A Prayer for Rain

My mind is clouded with smoke.  Embers of sadness pull at me, while the miserably hot, windy days continue to come and go.

Colorado is aflame.

The images of trees exploding instantly into flame haunt me.  Evacuation orders for entire towns make my stomach churn with worry.  And the images of over 250 homeless families, sleeping on makeshift cots, displaced with only ashes remaining of their homes and their entire life’s belongings makes my heart hurt.

Entire tracts of land, mountains and hills left with only a black, ashy scar of what once was.  Trees, grass and wildlife only a distant memory now, something we will not see recover in our lifetimes.

All I can offer is a prayer for rain.  I have no other option but to beg Him to quietly send moisture to fall upon our dry land, calming the smoke, the flames and the hurt.

Dear Lord,

Bless us with some relief from the drought, the fires and the smoke
That threaten these places we love, Oh Lord.
Cover this burning land with a blanket of your clouds,
Releasing raindrops to give life back to this dry land,
Let their cool wetness calm the smoke, the flames and the hurt in our hearts.
Fill our rivers, from trickles to streams again.
Quell the winds, even momentarily, to deflect the flames
To push them back in their tracks, instead of hurtling them forward.
Provide us with tools to put the roar of these fires out.

Bless, Oh Lord, those families who find themselves homeless,
Empty, heartbroken with loss and overwhelmed,
Give them hope that You will provide for them those things they need.
Bless them with sweet memories of their homes and land
And give them a sense of peace and renewal,
To face each new day with strength, courage
And gratitude for even the smallest of blessings along the way.

Watch over those fighting on the front lines,
Bless them with cool relief in the face of a scalding enemy,
Bless them with rest to reinvigorate them to continue fighting,
Bless them with hope that their fight is not in vain,
And as impossible as it may seem, give them faith that it is possible.
Hold them closely and keep them safe, Oh Lord, in their battles.

And with the fast fury of the flames approaching,
Remind us of Your powerful presence, and Your ability to calm them.
With the tall, billowing plumes of smoke,
Remind us of the hope You give us for the future.
With the temporary quieting of hot, unrelenting winds,
Remind us that all things are possible through You.
And with the feeling of overwhelming loss,
Remind us that all things grow again through you, Oh Lord.

When All That Remains is a Memory

Memorial Day weekend.  I expected the tributes to our troops, both current and past, and the deep thankfulness that you cannot help but feel for our hard-earned freedom.  Red, white and blue flags flying, headstones marked with crosses, flowers and tears.  What I didn’t expect, was to find myself contemplating memories on death, loss and the hand-picked timing of certain moments in life.  I found myself grieving, quieted by a once-familiar place, now darkened with long lasting scars, and only the stark skeletons of what once was.

I guess I hadn’t been there since the fire.

Photo courtesy of Drew Smith via www.panoramio.com

Trapper’s Lake and the dirt county road leading to it was a place we frequented growing up.  Pulling a cream and green “Wilderness” camper, loaded down with fishing poles, a hibachi barbecuer, Shasta Cream Soda and large amounts of excitement, our family would find ourselves heading up to go camping almost all summer long.  The little county road seemed to go on forever then, clouds of dry dust following us the last part of the way, surrounded on both sides by mountains, pine trees, quaking aspens and the rare  glimpse of a shimmering, snow-fed creek.

Our weekends were spent hiking under the canopy of pine forests, being swallowed by the sweet scent of pine trees in bloom and fishing in excruciatingly cold, clear volcanic-formed lakes.  We loved this beautiful place that was right in our back yard.

I guess that’s why I found myself grieving so palpably over the weekend.

Photo courtesy of Drew Smith via Panoramio.com

I had no idea that the wildfire that took place nearly ten years ago, would still have as fresh a scar on the land, as if it had just happened a few years ago.  The mountains looked scraped bare, with only dry dirt there where the beautiful pines once stood, where spring rains and winter runoff would have fed the once-dense green brush and undergrowth.  All that remained were skeletons.  Sharp ghosts swaying with the cold wind, hundreds, thousands of other skeletons fallen in shards at their feet in a nasty, tangled mess of a larger-than-life game of Pick-up-Sticks.

Instead of the breeze singing through soft needled branches, the wind screeched and hissed now, whistling through their gnarled bones and around this ghost town of dead trees, their burned forms standing as tombstones for the fallen, now only a memory.

Ten years after the Big Fish fire near Trapper’s Lake

I was out of college, living two hundred miles away, when I first read their words.  A Letter to the Editor published in our little Rio Blanco Herald Times, that would never let me forget.  That would, from that day forward, always cause me to think upon timing, upon moments, and upon God’s big plan.

Dear Editor,

What a sense of loss and despair.  Trappers Lake is a very special place to a lot of people, for a lot of reasons.  While living in the Yampa Valley my family got to know Trappers Lake, to know the meaning of what a special place does to one’s soul.

We moved to Texas seven years ago and my son always asked if we could return to Trappers Lake some day.  I told him “sure and we’ll go there many times together.”  My son died last summer at the age of 21.

My wife and I brought his ashes back to Trappers Lake this summer.   It is his favorite place on Earth and that’s where he should be.

We stayed at Trappers Lake Lodge Resort on this recent trip and made reservations for our return next summer.  Years past we had camped in the campgrounds but enjoyed this stay at the lodge.  Our mind set was not focused on the camping experiences we normally enjoy, rather the personal emotions and continued feeling of loss with our son’s passing.

The experience of placing a loved one into the environment they so love the most for eternal rest is comforting but yet so difficult.  You go through the grieving all over again but it is the same grieving you never stopped experiencing.  The sense of loss is tremendous but you know you are doing the right thing.  With that comes some sense of acceptance.

Our last night at Trappers Lake Lodge Resort was fraught with many sudden awakenings from the lightning and heavy rains.  It was quite eventful that night and we were glad to see some rains returning to the high country.  We got up very early that morning, went down to our canoe on the lake for a short paddle and wet a few flies.  We marveled at the rain-cleared sky, no longer saturated with the Lost Lake fire smoke.  The reflection of the Amphitheater on a still glass lake surface left no doubt our Creator has a plan. 

It mattered not the fish would not rise to our imitations, we were in the presence of an awesome experience and were touched deep in our souls.  One day too we both will return to be with our son in this awesome place crafted by the hand of God.  My wife and I said our last goodbyes to our son and departed this special placed called Trappers Lake.

As we left the lodge we got only a short distance down the road when we saw the smoke from a new fire.  It was nothing large, looked like the smoke billowing from a cabin chimney on an autumn day.  That was Big Fish Canyon and that was Saturday morning the 20th of July.  The morning after the birth of this fire.  How could we know what was to come?  How could we anticipate what we read and hear now about this place so distant yet so close to our hearts?  How could we imagine the destruction to the buildings we had only just left?

We couldn’t, just as we could never have thought we would ever experience the great loss of a child, a son, a friend and companion in all life’s experiences.  What a sense of loss and despair we feel and share with you.

Richard and Cindy Scott

From the Rio Blanco Herald Times, August 29th, 2002

I don’t know them.  But I hope one day to tell them what a profound effect their Letter to the Editor in our local newspaper had on me.  Now, even ten years later, I cannot read their beautifully thought-out words without feeling my chest tighten and my eyes blur with tears.

Photo courtesy of Drew Smith via Panoramio.com

They experienced not only the loss of their son, but then the terrible loss of this place that held so many happy memories.  A place held dear with memories surely of laughter, gentle lapping lake water, cutthroats with their bold red markings darting in the dark shadows of the creek, cool nighttime falling quickly under the shadows of the mountains, the fresh, crisp forest air of evening, and the immense blanket of a million glimmering stars just overhead, feeling close enough to reach out and touch.

I knew about the fire all those years ago, but I hadn’t “felt” it.  I had read about it, I had heard about it, but I hadn’t yet seen it with my own eyes.  And now, all these years later, I finally felt my heart heavy with grief for a place so special, so beautiful.

And this Memorial Day, I remembered the great loss that these strangers felt and must still feel for their son.   God’s hand holding them as He brought them back to this place one last time, only Him knowing that just days after they spent their last night there, it too would be gone, smoldering with only the memory of what once stood.

A Versatile / Paranoid Blogger

One warm, fall day at work, where I’m a part owner with my parents and my brother, I saw an unknown suburban pull into our location, and swing haphazardly over by our plant and silo.  An arm stuck precariously out of the driver’s side window with a camera and began snapping photos.  Being the overly paranoid person that I am, something in my gut told me that this was not normal.  I also couldn’t help but consider the sign at our entrance stating “All Visitors Required to Check in at the Office” which had clearly been ignored.

Pictures taken, window rolled back up, the vehicle practically peeled out of our pit and sped onto the county road below it (at least that’s how my paranoid mind saw it), me in my little white Toyota (or “micro machine” as my brother calls it) in full pursuit.  I followed the vehicle for about 5 miles, not really sure what I was going to do if and when they finally stopped except maybe . . . ask them why they were taking pictures of our plant?  Yeah, I know, you’re probably wondering why I even followed them in the first place.  In answer to that, I can’t really say except that I reverted to my paranoia, thinking that someone was out trying to “get me.”

The vehicle eventually stopped and in a split moment’s indecision about whether to stop or not, I drove slowly past the vehicle and . . .no one was there.  There was nobody in the driver’s seat.  Hmmmmm.  You can imagine how my paranoid mind started spinning out of control now!

Thinking back on the situation, I’m pretty sure my paranoia made that driver paranoid and they had probably slunk down in their seat hoping I wouldn’t knock on their window, gun in hand, demanding those taken pictures back.  And all the while, I had that same image in my mind, only they were the gun wielding ones.

Our silo with the infamous intials on them. (This is the GOOD MSG though) I can't take credit for this photo, my brother Dan took this one. Luckily, I didn't pursue him crazily down the county road after he took his.

A little later, I did call the Sheriff’s Office to report a suspicious incident.  He investigated the driverless vehicle that I had followed.  He called me back later to let me know that the poor lady I had followed was getting married the next weekend and had some good friends coming in for the week.  She had seen the giant logo on our silo, which matched the initials of one of her friends and she had simply wanted to take a picture to memorialize it for her friend.  My paranoid mind didn’t believe it.  But my rational mind somehow persuaded me to let it go and believe people every once in awhile.

So it’s no surprise that this new, blogging world has taken some getting used to.  It has been scary to put my words out there, and it’s proven even scarier to find that people are actually reading them.  When this all started, I actually suffered from what I considered to be a blogging-induced insomnia.  Hopefully I’m not the only one who’s suffered from this.  I couldn’t sleep, I was so worried about what I had written and putting it out there for the world to read, in the eternal file cabinet of the internet, was so nerve-wracking it kept me up at night.

On one of the first posts I wrote, Photo Nature Blog somehow found me and liked my post.  You can imagine, my paranoid mind kicked into gear.  How did this person find me?  Who was this person?  Why did they like it?  And thus began the slow road to muffling my paranoid thoughts and giving in to the idea that I was making a conscious decision to write and to post publicly.  And that means embracing support from my closest friends and family to online strangers whom I’ve never met.  What an amazing, interconnected world we live in now!

The encouragement and support I’ve received has been truly amazing.  Thank you to my earliest commentors and “likers” for reading my posts and supporting me so early on, before I even knew enough to appreciate a random stumble upon my meager, little space.

This past week, Jess at Semi-Rural Farm Life nominated me for the Versatile (no, not Paranoid!) Blogger Award!  Jess writes a blog about semi-rural life including long dirt driveways that create more challenges than anticipated, ski trips that end in emergency rooms and boarding horses that mysteriously escape, tip things over and let themselves in and out of their locked stalls as they wish.  (We won’t tell their owners!)  I really enjoy it Jess, thanks for nominating Bloom for the Versatile Blogger Award!

Oddly enough, I was also nominated by another Jess at A Winsome Journey this week.  This Jess lives on a beautiful farm in upstate New York where they have chickens, dogs and llamas!  She always offers a thoughtful tip for the day and her roots in faith (and beautiful photos) always shine through, giving me a dose of inspiration somehow always when I need it most.

As part of the rules, I am to list 7 random facts about myself.  I’m guessing I can’t include the fact that I’m paranoid??  Too many of you know about that now!

1.  I raised 3 Grand Chamption market pigs while growing up.

2.  Spring is my least favorite season.  Being a lover of all things blooming and flowering, I can hear your gasps now.  I blame it on the mud and wind.

3.  My favorite kind of potatoes:  flakes.  Yep, the fake, instant kind.  Love them!

4.  I was once approached because someone thought I was honestly Kevin Bacon’s sister.  Does he even have a sister?

5.  My all time favorite song ever is “Into the Mystic” by Van Morrison

6.  I operate front-end loaders on a daily basis.  And I’m pretty good, if I don’t say so myself.  A few years ago when there was that show on tv about guessing people’s occuptions, I thought I should have signed up.  I’m pretty sure no one would ever guess I operate heavy equipment.  In fact I had an acquaintance that thought I was a lawyer for 3 years before she finally found out what it really was I did.  Maybe I can attribute that to my paranoid personality type?

7. I also play the piano and enjoy a fair dose of trashy, reality tv on a weekly basis. I know, I know, I’m ashamed of that last one too.

I am also to nominate seven other “Versatile Bogger Worthy” sites for the award.  Here goes:

1.  Photo Nature Blog — one of my very first followers, a site you can always count on for a beautiful photograph.

2.  Silver Fin of Hope — A beautiful, honest writer.  She focuses on fiction, but writes so beautifully from her heart about true experiences as well, especially the recent loss of her grandparents.

3.  Babble & Baklava — Just recently stumbled upon her writing.  It too, is heartfelt, honest, endearing and relatable all at once.

4.  Gwirrel’s Garden — As a flower FANATIC, this blog is not to be missed!  Beautiful photos of blooms, especially iris, crocus and hellebores lately.

5.  The Domestic Fringe — Also just recently found this site as well.  When I happened upon it, I found myself stuck there for at least an hour, reading and laughing out loud.

6.  Country Boy City Girls — cute ramblings on things like kids, mules and life in the country

7.  The Better Man Project — always inspiring and thought-provoking!

There are so many other great ones in addition to theses.  For everyone I follow:  Thank you for having something important to say and finding the courage to put it out there.  Keep writing!

For those of you nominated, and wishing to play along, here are the Rules:

1. In a post on your blog, nominate 7 fellow bloggers for The Versatile Blogger Award.

2. In the same post, add the Versatile Blogger Award.

3. In the same post, thank the blogger who nominated you in a post with a link back to their blog.

4. In the same post, share 7 completely random pieces of information about yourself.

5. In the same post, include this set of rules.

6. Inform each nominated blogger of their nomination by posting a comment on each of their blogs.

All But Gone . . .

She walked into the dimly lit sanctuary and felt alone.  Not the kind of alone where no one is around, but the kind of alone where you feel led toward the door, escorted out without so much as a head turning.  A goodbye, without the customary spoken words to mark its end.

Had they done this to her?  Or had she allowed this to happen? Was the sun sinking outside, or was it the sad corners of her mind closing the light without of these stained windows?  She couldn’t be sure, but she felt the dark pangs of dim emptiness surrounding her closer than the wooden pews.

This was hers.  This was home.  This was where emotions rolled out like tears dripping slowly, dramatically from head bowed in confession. This was where joy flew in the air like rice and rose petals, memories of lace-draped happiness gilded with sun’s warm light.   This was where holy water ran in a thin column from heavenly pitcher to newborn forehead, marked as Christ’s own for eternity.  This was where white candles threw their symbolic flickering light upon the walls, urging hearts to do the same in the cold world outside.  This was where friends said farewell, carried upon strong, grieving shoulders before being whisked away in stretched out cars, to be buried beneath the earth for now.

Hellos.  Goodbyes.  And everything in the middle, was here.

Somehow along the way it had changed.  This was no longer hers.   Given up, taken back . . . it was gone.  And she was alone. With nothing more than the blackening colored windows, casting the last of day’s shadows beyond brass crosses and wooden rails.  She wondered if she would feel something as she quietly escaped from the aloneness out the heavy wooden door.  She wondered if the trace memories of friends and family would pull at her as she faded into the outside, urging her to stay.  She wondered if she would miss it as immediately as the door closed definitively behind her, wishing she could have, would have stayed.

And with that, she said goodbye.  If not forever, but for a moment.

Six Degrees of Conversation

Race horses, seatbelts, buzzing windmills in airplanes, Lady Antebellum, World War II, county commissioners, Hawaii, personal meetings with Eleanor Roosevelt, blizzards that nearly coincided with births, rattlesnake antics, telephone calls from Ann Romney, the cost of bulls (as in the cow kind), Ford v.s GMC, airport expansion plans, kitchen cabinet installation, road trips from Colorado to Alaska and Tim Tebow, of course.  Yep, I believe we covered it all.  In the course of just four hours.

Oh the art of conversation.  And it is an art.  Finding those connections, inquiring into things of interest, the back and forth volley between two people can truly be an art form, in and of itself.  How can one thing lead to another and another until we find ourselves at somewhere completely opposite of where we started?  It’s kind of like the road trip from Colorado to Alaska.  With a primary route in mind, our conversational trip took a few twists and turns tonight.  A few back roads were taken, and even a ferry at one point.  But eventually we wound up in Alaska, maybe not exactly where we had anticipated, but we covered a lot of territory and we made it somewhere new and different, with lots of discoveries along the way.

There were stories involving bad flight weather and a split second decision to land a World War II fighter plane or push the eject button (or rather, open the door and bail at that time) with your superior sitting next to you, inquiring which it would be.  With the choice of landing strip or parachute, he chose the landing strip option and fell out of the low clouds to find the barely airborne plane touching down almost immediately with crews of fire engines ready for the impending crash. In the end, there was no crash.  But he admitted, it did seem a little eerie.

We’ve all had memorable conversations throughout our lives, discussions we will cherish and remember for all time.  Warm summer nights spent under the stars, with nothing but beautiful words rising out of the darkness.   Long discussions with children, just learning the meanings of words like “thermometers” and “mysteries,” using their newfound words in sentences and paragraphs strung together like macaroni on string necklaces.  And we’ve probably had a few serious debates and arguments that won’t ever be solved, but will remain symbolic of certain times and certain people in our lives

I don’t consider myself an artful conversationalist. I’m usually not willing to dig much further than, “Hi, I’m Katie.”    I typically find conversation with strangers to be difficult, and I’m pretty sure my awkwardness is apparent.  To be honest, most times I wonder “Why?”  Is it worth the effort?  Why bother trying to find those connections?  If only it were as easy as the conversation hearts we just exchanged on Valentine’s Day – a simple “Be Mine” or “You’re Sweet” would suffice as an entire conversation.  No awkward segue necessary.

I personally know a couple of true conversationalists, properly trained in the art.  And by properly trained, I mean one has actually attended a structured class on the how-to’s.  They enjoy conversation immensely.  They seem to know the appropriate questions to ask, honing in on new directions to take the discussion and they are really adept at listening.  That may be the real key.  They are actively listening, while participating in a conversation.  Who knew easy conversation actually requires a heavy dose of multi-tasking?

The art of easy conversation obviously requires a mind that is silently turning frantically in the background, continually creating new questions to ask, inventing new scenarios for the discussion to take and working to find previously undiscovered connections.  I picture gears grinding together at a fast pace inside their minds, clouds of steam rolling off of them, lightbulbs of new ideas flashing on and off, lighted exit signs perched precariously at the end (just in case an emergency exit from a particular subject is warranted) and a crew of miniature men dressed in suit coats, sweating, typing the things they hear into memory at the speed of light.   Where did all my men in the little suits go?  It seems when I need them, they have exited out the emergency door, unwilling to sit at their typewriters in these hot, low paying working conditions any longer. They won’t even do me the favor to stamp a just-introduced stranger’s name into my memory.

Conversation begins to sound like a lot of work to me.  And to be honest, sometimes it’s just not worth it in my mind.  Especially those situations on airplanes, early in the morning, for a measly one hour flight.  In those instances, I usually err on the side that it’s just not worth it.  Things that look easy, never actually are.  It has taken a lot of practice, missteps and re-dos to finally make difficult tasks look easy.  And stimulating conversation must be one of those things.

But most true conversationalists will dig and dig, talk and talk, chat and chat until they can find that connection.  Maybe it’s almost a challenge for them – to find that little bit of something they have in common.

A visual of our Six Degrees of Separation. Illustration courtesy of Wikipedia.

We’ve all heard of Six Degrees of Separation:  the idea that we are all really only six steps away from anyone else in the world, and that through friends of friends of friends, we should be able to make a connection or introduction with that someone in six steps or less.  Maybe their friends are a little more connected than mine? At one point in the 1990’s, a similar concept in Hollywood became known as Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.  Current social media outlets have assisted the Six Degrees of Separation theories.   According to a recent study, it’s been shown that Facebook reduces your degree of separation from six to four – in that via Facebook you should only be four steps away from anyone else in the world at any given time.  Apparently our big world is getting smaller by the day.

So maybe conversationalists are, without an exact goal in mind, just trying to find that sixth degree of separation between two people.  A commonality that makes this big world of ours seem just a little smaller.  A connection that assures us all that we are inherently related and similar despite cultural and geographical differences.  But it will always come down to asking the “right” questions and steering the discussion in the “right” direction to enable us to discover those connections.  So, an art it remains.  Let me go round up my little miniature men in suits again, and give this art of conversation thing another try.

APB: Turquoise, Ruffled Shirt on the Loose

Who took my kitty?  Who stole him and replaced him with this cautious, nervous and cowardly cat that I hardly recognize?  Think overnight scaredy-cat.  Max, renowned in my neighborhood for chasing snowflakes, sneaking up on deer, pouncing on anything and everything that moves (fallen leaves fluttering in the wind included) and running out into the driveway to meet me when I get home has changed.  Suddenly.

In my house, it is customary kitty protocol every morning, to twist the handle on my bedroom door ever so slightly and crack open the door.  Silent as I may think I’m being, I hear Max hop down from whichever window he may be perched in and run, feet softly padding their way on the carpet to my open door.  Good morning.

The "menacing" turquoise, ruffled shirt.

This morning was different.  I cracked the door, heard him hop down from his window and I waited.  And waited.  This time he slinked around the corner.  He didn’t look at me, but was eyeing   . . . a folded up shirt I had left in a stack just outside of my laundry room door.  Yes, I know it should have been put away.  But the shirt was obviously there all day yesterday, overnight, and still there this morning.  I’m quite sure it hadn’t snuck up on him during night’s dark shadows.

He eyed it, slinking up on it cautiously.  He got closer, then coiled back away from it.  He inched closer, front paw out. Tap.  Ever so slightly, more of a fake tap.  I’m pretty sure he missed tapping the actual shirt, just tapped the air very close to the shirt.  He was testing the waters.  Folded up shirts lying on the floor can be pretty menacing.  He backed up.  Inched forward a little.  Tapped again.  At this same unfortunate moment, my hand twisted the door handle it had been holding.  He was gone in a flash, scared out of his mind by the turquoise, ruffled shirt folded on the floor.

This hasn’t been the only incident though.  Lately the sound of my doorbell has been unnerving him.  Now granted, my doorbell doesn’t ring often, so it is one of those loud, rare, somewhat frightening occasions, for me included.

Even later, he was still eyeing the "menace" distrustingly.

He’ll sprawl in his window, watching the visitor approach without a care.  But the minute that doorbell rings, he’s out of the window and into the back room in one second flat.  I have to admit, I sometimes want to run into the back room too.  A few minutes later he’ll slink back toward the front door, belly low to the floor, peeping around the corner.  Curiosity always gets the better of him.

I wonder if he may have an uncanny ability to sense that I recently received his Vet reminder in the mail, encouraging me to make an appointment for his annual shots and vaccines.  A day he dreads, I’m sure, more than none other.  The day I will load him into the cab of my truck, holding him on my shoulder as I drive to the vet clinic just outside of town.  We drive haphazardly down the road, kitty in one arm, steering wheel in the other hand, world whizzing by at 30 mph breakneck speed.  I’ve sometimes wondered what other drivers may think, maybe they assume my cat goes everywhere with me.  When we arrive at the vet clinic, it gets worse.  I open the truck door and hold him tightly, with the nearby herd of quarantined cows mooing and the flock of 4-H sheep and their new babies mewing.

Together, we open the door to the clinic and step into a veritable sensory overload. Dogs barking and running, toenails clip-clapping on the vinyl tiled floor, cats meowing, more dogs barking from far off kennels and that smell.  The smell of antibiotics, mixed with antiseptic, cloaked over the underlying ever-present odor of urine, feces and dog food.

As if the smell isn’t enough, one memorable day I even flung open the door to a full-fledged dog surgery going on.  The vet, busy with tools and blood just waved to me with a smile, like “I’ll be there just as soon as I get this artery pinched off.”  I think both myself and my poor Max were traumatized by what we saw.  I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to stay, and I’m sure Max was feeling the same way.

Did the doorbell just ring??

When the time comes on the tall examination table to be looked over and under, neck pinched, foreign objects inserted, he freezes.  Paralyzed.  The vet tech even told me that when cats get scared, their skin releases their hair follicles, resulting in a cloud of floating, fine hair.  I hold him as his fur releases into the air above, catching on my lip gloss and nose.  In a few seconds, he’s more leaning, tipping into my arm.  If not for my hands holding him up, I believe his noodle-like appendages would flop under his weight and he would lie in a paralytic state upon that cold exam table, looking up at me, thinking “Why???”

There was also the time Max suffered some kind of infection by way of an alley cat foe’s scratch above his right eye.  The vet’s assistant assured me that it was a good thing, it proved that Max didn’t back away from fights, but took them on straight in the face, literally. The poor little fuzzy guy had lost three pounds, and when your maximum weight is around 14 pounds, that equals nearly a quarter of your total weight.  I wonder why that sort of unplanned weight loss never happens to me?  Hmmmmmm.  Of course, I really don’t want to wind up in an alley cat fight with a nasty scratch uncannily close to my eye either.

In addition to an antibiotic shot and creams, he was to receive subcutaneous fluids.  “Sub Q” fluids as my sister, a one-time vet tech, corrects me with the appropriate abbreviation.  The IV was started in the nape of his neck as I silently witnessed drop by drop of what looked like a liter of fluid descend down the long tube and into his little neck.  I thought it was my eyes tricking me, but I could see his neck start to grow, bulging as more fluid dripped slowly down into and under his skin.   Could he feel that watery ball of salty fluid caught between his skin and tissue in his neck? I wondered if I should alert the vet, but then the picture of him in the next room with his gloved arms bloody up to his elbows, dog on table, half sutured up enters my mind.  No, I think I’ll wait.

By this time, the fluid starts trickling out of poor Max’s neck.  Drip, drop from the liter bag, down the plastic tube, then drip, drop out of Max’s neck in a trickle down his side and onto the examination table in a clear puddle.  A lady in the waiting room starts laughing, “I guess he’s full!”  Oh, the joys of patient privacy.  I find myself wondering why there hasn’t been a four-legged version of HIPAA enacted on veterinarians by now.  Never mind that, I guess a door or two could solve that problem.

So as the time comes to take our annual adventure to the vet clinic again, it’s no wonder why my cat has aged so much overnight.  I just hope he doesn’t see that the turquoise, ruffled shirt has moved and will now be hiding out for him in my closet. And I beg, will the person who took my old Max, please return him?

Perfection in the Imperfections

This weekend I have been lettering. Extreme lettering, you could call it.  A crash course in creating, refining and imagining shapes, serifs and flounces.  Sounds pretty serious, doesn’t it?  As silly as it may sound, I was somewhat intimidated at first.  I can have neat handwriting . . . when I really try.  But most of the time it’s a cross between a sloppy cursive mixed with a few block letters thrown in where my cursive ones don’t make the cut.  I knew I had a lot of work to do.

It started off easy enough, block lettering, keeping a keen eye on proportions and angles.  Then shadowing and adding serifs –aka the fun details that make letters unique and captivating.  Up to this point, I had examples to follow, letters to trace invisibly in my mind onto the sheets of white paper.  Now I was expected to imagine, to create, to dream, all on my own.  It was a scary thought.

I’m usually a rule follower.   I follow the guidelines, color within the lines and never let my pen stray from the form I am imitating.  Now the possibilities were endless . . . and I drew a blank.  Has this ever happened to you?  You become so used to staying within the black lines that when you are given free reign to do whatever your creative heart desires, you cannot begin to fathom where to start?

It’s been a very long time since I’ve just sat down, no parameters, no end goal, and just let myself create.  In fact, I’m not quite sure that I’ve ever done that, except maybe as a child sitting with a blank white sheet of paper and a full box of 64, sharpened crayons in front of me.  I had no idea where to begin.  It took awhile to reignite the creative right side of my brain, but eventually, without fear of failing or messing up, I dug in and let the spark grow into a small fire.  Thus, began my weekend of lettering.  I know.  I lead a pretty exciting life.

I think words may have been my first love.  I fell in love with them at an early age.  I can still remember the huge, beautiful world they opened up for me when I realized there were hundreds, thousands, millions of books just waiting to be read.  I can still remember the first hard covered, library checked-out book (although the name now escapes me) that told a mysterious and wondrous tale of the Lipizzaner Stallions.  Stately, white horses that danced on the ground and in the air, with riders clothed in dramatic red coats and hats – it was no wonder I was mesmerized in the third grade.  I read and reread that book over and over, I loved the magical world it escorted me to.  And as I closed my eyes to dream at night, I would find myself swept away to the land of the Lipizzaners, their intricate hoofed ballet under my direction.

Then came the “Create Your Own Adventure” books, where myself, the reader, had the chance to make my own decisions throughout the book.  If I crossed the bridge, I was to turn to page 84.  If I took the right turn instead, I was to turn to page 70.  They resulted in endless hours of reading and flipping, turning back and changing my decision to find out where that one would lead me instead.

Although surely not the touted literary works that someone in the fourth and fifth grades should be reading for class, the books taught me that endings can be dreamed up in mass quantities.  The tale spun and its ending can change along the way until that final last page.  The tales of Ramona Quimby, James and the Giant Peach, The Indian in the Cupboard, Tuck Everlasting, The Black Stallion,Charlotte’s Web, the Little House on the Prairie series and the like ensued.

I entered college, knowing most certainly that I would study journalism and become a journalist in the news world.  Isn’t that how every new college freshman begins, with a set dream in mind?  No quicker than I had taken my first college level journalism class, I was quite certain that I could not, would not become a news journalist.  The rules, the fact finding, the verifying, the cold-hard-facts prose process put an abrupt end to the sort of writing I thought I was to pursue.

I did, however, find quiet solace in my literature classes where I could analyze, question and appreciate words in their more beautiful, poetic form.  Where one word could seem so perfectly placed that it could not possibly exist anywhere else.  The possibilities of strings of words, with lilted alliteration, were endless.  There were always more possibilities.  I was unbound by rules, other than proper grammar and sentence structure, free to use nouns, verbs, synonyms and descriptives as I so desired to convey thoughts.

A couple of years ago, while serving as the recording secretary in an organization, I found myself with no better explanation for my long, drawn out minutes except that     I  . . . . loved words.  It is true.  I love words.  I love what deep memories they can affect.  I love what images they can conjure and the feelings they can emote.  To me, there is just something about words on a page, simplistic in their beauty, yet enduring and timeless.

That’s what I thought before this weekend of extreme lettering.  While I still will always appreciate a white page covered with words, I’m learning how to illustrate words here and there with whimsy and creativity.  To draw attention to the details and to let a page full of black and white text . . . laugh every once in awhile.

As I practiced and created this weekend, I was taken with the finality and the intentionality of tracing over my penciled-in preliminary lines with a black pen.  It gave it a formality, a permanence of existing in something more than erasable lead.  The contrast of black line on white emptiness is dramatic and severe.  Beautiful, even in quivering lines, shaky shadows and eraser smudges.

To give words, with an inner beauty all their own, a beautiful, unique presence all my own is kind of fun.  To convey artistry into the technicality and rules of words and letters is exciting. So let the fun begin!  The doors have been opened to a whole new world.

I am a fan of CBS’ Sunday Morning (another sign that I lead a very exciting life) and a few weeks ago they did a story on Apple’s outsourcing of the production of its iPhones and iPads.  This wasn’t the part that caught my attention and I in NO way want to get into that discussion.  At the very end of the segment, one of the interviewees made a very small comment, a one line sentence at the very end that really made me stop and think.   I’m not going to quote the poor guy for fear of shredding his eloquent quote inadequately, but the bottom line was this:  

Even things as seemingly technical as iPhones, iPads

and computers, are still handmade.

There are not necessarily huge machines, churning out computer after computer.  Or mobile device after mobile device.  These intricate, beautiful technological advancements are still assembled by hand.  In a world where everything is cold, hard and machine-made it is quite impressive to think that there are still things, and beautiful, surprising things in our world, made precisely by hand.  It gives you a new appreciation for that sleek, gorgeous device in your hand, doesn’t it?

It got me thinking about my letters and words this weekend. We all have hands.  And we all have the ability to use our hands to create, hand-made things of beauty.  We don’t necessarily need a machine, a robot or a computer to do it.  We can carve, cut, mold, draw, paint, write, design and dream, no technical assistance necessary.

So as I sit down in front of my letters again, I am reminded that perfection can be in the little imperfections.  The not-so-straight lines, the black ink blots and the colored marks that escape the lines, all proving its handmade uniqueness.  May we all find perfection in our imperfections and let our lives “laugh” with a little whimsy here and there.