Flash tale of a snowshoe hare

Telluride Daily Planet, Friday, February 1, 2019


It’s late at night and we are driving down Dallas Divide, down a ribbon of highway into the valley, as we’ve all done a hundred times before, staring through the windows, alert for creatures. This is the place that feels most like a pure meditative state to those of us who are working on our pure meditative states. It’s dark all around, and we are present — waiting without waiting, the feeling deep and sparkly and good. Somewhere in the black velvet out there, the creatures reside, creatures that don’t use words and notions of time to make their way in the world.

On a night such as this, you might see a coyote out of the corner of your eye, which, it seems, is just the way you’re meant to see them. Turning your head to catch more than a glimpse of its gangly lope, it could very well be looking over a shoulder at you before picking up its pace just a hair, as if to say, “We never had this conversation, in fact, you never saw me.” You hyper-imagine its puffy tail in the chill of the night, the fine feathery aspects of it, electric and alive. You might feel what we would call its loneliness, feel the greater aspects of solitude, and then, as it threads itself back into the fabric of the trees, you might appreciate its unqualified connectedness to habitat, space and time.

Or it might be a massive elk with only one antler you see (like we actually did, just recently) standing there — surreal almost, and proud, and full of some grand history of battle — on the shoulder of the road, eyes glowing, breath huffing out in hot clouds. In the split second we have, we hone in on the velvet on the antler, living and soft, a material that becomes a 3x zoom of itself, there to open the velvet doors of perception, if only we could know the way in. Suddenly, the shoulder of the road has magnificence, a crag on the edge of the world. Then, just as quickly, it’s a five-foot swath of gravel again and we are ordinary travelers, leaving that ordinary spot behind.

Or it could even be an owl you see, flapping so close to the windshield, so unexpectedly massive and powerful, that the word “wings” rolls around inside your mouth, letters all over the place, because you don’t know how else to “think” about the kind of strength it must take to move the bullet-like body of this nocturnal denizen through the air, the radius, ulna and digit bones of the wing frameworking the 7,000 or so feathers on a body engineered to fly silently, to slice through air without moving it, without moving it all, something baffling to scientists even though they know the reasons why.

Tonight, however, what we see — and what we’ve seen many times before — is a bunny, a snowshoe hare, actually, hopping across the road, hopping in a way that says without saying: “It did not take effort for me to turn white for winter; and, though it might appear cute to you, my hopping can exceed three meters at a time and can take me up to speeds of 45 kilometers per hour.” You might get a real sense of the creature then, the beauty of a long-eared, white-furred, pink-nosed being micro-bounding through the moonscape, crossing a road, getting to who knows where so it can do who knows what besides avoiding owls and a bevy of other predators. It lives in a big, cracked-open mystery, deep in the forest, its very doings powering this mystery somehow — powering the mysteries that keep the Earth spinning on its axis.

A hare spotting fills up our chests — our hearts and breaths — with hope, inspiration and tenderness, for a fraction of a moment that requires no language, or thought or worry, or anticipation or regret, or want or need or greed or infatuation or longing. A bunny coated in moonlight, the silver gleam landing just so on its back. What is it perceiving as it hops through an all-is-as-it-should-be world?

And what will it sense a couple of nights later when the moon, on a crystal clear night in this part of the world, slowly becomes completely obscured in shadow and, against all odds (it seems to us), starts to glow orange, a kind of mysterious, dark tangerine light emanating as if from within, and then appears to hang like a giant ping-pong ball in the sky, so round we feel we’ve never actually seen the Moon before?

Will this small perfect creature look up and see it?

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.