Thursday, April 30, 2015

Part III: Pieces of Moth

Remain true to yourself, but move ever upward toward greater consciousness and greater love! At the summit you will find yourselves united with all those who, from every direction, have made the same ascent. For everything that rises must converge.
-from the Omega Point by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

My sister has a shower curtain with the map of the world on it. I always stay at her house when I do the Georgia marathon and I deeply enjoy the luxury of that post race shower at her house. I love, freshly spent from my contrived urban journey, standing in her shower with midday light filtering through the glass tiles,  the warm water massaging my tired, sore and now stiff body.  I will trace my fingers over the continents,  the mountains,  the oceans and  all the tiny islands and cities I will never see. I marvel at the broken puzzle of the earth; seeing how it might have all once fit together as I revel in that last bit of post-race glow.  I traveled miles by foot but really, I have gone nowhere--as I finished precisely where I began. Nevertheless, there was a three and half hour journey where my mind, whilst my body was occupied, traveled the world, seeing its history,  my history, all the places, spaces and corners of my mind. I connected dots. I solved a mystery. And for a singular moment, I put all the pieces of the puzzle and the world back together.

But, then, I rinse the conditioner out of my hair, dry myself off and forget about the world. Forget her mysteries and how the puzzle fit together as I slip into make-up, fancy hair, and clean, fresh clothes.

Weeks later I am in Birmingham and I go out for a run during a break between my daughter's lacrosse games. As I explore the new landscape, I recall the world before my sister was born.  I  remember, randomly, that when I was five my family lived in an apartment in Sandy Springs called Rolling Woods. We had the basement apartment. The whole back side of the apartment was windows that looked out to the trees. We had a patio with a stained wooden swing and there was dirt off the corner of the concrete pad that I liked to dig in. Beyond the trees was a creek and another apartment complex, where I was told, children were not welcome.

Above us lived a little girl with thick, beautiful black hair named Ceclia. She was younger than me by a year or two. She was an only child. I adored her; for her hair and her name- because of the Simon and Garfunkel song- of course, but also, because she was  the only girl that would play with me. There was another girl in the building. She lived on the top floor, or rather her dad did.  Her parents were divorced, so she was only there some of the time. Her name was Dagney. She was a little older, definitely taller and she did not like me. I think it was because one day I told her I thought she looked like Shaggy from Scooby Doo. I wasn't being mean, in fact in my mind I still see her as Shaggy- lime green shirt and a mess of sandy blond hair. I could tell though, after I said it-- said "you look like Shaggy from Scooby Doo," --that she did not like it.

But I couldn't undo it.

I could only learn to not do it again.

Cecilia, even though I adored her, I was terrible to her too. I guess, I was never very good at being friends with girls. When my mother would take my brother and I to Hammond Park, I would always beg her to bring Cecilia with us. And she would, but then once at the park, with its change of scenery and shiny new people,  I would ignore Cecilia and make new, temporary friends on the play ground. Cecilia would cry and my mother would say later, I am never bringing her again. But she would, because my mother was pregnant and I would obnoxiously beg her to let me bring Cecilia until she gave in. So Cecilia would always come with us to the park and I was always terrible to her.

Most of the time though I played with Cecilia in her apartment as she didn't really like to play outside. She liked dolls and indoor games. Her parents had an extra bedroom or maybe it was just an extra room. Either way, that room did not have bedroom furniture. It had toys, a lazy-boy chair in the corner,  an ugly couch pressed against the wall as an after thought and a card table in the center of the room. I think it was Cecilia's playroom because I remember us always playing there. On the table was always a jigsaw puzzle in some stage of almost completion. I would always look at the puzzle and its progress and the piles of pieces scattered around the table.  One time, while Cecilia and I were playing in that room, I slipped a piece of the puzzle into the pocket of my green and white gingham shorts. I don't know what ever happened to the puzzle piece but I know I never put it back on that table. Maybe it fell out while I was on the playground swing-set when I was trying to make my swing go the highest of them all and it was lost in the thick of the grass, its existence dependent on the mercy of feet.

Or maybe I lost it when I laid in the dirt, my shoulders and hips flush in a line with the other kids in the complex who volunteered for the older boys on bikes with dare-devil intentions. Mini Evil Knievels on mongooses. They would line us up, flat on our backs, next to their homemade ramp and jump their bikes over us. I was a reliable volunteer, but I always insisted on being near the ramp, either first or second. I was never one of the brave ones on at the end of the line, willing to risk getting landed on.

I played it safe.

Most likely though, the puzzle piece lingered in my pocket; going through wash after wash in the laundry until it could no longer stand the rigors of water and soap. Its compounds broken down fiber by fiber until finally only tiny pieces of atoms remained that were silently absorbed back into the universe.

Really, the only thing I know for sure, is that Cecilia's parents were never able to finish that puzzle.

In Birmingham, I lose my puzzle reverie and I realize how much I am struggling in the heat and the humidity running up the hills in the affluent suburb of Mountain Brook.

Hills are good for you.

I tell myself  this always and while in the throes of my misery I try to frame my struggle with all the gifts the hills will give me:

Great ass!
Strong hamstrings!

But the positive thinking never works very well nor does it last very long. I am left to employ a different tried and true technique. It is called what you can't see does not exist. I trick myself into believing there is no hill, only a slow painful period that will be over eventually.

Of course, I will still want to know when it will end.

 I will stare at the sidewalk and count to 20, sometimes 30 and then allow myself to look at the hill. I will measure the distance between myself and the relief I will meet at the top. I remain calm and patient, biding my time until I reach the crest of the hill that will allow for the release the downhill always promises my calves. Get ready, I tell my quads, it will be your turn soon.

I know. The counting is just another way I distract myself from the task at hand. Always trying to move things along as quickly as I can.

As I run up another hill and turn a corner it starts to rain. The rain is a  welcomed relief from the thick humidity. The air releases its clamp and as I stare down at the sidewalk I lose count when I come upon a Luna moth. She is flat and perfect, her wings fresh from the Chrysalis.

 Is she resting? Is she dead? Why is she here in the day time? Do moths sleep? The sidewalk is not the best place to rest, I think.

I do not stop to inspect her. The powder green color and that sheen on Luna moth wings make me uncomfortable. Slightly nauseous even. I cannot bring myself to truly look at the moth and her beautiful wings with those eyes that watch, but do not see and never blink.

This is the third Luna moth I have seen in my life and the second in the bright light of day. However, I fail in that moment to find any significance in the moment other my own fatigue. It is only later that I will recall the first time I saw a Luna moth.

It flew into the windshield of my jeep. I was nineteen, driving down Woodstock Road when it was a newly expanded four lane road. Now it is six lanes and officially a highway. Highway 92. It was late at night and I do not recall where I was coming from, probably driving home from college but possibly from a fun night out. I cannot remember which it was, if it was mundaneness or revelry. It is funny how the mundane will seem impossible to endure and the revelry very important to capture but both, you will think, are something you won't forget.

But forget, apparently you do.

But I remember the moth.

She came out of the dark and spread flat against the glass suddenly. Surprised, and never having seen a Luna moth before, I turned on the windshield wipers in a panic. Moth parts went everywhere. The body went one way and the wings, broken into pieces went everywhere. That powder green, luminescent in the dark, glowed in arcs over my windshield.
Of course I was out of wiper fluid so I had to drive home with moth pieces all over my windshield.
Of course I didn't wash the moth pieces off when I got home.
And, of course I left them there-- until weather, air and time cleared the glass of those moth pieces and the color and the luminosity faded away.

It was more than ten years until I saw a Luna moth again. This time I had a phone and I took a picture of one I found resting on the glass of a store front window. I suppose, I could search the archives of my computer to see if I still have the picture so I could investigate the totem moth's wings.

But is it the same thing to look at photographed moth wings?

Would the thrill be the same?

A photograph, I believe, tells the truth about a moment that happened. But the real truth is, that the moment might have been a lie. The camera, with all her tricks and unbiased lenses,  can never really capture a moment precisely, truthfully.

And, who knows what hand the artist's eye had in manipulating the moment in that solidary attempt to outwit the transience of time.

So what is true?

What will I see, if I look back on those now 10-year-digitally-embalmed moth wings?
The moth is dead. She is hundreds of generations from where that moth began.

The answer comes too late.

I should have stopped.

I should have stopped there on the hill and not run on.

I should have paused to take a moment and see the pieces the world continues to lay out before me. Sometimes, grandly at my feet.

But I didn't.

I ran on.

I always run on, caught up in the revelry of the moment. Moments, except those painful ones, that I actively choose to divert my eyes from. In those instances I seek boring diversions, like counting to twenty over and over and over again- missing all the things.

I try to be Isis.  I wander  through the corridors of my mind looking for the lost, dropped and forgotten pieces. Pieces, I realize, I may no longer remember correctly. Pieces, nevertheless, I will try to put together. This piece with that piece. Somehow, desperately they all must fit. I want it to all fit together.

But maybe these are not pieces from the same puzzle. Maybe they don't go together after all.

Is this my problem?

I want to believe the mystery is always presenting itself to me in small, dispersed revelations. Hoping,  that while I do not see now, someday, if I pay attention, I might.

I want to believe that the myopia of the present is corrected by the lenses of time and distance.

And distance?  Well, I cover that easily but sometimes I worry that there is not enough time left to fix my myopia.

It is though those damn Luna wing eyes that concern me the most.
Those eyes that do not blink or see.
Those eyes that miss the pieces, the puzzle.
Those eyes that can only catch passing glimpses at the mystery.

I keep thinking about them and why they make me so uncomfortable.

It might be because  there really is nothing to see.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Part II: The Struggle of Dirt

In February we took a much needed family break to go skiing. It was a quick, short trip. The kids had never skied and it had been almost a decade since Ryan and I skied. Carmella, our 14 year old- "the teen"- did not want to go. She wouldn't be good. The type-A- perfectionist-cliché-first born child said before she even tried. Worse, was unsaid but understood, she would have to be alone with her family. But most pointedly, she would have to be alone with her family away from her friends. Beau, the 11 year old, was very excited to go. He pretty much likes everything that doesn't involve handwriting, solving math problems or sitting still. And, he still likes us. However, he too, is teetering on that teen angst edge. It is only a matter of time before he steps over the line to impatience, embarrassment and eye rolling at the fact that he? Has parents. The way I see it I have at most another year and then half the people I share a house with will loathe me.

During the car ride we reached an area where technology didn't work. The radio wouldn't pick up a signal and the car went silent. I am uncomfortable with silence when other people are around. Even those that came out of my body. I don't really know why but possibly, irrationally, I worry I might be able to hear their thoughts. In the case of my 14 year old daughter I am fairly certain I might hear something I don't want to hear. So in an attempt at mind control, I tried to make conservation to break up the awkward silence. Carmella was quiet, seemingly un-engaged in the backseat and while I couldn't see her, I was certain she was rolling her eyes at everything that I said.

We drove towards snow and the further north we navigated the amount of snow on the ground increased until the landscape was enveloped in the folds of a goose down blanket. I commented that it was a visual tragedy how in some spots the Georgia red clay wasn't entirely covered. It looked like the snow was trying to hide a slaughter. It was ugly. It injured my eyeballs. I wanted a bucolic scene that with my face pressed against the cold car window would make my heart swell and burst as I and my family drove towards the mountains for a lovely weekend ski trip. And damn it, that ugly red Georgia clay was ruining it.

Carmella snarkily said, "Of course, the struggle of dirt."

Everyone laughed and the tension that had radiated from the teen in the backseat dissipated. And just like that, everyone seemed to like everyone again and I felt comfortable enough that the silence became okay and I was free to let my mind contemplate the dirt and the people and my bones and all the stuff that buries me.

I work in an industry where the money grows on the trees but the dirt, I have learned, is the real asset.  In the beginning I thought it was all about the trees but I figured out it really is the dirt that matters. You have got to own the dirt to really own the trees.

I sit in meetings and take minutes about stuff happening in the dirt, to the dirt. They talk about all potential opportunities a piece of dirt offers and whether we should buy, sell, trade, or just hold onto to that dirt for a little bit longer. The dirt is assigned value by people outside our organization and those appraisals can change the value of the dirt for a whole multitude of reasons. The dirt is modeled in Monte Carlo simulations to predict its future best case scenarios. There are graphs, spreadsheets and maps about the dirt. People show up at our office doors or call on the phone wanting to talk about a piece of dirt. We have lengthy discourses on the components of the dirt, best management practices of the dirt; its minerals, its water features, its trees--even the wind above the dirt is not above scrutiny. My favorite though, and I hear it almost daily, is when they argue about the "the bare land value" of the dirt. It makes me smile to think about the price of pure, unadulterated dirt.

Dirt has a pretty complex existence.  Dirt is mysterious. It holds clues and tells stories and has a history longer than any of us can truly fathom. All of human existence is born out of dirt. We live out our days on the dirt; moving from piece of dirt to piece of dirt, seeking out new dirt to own, explore, trade or sleep on. We float across oceans and sail above the dirt in boats and airplanes. We wildly inconvenience ourselves just so we can  stand on different dirt, if only for a little while. And all the while believing that this piece of dirt is vastly different than that other piece of dirt we had lingered on just a few days before.

Our food comes from the dirt. We build homes, churches, monuments and entire civilizations on and from the dirt. We play in the dirt. We bury our dead in the dirt.

I guess, maybe, only the sky is older than the dirt. But even the sky's existence is contingent on what is going on with the dirt. The sky holds onto nothing for very long; always dying and regenerating. I think the sky must be freer: its struggle is less because you can't really own the sky. But people do try to own the sky;  sometimes insisting on retaining the wind rights to the pieces of dirt they sell. I didn't know that the wind too was assigned value. Because really? I want to know how do you measure the wind? Where do you draw the lines?

In the dirt below is the answer.

Dirt has all the power.

Whatever touches, tries to move freely above or below, next to, over, under, beyond or beside the dirt is, nevertheless, defined by the dirt. Everything is a preposition to dirt.

When I was younger we lived in a house that had a creek running through the middle of the front yard.  Ours was the last house built in the neighborhood and most likely because a creek in the front yard was not an ideal feature in Stepfordesque East Cobb. The creek was a gash in an otherwise pretty face. It was the first piece of dirt my parents had ever bought together. And I loved that piece of dirt. I don't think my parents ever did but I was wildly passionate about it.

The front part of the lot was very un-level, situated at the start of what grew into a very steep hill. I can personally attest to the hill's steepness. On my first time down that hill on my bike I lost control of my handle bars, not understanding that you needed to use your brakes to have control,  and slid on my face; crashing into our mailbox. It wasn't so terrible though. My band-aided face, elbow and knee abrasions earned me sympathy the next day from Mr. Woods, the cankerous PE teacher at Eastside Elementary. He reversed the alphabet that day and I, Natalie Wolfe back then, got to be first at everything.

The  strip of grass that fronted our lot to the street was a presentable rectangle patch of grass, probably 8 feet wide. It was fairly flat there but angled up alongside the rise of that big hill. But the slant wasn't too bad. I could still do handsprings, both frontwards and backwards there. Really though, the best place for gymnastic tricks was on the other side of the street, three houses down on the Allen's flat stretch of Bermuda that ran all the way down the length of the black iron fencing fronting the neighborhood pool. That grass, always so manicured and green and soft was a stage; us kids the performers, and the audience was all the neighbors coming and going in and out of the neighborhood.

Our front lawn vastly differed from the golf course pristine of the Allen's. Not only was it a ragged mix of crab, rye and fescue grasses, it was not level and dropped off steeply into what was essentially a giant sinkhole. It was a sloping mess of ground cover and exposed dirt that bottomed to a ledge with 2 oak trees, underbrush and more exposed dirt.  The ledge was an island atop a cliff that dropped steeply into a sometimes rushing sometimes meandering creek depending on the recent rainfall. You couldn't climb this cliff. It was slippery and crumbly. The face of the cliff, about 15 feet tall, exposed layers of Georgia: red and orange clay mixed with sediment that had folded and faulted from lines long ago decided by time. The clay mixed with chalky yellow stuff, speckled feldspar and mica deposits. It was covered by big roots and vines before dropping into the creek. I just remember all the reds and oranges of the creek and its rocks and minerally diverse dirt. It was so fantastic with infinite possibilities. As a child it was my favorite place to play. My best friend Catherine and I spent endless hours playing fabulous games on that ledge. We managed complete control of the universe from that ledge; creating drama and civilizations, building structures out of discarded materials we had collected and drug across the neighboring lawns.

I don't think Carmella really knew what she meant when she made her "struggle of dirt" comment. I know the intention was make fun of her mother but she was right on the mark.  I do struggle with the dirt every single day. I am like J. Alfred Prufrock  measuring it out with coffee spoons. I spend my days in an office contemplating the dirt all the while struggling with if the dirt is what I really need to be contemplating. I spend the other parts of my day worrying that the dirt my husband and I own(only a few miles from that fantastic piece of dirt I grew up on) is good enough for my children. There are times I wonder if living on another piece of dirt would really make all the difference. But most times, especially late at night when I cannot sleep, I worry I am simply wasting my time on the dirt.

Of course, the struggle of dirt indeed.