Kringle Love

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46733586_2117185618365492_3044502690349449216_n.jpg“What’s a Kringle?” Lydia asked.

“What’s a what?” I responded. We were standing in line at Trader Joe’s, gathering up a few extra goodies for the upcoming holiday.

“A Kringle,” she repeated and gestured toward a cart in the lane next to us. In its basket was a pile of three flat bakery packages, each labeled Danish Kringle.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Stay here and I’ll find out.” I walked over to the two women by the cart. They looked relaxed and happy, chatting together, and I was pretty sure they were mother and daughter.

“Excuse me,” I said, “What’s a Kringle?”

The younger of the two turned to me and smiled widely, “It’s the best thing you’ve ever eaten in your life!” she exclaimed.

Her words and her mother’s spilled out, tumbling over each other and filling me in on the wonders of the Kringle.

“It’s a Danish pastry.”

“It’s ring-shaped and it’s super moist with a glaze on top.”

“It should come with a warning label! I start with just a small wedge and soon I’ve eaten my way around the whole circle!”

“It’s filled with a layer of marzipan.”

“Oh, they sound amazing! ” I exclaimed, as they wound down. “And marzipan! I love marzipan! Where did you find them?”

They looked at each other quickly.

“W-e-l-l, right over there,” the mother said, pointing to a holiday display on a nearby table. “But we took the last three,” she continued, sheepishly.

“But there must be more! I’m sure there are,” the younger woman burst in, enthusiastically. “Just find someone and ask them to check for you.”

“I will!” I said, and headed off in the direction they had indicated. Pastry! Marzipan! There was no time to lose!

I quickly located a helpful employee. She was doubtful, but willingly searched the back room. After a minute or two she returned.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “There aren’t any more back there. We ordered 7 cases this year, which is way more than usual, but it’s just been flying out the door!” How had I never heard of these before?

Disappointed, I headed back to Lydia and our waiting cart. I filled her in on the wonders of Kringles and the disappointing fact that they were all gone. The two women were ahead of us and finished checking out. They saw that I had returned and called out, “Oh, did you find any?”

“No,” I replied, “they’re all sold out.”

“Oh, no!” they chorused, and their faces fell.

“That’s okay. It’s probably for the best,” I laughed. “Thanks for telling me about them.”

Lydia and I finished checking out, but somehow our dried coconut strips and mango leather didn’t look quite as exciting as they had moments before.

As we exited our line, the two women were still by the windows at the front of the store. The younger blond woman walked up to me, smiling.

“Here,” she said, “We want you to have this.”

“What?” I responded, confused.

“This Kringle,” she said, holding out a Kringle package.

“Oh my gosh! Are you sure? ” I asked.

“Yes, we really don’t need three of them, and we’d like to give this one to you.”

“Wow! That’s so nice of you!” I gushed. “Can I at least pay you for it?”

“No,” she said, shaking her head, and placing the Kringle in my hands, “just think of it as Kringle love.”

We exchanged goodbyes, more thanks and holiday good wishes. Then, Lydia and I walked out of the store together, feeling warmed by this interaction and the random act of kindness and generosity.  It was such a lovely beginning to our Thanksgiving weekend.

It’s all too easy to become pessimistic about the state of the world these days. Far too frequently, I find myself asking, “Who are these people?” when trying to make sense out of something going on in our country. I forget that there are many kind, generous people out there as well. This moment at Trader Joe’s was an important reminder of that. I loved the Kringle (I mean, I really loved the Kringle!), but even better than the sugar rush, is the surge of optimism that has lingered. This moment left me feeling connected rather than alienated. These two women are people I can understand and appreciate. Now, inspired by them, I’m going to see if I can figure out a way to sprinkle some Kringle love into someone else’s day.

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So Many Questions

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hIt was cloudy on Monday morning and I knew the sunrise would probably not be remarkable, but I headed to the river anyway. I needed to escape. To get out of my own head and the swirling negativity of recent days. To retreat to “the peace of wild things” as Wendell Berry so aptly put it. I’m struggling to make sense of so much these days.

As expected, at the river there is no sign of a glorious sunrise, but the fish leap in silver flashes, and currents lead the moored boats in a lazy waltz, swirling and spinning them in the early morning light. I revel in the reflection of autumn leaves on the water, the pillowing stripes of clouds, and the varied bird calls. My eyes follow the purposeful flight of a circling bald eagle over the fall foliage. I watch it land, grasp something on the other bank, and take off again with mighty wingstrokes. The tension slowly eases from my shoulders. I breathe deeply and relax. Nature’s balm is immediate and immense.

After a moment, I see a flash of large wings and a great blue heron appears, flying low over the water. I walk quickly, following it’s trajectory, hoping it’s landing in a nearby inlet. When my progress is stopped by shoreline and rocky water, the heron is nowhere in sight. Ah, well. I’m still so pleased to have seen it, even briefly.

Then, from the corner of my eye, I spy something white in a nearby bush. What’s that? A bird? I edge closer. No, not a bird, but a discarded tissue caught in a bush, and beneath it an empty plastic baggy and a small cardboard container with a cracked plastic lid. Under a nearby shrub is a discarded paper cup. My shoulders tense again.

Later in the day, when I’m running, I see bottles, cans, wrappers, etc. littering the road. Sadly, this is nothing new, but the turmoil of recent days intensifies the impact. Who are these people who so casually throw their debris into the world? I remember the crying Indian ad of my childhood and want to weep. What is wrong with people? How do we build relationships or work through conflicts when there are such fundamental differences in outlooks and behaviors? I can’t relate to treating the world as my garbage bag or people as my punching bags. How do we find common ground and work through problems when discourse has disintegrated to ranting and raving and making death threats? And this is across the political spectrum. How do we navigate complicated issues when people cheer for threats and intimidation and think that mockery and rudeness is equivalent to plain speaking?  Who think nothing of pumping waste into our waterways and disregard the environment in search of an economic windfall? How do we start meaningful conversations when everyone is yelling at each other and calling each other names?

A month or two ago, my husband and I were talking with a friend of his who’s a veteran. We were lamenting the agenda of hate and division fostered and nurtured by the current administration. After a bit, his friend sighed deeply and said, “I guess America just doesn’t mean what I thought it did.” Those words have haunted me.

How do I get past the anger that I’m feeling? I vote. I march. I call my public representatives. It feels like such a small push back against a huge tide. I fear for our country while simultaneously feeling alienated by many of its citizens and entertaining thoughts of leaving it. What does America stand for these days?

I’m so sickened by the events of recent days (months…years…)–by the political circus, by the lack of empathy, by the tone of discourse, by the appalling lack of integrity, and then, on top of that, by a recent suicide in our area and the fallout from that–for her family, her students, the children who found her body.

There’s such ugliness in our world, yet there’s such beauty, too. There’s pain and sorrow and joy and triumph. I’m struggling to make sense of it all. I’m so thankful I can retreat to the river and seek ease in nature’s bounty. Yet, how long will nature be able to bounce back from our casual abuse? Even as I seek solace there, I find trouble and worry.

For now, I’ll keep going down to the river. I’ll take my pictures and lose myself in the wonderful wild. While I’m there, I’ll rejoice in the water, the birds, the seasonal shapes and colors. Some mornings will offer glorious sunrises and some cloudy skies and more subtle rewards. And I’m sure there will be more trash.  I suppose, whenever I see it, I’ll just keep picking it up. It’s one thing I know I can do.

 

 

A Slice of Memory from the Shark Tank

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hIt’s funny how memories pop up sometimes, emerging in full technicolor detail from the  mists of the past. This happened to me just recently. I don’t even remember what I was doing at the time, but suddenly I was thinking about Lydia and the shark tank.

This happened years ago. We were in Boothbay Harbor, Maine at the small aquarium there. I’m not sure how old Lydia was–maybe 3? If so, Adeline would have been 5 and Connor, 7. We were thoroughly enjoying our visit to the aquarium, wandering through the displays, peering into fish tanks and trying out the interactive exhibits. I remember that in one area you reached your hand through a small circular opening into wooden boxes. Inside the box was a mystery object ,and you were supposed to try to figure out what it was. It took a bit of nerve, but we all enthusiastically thrust our hands into the dark hole and did our best to determine what was within. I can’t even remember what was in there–maybe shells? lobster claws?  It’s all a bit fuzzy now, 17-18 years later. But what I do recall in full focus is the shark tank.

It was a circular tank in the middle of the room, fairly large and maybe 3 feet high. Swimming about in it were a number of sharks. I’m not sure what kind they were, but there was a sign inviting visitors to pet them, so I assumed they must be friendly. The kids were beyond excited at this opportunity. Kurt quickly helped Connor and Adeline get their hands in the water. They reached out to touch the circulating sharks, exclaiming loudly. Lydia was in my arms, pulling toward the tank. I moved closer, struggling to hold onto her as she stretched forward enthusiastically. When I had a firm hold on her, we edged into the side of the tank and she leaned over, her chubby hand trailing in the water, reaching toward the sharks. After a few minutes, finally a shark came by within reaching distance. Lydia stretched and just as her fingers were about to brush the shark, I jerked her back, startling both of us.

She looked at me in surprise, and honestly, I was just as surprised as she was.

“Oh, I’m sorry!” I said, laughing. “I didn’t mean to do that. Let’s try again!”

Lydia gave me one of her patented lowered-eyebrow glares, but thankfully turned her attention to the tank again. I repositioned us and we waited for another shark to approach. Within moments, one swam by. Lydia reached out and just as her fingers neared the shark, I once again jerked her away.

We tried this again a few more times, but I just couldn’t do it. It was the funniest thing. I was literally incapable of letting her hand touch that shark. Each time, no matter how hard I tried to let her touch the shark, at the last minute, I pulled her away. Finally, I handed a disgruntled Lydia off to Kurt.

“I just can’t do it,” I laughed.

Kurt and Lydia settled in by the tank and within moments a delighted Lydia had touched her first shark. I watched her face light up, thankful she had this experience. Still amazed that I hadn’t been able to let her have it. That bone-deep instinct to protect her was just way too strong for me to overcome. Let my toddler touch a shark? No way!

Remembering this now, as she enters her senior year in college, I think about protecting her and how this has changed over the years. I also wonder if there are other opportunities I denied her because of my instinct to keep her far from danger, real or perceived. These days I can’t simply hold her in my arms and pull her away from the sharks of the world. I can only let her know that she’s always welcome in my arms and that I’ll stand in between her and any sharks as necessary. I guess the thing is that now she’s the one who will be identifying those dangers, not me.

Chronicle of a Bird Encounter…Part One

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hKurt walked into the family room, wiping rain from his glasses.

“There’s a fledgling out there. I think it fell out of a nest during the storm.”

“What? Where!?” I asked.

“Right out under the birch tree,”  he replied.

“Where’s Juniper?” I asked, immediately worried about our ferocious beast of a cat.

“She’s out there, too,” he said.

“What!?!” I squawked. Quickly I threw on shoes and ran outside, barely listening to Kurt’s continued comments.

“I don’t think she’s touched her…the bird was upside down under the tree…I doubt it will make it…”

Sure enough under the birch, through the dark and rain, I saw a bedraggled mound of feathers. Nearby was Juniper, our beast of a cat. Luckily, as far as I could tell, she had not yet pounced. I raced over and quickly scooped her up with, I confess, some fear for my continued health and well-being, and dumped her inside. Quickly shutting the door, I walked back out to take a look at the bird. I crouched down in the grass speaking softly to it.

bird.jpg“Hey, baby bird, what’s up? Did you take a spill? Where’s your nest?”

The bird was upright, but still looked pretty pathetic, sitting in the grass with damp, black wings semi-splayed to each side. It was hard to see colors on the rain-darkened feathers, but it looked like there were some spots of white. What kind of bird is it? White spots…big beak…I wonder if it’s a woodpecker?

Slowly I reached my hand toward it and immediately it fluttered, opened its beak and lunged toward me threateningly. I quickly pulled my hand back. (Confession: Lunge might be a bit of an exaggeration, but it definitely poked in my direction. I had a quick flashback to those raptors in Jurassic Park, expecting a loud rattling hiss to emerge from that little throat. I mean birds are related to dinosaurs, right? And that beak looked pretty large!)

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I regrouped and chided myself. Physical bravery has never been my forte, but this wee, soaking-wet, disheveled bird was clearly not going to injure me. Get a grip, Molly! Again, I looked down at it. The poor thing was clearly unable to move to safety and the rain continued to fall. Could its parents be waiting nearby? Should I move it into a tree?

Uncertain what to do, I went back inside and posted on a birding site that I’m a member of:

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After a few minutes of anxiously waiting for a response, I was relieved to see the advice finally start flowing. Many people immediately suggested leaving it alone. One charmer advised me to set the oven to 350 degrees. Multiple people suggested calling Avian Haven, a wild bird rehabilitation center, for help. Unfortunately, a quick call confirmed that they were closed for the evening.

One vocal poster opted to lecture me about having an outdoor cat in the first place. This led to a tangential fire storm of posts as people rebuked him for giving unsolicited, unrelated commentary and advice, and he responded by posting multiple articles about cats and how they devastate the environment. This roused the cat lovers. He then suggested that cat owners who let their cats outside were inhumane and irresponsible, just letting their vulnerable cats out to die somewhere, victims of wild animal attacks. I’m not quite clear what his point was–that cats are killers or that they will be killed. Maybe both? That thread got a little heated and out of control and by the following morning was removed by administrators. I steered clear.

Meanwhile, I focused on the sane portion of the post, trying to figure out what to do.  The bird clearly was vulnerable where it was, but so often the experts say that people tend to intervene when they shouldn’t. Finally, after a bit of research on the Avian Haven site and the consensus on the posts, I posted the following, still uncertain this was the correct course:

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Shortly after posting that, I got a request to accept a private message. When I accepted it, I got this message.

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Change of plans. I wasn’t going to argue with an expert. I scrambled around the house assembling supplies, then quickly prepped a box. Dashing back out into the rain, I gently scooped up the fledgling, careful to avoid its beak. It struggled against my hands, but when I settled it on the soft towels in the box, it sat quite still. Clearly, this bird was shaken up. Poor little thing. I closed up the box and set it in the mudroom, crossing my fingers that I was doing the right thing and that the bird would make it until morning.

To be continued…

After the rain…

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Have you ever seen the end of a rainbow? Do you know what you’ll find there? Well, it turns out that sometimes you’ll find my lilac bush entwined with a rogue grape vine.

But let me back up a little…

We’d been inside most of the day due to lowering skies, drizzling rain and occasional hiccups of thick downpours. The anticipated thunderstorms hadn’t arrived, but it had been a stormy stay-inside-and-clean-read kind of day. The skies seemed to be clearing, we’d just finished dinner, and I was itching to get out and move a bit.

“Hey, wanna go for a walk?” I asked my husband, Kurt.

“Yeah, sure,” he replied.

I left the room to get my shoes on and moments later heard him call out, “Whoa! Check out the rain!”

Oh, no, there goes our walk!  I thought, then looked out the window. Sure enough, the rain was pouring down in sheets. The sun, however, had emerged from behind clouds in the western sky, and in its rays, the rain fell like liquid silver. We squinted, trying to look at it, dazzled by the combined brilliance of sun and rain.

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“There must be a rainbow out there,” I declared, and I dashed outside into the rain, spinning around in the driveway, scanning the skies.

“Oh! ” I finally cried. “There is one! It’s gorgeous!”

Kurt came outside and we both stared at the intense rainbow forming over our house. It was simply stunning, the most vibrant rainbow I’ve ever seen. It practically pulsed with color, each hue vivid and distinct. I followed its arc over the house and then down, down, down….

“Oh, my gosh! Look!” I said, pointing. “You can see where the rainbow ends! It’s ending right in our yard!”

We both stared. Sure enough the arc of the rainbow came down directly through our grape-vine-covered lilac bush and ended on the grass below.

“That’s unbelievable,” I said.  “I’ve never seen a rainbow’s end before.”

We stood, rapt, marveling at the sight.

Then, after a few moments, I added (typically), “I wonder if I can catch it in a picture.”

The rain had eased almost completely by now, so I dashed inside for my camera and rushed back out, quickly taking a few photos.

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“Well,” Kurt announced casually as we headed down the driveway, “I know where I’m digging tomorrow!”

We laughed and together turned back to look at the dazzling rainbow over our house. Slowly, a second, faint rainbow formed, arching over the first.  We stood in the driveway for long minutes. The rain stopped completely, the clouds parting to reveal brilliant patches of blue. Everything sparkled, bejeweled with raindrops. The rainbows lingered. Finally, we turned to go on our walk.

So, back to my original question: Do you know what you’ll find at the end of a rainbow? It turns out it’s not just my lilac bush and Concord grapes.

There’s treasure to be found.

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How Lovely Life Can Be

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hI sprawled on the chair in the family room, book in hand, feeling low-energy yet restless. From upstairs, a hum of voices floated down, punctuated by laughs and giggles. Addie and her friend, Kayla. Lydia was in her room, chatting online with her boyfriend. Kurt was at a meeting. Maybe we should go to the beach or do something, I thought idly. But I didn’t move.

A little bit later, Addie wandered downstairs and into the room. “Want to do something?”

“Well,” I said without much enthusiasm, “I was just thinking we could go down to the beach. It’s a little bit late, but it’s probably gonna be pretty down there.”

Addie floated the idea to Kayla and Lydia, and between the four of us we worked up some motivation and headed out. Half an hour later as we drove down the peninsula, we debated which part of the beach to visit. Should we go to the old fort where the seals sometimes fish and  frolic? Or should we visit the state park portion where wide open expanses of beach invite long strolls?

“Well, I think it’s almost low tide, so we could walk out to Fox Island,” I suggested. “That could be fun. We haven’t done that in ages.”

“I don’t remember ever walking out to an island!” Lydia protested. Despite our detailed descriptions, she couldn’t remember it at all. That settled it. Fox Island it was.

We pulled into the lot and parked, opening the doors to temperatures in the high 60s and a lovely afternoon glow. We walked up the path over the dunes, and the beach unfolded before us. Fox Island lay directly ahead, the large sandy causeway clearly visible. Already the sun was heading down, spilling golden light upon the wet sand.

“Oh, it’s beautiful!” I sighed.

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A few people wandered in the distance, silhouetted against sand or surf. Layers of mist obscured the shore line of islands and a distant light house. Over time, they drifted into the beach and then away again, veils hiding and revealing, in constant flux. Herring gulls strutted along the tide line, foraging, their reflections bright in the wet sand. DSCN5326.jpg

The girls and I meandered along the beach, stopping to snap pictures, gradually heading out to the island. As the sun slipped lower, the light shifted as we walked. At times it was so golden it felt surreal, at others cooler and toned with serene blues and greys.

We reached Fox Island and the girls climbed ahead onto the rocks. I stopped to watch them and to soak in the scene around me. Their voices and laughter drifted back in the cool air. The waves tumbled and crashed and the sun continued its slow golden descent. The mist shifted and skimmed over the sand. I closed my eyes briefly, etching it all into memory, fully content and deeply moved.

This beautiful place. These beautiful girls. This beautiful moment.

How lovely life can be.

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On Fox Island

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view from Fox Island

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The golden hour

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My girls tracking hermit crabs

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Pause already, darn it!

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hAs we walked along the trail, talking, a small pond appeared around the curve.

“Look, there’s a  heron!” Kurt said to me, pointing across the water. Then he promptly followed up with, “Oh, we spooked it.”

I looked up quickly and saw large grey-blue wings beating low across the water, and immediately fumbled for my camera. I knew there was no way I was going to capture the picture in time, but hoped perhaps the heron would settle further along the shore. I grabbed the case, opened it and got my camera in my hand. Meanwhile, I glanced up… just in time to see those wings gliding away and out of sight. I stopped and watched the last few seconds, marveling at the size and power of the bird and at the beauty of its flight.

Oh, I should just have watched him fly, I thought.

I had been so busy trying to get the camera out, that I had missed it.

I love taking photographs, but lately it’s occurred to me that sometimes I get so caught up in the photo opportunities, that I forget to simply enjoy what’s around me.

Pause, Molly, I reminded myself.

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The next morning I wandered down to the river park early to watch the sunrise. I took a few  pictures, and after a while headed over to a spot by the railroad tracks. The tracks cross at the base of a river junction here, and you get a lovely vantage of both rivers. I was hoping to listen to the song sparrow again, as he tends to frequent this spot.

DSCN4993.jpgThis morning as I climbed up, I heard a curious tapping sound. I walked over the tracks and looked down to the water and shore below. There I saw my new friend, the spotted sandpiper, whom I’d first encountered a few days earlier on the dock at the river park. It was bobbing along with its curious walk, pecking along the tidal shore line. I moved a bit closer to see what it was doing and …

Whoa!  What’s that!? There, much closer to the tracks and me, was a… beaver? muskrat? I wasn’t sure which it was, but it was thoroughly enjoying a breakfast of greens. Its thick brown fur lay sleek along its sides and water droplets glistened along its back.

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I struggled to remember the differences between muskrats and beavers. Obviously the tail is the easiest one, but this wily creature’s tail was hidden beneath the water. I know beavers are much larger, but how do you compare when you only have one species in front of you? It looked big to me, but…? I thought I remembered reading that muskrats weigh only about 4 pounds and this creature appeared to be many times that weight. I also had learned that when they swim, you can see much more of the muskrat’s back/body than the beaver’s. This one wasn’t swimming, but based on its size, I was pretty sure it was a beaver.

Thrilled, I took a few pictures and then suddenly it stopped eating, apparently just noticing me. It looked at me for a long moment, then turned and slipped into the water. Rats! I still couldn’t see its tail and now it was headed off for parts unknown. I walked along the tracks, hoping to see where it went. Trees and bushes interspersed along the edge of the track, hiding part of its progress.

Moving past a clump of trees, I spied it again. Wait! How much of its back is showing? Can I see its tail? There was a swirl of movement in the water. Wait! What? Two heads?? Whoa! There are two of them! They nudged up into each other gently and headed back into shallow water. Based on the size and their bodies in the water, I was now convinced they were beavers. Two beavers! I was so excited!

DSCN5207 (1).jpgAnd that’s when I made my mistake. Frustrated by intruding leaves that interfered with my focus, I tried to get closer.  Moving slowly, camera in hand, I crept forward, determined to get a fantastic photo. Instead of simply watching and enjoying the wonder of the moment, this unexpected second encounter, I edged back along the tracks. In an instant, I knew I’d spooked them. They splashed off into the water and veered into two separate directions. There was no coming back this time.

I’m still kicking myself about this. You’d think I’d have learned my lesson from my experience with the heron. But no, clearly, I still have a lot to learn about being in the moment and not always looking to get a tangible “prize” to take away with me. Sigh. Obviously, I’m a work in progress.

DSCN5203 (1).jpgI stayed a bit longer and watched a flight of swallows gather in the trees along the river’s banks. The song sparrow added his song to the scene, and a red squirrel and a yellow warbler of some sort stopped by as well. The beavers did not return.

Pause. Look. Listen. Be.

Like I said, a work in progress.