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Moments in the Woods

You know that moment when you’re walking through the tall grass of a prairie in the afternoon sun and the smell of the hot grass, which reminds you of bread just starting to bake, is pushed aside by a breeze so cool and wet smelling you know the woods are near by?

Well, I had one of those moments today and it was glorious.  

Just like the moment, about half and hour later when a monarch butterfly popped out of a patch of purple flowers in the middle of the path and into the dappled sunshine flitting her and there as if performing a passionate tango under the mirrored-ball speckled light of the sunshine filtering through the dancing leaves of the trees around us.

All of which was topped off by the unbounding joy of a friend’s puppy when he spotted my dogs coming round the corner of the forest trail and cantered excitedly towards us—part rabbit hop, part horse trot—with his bubble-gum pink tongue flapping out the corner of his smiling chocolate brown face.

There IS magic in the moments in the woods…

Leaf-ing

My nephew found a golden leaf the other day while we were at my daughter’s soccer tournament.  It was beautiful! And unexpected.  Not in the least because it was early July, and all the other leaves everywhere we look are green.  

Well, or so I thought.  Later that afternoon while lying on a beach, the breeze blew a leaf across my big toe.  It was crimsom.  I looked around with my little eye to see if I could spy a red bush or a Japanese Maple.  But everywhere I looked, the foliage was green.  So I’ve been peering into every tree, bush and brush I see to see what I can find.  

And I’ve discovered that the leaves are very much like the people around me.

Some are thin.  Some are plump.  Some have freckles.  Some have stripes.  Some are damaged.  Some are still budding.  Some are dried up.  Some are wrinkled.  Some are smooth as butter.  Some are glossy.  Some are sunburnt.  Some are clinging tightly.  Some are hanging on by a thread.  Some are close to the trunk.  Some are out on the edge.  Some wave merrily.  Some have turned inward.  

But they’re all feeding the tree.

It reminds me of an analogy I recently heard (or read?  I can’t remember and I can’t find it now).  The analogy was of each person being like a toe or a finger of something greater. 

So let’s imagine that if you are an eye and I am a toe.  It may seem that the speck that gets to you has no impact on me at the far end of the leg, but in fact I’m more likely to be stubbed while that speck causes you to shut down.  And my running into obstacles may seem far removed from you there on the face, but my obstacle may also cause you to cry.

So too with society.

It sounds so esoterical, but I begin to believe it more realistically as I trace my recent reevaluation of long-term plans to a cancer scare for a woman I’ve never met on the other side of the globe weeks after her scare is resolved.  Or as I discover that my latest entrepreneurial idea has roots in a 150-year old plan that never came to fruition, which I wouldn’t have learned about if a hit-and-run accident hadn’t occurred on the far end of my street one Tuesday morning not long ago.  

There are more practical applications I could point out, but most of the ones that spring to mind quickly are examples of bad eggs leading to more rules for chickens, and I’d rather not waste my energy on those.  

So I’m leaf-ing the possibilities to your imagination, and hoping what buds next will help the tree grow healthier, more beautifully and stronger.  

New World Order

And so, refreshed from three weeks of vacation, I return to a new world order.

Even though my home hasn’t changed, my work hasn’t changed, my responsibilities haven’t changed…I have. And so they have too.  Being away from a computer and smart phone and TV will do that to your life.

We traveled about—my youngest and I—during three weeks free of email and Google. We answered our own questions and made our own stories.   We drifted to sleep or dropped like flies after hours and hours of walking, exploring, looking, learning.  Our heads might lay one night in a region rich in culture and the next night in a town of industry.  They may be filled one night with heroes and sport and another night with grapes and fairies.  We might have seen great castles, or walked amid cobblestones; bought ice cream or drank beer and lemonade; heard Rachmaninoff or Richard Clayderman; seen a stork or fields of solar panels.  And what mattered most was finding where we needed to be, eating, writing home letters and postcards, and curling up in a safe place to sleep.

Now back at home, there are obstacles, challenges, pressures, demands, illusions.  Funny how time away from them will change their shape.  Somehow, I see them for what they are and move deftly around them remembering that I have crossed oceans, mountains and borders, spoken languages that aren’t yet my own, and found myself still standing tall.

True, there was one moment when I bowed my head and cried, but that was just as much a teacher as the bleeding edits I received as a college student submitting my first true writings.  And I am better for having been through it.

While I searched for my family of yesteryear, I tasted homemade wine that made me homesick for my family in present day.  While I praised their tea culture, I also discovered their beer.  And somewhere in the midst of all that exploring I tasted the sweetest, clearest, coldest water so that I wanted to return again and again though it lay far out of our way.

This new world order builds on these foundations.  Exploring, walking, eating, finding my way, learning, drinking, listening.  I am better for it, there is no question.  And yet, somehow, I feel more military than usual.  Reading a map makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something important.  Holding still in the midst of panic all around or uncertainty gives me confidence and calm.  Finding a new solution or path or tea shop of book gives me a high.  

Tonight, after a full day of work far from home, I find that seeking a pub to watch the soccer match presents almost more delight than the soccer match itself.  And not just because my team lost.

I guess at some point in my life I would have been proud of that too.  But now it feels rigid and cold, hard and…well, lonely.

There he is—my enemy! Loneliness.

I feel my armor wrap around me and though he gives me a few blows to my heart and mind, I pull myself back together and head out into the night where an artificial lawn is covered with people wrapped in blankets listening to another person’s interpretation of popular country music songs in a fake American downtown. 

Loneliness doesn’t dare follow me there because this is where I remember what matters most to me…and it’s none of those things.  Rather a few minutes later in the comfort of Lewis, my EscapĂ©, I flip on Rachmaninoff and open the sunroof to spot a full moon. I acquaint myself with the map and then take off, inviting…no, daring the wind to join me.  He does.  And I am free.  Free to discover more about life in this new world order.

Unraveling in traveling

It’s nearly 4am here in Germany where my youngest and I are not exactly having the vacation I thought we would.  Every hiccup has sent me into panic, and as with all international travel, there have been hiccups aplenty.  Could it be that I’ve grown fearful with age? (We’ve handled every hiccup with flying colors…but my nerves are shot.). Or is it some health system imbalance? Or maybe when you take a serious break (meaning way out of your daily life for an extended period of time) it’s only natural that you find yourself lost and frightened?

I purposefully have disconnected from most forms of communication and find that I have indeed survived.  That means I haven’t been checking up on work…and about two days ago I was hyperventilating trying to even remember what my daily life and work were all about.  How strange that I couldn’t remember!  

So after a terrible nightmare, I decide to distract myself by checking in (quietly).  Oh my…that was not a good idea.  Suddenly I can’t sleep for another reason.  I believe in work.  I believe it’s quite possibly the greatest thing a person can do in life—provided it adds value.  Am I providing value or manufacturing bullshit like so much of work seems to be these days? 

Meg and I have already visited several major cities in Germany’s South and West.  Munich, Fankfurt and Cologne among them.  And I’ve been completely uninspired by any of it—they’re busy cities just like any other.  They all have churches that make me increasingly uncomfortable about the true role of organized religion for all their dusty golden guilding in their treasuries and edicts and rules. They all have shops and museums to distract you; clubs and bars, wine and beer to anesthetize you; busy streets and beggars to desensitize you; and free wifi everywhere so you can disconnect whenever it gets to be too little or too much.  

It’s only in the parks that I have relaxed enough to smile without any beer or wine to loosen my nerves.

Then late yesterday, we finally made it to the city of my maternal heritage.  Offenburg is a small town on the German/French border.  There isn’t much to do here but hike in the Black Forest just outside the city limits, or walk the Wine Path to the East and North, or visit one of the natural spas.  I think my crisis of this evening hit because I instantly felt at ease—literally the moment we stepped off the train, even though I’ve never been here before and the chances that people we interact with will speak English is now greatly reduced. Maybe it’s the nature of the place—literally surrounded by nature.  Or maybe it has to do with identifying it as a home of sorts.  Or perhaps because we are now exactly halfway through our vacation and this half is all here in this town—no more moving around with our luggage strapped to our backs every other day, catching trains, finding hotels, setting alarms…  No, now it’s about relaxing and finding my roots.  Maybe I’ll finally discover who I am too.

One thing’s for sure, though, the thought of home, my little house with dogs on a quiet tree-lined street in an unassuming neighborhood in tiny Dayton is one thought about returning that makes me almost deliriously happy.  So maybe now I can try to close my eyes and pray for safe, relaxing sleep.

Wee small hours

In the wee small hours of the morning, while the whole wide world is fast asleep, I lie awake and think about how inconsequential my last post really is.  Between the boxer tasting freedom for the first time and listening to personal stories of suffering from WWII (even if from a book), it is such a trivial and possibly mean-spirited post.

I do what we all do now and reach for my phone and find something to distract my thoughts.  An article from the New York Times about “small, happy lives” looks promising, so I click on it and read.  I find more thoughts from WWII survivors.

Is it the deep darkness? Or the resounding silence? Or perhaps the combination of both?  Whichever, I find that everything seems so clear here in the wee small hours. And I wonder if I should give up my day job to live and work in this clarity.  Of course that’s silly.  

So my thoughts wander down the path a little farther and land on a story one of the survivors told about dogs being riled up at the concentration camps then let loose on the prisoners.  It’s a fitting description for my view of the terrorists these days.  And it’s such an ugly description, not just for the imagined destruction, but also the thought that perhaps we see this now as good people who were only looking for some sort of salvation or connection are being warped and twisted into such monsters.

But then my snuggly dog readjusts and scoots up closer to me, still snoring, and I have hope.

The truth of overcoming such horror is also clear…and simple.

Every interaction—no matter how small—every act of kindness, every choice that reinforces our belief in the good of humanity, every smile, every gentle touch, every moment of eye contact, every moment of tough love, every moment of standing up for another…or ourselves, every acknowledgement that raising a child or tending a garden is worthwhile, every time we take or make time to be with or help a friend.  These matter more than, well, pretty much anything else.

Because it’s in these moments we find that we are more than humans, Gentle Penguin, we are divine beings.  As opposed to believing we’re supposed to be living like gods only to feel disappointed by being oh-too human.

For far too long now I’ve believed I’m supposed to somehow save the world with a big hairy audacious goal, something flashy that makes me wealthy.  But day after day, I feel like I’m going crazy, beating my head against a wall, praying that I “find it,” whatever “it” may be. Then I wake up and run around like crazy trying to look and sound important until my stomach hurts, I drink too much and I have no time or patience for my daughters or my dogs.

Laying here in the darkness, I see a touch of light on the horizon, and I feel like I’m starting to see the light.

My mind wanders back to something else I read in the Times article, “to achieve more, tend to what you have.”  I want more love. I want more time. I want more laughter. I want more joy. I want more health. I want more meaningful work. 

Right now, though, more than anything, I want more tea.

Avoidance

Perhaps it’s because I’m listening to Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society on audiobooks and loving how beautiful letters sound when read aloud.  Perhaps it’s because I’m overly stimulated with too much travel, too many new ideas and too much drudgery work still pending before vacation.  Perhaps it’s because vacation is so close.

Most likely it’s because I’m avoiding having to deal with the fairy tale writer’s block I’ve run into during the past two weeks.

But this morning upon checking my email, I came across my third romantic solicitation through LinkedIn and decided to respond.  I am so amused, I thought I would share:

[NOTE:  What you need to know first though, Gentle Penguin, is that in a lonely moment after two glasses of wine in a hotel in a different city about five weeks ago, I signed up for an online dating service figuring it would at least help me ease back into the practice of dating.  My one big criteria is that he initiate the conversation.  I know the experts say I should take the reigns and push forward, but that’s not authentic to me, so I figured it would help weed out the chaff.  To date, out of 40+ “matches,” exactly zero have initiated any contact whatsoever.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not for an instant ruling out the possibility that I might be disgusting or intimidating or uncompliant because I have less than five photos on my profile.]

Dear sir,

Thank you for your message. Since you stressed the fact that you’re looking for honesty, I hope you will appreciate my honest response to your inquiry.

I am interested in finding a life-long companion with whom I can enjoy a traditional and wholesome relationship, and while I see you have many criteria, I have only few—but they are high.

One of the criteria is that he be capable of and willing to lead.  So I commend you on your reaching out to me directly.  It’s rather rare.  I’m not the type of girl to make the first move, so I can appreciate your having done so.

However, I find this type of personal solicitation over a website meant for professional connections rather unnerving.  I hope it doesn’t mean you believe my services to be intimate in nature…for they are most assuredly not.  I’ve taken the liberty of reviewing your profile and reaching out to several of the “connections” we share in common and find they have received identical messages.  

Honestly, it strikes me as spam, and meat-in-a-can and electronic fishing seem rather unnatural and suspicious to me, so I avoid them both diligently.

Therefore, I’d like to thank you for her flattery I assumed from your outreach, even though I now realize it was meant generally for many women. I’d also like to thank you for confirming that I am quite possibly ready to begin looking for a wholesome, honest, life-long partnership and relationship with a good man.  And I imagine it’s awkward to be soliciting affection from many women you don’t know, so I want you to know I admire your bravery? (maybe) or courage? (possibly) or guts? (definitely)

I wish you the best in your search, but please remove me from your list of possibilities. 

Kind Regards.

First taste of freedom

I don’t normally write this often, Gentle Penguin, but I saw the most amazing thing today, and I wished I could have shared it with you.

Theo, Ollie and I were at the dog park—the one with the giant hill.  The sun had risen well above the horizon, but we weren’t tired yet and with a long day ahead of us, we wanted to enjoy as much of the sunshine and fresh air as possible.  

The other dogs had all gone home.  Except for one.  

A brindle-colored boxer sniffed along the fence line in the separate park area at the bottom of the hill.  Her owner, an older man carrying a newspaper and a coffee mug opened the gate to the North side of the hill and began walking clockwise to my counter-clockwise. 

Our paths crossed at the top of the hill, but his boxer was nowhere to be seen. 

“She’s never been to a park before,” he said as he patiently waited to see if she was coming.  “Never been in a space bigger than a closet.”  

I looked at him shocked, if not horrified.  He nodded looking sad.  “I got her Saturday.  She’s two.”  I thought he might cry then, and being a sympathy cryer, I was afraid I would too.  I turned to look for the boxer.  Theo and Ollie were romping like little boys fighting over a toy truck in the middle of the grassy hill.  The boxer was still on the bottom of the hill against the fence watching them.

Just then a tern flew low over the boxer’s head and landed about 10 feet away.  The boxer’s tail wagged, and she loped after it a bit.  The tern flew low and landed several more feet away.  The boxer loped after it again.  The tern flew low up the hill toward the northern point of the park.  The boxer followed loping along almost like a clumsy puppy whose feet are too big for its legs.

The tern flew on toward the fence, but just as it reached the fence line, it turned low and slow back over the dog park.  The boxer followed.  

The tern picked up speed, but not altitude and circled over the grassy north section of the park.  The boxer picked up speed and smoothed out her running.  The tern circled again, low, but not slow.  The boxer ran faster, smoother.  The tern twisted into a figure eight.  The boxer continued to follow and began gaining ground.  The tern flapped and zoomed faster into a circle.  The boxer was now running like a champ.  

The tern circled again, this time diving and swooping up with speed that seemed to mock the boxer…until the boxer kicked in, lowering her head, pushing her front legs out and whipping them back under her like a thoroughbred.

My heart squeezed in my chest and tears pushed at the corners of my eyes.  Every hair on my body seemed to cheer on the boxer.  I looked at Theo and Ollie—they had stopped playing and were watching as mesmerized as I was.  The old man was crying—big, wet, silent tears rolling down his pointed cheekbones and falling off his chin.

The tern circled again then lifted and zoomed over the fence to the tall grass beyond.  The boxer stopped at the fence, looked for a long moment, then turned around and ran diagonally across the hill to the old man.  She stood there looking up at him, tail wagging, as if to say “did you see that?!”  

He sniffed loudly, then reached down and patted her affectionately, “good girl.”

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