I’m a morning kind of guy and like to sit out on my deck with a hot cup of coffee so that I can watch the world wake up. Across the lane from me is a canal with an easement road on the other side of it. A variety of persons use the dirt road: runners, groups of kids going to school, and a few walkers. There is one who stands out among them.
She comes round three or four times a week with her dog. The road is gated and ends just where my back yard sits across from it and instead of turning around and making her way home like everyone else, she’ll sit there on the bank of the canal. This is one of the reasons she stands out; what kind of person stops and just watches the water?
I mean, this girl watches the water. Her pose does not change for moments at a time (she’s inevitably interrupted in her meditations by the dog as it shakes off the water from its coat right next to her after a dip in the canal). She seems purposeful in her thought. What is it she ponders, I wonder myself as warm coffee keeps out the cool morning chill, or does she? Maybe she only notices the sway of the algae in the current and thinks of nothing else. Perhaps just the action of the water dragging against a low hung tree branch is enough to encapsulate her thoughts.
Whatever the content of her imaginations, it must be important for her to sit there and commune with her surroundings as she does. She makes it a point. An appointment, in fact, with herself and her world with which she seems to interact on as intimate a level as anyone I’ve seen in my long life.
Take her dogs for example. I’ve seen her with two over the years. The one with her this morning she’s only had for a while, still a pup. The first one must have passed on. I watched one morning as it chased a squirrel and fell over on its side in convulsions. She ran to the animal, soothed it, calmed it, and after a while she picked it up to carry it to where ever home was. Their walks were less frequent after that, and then one week she was back on schedule, this time with a small black thing that is now a big black thing. She’s good with the dog. She’ll call it to her on occasion, rewarding it with some treat or other. She makes it sit and does so with just a slight hand gesture, impressive.
Besides the way she interacts with her dogs there are other clues to her connection with nature. She almost always touches the low hanging tree limbs of the aged oak tree that provides a canopy over the easement road. She can call a horse or two to the fence and pet them. There are times I see her with a feather tucked in her hat; once I watched her reach among the reeds to claim a nice size turkey feather. She promptly stuck it in her hair.
She always has a baseball hat on. She pulls her long hair through the opening in the back. They vary in color and insignia and I’ve queried on some quiet mornings if she chooses the hat specifically or randomly?
Specifically, I think. She dresses neatly and appropriate to the weather. She walks upright, shoulders square, eyes in front (this too sets her apart since most walk with a slumped shoulder or head down). She’s fit so she doesn’t slack in the exercise department. These are the actions of a person who is deliberate in her choices. Which particular hat to wear must weigh in her mind I would think.
There’s a bit of a rebel in her despite the meticulous presentation. I notice a few tattoos, on the ankles and forearms (I suppose I could make them out if I employed my binoculars, but I’m not one to be that nosy. Besides, I sort of like the mystery). They hint at a kind of contradiction, I think. Proper in just about every way, the ink belies the undercurrent of an unorthodox life, especially in this conservative town. The contrast makes her even more mysterious: does she know what the conflict is? Has she made peace with herself over it, or is it something she still navigates? I’ll never know, most likely, but the preponderance is worth my time somehow. Maybe I’ll find answers to my own contradictions.
She’s taught me a couple of things, and that’s saying something for this old man. She taught me to just watch. The power of observation and quiet is a tool I am happy to have acquired, thanks to her. She’s taught me to be freer. She apparently is unaware that she’s observed since all her actions are without restraint, without inhibition. She is open to her world more than any other person I have seen, and the example inspires me. She’s sure to have her faults, she’s human after all. But she seems to live on a more interactive level of life than most and I for one am fascinated by her ability to do so.
She’s come and gone for the day which means my time for musing should come to an end as well. Those chores aren’t gonna do themselves. Thanks for listening.
*author’s note: Aldous Huxley sez, ” To see ourselves as others see us is a most salutary gift.” The Doors of Perception, 1954. The quote hounded me and this short story is the result of its persistence. I turned it into a writing exercise, a challenging one at that. It’s tempting to divulge too much, give away a small detail, or step out of character and yield to my own interpretation. I’m not so sure I succeeded in every way, its difficult to remain objective about oneself, but the introspection was worth. Keep writing kids……Frankie.