Some people say they can tell when winter goes; it’s when their joints stop aching. Others tie the season’s change to the return of tornados or baseball games. Not me. The weather and the fortunes of my beloved Royals are too unpredictable for me. No, I know Spring has arrived when the pollen appears.
First there’s nothing…
It’s the oddest thing: for months, whenever I go outside, all I see are unending acres of naked branches. The days get longer but the branches stay bare. Then one morning, everything is covered with a fine, chartreuse layer of pollen (trust me, that’s not a good look on a burgundy Jeep.) The cars get washed but more pollen falls. And my nose starts running like Usain Bolt. Of course, all of this pollen happens outside. But signs of Spring follow me indoors. Because the pollen has brought Allergy Season in its wake.
Seriously, the halls of my office sound like the waiting room of an ENT specialist or some old TB sanitarium. Cough, cough, hack! Cough, cough sneeze! Colleagues swap home remedies and OTC meds on their breaks. Tissues and cough drops are in everyone’s desk. We’re all trying to stay healthy but, as a group, we sound sicker than we did during the cold and flu season. Nevertheless, every one of us, chants between sneezes and bronchospasms, “Don’t worry, it’s not contagious; it’s just allergies.” We know. We all have allergies.
Why can’t I sneeze like a lady?
Unfortunately, allergy season, is just another reminder of my mom’s expectations of femininity. See, Mama managed delicate, light, little sneezes. “A-tissue, a-tissue” she’d say, and then she’d reach for a tissue. So dainty it was downright cute! Not me. My sneezes build up a surge of momentum that slings my head back in recoil wheneverone of them leaves the building. Aaatt-Choo!! Att-CHOO! ATTCHOO! (That’s another problem. My sneezes travel in packs. Every allergy season, I risk getting a good case of whiplash.)
Still, I’ll take Spring with its upper respiratory troubles, over Winter anytime. Spring is the season of hope, of warmth, of new life, even life that clogs up my sinuses. So, open up the windows, plant stuff in the garden and sing a hymn to May. I’ll join you….once my decongestant kicks in.
I have an Inner Critic that goes In and Out with Me.
I call her Miss Anxiety of 1953.
By now, everyone’s heard of their inner child. It’s the spirit of the person you were as a kid, innocent, hopeful and kind. Well, if that’s not too New-Agey for you (and I hope it’s not) some of us contend with other inner spirits that aren’t nearly so pleasant. Judgmental, tactless, critical types that appear out of nowhere and torpedo your self-esteem. A friend of mine refers to her internal bete noir as her “Inner Mean Girl”. But, after due consideration, I believe mine has a different personality. Folks, meet Miss Anxiety of 1953.
Miss Anxiety has been my constant companion since grade school and she has lot of concerns . Back then, she worried every morning that I’d be late for school. Or I wouldn’t be liked if I didn’t shut up. Or people would laugh if I tried to swing at a baseball. Later she worried when boys didn’t like me. She worried if one of them did. These days, Miss Anxiety worries about my salary, my marriage, my hair length and don’t get her started on the subject of my body! (Seriously, don’t let her go there. Even during the three weeks I wore a size 5, Miss Anxiety still fussed about my upper arms. She’s a perfectly toned size 1 and there’s simply no way to please her.)
Miss Anxiety has a similar obsession with rules and her Code of Etiquette is from the Eisenhower Era. No wearing white pants, except in the Summer. No wearing white shoes ever, they make your feet look big. Speak, sneeze, sing and laugh so softly no one can hear you and then apologize for the noise. Silence is the hallmark of a true lady. And the only acceptable way a lady asserts herself involves a candy that’s two mints in one. (By the Way, I never aspired to ladyhood, But Miss Anxiety hasn’t given up hope.) And as she is a title-holder herself, Miss Anxiety is hideously competitive. She agonizes over every teeny error I make, and every time I’m not chosen. According to Miss Anxiety, unless I succeed in everything, I’ll never succeed I Anything !!
So why did I quit fighting her?
For years, I loathed and feared Miss Anxiety, and opposed her at every turn.. I yelled back at her and ignored her. But She wouldn’t leave, no matter how hard I tried. Then, instead of yelling at her, I decided to listen. And I realized something incredible.
Miss Anxiety doesn’t hate me. She’s not trying to make my life miserable. Like my grandmother and mother, she worries I’m going to miss out on some great opportunity. So, she continually fusses at me. And when she thinks things may go wrong, she sets off alarms.
So last week,when I got stressed and Miss Anxiety began raising her voice, I listed to what was frightening her. And I responded.
It’s not given to understand what role we each play in the Grand Design. But we all have our parts. And I’m content to know I will play mine.
Turns out, that thought made Miss Anxiety pretty happy too.
I’ve got to tell you, as a dog, I love humans, but I really don’t understand them. Take Les, the female human I live with. She spends hours each day tap-tapping words onto this little screen, when she could be petting me. (That’s how I learned to use this thing, sitting in her lap and watching her tap.) Les says she wants to write books someday and tapping stories onto the screen is good practice. But she’s so slow! She’ll type forty words, then take most of them out and spends an hour rearranging the rest. Then she gets discouraged and takes a bath. That’s where she is now, soaking in the hot water and stressed cause she’s having trouble telling you about the 5k. So I figured I’d tell you about it while she’s in the tub, and then she can take a break from tapping on the screen. But I’ve got to tell you, a 5K’s just one more proof of what I’ve always known: Humans are weird.
What the heck is a 5K?
That’s all Les talked about for days at a time, the 5K, the 5K, the 5K. That she was going to a 5K. That she had to prepare for it. That she was taking me with her, which is great, because I like going places with Les. And when she told me to get in the Jeep Saturday morning, I thought, “Oh, now I know what 5K means; it means we’re getting breakfast at Jack’s. Cause that’s where we always go on Saturday mornings. Boy was I wrong this time!
We drove and drove, right past Jack’s, and we didn’t stop for breakfast at all! Instead, Les kept talking about how I had to sit down, how I had to behave, how I was going to make new friends at the 5K. That ride went on forever. When she finally stopped it was by some sort of park, but was I allowed to play then? Nope, she snapped the leash onto my collar.
Pretty soon I saw lots of humans around, all wearing what Les calls exercise clothes. Most of them friendly but I was still waiting for this wonderful 5K to start.
Folks you know what a 5K is? It’s a bunch of humans driving for hours so they can run or walk on the ground. Not even the ground! Every human was moving on asphalt! Some of them were moving faster than others but none of them were doing what I call running. Not like when I race Les’s Jeep up the driveway. And most of them weren’t even going that fast. I couldn’t see why Les calls this “exercise.”
Now when I run, I run and I’m good at it. But Les was on the other end of that leash. So I decided if she wanted a “work out” I’d give her one. Between you and me, I pulled her through that 5K with her on the back end of the leash. Les is a good human, as humans go, but she sure needs to pick up her feet.
Humans aren’t the only ones who 5K
I will say I wasn’t the only dog in the group and that was pretty good. I like living with Les on the mountain but there aren’t many dogs around here. Not that I can hang out with. But there were lots of animals walking their humans on that path and I exchanged sniffs with quite a few of them. Never as long as I’d like, sorry to say. Humans may not have anyplace particular to go on a 5K and they sure aren’t going there in that much of a hurry but they don’t stop and visit either, like dogs do. They just keep going forward, pulling on that leash as if they’re in a slow and steady race to go nowhere.
Funny thing is, for all that slow and steady moving, by the end I was getting hot and tired. And Thirsty!!! For some reason, we ended up back where we began and the first thing Les did was fill my travel bowl with water. She’s nice that way. Then, all the humans stood around and made noises at each other (you know the way they do) while I laid on the pavement. See, there’s another way humans are weird. They get themselves all footsore and tired but will they lay down on the ground to cool off? Nope.
Well, dog’s aren’t that foolish. When we’re hungry, we eat, when we run, we run and when we tire out, we lay down and sleep. And I did, all the way back home, even though Les stopped half way and got me breakfast. I didn’t really want it but to be polite, I ate the ham she got me. And I ate her breakfast ham too.
See, I figure, we’re all in this life together (even cats) so we need to help each other out. Les keeps me warm and fed and dry and she keeps me safe during those loud thunderstorms. She looks after me. So, I look after her. I meet her Jeep when she drives toward the house. I flatten out the sheets on her bed. Heck, if she needs me, I may even go on another one of those 5Ks with her.
Normally I spend hours writing these posts. But it’s late, and I’m sore from changing out yet another tire (different story) so let’s just get to the goods, shall we?
I. Know. A. Great. Story.
Trust me, you want to read it. Everyone else is reading and loving it right now and, for once, everyone else is right. Where the Crawdads Sing is a wonderful story about the heaven and hell of spending most of your life alone.
And we’re not talking Thoreau-in-Walden voluntary solitude here. The book opens with little Kya Clark watching her mother walk out of her life. No tears, no hug, not a wave goodbye, just a door slamming in their shack on the Marsh. And, once Mama goes, Kya’s siblings follow her down the road, until there’s only a six-year old trying to survive a live of privation and her hard-drinking Daddy. Finally, there’s no one’s left in the Marsh shack but Kya. And the child has to provide for herself.
Kya grows up wise in ways of the natural world if unskilled when it comes to people. Having no other guide, she tries to understand people in terms with the marsh beings she knows: how girls at play flock like gulls or the alpha-male in a playground of boys. But lack of skill and loneliness cause Kya to make mistakes when it comes to people, some that cost her dearly. And that’s where the rest of the story comes in.
Death In the Swamp
Interspersed with Kya’s growth are chapters about a dead man, found in the swamp. How he got there, why he died, and the effect of his death on Kya forms the central mystery of the book but in the end, this is Kya’s story. And it’s a story that begs to be read.
Told in luminous prose, Where the Crawdads Sing, is a hymn to nature and and ambivalence in a life lived alone. It’s the story of a woman’s life, a Southern Novel and a murder mystery as well. And it’s so spellbinding, that, reading it, you can forget you’re stranded on the edge of an interstate, buffeted by the air rush of passing trucks, and facing a nasty wrecker bill. Instead, you’re in the cool, clean air of a North Carolina Marsh with a woman whose best friend is the earth.
Trust me, I know. It’s really that good. Now you should read it and know that too.