VIOLA - It’s a game I play when things get hard: I tell myself if I find a rock with a hole through it, everything will be better.
To explain what I mean by everything, I have to go back to the beginning of the year: the year of hell for my family, starting with my mom and sister each moving into an assisted living facility, and serious health and financial challenges for other family members.
Coincidentally, this is also the year I decided to read, each evening before bedtime, a few mettaprayers. Metta is a Buddhist practice that begins with blessing yourself and extends outward, wishing good for all beings, known or unknown, including our enemies. To be honest, the prayers don’t seem to be helping, so as everything became too heavy, I sought refuge in the Hidey Hole.
The Hidey Hole is a pool of water that sits below the culvert leading into the creek in my backyard. Night after night, I walked to there in my PJs, followed by my menagerie: dogs, cats, pig, goats—even the donkeys came along, as far as their pasture fence would let them. Walking with my head down, kicking through the water, my left foot soaking wet from a hole in my rubber boot, I’d search for an adder stone, a small rock with a hole naturally bored through it. While I know adder stones can’t really protect me from grief, I’ve always thought of them as talismans that might somehow make things a little better.
The Hidey Hole had been a natural haven for my flock of ducks and two favorite geese, a sanctuary where they could enjoy morning baths and midafternoon naps. But the flock is no longer here—another part of everything that’s gone wrong this year. They were all attacked by a raccoon that I’d dubbed Mr. Bigfoot and the few survivors were so badly maimed, Dane had to mercy-shoot them.
Despite all my searching, I didn’t find any adder stones.
When I visited my family a couple of weeks ago, everythinggot worse. For the first time, my sister, Jill, didn’t know who I was. My granddaughter’s lungs weren’t functioning properly and my mom continued to struggle with her new living arrangement.
The following Saturday morning, I woke early, shoved two giant thermoses of water and a package of TurboPUP bars into my backpack, gathered up my dogs, and headed out for the woods, my sorrow tagging along. I chose a shaded trail I knew would go deep into the forest, hoping I could shake off the gloom that clung to me.
Dragging myself forward while the dogs ran circles around me, I recited pieces of my nightly prayers that wish for peace and happiness for all, trying hard to include my archenemy, Mr. Bigfoot. They didn’t seem to be working.
Sometimes everything becomes too much.
And that’s when I looked down and saw a tiny, brilliant blue jay feather. I recognized it as another kind of talisman, sparking a bit of joy in my heart. I held it out from me and took a good long look, then photographed the feather, appreciating its pattern and colors, its perfection.
My steps lightened as I carried the feather, eager to get home and add it to my small vase with two other blue jay feathers I had found in previous years.
But three hours later, on the last stretch of trail, the feather was no longer in my hand. Losing this talisman, I had the stinking, sinking feeling that I was doomed. I know this feeling was as ridiculous as believing that finding a rock with a hole in it would help me heal.
Going to the Hidey Hole that evening was a bust. Ruben, the mischievous puppy, kept picking on Finnegan, who was fretting because of the heat. Téte, my sensitive hound dog, lay on the back deck, still mourning the loss of the ducks and geese. I’d forgotten to take off my socks before putting on my holey rubber boots, and my left foot became soaked and uncomfortable.
Louisa, the pig, went too far into the water and became stuck in the muck, squealing her displeasure. Meanwhile, Luna and Peepers, the goats, followed the tree line up to the road and disappeared, and Ruben began chasing my dear, sweet Lorca, a giant tabby cat with a heart to match.
Feeling defeated, tired, and sweaty, I trudged back up to the house, put everyone to bed, said my nightly prayers, and feel asleep dreaming of rocks and feathers.
The morning came, as it always does, but I didn’t jump out of bed like normal. Sure, I was still grateful for having two eyes that can see, and two legs that can carry me through my day, but that deep, dark, shadow-like feeling was still hovering over me.
I started thinking of my family and, for the thousandth time, wished my mom and sister lived nearby, and that my daughter and her family lived closer to Madison than to Milwaukee. Remembering there was no flock to let out and greet me started warm tears running down my face.
I was a mess. Everything was overwhelming.
Pulling myself together, I left for work and was heading down my rural road when a gorgeous, healthy-looking red fox ran through the field next to my car. Foxes—one of my favorite animals—are another kind of talisman for me, and this one seemed to show up just to offer me encouragement.I smiled to myself, knowing that someday, I’ll feel like sharing my stories again. I’ll feel more like myself and not so blue, sometime when everything doesn’tseem all wrong.