A late afternoon in November, home territory. Walking as one is meant to, arms swinging, head swiveling from this to that, feet sure and frisky on leaf-strewn sidewalks. A veil of frostiness overlays an opulent sunshiny sky. The taste and sight of all is clear to the tongue, bright on the retinas. I can feel the atomic life within each cell, a complexity of heat and light as it stirs, an energy of miracles. Brain to heart to sinew fires frissons of electricity.
I look up. Sky cradles a moon that silences the blueness, a small signal of dusk shading transparency. Cold dashes my face, snaps at my heels, scours thoughts. Red and orange, blue and green and yellow: this coloration of life is like a buffet of delicacies, a sustenance of happiness, I think. Spirit billows and thins, a swinging door from earth to universe, all that imbues this day. I gorge myself on aliveness.
The high nests are brittle, birds on the wing gone to exotic places, to beauty of other trees. Except for the crows who cannot bear to leave, and tend to one another, mark my passing with shrill greetings. Suddenly I long for cardinals flaring against wintry plains, festooning treetop bony limbs with their artful attention and a promise of hope, rejuvenation, celebration. I blink at fiery leaves in piles and see strong wings rustling. The birds of my childhood left long ago and yet they still sing.
My lungs fill with this gorgeous air, then my throat closes on a sprinkling of tears: that elegance of snow in Michigan, which fell like manna, yes. And, too, a shroud that nonetheless glistened as it shielded the dead. A desolation of white finery, the land stark but at peace. We attended the grave site as shy visitors, more speechless than prayerful, knowing you were aloft by then. What has exited cannot be called back. And who would want to? This amazement of our doing and being is a sliver of the whole. You are no longer akimbo in the midst of the chaos. But free, yes, that was what you awaited.
The new snow, a veil of tenderness, its cold melted by our soft breath and warmth of this skin that keeps us intact, whole, as long as needed. We touched one another lightly, fragile in the chill and emptiness. Reminded of ties that bind tightly in life, so loosely at the end and we fail to accept either sometimes.
But here, as I continue my blissful Oregon walk, so empty of snow, of dying, of grief, I find all the gifts of the day and its messages: Be not forgetful of the abundance given. Be not greedy for more. Be not angry at loss, for out of loss also comes renewal. Be not wistful for what is done and gone. Be not quick to forge barriers where none are even needed. Be never afraid to live life with passionate love of its entirety. For we are alive this long and no longer.
Be in this momentary grace, treetops whisper as they play catch with the moon, they who see much, keep secrets.
This late afternoon of dying leaves and glow of moon and remembrance of snow, heart deeply beating, body tall and strong, spirit and mind leveraged by a persistent joy. For all of this, I am grateful.
I was moving at a spritely pace through my neighborhood, damp air heated up by sudden sunlight. I took off my gloves and stuck them into a side pocket as I talked with my older sister on my cell. As I wound through the neighborhood, my eyes feasted on purple, white and golden crocus; rosy daphne flowerets; stray daffodils and vivid green sprouts pushing up through sodden grass. Ah, good cheer abounded. Dear A. sounded robust, present. Peace came over me. She’s been coping with cumulative effects of multiple concussions over the past year (major car accidents). She’s the only sister I have left–just hearing her lively voice is a welcome event. She rang off as I sped up.
Strong, energetic: I felt much better than yesterday after a phone call from my mother-in-law stirred up worry. It had led to unsettling contemplation of aging, finances, various persons’ uncertain futures and finally the unstable world. Later, simple sandwich was eaten in the to the fanfare of a televised singing contest. My spouse has been travelling again so there was no one with whom to share criticism or delight. Frankly, it was a relief to get to bed, a fine mystery novel in hand, knowing I could start anew the next day. I was determined it would be a better one.
When I awakened, I felt more optimistic again. I carried out my usual habit of praying and meditating on what was good and meaningful and how I could improve my day and anyone else’s. Next came the daily power walk. Sunshine slid through the slate grey density of clouds, no deluges yet. It’s now March, the calendar states. I should be able to leave my velvety lined gloves home, but I’ve still had to carry them everywhere. I have a condition, Raynaud’s, that causes my hands to become and remain painfully cold when exposed to temperatures under 55 degrees; I keep them covered half the year. But today I decided to take a chance, allow them bright sunlight’s rare, warm touch.
I went farther than usual–legs, heart, mind were inspired by a lovely day. There were hilly areas to tackle, beautiful architecture to admire. My camera got busy. I was thirsty and found a peppermint in the pocket where my gloves were stuffed. Heart rate higher but steady, breathing easy, legs powering as if they could carry on forever. I ran across another busy street.
And then the sun retreated once more. I reached into the pocket for my gloves. And pulled out only one. I had not stuffed them in deep enough, nor zipped the handy zipper. I went back to the corner where I had crossed–it had to have fallen out there. But it was not to be seen. I jogged across and started to retrace my steps. I scoured every sidewalk, peered into bushes, at the bottom of fences and between mossy rocks, in driveways; street gutters, by recycling containers, on steps. Since I walk fast, that glove could have ended up surprising places. I was sure I would find it.
The same thing had happened on another walk in 2014, at which time I also wrote a post. ( https://talesforlife.wordpress.com/2014/01/10/case-of-the-velvety-glove/) I am a decent finder of misplaced items. A distinctive glove, very soft black and silver with a paisley pattern, should not be tough to see. Of course it would pop up again. It had to; it is the only pair of decent gloves I have.
I had been walking nearly an hour, was more thirsty and now hungry. Though energy wasn’t depleted, frustration began to simmer. Where was it hiding? I was halfway through the return walk with eyes scanning every which way, circling back to peruse a missed shadowy spot. And then I stopped. Why was this becoming hard?
It occurred to me I was talking to my sister until that point. I experience a strange semi-blindness about surroundings while on a phone, sometimes even while talking with someone right beside me when I walk or drive…I might even miss a turn (though not truly critical information, fortunately). I figured that was the culprit: not consciously noting every detail along the way when talking, as usually when walking I pay close attention, camera readied. Thus, I couldn’t safely pull to the fore every street and turn I’d made… Was it this corner that turned onto 26th? Was it perhaps 27th, farther down? Or was I on the other side of the street? My usually good visual memory now gave me a hazy picture at best. Other strollers and joggers passed by. I must have looked half-mad as I pivoted then tuned again; paused, then started in another direction. I even retraced those steps as I was sure it was one street, then more certain of another. I tried to note anything I took a snapshot of but crocuses appear quite similar to one another, muddied grass with mossy rocks much like other spots. I studied houses and gardens which I know like my own hand after twenty-plus years living here. And yet I could not say for certain, after a point, of anything. And no glove was anywhere.
I was fighting to believe I would yet discover it, waiting for me along the way. The next few blocks I felt privately embarrassed by all that time (I was out an hour and a half, nearly two by then) and sweaty efforts. My shirt clung to me from fifty degrees temp and relentless walking. And all for the mate of a pair of gloves that cost twenty-five dollars. But I have had them for three and a half years. And I really like them; they work perfectly well. I slowed, took a deep breath, shook out hunched shoulders.
Why was it so important I find something of such ordinary, ever minor, value? Well, they’re my favorite gloves, of course. But it is also how I came to get them.
One autumn week-end in 2013, Marc and I went to Cannon Beach, a favorite beach town. He had been working way too hard, travelling a great deal. We found ourselves on edge, restless for different reasons. How profoundly we needed a getaway. So we were full of anticipation: our special spot, right by the grandeur and music of our gorgeous Pacific Ocean. We looked forward to a beach fire or two; meandering strolls and explorations; seashell, stone and agate hunting. Sleeping in and eating out. But I had somehow forgotten my gloves and the weather could be very tricky.
The first store I came to offered an array of unusually soft gloves that were lined with excellent insulation. I liked them at first glance. They seemed too fancy for random outdoor purposes but Marc insisted I chose a pair. I studied an array of patterns, fingered the velvet texture. When I chose the black and silver paisley design, I felt oddly happy. My hands were warm again, protected by gloves that were an unusual choice for my practical bent. Marc said they were perfect for me. Off we went to the beach. Our week-end was as good as we had hoped.
So perhaps that’s the real story. Why I feel I need that small soft glove. Yes, it’s for warm hands. But he has been working so hard again. Even after a year when his full steam ahead career–and our ordinary days and nights–was interrupted twice by a life-threatening health matter. A reverberating shock for us. It has been addressed but there he goes onto one more plane, gone to put out another “business fire”, to fix what others need done to keep things going. Sometimes he expects to come home, then at the last minute he cannot. At this point–forty plus years in his field–it begins to erode that life-encompassing oomph. He, in truth, has a passion for what he does. Yet the grind, that adrenalin-increasing pressure is intense.
I am used to this after all these years. I go on as usual while I also keep waiting. Waiting to simply catch up, hang out. Waiting to make family plans. Waiting to get something done that I cannot complete alone. Waiting to address long-term vital matters. I make most decisions without him as things need to get done. I am good at operating on my own. I have many interests and enjoy solitude more often than not. I don’t often feel truly lonely with friends and family around. This is the reality we have lived and will until he stops working…some day, I think!
And yet. Sometimes it can be the smallest things that exert the most power. That bring us to the truth of the matter. That glove. I think of it out there on the sidewalk or street getting walked on, run over, wet and dirty. It bothers me. It may even seem nutty or sentimental, but I want it back. And I also want to return to Cannon Beach–or Yachats, Manzanita or Oceanside. Where we will take in salt-tinged, cleansing breaths; talk at our leisure or not at all; make a fire of driftwood as the sun goes down. Read poetry and whatever else to one another. Hold hands as we walk at an easy pace, syncing our strides. Share found treasures at the edge of rippling sand. Hear the ocean telling us to step outside of time, feel the power, hear the music of other realms. Hike deep into forests that cling to coastal mountains and know the trees have been here so long they have seen it all, uphold so much more than we can see. I am immersed in a unity of elements, am right here within it, and am happy. As is Marc.
It is the small things that can have surprising effect, sometimes a remarkable impact. They can make a difference in quality of health, the experience of a day, a peaceable home life. In creative work, a career trajectory, and in a relationship.
I do miss his company. Also my lovely, warm, so velvety glove. I am likely to go out tomorrow and have another look around. It could turn up, why not? But if the search is futile, I’ll return to the little shop and look for a new pair–alas, not the same I am certain– to protect my hands. Then we will take to the beach, absorb renewal as the tides rise and fall within the mesmerizing sea.
Please enjoy a few pictures of the 2013 trip. It is a great place in every season but the mountainous roads we need to traverse can be treacherous in winter.
It had been a stormy couple of days. I mean: wind advisories (gusts to 45 mph), flood warnings, not the usual redundant pitter-patter of fat drops we usually have. I stood on the balcony, eyed the skies beyond rooftops and tree crowns. Sooty, formidable clouds were on a race to another quadrant of the city. There was a loud irritating noise. Something the rain struck created a hard metallic drumming. It had kept me up half the night and accompanied day hours. I went back inside, watched for the sheerest let-up of the downpour. When it came I put on rain gear and went outdoors to identify the culprit, hoping it was not just the rain thrashing gutters making such a racket.
It was an empty metal cube that once held cocoa mix. Odd to have jumped out of a recycling bin but it was a relief to deposit it where it belonged. No more banging to keep me awake. The rain is always welcome. Except for destructive flooding, and the landslides in various spots of our Pacific Northwest, and the muck and detritus it all can leave behind. Still, it is Oregon. We experience this sort of havoc during wet winters and springs.
The air felt milder where I lingered under our apartment balcony. A good walk was in order though it was late afternoon and what little light remained would soon diminish.
My usual steady good cheer had been in shorter supply for a while. A number of challenging life events have plagued everyone from nieces and daughters to sisters to brother and brother-in-law as well as my own cardiac scare. But early December has been hard. So the somber weather was in concert with me and I was drawn into the storm. As I stepped away from sheltering buildings, the wind whipped my hair and I snugged close my coat hood.
And then I found many good reasons to follow my impulse even as rain lashed out at everything and me.
Comfort. Irvington District is orderly, substantial and inviting. It has been designated an historic place. The houses were first built and occupied during the late nineteenth century by a diverse group: merchants, doctors and lawyers, lumbermen and cannery owners, steamboat captains, civil servants and more. They are rather big places, festooned with gardens that tantalize eye and mind, set on larger lots. Often painted colorfully, they are like gems among monochromatic foliage to me. The streets reflect history even as improvements are made. Everywhere are overarching and diverse trees, graceful architecture that includes generous verandas, flower and vine-laden trellises and fences, garages whose often-flat roofs harbor mini-gardens or lounging areas. There are still iron rings attached to curbs for long-ago horses (now with toy horses often tied up). The streetlights are well placed but do not blare upon on my moseying.
I’ve often thought of moving from our newer apartment as there is some redevelopment ahead; it has been too long in one spot, perhaps. But this neighborhood has been my home. There is great comfort in walking these streets. Not many were out that day, though a few walked bedraggled dogs and a handful of kids rushed home after school. Most nodded or spoke a greeting. Of course there are the resplendent gardens and architecture including Queen Anne, Arts and Crafts and Colonial Revival styles, the Victorian with gingerbread embellishment: stunning. But these are family abodes. This alone gives me pleasure, to know that folks play basketball together, youth skateboard and bicycle about; whole blocks throw parties in the streets in warmer weather. Make the effort to decorate with whimsical yard art and also for a holiday or any other celebration. This is a community that builds tiny free libraries on front yards for passersby to use; fly bright banners from porches; install poetry posts with copies of famous or personal poems for walkers to read or take home.
As I went on, soft lights illumined bay windows, those made of stained glass or set in unusual shapes. I could see a person here and there setting a table, working at a desk, standing by a brightly-lit Christmas tree. Then there were gay decorations, voluminous, radiant along darkening blocks, dressing up houses and trees. I walked on as the wind came up.
Hiking boots. That’s right, my Columbia brand rain-proofed, heavy-soled, lace-up boots. They are not very flexible but they hold feet just right. In warm weather I choose to be barefooted or wear minimal sandals but in winter, boots are best for walking in chilly rain. They’re friendly on my feet, sturdy, cushioned but supportive. They protect my left foot, injured first on a steep forest hike last spring and harmed further by a simple barefoot pivot. After two and a half months in an orthopedic “soft boot” that gripped like a vise, I finally was freed a few weeks back. Said foot yet readapts to freedom, and not always happily. Hence, sturdier foot apparel is a boon. The worn, treated suede with rubber, rather expensive boots make it possible to enjoy my daily power walks in winter. The infrequent foot discomfort is bearable, the after effects minimal now.
Those boots (plus a pair of lighter trail shoes), in effect, have saved me. Not walking, not hiking, was an emotional and physical challenge during a time when a family crisis dominated. Without my daily doses of serotonin, dopamine and adrenaline well-pumped through all systems, I struggled to maintain well. I know the body holds deep, ancient wisdom. It will care for us if we care for it, if we heed its cues and take action.
Walking can fix, to one degree or another, most problems if you are able to do it. Ask my cardiologist the most important key to my having outlived a ten year lifespan prognosis following early heart disease at 51: daily devoted rapid walking. I know it keeps me better balanced in all ways.(Other posts are solely dedicated to walking, if interested.)
On to the third thought I had while walking as dusk fell about.
Quietness. There occurred a performance of jazz-riffing raindrops, improvisational movements of air, wetness, tree limbs, mini-flash flooding and my own body moving, moving, moving. Not many others crossed my path. The streets were devoid of typical busyness as darkness crept forth, then gathered itself. Drivers I did see stopped more often so I could safely cross streets. The unrelenting rain and unpredictable wind did not encourage most outside. They were inside, dry and at ease, cooking dinner, tending families.
Storm drains were backing up; puddles becoming small ponds. Jumping over manageable ones and detouring around others, I began to wonder about the crows, now silenced–if they were huddled unseen in trees or if they had flown to better temporary shelters. I half-missed their commands and harping, the commentary on every step I took. But the longer I walked, the rushing, shifting sounds of water falling created a dense hush. It was a stormy winter’s eve and I floated through it. It was all absorbed, was as if being held in a whorl of suspended time. Branches bowed and danced. Rain, deepening darkness, myself being helped along by the wind. No more thought. No more restlessness, only rhythm of feet, legs, arms; breathing in, out; heart muscle responding with little zigzags, then steadily.
I had the neighborhood to myself as evening painted the landscape sterling grey, then charcoal. The aloneness found within nature’s capricious theatre filled me with a gentling calm. Solitude, so resonant. I felt cradled in peace.
Feelings. No matter where I go outdoors, if there is sky, a few growing things, the freshening breezes, then I find my way back to the Creator and myself. As long as I can move or repose under the mysterious canopy of the universe, I move beyond my small self toward much that is larger, better. The connection vis-à-vis sensory input and personal detritus’ output is inevitable. It redistributes the essence of soul and body, mind and emotion. It clarifies what matters.
So all this can bring me to a refined state, a kind of clarity emotionally where the truth of anything cannot be avoided. In the rain-storming winter as I walked my heart knew what it felt and what it could hold and what it could let go. And so I wept. wept for what little I know and do not know, who I have lost and who I have not yet lost. The raindrops visited me with might and sweetness, bathed my face so tears could join the rain, salt water to fresh, an anadromous movement to allow renewal. Simple sorrow rose up to the surface and fell from me. I knew again in my center that all things change and in the end it is not truly one thing or another, it is just part of the whole.
Faith and hope, for me, grows in the living of my prayers. I cannot cling too tightly to this world because its suffering may bend ’til it breaks us, and eventually we will leave it, anyway, all of us. But neither can I keep from loving it. The people in it, its peculiar offerings. I weep when others are in pain, and sometimes, too, when they inhabit joy. And when they leave.
When you walk in the blinding rain within the refuge of darkness you can cry and no one knows. You can cry out and not even the birds will answer. Such weeping likely never goes unnoticed by God. But it is not usually so big a matter that the rain stops and the sun comes out, either. The sky, after all, is freeing its own burdens.
Coming home. After the walk–my silver and black velvety gloves soggy, jeans saturated, raincoat a deepened blue from all that wetness, boots dry inside but heavier, face rinsed of makeup–after all this, I go back home. And the heat wafts through the rooms as soft lights are turned on; the tea kettle is fired up until it sings. I dry out my dampened clothing and get busy. The radio is tuned in to classical music. My husband comes in the door while I am writing and sipping from a mug of robust Bengal Spice tea. He calls out a greeting and I answer, later will share a hug. This way of life easily fills me up. I toil and play and write within its overflow of wonders.
These were my reasons to walk in the winter-born rain yesterday. Tomorrow will bring me other good ones. And off I will go.
This post was written with thoughts of Christmas and family.
In memoriam for:
Marinell, my sister, and for Roland, my brother-in-law. Ned, father of my first two children. Reid, my nephew. May all rest in the realm of perfect Love.
And with love and gratitude for all the rest of my family. You are treasures who are more valued each year and remain in my daily prayers.
Your beauty defines and fills your souls; your courage manifests in lives richly lived although it can sometimes seem a walk through a maze of narrow passageways.
And blessings on all who know the wear and tear of being human and, too, the glory of it.
Striding through the neighborhood, I felt cocooned by rich fragrances the morning rainfall had released. I eyed scenes to photograph and snapped at my leisure. My injured foot, taking months to heal, was holding me up but a slower pace afforded lingering observations. Autumnal changes are often subtle, marked by overlapping cycles of life and death, of dramatic shifts in light and shadow. I am fond of the season and felt at peace with the transformations. How fortunate to be walking at all.
Then suddenly there was a thwump accompanying a light smack on top of my head. Something soft but with some heft had skimmed my head. I heard a brief, slow slap of wings through air. I came to a halt. The mysterious offender had left as soon as it arrived and was now gone. I further examined my head for any clue; nothing hurt. All was unmarred beneath my sunglasses, an accessory added in the dim hope of sunshine. I searched the pewter sky and colorful trees.
There, not three feet away, sat an ordinary crow, fluttering its wings on a big leaf maple limb as it settled down. It looked at me long enough to be a strong candidate for the culprit. I couldn’t imagine why it would want to dive into my unruly, wavy mass of hair. In fact, I couldn’t think quite why a crow would bother with me at all, a regular person strolling, except to make note of my passing with cawing and flying from look-out to look-out.
There are scores of such sentinels in our neighborhood. Their posts change by their own design but they never vacate a block for long. The crows barely note me; I nod at them as we go about our business. My husband likes to talk to them, while I study and admire their ubiquitous presence at a distance. What I know is that they inhabit a lively existence made of intricate communications and a strong social hierarchy. That they are smarter than we imagine. Can even recognize people they have seen and don’t forget bad behaviors toward them. I have read little of them and understand less.
What I feel, though, is that they are powerful, exceeding our simplistic understanding or engagement. The creatures I have seemed most connected to have been wolves and coyotes (perhaps foxes, part of the same family), both of which I have encountered. What I was sensing during my crow visitation was that this bird meant something and I was slow to get it.
Not only had it made direct contact but as I trod on, said crow hopped to other branches, then flew to the next tree, perching on a lower branch. And watching me. Well, what? I asked it. Its head tilted back and forth but held eye contact. We each became still. It is a bit hard to see small black eyes in an ebony feathered head from several feet below it–and on a rainy day–but there was that energy meeting eyes spark. I felt seen and examined even as I started on once more. It flew to yet another tree, a swift ascent in the moist cool breeze. I paused to glance at it; it glanced back. The bird was remaining a couple of feet above my eye level. It was patient, and I was its object of interest. Its intelligence was as clear and certain a thing as mine. Was it considering more swoops upon me? Seized by an urge to walk closer to a stone wall surrounding an imposing two-story house, I fought the impulse to make myself smaller. Wait a minute, this was a foolish response. It was a bird, right? The tiny current of fear passed, and my fascination resumed. But I did not dally, kept forward movement in case it thought I was too long in its territory.
Was it considering another dive? Should I stop to chat like a madwoman? Engage in a stare-down? I thought better of that, as it seemed too aggressive. I wanted it to at least emit a conversational call-out.
The visual exchanges between us continued down the block. I came to a corner. The crow paused in a ginko tree, a couple of branches higher up this time. I crossed the empty street with limping steps as my offended foot began to smart. The crow rose, elegant and efficient, only to descend to nearby branches. I slowed my steps to watch; it matched my gaze with its own. Then looked away. Back to me again. I kept expecting my crow–for it had begun to feel paired with me–to speak its language so I could respond with mine. A deeper exchange of sorts. Perhaps I was just feeling possessive since we had been trying to interpret each other as if on personal terms. It had moved from random to…something more.
Or was I feeling as if insidiously possessed by this crow? I waited for it to notify others as usually happens, or to come upon a gathering of crows. To hear their chatter increase, indignant that folks were crossing invisibly demarcated territory or just unloading urgent information. They did speak with impressive inflection and force. Their presence could seem almost imperial. But this crow was silent. It didn’t appear to be ill or abandoned. Was it alone? Lonely?
I tarried and pondered, tossing thoughts toward my crow: What message have you for me? Did you not like how I moved between the trees? Or that I have my camera at the ready? Do you want something I have? Or are you playing, a wily shape shifter intent on teasing as I enjoy the autumn afternoon alongside your kind?
And then the dogged crow rose from the tree branch and claimed a spot on a telephone line crisscrossing corners. It bent its head to look down on me as I backed up a little, raised my camera, and started to shoot pictures. I captured it, whereupon it turned its back on me, perhaps surveying farther reaches since I was moving on.Maybe it didn’t like being photographed? And so I continued on, but my head still bore the odd sensation of that soft, strong body skimming my skull. It remained with me for hours.
I got a call from my son a little while later. He seems affectionately and well-attuned to animal, mineral, vegetable worlds and, like his mother, to other worlds defined by less tangible energies. He at first concurred that the crow was being playful while doing his work of scouting possible threats. Or an intermediary? Perhaps it could be someone reaching out to me with a message? Well, I do know someone who, now fled from earth, who might consider employing a crow to smack me on the head and say hello. I have read that many consider crows to be considered tricksters, as well as keepers of life mysteries and also magical. They also have often been thought to be harbingers of doom. Crows certainly have captivated the imaginations of many a thinker and dreamer.
My crow snagged my attention, an event not soon dismissed. But all the swirling tangents of leading to dark/light, good/evil–it is more than I care to ponder tonight. I am conscious it is close to All Hallow’s Eve; it may be the joke’s on me. A crow is a crow and I, a human, and we are neighbors. But, alright, maybe more.
As I made my way home, a simple idea came forth. I have walked this neighborhood every day for two decades but very little the last three months due to my injured toe. And since resuming shorter walks I’ve tended toward a different part than the blocks this crow inhabits. So maybe it was just telling me it was good to see me again. I like that thought. If so, ditto, and may our paths cross again (though my chances of recalling this particular crow will be minute while crows recall humans well). I will head out tomorrow, see what surprising things may happen. But my crow visitation–as so often nature’s events do–reminded me how we are aligned and connected to all God’s creature cultures, each meant for its own purposes and part of the miraculous design. I feel gifted with such a moment and such a life.
Perhaps all I need to say is: it was twenty-four hours when language of character failed even when it was most needed. A bridge that never got built. But it seems I must write myself forward, into the next moment, right past the uncomfortable restraints of words. I don’t want to linger on bad talk. I want action and illumination, direction and refreshment.
I walked. I was moving along with speed and decisiveness, engaging in what I have begun to think of as “a small salvation walk”–loosening difficult physical, spiritual and emotional kinks. My legs carried me from street to street, beauty to beauty. My Nikon Coolpix was in hand as I kneeled to capture white and orange daffodil petals made translucent by slanting light, admiring the design of cherry tree branches festooned with blossoms, a dappled blue sky giving it depth. There were imaginative garden decorations, burbling fountains, creatures dashing and dozing. I snapped away as eye to mind to heart worked together.
Photography often intensifies the value of a moment for me. Spiritual vision focuses, as well, while senses praise the external world which sometimes can feel imprisoning. The walking part is crucial and today, more so. I am not a leisurely walker, for the most part. My heart beat harder and endorphins surged, breathing filled veins with rich oxygenated blood. It all conspired to allow the history of the day fade, my worries to blur. But I was not looking forward to returning home, sitting with myself. Thinking once more of angry words that had hit the mark the day before. I felt wounded still.
Then as I started up another block, I heard him. He sat across the street. Perhaps ten or eleven, dressed in white button-down shirt and khakis, he was slumped in the driveway, legs sprawled on cement even though thick emerald grass beckoned. He appeared to be studying an electronic gadget. He was speaking loudly. At first I thought he was talking to someone on a cell phone. I scanned the lovely house and yard thinking there was someone else there, a parent, perhaps. No one was at a window.
He was alone and grumbling.
“It’s certainly not like New York,” he said. “I sure didn’t like that.”
A young girl’s voice floated from an unknown place and was delivered to his driveway. “Well, no. You should tell them. They’d want to know.”
“I don’t really care what they want!”
He was still looking down, as if he was talking to whatever was in his hand. I was almost parallel with him, passing from the other side of the street. I didn’t break my stride even though I badly wanted to because now I was curious and couldn’t help but eavesdrop in such a public arena. I looked around again, but no one else was outside, certainly not near him.
The girl spoke with gentle insistence. “But you should.” She paused. “Do they like it here or there?”
“I don’t know. They don’t say, exactly.”
I climbed up a hilly spot when a small movement to the left (my side of the street) caught my eye. One more house down, past bushes, was a girl about the same age. She sat on the top step, hands on knees as she leaned forward. The house was big, green, with a wide porch. Her hair, golden brown in the rich light. We didn’t make eye contact. She was staring across the street even though it was unlikely she could see him, at least not in full. But she kept talking as I walked by.
“Maybe it was just a fly. It could have been a fly or another bug, maybe a flying beetle in the room.”
“Not sure. It was dark. I don’t think so.” His words arced, floated and landed on her steps again. “But maybe it was…”
“You should tell them what you saw, anyway. Lots of spiders like houses here.”
She didn’t sound worried, only clear about what he ought to do.
“It’s sure not new York, that’s all I have to say.” He was adamant. A little discouragement along with resignation. “Oregon…”
I paused then, out of sight of the girl and the boy, wondering what was next. She was silent. As I started again she said something with the certainty she had shown from the beginning, but her words were quieter, floated and dissolved before they reached my ears. Two voices mingled as I gained speed. Crossed to the next corner, next block.
I felt as if I had experienced one of the best conversations I’d had the privilege to hear in a long while. The boy stated his issue (even if I hadn’t understood at first). He let the girl know he was unhappy with something, and that New York was different. The girl responded with assurredness but some concern. He was frustrated with his parents and she accepted this. They shared thoughts succinctly, opinions coming forward without argument. She did not give up her theme. He continued to affirm his feelings while noting his experience of an unwelcome insect. He might or might not take her advice into consideration, especially because here is not where he was used to being or knowing well and that was a mighty fact.
But she didn’t go inside; she kept communicating. She likely knows that some spiders in the Northwest leave a painful wound when they bite and carry poison, but some leave people alone or take nibbles that do not cause real harm. They are master weavers and busy at it–I run into webs everywhere, some silken designs being gigantic–and insects of all sorts are rousing in spring warmth. As far as spiders go, the one the boy may have seen could have lived in that room (his?) all winter long and either is moving back and forth across the wall or ceiling or hanging by a silken thread, Perhaps dead. He didn’t say enough for me to be able to sketch the whole scenario. He didn’t compare what he saw to that with which he is familiar in New York. From which he may have recently moved. (I wish I could have said: “I know what you mean, it isn’t my home state of Michigan, either, but it is amazing here, too, just wait.”) I could speculate all evening and then some.
But the two of them knew what they had to say and they were straight forward. Concise. Reasonable by any brief assessment. And it wasn’t just the girl who cared enough to participate. He likely began the conversation with a complaint. But he heard her. He took her words in, responded and shared openly. They were, by all appearances as I passed through their volleying words, friends. Even good friends, sitting in the last afternoon light of March, caring little what anyone else on the street thought. Creating their own privacy as it was just the two of them. Talking together.
Why didn’t he go to her house or she, to his? I wondered. But sometimes it is like that, you are doing something and then a conversation begins and on it goes, even without being face-to-face in the same space. When you are a kid, it is like that more, I suspect, and it progresses differently than when you are an adult. It can be almost offhand even when serious. Time is less critical and counted, feelings run like rivers, one into another. I have noticed over the years that children construct a whole other world and they spend far less energy caring about what neighbors or strangers think. Or precisely what words to use. They seem to use far fewer but incorporate them better into real, of-the-moment talk. They haven’t learned how or when to use the worst things that can arise from the subconscious or a store of unfortunate but readied epithets as can happen as adults. They haven’t stuffed, even hoarded an abundance of emotions so that, when given rein, they can make an unholy mess.
My walk ended well with more flowers, other children laughing and playing, dogs getting frisky and cats slinking by. Those two kids, though, followed me home. I sat with their words and small faces, recalled their perches on driveway and step. They had called to each other across the gap, reached out with meaning but with no hidden implications or grave mistakes. It was a beautiful thing.
I didn’t know what to write. I still harbor sadness. Being an adult can seem unfair, is complicated and tricky despite the training we receive all our lives, the intelligence we think we have. The hearts we love with and try to make strong. It takes a willingness to be braver and say what you think, share what you feel, dream aloud and note an error made. And for this writer it is sometimes necessary to take “a small salvation walk” outside of myself, to remember that living is an art as well as a challenge, perhaps to some a game, to others a burden. I once wrote in a poem that “making a life is a small pause on a thin reed and growing wings”. I have to discern how and where I can fly, only to alight and take flight in all conditions. I’m still open to change, to learning more about heaven above and earth below and how to navigate it all. I know I don’t always land with great judgement or take off well enough.
But I can say that I am often blessed with lessons needed; I am not alone in this. So, thank you, kids. You were as a balm to heart and soul. Stay there for one another if you can, at least for a while. And may my lips speak as well as did yours, in truth and kindness.