Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

Summer Reading List

When I was a kid, I would bike the blocks over to the library (making sure the creepy old man of the neighborhood wasn't following) and take my pick. I was a cautious reader, relying heavily on old favorites. I read a lot of outdated books- those books written before WWII, that the library was stocked with. Everyone always seemed happy in those, ready for adventure and ready for escapades. I still have a few of these old books in my own collection, picked up from library sales.

I find their allure is rather gone and their happy worlds a trifle tiring. I finally read "The Witch of Blackbird Pond" last year and loved it. I couldn't read it as a kid- I was too shaken by the deep depression that hung over the family in the book. Not surprising I couldn't read it then, after all, I was an undiagnosed child with deep depression myself. Sometimes things hit too close to home. And though I was an avid book reader and pedaled to the library more times than I could count, I never considered a Summer Reading List. No, summer was the time when you could read whatever you wanted and not be hampered by things like Ten Boom's "The Hiding Place" or Richardson's nauseating "The Peace Child." No more dull christian biographies or equally dull fiction. I read books by George MacDonald, allured by the idea of fish leading someone to a fairy woman and hardly understanding what Unitarian (as MacDonald was) could be. They were happy days when I poured over Beatrix Potter (even at twelve, I would sneak into the kid section and read them one by one), MacDonald, Agatha Christie and biographies on Mary, Queen of Scots, Katharine Hepburn (who knows) and Rose Wilder of Laura Ingalls Wilder fame. All this to say: this is the first summer I have created a list for myself of summer reads. There are only two entries but I think that's enough.

1. Jane Eyre: for month's now, St. John Rivers has been an illuminating figure in my life. He deeply believed that God would have him go be a missionary and yet, this belief only made him rigid and unhappy and in essence, a dangerous person. Stepping away from the branch of christianity I was born into, I can't help but seeing this in every person I encountered in that religion, including myself. Rivers allowed himself to be a person only in a very particular way (using God as the justification) and because of that decision, he refused to realize his self. So anyway, it's time to reread Jane Eyre and read over Rivers again and since I have a Norton Critical Edition of Jane Eyre, I'm ready to go!

2. Tess of the d'Ubervilles: I've held out on Hardy for a long time. Reading archaic dialect is not my idea of a pleasure reading but hells. I recently read a short story about a girl reading Tess and Wuthering Heights for Her summer reading and lets just say I've been inspired. Besides, if I read Tess, I know I'll understand the aforementioned short story in a much deeper way. And that's like swinging candy in front of a candy addict. So does anyone out there have a Summer Reading List too? Show and tell!

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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.