Cloning the Mammoth: Love, Loss, and Permafrost

25 Apr

At the gym last week I watched a documentary about a group of scientists who, driven by a burning desire to clone an Ice Age woolly mammoth, were trudging around Siberian underground caves looking for bones preserved by permafrost. While I elliptical-ed my way to nowhere fast (OK, medium fast), the scientists on the screen poked through thick, grey muck studded with tusks, trying to avoid mud slides that could, with horrifying speed, end their search for viable DNA, their viable burning desire–indeed, viability in general. This quest seemed absurd: searching Siberia in dangerous conditions for something virtually impossible to find?  But then I had to admit: Long ago, I’d spent time trudging around Ithaca, New York  searching for love and viable DNA.  Explorers live; explorers learn.

Woolly Mammoth Replica in Museum Exhibit

Holding on feverishly to mid-life discovery in Beverly Hills, I have happened upon my own woolly mammoth. As the country and western song goes, Wasn’t lookin’ to clone that thang, it just showed up in the mud, Oh Dang.  Or some such. The mammoth appeared as an email. From the man who, a decade and half ago, changed my life–for the better, but there was carnage for both of us, and we didn’t end up together because it was too much too fast. Until the email, we hadn’t been in touch for twelve years. Thanks to internet magic and permafrost (it’s my blog and I’ll mix metaphors if I want to) he’d recently observed that I’d moved to Southern California, where he lives–with his second wife. We agreed to meet for lunch–without his wife. We’d catch up. I drove to Westwood Ave for Persian food.  Walking toward the restaurant, I was nervous.


After fifteen minutes, the room was spinning  and years of my history seemed to be crashing around me like Malibu waves. The Pacific is cold in April, and I don’t  own a wet suit. The pungent food wafted around my queasy head. My life, in all its transition and upheaval, smelled a little sour, while his gave off an odor of rosewater. Married over a decade, his work steady and rewarding, his kids happy and healthy with careers and families. “I’m sorry, I can’t do this,” I squawked.

Then I ran down the street, got into the car, turned left onto Santa Monica, started playing my Head East CD–songs to suck my thumb by. Head East is comforting because I used to listen to their music at sixteen years old, when I’d just gotten off work at The Sea Merchant Restaurant, counted my tips, drunk a beer, and was thinking I knew what life would be. (A date later in the week with Frank J., quarterback.)  “Did you see any action/Did you make any friends/Would you like some affection/ before I leave again,” warbled I. Surrounded by convertibles, inside the safety of the Prius: “Never been any reason/for me to think about you. . .”

Singing while cruising under palm trees was having a calming effect. After 9 weeks in L.A., I still see their the trees’ wacky bursts of green as little fireworks exploding against the sky. Back in Beverly Hills, I thought about why I’d run away. He’d asked, “So, what are you doing in California?” and I couldn’t think of the answer. Adventure, Kirsten you dumb ass, why didn’t you toss your hair and say “Adventure! I’m having an adventure!”  Instead I’d just thought about the uncertainty in my life, the things that didn’t work out the way I’d hoped.

Pulling into Natasha and Markus’s garage (where, bless their hearts, they got me a parking spot) I felt relieved, even happy. Their car was there. They were upstairs in their apartment, probably eating raw food. Markus was probably talking for Duncan the terrier, swearing furiously about the lack of bacon in his life.  Their little family had embraced my even smaller one. And Natasha knew me, for God’s sake, before I got my period. I texted Man From Another Era: “Sorry I acted like a child.”

So, my past crept up on me “with little cat feet,” as Carl Sandburg wrote about Chicago fog. And it felt like a woolly mammoth had stomped on my head. My history, my Mistakes, my Mother (and other Family Members), Myself. OK, we go forward. . .we go backward. You guessed it: WHEREVER YOU GO THERE YOU ARE. And, if you’re a woolly mammoth carcass, with good ‘n frozen bone marrow, you might just get another chance. Do you want to rise from the dead, Woolly M–nobody asked you, did they?

Woolly Mammoth Replica in Museum Exhibit

So: a week later, I am at the Santa Monica beach–where I’d been a month ago, anxiously thinking of my nearest and dearest–who is now thriving and is, in fact, standing on the Santa Monica pier next to me, watching two teenage girls scream on a carnival ride that sends them in the air, tosses them upside down. They can’t stop screaming, which makes us laugh. We walk in the surf,  talk about the future in vague terms; trapeze artists on muscle beach mesmerize us. I remember the last time I saw the pier–alone,  finding the roller coaster and Ferris wheel eery in their carnival defiance of gravity.


Time has moved on, I think and dust sand off my toes. We get into the car and take one look back at the pier.  In his book about human consciousness, Julian Jaynes writes  about arriving at the top of a Ferris wheel. That moment where the structure of the wheel disappears from sight, and “we  are thrust out into the sky for the outward curve down.” Hey, aren’t all those different versions of  the “o” sound impressive? The metaphor’s good too. Thrust out into the sky, and can’t see the structure. God, I hate that.

Back to our separate homes, my loved one and I. Mine:IMG_0336 I spent the evening on my stoop watching my neighbor Arturo look for adventure,snail

slow, determined. Next morning:  time to  let woolly mammoth bones lie where they may. . .and go sell some juice.

To get to work, I walk down Rodeo drive. At 7:30 a.m. there is no one there but a few window washers. IMG_0319(1)


IMG_0320(2) yes, a few ghosts; you can’t get away from the ghosts. (In these parts, extremely well dressed.) I am looking up, “out into the sky.”


Adventure, redemption, whatever. The science and/or art of revolving, of evolving: ‘Round and ’round I go.


7 Responses to “Cloning the Mammoth: Love, Loss, and Permafrost”

  1. Robin Botie April 27, 2013 at 2:53 am #

    Relieved to see you’re back. It’s been a while and I was wondering if you were too busy or too happy to share your adventures with those of us still stuck in Ithaca just poking our heads up through the April mud.


    • kwasson2012 April 27, 2013 at 3:55 am #

      Thanks for reading, Robin. No not too happy, definitely. Busy yes, and as you know from the previous blog. . .it’s been a rough road recently. Thinking of you! Head up–through the mud, real or emotional! Kirsten ________________________________________


  2. deeciearoundthevalley April 28, 2013 at 12:59 am #

    Very real …. your blog stories are painfully real … but I am left feeling admiration for you and how you face your life….


  3. elainemansfield May 2, 2013 at 3:47 pm #

    Here’s a poem in response–not mine, but one I love:


    It could happen any time, tornado,
    earthquake, Armageddon. It could happen.
    Or sunshine, love, salvation.
    It could you know. That’s why we wake
    and look out–no guarantees
    in this life.
    But some bonuses, like morning,
    like right now, like noon,
    like evening.
    ~ William Stafford, from The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems © Graywolf Press, 1998.

    Such a good post about staying awake to where we are and being curious about what happens next. I like it that you “acted like a child” and walked out on the dude. I felt you were taking care of yourself and listening to your body.

    thriving in Ithaca and, believe it or not, wishing for a rainy day,


    • kwasson2012 May 2, 2013 at 5:03 pm #

      I love this poem, and I love your response! Thank you, Elaine! Wishing a rainy day for you, if that’s really what you want! Kirsten ________________________________________


      • elainemansfield May 2, 2013 at 6:14 pm #

        Rain is what the lettuce and snow pea seeds in the ground want–and I want them to germinate. Love the sun,need a nice night of soaking rain with sun by morning. Not going to get it. No one thinks about rain in LA. Get out the hose.


  4. zoejorandall June 18, 2013 at 2:13 am #

    Dear Kirsten,
    You are an amazingly clever, very colorful writer; you write so very beautifully and with great wit – I laughed a lot! The combination of color, depth of description, humorous metaphors, and precision of those perfect, sometimes ‘little’, things you focus on somehow manage to convey a profundity that touches a deep inner chord within me. I found my eyes well up at times. Other times, a glowing inner warmth. There is an intimacy that is beautiful and precious here. You clearly have something to share – your desire to ‘share your life experiences’ are truly rich and speak on many levels, and I know you will touch many people in this way. You leave me wanting more… and thanks for the great photos! I can’t wait for your book!! xoxo


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