Julie’s Porch

I sat in Julie’s living room this evening. I walked in, looked at the sofa, and turned to look back at her.

“I’ve never sat down in this room before,” I said.

She raised one eyebrow and cocked her head a little. “How is that?”

I gestured to the darkened screen porch out the back door. “I’ve spent many hours on your porch.”

It will be a strange thing this winter, learning the living room at Julie’s house. I’ve gotten to know the kitchen quite well and there’s a bedroom upstairs that’s been mine for nights in a row. But the porch. That’s my spot.

I first came to Julie’s at the very end of May in 2013. I was tired. I was worn. I was hurt.

A quiet breakfast on @juliesilander's porch with good books and a delightful mug. @therabbitroom

A photo posted by Carolyn Givens (@carolyncgivens) on

And she offered me coffee, books, and a spot on the porch. And I took it. And I drank in the cool days, the quiet yard, the trees, the birds.

And for the better part of two days, she didn’t bother me much. She’d come out, sit on the other wicker loveseat, and read her own things. From time to time we’d read out a passage to one another, or stop to talk for a few minutes. And in quiet mornings a cup of coffee and a good book was healing for my soul.

On the last night of my visit—my birthday—the whole family joined me on the porch and fed me cake and asked me questions, a household birthday tradition.

I came back in late March this year. It was warm enough again to be on the porch, and I dragged my laptop out and counted dragons in the final battle of Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga as I copyedited The Warden and the Wolf King.

Then, in April I returned again. I didn’t need the room upstairs, but the porch was still there for me. And on it we gathered other friends, some new to me, who shared their hearts and their words.

Tonight we moved our words indoors and feted them with hot apple cider. It’s grown chilly for the screen porch, but next spring—next spring I’ll be back there again.

Fireplace

Someone posted a photo of a woodstove happily burning on Facebook this evening. It glimmered in my sight as I scrolled passed.

At first, I bemoaned the not-quite-fall that we seem to be having here in Charlotte, but then I paused, noted that I had been chilly for most of the day, and suddenly recalled that I now have a gas fireplace. It ain’t a woodstove, but it’s better than nothing.

fireplaceSo I figured out (with the help of Google) how to get the pilot lit (Dad’s lessons from June had been forgotten), and now have a cozy little fire going in the living room.

Fireplaces are a sign of my childhood. Until I was 10 years old, we heated almost exclusively with our woodstove. The bedrooms upstairs were chilly, so we spent our winter evenings in the family room and kitchen, nearer the stove and its warmth.

On Sunday evenings, the doors opened on the front of the stove and we roasted hot dogs or sandwiches or marshmallows as we picnicked indoors watching Murder She Wrote after evening church.

Most weeknights, Jessie and I would take baths before bed and come back down with my wet hair and Mom would turn the blowers on high. With me in front of one fan and Jessie in front of the other, we’d sit, drying our hair, and listening as Mom read to us from Little House on the Prairie or The Chronicles of Narnia. Loren sat at the kitchen table doing her homework. Dad worked on projects nearby.

I’m certain these memories are golden-colored with age, and those quiet evenings were probably not as often nor as idyllic as I recall them; but I’m happy to let the memories lie. Ideals are lovely things. And even if my future is more likely to be a family all examining their smartphones simultaneously, I think I’ll still turn off the heat and gather them near the fireplace, so at least they’ll do it together.

House Concert

From tonight's Son of Laughter concert

From tonight’s Son of Laughter concert

I went to a Holloway House Concert tonight. They’re evidently cool enough that the musicians in Nashville who come to play at them talk about them in hushed tones to one another. It’s true. One of them told me. When she agreed to come, her musician friends said to her, “Oh, they’re so great. I love doing Holloway House Concerts.”

The Holloways are friends who live 40 minutes or so from me, who regularly open their home to host musicians for small concerts in their living room. Anywhere from 20-40 people show up and sit at the feet of an artist for an hour or so, listening to their songs and hearing their stories.

My first-ever house show was at the Holloways’ home—over a year ago. It was Nick Flora. I’d never been to a house concert and never heard of Nick Flora, but my friend Julie invited me along and so I went…and discovered the delightful combination of a great artist in a personal venue.

I went to my second-ever house concert a week later. It was also Nick Flora.

At my first-ever house show with other Rabbit Roomers.

At my first-ever house show with other Rabbit Roomers.

For the first concert, I’d been down visiting Julie in Charlotte for a week while I was still living up in Pennsylvania. I tweeted something about coming from Philly for the concert and Nick tweeted back something like, “You do know I’m coming there in a week, right?”

It was good news. ‘Cause I had a blast at the house concert and decided I liked this guy’s music. So the next Saturday, back in Philly, I dragged Tim and Jon and Gabe and Dan along with me to hear him again. There were less than ten people there that night; I’m glad I brought half the crowd. We sat around and talked and I was right and Nick was wrong about what Irish twins are, and then Nick played and we all fell in love with The Re-Introduction of Nick Flora.

We got into the car to leave and stuck the CD into the player. Tim wanted to hear “Lost at Sea” another time, so I skipped ahead and we swam in the waltz.

We rose to the surface for days off down under
Boys on the town with the world on our shoulders
War was the word none of us dared to speak
It felt good to be
Lost at sea

Alone, the sun woke me a quarter past noon
Face caked with sand and one sopping shoe
I stumbled ‘round Sydney and into the embassy
I gave them my name, they gave me the news

All my friend’s secrets and all of my clothes
Were buried alive 90 miles off the coast
I was too drunk to hear when the call crashed the party
and suddenly
we were lost at sea

Time Differences and Squirrel Sacrifice

My sister Jessie just FaceTimed me from Singapore. She’d just gotten off with Mom and Dad, currently in Hawaii. “It’s strange,” she said. “They’re six hours ahead of us, but a day behind.”

I recall that strange feeling. For the vast majority of my life I have lived in the Eastern Time Zone. Therefore most of Asia is twelve or thirteen hours different (depending on location and whether we’re on Daylight Savings Time or not). I’ve spend a lot of life interacting with Asia. I understand that twelve-hour time difference pretty well.

And then I moved to Alaska. Four hours behind Eastern. And my brain was so confused that I made a chart: If it’s this time in Alaska, then it’s this time in Michigan, and this time in Macau (where Jessie lived at the time).

But the time difference with Asia wasn’t my only problem. I had trouble getting my head around the four hour change to the East Coast, too. I became the person that people called when they were driving late at night—for me, it was only 8:00 or 9:00 p.m.

I was looking through old files today and found an AOL Instant Messenger conversation with my friend Natey (Supertenor38) that I’d saved which started off on that very topic.

Supertenor38: hey, how’s Alaska?
QuoteUnquote: hot!
QuoteUnquote: this week, that is.
Supertenor38: what’s it like to not be awake at 1am?
Supertenor38: that always gets me
Supertenor38: im like, why is she on so late?
QuoteUnquote: lol
Supertenor38: then im like, oh yeah, its not so late there
QuoteUnquote: I’ve just become a night owl…
QuoteUnquote: not so late
Supertenor38: yes, im sure
QuoteUnquote: only 9
Supertenor38: yeah
Supertenor38: i can subtract
Supertenor38: and add too
Supertenor38: every now and then
Supertenor38: ;-)
QuoteUnquote: I wasn’t sure you knew how many…

Evidently, time was not my only confusion in that conversation. I also had his birthdate wrong.

With Paul and Natey at George and Jamie's wedding (10 years ago this week!)

With Paul and Natey at George and Jamie’s wedding (10 years ago this week!)

QuoteUnquote: How are you?
Supertenor38: i’m alright
Supertenor38: a year older, but none the worse for wear
QuoteUnquote: hey, I beat you there by 2 months, you know.
QuoteUnquote: It’s not that bad a place.
QuoteUnquote: I’ve had a little bit of fun since I turned 24
QuoteUnquote: just a little
Supertenor38: yeah, i havent
QuoteUnquote: that’s sad
Supertenor38: but then, ive only been 24 for like an hour and a half
QuoteUnquote: darn…do I have the wrong date in my head again?
QuoteUnquote: the 11th?
QuoteUnquote: I was thinking the 8th.
Supertenor38: nope, that’s jonny
Supertenor38: april 8th
QuoteUnquote: I always do that…
QuoteUnquote: I don’t know why.
Supertenor38: but its ok, it was the sentiment that was important
Supertenor38: and for that i thank you
QuoteUnquote: Thanks.
QuoteUnquote: or, Your Welcome
QuoteUnquote: take your pick
QuoteUnquote: that means I didn’t slice open my finger on your birthday, which makes the day suddenly much less eventful.
QuoteUnquote: very disappointing.
Supertenor38: sorry about that
Supertenor38: you need to do something today to make my birthday special
QuoteUnquote: break my neck?
Supertenor38: no, dont do that
Supertenor38: too extreme
Supertenor38: but you’re thinking, and i like that
QuoteUnquote: I’m trying to live a life of adventure here…c’mon!
Supertenor38: well, breaking your neck could result in death, and that would make all of us sad
QuoteUnquote: oh, that…
QuoteUnquote: okay, I’ll try to go for something not involving blood, stitches or dismemberment.
QuoteUnquote: or death
QuoteUnquote: my own, that is…maybe I’ll sacrifice a squirrel
Supertenor38: ummm….i think i would have to disown you as a friend
Supertenor38: that crosses the whole “weirdness” boundary line
QuoteUnquote: I am in an odd mood tonight…
Supertenor38: clearly
QuoteUnquote: so anyway…
Supertenor38: yes anyways
QuoteUnquote: I probably won’t sacrifice a squirrel
Supertenor38: oh ok
Supertenor38: i’m surprised to find that im actually a little disappointed. i mean, its weird and all, but talk about a great conversation starter
Supertenor38: “….so i have this friend, who sacrificed a squirrel once….”
QuoteUnquote: for a birthday celebration, no less
Supertenor38: yeppers
QuoteUnquote: I think it could work…
QuoteUnquote: maybe you can just use the story, and pretend it happened.
Supertenor38: oh no question
Supertenor38: it’s just one of those stories that you can’t help but listen to

I saw three of those kamikaze squirrels dead in the road this morning. It’s a little late for Natey’s birthday present this year, but I guess it will have to do.

The Purse

This afternoon, on the way back from lunch, I tossed my purse on the back seat of the car next to Kim. She glanced down at it and said, “I like your purse! That’s cute!”

I laughed, because when I think about that purse—in any sense other than to pick it up and carry it around with me—I immediately think of the afternoon I bought it.

I realized when I packed up my apartment in Philly that not only did I seem to have a hard time throwing away or donating old purses (there was a drawer full of them), I also seemed to be stuck in a rut. When I pulled them all out of the drawer and set them out next to each other, I saw the truth: I only purchased small black purses. I had six of them in that drawer.

I decided early in the summer, after I’d moved down here to Charlotte, that it was time to get a new purse, and that I should break out of my rut.

I went to Target and perused the purse racks. I found a style I liked, but struggled with the choice of brown or blue/grey. Uncertain, I pulled out my phone to text my style gurus, Saritha and Christine for their advice.

My phone did not want to send a picture text from inside the bowels of Target, so I had the bright idea to see if I could hop onto the wifi and send my query as a Facebook message.

I got on, and began typing each name and then selecting them from the auto-fill list to indicate the recipients of the message. Then I entered my query and photo:

“Seriously considering breaking out of my ‘black purse’ norm. The question now is: brown or grey?

(And no, the coral one in the back is not on contention).”

purse

I pressed “Send.”

And then I realized I’d autofilled Chris Slaten rather than Christine.

conversation one

An hour later, I got this response from Chris:

conversation twoIt really could have been so much worse.

 

Lean In

I was nearly a coward last evening.

I told myself I didn’t want to go because I was tired, because I hadn’t unpacked yet, because I needed to write.

But really, I didn’t want to lean in.

***

I attended Hutchmoot this past weekend. In past years I’ve drunk from the fire hose of wisdom, laughter, and delight and found healing for my soul. I’ve brought others so that they could experience the overflow, the abundance that is the gathering. But this year—this year was another experience all together.

My first 24 hours are a bit of a blur. I remember moments of delight when my favorite songs were played at the Local Show Special Edition Concert. I remember good food. I remember lots and lots and lots and lots of conversations—but I barely recall what any of them were about.

I felt scattered, worn, squeezed out.

***

Friday afternoon I sat down with my friend Jason to catch up on where the currents of his life were flowing. And for the first time all weekend, I settled into a conversation. We sat on two chairs at the side of the living room. I know, vaguely, there were other people in the room. I even think we were interrupted once, but all I remember is the conversation. I was there.

From that point forward, I began to find myself able to sink in to conversations.

***

Luci Shaw, in her book Breath for the Bones, talks of the importance of seeing, of paying attention, for the artist: “For us to participate in the drama of creation presupposes our need to pay attention. (The word pay is significant—time and awareness, love, concentration and penetration are the price of seeing.)”

She goes on: “The word attention is derived from the Latin ad-tendere—‘to stretch toward’” (p. 116).

Pay attention. Lean in.

***

I awoke Saturday morning and prayed that God would help me to ask more questions than I talked. And He put me to the test on it.

In line for lunch I talked with Charly, who was processing his first Hutchmoot experience and doing his best to figure out what it meant for his family, his life, his ministry back home. And I asked questions, and he talked. And it was one of the most delightful conversations of my weekend.

At dinner God sat me beside Jeremiah, who seemed to answer every initial question with a slightly vague answer—the kind of answer that you could take at face value, or you could ask further questions to find out what story was behind it. I asked questions, and discovered a person with all kinds of fascinating experiences.

Pay attention. Lean in.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the theme had been resonating throughout my Friday as well; I’d just been too scattered to note it.

Jonathan Rogers spoke about Reepicheep, saying that though he was the smallest character in all of Narnia, he had this huge soul. And what made his soul so big was his longing, his stretching toward the Utter East and Aslan’s country. Jonathan said, “In Aslan’s Country, all selves will be free—and their freedom will be freedom from the self.” If that’s not leaning in, I don’t know what is.

When someone in the group asked how we take our inherent longing, our sehnsucht, and make it tactile, one suggestion in response was to slow down and see, paying attention. Jonathan mentioned a video of two kangaroos fighting in a suburban neighborhood that he’d seen online. “What a world this is!” he marveled. “We live in a world where that happens!”

***

Pay attention. Lean in.

Jill Phillips sang her new songs on Friday night, and throughout the lyrics this idea of paying attention and leaning in to relationships is vividly portrayed.

You run so you’ll never be the last one left alone
You hide from the very ones who care for you the most
You’re hanging by a thread, Feeling left for dead
But I’ll bear with you, I’ll bear with you instead
There’s no way around it, you have to walk through
Let me go, let me go with you

And

You are not alone
You are not the only one to walk this road
You are not alone
Even when you fight and run you are not alone

And

Higher ground is harder to believe in
When you’re drowning in a river of your tears
But the river always runs down to the valley
And when it does, I’ll meet you there

***

Jason noted in the debrief time at the end of the weekend that he’d never before had any desire to be mouse-like, but—after seeing Reepicheep anew through Jonathan’s eyes—he wanted a mouse-sized soul. The outward-focused soul grows bigger.

DinnerConversation

Photo by Africa Schaumann

I want to lean in. To stretch toward. To grow.

I met Andrew in line for dinner the first night of the weekend. Afterward, he wrote a poem in which he described Hutchmoot as the “rehearsal dinner of the Lamb.” There’s a photo of Andrew and I at dinner that first night, both leaning forward to listen to Bailey, who was sitting at the far end of the table. It looks as if there is no one between us (though there were), and we’re stretching out to be part of what she had to say.

At the marriage supper of the Lamb, that will be our posture: we will be leaning in—to the person next to us, to the heroes of our faith, to Christ.

***

I nearly was a coward last night. I blamed not wanting to go to the small group portion of our Bible Study on the fact that I still have bags on my floor or that I hadn’t done my homework.

But really, I didn’t want to lean in. I’ve struggled to find resonance in that group and having come from a weekend with people who speak my language, I didn’t want to expend the energy it would take to pay attention.

I even told someone I wouldn’t go.

And then, I sat at my desk and Jill’s words ran through my head again: “I’ll bear with you, I’ll bear with you instead.”

Bearing with one another is hard work. Leaning in. Stretching toward. Paying attention.

But it’s worth it. As Jill sings,

There’s gold in them hills
There’s gold in them hills
So don’t lose heart
Give the day a chance to start

 

Kamikaze Squirrels and Zinzi’s Cat

I drive through a quiet neighborhood on my way to work. This morning I was forced to drive it like a mad woman, dodging squirrels right and left that jumped out from the side of the road that ran across in front of me. They scooted by as my tires rolled through the leaves scudding across the road. One had dropped his nut right in the middle of the street. I did my best to avoid him, swerving to one side, and he worked hard to get his paws around the acorn and get it into his jaws. Just as I passed, he scampered off, his tail barely clearing my wheel.

The close encounters with furry woodland creatures put me in mind of one of my favorite memories: my introduction to Zinzi’s cat.

In May of 2001, I went on a Reformation Tour with my college. There were about twelve students, mostly girls, and the rest of our tour bus was filled with friends of the university—many of them senior citizens, quite a few retired naval officers. It was a quality combination that led to lots of entertaining encounters. But this story only includes the younger generation.

We spent our second night in Herrnhut, Germany, at a guesthouse run by the Moravians there. Technically, Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf und Pottendorf was not a part of reformation history, as he lived about a hundred years too late, but, since Herrnhut was a good stopping point between Prague (where we studied Jan Hus) and Luther’s territory, we paused there and learned a little bit of Moravian history.

The observation tower in the Herrnhut cemetery.
Aussichtsturm Hutbergaltan auf dem Hutberg, Herrnhut

We’d toured a large cemetery in the center of the village that afternoon and had seen the sarcophaguses of Zinzi (as we affectionately named the Count) and his family in the center of the main path. In addition, we’d seen a hill on the far side of the cemetery with a white observation tower above it. When it grew dark that night, we discovered that the stars were shining brilliantly—small towns like Herrnhut not having quite the light pollution of major cities—and someone got the bright idea to make our way to the hill and the observation tower to see what we could see.

Eight of the girls jumped on board with the idea, and Mike, as the conscientious brother that he was, decided that we could not go alone. So, the nine of us jauntily made our way from the guest house, along the path through the cemetery, and up the hill to the observatory. Upon arrival, we discovered the observatory tower itself was locked, so we were forced to stand about on the ground—still high above the town—and enjoy the sight of the night sky from there.

After half an hour or so of stargazing we turned back to the path down the hill on our way to return to the guesthouse, and all suddenly had a realization: it was pitch black, we had one flashlight, and we were about to walk through a cemetery.

Spooked, we each grabbed a buddy. I linked arms with Kate and we set ourselves second in line behind Emily and Crystal with the flashlight. Behind us Deanne and Claire paired up, and Mike, with Bekah on one arm and Jamie on the other, brought up the rear.

We navigated down the hill carefully. Emily and Crystal would spot a root across the path and whisper it back to the rest of us, “Root!” and the message would pass along. We’d hear “Turn!” at each bend and pass it on back, “Turn!” “Turn!”

All was well until we reached the sarcophagi in the middle of the main path. We’d skirted the path edge, giving them a wide birth as we went, and it was only when most of us were beyond them that Mike could hold it in no longer.

“Is it just me,” he asked, “or is that coffin opening?”

Simultaneously, in sepulchral whispers, eight girls said, “SHUT UP!” He was vigorously swatted by Jamie and Bekah as he laughed.

A few more minutes down the path, we could see the edge of the cemetery ahead and the comforting lights of our guesthouse across the road. The end was in sight, but something in the beam of the flashlight had caught Emily and Crystal’s attention. They slowed, peering ahead.

“What is it?” Kate and I asked.

“I think—” Emily moved the flashlight and dragged Crystal another step forward. “I think it’s a hedgehog!”

Delighted, we passed the word back, “Hedgehog!” “Hedgehog!” and we gathered closer to the tiny woodland creature. None of us had ever seen a hedgehog before, and they really are as adorable as they look in all the pictures. We’d formed a small clump around the edge of the path near him, traumatizing him and paralyzing him with fear as we trained our flashlight upon him and whispered our excitement.

“I’m going to take a picture of it!” said Kate. She reached for her camera, one arm still hooked in mine. She brought the camera to her eye, focused, and pressed the shutter.

As she did so, a white cat came flying out of the darkness, aiming for the small prey we’d so conveniently trained in a spotlight for him. Simultaneously, the flash of the camera went off, startling the humans, the cat, and the hedgehog equally and sending us all reeling away from the center point where the hedgehog had been. Terrified back to action, it went scurrying off in one direction. The cat, shocked by the sudden bright light, ran the opposite way. And all nine of us jumped back in alarum.

It became an emblem of our entire tour, that night did. We told and retold the tale. We dubbed Kate the “Savior of Furry Woodland Creatures” (though “furry” may not have been the best description for the hedgehog). We honored Mike for his bravery in bringing up the rear, and chastised him for his attempts to terrify us.

And in every city we entered for the next two weeks, we saw a white cat, Zinzi’s Cat, who followed us across Germany, haunting our steps until we would provide him with another snack.

Moments

I tried to keep my eyes open for something today, something that would trigger a long-past memory. Instead, at every turn, the memories brought to the fore were all recent, remnants of full days with good friends. So, a few glimpses:

***

photoThe voices singing a hymn this morning from the opening of Bible study at church reminded me of Jenny & Tyler’s performance last Thursday evening.

Andrew Peterson announced them and they stood, and I—surprised—turned to my friend Leah with delight. “Jenny and Tyler are here!” I said. “They have this one song…there’s no way they’d play it, but it’s one of my favorite songs in the world.”

And they reached the stage and began to sing an old hymn, their first of two songs. And then, from all their repertoire, they pulled out their second song: “Skyline Hill.” My song.

Of all the bands with all the songs in all the world—Jenny and Tyler sang my favorite to me last week.

***

I ran my fingers over the cover of The World of Narnia this morning as I ate breakfast. I like the texture of the stock.

When I handed Jonathan Rogers a stack of my books to sign, he asked if I’d met his son Lawrence. I had not, so I turned to him and struck up conversation (in part so as not to awkwardly watch JR signing, trying to read his messages upside down).

“Lawrence, hello!” I said. “Where are you in life? What’s your story?”
Lawrence took a breath. “Well, it’s really a coming-of-age tale.”
“Yes?” I was already delighted at the direction this conversation was taking. “What genre would you say? Drama? Horror? Comedy?”
“Comedy, I think. Maybe even a Romantic Comedy,” Lawrence said.
Jonathan was distracted for a moment from his signing. He looked up. “Romantic Comedy!? What don’t I know about?”
I ignored the anxious father. “Ah, I see.” I said to Lawrence. “And the soundtrack? What style? Bluegrass? Pop? Southern Rock?”
Lawrence shook his head. “K-Pop,” he stated. “Definitely K-Pop.”

***

imageI took off my shoes when I arrived for a visit at the Kellers’ house this evening, and I recalled the moment I sat down on the floor at the front of the room where Nate Wilson was showing “The Hound of Heaven.” He sat in a chair, talking about the film, and I sat at his feet—and he had purple-ish shoes that matched the carpet perfectly. And that made the moment even better.

***

My wine at dinner tonight at David and Kelly’s house made me smile, remembering Jason and Jeremiah at dinner on Saturday night.

Taking a sip, savoring the flavor, Jason said, “This is the first alcohol I’ve had in a few days.”

Jeremiah held up his glass, looking into the inky red liquid. When he opened his mouth he spoke with as much relish as Jason. “It’s my first since midnight last night.”

***

I finished a story draft today, the seed of it sown in the phrases of two songwriters:

Arthur Alligood stood to play and strummed a chord on his guitar. “I wrote this song a couple of years ago,” he said. “I actually wrote it on Andy Osenga’s guitar. He let me borrow his guitar and I stole a song from it and gave it back.”

Just a few moments later, Andy Gullahorn followed with this: “There’s a lot of times I just show up with a color or a feeling and see what the guitar gives me, ‘cause I feel like it’s so much smarter than me.”

***

Andrew Peterson challenged us to fill our lives with liturgies that train us to love rightly. May these momentary memories be just that—daily reminders of what is good and beautiful and full of laughter.

A Favorite View

There’s a spot along the North Carolina/Tennessee border where the mountains grow more angular, as if they’ve sucked in their breath. Their spines arch across the sky and all their rib bones show under their skin of trees.

I’ve decided it’s my favorite view on the drive to Nashville. Evidently I’ve driven that route enough times to feel like a “regular” on it. When I’m a regular, I choose a favorite view.

Winter view

Winter view

Summer view

Summer view

My favorite view on the Glenn Highway in Alaska was just after you get through the mountains and enter the Copper River Basin. To the south is a valley full of trees and rising from the far side are the Chugach Mountains. The sea side of the Chugach range has ski resorts and ocean views, but it’s the “back” side that I always loved.

Once, when I had a van full of visiting prospective students, we stopped at a pull out on the bluff to take photos of the valley. As the van rolled to a stop near the edge, a bald eagle took off from just out of view over the side—no more than ten feet from us. Its wingspan must have been six feet at least. The huge bird did not go far. It perched itself in a rickety black spruce nearby and stared at us inscrutably.

I glanced back at the students in the van. Wide-eyed, they stared back at the raptor.

I hated to break the majesty of the moment. “Um, so, guys…just so you know,” I said, “there may be a carcass right off the edge there.”

They blinked back to reality as I gestured to the eagle, pointing out the red smears on his white plumage. Yes, he’d just been feeding.

We stepped out of the van, a tad more trepidatious than typically. Sure enough, just off the edge, below our line of sight from inside the van, was the massacred carcass of a moose. I have no idea how she met her end, but the animals certainly demolished her flesh once she had.

‘Twas a bit of a turn off on the view for the first-timers among us. It’s hard to take in the lovely planes of the mountain sides and the snow-tipped spruce scattered across the valley floor with a mangled corpse before you and your nation’s symbol of power and grandeur eyeing you with ire for interrupting his snack.

The Birth of a Song

[Editorial note: I'm kinda breaking my own rules for the #write31days challenge today; this one isn't an sight or moment that recalls a memory, but just the moment itself—the anecdote was too good to dilute by tying it to another memory. I'll blame Jonathan Rogers, who asked the other day why I need to connect the moments to memories (I answered, in essence, "cause I said so," which always goes over really well). He had a good point: that the moments themselves are worth as much focus as the memories. It's true sometimes; and so, though I'll try to follow my "Sights and Memories" theme for the rest of the month, I'm fine with breaking it today.]

I sat beside the birth of a song this morning. The coffee shop was quite full when I arrived, so I asked a young man sitting at one corner of a large table if he minded if I took the other end.

Mayan MochaHe gestured a welcome over the din and I took my seat, photographed my Mayan Mocha like any good hipster in a Nashville coffee house and settled in to write and read and pray for a few moments before church.

He had a notebook in front of him, and a mug of coffee dredges. And, scarved and hair-mussed to perfection, he sat, one leg pulled up with a knee under his chin, humming, tapping a rhythm, and pausing from time to time to jot a few words in the notebook.

Ten minutes in, a young woman approached him. “Excuse me, are you—” The name was lost in Frank Sinatra’s voice soaring up to the final line of “My Way.”

The young man smiled and nodded. “Yes.”

She fluttered for a brief instant, then smiled back, her red lips curving upward toward her dark eyes. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “You probably get this all the time. Can I get a photo with you?”

He nodded again, stood, leaned over her shoulder as she pulled out her phone, and smiled for the camera.

She left him alone then and he returned to his work, humming, tapping, jotting.

I sat near the birth of a song this morning. And I will never know which one.