reverse threading

the path back is the path forward


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cliffs and pine needles. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

i was ten with a camera in my hand. we were in the woods at sleepaway camp and there was a teepee. particular about photographs even back then, i wanted to take a full-length photograph of the teepee and the best way was to step behind a big pine tree and part the branches to take the photo. i brushed aside the branches and aimed my pocket instamatic camera only to realize that i needed to step back just a bit more to get the picture i wanted. i stepped back the teeniest bit to get my shot. and suddenly there was no ground.

i fell backwards about thirty feet off the cliff.

in my zeal for the photo i hadn’t noticed the cliff edge hiding behind the pine tree, which was precariously perched just off its side. after moments during which i’m guessing i was knocked out, i could hear the camp counselor and my best friend freaking out up on the trail and i tentatively moved things around – arms, legs and such. everything seemed to work. and in the odd swimming motions i was making down below teepee-land, i realized i had fallen into a gigantic pile of pine branches, all piled up, generously softening my fall. a few feet to either side and the dry ground was as hard as the large rock outcroppings scattered in the woods of camp koinonia in upstate ny. it seemed completely shocking to fall three stories and be absolutely fine and, when they made it down to where i was in the middle of branches and just a bit scratched up, the counselor, susan and i started laughing uncontrollably. how it went right is beyond me, but, somehow, luck prevailed.

we finished reading the salt path, a profoundly moving account of a newly-homeless couple hiking the entirety of the south west coast path in the UK. as one of the reviews reads, “inspiring…a true story of love, hope, and survival against impossible odds.” (j. santlofer)

five pages before the end, raynor winn wrote, “the shock of something going right is almost as powerful as when it goes wrong.” i was reading aloud. i read that line and stopped. i told d i had to re-read it. i read that line again and stopped. and i cried. not giant loud sobs like any of us in these fraught times deserve, but tears sliding down my face, uncontrollably, salty like the mist on the coast path. i was brought to a standstill by one sentence.

these times have proffered many surprises. we have felt challenged by challenges, betrayed by betrayals, silenced and minimized, left in the lurch. we have been cautious, we have bootstrapped. we have been canny by need, scrappy by necessity. we have found surprises at every turn. and, just at the time difficulty has made you get used to things going wrong, suddenly, you are shocked by something going right. someone has reached out. someone has cared. something – even one tiny thing – changed in the frequency pitches around you. something – even one tiny thing – is on the horizon. something – even one tiny thing – lifted the mist, that fog of uncertainty with side orders of confusion, grief.

and when you stepped off the cliff, you landed in a soft pile of pine needles.

*****

read DAVID’S thoughts this NOT-SO-FLAWED WEDNESDAY


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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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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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boomer farmers. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

i cut some valentino basil to toss with tomatoes and olive oil over pasta. in an eat-less-meat effort, d grilled some tilapia. we ate outside at the table under the umbrella where we could catch wafting basil coming from the potting stand and from the little trunk across the deck. we congratulated ourselves on our farming…at least so far, anyway. it remains to be seen how long we might be successful, whether the tomato plants will ever offer actual cherry tomatoes and if the basil will do that leggy thing that basil plants do when you don’t have natural green thumbs.

keith told us to watch the millennial farmer. since we have run out of joey coconato’s youtube backpacking videos and have literally watched each one at least twice, we tried the millennial farmer on for size. keith lives in a farming community and knows about tractors and fields and heavy equipment much much more than we do, but, we have to admit, after having searched for the first of the videos, we have a deeper appreciation for all of that and we know that the millennial farmer might likely tease at our measly stand of hopeful plants. no worries, we boomer farmers are happy and, more importantly, not overwhelmed by our choices. mostly, we love tomato and basil drizzled in olive oil tossed over pasta or in caprese salads. and any planting is still planting.

we had mulled over flowers for the potting stand. it’s in full sun most of the time so that meant we needed to make some careful choices. we are very aware of what we’re spending these days so that factored in as well. when we ultimately decided to just simply plant a few edibles we were excited and went to several nurseries to choose our plants. lowes got our attention for their $6.98 tomato plants – dwarf indeterminates – which we learned means that they will stay smaller and will bear fruit throughout the season instead of just once. milaegers got our vote for their basil. the valentino smelled heavenly and sweet and looked incredibly healthy (to us) at only $3.99. a few big old clay pots out of the garage and sweeping off the barnwood-and-pipe plant stand and we were set. tomatoes and basil – “soulmates on and off the plate.” ready for a summer of lightly tossed pasta and insalata caprese.

now, zach johnson – the millennial farmer in minnesota – might have some advice for us. the diagnostics and computerized tools and mapping and equipment that they use to choose planting distances and tilling and depths and variable rate seed installation and seed choices and seasons are mind-boggling, not to mention the super-sized mechanical equipment like tractors and combines and seeders and cultivators. the science of farming, the art of farming, he makes it all sound both easier and much more complex than we could imagine. his love and nurturing of the land, his life and his fifth-generation farm are obvious.

men’s health magazine calls his youtube channel “peak relaxation” though that is simply because we are armchair-boomer-farmer-watching. zach’s wise intention, according to his channel, is “to build the connection between farmers and consumers.”

we understand. we are now both. ok, ok. light on the farmer, heavy on the consumer. no barn here. just us and our potting stand, two tomato plants and a basil. and an appreciation for real farmers everywhere.

*****

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aging-ageing. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

rejuvenate. anti-aging formula. anti-aging rejuvenating serum. skin repair and firming cream. anti-aging rice phytoceramides plant-derived capsules. advanced natural anti-ageing cream complex. crepey skin repair and firming cream. anti-aging supplement and multi-vitamin for energy, skin, bone and joint support. anti-aging organic flax seed oil and phytonutrient formula. multi-collagen capsules with hyaluronic acid and vitamin c. awakening hydraskin system. ageless cell life extension. anti-aging beauty spray vacuum. age-defying face lifting concentrate. night total facial rejuvenation system.

“achieve visibly younger skin.” “who wants to look their age?” “visible results in minutes of use.” “recommended for discerning patients.” “join me in the battle against ageing.”

i am wayyy wayyy behind the curve. the pink oil of olay hydrating lotion in my small cosmetic drawer in the bathroom has been around for sixty years. hmm, i should have written that sentence in a structurally different way. the little plastic bottle has not physically been in my drawer for sixty years; the product has been produced for sixty years. sheesh. other than a few pass-me-down gifted clinique products from my sister, this has been my moisturizer of choice. simple. done. i have not researched this nor have i had long conversations with girlfriends about moisturizer. joann has absolutely lovely skin. her face glows. one day i asked her what she used and, delightedly, she told me oil of olay. yippee! samesies. so, that means if i keep using oil of olay my face will glow? hardly.

the jowls i woke up with one day that my sweet dad and gravity so generously passed on, the wrinkles around my eyes, the sweet-momma crease in my forehead – these are genetics. webmd.com says that the intrinsic aging of skin cannot be avoided. and the time: time spent outside as a child, spud and kickball in the neighborhood, swimming in our round above-ground pool, teenage time spent on bike hikes and on crab meadow beach laying on a bazooka gum beach towel playing my radio, trips to florida beaches with woven bags holding tanning oil and iced tea and potato chips, motherhood time on backyard swings, at lakefront beaches, on soccer fields, at baseball diamonds, earlier-middle-age un-thinking time on adirondack chairs basking in the sun – though perhaps innocently skin-irresponsible, cannot be erased.

aging. ageing.

my dad received national geographic magazine for as long as i can remember. paging through were articles and photographs through which i was introduced to cultures i was likely to never actually visit but from which i could gain small bits of wisdom.

though i mostly understand the medical importance of taking good care of our skin and using spf products and staying out of torrid sun and hydrating and eating proper nutrients, i could see that the women and men of these other cultures – outside of our society – did not concern themselves with aging-ageing. indeed, they were not in a battle or a race against it. instead, they upheld it, celebrated it, honored it. and while i would probably prefer less jowls and less wrinkles and less crepe and less of the other stuff with horrendous names that advertisers have come up with for natural aging processes -god-forbid- i will choose to stand in it and feel fortunate to be here.

fortunate to be aging-ageing. winning the race either way.

****

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hold kjeft. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

i never asked where the deer head on the den wall came from. we were not a hunting family and we were verymuch a mammal-loving family, but it must have never occurred to me to ask. this old deer head, hung on the paneling of the room with our black and white tv and giant rock fireplace built stone-by-tedious-stone by sven, ruled over the garage wall side of the room and was somewhat opposite the back door.

if snoopy, our modell’s sporting goods $10.20 dog (of which i paid the 20 cents), got to barking incessantly, my sweet dad would point to the deer head and, in his brooklyn-voice, taunt her, “you wanna go on the wall?” somehow she understood this empty threat and would mostly stop barking. but if she didn’t stop, my dad would bark back at her, “hold kjeft!!” my sons-of-norway norwegian lessons were not long-lived, but they were comprehensive enough for me to know that meant “shut up!”. spoken in a different language, it didn’t seem as rude.

when they were growing up, i never allowed the girl or the boy to say “shut up!” to each other or anyone. it just seemed like an unnecessarily aggressive way to ask someone to be quiet or at least quieter. i never thought to use “hold kjeft” as an alternative back then.

but now, as dogga runs the backyard looking for the rest of the cast in 101 dalmations to bark back at him, “hold kjeft” is my command of choice. as we pass people in the car and he is suddenly aware of a dog on the sidewalk out the car window, “hold kjeft” is my command of choice. as the neighbors get him riled up, with fifteen kids or so in the backyard all screaming at the top of their lungs and their dog barking-barking, “hold kjeft” is my command of choice. every time i say it, i see the deer head in the den and i can hear my sweet poppo’s voice.

it doesn’t necessarily do the trick all the time. but it conjures up precious long-ago memories of a different time, when i watched black and white tv with no remote, sat on the hearth with hot chocolate and sit-upons, paid no attention to decor or other adult-riddled-responsibilities and laughed when my dad stared at our underbite-blessed-boxer-mixed-breed-mutt and pointed to the wall.

*****

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the broken salad bowl. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

i broke my mom’s salad bowl last night. it wasn’t fancy; it was a simple glass bowl, shaped in the letter v. but i loved using it for salads and quinoa tabouli and all kinds of fruit. it slipped from my grasp in the sink and, despite my best efforts at rescue, broke in two large pieces. i was instantly saddened, not because i get upset when things break, but because it was my sweet momma’s and using it was a silken connected tie.

we were on i-70 driving across denver and stuck in traffic. we played leap-frog with several vehicles as we inched forward. one of them had a sticker that read “extreme rightwing” and another had this sticker “humankind. be both.” i am betting you can guess the one with which i felt in alignment. i wanted to roll down big red’s window further than i already had it and call out the window, “love your sticker!” but i didn’t. instead, i photographed it, trying to look casual, like i wasn’t taking a picture of their vehicle, and thought about how i instantly liked them.

my sweet momma, the former owner of the now-broken salad bowl, was a firm believer in kindness. her favorite saying, “do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can,” was a john wesley quote. this is not the first time i have told of her kindness to others…all others.

as my mom prepared to move into assisted living she started giving away things she wouldn’t be bringing with her. she gave away her couch to a neighbor who needed one; she gave her dining table to another neighbor without a place around which to gather her family. she let things go, with love and caring moving them out the door to their new homes. she didn’t hesitate. it wasn’t about the stuff; it was simply about helping those in need of something she had. we just heard that many of the things in david’s parents’ house, that is being emptied now, have been given to neighbors and people who need particular items. a gesture of paying the generosity we are afforded forward, i immediately thought back to my mom’s own altruism in her time of transition.

these last months have been very challenging for us. i was devastated when, in this time of pandemic and after losing our other two positions, and at the start of my ninth year there, i lost my job. confusion and fear and dreadful sadness at losing my living, all the effort and love i had put into growing a music program, the loss of my dear community, all ran rampant in my heart. the stages of grief, including anger, lined up and for the last five months, i have tried to sort through all of what i have felt. the other day i drove past my former place of employment and just was overcome with how intensely weird it felt, how intensely weird the whole travail has been.

but in the middle of all of this weirdness, the lack of communication, the non-effort at mitigating whatever was seemingly accepted as an ousting-reason, there have been people. humans. kind humans. little by little people have reached out – in generosity and kindness. and, for that, the way has been a little less scary, a little less painful. the ties to the place, astoundingly, considering the place, are broken – irretrievably – shattered into a dark hole in a million shards. but the silken connections of people – from a full compass of our lives – extend in warm embrace. humankind. be-ing both.

i guess the next time i make salad or tabouli i’ll use the big stainless steel bowl – the one that also used to be my mom’s. it’s unbreakable. just like my tie to her.

*****

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the glimmer and the glint. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

the glint in his eyes was there. columbus told us about the business he was running from his memory care apartment, as steadfast as i suspect he has always been about hard work and dedication. though he was imagining that the bathroom was a library and that the lack of customers was due to the inclement weather, he remained dutifully on duty, waiting for the end of his work day with good humor. talking about his “shop” and his customers and challenges he, always humble, admitted, “i can make as good a mistake as anybody.” i took photographs of his sweet face as he talked and gestured, hands lined with age and the evidence of toil. i caught my breath more than once as he spoke and as i looked around, taking in this phase of columbus’ life. though he seemed content, dementia is a cruel robber.

my sweet poppo’s favorite saying was the quote, “be not concerned, be not surprised, if what you do is criticized. mistakes are made, we don’t deny, but they’re only made by those who try.” (unknown) with a glimmer in his eye, he was also famous for repeating (and repeating) “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” a believer in the re-do, the fix, the oh-well, the humanness, my dad never lingered in the mistake. he was also aware that he could make as good a mistake as anybody and i would bet that, given the chance, he and columbus would have been pals. these two gentlemen were raised in a certain era and times of challenge; even fifteen years or so difference would not have mattered. their humility and simple straightforward approaches run parallel, both smart and extraordinarily capable in unique ways. their commitment to family and a strong work ethic would have united them.

up in the mountains we sat at dinner and listened to my amazing daughter talk about physical therapy for a concussion she got while coaching snowboarding. she spoke of climbing and ropes and uncomfortable shoes you stuff your feet into to elicit a better grip. she and her sweet boyfriend talked about the challenges of living spaces in high elevation and adventure and camping. the one thing missing from the conversation was anything about fear. there is no fear of making a mistake, of a choice-gone-wrong. there is only fluid adjusting, correction, a different direction, a new tack. it is acknowledging, without words, that we all can make as good mistakes as the next. it is living without concern of criticism for those mistakes. it is being those who try.

were they to have been at the table with us all, in our first restaurant experience in well over a year, i imagine that columbus and my poppo would nod their heads in proud appreciation. “yes,” they would say in chorus, “that’s the way to live.”

and the glimmer and the glint would smile.

*****

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just like my sweet momma and poppo. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

inosculate: join by intertwining or fitting closely together. “inosculation is a natural phenomenon in which trunks, branches or roots of two trees grow together. it is biologically similar to grafting and such trees are referred to in forestry as gemels, from the latin word meaning “a pair”.” (wikipedia)

tomorrow is the sixth anniversary of my sweet momma leaving this earth. there is not a day that goes by that i do not think of her, miss her, wish i could call her, have questions to ask her. in the way that we all wish on stars, i wish i could have more time with her.

momma lived three years past my dad’s passing. in the very days before he died, he knew that his dying was imminent. i walked into his hospital room and he told me he was ready. i, however, was not. neither was my momma. she was seriously infuriated at him. they had been married – at that time – for 68 years. 68. i haven’t even lived that long yet, and they were together for longer. in every way imaginable, they were, like these trees in the woods, inosculated. a pair.

inosculate: to unite intimately.

my parents had simple routines in their later years. coffee and breakfast. making the bed. reading the paper. coffee break. a few errands perhaps. lunch. my poppo doing a little work at his workbench or in the garden while my mom worked at her desk. sitting and gazing at the waterfowl behind their house. maybe a little snack in the afternoon. reading. dinner. nothing stupendous. nothing extraordinary. but most definitely inosculated.

though i’m sure they drove each other a bit crazy at times (who doesn’t?), in these later years, particularly, they fit together like these trees. sharing responsibilities for the day-to-day. carefully mindful of each other’s health concerns. re-telling old stories. looking forward to any time they would see their family. grateful for this home bathed in sunlight and surrounded by green.

they were indeed “gemel trees”, sharing deep root systems, with prolonged contact, fusing together. and, in the end, their love was no longer complex. it just was.

when we passed these trees off-trail, i wondered about them. i’m not absolutely certain where their connections are and if they are prime examples of inosculation, but they are indeed living in community, united. they somehow rely on each other, sharing nutrients and sun and dirt-space on this earth.

and, once again, here in the forest, i can see the simple example set for humans. the same one my sweet parents set.

*****

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the waxing moon. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

“the beauty of the earth is a constant play of light and dark, visible and invisible.” (beauty – john o’donohue)

i prefer to think of it as waxing, not waning. growing in illumination, not heading toward darkness. the moon on our ceiling just above the crown molding shows up from time to time. the conditions need be right, the lighting need be perfect. and then it’s there, waiting to be noticed. i ran for my camera the first time i noticed it, afraid the shadow-and-light interplay would quickly disappear.

like everything else around us – waiting to be noticed – we are always in choice about noticing or not. we can take the time or not. we can nuance our time to scurry past or we can slow down, just a little, to see.

i recently saw an article about spain, a country that embraces the siesta, a time of rest within the day. there is consideration there to move to a four-day work week in an effort to balance work and life. it is hard to imagine that there is much more important than paying attention to that balance. what else is living? why are we rushing through it?

i really love to take photographs. our hikes in the woods and walks in the ‘hood and time-just-being-time are punctuated with my stopping-stopping-stopping to grab a photo here or there. some things are just blatantly beautiful, visible and full of light. they need not beg to be captured on film. others are not so obvious. they are not so visible, darker, perhaps even invisible, courting imagination. on the trail they disappear silently behind the woods-models, the fashionable haute couture of the forest. instead, they are quiet and steadfast. they have a certain je ne sais quoi that cannot be easily named. and they are indeed beautiful.

on the trail, the tiniest pink petals rising from the decayed leaves, the green-and-green variegated leaves tucked behind the flowering shrub, the fallen tree – home to symbiotic white rot fungi – in and amongst the stately, the healthy. the thistles, dried and browned wildflowers, inosculated trees sharing soil, underbrush, like understudies, taking their usual back seat to the crowns of the woodland.

in our daily routine, the way the spring rain forms a heart-puddle on the patio, the way the snow piles on the wrought-iron table, the way rays through the miniblinds shadow the wall, the way barney ages in the backyard, the way wine glasses clinking catch the light, the way the quilt gathers the morning sun, and the way the light in the living room gifts us a waxing moon.

the balance of the obviously beautiful with the less-obviously, less-definitively beautiful.

we take a bit of time as we can – we slow down just a little as we are able – to make sure that we notice the play of light and dark, visible and invisible.

we look around us, through waxing and waning, standing in the light and the dark. to make sure we notice all the beauty of the earth.

*****

read DAVID’S thoughts this NOT-SO-FLAWED WEDNESDAY