Archive for November, 2015

small town gifts

November 18, 2015


I live half-way between Charlottesville, a small city, and Crozet, a big town. Charlottesville’s traffic is a nightmare, so if there are errands I can accomplish in Crozet, I head west.

One of Crozet’s delights is an IGA.  A long-time resident, my friend pronounces the final part of its name, “the Great Valu,” as one pronounces the bear’s name in Kipling’s The Jungle Book, “Ba-loo.”  It is one of those small town groceries where the owner, the workers, and the towns people have combined forces in their determination not to lose it, and when I go there, I know high school and college sports statistics will be in the air and all manner of people will be chatting amiably with the clerks and each other.

When I left the store yesterday, I wore my usual smile after wishing the owner, who was working the cash register, a good day.  Passing the door’s threshold out into the parking lot, I heard a soft noise that had a rhythm and a tone unlike conversation.  Curious, I turned around to see a man standing between the store’s doors and the bundles of firewood, wearing a shy smile on his face and singing “Yellow Submarine.”

My smile widened, and I lingered to watch other customers’ smiles light up as they came within hearing distance of what is one of the dumbest but admittedly catchiest tunes in the Beatles repertoire.  The man wasn’t busking, didn’t appear in need of medication, and no one felt obliged to join in.  The song was simply a blessing shared with whomever happened to pass by.

Before I returned home, I was lucky to catch my friend at her cake shop.  While I was there, a neighbor stopped by to leave quiche and salad, and my friend and I caught up over tea and a light lunch.  As I was leaving, I wished her a peaceful Thanksgiving, which isn’t always in the cards for her since she is forced to spend it with her zombie mother-in-law.  Her frustration over not having control over her holidays prompted her to exclaim, “I just wish there was some thing I could do, once a year, to give back.”

“Well, you know, it’s very simple,” I replied. “All you have to do is stand outside the Great Valu and sing.”

what comforts

November 13, 2015

Grief over Bandit’s death has led to some revelations.  Perhaps not all the pieces of the puzzle are in place, but enough have been found scattered around me so that a wholeness can begin to be assembled.  The process and the knowledge unveiled are both humbling and healing.

This morning an astrologer’s message confirmed a conclusion I’d been stumbling reluctantly toward.  To be brief, his November 5 post had led me back to a pair of dreams I’d had the week of February 10, dreams about losing cats, one of which I described in a blog post on 2/11/2015 titled “Mid-life thoughts.”  Nine months almost exactly later, the grief foreshadowed in those dreams caught up to me.

At first, when this evidence that Bandit’s death might “mean” something surfaced, I resisted.  I didn’t want to turn once again to my mind’s ability to form higher, detached concepts as a way to escape my emotional turmoil.  I wanted to feel the senselessness of his death fully, and so I allowed waves of sadness to crash over me, swallowing me, subsuming me, again and again.  And I do believe that by going down into those depths, I touched the submerged remnants of what has scared me throughout my life.  It is not a unique fear, but it is one I’ve kept covered with various complicated devices until I fooled myself into believing it was no longer operational.

I still don’t believe Bandit’s death meant anything.  It was a stupid accident that robbed me of his joyful presence.  But his death was as inevitable as mine and any other creature’s is.  What comforts is the sense that there exists another dimension of time and space and energy, one I am occasionally provided a glimpse of.  The message from that space is that I truly am being protected by an invisible force, protected not from the biological facts of life but with the assurance that what love is meant for me knows the way to my front door, is indivisible from me, was there before I was born and will be with my spirit after my body dies.  Bandit and Clarabelle, my parents, my sister, my friends, my joys, my sorrows, my sunsets, my shooting stars, the past, the present, and whatever lies ahead.

If I did not believe this, the book I opened yesterday would have reminded me.  As George and I watch the late autumn days flow from the bench we’ve placed near Bandit’s grave, we sense the deep truth that Marjorie Kinnan Rawling captures in this paragraph from her glorious Cross Creek

Folk call the road lonely, because there is not human traffic and human stirring.  Because I have walked it so many times and seen such a tumult of life there, it seems to me one of the most populous highways of my acquaintance.  I have walked it in ecstasy, and in joy it is beloved.  Every pine tree, every gallberry bush, every passion vine, every joree rustling in the underbrush, is vibrant.  I have walked it in trouble, and the wind in the trees beside me is easing.  I have walked it in despair, and the red of the sunset is my own blood dissolving into the night’s darkness.  For all such things were on earth before us, and will survive after us, and it is given to us to join ourselves with them and to be comforted.

balloon over chathill

Now there are two

November 9, 2015

Yesterday morning I picked my beautiful Bandit’s body off the side of the road and brought him back to his beloved yard to be buried.  No matter where George and I roam, we will remember his spirit here, roving the yard he loved so dearly.

Sadness is the other side of the immense joy he gave me every day.  When he came into my life, I was afraid this day would come, but I wouldn’t trade a single day we had together in order to avoid this sorrow.

Remember always that you never regret the time, the devotion, you give to those you love.  Every minute spent together is a gift.


Daffodil Bandit

Daffodil Bandit


Bandit surveying his yard in summer

Bandit surveying his yard in summer


’Just beneath the poplar tree at the far right, next to the flame-red crape myrtle, is where Bandit rests

National Novel Writing Month

November 5, 2015

Traffic on the east-west highway that crossed the mountains was picking up for the commuter hour. The Blue Ridge chain of the Appalachians presented the first significant elevation west of the coast, but its elevations were just practice for the steeper grades of the Alleghanies and the Cumberlands. Their modest proportions, however, had managed to keep the valleys of the Piedmont and the Shenandoah surprisingly separated. Even Ava, who considered herself adventurous, especially during her grad student years, had lived on the eastern side of the Blue Ridge on and off for 25 years, and was still embarrassed by her feeble explanation for why she didn’t know more about the Shenandoah: “I live in Charlottesville.”

Forty miles south one could traverse the range at Afton on I-64 and thirty miles north SR 211 took drivers from Rappahannock County down into Luray. When the park was established in the 1930s, all the other switchbacked dirt roads that had been leading locals up and over the mountains for over a century were closed to public traffic. They’d made a disastrous reappearance in the past few years on gps, however. Ava got a perverse kick out of chastising visitors for relying on satellite data.

“What’s wrong with a map?” she would ask once they finished their woeful tale of how their gps had sent them an hour off course. “You’re old enough to know better,” she’d tell the retirees. To the young people she’d unfold a map of Shenandoah’s 200,000 acres and point to where they were. “Study this,” she’d say. “There’ll be a test later.” Usually they shook their heads, took their scolding, and laughed.

One woman had fought especially hard for its validity. “I don’t do maps,” she countered with an adolescent whine that set Ava’s teeth on edge. Ava explained that its misinformation was the reason the woman had ended up at an entrance station thirty miles south of where she’d intended to enter, but in her eyes, that was no reason to condemn the device. “There’s no valid address for this park anywhere on the website.” If she’d been five years old, she would have performed a stomp to punctuate her frustration. To Ava, the point seemed an especially ridiculous one to cling to given that the girl wanted to camp in the park’s back country. “You’d better learn to read a map,” she advised, “because you’re not getting cell service in the back country.”

Unfortunately for the aggrieved woman, who’d spent a considerable amount of her money on tattoos, an edgy haircut, and the latest in smartphone technology, venturing out to Shenandoah National Park on a three-day weekend was not going to be the transcendent experience that watching Reese Witherspoon had led her to believe. Drawing Ava, the tough love park ranger, was just one more experience that was souring her dewy-eyed fantasy.

“I’m trying to help you,” Ava told her, “But frankly, I don’t care if this permit isn’t filled out correctly. And I won’t care either when the Search and Rescue operation finds your scattered bones.”

It wasn’t that Ava hadn’t known that much of the population relied on smartphones and their apps. She’d simply thought that she’d see less of it in the park. But people came barreling up the mountain and knocked on the door to its wilderness with their pockets and cars fully wired. It was more unusual to see a family chatting companionably than to see at least one parent and all the kids staring into their phones, laptops, or a screen replaying a Disney dvd.

What she did – or should – know was that there was no way one park ranger was going to change their opinions on the best way to navigate the park, let alone the world. Still, she wasn’t responsible for their dropped cell signal or scrambled coordinates, so when the world presented her with her teachable moment, she invariably ran with it. Her lesson was that nature was unpredictable, beautiful, and pitiless.  When visitors whined about the fogged in mountain, she proclaimed it a “good day for mushrooms;” when they asked her advice on which direction had the best views, she answered with an obfuscating “yes;” and when they asked if the autumn foliage was beautiful, she told them to look up at the trees and trust that they had the tools to answer the question themselves. If she could push back their glib assumption that the natural world had solely been designed for them by just half an inch, she felt, she would have created a space for the forest to exist.