to get out of the damn bed while the sun is still just a promise on the horizon. I think it's crucial that I do this. Even though I can't work just yet, there are things I can do, things I should do.

Morning walks, for one. I've been walking mostly at night, depending on the moon to etch out my path. For a while, those nightly walks seemed gratifyingly Byronic. Just me, alone with my sorrow and the moon. Also with a flashlight in case a coyote got uppity. Now those walks just seem silly. Screech owls are lousy company.

So today I start moving in the mornings. I'm getting in synch with the rest of the world. It's a Monday, and it's as good a day as any to start living again. I figure that at any given moment, approximately 98% of the population is grieving over something, and the vast majority of them still manage to get their asses out of bed before 9 am. Maybe - just maybe - the act of living isn't wholly dependent on how people feel. I'm beginning to think that living may simply be a choice, a daily choice.

So it's almost 8 am, and yeah, I'm grieving, and you know what? There's a chill in the air this morning that threatens autumn, and the world is still turning, and if I'm not careful I could actually miss another year on this little earth.

I think about what's going on in my life. And it occurs to me that it isn't a Greek tragedy.

When I was twenty, thirty-five seemed ancient. Now that I'm almost thirty-six, thirty-five seems like the beginning of something. It occurs to me that I have choices, and that some of those choices have immediate consequences.

For example: if I get out of bed in the morning, I have an actual day. A day in which to be alive. A day to write. A day to do things worth writing about, things worth remembering. I'm only allotted a certain number of those; I have a finite number of sunrises to winess. That's an easy thing to forget when I'm all wrapped up in a shroud of my own design.

Once I hit my birthday on September fifth, something will have happened: I will have experienced every major holiday, public and personal, for one full year all by myself. Sam hasn't been part of my life now for almost a year, and it's time to let that go. He's all I knew for a long time - for fifteen years, really - but now it's a new day.

It's a new day, and I could hear roosters crowing on the farms when I walked earlier. The shadows were long and fresh across the quiet summer lawns. The hummingbirds were visiting the red nectar we put out for them last week and were darting around one another in fierce territorial circles. It's obvious that they have no idea how small they are.

I walk behind my sister's house, because when I get to the top of the hill I can see the entire Big Bend of the Snake River.

This morning I walked up the hill. I paused to catch my breath. I turned to look at the silver ribbon of river unspooling in the valley, and I thought about the pioneers that crossed there during the Oregon Trail years.

Not far upriver is Farewell Bend, the place where the paths of wagon trains diverged. I thought about the tangible hardships those people experienced. Hunger, actual and gnawing. The utter loss of family, friends, traveling companions, all that was familiar. I thought about what it means to leave everything behind. Those people forced themselves to never look backward. They learned to set their faces like flint toward an unknowable future.

Most of them never made it to thirty-five.

The Trail taught them that the only way to get to a new place meant leaving every shred of the old places behind. Pioneers naive enough to bring sentimental mementos were forced to drop them on the way to lighten the wagon's load. The Oregon Trail was littered with the detritus of a thousand thousand pasts. Scrapbooks. Journals. Hope chests full of wedding dresses, linens. Beautiful, impractical artifacts. All left behind, bleaching like bones in the desert sun.

It's time for me to lighten my own load. To be cautious about what I carry.

There really is a hint of autumn in the air, and that more than anything is what wakes me up this morning, strong coffee notwithstanding. It wakes me up because it heralds one less day on my personal calendar.

And so I'm awake. Half-awake, actually, but dammit, I'm here. I made it this far, and Farewell Bend is just upriver. And my coffee this morning is bitter, because I made it too strong, and so I put a ton of french vanilla creamer in it and now it tastes almost good.

I bet that the coffee they made on the Trail over campfires was thick and bitter and necessary as loss.

I am not the same person today as I was yesterday. For half of my natural born life I've had this headache over names and signatures that refused to be resolved until this morning.

I walked into court with one name and walked out with another. My mother is only slightly horrified, but at least she agrees that changing my name is for the best. Now a new headache has begun: informing everyone who needs to know that I changed my name, no I was not married, no my surname is the same, and no I am not getting a sex change.

It started when I was nine. I decided I didn't like being called Karen anymore. At the time, everyone I knew with the name was middle-aged, divorced, and quite unpleasant. So at the beginning of fourth grade, in a spur of the moment decision, I informed my teacher that I would like to be called Wren, as in the bird.

Thus commenced nine years of people asking where Stimpy was.

Then there was the issue of my middle name. The one I was born to sounded like a hideous cacophony following Wren, nor did I particularly like that name either. So I decided to tell everyone my middle name was my favorite name in the whole world. Unfortunately, this confused a great deal of people because that name happens to be a very common name for little boys. Unless you are familiar with a certain popular anime, I wouldn't expect you to know that it also makes quite a lovely name for little girls.

That is the part my mother takes issue with. I have flirted with androgyny my entire life; it only seems like a natural progression to me. My mother is a afraid of what the neighbors will think. Getting a brand new name isn't common in small town America. More than a few strange looks and glares have been shot in my general direction since I announced my intentions, but I'm glad. They remember who I am now.

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