and the marvel continues. this very-large-branch-turned-christmas-tree, really like anything that is nurtured, has opened in the world. it is as if it has actually-self-actualized. though it would seem that remaining a limb on the maple out front might have been its endgoal, in its experience of being cut down it suddenly has new life, new possibility, new importance. the oh-the-places-you’ll-go story of its existence has undergone transformation. the you’re-supposed-to-be-a-branch-on-a-tree has been shattered and the old story of small-pine is re-created in an unassuming maple limb. because we paid attention.
in this time of hyped seasonal holiday glee, it would seem that honoring the tiniest of tiny might yield the glee-est glee. it would seem that the slightest bit of paying attention to others might pay forward the goodness and generosity that have been showered upon us. it would seem that looking beyond the obvious – to something unexpected, something out of the ordinary – might bring unexpected, extraordinary joy.
our small-pine-maple-branch is most definitely smiling, its branches reaching out and up and, each day, feeling more a presence. a reminder that life is not normal. instead, it is a chance to pay attention, really-really pay attention. it is a chance to nurture each other. it is exceptional. i can hear our christmas tree 2021 breathing in and out, “don’t forget that.”
the sun passes its solar noon and starts inching down toward the horizon, the light spilling from it rapturous. golden rays bathe everything in their path and we marvel as we drive past the fields, talking about the trees catching the light.
toward the end of daylight, as the sun is almost down, the grasses, feathery plumes waiting to soak it in, stand in the spotlight and we marvel looking out the front window, walking out into the back yard.
we walked through the gallery, admiring the work on fresh white walls, framed by white woodwork, windows looking out onto the lake, old wood floors warm and well-trod. the spiral staircase, the built-in cabinetry, the spotlights and architectural elements caught our eyes. we marveled at the play of light through the chandeliers.
the tree we have deemed THE tree this year looks nothing like a typical christmas tree. it is one of the limbs from the big old maple tree out front, a beloved sentry whose large, low-hanging branches were chopped to allow room for the supersized utility equipment a couple weeks ago. i had saved this branch from the pile that was set for the dump truck, pulled it aside up close to the house. the guys looked at me funny when i asked them not to take this branch, to leave it there. sunday we brought it in – which is much harder than it sounds as its branches stretch out far, embracing air and light and our doorway is not oversized. we felt somewhat like stars in the movie “christmas vacation” as we attempted to stand the tree up in our living room. though the ceiling is quite high (–) it was higher. a saw here and a saw there and we placed it in a big clay flower pot with rocks we brought home from dory lake and aspen and a brick from the old patio. we stood back after futzing with the angle of the pot and drew in our breath.
sculpturally stunning, it is bark against white, stark and proud. i wound lights around its trunk and i could feel this big old tree branch smile. i wrapped a piece of black glittery mesh-fabric around its base and thought about how much our babycat loved chasing the sparkles each year around the base of our trees. i hung one tin star off a branch. i futzed a little more and stood back, again.
the sun streamed in the windows the next morning and the tree stretched in its light, yawning from the night. i believe its branches have opened even more than they were – embracing its new place, no longer sadly tossed aside. a new purpose.
we might have missed it. the opportunity to have this year’s tree be an actual piece of what-was-happening-in-our-lives, to honor a well-loved and well-known companion. to have a gorgeously simple harbinger of the festivities of the season. we might have gone to a tree lot. or costco. or target.
we might have missed it. the marvel. but we didn’t.
if you are wondering where mini marshmallows come from, wonder no more. clearly they grow on white baneberry bushes in dr. seuss-land. passing it on the trail i could not get over how oh-the-places-you’ll-go this bush was. a standout in a green forest floor, confidently colorful and nicknamed “doll’s eyes” for obvious vintage-china-doll reasons, it got my attention and it piqued my curiosity.
we watched a silly movie a couple nights ago. my sweet momma loved sandra bullock so every time i watch a sandra bullock movie i feel like my mom is right there with us, giggling or cheering her on. the movie was “all above steve” co-starring bradley cooper. its silliness is comedic fun, particularly on an evening we were not looking to be intellectually challenged. but there was an unexpectedly sweet message in this movie. mary (sandra bullock), a brilliant young woman who is a crossword puzzle constructor and has a brain full of random knowledge and would kick anyone’s patootie playing trivial pursuit, is trying to be “normal” to fit into the world. in the end she discovers the power of standing in her own shoes, which were, in her case, red gogo boots.
artists are often looked at as misfits, a little outside the box, not quite fitting in. perhaps more colorful, perhaps louder, perhaps more questioning, the job of an artist is to elicit movement in thought, in action, in emotion, in sensitivity. we are hot-pink-stemmed mini-marshmallow plants in a world of green underbrush, ever being told that exposure will grant us the ability to live in this world, to pay our bills, to get ahead. artists everywhere under the sun shudder upon hearing those words, “think about the exposure.” we don our courageous metaphoric gogo boots, go to town trying to be ‘normal’ and realize that we were really ok all along, in our own skin.
often i have heard others comment on the re-purposed stuff in our house. empty window frames, screen doors, travel-worn suitcases, branches wrapped in lights, old coffeepots doubling as canisters. we’ve been asked, “how did you think of that?” i don’t know how to answer that other than “how couldn’t i?”
i’m guess i’m not ‘normal’. in the world of christian louboutin and jimmy choo footwear desires, i’m wearing old navy flipflops and hundreds-of-miles hiking boots. in a world of oscar de la renta and ralph lauren aficionados, i’m wearing my dad’s old flannel shirt and jeans. in a world of cle de peau beaute and guerlain and creme de la mer, my face is lucky to see an oil of olay original and coppertone 30spf combo.
and i, just like artists everywhere, love to be reminded, time to time, that we were all born to stand out. each and every one of us. artist or not. no matter the road we walk. no matter the red gogo boots or hot-pink stems. stand out. in our own skin.
the catalogs accumulate in the rack in the bathroom. every so often i go through them and ferret out the ones i want to keep, the ones to hold onto for just a bit longer. it isn’t likely that i will purchase anything from them right now, but perusing them is like shopping, even a bit like buying in an odd way. i have found that if i look at something in a catalog often enough, long enough, the desire to have that item is somehow satisfied and will eventually go away. of course, this isn’t always true and some things have cut through the noise of all-those-pages, risen to the top and, after much internal debate, have been ordered. just not so much in recent days.
some catalogs pay close attention to the beauty of the whole. catalogs like patagonia, stio, sundance. pieces written by brand ambassadors, stunning photography, they are like picture-books and beg your attention. some catalogs stress a narrative, the story that makes you want an item; j.peterman rules at this, but soft surroundings creates story as well. some catalogs tell the back-story, personalizing the company, like karen kane. many are aware of their social impact, like LL bean. some catalogs just stuff asmuchinformationastheycan into their pages. those don’t make the magazine-rack-cut and are promptly recycled when they arrive.
i took photographs of many stormy skies, wet grasses, and drips dripping this past week, grumbling a bit about the weather. i would have rathered that the sun of the earlier part of that week had stuck around, the 70 degrees had lingered, the i-am-about-to-put-on-flip-flops temptation. instead, it rained and stormed and drizzled and fogged and rained again.
then i flipped open the january stio catalog on the rack, on the cover a long line down a powder slope created by a skier, always making me think of my daughter. every other page had a gorgeous photo; this company, birthed in 2012 and stewarding responsible outdoor lifestyle, is based in jackson hole, wyoming, so there is much appreciation for high mountain vistas. i perused the photos and the text, glancing at the gear. and i stumbled across the words, “the long view…think for the future.” it was an ad for recycled fleece clothing and their ethical stance, much like the powerhouse patagonia, to “reduce impact and waste and consume less energy – which is all better for this closed loop system we call earth.”
the long view. think for the future.
like the slow and steady turtle. like the fallow of the winter. like the tiny five degrees a month i hope to regain in my wrist. like the first words on a page, the first strokes on a canvas, the first notes in the air. like the extended-term wearing of masks to mitigate a mutating pandemic. like the temporary suspension of dinners in restaurants, live concerts, large gatherings in respect for each other. like the absence of normal, of security in a time of rebuilding. like time-without to remind you to appreciate time-with. like the incessant rain on an april day.
i played “this land is your land, this land is my land” on the ukulele the other day. were woody guthrie to be alive, he may have added another verse to this song, this one depicting the russian roulette game that people in this country are playing with the coronavirus.
these are NOT normal times, no matter how much you might want to ignore that little fact. and since these are NOT normal times, you should be mindfully considering at-great-length anything you want to do that IS normal.
“from california to the new york island. from the redwood forest to the gulf stream waters, this land was made for you and me.” when was the last time that it occurred to you that what you do affects others? was it today? was it last week? was it ever? what amount of sacrifice are you willing to take in order to protect others and yourself and put this country on a healing trend so that things MIGHT be able to be normal again SOME day?
are you out at the bars? are you at a restaurant, maskless, ordering from your masked server without a care in the world except whether you would rather the sparkling water or the tap? are you having dinner parties, group gatherings, barbecues in your backyard? are you on vacation? are you talking out of one side of your mouth and acting out of the other? are you duplicitous; do you want people to believe you are being careful and mindful, but on the other hand, it is your life after all…… are you putting anyone in harm’s way? are you renting cabins in small remote towns that have hospital/medical systems that would be stricken by a surge in numbers, something that you might bring there, even inadvertently? are you at the beach? the club? the public pool? are you making plans to go to disney as soon as it opens? are you wearing a mask when you are outside your home? are you social distancing? do you really care? or are you like so many people – irked by any degree of self-sacrifice, believing you are an entity unto yourself? are you buying into conspiracy theories and falsehoods? do you think this global pandemic is overblown? do you feel inconvenienced? do you think we should just throw caution to the wind and take-our-chances? are you upholding ignorance? are you mimicking the repulsive behavior of a president who doesn’t care about anything but his re-election and will spout off lies to your face, your actual face?
“when the sun came shining and i was strolling, and the wheat fields waving, and the dust clouds rolling, as the fog was lifting, a voice was chanting: this land was made for you and me.”
for you and me. there’s a responsibility there.
today my daughter told me that someone called her an asshole when she asked them to as-per-the-law-where-she-is put on a mask to enter the shop. and SHE’S the asshole??? this person could not put a small piece of cloth over their nose and mouth to protect others and my daughter is the asshole???
because of this person and their apathetic incomprehension and their unconscionable extraordinarily selfish behavior – repeated ad nauseam across the land that’s made for you and me – i cannot see my beloved daughter. “it’s a pandemic,” she wrote. “all the respectful tourists stayed at home.” she is at risk. the numbers are rising where she is and the people who should stay in their states-with-exponential-growth and wait-to-travel are populating her area in droves. without a care in the world. without giving a flying flip. and with no shame. and so it’s not safe there. how dare they.
“this land was made for you and me.” act like you belong in a community, like you belong in a country, like what happens to people across the land affects you too, like you care even an ounce for others. it’s actually pretty simple: don’t be an asshole.
in the middle of my meltdown yesterday, i’m sure i uttered, “i just want normal.”
but normal is subjective now.
there is a deep schism between the normal of the of-course-i’ll-wear-a-mask-maskers and the it’s-against-my-constitutional-rights-to-make-me-wear-a-mask-non-maskers. a deep schism between the sides of the aisle. a deep schism over this global pandemic, the economy, healthcare, equality, blatant racism. a deep schism over confederate monuments. a deep schism over basic respect. a deep schism over truth.
a chasm of difference. it makes me wonder what, if anything, can bridge it, what can create a common story, what can make us a populace that cares about each other?
scrolling through facebook is depressing. there are people ‘out there’ in our pandemic-riddled country doing normal stuff: eating at restaurants, having drinks at bars, gathering with friends, going on trips, boating, fishing, at the beach or the pool, all without masks and without social distancing and without, seemingly, a care in the world.
driving downtown is depressing. there are people ‘out there’ in our pandemic-riddled country just-down-the-road doing normal stuff: eating inside and outside at captain mike’s, gathering at eichelmann beach, hanging out at the lakefront, all without masks and without social distancing and without, seemingly, a care in the world.
trying to plan anything is depressing. we need to go to see david’s parents. i desperately need to see My Girl and My Boy. there are so many details to keep each other safe. there’s nothing normal. it’s freaking confusing. we plot the trip west, a roadtrip, thinking about 19 hours across the middle of the country, thinking about arriving at my at-risk-in-laws’ house, having not picked up any additional possibility of passing covid-19 to them. where do we stop safely? where do we get gas? where do we use restrooms? how can we be sure they will not be recipients of anything we bring along? we care.
and yet, there is the rest of the country – the ones screaming at city hall meetings, the ones seeking judgement against requiring masks-for-safety, the ones who throw pointed word-daggers arguing against the danger of this pandemic, the ones arguing for other causes of death, the ones voting out all precautions for the state of wisconsin, the ones who stand in front of the entire country and arrogantly (and without a grain of truth) state, “we’ve flattened the curve!” how is it that the leadership of this country gets away with this? no wonder half of the country wears no mask, states and does whatever they damn well please. WHAT pandemic?
it’s depressing. missing the moments that make up life – chances to easily be with family, friends. chances to have a bite out without worrying about aerosols. chances to sing with others, to sing for others. chances to go to concerts and plays. chances to gather around a kitchen table or the island at your best friends’. chances to stop and hug your decades-long neighbor. chances to hold your grown-up children and kiss them and make them roll their eyes. happy hour with friends crowded onto a deck. parties in the backyard. normal stuff.
it was on a marquee outside a store, “a little normal would be nice.”
i couldn’t agree more.
i told tom i had a really hard day yesterday. he said, “you have to grieve.”
i don’t know about you, but when i was little i waited with bated breath for my name to be called at the end of the romper room show. it never was.
i don’t know about you, but when i was in school i waited to be called on to teams during gym class, the teacher having chosen team ‘captains’ and those captains choosing their favorite friends, a really terrible way to divide up a class without hard feelings.
i don’t know about you, but as an earlier adult i waited to see a single song take off, an album go gold, the writing-writing-writing of a song recognized. somewhere along the way i realized the sheer folly of that and i knew it was important to be satisfied with something-of-mine that resonated with someone-out-there; it need not be monumental to be monumental.
i don’t know about you, but right now i’ve been waiting to go places. i haven’t yet gotten my hair cut or gone clothes shopping or been out to a restaurant. i haven’t gone to the bank or a pub or even a starbucks. i haven’t ordered out or picked up or sat curbside waiting for, well, anything.
i don’t know about you, but i am still impatiently waiting to see my children. a city away seems, hopefully, doable in the near future but a trip to the high mountains requires a bit more detail, a bit more planning, a need for precautions and safety-taking.
i don’t know about you, but it all feels like we are on hold. like we have dialed in and are listening to the interminable muzak-music but, with too much invested, can’t hang up.
we feel like we are looking at life from the inside out. we are waiting.
we feel like we are looking at life from the inside out. and we are watching.
we are watching others move freely about in the world and we wonder – are we the weirdos here? we are watching the disparity between what people say and what people do – those who want to be perceived as covid-safety-savvy but are out tooling around. we are watching the restlessness and the dismissiveness of a pandemic-weary-world. we are also watching anxiety and confusion increase, sleep eluding us, plans in disarray – sub-themes of future covid-19 movies.
and yet, we hesitate. to resume normal.
because these times are not normal.
so we take a bit more time to peer through the magic mirror, look out from in, and romper-bomper-stomper-boo wait. just a little bit longer.
i’m not sure why babycat thought we expected him to go sit in the square. but he did. jen had told us about this experiment….put blue tape on the floor and see what your cat does. laughing, we tried it. and b-cat cooperated. it wasn’t minutes after the tape was on the floor that he entered the kitchen, looked at it and went directly to it. he sat his sweet hulking body down inside that tape-box and eventually he laid down inside it (although he was definitely coloring outside the lines, so to speak.) it was astounding to watch. this is a cat, after all. and yes, he has really loved the dogbed in the sunroom and the crest box in the sitting room, but a box made of painter’s tape? we just didn’t expect him to conform so readily.
most of the time, b-cat lives his life outside the box. he acts more like a dog than a cat; i had never had a cat before him so i taught him all sorts of dog-tricks. babycat doesn’t really know the difference, although were he to look it all up, he would see ‘follows the sun around the house’ was in the rule book for cats, not dogs. but this one evening, with no prompt from us, he decided to stay inside the box. he sat, he laid down, he purred in his sleep. he was content. inside the box wasn’t too bad, i guess. later on, though, when the tape was off the floor, he didn’t seem to notice it was gone. he never looked for it. he didn’t seem to pine for its presence in his life. he just went about his not-normal-cat behavior. outside the box.
i guess there is something to be said both about living in the box and living outside the box. both have merit. one encourages you to be the cat you are defined to be. the other allows you to be the dog no one expects you to be.
three years ago the boy and his best friend and i went to the christmas tree farm. there was a lot of snow and we ran through it, dodging each other’s snowballs. plodding around, we found the ‘perfect’ tree and an extra little one to go upstairs as well. the boy and pierre sawed them down, we loaded the big tree on top of the car, drove home and had hot chocolate before digging out the tree stand from the basement. this ‘perfect’ tree held white lights proudly and felt like a celebration.
two years ago d.dot and i were standing with the boy in the snow out in the field and the boy said, with disdain, “not THAT one!” he was talking about a christmas tree we had moseyed over to, a christmas tree that was speaking to the ‘youtwoarenotnormal’ in us. the boy wanted a ‘normal’ tree – one that had a ‘normal’ shape – one that looked ‘normal’ – the kind of tree that everyone associates with all the hallmark movies and norman rockwell christmas plates. and so, since we had driven in his car and he vowed to make us walk home from the christmas tree farm in freezing temperatures, we obliged his wish for a ‘normal’ tree. and it was beautiful. it had ridiculously sharp needles (we later named it ‘satan’) but it held white christmas lights proudly and it felt like a celebration.
last year the boy wasn’t there when we went to the christmas tree farm. so that meant that two artists were let loose in the fields. dangerous. we stomped through the snow and mud, laughing and looking at every single tree there. it wasn’t all that cold out, and the light was streaming through the fir branches. it was glorious. we found our tree in the back of the farm. we nicknamed it ‘christmas-tree-on-a-stick’. (if you ever go to the minnesota state fair, as the boy and the girl and i did a few years back, you will find literally everyyyything on a stick.) this tree had a long trunk with no branches – about 3-4 feet up- and then the tree part started. everyone who saw it, loved it. it was a ‘perfect’ tree…a ‘perfect’ tree on a stick and it held white christmas lights proudly and felt like a celebration.
this year we drove past the christmas tree farm to see if it was still there. the land is for sale – 34 acres of oasis in town – but it is still there for all who want to have an adventure and find their ‘perfect’ tree. we didn’t stop right then; we planned on coming back another time. we laughed, pondering what this year’s tree would look like. it was likely we would pick out something even more ummm….artsy….than last year. we knew the boy would be thrilled. ha.
one morning, a few days after that, we took a walk. as we approached our home there was a big branch in the street that had somehow been knocked off the big tree in our front yard, a tree that has been there forever. this tree has been in so many pictures through the years. it has towered over the girl and the boy as they grew. it has been the base of snow forts, the shade for the summer, the harbinger of budding spring coming, the last tree to lose leaves in the fall. when i rocked the girl and boy as babies in the nursery, it was this tree i could see out the window, this tree that i see in my mind’s eye, this tree marking the changing of the seasons, the growing of children, the movement of time. i looked over at the branch in the street and then ran to get it. looking at d.dot i said,”what about this? this could be the perfect christmas tree for us this year.” we laughed and brought it inside so that it could dry out a bit. a couple of days ago, we placed it in the christmas tree stand, wrapped burlap around the bottom, and stood back to look. this branch, this piece of history, this year’s christmas tree – is holding white christmas lights -and a little metal star- proudly and is a celebration.