Wednesday Wonders: On Breaking Rules

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I once cut in line.

It wasn’t that long ago.

I was following my six-year-old and eager to see the clouded leopard cubs at the Point Defiance Zoo. Not realizing that the ten-foot wide mass of moving children and parents actually signaled a place to wait patiently, I chased my own little boy up past the crowd straight to where a zoo worker stood, patiently holding back the mob and letting a trickle of people in to see the baby critters in their enclosure behind a protective wall of glass.

“Um, you have to wait your turn,” the soft-spoken young woman in the zoo uniform said to my back after I had passed her and peered toward the cubs with Quinton pulling me at full speed.

At this point my teenager, who could see there was a line, had abandoned us in embarrassment. He went to the back of the mass of humans and waited for us to join him there.

I stepped back to where the young woman was, still not realizing I had cut and trying to wrap my brain around what was happening while dragging along a squirming kid.

“Did you just cut in front of all these people?” a lady asked in a voice that carried across the chaos and made everyone turn to look at me.

As she spoke these words, she looked down on me in utter disdain. She reminded me a little of Mr. Dursley in female form with short cropped hair and the air of someone who always followed the rules would never dream of having a squirming kid.

I didn’t make eye contact with the much taller woman. Instead, I turned to the young zoo worker with long blonde hair.

“Is there a line?” I asked her in a half whisper.

She smiled kindly at me and nodded.

I mumbled something about not knowing that, stammering about a need for more signs even as I knew I was in the wrong.

I literally hung my head, still holding on to my boy and making my way back to the teenager.

We moved on to the tigers, never getting to really see the cubs that day.

Yesterday, something happened that reminded me of that moment only this time I was the Dursley lady.

Quinton and I made the trek up to our favorite mountain lake at the top of Chinook Pass. Lake Tipsoo sits in a place full of traffic where thousands of travelers stop at the crest of the highway. In the past the tourists trampled it, but now the rangers and signs guard the area, telling all  to kindly stay on the paths rather than kill the wildflowers, butterflies and tadpoles with our clomping feet.

I spent a good deal of motherly energy teaching Q how important it is to walk gently so we all can enjoy the beauty.

Right before we left, he insisted we go back to view the tadpoles one last time and see if we could find that salamander who hides under the foot bridge.

“Mom! There’s a lady in the water!” Quinton said as we got to our favorite spot.

Sure enough. Some foolish and uninformed woman stood up to the middle of her calves in previously untouched mud. She had not seen or ignored all the signs telling her not to wade, not to touch, and not to leave the path. She was squashing the tadpole territory and looked like she enjoyed doing it.

I did not make a cutting comment to her. I did not, as my son suggested, tell her not to do that.

I took his hand and we left even as she spoke to my son about how cute the tadpoles were. I got the feeling she thought I was a mean mom for not letting him get a better look.

In my head, I was furious and didn’t trust that I could say anything to her without making the whole situation worse.

I wish I could have said something kind and true to her, but even as I imagine it, I can’t come up with a good thing to say.

So, dear readers, here are my writing prompts for you today:

Non-fiction

When did you break a social rule like cutting in line or stepping off the path? Did someone point it out to you? How did that go?

When did you see a rule broken and it hurt your heart? What did you do? 

Fiction

When did your character break a rule or see a rule broken? What happened next?

And if you ever successfully pointed out a transgression with a kind heart, I’d sure love to hear about that!

May you walk gently and get to see the leopard cubs,

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Losing My Way: What is Happening to a Beloved Horse Road

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Two years ago I wrote a long post about the horse road that I love near my home. I ended it by saying that I knew it might not last.

It hasn’t.

At first I thought the owners of the gravel pit trimmed the blackberry bushes and were done with it. I told my four year old not to worry. Blackberries always grow back. Then they brought in the dozers, and I knew the berries didn’t stand a chance this year. 

My neighbors say the pit owners are filling in the gigantic hole and then developing. I’ve seen big project announcements for months so I suppose I should have expected this. From looking at my last post, I know I did expect it.

But I’m still sad. Sad to lose an abandoned gravel pit full of brambles. Sad because the goldfinch don’t fly in front of me this year. Sad because I wonder where the coyote moved her den that was under those brambles. Sad because no rabbits dart in front of me now. Sad because the hawks no longer sit along the telephone wire waiting to catch those rabbits.

And mostly, sad because the wildlife had reclaimed their space after the ripping destruction of a gravel pit. Now their homes are once again destroyed. I hope for their resilience to come through again. I wish they didn’t have to.

I know this is off my usual topics and not the hopeful voice I normally use. But my heart is breaking and I had to say something somewhere to someone.

I can hardly bear to post the picture.

A Racoon Ignoring Us from Above

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“It’s way too big to be a squirrel,” I said as I looked in the tree.

My teenaged son and I were camping near Shelton, WA and sitting by the fire he had been thrilled to build when I had noticed a creature settling into the branches above us.

We kept staring and squinting at it until Kieran decided to go down the trail by the row boats to check it out with more of the evening’s light.

“It’s furry, Mom. No way it’s a bird,” he said.

By this time whatever it was had settled in for the night and wasn’t moving. I thought the fur looked like a raccoon but we couldn’t be sure. The larger-than-a-squirrel-but-not-ugly-enough-to-be-an-opossum thing was doing an excellent job of ignoring us.

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A few years back we had camped with my sister and her kids in the same place with her little dog in a tent. We woke after midnight to find ourselves surrounded by raccoons circling the tent, hoping for a chance to munch the yapping little chi weenie who was barking with his whole body the way tiny dogs do.

So I wasn’t surprised this recent trip to see a masked face staring out from the branches when we checked the tree an hour later. He still did not seem to care if we saw him or not and tucked his face back in before I could manage a picture. I never knew raccoons slept in trees but this spot looked perfect for him. If I hadn’t seen him settle in, we never would have noticed his sleeping arrangement.

My son and I have seen the most amazing creatures when we stop our busy lives for a few moments. This particular member of the wildlife gave me the feeling that those we don’t notice might be too busy to notice us either. But, busy or not, I won’t soon forget that mask or his perch above us.

 

The Horse Road

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Out my door and to the left and past the newest development with million dollar homes my boys and I have found a place of wonder. To the east of the road sits a pasture where horses roamed when we first moved here. On the other side, blackberries my sons love to pick crawl over the fences of a mostly abandoned gravel pit. I have never seen inside the fences through the thick brambles.

At the north end of the quarter mile I can see into the Port of Tacoma and we often marvel at the container cranes that reach into the sky above. Across the horse pasture and peeking through the trees, we see Mt. Rainier although he avoids a good picture and the images invariably turn out grainy with my phone’s ineffective zoom.The entire road stretches for about a quarter mile, takes a sharp left and dips steeply down to a four lane road with cars zipping past, never knowing the treasures they missed.

When we first moved here in 2006, the Horse Road quickly got its name from the herd that stood munching and gazing at us as we walked by on our outings or drove by on the way to somewhere else. The animals gazed at us, and we gazed at them or gave them grass pulled from the side of the road.

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People apparently think the place looks deserted enough to dump their garbage regularly and count on the wildlife not to rat them out. Our latest pile had toys that looked miserable in the chill air as if the dolls and plastic houses also wished their owners had thought to drive ten more minutes to the local Goodwill instead of tossing them where we love to walk. My 3 year old had a lot to say about how he would never dump his toys out and planned to keep them safe in our ever growing piles at home. Over the years, I’ve seen mattresses, sofas, burnt out stolen cars, bags full of clothing and scattered pull tabs. It’s hard not to feel a stab of anger at those who defile the Horse Road.

In spite of the ugly signs of humanity, though, I’ve noticed that the wild animals love this place. My sons and I get glimpses of them, especially if we happen to move along this stretch of pavement on the off hours.

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One late evening soon after we moved in, Kieran and I saw bats fluttering in the tall evergreens past the fields. We stopped to look, taking in their black skinned wings fluttering in circles.

At other times, we see rabbits in the bushes or the birds that line the fences. Goldfinches dive and swirl in the spring, and frogs begin their song around the same time, filling the night and reaching our windows back home with their chorus of calls for mates.

On a blustery day, I drove down the road and slammed the brakes to avoid the horse who had no fence to stop him from leaping in front of my moving vehicle. I pulled to the side and managed to shoo him down the drive back to his people and the fences he needed to keep him safe.

Over time, this stretch of road has come to mean home to me as much as the sight of my own driveway. On a run one afternoon after returning from China, still feeling the pull of my finished adventure and the people I left on another continent, I knew I was really and fully home when I saw the mountain in the evening air of the Horse Road on a late fall day after the birds had mostly gone for the winter.

In the spring of 2012, the unimaginable happened and the horses disappeared. Their owner had troubles with another tenant on the land she leased and decided the conflict wasn’t worth the effort to stay. For months after, my heart sank at the sight of the empty field on my way home from work. The grass grew taller and the deer moved through more often. Critters continued to appear, and we still have one solitary horse from a different renter at the tip of the drive nearest the view of container cranes. But the neighbors say the herd and the spring foals moved to a distant place ‘out in the county.’

In spite of the loss, we keep our eyes at the ready, especially after dusk, driving  home from events, winding our way up the road, and and gazing into the deep dark along the pasture. Wild animals come out of hiding then and look at us in wonder because they know we are in their space. One night last spring, we saw frogs everywhere on the road. My son who loves anything amphibious leapt out of the car as I stopped every few feet so he could rescue the little ones from a certain squishing. We thought we spotted  a small worm another night that turned out to be a salamander, or ‘water puppy’ as my dad always liked to call them on long ago hikes.

Golden eyes blink at us out of the soupy blackness. Sometimes they are cats and often I never know what hides and stares at us.

This past week we found the most amazing sight yet. An barn owl sat on the post of the development staring at us with its wide heart-shaped face and fluttering to and fro as he realized we had slowed the car to gaze in awe at his white feathers. My husband said he might even be hunting in a field more full of mice since the horses moved heartrendingly away. I felt grateful that the horse road lives and breathes even after the four leggeds we named it after moved away.

As I’ve said in other posts, I’ve grown old enough to know that nothing lasts forever. The land owner could decide to sell and make another million dollar development. The gravel pit owners could do the same. The pasture and pit full of brambles could easily vanish like the horse herd. But for now, I know we have something spectacular outside our driveway full of gravel and leaves. I intend to keep my eyes and heart open every time we drive or stroll down our Horse Road.

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