Friday morning I drove down the hill and over the state road to the local auto repair shop. My power steering had gone away two days before, making steering around corners an upper-body workout, and only comfortably do-able if I rounded them on two wheels. Some of the roads here are narrow, with deep ditches; the two-wheel cornering was a little treacherous in spots. I showed up at 8:50 for my 9:00 appointment, thinking I would wait, wandering around outdoors taking pictures, and then sail off with my smooth steering restored. I asked TG where he wanted me to wait, and his eyes widened.
"You're gonna wait?"
"That was the plan. If that's not a good idea, I'll make other plans."
"It could be two, three hours before we even get the parts. And then there's puttin' 'em on..."
"Okay," I said. "I'll figure out something."
I went outside, checked my contacts on my cellphone and realized that everyone who might give me a ride home was sixteen miles away, and at work. So I set off to walk home.
I had plenty of time, and it wasn't raining. It was a good day for a long walk with a purpose. When I was a country kid I walked everywhere. I knew every tree root and hanging grapevine on our road. They were landmarks to me: far from home; closer to home; almost home. Walking with the goal of getting somewhere has become a rarity in my life. Sometimes I think of the old days when traveling took as long as it took and people gained hours of thinking time while they journeyed. If people got along better then than they do now, I think that's part of the reason. I thought the mental benefit would justify any physical discomfort I might feel.
It was a pleasure to walk on nice smooth pavement, much easier than tottering through hayfields on wobbly ankles. I happily admired the surrounding hills and stopped to investigate small orange flowers I had never seen. The road sloped downward at a very gentle angle and I was having a good time. Where the road curved, and my walking lawfully facing oncoming traffic might present too great a surprise for drivers, I crossed to the other side.
I heard a distant bang . . . bang . . . bang: Somebody pounding in a stake. A goldfinch dipped past me, a bright ball of sunshine on the wing.
Not a sunny day, but warmer than it had been. I grew a little moist. I took off my shirt, threaded it through the straps of my purse and my camera bag, and continued on in tank top and jeans.
Just at the curve, I stopped to watch and listen to water gushing out of a culvert to continue its flow into a stream bordered and dotted with steppable rocks, overhung with tree branches. I noticed how large the "curve" sign arrow was. It didn't seem that big from inside a car. "This is the beauty of walking," I thought, "Seeing things that I hadn't noticed ever before." After my breathing was a little back to normal I went on, and crossed the road again to accomodate another, opposite, curve.
On my left, thistles in fuzzy purple bloom, and roadside chicory, such a peaceful blue. ("During the Civil War they used chicory in place of coffee.")
I heard brook-babble and was delighted to stop and listen to that, seeing exactly where the water's drop over a particular stone made the sound.
I thought about unpacking the camera, but the deerflies have hatched and continued movement kept them at bay. Still, I carried one on my head.
I could feel him there, tasting the moisture from my scalp. I passed a hound who dutifully ran out from his house barking and meaning to look scary.
I thought if he bit me and I had to stop, that wouldn't be so bad. But I looked at him and kept walking and he retreated to his porch (I think. I didn't look.) satisfied with himself. "There. Scared another one off." I began to notice the squashed plastic cups on the road's shoulder.
There, around the last curve, the foot of my road. Like the Rocky Mountains to westward travelers, it seemed so close. I accommodated a painful callus on my left foot with a small hitch in my stride.
In the cool of the mouth of my dirt home-road, I stopped to enjoy the breeze that blew down the leafy channel from the top of the hill. I eyed the upward slope. I savored the small trickle of the runoff in the ditch. And breathed. Only a mile left and I would be home. I hummed the tune of "One more mountain, One more river, One more mile and I'll be home..." Stopped humming: needed air for other purposes.
One more mile. All at an angle. Upward. On a stony dirt road.
Inspired by my neighbor who frequently walks this road despite the onset of Parkinson's Disease, I began to count steps: I would stop every fifty-second step. If the road was a mile long, ten sets would see me at my driveway with only another seven hundred feet to go.
Stopped at the twenty-eighth step, I hauled air into my lungs. I heard a vehicle coming behind me. I turned to see a beautiful bright blue pickup truck.
A fragment of thought, "Ask for a ride," slithered through my brain. "Too embarrassing. Who can't climb a hill?" and I took another step. I wobbled, one foot crossing the other to keep my balance. I thought the truckdriver might think I was drunk. I continued carefully so that I would not tip over in front of his tires. He passed.
There is a spot on this dirt road where the greenery grows close and the air doesn't move.
Like a jungle.
The deerflies like that spot.
The mosquitos like it too.
I thought about the goodness of being able to sweat, how cooling it is as it evaporates, even where it drips from head to clothing.
A hundred feet more, the flora opened up and air, sweet air, blew over me.
Another hundred feet, and I was at the neighbor's "Quietude" sign. Last summer when I was walking for sport, that was the turnaround place. The slope gentles there, only a thirty-five degree angle.
I knew this part of the road. I knew the landmarks: far from home; closer to home; almost home. I was closer to home. I began again to take pleasure in the surroundings. A chipmunk practiced qajaasaarneq on low-growing plants; thirty feet from me, tiny bunnies browsed in the road, scampered away from me and stopped again to sniff; gray squirrels ran full-bore up tree trunks; I glimpsed one red squirrel. Behind me I heard scuffling small paws as furry bodies darted into thick undergrowth. I recognized groups of leaves that I photographed last fall when they were red and pink rather than these various shades of green. I greeted the hollow tree where fairies surely must live.
Through the leaves I heard the pang of a hickory nut falling hard on my storage shed's metal roof. Almost home.
Fifty feet into the driveway I could hear the dogs barking inside the house; they could hear me coming.
When you live in the country, on a dirt road where you recognize particular leaves and trees, "almost home" is home.
The old laptop began dying last Thursday evening when a tablespoon (perhaps two) of water dripped from above onto the keyboard. For years the old Dell recovered from such mishaps. It worked fine after a similar incident with coffee. It held up after I tripped over the power cord and caused its rapid descent to the floor. It was unaffected by Marly's 2003 use of its corner as a doggy chew toy. It's possible that there were too many such mishaps in its long, long life, or more likely, it had reached far beyond its expected span of days.
After Thursday's water event, I worked with the dysfunctional keyboard for a couple of days, living in hope that it would heal itself, learning to substitute m for n and contorting my right hand so as to always use that shift key since the left shift key did No Thing. Unexpected things were happening at increasingly frequent intervals. My concentration was interrupted by random unrequested Google search dialog boxes, sudden firebell alarms from the Dell's bowels, the rapid appearance of thousands of iterations of the current web page, other unsettling events.
By 7:30am on Sunday the boil of my frustration had burst and I had a new laptop out of the box and onto the coffee table. It is sleek and smooth, black and silver and, since I have no need of a gnome-size computer, a nice big screen. It is light in weight: a valuable feature considering that rapid descent to the floor peril.
It and I eagerly anticipated our union.
I put a cd-r into the Dell and selected files to transfer to their new home. The Dell suggested that I insert a cd into the d drive. I popped the cd out and put it back in again. Again, the Dell suggested that I insert a cd into the d drive. I popped the cd out, dusted off everything with a soft brush, and put it back in again. The Dell suggested that I insert a cd into the d drive. I commenced attaching all my files to email messages to myself, for uploading when I had the new laptop online.
Rural dwellers understand that the handy integrated wireless capability is useless in a home located like mine. I have a wireless USB modem, acquired after years of listening to my hair growing while I waited for dial-up. For the modem to work the computer into which is plugged must have the software installed. I could not find the cd-rom for the modem. I called Verizon to ask if I could buy a new cd-rom.
"No, we don't sell them here but if you call customer service, they can tell you how to download it from the internet."
"Oh good! Thank you."
I hung up.
And in a moment realized that my predicament was in no way mitigated.
I set out extra early the following morning, the first day of a new week, for my first visit to the only internet cafe within twenty miles to download the program onto the new laptop. Then I would go on to work to do my new morning job. (Never mind that I've been doing this new job since January; it's still new.) The first meeting of the photography class would be that evening. A new cafe, a new laptop, a new class that evening to learn how to use my new camera. I am not comfortable with new: I know how a wild rabbit feels, frozen with panic in the middle of an interstate.
I reached the cafe just as they were opening the doors, achieved a cup of coffee and established myself and the laptop at a table. I could not find the right web page for the download and had to leave for work before I had accomplished my goal.
The photographer called and postponed the class to Wednesday: A death in his family, necessary travel out of town. I tried to sound sympathetic rather than overflowing with relieved delight at the delay.
I went back to the cafe in the afternoon with a surreptitiously-acquired-during-working-hours printout of instructions. I attained the proper web page, entered the Verizon modem's telephone number from memory, and began the download. I could feel the tension leaving my shoulders as I sighed with relief and sipped my coffee. I waited, watching the lime green worm grow by millimeters across the screen. The download seemed to be taking a long time. I watched the laptop's battery percentage, and twitched with anxiety that the former would outlast the latter.
Finally, "Installation complete."
I packed up and trundled out to my car.
I checked the telephone number that I'd entered.
I had entered one digit wrong: an eight instead of a three.
I considered and rejected the thought of returning to the cafe for a do-over: the battery wouldn't last long enough.
"All right," I thought, resigned. "Tonight, recharging. Tomorrow, a do-over."
Home at last, I had nothing to lose. I plugged in my tiny modem. VZ Access Manager appeared, and offered connection. God bless Verizon's little heart, it forgave my one-digit error and allowed me online.
I'm waiting on moving all the files to their new home. I need a little Life-As-Usual for a while.
Always near the top of my Gratitude List is that I live where there is more nature than humanity.
One morning as my eyes opened I saw, on the stonewall at the far edge of the field a brown thing: a very big woodchuck. I know where along that wall his burrow door is, but I rarely see him. That morning he hopped from stone to stone and finally stood up to survey the field. He's a big successful woodchuck; his height seemed to be thirty inches or more.
Every weekday's first half-mile of my commute grants me my own view of wild animals living their natural lives.
A couple of weeks ago I surprised a whitetail mama and her just-old-enough-to-be-dry fawn. Not much more than two feet tall, the baby was a small square shape, not even old enough to have begun to get leggy. Good genes: The baby took off into the woods before mama did. More likely, Mom said, "Run!" and chose to stay for defensive action if necessary. I stopped the car and waited, and shortly after he was safely out of sight, she followed him.
More recently, a partridge stood in the ditch and calmly watched me pass.
This week's sightings have been great, and it's only Wednesday.
Two cottontails in the driveway (I stopped to wait until they felt that prudence dictated dispersal).
Two cottontails, crouched communing face to face in the middle of the road. (I stopped to wait until they finished their conversation.)
A brood of turkey chicks peep-peep-peeping single-file across the road. As they disappeared into the greenery, I stopped to listen to the hidden hen calling to them, a low cluck . . . cluck . . . cluck.
Two deer, then a little farther on, two more.
Two cottontails, again crouched communing face to face in the middle of the road. ("Oh no, here she comes again. TTYL.")
One very fast red squirrel, tiny and much more sparsely-furred than his gray cousins.
One deer mid-grand jete across the road.
Two chipmunks. Some days it's The Great Chipmunk Migration and the road is busy with 'munks on their way to anywhere else.
Five more deer scattering into the woods on either side of the road as I rounded the curve.
For me seeing these furred and feathered creatures is like watching the ocean or the sky: It provides me with some helpful perspective.
Life goes on.
Despite my human worries, Life is going on just fine.
One of my fiercest and most abiding faults is impatience. I am not slow and steady in my approach to learning. Anything.
I am frustrated with my new camera. Rather, I am frustrated with myself: The camera is smarter than I am. Husband says the camera store staff gives classes. At first I dismissed the idea, thinking that I would feel out the whole process by trial and error. I now discern that with the number of options on that little dial and the up-and-down and left-and-right adjustments and my capacity for endless error, not to mention not being able to keep track of what mode on the little dial I have tried and what I did with it, that I need Help.
It would be a shame not to learn how to use this camera in all its facets. I'm missing out on a lot by not knowing what it all means. Reading the manual is an exercise in confusion: it assumes a level of knowledge that I don't have. I am fortunate to have a photography expert acquaintance. He has a talent for communicating what he knows but even he, with his rare ability to dumb down his knowledge into words that I can understand, increases the size of the photography universe about which I am learning how little I know. If ignorance is bliss, learning how little I know is the opposite.
This is what I want to do: I want to take pictures at night . . . of the moon . . . of my night patio with the solar lights glowing through the leaves of my plants, hinting at fairies cavorting among the foliage.
I want to take pictures that show the satin velvet of the petals of flowers. I want to take pictures of birds without losing them when they take wing out of the tiny area I've zoomed in on.
I see beautiful things all day long. Colors, animals with bright eyes and ticked fur. Dragonflies with wide black and silver bars on their blown-glass wings. A particular shade of golden green that is a beam of sunlight glowing through leaves. The neon colors of tiny insects glowing emerald green and metallic steel blue. I want to get those things!
I want what I want and I want it now. I want to be Ansel Adams. This afternoon. But my photography mentor told me Adams was never satisfied with photos until he'd done all kinds of things to them in the lab. It seems illegitimate to me to fix things up with lab techniques, or with "autocorrect" on the computer.
At tantrum times like this I fall back on my easiest road to creativity: to see and see and see; and reproduce my vision in language. I don't mind writing the thousand words needed to replace a picture. But a written piece is my own impression. A picture is like music, a different story to each viewer. A photograph can go straight to the heart.
This week's Weekend Wordsmith suggests Sting as a topic.
Long long ago and thirty miles to the east I had finished mowing the back yard and had happily settled, with my book, my cigarettes and a beverage, in a chaise longue in the shade of the crabapple tree to enjoy the feeling of my sweat drying while I read. The crabapple was in bloom, so I did not remark upon the presence of the occasional bee humming by. After several minutes, it seemed that there was, in fact, a remarkable number of bees in the area.
I stopped reading and watched the bees. And saw that they were entering and exiting a very small hole in the ground a foot to the right of my seat. Fascinating. Quite a crowd, coming and going through an aperture no larger in circumference than, say, my cigarette.
I decided to undertake a scientific experiment. What would the result be if a blockage of the bee doorway were to occur? I looked at my cigarette butt, burned nearly to the filter. I looked at the beehole.
I placed the cigarette butt into the beehole. It slid into place perfectly, and completely obstructed the bees' passage, which circumstance seemed to confuse the insects. A traffic jam of stymied bees milled on their tiny feet in circles around their former doorway. Incoming bees, apparently seeing the multitude around the landing strip, began to circle, waiting for air traffic control to signal them in.
I felt sorry that I'd caused such consternation for the creatures and thought now that I'd seen the result of my experiment I would remove the cigarette butt. As the thought entered my mind, I realized that the bees were beginning to mutter and hum more and more loudly. They sounded like the background crowd noise in an old movie: Cauliflower, rutabaga, cauliflower, rutabaga, cauliflower, rutabaga. Each passing second increased the volume of their discontent's expression.
The correction of what I now saw to be an error in judgment became something of a conundrum for me: Should I reach down and pluck the errant butt out of the beehole or should I exit the site, leaving the butt in the hole? I wanted to show the bees that I had meant no harm; it seemed only right that I should undo my offense. I reached down and pincered the butt between thumb and index finger.
Now the bees knew from whence the blockage had come. Maybe they didn't know. Maybe they just didn't care. They saw the butt. They saw the butt in my fingers. They saw my fingers interloping into their ruined dooryard.
Some of these tales that I tell, I share simply on the off chance that I might educate others so they might not do some stupid stuff that I have done.
It's been a long time since I indulged in Inspire Me Thursday, whose prompt for this week is Cheeks.
No essay or story here; just impressions.
My mother's cheek, scented with Max Factor face powder, on my seven-year-old Sunday mornings. My animals' cheeks, the perfect spot for sound kisses. My question to a cosmetician friend: "What's a moonface?" Her answer, accompanied by a circular hand motion in the area of her face: "A lot of cheek." Piers Morgan's reference to Susan Boyle's "cheeky smile." My sixteen year old purplish acne-scarred cheeks. Thank the Lord those scars faded! The apples of my cheeks where I am, at this Certain Age, advised to apply blush.
I had hoped for more here, but that's about it. I need, now, to move my butt cheeks in the direction of morning errands.
I live in my dream place with Husband, one beloved rescued cat and one beloved rescued dog, and the warm memories of many other treasured pets.
I rarely sleep for more than four hours at a time and would happily nap/wake/nap/wake all day and night. I am undisciplined, a classic underachiever.
I believe that inevitable tragedy is a fork in the road, offering lessons in emotional and spiritual growth.
One of my coping skills is a quick and wicked wit and I often crack me up.
I avoid people who talk neverendingly about nothing. I cannot bear unrelieved humorless negativity.
I like people who are comfortable with silence.
I like listening to people who learn from Life.
I have received a few Blogger Awards, and while I find them momentarily gratifying, they're just too much like chain emails and I gratefully decline to receive any more of them.