Crashing through the Snow

Few things are as visibly expressive of joy as a dog bounding excitedly through deep snow. Except, possibly, a whole bunch of dogs, plus a whole cadre of little kids, leaping, tunneling, floundering, grinning, and generally exploding their way through the same drifts.
Digital illustration: Snowflake

The problem with being an adult human is that we become so conscious of our creakiness and increasingly inflexible bodies, so obsessed with the dangers of having an infarction while shoveling or being speared in the forehead by a forty-pound icicle from the eaves, so hung up on our supposed decorum and dignity, that we stop risking not only true dangers but the possibility of gleefully tipping arse-over-teakettle into a billowing heap of powdery snow. It’s really too bad, because an occasional tumble from the pedestals we prop ourselves on, a momentary reminder of our own foolish frailty, and a smart whack on the overly fixed sense of reality is well worth a little bruising on ego and elbow. It might just teach us a renewed appreciation for the beauties of snow and nature. Why, if one were to be exceedingly incautious in the event, it might even turn out to be fun.

Giggling among the Snapdragons

Digital illustration: Exploding SnapdragonSo many real-world things have such fanciful names that it’s a pity we really don’t pay much attention to them very often. Magical, rollicking words and names just roll off our tongues like music, yet we fail to pause and marvel at the wonderfulness of the sounds or ideas contained therein. If we must talk and listen and cogitate, why not relish, too, the sheer flavorful euphony of the language in which we do it?

I know, even as someone who barely manages a few words and phrases in various other languages (most of these, not surprisingly, food-related), that each language has its own elements of amusement, astonishment and alchemy embedded amid the ordinary terms and concepts of everyday use.

In the vestibule is one of the most wonderful of places one can be, in my estimation; it’s not for any innate fineness or elegance or appeal the room itself may well have or that being in it might confer upon me, but rather for the arcane and esoteric quality of the very word Vestibule, which leaps from lip to tongue to tooth with alacrity and verve long since arrested in lesser words that we use too commonly. For the same reason, one should seek out Encumbrances and Perspicacity, Snapdragons and Doodling and Capybaras: no such thing as a mere dictionary can explain the depth of pleasure derived from slurping the juices of a luscious, under-exercised word.

Keeping My Eyes Open

Let’s not quibble about why I’m here; just show some respect for my dedication. I keep watch, I am the guardian, I stand undaunted at attention. I am a tireless protector. Never mind that I’m protecting what I hope might be my lunch, or at the least, my plaything for the while. I am a cat, and that is what the best of us cats do. It is nature and vocation.Digital illustration: In the Catbird Seat

The mouse living in there, well, he might have a slightly different point of view. But let’s be honest: his place in the natural scheme of things is as a cat’s toy or treat, isn’t it just. So I shall perch here and keep my patience, and never you mind criticizing my ways. That would be too—well, human of you. And you didn’t want to share your house with a mouse, now, did you! Just look away. I’m busy here.

Remind Me/Rewind Me

For a person who considers herself happily immature relative to her age, I am sometimes caught off guard when I realize how little of my youthful pleasures I’ve continued to pursue with appropriate enthusiasm into the present. Why on earth would I forego standing on a big plank swing, grasping the chains that hold it and me up, and pumping my legs until I feel like I could fly right on over the top steel bar of the swing set with the greatest of ease? Why not kick off my shoes and socks, abandon them in the dirt, and plunge into the cold river’s slippery, rock-strewn flow without regard for getting the legs of my pants all soaking wet? Is there any law that says a 52-year-old is no longer allowed to slurp her fruit punch noisily through a straw just because it’s so wonderfully refreshing and sugary?

Why, indeed, is the common phrase seemingly always about youthful enthusiasm, yet we tacitly agree to let only actual youths embrace it?

Remind me how being childlike and impulsively happy is so dangerous.photo

Despite being of an age where my childhood version of the high swing was of rock-hard rubber on a steel pipe frame and underlaid with gravel-strewn dirt, I am—well—still alive at this age. I never broke a single bone or chipped a tooth, and my only stitches derived from an indoor activity, a school game of floor hockey. Though I wandered recklessly through many a stream and ocean’s shallows, without regard for my pants or my tender soles, and even drank from the occasional icy mountain brook, the worst that ever came of it was a cut from beach glass, soon enough cleansed with stinging but healing salt water. No clothes were ruined, and I got bit by nothing bigger than a sand- or horse-fly or two. I failed to contract Giardia or E. coli from those wild rivulets I sipped. Even the vast quantities of evil cyclamates in my childhood fruit drink binges failed to kill me off.

So how is it that I lost my ability to plunge ahead without caution to where I seemed, nearly always, to find joyful things? Remind me how always being responsible and mature and playing it safe is better for me.

But write it in a note and slip it under my door. I feel the need to go out and look for a little happy trouble.

Questionable Behavior

I will never deny that much of my behavior, if not my very being, is in highly questionable taste. I am uncouth. And I’m certainly unsettled, if not unsettling.digital illustration

Generally, though, I would prefer to attribute this to having an ongoing and dedicated case of childlike curiosity. It seems to me it’d be a pity not to have this particularly happy mental condition. Why on earth would anyone want to stop being filled with wonder and awe at the astounding and miraculous and unpredictable world around us? How dull and tedious would that world be if everything were explainable, understood, known and codified! And if my only response to it all is a mere shrug of casual acceptance, what excitement or new pleasures can I expect?

Far better to make a fool of myself by being thrilled with the strange, attracted to the odd. Far more marvel and delight in believing that every door opened, every corner turned is a very thin barrier, a fine veil, between my present state and an unexplored or unimagined place of sweetness and inspiration. So I hope you’ll pardon my manners if I get a bit overworked and can’t quite contain my enthusiasm. A kid’s gotta dream.

My First Valentine

Long, long ago, in a state far away, there was a small, screaming infant being baptized by her father, a pastor, on the Sunday that fell on this very date, his birthday. I can only assume that my ornery howling was not the most perfect birthday present he’d ever had, but since Dad didn’t toss me in the dustbin either on the occasion or shortly thereafter is testament to a tiny fraction of the loving kindness he showed me then and continued to shower upon me, no matter how fractious I might have been at times, throughout the following years. That sort of tolerance alone is a good reason I’ve been very fond of the fella from the start. I’d say it’s also a good indicator that Dad always tended to have an excellent sense of humor about the silliness of real life.digital illustrationCommemorating that day is likely a good enough sampling all on its own of the man-of-many-parts that is my father, but it’s far from all. His long career as a Lutheran pastor and then bishop was complemented by plenty of stellar adventures as a leader, chairman and member of innumerable committees and boards from university to seminary to hospital and community. He traveled to and worked in dangerous and war-torn places like Honduras and El Salvador and early-1970s Chicago but still managed to come back regularly and be Dad at home to four daughters and help Mom keep the home fires burning while donning his ecumenical-superdude cape for quick service in his myriad day jobs.digital illustrationBetween his understandable popularity with many folk—even, I daresay, thanks to his unpopularity with a small contingent of people who didn’t approve of his frankness or his willingness to stand up for certain causes, a trait of courage and/or foolhardiness I would happily have had him pass to me genetically—and the careful scholarship that underpinned his good-humored to life, he’s always been a major influence on me. You can certainly see why I would consider Dad as fine a first Valentine as anyone could have. Happy Birthday, dear Dad!

Imitation Flamingo

digital illustrationHere’s the thing about flamingos: they’re living contradictions. They’re some of the least altered descendants of the dinosaurs, yet in the twentieth century they became icons of modernism in art and design in large part for the very strangeness that ties them so closely to their ancestors. In the span of that surge of popularity, they also had both the high-cultural cachet of favored subjects in Art Deco’s glamorous creations and the lowbrow delights of trailer park plastic lawn decorations. The elegant long necks, graceful broad wings, and that magical coral hue of their plankton-painted plumage are counterbalanced by rather gawky squawking voices and oh, my, what an unattractive smell.

Here’s another thing: we human-types tend to have a certain ambivalence about many things in our lives and appreciate that the world is far from simple. So it’s not surprising that many of us should find flamingos fairly intriguing and compelling. They’re kind of weird. They’re sort of good metaphorical stand-ins for us.

I’m fond of and amazed by birds. I’m particularly drawn to raptors and songbirds, but truth be told, I wasn’t so taken by flamingos, and when I got to spend a tiny bit of quality time in their presence in zoos or parks, I was amused by their seeming clumsiness and more than a little taken aback by their stink and noise. Guess you won’t be surprised, then, to know that when I had a little time to reflect on it–well, it was my own reflection I saw. I’m still thankful I’m not an actual flamingo, since people mostly don’t laugh openly at my foibles when in my presence, and hardly ever tell me to my face that I’m stinky. All the same, having that little picture stored in my mind is useful. I may still be slightly ridiculous, in my stumbling, silly way and with my imperfect voice and showy but eccentric ways, but I guess if flamingos can be such wonderful and iconic beings with all of their oddities, why shouldn’t I, too? Flawed and goofy I may be, but I’m an amazing creature of my own kind.