“If you go slowly enough, six or seven months is an eternity—if you let it be—if you forget old things, and learn new ones. Even a week can last forever.”
Rick Bass, Winter

"In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."
Albert Camus

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Day 108: The Way There and the Way Back

Part I: Hair Piece

On Wednesday when I took Zoe to her oncologist's appointment I decided to do something other than loiter in a nearby coffee shop for seven hours and then lurk in the waiting room, making people nervous.  I drove downtown to the Byward Market and got my hair cut.

The last time I had my hair cut was in early December, a week into this project of meditating and posting every day for 108 days.  So until this Wednesday I could measure the passage of time not just in posts written, words accumulated, but in hair.  It was getting rather straggly and dried out at the ends.

On the way to my hair appointment in December, I had stopped at a little store that sold clothing made of organic cotton and other fair trade products. There, I came upon a human/canine duo that made my heart sing.  A woman with blond dreadlocks was behind the cash register; her little gray poodle, Java, whose hair was long and curly and not fashioned in the usual poodle way, was in a basket beside her.   The two were clearly soul mates, and they exuded so much peace that I found myself hanging about and buying something just so I could bask in the goodness.  I also wanted to find out how Java came into her life, and it is an inspiring story.   To read this post on human/canine soul mates you can go to the hyper-link, here.

So now it was this Wednesday, March 21, the beginning of spring, and I was walking along a busy street on my way to get my hair cut.  I had parked my car in a garage near the market, and I was trying to remember where that organic clothing store was so that I could maybe pop in and visit Java and her person.  I was thinking about this duo, and then . . . there they were!  Walking toward me.  The blond woman with her dog on the lead.  I would have knocked right into them if I hadn't moved out of the way.

Just as Java is a sweet, shy little dog, her person is shy too.  And this person writing the post is a little bit shy as well.  Or was, once upon a time, before she began pouring her heart out every day into the cyber-world.  I said hello, told her that I doubted she would remember me, but that I'd been in the store in December, and so on.  When I told her that I'd been on my way to get my hair cut, she remembered.

I told her about the blog, and how to find it on google, just typing "winter with zoe" and that her story had moved and inspired me, and she said she would look it up.

Then I walked away and thought, Whoa, what am I doing?  What if she thinks it's really corny and dumb?  Or what if she doesn't like what I said about the dog having dreads too?  Will she misunderstand my comment about how she and the cute dog look alike, and think that I think poodles (and humans too) should be über-groomed?  And then I just laughed at myself.   The fact that I was thinking about her, and there she was, that we were put right in one another's path by happy accident had to be a good sign.

Just the day before I'd been working on my novel, and I decided to change the name of a minor character from Jasmine to Jessica.  As I made that change, I pictured a former student of mine named Jessica, a lovely writer (and person) who grew up on a farm in Vermont and now has a farm in the Champlain Valley of Upstate New York.  The moment I typed the new name, "Jessica," I saw that I had a facebook message.  Usually I use the "freedom" program when I'm writing to disconnect from the internet, but I hadn't that day and I was glad.  When I went to my wall, I saw that this same Jessica had read that day's post and pressed the "like" button.  So when she popped into my mind, she was actually really there, reading my post of the day.  Jessica and I have not been in touch at all since we reconnected on Facebook about a year ago.  We're both busy, and we never have a chance to talk, and I think that was the only time she's ever sent me a message in response to my link.

 I love when things like that happen.

I love it when all the paths of my life seem to intersect: writing, teaching, tending to my dog, and on Wednesday, getting a haircut while my dog was getting her check-up.  Then I feel like I'm on "the path," that is, that I'm doing what I should be doing, work and play and even errands that suit my true nature.  When the forces align in this way, it feels like the world is smaller, more manageable, and that the people in it are all plugged into the same electric power grid.  (Except that I'm pretty sure Jessica lives off the grid, and that Java's person would too, if she could, and I may be moving that way myself one day, but I think you get the picture.)

And sometimes, in my life, it's just about hair.

Part II  A Relapse, a Gentle Reminder

I knew I needed to meditate every day and not sporadically when I caught myself doing really careless slapstick stuff that was funny but potentially costly.  I've written in early posts about the time I left my purse on the top of my car and drove off, and how when I returned, two people, strangers to each other, had teamed up to rescue my credit cards, lipsticks, checkbook, and more that had flown into the street, en route to the river.  And how the dented garage door serves as a daily reminder to me of the time I was in such a hurry to get to work that I forgot that I actually had to open the garage before I sped out.

Another signal that something had to change happened on my last sabbatical, seven years ago.  Mikie was working on our house, building the kitchen and upstairs bedroom out so we could have a better view of the river, and I told him and my husband I would drive to the co-op in Potsdam and bring back some good bread and cheeses for lunch.  I was thinking about my writing project, my head was in the clouds, and I drove out of town the wrong way.  Main Street, in our town, turns into Route 11, which takes us to Potsdam, and that's where I meant to go.  But on the other side of town it becomes Route 68, which leads to Ogdensburg and the bridge to Canada.  That fall day all those years ago I drove almost to Ogdensburg, a 20-minute drive, twice the distance it takes to go to Potsdam, passing Amish buggies and farm stands, landmarks you don't see on the way to Potsdam, before I realized my mistake.

Yesterday, it happened again.  Seven years later, like a retrovirus waking up again.  I just couldn't believe it.  It was a real relapse.  Falling off the wagon.  A falling away from mindfulness, which has been so much the theme of this blog.  It was a very humbling experience, and a good reminder.

I had had a lovely lunch with my friend Rebecca, and our conversation had really moved me.  So I was thinking about what we'd discussed and, as ever, thinking about Zoe, and about how precious life is and there isn't a moment to waste, when I realized I was already at the turn-off, the shortcut on Route 68 that we take when we're heading to Canada.

I forgot she wasn't in the car with me.  It has become so automatic, driving Zoe to the oncologist in Canada, that my body seems to think this is what we do in the car.  When actually my mission was to go to Potsdam to buy some delicious goat cheese brie and other snacks for a meeting at my house with a wonderful student who is writing an honors thesis on her childhood in Kazakhstan and South Africa.

The way back I looked out at the Amish horses and buggies and farm stands and signs for alfalfa seeds and the bare trees and green grass and I really saw them this time.  On the way there, I could have been anywhere: I was in my head.  I had a good laugh with myself, not at myself, and realized that we keep teaching ourselves what we need to learn, again and again.  And that's why it's good to build new habits.  That's why I needed this project.  To meditate and post every day.

I think for the rest of my life when I am in a car, I will imagine that Zoe is in the back seat looking out the window as we go.  She watches with keen interest the landscape flitting by on the way there, but on the way back she sits up even taller and stares out, rapt, because she knows she is going home.

III  The Trail

After I got back from Potsdam I took Zoe on a walk.

We were out in the woods, maybe a mile in.  It had been unseasonably warm all afternoon, but now the sky was mottled with clouds and I put on the sweater I'd carried.

I was preoccupied because I'd been expecting an important fed ex package with Zoe's medical records.  I'm leaving for Vermont this weekend to take her to her appointment with the holistic vet on Monday.  But the fed ex guy hadn't delivered the package because it was the kind of delivery I had to sign for, and I'd been out having lunch with my friend when it arrived.  The slip on my door said that they wouldn't come back with the package until Monday, and that would be too late. 

I called the 800-number and begged them to come back. The slip was signed now, on the door.  I didn't have a lot of hope, though.

At 4:10, a woman called and said if I could get to the drop-off box on Main Street by 4:30 with the signed slip and some ID, the guy doing the rounds in my area would give me the package today.

So I had twenty minutes.  It had taken 20 minutes to walk to where we were on the trail, Zoe and me.  But I had to make it back to the car in less than 10, and then get to my house, and into town.  And I'm not a runner.

I told the woman I would be at that box.

I said to Zoe, very calmly, "We have to run a mile, as fast as we can, to Mommy's car." (I'm a bit like Bob Dole with my dog; I speak of myself in the third person.)  "Can we do that?"

She agreed.  Not only did we run straight to the car in seven minutes, never breaking stride, but she heeled, even though she was off the lead.  She stayed right beside me the entire time and headed straight up the hill to the car without jumping in the river as she usually does on warm walking days.

We made it just before 4:30, and then the Fed Ex woman called again.  "I'm sorry, but I was wrong about the time.  It'll be 5, or sometime after that, before he arrives."

My dog and I were standing there on the busy street, both of us still panting from the run and the heat and all the excitement, but I said okay, and I laughed, and then I told her the story, and she laughed too.

So now I have the medical records, and my dog and I are ready to head off into a new chapter.  Of her life, of my life, and of "Winter with Zoe" which will continue, even though it's spring.

And now Zoe and I will have a new spring activity to do together.  I think we're going to take up jogging.

Namaste, gentle readers.  Please return tomorrow, for Day 109's reflections: an ending and a beginning, where the way there and the way back and the way onward intersect.


  1. I'm so glad you're continuing the blog past day 108, Natalia! What a milestone. And I love this line: "we keep teaching ourselves what we need to learn, again and again." Yep.

  2. Thank you so much, Brenda! And I will keep reading your blog, whatever form it evolves into through time.