Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Interfering with Nature

Just as making 231 pies hasn’t been enough to heal my grief from Marcus, yesterday’s 10-mile bike ride to Selma was no cure for the heartache left by Mr. X. Not even close. So I went for another bike ride this afternoon. I left the house earlier this time which meant warmer temperatures and more daylight and therefore I planned to ride twice as far. I would have ridden the opposite direction, to the town of Floris, but then I would have had a headwind on the way home. If I hadn’t checked to see which way the wind was blowing my day may have turned out differently, better. But you can’t know these things until it’s too late.

Starting off on the same route as yesterday, I pedaled past the first town, called Selma, and was almost to the second town down the road from Eldon, called Douds, which was 10 miles from home and my designated turnaround point. But shortly before I reached the Douds junction I spotted a little brown bunny on the side of the road. I was expecting it to either dart out in front of my bike or run the other way into the grass. It didn’t move. So I stopped, got off my bike and took a look. It was a baby.

I see so much road kill on these rural highways, which always makes me sad. And it’s so much more in your face when you are on a bicycle. You get a close up view of the glazed over eyes of the once majestic but now fallen deer. You see the gory, bloody guts of the raccoons and opossums smeared all over the pavement. You see much more when you are going 15 mph than you would traveling at 55. Too much.

I didn’t want to see this bunny become another victim of the road. But should I interfere with nature?

I always remember that Ray Bradbury story, “A Sound of Thunder,” how when a group of adventurers travels back in time to hunt dinosaurs they are warned to “stay on the path” because interfering with nature – killing things that weren’t already destined to die anyway – could alter the entire course of history. One of the time-travelers steps on a butterfly and the world is forever changed. (For the worse.)

Maybe picking up a bunny off the side of the road isn’t quite that extreme. But it could potentially alter the balance of nature. The bunny was surely injured and therefore easy prey for another animal, a fox or a hawk, perhaps. In trying to save its life I may subsequently be robbing a hungry animal of a meal and in turn altering its chance for survival.

I thought about leaving it there. But then I thought about Marcus. Or, more specifically, WWMD. What would Marcus do? Marcus was the kind of guy who valued life so much he couldn’t bear to throw out an avocado pit. He saved them all – and seeing that avocados were a staple in our diet we had buckets of those pits collecting in our house. Marcus would have insisted on helping the bunny. So I set aside my “let nature run its own course” philosophy, scooped up the baby, and carried it over to a safe spot, away from the highway, next to a barn.

I had a hard time just leaving it there, so I stayed with it for a while. I sat down with my back leaning against the side of the barn, cradling the bunny in my arms. It laid still, its breathing steady.

My bike was still lying by the side of the road so cars passing by probably thought I’d had some mechanical mishap. If they could have seen the tears streaming down my face, they would know the problem was with my heart and not, say, a flat tire. I was overcome with sadness and couldn’t stop myself from crying for life -- and for death. For this innocent little bunny struggling to live. For the dead deer and raccoons I had just passed a few miles back. For Marcus and his life cut short. And of course it was bound to happen, the tears finally flowed for Jim -- oops, I mean Mr. X. I had ridden bikes with him on this same route just two weeks earlier and the memory underscored how deeply I had fallen for him and how much I was missing him.

I sat there a while longer, forgetting that I was supposed to be exercising and not crying – and certainly not channeling Dr. Dolittle. But there I was, wet cheeks and all, studying the little bunny a little closer. Its right eye was dull and crusted over. I thought about how I could clean it out with saline solution and a warm washcloth when I got home. Home? If I took it home then what? Take it to the vet, for starters. Then I thought about what I would name it – if it was a girl, then Xena, as in Warrior Princess, for conquering her battle of survival. I thought about how my life might change having to care for a bunny, perhaps a crippled one as it had most likely been hit by a car. I thought about how my two terriers love to chase bunnies but I would teach them to respect this one. The bunny would play outside with us while I throw the stick for the dogs. The animals would eat their meals together. There would be room for the bunny to sleep in my king-size bed. And we would all live happily ever after in the American Gothic House. Oh dear.

I rode home with the bunny zipped up in my bike jacket, occasionally taking one hand off the handlebars to hoist the little thing higher so the pumping of my legs didn’t disturb it. I could feel the heat of its body so I knew it was still alive. And several times it tried to wriggle free, which I took as a good sign.

Once I got home I put it in a large cardboard box, the one I had used to transport 60 pounds of apples home from Aldi last week. I put a soft towel in the box. I chopped up some cabbage. I tried to get some water to its lips by dripping it off my finger toward its mouth. And then I felt the tension fill my body. I wasn’t sure this little creature was going to make it through the night.

One of my sources of solace (which I forgot to mention in my list yesterday) is a hot bubble bath. So while the bunny lay in the cardboard box, dazed and confused and wondering how it ended up in a box on the kitchen table inside this crazy woman’s house, I soaked my own dazed and confused body in steaming hot water. The water was so hot that I needed to go lay down afterward, drained as if I’d come out of sauna. I rested in my bed for a half hour and returned downstairs with plans to shred some carrots for my new little friend – potential family member.

I peered into the box and saw the bunny’s head was tilted back in an awkward position. It was lying on its side with its eye open. I had a bad feeling. I reached down and stroked its light brown fur and felt the coldness of its body. Hard. Lifeless. Like Marcus lying in his casket.

I must have thought by saving the bunny I could make everything right with the world again. I was sure I possessed magical powers to keep this baby alive. Because I certainly hadn’t considered what would happen if the little thing died. Right there on my kitchen table. But grief is familiar to me. I know what to do with it. The guttural screams emitting from deep inside my body no longer frighten me. I let them come because I know that the energy of pain and despair needs to be released -- MUST be released -- and with that release comes some relief. Until the next time. All I can say is that it's a good thing my neighbors are too far away to hear me.

Tomorrow I will bury the bunny in my backyard and say a little blessing for it. And if after that I feel up for another bike ride I will, regardless of the wind, most definitely go the other direction.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Pie Heals. Just When You Think it Doesn't

Pie heals. Pie heals. Pie heals. Pie heals. Pie heals. How many more times do I have to keep saying this? And how many more pies do I have to make before I heal? According to my calculations I've made 231 pies in the 14 and a half months since Marcus died. And yet there is still a deep and bitter heartache that lingers. Then, adding grief upon grief, I recently took the risk of trying to love again. Yes, there has been a new man in my life. Sort of. No, I have not told many people about him. Maybe because it was just too soon, or more likely because I knew the relationship wasn't viable. (The man of my affection lives on the East coast and isn't, shall we say, "available.") Regardless of the myriad reasons – er, limitations – it just didn’t work out (as much as I wanted it to.) So rather than lose my balance completely in this impossible situation, I read him his Last Rites on Saturday and promptly went running back into the therapist's office -- a.k.a. my kitchen. To make more pie. Pie heals. Pie heals. Pie heals.

X marks the spot. We did make a cute couple.
I made a few pies, but not enough to keep up with sales at my Pitchfork Pie Stand. And not nearly enough to extract Mr. X out of my already wounded heart. (Really. What was I thinking? That I would actually have the capacity to be in a relationship again so soon? Even if I was ready for love, I simply wasn't discerning enough and picked someone who couldn’t reciprocate fully.)

So on Sunday morning, before any pie customers showed up at my door, I spent several hours back in therapy. I measured the flour, worked in the butter and shortening, added the ice water, and kneaded the whole lot together. Mind you, I was careful not to take out my frustrations on my precious pie dough. At least not right away. The aggression came in the next stage, rolling out the dough with my Big Wooden Pin. (Wielding that potential weapon in my hand it's a good thing Mr. X was 2,000 miles away!) I took that rolling pin and flattened that dough into submission, using short, hard strokes to stretch the dough into shape, and leaning my whole body weight onto the butcher block table. Take that! And that! I rolled out at least 40 crusts, and took great satisfaction in pinching the edges of each one -- If you can't commit, Mr. X, then here's what you get...crimp, crimp, crimp. I was putting so much muscle into it you could see the veins in my forearms popping out. Ouch!

That was Sunday. Today was Monday, and upon waking realized I had a freezer full of pie shells and a heavy heart. Very heavy. And no customers. Pitchfork Pie Stand is closed on Mondays. I didn't need to make any more pie -- couldn’t make anymore anyway as there was no room in the refrigerator -- so I was forced to seek out other forms of solace.

Eat? Of course! I pigged out all day on a burger and fries, brownies, banana bread, chocolate, and the ultimate comfort food (sorry, pie) – mashed potatoes. No amount of calories could ease the heartache. And only made me feel worse.

Drink? Absolutely. A glass of red wine a day is good for your health. So say the French. In my state, two would be in order.But I didn't want to wake up with a headache to add to the heart.

Cry? Been there, done that. For the past 14 months straight to be exact. Mr. X didn’t die a tragic death at a far-too-young age so, really, no need to sob over him. I already hit rock bottom when Marcus died, and the “disappointment” of Mr. X is a mere speed wobble compared to that. Amazing what a little perspective will do for you. Sigh.

Call all my closet girlfriends and kvetch? Luckily Melissa answered her phone on the second ring and provided a willing ear. We’ve been friends for many years, long before I met Marcus. She is the kind of friend who rushed back from her summer vacation in Maine to be with me after Marcus’ funeral in Portland. And today, this athletic, adventurous friend with whom I’ve done several triathlons propped me up yet again with a simple, gentle suggestion. “Go for a bike ride,” she said.

And so I did. I put on my warm fleece to shield myself from the late afternoon autumn chill. I coasted downhill to the highway and followed the river to the next town. I put my head down and focused on the slick black asphalt of the road beckoning me forward. My muscles burned as my legs pumped up and down. The blood flowed faster and faster through my arteries. The oxygen energized my lungs. The cold air flushed my cheeks and invigorated my nostrils. As if the bodily sensations were not perfect enough, a red tail hawk flew in front of me. And then I saw a deer grazing in a field. As I was taking in all this stimulus, I was reminded of how empowered I feel when I exercise. I was reminded of how much I love riding my bike, and how much I love riding my bike in nature. I was reminded that no matter who is in my life, Marcus or Mr. X or anyone else, whether or not I’m widowed or disappointed by a relationship or finding new love, I will be okay. My dad always calls me a survivor. And that’s what I will continue to do: Survive.

I pedaled faster and harder, and with each gulp of hay-scented country air, my heart felt a little lighter, a little bit healed.

I continued to move along at a good clip on my sleek racing bike, admiring the sun setting over the plowed fields. The sky, turning pink, was glowing and gorgeous. I was so absorbed in this moment of nature’s beauty and reveling in my newly invigorated spirit that I -- kid you not -- rode right over a pile of cow manure splattered on the road. A cow pie! I could only laugh. The lesson was clear. All I had to do was take a break from the kitchen to see it. I had been right all along: Pie heals.