My New Hero: Harry

Today got off to a slow start, but I eventually drove across town to the Douglas Spring trail, hoping to run off some of the election gloom I’ve been wallowing in all week. The morning was glorious: sapphire sky, breezy, but still warm enough (in November?!) for T-shirt and shorts.

The crunch of dirt underfoot, a lucky glimpse of a javelina scampering off among the sentinel saguaros, a lizard rustling under a leafless fairy duster, ocotillo branches waving gently, the backlit thorns of prickly pear paddles amid pillows of winter-dry grasses—it was all as cathartic as I’d hoped.

The Douglas Spring trail, in Saguaro National Park, east of Tucson

The Douglas Spring trail, in Saguaro National Park, east of Tucson

But still I brooded about how politics can fracture friendships, about the fragility of a warming planet, about the value of wearing safety pins.

After an hour, lighter-hearted but still not quite ready to face the world—or Saturday chores—, I turned around.  A hiker was working his way up the trail slowly toward me, an older man using two hiking poles and wearing a hat, white polo shirt, khaki shorts, sturdy boots. As he came closer, I could see an old-fashioned cell phone, the kind with a stubby antenna, in his shirt pocket and two water bottles hanging off his hip belt.

I stepped aside to give him room to pass, and we both paused to say “Good morning” and to comment on the beauty of the day and our surroundings.

Somehow, the conversation continued—about the steepness of the trail, about the route we’d each chosen today, other Tucson trails we like, recent rattlesnakes we’d seen and where they were, other places we’d hiked: Glacier in Montana for me, Loon Lake in Idaho for him. He told me about the triumph of walking 200 miles of the John Muir trail many years ago—today he’d be doing about an 8-mile loop.

I was curious about his age. I told him I ran the Flagstaff trail half-marathon last month and about accomplishing my goal of being the first female finisher—on Medicare.

Honesty then compelled me to admit that I was also the only female finisher on Medicare. Every other woman at the run was under 65.

He laughed, then looked thoughtful for a moment as he did the arithmetic. “I’m 23 years older than you,” he said. “I’m 89.”

We chatted another couple of minutes, introduced ourselves—”My name’s Harry,” he said—, shook hands, wished one another many more steps on the trail, and said good-bye.

As I headed back down the mountain, I thought about how much I’d enjoyed meeting Harry.

And that I like him.

No matter who he voted for.

Advertisements

Dream Deferred

1999 Boston Marathon (Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau, Creative Commons license)

1999 Boston Marathon (Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau, Creative Commons license)

Recently, I ran across a poem by Langston Hughes:

Harlem

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up 
like a raisin in the sun? 
Or fester like a sore– 
And then run? 
Does it stink like rotten meat? 
Or crust and sugar over– 
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags 
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

According to Delores Moore, Hughes was describing the deep frustration of the American blacks to racial prejudice in 1951 — and predicting the explosive future.

Six decades later, Langston Hughes’ poem is still relevant in a world where so many of us defer our dreams until later in life, thinking we’ll have more time, or more money, or more opportunity.

But for some, “later” never happens.

• A blast in the local fertilizer plant flattens half the town …

• A stroke fells the lover we once had …

• A garment factory collapses in Bangladesh, killing hundreds …

• Or celebrating a loved one’s marathon effort on a shining April afternoon explodes into a mass of shrapnel, blood, and shattered limbs…

For those of watching on the sidelines, can anything good emerge from such grief and pain? Can distant tragedies have the power to change the way we live our lives at home?

Maybe.

Maybe, either in honor or defiance, we can choose to give our dreams a chance — and not let them dry up, or fester, or stink.

What’s my dream? Writing the longform journalism stories that have been tugging at my sleeve for years — deferred because they’re unlikely to pay the bills.

I have no direct ties to Boston, nor do I know any of the dead or injured beyond the intimate and gruesome details we all saw. Yet, three weeks ago the Tsarnaev brothers changed the way I view my work.

I no longer send my creative time to the bottom of the list, to evenings and late nights, when my energy level has sagged.

Now writing comes first, re-assigned to my personal prime time, to those golden morning hours. It may seem like a trivial adjustment, a mere tweaking of the time clock. After all, I won’t be turning down paying assignments. But, to me, by giving these untold stories precedence over billable hours, I’m giving my writing dream a chance.

So. What about you? What dreams have you deferred?

And what event has changed the way you choose to live and work?

A Lesson in Writing — and in Making Bread

Shredded Wheat BreadI’ve been struggling for several weeks with a piece of writing that exploded onto the page – OK, so it was five, single-spaced, pages. This particularly piece shouldn’t be more than three pages, and even that’s too much to inflict on its intended audience.

After wrestling with it again early this morning, I contemplated throwing the whole damned thing out and starting all over again.

Groan.

Muttering crossly about wasted time and effort, I went outside to feed the horses and came back inside to make bread. The recipe (which follows) uses a mixture of boiling water, shredded wheat, butter, molasses, and salt. Mentally, I was still focused on writing — and inadvertently used 3 tablespoons of salt, not 3 teaspoons.

When I tasted the mixture, it was almost inedible.

Briefly, I considered persevering. Maybe adding the flour would make the bread sort of OK, if just barely? But one of these loaves is a guest offering for a dinner party this evening…

The parallel between writing and making bread wasn’t lost on me. Salt is vital to this recipe, just as details are what bring life and emotion to that piece of writing. But even though all those details are important to me – apparently, I needed the release of writing them — including all of them in this piece will choke my readers.

Fortunately, given that I live in a remote corner of Arizona and the nearest grocery store is a 2.5-hour round trip away, I still had enough ingredients to start a new batch of bread.

The dough, made with the correct shredded wheat mixture, is rising in the sunny east window. I’ve saved the too-salty mixture and will dilute it with a NO-salt version – after next week’s trip for groceries – for later baking.

And I’ve saved the piece of writing for later as well and started a brand-new version – this time with 3 teaspoons of details, not 3 tablespoons.

Here’s the recipe, based roughly on Judith and Evan Jones’  The Book of Bread. (I’ve converted all my bread recipes to three loaves: one to give away, one for the freezer, and one to start the moment it comes out of the oven, hot and delicious…

 Shredded Wheat Bread

(modified from from Judith and Evan Jones’ The Book of Bread)

Makes three 9-inch loaves

  • 3 C           boiling water
  • 2 1/4 C    bite-size shredded wheat biscuits, or 3 of the big biscuits
  • 3 T           yeast
  • 3/4 C       warm water to dissolve the yeast
  • 1/3 C       molasses
  • 3 tsp       coarse salt (or 1.5 tsp table salt) – that’s TEASPOONS! 🙂
  • 4 1/2 T       butter
  • 7-8 C  white flour, preferably unbleached

In a large bowl dissolve the yeast in the 3/4 C of the warm water.

In a separate bowl, add the boiling water to the shredded wheat. Add the salt, molasses, and butter. Stir until the butter’s melted and the ingredients well mixed.

Add the shredded wheat mixture to the yeast, then add the white flour, cup by cup, until the dough gets stiff.

Turn the dough out onto a floured working surface, and let it rest while you clean out the bowl and grease it. Knead the dough, adding more flour as necessary, for about 10 minutes until it’s no longer sticky and feels resilient and smooth.

Place it in the greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let it rise in a warm place until double in volume—about an hour.

Turn the dough out, punch it down, form into three loaves. Place in greased loaf pans, cover lightly with a towel, let rise again until almost double in volume—about 45-60 minutes.

Bake in pre-heated oven at 350 degrees for about an hour, maybe a little more, depending on your oven. Let loaves cool on racks.

To freeze: Put each loaf in a brown paper lunch bag, then in a plastic bag (produce bags work great). The loaves will keep this way perfectly in the refrigerator as well — for two or more weeks — unless eaten sooner!