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.

Packing hacks

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, August 7, 2016

The only perfect bag I ever pack is the carry-on for a France trip, carefully engineered (by me, at my brief zenith) to contain not only clothes but gifts for the entire French family. This is the same bag that gets mixed up in Denver and ends up in Portland because I pick up someone else’s identical bag, a silver bag I somehow feel no one else will purchase but me, even though I’ve made this purchase at Target, which has about 2,000 locations in the U.S. alone.

This bleak scenario (already documented) finds me on a layover in New York, stunned to flip open a suitcase full of brochures and men’s underwear, which then requires a payment of nearly $400 to FedEx for an overnight swap so that my relatives can get their chocolates, scarves and soaps from someplace other than Paris. A shooting star of packing mojo thus becomes an expensive disaster, and I return to default mode.

There’s no explanation for the way I pack, especially as the one beside me uses a simple, infallible equation of socks, tee shirts, shirts, pants and a dopp kit to get himself right where he wants to be every time. What’s so hard about it? You, too, can Google proportions, placement, even best bags for success.

But, each time a trip, short or long, rolls around, I feel myself falling, falling eerily backwards into the mire of organizational rebelliousness, throwing things in at the last minute and then staring at them in disbelief as I arrive at my destination. What was I thinking?

So then, you take a person who is obviously handicapped and give this person a task of moving not once but two times in two years. The first time around, she adjusts by moving slowly, taking an entire month to sort, get rid of and then shove things into boxes, labeling only part of the time whimsically and the rest of the time mostly straightforwardly.

In storage, however, these imperfect boxes get moved into even more imperfect places. She loses her winter shoes two winters in a row, in a place where winter lasts seven months. She begins to forget what the storage unit is storing except for what’s closest to the door. She makes do. Well, there’s beauty in that, right? Who needs anything at all, anyway?

Two years later, she is packing another house up, even as the first house set of contents slumps yet further down in storage. Her single rule for this move: “The better the boxes, the better the packing.” Things devolve. They devolve from a notion of Category to a notion of Location. “Winter clothes” becomes “Winter clothes — guest room.” So there are winter clothes in the entire box line-up. Boxes represent not a portion of a life, but a microcosm of all of a life. Theoretically, she should be able to do a little of everything by unpacking one box.

Why does this happen? Is she missing a gene? She knows all about organized people because she’s read about them. They’re goal oriented, in control, conscientious. They capture, calenderize, prioritize, pare down and prepare. They reap the benefits.

Not surprisingly, in unpacking the giant mound of boxes, things get a little screwball. Some things turn up (“Wow, summer clothes!”) and some things go missing — favorite market basket, a gallon of maple syrup, an engagement ring.  Who cares that she still has the uncanny knack of knowing where everybody else’s stuff is, that this part of her brain is mysteriously functioning at an extremely high level? What about her stuff?

A month later she finds the ring safely stowed in the nightstand, which is one of the first pieces of furniture placed in the house. And even without the Find My Syrup app, the gallon turns up, in the pantry, behind the olive oil, safe and untampered. No one has carefully selected a ring and a gallon of syrup to abscond with, not this time.

All that is left to say is that if Shakespeare were in charge here, this story would take place in Venice. The suitcase, of course, would not be from a discount chain, it would be upholstered and contain a renaissance ring that would somehow get lost even though two people were to have been betrothed on their vacation away. The story would remain in Italy, but domiciles would change, along with roles, alliances and costumes. Someone’s cousin would appear with a mysterious liter of sweet syrup that put everyone to sleep temporarily, but when they woke up, after a few famous soliloquies, the ring would be back on her finger and all would be well — without ever having once exalted organization as one of the great virtues of man- and womankind.

Ripespans

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, July 24, 2016

A half pint of raspberries sits on the kitchen counter.

These are the tiny variety, handpicked by someone who cares a lot, maybe someone deep in blissful connection to nature as the midsummer sun beats down, a heat interrupted only by the occasional thunderhead lumbering across the sky, laying its blue shadow down.

The purchase price of this basket is far too little ($3) at a local farmer’s market. Rather than that berry-on-steroids look of today, this sampling has a soft, dusty appearance, as if modestly hiding the fullness of its color. Are these wild, actually? Who knows.

(Poured onto the counter for inspection, one particular berry rolls off to the left, toward the potted fern on the kitchen island, succeeding — almost! — in hiding itself under the shade of a frond. After coming to a complete stop, it moves another inch, on its own, and bumps ever so gently into a coffee mug.  A micro sigh is released.)

MCW (moving closer in, seeing one of the berry’s hairs move slightly): Hello?

(The raspberry, emitting a tiny blur of sounds, then rolls back the length of a single drupelet — the nodes that comprise the whole drupe.)

MCW (looking around for husband in vicinity): I realize this is the magical part of July, but seriously. Are you for real?

RB: I’m real. Geez. (The voice is a pipsqueak’s. Not a cartoon character’s, or even an animated anything’s, but a lovely, sweet, squeaky sort of drawling voice the loudness of, say, a baby bumblebee.) Flesh and juice. Oh, and 6 percent fiber by total weight. Which is very high.

MCW: By the grace of summer magic, I am speaking with a raspberry. My favorite fruit.

RB (waving all her hairs, acknowledging compliment): Well. Except for plums, though, right?

MCW (blushing deeply): I mean, I like plums so very much. But …

RB (interrupting): I admire their color, firmness and versatility, as well. (RB rolls a single drupelet again, toward the human in checked pajamas, who is scanning the counter for reading glasses.) But we are a bit more sensuous, you know? Plums hold it all in; you don’t get that feeling with us.

MCW: So much more sensuous! I mean plums are, when you bite into them. Anyway. Sorry I lied. I didn’t want to hurt your feelings. And now, seeing you like this, I mean you easily might be my favorite fruit of all time. Even given the little I know of your personality. Your voice alone …

RB: I’m a Leo. Most of us wild raspberries are, in this part of the world. Born in late July or August. So there’s a little ego and pride there, as well as a fixation with our “manes.” (RB makes her hairs stand up).

MCW: You are adorable. Can you do the hair trick again? And do all of you speak?

RB (waves hairs): Goodness, no. We’re born mute. Aside for the sounds we make when we grow, which are not audible to humans. And the sound we make when we either fall to the ground or into a container. Sounds made by mouths eating us don’t count. Me (she topples into a cavity-down headstand), I arrived with a passion for languages. English will probably be the only one I learn, though, since my ripespan is really only two to three weeks.

MCW: Your ripespan. (MCW nods slowly.) What a concept.

RB: Right?

MCW: What is it for humans, I wonder.

RB: Most of you would say youth. But youth is not ripeness, now, is it?

MCW: It’s just so obvious for fruit. You ripen, then fall.

RB: At the height of our glory. As sweet as we can get. (RB slowly rolls toward the human hand on the counter, then bumps into it, like the softest, gentlest raspberry breeze.) So sweet it makes even animals swoon.

MCW: Animals … swoon?

RB: In private they do. (RB presses her hairs into the human flesh.) And you can, too, emceedubs.

MCW: You know my name? And you want me to eat you, now? The first fruit friend I’ve ever had?

RB: You have given Rubus idaeus— raspberries are from the rose family —the first voice they’ve had since, oh, I don’t know. Findhorn? Camelot? Atlantis?

MCW: Wait. Are you saying …

RB (giggling a drupelet completely off): I’m playing with you. But, see, I’m falling apart in ripeness. Pick me up and lay me down on your tongue. It’s my time.

(On the human tongue, the raspberry becomes quiet and utterly submissive. The human bears down, feeling the drupelets give, bursting in flavor; and, for a moment — a brief transcendent moment — summer’s own ripeness, a mysterious mix of heat and sugar, implodes in glory.)