Humans & their Weird 5Ks: Tales of Molly the Dog

I’ve got to tell you, as a dog, I love humans, but I really don’t understand them. Take Les, the female human I live with. She spends hours each day tap-tapping words onto this little screen, when she could be petting me. (That’s how I learned to use this thing, sitting in her lap and watching her tap.) Les says she wants to write books someday and tapping stories onto the screen is good practice. But she’s so slow! She’ll type forty words, then take most of them out and spends an hour rearranging the rest. Then she gets discouraged and takes a bath. That’s where she is now, soaking in the hot water and stressed cause she’s having trouble telling you about the 5k. So I figured I’d tell you about it while she’s in the tub, and then she can take a break from tapping on the screen. But I’ve got to tell you, a 5K’s just one more proof of what I’ve always known: Humans are weird.

What the heck is a 5K?

That’s all Les talked about for days at a time, the 5K, the 5K, the 5K. That she was going to a 5K. That she had to prepare for it. That she was taking me with her, which is great, because I like going places with Les. And when she told me to get in the Jeep Saturday morning, I thought, “Oh, now I know what 5K means; it means we’re getting breakfast at Jack’s. Cause that’s where we always go on Saturday mornings. Boy was I wrong this time!

We drove and drove, right past Jack’s, and we didn’t stop for breakfast at all! Instead, Les kept talking about how I had to sit down, how I had to behave, how I was going to make new friends at the 5K. That ride went on forever. When she finally stopped it was by some sort of park, but was I allowed to play then? Nope, she snapped the leash onto my collar.

Pretty soon I saw lots of humans around, all wearing what Les calls exercise clothes. Most of them friendly but I was still waiting for this wonderful 5K to start.

Folks you know what a 5K is? It’s a bunch of humans driving for hours so they can run or walk on the ground. Not even the ground! Every human was moving on asphalt! Some of them were moving faster than others but none of them were doing what I call running. Not like when I race Les’s Jeep up the driveway. And most of them weren’t even going that fast. I couldn’t see why Les calls this “exercise.”

Now when I run, I run and I’m good at it. But Les was on the other end of that leash. So I decided if she wanted a “work out” I’d give her one. Between you and me, I pulled her through that 5K with her on the back end of the leash. Les is a good human, as humans go, but she sure needs to pick up her feet.

Humans aren’t the only ones who 5K

I will say I wasn’t the only dog in the group and that was pretty good. I like living with Les on the mountain but there aren’t many dogs around here. Not that I can hang out with. But there were lots of animals walking their humans on that path and I exchanged sniffs with quite a few of them. Never as long as I’d like, sorry to say. Humans may not have anyplace particular to go on a 5K and they sure aren’t going there in that much of a hurry but they don’t stop and visit either, like dogs do. They just keep going forward, pulling on that leash as if they’re in a slow and steady race to go nowhere.

Funny thing is, for all that slow and steady moving, by the end I was getting hot and tired. And Thirsty!!! For some reason, we ended up back where we began and the first thing Les did was fill my travel bowl with water. She’s nice that way. Then, all the humans stood around and made noises at each other (you know the way they do) while I laid on the pavement. See, there’s another way humans are weird. They get themselves all footsore and tired but will they lay down on the ground to cool off? Nope.

Well, dog’s aren’t that foolish. When we’re hungry, we eat, when we run, we run and when we tire out, we lay down and sleep. And I did, all the way back home, even though Les stopped half way and got me breakfast. I didn’t really want it but to be polite, I ate the ham she got me. And I ate her breakfast ham too.

See, I figure, we’re all in this life together (even cats) so we need to help each other out. Les keeps me warm and fed and dry and she keeps me safe during those loud thunderstorms. She looks after me. So, I look after her. I meet her Jeep when she drives toward the house. I flatten out the sheets on her bed. Heck, if she needs me, I may even go on another one of those 5Ks with her.

But trust me, Humans are Weird.

When The Earth is Your Closest Friend

Normally I spend hours writing these posts. But it’s late, and I’m sore from changing out yet another tire (different story) so let’s just get to the goods, shall we?

I. Know. A. Great. Story.

Trust me, you want to read it. Everyone else is reading and loving it right now and, for once, everyone else is right. Where the Crawdads Sing is a wonderful story about the heaven and hell of spending most of your life alone.

And we’re not talking Thoreau-in-Walden voluntary solitude here. The book opens with little Kya Clark watching her mother walk out of her life. No tears, no hug, not a wave goodbye, just a door slamming in their shack on the Marsh. And, once Mama goes, Kya’s siblings follow her down the road, until there’s only a six-year old trying to survive a live of privation and her hard-drinking Daddy. Finally, there’s no one’s left in the Marsh shack but Kya.  And the child has to provide for herself.

Kya grows up wise in ways of the natural world if unskilled when it comes to people.  Having no other guide, she tries to understand people in terms with the marsh beings she knows: how girls at play flock like gulls or the alpha-male in a playground of boys. But lack of skill and loneliness cause Kya to make mistakes when it comes to people, some that cost her dearly.  And that’s where the rest of the story comes in.

Death In the Swamp

Interspersed with Kya’s growth are chapters about a dead man, found in the swamp. How he got there, why he died, and the effect of his death on Kya forms the central mystery of the book but in the end, this is Kya’s story. And it’s a story that begs to be read.

Told in luminous prose, Where the Crawdads Sing, is a hymn to nature and and ambivalence in a life lived alone. It’s the story of a woman’s life, a Southern Novel and a murder mystery as well. And it’s so spellbinding, that, reading it, you can forget you’re stranded on the edge of an interstate, buffeted by the air rush of passing trucks, and facing a nasty wrecker bill. Instead, you’re in the cool, clean air of a North Carolina Marsh with a woman whose best friend is the earth.

Trust me, I know. It’s really that good. Now you should read it and know that too.

In the Aftermath of Devastation

There are times when fate knocks you down to your knees, when it’s hard just to draw your next breath. This happens with the big, bad events in our lives, when we hit losses that define us forever. Sometimes. a single event hits several people at once and the world tends to take notice, though never for long. But what happens once the funerals finish and the reporters leave to chase another story? Do the survivors continue to navigate the aftermath with a “stiff upper lip” or do they tumble headlong through the devastation? Hannah Pittard wants to know.

The Crash

Hannah looks at this question through the lens of one of the sadder stories I know. In June of 1963, a plane crashed near the Orly airport of France, and exploded into a gigantic fireball. 106 of the 122 passengers that died in that inferno were members of the fledgling Atlanta Art Association. Atlanta, in those days was still a fairly small city and those members all came from the same small, tight-knit group: the wealthy, well-born, educated, white, clique that wielded much of the town’s political clout. Their deaths tore a hole in the town’s wealthiest neighborhood and the downtown power structure.

In Visible Empire,Pittard charts the immediate aftermath of the crash mixing real-life with fictional characters. There are those that assume the mantle of duty at once, like the exhausted, nearly noble, Irwin Allen Jr. His mayoral responsibilities force him to compartmentalize his grief while identifying and burying his friends. There’s the fictional (I hope) Southern playboy who celebrates the deaths of his parents by squandering the assets they left him. Little lies and big ones come to light with the crash extending the range of devastation. And into all of this insanity comes a quiet meditation on race.

Atlanta’s Concurrent Tragedy

Although Mayor Allen, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, and their allies were working to desegregate Atlanta, it was still a City of the South, with a tortured racial history. Pittard compares the reverence for air-crash casualties to the denial and obscurity that follows victims of lynchings. Unlike the white, moneyed bereaved, Atlanta’s black citizens don’t have the luxury of falling apart, although one character tries. It is his journey, far from the plane crash of Orly that leads the second half of the novel.

There is much of the Orly tragedy I wish Pittard had written about; how the crash added a moral imperative to constructing the city’s Fine Arts Center; how a daughter in France learned of her mother’s death through a transatlantic phone call; how families assembled and reassembled their lives without the aid of professionals or support groups. But that will be the work of some other novelist. In the meantime, we have Visible Empire to remind us that all life is precious and the future uncertain.

In search of my New Year’s Day Miracle

Everybody has New Year’s traditions. Some people make and break lots of good resolutions. Some people serve black-eyed peas and greens. But that’s not my thing. While others are nursing hangovers or glue themselves to televised bowl games and parades, I’m outdoors, weather permitting, doing yard work. And I’m looking for my New Year’s Day miracle.

Yard Work?

There’s something so satisfying about clearing the yard, once the last of the leaves have fallen. You can rake and rake without breaking a sweat, and when you’re finished, there’s visible improvement. Actually, this is the small part of the year when I can get ahead on my weeding. Once growing season starts, it’s all I can do to stay even. And I quit once the temp gets too hot. So January and February are the months when I reclaim parts of the yard from the plant invaders, like kudzu. But New Years is not for reclaiming. It’s when I look for a miracle.

In Search of Spring

Now I’ll be the first to admit I don’t get along with Winter. It’s (usually) too wet and cold for my taste and I miss long, sunlit days. And, while I love where I live, we look kind of, well, shabby this time of the year. A little dirty and drab and run down. So I tend to spend the first day of the year in my yard, desperately seeking Signs of Spring. And, today I found them.

Know what these are? They are daffodil leaves and they’re growing in front of my house. On New Year’s Day. When winter’s just settling for 3 months of cold weather, these tough little flowers are sticking their heads above ground. The prospect of ice and snow doesn’t scare them (the way it scares me!). They’re growing, they’re daring to believe in Spring on the very first day of the year. That takes great Instinct…. or Nerve.

So daffodil leaves are my annual New Year’s Miracle and I hunt for them like a kid after Easter Eggs. I’m not ashamed. They’re a promise. A herald. An omen of change. And a great way to start the New Year.

Look like baby leeks, don’t they?

I think it’s Time for a Change

I started this blog years ago because I had a story to tell. A story about how two irreconcilable sisters learned to work together. Somebody told me before I could publish my book, I had to have readers which meant I needed to write a blog. When they asked what I could write a lot about, I replied, “Stories.”

Why Stories?

See, I think stories are the most powerful magic we wield. You can change a person’s future with a story. Think of all those people who started working toward law school once they read about Atticus Finch. The veterinarians who followed James Herriot into the profession. Think of the destruction caused by Mein Kamp.

But stories can change history as well. For centuries, Richard III has been vilified, not from the facts but because the next king spread nasty stories about him. And those stories made it into a great play. Sometimes the fictional story is so engaging, that we forget what really happened. Or a well-told story can rescue the truth from obscurity.

The thing is, stories, good stories, can undermine all our defenses. They let us see connections we were blind to before. They find the fear hiding deep in our hearts and linger in the corners of memory. They won’t let us go. Those are the tales I like to describe as “The Ones that Follow Us Home.

So What Will Change?

Well, I’ve spent 4 years writing (mostly) about stories other people have published and I think it’s time for a change. I still love taking about good books and I’ll continue to talk about some of those. But I want to change things up a bit.

I want to tell you some tales I care about that other folks haven’t written down. Ideas that have meaning for me. Stories that followed me home.

Like the tale of two little girls who believed they had nothing in common beyond a timeline and DNA. That’s a story still waiting to be told…some other day.