Observation

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As evening approached, something nudged me to look out the window. Sure enough, there in the misty field, a deer foraged. Grabbing my camera, I tiptoed outside, easing the door open and then closed.  

I rounded the corner stealthily, but as I had sensed its presence, so it sensed mine. It raised its head. Our eyes locked. We both stood still. My hands froze around my camera, stopping its ascent.

Time seemed to stop and swell, to ripen, as we stared at each other. I felt the weight of the camera in my hands, the hard ridged plastic of the telephoto lens against my motionless fingers. The catbirds sang back and forth in the nearby trees, and a woodpecker drummed. From far away, I heard the faint whine of a lawnmower. Still, we held each other’s eyes.

A minute passed.

Then another.

Finally, one of the deer’s ears twitched. It took a big step backward, easing out of the thicket of shrubs. I held my breath, remaining still, my camera clenched by my side. Motionless.

DSC_1032.jpgThe deer suddenly exhaled a loud warning “Huff!”, turned and bounded across the field, its white flag of a tail flying high. I quickly raised my camera and snapped a few pictures, expecting it to disappear into the trees. Instead, to my surprise, it stopped at the edge of the field, turned and looked back at me. I froze, camera raised to my eye, as it stared at me.DSC_1035 (1).jpg

After a long minute, I retreated around the corner of the house. Perhaps if I left, I thought, the deer might return to peacefully eat the shrubs. I stood for a moment or two on the front deck, then carefully peeked around the corner. The deer was still standing there, silently staring in my direction.

Once again, our eyes met.

As I backed away slowly, I wondered just who was observing whom.

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Turtle Guilt

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hDriving to work recently, I noticed a turtle crossing the pavement on the other side of the road. There was no place to pull over safely, so I kept going. As I drove on and up the curving hill, I glanced back over my shoulder.

Hurry up, little guy!

The distance between us was growing.

Maybe there’s somewhere up ahead I can stop…but it’s probably a snapping turtle… Ugh!

Still, I should really pull over, walk back and move it…

I looked at the edge of the road. There still wasn’t a great spot to pull over. I looked down at my sandal clad feet. Clearly nudging the turtle with my foot (which I have done in the past) wasn’t an option.

If I try to pick it up, its head is going to whip around, its jaw will open and SNAP! that’ll be the end of my finger! Darn it. I should have clicked on that video link I saw on Facebook the other day. Then I’d know how to move it safely. 

While my internal monologue droned on, I continued driving, each moment moving farther and farther away, from both the turtle and from the likelihood of moving it.  Just stop!  I told myself, beginning to feel like someone who abandoned a puppy, or didn’t call 911. Guilt spread on me like a greasy stain, but I kept going, rationalizing why I wasn’t stopping — It was almost to the edge, wasn’t it? It wasn’t safe for me to pull over. I have so much to do at work! My fingers! The next driver will surely stop.

The next driver.

When I drove by that spot the next day on the way to work, I slowed way down. My eyes scanned the pavement, searching for a tell-tale smudge. Nothing. I’d like to say I felt relieved, and I did, but mostly I still felt guilty. I should have stopped. 

Even now, weeks later,  I still feel uncomfortable that I didn’t stop, though I have that defensive queue of excuses lined up tidily in my head. But most of those excuses are pretty thin. Really, I chose not to act because it wasn’t convenient and because I was scared–of a small snapping turtle. Ultimately, I hoped that someone else would do what I should have done. But, as one of my colleagues is fond of saying, “You don’t want to be that guy.” And I don’t. I want to be the driver who stops, not the one who keeps going.

So, after writing this, I decided to go back to Facebook and watch the video to eliminate at least one of my excuses. Honestly, after doing so, I’m not sure I feel much better about moving a snapping turtle, but at least I’ll have a starting point.

I’d Rather Not Take “Fun and Games” for $500 or How Jeopardy Tipped Me Over the Edge

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hBack in college I had a good friend whom I began to avoid. I loved him dearly, but at some point during our years together, he went through a prolonged Eeyore phase. Every time I approached him, I learned to anticipate doom and gloom.

“How’s it going?” I’d ask tentatively.

“Not good,” he’d inevitably reply (and that was on an up day!).

Then, he’d elaborate. Whatever the opposite of rose-colored glasses is, he was wearing them, and he never hesitated to share his pessimistic world view.

I’m not proud of myself, and perhaps I could have been a more stalwart friend, but sometimes I avoided him and his unrelenting negativity–a quick duck into the student center, a turn down Main Street, whatever it took. Not all the time, but sometimes.

Unfortunately, it has occurred to me recently that I might be becoming that person.

This past week, there was a non-mandatory Open Enrollment Health Insurance meeting after school. I decided to go because I had a few questions. My oldest is getting kicked off my insurance (aged out!) and I’d received a confusing form about that, and my middle daughter is on better insurance through her new job, so I needed to delete her from our plan. 

After school was over, I straightened up a few things, then rushed upstairs into the meeting, hoping to ask my two questions and be on my way. Unfortunately, the presenter had other plans. My heart sunk when I saw that she was busy setting up the overhead projector to display a Jeopardy-like screen.

What?!?! I thought we were just asking questions!

I’ll take “Deeply Concerned” for $200.    

“Someone recently told me that when I start talking about benefits, they fall asleep,” she said. “So, I decided to create a Jeopardy game.”

While I sat there, my jaw on the ground, my to-do list making like rabbits, and the clock ticking toward my meeting with a parent in 23 minutes, she proceeded to divide the room into teams.

“This isn’t happening,” I thought. “This can’t be happening. I know her creativity is admirable. I really do. But I don’t have time to play insurance Jeopardy. I don’t want to play insurance Jeopardy. I have two questions. Just two questions.”

I’ll take “On the Brink” for $300.

Next, she went over the categories. Honestly, I don’t remember what they were. I think I blacked out temporarily. When I came to, the first team had asked for some category or other for $400. They seemed to be entering into the spirit of things.

I’ll take “Who Are These People?” for $400.

“OMG,” I thought, “I am feeling incredibly antagonistic about this whole thing and I need to leave before I blurt out something awful…or simply scream. But really…how is this reasonable? Health insurance? Jeopardy? In May?? AHHHH! Please just tell me what I need to know so I can cross one more ridiculous thing off my list and move on to the next one!”

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Edward Munch’s The Scream

Ten minutes later, we had uncovered three squares (out of  30!!) and learned about open enrollment dates, health plan choices and vision benefits. None of which helped me. I muttered something to one of my team members. It may not have been intelligible. It may have been a subdued guttural scream. I don’t really remember, but I knew I had to escape. I literally felt like my head was going to explode. So, I left, aware that my degree of distress was irrational, but still feeling extremely frustrated, and with my two questions unanswered.

I walked downstairs and into my colleague’s classroom.

“How’d it go?” she asked, turning from her computer.

“It was a torture chamber!” I announced dramatically.

That’s when it struck me. I realized that I might just be becoming that person–the one others are ducking to avoid. Here’s this nice, motivated HR woman going out of her way to make educating us about health insurance fun. And how do I respond? Practically antagonistically! It was just one more thing taking up too much time in a long list of one more things. And then I had to interrupt other people’s valuable time to tell them about it. I’m not exactly a ray of sunshine here. Clearly, I have to work on this.

But for now, I need to e-mail the well-intentioned HR person to get my questions answered. I guess I should have just done that in the first place.

I’ll take “Hindsight” for $500.

 

Time Traveling With John Smith

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Captain John Smith sits on my desk. To be more precise, he stands there. I found him a while back, tucked in a closet corner, forgotten. I picked him up and assessed his condition. He was missing some accessories–his helmet and one leg protector were gone, and the sword I dimly recalled was nowhere in sight–but overall, he seemed to be in fighting condition. He must have fallen out of some haphazardly packed box of my son’s childhood ephemera. I carried him downstairs to place him on my desk.

On our journey downstairs, I idly wondered about the original historic John Smith. What did he really look like? Was he tall, blond and muscular? Did he have all his teeth? What did Pocahontas see in him? I imagined the real man was probably vastly different than this bold Disney-ified version. 

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It’s been a couple of weeks since then, and John Smith is still standing on my desk. I like him there. He strikes an interesting note amidst the writerly clutter, and I stop and look at him from time to time. I never did google him. I don’t wonder about his appearance or his life now. I don’t think about his story. Instead, when I look at him, I always think about my son. I remember him playing with this treasured figure, and oh-so-many others, devising elaborate scenarios of derring-do and rescue. I remember his small hand clutching John Smith about his trim waist, moving him to and fro and his young voice artificially deepening to create his version of an adult masculine voice. It never fails to make me smile.

Note: I saw my son this past weekend. He’s 25 now, almost 26, and I mentioned to him that I’d found his John Smith figure. He immediately grinned. I could feel the sands of time shift for him as well.

 

SOL–Dawn at Scarborough Marsh

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On a chilly morning in April, there is a subdued beauty to the marsh. Filled with subtlety and variation, it’s a sensory feast. The sky transitions from peach to brilliant gold, lighting the mist that lies low over the grassy hummocks and tide-carved channels. The promise of color lies hidden in silhouettes. The rising sun rays brush the low-lying mist, setting it aglow. They light the feathery edges of fern grass with an amber glow and caress the bellies of flying mallards against brilliant blue skies. Gulls call and crows caw. The air is chilly and permeated with the deep rich scent of damp earth and the organic tang of swampy water. Song sparrows rustle and flit from shrub to shrub, intermittently singing their sweet notes. A great blue heron picks its way through the shallows. It’s a glorious place to greet the new day.

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Some people say there’s no magic in the world. Clearly, they have never have walked in the marsh at sunrise.

NPM 2019 Paint Chip Poetry

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I thought I was all worn out after last month’s SOL writing challenge. Phew! No daily writing deadlines. Less pressure! More time for….other stuff. Woohoo!

56157671_2292250211056165_7153227001665421312_nBut… it’s National Poetry Month. There are challenges and invitations everywhere! Much to my surprise, I’ve found myself “Playing Around with Poetry”. I’m still not quite sure who gets credit for issuing the initial invitation, but think it was Mary Lee Hahn. I know that Jone MacCulloch, Margaret Simon and Christie Wyman are playing along. Yesterday, I gave in to temptation and messed around with my own version of some Paint Chip Poetry.

This morning, much to my surprise, I couldn’t resist trying again. I changed it up a bit, deciding to pull out three random strips and point at one color on each strip without looking. I pulled: “dapper tan”, “papaya”, and “euphoric lilac.”

Spring Dawn

One plump sparrow
with dapper tan stripes
forages beneath the euphoric lilac
heavy with exuberant blossoms
whose scent drifts up
to sweeten the
papaya-streaked sky

(rough draft)©2019 Molly Hogan

SOLC 2019 Day 31: “We’ll Leave the Light on For You”

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March 2019 SOLC–Day 31
A huge thank you to Two Writing Teachers for all that they do to create an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write, learn, share and grow.

http://www.twowritingteachers.org

It had been a long satisfying day. I’d begun the day at sunrise at the river watching an incredible natural display of spring exuberance. Then, I’d come home to write and was thrilled by some unexpected new visitors at the bird feeder.

MOLLYCARD_WEB_SIZE.jpgAfter that, I spent three hours gallery sitting at the last day of an exhibit of my photos at a local art center. I returned home to finish off my blog post and pack, and then we were off to drive to Massachusetts for a celebratory dinner with my son and his fiancee and her family. Instead of trying to drive the 2+ hours back home, we’d decided to stay overnight.

After dinner, we were both more than ready to get to our motel, check in and settle into bed with our books. We left the restaurant with hugs and goodbyes, and headed toward our destination: a Motel 6 about 30 minutes away. On the way, we recalled Tom Bodett reciting their quaint welcoming slogan, “We’ll leave the light on for you.”

I hunched over the wheel, working my way through the unaccustomed traffic, following the narrated GPS directions to the hotel, eager to arrive. As I merged across multiple lanes of traffic and made various quick stops and turns, I remembered how much I don’t like driving at night and in the city. Around us, to my country eyes, our surroundings looked increasingly ugly and somewhat sketchy.

Where was this hotel anyway?

Finally, we saw the Motel 6 sign up ahead.

“There it is!” Kurt said.

Ah, relief was at hand!

“Stay to the right, then make a sharp right onto Popes Lane,” the GPS voice directed.

In the midst of the unattractive suburban concrete sprawl, I turned as directed and then maneuvered into the motel parking lot.

“Go that way,” Kurt said, pointing.

“Slain,” the GPS voice suddenly announced as if she were a tour guide on some grisly sensational murder tour.

“What?” I asked, looking at Kurt. He looked as confused as I felt.

The voice continued, “to kill violently, wantonly, or in great numbers; broadly, to strike down, kill.”

We both turned and looked at the motel, trying to make sense of this unsolicited announcement. Why was the GPS suddenly narrating the definition of slain? To make things even odder, Kurt doesn’t even have voice activation on his phone, and this was simply the default GPS narrator.

“Well, that’s a bit alarming,” I finally said.

Kurt and I looked at each other and then again at the waiting motel. What!?!

As I moved the car forward and into a parking spot, we eyed the hotel with growing trepidation.

The helpful GPS voice then intoned, “You have arrived at your destination.”

We looked at each other and burst out laughing at the strangeness of it all. Then, we both glanced at the motel again. Suddenly, that famous Motel 6 slogan, “We’ll leave the light on for you”, seemed a bit less charming than it had before.