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the quiet. [k.s. friday]

the woods behind my growing-up house were an invitation. i spent hours in that little forest, planning routes and solving mysteries. at the other end of the woods, near clay pitts road, was a small goat farm, so if you traipsed through all the way – which, in retrospect, wasn’t really far – you would get to the fence where you could watch the goats. my next-door neighbors – there were eight kids in the family – and my across-the-street neighbors and i would devise all manner of woods-play. mostly, i loved the quiet.

the maple tree – my poetry tree – was right outside my bedroom window and provided safe limbs for writing in notebooks, reading, reflecting. long hours, my back against the strong trunk, sun filtered through thick leaves or branches ready to withstand winter. so many lessons with so little. mostly, i loved the quiet.

our river trail is not out in the wilderness. it takes us through woods and past meadows along the river, but is just a hop, skip and a jump from our home. it is restorative. last saturday, a white-tailed deer jumped across our path, bounded through the waning underbrush. hawks flew over us, chipmunks scampered, squirrels chattered from trees, admonishing us not to interrupt their work. there’s that the smell of pine and decaying leaves that even the best scented candles cannot capture. mostly, i love the quiet.

and those trails up in the mountains. for days i am breathless, adjusting to altitude, me: sea-level-raised with a mostly almost-sea-level-adulthood. i hike anyway, stopping often, sipping water. though i am a big lover of deserted beach walking and have logged plenty of time especially on long island and beaches of the east coast, the dirt under my feet through forested mountain is a salve. i agree with john muir: “and into the forest i go, to lose my mind and find my soul.”

as i write, the neighbors behind us are installing conduit all along the chain link fence, preparing to provide electricity to yet more spotlights high in the trees, a big yard full of stuff-to-do like a full-size batting cage, swingset and fort, soccer nets, battery-driven atvs, bikes, large plastic-ware toys, trampoline, zipline, loud outdoor speakers, and – i suspect – a revisit of the ice rink. the tallest trees have been wired with the brightest lights and i know that will mean later evenings where quiet at the end of the day is not valued. no longer the “sanctuary” others used to call the yard beyond ours, it makes me kind of sad thinking that so very much is required for this young family to be happily entertained. it makes me sad thinking that it is possible – these days – for people to forget that they live in community with others. we are not islands upon ourselves. what we do impacts those around us…even in our very own backyards.

fred rogers said, “i wonder what some people are afraid might happen in the silence. some of us must have forgotten how nourishing silence can be. that kind of solitude goes by many names. it may be called “meditation” or “deep relaxation,” “quiet time” or “downtime.” in some circles, it may even be criticized as “daydreaming.” whatever it’s called, it’s a time away from outside stimulation, during which inner turbulence can settle, and we have a chance to become more familiar with ourselves.”

so much to learn in the quiet. so much imagination, exploration. so much searching and so much finding. so much growth, no matter the age.

i’m grateful for the tree that was outside my window. i’m grateful for the tiny woods behind my house. i’m grateful for the beaches of my years. i’m grateful for the river trail and the hush it grants me. i’m grateful for the mountains and the pine forests and stands of quaking aspen, moments by running streams and tiny lakes tucked into the corners of beauty. i’m grateful for the symphony of quiet.

“peace and quiet.
peace, peace, peace.
peace and quiet.
peace, peace, peace.”

(excerpt from mr. rogers’ “peace and quiet”, 1968)

*****

read DAVID’S thoughts this K.S. FRIDAY

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like wisconsin. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

it smells like florida outside this morning. it’s milder and dewy and distinctive. it makes me think of many, many mornings waking up in florida, ready for sunny and warm. clouds hung low in the early day, burning off as the hours passed. here, this day will stay mostly cloudy, rain passing by, the sun not really having a chance. having passed through a couple days of really-cold, a day in the 50s feels like a reprieve. and that smell…

there have been some days in the summer when something in the air shifted and we could catch a hint of fishy from the lake. the air hung a bit heavier and the seagulls were noisy. these were the days i felt long island, images reaching across time and the miles inbetween here and there, beach days, boating days, old bike-hike days, days on the stoop of my growing-up house…

and the days when the leaves on the ground in late fall or the pine forest in the middle of our river trail place me back hiking in our favorite breckenridge, the scent of evergreen forest ever-present. those high mountains…

there are two small bottles of cologne on the windowsill of our bathroom. neither is mine. the estee lauder pleasures was my sweet momma’s and the small travel size marc jacobs daisy is one that my girl left behind. if my son was represented on the sill it would make me smile to see the abercrombie fierce his sister and i bought, long ago, for him to wear – talkaboutdistinctive! just a whiff of each of those…

the memory of fragrance is powerful and emotional.

we have cleared the deck of summer. the outdoor rugs, the table and chairs and new umbrella, the cushions and pillows, the old door and the ficus tree. all are put away. soon the dog’s water bowl will come inside as well and the last two pillows too. the rugs left lines on the wood, which will fade as time goes on. it looks blank out there. it seems like such a short time ago we were planning and shopping ever-so-wisely to make that space the perfect après spot. now, winter is on its way, taunting us even this week.

we left the small firepit on the deck. i figured we could light it outside the window and watch it from the table in the sunroom. it has been our favorite purchase of the summer and too much change too fast is, let’s face it, too much change too fast. we can still enjoy it for a bit more time, tucking it away on the most extreme days. après has moved inside.

but i suspect there will be a morning we wake up…some wintry day…probably soon…when we rise and open the back door for dogdog. we’ll have a burst of cold air and then, a long breath.

the snow will smell like frosted magic, crisp and white, sparkling. the sun will glimmer off flakes that have fallen on the deck. it will conjure up memories of snowmen and holiday decorating, christmas shopping and wrapping stocking stuffers late-late at night, the fireplace and shoveling and snow angels, walks in the woods and the crunchy sound of snow under your feet…

and that morning i’ll think, yes, this smells just like wisconsin.

*****

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out that window. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

first glance would suggest this is a black and white photograph. an image taken through the window over our kitchen sink, a view i have seen first thing in the morning about 12,000 times and the last minutes at night just before turning out the kitchen light and moving into a time for sleep, about 12,000 times. and any time inbetween, in the day as morning marched into noon and noon glimmered into midday and midday waned into evening. each time, gazing out, about 12,000 times.

that is likely paralleling how well ansel adams knew the american west, images of wild and rugged yosemite etched into his heart. how many times this maestro of his art must have studied those vistas, photographing morsels and overviews, contrast and shading in all seasons. striking focus, his work inspires adventure-out-there-juju and, more importantly, an environmental awareness in these times of climate crisis. without color, the attention of the aperture pivots to grandeur, is not distracted, but is challenged by shape and line and form and composition.

taking a photograph through a window is different than taking it without some kind of membrane between photographer and subject. it gives space for other kinds of interaction. the play of reflection, the underside of raindrops, never-minding the swipe of window-cleaner-rags. opportunity to see, a unique peek into the familiar, wherever you might be.

this is not a black and white photograph. it is the stuff of october days heading full-steam toward november. it is the drear of rainy and damp and cold. it’s wishing 65 degrees was not vanishing into the calendar.

and yet, having looked out of that window maybe over 100,000 times all told, i know that the view, framed by a painted cornice, kitchen cabinets and our old porcelain sink, is different each day, that the days are not identical and never really the same, that change is always a constant. and that some days, when i point the camera out the window it will capture intense color, vibrant sun, blue sky, leaves the colors of fire and rust and squirrels running on the wire.

*****

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creaks and clunks. [saturday morning smack-dab.]

one of the things i love about our old house are the sounds it makes. it’s like the house is talking to us, saying hi, greeting us, reassuring us. i know that i, more than most, animate inanimate things, including our house. yesterday, i got a little weepy just talking about the possibility of a different vehicle beyond littlebabyscion – ahhh…connection is both joyful and painful in all things. our house is among those, sweet connection to its every square inch.

between our old wood floors creaking, the radiators clunking, the vinyl lap siding expanding in the sun, the rain dripping off the roof onto the window, the gutters’ last licks after a storm, and just general sounds of 1928 settling into 2021, we have a symphony in this home. when you aren’t familiar with a place, these are all passive sounds that could keep you up at night, and i remember when david was first here, questioning the sounds i no longer really heard, the ones that simply faded into the blanket of “home”.

it’s one thing to hear the click of the deadbolt on the front door or the screen door slam or the wooden step-step-step thunks or the whoosh of clothing streaking down the laundry chute – these are all active sounds caused by another person…explainable. it’s the other ones – especially in the wee hours – especially with an empty nest – the ones that take you by surprise, make your adrenaline race, make you wonder and imagine and maybe get a littlebitscared. those are the ones that made him sit up and take notice.

the funniest moment was when our beloved babycat – quite the large cat – was upstairs and decided to come down in the middle of the night. his descending the steps – thud-thud-thud-thud – made david sit straight up in bed, whispering, “there’s someone in the house!”. as he looked around, unsuccessfully, for a weapon (perhaps a bedside book or an iphone plugged in?), i couldn’t stop laughing.

it doesn’t take decades of living somewhere to intimately know a place, to intimately love a place. but, decades of living somewhere makes that place love you back.

*****

read DAVID’S thoughts this SMACK-DAB SATURDAY MORNING

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la vida. [two artists tuesday]

i don’t remember what grade i was in when it was assigned: a project detailing what your ideal life would look like. it was either later junior high or early high school years. if i could find it in one of the bins in the basement i’m sure it would be predictably naive. i remember designing a house, writing about family, but not too many other details come up for me. designing an ideal life is never really inclusive of actual reality, difficulties, disappointments, hardships. i think it would be interesting to find this report anyway. the 1970s were a different time and this project would reflect that. were i to write a report now to reflect my ideal life, it would be a much simpler picture than i would guess that old paper would paint.

i remember columbus saying that he worked his whole life to have weekends with his family. to enjoy his backyard, his garden, a little fishing, time with the masons. he was living his ideal life each day, though the look in his eyes when we took him back to iowa and he stood in the fields gazing out at maize corn and blue sky would belie that. his dream was to raise his family in his hometown and, though he ended up in colorado, his other life was, i’m sure, somewhere in the farmland daydreams that swirled in his heart. he was wise, though, and didn’t wait to live until he was back in the midwest. instead, he set his sights on now. he didn’t wait. and each time his children or grandchildren visited he would cry upon their leaving, giant tears falling on this rugged man’s face. dolce.

some people are fortunate enough to have both: real life and the other life, la otra vida. crunch always felt that way about his boat too, so he’d understand the boat owner who named his boat ‘the other life’. moments of escape away, drifting, piloting to block island and fishing in long island sound, these are crunch’s ideal moments. though many of the boats and yachts in our harbor never leave their slips, perhaps just sitting on them in fresh lake air yields much peace for these boaters.

a house with lots of windows and open space, lots of repurposed old stuff, a kitchen in which we love to cook. nothing fancy. wood floors and a lot of white paint. a fireplace, my piano, david’s easels, places to sit and write and room for our beloved children, family, friends to come with significant others and visit. mountains and a lake out the window, a couple horses grazing.

last night as we sat on the deck in waning light turning to dark, tiki torches and our tiny firepit burning, dogdog sprawled out at our feet, we listened to the soundtrack of richard curtis’ movie about time. arvo pärt’s piece ‘spiegel im spiegel’ came on, a long piano-cello interplay of simplicity. we both had tears. if contentment was a piece of music, it would look like this.

though there are not mountains, a lake and horses out the window, perhaps someday there will be. it’s my maize-corn-blue-sky vision. but columbus was right. there’s the rest of it. the other life is always right there.

andrea wrote to me in 2009, “nothing is idyllic. i think we have idyllic moments. we have to take time to savor what is around us.”

la otra vida = la vida. ideal living.

*****

read DAVID’s thoughts this TWO ARTISTS TUESDAY


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home sweet home. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

“get outside.” “expand the confines of your life.” “surround yourself with beauty.” the youtube backpackers wander women kristy, annette and lynn have mantras displayed at the end of their videos. we somehow stumbled upon them; likely it was because they are currently hiking the pacific crest trail and they looked to be somewhere around our age. we have watched joey coconato backpack an inordinate number of times, and we know that we cannot be joey. we can’t even be joey-like. twenty years younger than us, he is stronger and bolder and with a vast amount of experience. the wander women, though also with decades of trail-savvy, made the trail look more accessible to us.

i have been moved by them. a few years ago they talked about what they wanted in life, made a plan and deliberately went about executing their plan. they sold houses, bought a diesel pickup and an rv and started living an itinerant lifestyle that suits their mantras. they are intrepid. one foot in front of another they have ticked off many of the big thru-hikes that linger on the edges of other people’s bucket lists. and, though we have watched them in question and answer videos and in gear videos and on various trails, right now we are following their progress on the pct. amazing. “home is where you are,” annette says, in answer to a question about how they feel about living in an rv and hiking. “you bring home with you,” she explains, totally secure and happy. they are a joy to watch.

most times we pull into the driveway – arriving from anywhere whatsoever – i say, “hello, sweet house.” it matters not how long or how briefly we have been gone; i am happy to be back and i guess i want our house to know it. animating a house is not likely on the restrained-unemotional-dispassionate-disconnected-unsentimental-apathetic spectrum but then i am pretty much an antonym-icon for all that. and i love our home.

that doesn’t mean i couldn’t love another home. i fall in love every time we are in the colorado mountains. i wish i owned most of the airbnb’s we have rented, so incredibly at home we have felt in them. i fell in love with the littlehouse on washington island; it was magical and we instantly bonded. we visited a tiny town in north carolina’s smoky mountains and thought, “we could live here.” we pined over a general store for sale in a tiny town in vermont, a place we could see ourselves hang our hats. my sister’s house, my nieces’ houses, all bring a sense of security and love. each one conjures up comfort. the up-north cabin for the up-north gang is a place of tranquility and laughter. 20’s condo is a place of serenity. friends have homes that are tranquilizing, soft places for our visits.

kristy and annette and lynn carry backpacks with less than 25 pounds of weight: their tents, clothing, food, water, supplies. that makes long-distance hiking sound more doable. “be bold” “challenge yourself” “create your life” they state at the end of another video. these are not empty words, not do-as-i-say-not-as-i-do words. they are living life in just this way. home sweet home for them is most undeniably inside them wherever they go.

the woodpecker who pecked out its house in this tree was just as fearless. undaunted by the size of the fallen log, it did what it knew – it created home. just watching a woodpecker create his own digs makes rv-living or driving up our driveway look like a breeze. i imagine that as the seasons change and life and time move on, there will be other trees in other forests, other home-holes, other places to nest, other welcome mats for this indomitable bird.

at a time when redefining is imminent, i look in the mirror and start to sketch out a plan, start to dream, to re-create life. it’s all amorphous right now, but our happy house – home, sweet home – cheers me on.

*****

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just as particular. [two artists tuesday]

“not like my mom at all,” she said, talking about decorating in an exquisitely joyful conversation. she described her template, “the colors of a desert sunset.” i was instantly in a different place, watching the sun go down over canyonlands and high desert. i can sooo understand surrounding yourself with the divine colors of these moments; i can sooo relate to taking them with you.

as a person who has surrounded herself with rocks and sandstone and sticks and branches and feathers and pinecones of the high mountains, i get the connection to these places and the desire to live within them, even if you are not there. she went on to describe the colors, a template that made me want to immerse in them, like a favorite quilt. i lingered in every word she spoke, this beautiful, creative daughter of mine, trying to remember each one just as she described it, store them away in the kaleidoscope of treasured bits of knowledge.

i walked around our house after that. black and white. a little bit of flour-tortilla. green plants. old clay pots. old wood floors. there’s a certain ochre in our sitting room and in the stairwell going upstairs. and there’s some barn red in the bathroom. it’s kind of a cross between the extremes of ansel adams’ color palette or sheet music tablature, golden sunrise moments, a new england farm, deep woods in the mountains, canyonland red rock.

the photographs i take everyday and everywhere vary. but lately, i have found myself drawn to these small canvasses of almost monochromatic still-life outdoor paintings, just waiting on the side of the trail, waiting in flower gardens, waiting in the woods. nuances of shade, a tiny pop of color … nature’s natural inclination to visual cohesion. i’ve been especially seeing the greens in the greens, really delicious shadings, no competition for spotlighting, just color intertwined and inclusive. i’ve noticed even more distinctly the genius of a single bloom, petite berries, nestled in all the verdant green.

i came home from such a hike one day recently and took out the 1940s opalescent aqua blue hobnail glass vase that was my sweet momma’s. it reminds me of sky and water; it reminds me of grocery store flowers my dad always bought my momma. it doesn’t go with our house, i had thought, going through bins and boxes. and then, i placed it in the window seat of our black and white and flour-tortilla living room, a gentle nod to days spent in the grass drawing with clouds and on long island beaches with coppertone floating in the air. a “yes” to my daughter.

she is right. the colors in our home aren’t the incredible desert pastel spectrum, the intensity of sage peacefulness our girl described – the sunsets she holds close to her soul. but it is as particular to the desire to surround oneself with that which is meaningful, to what resonates inside, to what gives you serenity, keeps you still in all the whirling world, brings you contentment, is part of the nirvana of tranquility, is your sanctuary. it’s decorating with true heart.

not so different after all. ❤️

*****

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tiny fountain. [two artists tuesday]

in 1969, when i was ten, i stood on the viewing deck and stared at a motionless niagara falls. they had turned the falls off, so to speak, building temporary cofferdams to divert the water from the american falls to the horseshoe falls on the canadian side. my parents had pitched the trip to me as something very few people would see – in comparison to those who have seen the falls with water. but as i stood there, gazing at a waterfall sans water, i had deep disappointment to not see the majesty of that landscape as it usually existed. the next time i went to niagara falls i was sixteen and there was water, glorious water, and the static electricity made my hair literally stand on end. it’s powerful watching waterfalls…powerful and meditative and inspiring. simply water. falling.

for years it sat motionless on a living room window seat. i suppose it, like the american falls, was waiting. “un-dam the coffers” (or just add water and plug it in), this little fountain was thinking. i would dust around it and wonder why i was holding onto it, my tiny 1969-niagara.

and then one day, a few weeks ago, i picked it up and took it outside to the deck to clean it up. i added water and plugged it in and watched it come back to life. instantly, its flow, a gentle trickle, spoke to me, reminiscent of standing in a cool woods next to a stream flowing just a bit downhill. i moved it inside to the sunroom, put it on the old table we have in the eastern window that catches rays of the sunrise, and plugged it in.

this little fountain’s presence, the sweet sound of water moving, is inescapably soothing. a simplicity, the element of emotion and wisdom, moving freely, continuously, a reminder of the fluidity of these days – the coming and going of change, gentle adaptability. all good as we sit near this tiny fountain full of big lessons.

*****

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levels of color. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

we were the only ones. the only customers in the grocery store with masks on. there was one employee we saw wearing one, but we didn’t see any other shoppers with one on. the other day, at a different grocery store, we were the recipients of a few dirty looks. but heck, we have tougher skin than that. mostly.

we sat outside while the light waned, before the mosquitoes had rsvp’d they’d be there. torches on, flame dancing from the fire column, we had a few hors d’oeuvres and a glass of wine and talked about these times. there is a wistful dividing line between before and now. the pandemic has shot a chalkline in our calendars and even now, not quite after, we can see the difference.

the books arrived in the mail. it was one of those rare days when you open up the front door and see a surprise gift parcel on the doorstep. the books, memoirs of raynor and moth. the salt path, the first, a viewmaster of days during which, through the necessity of impossible challenges, raynor and moth were hiking the south west coast path in the united kingdom. “i think they are your people,” she wrote about this couple.

we opened the first paperback. i am reading it aloud and we have a voracious appetite to keep going in between all else. i read and we digest, this tale of backpacking without the reassuring fallback of retreat or going home in the end. it’s breathtaking and stunningly candid.

monday night i read aloud the sentence, “being separate from people for large chunks of time had reduced our tolerance levels.” it was not a statement of pandemic; it was a statement of wilderness camping. yet, it hit us – it was a statement of pandemic. so relevant.

if we are all honest with ourselves, we find now that the pandemic has most definitely divided our circles into before and now . . . and hopefully, one day, after. people who are absolute, people we have stayed in touch with or who have stayed in touch with us, even spottily, people who have fallen away. people who have shown true colors, people who have been generous and compassionate. people who have jumped at the chance to help others, to abide by recommendations to ease this pandemic, people who have chosen to be cavalier, go-their-own-way, to scoff and ignore, to not be any other’s keeper.

the season/reason mantra applies, we pondered aloud at the table, talking about past friendships and working relationships. some people, there with us at some point, are just not to be dragged into now. we appreciate their presence at the time they were present and we learn we must let go. they have become woven into who we have become and those threads remain somewhere in the interior of the quilt. but, in the way that time moves on, so do attachments. and even beyond the natural attrition of relationships – just like raynor and moth, though not on a wild trail – the simplicity of who we have become, what we have seen or done, where we have gone or not gone, how we have lived through these times, of pandemic, of loss, of challenge, of grief – this simplicity has changed us and, it seems, has changed our tolerance levels. as if they were on a cmyk or rgb profile – empathy, compassion, masks, vaccines, distancing, research, critical thinking, kindness, questioning, learning, truth, transparency, loyalty, generosity, inclusivity, gentleness, agenda-ridden-less, fairness, decency, basic dedication to not being mean…a wide spectrum of color levels in humans that surround us.

we were quiet as we sat and thought about people in our lives, what has changed, what has remained the same, people we yearn to see, people we, frankly, perhaps sadly or resignedly, don’t care to see again.

we gratefully looked around at flames in torches, food on our table, the dog on the deck, the old screen door to a comfortable beloved house merely steps away. the simplest pleasures have been, are, the pleasures. we cannot think of a reason that this is not a good thing. though we shed a few tears, we held hands as we spoke, together not separate.

the mosquitoes found their way to the deck. we blew out the torches, snuffed the fire column and carried our plates inside.

*****

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intrepid. [two artists tuesday]

and just like that – on a beautiful sunday driving a back road in wisconsin – little baby scion turned 250,000 miles.

we drove with the camera ready…ready to take a video of the 249,999-250,000 turnover, ready to stop and take a picture on the side of the road of this momentous moment. this tough, scrappy little vehicle is intrepid. with a few bumps and scratches (like the rest of us) and a few rattling noises (also like the rest of us) littlebabyscion diligently trods on, dutifully and reliably chalking up miles and experiences with us. and we are devoted to it.

we knew it was coming. we were less than thirty miles away, a mere backroads drive to lake geneva to pick up a piece of flourless chocolate cake in anticipation of our celebration of this no-frills little square vehicle. we planned our sunday afternoon around it, loaded dogdog in and, in sunday-drive fashion, took our time both on roads we knew and roads we turned onto, just to see where they went. we pulled over when it turned. it was astounding to actually think about: that this little car had safely driven me/us 250,000 miles. that’s 83 times across the united states! we sat there and thought aloud about all the places we’d gone in it, all the roadtrips, and all the really significant events that had happened.

when littlebabyscion turned 235,235 miles i recounted some of those; it is no less inspiring to me now. littlebabyscion delivered my girl and my boy – and all their stuff – back and forth and back and forth and back and forth etc etc etc to college dorms and apartments. littlebabyscion brought babycat home from florida. littlebabyscion drove across the country loaded with cds for concerts and wholesale and retail shows. littlebabyscion picked up david at the airport for the first time we met and drove us away on our honeymoon. littlebabyscion drove dogdog home from a farm in a little town on the river on the other side of the state. littlebabyscion took us back and forth and back and forth and back and forth to florida to see my sweet momma in the last of her life. littlebabyscion was our haven the day, on the highway to see her, my momma died. it held us safe, a buttress for our grief. littlebabyscion moved us all – with dogdog and babycat ferry-quivering each time – to the island littlehouse and then home again. littlebabyscion has determinedly climbed mountain passes to get to see our girl and driven in traffic jams out east and on chicago’s highways to see our boy. littlebabyscion has slept in rest areas, restaurant lots, parks. littlebabyscion has eluded storms and hail and snow and straight-line winds. like 20 said, when he heard of its milestone, “to the moon and back!”.

i asked steve, our miracle mechanic, what i would do when littlebabyscion reached 300,000 miles. “keep driving it,” he said.

he’s right. keep driving it.

so one of these days, a while from now, expect to see this same shot with 300,000 miles on the odometer.

you go, littlebabyscion, you x-ceptional xb.

*****

read DAVID’S thoughts this TWO ARTISTS TUESDAY