Monday, October 29, 2007


Today, I finally turned 46. And the earth didn't quake. The seas didn't part. The moon didn't fall from the sky. Actually, the whole day didn't look or feel much unlike the day before. That's a very good thing, for sure.

This year I asked my husband not to give me a present. I already have so much that it seemed selfish to ask for anything else. Still, he got me a cute wood carving of a black bear, like the ones I'd fallen in love with in Montana during an anniversary visit a few years back. Although I generally dislike surprises, this one was a very good one. The black bear now sits proudly in our living room, mystifying my mami who just doesn't see the point to it.

This evening, after I'd worked most of the day on my Monster, my mami, my husband and I went to dinner to a nearby restaurant. My mami told us the story of how she decided to have me without painkillers. Way back then, in 1961, she was one of the first women in Boston to follow a natural birth trend that was only just beginning to catch on.

I was in awe as I heard her tell how she repeatedly refused the anesthesia that her woman gynecologist (another unusual first for 46 years ago!) and the nurses offered her at crucial intervals. Unafraid but bothered by the screaming women around her, my mami asked to be moved to another part of the delivery room where she wouldn't have to hear the moans and groans and screams of other women.

"I told them that I was having a natural birth and all those women were eventually going to get anesthesia," my mami said. "I wasn't afraid, but their constant screams were making me worried that perhaps I should be screaming, too!"

No wonder, I thought, I am a mujer de armas tomar, or a flaming sword, like Dr. S says. At 23, my mother, so young when she had me, her first born, was already fearless. She has always been fearless. No wonder, I thought. That's where I get it, fair and square. Lo que se hereda no se hurta, as we say.

Along with my mami's stories today was a day of calls and e-mails from my papi, my brother, my sister, my friends, even my students. A day to be thankful that so much love surrounds me. A day to be thankful that I am healthy and that I can not only feel but appreciate and return the love that is given me.

Today, I finally turned 46, and as the day's night comes to a close, there is only one overwhelming feeling in me, a feeling that mixes both gratitude and joy, like bright colors in a palette. Gracias a la vida por darme tanto, tanto.

Bring on 47. I await with bated breath.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Promises to keep

On my last day of being 45, my mami (who is visiting for my birthday), my husband and I went hiking at a regional park that's (appropriately) about 45 minutes away.

We all wanted to enjoy the last weekend of peak colors in this area before the forecast first frost tonight denudes the trees.

Walking through the woods, we were reminded of Robert Frost's famous poem about stopping by the woods on a snowy evening. It wasn't snowing or evening, more like an early fall afternoon, so the woods weren't dark, but they were lovely and deep.

My husband told the story of how Frost was once asked by a scholar about his decision to repeat the line: "And miles to go before I sleep," at the close of the poem.

"Was that to underline the fleetingness of life and the impending march toward death?" the scholar asked Frost.

The room fell silent as everyone awaited Frost's answer, as if an Oracle were to speak.

"I needed another rhyme to end the poem," Frost is reputed to have said, matter-of-factly.

There is nothing more matter-of-fact than the woods.

The hike, which took us through on a path much-taken alongside old oaks that towered toward the white puffy clouds and young sugar maples festooned in their cotton-candy colors, offered surprise after surprise of sunlit greens and fiery yellows and flamboyant oranges, all rippling in the shadows of dappled sunshine.

My mami pointed to a sign, in front of a grove of sugar maples, which said the trees were young, at age 60-something.

"That's a good attitude to have," my mami said.

"I'll think of myself as being young, like a sugar maple," I determined.

The canvas against which the trees painted themselves was an azure-bright sky. The canvas against which the forest sketched itself was greyish-black.

After about an hour of feasting our eyes and our senses in the quietude of the woods, the path ended. Our hike over, we were reminded that we all had promises to keep, and miles to go before bedtime.

It was time to return home just as sun began its slow descent into sleep.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


The small college on the hill has effected an unexpected transformation in me.

From a typical Puerto Rican who drove herself everywhere in my little car around this miniature town, thereby incurring the derision of my environmentally and walking-minded husband, I've become a committed cyclist.

Since I bought the bike at a yard sale and my husband refurbished it, the bycicle has spent most of its life in the garage or the basement, likely itching to be taken out for a ride but never getting the chance. I bet it's very happy now that it goes out almost daily.

I must say that the transformation feels really good, and not just for the bike.

I love parking the car and leaving it in the same spot for days while I traipse around campus and The Village in my trusty $14 bike, goofy black helmet and all. I joke with my husband that, given my renowned klutziness, I hope I don't end up on the front cover of the student newspaper as the professor who managed to crash her bike onto a tree.

With that concern (and self-knowledge) in mind, I am extra careful when cycling and I take roads that aren't the most frequented by students so that if I have a percance it won't be one that's particularly public. And I always bring my cellphone, too.

This morning, I packed up my backpack and biked to a meeting, then I biked to the post office to mail something for Dr. S, from there I walked across the street to the bookstore where the cashier saw my biking helmet and praised me for being environmentally friendly, then I biked to my office, then to the library (which is awesome because I can actually leave the bike right in front of the building), then back to my office, then back here to my dogs in the apartment in the woods.

My legs are so tired after all that hill climbing that I'm staying home for the night, eschewing yoga for rest on the couch and reading (with the Red Sox's game as background music, of course). But I'm already sorry that tomorrow the forecast is for rain because I won't be doing any cycling then. Instead, I'll have to recur to the hooded and heated shelter of my little car.

I do hope the good fall weather lasts a long time so I can continue enjoying the cool breeze on my face, the physical workout and the rush of going at 15 mph speeds (downhill, of course) that cycling offers me. Wow, talk about transformations of the nunca es tarde cuando la dicha es buena kind.

Monday, October 22, 2007


Yesterday, a colleague from my college on the hill ran the Columbus Marathon. By a matter of seconds, her time wasn't good enough to qualify her, as she wished, for the Boston Marathon. But my husband and I were in awe at the athlete-strong time she finished this race with.

The night before, after going with a group of other colleagues to enjoy a wonderful performance of Ballet Met's Dracula (which is worth coming to Columbus just for that October treat), my marathoner colleague spent the night at our city home. We were up before dawn on Sunday so I could drive her to the nearby start of the 26-mile-plus race.

Once the event started, my husband, who ran a marathon at age 40, suggested that we walk to a spot in our small city where the marathoners would be running by so we could cheer her on. We leashed the dogs and set off at a fast pace but the marathon website was way behind in keeping track of her progress. By the time we got there we realized she had long passed us.

As I saw the hundreds of people racing by, I felt a little like weeping. With some surprise, I realized that I wanted to weep a little for myself, because I won't be running a marathon. The feeling lasted only for a few seconds and it's one of those rare moments of self pity I permit myself in a year.

More than a decade of near-experimental levels of medication to combat an evil disease took their expected toll and the bones in my knees have dead spots, which led my doctor to ban me from running. That was two years ago, when I was running up to 10 to 12 miles a week. Oh, well, as I say. I only have to remind myself that I am a medical miracle to place everything quickly into perspective.

Mostly, when I saw the runners pass us by, I wanted to weep a little for them, for the sheer physical heroics of the deed. Human heroics always make me want to shed tears (as does any animal show, too).

On the way home my husband re-told the funny (well, funny now) stories of what happened during his race, which I missed because I was home recovering from major surgery. Later, once we figured out when my colleague would be finished, I set off for the marathon finish line to meet her.

After some difficulty because of closed off streets and no available parking, I finally was able to edge my way to the finish line. Any encounter seemed miraculous because of the throngs of people that were there, but we finally met up. She was, as expected, in pain and exhausted, but she was alright, if much disappointed that she hadn't reached her goal for Boston.

Most of all, she was thankful and appreciative as she leaned on me for support and we walked slowly and gingerly back to the car. She had no family or close friends here for the marathon, so we were her stand-ins. My husband always says that complete strangers made him feel welcome in all of the Latin American countries he's visited, so he was glad we could pay it forward. I was glad, too, although it meant giving up a chunk of my precious dissertation-writing time.

As for my colleague, a tri-athlete who also cycles competitively, this was her sixth marathon. On the way home, I tried to cheer her up by putting things in perspective, reminding her of all that she has accomplished. But I don't think I did much good. And I can understand.

Ultimately, perspective is personal. For me, getting 3rd place in a 5K two years ago was the pinnacle of my physical achievement. For a sixth-time marathoner, who's already run Boston once, getting there a second time is the zenith.

I do admire her discipline and her perseverance and the fact that, on top of being a serious and successful scholar, she also trains herself as an athlete. She was sorry she didn't achieve what she set out to do but she didn't strike me as the kind of person who wallows in defeat. I was impressed with her resilience and her aplomb. And I got the sense that she was able to put things in perspective, finally.

A marathoner friend of hers, who was running the 26 miles despite a long-ago injured knee, almost didn't finish and told her, when they re-connected over the phone, that he had to walk backwards to the finish line to manage the feat. When she left our house, she was on her way to his house to cheer him up.

There's nothing better to take us outside of ourselves than to help others, and there's always someone out there who needs our support. Taking action outside of and unrelated to our selves, especially when it's not convenient for us, is the true value of perspective.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Leaves of color

These days, I like to get up close and personal with trees.

My favorite past time is
walking under a blazing maple and looking up.

It's like being in a Wonderland of Color.

It makes me want to giggle and twirl.

Getting up close and personal with leaves is also good.

They don't mind it.

They sway in the cool breeze and whisper.

They're not self-conscious about their radiant beauty.

And they're all together, regardless of creed or color.

Even looking at the ground is fun.

An embarassment of colors

Yesterday was one of the most beautiful days of fall I've had the fortune of seeing.

Thus, my husband and I took my little digital camera and we walked a few miles around my college on the hill, searching for color.

And we found it everywhere!

The sun was high and bright and the sky shone brilliantly blue. All the colors we saw were in sharp relief, almost neon-like in their radiance.

The blacks were blacker, the greens greener, the yellows and oranges sparkled, and the reds - oh, the reds! my very favorites - were blazing.

Even the shadows glimmered.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Safe - Part 2

Today I made a return of a kind. I returned to yoga.

After so many weeks (8 to be precise) of always having something to do on a Thursday evening, I finally organized myself well enough to leave the late afternoon class time open. And so I went to yoga. Hatha yoga, nonetheless. Once more, with feeling, as my mami would say.

My history with yoga is uneven, at best. Although I've tried to become a committed yogi, going two and three times a week to a yoga center and taking on Ashtanga with the same wide-eyed-and-bushy-tailed enthusiasm with which I embark on all my projects, all I got was muscle pains and sprains and the unshakable feeling that I was too short, too stumpy and too awkward to ever be a good yogi.

Plus, since I'm always living five years ahead of myself (in my mind's eye I'm already Dr. G and only months away from celebrating tenure), this "be in the moment" philosophy is basically alien to my psychic constitution.

I much more preferred trotting on the elliptical machine or cycling my heart out on an indoor bike or going to a choreographed weight-training class. But since I haven't been able to go to the gym for a while, I decided I'd try yoga again. Also, since a colleague teaches the class, I thought it would be supportive of me to go (and I was the only faculty member there, so I was glad for that).

Actually, I'm very glad for all of it. She is a careful teacher, who spends time explaining poses so one doesn't end up injured and hurting, and her pace was good. Maybe not as frantic as the Jane Fonda-aerobics-craze-trained part of me would like, but then, frantic isn't yoga, right?

The best part was that I rode my trusty old bike to the athletic center, riding up and down the hills of my small college on the hill (well, some hills I had to walk up, to tell the truth) and I arrived home sweaty, red in the face and exhilarated, and pretty relaxed (well, for me) after the yoga class.

The rains cleared out, the afternoon was gorgeous, the windows are open and the dogs and I are expecting my husband who's coming to visit. Could a day be any better? Not this day.


I sit in front of my large picture window in the apartment in the woods, watching the rain of yellow and brown leaves that falls after the actual wet rain has passed.

I'm dissertating away with Mozart's horn concerto playing in the background and the tickle-dit-tick of my keys as its only accompaniment (except for Geni's interminable panting and Rusty's occasional snores).

Suddenly, I half notice an unusual lump of grayish color amidst the woody greenery and the darkening shadows of the forest on this rainy, fall day.

Closer attention reveals that a young buck, with tiny flesh-colored antlers sprouting from his forehead, is comfortably seated on the wet leaf-covered ground, under the shelter of trees, munching away and looking quite happy with his safe haven.

What a treat, I realize, to be able to observe him from such close proximity as he is seemingly unperturbed by or unaware of my presence, although the lights in my apartment must blaze against the near-twilight of the forest. But there he sits, becoming less and less visible as the shadows darken with the growing cloudiness of the day.

Last evening, as I got ready to close the curtains of my picture window, I caught a small fawn looking up, seemingly directly at me as it moved through the greenery outside. We looked at each other for a few minutes. It, interested and curious but ready to bolt, and I, spellbound and thankful for those precious moments of connection with the wilderness.

All is as it should be. I am here, working away at my dissertation and munching away, so to speak, at my ideas. There he is, pausing in his work of survival to take a break where he feels safe. The moment finds us both sharing the calm of having found shelter from the interminent and pelting rain.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Stopped time

Tonight, the beautiful wall clock that my husband's best friend gave us as a wedding gift more than 13 years ago stopped dead on its tracks.

Thinking it was the battery, my husband changed it, but the clock still refused to tick tock. In the hope that it was a bad battery, my husband then tried all the AA batteries around the house. But none would stir the beautiful wall clock back to life.

"I guess that the lifetime of this clock was 13 years," my husband said.

There's something very sad about losing a clock that has been such a fixture of our life together. I know of no clock doctors I can rush it to for attention, no clock hospitals that might resurrect its once loudly tick-tocking heart.

There's something very sad about a clock that stops for good. The silence is so final, so unappealable, so like death.

I will miss that beautiful wall clock very much, not least because of the ugly blank space it now leaves on the wall above the mantelpiece, where it was such a welcome sight for me each morning, each afternoon and each evening.

The beautiful wall clock even crossed the Atlantic when we moved our entire household from Puerto Rico to the Midwest, and it has been a faithful companion of this marriage for our shared lifetime.

Because of its untimely death, I will rage against the dying of its tick-tock. My purpose now is to find a clock fixer, somewhere, and bring the beautiful wall clock back to life someday somehow someway.

There are some deaths that aren't always final. There are some times that need not be stopped forever.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Nothing better

On this lovely fall morning of all of 37 degrees, I'm flushed and sweaty and exhilarated. I'm also inwardly celebrating the great idea of having brought my $14 flea-market-find bike up to my small college on the hill.

There's really no better place than this one to ride around on a bike, especially because you can leave the bike anywhere and it'll be right where you left it when you return.

That's unlike anywhere I've ever lived, where I've usually had to factor in heavy locks and chains to protect the bike, and even then there was no guaranty that it would be there when I got back. That's not the case here, for sure.

I remember a bicycle that spent all of last year parked, unchained, next to a light post on a hilly road near my apartment complex. The bike changed positions each week. One week it was parked on one side of the street, another on the other. I heard that maintenance personnel moved it out of their way each time they had to do work on the road. But the bike basically remained undisturbed and unclaimed for an entire year.

It wasn't there when I returned this fall so either the owner finally reclaimed it or somebody decided that it was abandoned and took it or the maintenance people got tired and threw it away.

After determining that this chilly fall morning was perfect to give the bike a run, I set off to pick up the organic eggs I buy from a biology professor who has a farm near the college and to the library to collect another mountain of dissertation-related books. Well layered under my comfy fleece hoodie, goofy-looking helmet secured on my head and large backpack ready, I set off into the brisk cool morning and absolutely loved it.

True, the library wasn't open so that errand has to be postponed until later today but I can feel the endorphins dancing salsa in my blood so I'm sure to repeat the feat as many times as I'm able this year, while the good weather lasts. I'm already thinking that one of these Saturday mornings I'll take the bike for a longer ride around the nearby hills, to see what I see. And I always have next year, too.

I've never been much of an athlete (well, I've never been an athlete at all) but I have always appreciated the value and the endorphin kicks of working out. And, actually, there's really nothing better for improving the outlook of a grayish fall day that kicking those endorphins into high gear.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The changeling hour

Dusk is my favorite moment of the day.

The precious minutes when the sun has set but its departing pale yellow-orange rays can still be espied edging the horizon. And the sky is lit with the blueish-white of twilight. And the trees are black cutouts against that velvety canvas.

I can understand why vampires rise at dusk. But I'm glad they don't do so around these parts. I'd hate to be unable to walk at dusk.

It's that changeling hour where nothing seems what it is, where shapes and sounds and smells suggest mythical and mystical possibilities, when my lizard brain turns on and goes into high alert, while my homo sapiens brain waxes poetical.

On this dusk, the dogs and I walked our usual walk on the winding streets at the outskirts of my small college on the hill when sounds of disturbed dried leaves suddenly alerted us to the shadows of deer stirring in the encroaching darkness.

The dogs pulled at their leashes, seeing better than I the direction into which the deer fled and advocating for their right to give chase, to get lost in the dark in pursuit of the fantastic leaping creatures.

I, of course, disagreed. And we continued on our path, not very clear now (this time I forgot my trusty little dog-walking flashlight), but our well-worn path nonetheless.

None of us needed the fast diminishing light to tell us that we were on our way home, where we would be safe and warm behind our closed door, leaving the now full-fledged night to its nocturnal doings.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Pride and humility

"You're a great teacher," the photographer said, as she packed her gear and got ready to leave my classroom this afternoon.

That's after she had spent an hour and 20 minutes shooting pictures of me and of my students, like a photojournalist takes pictures of a news event.

Earlier today, a friend in the Public Affairs Office had asked whether I would mind having a photographer visit the class. "It would be lovely," I said.

Having practically grown up around cameras of all kinds, thanks to my dad's profession first as a governor's aide and then his avocation as a politólogo, or political analyst, I just pretended she wasn't there and did as I always do twice a week: I gave it all I have to give.

"She's so loud and 'in your face' that it's hard to ignore her or to fall asleep in class," I remember one student saying once in an evaluation.

I'll never forget that comment. To me, it was a great compliment. In fact, my style of teaching - the loud part, especially - tends to be better suited for a large lecture hall (or a stage), rather than the smallish seminar rooms of my college on the hill.

I move around a lot, I cover the blackboard with scribbles that look like oddly drawn maps, I gesture purposefully and dramatically with my hands, I make my students laugh with goofy comparisons between the literature and TV reality shows or movies, and my voice, booming as it can be, resonates through the little wood houses in this century-old college like the aftershocks of an earthquake.

Last year, I taught in another small cottage-style building with a small seminar room and some of the professors with offices in the building would come and close the doors to my classroom, reminding me silently but eloquently that I was being a bit too loud.

I don't know if there are any professors in the building I teach now. I have heard no complaints about the noise or heard anyone coming to surreptitiously close the door.

What I know is that I love what I do with a passion and a glee that is impossible to describe. You have to experience it to understand it. I guess that's what the photographer felt today.

After getting up before 6:30 a.m. this morning and moving my household and the dogs back to the little apartment in the woods by 9 a.m., I was a little tired before class and wondered if I'd be at my best. But once I walked into the classroom and saw that all my students were there, books in hand and ready to rumble, any and all tiredness, any and all doubt, simply vanished.

It's not that I'm a great teacher since there's a lot about teaching that I'm still perfecting and hope to continue to perfect until my number comes up in God's lottery. But I do know that you can't be in my classroom without being tackled by my excitement, my enthusiasm, my absolute focus on and commitment to the learning and teaching moments, and my true-believer belief in the powerful synergy that erupts, like the bluest of flames, when teacher and students work in unison to decipher a puzzle.

In my world, there is no sweeter music than the symphony composed by minds learning, querying, grappling, together.

As we continued wrestling with Rushdie's Midnight's Children today, one of my favorite students said: "Because of his relativity and his ambiguity, Rushdie is a dangerous writer."

I wanted to hug him. Indeed, I agreed. Rushdie is a dangerous writer as should be all the reading and all the learning we do. Learning should be dangerous because it should rock our world, it should shake the very cimientos of our personal foundations.

That I know how to do and that I love doing. I live to rock my own world, and in so doing, I live to share those moments with my students. That love of telluric magnitude, that seismic episode, is what the photographer captured today. That's what she was praising me for.

Because, in reality, teaching is not about greatness. Every day has its rewards and its failures. Teaching is about cultivating the humility of knowing that it always takes two to tango well. And can I ask for more? My students at my small college on the hill, God bless them all, give me, measure by measure, as much as, or even more, than I give them.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Mastering time

I've always had a love-hate relationship with time. Born among the chronically running-late, I've always fought against the 60 seconds in each minute and the 60 minutes in each hour, wishing I could expand them, willing time to become malleable, like silly putty.

But time is its own master and doesn't answer to cajoling or even outright coercion. Thus, I have been largely unsuccessful in my fight against time. That is, until recently.

For the past few weeks, I've noticed that I've been transformed from a chronically running-late person into a chronically I'm-early one. And I'm not quite sure that this is such a good thing.

It's absolutely true that it's generally kinder and more thoughtful toward the people who would've had to wait for my past incarnation. While I never approached the ranks of the-world-must-revolve-around-me late, I still always ran behind schedule by 10 or so minutes. What I liked to call "fashionably late."

Interesting to me is that fact that I have never been late to start or end my classes. I am almost preternaturally punctual when it comes to my professional commitments. Because I resented professors who kept me well beyond the time of class, oblivious to the fact that my own time was as valuable as theirs, I don't keep my students after class is scheduled to end. Also, I generally start right at the hour or maybe even a minute or so before, just to keep my students on their toes.

But when it came to meeting friends or being ready to go with my husband somewhere, I was always running behind the appointed time, much to the frustration of my expectedly punctual gringo husband.

Lately, however, I've been transformed. Invited to dinner at a friend's house, I arrived 2 minutes early to find that she wasn't ready for me and would've appreciated the 10-minute delay I was on before I was inadvertently transmuted into a socially punctual person.

Invited to meet a colleague for breakfast, I arrived 5 minutes early only to wait for another 10 minutes before she was able to arrive, after being delayed by her busy schedule.

Invited to meet two other colleagues for lunch, I arrived to the appointed venue 3 minutes ahead of schedule only to see them walking to another, nearby eating place. By the time I gathered all my things and ran behind them, I was a few minutes late in their book!

What I've realized, however, is that by being chronically early, I'm becoming the cause of everybody else's embarrassment. Back when I was late, I was the only one embarrassed and the other person was, at worst, a little annoyed with me.

I'm not sure I like the way this chronically I'm-early thing has balanced out. I don't feel good at all about being so early that I lead others to feel guilty and self-conscious and apologetic.

Perhaps, now that I've mastered the art of being early, I can finally master the poetry of being on time. Not a few minutes before, nor a few minutes after. Just right on the dot, right on the spot, right on the clock.

Perhaps then the universe will be finally balanced and both I and the person who awaits me will be at ease.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

A second wind

Rusty and Geni remind me that it's not physical age that affects us so much as the age of our soul.

Geni has never accepted that she's almost 14 years old, basically the age expectancy for most dogs. She's still as wacky, goofy, not-the-brightest and energetic as when she adopted us back in 1998.

True, she had to have major cancer surgery last year, which left her abdomen sliced up like a piece of meat and took her (and me) months to recover from. And, true, she's now covered in small black moles and has some arthritis on her wrists, which was causing her to trip often until I started giving her glucosamine.

But it's not like she acknowledges any of that. She's not even gray around her muzzle, like most dogs when they age. Definitely unlike Rusty, who gets grayer and grayer and grayer as each year goes by.

Rusty has aged significantly since we first got him in 1995, a year after we'd married. He's not just gray but has to take arthritis medication and allergy medication and anti-anxiety medication and anti-reflux medication and glucosamine. And before he started on the arthritis medication he didn't want to move much and would sit, staring at the walls for no apparent reason.

But, for a while now, he seems to have gotten a second wind. Yesterday, as my husband and I walked him in the early morning of my college on the hill, we saw a buck shoot out of the woods and run away from us as fast as it could.

I was so excited, since I'd never seen a buck before, always does or fawns. But my excitement couldn't match Rusty's or Geni's, for that matter. They were chomping at the bit, so to speak, dying to go chase after the magnificent creature.

Rusty also was pulling at the leash my husband held, trying to keep up with my refurbished, tag sale bike, which my husband brought up from our city home. That way I can use it to go to The Village until the weather gets bad and next year when the weather begins to get better. Rusty was ready to sprint along the bike, something that surprised us, especially after he'd tried to rush after a cat and the buck.

"It's like he's a puppy again," my husband said, amused.

Of course, once we were back in the apartment, the bike put away and Cleaning Day well on its way, Rusty plopped down on his favorite bed and snored the morning and the early afternoon away until it was time to get in the car to come back to the city.

This morning, both dogs were spry and ready to chase after the squirrels as we walked a mile and a quarter through the wide streets of our small city.

Ears cocked, tongues hanging, tails high and stepping with a good pace in their gait, the two elderly dogs pulled on their leashes ahead of me. As October continues to step toward my birthday, the dogs remind me, generously, that it's not the chronological age that matters, but (health permitting) the age you think of yourself as enjoying.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Where's October?

OK, so I'd hoped October would be it for this unusually warm weather. My month. My wonderful, 60-degree days, 40-degree nights, orange-yellow-burnt red month. The month of brisk mornings and air-conditioner cool evenings. The month of fall.

But no. It's not to be, it seems. The same way that Evil Winter refused to leave earlier this year and we had that killing frost in April (which, I recently found out, wiped out the entire apple orchard we like to visit each October in a nearby town), summer is hanging on with tooth and nail.

For today, the forecaster has predicted we'll break a record of heat by reaching 88 degrees. And Sunday and Monday we're poised to break 1939 records by edging past the 90-degree mark. In October!

A colleague commented recently that she thinks fall is a thing of the past because of Global Warming. Oh, I do so hope she's not right. How sad it would be not to have fall.

My husband, of course, is thrilled. Any minute of cold we miss, makes him happy and he keeps reminding me that this means winter might come later, rather than sooner.

But I'm afraid things don't work that way. I'm worried that we won't get fall but we'll be battered by winter and then winter will creep into spring, which also is on its way to disappearing, it seems.

My college on the hill is famous for its display of fall colors. I hope this October summer doesn't do away with that too! I was planning a photo gallery to share the show...

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Small serenade to this day

Pequeña serenata diurna. That's the title of a canción hermosa by Cuban cantautor Silvio Rodríguez, in which he lists the reasons for his uncomplicated happiness.

He sings about how he is loved and he loves, he has his art and his country. And, thus, he asks the dead (those who died before him, without achieving such happiness) to forgive him.

Soy feliz.
Soy un hombre feliz.
Y quiero que me perdonen
en este día
los muertos de mi felicidad.

Today, I also ask forgiveness of the dead. Of all those whose blood flows through my veins, especially of those whose stories I'll never know. Of all who didn't get a chance at happiness - my unnamed and unknown African ancestors among them.

That's because today (and every day, even on my crankiest days) I am una mujer feliz, inefablemente feliz.

Some might say I don't have all I could wish for. But I say I don't wish for any more than I have.

Unlike the first third of my life, these days I have relatively good health. I also have a large, united family, which though dispersed, maintains itself close; a strong, wonderful man I love, and who loves me; good, supportive friends; a great place to work and excellent colleagues; and students who bring laughter and purpose to my life each and every day I have the privilege to teach and learn from them.

Best of all, having passed the mid point of my fourth decade, I finally have been granted the emotional maturity that encourages me to put things in perspective and to appreciate and cherish the bounty of Godsends in my life.

Yesterday, as we discussed Midnight's Children in class, we talked about how Rushdie merges the past, the present and the future. We also talked about how the future guides the main character of the novel to revisit the past. Saleem Sinai, that child of all colonial midnights, is not propelled by the past or by his present, but by his future.

This morning, I recalled that conversation while walking the dogs in the breathtakingly beautiful country, as the shafts of sunlight broke through the trees and illuminated the road ahead of us like beacons, signaling the open possibilities of this day. Then, I had an small epiphany.

It's the future, not the past, that should guide our life project. We should decide what kind of life we yearn to live, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. If we find ourselves among the truly privileged, the afortunados de la tierra, who have access to the future we can dream of, that should be our blueprint.

The past teaches us about the things we don't ever want to do again, the people we should stay away from, the situations that are toxic to our lives, the person we don't want to become or continue being. The future, however, is like soft, malleable, red-earth clay, ready and willing to take shape in our hands.

The millions of unnamed and unsung dead, and the millions of desafortunados de la tierra, must perforce remind us that it's a privilege to have a future filled with possibility. We must not squander one hour, one second, one minute of it.

Lady Macbeth knew it well. The deed, or the past, is done. It can't be undone. The spots of blood won't come off. There's nothing left but to learn from, make peace with, and be accountable for our missteps. That's all we can do in the past.

The future, however, is the small serenade to this day, and to every day that awakens filled with promise. For that privilege, for that intimate and inexpressible joy, I am grateful.

And for that I also ask forgiveness of the dead. But I also pledge that because of my happiness and my privilege, they will never be forgotten.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The perils of country living

My car smells like skunk.

No, I didn't run over one, thank God. But the car driving ahead of me this morning, on the country road leading to the college on the hill, did. The large, white, furry skunk was already quite dead (one of two I saw as road kill today), but it obviously retained most of its potent fragrance.

Some of its scent must have been released by the impact of the idiot driving the car ahead of me (who hits a skunk that's already dead?) and must have traveled all the way back to my car. Thus, my salsa red Scion is now impregnated with the faint stink of dead skunk.

Talk about the perils of living in the country.

Of course, Rusty and Geni couldn't be more delighted. Not by the smell of skunk, which I'm not sure any other creature enjoys. But they do love all the strange smells they get to sniff out here, which are not available in our city home.

This morning, after I'd unpacked my life once again, we went on our walk and they were pulling at their leashes, ears cocked and tails high, hoping to run into the family of deer or come across some other marvelous creature, such as the horses Rusty stared at intently on our way here.

Rusty also likes the blackest of crows, which hang out around the college on the hill. These birds are likely some of the smartest ones in creation. The ones near where I live have figured out that the cars passing under an avenue of walnut trees will crush the large, hard, green hulls and expose the soft, brown nuts for them to feast.

Thus, they hang around that part of the road in conclaves and have nut-eating conventions that Rusty loves to break up as we walk up that road. They complain and fly away but they're right back at it once we've moved on.

The sight of the crows taking advantage of the cars provides good fodder for thinking about evolution and what evolution didn't consider.

In any case, I hope the skunk smell is gone by the time I'm back in the city later this week. I'd much rather not drag my country life into my city life, if you know what I mean.