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Don't Give Up

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

As much as I would like to make a merry post about Chet Baker today, I can't. My thoughts are in a snowy ravine in western Oregon with a little family I never knew existed. Unless you've been living under a rock, you have probably heard about James Kim, 35, his wife Kati, 30, and their little daughters Penelope Firefly, 4, and Sabine Phyllis, 7 months. They wanted a scenic route to the Oregon coast, and took a mountain road that turned treacherous. You can read about it here. Having crossed the Cascades with Bill on just such a quest in November 1991, I know exactly how that feels. Down below in the valley, there were green grass and flowers still blooming. In the mountain passes, there were walls of snow eight feet high. It was like driving through white halls, and it was frightening as hell. We couldn't wait to get out of those mountains and back to the coast. We drove as if the devil were chasing us, knowing we were asking for it if we lingered so much as an hour too long up there. Mountain weather is not to be taken lightly.
The Kim's journey ended in a snowbank 11 days ago. No one knew where they were; their cellphones were turned off. On Sunday night, we got an email from our dear friend Liz (who opens the chapter in my book called "Calling Kali,") informing us that Kati Kim is her niece. Oh, no. A picture popped into my head of the family in a car, deep in snow in a ravine. And they were safe. I wrote back, telling Liz about the picture in my head. On Monday afternoon, Kati was found, with her girls next to the car, unharmed, and in good condition save for some frostbite. She had nursed both girls those nine long days and nights, drawing on her body's own reserves to save their lives. The beauty of that simple, elemental act floors me. Would Sabine be alive today if her mother had opted to feed her formula? No. Would Penelope? Perhaps. Kati saved her babies with her own body.
Both my babies were breastfed. Phoebe was roaring hungry all the time. I usually felt as if she were taking my life's blood with every meal. She wanted to nurse every 40 minutes by the clock, and since she took about 2o minutes with each session, she and I were basically on constant hookup for seven months. I was always behind the lactation eightball with Phoebe, just barely able to make enough to satisfy her. That child had an agenda, and it was to grow up to be a six-foot redhead. (Bill says that will be the name of her rock band). By the time she was Sabine's age, she was reaching out and grabbing food off our forks, and the transition to solid food was swift.
Liam, on the other hand, nursed steadily for 21 months, seemingly getting all he needed. His transition to solid food was pleasantly gradual. I loved, loved, loved putting that baby to sleep each night. I've had mothers tell me they had lots of time to read while nursing their babies. I never read. I just gazed down at them, at the perfect curve of a cheek, at the impossibly long eyelashes, the little shell ears. And they would roll an eye up to look at me, and smile as they nursed, making a little ticking sound. There is nothing else on earth as fulfilling as feeding your baby with food you make, mysteriously, all by yourself. Turning Wheaties and roast chicken and almonds and mozarella into milk. And sitting down eight or ten times a day just to drink in their beauty.
James Kim is missing. On Saturday he left the car, after burning all five tires to stay warm, after running out of food and gas, to try to find help for his girls. Crews are scouring a five-mile stretch of ravine, finding footprints, and yesterday, a pair of pants he'd had on over his jeans. He's all I can think about today. If only he could know, wherever he is, that his wife and babies are safe and warm and well-fed. The picture I'm getting of James Kim is curled up under brush, sleeping. I'm praying that he'll be found today. I'm packing and sending books out at long last, having finally received a shipment I've been waiting for for over a month. I'm listening to The Loft. The song playing right now? Peter Gabriel's "Don't Give Up."
It's getting light in Oregon.


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