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the shadows. [d.r. thursday]

we can see the shadows getting longer. earlier in the day, the sun is lower in the sky and fall is on the rise. the wistful-autumn-thing is starting. picking apples and going to the pumpkin farm are on our list-of-things-to-do and i’m pulling out soup recipes, planning ahead. i’m hoping the cherry tomato plants will sustain longer. and the valentino basil has rejuvenated; dinner last night was red pesto pasta – thanks to this very plant. we need to order some wood and i’m keeping my eye out for the perfect mums. and socks made a cameo appearance the other day. blue jeans and boots, the stuff of happiness, are itching their way back into our world, having been buried under summer and no-airconditioning wear. i love fall. and nothing stops the melancholy.

we didn’t sleep again. i’m writing this on wednesday, so last night – tuesday night – was a long wakefulness with a smidge of dozing around 6am. i was aware that i was feeling anxious, worried. no amount of tossing and turning helped. once you are traveling down that road, there are no u-turns. i watched the shadows change in the room, listened to the rain, rearranged my pillows a time or a hundred times. insomnia is a resolute challenger. and, in the middle of the night, every question you have ever perseverated over, ever pondered, that has ever even remotely teased you for an answer is present and accounted for, lined up, waiting for answers or action plans. meanwhile, any even breathing of your spouse, and even the dog, wreak havoc with your impulse control.

the coffee this morning tasted especially good. the day is grey, though the sun is supposed to appear this afternoon. i wrote in my calendar, as i do each day, and was, once again, flabbergasted that it’s just shy of the end of september. equinox as i write and tomorrow we fall deeper into fall. equal parts of darkness and light on this day. that might explain my lack of sleep – equal parts of dark and light – the chiaroscuro of the wee hours – when we would rather languish in light, literally and metaphorically.

a year ago today my daughter facetimed me from the top of a 14’er. it was a scramble to the top, rocky and treacherous. and then, there she was. 14,000 feet up, in the sun, sunlight bathing her radiant face. she panned the camera around so i could see the vastness of it all. mountains and canyon and brilliant uninterrupted light and deep shadow. an equinox perhaps by calendar, but overtaken in any soul-sense by the gleaming luminescence of arriving at the summit.

we each have our own personal night-shadows, building blocks of angst and anxiety, dark caverns filled with life events and life decisions and being wronged and wronging. morning usually helps. it’s when what is real-now shows itself in three-dimension and that which is shadow fades just a bit. the existential questions of the night shrink ever-so-slightly. we look at our to-do lists and pencil in time to take a walk, to hike, to feel the sun on our faces.

we know – despite the neverending pondering of the night – that the questions matter less than the moments. we have learned it time and again – watching the cycle of life, sand running through our fingers, holding mica in our hands. we will, undoubtedly, learn it again.

we know we can make it to the top of each mountain. the equal or unequal division of darkness and light will not stop us. and neither will the shadows. each step counts. we put our faces to the sun and get on with it.

*****

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CHASING BUBBLES

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and nature strung up prayer flags. [k.s. friday]

and the universe glanced down at planet earth.

and grimaced to see raging wildfires, upending people’s lives, destroying towns and homes and forests and tiny creatures racing to stay ahead of flames.

and the universe glanced down at planet earth.

and wept at floods sweeping over land, drowning dreams and crops and families, sweeping away livestock and animals trying to escape mudslides.

and the universe glanced down at planet earth.

and, wincing at the pain of what it saw, questioned why brilliant science could not prevail, why habitats were being destroyed, why climate change and global warming were not on the lips of all its people, why something so vital seemed so controversial.

and the universe glanced down at planet earth.

and pondered its resources, its clean water, the fruits of its ecosystem, the sustainability of food and drink for each and every one of its beloved inhabitants on its crowded globe.

and the universe glanced down at planet earth.

and grieved the ramifications of a raging pandemic, sickness and suffering, lives lost, security decimated, together slashed into separate and distant.

and the universe glanced down at planet earth.

and wondered about the division of its people, wondered about deep disagreement, hatred and the brash spewing of vitriol, wondered where truth went.

and the universe glanced down at planet earth.

and wondered about all manners of inequality, wondered about all manners of discrimination, wondered about ill treatment of its dear ones, wondered about cruelty.

and the universe glanced down at planet earth.

and saw anxiety and angst and surging mental health challenges in its own, fear and instability, exhaustion, unassailable peace assailed.

and the universe glanced down at planet earth.

and wished the most basic elements would rise to the top, tending the needs of clean air, food, clothing, shelter, education, healthcare, sanitation, protection, communication, belonging, caring about and for each person.

and the universe glanced down at planet earth.

and hoped for a better time, a better way, a resurgence of compassion, a renewing of a world commitment to collaboration, and a rebirth of what it had given each person: a heart.

and nature, well, she strung up prayer flags.

*****

HOPE (kerri sherwood)

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“try to make room.” [merely-a-thought monday]

“basic logical reasoning” seems to be in short supply. instead, there is a vast vat of hook-line-and-sinker-ism with a side of blind, unquestioning ideological buy-in.

i have been stunned time and again reading social media threads these days. i thought that i grew up – and attended a high school – in an area that valued education . . . even at its simplest – to learn the lifelong skill of complex critical thinking and rational deductive reasoning based on learning how to research, how to gather factual information and observations and weigh all these elements appropriately and objectively, working toward a conclusion. i would have guessed that most of the people i went to high school with, like my dear friend marc, – all those years ago – having been taught by world-class teachers – would have this skill but this is apparently not so. social media has proven me wrong.

again and again, i read with horror the comments of those who have narrowed the spectrum of the tools they use to garner information. again and again, i shudder to see how limited they have made their worlds – how learning is restricted to resources that have their same opinion, how crossing any aisle to ponder, question, discuss, evaluate, negotiate – in any arena – is impossible. i’m astounded by the sheer ignoring (note the similarity to the word ignorance here) of factual information. it’s staggering to see so much anger directed so quickly and pointedly – with extensive name-calling – by people who use limited vocabulary, use limited or no citations of unbiased truth, clearly have limited empathy for others different than themselves, but have unlimited dedication to their beliefs – particularly under the ever-widening umbrella of extreme political beliefs these days – with no evidence to substantiate them. behaviors that are outlandish – even in this day and age after the last administration’s unleashed and continued field day on hatred and vitriol and lies – perversity at its best.

it’s disheartening to casually scroll through social media and stumble into a thread in which a participant has gone from zero to warp speed in milliseconds, spouting, spouting, spouting. the spew may be ‘big lie’ related, voting-restriction related, vaccination related, pandemic related, mask related, race or gender related, gun-control related, climate related, taxation related, social programs related, science related, any-color-koolaid related. i – maybe like you – have been the target time and again of being called names (really?!) by people i don’t know, people i’d think would know (or at least speak) better, people who are ‘friends’ of ‘friends’, people from my old high school, people who are just clearly ticked off in a big way and need a target. if you even attempt to engage in a conversation, it quickly disintegrates into stupefying borrowed rhetoric.

i suppose this trend will continue, as a large part of our country has made it perfectly acceptable to just unconsciously follow pied pipers or obnoxious acolytes thereof. it’s somehow become perfectly acceptable, even noteworthily cheered on, to use aggressive language, to be hostile and combative, to be both prey and purveyor of distraction and mediocrity, to state and re-state and post and forward false information, to not ask questions, to disregard facts, to be so deep into belief that it’s no longer necessary to examine knowledge, seek anything evidentiary, or look for relevant logic.

i’m still proud of john glenn high school. i’m proud of the teachers i was lucky enough to be taught by back then. i’m glad i paid attention, that i made learning and how to learn a priority. it’s a fluid and continual lesson. i believe it’s that which is essential for existence, vital for living. i know we’re never done.

but it doesn’t stop me from rolling my eyes at those whose “room for some basic logical reasoning” is scant. it’s dispiriting.

and i just want to add one more thing while i’m at it. a tiny peeve of mine. please check your spelling, grammar, word usage, sentence structure, auto-correct – maybe consider proofreading – before you opine on social media. particularly if you want to be taken seriously. (consider, if you will, a posting of the words: “voter freud“.) words, punctuation, coherence – they all matter. perhaps not as much as your intention, but still…

my sweet momma always said, “if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all.” she also famously said, “look it up!”

she, like me, would be aghast at these more recent trends. and she, like me, would still hold out hope for human decency.

*****

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farm to table. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

10. there are now ten teeny tomatoes tethered to the tendrils of our tomato plants in our tiny tabletop garden. it’s amazing! i am ridiculously dedicated to them and watch each day as they grow.

on sunday i went outside to this old barnwood and pipe planting stand and, for the second time now, snipped off fresh valentino. it’s heavenly, the scent of fresh basil. with a little olive oil and some boughten* grape tomatoes tossed with leaves of basil, we had a meal from our little farm. (try to contain your amazement, millennial farmer.)

i still marvel at this minor little miracle, simple and so utterly complex, this growing edible food. we clinked our glasses of old vine zin in celebration and reveled in the good fortune we felt having successfully – at least for the last three weeks – raised a few plants, who seem to be happy and flourishing in the hot, humid, rainy days we have been having.

around the corner is an empty and beautiful grass lot on lake michigan, owned by the people who live across the street from it. they have planted a vegetable garden and we watched as they tenderly watered it the other day while we walked past. i wonder if they started with a container garden on their potting bench.

i don’t know how long it will be before these teeniest babies will grow and ripen into cherry tomatoes that will grace our salad bowls or join with basil in pasta-union. it will be a journey of enlightenment for us. what i do know is that we are seriously loving every bit of it. and the tomato and basil plants seem to know it.

*****

*boughten: though i don’t normally use it, this is indeed a word and, for this writing, seemed like the right one to use.

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34 = 20 + 14. [d.r. thursday]

34 – the combination of 14 & 20 – love to cook together. they chop and laugh and saute and bake and grill, punting their way through recipes. with glasses of wine in hand (and lately, maybe old-fashioned wisconsin old-fashioneds) these two brothers-of-different-mothers gleefully prepare dinner.

twice a week we three (61 when you add us all up) used to dine together. and then covid. for well over a year, dinners stopped and phone calls commenced. but even zoom doesn’t come close to the ritual of preparing good food and sitting down all together around a table. finally, fully-vaccinated and still wearing masks out in public spaces, we are back. and so there is a piece of our world that has righted; the axis is just a little less tilted. we are grateful.

20 goes way back for me. shortly after my beloved big brother died, i believe he looked down from heaven and hand-picked out 20 to stand in for him. he didn’t expect 20 to be exactly who he was, he just expected him to be there for me. and vice-versa.

my little girl and 20’s little girl took ballet lessons together as tiny ballerinas and 20 and i sat on the wood floor with other parents just off the studio, morning light spilling in through the windows. my little boy drove his matchbox cars up and down the hall, including on and off 20’s legs, clearly seeing in him a man who adored the magic of small children and their imaginations. it was like group therapy, this cadre of parents on the wooden floor, and we still think of those times fondly. we followed ballet class with an ice-cream-sundae trip across the street to andrea’s and sitting on high stools at jack’s cafe in front of the soda fountain. cups of hot coffee and watching our tiny girls make straw dolls with paper napkins and my little toddler boy having soup-that-race-cars-eat with a side of saltines and pickles were glittery times…priceless. in the way that life and mystery goes, 20 happened to be a graphic designer at a time in my life when i needed a graphic designer. we celebrated my first album together and he designed many of the next ones. there for meetings or reviews, i watched him and justine and duke at work. i had the good fortune of secondhand learning; i still credit 20 with the way i design things now. it was inevitable that we would still be almost-brother-sister 27 years later. i imagine this will go on forever and ever, in the way that my own big brother devised it. only now, we are a trio of compadres. we’d have it no other way.

in this time of so much loss for so many, we have not gone unscathed. jobs and security, finances and healthcare, communities-within-communities, relationships – all have an iota of decimation. the rituals of our life together are the things we hold onto, the firm footing that delivers us from one day to the next. for us, resuming the twice-a-week dinners with 20, friday night potlucks with our dear-dear friends which have temporarily become happy-hours in their backyard, our familiar-trail hikes watching the seasons change in the woods…these are real, three-dimensional and steady and are evidence of life beyond these times. they are evidence of a return to some semblance of normal, though we suspect things may never actually be normal again.

we are still careful out in public. we still wear masks and use sanitizer. at OT appointments they still take my temperature, have a pile of masks at the door and ask a slew of covid questions. we are wary of too much exposure – our innermost circle demands it, for this pandemic is still alive and well and we do not wish to place our dearest close ones at any potentially devastating risk.

yesterday we passed a teen girl walking down the sidewalk, mask at her chin, with a sad, sad face. it made me think about all the people who have lost loved ones during this year-plus of covid. i wonder how they feel as they watch others, in seeming cavalier fashion, gather in crowds, throw out their masks and throw any remaining caution to the wind. i’m guessing maybe they are heartbroken. because there is no going back. it can’t be undone. and the loss of their beloveds has not changed others who do not walk in their shoes.

i guess it’s the lack of empathy, the lack of looking-out-for-each-other, the lack of small efforts of willingness to aid the big community that i find most disturbing. because, really, in the ritual-festooned-relationship-rich-shimmering-end we are our brother’s (and sister’s) keeper.

just ask 34.

*****

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chipping away, i suppose. [merely-a-thought monday]

long island has nicer springs than wisconsin. considerably warmer temperatures, more consistent sunshine, earlier flowers, i remember my birthday in late march as sweater-weather, with many birthday pictures taken in front of the yellow forsythia at the front corner of our yard where the grass met the curb of the street. not so much in wisconsin. it’s still cold, still windy, still cloudy, still rainy, even still snowy. as my birthday rolls around i am always hopeful that it will suddenly change and there will be 60 degree days and we will hike with no coats and no 180 earmuffs. invariably disappointed, we layer up and hike anyway. saturday was no exception. no in-like-a-lion-out-like-a-lamb for this state.

birthdays always seem to be a time of reflection. the generosity of wishes texted, emailed, called, zoomed, facetimed, mailed, shipped and wrapped on the doorstep are a heaping portion of goodness and they enveloped me in warmth all day. the lion of march did not reign the day. instead, the only roar i heard was laughter on the trail, on facetime with my niece, on zoom with best friends, reading the glittery-unicorn-poop card from my other niece, the lingering echoes of my girl and her boyfriend singing to me, my son’s voice on the other end of the phone, a dinner invite from him and his boyfriend, singing memojis, exploding confetti on a text from crunch, music and spattered painting in an ecard from my mother-in-law, words in messages penned or typed, thoughtfully chosen. i lit my new candle, named my adorable new gardenia bonsai, and pulled my concentric circles ever tighter to me, hugging them back. there are days i think that every day should absolutely be lived like a birthday.

there was a common denominator in messages. my husband cleverly made a birthday book about life and love from a pa-pad, pads of scrap paper cut and glued by my sweet poppo in his effort to save trees and the environment. a dear friend from elementary school wrote that she hoped all my wishes come true. my oldest friend ever, a cherished friendship that has sustained through the years, wrote that she hoped i was celebrating. in one card that wished me “all things beautiful” i read, “may you always see the beauty in this world and be encouraged to keep pressing on, regardless of the stumbling blocks or hurdles that stand in the way.” in another was simply the word “forever”. another made me laugh aloud, poking fun at growing older. another wished me a better year. and one reminded me that “we are all works in progress.” in that card, my wise friend added “to ever evolving you” to the message “to another good year of chipping away…”

ever evolving.

the spring rains gather on the deck. they clean off the last of the snow and dirt that have been left there through the winter. like periods on sentences, they mark a new time of growth, an end to fallow, warmth on its way. there have been so many periods on sentences this year. too many. it is a time of wondering. clarity is elusive. it is a time of giving over to not-knowing.

i suppose it is possible that this is the lesson after all. not-knowing. ever. i suppose that spring – even in wisconsin – could surprise me. i suppose no time is really a time of stasis. i suppose that is why riverstones are so smooth. i suppose that, no matter what, the promise is to be ever evolving.

*****

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range of motion. this journey. [k.s. friday]

41 degrees. the torture device doesn’t lie. 41 degrees. that’s my right wrist forward range of motion (also known as ROM). this is likely too much information for you, but it’s a big celebration for me.

after i fell late in september on an unmarked wet linoleum floor, much like the one in my growing-up-basement – the kind where, when waxed, you can’t tell if it is wet or just shiny from wax – my range of motion was measured at 6 degrees. i probably don’t need to point out that isn’t much. after a debacle with a flippant ‘specialist’ in my own town who didn’t acknowledge the torn S/L ligament, i found a completely nerdy-in-all-good-ways hand specialist in milwaukee who told me he concurred with the MRI and that he regrettably had to tell me it was “too bad” it hadn’t been addressed by the first doctor. “que sera sera,” i hear doris day singing in my head.

so now, tiny increment by tiny increment, i am getting it back. the hand center doctor told me that i need to be patient and that he expects, if all goes well, i will regain ROM at a rate of five degrees a month. he pointed out that five degrees in a month doesn’t sound like a lot, but that in three months that is fifteen degrees and that, hopefully, in six months it is thirty degrees. if you add 30 to 41 it is 71, which is probably the best i will be able to do with the injury i had and the time that went by without proper treatment. i am on a journey and i’m grateful to the healing team involved. to be at 41 degrees feels pretty amazing.

this device is called a stat-a-dyne. i’ve named it brutus. the company tag line is “stretching your range of possibilities.” between brutus and my OT they have gotten me way further than when i was on that shiny wet linoleum floor post-fall. i’ve used my hand as much as possible. i’ve worked with a brace on and played both piano and organ (and for those of you in the know about pipe organs, that is a very different hand-extension-process than pianos.) i’ve done normal household chores and climbed a mountain or two and pushed a vacuum and, just days before he died, i picked up my beloved babycat as you would a small baby, with my hands and not my forearms. i’ve cut wet carpet padding and i’ve sauteed shrimp and i’ve pepper-milled-pepper and i’ve washed dishes. i’ve just done it all without a lot of wrist-bending. this part of the journey will someday be amusing, i suppose. we’ll talk about how i compensated in all this and we’ll likely giggle thinking about the way i reached for my wine glass while sitting on the couch or the way i combed out my hair or tried to scratch a hard-to-reach spot on my back, the ways i have been right-hand-challenged.

modern medicine – outside of my town – has offered me a range of possibilities, a range of motion buffet. modern medicine has given me – in this part of my journey – a range of hope.

THIS PART OF THE JOURNEY from THIS PART OF THE JOURNEY album ©️ 1997 & 2000 kerri sherwood

*****

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babycat. [two artists tuesday]

his long white whisker was on the black rug in the sunroom. i bent down and picked it up, my heart aching for this sweet adored cat no longer here. i taped it to a piece of colored paper, trying to hold on to babycat physically just a little longer.

b-cat was twelve. according to the almanac that’s about 64. it hadn’t occurred to me or us that he was a senior cat; he was simply our babycat and his presence was more than one-fourth of our home. his absence has made a profound impact; it is very very quiet. it’s not that he was that noisy, although he was a vocal cat. it’s just that he was that present. for each of us.

i was alone last week when it happened. in an unusual turn d was away and i was home. monday was a day of sorting and cleaning and rearranging. babycat spent the day in the same room as me and split his time between snoozing and pets. nothing out of the ordinary, just extraordinarily normal. tuesday morning was unexpected and will break my heart for some time to come. suddenly symptomatic and ultimately laying down behind a chair i never remember him exploring, i knew things were dreadfully wrong. racing babycat in his blanketed dog-crate (since he was too big for cat carriers) to an urgent veterinarian appointment, i spoke to him the entire way while he loudly meowed and i could feel hope leaving my body. there are moments that feel surreal and, like other losses in my life, this was one. over a covid-enforced veterinary facetime app, a very kind and compassionate doctor explained the xray she had immediately taken and the dire implications of all that she could see suddenly impacting our beloved cat. babycat gave us no time to make longer term treatment decisions. he died on that tuesday morning in march, almost twelve years since my life had been graced by him as a kitten. and, in the way that death changes everything, i won’t be the same without him.

i’ve seen bumper stickers with pawprints that read “who rescued who?” each time i nod my head, understanding. babycat came to me at a time of great need. my girl and my boy and i drove to florida to pick up this kitten who had come to stay at my niece’s doorstep, with no evidence of a missing owner. a first-time-cat-family, we drove “cat”, who we were having trouble naming, all the way home, trying to figure out how to feed and water and potty-break a cat on the way, when all our experience was dog-based. somewhere along the way babycat was named “wilson” but he chose to never answer to that and picked “babycat” as his given name. we taught him to sit, to beg, to come when called. he meowed when we said “speak” and was a lot more dog than cat in many ways.

babycat – in the wisdom of the animal kingdom – followed me around in moments of loneliness, insisted on regimented times for meals, showed me that the sun on the rug in the living room was something to soak up, sat with me on the floor. baby-the-c’s constant companionship was my solace in empty-nest-initiation and his lack of stealth was a bit of noise i desperately needed around me. so much to say about that little creature. yes, who rescued who?

his absence now is, if possible, even bigger than his presence. babycat love – ours and his – surrounds me.

*****

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#199 and 200. [merely-a-thought monday]

“it costs $0.00 to be a decent human being,” the meme read on my niece’s page. i took a screenshot of it, not unlike the screenshots i have taken over the last year, these times unparalleled, this era of pandemic.

scrolling through these images on my desktop just now, i am gobsmacked at the limitless spectrum, a country-full of schizophrenic views, passionate opinions, factoids and untruths. i read things like, “i pray we are not going to have any kind of required coronavirus vaccine!” and “people in countries whose leaders told them the truth about covid didn’t ‘panic’. they responded. and as a result, far fewer of them died.” i read “my face, my choice!” and “masks can be worn to protect the wearer from getting infected or masks can be worn to protect others from being infected by the wearer.” i read “i’ll pee in my end of the pool if i want to” and “when you choose to act out of kindness, compassion, and love, you are already aligned with your true purpose.” a country divided into primary colors kaleidoscoping about the galaxy on planet earth, people-as-crayons all given a spot in the earth-crayola-box simply by being born, yet arguing with achromatic abandon.

on a frigid february day we got the call. all was frozen after the skies had dropped many inches of snow on our town. it was a friday. it was 4:35 and there were two vaccines left, about to expire. the overburdened-yet-infinitely-kind community health center asked if we could come immediately. we were on a waiting list for anytime there was a vaccine that might go to waste – something to be avoided at all measures. we dropped everything and jumped in the truck. they called us while we were on the way there, to make sure we were really coming, to make sure we would arrive in time.

the drive-through lane at the old bank was marked with cones. as directed, we pulled into the spot at cone #1. there was no time to be nervous – about having a shot, about the side effects of the vaccine, about any long-term ramifications. there was just this unbelievably fortunate opportunity to be decent human beings in a world raging with disease and dying. the windows of big red were frozen-shut, so, with masks on, we opened the driver and passenger doors to exuberant nurses dressed in layers upon layers of clothing, gratitude our common denominator. we were vaccines #199 and 200 that day. it cost us nothing. zero.

i couldn’t help but hope, as we got our second vaccine at cone #3 on a slightly warmer day, soon fully inoculated because of vast medical and scientific research, the proud new recipients of a wait-15-minutes-vaccine-flag, that maybe kindness and compassion and a sense of community responsibility, the brother’s/sister’s-keeper-thing, was an ingredient and that the immune systems of humans everywhere, in protecting against covid, would also be stimulated to push back against all things peeing-in-the-poolish.

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a bit damaged and blooming. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

spring? is that you??

the snow was piled high on our walk around the ‘hood. stepping carefully around icy patches and those unsightly mountains of dirty snow next to the road, we strolled for a couple of hours. it was still freezing-cold out and the wind on our faces was biting. but the sun was out and, with icicles hanging off houses and treacherous sidewalks, we were stunned when we came upon this sight – early bulbs rising out of frozen ground, in a sheltered and sunny spot on the south side of the street. a signal that there is a new season to come, we practically danced on the sidewalk.

i texted her a photo and asked linda what these bulbs were. a lover-of-all-flowers, she immediately wrote back, “daffodils, i think. they look a bit damaged. like they came up and then got snowed on.” i replied, “aren’t we all? a bit damaged?”

it’s been a long hard winter. a long fall before that. a long summer before that. and, well, you know about last spring. today, scrolling through facebook, i saw a post that read, “a year ago this was our last normal week and nobody knew it.” wow. we can’t help but be a bit damaged.

but now, we look to the sun each day and note the rising temperatures, little bit by little bit. we think about coffee on the deck and a glass of wine on the patio. we look forward to the muddy trails in our favorite parks. we know that, though some things haven’t changed and the bit-of-damage is still present, there is a horizon and we are headed that way.

the bulbs will bloom, no matter how much they get snowed on. and so will we.

*****

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