Sunday, November 08, 2009


Three women from a southeast Asian country (not positive which one... China maybe?) came into the shop this afternoon. After much consultation and mutual prodding, two bought lovely boxes of wonderful items. They were happy, I was happy. As we were finalizing the sale, one of them asked – where are you from?

I told her, but I looked puzzled. Their English was not perfect. Most non-native speakers cannot tell that I have a slight accent. Oftentimes, I cannot tell that I have a slight accent.

She noted my quizzical expression and said – you have a most melodic voice! Up and down! Most people here speak in a flat tone.

I didn’t tell her this, but she was, in reality, paying a compliment to herself. I have this trait (my daughters first alerted me to it): I pick up the speech patterns of my audience. If they are melodic, I, too, become melodic. If they have a Scottish clip, I will, within a sentence develop one in response. Right. A bit of one.

It cannot be helped. Most likely, I developed these strategies of coping when I first came here as an immigrant. I wanted to fit in. To become like you.

On this (beautiful and warm) morning, following the usual house cleaning, my occasional traveling companion and I set out for a quick hike through the Pheasant Branch Conservancy. We’d been there briefly yesterday. Today, we intended to walk the long loop. We had two hours. Enough to do it if we picked up a sprightly step.

Hiking with Ed is comfortable for a person like me – I don’t have to strain to sound like him. We both like quiet and we often hike without words. When he does tell a story, it is animated in ways that are so specific to his culture and background that I don't try to merge with his pattern.

We hike in this sprawling park that borders the creek and even though the prairie grasses are dry and the oak trees look like they may never sprout a a bud again , it is a very beautiful morning.





We pass by the creek and we pause. Do you see those gurgles? These are artisan springs, pushing water from maybe underneath this hill, or maybe Michigan. Or Canada.


Immigrant waters! Welcome, waters. You’re among friends now. Most of the time!


five hours

How do you approach a November Saturday that is off the charts toasty? So toasty that you could bounce around outside in a tissue t-shirt and still think you were overdressed?


It’s the last day of the Westside Community (outdoor) Market. Typically, you feel sorry for the vendors on this day. They freeze to give you one more chance at stocking up on turnips and beets.

Not today.


Warm, it’s so warm! Even as the selections of produce is predictably limited. I stock up on garlic and onions.


Weather confusion is not easy. You want to love this gift of warm air and yet you feel that it’s prank, a scam. Someone is cheating.

There have been years when I regarded these unexpectedly brilliant days as a mandate to head out. To go north, or south, to tug at Ed and urge him to go with me. He is, after all, an occasional companion.

That, however, was yesterday’s freedom.

Still, one mustn’t get all hopeless and despondent about the absence of uncomplicated time. Surely anyone can willfully create a block of free hours. We do it. We climb on board Ed's old Honda and set out.

A whirlwind morning (and early afternoon). We zip between Poland, France and the deep Midwest.

The Polish Heritage Club of Madison is in charge of Poland. We’re at their annual craft fair and the lunch crowd is packing in platefuls of cooked cabbage and sausage. The smell of the sauerkraut stew is potent.

We watch a wreath-maker weave flowers into a wreath, paper cutters cut patterns sketched onto colorful papers, and musicmakers play something that sounds vaguely holidayish.



And we get hungry. But not for sauerkraut and sausage. We head for the wonderful and not too distant world of La Baguette. I practice saying “this day is magnificent!” in many combinations of French words.



And now there are only minutes left to my block of free time. A handful of minutes is more than no minutes. Ed and I are determined to not waste them.

At the Pheasant Branch Creek Conservancy (just at the northwestern edge of Madison), we watch demonstrations of forest management.



And pfft! The hours are gone. It may as well be midnight. I have to change into my retail black clothing and head to the shop. The fragrance there is sweet and comforting. I try not look outside, where the day is magnificently radiant. Sweetness over radiance. I'll accept that. I'll not compalin. Radiance is overrated. Yes, it is. Yep. Uh-huh.