A Well-Loved Book

My husband was reading a brand-new book with dinner last night and dribbled beet juice across a pristine page. He wasn’t happy. A few cuss words might have been involved. My first thought, which I kept silent, was ‘it’s now our book!’.

What does a well-loved book look like in your space? I promise each new book that comes into our house that I will love and cherish it. I’m careful and respectful the first time I open the cover, being cautious about bending the cover back too far. I try to find something nice for a bookmark. I wipe my hands on my clothes (pages are more important). I don’t dog-ear pages and try not to break the spine.

That lasts until, maybe, the first chapter and I’m immersed in the story and forget the real world. It depends on how far I read before I have to put the book down. The next time open it, anxious to get back into the new story world, the bookmark will have wandered away so a corner of paper towel or a torn envelope, or the cell phone gets used. And of course, in my happiness, I open the book wider, weigh the pages down with the greasy butter dish, and give no thought to the spine.

Our books are read over and over, and if they were dogs, they’d have a great life. They get hauled around. They go on car rides. They go outside. They get table scraps like beets. They get snuggles on the comfy chair by the fire with a blanket. They get undivided attention.

We have some books so well-loved and well-read, and so old, that pages are falling out. My husband has some where whole chapters have gone missing. He has even lost covers. But he’ll still re-read them because he knows what happens in those missing bits. And there’s always the hope that they’ll show back up some day with their own stories about hanging out with lost socks.

I also have books showing their age and looking elderly and fragile. I’ve bought second, and sometimes third, copies of them in order to keep the original from getting worse. I love opening them carefully, tucking the loose pages back inside, and seeing my very young handwriting on the inside cover. Or my sister’s young handwriting. She had a habit of claiming my things.

She’s also the only photogenic one in the family.

I see my handwriting and try to remember who that little girl was and what she thought the first time she opened that book. Little did she know all the years of friendship and enjoyment those characters would give her. And she’d never have believed it if someone had told her she’d still be reading the same book when she was that old.

And the only one that pays attention.

There’s a lot to be said for the new book smell, the pristine pages, the not-cracked spine, the new adventure waiting. There’s a place for that.

But there’s also a very special place for long-time friends that are maybe showing their age but are still willing to whisk you away on an adventure or sit with you and share their story.

Here’s to old friends and well-loved books.

Well, two out of three isn’t bad.

Path or Destination?

I had a difficult conversation with our son recently. During that talk he said there was no sense starting something now because it would take a long time to reach the result we were talking about. I told him he was looking at taking a long path, not reaching a destination. I’ve been thinking about those words a lot since then. Plus thinking about how far down that path he would be if he’d stepped out on the journey three years ago. It doesn’t help to dwell on ‘what might have been’.

A trail we’d walk, now changed from a forest fire.

My husband and I used to go for walks together. When we did, there had to be a destination. He isn’t one to just go on a ramble with no known end in sight. Where we used to live, you could head out into the trees and walk as long as you wanted. There was the road, there were trails, there were logging roads. By myself, I could walk until I was done, then turn around and go home, whether I’d reached a goal or not. But that used to drive my husband nuts. He needed to know where he was going. Which was fine with me, too, because for me the goal was walking with him.

That’s the baby sister by the way, not me.

I think about all the actual paths we’ve walked, and of course I think about the metaphorical paths we’ve walked. Most of those metaphorical trails we’ve followed in our lives still have no known destination. We’re still meandering along wondering where this rough path is going. Maybe hoping for a log to sit on and rest some day.

My friend Jenni is always game for a walk. Here she is in Erin’s Wood.

There have been so many paths that I have turned around on before I got to the destination. But I loved doing that. Just heading out for a ramble, being out in the trees, no destination, no timeline, no goal.

There are also a lot of paths I’ve chosen to never step out onto, for so many reasons. A lot of those reasons had to do with fear. Fear of holding back those I walked with. Fear of failure. Fear of letting those I care about down. Fear of not being good enough. Fear of falling. Do I regret those? Not really. Except for the walks I turned down out of fear of holding back others. One of those friends I worried about disappointing died unexpectedly in a car accident. I no longer have her in my life to hold back, or to disappoint, and those things don’t seem as important any more.

Circling back to that conversation with my son…I have to step off that path. I can’t share it anymore. I can’t lead the way. If there is a destination, it’s different for both of us.

When he was little, my husband took him up a trail known locally as Lookout Point. It’s steep and narrow and honestly, the only trail I’ve ever been on that completely creeps me out. I swear it’s haunted. I don’t hike it. But on that day, my husband told our son to stay close to the uphill side, not the edge. Our son of course went too close to the edge and disappeared. That fast. A log bordered the outer edge but the land under the log had slid away. Our son slipped down into that gap. My husband saw him, down in that gap, hanging on. I don’t know which of them was more terrified. After that, our son stayed on the uphill side.

Looking up the last chute of Lookout.

Whether he’ll do that now, follow our advice, or go his own way, we shall see. And my husband will always be there to grab him and keep him from falling. I’m not sure I can.

Many years ago my husband and I were walking a trail near Troublesome Creek. We were just friends going for walks (so I thought). There was this slight incline in the trail. He went ahead and turned to give me a hand up. I was surprised that he thought I couldn’t make it up on my own. Later, when I finally realized there was something else going on, he told me it had been an excuse to take my hand.

Even back then, he had the destination in mind while I meandered along the path.

Returning Light

The days are getting longer, second by second, and I’m not ready. Not ready for sun and warmth and open windows. Not ready for melting and thawing and blooming.

I want to stay within the cocoon, enclosed and wrapped up and listening to the sound of rain. Dormant and inward, dreaming and still.

It’s safer to stay stuffed down and numb, to not remember or be aware. To see strength in pulling up the boot straps and doing what needs doing and not feeling. To rest, safe, in that den down in the roots of the old tree, forgetting that above you the tree is pulling up life and budding and leafing out.

What is the definition of healing? Recognizing that at some point you need to also lift up and step out? How do you know if you are fully healed or partially or somewhat or as good as it’s going to get or not at all?

I’m so much more emotional than I ever used to be. I cry at everything from songs to anger to nothing at all. One day a few weeks ago I was talking to my husband and crying and I told him I didn’t even know why I was crying. I didn’t feel angry or sad and yet I was crying. I even laughed at the absurdity of crying without knowing why. As always, he so easily sucks up my tears in his hugs.

For me, being emotional has always been a sign of weakness and not being in control. For a few years now I’ve felt broken by two events. One was the death of Sam Grafton in February of 2018. The second was having to come to terms with some deeply personal issues that were forced to the surface by COVID’s masks.

I saw those two things as breaking me so that suddenly I could no longer breathe through life, stooped under the huge, huge weight of grief, and felt I had lost all control. I’m trying now to follow the advice that says I’m not broken but opened and placed on a new path.

It’s hard to believe that when I still see emotions as a loss of control and when I still strongly need to feel in control and safe. And yet there I sat, crying for no reason. I get so impatient and almost angry. I think, quit whining. You used to be strong. Do what needs to be done. Push everything else back down.

So many of us are here, in these days that are starting to lengthen, feeling that warmth that pulls us up from the safety of our dens. That sets us out along the path we don’t want to walk, that makes us face things like bright summer light that bring tears to our eyes.

I’ve always loved the rain. I prefer the cold winter season over any other time of the year. I love the short dark days and the warm fire and the feeling of being enclosed and safe. Whether it’s the reality of this love for the wet and cold or the analogy of wanting to stay down in the roots of who I used to be, all I know is that I’m not prepared for the change.