Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Reflections in Mud Puddles.

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I love sunny days and large blue skies. The brightness and optimism of the unblemished firmament that stretches from horizon to horizon, and takes me back to my Northwestern Ontario wonder years. No matter how bad things were on the ground I could always look up and see that immense sky, and get a glimpse of God’s miraculous hand at work. I remember it then, and still experience it now, the feeling of peace and comfort knowing that I am connected to something so big and so powerful and so utterly wonderful. What an awe-inspiring and breath-taking view.

But lately I’ve found a reason to like rain. Or more precisely, what remains after it rains. I’ve acquired an entirely new attitude towards the potholes that pepper the country road where I walk. For they are the conduit to the glorious mud puddle, my new favorite thing.

When I was a kid I liked to stomp through them in my black rubber boots. Or after a warm summer shower I loved to go barefoot and sink my toes into the soft buttery ooze. I used to ride recklessly through them on my bike. But as I grew older they became wretched annoyances to avoid. Little nuisances and painful reminders of the relentless rainfall on the West Coast from the beginning of November till the end of April. I’ve done my share of cursing after being splashed and sprayed by passing vehicles. And I am not amused by those who quip, “well at least we don’t have to shovel it.”

But about a month ago, as I was walking along the country road at lunch, I saw things quite differently. It was as though I was seeing a mud puddle for the very first time. Like I was wearing magic glasses. And instead of avoiding, I sought them out. What caused this sudden transformation of vision? Why did my perspective change? What captured my imagination?

It was one of those serendipitous happy accidents. It had been pouring miserably earlier in the day. By the time I headed out for my walk, the sun was grandstanding and showing off its brilliance. It aced the surface of the mud puddle at just the perfect angle for me to see. I mean really see something so ordinary but suddenly so utterly extraordinary. Something I’d seen a million times before. Yet at that precise moment it was as if for the very first time.

I saw a reflection. And it was a beautiful sight.

Tall and stately evergreens. Gnarled and naked Garry Oaks. Blades of grass blowing in the breeze. Cloud formations. The sun, a blinding orb overhead. Telephone poles with wires stretching like tightropes. Street signs and other directions from above.

In the past month, I have sought out muddle puddles. They have brought new meaning, joy and wonder to my lunchtime walk. I’m the crazy lady crouched on the ground snapping photos on my iPhone of these fascinating little pools of dirty water. The smallest one I’ve photographed was about six inches, the largest about six feet long. I feel like Alice in Through the Looking Glass peering into another world filled with magic and all things curious. Everything is distorted. Depth perception is challenged. Shallow one second. And bottomless the next: like I could easily fall in and be lost forever in the shimmering darkness. Seeing such gigantic things like trees and telephone poles reflected and held so spellbindingly inside something so small. The juxtaposition takes my breath away.

The most magical thing about the muddle puddles is this. Like snowflakes, no two are the same. And even the same puddle is different depending on the preciseness of my presence, the direction of the sun, how it skims the surface of the murky water, and of course the angle with which I peer into it. Standing. Crouching. On my knees. These all affect what I see.

As a writer I can usually find words to describe most things. But in this case, words are inadequate. In fact, they fail me. Hopefully the photographs don’t. I hope they have captured some of the miraculous that I have witnessed, the dirty beauty of the earth, the sky, the sun and the wind, and the surprising unpredictable moment of confluence of all perfect things.

Technical note from a completely non-technical person: all photos were taken with my iPhone 6 using the Instagram App, with the Nashville filter.

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Diaries of the Breadman’s Daughter: Life is a Beach.

Ma always on the lookout at Sibley Park.

I can’t swim.  But I do like the water – to an extent. If my body were a map, my breast bone would be the dividing line.  Like the equator.  That’s the border between fear and faith.  It’s the big divide where comfort zone meets terror.  But I do love the beach and pretty much everything about it.

Little back story.  I came by my fear of the water honestly.  Ma passed it onto me along with a fear of driving, dark streets at night, wild animals and dirty underwear.  I’m not sure of the origin of Ma’s fears.  Certainly not her own mother, since she died when Ma was three.  Regardless, Ma was not a big fan of aqueous immersions.

The way Ma expressed this fear was both lamentable and exasperating. It went something like this. It’s a beautiful sunny day.  We’re at a beach.  One of three – Chippewa Park, Boulevard Lake or Sibley Park.  Each had noteworthy characteristics that I loved.  Chippewa had an amusement park of sorts (merry-go-round) and a zoo (polar bears in dirty cement pits) and a long shallow seductive shore.  Boulevard was in town, easy to get to by bus, had a great concession booth and comfortable grassy shoreline.  Sibley was an hours drive from town, was situated on the Sleeping Giant (which in itself was irresistible enough), had a hot sandy beach and freezing cold water (which made me giggle and shiver upon initial entry.)

As this story unfolds, we are now at the beach. I’m in my bathing suit, Ma’s in her capris and The Old Man is jauntily attired in slacks and a short sleeved cotton shirt.  Usually I have at least one friend with me.  Most often it is D from across the street.  She’s one of five C-kids and I am a devotee of this wonderful crazy mixed up dysfunctional family.  We’re all appropriately attired, a blanket is laid out on the sand, towels and flip flops are tossed carelessly about and delicious snacks that Ma has packed are set out carefully on the blanket.  (If we’re at Sibley Park a picnic lunch will also be included in the day’s fare.)  D and I head down to the water and everything is copacetic.  Except it isn’t.  Already I feel Ma’s tension.  It permeates from her body like a noxious over-powering perfume. Just as our toes touch the water’s edge I hear her calling.  “Not too deep now!” she cries.  “No further than your knees.”  Knees?  Are you kidding?  So I call back, “Ma, you can’t swim in knee-deep water!”  “Okay, then no deeper than your waist,” she replies.  Waist?  Really?  So D and I wade out to where waist meets water.  And Ma hollers, “Far enough!”  Are you kidding?  Apparently not.

Compliantly, D and I find our little piece of liquid splendor somewhere between knee deep and waist high.  And we frolic.  And splash.  And squeal.  We dog paddle.  And float on our backs.  We blow bubbles with our faces under water.  The entire time, Ma’s worried anxious eyes are upon us.  I can feel her held breath.  Her pounding heart.  But she doesn’t say a word. She doesn’t have to.  Except when she thinks we’ve strayed too deep.  Or for that one millisecond when she loses sight.  We’ve drifted behind the fat kid floating in the ten-foot tractor tube.  And we’re gone.  Ma calls my name.  I can hear the edge of hysteria in her voice.  I emerge from behind the tractor tube boy.  Safe.  I wave reassuringly.  And all is well.

As a result of all that fretful smothering by the shore, I never really learned how to swim.  I spent much of my time reassuring Ma that I was indeed alive and still breathing.  But also, another thing happened.  I grew fearful too.  Maybe it was dangerous.  After all, we heard those tragic stories of kids who drowned, leaving in their wake broken-hearted devastated  parents.  Not just in lakes either.  But in creeks.  And bathtubs.  Mud puddles even.  Water was a heinous loathsome devourer of little children.

Of course, deep inside the well of Ma’s fear of water was just the plain and simple fear of loss itself.  Her losses were so great.  And they came so early.  I don’t blame her for wanting to hang on and protect those who were most dear to her.  To somehow hold safe, the small.  And the fragile.  The vulnerable.  Prevent them from walking into the deep.  And never return.

I don’t recall Ma ever going into the water.  Even her bath water was shallow.  I do have one lovely ancient black and white photo of her in a lake.  It looks like she is up to her neck but apparently as the family story goes, that was all trickery.  The water was no deeper than her waist.  Still the end result was one beautiful photo.  Of one beautiful, frightened courageous woman.

All this fear and anxiety aside, I still have only the fondest memories of summers growing up.  Despite her fears, she faithfully took me and my friends to the beach.  And through the years, I learned that there are many things to do by the water’s edge that are equally entertaining as swimming.  Adventures to be sought.  Imagination to be awakened.  Treasures to be hunted.  Oh the natural beauty of polished pieces of glass.  The Noxzema blue bits were my favorites.  Broken shells and hunks of gnarly driftwood.  Exotic micro creatures hiding under rocks.  Sand castles and suburban homes.  Catching miniature fish in yellow plastic pails.  The tickle of hot sand as it sifts through your toes.  The music of waves rushing to shore. The sounds of laughter and glee.  The smell of Coppertone.  And hot dogs.  French fries and onion rings.  And the glorious sun high in the large blue sky roasting our skin and filling our hearts with warmth.  And the promise of forever.  These were the gifts that Ma provided. This was the trade-off.

Magic.  And mystery.  And wonder.  All this in place of the butterfly kick and the front crawl.   But I have learned to swim in other ways.  I know the fine art of survival.  And the dance of intent.  The call of the courageous.    I know when to hold up my head and squint into the sunlight.

I wrote a song called Sibley Park.  It was inspired by my summers spent there with Ma.  Here are the lyrics.  It’s in the key of C.  Like much of my life.

Sibley Park © by boo king

We went to Sibley Park
And we swam in the coldest part
We took pictures of the three of us
Just you and me and Gus

The sand was beige and hot
And my suit was full of polka dots
We took pictures of the three of us
Just you and me and Gus

We ate Oh Henry bars
And you dove off my freckled arms
We took pictures of the three of us
Just you and me and Gus

Our moms sat in the shade
As we swam and they drank lemonade
They took pictures of the three of us
Just you and me and Gus

Gus barked and chased a stick
As he raced and he   did dog tricks
We took pictures of the three of us
Just you and me and Gus

I went to Sibley Park
Where we swam in the coldest part
I kept pictures of the three of us
Just you and me and Gus

I wonder where you are
You recall the way we were before
When we took pictures of the three of us
Just you and me and Gus.