Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

 It never occurred to me when I got out on the ice that I would be taken completely off course. I would turn into a tiny ship, propelled by the wind. It happened quick and delighted me. Later on, it frightened me and I yelled at Steve, waving his camera in the air, heading rapidly for the snowy shore.
The wind does that people. As soon as I got out on the ice, it scurried me along. I didn’t skate, I just stood there and it surged me forward, pushing my legs and back and arms. I smoothly went forward and only turned when I wanted to. This kept up and could be difficult when you were turning or going against it. Only when I turned to the left, facing north that the south wind urged me forward. As if I was a horse and it was betting on me to do things right. Steve and I skated round and round, yelling at each other in speech, taking breaks for water and catching our breath. I hated turning left because sometimes I was shot forward and sometimes it was only a gentle breath and it didn‘t tell me before hand.
We skated over deep fissures of the ice and one, which met in a three way spider, took me out, grabbing at my toe pick. I lunged forward and fell on my right knee. It’s swollen now, resting under a pack of ice, ironically enough. I slid along, the ice turning into water as it touched my pants’ legs. I stood up and surveyed the country. I was okay. A mother pointed me out to her four year old son, “See, she fell and she’s okay. She didn’t cry.” Surely I was victor. I didn’t feel like crying but maybe it would have been nice to squeeze out a few drops and have a helpful hand pull me up. Whichever. I got up and skated slower, steering clear of the three pronged fissure and the playful south wind.
Turning left is always inevitable as Derek Zoolander taught us and I turned left gleefully as I took pictures of Steve goofing off on the slick ice. His camera was odd and I had a hard time knowing if the pictures were taking or not. He zoomed past me and I followed him like a sports photographer, busily clicking away, wondering if the camera was doing anything. I turned fatally to the north in my gleeful clicking and the wind surged forward. It grabbed me quick and I was soon out of control. To fall would have been grace but I couldn’t because I held his camera in my hand. I yelled to Steve, shrieking with laughter but alarmed. How fast could it take me? Playful forces of nature tend to go overboard as a general rule. I was going faster and faster. I shrieked. “Aim for the snow!” he shouted. Smart kid. I plowed right into it and fell down easily, holding the camera aloft.
I can’t deny that my interest in skating waned as the wind grew fiercer. The ice shimmered into wetness and it was growing only a little too tiring to skate. I was up for the call and crunched off along the bank as Steve did a few more loops, challenging the wind. I sat on the dock and untied my skates. I was done for the day and the red flag, that warned the skaters off the ice, was being raised up on the flagpole. Definitely time to go home.

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Tides of Snow and Ice

This winter has been a continuous series of freezes and thaws: it’s the warmest winter on record, the tenth one in a row. A more usual winter starts with a deep freeze and then stays cold for months. Instead, snow falls, piles up and vanishes; rises up again and retreats, now falling as rain, swelling rivers and creeks. Rain and snow mingle together until everything runs with water; hillsides and flat-sides are coated in a deep, dark mud.

I stopped on my walk today, halted by a sudden flash of gold. The sunset rays were falling into a tiny puddle spanning the space between the root and trunk of a maple. The puddle reflected gold and silver on top and below was dark mud, black and brown, full of microorganisms and other tiny creatures unseen by the human eye. I briefly considered putting my hand to the shining surface. It beckoned, winking like a diamond, but pull of my walk was irresistible and I continued forward. 

Mud is for March and April, mud so thick and heavy that it can pull shoes off and make them disappear like a magic trick beneath the solemn and still brown. Mud in February is a strange slight, an awakening that shouldn’t be occurring yet. It’s all the more cruel because even though the temperatures rise, they inevitably dip into the single digits and everything freezes solid. Many times I’ve spotted squirrels and tiny birds on the creek’s ice, searching for openings to drink from.

During this particular thaw, the creek casts off ice, it’s center opening like a dark cut. The water sings as it cascades over the rocks, proclaiming it’s momentarily relief from the grip of winter. In Scandinavian folklore, there is a belief that given the proper offerings, a creek could teach a human how to play the most bewitching music. I crouch down near the creek, record a video of it singing on my phone and replay its music in the evening while lying on the couch. I should give something in return for the pleasure of its song and I consider. Perhaps some lavender buds I have stored away for a certain recipe, or a small pinecone I keep on a shelf to admire, or birch bark I retrieved from a favorite tree cut down years ago. 

The next day I return, and after waiting for a few dogs and their owners to pass by, I crouch next the side of the creek and sprinkle lavender buds into the small, clear stream. The buds vanish as soon as I drop them into the water– as if they never existed. I drop some more in and the same occurs; they’re gone before I can blink. The current flows by, washing over stones, fleeting by banks of mud, until it vanishes around the bend where the pine trees tower overhead.

As I gaze at the water, first downstream and then upstream, my own self quiets, stills, and momentarily dissolves into the landscape. The relief, though short, is palpable. Alone becomes together and perhaps that is what’s this practice of thanking the creek has been about all along.

Winter in the Time of Climate Change

There is a stream near my home and I walk along it nearly every day; I know its moods and seasons nearly as well as I know my own. We are family and our connections are pure: we’re both made of water.

Every day brings more distressing news about the environment. Big changes need to happen but whatever change that does happen is so slow. Global warming is now being felt by everyone, some more than others. I go out and walk along the stream when the news and all the unfortunate future unknowns press in too hard. Right now, it is running fast. This winter has been a series of freezes and thaws. November hit hard with a heavy, deep freeze and I expected this to lead to a  white Christmas but instead, it’s been a muddy, wet winter, full of more temperate days than frosty ones. The thermometer rides up and down, every day propelled by a bouncing ball rather than a steady progression of tiny fluctuations.

The stream locks and then unlocks. It accepts each freeze and thaw with inestimable grace. After reading the news, it is hard to know what is near or far, here and up in the sky, in the mind or in the present moment. But the stream is always present, it knows no other moment. It lives in eternity; as David Hockney said, “It’s always now. It’s now that’s eternal.”

The creek is still here, I think to myself whenever I see it, it is still living. It runs forward through this strange January, sometimes under the ice and sometimes not. Patches of green moss dot the banks nearby, beyond that the nearby plants are broken, brown, and dried. They are asleep, listening to things I cannot hear, dreaming of things I barely know of.