Friday’s Quick Pick/Poem: Lake Language

Why a poem about a lake without an accompanying photo?  It seems I have run out of media storage space. I have many new, interesting pictures I wanted to share of a Chinese Autumn Moon Festival and Japanese gardens and more.  I’ve had three blogs for many years; I thought I knew what I was doing… but I am in the midst of trying to figure out what next without paying more money to upgrade to the Business Plan, which I don’t feel I need.  If anyone has advice about deleting photographs (while saving texts) in Media other than trashing a few at a time, please share suggestions. Thank you!

Meanwhile, I offer a poem I have worked on a bit more about a visit to Lake Crescent in Washington during trying times 7 years ago. It still resonates with me. 

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Lake Language

 

Those were damaging times,
when all the words left seemed
too little or self-important,
and since I had too long ridden
that dragon’s tail of grief,
not one syllable could tell me anything good.

So I left for the lake, its imperishable
silences and soundings,
mutations ranging deep to death defying,
sterling surface exhaling blue
while I slept, becoming innocent.

That next day the sun rose like a crown.
What seemed at first rain drops
were branches shushing the world.
Leaves flew across my face
burning with color and
clinging to my shoulders,
impromptu cape that streamed
all the way to paradise.

Every mystery bounded trails
so I wouldn’t lose my way:
tiny saplings, mosses, lichen
clung to aged nurse logs,
black beetles scuttled in shining armor,
bees feasted until nectar emptied.
Streams rumbled ancient warrior ground
and my feet listened.

I might have danced with cedars,
vanished on plumes of mist,
but the lake called, its waves
bestowed with promise and
thrusting toward shore,
stones turning over like happy creatures.
Clouds drank at the edge of
water limned in September gold.
Its glacial heart melted in
the palm of my hand.

 

© 2011 Cynthia Guenther Richardson

 

 

Friday’s Passing Fancy/Poem: The Charge of Mercy

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Photo by Cynthia Guenther Richardson

It may be that making room
for mercy, letting it take hold
of you, does so only at a price.
You may never again see yourself
or another without feeling
a deep release of tenderness,
an upsurge in benevolence
like a music unfurled by light.

Many suffer, pass by day or night and
you will recognize a hoard of hurts
and consolation will spill unbidden,
even in your smile or nod of your head,
a flash meeting of your eyes and another’s.
Charity rises from the soul’s wellspring,
and fills you. It will long to act.

Even if what is returned is
disconsolate anger, even if a
ruinous emptiness
you will offer a gentling of more mercy.
And when someone pains you,
compassion and forbearance
will take charge in spite
of unjust, fearful jarrings.
You can endure much in mercy.

Who knows what being merciful can bring?
Perhaps a revolution of wholeness: begin.
Who said our human lives will be a lark?
Can we be generous if we are lazy, only smart?
Can we be kind and be selfish, then hope to heal?
We learn to be humble, then wings can grow.

You alone know your true reflection
in the mirrored passages of time,
if you answered yes when
someone needed forgiveness,
if you answered no when revenge
bellowed your name.

Either way, mercy lives on

best when you claim it, free it, use it.
It moves in the power of opening hands,
in reverberations of simple, decent care.
Some may welcome it and perhaps even you.
Many will not ever notice.
You are the one
who will be
changed by mercy
reigniting your valiant life

These Feet, Made for Freedom

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My loose plan was to write something light, bordering on witty or–more often my writerly bent, something laced with references to spiritual experiences, the nearness of God everywhere. About maximum appreciation of life, which tends to claim first priority. That was before I got the foot news.

I am sitting here with the podiatrist’s prescribed plastic and padded boot encasing my sweating, lame left foot. It has two secured straps, a sort of front piece that clamps on the foot and ankle to keep it rigidly stabilized. It feels claustrophobic in there though it has only been two hours. Already those toes nearly have a voice, and it says “Let me out!”

Alas, I am to wear it all the time I am walking in my home or at the grocery–anytime I put weight on my left foot. That means in bed and in the shower I can have a free, naked foot. Otherwise, this goes on for five weeks and then another x-ray and review.

I am a barefoot person. My feet have never liked their toes and high arches, skinny heels and ankles swaddled or bound in leather much less fake leather or cloth. I don’t even like flip-flops. Nothing fits so well as your own skin. Though I do have quite a few shoes stored in the closet, I’ll admit, but they’re leftover from working days and do need to be passed on. And alright, I love my ankle- and knee-high boots. They fit very well and are useful since I have to wear something outdoors to shun the damp chilliness during wintry Oregon deluges. A good leather boot can come close to conforming to one’s lower extremities after a good break-in period. It has flexibility and strength, characteristics I admire. I hope to be wearing such a pair of boots well into my old age when I cannot tromp around barefoot. I want to be wearing them as autumn arrives–if I manage to enable excellent self-repair.

Even socks in chilly weather tend to annoy me. They’re a barrier between skin and fascinating environments the foot examines and treads. Who came up with this accoutrement of footwear? Why don’t they fit snugly as fine gloves fit on hands and digits? Of course, I’m not so foolish as to ignore that protection is at times required in the natural and human made worlds. Especially in unpredictable city life. So I purchase those, too, after much inspection, finding the best cotton warmth, cushion and comfort for the least money, a challenge.

Oh, did I forget to mention I broke some small bone beneath the ball joint of my left big toe? That’s what all my fuss is about. A slightly broken foot.

It started about five or six weeks ago. I was vacuuming around my bed. The vacuum isn’t one of those light and easy machines and I am not a happy vacuumer but I swear I did nothing different that day as I maneuvered about. I did not jam my toe into furniture. I did not fall and nothing slipped onto the bare foot as I worked. I just felt a sharp pain under the big toe. I checked it out. I thought it might be a spider (bare skin and spiders…) as we have many of those lurking in our geography and bites are not so uncommon. It could have been an experience I infrequently have due to taking aspirin for coronary artery disease–tiny burst capillaries that hurt and bruise a couple of days. But I saw nothing. The next day, however, there was selling and pain, a small spot of bruising. I expected it to go away but it lingered.

A trip to my primary care doc resulted in a diagnosis of tendonitis. In the toe area. How that occurred, she didn’t clarify. Apparently this can happen for any number of reasons to active people. What was not great to hear: stop my vigorous walks and no hiking for me for a few weeks. Doctor made a referral to a podiatrist, just in case. There was an X-ray for good measure. It came back negative per my email from the health care system. So I continued to live my busy life, iced twice daily, rested the offended foot a times and believed it got better. There continued to be some swelling and soreness so I tried to behave and not walk much the first 2-3 weeks. I walked a bit more the last couple of weeks, perhaps 20 minutes with slow strides every other day, rather than the 4-5 miles a day as I usually do. No hiking in the summery, fragrant forest. I felt proud of myself for mostly following directions and not whining about it.

The podiatrist appointment wasn’t for another month. When the date rolled around, I nearly cancelled it as the hurt area looked and felt much better. I’d walked lightly (no power walks) recently without much of an after effect. I figured I would get a good bill of health and pay 60 dollars for the privilege of hearing it.

Instead, she pulled up the X-ray after telling me she didn’t think it was tendonitis, at all.

“Right. You have had a fracture. This little bone by the ball of your foot is broken almost in two. Can you see it?”

“What? How can that be? Didn’t the radiologist know how to interpret things correctly? I mean, I have been walking on it all these weeks!”

“Well, this area of the foot structure is unfortunately often misread as some people can be born with…”

I didn’t hear the rest. I had stopped looking at the screen and that narrow, incredibly frail-looking skeleton of my left foot. That terrible line across a small bone under or within my toe–who knew there were so many?

Really, vacuuming the carpet? There had to be a mistake. She kept talking and I tried to focus.

“…it will either heal–you’re saying it is much better so that is a good sign and the swelling is minimal now–or you might need surgery to take out a piece of the bone…”

“What? No.”

I gazed at her face and saw her lips moving but all I could think about was that I would not be walking anywhere, anytime soon. I would not be taking off to enjoy arduous and meditative hikes in the Columbia Gorge or scouting out numerous trails around Oregon and Washington. I would not even be exploring our own semi-famous Forest Park flourishing right in the heart of Portland–all its hidden delights would be unexperienced for the rest of the summer… and maybe beyond?

I would be sitting on my posterior for the rest of August and September doing…what?

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I am not a sitter nor a lolligagging type. I am, for good or ill, charged from the time I get up even if a cranky sleep has failed to be regenerative enough. My husband, more sedentary than I,  urges me to stop: “Take a load off, sit down a few.” I try but tend to pop back up. Only when I write can I make myself sit for a long while without moving a great deal. I find myslef reading when standing, sometimes sitting, my concentration accompanied by twisting, stretching, getting up and down. By midnight I give it all up and hit the bed, finally tired. Then I read or write without much other motion as I drift off.

It’s not that I’m hyper; I don’t feel nervous/anxious/unfocused. I simply love to be in motion. There are plenty of things to do, places to go. Even if it is from the dining room to a back bedroom to gather something. There is such a joy to it, the lifting of limbs, bending and reaching and turning in space. I spontaneously dance, walk for miles, jog a vlock or two, climb hills and embankments. Ice skate. Tai Chi or  a bit of yoga. Flamenco classes. Gym machines and Zumba. I used to get a thrill from water skiing and swimming and look forward to swimming again at a new pool. Sailing was a treat. It’s about working up a small sweat, giving the muscles and all a chance to get up and go, shine some. The body loves to do. When we still lived in houses with big yards, I was the first to grab a rake or spade. I was fine shovelling snow. I tried skateboarding when my son was learning decades ago, then tried it once again not long ago (he has been a pro skater for 20 years). Not with astounding success but still, it was fun. And dirt biking? Let me hop on as I did in my twenties, please.

Gosh, even sitting with pencil and watercolors and sketch pad gets various parts ready to move. What do we do that does not elicit some sort of motion, subtle or pronounced? Our bodies love us back when we give them free rein–or give them orders to do thus and so and it does it well and right. These beautifully designed vehicles to carry around soul and mind become more relaxed, strong and flexible with systems engaged, optimally humming along. We have what we need to thrive, most of us, and malfunctioning parts most often repair and adapt well. We can endure much before the body has the wisdom to quit.

All this activity obviously requires–at least prefers–feet. How we rely upon these jointed, muscled, tendoned appendages every single day!

So I left feeling a bit sad even though it could be much worse. I may have said a bad word and smacked the steering wheel before I revved up the engine and took off. I can and will soon walk and hike in our temperate, rainy winter as always. That is three months away. I surely can do this and be gracious about it, yes? There are so many other things I might have to contend with. It is just another brief pause in life.

The whole summer has been in an elaborate pause, to be honest. Except, my mind and emotions have been whirring away. We  had a scare with a depressed family member that is resolving day by day. Prayers for courage and hope have paid off; prayers for her resilience have gathered steam. I have had the honor of being here daily as she has regained hold of her strengthening center.

Then, of all things, I had a simple dental extraction that became a nightmare. After a month I am finally recovered from a dry socket and an infection that required antibiotics with the attendant negative reactions. I haven’t eaten much for a month–the yogurt and rice, applesauce and bananas are looking less wholesome and more repugnant. Still! I lived through brain-scrambling jaw and face pain and complications. I can manage to take care of a gimpy foot.

And so it has been a time steeped in a haze of needs, some trials, my own self struggling a little. Oddly, I recall telling someone back in the spring that this summer I would need stamina for the coming months.

“Why stamina?” she asked.

“I just have a feeling. My oldest sister just passed, I have had some heart issues again and…well, more stamina would be valuable.”

Yes, and patience, more than I imagined. Yet it has been supplied like life-giving water from a well wide and deep. I have found it between times of tension and worry, within a grateful embrace of each day. And compassion for myself and others. Living within the moment, as they say, works wonders–we do not need to resurrect troubles of the past or try to forecast what is unknown. The one thing that never changes for me is my faith in God, the surety that we are not alone in the wilderness of life, that we are a part of Divine Love no matter what. We can be pushed and pulled, stretched to the limits. And we can manage so much more than we think possible. We just have to trust that we can, then step forward.

Or in my case, sit back, take a deep breath and be still. Surrender.

I have taken that hard, suffocating boot off as I’ve typed. My foot needs fresh air and sunlight; it’s 85 degrees and blue skies! But I will put it back on when I walk. Yes, that is my best intention; God and my angels will help me along as ever. Once again both these feet will be sturdy and happy, may even fly in the right conditions. In the meantime, perhaps more contemplation is in order, and a bit of a gentle rest.

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The Intersection

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There have been so many life-altering events at this corner that some people are becoming afraid to get too close to it. Ten in six years. There’s such a thing as bad energy, they say, juju that might follow them back to their homes. I think that’s crap. Only strays–cats, dogs, some humans–follow you and, still, only so far. I think energy has to be invited to be taken with you. But who would believe that? I’m just fourteen and so skinny and quick they hardly see me in broad daylight. Well, that has started to change, but I am still mainly just a watcher. And I do know a few things.

I remember when it all started. It was spring; I can still hear robins making a racket. Clive had to try crossing Parman Street without his mother’s hand holding his. He didn’t want to use the real corner but go kitty corner, full speed ahead to Song’s Ice Cream. I was eight coming up to nine, and he was five. I was sitting on our little third floor balcony so could see how it was going to play out. His mother yanked on him, he yanked the other way and despite her anger and best intentions he slipped away, right into the path of the rickety BMW motorcycle driven by Hank the Hooligan (that’s mom’s description). Anyone could hear that machine coming from two blocks away so I don’t know why Clive didn’t. His mother did, and screamed at him to get back on the curb but by then Hank and Clive crashed. I sat with my jaw dangling then I yelled for my mom, who called 911.

Clive lived. He had a broken leg, squashed ribs, a bad concussion. He seemed foggy for a while and had a cast on for months. Hank had a busted ankle but was not at fault, as he reminded everyone for a month. Everyone was grateful I’d had mom call for help. It wasn’t anything. But it was nice to be thanked for paying attention for once.

In the fall Danny O., the delivery guy for Park and Pay Market, was getting home late. Parman and Reiser have four standard stop signs and there’s a big street lamp on the southwest side but still. The rain pummelled everything in its way. I know because I’d opened my bedroom window and put my fingers through the tear in the screen to feel it. It stung but I liked it, it was a break from the heat at last. I saw Danny peddling nice and leisurely, not his usual speed. I watched him with interest. He was almost skeletal, sort of like me but much older, with powerful, popping leg muscles. He got good tips for being fast. I imagined I could do that some day if I got a better bike. He began to decrease speed more and more, as if he had switched to slow motion, wobbled along barely peddling. I got a bad feeling and hollered at him through the screen but Danny didn’t hear because of the roaring rain.

He made a loopy stop, lost balance, then toppled. He didn’t get up. Mom was playing cards with Bernie, my step dad, so I threw on my hoodie. Sneaked through the hallway, slid into the hall, leapt down the stairs. By then I was nine. The corner was lit up so I thought, no harm checking him. He usually rode so hard; this didn’t fit at all.

He was lying there, half-on and half-off his bike. His eyes were barely open. He didn’t answer me when I jostled him a little and spoke his name. The rain was pelting us, felt like little spikes. His eyelids rolled down. I wondered if he was drunk–he looked a little like Uncle Louis when he’d had too much beer. It didn’t make sense. I felt panic swirl inside as if the air was too thick. Danny’s mouth was gaping. I saw his phone peeking out of his pocket, so grabbed it and called 911. They knew the corner and when they came they searched and found a necklace that said he was diabetic.

“Very sick man,” a burly guy said, “so good thing you called us right away.”

My mom had come downstairs looking for me. She clamped her hand on her mouth; her hair was flattened with streaming water. I thought she looked scared. We went inside, water dripping with each step.

“Wade, that’s twice you’ve seen a lot of goings on. Do you watch the street every spare minute? Well, it paid off for poor Danny O.”

She spoke quietly as she ushered me into my room, then made me change my clothes. It annoyed me, how she stood in the doorway. I ducked into my closet to strip and pull on dry sweatpants and t-shirt.

“He fancies himself a guardian or something,” Bernie called from the kitchen. He always had to get in a word edgewise. “He’s seen all those shows, these kids believe they’re super heroes!”

I jumped into bed. I felt cold. She studied me, then came over to give me a quick hug. At the door she turned around, waiting. She had the ability to wait a long time.

“I just see things. Feel ’em,” I said, and pulled the blanket up to my neck, then turned on the lamp above the bed and pulled my book from under the pillow. Bernie would be surprised it was The Hardy Boys I’d found in dad’s box of stuff mom had hidden. She saw it but made no comment.

Bernie stood in the doorway behind her. “He sees things but we just don’t know what things, luckily!”

He haw-hawed like the foolish guy he was, half the time. The other half he could be okay. Mom shot him a look.

After they left I thought rather than read. I did notice things that were about to happen with a capital “H” in our neighborhood. Like when Gin almost got chased by the Keller twins–I saw them, then her, so whistled a warning. She came upstairs awhile. Or take the time Maya and Tim were headed for a break up: I saw how she backed away from him the last two weeks whenever he reached for her. Not a big deal. Then, two months later, I saw Tim whistling and thought, He has a ring for her, and he did, a really good one that she liked.

People told me stories without even knowing it. I just looked and listened.

But the corner was another thing. I started to wonder about it before anyone else. It seemed a place that surprised people or caused them trouble. That intersection showed me more things.

In the next six years there would be so many incidents–that’s what a cop called them–that it was hard to avoid adding it all up. The area wasn’t remarkable. There are lots of  maples that are old. We don’t have the worst block, and it certainly doesn’t blind us with its beauty. There are four big apartment (or condo, depending on what you can pay) buildings taking up most of two streets. So it’s true there are more people jammed together than some spots but this is a city. They’re brick, kept up fine. Our home is good, three bedrooms, space for a decent party. No one is afraid to go out, not even in the evening. Well, they used to feel okay about it but now…now it had a different vibe, they said.

After Danny, who recovered, there was Jeanne with her early delivery of a baby girl just after being tucked into the cab (that made me look away); half-blind Terrance whose glasses were dropped and lost three times (stepped on twice) at those corners before he sprang for contacts; Yasif’s beat up Toyota truck and its rapid connection with a visiting SUV–fourteen stitches to his chin and forehead, not a scratch on the other driver. Yasif got a new truck out of it, though.

And there was Megan last year. She’d been a good student, chummy with many kids and great to look at, I thought. Then she hurt her back and knee, cheerleading. We all knew she had pain pills prescribed because she told everybody she had them to cope with the injuries. But after a couple of months went by she was still limping around and helping herself to more Oxys. I thought she was in trouble, but everyone said no, I was being weird about it, a doc gave them to her.

One afternoon when the rain had stopped and sunshine started blaring I sat on the balcony with a piece of cherry pie, a glass of iced coffee and my math book. She was leaning against her current boyfriend as moved along. He chortled with his pasty, shaved head thrown back, as if the funniest thing in the world had been said. He lit a cigarette while Megan began to crumple, rain coat rippling as if a breeze had grabbed it, her feet fumbling and arms all wavey. I wanted to say something but my mouth was full of pie. The guy caught her just in time but went right down with her. On that corner, my side of the street. Two kids stopped, curious, then walked off. But that guy shook her, repeated her name frantically. Megan’s left foot was bare, a black flat having fallen off, and her toenail polish was blood red. I felt as if someone pressed an ice cube on my spine and slipped it up my neck. I ran through the living room where Bernie was snoring and down the stairs.

I didn’t use that junk, not even weed but I’d seen plenty who did. I knew how she used to look, bright eyes and smile but she hadn’t looked that good for a long time. Everyone knew about Oxys, they were  like nothing so they thought. But I’d felt her going down and when I got to her, she was worse than loaded. She didn’t hear us. I put my hands on her chest and pushed hard. I should know CPR, I thought but I didn’t. She stirred but the boyfriend told me to back off. I put my hands on her shoulders and squeezed them a little and then, I don’t know why, whispered up close: “Let us keep you alive.” The guy grabbed, pushed me away, and finally called for help.

I kneeled by her and watched her. It seemed the best thing to do. A small crowd was knotting about us. She was barely breathing, more like long pauses of nothing, then little sips of air.

I put my mouth to her ear. “Stay alive, Megan. I’ll help.”

My mom was coming home from her office job and stood stick-still when she saw the crowd. She said later she knew I was at the center of it. “You can’t stay away from things, you’re like a magnet that draws emergencies to you! Or the other way around. Maybe you’re supposed to be in the medical field.”

But that wasn’t it. All around Megan’s head was a soft heat that gave off a faint shimmer, fading fast. Her eyes moved a little beneath pale lids. She wanted to go and wanted to stay. I imagined her at eighteen ready for college or off to Italy for the summer.

“Why not stay?” I said.

She could do anything if she hung on. I then saw her get up and walk away, smiling. I wanted to catch up, wave. But she really was lying there, breathless. The ambulance arrived, EMTs performed CPR and put something in her veins. Megan’s body spasmed and her eyes flew open. I felt like crying. The walk up the stairway was crowded with people who kept asking me questions. I covered my ears, went in the apartment. Locked the door.

Megan went to rehab. Afterwards she came by to thank me but I couldn’t make myself come out and talk, no matter mom begging me. Yet that time was a kind of beginning for me, too. I stayed on my perch when nothing else was going on because mom was right: things happened that others often didn’t or couldn’t see. But I could, so I looked, same as usual.

I tried to tell mom after Megan. It was dark out and the air was sweet. Bernie was at work. She and I were sitting together on the balcony at the little green table. She enjoyed a glass of wine as I searched a deepening blackness for constellations.

“Mom.”

“Hmm?”

“You know about Megan?”

“Yes, thank God she was saved.”

I cleared my throat because it felt like it was going to close. She glanced over.

“I knew she was dying. I saw light around her head fade. Felt a little bit of heat and then saw her get up and walk away. I felt she should stay longer, not leave yet.”

Mom took the glass from her lips and they parted, her breath escaped and a word started to form, then stopped.

“I know it seems nuts but Bernie is right. I sort of see things. Feel them.”

“Just like your grandmother, Wade.”

“Really?”

Mom said smiled at me but she looked a little sad.”Yes, she had that going on all her life. She lived partway in the spiritual world and some here. Spoke of angels as if they were her buddies. I guess they were, too. She was good. You are, too.” She sighed. It was so quiet I could hear the stars get into their places. “Well, let me know if you need help. That corner is way too busy. But maybe that’s why.”

“Huh?”

She moved her chair close to mine and put her arm around my shoulders. “Because you’re here, paying attention. Watching over people.”

I didn’t say anything. We found the Dippers and saw city lights nip into the darkness. Then she got up and went inside.

Things kept on happening. You’d be surprised by some of it, all the troubles and solutions and rescues. I was around, sure, but I was also trying to grow up.

One night after I’d met up with a girl from English class I was on my way home. Three guys were blowing off steam, tossing a bottle of something back and forth as they approached the intersection. I knew them from school and instinctively stepped under the market’s awning.

“What about this place? They say it’s marked. Bad luck.”

The second guy leaned back against the apartment building. “Not what I heard. It’s got some sort of power, lives been saved even. See those ribbons on the lamp-post? A girl recently left an totaled car unhurt. No one has died here even though there’s been tons of bad stuff.”

“Not true!” A third guy stood with feet splayed and pointed at the corner. “Right. Here. Megan Barnes. Overdosed, and that kid brought her back to life. I mean, he talked her right out of dying. Now she’s in Italy, studying something.”

“What? You mean Wade-o Weirdo?”

“Seriously, that’s what they say.”

The first guy took off his cap and repositioned it just so. “Man, it’s a kind of resurrection road. That’s it–Resurrection Road. Just saying. Deep, man. That Wade’s gotta know something. Respect earned, you gotta say it.”

I hung back as they shuffled off, turned around and headed toward a coffee shop. In truth, I was looking forward to getting out of here one day, blending in somewhere. Sure, I’ll do my part, watch over whatever is needed. But I have other pieces to put together, just for myself. Still, I like the new name for the intersection. Much better than “Crash Corner”, “Four-way Bad Luck”, “Dark Reiser”, “Punked at Parman”. Yes, Resurrection Road could be the name it deserves, or needs.

Photo by Herzog
Photo by Herzog

Christmas, Anyway

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Jasper Dye was not feeling benevolent toward Christmas and he didn’t apologize. The past five years he’d put up with it. Alright, he maybe liked it a bit once or twice but since the wife was gone he didn’t, of his own volition, choose to meet a decorated tree face-to-face. He had plenty of trees, right out back; they already had decorations courtesy of Mother Nature. He lived on more land than he now needed and could have made money if he sold off a few dozen white and jack pines or whatever people wanted. But he liked their company. Balsam fir, hemlock, black and white spruce, tamarack with some oaks and maples and birches thrown in: they all looked good around his farmhouse. Jasper found it a terrible waste to chop them down for a couple of weeks and then trash them.

His son, Shawn, threatened to oust him from his haven and drag him to Marionville where they could admire the goings on and spread great good wishes.

“Dad! It’s a couple weeks a year! You miss out when you hunker down and refuse all the cheer. You need to stop by our place and see the wreaths Olivia’s made. That woman has skills. Or we can go to her shop, then have lunch.”

Jasper grunted and poked at the crackling fire. Olivia was new to their realm. The way Shawn gushed about her craftiness you’d think he was a real art lover. She’d moved from “down below” and brought entrepreneurial spirit galore, just like other refuges from the cities. Jasper didn’t say it but she would never be enough north country for him. He worried Shawn had lost his sense thanks to her lively looks and ways with nature’s bounty.

“I’m not promising anything. You been ice fishing this week?” Jasper chatted another minute and hung up. He could see Shawn roll his eyes.

The next day he woke up and heard the silence, then saw the new snow. His acreage glistened and glittered like a carpet laid out for a Queen. It was a comfort to Jasper although he didn’t favor the cold like he used to. His wife would have put the suet up and her own quilted and bowed wreath at the door and there’d be fresh bread. They’d make brandy-soaked fruitcake together. He usually got out the wreath, but this year things felt hollowed out and useless. Big Yancy had died last winter around New Year’s yet Jasper still found himself commenting to the old mutt. Between the dog, Shawn and his wife–who had been sick too long then finally let go–he’d had it made once.

After breakfast, Jasper opened the door for a blast of Arctic air so his mind would clear. It felt like a big breath of life. He grabbed his coat and hat. He stepped out and walked down the slick pathway toward the road.

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Down beyond the road was the psychic’s place owned by Heaven Steele. He preferred to think of her as the artist and not mull over the rest too much. Heaven’s glass chimes were unique, melodious, and this time of year she’d reap the rewards of her work. Last summer his vote was still out on whether she was nuts or sort of special, dangerous or good-hearted. He’d determined she was reasonably talented with both her skills. When she’d made him her watchman, entrusting her property to him when she travelled, he slowly opened his mind. He even helped her out with a few cases when clients proved to be a handful for one reason or another. And they managed to save Riley, a young woman from town, from her monstrous father. That had done it; they had good teamwork.

Heaven’s house looked quiet. Her car was parked behind it, as usual, lately. He thought about her tea and company, so headed down the worn path, boots crunching on the snow, hat straps flapping in the wind. His nose ran and his cheeks were beet red by the time she opened a once-green but now yellow door. She’d added a different kind of wreath. Artists! He looked around to confirm it was her place.

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She nodded and let him in. He took in her wavy white hair and violet and brown eyes, all still a shock. She was probably twenty years younger yet beyond age. Jasper didn’t like to think about that. She was different enough.

“Jasper, good you came. I was about ready to go to town. Wait and I’ll get my coat. You’ll come along, of course.”

“Uh, no thanks, I’ll head back up and catch you later.”

But she left him, then returned with voluminous woolen cape and a heap of small boxes which she placed in his arms. She went to her studio again and came back with more in her tote bag. She gave him another bag to fill up.

He started to protest but he saw she could use his help. The bags were laden with her chimes, last minute orders to post.

“I have to send one to Iceland and two to France, can you imagine?”

Heaven unlocked the car doors, they put the bags in the back seat and were off.

Marionville shone like a giant necklace of rainbowed jewels as they entered town. Jasper squinted at the colored lights on buildings, at windows, around lamp posts and wished he’d brought sunglasses. Cherry bright flags were flying for an outdoor holiday market, and Lake Minnatchee was no longer an undulating swath of blue but a frozen playground. He counted twelve kids skating and a few adults. Traffic was dense and noisy, people were laden with bags bulging with trinkets no one could possibly want. He wanted to open the door, make an excuse and run back home. The thought of the steep road back stopped him since he’d neglected to bring gloves. A muddle of anxiety crept up his chest. He swallowed it back.

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Heaven parked a block from the post office and turned to look him full in the face. He froze.

“Go. You will like it out there. You’ll do just fine.” She smiled and her teeth flashed in a shock of sunlight. She patted his arm and got out. He relented and did the same.

Oh, the garishness of it all, he thought, as they grabbed the bags. Why couldn’t people be more restrained about things, keep life simple, not make so much stink over things that didn’t reflect Bethlehem and that star and the Baby, anyway? He followed her, then entered the post office and got in line.

More people spoke to Heaven Steele than him. They felt better about her after ten years, despite her heralding from Chicago and reading the future without even a tea leaf. A few said hello to him, acting as if he’d been gone for months when Jasper had come into town three weeks ago for supplies. They buzzed with curiosity: what had he been up to, and had he given thought to a another dog yet and, man, that Shawn had sure found himself a winner, hadn’t he?

“Doing fine, no need to replace Big Yancy. Yes, Olivia’s okay. Just came down to help Heaven with her orders.”

When they finished business, he headed back to her car but Heaven didn’t follow.

“I have something to pick up at the bookstore. Then I’m going to the fabric store. Be about a half hour. Want to come?”

Jasper knit his brows at her, waved her off, and said he’d meet her in thirty minutes. All around him people streamed, lights twinkled until he felt blind and doors opened and closed. When there was a break in the crowd he entered the first place that appealed. His intention was to disappear in some corner.

Inside it was all dressed up, full of beautiful things, nothing he’d want but it smelled good. Berries, woods, something that made him recall the baking he and his wife had enjoyed. A tender melancholy squeezed his heart as he stopped to examine a bird house with a tiny wreath below the perch. Thirty-five bucks when the creatures could enjoy a whole tree for free.

“Mr. Dye!”

Olivia walked with that loping stride, red curls bouncing on her shoulders. She held out her hands and he found himself gravitating toward them. Her strong fingers were warm.

“I’m happy you came to see my shop!”

“Well, I came downtown on an errand and…well, yes, your shop. Shawn mentioned it to me earlier.”

“It looks good, doesn’t it? It’s been almost a year and business is picking up well. Shawn helped me hang some wreaths. Do you need one?”

Jasper studied them on the walls: the source of the fragrances. He admired the shapes, noted natural ribbon and sprays of flowers and handsome feathers. Olivia had a feel for this.

“I’m not a reliable critic of arts and crafts but they look nice. I don’t need a wreath, no.”

The young woman gave him a wide grin. “You’re coming for Christmas Eve dinner, of course!”

He stepped back and was going to note his regrets, say the arthritis had been bad and he wasn’t liable to come back down for a while, thanks all the same. But her eyes were brightly blue with pleasure, excitement shimmering off her. Whether it was the holidays or her success or his son, he didn’t know.

And then she reached for and placed a wreath in Jasper’s hands, one made with a tasteful bow with ruddy berries, pine cones and dashes of greenery in a triangle shape. Small enough to fit his door. Something in him resisted the gifting of it.

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“I couldn’t, really, thanks.”

“But it’s my pleasure, Mr. Dye. It’s the Christmas season, after all!”

The door opened and people arrived; voices and laughter rattled around the warmth. Olivia turned away with a wave thrown back. He hooked the wreath on his fingers and left.

Heaven was waiting for him. When she saw the wreath she knew better than to say one word. He almost suspected she had beamed a message to Olivia, set it all up, made sure he got bit by the holiday bug. His mind was still set on emergency brake mode, but straining despite it.

“Let’s get a peppermint chocolate coffee,” she said and put her arm through his free one, acting like he was a gentleman she’d long wanted to catch up with. It was one of her ways with him.

He was suddenly terribly thirsty. It was going to be Christmas, anyway. Jasper’s will might as well give a little. Then he could return home. Make a good fire. Muse about the wife, Big Yancy, that dinner he’d likely share on the holy night.

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(Painting by Pisarro courtesy Wikipedia;”Winter Landscape” photo by dan/courtesy FreeDigitalPhotos.net)