Sunday, February 22, 2009

Running Water

When the county road crew drags the ditches of my dirt road, the two-mile drive from the paved road to Sandhill becomes an obstacle course. Roots and rocks make the surface of the road, usually relatively smooth and flat, look something like the pictures of the moon that the Apollo astronauts sent back to those of us staring up at the sky ooh-ing and ah-ing.

The result of this change in landscape, for the driving public, is that the shocks on whatever vehicle one is operating get a work-out normally seen only in commercials shot in the Baja Peninsula. Tires bounce, steering wheels jerk, anything hanging from the rear-view mirror sways like a pendulum on speed and one cannot avoid thoughts of the yolks of a dozen eggs staining the carpet in the cargo area.

Last week was our week. Whatever rotation it is that the county maintains for ditch-dragging, a rotation that has to take into consideration weather conditions and the availability of correctional institute labor, resulted in our road getting itself torn up on Friday.

Driving home, happy for the weekend and thinking about my Saturday plans, I nonchalantly made the turn from pavement to red clay and suddenly felt my shoulders jolting against the seatbelt, my head making contact with the roof of the car. Ba-bump.

You can't drive fast on a road whose ditches have just been emptied of months of debris. You drive slowly and carefully, maneuvering left and right with the finesse of an ice sculptor, and you pay close attention to that around which you are maneuvering. Rocks and roots won't blow a tire, but a lost plow point will.

Most of the time I am slightly irritated by the care I have to exert on such days. Most of the time I mutter uncharitable things about the mounds of dirt and the people who left them there. Most of the time I am not the least bit interested in why this inconvenience is regularly inflicted upon us dirt-road dwellers.

But Friday was different. Maybe just because I was happy for the weekend and thinking about my Saturday plans, I paid attention – to the extent that I could without driving straight into one of them – to the raw cuts in the walls of the ditches, the way the different colors of clay looked like a cutaway of the layers of the earth in my elementary school science book. I noticed how deep the ditches were, now emptied of branches and dead leaves. And I realized how easily would now flow the rain waters that were sure to come with what General Beauregard Lee had just told us would be an early spring.

That's the thing about water: To be of any benefit, it has to flow. It can't be allowed to sit, to stay, to stagnate. And if its conduit – a ditch, an irrigation pipe, the spout of a watering can – is clogged with waste, that is exactly what happens.So we drag the ditches, bore out the pipe, flush the spout, give water a channel through which it can run, through which it spreads out to nourish and clean.

I'm not always as prompt to do that as I should be. I get distracted, I let the dead leaves of unfinished tasks settle in the channel of my heart, I ignore the sludge of negative emotions that slows the stream of kindness. And, before I know it, the channel overflows and the road is washed out.

Stranded. Two miles from home.The choice, then, isn't so hard. Drive carefully. Avoid the roots and rocks and, when the weather turns, let it rain.

Copyright 2009

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Cold Winter Mornings

On cold winter mornings, when the windows were etched with ice doilies, I got to lie in bed five more minutes as Daddy spun the thermostat and the deep-bellied sigh of the floor furnace came up through the floor.

On cold winter mornings, when the light outside was the clear navy blue of just-dawn, I left the bed and let the warm air of the furnace billow up my pajama legs and arms before I jumped into my Buster Brown turtleneck and plaid pleated skirt and knee socks.

On cold winter mornings, when the wind whistled around the corners of the house like a freight train, I got a grilled cheese sandwich for breakfast -- thick slices of bright orange hoop cheese melted onto soft white Sunbeam bread -- while Mama warmed my shoes on the open door of the oven.

On cold winter mornings, when the ground was hard and the ruts from the latest rain had stiffened into the fluted edge of a pie crust, Daddy went outside to warm up the car and came back in rubbing his ungloved hands together to stand patiently while we gathered our books and put on our coats.

On cold winter mornings, I first became conscious of the small, tender acts of love that parents perform for their children.

Children, of course, are oblivious. They have no awareness of the inequity of the relationship. And they should be. They have no means to do anything of significance for those who feed and clothe and house them. They are without any capacity for reciprocity. Except, of course, that what is true in the literal food-clothing-shelter sense, is completely false in all the ways that matter. Children, anyone who has ever kissed the back of one's neck knows, offer back to the adults in their lives magic and wonder and laughter.

Children give us an excuse to read aloud and say words like, "Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You" and "He brought everything back, all the food for the feast. And he, he himself, the Grinch, carved the roast beast." They give us an excuse to do the Hokey-Pokey and ride the carousel and make construction paper turkeys out of hand-prints.

Just after Christmas I took Aden, who is now six and in kindergarten, to see "The Tale of Despereaux." Aden's sister Azlan and five other adults went with us, but it was really just about the two of us. Aden knows about my fear of mice and all the stories of my encounters with the rodents (He has heard them so many times that he could probably tell them himself.), so he understood what it took for me to voluntarily agree to sit and watch Despereaux (admittedly cute, admittedly animated, but still a mouse) and all his friends and family cavort on the big screen for an hour and a half. As we got out of the cars and headed to the ticket office, Aden took my hand and said, "Aunt Kap, I think you are very brave."

Ah, yes. That is why we – the grown-ups, the authorities, the ones who convince ourselves that we are in control – do what we do. Get up early to turn up the heat, make grilled cheese sandwiches, read the same book over and over and over, watch movies about mice who talk. Work hard and sleep less than we should. Because if we are lucky, a very wise towhead with chocolate eyes will one day look up at us and say, "I think you are very brave."

Copyright 2009