Have you ever begun to tell a story only to realize that it won’t make any sense if you don’t tell this other one first. But even that one needs another one and so on and on. There you are bogged down in telling backstories until you lose sight of The story. Wait, what was the point of this? I remind myself to start writing and soon enough the details that matter will work their way in. And if they don’t, they probably don’t need to be there anyway.
I began writing this several weeks ago when it was fresh in my mind. That was late October, and now here I am surrounded by mistletoe and holly. I wasn’t ready then. Everyday seemed to throw something else at me. You know – when there’s too much, or it all comes at once, or you Find ways to be brutal to yourself. Because it’s not enough to face the world. I must seek out new and inventive ways to be unkind to myself. I should have done … I should never have said… If only I had…
When I was a little girl my Aunt had a farm in Slocum. It’s not far from where I live now. Oh, how I loved it there! Most of the time I was the only child for acres and acres. I had a beautiful freedom to wander woods and hills and all manner of places. I cannot think of the farm without remembering dozens of stories and part of me wants to tell them All!
One time I was the youngest in a group of cousins exploring a wooded creek area where a copperhead lay stretched before us. They all ran away quickly… leaving me behind. Somehow, I knew not to get too close to the living S shape. When the kids arrived back at the house without me, my dad came looking. He scooped me up and held me close…safe from harm’s way.
On the farm was a wonderful sliver of a creek that wound itself from the first pond to the second. My tiny legs could cross it in one step. It trickled under wide open skies to my great delight. Because I could be seen from the back porch I was allowed to meander down there by myself and play alone as long as I liked. A sweet joy to me… clay and all!
East Texas has clay, lots and lots of clay! Deep rich red clay. We never made a visit to the farm that my mother didn’t admonish me to be careful Not to get clay on my clothes! She said that the red clay of East Texas would stain them. It would never come out. No matter how long they soaked, no matter what kind of soap you used, your clothes would be ruined… I was never successful at staying clean which was a great frustration to her. Nevertheless, there I was baking rich red mud pies and loving every sweet minute of it.
In late October…
Ellie is still sleeping as well she should be. It’s been a long week for her…for me too. I’m afraid that if I begin to write of it I may not stop for days and that it will be too much.
Tears flow with the ups and downs of life…real life. They are at the edges of me this morning like the rain that Dobby watches from the safety and sanctuary of home. It was only a few months ago that he was lost and without a home in torrential spring weather. I wonder if he remembers that time. I wonder if it makes him happy to have a home and a family now.
Thunder woke me in the night. A gentle rumbling vibrated the whole house. Once awakened the flashes of lightning kept me entranced. Their sudden brightness invaded my dark room like a light bulb flashing on and off as one sleepily grasps at thoughts…it isn’t time for light. A glance at the clock told me it was only 3:30. Blissfully I sank further into my pillows and pulled the soft covers up around me. Not yet…I drifted back to sleep.
The overflow pipe has slowed to a trickle as the water levels in the lake drop from drought. One by one counties all around me announce burn bans. Where is ours. We should be there with the others. Not yet. With this day’s rain we may not get there at all. But I would rather have the rain than the ban anyway.
Not long ago someone built a fire in the woods near the lake. The embers they left behind and that I discovered the next morning were too strong. I let the someone who should know…know. Then, I wrote of fires and fire builders and change – embers and ashes and a lovely place to swim.
Some moments this week were not captured in a photograph.
There was the slow and measured walk around the small room with help. It was a grand achievement! Afterwards, I enjoyed a leisurely lunch with two fine gentlemen. One was a delightful conversationalist with stories of adventure. He reminds me of Santa Claus! The other man was quiet. He has lost his own stories. The way his face lights up is enough for me though.
I sat criss cross applesauce with hands in my lap just like the little ones who surrounded me. All of us were entranced with the firemen and their big red truck. Sharing photos of the children is unwise and could even be unsafe for them. How very sad our world can be. And yet their smiles sustain me all week long!
I had another backyard bunny adventure. Dobby found a prize hidden beneath the dry leaves and handed it over upon request. Perhaps not gladly…nevertheless, he did share. I held the baby gently until he caught his breath, then hopped away. Bouncing joy on four small furry feet!
One whom I love dearly had his very first author event and I was able to be there, to be some small part of it. A moment I will always treasure.
Before all of these, on Monday evening there was a scare at what might have been… I happened upon smoldering ash in a place heavy with trees and underbrush. It frightened me. Instead of a charred forest floor, it could have been far worse…far more devastating. My concern over untended fire has been ongoing for weeks now. I wake with it in the morning. I fall asleep with it at night. I am tired with thinking, what if…
I don’t know who did it. Someone probably walked away unthinking, not realizing that the tiniest embers left unchecked can creep hungrily at the dryness of the forest floor and lap at the bases of the trees.
I made the proper phone calls. And I waited. Ellie stayed close by my side. Night darkened around us as stars began to sprinkle the sky. They had a stunning beauty that hinted at the mysteries of eternity. The coyotes who began to chorus not so far away were an odd accompaniment to the stars. They sent a chill up my spine. We drew in closer, Ellie and I. What other dangers might be nearby. It is the animals who do not announce themselves that concern me. I wondered if she was thinking the same thing. We waited for the sound of a fire truck on a back country road to drive away our fear.
It took longer than you might imagine. When they arrived, the flashing lights frightened Ellie. Still, she never left me. Even when she was afraid, through the dark, the unknown, the flashing lights, the roaring sounds, the threat of danger, she stayed with me. These things should have sent her running for the safety of home. Was she too scared to leave…or, am I her safety…am I her home.
I would have understood if she had left…but I am grateful she stayed. yes, she answered me…
All ended well that night. Are we done yet? Not quite, Life answered…
A few days later dark gray clouds filled the sky as we walked. No rumbling yet, just the hopeful gathering of them. Up from the center of the field eight blackbirds took off making their way noisily to the treetops. Something about their flight reminded me to send my thoughts up high with them, on wings and let them fly. Trust in the air itself. Trust in all the goodness you cannot see.
We turned south at the end of the dam. There is a twenty foot drop that winds into a different kind of woods. We never come this way. It’ll be nice to try something new after so much unrest lately…
A short way in Ellie found a watering hole. She stepped down into it for a drink. In less time than it takes to blink, her back legs had sunk as far as they could go! I could see the panic in her eyes as she began to fight to get free. It scared me! In a flash I wondered if we were both helpless. There was no way of knowing how deep it might be. Once again this week I found myself in a place of fear…Ellie and I both did…
I dropped to my knees reaching for her to pull her towards me and to a landed edge where she could get a strong foothold. Honestly, I wasn’t thinking how or what or even why. I wasn’t really thinking at all… I was just there, holding Ellie as tight as I could and Not letting go. Anything I could grasp, I did. Talking to her…all the while pulling her back to safety.
As she was just about to break free…Dobby went in. Aargh! Dobby is shorter. Even his sides began to disappear in the thick clawing mud. Once Ellie was safely out and catching her breath, I turned my attention to freeing him. It all happened so fast.
Some sort of horrible East Texas quicksand… I finally stopped to breathe…the three of us were covered in wet red clay. My hands had disappeared under the thickness of it. I couldn’t have taken a picture if I had wanted to. The phone never would have registered my fingerprint. I could feel the mud heavy on my arms and splattered over my face. Already it was drying in places, drawing the skin tight underneath it. My heart pounded with what might have been.
With Dobby’s natural coloring he only looked soaking wet. Ellie, however, became my two toned Halloween dog! Her top half was shiny jet black while her bottom half was bright pumpkin orange. There are no pictures, only muddy fur and relief.
Dobby looked around for Bo and Jack and his next adventure. Ellie and I stuck close to each other, much as we had on Monday night. We were thinking the same thing…there’s fresh water a few yards away at the lake.
Are we done?…not yet answered life…
We turned to head towards the lake…when on our right…a magnificent buck bounded past us! He was so close that I could feel his presence more than see him. Leaves rustled as he passed us. If my arm had been outstretched his sleek fur would have grazed my fingertips. He radiated a graceful strength. His fluffy white tail waved goodbye before I fully realized he was even there. Awed by his beauty so close on the heels of our struggle to break free from the clutches of the muddy earth I could only stand and wonder at it all. There are no pictures of him either…muddy fingers and invisible grace. It all happened so fast.
A fresh batch of mud greeted us at the edge of the lake, this time it was dark gray to offset the brightish orange. But at least my hands were a little cleaner. There might be some pictures on our way home.
As I looked from my hands to my unicorn T-shirt I thought of my mother – Be careful Suzanne, your clothes will be ruined… Clothes are easily replaced. The clay of East Texas has seeped through them and into my heart – in less time than it takes to wipe away a stray tear. Stained with hope in the face of whatever may come.
As I caught my breath I thought of my Dad – how he had come for me and gathered me safely from harm. You’re never as alone as you fear you might be.
Ellie and I together fought for safety and freedom twice that week. Unknown strength filled us. And as we breathed in sighs of relief…grace flew past us at lightning speed…leaving us to wonder over all that had been or was yet to come.
Making our way home through the grassy field and happy for the surety of the ground beneath our feet, dark storm clouds closed in around us giving way here and there to glorious pockets of light. All of a sudden… Tears from all of the moments welling up from deep inside of me…
The trials, the struggles, the chaos, the beauty, the hope, the waiting, they come into your days. Each time…yes. You answer a quiet, yes. The moment and what is asked of you…yes. To be held in unimaginable ways that you will never understand. The gift of all that is needed just then and the grace to answer, yes.
How many more moments of yes lay before me. I think it’s better not to know. I might buckle under the weight of anticipating them. And then I would be too tired to answer yes when the time comes. One moment at a time. Right now…this one…a grateful heart filled with the blessings that are as close as my own heartbeat.
I will never be a woman who aspires to perfect clothes all the time or to perfect anything for that matter. Life is rich in the messy places. There is no joy without sorrow. There is no courage without fear. There is no peaceful lake unless first you dig a messy muddy hole and wait for it to be filled with life giving water.
Please be kind to others. Everyone struggles. Please be kind to yourself. You are far more loved than you can ever imagine… Now, go on out there and make a mud pie. In fact, make two, one for you and one to share…because…well…mud pies…they just Rock!