Throwback Thursday

It’s Thursday, and in the world of social media, that means the hashtag #tbt is making the rounds. “Throwback Thursday” it’s called—an opportunity to post those photos from the years before social media, the ones sitting in albums and desk drawers.

I’ve actually never done a #tbt post. I considered using the hashtag on Tuesday of this week when I posted something one of the pastors had said in the hallway a few weeks ago (which he followed by telling me, “You can tweet that”). I figured, since I hadn’t, I should get it out. But the #tbt seemed off—it was Tuesday, after all, and while alphabetically, the two days align at their beginnings and ends, nothing else about them matches.

But I sometimes think about photos that I could use for a Throwback Thursday.  There are far too many. I am the daughter of a photographer after all.

Tonight, though, I figured I’d pull out the Pioneer Girls photo album I won as we left Pioneer Girls to go into middle school. We were the year that they decided to change the youth group to grades 6-8, rather than just 7-8. It was a big deal, because for our class, it could mean missing our final year in Pioneers—the year we would get to be the oldest group, the big dogs, the rulers of the roost.

I remember Amy’s dad, the youth pastor, sitting Amy and me down and talking it through with us. He asked us what we’d like to do and someone came up with the idea of splitting the year. Before Christmas, we’d be in Pioneer Girls and after Christmas we’d move to youth group.

It was an excellent option, and I remember that last semester of Pioneer Girls fondly. In fact, my parents still use the angel I made as a Christmas project to top their tree—ours had broken the year before when we had an unfortunate mixture of a crooked tree, a wood floor, and a kitten in the house.

So, #tbt:

Pioneer Girls

The Quaker Maple

I’ve got an app on my phone called Timehop. Every day it gives me a catalog of all of my social media posts on this day in previous years. I shall begin by saying with pride that I have not yet used it to find fodder for this month’s blog posts. I shall then break my victorious streak and tell you that I am using it today. You do what you can when you get into the final third of the month.

One of my posts, from a year ago on Instagram, was a photo collage of a tree I call the “Quaker Maple.” I loved the Meetinghouse across the street from our apartment in Newtown for a number of reasons. I loved the clean white lines of the building, the porch with swings I always wanted to go sit on but never felt brave enough to. I loved the graveyard beyond it, full of the seeds of resurrection, the sinners and the saints. Everyday people buried in everyday graves, marked with simple stones. It was a lovely place.

I loved the parking lot and driveway, which were typically empty, and in which Christine and I often directed friends to park if we had a house full—not an uncommon occurrence. As we said to one another, after all, they’re Quakers; it’s not like they’ll be mad, they’re pacifists.

Missing the Quaker Maple this year. #autumnisadrugforme #newtownpa #courtstreet #timehop

A photo posted by Carolyn Givens (@carolyncgivens) on

But most of all, I loved the gargantuan maple in the front of the lawn. I loved it in all of its moods, all of its seasons. I watched its branches dark against steel skies on wintry days, lined with white on snowy ones. I watched it burst with pale green in the spring and thicken into a miniature forest of glossy dark leaves standing up from the branches in the summer. It was typically the first herald of autumn—and that was my favorite mood.

It would burst. Burn. Flame. Golds and reds and crimsons and browns. In the morning the tips of the top branches were alight with the sun peaking over the housetops. In the afternoon the low light shone between the houses and lit it from within.

It dropped its leaves, filling our driveway multiple times each autumn, but I couldn’t mind. It was worth it.

Oh, yes, I do miss the Quaker Maple.

And Then There Was the Day…

And then there was the day that I didn’t want to write a blog post. I wondered when it would happen. I was feeling pretty impressed by myself for making it through nearly two-thirds of the month without running out of ideas or just simply not wanting to write.

But I’ve hit my wall. I don’t feel like it.

I’m desperately trying to come up with some memory of a time when I had hit a wall and I just didn’t feel like going any further.

I can’t.

So, instead I’ll tell you in broad sweeps with very little attention to detail and no revisions whatsoever (except for there when I just typed the word “whatsoever” as “whatsover” and hit the backspace button to fix it) about the weekend that my family went camping at Warren Dunes during Hurricane Hugo.

Warren Dunes

Warren Dunes

It was a great trip. We met up with my uncle and aunt and cousins and Seth and Shane and I spent hours in the vine-festooned woods where we would break off dried curly-cues of vine and use them as keys to get us through the doors we imagined in the vine-and-branch posts-and-lintels into Narnia. And there we met Caspian and Reepicheep and Peter and Edmund and we shouted, “Narnia and the North!” and traversed the land—except for when we were playing it on the dunes themselves as we hiked toward Lake Michigan and discovered we were headed west and therefore changed our phrasing to “Narnia and the West” so as to be geographically accurate.

I don’t actually remember the storm. I slept through the tent collapsing on top of us and Dad and Uncle Hal getting up to anchor the tents to the cars and the trees. I missed it entirely.

But Hurricane Hugo was the storm that blew a Yugo off of Mackinac Bridge up in Northern Michigan, so to say I was tent camping that weekend definitely lends me some cred.

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.