Satisfied and tickled, too

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, October 16, 2016 (last essay for this paper!)


The only fan letter I ever wrote was to the novelist, Tom Robbins. No eye rolling, please. It’s important to note that I happened to be working for his publisher in New York City at the time (1982), and I happened to be selling cover art rights to his many foreign publishers. In essence, I was really working for him. So. It was a fan letter to my awesome boss.

The job itself is not at all glamorous; in fact, when I leave the position, my day-to-day boss, a tough woman VP for whom I type letters, asks me if I want to know why I will never amount to anything in the business. It does not help that the friend I make in that department becomes such a close friend (and is, still) that our desks have to be moved apart. Meanwhile, I gobble up the Tom Robbins novels, and on several occasions see him in the elevator looking adventuresome, approachable, and out of place; combined, these are enough to loosen New York City’s monopoly on my spirit.

I have blocked out whatever I might have tried to pull off in that fan letter. It had some history, probably. Having grown up in Seattle, I had already dragged the parents on a “tulip viewing” pilgrimage to the little town of La Conner, Washington, where the legendary creator of Sissy Hankshaw is known to live (and still lives, at 84).

I do know this: at the time of typing the letter on my old Royal, in the fabulous walk-up railroad flat I rent for more than two-thirds of my take home pay, I am thinking if I land a comment in this author’s ear, at least I will have done something in life. I probably gush out of every pore, because I am still in recovery from Catholic girls’ high school PTSD, for which gushing is not just the antidote but also the cure.

I drop it in the mailbox, thinking “There. Done. Did it. Now, move on.”

A few weeks later, despite the miniscule odds, I receive a letter postmarked La Conner. On the back of the envelope is an image of a duck and man with their heads down and submerged in water, along with the caption, “Does a duck have a Buddha nature, master?” Inside, is a photocopied anatomical diagram of head and alimentary canal with word bubbles coming out of various mouths. “Dear Michelle,” it says, “I would be satisfied (and tickled, too) if yours was the only fan letter I ever received. Bless your heart for that. Love & Luck. Tom Robbins.”

Sometimes, we do smile big, gaping smiles with our hearts. That I have fired off a letter to a winsome, frolicking, woman-loving, psychedelic-seeing, longhand-writing genius and gotten it answered is almost more than I can bear. It makes me float for a while and then it makes me wonder, Well, what keeps us afloat, though? Does a duck have a Buddha nature, master?

When I finally do drop out in search of something else, something imaginative and at the end of the road, there is no shortage of Robbins bubbling in my brain and fueling my fire. I take my father’s bequeathed computer and start tapping away, for hundreds and hundreds of hours at my first attempt at novel writing, which is — of course — about a roadside attraction. My prose is a far cry from Tom Robbins,’ but I like to think my characters might feel right at home reading his novels.

Fast forward 30 years.

A friend is over and is reading the famed, framed letter, as others have done, with a little smile. A diehard blues lover, he tells me he most appreciates the “satisfied and tickled, too” reference to the Mississippi John Hurt song. I have no idea what he’s talking about. I have never been aware of any allusion at all, which somehow utterly charms him because of this new layer, a layer that brings him right into the story.

Some time later but not so long ago, this same friend and his wife tell me they have a surprise for me, which is a present, a book. They’ve just been to Tom Robbins’ reading and book signing in NYC — of the memoir he said he would never write. And though they’ve all been told by the author, whose handwriting and eyesight are bad, that he cannot write personal notes, Barry and Christina, committed, stand in a long line in order to squeeze out my story in 12 seconds flat — the story of the only fan letter a girl has ever written, and the response she unexpectedly gets.

Below the shaky inscription to me and above his signature, he finds it in his heart to add: “Satisfied and tickled, too.” Which is a nice enough mantra in life, when you actually think about it.


Bow tie

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, September 18, 2016


A near perfect September day, you know the kind. We are about to witness a young bride walk down a path lined in pinecones and dusted with rose petals, a pathway of lightly mowed weeds and grasses, nothing too civilized or slick — in fact, all of it a little bit rough. The light breeze, the intense heat of the sun’s kiss on the backs of necks, the first yellow leaves on the aspens, these wrap us in late-summer sweetness.

It’s wedding season, you know: something you mostly hear about until you are actually there, looking on, squinting through the prisms of welling tears. Two people are about to make promises. This is something that feels big — as if silent forces are willing the entire cosmos into alignment, from stars and compasses to leaves on family trees to the micro-flutter of butterfly wings. All of it converges to a tiny crucible, a moment in time that brings human speck soldering to human speck.

Her dress is elegant and simple, off-white with a short train. Her flowers are native, carefully unceremonious. The sound of the breeze through the aspens ushers us into a deliberate moment of silence; and there is nothing to think about — and everything to enjoy. At attention, every fiber of our leaning in towards love makes us feel more vibrant

Hypnotized by this sound of the wind in the aspens, we allow ourselves to be drawn into a story about to begin. The words are good. The importance of friendship and of respect in a marriage. The value of constancy, and patience, and being present, and of never forgetting what it is that has sparked this fire to begin with. The two of them stand there, riveted, nodding, eager to quench a basic thirst for ritual, for the tying of bonds, for the making of meaning, for union. Their vows are fresh and easy versions of I-don’t-know-how-I-got-so-lucky meets I-promise-to-honor-and-respect.

But, I mean, they had us at saying each others’ names — saying names the way we all like to hear our names spoken. As if there is no other name in the world, weapons down, bare to the bone, a word that signifies one being and one being alone.

I notice that the four groomsmen’s ties perfectly match the flower arrangements. Gold, apricot, sage, eggplant. Later, when I ask if it this is a deliberate act, they look at me as if I’m insane. We were told fall colors, one says. That was all, says another. Well, I answer, you look great. Pretty ties — men forging order through the hand-over-hand of fabric-y knots — make me want to fall to my knees. Is it the tenderness of taking care?  Marking moments by dressing up for them? Is it the oddness of the tie itself combined with the time we take to tie it?

More and more we seem to be leaving it casual, moving through the world comfortably, sometimes even a little sloppily. Our shoes don’t have thirty buttons, our shirts don’t require ironing. We don’t wear overcoats and gloves the way we used to. Ties take it up a notch, especially in the mountains.

Last summer about this time, in a quirky workday moment selling cashmere sweaters, three men from a wedding party come in search of someone who can tie a bow tie. They are carrying tumblers of cocktails, wearing untucked tux shirts.  Charmed, I step up and use one of my motley skills. They have more friends, they venture, could they bring them by? A couple of hours later, I have fourteen dressed-up men in bow ties standing before me, and, eyeing the tie-scape in the small shop, I feel a great sense of absurdist accomplishment and joy. Something will be witnessed today.

At this very moment, the groom, in relaxed, country-life shades of tweed (but buttoned up nicely at the top), has just told his bride how much he loves her. How much he wants her to rely on him. How he hopes he will live up to everything she deserves. She has already said to him how all she has ever hoped for in a man, she has found in him. And more.

Towards the end of the ceremony, the two fledgling spouses are told that, as a matter of fact, because of this union the world will be just a little better of a place. That in union is much more strength and potential for love — that really anything on earth can be done from this starting point.

And as we wait in the noonday sun, wait for the groom to kiss his bride and for her to kiss him back, we cannot help but feel smitten, tenderized and completely renewed.

Mutiny of the bounty

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, August 21, 2016


Just a couple of hours down the road, there is a sweet little shady honor-system fruit stand, where before me, on a spectacular August-ripe summer day, stands an all-white Australian shepherd, a dog standing so still there is nothing to do but reach down and pat it.

Its owner, picking vegetables and a flower bouquet while keeping her eye on her charge (a baby boy playing with a carrot), tells us the dog is deaf and blind and that, in general, it is a good idea to let any dog sniff your hand before reaching toward it. Retroactively doing as I am told, I ask if it is a puppy. No, she says, the dog is actually 6 years old.

I find myself hypnotized by the quiet presence of the dog — just sort of struck by this animal’s life, eyes scarred and ears never having heard a sound, let alone a dog’s broader-than-human spectrum of them. I stay close, bending down. The owner fills us in on the nature of the rescue — another Aussie shepherd whose health was risked by breeders attempting, against great odds, to get the exceptional white one with blue eyes. Puppies with two merles as parents, usually dogs with an abundance of white in their coats, have a very small chance of being born normal; most are born either deaf or blind or both, and are then put down.

This dog has been adopted instead. She has been living on 40 acres, getting to know every square foot of the property by sense of smell and through the slow process of trusting those who love her.

She moves in miniscule increments in the fruit stand, micro-shifting this way and that like a compass needle, mostly staying put. I am feeling the silence of her world. She doesn’t know how beautiful she is, how little of the normal wear and tear is visible on her body. How thick, white, and wavy her fur is.

What gets me, though, right here and right now, is that she does not see the beauty and mutinous bounty — which can indeed overtake one — of the color-wheeled, sun-drenched, summer-thick world around her.

I buy slicer tomatoes so perfect, I am thinking of a sandwich (made on local brick oven bread I am not supposed to eat) of nothing but tomatoes and mayonnaise, just like the ones I ate as a kid. In the stall, a rainbow of produce is laid out neatly in brown bags, surprising flower bundles line a wall, and through the filtered mid-afternoon light, dust motes seem to be lolling in the air.  And outside? Where the dog cannot see, even more?

Outside, it is a banner year in these parts — nothing like it in 20 years according to people who live here. Trees are so laden, it is a wonder they can even support all the heavy flesh of fruit irresistibly dragging branches down weeping-willow style. Staring up from under the peach trees at a u-pick place to the brilliant blue of sky, I feel the thrill of warm fruit ripening so close to me, I can almost hear it. Everything is so lush, so about to burst.  In amongst the plums, we gorge a little before virtually holding our baskets up and tapping the beauties in.

In town, wild apricots line the sides of roads in blushing masses, then fall silently into ditches. And at a friend’s neighbor’s tree we find ourselves standing in the equivalent of fruit drifts, apricots so thick on the ground, our flip-flopped feet are sticky, sliding around, squishing the ripe fruit.

I am thinking of the pure white dog surrounded by the glory of the world and unaware of it. What do I know of her experience, though, really? Of her nose’s take on the world, or her heart’s? I know that in some ways what she really reminds me of most of all is me, of the sense of being a privileged human, someone surrounded by all kinds of great bounty and often not even aware of it.

In our readings of beautiful things, this is what we come across today by Pema Chodron, an 80-year-old American woman, Buddhist monk and gem. “What is meant by neurosis is that in limitless, timeless space — with which we could connect at any time — we continually have tunnel vision and lock ourselves into a room and put bolts on the door. When there’s so much space, why do we keep putting on dark glasses, putting in earplugs, and covering ourselves with armor?”

The white dog stays quietly in the stall. Me, I am outside, where — at least at the height of every kind of summer sensory overload — my dark glasses and earplugs are yanked out for a few moments in time.

Lessons from baseball?

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, May 29, 2016

Aside from hearing the cheers from the old Seattle Sicks Stadium (where Jimi Hendrix played in 1970) down the road a mile from the house I grew up in, I’ve only ever rubbed up against baseball a few times in my life. It just has not been part of the curriculum.

My dad was a football and tennis player. One brother was a runner. The other was a brain. My sister lettered in boys. I was not allowed to do sports on account of their toll on academics, so any knowledge of baseball for me was strictly anecdotal, academic or from television.

It’s 1981 in New York. I reconnect with one of my oldest friends in the world, and he invites me to a Yankees game, complete with press passes. I never understand how this particular friend, an actor, wrangles things, but he always does. I am excited to be drinking a free beer as tall as my head and the afternoon passes by in a pleasant, sunburn-y blur, the sound of fans cheering and bats cracking in the background. So this is baseball, I think to myself. Nice!

Because I’m not really a drinker, I manage to get on a #6 express train going the wrong way, deep into the Bronx. I slump onto a bench not noticing much until someone with a bike gets on the train, urgently points out my mistake, and tells me to get off at the next stop and find some NYPD blue to escort me to the other side and onto the right train. Which, sobering up quickly, I do.  Baseball game #1, lesson learned: Drinking and not driving don’t necessarily mix, either.

Fast forward 20 years, to 2001, back in Seattle now and buying tickets for a Mariners game. Along with the rest of humanity, it seems, we take public transportation down to Safeco Field. We think we are arriving in good time, but as we wend our way up to the Everest-level nosebleed section and are about to pop through the door-hole, there is not a single sound to be heard. It is utterly, eerily quiet: somehow we have arrived dead last, the stadium full to the brim and the first pitch about to be thrown that very second.

Celine, 8, who has never seen 40,000 people gathered before, stands frozen, and we have to drag her to the seats, explaining, as if to an alien, how baseball works. I note the differences 20 years have made. A big screen. The wave. Salmon burgers instead of hot dogs. Baseball game #3 (or so), lesson learned: It’s fun occasionally to blow a child’s mind, especially inadvertently.

Recently, we find ourselves driving past Coors Field in Denver and on a whim walk down and buy cheap tickets from someone hocking them right outside the gate. The seats are really low and right behind home plate, and we get ready for a walk down memory lane.  Aside from the fact that it’s a terrible game (hence the great seats), we find the Jumbotron overwhelming, with its contests and advertisements and the cameraman’s relentless crowd scanning. In the purple and black fanscape, the one food I notice a lot of is nachos. Pumped cheese and corn chips. Oh, and gigantic sodas, even for little kids (what are they doing here on a school night, anyway?).

Stop being so critical, I tell myself. Stop being so old school and enjoy this scene as if it were a fascinating movie about people who seem normal but already live in a science-fiction future where men with beards and knickers are worshipped for their prowess with a cowskin-covered orb and a stick.

There are a lot of foul balls. The most exciting thing by far about this baseball game is imagining catching one of these right out of the sky, like the lucky stiff who actually does to the right a couple sections. Baseball game #5 (or so), lesson learned: Pay attention to what is actually exciting you.

From Buzzfeed (a popular social news website) I learn that in the pantheon of baseball fan archetypes, I am The Completely Clueless Fan, the one who understands 14 percent of the rules, whose motto is “Why did he do that?” Yes. And, for me, the takeaway is always something completely unrelated to the actual game. But there is this one thing I really, really, like.

I like it when the super successfully thwacked up ball snaps every single person to attention — when, in the same breath-held moment of anticipation, they are captives of the present moment, in a state of suspended animation, jaws slack, eyes riveted, poised. As if anything could happen. Obviously, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, if you’re a baseball fan. But for a clueless one, not bad, right?


Dzubble dzutch

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, February 21, 2016

Dear 11-year-old self,

I’m writing you a letter about jumping rope — double Dutch, to be exact. It’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about the last 10 years, for whatever reason. Yes, 10 years. They go by fast. I have not been cogitating on jump rope, but rather I’ve been noting its recurrent presence in my consciousness. (No, I’m not dumbing this letter down for you, by the way. You’ll just have to do your best with it, big words and all.)

I’m writing you because I know you’re out there somewhere, suspended in time like a hologram, even though it’s beyond me to comprehend how. Nothing is showing up under this rubric on Wiki-How — one of my favorite places on something called the Internet — where you can learn pretty much everything there is to learn. But not quite.

Wiki offers an intro to astral projection, for example, which would take me out of my body to look down on my current body, which might eventually get me to some overview of all the different selves in time. There’s a Wiki explanation on how to embrace your inner child — but that also is not the same as sending a missive to your ever-present pre-teen. They have “How to send a message forward in time,” but nothing about sending one backwards.

Anyway, if you get this letter, you’ll know your 57-year-old self has found you, and you’ll get a sense that maybe every version of your/our self is fully realized somewhere in the Big Right Now. For you, it’d be like an episode of the Twilight Zone, which scared you so much, you’d watch with your hands over your eyes. If you get this letter, you’ll go, “Wow, I’m 57? That’s ancient!” And because I’ll attach a photo (because memory doesn’t work both ways), you’ll then go, “Whoa, too much information!” Believe me, it’s not. What’s too much is how fast time goes by and the mystery of our life’s trajectory, which is like the flash of a comet’s tail streaking across the sky.

As I write, I see you in my mind’s eye. I see the scab on your knee right below where that jumper Mom made you hits. That red and blue plaid jumper you wear all the time. Zipper up the back, white blouse underneath. You don’t wear any jewelry — nothing. You’re either wearing sneakers or some Oxford-type shoe, and they’re pretty well worn. Your hair’s short and tousled and your eyes, notably different colors, have not started to even out yet. Next year, things will all change with Converse and Adidas and Pumas and hot pants and ripped jeans, but that has not happened yet, not in 5th grade. Your 6th grade teacher, Mr. Singleton, has not yet had a heart attack and died in the middle of the year. You haven’t started feeling either super cool or utterly wretched yet.

It’s May in Seattle and it’s breezy.  Despite Vietnam and Woodstock and Nixon and Apollo 11 and the very inception of things like the Internet and microprocessor, things are a lot simpler in 1969.  For you, even though a certain essential quality of childhood has started to fade as puberty begins its sneaky approach, things are still rivetingly adamantine. Look the word up.

I remember your infatuation with that boy, M.K. I remember recess, with its obsessive sessions of tetherball, foursquare and Chinese jump rope and double Dutch. The concrete of the playground, its yellow lines, its jungle gyms and the garbage blown up against the outsides of the chain link fence, where we’d reach our fingers through to pull out gum wrappers for making those chains, also zealously crafted day after day after day. Girls huddled together and then racing around like little flocks of birds. The intense focus of endless days of Chinese jump rope, and then double Dutch.

Nowadays, there are double Dutch championships all over the world. There are kids whose feet move so fast, they hold one riveted, in rapt attention, as if the world’s state of balance is directly dependent on their solid footwork.

So here we are heading for spring, and I’m thinking of double Dutch again.

I am conscious of the incredible poetry of two ropes going opposite directions and a jumper hopping in — jumping, jumping, jumping as the rope’s arc peaks and then drops to touch pavement before scooping it all up again. The beauty of arms rhythmically moving in circles, catching bits of sky and bringing it down as the jumper keeps perfect time. Dzubble dzutch. Dzubble dzutch.

Just asking you to hold that one in your heart.

Sincerely yours,


[Author’s note: “Dzubble dzutch” were words coined in 1981 in “Double Dutch Bus” by Frankie Smith and later The Gap Band. Classic!]

Seminal. Summer. Vacation.

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, July 12, 2015

By the time I turn 11, half of our household has left — one for school, one to get married and one to join the Air Force — and I’m all alone with my mother and father in the four-story, 5,000 square foot house I still dream about, perched above Lake Washington, with a view of Mt. Rainier to one end and Mt. Baker to the other. It’s one thing with six people inhabiting it, but quite another with three.

The following year, in what appears to be a true act of compassion, my father will buy us a puppy to make up for the lack of bodies milling about, but for the time being, I spend most of my time kicking around with the neighborhood kids, back at the house only when the streetlights plink on, which is around 9:30 p.m. in a Seattle summer. It’s an adjustment, being an instant only child, and maybe not such an inexplicable wonder that they let me stay out so late.

We’re house rich but cash poor. Dad lasts a year at Boeing before the layoffs and then decides simply not to go back, to work things out on what was then a meager colonel’s retirement. So when my mother announces that we’re going on vacation — taking the ferry to Orcas Island because a friend has offered up her cabin for a week or two, I hardly know what to feel or think.

We don’t go on vacations, not like other people do. No, we don’t have the means. In addition, my mother and father, who have moved eleven times in seventeen years, have no inclination — zero — to budge.  But if someone offers up an ocean-front cabin, for free, and if it gives my dad a chance to put the DIY fishing boat (not kidding) in the water and troll for the ever elusive salmon one more time, he’ll take it. For all of us. (I catch a sand shark and a red snapper one particular day, but only because the boat stalls and we fish while waiting for the engine troubles to be sorted out.) (Other than that: no fish.)

In ‘69, the San Juan Islands have not yet boomed. The rustic little cabin right on the water, with a dinghy down below and a crab pot in storage and a tiny, shell-beached island to row to (named Skull), worms its way deep into my brain. The cabin kitchen, small and covered in contact paper, has a functioning toaster as the jewel in its crown. And the damp smell? A maritime combo of tide-so-close and rain every couple of days.

I fall in love — not with a person but a place. In love with the wobbly table and the old Scrabble set. With the lumpy couch and gothic romance novels by Victoria Holt. In love with spitting watermelon seeds out while a bucket of chowder-bound clams spits out sand. With picking mussels, and eating crabs, old-school general stores and the salty feel of the Pacific Ocean in my hair and in my lungs.

Before my dad shows up and starts ordering people around (which he has done for a living in the U.S. Army for 25 years), my mother and I enjoy some of the sweetest summer days I will ever know. Simple days made heady with a kind of boredom that is essentially unavailable to us today — unless we hunt it down. The kind of boredom we now stave off as we go about filling our days with forward motion, visual stimulation and endless things to tick off.

It’s July Fourth on Orcas Island. We are shooting off our packets of firecrackers and pinwheels and pop-pops and snakes. Right around the corner in the next inlet, there’s a fancy party going on. We can see the flashes from their Roman candles and bottle rockets and hear the screams of their children and adults, carrying on with what kind of extravagance I can only imagine. I spend a good amount of time wondering what is going on just there, beyond the light — what better brand of vacation they are privy to, even as I stand there writing air words with my own sparkler.

Who knows what the words might have been. Something classic, like “Please, God, make my life more interesting.” Or a site-specific word, like “geoduck,” which is a Northwest clam with a firehose neck you’ll never forget. Who knows. More likely there were no words at all sparkler-ing in the black above my head — just the endless loops and flourishes of an adolescent hand watching itself move through space and time.

The Bear, the Man, and Blueberry Manna (a fable)

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, May 31, 2015

Part 2

(In part one, Alonzo, an unconscious and mean-spirited bear loses his already failing sight and finds himself an object of derision from the very woodland creatures he had relentlessly tortured. He is about to give up hope when a stranger, Florentine, appears, offering the starving bear kindness… and blueberries.)

Before he knew it, he was lying on something soft, so soft he had no idea what to make of it in his mind’s eye (which he had just become acquainted with). Too tired to question, he stayed on the soft palette for hours, simply remembering all of the things he’d seen in his life. The splendor. The sweet familiarity of the world. Then, with his past gifted back to him, he experienced a deep, deep sadness. Because along with all the wonders of nature revived in him, were also the many hours he’d wasted teasing his animal brothers and sisters. He not only remembered, but felt their pain. Their fears, their beating hearts, their confusion. Especially the anguish of father fox.

When Florentine arrived in the guest room to wake up Alonzo the next morning, he found the bear sitting slumped on the edge of the feather bed trying to gather himself together. The bear-sadness in the room was so large even Florentine’s other animals — the cat, the flock of sheep, the chickens — had stopped to listen with their hearts. In the unusual dawn hush, Florentine guided Alonzo to the living room where he presented the bear with a bowl of mush and berries and played music for him on the old Victrola.

Not familiar with something called chamber music or anything remotely like it, Alonzo sat quietly, unable conjure any images (per se) in his mind’s eye.  Eventually, he simply let the music course through him. Was it the food or the music that made him feel so good? He did not know. Every morning for weeks, Alonzo was fed mush, berries and music from the Victrola, and soothing words were spoken to him by his savior Florentine. Though Alonzo did not understand the reasons for the man’s kindness, he could not resist the simple pleasures and received them without question.

But, eventually, he did wonder: How long would he be permitted to stay before being returned to the forest? Why were they caring for him so? Had they been mean to bears once upon a time?

As the weeks passed and fall came with the first chill winds, all the animals stayed closer to the house. First, only the cat seemed to want to befriend Alonzo, rubbing up against him, purring. But soon enough the sheep felt comfortable milling around him, nudging him and finally the chickens started approaching, clucking and sometimes even flapping up onto his lap. One day, the cat curled up on Alonzo’s belly, which gave the bear a big, warm, fuzzy feeling. He had friends for the first time in his life, which seemed too good to be true.

So when Florentine sat on Alonzo’s bed one morning and told the bear he had something to say, it was very clear things were about to change. That this indeed had been too good to be true. Alonzo sat upright in his bed, peeled off the covers and swung his legs around. Bowed his head. Readied himself for he knew not what. He heard Florentine tell him winter was coming. That he was happy the bear had recovered his health. That he was a stronger bear than when he had arrived in Florentine’s life.

Seeing where this was headed, Alonzo stood up, as if to go. Pawed a couple times at the birch bark collar Florentine had made for him, the one that served as a handle for climbing onto the bear’s back, which he was sure Florentine would want back. Then he shook his fur as if he were wet, trying to look like a wild bear again, a bear who might survive being sent back into the forest where he would have to make restitution for all the wrongs he had done. And also do it blind. How would he manage this? He felt a lump in his throat but swallowed it, not wanting Florentine’s faith in him to waiver. He held the big bear tears back by squeezing his eyes tightly shut.

It was therefore a shock and a surprise when Alonzo heard Florentine laugh a big belly laugh. Florentine yanked the bear back down on the bed by the collar. Stroked his cheeks and neck and then put his arms around him as far as they could go.

“Silly bear,” he said as all the clocks in his house chimed the hour. “I don’t want you to go anywhere.” Florentine felt all the questions-mark muscles in the bear’s body relax a smidge. “Is that what you thought?” Alonzo sniffled. Turned his head toward his keeper and nurse and friend.

“No. Now that you’re strong I want to know if you’re willing to stay on with us. You see, every winter we are too cold here, much too cold. The snows are deep and the fireplace isn’t as efficient as it should be. It never has been. We never knew it but we’ve always needed good, warm, cozy bear energy in this cabin. To heat it up. So, though we know you’re desperate to return to your forest, we are asking you to stay. Will you stay?

It took a long moment for Alonzo to process this. Why should Florentine be so kind to him, when all Alonzo had done was allow himself to be healed? Only his bear body seemed to know what to do: He stood on his hind feet and nuzzled his licorice-y bear nose against Florentine’s white hair. He grunted. Sighed. Collapsed in gratitude on the floor so that Florentine could grab the collar and get on his back.

That winter and for all the winters thereafter, Florentine’s cabin and barn were warmed by the heat, peace and calm generated by the heart and soul of an evolved bear. The same bear who lead them, summer after summer after summer, to the sweetest and bluest blueberries in the woods. And every August, in the middle of the hottest month, they would take an entire pail of the choicest berries to the fox family, who, making a holiday of it, ate them until they were dizzy and then used the leftover juice to paint the walls of their den a deep blue, the color of the contentment.

One possible moral: In the heart of all diets is a food that is never truly tasted. May the blueberry juice of knowledge trickle down your throat and the throats of all you love.