Fatigue and Fear

Life is hard. You can find the one you love, but death still beats at you and beats at you until you can’t imagine you can keep moving. It might be infertility for some or illness for others, but death wins in the end. On that road toward the end, it may be lovely sometimes, lying in bed with the man you love, or sitting on a blanket at the park, watching him and your boy swing circles on the grass, or it can be a lonely afternoon when you’re so incredibly tired yet you can’t manage to sleep. You’re not sure why you’re so tired, the endless insomnia, maybe. Or it’s the rotten food you’ve been eating instead of healthy stuff with low carbohydrates. It could be fibromyalgia, the way the doctor predicted, but it could just be that you’re getting old and your hormones are confused. That could be why your hair won’t grow the way it should.

And yet the love is still there. It’s intensity surprises you as it aches with the fear that you might lose him someday to his own litany of weaknesses. Does he have heart disease in his future, like most men, like his own grandfather? Will he succumb to cancer the way your father did? He’s had his own serious bouts which have made you afraid. The idea of losing him too soon is there when he sleeps in, when you don’t want to open the door to wake him, yet your urge to just peek to make sure his cheeks are pink overwhelms you. When is too soon to lose him? You both could be ninety and it would still be too soon. Your grandma used to grieve for your grandpa, thirty years after he was gone despite her second marriage to a very sweet man. The true romance, she told you, was with your grandpa.

You sit in your house, classical piano music playing in the background, putting a sound track to your quiet life. Daylight is dimming and you remember that you have always felt melancholy at this time of day, when the light begins to fade and you face another long night of wakefulness while your love gently sleeps. You thought that feeling went away, years ago, in the midst of falling in love, when you were with him at work at that afternoon hour. But when you’re quiet, you know you’ve always felt the anguish of the afternoon. It helps, because he’s back to work after his surgery and your noisy boy is still at school, to have the dog touching his nose to your elbow or knee as you work. It helps to have the cat jump into your slanted lap as you sit at the edge of your seat at the computer. In about five minutes, your boy will help, romping up with hill from the bus stop, sounding like a fledgling, chirping for a meal. Your boy, wearing his jacket of energy, will help.

Here he comes. You can hear him singing. Better now.

Thank you for listening, jules

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Post-Operative Care

I’m so tired, I feel like crying. It’s hard work pushing my boy to read and get exercise, keeping the dog walked, and helping my husband with everything from getting snacks and drinks and getting into bed. At least he’s able to be upright now, but his knee is bigger than a football. I guess you’d have to ask if it is bigger than a regulation-sized football and I’d probably say yes. It’s lumpier than a football too. It looks as though he has two knee caps, one in the normal position, and one at a strange angle on the side. Do you remember watching Joe Theismann when that defensive lineman caught him with his shoulder at knee height in 1986?

Nick, my boy, is tired of babysitting Dad and Mike, my husband, is tired of being an invalid. I’m just plain tired. At least Mike is rested enough to set his own alarm for meds tonight. That way I can sleep through two alarms until 6:00am. Will I? I don’t know. I have this way of waking up at the same time each night no matter what.

Here’s my advice to you if you know you’re going to care for someone who gets a torn meniscus trimmed during a laparoscopic surgery:

1) Don’t get sick the week before the surgery. You might feel mostly better in time, but you won’t be able to keep up.

2) Don’t let anyone in the family get sick the week before the surgery. They might feel better in time, but you won’t be able to keep up.

3) Don’t schedule surgery during midwinter break. You’ll still have to get up at 12:30am and 4:30am to administer pain meds yet in the afternoon, you’ll be hauling three boys to Sky High to jump on trampolines while you try to sleep in a cold car for an hour.

4) Don’t forget to board the dog. You won’t have time to run him to the park. If you wait until the last minute, then ask if they have room the week of midwinter break, they won’t. Too many of your friends on Facebook are in Disneyland and Cabo San Lucas and their damn dogs now have priority.

5) Don’t check Facebook when you get a moment to sit down. First, you’ll fall asleep if you sit down for more than ten minutes at a time and second, you’ll harbor a cold and jealous place in your heart for those who traveled to beautiful vacation resorts and posted photos of frosty fruity drinks with a beach sunset in the background. You won’t be allowed to do to these people what you are thinking, but just in case, maybe you shouldn’t schedule lunch with any of them after the break is over either.

5) Don’t let the surgery staff convince you to take the last surgery of the day. They’ll push you out the door too quickly and, when you have to call the on-call doctor at 1:45am , he won’t call back. You’ll have to call again at 2:20am to tell him your husband’s heart rate has been 120 for the last three hours, and even then, he’ll sound annoyed that you called and send you to the ER anyway. Your husband will bleed on your white carpet on the way out of the house and on your light tan upholstery in your car on the way to the ER, which you may or may not remember how to get to at that hour with a residual cold making you dizzy. When you finally arrive at the ER, it will be 2:55 am and your son will flop his entire body across your lap in those upright little chairs because he is rightly tired. No one will ask if you are tired. By the time the ER staff confirms what you told them that you suspected when you walked in, which was that your husband was having a bad reaction to the pain meds the surgical staff gave him but can’t positively identify over the phone and that he is not, in fact, having a heart attack, it will be a beautiful dawn outside. You won’t want to see the beautiful pink and orange dawn at 7:25 am on your way home from the ER.

Oh, I’ve lost track – 6) Don’t get everyone in your house used to having fruit smoothies and omelets for breakfast. That way, when you come home at 7:35am after a night in the ER, you’ll be able to throw Cocoa Pebbles and Captain Crunch in bowls and put milk on the table, except for your husband. You can have your boy pour the milk for your husband.

7) Freeze food ahead of time they way they tell you to do when you’re going to have a baby. Pizza gets old and you don’t have time to cook. Even hamburger helper will be too difficult for you to manage.

8) If you haven’t already done it for football season, install a mini fridge next to the couch, then stock it with junk food and sugary drinks. That will cut your kitchen experience in half. You might also install a toaster oven above it to further reduce your kitchen time by a third.

9) Let the dog chase the cat. It should be the only exercise that the dog needs, except maybe chasing a ball the bored boy throws repeatedly down the stairs. Both the cat and the dog will live for three days without the dog going to the park. If they don’t, there’s one less animal to take care of.

10) Assign simple tasks to the twelve-year-old boy. He can keep the water dishes and food dishes full for the cat and the dog. If he can’t, you will have one or two fewer animals to take care of when he goes back to school. It’s cruel, but some moms lie and say that the hamster accidentally opened the sliding glass door and escaped out to the forest to live the wild life he’d always dreamed of.

7, wait, we’re on 9, no 11) Buy ice. Your ice maker won’t be able to keep up with demand. On the day they tell you to change the dressing, you’ll get a load of that baseball-sized lump under your husband’s skin and insist that he follow the schedule for anti-inflammatories and ice.

12) Unless you want another mess to clean up, don’t let your twelve-year-old boy watch when you change the dressing. You might want to avert your eyes as well if you don’t want the whole living room to turn into the scene of the Bella’s first singing competition in the movie ‘Pitch Perfect.’

13) Don’t tell the neighbor boy that those dried brown dots that are still on the carpet and the foyer floor are blood unless you want to reenact the scene from the pie-eating contest in the movie ‘Stand By Me.’

14) Don’t let your son’s friend invite him over to play on the day after the surgery. He and his mom will text you five times in two hours, trying to confirm the time and pickup location, while you are trying to sleep three hours before your husband’s next scheduled medication. Your husband can’t be trusted to administer his own medication because he’s still loopy, and has an elevated heart rate. Besides, you need your son to sit next to your husband and fetch snacks and water the way you did for him the first eleven years of his life.

16, oh hell) Sleep in the guest room. You husband won’t want you accidentally touching his knee, not even with your frozen toes after he’s stolen all of the covers. You don’t want to sleep on the remaining slice of the bed after he gets situated with all of his supportive pillows. And he’ll want to turn on the TV at 3:36am when his knee hurts and he can’t sleep and that will wake you up. Draw the blinds in the guest room and turn off your phone.

15) Sleep when the baby sleeps, when he’s watching TV, when he’s reading a magazine, and when he’s playing video games, and ignore your phone when he texts you in the middle of the night because his knee hurts. It’s supposed to hurt, dammit. He had surgery on it two days ago.

Thank you for listening, jules

Band-Aids and Blood

I have a right to be tired today since yesterday, I spent the day waiting in a little green room for Mike to get out of knee surgery. Waiting, when it comes to surgery, is exhausting. Then, I should tell you about how we met Bob later, Bob the night nurse. Bob ran a tight ship. There was no blood on the sheets, no bandages under the bed, and the heart rate monitor was silenced, though it displayed Mike’s heart rate as wobbling between 118 and 121 for all to see. Bob was a good nurse. The EKG was over and done before they seemed to have time to print up the sheet for the doctor. Efficient. I think it’s good for Nick to see people like Bob doing his job. Bob was tough. You don’t mess with Bob, but he was a nice nurse, a caring nurse. Huh.

Plus, the doctor at the ER was this tiny little woman, a smart woman, who flounced into the brand new patient room where we were sent when we first arrived, began to ask us questions about Mike’s heart rate, which was too high for too long, looked embarrassed for a moment, then told us she’d come back in a bit after the nice Hispanic guy was done putting about fifteen electrodes on Mike’s chest and arms. Our floucing tiny smart doctor was surprised, after sending Mike for the warming effect of the contrasting MRI and the half a gallon blood draw, that oxycodone could actually wake some people up and make their hearts go boom, boom, boom too fast for comfort. I was surprised about that too. Oxycodone makes me sleep and when it wears off, I wake up feeling as though I’d been dead. We also discussed the warming effect of the contrasting MRI until our sweet smart doctor turned a little pink and changed the subject. I had one of those MRIs. It made me feel as though I’d peed my pants and I’d been glad the technician had warned me ahead of time. I didn’t say anything about peeing, but she was embarrassed anyway.

So we all got home from the ER at about 5:30 am, just in time for me to make breakfast smoothies and go to bed. Unfortunately, in the four hours I slept, people strategically sent text messages at half hour intervals so that I slept no more than 45 minutes at any one time. Those morning people.

So it isn’t surprising to me, after taking the dog for a very wet and muddy walk, stopping for three kinds of macaroni and cheese at the market for our taste testing, the market where they hugged me when I told them about how I’d pulled an all-nighter, and stopping to get three movies, some music, and a book from the library, it was hard for me to get myself up off the recliner to make dinner. Mike was toe to toe with me, only in his spot on the couch, his bad knee properly propped up above the level of his heart, which reasoning we discovered late last night when Mike tried to put on his own shoes to get ready to go to the ER and left droplets of blood on the foyer floor. So having him so close, mostly comfortable, and normalized when it came to his heart rate, I eased out of my adrenaline rush and into those first warm, fuzzy moments of sleep. I felt as though I was going down into an oxycodone-induced sleep.

“What’s for dinner?” Mike asked me. It was nice to see he’d gotten more interested in food. I had to work to open my eyes, just a little.

“You’re options are left-over roast chicken that I bought yesterday, but no one ate, chili, or Dijon chicken I picked up from QFC,” I said. “Personally, I’m in favor of making the dinner that asks for he least amount of effort.”

“Roast chicken sounds good, then,” Mike said, still with interest. This is why I love this man. Did I tell you how, earlier, when I got to the dog park, there weren’t any other dogs there and I walked around the grassy knoll with Teddy, looking for stuff to take a picture of? Did I tell you that I ended up bursting into a flood of relief tears.

“He’s okay,” I said over and over, out loud as I walked, because I could act like a crazy woman without anyone seeing or caring out there in the blustery day with my dog. Then, thankfully, other dogs didn’t arrive until my tears dried and I began to look more normal, though I had a pretty nice case of hair-fuck from being up all night and not showering. Teddy had some time to roll around in the mud with a couple of good friends, tugging on sticks and chasing tennis balls in the rain.

It wasn’t until I got settled onto the recliner later that I felt the weight of my fatigue. I’m not as resilient as I used to be with these all-nighters. This wasn’t as much fun as they used to be either. Some day, I’ll tell you about how I sometimes watched the sun rise in New York city from the vantage of our favorite Greek diner. There’s nothing like a Greek diner after a night of disco dancing with your friends.

It took me at least twenty minutes to get upright from that recliner. I had to fight to do it. Then, I went about the difficult job of microwaving and steaming different parts of dinner, old roast chicken, asparagus, green beans, and used cauliflower. I wondered why my friend, a year ago, insisted that I break each piece of asparagus individually when I could test one of them to see where it broke off and cut all of them the same length in one whack. For grins, I broke each one individually and found that, in the extra two minutes it took to snap each twig, drop a few of them onto the floor, and rinse them in the steamer, I could have cut them all the same length, which is how they ended up anyway. Why wasn’t my friend here now, willing to watch the results of my experiment and be amazed?

I wondered why my lemon pepper smelled like a band-aid. Does lemon pepper always smell like a band-aid? I’d appreciate if you’d go to your cabinet and check that out. Does your lemon pepper smell like a band-aid? I used it anyway. Mike didn’t seem to think it was at all grotesque, though the time when he found a band-aid in his pizza, he kind of went off eating for a while. We got a free pizza out of that one, but who wants a free pizza from a place where a band-aid turned up as a topping?

In my reverie over the band-aids, I learned that steam really does burn hotter than boiling water. How can you get burned by water and steam in the process of making one dinner? I did it. It was a challenge, but, man, I’m up to it.

By the way, the dog refused to clean the spilled parmesan and the asparagus butts off the kitchen floor. Damn dog. Don’t you remember how I dragged my sorry ass out in the pouring rain, that kind of rain that blows the hood off your head so it can wet your miserable looking hair?

Yup. I tell you. It’s dark out now, so it must be time for me to go to bed. Besides, I feel too tired to even eat my dinner. Maybe it was the smell of the band-aids that put me off.

Nope. I’m just tired. It’s 6:56pm and it surely must be time for bed, or rather recliner. Mike is stuck on the couch for one more night and I’m on call to walk with him if he needs to get to the bathroom to pee.

Thank you for listening, jules

Bully

You listened to this poem just now. Did it make you feel some deep silence after it was done? Did it leave you needing to think about that time Virgil called you ‘dirty underwear’ while you tried to ignore him on the big swings. You liked the big swings, you tried to think, while Virgil continued to shout, because the chains went higher and you hung in midair for just a little longer before it was time to fall down again. But Virgil was still shouting when you fell back and forth, back and forth.

It was hard to concentrate on the swings, though the wind of it lifted your beautiful brown hair, because Virgil was spouting his vile message for everyone on the playground to hear. Virgil’s deafening shout crushed the sound of your hair across your ears, that sweet ‘shush, child, shush’ sound it made. ‘Shut up!’ you wanted to say, but you didn’t because you were only in third grade and Virgil was in fifth, already broader and taller than almost everyone in school. ‘Shut up!’ you wanted to scream at him, but you didn’t because you were still little and you were afraid that if you did, a crowd might form to try to hear the words he was saying. ‘Shut up!’ would only amplify the nasty words he called you as you pictured the big dirty underwear that the lady down the highway in the whitewashed gray house used to hang on the clothes line. Didn’t she know that you could see them there, with their yellow stains taunting you? Dirty underwear, dirty underwear.

You swayed in the swing, the sound of his words ringing in your ears until tears nearly sprang from your eyes, until bile nearly rose in your throat. You swept your feet back and forth as hard as you could, but still, Virgil wouldn’t go away. You thought you might just explode in fear and anger until all at once, you let go of the chains.

You let your body sail through the air, flying higher than you’d ever flown before.

You knew it was going to hurt when you landed, but you didn’t care.

Somehow, you landed on your feet, though the nerves in your ankles and feet rang up to your knees like a bell. Kids turned toward your spectacular fall, hoping to see blood, crying, maybe a broken bone bent in the wrong direction. But instead, you stuck the landing and stayed on your feet, even though it took all of your courage to do it.

You may have wobbled just a bit.

You distracted the crowd by putting your hands on your hips and very carefully, with a loud and firm voice, without a single tear escaping, you said, “Yeah, that’s me, dirty underwear. That’s my name. So what?”

And you walked away, each step clanging the pain in your ankles and feet. You didn’t look back as you walked into your classroom with the teacher who hadn’t heard the name, who hadn’t wanted to hear, who would have done nothing to stop it if she had.

From then on, you stared Virgil in the eyes until he looked away, as if to say again ‘So what?’

But it was on the way home from school, when you could walk through the cool of the trees, when you were alone, that you cried because of what you had done, because it seemed you had taken down those big white and yellow underwear from the clothes line and you had put them on in front of the whole school and the teachers and your parents, because they had become yours.

Because Virgil said so.

Thank you for listening, jules

‘Invisible Man’ by Ralph Ellison

I’m reading ‘Invisible Man’ by Ralph Ellison. Have you read it? If you haven’t, you should. It’s an important book, and better than that, a fascinating book. The funny thing is that its voice is so fresh, so modern. I’ve been noticing that lately, that I can look at something that was created two or three generations ago and find that the voices, the opinions, aren’t old and stodgy, but they’re surprisingly current. Maybe it’s because we’re still dealing with the same problems we faced back then. We still exist in a mire of racism and bigotry. Do we really think we’ve advanced so far? Think about it. We’re still struggling to hold onto women’s rights to their own bodies. There is still incest in the world, violence, corporate control. Oh, Ellison’s book is violent. If you picture it in a movie, it would have to be directed by Quentin Tarantino. Imagine the fight scene of the ‘battle royal’ with the blood lust and sweat flying. No, this book is not outdated.

Sometimes, I get lulled into thinking that our race has evolved, that I might see it in the literature I’ve read. I’m not sure I can. I certainly can’t see anything different in us since 1952, when Ellison’s book was published. Oh, you might argue that segregation is gone, but I grew up in a place where hatred of black men was so deep and dense that there were whole towns that blacks and women attending the University were discouraged from traveling through. Out of arrogance, I drive through, even now, whenever I go back for a visit, but I always think about the story about the torn bodies discovered in the corn field. I think of that whenever I’m driving through there and I can feel my heart flutter slightly in fear. I visit my folks and can still hear the vitriol with which some of their neighbors and friends discuss our President. I don’t even bother standing up for the man, a man whom I admire deeply. I know I should fight the good fight, but is there a time when you should just sit back and let a woman bury her own self with her stupid words about birth certificates and limiting healthcare for the poor? Do the rest of the people in the room hear this shit?

The interesting thing is that Ellison’s book has made me ask a question that posed itself a couple of times in my life. Can a white woman really cross the barrier to have black friends? There are so many questions I want to ask about a black person’s experience, but I don’t seem to be allowed to ask. I know their culture is separate from mine. Why am I discouraged from asking? When I meet a person from Germany, I don’t feel the same discomfort, though I ran into something similar to it when I got to know a neighbor from Mexico. I liked this woman, but she was uncomfortable talking Spanish with me. I just wanted, dork that I am, to learn the language a little better. I can read a bit of Spanish, but I’m incredibly awkward at speaking it. It would help if I’d ever visited a Spanish-speaking country. But she didn’t want to embrace her own language, preferrring, instead, to take up English, to take on any of the stylish fads from the culture here. Her own children couldn’t read in her native tongue. I just wanted to know more about how she’d lived. I suppose I could have told her what it’s like to be a middle-aged fat woman in this country.

But here, in this country, there are different cultures, not just those created by recent immigration. I know. I grew up in one, the Midwest, moved to another after college, the East coast, and now live in another one entirely, the Pacific Northwest. And yet, here, where there is so little diversity, I still want to ask those questions about experience, about values, about perception. It’s fascinating to see the variations in the way people live, and the ways that even a wildly different culture is the same as our own.

For that, I wish I could thank Ralph Ellison. Oh, I’m not saying I can understand a whole culture based on one book, but in this fiction, in ‘Invisible Man,’ there are the words of one black man’s voice, and there is power in that voice.

Thank you for listening, jules

May You Live In Interesting Times

I don’t have anything to write about. Not really. I know I should go straight to bed at this hour, but I’ll be happier if I get something down.

On paper, I thought, but it won’t be on paper, will it?

I wondered, after hearing that Barnes and Noble is closing down a third of their bookstores, if I should be hoarding my existing books. Should I? Will books even be in print in twenty years? Will any brick and mortar bookstores exist? Should I head over to the used bookstore and buy back my fifty favorite books? How could I decide which books to buy? How would I protect them from disintegrating? It’s not like modern paperbacks are meant to last.

It seems to be a horrible time to be a writer. There are millions of us out there, scrabbling to be read, in print and online, but the possibility of feeling the physical weight of my words seems to be dwindling. I suppose stats will be the way to feel the weight of one’s words in the future. Personally, I keep a list of countries in which I have been read. It’s satisfying, but is it the same as holding a new book in your hands?

I’m whining. Forgive me. If I could choose a different art form, I assure you, I would. Maybe I should be carving my words onto stone. Maybe I should try carving walking sticks instead, take up painting or architecture. At least those things can’t run off through the Internet. Well, maybe they can. I look at online art more often than I see the physical works. Maybe I should learn how to create game apps.

It’s truly odd to think of what has gone defunct in my lifetime. There’s the eight track tape. No surprise there, but the cassette tape is gone too. CDs are on their way out. Typewriters with dried out ribbons are sitting in people’s basements. Mimeographs are long gone along with carbon paper and whiteout. Teachers aren’t teaching cursive in third grade any more. Video cassettes are defunct, though the word persists. Publishing houses have shrunk or vanished. Even email is passe. Newspapers, or at least the big ones are almost entirely online. Articles are shorter now too. Did you notice that? I really don’t like reading a ton of words on a computer. It gives me a headache.

So, I know I’ll be reading books on an electronic notebook before long. I’ll have to. I hear people tell me they love their e-readers. I get it. I really like the blogs that I follow. I hear local news on Facebook. I tell you that it was exciting when a gaggle of women were posting about helicopters flying back and forth over North Bend when that crazy guy barricaded himself into a bunker on Rattlesnake Ridge. Now, that was news. And it really is a better way than a dry newspaper article to find out what’s happening in the PTSA. On Facebook, I’m hearing it straight from the PTSA leaders themselves. So, I’m not against all the changes.

It’s just that life seems to be changing faster and faster and yet the things that are disappearing feel only vaguely lost. How long has it been since you thought about the last time you used your typewriter? For me, it was a college poetry class. And this thing with bookstores snuck up on me too. I was shocked when Borders went out of business. Now Barnes and Noble is reeling in its lines so as not to lose the fishing pole altogether. If they disappear, going for coffee just won’t feel the same. Will coffee shops disappear too? I ask you, who actually sits down at those sad little tables by the espresso stand at grocery stores?

Someone told me, once, that the Chinese have a curse, “May you live in interesting times.” As a writer, it does feel that way, that I’m living in interesting times. And, yes, it feels like a curse.

I still hold out some small hope that books will continue to exist fifty years from now, that not all of it will have been sucked online. Maybe it’s a good thing that I learned how to bind a book a couple of years ago. I might need it so that I can ‘publish a book’ in my future.

Thank you for listening, jules

Finding Gifts

I have been in need of gifts. Oh, I don’t mean the kind you get at Christmas or Valentine’s Day. I do not need more stuff. I came into this world with less than I could carry and I’ll go out that way too. Besides, my house is full.

I’m talking about a different sort of gift, a spiritual gift. I’ve been going on quiet walks with my dog, Teddy, and along the way, I’ve been finding tiny miracles. It helps that I’m looking for these gifts now. The first one just sort of popped out at me.

I’d been sick and sick at heart as well. I was also disappointed that none of my walking buddies were around, so I had to walk all by myself that day. Teddy didn’t mind. He was exuberant, jumping around and racing back and forth past me. He probably ran three times as far as I walked. I walked slowly, without enthusiasm. I was cold. Do you remember those days when even the trails had black ice on them? It was during those days. I can tell you that I did not, at first, want to be out there, but Nick had been sick and Teddy had stayed very patient about not getting out for his walks.

Well, as soon as Nick got better, Teddy seemed to burst out of his fur. He understands, sweet dog that he is, when people are sick, but his patience ends when they are on the mend. I headed out while Nick was at school. I was only walking along the trail by Lake Alice road. I walk there so often, I forget to see it, my mind a blur of obligations, errands, and personal drama.

On that first day of the tiny gifts, it was a miracle I even saw my tiny miracle, I was so down in my own sludge, but the air was refreshing and Teddy, who was maybe my first real gift of the day, was so incredibly happy.
Have you ever noticed how hard it is to stay grumpy when you’re with someone who is ecstatic? You’re right. Teddy was my first gift that day.

Then, came a second. I had stopped to spit off the bridge. I started doing that when Nick was younger but I still like to see how long it takes that little glob of spittle to hit the ground below me. It’s a measure of distance, I had told Nick, and we could calculate how far down it was if we tried. (Don’t you love when you’re with a kid and you find physics and math in spitting off a bridge?)

So, when I leaned out over the wooden railing, I notice that frost had gathered there. When I looked closely, there were tiny spikes of crystals, all lined up in rows along the grain of the wood. It was stunning, as if I were looking at a tiny wooden street lined with crystal buildings of all the same height. When I looked up, I could see that the entire length of this railing had the same kind of crystals growing there.

To Teddy’s confusion, I stood there and looked closely at this frost for a while. I hadn’t known how much I needed to see this. It was like finding a Who village on the seed of a dandelion puff, a whole different perspective on something so small. I tried to take pictures with my iPhone, but they didn’t show what I saw very well. It’s like that sometimes, isn’t it, the pictures only reminding you of the neat thing that you saw without really capturing the beauty of it?

When I realized my time was up and I needed to head back, I went back to walking with a different face. I was with Teddy now. It was a lovely day. I looked forward to the rest of it.

The next time I was forced to walk alone, I wondered if I’d find another Who village. I even went back to the same trail, certain that this place held the magic that no other trail would hold.

It was cold again, but not quite as cold as before. I was sad to see that most of the frost was gone, but there it was, another gift, on top of a post on that same bridge. This time, I found a tiny plant, a pale green lichen or fungus. It had red blossoms on it, as if someone had planted a miniature garden on the top of that post. Again, it was stunning on a very small scale.

Then next time I went walking, I found that at temperatures near freezing, which it was, exposed dirt sends up long branches of ice crystals. I was beginning to wonder if I’d stepped into an alternate universe whenever I came here.
I decided to experiment. The next time my walking friends ditched me, I headed somewhere else entirely. This time, I was actually looking for gifts. What would I find? I had my stupid camera ready. I knew I’d never capture the beauty, but that I’d remember it when I saw the picture and that was good enough.

This time, I found art, rusted blue and green graffiti on another old bridge. Jackson Pollock couldn’t have painted it so well. I took a dozen photos, never quite capturing the loveliness of the paint, the rust, and the thick round rivets on the bridge.

Since then, I find that I don’t go out without looking for a gift. They are everywhere, these tiny gifts. I realize I didn’t have to go to a certain place to find them. I only needed to think I might find something if I looked for it closely enough. I only needed to open my eyes.

Thank you for listening, jules