Shiny and Strange Things, for Christi

I started work extra early today, so I got to stop before the pre-solstice sunset caught up with me. It had rained and misted much of the day, but the late-afternoon sun was shyly peeking out from the clouds. It turned the ranch into a jewel box of shining droplets hanging from every fence, blade of grass, and plant.

A twinkling world

I walked along just wishing I had someone to share this with. Lee was up working. Kathleen isn’t here. Mandi was at work, sigh. I know the little things I was enjoying so much weren’t the kind of things a lot of people would even notice. I mean, there was also a lot of holes from hogs or something, animal poop, and normal ranchy things.

For example, I was surprised to see these kernels of corn in the middle of our pasture. Did it come out in deer poop? Did a bird drop it? I have no idea. It has to be deer corn, because no one grew corn around here this year.

It came to me that these were the kinds of things my friend Christi often posted as she looked out on her own ranch. Trees, sunsets, random cactuses, weird mushrooms, corn in the middle of the field. Tears came to my eyes, because I’d just been reading about when her memorial service would be held, fittingly enough, right in the middle of Sara’s and my lessons with her trainer friend. She’d probably get a chuckle out of that.

There were a bunch of these interesting stinkhorn mushrooms in the field today.

Well, then, I said, as my heart literally began to ache, I should share the shiny and quirky things I see around the Hermits’ Rest today, in honor of her memory and her love of this part of Texas.

Willow branches

I hope you enjoy how even the lowliest blades of grass became shimmering waves of diamonds in the sun today. It’s a real tribute to a shining soul. Be sure to look at the pictures up close, so you can see all the droplets.

Book Report: Olive Again

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I didn’t think I’d love the writing in a book as much as I loved Olive Kitteridge, but here I am, prepared to gush over Olive Again, by Elizabeth Strout, the woman of the bestest words ever. I keep reading paragraphs over and over, just marveling at how Strout manages to capture the inner lives of her characters so succinctly, yet evocatively. As I read her work, I am constantly seeing vivid scenes and smelling all the smells of Maine, yet she doesn’t write long, descriptive paragraphs full of endless adjectives and adverbs. Nope. She uses just enough words to do the job. That’s a writer, all right.

As always, Olive appears in each chapter, though she is often not the protagonist, and most chapters aren’t from her point of view. You get to meet many new people, as well as some of the folks from the previous book, and see how small things affect their lives so profoundly.

You learn that people really, really, don’t understand what’s going on in other people’s lives, and especially in their minds. I really needed some of this knowledge this week, as I come to grips with the fact that there are people I have known all my life who live in an entirely different reality from mine, and for whom the facts as I see them just aren’t relevant to them. It’s the same in Crosby, Maine.

Thanks to Strout, I learned many new definitions of love, too, and how it fits into people’s lives and fills the gaps in their loneliness. The point in both the Olive books seems to be that bad things happening isn’t the worst part of people’s lives, it’s a lack of connection to others. I think she’s absolutely right about that. Here’s what the character Bobby says in the “Exiles” chapter:

And it came to him then that it should never be taken lightly, the essential loneliness of people, that the choices they made to keep themselves from that gaping darkness were choices that required respect.

p. 195

If I were writing an actual book report, I’d cite Bobby’s musing as Strout’s “thesis statement.” That’s the essence of both the Olive books.

And what fills my heart with comfort is that each individual you glimpse in this book finds their own reason to keep going and to figure out their path in life. I’m going to borrow the reason that Suzanne states in the chapter called “Helped.”

I think our job – maybe even our duty – is…to bear the burden of the mystery with as much grace as we can.

p. 116

This type of spirituality permeates Strout’s writings. She sees the divine in Nature and never lets the reader forget it for one second. I’ll see her sparkling waters and intensely yellow autumn leaves often in my own mind.

This was the book I needed to be reading right now, today. I hope you pick it up and it speaks to you, wherever you are on your life’s path.

Book Report: Brood

It’s rained nearly all day again today. The younger folks saw it was going to rain yesterday and took off for the beach, leaving us hermits to fend for ourselves. Lee was handed a bunch of paperwork before Kathleen left, so he had a project. All my original plans for the weekend were outdoor ones, so I had to regroup. Knit? No, my project is too fuzzy and hot. I decided to read. so, here’s another book report.

A few days ago, one of my old LLL friends shared Brood, by Jackie Polzin, and said the description reminded her of me. I looked at it, saw it was about a woman and her small flock of chickens, and ordered it.

Brood is Polzin’s first novel. Her style is spare and graceful. She tells us just enough to feel moved by her experiences but not so much that you can’t picture yourself in her shoes.

As someone who randomly got chickens and found their habits fascinating and their propensity to die at the drop of a hat pretty confusing, I emphasized a lot with the experiences of the unnamed protagonist of Brood. And her life, while not like mine, mirrored many of my experiences in a broad way. She seems to just float through life, following others, while getting her joy from her ability to control the quality of her avocation (for her, it was cleaning and for me it was knitting).

Anyway, this book packs a subtle but sizable wallop. I got out of it that paying attention to the now is how to lead an authentic and satisfying life. I find that Polzin does a very credible job of demonstrating the centeredness that can come from feeling okay with the transience of everything you care about.

You know, just writing about this little gem of a story made me realize that Brood has helped me see the good in some of my quirks and the validity of some of my awkwardly existentialist/Buddhist leanings.

I feel like reading this every few months, even though I know the plot. The plot is the least important part of Brood for me. I had no idea this novel about a lady in Minnesota and her four chickens would move me. It did!

Sure, I Relax

It was nice to get home from work and think about what’s eternal.

One thing is learning. I’m loving the book I’m reading, perhaps too much. The person who wrote How to Be an Antiracist has managed to clarify all sorts of muddy questions and gut feelings I have about race, class, and political systems. Perhaps this is not the most relaxing book ever, but it makes so much sense that my brain feels tidier or something. More on this when I’m done!

The other eternal thing is life going on about its cycles. I’m surrounded by birth, death, old age, and metamorphosis every day. The new calf, Nicole’s son who will arrive in a month, the lady in Cameron who died in the fire and had cooked all those burgers, Lee and me, a butterfly. I treasure all of it!

Now to stop writing so much and share photos of what relaxes me.

Tomorrow will be Rip’s week-a-versary.
He liked head rubs.
Gulf fritillary.
Happy to enjoy our golden years (ha ha) at the Hermits’ Rest.

Moving Slow

Everyone has those times when even the simplest task becomes a burden. For me, it’s been getting my car inspected to renew my license plates.

First, the dealership forgot to do it when I got its yearly checkup.

Then, when I finally remembered to do it in Cameron, the place that was open didn’t do it, and the place that would do it was closed.

Yesterday I left work early to take care of it in Austin. Turns out Siri thinks a lot more places do inspections than actually do. I went to four places, patiently waiting to be spoken to, only to find out many car repair places don’t have an inspector.

By the time I got to the Lamb’s near my house, I could not wait 1.5 hours.

Today I went back. 1.5 hours again. Fine. I’ll buy myself a nice mug and a snack at the new Starbucks. I’ll live.

Have a smooth day

I do hope your mundane tasks go more smoothly than mine!

PS:

Ha! I was wrong! I clicked “send” on this blog and immediately got the call that the car was done, in only 45 minutes. That was just enough time for a pleasant cup of coffee and blogging. Yay for the Lamb’s on Far West!

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