When Birds Fall

I’m sitting on the couch in my living room chatting with a friend of mine when a loud thump against the window startles us both. We whip our heads around to see what it could’ve been.

“A bird?” she asks, scanning the front porch.

I, too, dart my eyes around when they land on a small sparrow sitting upright and stunned by the leg of my front porch chair. “Yes!” I say, “There!”

I hop up from the couch, run to the front door, throw it open, and scoop up the small bird in my hands. I instantly recognize this sparrow because it’s been making a home with his or her partner in the birdhouse hanging over head. [that story here, if you missed it.] The tiny creature barely flinches as I hold its delicate, nearly weightless body in my hands. With the tip of my finger and as gently as I can, I stroke his or her back and whisper, “it’s okay, it’s okay” over and over again.

Sparrow
“Shh, shh, little sparrow.”

From inside, my friend opens the window and asks me if the bird is okay, to which I reply that I think so. It’s breathing and nothing looks broken.

Several minutes pass and I stand to try and transfer the sparrow into its house where I can hear his or her partner chirping and as I lift my hands, the tiny birds hops onto the birdhouse, looks at me, and cocks its tiny head.

As the day goes on, I keep an eye on the front porch to ensure that there’s no injured sparrow and much to my delight, I catch both sparrows returning to their birdhouse later on in the afternoon and disappearing inside of it. I’m pleased to know that I didn’t scare them away: I worried that might’ve happened as soon as I cupped the bird into my hands.

This sparrow situation comes on the tail of two weeks in which Andre, one of my Rhode Island Red Hens, has been missing. You may remember her, she was the broody one who ultimately hatched Bowie, our bright and boisterous rooster [that story here]. She’s also the one who habitually pecks at the back door to get my attention and hopefully, table scraps.

I let my hens free range most days (especially in the humid stillness of summer) and two weeks ago, she didn’t come back to the coop. Had it been any of my other hens, I wouldn’t worry so much, assuming they’d decided to go on a walkabout and perhaps they found love on someone else’s property and decided to stay. Andre though, well she’s a homebody; a mama’s girl. At this point, I’ve assumed the worst and it just breaks my heart. I love that hen. I love her so much so that I had a t-shirt made with her photo on it earlier this year because well…just because.

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In addition to that gut-tugging sense of loss, I’m feeling like a failure that Andre has gone missing, like I should’ve done more. In hindsight, however, her being out of the coop in the first place was me trying to be a good chicken mom. I wanted for her and her sisters to have some breezy, fresh air and those really juicy, flicking bugs that hop around in the summer grass. Sometimes, I suppose, things just happen beyond our best control and despite our best intentions.

I never thought I’d miss a chicken so much but then again, there’s a lot that I didn’t know about myself until I moved here and there’s a heck of a lot I’m still figuring out. I think one of the most important things I’ve learned is just how deeply responsible we are for one another, human and animal alike. It is our responsibility to be kind, to help where we can, and to try and understand one another even when we think we have no obligation to do so. We should lift each other up, hold each other, keep an eye out for one another so that when someone falls, you’re there to lift them up and help them home. There’s a lot of finger pointing going on these days—a lot of hearts sealed shut and it’s destroying us. 

Perhaps Andre is off finding herself. Perhaps she’s doing exactly what I’ve been doing for the past several years—taking a grand adventure to meet new characters and discover her own strength—and one day, I’ll hear a little tap tap tap on the back door and open it to find two little orange eyes looking up at me. I can only hope with all my heart that that’s the case.

Andre
Andre the wonder hen

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Until then, I’m glad to know I’ve not scared the sparrows off yet. I’m tickled to know that the two of them are floofed up together in that gently swaying birdhouse that we built. I fully intend on keeping a close eye out for them, there to catch them if they fall. 

Beating Hearts

Yesterday, I studied the date on the donkey calendar that hangs over my desk for more than a moment trying to recall why August 2nd was significant when it finally hit me: six years ago on August 2nd, I had heart surgery. It wasn’t open heart surgery with a cracked open chest but instead, a procedure where they went in through my femoral artery to travel into my heart with heated instruments whose mission was to cauterize the ends of several rouge nerves that were misfiring around my struggling heart. The real kicker of the surgery was that I had to be awake in order to have my heart behaving in her most natural way. It hurt like hell.

I’ve talked in my blog before about my heart surgery, so I won’t go into more detail about that particular day, but what I am reminded of everytime this date rolls around is just how important it is to properly care for your sweet heart and just how great the strength is of that little ticker. Dr. Seuss said that you’re “stronger than you seem” and I’m pretty sure that kind of deep-seeded strength comes from your ole beating heart. I got to know my heart pretty well that day—that day when I learned what it felt like to have your heart literally touched. I ached when she was burned over and over but you know, I’ve never met a person that didn’t have scars on their heart. It’s universal. It connects us.

Beating hearts. This world is full of them. I’ve sometimes thought that if I could have a superpower, I’d like the ability to hear other people’s heart beats from a distance. I think of how many times my heart has thudded so heavily that I could hardly hear anything over its thumping in my ears and I wonder if other people’s hearts do that too and to what extent. Like when you see something or meet someone that makes your heart leap around like hyper harlequin, wouldn’t it be comforting to know if other hearts were just as frantic in that moment? I think if our hearts could move like it, they’d respond to situations in the same way dog’s tails do: wagging when happy, hanging when sad, tucking when scared.

I also truly believe that if everyone would stop, even for a split second, and think about how everyone…everyone…has a little beating heart inside their chest that’s capable of being happy and timid and terrified and brave and every shade in between, then maybe we’d be less likely to be so cruel to each other. If we could imagine the uncharted and infinite depths of our potential kindnesses that are hungry to be explored and embraced, then maybe we would actually start to know peace.

I love hearts. I love their complexity, their strength, their sounds, and their endurance. I love that there is fortitude in their vulnerabilities. I love that they have chambers opening and closing and flowing with rich blood because that image is just the coolest scene to imagine. I love that they can be burned, literally and figuratively, and still continue to beat strongly.

Anyway…here’s to continual heart health, y’all. The heart in me honors the heart in you. Badum, badum, badum.

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The Remington

Moments ago, I began writing a new blog post describing a late night scene from around midnight last night—moon high and air still—when I wondered why I go outside so late so often? Many of my posts have started off with something along the lines of, “It was hovering around midnight when…”

I thought on it for a bit and I think I figured out why I find myself out in the pasture with the donkeys most nights when the only sounds are crickets and distant coyotes:

It seems to me that when I finally settle into that sweet spot in bed where the blanket is tucked up under my neck with just the right amount of tension and my right, lower leg and foot are sticking out of the covers at just the right angle…when the height of the pillow is neither too high nor too low…when the temperature in the house has finally settled at that perfect 72 degrees…that’s where my ole’ pal anxiety wakes up.

“Psssst. Hey. Hey you. Did you lock the doors?
…I don’t think you turned off the stove top…
…Is Little Foot breathing?
…I bet you forgot to turn off the hose that was refilling the donkey’s trough earlier and now your entire property is flooded…
…What did so-and-so mean in that cryptic text message earlier?”

…and so on.

Fight as I might, reassuring myself that yes, I did and checked and figured out (or let go of) all of those things, anxiety just won’t sleep unless I check again. Even my anxiety is anxious. As such, most nights I wander out into the pasture in my jammies and my boots to do one last check on the hoses, the chickens, and the donkeys. The donkeys have come to expect my late night visits—their eager ears perked at their gates when I inevitably show up with a flashlight.

So last night, I stood outside for sometime in the company of my sweet donkeys three as I stared up into a clear sky. It was a half moon and I studied her perfect halfness until she began to look like a cream colored button poking out of a black sky. The stars wandered in and out of focus about her and after I cleaned the smudges from my glasses with my shirt, I spotted a wandering satellite gliding across the sky.

After some time, I bid my donkeys sweet dreams and came back into the house, my anxiety mostly satisfied with my having triple-checked.

Wide awake at this point, I decided to tinker with my new, 80-year old Remington typewriter that was so graciously gifted to me by King Ranch on my birthday over the weekend. It is a beaut, this typewriter: bright red with yellow keys that have years and years of stories stuck beneath them.

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I unlocked its case, set it on the kitchen table, slid in a piece of paper and began to press down what my mind had not yet finished seeing from the outside. I click-clacked over the keys, careful to line up the margins with every line break and to try to spell every word correctly the first time and sometime later, my mind had fully transferred her thoughts onto paper.

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I studied my new poem for a proud moment before placing the cover back on the Remington and heading back to bed. Once resettled, (blanket tucked, leg out, pillow perfect) all I could imagine was the way the keys felt beneath my fingers. Click-clack, click-clack, sliiiiide. Click-clack, click-clack, sliiiiide. The keys are surprisingly heavy, giving my fingertips a challenge. I love that the Remington isn’t sensitive; I’ve got enough fragility elsewhere in my life. The Remington is strong and steady, demanding of my awareness. 

I slept so well last night. I slept heavily and deeply: my dreams wandering down rivers and through trees and I seem to remember a blue backpack and wings.

I won’t jinx it, but perhaps my anxiety who has anxiety has found a new manager named Remington.

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The Morning Five Foster Donkeys Arrived

Hard to believe that it’s been a year since we received our first five foster donkeys, all of which found perfect homes. 21 rehomed donkeys later, we’re still going strong. So many ears, so many tails, so many stories.

That Ranch Life

In my freshly shined boots and my one pair of jeans without any holes, I’m standing at the edge of the gravel road out in front of the ranch. The sun has only barely peeked over the treetops; it’s morning rays filtering everything in a lively, lemony hue. Little Foot is securely fastened in a toddler hiking pack that’s strapped around my back and he’s saying “ball” over and over again. I’ve unlocked, unlatched and opened one of the larger side gates of our property and am holding the rusting chain that was looped around it in my left hand—it’s ends clanging softly together.  

Although it’s still quite early, the humidity of Texas summer engulfs us in it’s warm-washcloth embrace. My hair has already begun to stick to my forehead which frustrates me because I spent time straightening it before I came outside about 30 minutes ago. I also…

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Lightning Shows

Last night leading up to midnight, I spent the better part of an hour out in the shed with the donkeys watching the sky. Our little area of Texas was having what I thought at the time was a heat lightning storm—something we cherish down here in the south. Lightning pulses behind heavy clouds in a humid sky, sometimes reaching out in bolts and grand, illuminating flashes during these storms. They only seem to happen when we’ve spent several days with high temperatures hovering around 100 degrees.

While I was out there, I got to wondering what causes heat lightning so when I came inside some time later, sweaty and draped in small spider webs I’d picked up on my walk back, I Googled heat lightning only to find out that heat lightning doesn’t exist. We’ve made up that phenomenon! That information can be found here: What is Heat Lightning?

I love the weather channel.

Even so, these lightning shows are stunning to behold. Their never ending flashes become meditative after a while, especially without the anticipation of thunder. I put these lightning events on the same level as a good fire whereby you can sit for hours staring into its ever changing light and there, no two people will regard them in the same way.

The best stories are told around fires. The best thoughts are conjured during lightning storms.

I thought about how, way back when I first moved here to the ranch and the months following, I was so lost. If you’ve only recently started following this here ranch life adventure, then you may not know that donkeys found me…not the other way around. King Ranch and I had bought a property and said property came with a donkey. I thought about how when we moved here, Little Foot was a mere 4 month old infant: tiny and fragile and I was a 4 month old mother with no idea what I was doing. We didn’t know a single person within 250 miles and even the nearest grocery store was a half-hour drive.

The lightning continually flashed across the sky, highlighting the shapes of the clouds and reflecting off the large eyes of my three donkeys who watched the sky with me intently. I thought about how many times I wanted to run away—back home to Houston where I knew people, where I had a support system. I missed my parents and my friends and my local watering holes. And although Houston is so congested and humid all the time, I missed her familiarity.

But Houston didn’t have my donkeys. I watched the way their ears shifted and twitched with little sounds that flicked about. I thought about how now, being two and a half years into this ranch life, Little Foot has had the opportunity to grow up with dirt under his fingernails and donkeys at his side. They’re very protective of him. I remember when Little Foot was just learning to walk, how Bunny and Tee would follow closely behind him, their noses right behind his little, wobbly back. Even now, when he’s out there with me running and jumping, they’re always by his side.

The lightning rolled on—a pulsing, electrical heartbeat stretching across the sky. I got the sense that the snaking and slithering bolts were beginning to reach down into my own chest, wrapping their light around and into the chambers of my beating and tender heart. It’s been over two years since we moved here and in many ways, I feel as lost as I did then—like I’m constantly searching for something but just can’t find it. I’ve described to King Ranch lately that it’s like I’m in a biplane circling the same, cloudy destination but can’t land because I can’t see it yet.

Bunny was leaning on me by this point and I suspect it’s because she felt my apprehension. She always does this: leans her weight into me when I’m thinking too hard. Maybe it’s her way of telling me to slow down which, I feel like a lot of people have been telling me to do recently. And I know I need to but I struggle because something….something….is tugging at my insides. I just don’t know what.

More clouds appeared and the bolts became harder and harder to see, only dull flashes pulsed in the distance and so I decided to abandon my post and go inside to research heat lightning. When I discovered that it’s a made up concept, I wondered to myself if that invisible landing spot which I’ve been circling is a figment of my imagination. Perhaps like the “heat lightning” being far-travelling lightning from a far away storm, my own apprehensions are far-travelling anxieties from a far away shift in my own recent past…residual stress from everything in my life changing in the past two and a half years.

Or maybe, indeed, change and shifts are somewhere on my own horizon. By now, I’ve learned that there’s a lot to be said for the feelings that poke and prod in your gut—that intuition is a real thing, if given a chance.

Either way, there is wisdom in the shifting skies. If it’s been a while, you should sit outside and look up for a while. It reminds you how vast the universe is and a reminder that the same vastness is inside you. Just as there are storms and heat and fierce winds and mysteries in the skies, so too are there in you. They’re worth beholding from time to time.

So are donkeys. They’re always worth beholding 🙂

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Sparrows and Silver Linings

In our living room, I’m perched on the couch with a mug of early-afternoon, re-heated coffee in hand. My elbows are resting on the back of the couch and I’m knelt down into the sinking cushions, staring out the front window. Moments ago, I heard a sparrow chirp on the porch and discovered that the small bird was calling to his companion—he’d discovered a house.

For mother’s day earlier this year, King Ranch, Little Foot and I built and painted a birdhouse and since, it’s hung colorfully yet vacantly on our front porch. I realize now that I’ve been sitting here for about a half an hour watching the sparrow couple take turns flying away and returning with twigs and leaves for their new home and with each return of a carefully-picked supply for their nest, I’m tickled a bit more.

Sweet Sparrow

It was only an hour ago or so that the new, adoptive parents of Sue and Maybell (two of my foster donkeys) drove away, the ladies in safe and secure tow, and I’ve spent the better part of that hour both grateful and gloomy. I’d grown attached to those two donkeys, both of them having been in my care since mid-March. No matter how lovely the new home is, (and major shout out to Joel & Anne who will be caring for these two now because y’all are just the kind of loving and enthusiastic home we hope to find for our sweet donkeys) it’s always tough to say goodbye to those who you’ve poured your heart into.

But melancholy as I could continue to be right now, there’s something profound about our newly arrived, feathery neighbors that’s setting my heart at ease—a sort of “two gone, two arrived” situation. Goodbye but then again, hello.

I’ve not much else to say at present except the admittance of struggling with my own self-worth. I’m not trying to be maudlin, but instead trying to be honest and admitting to my weakness as a way to acknowledge it and hopefully work on remedying the negativity that’s gaining momentum in my anxious mind. As a writer, I feel like I’m reaching my fill of letters, both composed and automated, that respond to my queries saying rarely more than what seems like, “Sorry, you’re just not good enough for us.” Sigh.

Here’s the silver lining that I’m trying to remind myself:

Every person who’s tried to become an author has gone through this, so maybe this is just the initiation to buff up that proverbial “thick skin” everyone talks about. Although as I’m typing this, I seem to remember a blog that I wrote a little over a year ago where I was actively trying to understand how someone who struggles so gravely with anxiety like I do could ever, ever be brave in the face of repetitive rejection…

Silver lining continued:

When I was submitting stuff last year and spending way too much time curled in a fetal position asking myself why I can’t just grow up and go back to my old days in a corporate job (how was I more mature in my 20’s than I am now?), it was for a different project and that project did indeed get picked up by Flash Fiction Magazine online and that was awesome. It was worth every rejection to then get the, “Wow, we’re totally into this really weird story” response. [Here’s that story if you’re curious: Behind the Clouds, There are Stars]

What I’m working on now is completely different and a seemingly much loftier goal. So, buck up, right? I’m trying. Really, I am.

Silver lining finalized:

As cliché as it sounds, timing really is everything. When it happens that I find the right person / company to represent my work, it will have been worth the wait to end up in the right hands just as it was worth the wait to have Maybell and Sue for as long as I did until the perfect parents came along to adopt them. Anyone sooner wouldn’t have been right.

Here’s what I do know and I promise, I’m not trying to sound preachy:

Your self-worth and value is not at the hands of anyone or anything else. No one. Nothing. Have I gone on my soapbox in my blog yet about how much it irks me when people refer to their partners as their “better/other halves?” Well, if I have, I’m sorry, but you should never be half of anything. You are whole. Wholly guacamole, you are. And if you’re not? Don’t lean on anyone or anything (not that acceptance letter, not the loss of that 15lbs you’re worried about, not that raise that your dumb boss is keeping from you, not that unfitted or even thriving relationship or whatever) to fill what you think is missing about you. You are whole. You are. Or at least you can be from your inside out, so go exploring internally. No other purchase necessary. Please know that. I think the poem I posted on here the other day, Steady, Steady, Sweet Soul, was me trying to show myself that very concept. 

The sparrows are still building a nest in my little birdhouse out front and it’s ridiculous how much time I’ve sat here watching them when I have so many other things I should be doing. It’s really cool to watch their new beginning, though. Will they have a family in there? Will baby sparrows learn to fly off that perch? I hope so. 

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I do my best thinking with coffee in hand.

Steady, Steady, Sweet Soul

Above soaring, jagged rocks
The world’s weight tugging
Heavily on your bones;
Her mouth open wide and
Ready for an easy meal…

Wind whipping and howling
With voices from deep underground,
Voices that you swore were buried
Beneath stone and time,
Their smokey doubts swirling about…

Above bird songs where
Clouds roll with secrets;
Air streaming thinly through
Your rising and falling lungs
Quickening with the thump thump thump of your heart…

There, plant tightly your tired feet,
Steady your scattered soul,
Reach deep into your gut, raw and rank
And realize the horizon-reaching,
Broader and more complex view within.

Realize that you are riddled with rolling secrets, too
And with beauty beyond written words
With often old voices shaping your moves.
Realize that the universe within you
Is worth beholding, worth admiring,

Worth travelling far and taking risks
To see and feel and inhale deeply into.
Realize that and
You, my love,
You, my friend,
You, my stranger,
You,

Will set your sweet soul free.

Edges

Wide-Eyed and Waggy-Tailed

The sun’s just come up on an already warm Monday morning, although it’s not been up long enough to burn the dew off of the un-mowed grass that’s slopping against my rubber boots. I’ve got the remainder of a roll of gauze in my hand, a disinfectant spray, and a small, black boot that was specially designed for Tink, my sweet mini donkey whose hoof (or rather, what remains of a hoof) is deformed due to profound mistreatment by his previous owner. Luckily, he was rescued by the organization in which I volunteer, Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue, and in time, I became his over-the-moon adoptive mother.

Tink the mini donkey
Sportin’ his handsome boot.

As I walk across the backyard towards the gate that leads into the donkey’s pasture, I hear several long exhales that I know to belong to Bunny, my standard-sized donkey, who’s revving up for a bray because it’s been three days since I’ve seen her.

Late last night, I arrived back home from an exhilarating couple of days in Houston. Y’all know by now that Houston is my hometown—my folks still live there as do many of my dearest friends—and so really, any visit there is a treat…but this one was especially exciting. More on that later.

I open the gate and Bunny is running across the pasture in a full-on bray now—her nostrils are flared and ears are laying back and so as quickly as I can, I set the boot, the spray, and the gauze on the ground just in time to open my arms and catch her before she tackles me to the ground. She hits me hard, her large neck against my chest and her snout over my shoulder. Her tail is wagging furiously and as I wrap my arms behind her large head, she starts nipping at my hair.

Bunny and Me
Although this isn’t the greeting of THIS morning, this is how I’m so blissfully greeted everytime I go outside. My girl.

Home.

I scratch her ears and run my hands down all her legs to check for ticks or mites as Tee and Tink make their way towards us. They may not greet me with the enthusiasm that Bunny does, but their wide eyes and wagging tails are more than enough to pull at my bleeding-heart’s strings.

As I’m dressing Tink’s hoof, my three remaining adoptable donkeys wander up to the fence, their ears perked up in curiosity, and I remember just then that in only a few days, I’ll be saying goodbye to two of them, Maybell and Sue (a mother/daughter pair whose new family will be picking them up later this week.) Oof. Being swept up in the excitement of the weekend, I’d briefly forgotten that I’m within days of saying good bye, and so after I finish up with Tink, I go to them.

I’ve had Maybell and Sue since mid-March which has been just enough time to really grow attached to them. I rub their faces and let them lean on me and it’s then that I realize I’m grappling (and even struggling) with the concept of impermanence. It’s a growing weight that I try to mentally avoid but, hoo boy, here it comes.

In just a few, short days, I’ll say goodbye to Maybell and Sue and in all likelihood, will never see them again. These two who I’ve cared for so deeply—I’ve cleaned their hooves and brushed their hair and fed them and given them medicine when they’ve needed it. Now that will be someone else’s job. As one who fosters rescue donkeys, this is part of it and I know that. It’s not easy, though. Never is. 

It’s daunting, isn’t it? When you really stop to think about how temporary everything—all of this—really is? How quickly winter turns to spring, turns to summer, and your infant son is somehow already two years old and speaking in sentences and you’ve found a lone-wolf, gray hair right, smack-dab in the middle of your hairline. Your spring garden has burnt to a crisp under the Texas sun and geeze-louise, my dumb birthday’s looking right at me again with mocking eyes. Weren’t you just here?

I give Maybell and Sue each a pat on the nose before heading back towards the house. Little Foot will still be asleep in his toddler bed, likely above the covers and holding onto his orange, stuffed lion and also in the house (and as a cherry on top to my most excellent weekend in Houston), I brought back up north with me to visit for a few days, The Unicorn. Remember her? If not, here’s her story. She’ll still be sleeping too, I imagine. We had a late night last night and I want to have coffee made before she wakes.

Temporariness. Oof.

On our drive yesterday, The Unicorn and I were reveling in the years that have passed since we met which lucky for us, we know the exact date: January 5, 2010. I kid you not, we shook hands for the first time that day and static-shocked each other and since, we’ve been the closest of friends. Seven years, in fact. In a lifetime, that probably isn’t much, but I can remember that day we met like it was just moments ago. And it’s been a fruitful seven years.

It’s so fast. It’s all just so fast.

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This is the Unicorn and me at Houston’s Pride Festival, June 2012.

The coffee’s brewing now in the kitchen, trickling and beginning to smell wonderful and outside the front window, our rooster, Bowie, is crowing. I’ve decided it’s a myth that roosters crow only in the morning—Bowie crows all day every day. Tucker, our dog, has curled up at my feet and I’m picking away at the red nail polish that’s chipping from the ends of my fingernails. I rarely paint my nails but I decided to while in Houston this weekend because, well, it was one of the coolest weekends imaginable.

About that: I had a VIP ticket to An Evening with Neil Gaiman that would be performed at the Brown Theater and with said ticket, I’d get a chance to meet Neil himself. And I did. So I’d painted my nails.

That was some major temporariness…my VIP ticket-holding status…though I liked that I held something that considered me a “Very Important Person.” I don’t think I’ve ever been a VIP to anything before. Perhaps my wedding, once upon a time. The bride, I suppose, is one of the wedding’s VIPs.

Thrilling and unbelievably meaningful as it was to me to get to meet one of my very favorite authors, it was over before I realized what sort of anxious nonsense was pouring out of my mouth like a busted dam in a hurricane during my brief opportunity to speak with him. *Facepalm.* I was just as wide-eyed and waggy-tailed as my donkeys that night. Although, even in normal conversation with people for whom I’m very close, I tend to babble and tangent off to strange places, usually about how much I love donkeys and yoga and pizza and bluegrass bands, so at least it was genuine. 

Whether or not I made as ass out of myself (hey, in my world, y’all know being an ass is a compliment *badum tiss*) is not what I’m concerned with…it’s how quickly that one, extremely gravitational moment that I know I’ll remember for the rest of my life was over like that. Neil Gaiman is one of the people who has shaped who I am and really, still striving to become, and I had the pleasure of being able to meet him and try in my most awkward way possible to tell him that. Then like the bubbles that Little Foot and I play with in the yard, it popped and that moment was gone and now I’m chipping the paint from my nails. That’s really, really difficult for me swallow.

But isn’t all of it hard to swallow? The fleetingness of everything? Of growing up and saying goodbye and being able to spend  what seem like finger-snaps of time with people who mean the world to you? The seasons and storms and sunrises and every little moment where your heart beats so heavily that you can’t really hear anything else? It’s so difficult for me to comprehend the vacuum that’s left once it’s ended.

I guess that’s a place we can all connect, though. There’s that silver lining. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’ve come from, you’ve had to say goodbye to someone. You’ve had to grow up (in one way or another). You’ve hurt and you’ve thrived and you’ve tripped and you’ve soared. You’ve been scared and been brave and when you come to, you only see it in your rearview bouncing around with all the other colors and shapes of your past.

I think the coffee is finished brewing and just now, Little Foot has started to chat in his room, probably with the same stuffed lion that he usually holds onto at night, and so in a moment, I’ll go retrieve him and his curly, little head. He’ll soon not talk to his stuffed animals, so I don’t want to interrupt.

In the meantime, I guess all of this to say that intimidating and downright terrifying as temporariness can be, it can also be very sweet and heart-tugging to recall events in our memories. Like, when I look at photos of Little Foot as an infant, I choke up and remember how the top of his head smelled like toast for the longest time. When I go into my saved voicemails and replay the birthday message my late grandfather left me five years ago, I can see his aging yet perfect smile in my mind’s eye. I remember mine and the Unicorn’s spark when we shook hands. I remember King Ranch’s brown eyes flooding over in tears when I told him I was pregnant. I’ll never forget how trusting Maybell and Sue have become of me and every time Bunny nearly tackles me with excitement, my heart grows a bit. I’ll never forget having the privilege of meeting Neil Gaiman and even though I didn’t remotely articulate my gratitude to him, I hope that he got the sense that he means a whole lot to me.

The Unicorn and I are planning to take Little Foot to the library today. We’ll nuzzle into the same corner that Little Foot and I do every week with a stack of books only this time, I’ll get to watch my friend read him a story. I’ll get to hold onto that image for a very long time and I’m sure that it’ll be just as sweet every time I recall it.

Temporariness isn’t that bad when you think about it like that, I suppose…when you think about it as the decorations in your memory. The art hanging on your mind’s walls. It means you’ve got room to fill your present with just about anything you want and you know you can look back and see how the rest of it has brought you to where you are now. And right now, I’m gonna get some coffee, go peek at my chatting kid, and try to memorize the sound of his little, perfect voice. That would be a painting I’d hang right in the middle of it all.

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Me deciding that temporariness isn’t that bad. Wide-Eyed and Waggy-Tailed, indeed.

West By God Virginia

It’s hovering around 10:00PM and although the sky has seceeded into the most navy of blues, the heat and humidity of a clear, July afternoon still hovers about, sticking to our foreheads. I’m sitting on the railing of the wooden balcony that wraps around the reception hall in which two of my very best friends have just gotten hitched—my feet dangling high above the ground which, looking now, is much farther down than I initially realized. As a native Houstonian, I’m not used to structures on steep slopes like they have here in West Virginia as part of regular geography and especially not when I’m on my third glass of champagne.

Two or so dozen feet in front of me is a line of thick, dark, towering trees and twinkling endlessly in their shadows are thousands of dancing fireflies. Their sparkling song seems endless—over and over the darkness pops with glittering yellow and green flashes and as I struggle to fully exhale the smoke from a long drag I’ve just taken off of a celebratory cigar (I don’t think I even know how to properly smoke a cigar, but I had to try on this night) it dawns on me that this is one of those experiences I’ll remember for the rest of my days.

I’d gone to West Virginia three days before this—before the wedding, the cigar, the balcony and the fireflies—because one of my dearest friends (who I will henceforth refer to as Mountain Mama) asked me to be the Maid of Honor in her wedding. Having never been to West Virginia or really, any of her surrounding areas, I’d arrived with absolutely no expectations—a clean slate ready to be filled with whatever the wilderness held for us. In typical Mountain Mama fashion, we forewent a bar-crawling, explicitly decorated bachelorette party and opted to take her brother and soon-to-be sister in law on a hiking / white-water-rafting adventure in and around West Virginia’s New River Gorge. 

The four of us, Mountain Mama, her brother (The Frenchman) and soon-to-be sister in law (Hannie B) set out across the state at seven in the morning to be the early birds catching the worms on the hike out to The Endless Wall and lucky for us, we caught that scenic worm with hardly another hiker in sight.

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There were several small paths which veered off the main trail, each leading to jagged-rock ledges overlooking the valley and each one of those roads-less-traveled was worth exploring. Each careful step closer to the edge tugged at my gut and at my heart so hard that words, thoughts, worries, and cares about anything escaped me. In other words, the views from The Endless Wall Trail were literally breathtaking.

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We did this for several hours, the four of us, hiking through the wooded paths high above the river. Rhododendron bushes were in full bloom pouring over from the edges of the trail and even sometimes hanging down from above our heads—their light pink and white flowers delicately sprinkling our path…nature’s flowergirl.

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After our souls were fully saturated in the views from way up high, we ventured down low to see the gorge from a much quicker moving perspective—that of the raft.

Of the four of us, only the Frenchman had been white-water rafting so as we geared up and rode down to the take-off point, our nerves and the weight of what we were about to do started to settle in our stomachs. Neither Mountain Mama or I could think of what to say so until we were successfully out on the water, we just giggled nervously.

Lucky for us, we had two other adventurerers ride in our raft: the Miller’s out of Ohio, who, first time or no, did an amazing job rowing on down the river—better than the rest of us most of the time. And we also had the most excellent of tour guides who was completely responsible (and successful!) for keeping the six of us alive on that river. (If you’re ever looking to raft the New River Gorge, might I suggest booking with Adventures on the Gorge. You’ll be especially lucky with Chris as your guide. We sure were.)

This three hour ride down the river was thrilling for two…well….actually three reasons:

  1. When approaching the rapids, no matter how many you’ve gone through, there’s that moment seconds before you steer into the crashing, whitecapping waves surrounded by jagged rocks that you think, “there’s no way I’m getting out of this right now,” and so you clutch your paddle, wedge your feet, and row like your life depends on it—because it does.
  2. The banks and the scenery lining this river in which we rafted were stunning—there were massive rocks (which, according to Chris, are often named based on their shapes) that you could swear have been around since dinosaurs have. Wild flowers peeked from the trees and weeds and birds soared about between the mountains. Not to mention, when you come around the curve and see the New River Gorge Bridge, you can’t help but be humbled by the skill and hands of the humans who built it. 
  3. You make friends with your raft-mates. That’s the thing about adrenaline junkies—you commune in potentially life-threatening situations and, I’m not sure if everyone does this, but I look around the raft (or plane, or boat, or rockwall, or whatever the particular setting is) and think, “well, these could be the last people with whom I share breath” and suddenly, you kind of love them. It’s a connection like no other.

That night, after the rafting and a few drinks with our newly acquainted friends, Mountain Mama, The Frenchman, Hannie B and I drove down into the woods to set up camp. The sun had gone down by the time we made it to our site, and so, using the headlights of our vehicle to light our way and keep clear of stepping on slugs, we quickly set up our tent and settled in for bed. I’ll cut this part short, but, due to a few unforeseen circumstances, we had to pack up our tent in the middle of the night and rush back across the state instead of being able to complete our night of camping. I will say that, thankfully, everyone was fine and really, driving across West Virginia and through the mountains at 2:00AM was quite an adventure in and of itself. So many stars. So many deer. So many odd car conversations.

The following day, we hiked more—this time on the other side of the gorge, down the Long Point Trail. This hike made for much better viewing of the bridge and even more of an opportunity to be stunned and humbled by nature’s beauty.

 

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From there, we traveled even farther east to Mountain Mama’s tiny hometown where we romped in hidden waterfalls and forgot what it felt like to move so quickly all the time.

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This led into Sunday which was the wedding day and all I can say is that it was perfect. I’ll not go into further detail, for it’s not my story to tell but, spoiler alert: I suspect the couple will live happily ever after. They are a couple who redefine what it means to love someone and I am so honored to have been a part of it.

Which brings me back to this railing that I’m perched upon among the chorus of well-wishing fireflies…where I’m choking up because I leave first thing in the morning. I try to take another drag off of the cigar, but I cough lamely and decide to focus my breath on the air that, realistically, I’m not sure when I’ll have the chance to breathe again. I imagine this West Virginia air swirling into my lungs and around my spine in a glittering, white light. It illuminates all the darknesses lurking in my anxious body and as I exhale into the now black night, I’m left cleansed.

I imagine in this moment that a glowing piece of my heart breaks off with my breath and floats on into the wild and wonderful air—that a little piece of my glowing heart floats away leaving a dim, glittering trail tangled with fireflies and settles itself upon the banks of the New River Gorge where it’ll wait for me to come back to retrieve it. It’ll glow, even when the water and the rocks cover it up with the rising tides. It’ll be there, pulsing dimly in the dirt, that piece of my heart that never wants to leave ole’ West Virginia. That little piece of my heart that fell in love and would be damned to leave. It’ll wait there with the ghosts that linger in the mountain mist, waiting for me to return…and I will…someday.

Until then, stay wild and wonderful, West Virginia. Take care of my Mountain Mama and her betrothed…and of that little piece of my heart that’s stuck there. I’ll be back to get it.