There is a wild-looking hedge to the west of my yard. A former neighbor, who was clueless about landscaping, planted a random jumble of trees and shrubs along the property line many years ago. Once or twice a year, I have to cut off branches that get too far over the line.

This year’s invaders mainly consist of flowering honeysuckle and some kind of climbing rose. They’re pretty, but they hang down far enough to interfere with my husband mowing the grass, so they have to go. Sometime in the near future I’ll get around to doing that chore. For now, though, I can enjoy the flowers and get a sense of belonging in wild nature.

Word-art that says "You belong among the wildflowers. You belong somewhere you feel free." -Tom Petty

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

May 16, 2020 · 2 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

Early in the week it was dark, cold, and blustery around here, with the temperature far below normal for the middle of May. It felt like winter had decided that it was never going to yield to spring. I didn’t even feel like going outside to get the mail and newspaper. The thought of planting annual flowers left me totally unenthusiastic. I was having a tough time picturing a good future, in general.

Given the lack of real-life places where I could go to cheer myself up, I decided that an imaginary visit with Fannie, my 119-year-old future self, would be the next best thing. I found her standing in the garage of her townhouse, next to her flying car. She wore blue jeans with a bright pink blouse, and she had shimmering pink hair to match.

The garage door was open. A warm spring breeze blew in, carrying the fragrance of flowering trees and shrubs. Fannie gave me a friendly smile and said, “Well, hello there! I was just on my way out to pick strawberries at a nearby farm. You look like you could use some more time in the fresh air, too. Hop in the car, and we’ll be off!”

(Photo credit: Donald Lee Pardue)

Picking berries on a sunny spring day sounded like the perfect way to put the winter blues to rest. And a ride in the flying car, too—what could be better? I walked around to the passenger side, got in, and started looking for a seatbelt.

“It retracts completely when the car is off, and then it automatically dangles in front of you when the car is turned on again,” Fannie explained. “That design is an improvement on those annoying automatic seatbelts that nobody ever wanted to buy. Hildegarde, set destination: Wildland Historical Farm.”

Lights blinked on all over the dashboard, motors whirred softly, and the seatbelts made their appearance as Fannie had described. “Destination set,” a female voice replied, with an accent somewhere between Midwestern and Scandinavian.

“Hildegarde?” I asked, buckling myself in.

Another light came on as I spoke. Evidently, by saying its name, I had put the car into a mode to process further spoken input. “Proceed to destination,” Fannie said cheerfully, and the car started backing itself out of the garage.

“The car needed a name,” Fannie continued, now speaking to me, “and I thought it was a good fit. Definitely better than all those nameless cars you had over the years, which you referred to as ‘the white car’ or something equally dull. I may be a future version of you, but that doesn’t mean I can’t improve on your more boring habits.”

“Okay, that’s fine, I didn’t mean to criticize the name,” I said with a shrug, not at all inclined to argue when there were a lot more interesting things to do. The car steered itself onto a concrete takeoff lane in the center of the townhouse complex, lined on both sides with blooming purple wisteria. It accelerated quickly and launched itself into the air.

I gawked like a tourist—which I supposed I was—as we soared above tall buildings with flourishing roof plantings. Some also had vertical greenery along the walls. Bright-winged birds swarmed everywhere, almost as if we had been flying over a jungle instead of a bustling metropolis. At first I expected some birds would come smashing into Hildegarde’s windshield, but they all stayed at a safe distance.

“Today’s cars have effective bird-avoidance technology,” Fannie commented, as I turned my head to watch a yellow-winged flock veering away. “They’re designed with features that make them look and sound like raptors on the hunt to any nearby birds. Collisions with wildlife are rare.”

We had reached the edge of the city by now, and the buildings rather abruptly gave way to a mix of woodland and blooming wildflower meadows. This landscape, although pretty, left me with a strange sense of disorientation. Where were the roads, the farms, the small towns? Had there been some sort of natural disaster?

“Where are we?” I summed up my confusion in a simple question.

“America the Beautiful, minus the amber waves of grain,” Fannie informed me. “Almost all food nowadays is factory-grown in vats. It’s much more cost-effective than traditional farming, and safer too—we don’t have to worry about parasites, pesticides, foodborne illnesses, pollution from fertilizer runoff, or pandemics caused by viruses from livestock. Also, the nutritional content is standardized, so we have more awareness of what we’re eating.”

A herd of brown cattle, apparently feral, went thundering by as we flew over another meadow. Huge clouds of butterflies, disturbed by their passage, rose up from the flowers.

“Approaching destination, prepare for descent,” Hildegarde announced.

At first I couldn’t imagine where we might be going, in such a wild landscape. Then a tidy parcel of cultivated land came into view beyond the next hill, with a road on the far side leading to a highway in the distance. Trucks, which surely had to be automated, streamed by on the highway at a steady pace, with an occasional small car or motorcycle among them.

“People are healthier now and living much longer,” Fannie went on, “and some of our new foods don’t seem much different from what they replaced. For instance, I can’t tell tuna made at a factory from the real thing. Still, humans evolved as hunter-gatherers and then spent many millennia as farmers—so there’s an instinctive sense of loss, I believe, that comes from having our food supply so disconnected from anything we do in nature. That’s why I like to get out and pick my own fruit or veggies every once in a while.”

Touching down smoothly in a lane along the edge of the farm’s parking lot, Hildegarde retracted her wings and pulled into a nearby space between two similar vehicles. On the other side of the lot, an ordinary-looking, non-flying school bus had just turned in from the access road.

Fannie and I walked into the strawberry enclosure. A young woman greeted us cheerfully and gave us each a basket. Two robotic folding chairs promptly detached themselves from their nearby charging stations and started rolling along behind us while we looked for a good place to pick.

“How about here?” Fannie stopped next to some tasty-looking berries. The chairs stopped also, and she pushed buttons on one of them to adjust its position and height. I did the same with the other, and we both sat down. Just then, a group of chattering preteens and their teacher walked in from the parking lot, and Fannie smiled.

“I always like to see the children,” Fannie told me. “They’re our link to a good future—however different that future may look.”

Putting berries in my basket, I found myself smiling too. Maybe this hadn’t been quite what I imagined a strawberry-picking trip would look like, but it certainly had put me in a better mood.

As life has settled into a quieter pace in recent weeks, I’ve found—somewhat to my surprise—that old anxieties don’t seem to trouble me as much. While they haven’t entirely gone away, it does feel as if they’ve gone mostly dormant for now, or perhaps they’re hibernating.

I’m reminded of pebbles in a river, tumbled all about by high water that scours away the mud and debris. As the river slows and the water level falls, the rocks and pebbles settle into a new, solid shape.

Word-art showing stones with words like "Dream" and "Hope."

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

To read Part 6, click here. All parts of this story are consolidated on one page here.

“Don’t think of it as learning how to control fire with magic.”

Glass beads on the instructor’s dress tinkled softly as she spoke. Luz was a short, heavyset woman with black hair, which she kept pinned neatly in a silver clasp, and large dark eyes. She stood near the back of the library, facing a row of desks. Oil lamps along the oak-paneled walls gave plenty of light and a pleasant, woodsy fragrance.

Each of the desks had a shelf with a small candle resting in a dish. Luz had lit the candles with a glance upon entering the library, along with the oil lamps. She had put the candles out again just as quickly, after telling Ina to sit down. Ina was her only student this morning; the other girls had gone off with different instructors after breakfast.

lit candle

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

“It’s more about allowing fire to learn how to work with you,” Luz went on. “Imagine that you are training a dog or other animal. It wants to play with you and have fun, but you can’t just let it do whatever it wants—you need to set firm expectations. For today, you’ll start with this candle on the desk in front of you. See the fire in your mind, send it loving thoughts, and tell it what you want it to do. When it lights the candle, praise it as you would a good, obedient puppy.”

Ina took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and pictured herself lovingly telling a small flame that she wanted it to light the candle. Nothing had changed when she opened her eyes again. She tried once more, but she still had no success whatsoever.

Her attention wandered. The library felt stuffy, with no windows. Wouldn’t it be much easier just to say a magic word or two? If this was a library for witches, then shouldn’t the books be full of spells? But the aisle closest to Ina’s desk looked like it had books of poetry on one side and histories of ancient civilizations on the other.

“Okay, no spells,” Ina said under her breath, wondering where she might have gone wrong. What had she done to catch lightning last night? She hadn’t said anything to it, had she? No, the lightning had simply flashed, and she had reached toward it without any conscious intent.

After the lightning-fire had come to her, it had wanted to play, like a puppy—just as Luz had described. Was all fire so playful? Ina turned her attention to the nearest oil lamp, with its flame shining brightly inside the glass. Did it want to do something more? Would it like to hop over to her desk and spend a little time exploring the candle?

The flame inside the lamp bobbed toward her as if agreeing that, yes, it would. A moment later, the candle on Ina’s desk came to life, burning strongly.

“Nicely done!” Luz beamed. “Now you must praise the fire, like a well-behaved dog, for doing as you told it.”

“Good fire,” Ina said, now starting to feel rather silly, “good boy.”

“That was the easy part, you know,” Luz continued. “Persuading fire to burn is easy because that’s what it naturally wants to do. Putting fire out by magic is much harder. Then you’re going against its natural instincts. You are asking it to trust that you will take good care of it and that, when the time is right, you’ll let it burn again. That takes a lot of trust.”

A memory flashed into Ina’s mind. A small golden-brown puppy sat on a carpet, with a treat not far away. His tail quivered with excitement, but he dutifully sat still. Late-autumn light slanted through the windows. Ina heard her own voice saying “Wait, stay…”

Where had that place been? Why couldn’t she remember—and why had she been taken from that place? Surely the flame on her desk must share those feelings. She had taken it from the oil lamp and invited it to come on a new adventure; it didn’t know why. Now it was expected to snuff itself out meekly, just because she said so? Why on earth would it be willing to do that?

Tears came into Ina’s eyes. Of course the fire would resist. Of course it would! All at once she was crying out, with no idea whether she spoke for herself or for the fire. “How can I trust anyone when I don’t even know why I am here!”

The flame in the candle kept on burning—until one of Ina’s tears fell directly on the wick. Then it went out, with a faint but very final sizzle of betrayal.

May 7, 2020 · 2 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

This morning I had two meetings scheduled right next to each other, with a presentation to attend soon afterward. Ordinarily I don’t have that much going on at work, and it was a bit of a distraction for my husband, who is sharing our home office space with me.

Somewhat to my surprise, however, I didn’t feel overly distracted myself. This week I’ve been feeling calmer than usual, and changes to my daily routine don’t seem as bothersome. Maybe everything that has happened this year has given me a shift in perspective. If so, I hope it will turn out to be something that can be carried forward into a more peaceful future.

Word-art that says "The secret of your future is hidden in your daily routine."

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.