Sunday, March 07, 2010

Green and Blue in Tatters

Feeling prose-y.

The juniper/cedar pollen plague having finally lifted, I have lit out again for the territories: in this case, we are talking nothing more ambitious than the Salado Creek Waterway trail that is just a hop, skip, and a quiet jump across a drainage ditch that separates this neighborhood from that. Down Highcliff for a quarter of a mile, then left down into the green psychic disarray that is the Salado and its trail. All this land was once the Tobin family's Oakwell Farms, so there are tendrils that run off into the woods, up thicketed rises, down to drying creekbeds, now that the recent rains have faded down aquifer-way. I was almost of a mind to follow one of the tendrils yesterday, but I was on a bit of a schedule, so I earmarked them for later.

For the record, Robert Tobin was the flamboyant heir of an aerial photography magnate. Horseman who, as a youth, rode his horses through the same wilds I now slog: grew to be a lover of opera and modern art. The once Oakwell Library that is my home away from home is now, thanks to a $100,000 infusion from the Tobin Foundation, the Tobin Library at Oakwell Farms. (That change was not without some local fury. Fury: "You would change the name of a 40 year-old library for an obvious bribe?" Biblioteca: "Yep.") Frequenter of the Met in Manhattan, RT donated a vast theatrical archive and library to our local modern art museum, the McNay (he and Marion Koogler McNay were bosom buddies). At the Tobin trailhead of my stretch of the Salado, a life-sized bronze replica of him sits, in his ubiquitous full-length natty black cape: one of the least likely folk you might expect to see, greeting you and sending you off on your morning or afternoon's meditations. Like, say, Judy Garland's wishing you well, as you step into your kayak on Austin's Colorado Riverbank. (You won't find Judy there, but you'll sure find Stevie Ray Vaughan.)

The Salado trail is, among other things, a trash heap of green sublimity: not for any intent: when the torrential rains come a-calling, the Salado is quick to flood, submerging trail and woods and banks, leaving behind ragged strips of plastic trash strewn throughout the trees.

I am, sadly, a fastidious hiker, spoiled by Austin's pristine Barton Creek greenbelt and innumerable trails in New Hampshire, Vermont, and all over the Pacific Northwest. I am blessed to have the Salado so easily within reach, I cherish its quiet, and yet the trash in the trees never fails to rankle this prettyboy ambler.

Yesterday was a particularly gorgeous grey overcast morning: well into the day's 5-mile hike, I was walking back from a chattering waterfall: I looked across into a stand of woods, lithe brown and gray limbs in the usual festooned tatter. Graceful image falls into cranium: prayer flags. In all the trees up and down the miles of creekmurmur, prayers hanging, for all to see, to hear, to pray forward.

We shall see if the notion holds. They usually do.

* * *

I am not a willing servant. I serve when I (choose to) serve, and I do so cheerfully and (mostly) gracefully in those moments, but I do not go out of my way to serve. I see my work as a daily service, so I see my "free" time as mine to squander. Tina definitely has the larger heart and will reach out at any time, when so moved. I will follow and do my part, but not without an ample dose of curmudgeonly grousing, whether openly or just under the sonar. Once there on the spot, I do a good job of putting the curmudgeon safely away, and invariably, at least 9 out of 10 times, I come away very happy with having been there.

Case in point:

A week and half ago, I fled for three days into the Texas hills to Camp Eagle, three faculty members and 23 freshmores. A tiring, yet invigorating time, and a time when we all invariably move closer together, staff, kids, and all. I always look forward to these times, even if my first inclination is NOT to rappel backwards down the 200 feet of canyon rockface. Second inclination always guides me down, but still . . .

By the time we return on Friday afternoon, all in our various nature raptures, my inner clock is ready for a quiet retreat.

Tina warned me this year, however, that come Saturday night, we would be heading over to P and B's house, to sit for their four babes, while they head off for an almost never-to-be-had date. The entire family has been slammed for some time with a destiny that seems unfairly stacked against them: P has been battling cancer for some time now; four year-old N battled her own brain cancer for the first 18 months of her life; and three year-old D is autistic. The three others, though physically unscathed, have certainly battled their own fears and demons in the wake of fate's avalanche. Through all this, you would be hard-pressed to find a stronger band of witnesses to Joy, such a gentle crew of love bunnies.

N, now fully recovered, is a force of nature, full force gale, and because of my willingness to hang with her and dote upon her epic-laden energy, I have been dubbed her "buddy." She envisions me, I'm sure, as about five years old: this is not the first time such an attribution has been made to me as an adult. She is always fun, but you best be ready for a marathon run when you're visiting. At Christmas, we gave the whole family a glass angel tree ornament: N quickly claimed it as assuredly meant for her alone and given to her solely by her "buddy." It sits on her nightstand, and woe to anyone who might try to 'splain things differently to the babe. During a recent big storm, she apparently was very concerned that my mother should go to school and get me home, because she was sure that I was probably very scared.

I have to admit to being both quietly fascinated and intimidated by D's autism. He roams through his world, replete with its own laws and logics, and when we are visiting, I've noticed that he always makes contact with me: he'll roll up close to me and periodically take my hand for a few moments in passing.

I wasn't sure if, after three days of ninth graders, I'd be ready for the D-N axis of things.

Much to my "buddy's" chagrin, I was initially commandeered by D, taken by hand into the back yard for some basketball, in which he insisted upon my picking him up to dunk the ball. This was Teletubbies' "again, again" X 20. A quick kick of a soccer ball redirected us at long last, and then I made a move that I might have lived to regret, save for the blessings that came with it.

After the soccer digression, it seems Mr D wanted to be placed atop the Fisher Price clubhouse: for, as it turned out, the next hour and a half, with me frozen in place as "spotter." (Of course, by this time, I had been officially been demoted from buddy-hood by Ms N, who trundled off into the house with new buddy Tina.) Once I surmised the trap I'd fallen into, there was a moment of panic (okay, moments), but the more I watched D's face exulting under a glorious blue blue blue sky, the more I relaxed into his energy of bliss, as he listened into the silence of every little rising sound around us - car whish, train whistle, bird call, dog scrabble, around and around in the blue. He was fascinated by the shadows he cast in the dying sun. He'd wave goodbye to every plane that flew over, and then at one point he looked up into the blue blue, looked at me, and shouted BA-DIE, which I took to mean BLUE SKY! We riffed on that for several minutes, returning to it again and again.

Well, we did finally make it back into the house, where, spelled by Tina, I was able to regain buddy status with Dame N. Not without some four year-old chastening first, of course.

My infernal pre-grousing notwithstanding, the heart widens, and the soul deepens, with such blessings.



Blogger jsd said...

Such beautiful moments of grace.

3:17 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

jsd: Happy to have them fall on me . . .

5:18 PM  
Blogger Dee Martin said...

It is always amazing that the very people you think will need the most of you, end up giving you so much more than you ever had.

9:19 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

I agree, Dee. That goes for N, D, and all the kids at the Instituto. Peace.

10:11 PM  
Blogger Teresa said...

Thanks for sharing this beautiful, soul-baring prose so we can all enjoy the benefits of your giving :)

10:51 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

You are welcome, Teresa. And thank you for reading it.

5:36 AM  

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