Saturday, October 8, 2011

Flame and Fire

I crossed paths recently with a large gray squirrel. It was hightailing it across the street. The squirrel had nice bounds. Its form was good. But the series of springs over the pavement - paws set down and body arcing into the air for another leap - were as if filmed in slow motion.

"You've gotten heavy, pal" was my thought as it made the other side. We're noticing that squirrels are well padded this fall. They're packing noticeable poundage.

The squirrel was hobbled by more than weight issues. Its cheeks bulged. it was presumably in the middle of an acorn heist. It was hauling its booty to safety. All the way around it was being forced to clock a slower speed.

The litter of fallen leaves is in swirls and deep piles on the ground. In the dry weather the leaves seem to pulverize as they drop. Our yard still has an abundance of golden leaves mixed with green. The wider views, however, are opening up. Gracious distances, screened by summer's glory, stand revealed like a curtain pulled back on the months to come.

It's been several weeks of bright full sunshine and fall color. Some of the best color has been right around us. That doesn't stop us from checking out other places.

There are many pretty places of seasonal color at this time of year. It does good to go out and take in these larger areas. One can more appreciate nature for experiencing it in the fuller spectrum. The hills with their flame of color, and the color reflected in our blue lakes, can be viewed as our stored treasures towards winter just as the stash of acorns supplies the squirrel.

This is why we happened to be in Finlayson the other day. Finlayson is about a two-hour's drive north of the Cities. It wasn't where were were headed on this particular drive. I call it the serendipity of the road. Sometimes you wind up in places you're meant to be.

As signage started announcing Finlayson up ahead there was a flash of connection. Finlayson is where an elderly woman I visited, years ago and in another town, was born.

Let's call her Eva. Her real name was a pretty, old-fashioned name. I don't remember how we came to meet. There were regular visits over a period of about three years.

I often brought something homemade. It wasn't ever anything much - banana bread, a few cookies on a platter. She liked the slice of pumpkin pie I brought her. It pleased me that she enjoyed the simple gift so much.

On these visits Eva talked of her growing-up years. They sounded happy times. She put Finlayson on the map for me. I was not, otherwise, acquainted with that area of Minnesota.

She talked of the closeness of families. Relatives lived nearby, on farms I imagine, as it was a rural population. They got together frequently. Cousins grew up like best friends. She spoke of Christmastime and dances when she was older. She told of the Hinckley Fire, a to-this-day respected fire tornado which killed many area residents in 1894.

She was born after the awful fire. She referred to it as a child who hears the stories from her elders. She may have lost family members in the fire or neighbors or friends. Fire survivors, whom she would have known, with the memories of fear, flight and searing heat as the flames raced, provided an oral history for Hinckley and surrounding communities.

What is recalled specifically from these conversations with Eva has nothing to do with her girlhood. She innocently showed me something of herself which was an insight into human nature which was eye-opening to me.

She said she wasn't on good terms with another woman in the building. Perhaps, more forcibly, she said this person seemed to go out of the way to not be nice to her. Maybe the woman made a hurtful comment I remember thinking. Or it could be (trying to pinpoint the source of the apparently mutual ill will) that Eva felt snubbed in some manner.

"Wow," I breathed inwardly. "Ninety years old and you can still have your feelings hurt." Ninety was Eva's age. From our first meeting I was amazed at how active and engaged ninety can be based on Eva. That fact that relationships can fester among the elderly was a revelation to me.

I assumed that by ninety the slings of life would long be in the past. You've laid down the crutches and masks. You've put behind all the props and disguises for salvaging your pride or pressing your advantage. You've made peace with the obstacles strewn along the way, or by sheer will power have vanquished them. This ideal of ninety is easy to picture when ninety is far away.

Eva's perturbation at being at odds with this fellow high rise occupant brought home an important point. To some extent we forever wear our hearts on our sleeves.

Our feelings are major components of who we are. An intrusion into our equanimity can leave their scar, stain or mark however old we may be. Just as the Hinckley fire left lasting traces, our run-ins with other can have similar effect on us.

Eva didn't offer forgiveness or have a solution for making things better with this woman. In the honesty of her sharing she let me see the actuality of the hurt as felt by her. All this came to me as we entered Finlayson.

In this town which gave Eva her start my thought for her was the hope that peace eventually came between these two.

Ro Giencke - October 8, 2011

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