September 1, 2013

A Beautiful Tipping Point

Back in 2008, a few of my daughters and I were visiting a new neighbor. They had three young children, ages seven, five and three.

The middle child, a girl, was reserved. No, that’s not it. She was shy. In the extreme. She was also blind. Her name was Ashley.

While her mother held her, I took Ashley's left hand in a gentle greeting and said, "Hi, Ashley. I'm Dennis. Nice to meet you."

The corners of her mouth smiled upward but she turned her head away from me, nestling her button nose and rosy cheeks into her mother's neck and shoulder.

My daughter, Whitney, who was 16 at the time, stood next to me.

I took Ashley's left hand again, and joined it with Whitney's right hand.

"Ashley, this is Whitney."

Whitney said, "Hello, Ashley? How are you?"

On hearing Whitney’s lilting voice of kindness, Ashley turned her torso away from her mother and extended both arms to Whitney. Whitney carried Ashley outside and introduced her to Alison and Amber.

I saw that Ashley's mother was overcome with a tranquil upwelling of emotion. I say tranquil, for she was so calm and untroubled, yet clearly there was more feeling than salt in her tears.

She quietly told me Ashley had never before gone to someone other than her parents.

That moment with Whitney was a first for Ashley.

Had her mother remained silent, well.... nothing. I simply wouldn’t have known the significance of Ashley's fairly leaping into Whitney's arms.

It was like a first step, a first word, an awakening. I had a sense of wonder. Awe. Reverence. Joy. Gratitude.

Whitney was the one who caught Ashley at Ashley's social "tipping point," at the precise moment when Ashley, for the first time in her developing life, elected to step out into the wider world.

My daughters told me that Ashley, while being toted around the front yard, was asking: "Where are we?" "Where are we going?" "What's out here?" "What do you see?"


August 14, 2013

Watch Out, They Jump

We follow Ina Road for a Sunday drive west of Tucson to be received by Saguaro National Park.

The beauty and the threat of this land cosseted in the light of a sun setting low on the horizon create an allure difficult to resist.

Exotic country to the senses of this coastal Californian.

The flora is a mix of cactus varietals -- saguaro, barrel, prickly pear, crimson hedgehog -- and other barbed plants, such as cholla, ocotillo, palo verde, creosote, ironwood, and yucca, each bearing the mean visage of confident predators ever ready to lash out at careless travelers.

I dare walk the sandy floor of the other-worldly forest and am skewered in my left ankle by two-inch long thorns. The plant possesses an aggressive will to catapult a nodule of needles at me. The cholla is not alone in jumping at men!

The fauna ranges from the cute to the terrible, the desert cottontail seen in abundance and the javelina peccaries salivating in filthy packs. I won’t even mention the banded gila monster or rattle snakes.

And yet the twin hazards of heat and thirst remain perhaps greater dangers.

Back in our car, safe in conditioned air behind tinted glass traveling at speed, we marvel at the expanse presided over by the venerable saguaro cactus, appendages held at the square, swearing an ancient oath to observe.

All around us the songs of God's creations and creatures in praise of Mother Nature calm my spirit even as they quicken my mind in contemplation of life and its myriad systems and diverse operations.

While my ankle is much aggrieved, nonetheless this Sonoran swath of desert with its frequent summer ablutions under monsoon rains continues to fascinate me.

June 30, 2013

June 14, 2013

Let It Snow

Kim and I put up a wind chime under the soffit of our patio. We quickly learned wind doesn’t reach our patio.

Alas, we have a silent chime.

Our silent chime, however, brought an unexpected treat. A mother hummingbird built her nest on top of the 45 degree slope of the wind chime cap. She exhibited keen engineering skills and an experienced architect’s knack for selecting appropriate building materials.
We hung a feeder near the nest. The mother is well-fed and enjoys a bird's-eye view of the swimming pool.

Our photo reconnaissance shows two eggs, which we’ve learned have a gestation period of around 18 days.

We are eager to see two chicks emerge.

Although summer temperatures are on the rise, witnessing the “hearth and home” of our small neighbor reminded me of a winter day in 2005.

Snow began falling around supper time and continued all night and all morning; a deliberate crowded free fall of thick muscular wet snow light in its touch, soft and lyrical as a lullaby quieting Cedar City, binding folks and families if not to each other at least to the warmth of home.

The girls were hoping of course for a “snow day” to force the schools closed.

I got up around four the following morning and watched.

Parked cars were no longer metallic icons of industrial modernity, but seemed organic protuberances as if they were small knolls or boulders now covered completely in snow and hibernating under limbs and branches of trees, themselves asleep and on which balanced tall ribbons of the heavy ice crystals accumulating, in repose, on all heaven-facing surfaces until the inevitable joining, owing to the agency of wind, warmth or gravity, the fallen yet purposeful snow below.

The old wooden ladder Alison left on the back patio after retrieving her basketball from the roof, was transformed into an object of aesthetic power sufficient to keep me studying it: each rung from the bottom step to the penultimate plank -- caution, this is not a step -- and the forbidden top plank itself, including the flimsy flap for holding paint trays, served as foundations for stoic, foot-high columns of snow. I had intended to throw that dangerous ladder away. I was pleased I hadn’t. Alison was supposed to put the ladder away. I was pleased she didn’t.

The juniper bushes in front of the house, flora whose days were marked for spring uprooting and heartless disposal at the county landfill, became enchanting three-dimensional white fractals frozen in time and space. Lawn, sidewalk, curb, and gutter were indistinct levels existing below an uninterrupted stretch of deep clean snow that confronted variation only at the illusion that our street had vanished and in its place was the Hudson River, frozen solid but ponderous and useful nonetheless.

Any reverence I had for the beauty of snow dripped off my chin and made a salty, sweaty disappearance onto the driveway as I shoveled the white nuisance out of the way so we could pull the cars into the street and get to school and to work.

So much for the romance of winter. Give me the southern Arizona sun!