The Oak Tree in my Foot

There was an oak tree in my foot.

It happened when I stepped out onto the deck to snatch dry clothes from the rail before the dark and damp set in.

I heard a crunch under my bare foot, but didn’t realize what had happened until the next morning when I saw the small acorn, splintered and crushed, and felt the bruise in my heel.

By then it was too late.

In the night the bits of acorn in my heel had sprouted thin white tendrils.

The tendrils wound through plains of muscle, delicate vein tunnels, nerves lit up like small cities.

The roots stretched toward the extremities of my left foot, only ceasing their growth when they reached the tip of my big toe.

Then the acorn shards in my heel began to thicken.

The next night while I slept, a tree trunk the circumference of a ChapStick tube poked softly through the bandage I had carefully applied.

It grew downward, splayed into parallel arcs.  Leaves fluttered out, already yellow and orange.

The tiny oak grew acorns of its own and dropped them until they littered the foot of my bed like a forest floor.

The oak tree lived an entire lifetime in one night, hurrying so that by the time I endeavored to put my feet on the floor the next morning, it would only be a stump, a splinter in my heel.

Oak trees aren’t unintelligent, you see.

When mom plucked out the splinter, it was only a splinter.

And when I found a tangled clump of bark and crumbling leaves at the foot of my bed, I blamed the dog.

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On My Own: Minnesota Orchestra Musicians Edition

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In my teens (particularly in high school), I never would have gone to something like this by myself.  I would have wanted to be with my family or with a group of friends.  Not because I feared crowds or for my general safety in public, but rather because I would have wanted to look like I belonged, somehow.  Like I was the kind of successful person who had back up, who had peeps, who had voluntary companions.

In my twenties, I’ve discarded this particular security blanket.  I have studying abroad to thank for that, and a certain icy roommate who seemed to either think that I was a swamp monster or entirely nonexistent.  That sort of treatment, rather than crushing my spirit–cue Oprah monologue–forced me to be independent, self-confident, and to chuckle to myself at the horrendous awkwardness of the situation.

An example of my claimed immense self-growth: a few evenings ago I went to a concert by myself.  I drove to Minneapolis (though I’ve always liked driving); ran up on a curb while attempting to park on a smart, residential street; and walked along Lake Harriet until I reached the band shell where the Minnesota Orchestra Musicians would be performing.

I then stood for an hour and a half at the back of the band shell’s lawn listening and periodically patting the head of my standing neighbor’s small black dog.  I enjoyed the music, and the general splendor of being near a great mass of water and seeing the occasional bright-sailed sailboat race across it.

Photo credit: Jana Freiband

Photo credit: Jana Freiband

The only discomfort involved in the outing–aside from when I jumped the curb with witnesses–was that when it comes to classical music, I hardly know what I’m hearing.  There a movement has ended, there the sound is building … that’s about the extent of my knowledge.  I greatly admired the young woman near me who had her eyes closed the entire time and was softly swaying her body as if in a great, music-induced trance.  I would have done the same, hoping for epiphany, but bad things tend to happen when I close my eyes.

You can see me in this photo!  It's tough, but if you look straight back from the man sitting center in the green shirt and Twins baseball cap, I'm the girl turned sideways with an orange-ish scarf on and a bun in my hair.  It's a little embarrassing that I'm not even watching the concert in this photo.  But hey--maybe I'm petting the dog?

You can see me in this photo! It’s tough, but if you look straight back from the man sitting center in the green shirt and Twins baseball cap, I’m the girl turned sideways with an orange-ish scarf on and a bun in my hair. It’s a little embarrassing that I’m not even watching the concert in this photo. But hey–maybe I’m petting the dog? Photo credit: Jennifer Simonson

Truthfully, until I arrived at Lake Harriet, I didn’t know exactly what I was getting myself into.  I knew it was a Minnesota Orchestra concert, and that it was free.  But I didn’t realize that these were the Minnesota Orchestra musicians who have been locked out of the Minnesota Orchestral Association since October 2012, following a labor dispute.

Good for them for continuing to perform, despite the lack of steady salary.  Good for them for refusing to let their orchestra become anything less than the world-class group it’s always been.

After the concert was over, I pushed my way to the front of the band shell where buttons and t-shirts were being sold.  I grinned hugely as I bought my button and pinned it on, so much so that the woman at the table asked if I was a musician myself.  No, ma’am.  It just felt good to support a cause again.  Not good as in, my word, I’m such a Good Samaritan, but good as in, my word, even though I’m by myself, I’m part of this large group of happy people who love music and come to listen to it and buy buttons to support it.  What was left of my trembling high school self shrank three sizes that day.

If you’d like to learn more about the Minnesota Orchestra Musicians, their cause, and their upcoming concerts, here‘s the link to their website. The Star Tribune write-up of the Lake Harriet concert and the current lockout situation can be found here.

Ruby

Ruby

is my family’s dog.

She is a long-haired German Shepherd.

My mom and sister brought her home after dad distinctly said: do not bring home a long-haired.

I was a freshman in college at the time, and came home for Spring Break to a new puppy in the kitchen.

We stayed up late deciding on a name.

I came up with Ruby because it’s the name of one of Laura’s grown-up aunts in Little House in the Big Woods. 

I didn’t tell my family about that particular origin.

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Ruby didn’t actually bark until she was three years old.  Before then, she whined.

It was effective enough, I suppose.

Ruby will lick your hand, your face, your toes until they’re dripping with slobber.

If you’re napping on the couch and forget to turn your face toward the shelter of the pillow, she will come upon you as you sleep and swipe her tongue from your forehead to your chin.

If you choose to nap on the couch at our house, do not sleep with your mouth open.

Ruby is the only dog I’ve ever known who snorkels for rocks in the lake.

She will stick her entire face in the water, clamp her jaws around a particularly fine specimen, and tug until with a suction-like sound, she frees it from the sand.

She prefers to make as much noise as she can while she does this, in case you hadn’t already noticed what she was doing.

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Ruby likes to tear up divots of grass and earth in the front yard.

It is not uncommon to spot a clover or two drooping down from her molars.

Ruby wags her tail with delight when I hide behind a door to scare her.

Sometimes she also pees a little from fright.

Hence, we now take our hide and seek outside.

Ruby will not go into the basement.

I once carried all forty pounds of her terrified puppy girth downstairs during a tornado warning, and she hasn’t gone near the stairs since.

If you try to beckon her downstairs, she will pee a little from fright.

And hide under the kitchen table.

Ruby perks her ears during animal programs on TV.

She will catch pieces of popcorn on the fly should you toss some her way.

She has quietly and swiftly dismembered every toy we have given her thus far.

Ruby hasn’t the courage of Lassie, the brute strength of Beethoven, nor the sensitivity of Hachiko.

She doesn’t seem to mind, though, so neither do we.

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Out East Road Trip Days 4 & 5: Washington D.C.

You can see a lot in two days.  Especially in D.C., where the streets overfloweth with monuments and museums.

Because it would take me about three years to write a witty paragraph about every place we visited, here is a pictorial representation instead, for your convenience and mine:

The Library of Congress, complete with outstanding Civil War exhibit.  I was cruising through it, not very interested in accounts of battles, when all the sudden there was a letter Walt Whitman had written.  There was the signed Thirteenth Amendment.  They aren't overly showy with their authentic artifacts in D.C.  It's up to you to pay attention and discover what's there.

The Library of Congress, complete with outstanding Civil War exhibit. I was cruising through it, not very interested in accounts of battles, when all the sudden there was a letter Walt Whitman had written. There was the signed Thirteenth Amendment. They aren’t overly showy with their authentic artifacts in D.C.; It’s up to you to pay attention and discover what’s there.

Outside the Newseum was a display of state newspapers.  Minnesota was solidly represented.

Outside the Newseum was a display of that day’s front page from every state’s newspaper. Minnesota was solidly represented.

So, there was this house.  And it was white.

So, there was this house. And it was white.

The Capitol, where Minnesota's own Amy Klobuchar set us up with a tour led by one of her interns.  Also, I randomly spotted the Speaker of the House walking into his office, flanked by a few security guards.  No big deal.

The Capitol, where Minnesota’s own Amy Klobuchar set us up with a tour led by one of her interns. Also, I randomly spotted the Speaker of the House walking into his office, flanked by a few security guards. He stopped to chat about the upcoming Bachelorette finale.  He was team Brooks.

The Smithsonian First Ladies' exhibit, where we saw Michelle Obama's  inauguration gown (and shoes, which were refreshingly Holly-sized).

The Smithsonian American History Museum’s First Ladies exhibit, where we saw Michelle Obama’s inauguration gown (and shoes, which were refreshingly Holly-sized (aka about a 10)).

I will interject here to say that my favorite part of the entire D.C. trip was the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History’s exhibit Written in Bone: Forensic Files of the 17th-Century Chesapeake.  I could have stayed there all day; I have a soft spot for anthropology, and an even softer spot for history and mummies and mysteries.  The exhibit was about the human remains found at early settlements such as Jamestown, and what the bones tell scientists about the person they belonged to.  There were about five different skeletons on display, but before you got to view them and learn their stories, you learned what physical clues archaeologists look for to determine how a person died, how they lived, how old they were, etc.  It was an extremely well-organized exhibit that allowed you to feel, for about an hour, like a real archaeologist.  Truly a dream come true.

The Lincoln Memorial, which we only found after an extended hike.

The Lincoln Memorial, which we only found after an extended hike.

The man himself, looking imposing.

The man himself, looking imposing.

Where MLK stood to deliver a rather famous speech.

Where Dr. King stood to deliver a rather famous speech.

The Vietnam Memorial.  The little girl in the distance was an accidental (but beautiful, in my humble opinion) capture.

The Vietnam Memorial. The little girl in the distance just makes this picture for me.

Other visited spots that didn’t allow photography: The National Archives (The Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Bill of Rights, Magna Carta, LAND GRANT FILED TO CHARLES INGALLS, etc.), and the Holocaust Museum (exceedingly powerful.  Thoughtfully, provocatively arranged.  I almost burst into tears when I saw the piles of shoes which had been taken from concentration camp inmates).

Truthfully, I didn’t expect to enjoy D.C. as much as I did.  I knew I’d like the museums, but I didn’t think I’d like the city.  But it was lively and beautiful.  And filled with friendly people.  I certainly didn’t expect that, but let me tell you, Mom and I never stood on the sidewalk holding a map open for more than two minutes without a stranger walking over to help us find our way.  What’s more, when I somehow rubbed up against something (I suspect an escalator rail) and had black grease streaked across the rear of my white shorts, a woman stopped me to ask if I knew (I didn’t). What greater kindness is there?

The Gothic Thrill of a Rainstorm Rescue

Note: This incident happened a few years ago, while I was working at Target for the summer.  I found the story saved in a Word document, and thought I should share it on here (everyone loves a good dog story, after all).  I play the clumsy girl in the red and khaki.

A few days ago, I was late for work.  When I finally arrived, my hair was so soaked that it stuck to my forehead in thick chunks.  The top half of my red shirt was wet as well, and my shoes squeaked as I walked down the main aisle toward Pat, who was scanning in Kitchen.

I walked past Kathy, who said “Good morning, Holly,” as she always does.

In fact, Kathy uses my name every single time she addresses me.  It bothered me a little at first, because it seemed as though she was continually trying to prove to me that she remembered my name.  Now I like it, though, because she looks me in the eye when she says it, because when she says my name she makes it sound so solid and important, and because she looks cheerily satisfied when I follow my “Good morning” with her name in return.

I walked past Maria, who commented on my wet shirt.  “What happened?”  she asked.  “It’s not even raining anymore!”

“I know,” I replied, hesitating, “but there was a dog on the highway, and I stopped to bring him home.”

“What a do-gooder!”  I heard Maria exclaim behind me, but I was already moving toward the next aisle, not knowing how to explain more fully.  I’ll try it here:

It was about 6:40 in the morning.  I was on my way to work.  Red shirt, khaki slacks, name badge, What You Missed In History Class podcast.  I had just turned on to the highway when I noticed a large reddish dog standing by the shoulder.  My first thought was that the dog was from my neighborhood, and that his name was Buddy.  My second thought was oh Lord he’s going to run out in front of a car.  My third thought was blurry, because I found myself pulling over and jumping out of my truck, while in complete disbelief that I was actually pulling over and jumping out of my truck.

Up ahead I could see Buddy weaving in and out of traffic.  He was literally chasing cars.  On the highway.  I couldn’t tell if he was having the time of his life, or if he was scared to death, but I certainly knew that he was going to get hit any second.  I began to scream his name, but I could barely hear myself over the roar of traffic.

Just then, a car pulled up beside me.  The man inside rolled down the window and motioned toward Buddy, then toward me.  Then he spun around and drove off down the road, to where Buddy had disappeared amongst cars filled with caffeinated businessmen and moms on early morning shopping missions.  I quickly got into my truck and followed, turning onto a side road where the man had turned.  As I got out of my car a second time, I saw that Buddy was now lying on his side on the shoulder.  The man was squatted next to him, his hand on Buddy’s head.  I rushed toward them, wondering frantically if Buddy was dead, if I was going to have to be part of a roadside scene in which the actors are blurry eyed and messy instead of shining and composed.  I worried, as I hurried, about how I’d take it.  I worried about how Buddy’s owners would take it.

The man looked up as I neared, and said quickly, “Don’t worry, he’s okay.  He’s just scared, I think.”

“That’s good,” I replied stupidly, gazing down at the dog.

Sure enough, Buddy was breathing.  His long red fur moved up and down in big huffs, and he looked at me with as much gratitude as I’ve ever seen in a dog.  He’d had fun, but he was ready to be helped home now, thank you very much.

And then, because I realized the man was looking at me expectantly, I explained: “Oh-he’s not my dog.  He’s my neighbor’s dog.  He lives right down the next street.”  I checked Buddy’s tag to verify.  An address a few blocks away was printed clearly upon it.  Buddy was not a first time runaway.

Since the man already had his own dog in his truck, I offered to drive Buddy home in mine.  Clutching the still-trembling dog by the collar, I ran across the road to where I had haphazardly parked my vehicle.  The doors were locked, and through the streaked window, I could see the keys resting innocently on the seat.

I went back—Buddy still in tow—to explain to the man what had happened.  He started to offer me a ride, but his own dog was in his car with him, and I suspected it might be easier just to walk, rain or no rain.  So, we set off down the street, a bedraggled parade of me in drenched red-and-khaki; Buddy, who had the good grace to maintain an air of humility; and driving behind, the man and his dog.  I wasn’t sure, honestly, why the man was still following.  I wondered briefly whether he doubted I—who had locked her keys in her car—could manage to successfully deliver a dog, whether he wanted to make sure his part in the heroics wasn’t left unmentioned, or, most likely, whether he also appreciated the break from the mundane and the gothic thrill of a rainstorm rescue.

My back hurt by the time we reached Buddy’s house: I hadn’t dared let go of his collar for fear he would bolt toward the highway again, and so had to walk with a hunched shuffle.  But it would be worth it, I was confident.  Perhaps I’m simply not as “good” as the good Samaritans I read about in newspapers.  They always say that they never thought about a reward, never thought about the end result.  They just did what they felt was needed.  But I of the racing thoughts imagined as I walked how wonderful it would be to reunite Buddy with his family.  I imagined they’d explode with relief and happiness and gratitude.

In actuality, the reunion consisted of me knocking on the door of a big brown house at the end of my street, the man standing on the porch behind me.  Three children answered, staring up at us with curious eyes and parting so that Buddy could run between them into the house.  Their parents came forth eventually, and we explained what had happened.  They didn’t seem surprised.  As I suspected, Buddy was not a first-time runaway.  The owners didn’t seem very grateful, either.  Sure, the tears and profuse thank yous I had envisioned were definitely unnecessary, but over the course of our five-minute conversation, the words “thank you” were not said at all.

So, the man and I left.  We were both a little stunned at the cold reception, although we didn’t say so.  We said goodbye, and then he drove back toward the highway, and I hiked home for the spare key to my truck.

I was late for work that day, and when I arrived my clothes and hair were still wet.

Kathy didn’t notice, but Maria asked me what had happened.  I didn’t know how to explain properly, so I didn’t.

I simply walked on toward Kitchen, where I began aiming my PDA laser at labels for cheese graters and garlic presses and wine openers that resembled Swiss Army Knives in their complexity.

Buddy, I hoped, was resting on a large pillow somewhere quiet.  I hoped that he could learn to ignore the faint rushing sound of cars on the highway.  Most of all I wondered, smiling to myself, what he would have done with a car once he’d caught one.

Not Buddy, but our own Ruby when she was still small enough and quiet enough to be a lap dog.  I thought this post needed a dog picture.

Not Buddy, but our own Ruby when she was still small enough and quiet enough to be a lap dog. I thought this post needed a dog picture.

Holly Graduates from College, Acts I-II

My goodness, I have such a graduation story to tell you!  It has everything: action, drama, ugly robes, copious hugs, celebrities, public speaking, a trip to the ER …

Obviously, then, it’s going to take me a while to write out such a saga.  Bear with me.  It’s a long story.

I’ll be publishing it in parts.  Both for my sanity and yours.

Act I. Prequel

About a month ago, I broke the overhead light fixture in the bathroom in the house I’m renting (with three housemates) from a former UMM professor.  This was bad for three reasons:

1. I’m renting the house.  And the former UMM professor is currently trying to sell the house.  And a bare lightbulb in the bathroom looks kind of sad.

2. I’m renting the house.  And that means I put down a deposit when I moved in to ensure that if I broke or otherwise damaged any part of the house, my landperson could keep the deposit and use it to pay for repairs.  The light I broke may not have been very expensive (not that I know much about lighting beyond my enjoyment of that glowing section of Menards), but it was probably enough to justify my landperson keeping my deposit.

3. The light fixture I broke (not the actual bulb, but the globe that fit over it) was made of glass, which is sharp, hard to see, and generally dangerous.

Knowing this, I swept thoroughly.  I made sure to get the corners, the sink (where the light initially landed and shattered to almost cinematic effect), the tub, even out in the hallway, where I suspected small pieces had flown and were lurking.  Throughout the next week, I swept a few more times, and picked up tiny individual pieces that I had missed.  But by the week after that, I had mostly forgotten about the incident.  There were no more random glitters as I brushed my teeth, no more ominous crunches underfoot.

Act II. Or So I Thought

It was the morning of Commencement.  I had slept fairly well the night before, due to the NyQuil I was still allowed to take because of a lingering cold.  I was mostly concerned with not thinking about my impending speech, and so I showered, washed my face, and brushed my teeth with almost zombie-like coolness.  On the way out of the bathroom, I took the same route as usual: I stepped over the threshold and turned immediately left, then left again around the low-walled stairwell, and then turned right into my bedroom.  Somewhere along that route–I suspect not far from the bathroom–I felt a sudden stinging in the bottom of my left foot.  I thought, as had happened before, that a small piece of gravel, tracked in from outside, was stuck to my foot, pressing its sharpness against it.  When I looked, I didn’t see anything but a small cut, which was bleeding profusely.  Strangely, that part of my foot hurt a lot when I put weight on it, which was what initially led me to suspect that there was something in my foot.  I was running a little late, and so didn’t have time to do much besides apply a band-aid and note with satisfaction that my fancy graduation sandals forced me to walk on the middle/inside of my feet instead of on the outside, where the wound was.