Free Write Friday: California

The light wanes as we step out of the hotel conference room, eyes blurry from hours of lectures, Powerpoint slides flashing, acronyms swirling, EKGs dancing. The sun has set but the purple light of dusk hovers in the sky. The moon is rising over the palm trees lining the street, thin stems with bushy tops, as if each were adorned with floppy wigs or jester’s caps. The air is cool but not cold in way the sky is shaded but not dark.

We make our way to the cove after dinner, can just discern the rough waves crashing onto the rock face. We want to feel the fine granules of sand between our toes, stow them home in our carry-on bags tucked away in our shoe soles and jean pockets.

We hear the seals before we see them, sharp intonations directed upward, all around. They squeal and shriek their protestation to our presence. We are intruders and suppliers, they must love and hate us. One seal beaches several yards away. We point and exclaim like paparazzi, eager to elevate the novel to a venerated plane.

***

The sand on the soles of my feet, the sudden coolness of the water washing over my toes, the Pacific wild in its winter norm, tame by the time it reaches the California shore.

People-watching is paramount along the walkway that winds parallel to the strip of sand. Surfers haul their boards under their arms as if the equipment is another appendage, wetsuits peeled to their waists, hair dripping to their shoulders. Rented bikes with fat tires and curved handlebars in candy coated colors weave in and out of pedestrian traffic. Tourists unsteady as they cycle, unsure on their winter legs in the foreign sunlight.

Twenty-something revelers pack the margarita bars, sipping slushy neon drinks in oversized goblets. They laugh easily, their cheeks crimson they lean into each other suggestively, throw their heads back into the bright sun. A girl in a green vest pulls a wagon filled with Girl Scout cookies, stacked Samoas and Thin Mints, boxes disappear into eager hands.

Umbrellas and beach towels dot the pale sandscape. Sunday afternoon revelers exult, even here, in a warmer than expected day. I close my eyes and see a glow, rouge-hot, yellow afire.

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Free Write Friday: Ski

She looked up the mountain, the hill she learned on. Remembering the rope tow, gripping tight with mittened hands, chapped cheeks from chill winds. She wore a patterned hat, pulled it down over her ears, lobes pink. Her toes and fingers instantly numb to the freezing temperatures.

***

Her grandfather took her to buy new skis when she was in high school. She had never had new equipment before, always hand-me-downs from older relatives. It felt luxurious, the shiny new blades strapped to matching boots, electric blue with neon yellow accents. She sat compact on a wooden bench in the family owned ski shop, the only acceptable place in the well-to-do suburb to buy skis. The employees fit her feet to the restrictive boots. They felt tight, compressing, oppressive. Everyone assured her the fit was right but her long toes would burn with every run for decades to come.

She never took lessons, only her father giving instruction same as when he taught her to ride a bike or tie her shoes or scramble an egg with rice and just the right amount of soy sauce. He was matter of fact, detachedly patient, waiting for her to overcome her fear. She remembers the swelling of anxiety, looking down the sloping hill, the enormity of getting to the bottom an overwhelming task welling in her chest.

***

The beginner lift slows to a crawl, allowing novices to sit their layered bottoms down onto the cushioned seat, warily grip the arm rest, avoid looking down as they are lifted skyward, skis dangling, boots weighty, gravity pulling like a string taut to the ground.

Looking down, through ski tips, there’s nothing to keep one from slipping: a wayward glove, an aberrant pole, dangling then falling, floating, to the silent impact of snow drifts below. The silence, the stillness of the buffering snow soothes while coasting upward past white coated evergreens, tiny skiers like miniature figurines expertly weaving curves this way and that far below. There’s calm in the severity of the landscape, a numbing peace inherent in the crushing steepness and chill.

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Merry Christmas

Here’s a holiday poem, compiled by author Kwame Alexander, consisting of contributions from NPR listeners. This community poem is made up of lines about what listeners like most about this time of year. However you celebrate, or ache, on this day, may you find light and hope as a new year dawns. Peace and joy to the world.

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Free Write Friday: Snow Day

The kids gather their sleds, dusty in attics or basement corners, and head for the hill. An inch, maybe two, come each year, mid fall or late winter. Mismatched snow gear, the pants too small, the jacket gaping, the hat a hand-me-down from big sister, older cousin. 

Usually there’s a predawn session, heading out after a truncated breakfast, too excited to eat much, empty tummies rumbling in anticipation of the snowy day. Pink noses, rouged cheeks, they tread carefully in awkward snow boots. The silence is deafening after a bustling rainy day in the city. Neighbors smile at one another; everyone is off and out. 

The hill is just a slope, barely an incline. Even-earlier risers have already gotten some runs in, adults pulling their toddlers on plastic discs. The green betrays the locale, grass peeking through, causing a bumpy ride. Still, their faces alight with the novel sleekness, skidding down the street, slipping on familiar ground, sliding at the park. 

And after, hot chocolate warms tiny chapped hands, miniature marshmallows bobbing between the wisps of rising steam. It’s a little bit of true winter in the evergreen land. Northwesterners, unabashedly afraid of sleek ice, happily trade in their routine despite being ridiculed for closures. The freeze brings a warmth and the forced slowing in snowfall a welcome calm.

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White

Due to the holiday week, I’m taking a break from Narrative Medicine Monday and sharing a favorite: River Teeth’s Beautiful Things. This narrative nonfiction journal posts a short piece of prose each Monday, highlighting a different “beautiful thing”. Today’s piece by Jennifer Bowen Hicks, entitled “White” captures a moment between her and her son as she walks him to school on a cold winter morning. I encourage you to check out River Teeth’s complete series; these short pieces never fail to inspire.

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