Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Get Out of Your Living Room

Just over a month ago now, my husband Jacob delighted me yet again with an out-of-the-box type of birthday gift.  In fact, it would have been downright risky unless he had known, as he did, that since the age of 18, before I had even heard of a bucket list, I had a secret and--in my mind--almost impossible desire: to learn to ride the unicycle.

Unfortunately, a unicycle isn't exactly the type of present you unwrap, mount, and ride off down the knife edge of Mt. Katahdin on, playing your harmonica with one hand and waving behind you at your benefactor with the other. That being said, I began learning in the safest place I could think of--my narrow, garishly green, carpeted, log cabin hallway, and after an hour or two of collective practice, amounting in little more than raw inner thighs and aching calves, I moved on to the living room.

The living room venture was a bit scarier at first.  This required a bit more skill than the hallway where, at all times, I had help a finger's touch away.  In order to experience the smooth sailing of the living room, I had to be able to balance not only to the front and back, which I had partially mastered, but from side to side.  It meant leaving the safety of my "crutches" and pedaling headlong into a room riddled with piano stools, log support beams, and sturdy reading tables.  Sometimes I shook so badly that I could not leave the "starting gate" of the hallway.  Sometimes I could force myself to brave it and went careening dangerously close to the piano, ending in a crumpled, knock-kneed heap.

Over time, however, the living room became "my place"--much more of my place than the hallway ever was. I would proudly tell all who would listen that I could ride my unicycle across it.  It was a tremendous milestone.  And so I stayed there, successful, content with my six feet of progress, safe within the walls of my home. In fact, I did not move for a month. I expected to learn it all right there--the turning, the stopping, the idling, the hopping, and for right now, the plain act of riding.  My tire was clean and brand-new, and I didn't want that to change.

Yesterday was one of my first days of discontent.  I began to feel stifled--as if I might do better elsewhere.  After practicing for a few minutes in my happy place, I took a deep breath and ventured with my shiny unicycle out the door to the driveway.  It was intimidating.  It was new.  I balanced myself against our Toyota Tacoma and took my first try--yep, about six feet of progress. Then two.  Then three. Then six. Then four.  This was normal. But then ten! Then seven. Then six. Then twelve! I shrieked and ran inside, babbling to Jacob about what had happened.  I put my unicycle away, not wanting to ruin the magic.

But then it happened again today.  In fact, it more than happened.  By the end of twenty minutes, I had ridden nearly fifty feet once and about half that a number of times. And of course that got me thinking.

We are content with so little. What if I had stayed in my living room? True, there wouldn't have been any mosquito bites. No bumpy rocks to roll over.  No ant hills or grassy humps.  But no 22 pedalings either.  No 48 feet of distance traveled.  No multiplication of blessings and balance and patience and perseverance.

And so I wonder. Does God have more in store for me?  Are there other areas in my life in which I am stuck in a happy place that is no longer challenging me to grow?  God forbid. Let me not be like a wee turtle only growing to fit the size of its glass-encased dwelling.  God has set me free!  May I move ahead where He leads into the vast expanse of His great universe.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Teacher Appreciation

Some teachers get:

Free Chipotle burritos (because Chipotle chooses their burgeoning town)
Roses smothered in baby's breath and stuffed into high-collared crystal vases
Glittering gift cards to the local Barnes & Noble bookstore
Fancy felt-tipped markers.

I get:

One long Lindt truffle
Daffodils picked by 8th grade hands and popped into a cobalt bottle
Narcissus blossoms launching out of a root-packed pint jar
A flowery metal garden spike, cheerfully painted
A heart made of out-of-the-past melted plastic beads
A Pink Lady, a Fuji, or a Gala, taut-skinned and crisp
Cookies, still warm and breathing heavily from their adventure
A rotund owl who looks at me all day, unblinking, till I turn him to face my students
And an aquaponically-nourished, fish-poop-fed, glowing orange orb of perfection
Which I can't quit staring at.

They may get nice things,
But I get love.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Seek the Sunny Places

I saw my first spring snake today.

Thorne and I were out for a 3:00 Friday afternoon run--he, dashing in front of me with puppyish glee,  bouncing from scent to scent with flopping ears, I slogging on behind with pounding feet and flapping hair.

For some reason or other, the snake did not catch Thorne's attention.  I suppose the hound in him was much more interested in the deer tracks imprinted deeply in the trail ahead, or the pointer half more entranced by the turkey droppings deposited along the edges of the two-track. In any case, by the time I reached the snake, a little Garter, Thorne had already hopped over him, oblivious to the little life below.

The snake was a slender fellow, about 15 inches long, a thin ribbon stretched out full length in a patch of sunlight.  His head was reared up, his tongue flickering about his lips, his eyes unblinking.  He did not move as my feet thumped closer to him, or even when I, too, had sprung over him.  He was enjoying a patch of warmth and happiness and apparently he was not going to move for much.

I couldn't resist.  Stopping and retracing my steps, I gently touched him with my shoe.  He didn't budge.  I nudged him a little harder.  And then it was as if he was suddenly awakened out of his reverie--beginning a rapid slither out of his sunshine and into the shadows of the swamp several feet away.

During these unpredictable spring days when we might yet have a few flurries in the air or when, a few minutes later, the sun is strong enough to cause the temperature in my greenhouse to rise into the 80s, I often find Thorne, as well, in the sunshine.  He doesn't mope around in the cold dark corners of our log cabin, whining and shivering.  He seeks for the bright places, the cozy places, the golden places.  He basks there, soaking them in, relishing them, contentedly snoozing, his whiskers and toes twitching as he dreams of wild squirrel hunts and tantalizing bunny chases.

And so with the snake.  It is a little early for him to be out, weather-wise.  It frosted every night this week except for one.  Sunday and Monday were days of cold rain.  Thursday was warmish but whipped about by a cool breeze.  But he certainly hasn't gone around grumping about it.  He follows his nose to the happy spots and stays there, peacefully enjoying the moments and moving only out of mere necessity. He finds the haunts that delight him and rests there, not startled in the least by distractions, disruptions, or disagreements.

Oh, that I might learn from these little creatures!  May my instinct be to search for sunlight, not shadows, for joy, not sorrow, for contentment, not resentment.  May I too seek the sunny places--and may I determine steadfastly to stay there.

Monday, April 25, 2016

A Seed for Living Twice

This will not be the normal "oh-no-I-haven't-written-in-two-years" kind of blog post.  Not because I can't manage to catch up on all the happenings and intricate inter-weavings of the past twenty-four months. Not because of a sense of burdensome guilt about my lack of communication with the world at large.  After 8.5 hours of pondering on the matter, I'm now beyond all those emotions. What's left is the very core of it all--the very center where the seeds are and from which new life can sprout.

It all began this morning when one of my students mentioned something about stickers.  Now you should know that just a week or so ago, this particular student had found some stickers in the trash, pulled them out, and proceeded to stick them about the classroom--on the clock, on the turtle tank, on a classmate or two, and then, of course, on her own desk.  Why?  That is a question that still begs for answering.  But in the meantime, it has all become a fabulous joke.  So when she mentioned something about stickers, I couldn't help giggling with her.

And then I remembered this post from my past and couldn't resist the temptation of sharing it with her or her word-loving brother.  We all laughed.  But when they went back to their desks to eat their lunches, I remained riveted--perusing one year after another of memories, of words, of musings. A thought began to come, one which, at first, I could not pin down and talk some sense into.  When I tried to explain my ruminations to my coworker over recess, I still had not figured it out.  It was on my twenty-three minute drive home from work--after the goodbyes, after the grading, after the mental wind-down--that the thought finally emerged from the rainy fog figuratively and literally surrounding my car.

In those years and months and days of being a faithful blogger, and more importantly, being a writer, I was living each moment twice--the first, as the protagonist, and the second as the analytical bystander, sometimes cheering myself on, sometimes calling out criticisms, sometimes laughing at the ridiculous character I saw before me.  My life was a reflective one--chewed on constantly by my imaginings, mulled over obsessively in my quiet moments, and digested through the act of wordsmithing.  My life was, in those years, an examined life, "one," to turn Socrate's famous quote around, "worth living."  Not because it was seen by everyone.  Not because it was plastered all over Facebook (which I didn't even have).  But because every moment was lived until it couldn't be lived anymore.

That, indeed, is a life worth living, a seed worth sowing.  And April is as good a time as any to begin anew.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Shaking off the Snow, Melting the Frost

Each day now I get a millimeter of tire-tread closer to disaster as I turn onto the mud-spattered expanse of our driveway and attempt to navigate Becky, my tiny Toyota Echo, through the 1000-foot gauntlet of trees and mud puddles to our humble cabin.  Two days ago my car faltered in the fudgey ruts. Yesterday, I spun out for several seconds and began imagining the bother it would be to dislodge myself. Today I was almost too chicken to chance it, but ended up safely coming to a stop in our wet-floored garage, after all. 

The ground squished beneath my shoes as I walked to our door.  Purrchee was immediately at my heels, meowing and purring almost at once, looking up at me with her great blue-green eyes, eager for me to sit.  Even now she is in my lap, upside down, her paws kneading the air, her wet nose pushing against my hand with such force that it pulls her cheeks back from her teeth and releases an extra-loud puff from her purr-engine. Her muddy paw prints are already drying on my school pants.

Spring has finally come to the U.P.

Just the other evening I startled a woodcock while returning from an evening run and could hear its wings whirring as it rose above me and then headed a little further south to find a new place to settle.  Snatches of poetry flitted through my mind.

This afternoon I took some of our students outside for recess and had to step around the shrinking scabs of ice which still rest on the low places of our field. I found myself thinking in word pictures, trying out syllables on my tongue, wanting to glory in the beauty around me in the way I know best.

And so it is time for spring to come to my blog as well.

It's time to shake off the snow of busyness, to melt away the frost of burdens.  Spring is in the air.  Words are once more on the wing.